Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action


(Clinton Ohlers) #80

@swamidass do you have thought on this?


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Entry on miracles

(Kelvin Chong) #82

Regards the (2) by @swamidass , Swinburne suggests another principle of rationality which he coins as “the principle of testimony” which state: “those who do not have an experience of a certain type ought to believe any others when they say that they do. Again, in the absence of evidence of deceit or delusion.” Swinburne argues that this is a general trust, without which, our knowledge of history would be nearly non-existent. Same goes with ethnographic study which relies heavily on the verbal reports and testimonies of the interviewees, unless a counter evidence is present, their accounts are generally accepted as reliable.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #83

I think this is worth expanding upon, and enumerating, before going farther. Then I want to point to one way to start bringing this together, a Lutheran notion of Paradox (@Philosurfer).

The Fallacies of Improper Mixture?

I do not present these as an exposition of Bacon, but as a riff on several failure points that I can common see. Perhaps they are not stated correctly. Feel free to revise if you see need.

  1. Miracles always implied God acted. Some miracles, however, are coincidences with out any apparent violation law. Especially with Molinism in view, there is no reason to think these are any less miraculous than special acts of God, even if they have less empirical basis to observers.

  2. Miracles always follow Natural law (or the regular order). God can transcend the regular order whenever He likes, and we are right to believe that the Resurrection of Jesus (and Lazarus) was the special action of God.

  3. If we personally perceive God’s providence, we should be able to justify it to others. However the direct experience of a miracle gives a different epistemological basis than those that merely hear of it through us. We might expect direct witnesses to be convinced, and others unconvinced.

  4. If God acted outside natural laws, science should be able to detect such irregularities. This presumes that God is always doing something in a way that is designed to be revealed to scientists thinking in a scientific way. God might (and probably usually does) have other purposes.

  5. God did not specially act if science provides natural (or scientific) explanations that seem ‘sufficient’ to explain a miracle. God might have acted in a way that is hidden from scientific inquiry. For example, God might have acted supernaturally to give us a religious experience of seeing his providential work.

  6. God used a miracle to communicate to me, so he is using that miracle to communicate to you. There is an relational difference between our personal experience with a miracle, and a the secondhand report of that miracle. God communicates differently in our personal experience of a miracle, and the testimony of that miracle to others.

  7. If I have solid grounding to believe a miracle, you also have solid grounding to believe said miracle.* There is an epistemological difference between our personal experience with a miracle, and a the secondhand report of that miracle. Even if we both come to believe a miracle took place, our strength of grounding is different.

  8. If I have good grounding for believing a miracle, science must be able to demonstrate it, perhaps be showing natural laws insufficient. For all the reasons stated above, a public inquiry by others (no matter what rules are used) would not usually be expected to agree that a miracle took place. Even if natural law was violated, evidence might usually be ephemeral. The miracle might alternate natural explanations.

  9. We can clearly discern miracles entirely independent of special revelation in any form. There is a collaboration between natural and special revelation that brings us confidence in perceiving a miracle. A strange storm might draw our interest, the light show might be bizarre, but in we could still be considering it a hoax or magic trick, or an unknown law. Something happens when the miracle is connect to special revelation that brings confidence to both. They are mutually reinforcing, such that we might doubt how clearly we could even perceive miracles independent of revelation.

  10. It is possible to scientifically demonstrate God’s action (or the “insufficiency of nature”). That may or may not be true, depending on the rules of science. The rules as we inherit them, however, seem to preclude this. Even if the rules were changed, our instinct that science (even in revised form) can clearly demonstrate God’s action or miracles might be misguided.

So those are some of the key fallacies I’m thinking. I’ll write more in a moment, exploring these fallacies are avoided in the confidence we have in the Resurrection, and how these fallacies seem to plague discourse on science and theology.

First, to answer a few questions…

Not in a way that would help with divine action.

We can only get at it indirectly, by analogy to our own sense of agency. Even then, it is very difficult to discern intentions of another person by merely looking at their actions. This is particularly true for us, because we have long range goals and purposes.

In a theological context, God has agency, but He goes about things in a manner very different than us. One of @jack.collins good points is that the inner mechanisms of God providence are not usually known. We can’t presume that studying the mechanisms of the world, therefore, that God’s providential governance would be make mathematically apparent.

God is so very different than is. He has a mind, but it is not like our mind. There is no way to know when the analogy breaks down, except to be certain that it certainly does. With things like Molinism and providence over lots in play, it is not clear at all that God’s agency can be detected by any sort of quantitative mathematical means.

First though…

Yes. This abounds in science. We can only explain things partially. So eventually we get to a point where the explanation extends outside our scope and we loose interest.

Take the comet whose impact killed the dinosaurs. How do we explain why it came precisely then at that moment in our history? Without that comet, the “humans,” that we all know and love as ourselves, might never have come into being. It is certainly a rare anomaly to the the natural order that might very well be explained entirely by natural law. It also might be a providential event. It also might have been guided by God’s action. Perhaps God ensured the creation of that comet “somehow” to clear the board for the rise of mammals, and then the rise of us.

Biological evolution is full of unexplained contingencies like this. That is why Gould says that if we were to “rewind the tape”, evolution would produce totally different things. This is seen as an anti-God statement because it is an appeal to randomness. It can just as easily be taken as an appeal to the insufficiency of our knowledge of nature (including both natural law and initial conditions) to explain what we see.

As @jongarvey and have discussed at length in relation to information theory, we have no obvious way to distinguish between: randomness, providential choice, and unknown law.

So that is the PARADOX…we understand a great deal through science, but we also do not understand very much at all. This paradox is important take hold of, and might help with this:

I would suggest we can, but in a paradoxical way. @Philosurfer

Divine Action in the Thailand Cave Rescue?
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #84

The Design Intuition

Doug Axe in his recent book articulates a commonly held sentiment.

We intuit experientially from nature that God created all things, and in this sense that He designed all things. This is a correct intuition, and falls into a category of religious experience, consistent with Romans 1:19-20. Axe (and many others) they go on to argue or believe that there then must be a way to demonstrate this scientifically. Setting aside the scientific critique of his work, that may be a prime example of a Fallacy of Improper Mixture,

Even though we might personally experience the truth of Creation, it does not necessarily follow that science will be able to demonstrate this.

The Healing Miracle

This nicely demonstrates several things.

First, just because we have correctly perceived a true miraculous healing, our experience of seeing and believing this miracle may be very sterile to others.

Second, from a distance, divorced from that experience, it is fairly easy to come up with alternate explanations, even if God actually supernaturally did heal someone. So science will see no reason to Doubt natural law is sufficient to explain this, because it reduced “the miraculous event” to the “report of the miraculous event.”

Third, recognition of the role of personal experience might give coherent explanation of why we might disagree about what caused that event. We should not doubt that miracle merely because science can come up with other explanations (which is the only thing it can do here).

Except science would not see it that way. They would see it as a natural law they were uncovering about the psycosocial context in which the miracle happened. Science might be studying God’s action here, but it would do so in distinctly non-supernatural language.

The Ressurection

So that brings me to the “one sign” that Jesus offers a skeptical world, the Resurrection. All of these fallacies and doubt might undermine our confidence in the Resurrection, but it doesn’t. Why not? It is worth looking at the contrast between the Resurrection of Lazarus and the Resurrection of Jesus, and considering a few things.

Let us look at the Resurrection of Jesus.

We can wonder (and many people have) if there was a non-miraculous explanation. Perhaps it was an elaborate hoax? Perhaps it was a lie? Perhaps he did not really die? You can go through the list. We can “rule out” many of these things also of course, at least we think we can. We largely agree that if it happened, it was God who made it happen by a special act. However, we are still left with an absurdity. No on rises from the dead, so that must not be what happened. No one can be blamed for doubting that claim, wondering if it is merely ignorance or lack of creativity that has held us back from the true and more mundane and natural answer.

There are several of the tensions to that summary, and let me expose them here.

  1. If Jesus rose from the dead, must it have been supernatural? In precisely what way? Do we really? Perhaps there is an advanced technology like Star Trek transporters that can rematerialized a dead person at a state before they were killed. Sure, we do not have that technology, but we have certainly imagined it. Maybe an alien species is playing a trick on us. And if we believe it was supernatural, it might still be God working by way of instantiating that new technology into place 2000 years ago. At what point the story becomes supernatural is more mysterious than we might initially think.

  2. Does the evidence points strongly to the Resurrection? Is that really true in a precise sense? Rather it seems the evidence points strongly to something important that happened in history at this point in time and space. It is a wild leap to believe that a person rose from the dead. That is an unbelievable claim, and must surely be false. Until we affirm it, and which point it surely must be true.

  3. Is the Resurrection a belief that work towards from an epistemological grounding, or is it in fact our epistemological grounding? The Ressurection is an unbelievable claim, and must surely be false. Until we affirm it, and which point it surely must be true. Something paradoxical is going on here. It seems in different ways both are happening. There may be a “before” and “after” we affirm it as a distinction, but I think there may be something else.

So we are left with an interesting puzzle. How do we come to confident belief in the unbelievable? How do we believe that Jesus rose from the dead?

This actually traces back to some of my earliest comments about the True Miracle of Bensalem,

I find the same surprise in the Resurrection.

Public evidence alone does not give a good account of our collective belief that Jesus rose from the dead. I think, however, we’ve laid out the tools to make sense of this.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #85

Of course, there is public evidence for the Resurrection:


How We Believe The Unbelievable

I think there might be some value in remembering how we all came to confident faith in Jesus. It was not merely evidence, but also personal experience. There is a common pattern.

  1. We learn of the person Jesus in history (including the Gospels, prophecies, and more), and it usually includes at least testimonial evidence for the Resurrection, if not a full apologetics case.

  2. At some point along the way we encounter others who confess their experience with Jesus, the Risen One. Of note is the far reaching diversity (temporarily, culturally, spatially, and psychologically) of the Church, which is a bizarre feature of the testimony.

  3. We usually come perceive a strong experience (personally perceived, even if it happens in a crowd) with living and real Presence in the world. Depending on our pneumatology, we might call it the filling of the Spirit, or “seeing” Jesus, or we might even lack words to describe it.

I was going to put examples, it is almost silly to do in just this moment (or perhaps I am wrong). It is just such a common pattern. We see it in @sygarte’s story (in his upcoming book, Jesus, Segregation, and a West County Church in STL), in Francis Collin’s Language of God, in my own story too ( We see it in Todd Cade’s confession too:

We even see them in the Gospel of Paul (1 Cor 15). (1) the person of Jesus, including evidence of prophecy and death, (2) the evidence of many other’s testimonies, and (3) the evidence of the messenger’s testimony himself. The extension here is that we also can come to experience something of this living God, to be able to our own testimony to the chain we are hearing.

There is a mutually reinforcing epistemology to these three things. That is, it seems, how we come to confidence in the Resurrection.This might be how the Resurrection becomes the one sign, because God is continually revealing Himself to all of us through this sign.

Personal Experience Overlooked?

I wonder if we have not paid proper attention to the miraculous nature of the religious experience in bringing us to confident knowledge of divine action.

It seems as if it is the collaboration of public evidence, with private religious experience, and public confession of said experience is what makes the Resurrection so potent. With out the religious experience, I’m not sure we could believe. After all, we can always wonder if it was just a natural explanation we can’t figure out yet.

Of course, having encountered Jesus, and affirmed the Resurrection, we come to a different view of the world. Now, on hearing the report of Mary and Martha, we believe that God raised Lazarus from the dead without difficulty, even though that miracle is just as unbelievable as the first. In that way the Resurrection (including all three elements: (1) historical Jesus, (2) testimony of others, (3) our own experience) becomes epistemological grounding for all the rest. Jesus becomes why we trust the rest as true. Without the Resurrection, however, we have good reason to think all of it is false.

I suppose I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I wrote recently to our resident atheist:

Perhaps it is private evidence that comes from religious experience (@kelvin_M) or embodied discernment of providence (@jack.collins) is inaccessible to “SCIENCE”. It just can’t see what we might clearly see.

Does this start to give us a way forward? @jrfarris @rcohlers

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #86

And the final thought is to remind us of CS Lewis, who it seems had it right all along.

We can paradoxically hold scientific truths as “true” in the scientific discourse, but at the same time know it is not the whole story, not the whole truth.

In regards to God’s action, science plays a limited role, like the “red team” ( or “devil’s advocate,” coming up with the best non-divine explanation it can. That is valuable activity that might even be usually the correct thing to do. It is also valuable even in cases where God did actually act. The danger just comes in thinking that the dream is the waking world. Science will play red team, because that is what it is defined to do.

However, at some point we have to step outside the dream, engage the world as whole people. There we might experience things and see things that bring us to confident knowledge of Miracles. This might happen even as we move back and forth between inside and outside the scientific ways of thinking, just as as we do every night that we dream and wake the next day.

The danger again is not the dreaming world, but in only dreaming, or never dreaming. We want to take forward both ways of thinking of the world, even though they sit in tension, or even contradiction. That is the paradox. And I hope the Lutherans can help us here. @Philosurfer

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #87

A brief thought about this. I have my disagreements with BioLogos, but on these distinctions I think they may be as confused as the rest of us.

Remembering the Sandbox Parable of @jrfarris, perhaps they identify with Sally’s anger a good deal, seeing her side of the story in the conflict with ID Johnny. They also see the inheritance of science, and want to be faithful stewards of it alongside Sally. They place their loyalty with her, and echo her side of the conflict. They might come to confine themselves too much to the scientific sandbox now, perhaps out of a confused sense of loyalty, and perhaps not really understanding the rules in the first place. Their conflict with me, for these reasons, may be more confused loyalty than a well considered engagement with Sally or Johnny. Or, for that matter, me.

That would explain why they’ve struggled ot make sense of a de novo Adam, and were genuinely surprised when it was received as good science. They do not, actually, seem to understand The Rules of the Game. Though they have aligned themselves with science, they often cross lines they shouldn’t.

Ironically, I’m freely moving between inside and outside the sandbox, but they may be less trusted by Sally, because they don’t play by the rules quite right inside the sandbox. Sally, after all, does not care what I do outside her sandbox.

(Jon Garvey) #88

Just one point here - the example is about regular patterns in events which (being wise beyond all others!) we know to be miracles. And lo, we find science can be done on this - and the regularities are defined as “natural laws” by scientists (rather than “science”, I think).

Now, assuming that there is no metaphysical bias against belief in God by the scientists involved, that demonstrates that it is solely regularity, and not the involvement or non-involvement of God, that is amenable to scientific investigation.

Thus, if occasionalism were the truth (ie God does all, and there are no true secondary causes at all), science would be entirely about the direct works of God, and nobody could tell the difference.

So it is not the fundamental nature of events that defines what is amenable to science, but the patterns they do or do not show to human observers. So “natural” is to do with the experience of events, not their cause.


I think this is a common theme among many believers of most religions.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #90

True, though the strange thing about Christians @Argon is that it is also connected to a historical event in history:

This appears to be unique among religions. There are certainly other claims of miraculous events in other religions. The founding event of the Church, however, appears to be a miracle that has left public evidence that lasts till this day. Moreover, the Church is really multiple distinct (and not so distinct) religions that are all linked together by this event in history. There is an also an invitation to come and see private evidence that Jesus in the living God.

It is much like all religions might perceived something fo God, but God gives his name, his true identity, by revealing himself to all people in Jesus. If God wants to be known by name, and if He is God of all people, we should not be surprised that he has revealed Himself in a manner such as this.

I know you are an agnostic @Argon. I’m curious, still, to know what you think of Jesus.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #91

A post was merged into an existing topic: Side Comments on Clinton Ohlers

(Andrew Loke) #92

I would like to thank Joshua and Clinton for inviting me to join in the conversation. Due to tight schedule I can only offer very brief comments regarding the recognition of miracles and refer to my writings elsewhere in which the comments are elaborated and substantiated:

In my view, miracles are identifiable; in particular, with respect to the resurrection of Jesus, the evidences for the event (e.g. the tomb was empty, the disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion) together with the exclusion of the naturalistic alternatives and the presence of a relevant religious context will entail sufficient epistemic justification for the conclusion of a miraculous resurrection.

Naturalistic alternatives are of two kinds: first, there are naturalistic alternatives TO the resurrection event; i.e. Jesus did not rise from the dead; rather, the disciples stole the body and made up the claim to have seen him alive, or the disciples hallucinated, or Jesus didn’t die on the Cross, etc.

Second, there are naturalistic alternatives FOR the resurrection event; i.e. Jesus did rise from the dead but it wasn’t caused miraculously, rather it was caused naturally e.g. it was a scientific anomaly or it was caused by aliens that are yet unknown to us.

Concerning the first kind, this article notes the evidences for Jesus’ resurrection as explained by N.T. Wright and demonstrates that all the possible naturalistic alternatives TO the resurrection event can be essentially reduced to a few known ones, such that all of them are considered and excluded before the conclusion for the resurrection is made:

Concerning the second kind, the Scientific Anomaly Hypothesis is evidently fantastically improbable: we have enough understanding of natural laws to know that people do not rise from the dead naturally. It is contrived to think that this event, out of billions of deaths which have occurred, happened as a scientific anomaly and is associated by chance with a person’s claim to be divine and/or with the person’s prediction of it. On the other hand, the miraculous resurrection of Jesus is not contrived given this religious context. Even if the resurrection of Jesus has a natural explanation which is yet unknown to twenty first century scientists, we still need to ask how could it have been known and utilized to raise Jesus in the first century and vindicate his claim to be truly divine. Such a knowledge and ability to manipulate natural laws would still require a supernatural agent in any case.

Alternative naturalistic causes such as aliens are ad hoc, because there is no independent reason for believing that an alien who had such powers to resurrect the dead exists. However, we do have independent reasons (e.g. the cosmological argument) for thinking that a God who can act supernaturally (e.g. by creating our universe with its natural laws) exists (see my God and Ultimate Origins [Springer Nature 2017]). We can infer that such a God who created the natural laws would also have the power to raise the dead. Given these reasons, the demonstration that there are good historical evidences for thinking that Jesus claimed to be truly divine (i.e. to be on the Creator side of the Creator–creature divide and of equal ontological status as God the Father; see my The Origins of Divine Christology [Cambridge University Press 2017]) would—together with historical evidences for his resurrection—be a good reason to believe that his coming back to life was an act of God the Creator and a vindication of his claim.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #93

Thanks @Andrew_Loke. I really appreciate this analysis, agree with and have much to learn from it too.

I do agree that this miracle is identifiable. In context of the larger conversation, it does not appear that SCIENCE (in the language of science, using the rules of science) can identify this as a miracle. The rules of science, as we have inherited them, do not allow us to consider God’s action. Science does show that the best naturalistic explanations are feeble (but not necessarily false).

So the moves your are making are warranted and correct, and I agree with them. They, however, necessarily take us outside the scientific sandbox. That shouldn’t concern us though. There still is…


(Daniel Deen) #94

I need a bit more time to digest this thread. But I’ll get reading, thinking, and posting soon.

(Kelvin Chong) #95

Hi Clinton, I am sort of thinking along the same line as you. Let me starts with Swinburne first.

Instead of providing criterion for genuine religious experience, Swinburne posits three counter evidences that would void a religious experience (implying that it is not a genuine religious experience). First, “we have positive evidence that perceptions are unreliable.” An example of this is: We have evidence against a self-proclaimed mage that claims that he can see through any sealed solid box by setting up an experiment that disprove his claim.

Second, “we may have evidence in the particular case that things are not as they seem to be.” An example is someone claims that he saw angel appears in the rainbow cloud and shown a photo of the rainbow cloud. The evidence that was shown seem to be authentic and not fabricated. However, the rainbow clouds might not be what they seem to be. It is a rare natural phenomenon called “Fire Rainbow” or circumhorizontal arcs. This spectacular event was caused by the sunlight shining through cirrus clouds filled with ice crystal, thus creating rainbow-like halo and refracted light. The counter evidence is even stronger if the rare phenomenon is confirmed by the weather bureau.

Third, “there may be evidence that the apparent experience was not caused—whether directly or indirectly—by the object purportedly experienced.” For instance, an evidence that an extra ordinary event claimed to be a miracle by God is in fact an optical illusion caused by careful planning of a professional magician (instead of God).

The two remaining categories belong to the experiencers’ subjective experiences that are hard to disprove.
Religious experience that is ineffable. Language cannot describe religious experience of this kind as in “what it is?” But it could be uttered negatively as in “what it is not” or metaphorically.

Religious experience that is non-sensory based.
For example: Feeling the presence of God or a sense of unity with the nature or divine. This type of religious experience can be achieved by religious practices such as meditation.

(Joshua Ryan Farris) #96

There are several items that became clear to me after some reflection on many of the themes that we have been discussing the last two days. While it is getting late for me, I wanted to lay them out before I forgot them. Hopefully, they make some sense.

There are several themes that it seems need some resolution, and there other themes for which I have some worries. Let me state them candidly (I hope this will not be taken as too direct) in numbered form.

  1. It has become fairly clear to me that we do not have a model for how science and religion should or could interact.

  2. It is not clear from the discussion that we have a way that other disciplines outside of science actually contribute evidence.

This has become clear when discussing various topics that have been crucial to religious discussions historically (e.g., the existence of God, the existence of the soul, free will, morality, supernatural causation). While we have stated that science is limited and other disciplines have some function in leading us to the knowledge of truth by way of evidence, it is not clear how philosophy or theology could function by way of providing evidence. Many of the topics listed above simply are not demonstrable scientifically (i.e., according to the scientific method) with its emphasis on empirical means of testing. Nonetheless, we have all stated that those means are limited and insufficient for arriving at knowledge of truth by way of evidence. Let me offer some examples.

– At various times, when we have discussed the resurrection above, it has been described as partially public evidence and partially private or personal.
– When we discuss souls, souls are considered unfalsifiable, so they are non-scientific. However, given our assumption up front that science is limited and we need other evidences that come from other disciplines, it seems perfectly reasonable to supply other evidences in the form of rational argumentation that supports the doctrine of souls.
– This also applies to the existence of God. Is there a way to arrive at knowledge of the truth about God’s existence by way of evidence that is non-scientific? I think so. How? It is not clear what has been said in the discussion here.

  1. Starting points? We need to establish starting points that are, for the purposes of the discussion here, not inconsistent with the scientific method. Is that possible? I am not sure.

– I suggest starting with first-person knowledge.
– What about other philosophical principles? How do they function in a way that is not inconsistent with the scientific method. Many philosophical principles seem to be givens that we cannot function without, but are they really empirically testable. Not really. Are they falsifiable? Not really.
– E.g., the principle of noncontradiction, the principle of sufficient reason, the principle of cause and effect (that is not beholden to some empirically dependent criterion)

This leads to another theme in the discussion that deserves parsing out.

  1. The nature of action; what is the nature of action, causation, events?

– One of the big themes has been the nature of action.
– Another issue is the ability to “discern” cause and effect in such a way that we can make a distinction between normal, regular (i.e., natural although I don’t like the word) causes, and, generalizable, repeatable laws from unique causes.

– All of these seem to presuppose some notion of substance with power, or agency, which seems to depend upon minds.
– However, the problem is that science cannot prove or demonstrate when and what kind of agency is at work. Again, the scientific method is limited.
– We can set up useful empirical criterions for detecting or ‘discerning’ agency or a substance with power, but that is insufficient. There is something about the nature of agents, minds (and you do not have to be a Cartesian to say this, although Descartes was on to something regarding the invisibility of mental goings on) that are inaccessible in science or from a third-person perspective.
– Science will just not get us these things.
– We can set up criterions like: specified complexity, or the fine-tuning of the world for minds, telos. These criterions may be empirically verifiable and, arguably, useful in detecting or ‘discerning’ or providing evidence (depending on the how question) for moving forward. For example, there are many fine and sophisticated fine-tuning arguments regarding minds that would seem to support the fact of some big agent that set it up this way. The problem is that this is not science. Is that a problem? Should we reject this as unscientific?
– At some level, epistemically, if we are going to ‘discern’ agency, then we are going to punt not to science (i.e., scientific method), but to abductive reasoning, probability, and/or reliabilism. But, when do these become acceptable ways of providing evidence that is publicly accessible and avoids ‘idolatry’, thus leading us from the empirical world to that which is beyond it?

  1. My fear is that, on the one hand, we claim that science is limited and, on the other hand, unscientific approaches are not really reliable, which leaves us with a big void of the most important things in life. Can we provide some resolution?

– Many scientists, who are religious, end up accepting the chasm between these two domains (a kind of Kantian split that doesn’t really overlap).
– Some scientists, who are religious, accept some form of mysticism to fill the void, which lacks any sort of public character and denies that religion/philosophy supplies actual evidence that leads to knowledge of truth.

  1. Another fear after the discussion is that there is a gulf between scientists and philosophers/theologians.

  2. Why not move to one of the ‘bridge’ paradigms? I see why there is a draw to move toward reductivism, emergentism, panpsychism, or ID. But, again, these are not science as it has been defined. Is that bad? When is it not bad?

Maybe we need to set up clear rules not only for practicing science, but also practicing science in conversation with theology. I am not sure what those rules would be, and not sure that would go over very well.

I think I will end there for now. I hope I made some remote sense.

(Andrew Loke) #97

Dear Joshua,

Thank you for your response. I agree with you that science by itself cannot identify a miracle. However, I think science can be used by philosophical argument to rule out certain naturalistic alternatives as one of the steps towards identifying a miracle. For example, a recent study concludes that collective hallucinations are not found in peer-reviewed medical literature, and that ‘collective hallucination as an explanation for the disciples’ post-crucifixion group experiences of Jesus is indefensible’:

Bergeron, Joseph and Gary Habermas. 2015. ‘The Resurrection of Jesus: A Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of Easter.’ Irish Theological Quarterly 80: 157-172.

The identification of miracle is truly interdisciplinary and requires not only science but also history, philosophy, and theology.

(Joshua Ryan Farris) #98

Dear Andrew,

It is good to have you with us, my friend.

Yes, I totally agree with everything you have stated, yet it does seem in tension with some of the items in the present discussion about appropriate use of data from outside disciplines as evidence.

I have found Habermas’s work persuasive in the past.

I guess what I was laying out above was an attempt to summarize themes/concerns that need to be answered, so that we can spell out ways to move forward, given what we have said. I do wonder if Habermas’s work would be considered unscientific.

(Jon Garvey) #99

Is this “problem” not a result of the limitation of science itself to the easy questions? You seem to share my own preference for “regular” over “natural”, and that’s logical because it’s the finding of regularities that enables a high degree of empirical certainty and prediction to science.

The number of things in the universe that are regular in this way is limited both qualitatively and quantitively, and in fact the regularity is partly an artifact of science’s abstraction of the patterns from the messy reality. You can only make predictions about “all falling bodies” by reducing them to numbers and losing the fact that they are meteors, aviators, or whales. But it’s comforting to gain security from their reliability, which is one reason people abandon philosophy or clinical mediciene for pure science, or why politicians seek relief in gardening or handicrafts.

But this certainty depends on certain philosophical assumptions about the rationality of the universe, the reliability of the senses and reason, etc, which are well known to philosophers of science and far less certain.

It is not just God, but minds (as you point out) that are “black boxes” in many ways, and which constitute the most important things of life. The relative uncertainty about these things is intrinsic and inevitable - the scientist who fully grasps relativity still fails to understand their spouse.

Part of the discussion (in which I know Joshua has already participated) is in pointing out to scientists just how their whole “reliable” enterprise depends on “unreliable” human foundations, like all other knowledge. That means that understanding “warranted belief” certainly has a place in considering religion, but not in contrast to science, which is not exempt from its own epistemological uncertainties at the deeper levels.