Thursday, November 03, 2005

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, it’s a Miracle!

Here it is, the third of November, and I totally missed my chance to post something for Halloween. I have no excuse, but I do have an explanation: alcohol. This Halloween was very partied out, and the weekend of drunken debauchery took its toll on me. I took two days off work to recover, and it still wasn't enough. I actually had some of my blog readers submit material for me to use for Halloween (really good stuff too), but I dropped the ball. It seems stupid to post Halloween related stuff three days after the day passed. So here I am to offer an apology to those who took the time to send me material only to have me fumble. I am fallible, especially when I'm hung over.

Okay, enough of that. Now we move on to afterlife killing. My Christian friend and fellow blogger Chad at Eternal Revolution wrote a post about miracles, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to respond, especially how I just finished reading Zachary Moore's post about Irreducible Complexity.

In his post on miracles, Chad quotes Tim Challies, who proposes that the "laws of nature" should be looked at as regularities rather than laws:

It seems to me that Christians would do better to understand the laws of nature in terms of regularities rather than laws. When we speak of laws, we understand something that is inviolable…

The alternative, I believe, is to understand “the laws of nature” as regularities rather than laws. In this way a miracle is no longer a violation of the laws of nature but an exception or an anomaly. A miracle is merely a break from or exception to divine routine. In this sense God did not violate laws of nature when He used Moses to hold back the waters of the Red Sea. Instead, God governed that part of His Creation just a little bit differently for just a little while.


I would disagree with Tim's definition of "miracle." To me, a miracle is a violation or breaking of a natural law, like a fire burning that doesn’t consume fuel, or a flaming chariot that soars through the sky, violating at least two laws.

But what’s more important here is that Tim and Chad are trying to categorize everything that happens in the universe as part of God's divine plan (of course). What these two Christians don't realize is, that natural laws are recognized by humans through experimentation, falsifiability, quantifiability, and all other kinds of material-based processes of learning about the realm we exist in. We conduct tests to find out about natural phenomena, we derive formulas and mathematical equations, and use these to make predictions.

The problem with miracles is that they are unfalsifiable or unscientific in that they are unexplainable. What I mean is that we can use science and materialism to explain, for example, the quantity of water required to flood the entire world (think Noah's flood) and the law of conservation of matter/energy which states that the water had to come from somewhere (not just ex nihilo). However, the flood of Noah violates the law of conservation of matter/energy. In fact, the global flood of Noah is inexplicable in that the best we can say is "god did it." We cannot say how he did it other than to say "it was a miracle" which is just another way of saying "it is without explanation."

Miracles are a non-answer. Let me demonstrate by asking a series of questions: How does a miracle work? It works by God's doing. How does God do it? Miraculously. Well how does a miracle work? By now we are going in circles.

If I am to claim that fire needs to consume fuel in order to continue burning, then I must be able to back this up with facts. In science, we have specific formulas and explanations of the process of a fire that consumes fuel. We can measure this process and use equations to make predictions about it. We can study the substances and make predictions about burn/consumption rates, which substances are flammable and which aren’t, etc... But with a miracle like a fire that doesn’t consume fuel, or water that comes from nowhere, there are no formulas or processes by which we can falsify, make predictions, or even begin to understand or explain the step by step processes of how these miracles work. Miracles are literally a non-answer.

If someone answers a mystery with another mystery, then he isn't answering anything at all. Nothing about a "miraculous" process can ever be hoped to be understood beyond the acknowledgement that the miracle in question is not understandable. Miracles are a lie in that they claim to explain something with a non-explanation by definition. Miracles are a contradiction. The problem with these Christians is that they don't seem to understand the concepts of what science is, what evidence is, and the importance of being able to explain or account for the claims that one makes, especially claims of miraculous events like those found within Christianity.

Near the end of the post, Chad says:
Am I proving the existence of miracles with these quotes? Of course not. But it should at the very least turn upside down our preconceived concepts of miracles (even those of us who believe in them) and perhaps make them a little more understandable (dare I say “rational”?) to skeptics.


I contend that for a miracle to appear rational to a skeptic is impossible, and here’s why:

For a skeptic to consider a miracle rational, the miracle would have to be scientifically explainable in that the process or act of the miraculous event would have to be traced from the first to last step and the entire claim of miraculousness would have to be falsifiable through some testable means. But if that were to be done, then the miracle would, by definition, no longer be a miracle. It would instead be a natural, material, and explainable event.

Allow me to explain using an analogy. Lets say that a miracle is a magic trick, and God is a magician (think David Blane or Penn & Teller). So a miracle would be like David Blane floating in the air or Penn & Teller making a rabbit pop out of an empty hat. Now these magic tricks are "magic" precisely because they are unexplainable and they seem to violate the laws of nature. But on shows like "Secrets of Magic Revealed" in which a masked magician sells out his industries secrets, we see that the floating in air and rabbit tricks are explainable by invisible wires or platforms, and secret compartments and such. At this point, they cease to be magic tricks! They simply become illusions or demonstrations that deceived the viewer as to what actually happened. They make you think someone is floating in the air, but in reality he is still subject to gravity and there is merely a wire holding him up. Hardly magic anymore. Or the rabbit came out of a secret door under a table or inside the hat. Again, hardly magic anymore. The explanation of the magic trick literally removes the "magic" from it.

These concepts can also be applied to the afterlife, believe it or not. The afterlife is a miracle in itself insofar as it is an untestable, unfalsifiable, and explainable phenomenon. Whether it’s a claim of a miraculous Heaven or a miraculous hurricane, no "miracle" stands on it's own two legs under the scrutiny of a skeptical and scientific inquiry.

Regardless if you call them magic tricks or miracles, these supernatural events are, by definition, completely unsupportable by any skeptical or scientific means. The only way these miracles and magic tricks can be believed in is through faith. And faith is nothing more than belief without logical proof or material evidence. In other words, it is a gullible belief without justification.

Now I cannot help but wonder, is Chad consistent? What I mean is, while he believes in the Biblical flood story, does he also believe that David Blane can levitate? Or does he believe that Penn & Teller can materialize rabbits ex nihilo? Why not? I mean, if miracles are what Chad says they are, then why wouldn't he believe God to be working through Blane, Penn, and Teller to make these abnormalities of the "guidelines" of nature occur? I told him I was making a post about this, so hopefully he can come in here and tell us.

39 comments:

LBBP said...

Funny, I was just finishing reading this post of yours while you were posting your comment at my site. The atheist blogosphere is a small one isn't it?

I have a post that I have not been able to finish that runs in a similar vein to this. It's called "Real Magic". I may reference this post if I can ever get mine right.

Aaron Kinney said...

Reference away! And yes,it is a small world. Ive been referred to as "ubiquitous" in the past due to my constantly commenting on every atheist blog I come across.

Francois Tremblay said...

You forgot to ask the most obvious question, Aaron. If natural laws are not laws but regularities, where did those regularities come from ? How do they come to be ? If they are not laws, then they don't emerge from the identity of the existents in the universe. They are coincidences. It JUST HAPPENS that every time we throw a ball up, it falls down. Nothing to do with gravity, or if gravity exists, then it JUST HAPPENS to send off gravitrons proportional to a given mass. Completely randomly.

So how the fuck can such a scenario possibly happen ? The chance is astronomically low that ANY such regularity would be sustained. The only non-laughable position is to acknowledge that the universe is regulated by laws that can be explored and explained.

In making place for "miracles", you have to deny natural law in some way. But there's no way to deny natural law without denying science and basic probabilities as well.

Chad said...

Aaron,

While I appreciate your argument, you will not be surprised to hear that I have some issues with it.

First, you said: “The problem with miracles is that they are unfalsifiable or unscientific in that they are unexplainable.”

Why is that a problem? You seem to invoke a slippery slope sort of argument here. As if someone who believes in miracles must also believe in Penn and Teller’s magic or the Easter Bunny. If miracles exist, I agree that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to test the validity of miraculous claims, but that does not negate the possibility of miracles.

You keep going back to the fact that miracles can’t be defined or measured. That’s because miracles, by nature, are anomalies. The only reason you have equations and mathematical formulas to measure the other natural occurrences is because they occur repeatedly.

The inaccurate assumption you seem to make is that because two things are relational they must be necessary. While you cannot imagine two and two not making four, you can imagine blades of grass being blue instead of green. As such, I would contend that the science of physical facts are not laws, but merely weird repetitions.

You also said: “Whether it’s a claim of a miraculous Heaven or a miraculous hurricane, no ‘miracle’ stands on it's own two legs under the scrutiny of a skeptical and scientific inquiry.”

I disagree with this assertion. I think that miracles can be supported by scientific inquiry AND still qualify as miracles. Here we get into a question of definition. The best examples I can think of are healings. I’m not talking about televangelist faith healings. I’m talking about the case of the person who is supposed to die but doesn’t. Now, the doctor may be able to determine that the person had some odd, perfectly timed multiplication of white blood cells that fought off and ultimately eliminated the disease.

In other words, there can be a completely logical and medical explanation for it. It’s one in a million, but it’s explainable. Now, you can call it chance if you’d like, but my point is it can still be considered a miracle even if it occurred within the means of an measurable, explanable transformational process.

Francois Tremblay said...

"If miracles exist, I agree that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to test the validity of miraculous claims, but that does not negate the possibility of miracles."

This is a contradictory claim. If a miracle was possible, then it should be verifiable. Of course, this assumes that miracles can actually exist, which they cannot.

"miracles, by nature, are anomalies."

Anomalies compared to what ? If God exists, then there can be no such thing as "anomalies" by definition. You are using materialist language.

"the science of physical facts are not laws, but merely weird repetitions."

BWAHAHAHAHA ! See my previous comment. Your position is completely absurd.

Morgan said...

Chad,

your 'miracle cure' scenario actually exemplifies a major problem with calling things we don't understand 'miracles'. In the situation you describe, someone has recovered from illness. You don't deny that the recovery proceeded through natural means, 'an odd multiplication of white blood cells' or something similar. Let's take that as the scenario.

A doctor looking at that can say, that's odd, or he can say, that's a miracle. If he says 'that's odd', and investigates, there's a good chance he'll find some further cause for the event, all the way down, and may even find an unremarkable, nonmiraculous root explanation. Perhaps this is a reproducible cause, such as an odd mutation or dietary factor. If the doctor had on the other hand said, 'that's a miracle', and not looked into possible explanations, nothing would be learned.

This is one of the big problems I think a lot of people have with the notion of miracles, and while it's fair to say I at least have a strong aesthetic and emotional reaction to such behaviour, in this context that is hardly irrational. 'Miracle', like conventional uses of 'God', is a word that pretends to mean something, when all it really does is conceal an admission of ignorance behind a pretense of explanation. It is far worse an explanation than saying 'we don't know', because it implicitly denies that we *can* know.

thinkanythingonce said...

Following up on Morgan's post: if the doctor says "that's odd" and goes on to investigate, he may learn something new, something nobody understood before. If he says "that's a miracle," the quest for knowledge ends there.

Belief in the possibility of miracles kills the incentive to learn. That's why the Dark Ages were dark. Human understanding only advances when we toss out miracles as an "explanation."

Chad said...

I get the point that some people could (and do) end their intellectual curiousity because "it's just a miracle", but it doesn't have to be like that. Rigorous pursuits of scientific study and all sorts of intellectual advances need not be incompatible with miracles.

Here's the thing: I realize you guys don't believe in miracles, but suppose you did allow for the possibility for a moment and you also allowed for the possibility of the existence of God. If God created the world, he need not violate the "laws" (if we must use this word of nature) of nature to perform a miracle. He can also work through those laws. The key is the intervention to the normal, predictable patterns not whether or not it is explainable or comprehensible.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that one can manipulate the definition of miracle to get out of any pinch. It's not fair!

Francois Tremblay said...

No chad, what I did was tear your hypothetical to pieces by pointing out that, if natural laws are just regularities, then you have to explain an astronomically inmprobable random arrangement of particles.

Explain how, without natural law and the underlying identity of mass, a given mass can emit the exact amount of gravitrons dictated by the law of gravity, COMPLETELY RANDOMLY. Obviously the only alternative is that *everything* is a miracle, thus making your definition completely useless.

Aaron Kinney said...

Hey Chad, Thanx for replying. I appreciate your thoughts on my post.

You said:

Here's the thing: I realize you guys don't believe in miracles, but suppose you did allow for the possibility for a moment and you also allowed for the possibility of the existence of God. If God created the world, he need not violate the "laws" (if we must use this word of nature) of nature to perform a miracle. He can also work through those laws.

This is a good thought experiment. For the moment I will assume that "miracles" are possible and that the Christian God exists.

So if God exists, then he need not violate the laws, just as you said. Clearly, "miracles" would be nothing more than God making things happen differently than he normally makes things happen. But if this were the case, then wouldnt every single thing that happens in the universe, from stars exploding to people eating sandwiches, also be "miracles"?

In other words, everything that ever occured in the universe would be Gods doing and since a miracle is Gods doing, then everything would be miraculous. There would be no "non miraculous" events whatsoever.

y this point, the word "miracle" wouldnt describe anything BECAUSE of the fact that is describes everything. It would explain all and nothing simultaneously (I know that sounds strange but its true).

The "miracle" term would literally be defined out of existence.

There is of course an alternative in that the term "miracle" could be used to describe things that God does in a different way than he normally does it, but then it becomes kind of arbitrary. Like, if 51% of all babies born are males, and 49% born are females, then would every female birth be a miracle? The term would be so loosely defined and the lines of distinction so blurred, that it wouldnt be helpful at all.

Not to mention that this worldview would make prayers sort of blasphemous or at least arbitrary. If every event that happens in existence is attributed to Gods action, then praying for a certain action would be messing with his divine plan. A prayer would be like saying "regardless of what you have planned Lord, I want situaton "X" to happen instead. Please will you alter your divine plan to suit my desires?"

The Wanker said...

FT, I think what he means when he says regularities and what you think he means when he says regularities are completely different. He doesn't mean that a ball just falls back to earth every time we throw it up by chance, he means that that is how it usually happens but that god suspends these properties for a moment, like, say you're playing a computer game and you put on a no-clipping cheat that allows you to walk through walls. Even though the games "universe" normally behaves in a way that doesn't allow one object to go through another, you can suspend this rule because you control that "universe".

Mind you I don't believe in god, but I believe you guys are wrong when you claim that even if there was a god miracles wouldn't be possible or wouldn't really be meaningful. I do understand what chad is saying, or if that's not what he's saying, its my two cents anyway.

Francois Tremblay said...

"FT, I think what he means when he says regularities and what you think he means when he says regularities are completely different. He doesn't mean that a ball just falls back to earth every time we throw it up by chance, he means that that is how it usually happens but that god suspends these properties for a moment, like, say you're playing a computer game and you put on a no-clipping cheat that allows you to walk through walls."

If there is no natural law, then there are no identities for us to rely on, and "regularities" can only occur by chance.

Your analogy is very bad. If there is no natural law, there is no computer game (since that is what it corresponds to in your analogy). All we have are pixels swirling randomly, somehow acting as if they were a computer game. That would be ridiculously impossible. Yet this is what we have to accept if we posit that the computer game does not really exist.

Francois Tremblay said...

I've already written about this on a future blog entry, but here is what it would require for change to reproduce one natural law :

Imagine you are throwing a million dice all at the same time. You have to get an exact distribution of, say :
200 000 ones
100 000 twos
300 000 threes
150 000 fours
150 000 fives
100 000 sixes

You roll your million dice and you get that exact distribution. Then you roll again, and get the same result. Then again... and again... and again...

Do you realize how completely ridiculous this is ? On your first roll you would immediately suspect trickery, let alone the second or third. No one in his sane mind would think that this is possible by chance.

Aaron Kinney said...

Thats because the claim is that God would be intimately controlling every dice roll every time to get that same result. If on one roll you get exactly 1 milion 5s, then that means God ust controlled the dice differently that one time. But with every roll you make, god controls everything.

It would still make the "miracle" term meaningless because every dice roll would ALWAYS be a "miracle" and there would be nothing to differentiate a "miracle" from a "non-miracle." In fact, a non-miracle wouldnt even exist!

The Wanker said...

Apparantly there is some kind of miscommunication going on here. I find it somewhat interesting that you completely ignored the point of my post that was pointing out that you were having misconceptions about what chad was talking about.

I'm not saying it is chance. What I was saying is that there are rules which the universe would follow (in this hypothetical reality in which god exists)that he can change or suspend.

It's not about chance, I'm not saying it is chance, I'm saying that there are rules and that the hypothetical god in this hypothetical model, being that he could create and control the rules, much like me in the computer game, can change or suspend them. I'm not a fucking idiot, I know that the ball wouldn't fall to the ground every time because of chance, and what I was trying to say is that I think that that isn't what chad meant. The point of my post was that I didn't think you understood what chad meant when he said "regularities" and then I tried to give an example via the computer game analogy of what I think he meant.
I wasn't trying to convey or defend the idea that the universe acts the way it does out of chance.

Do you understand what I'm saying? Not chance, not a roll of the dice. Please drop the chance thing because I'm not talking about chance, I'm not trying to say that things fall towards earth out of pure dumb luck, I'm saying that there are rules and that god could suspend them (if there was a god, keep in mind I'm an atheist and this is all hypothetical).

Sorry to keep repeating myself but I just don't want to see another post from you having a completely different argument than I am. You're like an old half-deaf guy to whom I've given directions to the grocery store that thinks I'm telling you to walk to the moon to get there.

As a matter of fact, to avoid confusion, I'll give you a checklist of what I was trying to say in my post.

1. I don't think that that is what chad meant.

2. I gave an example of what I did think chad meant.

3. When he said "regularities" he meant it in the average joe sense (as in, it occurs on a regular basis or "that's how it normally acts") not the statistical sense that you seem to think.

Sorry if this seems unclear or is easily misinterpreted, I'm not in my best typing mode today. (Unable to get my ideas accross properly)

The Wanker said...

I'm going to rewrite my post tommorrow because it seems I'm a little right-brained today, I've come up with some points I'm sure you'll agree with FT but for the moment I can't organize my thoughts to save my life, so there's no doubt that my post is going to be misinterpreted. I don't blame anyone for doing so, my thoughts are so scattered right now I would be surprised if anyone could understand my post. I hate not being able to organize my thoughts.

Francois Tremblay said...

Okay. Here's what I want you to do : I want you to give me a definition of "regularity" that involves neither natural law nor chance, implicitly or explicitly.

Good luck.

The Wanker said...

1. Customary, usual, or normal: the train's regular schedule.
2. Orderly, even, or symmetrical: regular teeth.
3. In conformity with a fixed procedure, principle, or discipline.
4. Well-ordered; methodical: regular habits.
5. Occurring at fixed intervals; periodic: regular payments.
6.
1. Occurring with normal or healthy frequency.
2. Having bowel movements or menstrual periods with normal or healthy frequency.
7. Not varying; constant.
8. Formally correct; proper.
9. Having the required qualifications for an occupation: not a regular lawyer.
10. Informal. Complete; thorough: a regular scoundrel.
11. Informal. Good; nice: a regular guy.
12. Botany. Having symmetrically arranged parts of similar size and shape: regular flowers.
13. Grammar. Conforming to the usual pattern of inflection, derivation, or word formation.
14. Ecclesiastical. Belonging to a religious order and bound by its rules: the regular clergy.
15. Mathematics.
1. Having equal sides and equal angles. Used of polygons.
2. Having faces that are congruent regular polygons and congruent polyhedral angles. Used of polyhedrons.
16. Belonging to or constituting the permanent army of a nation.

(http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=regularity)

Not explicit but perhaps a bit implicit depending on exactly how you're reading them. Some are irrelevant to the topic at hand but conform to your requests. Oh, and I'll throw in chance and natural law just for reference:

chance Audio pronunciation of "chance" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (chns)
n.

1.
1. The unknown and unpredictable element in happenings that seems to have no assignable cause.
2. A force assumed to cause events that cannot be foreseen or controlled; luck: Chance will determine the outcome.
2. The likelihood of something happening; possibility or probability. Often used in the plural: Chances are good that you will win. Is there any chance of rain?
3. An accidental or unpredictable event.
4. A favorable set of circumstances; an opportunity: a chance to escape.
5. A risk or hazard; a gamble: took a chance that the ice would hold me.


natural law
n.

A law or body of laws that derives from nature and is believed to be binding upon human actions apart from or in conjunction with laws established by human authority.

Francois Tremblay said...

So which definition are you using here ?

The Wanker said...

Noting that natural law and regularity suggest something in common, I confess that the above post doesn't quite meet your requirments, but the notable difference that is relevant to the topic is that natural law is absolute and can't be changed and regularity merely implies something that usually happens but can be circumvented and is not absolute, but is not left up to chance. Basically it's a rule that can be changed or, as I said before, circumvented.

Francois Tremblay said...

"natural law is absolute and can't be changed and regularity merely implies something that usually happens but can be circumvented and is not absolute, but is not left up to chance."

I already asked you to prove that. Give me a way to define regularity that is not "left to change" or to natural law. You're just assuming you can posit it and get away with it.

The Wanker said...

"In conformity with a fixed procedure, principle, or discipline." Which is the closest definition of what these "rules" would be if they were the product of god in this hypothetical reality we're talking about.

Note: I might not respond for awhile after this because I'm about to head out.

Francois Tremblay said...

Fine, but what "fixed procedure, principle, or discipline" is that ? That sounds like natural law to me. What other form of causality is a "fixed procedure" or can be formulated as a "principle" ?

(and before you say, "human design", that's natural too, and doesn't apply to most natural laws anyway)

The Wanker said...

We can get into semantics and argue about it all night, bottom line is, I was just trying to say that Chad was probably trying to say that we should think of them as regularities rather than laws because, as Chad even states "When we speak of laws, we understand something that is inviolable" and that the word "regular" is simply meant to convey to the reader a sense that, to god, these would just be "regular" or "the usual" rules that he could suspend at his own will for his own purposes. I hadn't really intended for this to become a big argument, just something to point out because, to me, in the context it was used in, it seemed to make more sense that he would be talking about the word "regular" in the sense that comes to most people's minds, which is "normal" or "usual" (or the "regular" sense that most people use the word "regular" in) and not in the "chance" definition you seemed to think it implied (which I've never actually heard the word "regular" used in reference to before) but, as I've stated before, I just wasn't very clear in my first post and that caused this whole ruckus for which I apologize. Maybe I'm wrong, but to me, that's how it appeared to be. I suppose we won't know until Chad replies again. But I'm done with this argument, I know that sounds like a cop-out or something, but I think I've made my point, I might be wrong, I don't feel like getting to the level of arguing about the definition of words like "regular". Let's just let Chad deliver the verdict on this one, because whether regular or regularity means what we think it means or not, he was the one who crafted the message and he knows what he meant by what he said or meant to say.

Francois Tremblay said...

I don't know why you're still arguing with me on this. It CANNOT be a regularity if it's not a law or derived from a law. Period. The idea that molecules would randomly arrange themselves to mimic a natural law at every second is absurd.

The Wanker said...

Okay, so basically you're saying that if it's a regularity it has to be derived from a law, there has to be a law beneath it all for it to occur right? Otherwise it would just be, as you said, molecules randomly arranging themselves to mimic a natural law at every second which is astronomically unlikely. I agree that is absurd and that there has to be some underlying laws which govern it all.

Allow me to build you a better model to convey what we (me and I think Chad, though I'm not sure because I still don't see anything more from him) are talking about. Let's say our hypothetical god is some computer nerd sitting at his computer running his little simulation that is our universe. The laws in question that we are talking about, that all of my comments are about, the ones in our universe, are the "laws" in the computer simulation, not the laws governing the mechanics or math of the computer, I'm not talking about those laws, those laws aren't the focus of the argument okay? Just the "rules" in the simulation that the computer nerd can change at any time he feels like it for his own purposes, just that, nothing more. Chad might not agree that god would be bound by some sort of laws himself but, as you pointed out, it would have to be so if there was such a thing as a god that could do this (unless someone brings up the "god transcends logic" argument again which is an utterly pointless argument), but those laws are irrelevant to what is being argued because we are just arguing about the computer simulation.

I wouldn't be arguing this if I didn't have some logic behind it, I'm an atheist, I have nothing to protect here, but it just seems that we try to attack some aspects to prove them logically impossible, which, if there was a god, wouldn't really be logically impossible (assuming if there was a god, he would be logically possible in which case he would have to be the computer nerd or something similar, or if he "transcends logic" as some people like to argue, well then, we couldn't really argue anything against him because he wouldn't be bound by logic. Hey, I said it was a pointless argument and I'm sure you know why).

I'm sure we agree with each other Francois Tremblay, we just aren't talking about the same things.

Francois Tremblay said...

Another long comment eh. All right, I'm gonna go ahead and relpy to this.


"Let's say our hypothetical god is some computer nerd sitting at his computer running his little simulation that is our universe."

All right. Apart from the fact that this is a problem for the term "universe" (I think mean "spacetime" here), I'll bite.


"The laws in question that we are talking about, that all of my comments are about, the ones in our universe, are the "laws" in the computer simulation, not the laws governing the mechanics or math of the computer,"

All right, agreed.


"(unless someone brings up the "god transcends logic" argument again which is an utterly pointless argument)"

I don't think it's a pointless argument. If God transcends spacetime, then it must transcend logic. I can't possibly accept otherwise.

It just makes the god-concept slightly more absurd.


"it just seems that we try to attack some aspects to prove them logically impossible, which, if there was a god, wouldn't really be logically impossible"

Once again you're asserting the same thing, but you didn't prove it. Your analogy didn't prove anything. So natural law is like the rules of a simulation, what's your point ? That the user can tweak those rules ? The difference is that in your simulation, causality is already calculated by the computer. In the real world, causality is a consequence of the identity of interacting existents. So your analogy is wrong as regards to causality, which defeats your whole argument about miracles.

What you need, is a better analogy.

Chad said...

Aaron and Francois,

You both mentioned that the problem with believing in miracles as I’ve described is that if taken to its logical end, everything would be considered a miracle. And I actually AGREE with that in a certain sense.

Albert Einstein once said: "There are two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is a miracle."

You can see God everywhere or nowhere. And I want to grow my awareness to the extent that the former is true for me as much as possible. But this “everything is a miracle” mindset is sort of esoteric and not really what I was getting at in the first place. I’m trying to define miracle as it is typically understood in the sense that God has “intervened” in some way to alter the normal or expected course of events. So, for instance, while I believe that childbirth is a “miracle”, that’s not the sense of the word I’m using here. It’s a bit of a language problem - so maybe rather than using the term miracle in that sense, I should say it is a sign of God’s glory. Because, as you pointed out Aaron, believing in miracles in the broader sense describes everything and nothing at the same time so that’s not really going to help in a discussion like this.

The Wanker,

I appreciate your clarifications of what I was trying to say and you seem to understand my point very well, even if you don’t agree with it. I think your attempts to clarify this with Francois, though, are futile because he basically just keeps saying that only a complete idiot could believe such rubbish and is not really even allowing the conversation to develop beyond that point.

breakerslion said...

I have given much thought to this topic. I have looked at it from many hypothetical perspectives. The computer game analogy is a restatement of the old "brain in a jar" argument, where everything we think we know is an illusion, and therefore as malleable as a dream. The analogy breaks down because perceived reality does not change in this manner, at least as far as we can know, and therefore cannot be interacted with as if it did. Perceived reality does however change as science and understanding of our environment advances. Most hypothetical situations that allow for miracles break down when analyzed in terms of mass/energy requirements to pull off said miracle. Even if you throw out the law of conservation and the laws of thermodynamics, something has to take its place that could expend the required energy or supply an analogue of mass to offset the earth's gravity in the case of levitation. Even a hypothetical miracle has performance requirements.

If suddenly, no one got cancer of any kind ever again, without any detectable cause for this change, that would be a miracle. If there is a statistical possibility of an individual's cancer going into remission, and they experience remission, that is not a miracle. It might be beyond understanding, maybe positive thinking or belief in prayer had a positive effect on that person's body chemistry, but it's not a miracle. Most alleged miracles fall into the second category, when they are not outright fraud or hallucination.

Can anyone name an alleged miracle that does not come out of holy scripture and cannot be at least challenged on the basis of:
1. statistical probability
2. being a natural phenomenon (ignorance contributing to the definition of miracle),
3. fraud (with reasonable explanation of how the fraud might be accomplished).
4. probable hallucinatory experience?

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Winning a large lottery would be statistically improbable but it would be a natural phenomenon.

Francois Tremblay said...

"Winning a large lottery would be statistically improbable but it would be a natural phenomenon."

Yessss... now try winning the 6/49 every second for an entire day, and that would approach the level of improbability we're talking about here. Besides, lotteries are a bad example because the result is not specific : anyone can win.

nic said...

I think that with you guys who refuse to beleive in miracles the problem is that you have egos that are to large to accept a higher power than you in the world. just looking at your comments i can tell that none have let christ into your lives, and so you let sin blind you to the reality of god's plan. i used to be a terrible sinner, but then I accepted christ's free gift of grace, and now i can see miracles at work all around me.

I think especially you Francois could use a chance to tone down the ego and stop trying to destroy god's people. I really feel for you becuase i can tell that the enemy is using your sense of pride to undermine your relationship with jesus.

jesus is our only hope and the greatest miracle of all.

breakerslion said...

nic:

Braaaap! You lose! I spent 18 years in the Methodist Church, going on retreats, singing in the Choir. I was baptised, confirmed, and when it came time to take communion, I turned on my heel and walked out. I knew right then that the whole thing was sick in the head. Ego has nothing to do with it, excepting that I did not let Pastor Buttplug crush mine along with my self-esteem. I recognize several higher powers than myself, the IRS for instance.

If I am blind to "god's plan", it's because I am also blind to a winning system for roulette.

You also lose in that you did not mention a miracle that was not scriptural in nature. Besides, if there were miracles, the 1969 Mets would be the greatest of them all.

And oh, by the way, cut the persecution crap! Nobody is trying to destroy anyone, excepting some gun-toting zealots on your side. I merely believe that you have been brainwashed into believing a fairy tale, and take great relish in the hope that I might persuade one person to listen to me instead of the incessant Jesus-God evangelical infomercial. I'll shut the fuck up if they will.

Anonymous said...

For a skeptic to consider a miracle rational, the miracle would have to be scientifically explainable in that the process or act of the miraculous event would have to be traced from the first to last step and the entire claim of miraculousness would have to be falsifiable through some testable means. But if that were to be done, then the miracle would, by definition, no longer be a miracle. It would instead be a natural, material, and explainable event.

This reminds me of a discussion I've had with a few of my Christian friends. My question to them is, "How could you tell the difference between an advanced alien lifeform, capable of amazing science, such as curing cancer with the wave of a hand, raising the dead, etc., and God?"

God's means of accomplishing these feats would need to be utterly "miraculous", meaning not testable, repeatable, falsifyable, etc. The alien's means, however, would meet all of these criteria. The key difference here is that miracle basically means, "We can't figure out how you did it." If miracles are exclusive to God, then any creature capable of performing amazing feats, the means of which one cannot understand, is a God.

Of course, wrapping the unexplained inside a story--writing it off as unexplainable because it is the work of a supernatural entity--is practically the definition of superstition, all the way from the first caveman worshipping the rain god, right up thru Jesus Christ, and beyond.

Francois Tremblay said...

Looks to me like the Christian enemy has been repulsed.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that this is the key to your argument:

Regardless if you call them magic tricks or miracles, these supernatural events are, by definition, completely unsupportable by any skeptical or scientific means. The only way these miracles and magic tricks can be believed in is through faith. And faith is nothing more than belief without logical proof or material evidence. In other words, it is a gullible belief without justification.

But is it really true that, in your life, you have no beliefs beyond those derived from science? In the end, science is mostly a pile of our current best guesses, subject to change as we get more data. How does science even prove -- what you clearly believe -- that logical thought is good? Most species get along without it. What you call logical thought is a verbal construct, shown to be somewhat arbitrary as we encounter divergent world views. Your argument ultimately invalidates love, honor, generosity, all of which frankly depend on leaps of faith.

Anonymous said...

Post above is from Mark G in Indiana.

Anonymous said...

Re the Anonymous Nov. 9 post -- I'll play along and agree that a human observer would have no natural way of distinguishing between God causing a miracle and a scientifically advanced alien causing the same phenomenon. But where does that get us? If anything, the observation illustrates the fallacy of arguing that this or that anomaly could not have occurred becuase it would violate the laws of nature: there is always the possibility that there is a twist in those laws we haven't discovered yet.

Mark G Indiana