Breaking the law(s)February 24, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Jayman continues to press his case:
Your confidence in natural explanations seems strange in two ways:
(A) You have confidence that events that severely contradict the currently understood laws of nature will one day have natural explanations. This confidence is apparently based on faith in science. Yet the findings of modern science would have to be heavily modified in order to explain such events adequately. Some balance between confidence and lack of confidence in modern science seems necessary for you. Ironically, a believer in miracles could have more faith than you do in modern science and see events that contradict the currently understood laws of nature as clearly not having natural causes.
(B) You have confidence that events that have remained inexplicable for all of human history will be found to have natural causes. One could just as confidently assert that a natural explanation for these types of events will never be found.
Let’s look at (B) first. Jayman is correct to say that one could just as well expect that the causes for some phenomena will never be found as to assert that they will be found to be natural causes. We’ll probably never know, for instance, what killed the last pterosaur, since it was a death that occurred millions of years before there were any humans to investigate it. Notice, however, that neither assertion obliges us to infer any kind of supernatural intervention. We don’t know how the last pterosaur died, but that doesn’t mean we’re justified in assuming it was pitchforked to death by a demon. Humans are not omniscient, and therefore it is only to be expected that there will be things we never know. Mere ignorance does not give us a valid basis for asserting the existence of supernatural causes.
Jayman’s paragraph (A) is a bit more problematic, as it is based on the assumption that we actually have “events that severely contradict the currently understood laws of nature.” None of the examples we’ve been discussing so far involve any verifiable violation of currently understood natural laws, nor am I aware of any such examples elsewhere (quantum phenomena being a boundary case where the laws of physics are not so much violated as poorly understood).
Take Bernadette, for example. She had a medical problem involving a tethered spinal cord. She underwent surgery intended to relieve her symptoms. Following the third surgery (a bit too long after the surgery to suit her), she experienced the relief the surgery was intended to produce. The doctors involved don’t know exactly why it took so long to work, or what specific factors kicked in to produce the change, but it violates no natural laws if doctors can’t always follow the exact workings of a highly complex organism like the human body.
Likewise the images at Zeitoun are unexplained (as far as the audience is concerned), but there’s no apparent violation of natural laws involved. The photographs show quite clearly that the “apparitions” are images of icons, complete with iconographic symbols that do not represent the literal appearance of the person portrayed. We’ve had the technology for “magic lanterns” since the 1800’s (and probably earlier, I’m too lazy to look that one up right now), and there’s a clear financial motivation for a hoax.
As for having a confidence based on faith in science, I’m not sure if that was intended to shame me somehow, or to bolster the reputation for “faith,” but as I’ve said before, there are two kinds of faith: faith that arises because of the evidence, and faith that arises because of the lack of evidence. Evidence-based faith is true faith, because it’s based on the principle that truth is consistent with itself. I can have evidence-based faith in the probability that currently unknown causes will turn out to be natural causes, because this is consistent with what we have found in the past, whenever we’ve discovered what the actual answer was.
Evidence-free faith, by contrast, is mere gullibility, since it is an unfounded trust in whatever men tell us (or in what we tell ourselves). Indeed, it is not uncommon for evidence-free faith to be not merely lacking in evidence, but actually contradicted by it. Such faith is not based on the principle that truth is consistent with itself, and stands in opposition to it.
As an Evangelical Realist, I am quite proud to proclaim that I practice and promote evidence-based faith as the only true and trustworthy type of faith there is. The caveat is that this kind of faith will only let you believe in things that really exist, but that’s not a bug, it’s a feature! Evidence-free faith will let you believe whatever you like, which might seem more satisfying (in the same sense that taking drugs can make you feel good), but which is ultimately a Very Bad Idea.
Let’s look at a couple more points before we go:
You are correct that “corollary evidence” may exist. Unfortunately you appear to think the examples you have chosen prove your point. They’d only prove a point if your assumptions were correct.
My only assumption is that truth is consistent with itself. This consistency has two aspects: truth does not contradict itself, and truth does not exist in isolation. The latter aspect is a bit less obvious than the former, but what I mean is that real-world truth always has corollaries. It’s not just that they may exist, it’s that they must exist. That’s part of the nature of objective reality. We can do mental manipulations on concepts that have been so abstracted that they have nothing to do with anything else, but in the real world everything is interconnected, and the interconnections are all perfectly consistent with one another.
It’s this consistent interconnectedness that makes science possible, and that allows us to discover one thing by observing another. And likewise, it’s characteristic of untruth that this perfectly self-consistent interconnectedness is broken and missing at some point, which is how we discover that untruths are not true. Any time we discover a lie or an error, we make the discovery based on finding the point at which the untruth fails to connect with the perfect self-consistency of real-world truth.
The believer in a past miracle would base the belief on historical inquiry. Your test for consistency with “real-world truth” seems to be nothing more than consistency with your own, personal life experiences for there’s no logical inconsistency in believing that Jesus rose from the dead. Moreover, judging past events based on your modern experience is error-prone since the past was different than the present.
Past, present or future, the truth is consistent with itself. There may be some things that change over time, but the self-consistency of the truth is not one of them. Otherwise, how will we ever know if Zeus was really just a myth, and not an actual God?
We have stories from the past. How can we know if these stories are true, unless we are allowed to examine them to see if they’re consistent with what we find in the real world? We’ve been watching Geisler and Turek try to argue that Jesus must have risen from the dead based on history, but they’ve been using a double standard: when it came to trivial details like who was governor, or how far away some city was, they evaluated the story based on how consistent it was with what we can observe in the real world. They used the same standard I insist on, and thus performed like real historians.
As soon as it came to the extraordinary claims, however, Geisler and Turek abandoned this standard and acted like we should believe whatever the Gospel writers tell us (even when they contradict each other), just because they say so. Instead of consistently applying the historical principle that we should test the NT writers’ claims in the light of real-world evidence, Geisler and Turek used trivial historical accuracies to try and argue that we should never doubt what the writers tell us. They used the historical principle to try and talk us out of using the historical principle!
Why the sudden switch from verification based on consistency with real-world observations, to “verification” based purely on uncritical trust in whatever men say? Because Geisler and Turek know that if you evaluate the Gospel claims in terms of consistency with real-world observations, the Gospel fails the test. The genuine historical method only confirms the trivial details of the Gospel story, and leaves all the crucial points disconfirmed. Applied consistently, the historical method argues against the supernatural, not for it.
If we can’t evaluate the past by checking for consistency with real-world truth, we have no way to know whether any ancient stories were true or false. That’s not our fault, nor is it our fault that God fails to show up in real life, so that we could have a real-world basis for saying, “Yes, the Bible stories are consistent with what we can observe in the real world.”
A God Who loved us enough to give His only begotten Son would be concerned enough about our salvation to provide us with a valid basis for concluding that the Gospels were true, so even if we ignore the fact that He ought to be showing up just for the sake of loving to have 2-way personal interaction with us, He still ought to be showing up. The fact that He does not is a serious inconsistency between real-world truth and the things men say about Him in the Gospel.