Thursday, January 28, 2016

Craig on whether miracles should be characterized as violations of the laws of nature

Reproduced by Triablogue here.

38 comments:

John Mitchell said...

Count me in amongst the the causal dispositions theorists

John Moore said...

None of the "three main views of natural law" tell us what we really want to know, which is how to distinguish between a miracle (godly intervention) and just a natural tendency or natural law that we fail to fully understand.

By contrast, if you consider our universe as a closed system, it's theoretically possible to measure the amount of energy. If the total energy remains the same before and after a surprising event, then we can say the event was not a miracle - even if we don't understand how the event happened. On the other hand, if the total energy increased, we can say a miracle did indeed happen.

We'll be defining a miracle as an injection of extra energy into the normally closed system of our universe. We'll be supposing that God's miraculous intervention takes the form of energy added to our universe.

B. Prokop said...

When we speak of the "laws" of nature, what we are really doing is anthropomorphizing the world. In former times, we would speak of physical objects being governed by Love, as in Dante's "The Love that moves the Sun and the other stars" (the last line of The Divine Comedy). In today's colder world, we have replaced Love with Law, but the idea remains the same. Inanimate, physical objects are basically responding to a force exterior to themselves. The Moon circles the Earth, not because of any inherent Lunar property, but because it is responding to the pull of gravity. A proton is not attracted to an an electron because of something intrinsic to its nature, but rather because a Law exterior to itself is telling it to be so attracted.

Note that I am not here talking about how things are, but rather of how we speak of them.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Gyan said...

1) Why don't the theists define a miracle first?
Instead they produce a opaque statement-
"Should miracles be characterized as "violations of the laws of nature"?

2) By laws of nature, far more is meant than just the laws of modern physics.
Eg virgins do not conceive and give birth is a law of human biology. IT has nothing to do with "anthropomorphizing the world" as Prokop has it.

3) CS Lewis defines miracles as suspensions of the laws of nature. I think this to be entirely adequate to the phenomena of miracles.
But the theists here never say why this definition is inadequate.

Hugo Pelland said...

Gyan,
It's because of what Jesus did on the cross.
Stop denying God and miracles really do exist.

Joe Hinman said...

I have had this blow with atheists on carm many times for years some of them were physicists. They always argue that the laws of physics are descriptive and not prescriptive. this, they think, precludes arguments like, cosmology, design and fine turning. I argue that their position opens the door to miracles. The think you linked to speaks of the 'nomic necessity theory" that is just fancy way of saying physical laws mist be prescriptive, that view is anathema in modern science, kn philosophy of science is a lot more complex. Please read my blog article:

laws of physics beyond prescriptive/descriptive dichotomy part 1

part 2

3: alternatives


JaredMithrandir said...

The idea that something being against nature is inherently wrong is not supported by the full testimony of Scripture. The Greek phrase translated "Against Nature" in Romans is the exact same phrase Paul uses to describes God's actions in Romans 11, grafting Gentiles into the Tree of Israel.

Joe Hinman said...

"CS Lewis defines miracles as suspensions of the laws of nature. I think this to be entirely adequate to the phenomena of miracles.
But the theists here never say why this definition is inadequate"

not exactly what he said. He said, paraphrase, there's a higher law that both nature and supernatural are under. Nature can bend to the higher calling it's not being violated it's being summoned to it's higher telos. He speaks of "that audacious bit of p-rose in a poem"

If physical laws are merely descriptions then miracles so callec are just more descriptions

Joe Hinman said...

the idea of a realm of nature that can't be violated and a higher realm that can't break in is a modern idea. Neither the ancients or the patrictics saw it that way+


Here is an excellent article by Benson Saler. Even though he's an anthropologist this guy knows theology. The Supernatural as a Western Category. The modern scientific bias in the way we understand SN and the original Christian concept and origin of the term.

Joe Hinman said...

" In today's colder world, we have replaced Love with Law, but the idea remains the same. Inanimate, physical objects are basically responding to a force exterior to themselves. The Moon circles the Earth, not because of any inherent Lunar property, but because it is responding to the pull of gravity"

excellent point. Imposing a rationality upon the universe, an ordering principle, a logos you might say.

Gyan said...

Hugo Pelland,
I do not deny miracles. But I question this way of talking about things without defining them.
Miracles are DEFINED as suspensions or violations of the ordinary course of nature (aka the laws of nature).
Ordinary course being --virgins do not conceive and give birth.

Apparently, theists are so taken up with physics that they are entirely unable or unwilling to consider that expression "the laws of nature" does not equate to the laws of physics.
There are laws in biology, there are laws of human nature etc etc. Each substance has its nature and thus its laws.

Gyan said...

Joe Hinman,
Nature as defined as the ordinary course of things--the only alternative is to believe in a magical world where things happen on whimsy e.g. as in Hindu mythology.

But even the Hindus knew that certain things were in the ordinary course of things and certain things were not. Thus, either one has the concept of nature/supernatural or everything is magical. And it is doubtful if any civilization could be built in a society that believes that everything is magical.

The natural/supernatural dichotomy gives us miracles. Your higher law and nature being summoned to higher telos comes after--here the debate is whether miracles are possible.

SteveK said...

I recommend letting the naturalist define "natural" first since, we're told, science explains everything in terms of natural things, processes and events. This sets the goalposts in place so they can't be moved later.

A person can work with that definition to show that "not natural" (supernatural) things exist.

Gyan said...

SteveK
For naturalists what exists is natural. It is the theists that need to define the natural/supernatural distinction

Joe Hinman said...

we did. Modern science invented the notion of realm of nature that makes divine action an unwelcome visitor. Christians in NT and church fathers understood Grace (not "supernatural") in one harmonious whole with nature. they did not use the term supernatural until middle ages. Although St Cyril and Pseudo-Dionysius use terms that could be translated that way (huper physin or huper hamousios, respectively) it was not until the scholastics that Christians thought of a realm of "the supernatural" above the realm of nature. Even then they kept it in an harmonious system in which SN and n worked in concert..

Joe Hinman said...

Joe Hinman,
"Nature as defined as the ordinary course of things--the only alternative is to believe in a magical world where things happen on whimsy e.g. as in Hindu mythology."

No it not. Scholastic thought understood reality to be one reality in which nature bends to the rule of Grace and Grace works within nature (Grace understood as "supernature" God's nature). Nothing irrational about it, it all obey the logos a organizing principle.

The modern Gnosticism of scientism tells us matter a d spirit and juxtaposed it is not Christian doctrine that tells us that.


"But even the Hindus knew that certain things were in the ordinary course of things and certain things were not. Thus, either one has the concept of nature/supernatural or everything is magical. And it is doubtful if any civilization could be built in a society that believes that everything is magical."


SN //= magic. we hashed this out in comments last month. Miracles are supernatural effects they are not the only ones. humans themselves are supernatural effects. The moral order is supernatural since it belongs to the realm of grace. Love is SN since we love the eternal and use the temporal; the eternal is an end in itself. Therefore, humans are ends in them selves morally, meaning we have intrinsic worth theologically. St Auguie said it.



"The natural/supernatural dichotomy gives us miracles. Your higher law and nature being summoned to higher telos comes after--here the debate is whether miracles are possible."

No that is the miracle. When nature obeys this higher law the effect is the miraculous event itself. It's supernatural effect not because there's a realm called supernatural but because God's power acting in nature is a n act of grace. Grace = super nature.

It is only if e construe nature as a closed system that SN effects are "miracles." There is no inherent theological reason to so construe nature. One of the great contradictions of scientism is that the insistence upon descriptive laws, used to get out of God arguments, opens the door to miracles because it means miracles are must more descriptions. No atheist I've met is willing to say her descriptions of reality are 100% accurate.

Gyan said...

I am not talking high theology but simple commonsense idea of natural aka ordinary course of things vs extraordinary thing aka a miracle

B. Prokop said...

"It is the theists that need to define the natural/supernatural distinction"

Although I would never call myself a "theist" (such a cowardly, wishy-washy term), preferring the appellation "Catholic Christian":

The "natural" is the physical, created universe and everything within it - all (and I do mean "all") that can be perceived by the senses and/or by any instruments devised by intelligence.

The "supernatural" is the Reality which enfolds the natural world, is responsible for both its creation and its preservation, which can reveal itself to us within the natural world as it chooses, but which cannot be perceived by the unaided efforts of denizens of that world - not by the senses, not by instrumentation, not by laboratory testing, not by any means whatsoever.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Gyan said...

CS Lewis defined miracles as suspension of laws of nature (aka ordinary course of things) in his book Miracles.
The same book includes Argument from Reason.
My question is given the discussion here, was CS Lewis mistaken to define a miracle so. He explicity introduces natural/supernatural distinction too. Was he entirely mistaken?

Gyan said...

Prokop,
Could you find a place for Virgin Birth and resurrection as miracles given your understanding of natural as "physical, created universe"?
Indeed your definition is circular, and viciously so, since the term "physical" again depends on the "natural".

Again I ask, what is your problem with "natural" as "ordinary course of things" and a miracle as a suspension of "ordinary course of things" aka "suspension of the laws of nature".
Keeping in mind that the term "laws of nature" does NOT equate to "laws of physics".

Joe Hinman said...

Blogger Gyan said...
"I am not talking high theology but simple commonsense idea of natural aka ordinary course of things vs extraordinary thing aka a miracle"

The meta narrative of this blog seems to be Christian thought. So to make sense of your argument in that context we must situate it in relation to "high theology."

Joe Hinman said...

Prokop you are Catholic? The view I'm taking comes out of Mathias Joseph Scheeben, major pre VII Catholic thinker, and Eugene R. Fairweather, a fine Catholic scholar of the mid 20t5h century. I myself am UMC with a dash of charismatic.

B. Prokop said...

"Indeed your definition is circular"

Oh, I don't know about its being circular, but I'll cheerfully admit that it's idiosyncratic. But I thought that's what we were asking for here - various people's own understandings of the terms. My personal definition of miracle is even more so:

"A miracle is a one-time, non-reproducable event in the physical world whose purpose is to shed light on the nature of God and His relationship with Mankind." What C.S. Lewis called the Grand Miracles (e.g., the Birth of Christ and His Resurrection) are in a class by themselves, and really ought to have a different word to describe them.

Whenever you see me use the term in discussions here, that is what I mean by it.

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

"Prokop you are Catholic?"

Guilty as charged. I am a member of the Holy Rosary Parish here in the fine city of Baltimore, MD.

If you check out their website (linked above), you'll see why I end each posting with

Jezu ufam tobie!

Gyan said...

Prokop,
One-time non-reproducible?
1) One-time: is overly restrictive. Jesus himself cured many blind and lame.
2)Non-reproducible: This term comes from science. What precisely do you mean here? Could you explain using any of NT or modern-day miracles?

My question still stands. What is the problem with the commonsense definition of miracles that CS Lewis used in his book?

B. Prokop said...

Gyan,

1) I consider each individual healing to be a unique event.

2) By non-reproducible, I mean it is not "made to order". It's not like what the old alchemists thought, where one could mix the right chemicals, draw the right symbols, await the proper phase of the moon, go to the right crossroads, etc., and expect to obtain the desired results. A miracle is an action by God, not something we can initiate.

Thanks for that comment. I'll have to add the words, "initiated by God" into my definition, right after the word "event".

There's probably nothing "wrong" with Lewis's definition - it's just not mine.

Jezu ufam tobie!

SteveK said...

Gyan,
"For naturalists what exists is natural. It is the theists that need to define the natural/supernatural distinction"

Using your definition here God would be a natural being. That's confusing to most people so I would recommend not defining it this way. Regardless, a person can work with this and still show that there is a distinction even though everything is natural. The labels that get put on those distinction will vary from person to person.

Ilíon said...

^^ That's because the distinction that matters is between "Creature" and "Creator".

SteveK said...

Those are two labels I would use. But some will ask, so what? We have this distinction, so where is God?

In my mind, it doesn't take an overwhelming amount of intellectual horsepower to arrive at the conclusion that the creator *must be* very different than the creature. It's not easy, but the reason it's not too overwhelming today is because various historical figures have done the heavy lifting for us.

I think too many skeptics today just want to pretend that all that work adds up to nothing because...Science!

Ilíon said...

Also, when "nature" is understood in terms of naturalism, then human persons must either:
1) be seen as "super-natural";
2) be denied even to exist.

Option 1) is odd, to say the least; option 2) is absurd.

Gyan said...

As CS Lewis says in the book Miracles, rational thought IS miraculous, strictly speaking, for it can not be understood within the naturalistic framework.
That is, acts of rational thought do not follow material cause/effect relation but logical ground/consequent relation.
But rational thought is natural to rational animals, it is natural in this sense and not supernatural.

Gyan said...

SteveK,
God does not exist for naturalists. They might accept "gods" as superior alien intelligences but the creator GOD is repugnant to them --See Nagel.

Ilíon said...

Gyan: "God does not exist for naturalists."

Of course, that's not literally true. The literal truth is that God is, irrespective of what naturalists will acknowledge; and futher, that God has certain characteristics, irrespective of what Stockholm Syndrome "theists" will acknowledge.

Gyan: "They might accept "gods" as superior alien intelligences but the creator GOD is repugnant to them -- See Nagel."

Indeed. For accepting "gods" as superior alien intelligences does not prohibit they themselves from attempting to sit on God's throne. But, to admit that "God is God, and I am not" is also to acknowledge that one cannot sit on God's throne unless he dandle you on his knee.

Gyan: "As CS Lewis says in the book Miracles, rational thought IS miraculous, strictly speaking, for it can not be understood within the naturalistic framework."

Yes, rational embodied beings can no more be fitted into "the naturalistic framework" than rational non-embodied beings can. And one of the things that Gödel's incompleteness theorems do is to provide a mathematical proof of that.

Ilion: "Also, when "nature" is understood in terms of naturalism, then human persons must either:
1) be seen as "super-natural";
2) be denied even to exist.
"

Gyan: "That is, acts of rational thought do not follow material cause/effect relation but logical ground/consequent relation.
But rational thought is natural to rational animals, it is natural in this sense and not supernatural.
"

But that's letting naturalists get away with equivocating with 'nature/natural'; which I refuse to do.

Is rational thought natural to God (who not only is not an animal, as we are, but is not even physical in the first place)? If so, then God is "natural", too, by this equivocal usage. Which rather puts us back at square-one in distinguishing "the natural" from "the supernatural".

Gyan said...

Prokop,
"A miracle is an action by God"
Well, philosophically God is Pure Act and the Pure Act sustains the universe every instant. So does that make everything to be miraculous?
Also, God achieves certain ends by primary cause --that would be miracles
and others by secondary causes--that would be nature.
So, it comes back to CS Lewis definition-when a particular act of God breaks through Nature i.e. a suspension of the laws of nature.

Pls note that God has created a universe in which things behave consistently i.e. things have a nature i.e. there exist laws of nature.

That there are laws of nature, this is NOT a trap set by naturalists or atheists. Theists do themselves no favor by foot-dragging on whether nature is lawful.

Gyan said...

Prokop,
Suppose a person survives some accident and thanks God for letting him live. So, was the person surviving the accident a "miracle" for clearly the person thinks it was the Divine act that let him live?

B. Prokop said...

Good question. I regard the collision of a comet with the planet Jupiter in July 2009 to be a miracle. My wife Diane had died of pancreatic cancer that March, and I subsequently rapidly fell to pieces. To my great shame, it wasn't long before I had "taken refuge in the bottle" and was passed out on the couch from alcohol by 8 PM every evening. What with my diabetes and high blood pressure, this was nothing short of a slow motion suicide.

But then, by divine intervention (and quite possibly solely for my personal benefit), a comet slammed into Jupiter and I somehow learned of this event. For some inexplicable reason, I decided to find out more about this amazing event. I did some google searches, and learned that a local astronomy club would be meeting at a nearby county park to attempt to observe the impact. I decided to drive out, and the rest is history. I had found a group of people who were active at the very time I was losing it - in the evenings.

It wasn't long before I was an active club member, and even became the club president the following January!

If that isn't a "natural" miracle, then I don't know what is.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Gyan said...

Prokop,
Point is that the Christian faith is unique among religions to insist on the objective character of its miracles. Introduction of subjective element muddles this up thereby rendering the Christian miracles as of no more importance than "miracles" of a Hindu faqir.
You say
"by divine intervention (and quite possibly solely for my personal benefit), a comet slammed into Jupiter"
Question: how do you know that this comet slammed into Jupiter by "divine intervention"?
Do all things happen by divine intervention or do some things happen so? And how do we decide which thing happens by divine intervention and which does not?

Gyan said...

Prokop,
I would call your experience an example of Providence which has personal and subjective character.
Thus, we could say that "you providentially learned of a comet slamming into Jupiter".
Recall that Providence is the plan whereby God brings a person to salvation. And we reserve the word "miracle" to events that objectively violate the common course of nature.