Thank you Kelvin, very interesting. I do think that experience, and particularly religious experience, may be an avenue for thinking about science and religion or bringing them into dialogue. I have been particularly influenced by Swinburne as well as his student Kai Man Kwan. First-person epistemology, phenomenological experience, seems to be the right place to start when considering all data sets.
Maybe. I am not sure what is meant by transcending objectivity and subjectivity. I do think there is a fact of the matter to my being me, i.e., my soul is what distinguishes me from another. This is certainly consistent with Kwan’s work, and in line with Swinburne’s articulation of the soul. The soul as substance (i.e., property-bearer) is the kind of thing that experiences the world and acts in the world. How do I know this? Well, I know it better than anything else that I know in the world. It is fundamental to acquiring any other kind of knowledge.
I am not sure I know what is meant by transcending self. If what is meant is that there is a fundamental self that points necessarily to something higher as the infinite ground for the self’s existence, then I am open to that line of thinking.
It does seem to me that there is a fundamental fact about me. I imagine this is the case for others. There is a what it is like to me that is fundamentally different from others, and this actually contributes something novel to the world. But these are not truths that are capturable in science, at least not the way it has been defined here. I am not sure that science could come up with a set of data that proves my self or soul, and that is ok. There is something in the furniture of the world that is basic to it, but extends beyond the physical cause and effect in the world.
The more version would seem to be qualitative experience. Do I or others need to prove that? I am not sure. It seems fairly basic to experiencing subjects, namely souls or immaterial substances. It seems the one trying to reduce that something extra/more has some work to do in explaining that something more is actually explicable in terms of lower level processes. Did I understand your argument correctly?
It seems that we have a lot of similar interests. I am fascinated with some of the topics you are bringing up and the kinds of research topics you seem to be working on.
Now, I want to give Swinburne’s categorization a bit more reflection. I do wonder if there is something here that might help with a direction forward. I am certainly inclined to agree that Swinburne’s categories provide fruitful directions for thinking about theology and the world more generally. I will come back to this.
@swamidass I wonder if following your sandbox model and thinking on a bit more of a meta level, we can consider history to be the playground on which these different sandboxes (ie philosophy, theology, science) are located. If we pay attention to history we can see how the different sandboxes and their residents have been shaped and interacted over time. It allows us to start thinking about where we have come from (our intellectual inheritance for lack of a better term), and how those we’re speaking with have come to where they are. One of my professors once defined history as the act of creating empathy for people of the past in a world that does not grant them dignity. What if we took that and used it not just for people of the past, but also those we are currently engaged with.
Basically, I’m suggesting that rather than just getting parables from history, history can itself be the parable helping us to envision how to think and talk about these issues.
I guess what I’m asking is in this context what do we learn from Bacon (or any other historical figure) that we can make use of methodologically? Like there are tons of theologians/intellectuals/politicians I dislike, but I pick up stuff in their practical history that’s useful. Does that make sense?
It seems to me that Bacon recognizes the ways in which his scientist figure can say yes this is a miracle, a thing outside an expertise (natural philosophy). Therefore, I’ll approach it with a different model (prayer/theology/mysticism). What can I pull from that for thinking about interacting with and discussing these things with friends/colleagues in an academic/intellectual setting? Idk…still working on that part
Hi Josh, concur mostly with your observation.
Swinburne defines such experience as:
“ S perceives x (believing that he is so doing) if and only if an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to S that x is present is caused by x’s being present.” And to put God into this equation, “S has an experience of God if and only if its seeming to him that God is present is in fact caused by God being present.” (Swinburne, Existence, 296)
Note that in term of religious experience, Swinburne settled with a moderate precise definition which is unusual to his emphasis of clarity in other area of research. Swinburne introduces the epistemic usage of the terms, “seem”, “look like” which denotes a certain inclination towards certain belief. In other words, it is categorized as “probability” instead of a foolproof argument.
For Swinburne, there is a potential evidential value for religious experience to establish the prima facie of the existence of God, and thus, he lays out lengthily for his Principle of Credulity: “If it seems (epistemically) to S that x is present, that is good reason for S to believe that x is present, whatever x may be.” To paraphrase it, Swinburne suggests that “we ought to believe that things are as they seem to be (in the epistemic sense) unless and until we have evidence that we are mistaken.” (Swinburne, Is there a God, 115, 116).
Likewise. Looking forward to hearing more from you. I’ll be away on a family vacation soon, but will definitely seize time to reply. May be you can help us to understand the arguments for/against immaterial human soul, quantum theory of consciousness or other related topics? Thanks in advance.
Distinguishing such “wonders of nature” from “providential acts” (in early modern terms, deciding whether a time of national repentance was required or not) would seem problematic.
The kind of chance that Aquinas, for example, mostly dealt with was the rare confluence of lawful events - for example, two bodies orbiting in eccentric orbits which eventually (but predictably) collide. Rare, and not excluded from the providence of God, but not conceptually extraordinary. Would Bacon & Co have had criteria for distinguishing such a natural wonder from an extraordinary event such as a plague sent for national apostasy?
However, it might be justly considered to be an event of quite a different order for, say, human consciousness to arise from unconscious matter. Arguably, there is no conceivable coincidence of natural events that could do it even in principle. Descartes, at least, hived off the soul to “special creation,” putting it beyond science.
If we consider a modern conundrum like abiogenesis, the latest fashion is to propose a confluence of replication, membrane and metabolic properties under such an extraordinary set of conditions that it makes planetary collisions seem commonplace. So would Bacon even consider an event like that as even an extraordinary part of the natural order?
@jongarvey Interesting question. What Bacon was distinguishing between were genuine miracles that required divine action to bring what could not occur through the powers and properties of matter alone. A “wonder of nature” was to be distinguished from an actual miracle in that a rare or uncommon conjunction of the properties of matter bought about wonders of nature. Such wonders might be mistaken for divine miracles or uncaused anomalies. However, were the material causes understood and accessible to human manipulation, then such a wonder could be repeated any number of times on demand simply by bringing together those material properties and causes.
Such control over matter was the goal of natural philosophy for Bacon as it could bring about untold benefit and well being for mankind. Therefore, careful recording of wonders of nature and investigation of past reports was of value for a better understanding of material properties and processes.
Bacon was a firm believer in divine creation of matter, its properties, and the natural order that we experience. He had a very high view of divine providence also and believed God brought about a great deal of His will through the operation of the laws of nature. Unless we were to repeatedly observe life spontaneously emerging from non-life, Bacon would not have taken abiogenesis as an extraordinary part of the natural order. The creation of life and the timing of its creation he believed were the direct result of divine will and special divine action.
@kelvin_M Thank you for the input on religious experience. I believe it is central to the question of the relationship of science to religion, and Christianity in particular. I also happen to think that there is a tension between science and religious experience that is a source of continuing conflict. (More on that later.)
It would be valuable to know more of what Swinburne believes constitutes genuine religious experience, or more precisely experience of special divine action, if he has written about it. I strongly suspect that all or most of the five of these categories of religious experience boil down to two things:
Perception of transcendent intelligent agency
Insufficiency of natural explanation
I would hypothesize that these two components are entailed in every miracle recorded in Christian scripture. I think these two components are also closely tied to the issue of justified belief in religious experience of special divine action, and when such experience could be considered knowledge.
This question of science and religious experience is really where I think the heart of the question lies and propose turning to next.
Somewhat more than somewhat to do with “regularity and repeatabilty” then - although the “wonder of nature” is unusual, recording it enables comparison with other similar events, and the emerging pattern then becomes true science.
I did a piece recently comparing unusual natural events with a biblical miracle, the parting of the Jordan for Joshua. This phenomenon does occur naturally, but rarely, and so the miracle lies in the fortuitous timing rather than the nature of the event.
So Bacon could include it in a series of recorfds of “dammings of the Jordan” and discover the natural circumstances that led to it - in that sense it falls within science. However, he would still, I suppose, wish to distinguish this particular event as a miraculous act of God, not by anything about the nature of the event, but because of its timing. So in that sense it falls outside science, although it has the same causes as a series of such events, and can even be included in such a series.
So we’re dealing with some subtle, and fallible, categories here, which render the demarcation of science tricky. On the other hand, such events teach us a theology of nature in which, directly or indirectly, God appears very much in control at all times, of the whole sequence of secondary causes leading to the event.
The question of the boundaries of science, therefore, seems more to do with a convenient human classification of God’s activity than it does with absolute distinctions between the “natural” and “supernatural” or “divine.”
@swamidass, Thank you for the openness and receptivity. Let me focus on one thing about Bacon, which I think is often misinterpreted. I don’t think you are completely off base here, but rather want to make an important clarification that is counterintuitive today.
Let me take this up. My main concern is the misperception that (reasonably) comes from the fact that Bacon separated natural philosophy from theology and revelation, warning against superstition as the result.
Here I think we tend to read Bacon with modern eyes. For Bacon, theology and revelation were not the same thing as observations of special divine action or the study of nature demonstrating a Creator. We tend to think of those things as specifically the realm of theology today, but that was not the case for Bacon. A similar example could be when George W. Bush would reference God in a speech and was accused of violating the Constitution’s separation of church and state–it would take a very recent, post-1960s, perspective to even conceive of that as the meaning of the non-establishment clause.
I can dig the direct quotes from Bacon up, (they will appear in a coming article) but for sake of time and space, let me summarize:
Bacon, like most Protestants of the time, clearly distinguished special revelation from general revelation. The former was what was revealed in Scripture, which no one could know apart from God’s communicating it – for example that salvation comes by faith and apart from works, or the purpose of atonement in Christ’s death on the cross, etc. Interpretation and explication of these matters was the realm of theology. Natural science, however, has nothing to do with whether God is a Trinity, or Jesus atoned for human sin, or having risen is seated at the right hand of the Father.
This distinction, however, was not understood to mean that natural philosophy sheds no light on the general revelation that comes from nature itself. Rather, Bacon was famous for saying that although a little natural philosophy tended to lead toward atheism, because of its focus on natural causes, a lot led one right back to the author of nature. Bacon was so strong on this that he asserted multiple times that (I paraphrase) “God never wrought a miracle to convince an atheist” because nature was sufficient on its own to convince the atheist of the existence of the creator. Rather, miracles were performed for the purpose of human redemption and to prevent heresy by confirming genuine revelation of the true God and His purposes.
Heresy and Superstition
Bacon was concerned that natural revelation alone did not communicate enough about God to impart salvation, and those who sought to establish their religion on nature alone inevitably fell into heresy. The deists who were to come would definitely be examples of that.
On the other side of the coin, those who sought to create out of their own conjectures regarding spiritual mysteries an understanding of the natural world, fell into superstition. Here Bacon’s primary target is understood to be the followers of the medical mage Paracelsus. I think a really good example of this kind of superstition (although I would need to double-check to make sure Bacon referenced it) is the belief that because God spoke things into existence in Genesis, spoke words themselves had effectual power, hence incantations.
That said, the idea that natural philosophy could draw no conclusions about God, or that the Bible had nothing to say that might inform us regarding the natural world was foreign to Bacon. This is precisely why he deemed natural philosophers the most qualified individuals to investigate a possible miracle, since among anyone they had the greatest knowledge of natural causes and what such causes might or might not bring about.
There is also another aspect to this, which has to do with intellectual starting points. I think this aspect is particularly relevant to where our discussion seems headed. So, let me go there now:
It has to do with the domain of science and religious experience in the physical realm . . .
The Domain of Science and Religious Experience in the Natural Universe
What I want to raise with this post is to start discussion on how we might resolve the seeming tension that the domain and purposes of science are to study the natural order, or creation, with appeal only to natural causes, and that religious experience of special divine action are events that occur within the created natural order that science lays claim to study.
How does science relate to justified belief, even knowledge of special divine action that a person might witness directly, and which commonly are understood to involve mechanisms or processes normally within the purview of science? Say for example, a healing, resurrection.
There has been a great deal of interest lately in special divine action with Craig Keener’a breathtaking two volumes on Miracles: the Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2011), followed by Eric Metaxas’ Miracles (2014) and Lee Strobel’s, The Case for Miracles (2018)
Can you discuss what are the limitations of the domain of science and what constitutes justified belief for a person, perhaps a scientist, who has experienced a dramatic healing upon prayer, or if one were a member of the crowd observing the raising of Lazarus?
For example, earlier in our exchange, I commented and your responded:
What is the point of crossover for a rational person from deference to scientific explanation by natural causes to the conclusion that one has witnessed a miracle? Why is that crossover justified? Does our knowledge of science in any way enhance or justify the crossover?
I understand that, and its exactly to what I am referring. Your examples are excellent. It would be also relevant the people who read Scripture to discriminate geocentrism versus heliocentrism, or the expected radiometric age of the earth. I’m
Hmm…I’m not disagreeing with this.
Rather is it the “improper mixture” that is a problem, and we are prone to the “improper mixture.” It is one of the Idols of the Theatre, or bias to read out of nature what we think we already know from revelation (as we might see in divination), or to replace revelation with pure natural theology (as we might see in an atheist). As you explain…
So I am not really sure what your corrective is. I think I read Bacon correctly because I am reading him just as you are explaining here.
Perhaps it is some my rhetoric that is confusing? Hmm…this will be good to debrief later…
I raised this awhile ago in a thread at BioLogos, citing as an example a healing from my own professional experience. When the discussion was focused on “evidence for the supernatural” it was pretty sterile, because in the end there is no way formally to distinguish from its material nature a “miracle” from “a rare and unexplained natural anomaly.” To put it bluntly, it shouldn’t be the role of science to debunk all supernatural events.
To a sufferer, a prayer accompanied by healing is sufficient evidence to be getting on with (whether or not they accept the role of God, they usually accept the healing!).
That said, if one makes public claims about a miraculous healing, it’s reasonable for other causes, including fraud, to be excluded (as in the medical apparatus set up at Lourdes, according to Keener’s book). But in the end that’s about apologetics, and not about the limits of science.
In the BioLogos discussion, I suggested that, accepting the role of the divine in the healings, one could legitimately do scientific work on matters like the statistical rates of healing, the kinds of things healed more often - in short, on any regular patterns such things might display, albeit they were held to be supernatural in origin.
I understand that it was a hope of Bacon to be able, over time, to gain a better understanding of God’s ways even in special providence by careful observation, and I see no reason why that should not be scientifically legitimate. Whether it serves any useful purpose is quite another matter!
It seems like we are all grasping the same elephant. Some of our disagreements almost seem more about definitions and rhetoric. I think we might be, at very least, on the verge of understanding each other.
We’ve had a far ranging conversation so far, but let me attempt to lay out the key pieces I’ve seen most salient to our next step.
Scientific discourse has specific rules that are part of its strength, there is a strict line between a common and authoritative conversation (which is secular), and a public side conversation (in which personal reflection can be publicly shared). @swamidass
The inheritance of the scientific enterprise must be attended. Bacon could move walls around at will, because he was architecting a field yet to be formed. We however, are inheriting a house with a history. We may not like all the rules here, but we do not have authority or freedom to change them at will. Our relationship with science is different than Bacons. He was a visionary, but perhaps we are stewards. @TWReynolds@swamidass
The scientific discourse as we find it is not Nature itself, nor does it capture all that nature tells us, nor does it extend back indefinitely in history, but merely one limited way of studying science, that had a historical beginning. It is not merely “operational” in that includes inferences about the past that might extend beyond regularlism (and there are good statistical reasons for this). We need to be very cautious about swapping around terms like “science,” “nature,” and so on. @rcohlers@swamidass@jrfarris
Miracles can be either (or both) outworks of natural law and/or special acts, and these are distinct cases. Bacon would add that Miracles are done to validate revelation, and God does not do miracles to convince the atheist. Some miracles clearly would violate natural law (as we currently understand it), such as Lazarus rising from the dead. Others would not, such as the fish being found with coin in its mouth. @rcohlers@jongarvey
There is a distinction between (1) Mary and Martha’s direct experience of observing Lazarus rise from the dead, and (2) our subsequent reception of their secondhand testimony. While the first might entirely confront us with a miracle that goes beyond natural law, the second is equivocal because we ourselves have not experienced it. The same distinction can even be made for the Resurrection of Jesus, the Miracle at Bensalem. Even if these are all violations of natural law, we access these facts by different epistemological paths than the original people who experienced these miracles. @kelvin_M
Religious experience might be a key category to add into the mix. It seems that we can experiential (and rightly) perceive God as we gaze up at the stars, but description of that event is distinct from actually experiencing that perception as we gaze. It should be fairly obvious that Science does not put much stock in this sort of personal experience, yet in miracles that experience has real epistemological warrant whether or not (and this may be key) it is a natural or supernatural miracle. @kelvin_M
The crux of the matter might be in defining the right “mixture” or “relationship” between religious experience, scientific inquiry, and revelation. In some ways this is no surprise, but the addition of religious experience seems to add a different twist. A new and proper distinction we are able to make now might be between direct perception of divine action (a type of religious experience) and reception of the report of that event in which that action was perceived. @rcohlers@swamidass
There maybe important fallacies that arise in an improper “mixture” of these things. For example, we might assume incorrect that God must have specially acted in a miracle for it to be a true miracle. @rcohlers@jongarvey
The theological language that @jack.collins emphasizes brings great succinct clarity to this. He would say, science may not be able to detect God’s action, but we can discern God’s providential governance. The words here are all important, conveying an epistemological reordering. The subject changes from “science” to “us” and the verb “detect” is changed to “discern”, to emphasize the embodied component of our reception of God’s action. The object “God’s action” is changed to “providential governance” to right name what is perceived, God’s providence, not necessarily a transcendence of natural law. @swamidass
These are pieces that I see on the table. Please let me know what else is salient. I have a couple more thoughts to add shortly…
When it comes to self-knowledge and self-consciousness. William James once posits that there is “no subjective state, whilst present, is its own object; its object is always something else.”
It might be a strong allegation but the question that puzzles me is: “If there is a fundamental self, how do we know which variation of self is pure and free from the introjection of others’ self?” I have no plausible answer to this yet but there is a potential clue that might unlock this puzzle.
Allow me to “mathematise” the puzzle (with no intention of reductionism, but to facilitate the discussion by suggesting some potential major building blocks. Welcome everyone to provide more detailed break down or add-on blocks or even “delete block(s)”)
Let say: if
S (Self) = FS (fundamental self) + IS (introjection of others’ self) + A (analysis of self) + I (Imagination of self through interpretation of data from mundane daily experience)
In this is the case, I will argue that it near impossible to be free from IS and I. @swamidass might say that science could eliminate or reduce some IS and I (Am I right?) I’ll also argue that S will eventually lead to egocentric as self, ethnocentric as a race, and so on if there is nothing to stop us from collapsing into self centric.
If we add on a theological block, namely R (revelation), then
S (Self) = FS (fundamental self) + IS (introjection of others’ self) + A + I + R
The R, as some theologians (etc: Gordon Kaufman, although he might call it theological imagination) might argue that is the factor that transcends the self (etc: agape, sacrificial love?) The essentialist might argue that FS can only be revealed by R. Hope this helps to spark some discussions.
forgive me that I have to write this as short as possible as I am packing to travel oversea.
If that is the case why would any belief in a miraculous event be justifiable, regardless of whether one is operation from the point of view of science? If the two cannot be distinguished can belief in either be rational?
It strikes me that there are certain things we know cannot have natural causes. Say, for example Christ’s calming the storm by a command in Matthew. I think if we know anything, it is that voice commands don’t alter weather patterns. Similarly, the power of Keener’s treatment in my mind is that he includes so many accounts of healings that not only are “unexplained anomalies” they are unexplained specifically because we know such thing do not happen by natural causes left to themselves and NOT that we simply do not know how natural causes left tot themselves produced such outcomes.
Is it possible that “rare and unexplained anomaly” is really something of a meaningless throw-away category? Does anyone really believe in “rare and unexplained anomalies” that there is no concern to attempt to explain?
Or might it amount to equivocation? Hume argued that if one man really did rise from the dead, we would have to assume it was merely such an unexplained natural anomaly. The equivocation is in the assumption of “one man” making the event extraordinarily rare. However, Christ’s resurrection was preceded by (I think) nine cases of the dead rising in scripture, six of which Christ himself was responsible for, the most notable being Lazarus very shortly before the death and Resurrection of Jesus himself. In other words, if only one occurred, perhaps Hume’s gambit might be reasonable. In any case, those who witnesses the Resurrection of Jesus were pre-prepared to recognize the real possibility of the dead rising, from having seen it several times. Similarly, I believe the frequency with which credible reports of indents of divine healing in response to Christian prayer occur–even if I were to limit this to my own circles in order to consider only first-hand accounts–I would have to say that such events are not only not rare, they are quite frequent.
This is to say, might not the response you encountered on BioLogos simply be a conversation stopper and not a statement of genuine alternatives?
It seems to me that if a person believes they have witnessed an incident of divine action, they do so in tandem with reasoning that such an event cannot be explained by natural causes left to themselves. In fact, if that belief is to be rationally justified, then it must be the case that such an event cannot be explained by reference to natural causes left to themselves.
I the case of “discerning” special divine action (as opposed to providential governance), it is “discerned” precisely because of its apparent abrogation of natural laws and inexplicability by appeal to natural causes and processes.
Well, there’s an issue! Hume’s approach is more than common, and was so in my former discussion, not only from atheists but from some Christians who believed that healings are so vanishingly rare as to be discounted in practice as unscientific.
So, my patient (very briefly) was convinced that his confirmed coronary artery stenosis was healed after a prayer meeting, and this was confirmed on repeat investigation. In the discussion, apart from the truth of my own account being questioned, the possibility that the first scan was erroneous was raised, as also was the vanishingly rare occurrence of spontaneous resolution (ignoring the coincidence of healing prayer and the patient’s impression of being cured).
All this would, I think, be comparable to a skeptic who points out that storms on lakes always stop eventually, that coincidentally someone might be talking at the time, and that the instant calming of the sea was just uncommon.
Equivocation, of course, but equivocation based (accoding to my impression) on either metaphysical materialism or, in the case of the skeptical Christians, a kind of soft scientism spilling over from methodological naturalism.
Is that actually achievable in practice, though? Take an extreme case from Keener’s book like the resuscitation of someone dead for hours. Natural causes can’t actually account for it, but an explanation from natural causes could always be constructed, especially since it’s extremely unlikely brain scan evidence would be available before, during and after such an event (and if it were, a Humean would say that scanners malfunction more often than miracles occur).
Hence my concentration on whether science might be done in full acceptance of a true miracle, to which I answer it might be, in a limited way.
I think this enumeration you have given is very valuable and beneficial. It is also interesting to see it laid out where science has arrived 400 years after Bacon. In regard to adding something, as I also posted below in regard to point 9:
So, I think there would be value in adding that the two distinct types of divine action are discerned for distinctly different reasons. What these reasons are and their significance could be developed.
I also think @swamidass’ earlier point about revelation connected to divine action is relevant (although originally I dismissed it):
In other words, if in _New Atlantis_the New Testament hadn’t been floating in the water to be picked up, then all thatthe inhabitants observed was a divine light show, regardless of how miraculous it was, in terms of supernatural power. So, there is an important issue of the miracle occurring within a context that provides larger significance. In cases of answers to prayer, I think it is the fact of praying itself that provides the meaningful context and larger significance.
Another salient item to add would be the human cognitive ability to detect agency. For example:
In fact, it is the fortuitousness of it which suggests agency.
Justin Barrett, who works in the area of cognitive science of religion, discusses this at length in Why Would Anyone Believe in God (2004). There he notes the ability of infants to detect personal agency early on, even in the movement of a dot on a screen or robotic rolling ball if that movement is purposeful rather than random. In fact, human beings posses the ability to detect agency with significant accuracy.
@swamidass, is there such a thing as a scientific test for agency?