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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Loftus Attacks! Part Uno

I’m getting the feeling that maybe John Loftus feels he didn’t do too well in our debate on Unbelievable.  (The first part of which can be found here, the second part should be posted this coming Saturday.)  How else to explain his multiple posts since then, first complaining that he didn’t get enough time, then attacking Randal Rauser (of all people), and then a series of three posts critiquing my book?

Well, great, after all these years, and many posts on both sides, John finally gets around to actually trying to rebut some of my arguments -- sort of. 

So let’s take a look at his first post, and what he claims I get wrong. 

Predictable Preliminary Trash-Talking

I've decided to write more than just one post about Dr. David Marshall's “rebuttal” to my book The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF).

Call me David, please. 

But How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story is not a “rebuttal” to John Loftus.  With due respect to John’s considerable ego, it is about much bigger topics: the work of God in the world, the role of Jesus in uplifting humanity, the story of the human race from the Christian point of view, an answer to the question, “How do religions relate to one another?”

John is a convenient jumping-off point, not the destination. 

I will attempt to show why Marshall's book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story,is really bad. In fact, it's so bad I'm using the word "refutation" for what I'm about to do to it.  I hardly ever use that word because refutations are usually unachievable in these kinds of debates.  

Go for it! 

If I'm largely successful then it also says something about Dr. Randal Rauser, that he will say and endorse anything in order to defend his Christian faith.

I don’t believe that for a moment.  Actually, read his blog, and you find that Randal is pretty choosy about what Christian artifacts he will endorse.  It follows, then, that Loftus will probably NOT be successful, or he’s wrong about the logic. 

“No educated intellectual worthy the name would have written Marshall's book.  No educated intellectual should think it's worthy of any kind of a blurb either.”

This is disproved by the fact that I am an educated intellectual, and I did write the book.  And not just Randal Rauser, but Win Corduan (Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Taylor University), Miriam Adeney (an anthropologist who teaches at Seattle Pacific University), Ivan Satyavrata (an Indian theologian), Don Richardson, Nick Peters, and Brad Cooper, all of whom can only be described as “educated intellectuals,” in some cases much more so than John, have also thought the book worthy of a blurb -- indeed, in most cases of high praise indeed. 

But let’s skip the naval-gazing trash-talking of the wrong person, and get to the substance of John’s critique. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Matthew McCormick's Spectral Evidence IV‏

In our last installment, we saw that Matthew McCormick argues that the evidence for genuine witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts was much stronger than the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.  Oddly, however, he is remarkably coy about citing that evidence in detail, though he offers nebulous claims for reems (thousands of books) of the stuff.  Indeed, like the "evidence" for witchcraft itself, the evidence for that evidence, in McCormick's own telling, appears to be of the kind best described as "spectral," a terms  our anonymous friends at Wiki explain:  

"Spectral evidence is a form of evidence based upon dreams and visions. It was admitted into court during the Salem witch trials by the appointed chief justice, William Stoughton. The booklet A Tryal of Witches taken from a contemporary report of the proceedings of the Bury St. Edmunds witch trial of 1662 became a model for and was referenced in the Trials when the magistrates were looking for proof that such evidence could be used in a court of law.

"Spectral evidence was testimony that the accused witch's spirit (i.e. spectre) appeared to the witness in a dream or vision (for example, a black cat or wolf). The dream or vision was admitted as evidence. Thus, witnesses (who were often the accusers) would testify that "Goody Proctor bit, pinched, and almost choked me," and it would be taken as evidence that the accused were responsible for the biting, pinching and choking even though they were elsewhere at the time."

It's not hard to see, reading these two paragraphs, why Dr. McCormick was shy about producing all this wonderful evidence that he claims supports the reality of witchcraft in New England so well.  (Even though he personally refuses to believe, for reasons he is also coy about laying out in black and white.)  The answer is simple: if he ventured to be more specific, all but the most determined of his fans would laugh out loud, and not stop laughing until they had forgotten his book.  

A claim that one was bitten in a dream by a cat acting in the offices of a neighbor, falls somewhat short, shall we say, of "Reach here your hands and thrust them into my side, and do not be unbelieving."  So much further down the scale of "evidence" do mountains of books written "about" the trial that vaguely "surround" it like a bank of fog surrounds a hillock, before the wind begins to blow.  (Or while the hot air is already blowing over that hillock off an ocean of warm spit somewhat to windward, to mix our metaphors liberally and gaily, in the spirit of the thing.)  

So all we have left is spectres.  And this is McCormick's keynote chapter, the center of his case.  It can only go downhill from here, and generally does.  

I will not analyze most of the later chapters in equal detail to what we have given so far.   

However, let us venture through one more chapter, which is also somewhat important to McCormick's case, and purports to undermine Christian eyewitness.  (And would undermine history in general, if it were successful.)  Then I'll summarize the rest of the book more succinctly. 

Chapter Four is entitled, "Believing the Believers."  The chapter's point, of course, is to get the readers to disbelieve the "believers," that is those who believe claims not sanctioned by materialism, Christians in particular.  

Like previous chapters, it is largely hot spectral air, with little of substance to grasp.  But like a bank of fog, from a distance it can seem imposing, may even be mistaken for a mountain.  (I made that mistake a few weeks ago, looking for the volcanoes of Kamchatka peninsula on a flight from Seattle to Seoul, until a real mountain loomed out of the fog on the horizon.) 

Why should we disbelieve the alleged witnesses to the Resurrection?  The reasons McCormick gives are legion, one has to credit him with that.  He has thought through the position he wants to argue from numerous angles, and always comes to the same unified conclusion, without dissent of insight or a single difficulty to trouble his confidence.  

McCormick begins by pointing readers to Fatima.  Millions of Roman Catholics have visited this site since 1858, McCormick notes.  Here is the core of McCormick's "argument" (no, I am not making this up, as Dave Barry used to assure his readers):

"Out of those millions of visitors, many have had what they thought was a miraculous experience . . . And a number of those experiences have been submitted to an official investigating body of the Roman Catholic Church . . . As of now, out of the thousands of cases they have considered, sixty-seven miracles have been declared to be real by the Lourdes Medical Bureau, which is made up of church-appointed clergy and doctors who select themselves to serve . . . 

"What the numbers suggest is that for every officially recognized miracle, there are hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of cases where someone thinks a miracle has occurred, but that claim would not pass muster, even with the favorably-inclined, church-appointed investigating board.  Now we must engage in some educated guesswork: out of the eight million to two hundred million visitors to Lourdes . . . Let us make the conservative conjecture that one half of the low estimate of total visitors, or four million people, thought that something miraculous from a spiritual source happened . . . then the general miracle reliability rating for visitors to Lourdes is 0.0000167 or 0.00167 percent." (76)

This is what happens when a philosopher who could also have considered a career a law or car sales, tries his hand at history.  

There is no "educated guesswork" here, at all.  There are just numbers dragged kicked and screaming, let us not say from whence, but certainly not from any real data base.  

How many visitors to Fatima really think they experienced a miracle?  McCormick has no idea, so he makes up a proportion, like love in the song, "out of nothing at all," not one single survey, not a chat with a single family, nothing: half, he claims, think they experienced a miracle.  

How many of those who think they experience a miracle, reported that miracle to local priests?  McCormick doesn't bother to ask this vital question.  

How many real miracles did the priests choose not to include, because they saw their task perhaps not as simply accepting what might possibly be true, but of certifying that for which they found strong evidence?  Is it not possible that God might do a miracle, but that a skeptically-minded Catholic intellectual may doubt that the evidence for that miracle is strong enough to put on public display?  Again, these questions, or possibilities, do not even occur to Dr. McCormick.  

And does God even like Fatima?  Or is it possibly that He is busy doing miracles in some other way, possibly because he finds the atmosphere at Fatima cheesy or offensive, or doesn't like being pushed into a corner, as Jesus himself indicated one when pressured to cough up a miracle on demand?  Again, McCormick doesn't mention this possibility, either.  

But all of that is besides the point.  McCormick is waving magic wands.  He does not know what has or has not occurred at Fatima.  He has no idea.  He's making figures up off the top of his head, and this is what he fancies an empirical argument is supposed to look like!  

McCormick then herds us back to the United States: 

"In informal discussions with students in my classes over the years, a majority claim to have seen at some point something spooky, supernatural, or that defied the ordinary natural course of things.  But it is very rare to hear of an example where there is not an obvious and better natural explanation.  On any given day in the United States there are thousands, or possibly hundreds of thousands, of faith healers who are holding faith-healing revivals . . . None of these appears to be real . . . " (77)

Indeed, they don't.  They are more spectres.  Again, where does McCormick get these figures of "thousands or hundreds of thousands" of faith-healing revivals in America on every day of the year?  He makes it up. 

Also, notice the slippery words "spooky, supernatural, or that defied the ordinary natural course of things."  The word "or" implies that only one of these need apply, for the sentence to be true.  So all he might mean, is that most his students have seen something "spooky."  What might these anonymous kids mean by that?  They went through the Haunted House ride at Disneyland?  A dark figure once crossed the window when they were half asleep as children?  A philosopher should make claims more carefully and clearly than this: "Most of my students claim to have seen events that they reported as appearing most immediately to have been caused by supernatural agents" would be better, if it were true.  

And if there was an "obvious and better natural explanation," how could those "miracles" at the same time "defy the ordinary natural course of things?"  To have an obvious natural explanation is precisely NOT to define the ordinary course of things -- if we assume that miracles are not ordinary.  McCormick is contradicting himself, and doesn't appear to know what he means.  

McCormick makes much of the "millions to one" spectre he has conjured in his imagination, evidence that Goody Proctor bit Western Civilization in the thigh with his talk about miracles.  

Why should be believe those low-IQ Galilean Hillbillies, Anyway?

The rest of the chapter is largely dedicated to explaining the various factors that make "us" (Americans who do not buy his arguments) such gullible rubes.  When people undergo traumatic events, such as the loss of a loved one, we often hallucinate that person's presence, "bereavement hallucination."  (Do we?  Have you?)  Sometimes the dead visit us in our dreams.  (If they did, would we be unable to tell the difference between waking and sleeping?)  In fact, it would "verge on the miraculous" if none of Jesus' disciples at all had "not reported seeing Jesus return from the dead."  (85)  (So that's why there are parallel accounts by their near disciples of Confucius, Mencius, Buddha, Socrates, Plato, Isaiah, Mohammed, Alexander the Great, Dante, King Alfred, and Vladimir Lenin all rising from the dead, too?)  Reports of these experiences would then have circulated ("it is easy to imagine" [86]), the stories embellished, they converged and were recorded, and there you get (after decades of "embellishments, annexations, and edits") the Gospel of Mark. 

By which logic, we should have thousands of gospel-like documents, about various historical figures.  But we do not.  

McCormick then launches into an extended discourse on how perilous a thing human memory turns out to be, citing (as usual) the work of Elizabeth Loftus.  We hear people tell stories and "begin to remember the event as happening to me."  Memes "take on lives of their own," (spectral lives!) and over "thirty to ninety years," "movements of global import that span centuries are spawned on the basis of mistakes." (89)  Furthermore, people remember important events under stress even worse than ordinary events in calm times -- empirical research proves that.  (Though again, McCormick cites that research only in the vaguest way.)  And the evangelists were subject to the pressures of social conformity.  

McCormick seldom fails to use the pronoun "we" when he means "you dummies:" 

"In general, the line between what is consciously experienced and what is imagined is murky, at best." (92)

Did "we" mention that people in those days were stupid?  They were, you know.  James Flynn has demonstrated that IQ has been increasing at the rate of "about three points a decade," what is called the "Flynn Effect."  (It has a name!  That must make it scientific!)  What would happen if we "project it backward in time?"  Well, we can't assume a "steady downward slope," but it is clear that the ancients were really thick, on average -- the very same ancients who founded the worlds' modern religions: 

"The IQ problem raises serious issues for all of the historically based religions.  The people who founded the world's religions, on average, would have had distinctly worse reasoning abilities . . . " (98)

I have been trying to keep the sarcasm in check, but I find that it is flowing out of every pore now, and I am unable to resist the tide any longer.

It is well that McCormick reminds his readers that one cannot precisely extrapolate this "3 points per decade" voodoo effect in a straight line.  If we could, it would have the embarrassing consequence that the founders of the United States of America, the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, lived in a time when the average IQ was about 30.  It would, in that case, be a wonder that the Revolutionary Army knew which sides of their muskets to hold and which to fire.  

It would follow that the average intelligence in the time of Christ was about minus 500, and in the days of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, just three kids from a small town facing the Mediterranean who somehow made it big (and still awe modern readers with sense), some minus 650.  

Yet "we" know (we religious rubes), from reading their books, that Plato was actually a bit smarter than Dr. McCormick.  M. Scott Peck identifies Jesus Christ  as the "smartest person who ever lived," and Peck was a bright fellow himself, with a fair understanding of the human mind.  

I therefore take the "Flynn Effect" and toss it in the rubbish pan of flim-flannery.  My common sense is offended, and my historical sense doubly offended, and I recognize nonsense when I see it.  "When you meet the voodoo, kill the voodoo," to corrupt another clever ancient tradition.  

According to the Bible, God created humanity in His image, which we have effaced somewhat.  According to evolution, homo sapiens evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago.  DNA are passed on by sex, not by education or atmosphere and certainly not over the Internet or by reading Michael McCormick's books.  So brain hardware is a given.  Given decent nutrition, the big variables are education and experience.  Intelligence cannot be determined a priori for broad sets of human beings, but must be recognized on a case-by-case basis.  Smart and stupid people have lived in every era.  This, intelligent people should understand by now.  

As for the rest of McCormick's arguments, he seems to be in a funk.  He knows if he ventures out of the realm of pure philosophy, he will need to make an empirical argument or two, but does not appear to know how to make one.  

Notice, for instance, the confusion he gets in over the Gospel of Mark: 

"It is quite possible that the author of Mark was the first one to put together some of the disparate accounts into the form his narrative takes.  The late, long ending of Mark could have been taken from several different stories circulating at that time.  And it bears repeating that this central source of information about the resurrected Jesus did not surface until one hundred or two hundred years after the alleged events.  So the objection that all of the apostles couldn't have had the same hallucination is not as strong as we might have thought.  What we have are reports from decades and centuries later . . . " (86)

Such a passage, and that it could get by professional editors, makes one despair of the IQ level of one's own generation.  

If the Mark story of the resurrection was so late, then of course it was not the source for much earlier, 1st Century reports of the resurrection, such as those given in the other gospels.  Isn't that obvious?  Yet McCormick tries somehow to have his cake and eat it here -- to accept the late dating of Mark's final verses, and STILL suppose that that account was the source for the other gospels on the resurrection story.  That's the only way it could be described as "this central source of information about the resurrected Jesus."   Licona, of course, does not treat the ending of Mark as central to an historical account of the resurrection, nor does any other serious scholar I know. 

McCormick is not usually as stupid as he makes himself sound with this "argument."  He certainly is no match for those old cognitively undeveloped fogeys Plato or Aristotle, still less for a Jesus.  (And Socrates would recognize, like Jesus, that his unwillingness to admit his intellectual blindness, is the truest blindness of all.)  Whatever Flynn has been up to, he doesn't seem to have been evolving the world a uniformly smarter, still less humbler and therefore wiser, set of skeptical philosophers.  

But what about the claim that human memory simply can't be trusted?  Here our skeptic wants to navigate between two awkward facts: (a) that all knowledge resides, if it resides anywhere among mortals, in human memory.  (Books are not knowledge, till someone reads and interprets them.)  (b) That if we allow Christian history to be treated fairly, according to the normal canons of study, many miracles will pass reasonably rigorous standards, with flying colors, including the Resurrection of Jesus.  

Can memory be trusted?  More than McCormick allows, I think.   Having been challenged on this point for some twelve years or more, I have taken to testing my own long-term memory, and that of family members, when we "drive down memory lane" -- by traveling back to Alaska where we grew up, when I wrote a short bio of my father after he passed away.  (Interviewing his older siblings, all well over 80 years old, about events that occurred up to 70 or more years ago.)  

I just don't buy the critics' arguments.  I find that people often do remember events, including important events, in a way that jibes with both history and with other memories.  I know I do.  

And that is how books like The Right Stuff and Band of Brothers come to get written, and why they are not purest fantasy.  I note some parallels between the latter book and the gospels in my recent Amazon review: 

"Some skeptics claim that the human memory is too frail a reed, too unreliable and suggestible, for historical reports written decades after the fact to be trustworthy. I think Ambrose shows them wrong. Given that the gospels were written under somewhat similiar circumstances -- 35-60 years after the fact, based apparently on the eyewitness testimony of many once young men (mostly) who had traveled together for a few years and experienced and witnessed traumatic and remarkable events -- I think Ambrose's success (despite occasionally contradictory sources) should give those skeptics pause."

Normandy was conquered.  The Battle of the Bulge did occur.  Dick Winter did lead E Company to successfully take German positions.  

The boundary between history and imagination is not so universally vague or loose as McCormick supposes.  And if it were, history would be impossible, and so would science, and we might as well all just pack up and go home.  

Which is a big price to pay, to keep God out of one's life. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Matt McCormick, Part III: the Salem Witch Trials

The Gem in the Crown of McCormick's argument against Christianity is probably Chapter 3: "You Already Don't Believe in Jesus: The Salem Witch Trials."   At least that is what I have seen quoted most often, and largely what attracted me to this book.  McCormick also refers to this chapter and the one preceding it, which we have already analyzed later in the book, as if he had in these two chapters convincingly overthrown the Christian faith.
 
His argument is simple.  McCormick asserts that the evidence for the actual existence of witches in Salem, Massachusetts, between 1692 and 1693, is far stronger and more immediate, than the evidence for the Resurrection.  Since we reject the former, we should therefore also reject the latter. 
 
The odd thing is, though, McCormick is quite coy about explaining why it is that we should reject the reality of witches in Salem.  He dances around the issue, in fact.  I don't point that out to claim that there really were witches -- I have no idea, because McCormick has not bothered to define "witch," or so much as mention any actual evidence in detail.  (To be sure, I have done some background reading on the phenomena in the past, but personally I didn't come across any really powerful evidence either way.) 
 
Why is this interesting?  Because the real question that McCormick is dancing around is, "Who cares?  What difference does it make?"
 
Suppose the evidence for witchcraft in Salem is excellent.  How would that either strengthen or weaken the evidence for the Resurrection?  Of course, it would make no difference, anymore than good evidence that Tom Wolfe writes his own books would make evidence that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet either better or worse. 
 
Suppose the evidence for witchcraft in Salem is poor.  Would that effect the evidence for the Resurrection?  Again, not in the slightest, any more than evidence that Tom Wolfe employs a ghost writer would mean Shakespeare did, too.  
 
In fact, this chapter is nothing but a bluff, a shell game, trying to distract the reader from the real question, on which McCormick has already show that he is out of his league -- evidence for or against the Resurrection of Jesus.  It is, in that sense, much like Richard Carrier's constant appeals to texts that almost no one has read, in the hopes that they won't, and that his false claims about them will be accepted. 
 
But you want details.  So here we go. 
 
"We typically disbelieve many supernatural claims that have far more evidence and better-quality evidence in their favor."  (53)
 
Who is this "we?"  And why do we do that?  If, as I believe (and Michael Licona and others show), the evidence for the Resurrection is in fact very strong, perhaps we shouldn't reject this even better evidence!  Or at least, explain why we should, after we have proven its alleged excellence.
 
Anyway, claims should not be believed or rejected simply because the evidence for them is good or bad.  There is also the issue of prior probability.  And that's much of what McCormick will be dancing around in this chapter.  One reason we reject the claim that witches in Salem were doing bizarre acts of black magic on a large scale in Salem -- speaking for myself when I say "we," McCormick usually means "you," sometimes "you rubes" -- is that they seem ridiculous a priori.  And no, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ does not, for reasons I explain in my popular "Prior Probability of the Resurrection" article.  -Which so far has something like ten thousand page views, but nothing like a refutation. -
 
"Hundreds of people are purported to have witnessed the resurrected Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, and feeding the hungry." (54)
 
Here McCormick shows that he is quite an amateur in Historical Jesus studies.  One even wonders if he has taken the elementary precaution of reading the New Testament carefully.  Of course the resurrected Jesus does none of this, unless you count the fish barbecue he prepared for his disciples as "feeding the hungry."
 
McCormick's summary of some arguments for the resurrection is often decent enough, though.  He is at least able to "get out of his own skin" enough to summarize Gary Habermas' argument with a degree of fairness. (55)  McCormick promises, in the next chapter, to offer psychological arguments that allegedly undermine Habermas' argument:

"But for now let us consider the broader question of accepting miraculous, supernatural, or magical events on the basis of historical evidence." (56)
 
What other kind of evidence is there?  Science itself is a province of history, as Carrier more or less points out.  Every report of an experiment is a historical report. 
 
So the real question here is, "Why should we believe anything that falls outside the grid of my metaphysical expectations or demands?"
 
"Much can be said for the supernatural explanation.  First, hundreds of people were involved in concluding that some of the accused were witches.  Eyewitnesses testified in court, signed sworn affidavits, and demonstrated their utter conviction that those on trial were witches." (58)
 
This appears to be mostly bluster.  McCormick says hundreds of people believed the accused were witches, not that they testified to any particular supernatural, or subnatural (a better term, in my opinion) act.  In fact, this is all very vague.  There is no direct quote from any witness, no specific account of anything anyone actually claimed to see. 
 
"It strains credibility to suggest there was a conspiracy or a mass hallucination shared by the hundreds of people involved.  The same hallucinations cannot be had by large groups of people." (58)
 
McCormick has not, in fact, presented any evidence that "hundreds of people" witnessed any event, even the sun rise.  He simply seems to want to lead readers to infer that. 
 
"We have whole volumes written by witnesses to the trials, such as those by Cotton Mather . . . (+) documents, books, records, transcripts, affidavits, testimonials, and other works detailing the events." (59)
 
So what?  More vagueness, more distraction.  A "witness to the trial" need not be a "witness to the alleged events," whatever they are -- McCormick has been too coy so far to tell us.
 
"The point is they were not witches, and you (probably) do not believe that they were based on this substantial body of historical evidence." (59)
 
Amazingly, McCormick has not actually GIVEN any evidence yet.  It is all sleight of hand. 
 
"For Salem, we have thousands of actual documents surrounding the incidents, including the sworn testimonies from people claiming to have seen the magic performed." (59)
 
By now the reader will recognize the trick McCormick is again playing.  He mentions "thousands" of documents that "surround" the incidents.  So is physical proximity to evidence evidence?  If you pile a library of books within a five minute walk of a murder, does that turn them into testimony as to the identity of the murderer, like potatoes soaking up the flavor from meat in a crock pot?
 
But wait!  Some of those documents (how many?  1,000?  2?)  are sworn testimonies from witnesses to the magic itself?
 
So why don't you quote those testimonies, to strengthen your case?  How many affirm a given and clearly and credible supernatural incident?  Who offers the testimony?  Why is it credible?  And if it is, why don't you believe it? 
 
Chirp.  Chirp.  Chirp. 
 
"By reasonable measures of quantity and quality, the evidence we have for witchcraft at Salem is vastly better than the evidence we have for the magical return from the dead by Jesus.  But despite the better evidence, it is simply not reasonable to believe that the women in Salem were really witches or that they really performed magic.  No reasonable person with a typical, twenty-first century education should believe, even though some of the accused were tried, convicted, and executed for witchcraft, that they were really witches." (60)
 
No reasonable person with a logical education should believe anything at all about Salem based on McCormick's account of the city's history, because he does not bother to say anything worth a warm bath of spit. 
 
He hasn't even bothered to define the word "witch" for us, yet.  And that is a real problem, since people around the world have, in fact, at least attempted to harm their neighbors by black magic.  If that is what a witch is, everyone should believe in witches.  And naturally a truly rational person should request some evidence, one way or the other, before making such a universal disavowal as that no one in Salem, or even none of the accused, actually attempted some such experiment.  (Although, given the community, I myself hold to an a priori skepticism -- unless the young girls making the accusations were conducting their own form of black magic, as one modern writer suggests, though not one I trust much.)
 
Also, notice that McCormick implies that Christians believe Jesus was raised by "magic."  We believe no such thing, of course.  We believe God raised Jesus from the dead.  See my Jesus and the Religions of Man, for a discussion of the difference. 
 
So why shouldn't we believe that real, effective magic was at work in Salem? 
 
McCormick's first answer to this question is that it defies the consensus among historians, "the people who are best qualified to evaluate the quality of historical evidence." 
 
But is that because the historical evidence is against it?  Then why don't you say so?  And why don't you cite that evidence, instead of dancing around it like a banshee around a magical fire that you believe will supernaturally consume your enemies? 
 
Or if the evidence is not against it, do historians reject magic at Salem, because they find the specific reports of magic intrinsically incredible?  Or again, because they subscribe to naturalism in their work or home philosophies?  McCormick does not even raise this vital question, let alone try to answer it. 
 
McCormick's second point is that believing in witchcraft at Salem would open a big kettle of worms:
 
"It also wreaks havoc with a whole approach to history.  Lowering the standards here requires lowering them across the board.  If magic was real at Salem, then, by extension, so was demon possession during the Plague years and the Inquisition in Medieval Europe.  Werewolf and vampire stories in history must also be treated as facts.  Hexes, the evil eye, and spectral beings must be treated as real, historical phenomena.  Kings, emperors, and religioius leaders must also have magical powers." (61)
 
Now the dam bursts, and we are all awash in a sea of spit.  Just a minute ago, weren't we were talking about instances in which there was good, solid, empirical evidence for magic, with thousands of documents buttressing it (somehow)?  But "Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes forth its contagion to the world."  Did thousands of people witness a vampire, and swear to it in court of law?  When?  What did it look like?  What did it do?  Why does McCormick reject those accounts? 
 
Chirp.  Chirp.  Chirp. 
 
Vagueness and sleight of hand continue to reign supreme, until McCormick pulls out his ace, drawn from the deck of his friend John Loftus: the Outsider Test:
 
"You either get Christianity and a whole bunch of other religious movements, or you get none of them.  The Christian won't want to accept all the other movements because so many of them, like Christianity, claim exclusivity.  Lots of them, on the base of their historical miracles, claim that theirs is the 'one true religion' and the 'one true God,' and all the others must be rejected as false . . . If we let them all in, then we have a hopeless mess of conflicting doctrines; theological incompatibilities; and a supernatural realm overrun with competing gods, saints, spirits, and forces." (62
 
Call me a kid with a dream, but I hope I have utterly laid all such arguments to rest now, with How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test. 
 
Christianity does not claim ontological exclusivity, in the sense of denying that there is any truth in other religions.  (The sense required by McCormick's argument.)  And God transcends even the tradition through which He reveals His Son to the world: there is only one true God, by definition.  But that does not make reality a "hopeless mess of conflicting doctrines," at all.  Render under hell, the things of heaven.  And to heaven, the things of heaven.  Christians have seldom found the world of religions as hopelessly confusing as atheists like Loftus and McCormick think we should.  In fact, thirty years of often hands-on research in Asian religions and traditions have greatly strengthened my faith. 
 
There is, in fact, no other Jesus in all the world.  And he is, indeed, he in whom all things fit together, in heaven and on earth, and in whom the things of hell - human sacrifice, slavery, oppression, madness, Gulag - are most effectively challenged. 
 
But please deal with concrete facts, Matt, not with such vague generalizations.  That's what I do in Jesus and the Religions of Man, in True Son of Heaven, in my doctoral thesis, in the new book.  I haven't found anyone in any other religion at all like Jesus.  Nor have I found an event at all like the resurrection story, as recorded in the gospels,  If skeptics have some really good parallels (please, enough of Apollonius of Tyana and Romulus, already!), well cough them up already!  Why so coy about hard facts? 
 
In an amusing aside, McCormick then points out that we live in a world of cell phones, computers, "planes flying at seven thousand miles per hour, and spacecraft capable of leaving the solar system," and then claims this jibes poorly, if we want to add in ghosts, elves, and fairies. 
 
Actually, the fastest airplane in the world is generally considered to be the Blackbird, which has flown more than 2,000 miles per hours, though various jets and rockets might be considered airplanes, and perhaps if the elves in the Blackbird get out and push . . .
 
The general idea here, though, is that like so many skeptics before him, McCormick assumes his readers are so easily cowed, and gullible, as to suppose the human ability to create machines somehow disproves God's ability to raise the dead.  As a philosopher, one would expect McCormick to cough up an argument to support this line of reasoning.  What is the link between assumptions and conclusion supposed to be?  Integrated circuits are like kryptonite to angels, they flee on gilded wings at their approach? 
 
Chirp.  Chirp.  Chirp. 
 
Later pages in the chapter mostly repeat McCormick's earlier points, then try to force the reader into one of three choices: (1) admit that every account of the supernatural is real, regardless of the evidence or the prior plausibility of those accounts (McCormick says little of the first and is vague in the extreme about the second); (2) claim there is some difference between the Resurrection and the witches that favor the former; (3) admit that you don't really care about the evidence.
 
Given those choices, most Christians would go with (2).  But unfortunately McCormick has now forgotten to listen to contrary arguments, and simply repeats his own views in this section in a general manner: "Denying the analogy is doomed to fail, however, by ad hoc rationalizing and special pleading."  (65)  So he doesn't really have to consider any actual arguments for dissimilarity.  And he has not so much as mentioned how prior probability might favor the resurrection -- his job being that of a lawyer, not a philosopher -- nor has he given a smidgeon of the supposely strong evidence for witchcraft in Salem, so we can examine it.
 
On option (3), McCormick plays a trick that is rather beneath him, on William Lane Craig.  (Though Craig must be used to that, he seems to bring the worst out in frustrated atheists.) 
 
"Perhaps she is someone who, like William Lane Craig, has resolved to subordinate reason to faith: 'The way in which I know that Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart and this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence." (69)
 
And then McCormick argues:
 
"If we are to take seriously this view . . . then we have to conclude that his historical arguments for the resurrection are disengenuous."
 
Beyond being sleazy, that is just illogical. 
 
Suppose I say, "My most important reason for believing that Seattle is set on a body of salt water, is (a) that I was born in that city, and often walked to the seashore myself, digging clams and looking for star fish and crabs, without going anywhere near the city boundary.  But since you may not have had that same experience, let me add that you should also believe Seattle is on salt water, based on (b) the testimony of this Washington State map I hold in my hands, and (c) these photos I took of Puget Sound tidal flats at Alki Beach with the Space Needle in the background." 
 
If you take (a) seriously, does it follow that (b) and (c) must be "disengenuous?" 

Of course not!  That is a complete non sequitur.  Again, this is a remarkably clumsy bit of logic for a professional philosopher to engage in. 
 
And then McCormick's coup de disgrace:
 
"Craig is correct, however, if concluding that the only way to sustain one's belief in the resurrection is to disregard the evidence." (70)
 
This looks like a lie.  Craig has concluded no such thing.  Indeed, Craig has soundly whipped about a dozen leading unbelieving historians and other NT experts, each of whom know vastly more about the subject than Matthew McCormick, in public debate on the evidential grounding of the resurrection. 
 
Later in the book, McCormick misrepresents C. S. Lewis' views on faith and reason almost as baldly, though without the sleaze, which Craig so often seems to bring out in his critics, even usually genteel scholars like Bart Erhman and Mathew McCormick.   -Perhaps we should posit the Sore Loser Syndrome?-
 
So what about B?  What disanalogies favor the Resurrection hypothesis over the "witches in Salem flew on broomsticks" hypothesis, or whatever specifics Matthew McCormick has in mind, but is too coy to mention in his book focused on this very subject? 
 
Here's one.  NT Wright and Mike Licona have written long, detailed and exhaustively footnoted arguments for the Resurrection of Jesus, that are orders of magnitude more impressive than this tract.  Show me books like those, arguing for the Historicity of Hogwarts. 
 
Here's a second.  What proponent of the Witch Theory has defeated a round dozen prominent historical skeptics in public debate? 
 
Here's a third.  Were the many factors favoring the prior probability of the Resurrection, that I mentioned in my article on this site, paralleled in Salem?  I don't think so.  I doubt McCormick has even thought such thoughts, let alone refuted them. 
 
So there's the gem in the crown of this book.   That crown increasingly appears to be made of paper mache, and held together with buckets of warm spit.  The gem, McCormick bought from an old Gypsy, but unfortunately is just a hunk of colored plastic from K-Mart.