The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
I just watched your 2 hour debate video and really enjoyed it! I thought you made some very rational arguments and definitely made your arguments more credible by giving sources and such. Overall a very thorough and superb debate on your part.
How far you take your skepticism? The part of the video when the kid said there is more evidence of the resurrection of Jesus than there is of Julius Caesar. You disagreed and argued that there are books written by Julius Caesar, so his existence is more credible. Would you be skeptic that the books were forged? I mean there would be no apparent reason as to why someone would forge the books, and a document in religion to promote an agenda would be more likely forged, but would you still be skeptical? At what point is it logical to say that something is true? How much and of what kind of evidence is needed?
Thanks for your time.
Hi B! Thanks for your message. I appreciate your comments.
It’s certainly possible that Julius Caesar’s books are forgeries, but it’s highly unlikely. We have no reason to suspect that they were, unlike, for example, the many irreconciliable contradictions in the New Testament about the details of Jesus’s alleged resurrection. Caesar’s books are, for the most part, lost to history—all we have today is his journals from war, which don’t make any unlikely or outrageous claims. Contrast this to the fact that a resurrection as alleged would contradict everything we know about biology, medicine, etc. The whole thing is just dripping with obviousness as mythology.
So in a technical sense, I am open to the idea that Caesar’s books are forgeries. Being skeptical means being open to the idea that you’re wrong, and never claiming 100% certainty in your conclusions. I feel comfortable saying that I believe to a very high degree of confidence that Caesar’s books are genuine, although I wouldn’t claim that zero editing has taken place, nor that I claiming certainty about these things. Hand-written copies of ancient documents have a tendency to change bit by bit, but that’s okay: Nobody is claiming that there is divine truth in Caesar’s books.
As far as the point it’s logical at which to say something is true, I’m not sure we can ever really say that with total certainty. In discussions of epistemology, I tend to side with this position:
in basically saying that any knowledge about the universe at large, or indeed anything outside one’s own mind, is by definition an uncertainty. It’s all subject to the filter of our senses, and it’s clear that those aren’t perfect, or magic shows would be no fun at all!
The one thing I’m absolutely certain about is the fact of my own existence. Everything else, if we’re going to be precise, is technically a belief. I believe that evidence and the scientific method are the most accurate approach to knowledge on the basis that they are the most consistent and logical approach to knowledge. I believe that faith, because it is inconsistent and unfalsifiable and by nature not bothered by things like lack of evidence, is really a fundamentally useless approach to finding out what’s true about the world. To quote Carl Sagan, “Science is more than a body of knowledge; it’s a way of thinking, a way of skeptically interrogating the universe.”
Science is the best tool ever discovered for drawing up a consistent and clear picture of the world around us, but it’s still a picture, not the world itself. The problem of induction will always stand in our way of reaching 100% certainty.
So to answer your final question, within the system of empiricism, no amount of evidence is ever sufficient to say that something is true with 100% total certainty. That’s just not how evidence works, unfortunately. The more evidence you have that suggests a certain conclusion, and the better quality evidence you have, the more confident you can be in saying that it’s probably correct. But, there is always the possibility that you will discover additional evidence and find out that you were wrong all along. You can approach 100% confidence in statistics… 90%, 95%, 99.99999%, but under the banner of empiricism, 100% certainty is just not possible. That only works under the umbrella of rationalism (mathematical proofs), which are deductive, rather than inductive, and under the banner of faith, which—if you ask me—is just plain incorrect, because it incorrectly equates belief (a prerequisite for knowledge) with knowledge itself.
This article may also be helpful:
I hope that this helps!
Dave Muscato is the 2012 Writing Intern for the Secular Student Alliance in Columbus, Ohio. He is also Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com. Opinions posted here do not necessarily reflect the views of MU SASHA, the Secular Student Alliance, nor the Humanist Community at Harvard.
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