Friday, August 27, 2010

Stephen Law on Miracles and Prior Commitments

This is an interesting discussion.


Unknown said...

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Walter said...

An excellent discussion!

Gregory said...

I think there's too much that's made about "prior commitments", in terms of rational assessment. In others words, presuppositions do not "lock" person's into a strict logical vacuum. Consider this very real scenario:

Joe is a happily married family man who works as a construction worker. Joe pays his taxes and has a clean criminal record. He is also an upstanding member of a Lutheran Church who was asked to perform the duties of deacon.

But, unbeknown to his friends, family and work associates, Joe is also a chronic pedophile and closet drug user. Joe was also caught and convicted of multiple charges of child molestation, as well as facing charges of illegal narcotics possession and abuse.

Joe's family, friends and associates are completely mystified and bewildered that Joe, a seemingly kind and gentle man, would do such a thing. And so they rush to Joe's defense and scoff at any such accusations raised against him. This picture does not seem to square at all with a man they believe is a "kind" and "loving" person.

However, as the case is brought to trial, eyewitnesses are brought forward, forensic evidence is addressed and assessed and Joe even takes the stand to present his side of the story. Even as the evidence looms heavily against Joe, family and friends still refuse to believe it. Yet, it's hard to argue against a 7 year old girl with a punctured hymen, as well as gynecological samples of male ejaculation fluids that happen to match Joe's genetic profile, and persist on believing that a little girl would be lying about such a thing.

As it dawns on them what the "truth" really is, they are horrified and shocked at how they could have missed the warning signs....if there were any. And Joe's own heartless testimony only solidified their doubts about the man they claimed they really knew.

Now, it's true that we all have "beliefs". And it's also true that our "beliefs" shape and, to a limited extent, determine how we view things. However, our beliefs are not absolutely fixed. We can "change our minds" about things. And anyone who has ever converted from one belief system/religion/philosophy/point-of-view to another, knows that this is true.

In terms of "miracles", it's possible for someone to "see" or experience one, yet reject it because they are more convinced that their "anti-miracle" viewpoint has decisively precluded the very possibility of miraculous occurrences. On the other hand, there are other "anti-miracle" proponents who have, in fact, come to believe that they are possible....and possibly "real". I know one or two such people.

The answer to the question about "why" people do or do not change, individually, is more appropriately suited to the field of Psychology. Obstinacy is not a matter of formal logic, but of "freedom" and "choice" (i.e. metaphysics) and individual decisions (i.e. behavior).

But, it is precisely because we all assume a common "reason" and human "free choice", that we feel justified in blaming others for believing and accepting "weird things" (i.e. things that we reject). It is precisely because I know and believe that my choice is my choice, rather than being a by-product of non-rational antecedent causes, that I find a small miracle in the fact that I---and not irrational "matter"---contemplated and wrote this.

M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" is an interesting film that addresses this very subject. I highly recommend seeing it.

Blaise Pascal said...

I think the priors for miracles are the least problem here. There are countless well documented miracles in the Catholic Church. For example check out whats happening at Lourdes. There are still miracles happening to this very day.

There is even one that was documented by a nobel laureate in medicine:

Pope John-Paul beatified lots of saints. And for every beatification (of a non-martyr) there needs to be at least one very well documented miracle.

If you search you will find many credible miracles in our Holy Mother Church.

Regarding the demand for extraordinary evidence: A group of people willing to for the claim that a dead person came to live + an empty tomb + sudden conversions of persecutors + people who completly changed and lived a morally superior live in a morally inferior age = not ordinary evidence.