Bertuzzi’s Failed Attempt to Conflate Claim and Evidence

Cameron Bertuzzi once again reveals that his intellectual side of Christianity plays at the shallow end. In this video he attempts to refute Matt Dillahunty’s statement that there is no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, where Dillahunty distinguishes anonymous claims from evidence that backs up claims. In doing so, Bertuzzi builds a strawman, piece by piece, right in front of our eyes starting with an amazing sleight of hand in this video:

Bertuzzi starts with a quote by Dillahunty from a debate with Mike Winger, transforms it through two modifications and concludes that Dillahunty’s claim fails by begging the question and is refuted by “advancements in probability theory”. The conclusions are as laughable as his modifications to the Dillahunty’s claim. It would be easy to just dismiss this video as nonsense, but it is representative of a specious argument spreading throughout the YouTube apologist community desperate to “prove” the resurrection of Jesus, for which there is no reliable evidence or firsthand account. This is of primary urgency since Paul wagered everything on it:

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.”

Claims are not evidence

This is the quote by Dillahunty that Bertuzzi addresses:

“When you said Jesus appeared to the 500, that’s just a claim. We’ve spoken to no one from the 500, no one who was even there to even speak to the 500, or anything else. When you present these things as evidence, they are in fact just more and more claims from essentially the same sources – from anonymous authors. And what Mike as kind of done at the start of this is to say, well, really here’s all this evidence, and it’s the evidence for the supernatural and you don’t get to just throw all of it out. But it’s not the evidence. It is the claim. It is a bunch of claims, and it is claims upon claims as well. What we have here is this list of claims coming from a source, the Bible. The Bible is the source, not the evidence.” 

We will follow his steps to refute this position, starting with:

Modification 1

In this section Bertuzzi moves to redefine “claims” in order to demonstrate that claims can be at least insufficient evidence, starting with the sleight of hand I alluded to above.

(1A) “Claims in the form of reasonable assertions can constitute evidence”

The issue hangs on what a “reasonable” assertion would be, which Bertuzzi defines as “sometimes people make assertions because they have a deeper reason for thinking that assertion is true.” After having just presented double talk where he makes a diversionary assertion that he’s unable to perceive any difference at all between a claim and evidence, he imperceptibly executes his sleight of hand by conflating those two very different things in his definition. It should be obvious to anyone not overly-susceptible to sophistry that what separates a “reasonable claim” from an “unreasonable claim” is accompanying evidence, either a direct firsthand account, as supplied in Bertuzzi’s example of his daughter’s account of an occurrence at school, or some other physical evidence that gives the claimant this deeper reason to think it’s true.

Those are the exact elements Dillahunty presented as missing from the anonymous claims of those not present for this supposed miracle. Unlike Bertuzzi’s daughter in his example, we have no idea who is making the claim or even if these 500 exist at all. We lack any deeper reason at all to believe the claim precisely because there is no evidence such as the kind in Bertuzzi’s example.

He then muddies things further by altering his example to where the teacher called his wife who then relayed to him the incident at school; but of course that isn’t analogous to the case of the resurrection. Bertuzzi knows both the wife and the teacher and can trust their motives. It would be less reliable evidence than the first example because of the added chance of error by adding an additional participant, but it is close. The resurrection account, on the other hand, gives us no direct statement from any firsthand witness nor does it tell us anything about the transmitters of this account, leaving us with no real evidence at all.

(1B) “Claims of miraculous are not evidence of the miraculous”

In this next move Bertuzzi emerges from the fog he created to further distort what Dillahunty said by asserting that Dillahunty’s statement really only refers to claims of the miraculous. Oddly enough, the clip he then plays shows Dillahunty saying nothing of the kind, but rather: “So a claim is an assertion that something is such and so”. Once again, a sleight of hand while we’re still blinded by the fog created above. He does this because he is eager to conceal the original problem of no firsthand accounts or other evidence of the resurrection and divert instead to the question of the possibility of evidence for a miracle. We are seeing the strawman now taking on limbs as he morphs the question to “if we now see that claims can be evidence, why can’t claims of the miraculous be evidence?” But of course, that isn’t the issue at all, but rather if there is evidence to support the claim.

He concludes this section by arguing that in situations where regular explanations fail in the event of something inexplicable, we should keep an open mind to extraordinary explanation, which he based on accounts of alien abductions too silly to recap here. The point is this isn’t a question of keeping an open mind to new interpretations and theories based on novel experience but of basing those on verifiable evidence – something that fails both for alien abductions and the resurrection. It is that failing that Bertuzzi again attempts to obscure by the reasonable sounding advice to keep an open mind.  

As practitioners of sophistry almost always do, he then strikes the pose of the honest purveyor of fairness:

“Here’s my point with all of this, and I’m going to be very blunt. It’s intellectually dishonest to just ignore evidence that goes against what you already believe… If you’re going to say that [I just want to follow the evidence] then you can’t arbitrarily choose what explanations you’re going to consider and what you are not.”

Putting aside the total lack of self-awareness, reasonable people most certainly do get to choose what explanations to consider based on existence of evidence.

(1C&D) “Some evidence is not the same as sufficient evidence; We have some evidence of miracles”

This move is no more than, having fallaciously claimed evidence for the resurrection, he now points out that evidence need not be sufficient to prove the claim in order to be considered. That’s fine as far as it goes but isn’t really relevant. Rather than leave it at that, though, he will later try to make the case that this evidence (which in reality doesn’t exist but are really mere claims) is in fact sufficient. We’ll leave that as a bit of levity for the end.

Modification 2

In this conclusory part of the video Bertuzzi tries to establish sufficient evidence for the resurrection by claiming that Dillahunty is guilty of begging the question and that “advancements in probability theory” justify the evidence as sufficient. Both of these attempts are both laughable and show actual contempt for the intellectual capacity of his followers.

He bases his claim of question begging on David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles”. This question of miracles relies on far more than Hume’s essay, but that’s another matter. As is his custom, Bertuzzi provides no evidence or argument that Hume begs the question, but quotes another apologist, David Johnson:

“Hume’s argument against miracles obviously either begs the question, or becomes obscure…”

Well, that surely settles that matter. Although, maybe he was just obscure and not begging the question. It’s hard to tell from that quote. But the funniest part is when he follows that up with a quote from C S Lewis:

Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely “uniform experience” against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know the reports of them all are false”

Obviously, in addition to lacking all self-awareness Bertuzzi also has no firm grasp of the concept of begging the question. Rather he has turned the onus of proof of the claimant on others to disprove every positive claim. Of course, it doesn’t work that way and without credible evidence there is no reason to credit the claim – the very point Bertuzzi has been trying to conceal the whole time.

He ends with the funniest of all when he claims support from “advancements of probability theory”. This probably sounds really impressive to the unenlightened among his followers, but this grandiose claim is no more than regular inductive logic employed in science since the days of Francis Bacon – only misapplied. The scientific method explicitly requires verifiable and reproducible evidence from which to draw inductive inference. For Bertuzzi, however, it merely means the number of people who make the claim, and if somebody says 500 people say so, that is sufficient evidence. As he puts it: “Enough evidence can overcome any nonzero probability.” True enough, but there is again that pesky distinction between evidence and mere claim.  Perhaps he is aware of some advanced theory of probability that demonstrates that enough mere claims become sufficient, but I would be comfortable betting he doesn’t.

12 thoughts on “Bertuzzi’s Failed Attempt to Conflate Claim and Evidence

  1. Are you saying a claim counts as evidence *if it is based on evidence*? If so, then it looks like you *agree* with Cameron that a claim can count as evidence. Also, you seem sorta emotional & accusatory in your response. I wonder if that is affecting your analysis.

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    1. No, you seem to have missed the distinction between evidence and claim. Bertuzzi conflates the two so he can allow for biblical claims. A claim is just a claim. We take it seriously if there is evidence to support the claim. If there is no evidence to support the claim we don’t take it seriously.

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      1. Thanks. Why can’t a claim be evidence that there is evidence? For example, if a scientist claims to have evidence for a new particle. We may not have their evidence, but we have their claim. Isn’t their claim *evidence* to us that they have evidence?

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      2. Also, let’s say a bunch of scientists replicate the experiments and publish their results. Wouldn’t their claims in the journal provide you some evidence of their discovery (even though you didn’t do the experiments yourself)? Or suppose you claim to your friend that you have a new blog. Isn’t your claim evidence for them even if they don’t check your blog first?

        Those who specialize in testimony think claims can be a good reason (evidence): https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/testimony-episprob/. Maybe what you are basically pointing out that testimonies aren’t an *original* source of evidence. That’s consistent with claims being evidence.

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      3. Those who specialize in testimony and think a claim in itself could be evidence are wrong. And the court system doesn’t work that way.
        Your bunch of scientists who replicate the experiment have that one essential ingredient that the mere claim didn’t: evidence. Your example was just a scientist claiming a discovery.

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      1. Only a claim. In the header to the blog I make two claims about my existence: My name is Jeffrey Williams and I am a simple semiliterate biker who lives under a bridge. Either or both claims could be false. Perhaps I’m actually Donald Trump, or a bot, or this blog is written by a team of people with various areas of expertise, such as theoretical physics, philosophy and poetics, and some speaking English and others speaking German.

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