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Ziggamafu

Principle Of Regularity And Supernaturalism

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Ziggamafu
When is it alright to invoke the supernatural? Is it ever alright to cease efforts in naturalistic explanation? Is it ever wrong to search for natural explanations?

I believe in a spiritual reality because I believe in the human spirit (apparent freedom, awareness, etcetera). I believe in God because I believe that there is meaning to the apprehensions of the human spirit (justice, beauty, etcetera). Should I then frown upon naturalistic attempts to explain these things? And since I believe in a spiritual reality and spiritual beings, should I alter critical thought (play "intellectual tennis without a net" as Raymond de Souza might say) when considering the credibility or probability of the miraculous?

See what I'm getting at? There is a principle of regularity by which we interpret claims and records according to what seems certain or "known" at present. In other words, although we don't rule out the possibility of seemingly crazy claims, we simultaneously weigh such claims against the the greater force of accumulated experience. A man claims that a river flowed upstream; while not absolutely eliminating the fantastically hypothetical possibility that somehow, some way, the river really did flow upstream, we find it much more reasonable to believe that the man was deceived. And if we did seek out a means by which the hypothetical possibility of the river flowing upstream could have been actualized, we would seek natural explanations. The supernatural explanation would be the last resort merely because it seems that the supernatural explanation amounts to "giving up" on the treasure hunt of the scientific process (the rationalistic exploration of God's created order).

We do not say that the physically impossible (the absolutely / literally miraculous) is also logically impossible. We can imagine things like resurrections and teleportations without logical contradiction (e.g. a square circle). So it's not like supernatural claims are impossible; but how should their relative improbability impact our examination of them?

Now, the atheist would say that every hypothetically possible scenario that conforms to natural law - no matter how fantastic - should be exhausted before recourse to a supernatural explanation, which by definition pays no heed to the laws of nature. Even then, an atheist might say that the explanation should be presumed natural but as yet unknown. The theist, however, would contend that granting the existence of God, a combination of other factors (such as prophecy and religious significance) could make it reasonable to believe a miracle has occurred.

Still, that leaves me wondering how all of this applies to [i]a)[/i] contemporary claims of the miraculous and [i]b)[/i] contemporary pursuits of science into traditionally spiritual realms (such as free will, religious experiences in the brain, and M-theory cosmology, among so many other things).

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Ziggamafu
What got me thinking about all of this was Francis Beckwith's essay, [i]Theism, Miracles, and the Modern Mind[/i] and a naturalist's review of J.P. Moreland's [i]Recalcitrant Imageo Dei[/i] ([url="http://www.naturalism.org/Morelandreview.htm"]found here[/url]).

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Ziggamafu
[quote name='Ziggamafu' date='30 June 2010 - 08:13 PM' timestamp='1277943182' post='2136391']
What got me thinking about all of this was Francis Beckwith's essay, [i]Theism, Miracles, and the Modern Mind[/i] and a naturalist's review of J.P. Moreland's [i]Recalcitrant Imageo Dei[/i] ([url="http://www.naturalism.org/Morelandreview.htm"]found here[/url]).
[/quote]


Here is an example. Abiogenesis. Abiogenesis is a natural explanation for (from a theist's perspective) how God may have created life. Well, some theists think it is more appropriate to leave the creation of life to the supernatural realm, frowning upon even thought experiments or the scientific method's pursuit of a natural explanation.

How does such a scenario fit into this thread? How do you feel about it? I'm sure there are other (better) examples to talk about. What do you think?

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Ziggamafu
A guy walks up to you and says that he saw a mouse lift a car into the air. You scoff. He insists. You scoff more. Another guy nearby, who doesn't take kindly to lunatics and is a bit of a brute, threatens the guy who's making the claim. The guy making the claim won't back down. You intercede on his behalf, explaining to the brute that the crazy guy clearly believes he saw what he thinks he saw, so he must have been deceived somehow.

You ask the guy to take you to the mighty mouse, or at least to where the alleged event happened. On the way, you run into ten other people who claim to have seen the same thing. You begin to ask yourself just how many testimonies it would take for you to believe in this mighty mouse. Surely these witnesses were deceived somehow?

When you arrive you see a small mouse and, sure enough, it occasionally hoists the nearby car over its tiny head. Now you, as a theist, are faced with only two options (as far as I can tell) after considering probability and the principle of regularity:

1) This is probably a miracle. Someone prayed for a sign and God gave them this, and now some other people are seeing it too, perhaps to bolster a dying faith in the supernatural.

2) This is probably STILL a deception. You don't know if it is a holographic image, or if it is robotics, or if there is some gas leak nearby causing everyone to hallucinate, or if this is some clever illusion worked by a magical prankster, but whatever is going on, the higher probability is that the physically impossible is not taking place before your eyes; natural laws are not being broken.

That is, you either tend toward a supernatural explanation or a natural explanation. If you go with supernatural, you effectively rule out the scientific process in further examining the issue. If you really think it is supernatural, why investigate natural causes? How do you decide? What are the effects of your decision? Would it be more logical to conceive of any natural explanation that is at least hypothetically plausible before accepting that what you perceived was actually as you perceived it (supernatural)? Another example: say primitive tribesmen come back to their tribe from a journey and claim to have seen a giant metal bird fly through the sky. Would the tribe be more reasonable to pursue a natural, science-based explanation for the airplane or would the tribe be more reasonable to prefer a supernatural or magic-based explanation? Which is more likely, that a street performer really worked magic or that his trick was a clever illusion?

I don't think this should be viewed as an atheism vs theism situation (as if we who believe in the supernatural are not allowed to engage in critical thought or seek natural explanations). Theists of opposing faiths could find the issue relevant. Theist A says a miracle was worked that directly challenges the faith of Theist B. Theist B comes up with an unlikely - though not impossible - natural explanation. Should the natural argument be preferred to a supernatural explanation? Why / why not?

Another example is the skeptical treatment of the Lourdes miracles. None of the miracles (it is alleged; I am not making the claim and I don't know much about Lourdes) represent physical impossibilities - that is, miracles in the strict sense, like regenerated limbs or organs - but rather extreme improbabilities, like spontaneous remissions of disease and mind over matter faith-healings. Now when we consider that overwhelmingly vast number of pilgrims that stream into Lourdes continuously each year, probability would dictate that even the most extreme improbabilities be inevitably realized (e.g., a 1/1,000,000 improbability would probably be realized around or even before the millionth pilgrim).

This also brings to mind another idea; there were, in the year 2000, 281,421,906 citizens in the U.S. That would seem to suggest that every hour of the day would yield at least 281 people around the U.S. with an event that has a 1/1,000,000 improbability. And good vs. bad, 50% of these odds-against events would be good. The point is that, the numbers just get larger as time goes on, such that we could expect one out of a billion and one out of ten billion and one out of a hundred billion kinds of situations. Inevitable improbabilities like that could account for amazing events that are otherwise regarded as miracles.

Now of course we can shrug and say that, well, every coincidence is a miracle; but then we rob the word miracle of its force and manipulate its definition. Coincidence, no matter how bizarre, still conforms to natural law.

Again, I think I [i]raised [/i]the issue more effectively than I am providing examples of the issue. So please see the OP if these past couple of posts seem to confuse the issue. Oh well. Still waiting for your thoughts.

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TeresaBenedicta
An interesting topic and one that I'd like to formulate a well-thought out response. I'm going to look through some notes that I took for a class last semester. It was a philosophy course titled [i]Body or Soul: A Philosophical Investigation[/i] and we got into a lot of these issues. I'll be back.

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Ziggamafu
:bump:

I find I am sort a of a "theistic naturalist", although I understand the tension that exists between the two words. I fully believe in the possibility of the miraculous, but I always push for a hypothetical explanation within nature. It just feels safer that way, with less danger of scandal. It doesn't mean that what happened was not willed or used by God, but that God worked within His own created order in nature to accomplish something. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but it has become a general rule of mine that we should seek natural explanations for everything. I am okay with a supernatural explanation in certain extreme cases (such as at Fatima), when, while a natural explanation is available, a supernatural explanation is more reasonable since I believe in God and the likelihood that a miracle occurred in accordance with the prophecy revealed by the children (I'm not a member of the Blue Army for nothing).

I get annoyed at the anti-science attitude (or at least paranoid attitude that a conspiracy exists within the global circle of secular scientists) that I see in some sub-cultures of the faithful. I think it is a scandal to the faith and detrimental to human progress.

...and I am obviously being a bit more pushy / risky in my attempts to get more responses to the OP. When is a supernatural explanation credible, when is testimony to such an explanation believable as authentic evidence of a supernatural event (rather than the witness somehow being tricked), and should natural explanations be pursued even when there is a concession to the apparent likelihood of the supernatural explanation? Edited by Ziggamafu

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Ziggamafu
[quote name='Ziggamafu' date='12 July 2010 - 04:44 PM' timestamp='1278967489' post='2141796']
When is a supernatural explanation credible,

when is testimony to such an explanation believable as authentic evidence of a supernatural event (rather than the witness somehow being tricked),

and should natural explanations be pursued even when there is a concession to the apparent likelihood of the supernatural explanation?
[/quote]

:bump:

Ideas like evolution and abiogenesis, and of course false claims of miracles and those non-dogmatic miracles that you may personally believe in are great things to bring into this thread in relation to the issues raised.

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MithLuin
To save you from talking to yourself....

Reason is a gift from God, so to forgo its use would be...disrespectful. With that in mind, I think a healthy level of skepticism and inquiry is encouraged, though it is possible to go to excess.

I will begin with the case of the river flowing backwards. We know that rivers tend to always flow in the same direction -- downhill. Gravity is thus drawing the water from a higher point to a lower point. Could there be any case where the direction would reverse itself?

YES. The lower ground could be raised up by some shift in plate tectonics, so that now the river will flow back on itself while the course readjusts to these new circumstances. For a person looking at the river from the bank, it is now 'backwards' even though it is still flowing downhill according to known natural laws.

Also, gravity is not the only force in nature, so if a force greater than gravity is applied, the water will naturally move in the opposite direction. There are reports that an East Coast earthquake caused [i]the Mississippi River[/i] (not a small river!) to flow backwards for several days because of the shock.

Still, the most likely explanation of a report of water flowing the wrong way is still....human error. The observer was most likely mistaken. Because of this, any report should be investigated to eliminate that explanation first (I mean, if you're trying to verify the veracity of the claim - normal people might not care enough to look into it further, and will either dismiss or accept the claim as they see fit.)


Moving on to abiogenesis...in this case, direct observation is impossible. None of us were around millions of years ago when life began on earth. So, inferences will be necessary, though some relevant observations can be made. For instance, one could ask, 'What was the atmosphere of early earth like when the first cells would have appeared?' Air bubbles trapped in ice or rocks of the appropriate age can help us answer that question, without shedding much light on the origins of said cells. We now have a pretty good indication that photosynthesis is responsible for a good deal of the oxygen in our atmosphere - prior to the existence of cells, then, earth's atmosphere was largely oxygen-free. Or you can study the structure of a cell, and see how eukaryotic cells likely gained mitochondria and chloroplasts through endosymbiosis ('eating' prokaryotic cells), giving both a timeline and an indication of what the primitive cell was like.


So...back to the point.

Science and theology use different methods of inquiry to answer very different types of questions. To put it succinctly, science is about 'how?' - teasing out the process and the steps and the cause and effect. It will only ever verify a negative (meaning, it disproves falsity without the possibility of proving truth). Theology, on the other hand, focusing on meaning - 'why' things are as they are, answers to philosophical questions about the purpose of life, etc. It would be a shame to conflate or confuse these approaches to discovering truth.


As for miracles...I do not think we have to view God as a 'God of the gaps'....meaning, everything is natural, unless we can't explain it, and then it's because God did it. The reason it is called 'gaps' is because as soon as you [i]can[/i] explain how it happened naturally, God's role in the cosmos gets a little smaller. He dwindles as we learn more. That's a...weird way of viewing the supernatural, to me.

I think it is better to remember that the natural law we are so interested in working out was all designed and created by God. Things happen in a predictable, repeatable way...because the universe is not governed by chaos. God controls both the natural [i]and[/i] the supernatural. A baby being born is nigh miraculous, and no less so because we understand the process of human development. And being a 'natural' event does not make the occurrence devoid of the supernatural.

People can take this in ways I'm not entirely comfortable with. There is a 'fad' of explaining Biblical miracles in a naturalistic way. For instance, what could have caused the Red Sea to 'dry up' for a day or so to allow the Israelites to pass? You end up with conjectures of a blockage/dam that broke between the crossing of the Isaelites and the crossing of the Egyptians. Such tales don't particularly interest me, but I think the entire [i]point[/i] of the story of the Exodus is that God saved his people. Whether he did that through an out-and-out miracle or a natural event with miraculously providential timing, the point remains - God saved the day. I'm more interested in the point of the story than the details of how it happened, though I suppose there is no harm in being interested in the details.

When someone prays (for instance) to find a lost object, and then they suddenly find it in an unlikely place, the person is likely to see that as an answer to prayer. They won't be able to convince anyone of how 'miraculous' it was, since people lose and find things all the time. But they can share the story and credit God with the discovery, allowing their listeners to accept or reject as they will. Truly bizarre supernatural events (like the dancing of the sun at Fatima) [i]demand[/i] that people accept or reject them, since they are so outside the realm of our experience. But I think that accepting a particular event as a miracle is not as important as recognizing that the universe belongs to God and he is omnipotent. Meaning, accepting the possibility that miracles can happen is essential to a Christian worldview. Believing in particular miracles, such as the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead are also essential. The others (such as Fatima) are optional precisely because they are particular instances that do not shed any additional light on the truths of the faith. Whether or not you believe that such an event is miraculous is, in the end, irrelevant.

So, I think it is safe to discount particular instances as miracles, but it is not okay to discount the possibility of miracles. We must acknowledge that the world contains both natural and supernatural.

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Ziggamafu
Christians look stupid to the onlooking world when we attack the scientific process (a process which indeed discounts supernatural explanations because science only pertains to the natural realm) and scientific efforts toward natural explanations for things.

I am one of those Christians who actually [i]doesn't[/i] think intelligent design should be taught in a science class. I *do* think philosophy should be part of the core curriculum in public education, and the question of God's existence certainly belongs in that kind of class. But God and His works, by definition, do not fall under the microscope of science because science explores the Creation and its natural order, not the supernatural Cause behind these things.

Closely associated with the problem I mention above is the fear-mongering and paranoia promoted by some Christians in regard to medicine and technology, as if we should offer prolonged "treatments" of tea and prayer and cactus roots to the sick person before (or worse, instead of) taking him or her to the doctor.


(Again, trying to poke and prod and stimulate more conversation in this thread.)

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sixpence
I am by no means qualified in philosophy at all, so I am probably lowering the level of this thread quite a bit, but I just wanted to say that as a scientist and a Catholic, I come across a lot of professors and students who are [i]shocked[/i] that I was taught macroevolution (and not "intelligent design") in biology class in a Catholic high school. I find this rather offensive!! I was also taken aback when some fellow Christians (of the protestant variety) essentially insisted that all science is a bunch of ...... because it "conflicts' with the Bible. I often find myself speechless when confronted with these types of situations, not because I cannot explain my position, but from surprise!
To make an attempt at responding to the original question I agree that science attempts to answer the question "how, or by what mode of action" and faith answers the questions "who/why." I do not think it is wrong to ask scientific questions when confronted with a particular phenomenon, as long as one remembers that it answers different questions.

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