I think the search for a single model for relating science and religion interact is actually counterproductive. There is not a thing called the “the scientific method” underlying all successful science. Different sciences use different methods, so we should not expect a one-size-fits-all answer.
Rather than developing a methodology to reconcile science and religion, we should take a “bottom-up” approach. We should start with the problem first and then have methodological debates about how best to solve it. An analogy: scientists on the first day of grad school don’t take a class in the “scientific method.” They start first learning the problems and then work out methodological disagreements as science progresses. This is why most philosophers of science don’t concern themselves with general methodology anymore.
It is good to see you here too, my friend! Sorry I don’t have time to read your previous posts in detail, just a quick reply due to tight schedule: Habermas uses scientific evidence in his article against Collective Hallucination as a naturalistic alternative to Jesus’ resurrection. While he also uses philosophical arguments and historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, this is not a problem given the falsity of scientism, and given that philosophical and historical evidence can produce reliable results too. To elaborate slightly, in Chapter 1 of my book God and Ultimate Origins (Springer Nature 2017), I argue that philosophical reasoning – when done properly – is capable of yielding items of knowledge which are more reliable (and which we can be even more epistemically certain about) than the discoveries of science, and in the rest of the book I show that such reasoning can lead us to conclude that a Creator of the universe exist.
Concerning historical evidence, in response to Lessing’s Ugly Ditch and the question ‘how can the certainty of faith tolerate what Wilhelm Herrmann called ‘the continually changing’ results of historical study?’, O’Collins (Revelation, OUP 2016) points out it is not the case that all the results are continually changing; moreover, changes often involve only secondary details (p. 90). Historians can ‘reach genuine certainties about ancient matters such as the achievements of Julius Caesar and his death in 44 BC’ (vi; O’Collins and I would argue the same for Jesus’ resurrection too; compare with many scientific hypothesis which are in the process of changing).
At no point have I sought a single scientific method or looked for a one size fits all answer. I hope you are speaking generally here, and not misunderstood this.
Nor do I think we are looking for a methodology to reconcile science and religion.
I would say instead I am hoping to engage in a cross-disciplinary conversation to better make known some of the realities science that are not appreciated by others, and to find ways to improve the conversation. I am hoping that this all might be understood so we can avoid some reoccurring pitfalls.
Ironically you propose a general methodology here, a “bottom up” methodology. If philosophers of science don’t concern themselves with such things, I’d be interested to hear how you’ve concerned yourself with a general methodology.
Also, this methodology has been proposed and attempted before. Empirically speaking, it creates a great deal of conflict, especially when it has been attempted by the Intelligent Design movement. It would be interesting to hear what would different about how you would do this than the several attempts to do the same by @pnelson, Dembski, Plantinga, Moreland, and others.
For example, there is a special pleading made to treat the origin of life question with different rules (consistent with your “bottom up” general methodology), and this special pleading is rightfully rejected. There is no precedence for a special pleading like this, and the field knows that if it were to start accepting speculation that blatantly violates the norms of biology (and chemistry), they would be called pseudo-scientists. Your “bottom-up” approach neglects that hard reality. The typical rebuttal is to denounce the close mindedness of science, but this fails to understand why this is happening and work around it.
The common problem I see in this family of approaches is that there not enough attention given to “inheritance” (to use @gfulkers’s lanugage).
Science is given to us. It is not just a blank slate. We do not have the authority to change it at will. We discussed this in the Parable of the Sandbox. Science also is limited and it can be wrong, but we can’t just changes its rules at will, especially in an idiosyncratic way. That is a central reason ID has failed in its efforts to change the rules.
My answer to this is to make clear the limits of scientific discourse as we find it, whether we like the rules or not. Then to play by those rules in the science sandbox, but have a larger interdisciplinary conversation, where claims beyond science can be made, as long as they are clearly made “outside science.” Why exactly is that a bad idea? If you find an error help me understand.
As for the bottom up approach, we’ve tried variations of this for over 20 years now. Why not try something new?
Can you help us find a better way?
I totally disagree on this point, and its critical: Unscientific approaches can be reliable. As Christians, why would we ever think that only science is a reliable path to truth? I’m not even sure science is a reliable path to truth, because it so limited to the tractable questions.
@jrfarris you’ve really misread me here. I totally disagree with this claim.
Unscientific approaches can be reliable because it is by a non-scientific approach that I come to confident faith in Jesus. I totally resist any notion that science is the only reliable path to truth. For that reason, I don’t fit in your taxonomy…
Don’t mistake my earlier use of the word “mystic”. I meant that when we declare things we have seen to those who have not seen them, it is mysterious to them. I’m not proposing mysticism for us. I’m instead insisting we should be confident in things we see outside the scientific sandbox. Our confession of these things to scientist is actual evidence that leads to knowledge of truth.
I agree with this. It is surprising that this would be in dispute by @Josh_Reeves and @jrfarris. Even if it does not follow the rules of science (and is therefore unscientific), proper philosophical reasoning is one path to truth.
Thanks Joshua for your comments. I understand that this topic will close in 3 hours time. It has been a joy interacting with you and others. Look forward to seeing you in HK. Goodnight and God bless! (nearly 11 pm here in Singapore)
Concur with @swamidass and @Andrew_Loke regards the epistemic strength of some non-science discipline(s). However, I doubt that there is a crystal clear demarcation between science and non-science discipline(s) in terms of methodology(ies). For instance, both science and philosophy leverages on logic (deduction and induction) which grants credential to the explanatory power. The differences are the object/agent being studied (or being engaged), the nature of evidence(s), epistemological nuances as the receiving faculties are slightly different (etc: soul?) and so on.
@Andrew_Loke I always wish to meet ya in HK (common friends with @rcohlers Karen and Pui), looking forwards to meeting ya in August or September.
The Limits of Science and Religious Experience in the Natural Realm
It seems to me that one of the singe most important points and common themes throughout this exchange has been to recognize the limitations of science for accessing all of reality.
Let me state something not for the purpose of seeking to alter the rules of the scientific sandbox, but as an observation relevant to the cross-disciplinary engagement between that sandbox and others and the rational human goal of a coherent, comprehensive, and cogent view of reality (aka, the waking state):
We seem forced to recognized that science in not simply limited in scope but to a certain degree it is limited in its fundamental accuracy. By this I mean that if religious experiences of divine action are real, the scientific response will also be a false one. It will be a response predetermined to arrive at falsehood due to the accepted rules in play.
Nevertheless, science maintains its cultural predominance as the single most authoritative and accurate means of knowledge about the external world, and if divine action is real, in engagement with other disciplines science risks playing a misleading role. If we agree on the reality of divine action, then we can also say that historically this has actually been the effect of engagement with science by philosophy and theology for about 150 years–or more conservatively, between about 1875 through the 1980s.
Take, for example, @jongarvey’s quite credibly confirmed medical instance of apparent special divine action that involved a patient of his. He and attributed responses to this report as,
I find this interesting, because actual cases of medically observed divine action would seem to be ideal candidates for cross-disciplinary discussion between science and theology.
The following exchange is also exemplary, initiated by @jongarvey:
@Andrew_Loke has pointed out the valuable contribution of scientific knowledge of hallucination for the study of the Resurrection. However by the same reasoning above, should it actually be accepted that Jesus was personally observed by multiple people after his bona fide death and burial, then one suspects group hallucinations would be back on the table as a possible one-off anomaly.
This is essentially what I intended to get at with my statement
That is, if one really believed something was an unexplained anomaly, as in @jongarvey’s example, sooner or later it would also be someone’s research project informed by the presupposition of natural causation.
As the above @jongarvey - @swamidass exchange seems to indicate, we speak favorably of recognizing that science has limits, but are these limits applied to any real question that concerns observable events or phenomena? So, science plays the “red team,” which is valuable for ruling out supposed miracles that are attributable to misunderstood natural causes, but science appears to have no self-correcting ability to adjudicate its own false proposals on questions of divine action.
Recognizing this difficulty and moving forward nonetheless, it is fair to ask whether there are any phenomena in the physical universe that meet the following criteria:
their detection or apprehension of which would qualify as bona fide knowledge
science cannot detect them
they are genuinely perceived by other means than science
their validity is widely, even universally, accepted
I think there are.
As I mentioned,
I think of agency detection as a corollary of our recognition of other minds, but not the same thing.
I might better have phrased the question to @swamidass as “is there a scientific test capable of detecting intelligent agency of any type, such as human agency?”
I will assume the answer to this is “no” and that science relies on the human cognitive ability to do so rather than constructs reliable tests for it (and I realize this assumption may be quite off).
Not only do we have the ability to detect agents, regardless of potential errors gaging specific intent, we are extremely good at detecting them. Put another way, most of our waking hours include the detection of the existence of real phenomena and causes, personal ones, that effect outcomes in the physical world to for which a scientific test is probably unsound. This remains true, even when such agency is expressed through a remotely controlled avatar that lacks normal properties of animate beings due to having the form of a two dimensional shape or sphere.
Therefore, we detect real agents even when their presence is known through inanimate objects that are not normally associated with agency, and from which the agents are separated by distance and not directly visible. Not only do we do so with a high degree of reliably, we do it constantly, and its fair to say that such detection is one of our most regular activities, right behind breathing and seeing.
If my assumption about scientific testing is correct, then we can say that what human beings detect regularly and with reliable accuracy, science does not detect, but relies on the human faculty as the basis for questions affected by the choices of active agents. For example, @swamidass, am I right that in scientific questions like whether a biological trait is attributable to sexual selection, agency is treated as a given, and one that does not rely on the ability of science to accurately test for agency?
Miracles as Agent Phenomena
@Jongarvey raised the useful example of the parting of the Jordan river. Here we have a providential event (since it occurred through normal natural causes) for which the indicator of divine action and is the timing of the Israelites arrival which requires intelligent planning. One might also point out the Israelites were at this time (or at least previously) recorded as being led by a cloud by day and pillar of fire at night. So, the manifestation of agency was undeniable.
What first and foremost characterizes knowledge of divine action is the detection of agency, not necessarily a spectacular display explained only by a direct manifestation of supernatural power. Rather, agency is apparent in the coordination of events that exceed the power of nature left to itself. Therefore, agency is non-natural, in the sense of “natural” taken to mean an unguided material causes, such as the type that are offered to explain reported miracles. It is also the fundamental element of what we mean by “divine action” whether general, as in providence, or special, as in miracles.
@Andrew_Loke by contrast, points out that this apparent impasse reduces to absurdity when the appeal to unknown natural law is applied to the Resurrection of Christ.
For similar reason to @Andrew_Loke’s, I selected examples that both cannot be explained in terms of general providence or by conceivable naturalistic explanations, (e.g, the raising of Lazarus), and specifically from the point of view of one directly witnessing the event so as to remove the question of historical transmission.
If we know anything about natural laws and processes, we know that natural causes do not reverse the effects of over three days of tissue decomposition in any climate and restore an individual to his former self to that he is found having dinner with friends a short time later. If we don’t know this, then we don’t know anything. Nevertheless, the “unknown natural cause” caveat always remains as an intellectual, or perhaps psychological, escape valve.
In order to move forward, then, let me suggest then that the problem information theory appears incapable of resolving is likely what I would call a Zeno paradox: that is a very compelling paradox which appears at one and the same time both irrefutable and contrary to direct experience. Zeno’s paradox on motion, which stumped so many early philosophers and budding philosophy students relies on a false assumption that simply isn’t easily uncovered. I would include Hume’s argument against cause and effect also as such a type of paradox (although I haven’t taken the time to verify that).
I suspect this conundrum of information theory relies on a similar flaw. Either there is a false assumption that we haven’t recognized, or information theory is simply trivial to this question, or another rule needs to be put into place so that scientific discourse with theology and in reference to genuine aspects of reality beyond its domain does not result in absurdity.
Let me propose one possible solution.
Properly Basic Disbelief as a Corrective to the Science-Supernatural Divide
If there is such a thing as a properly basic belief, such as that other minds exist apart from my own because I observe the actions in others that I personally experience as the result of my own mind, then there also such a thing as properly basic disbelief. The counterpart of this particular basic belief is properly basic skepticism toward the byzantine logic required to assert that it is genuinely plausible to hold that oneself alone possesses a mind and everybody else is an automaton.
I think the recognition that properly basic beliefs necessarily entail (if I am correct) properly basic disbelief could be useful in response to the “unknown natural law” caveat.
It would go something like this:
If a certain set of criteria are met, perhaps akin to some of Swinburne’s shared by @kelvin_M or developed in Keener, and the “unknown natural law” is raised such that if it were applied to other attested miracles, such as the resurrection of Christ and resuscitation of Lazarus, the result would be absurdity (e.g., that we know dead men do not spontaneously return to life due to natural causes after several days of internment, except when they do, in which case it must be by natural causes), then the proposal of natural causes be treated not as scientific sophistication but according to properly basic skepticism.
The point being appeal to potential natural causes has value, but it also has limits.
Starting Points: Revelation, the Royal Society, and Modern Science
@Swamidass has raised some very helpful and valuable observation regarding how we arrive at belief in the Resurrection of Christ, and I think there is a great deal more to explore here. For example, relationship of first-hand experience of special divine action to second-hand experience, and the context of prior revelation, as they relate to issues of science and special divine action.
@jrfarris has raise some persuasive concerns about obstacles to interdisciplinary collaboration between science, philosophy, and theology, and @Andrew_Loke has pointed out the necessity of interdisciplinary approaches to addressing these questions.
For my part, when I look at Bacon and the virtuosi of the early Royal Society, I am impressed by the importance of one’s starting point for inquiry. Bacon and his subsequent counterparts at the Royal Society shared a great deal in common with contemporary Christians outside the scientific community as well as those inside. Their starting point for inquiry was to treat the whole of biblical revelation as informing their view of reality. This was true of Bacon, Wilkins, Sprat, Boyle, even Newton. They did not relish the idea of setting up a system of natural enquiry which served to uncover natural causes remarkably well but at the expense of distorting the larger picture of reality. They did not consider as valid a form of inquiry that would appeal to hypothetic natural causes that were actually false explanations but “saved the appearances” of natural causation. As a result, I think their work has a richness and relevance today that is particularly well suited to contemporary concerns. I strongly suspect that to move forward on the questions of science and religious experience, recapturing their epistemic starting point and applying it in ways that respect but are not beholden to the developments of the last 400 years will be instrumental to genuine interdisciplinary advancement on these questions.
Thanks Joshua. I didn’t have a chance to read all the posts but I was picking up on questions in a post from @jrfarris that seemed to intersect with my own work. My apologies if it was not clear who I was responding to.
I would agree that we have all methodologies that we use. I was really speaking of the ideal, popular since the 19th century, that there was a single methodology (e.g, Popper, Lakatos) underlying all successful science. That assumption has not been helpful for the conversation between science and religion, in my opinion.
I think my use of “bottom-up” gave a misleading impression of what I am arguing (I was using it the way John Polkinghorne uses it). I am not asking to change ground rules of science, for example. Rather I am making the point that classic philosophy of science (and its search for :"the scientific method), which has had a large influence on the Christianity and Science conversation, has often been too isolated from actual practice to be of much use. But I wonder if my arguments are addressing a different set of worries and problems than you have been addressing here.
Okay @swamidass is looking for some sort of Lutheran reflection on the nature of paradox as a way forward with his notion of "Fallacies of Improper Mixture, " the recognition of divine action in the world (miracle), and I suppose a viewpoint on the nature of science and religion – so here we go!
The nature of Lutheran paradox is captured in Luther’s tract, “On the Freedom of a Christian,” where he states, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” Regarding the Christian in the world, Luther recognizes that we are completely free and completely bound. For anyone who has looked into Luther’s theology, you’ll find affinity with the familiar Lutheran dualisms of Saint/Sinner, the Sacraments of Bread/Body, Wine/Blood, Two Kingdom Theology, etc…
The paradox of practical Christian freedom gives way to more theoretical/metaphyscial paradoxes as we use our freedom to contemplate the nature of God and his creation. Luther is famous for limiting reason to ministerial purposes. Reason must always remain subordinate to scripture. Of course, this is easier said than done and just as demarcating science from pseudoscience is a difficult if not impossible task, so is often the task of recognizing when reason slips from a ministerial into a magisterial role. Easy cases are trying to understand the two natures of Christ. Any attempt to understand how Christ can be fully man and fully God will lead one to reasoning beyond what scripture makes clear – we break with the Reformed on this one. Harder cases are going to be something like discerning a legitimate miracle in the world today.
How this might play out with divine action is looking to Scripture, particularly John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I would take this to mean that if I’m not somehow talking about Christ, then any talk of the Father is going to be speculative. Do miracles happen? Absolutely, as @swamidass@Andrew_Loke and others have pointed out, scripture surely testifies to these miracles. I trust the reports and thus know that miracles are possible. Do I see miracles around me? Maybe, but alternative explanations will always be possible and the declaration that X is a miracle will always be underdetermined by the data. This is partly due to how God seems to work in the world – he uses his natural creation (water to wine, burning bushes, becoming man). @swamidass has pointed out repeatedly that science simply can’t account for miracles. I think this is correct as even if we could have been at Lazarus’ bedside, with all the medical equipment hooked-up, the facts would have been the same even if more fully described. In medical scenario, at time A Lazarus’ cells were NOT metabolizing, a man named Jesus yelled at Lazarus, and at time B Lazarus’ cells were metabolizing! In biblical scenario, at time A Lazarus is in a tomb, a man named Jesus yelled at Lazarus, and at time B Lazarus walked out of the tomb! Did a miracle take place? Of course, but it was because Jesus declared it to be. However, since Jesus is not walking in his public ministry around us today reversing cellular death and casting out mental illness, I must work from a stance of the hidden God. The hidden God seems to imply that I will have trouble even recognizing a theological miracle apart from scripture.
Some have hit upon the notion of natural and revealed theology. I think, and I admit that I may be idiosyncratic, but Luther would have preferred something more akin to God hidden and God revealed. God revealed would pertain simply to the state of affairs surrounding “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19) versus the hidden or masked God that operates outside of Christ in pillars of fire, burning bushes, tornadoes, pick your favorite OT story where God comes and terrifies his creation through natural means! When talking about discerning a miracle outside of the biblical revelation, we are dealing with the hidden God and any identifying of such a miracle inches closer to magisterial use of reason due to its extra-biblical nature. Again, I’m not saying that identifying a miracle is impossible or a problem of magisterial over ministerial, but my Lutheran theological intuitions and my philosophy of science intuitions align in being more skeptical than not when dealing with extra-biblical divine action.
Of Sandboxes and Fallacies
God gives us freedom to explore and act in this world as we see fit. In fact, a Lutheran picture is that we become masks of God to our neighbors. To be better masks, this means that we also become creative entities in working with the materials around us. We may not be naming animals, but we are discovering functions, laws, whatever and putting them to use for our neighbor. Even the sandboxes that we find ourselves in are our constructions whether science or theology. However, these different sandboxes are overseen or how about undergirded by God with Christ serving as the physical bridge between all the different boxes. Every box or discipline can speak to aspects of God through Christ due to his historical and physical nature. But, as Christ bridges the different boxes, he also allows the boxes to develop independently of each other. This will always promote tension as we want that magisterial view, but it is a view that is always beyond our grasp.
The fallacies provide rules of thumb for interacting between boxes, but are themselves products of creation. However, the second we start employing them, we will run into that humbling experience captured at the end of the thread @jrfarris as we realize that we may not be modeling anything like “how science and religion could interact” or what “disciplines outside of science actually contribute evidence.” It is an intellectual tower of Babel to think we have it figured out. However, as @swamidass made clear, the rules are always provisional and may need reworking as new conversations happen even when we do not have a clear cut methodology or conception of good evidence. We confidently stumble along even after being kicked out of the Garden.
Done for now…
Sorry for the length – it would of been much better to post smaller tidbits in response to different threads as they developed over the last couple of days. However I came late and thus you are given my ramblings as I tried to grab and comment on the big picture. The notion of paradox needs more fleshing out as is along with its relation to epistemic and metaphysical concerns.
The Side Comments on Clinton Ohlers thread will be open indefinitely, even though this main thread has been closed. Feel free to continue discussion there.
Thank you all for participating in our first Office Hours with Clinton Ohlers (@rcohlers). The conversation has been lively, educational, and stimulating. Thank you. In particular, I want to thank the scholars who joined us today:
And difficult to characterize physician-theologian dropout, whose blog was cited at Dabar perhaps more than any other reference (eg. by @jack.collins and myself), Jon Garvey (@jongarvey). And a friendly agnostic to boot, @Argon.
Thank you all for joining the fun.
More Questions Arise
This conversation, it seems, will be spawning more. I’ll look forward to doing office hours with @jrfarris on the nature of the Soul and Information. In mid August, we will be doing office hours with @Philosurfer, @CPArand an others on forming a LutheranVoice in Science. I hope we can also have @Andrew_Loke back to talk about the Genealogical Adam and the Resurrection. I am intrigued by @Josh_Reeves new book, and want to learn more about his approach.
Many questions were raised here. There are many loose ends remaining. Few answers were settled. That was the point. This just stirs the pot. We are hoping to see a new interdisciplinary conversation begin for our moment.
This Fall, I’ll be giving a talk with @rcohlers at Hong Kong University that weaves through many of these themes. We hope there, also, to expand this conversation broader.
Let us try and find a better way together.
I find an extremely important voice in Lutheran theology, that seems neglected in the larger conversation, but well expressed in @Philosurfer. I hope that there will be some reflection on his single final post.
Paradox runs as a theme through almost this entire conversation. However, it is implicit and unstated, perhaps continuing to create confusion through out this exchange. As one example, science is man-made and constructed; at the same time, we cannot change its rules at will, because we inherit it from others (@gfulkers). Perhaps more centrally…
I note the use of the word “contrast” as if these two things are in conflict. Maybe BOTH are true at the same time. Perhaps science is one the most important and authoritative paths we have to truth AND ALSO it cannot bring us to the Resurrection. Our best man-made path to truth does not bring us to The Truth. This is perhaps the great paradox that might reorder this whole conversation when we take hold of it.
The Uniqueness of Jesus
The Lutheran epistemological ordering be important too. It seems we believe Lazarus rose from the dead because we trust Scripture because Jesus is good and rose from the dead. With that ordering in mind, perhaps we cannot group the Resurrection into all cases of God’s action. It is because of God’s work to reveal Himself in Jesus, that we are even having this conversation.
I’m still stuck on the absurdity of it all. We all finding our confident belief in the unbelievable, that this man Jesus rose from the dead. I see ongoing miraculous work to sustain that belief through history. I can only believe because God has made Himself known to me. Perhaps we are more dependent on the revelation of God through Jesus than we fully realize at this juncture.
Far Too Many Loose Ends…
The conversation can and should and will continue. Thank you for joining us for a moment in the Peaceful Science community. We hope to see you again.
This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams; I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner; I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and [other] religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
Let us engage the waking world together. Peace.
The Side Comments on Clinton Ohlers thread will be open indefinitely, even though this main thread has been closed. Feel free to continue discussion there.