Re: Answer to Eugenie Scott's views

David Campbell (
Wed, 18 Mar 1998 15:47:39 -0400

Dear Will (and anyone else),
>Your argument is clear. I accept that you might think that God is visible in
>the predictability of nature. Under methodological naturalism, any laws or
>regularities behind the laws is equally subject to investigation. So far,
>methodological naturalism has gone a very long way in this direction, but has
>much farther to go. Your view is equivalent to either God of the gaps or a
>Deistic god. The first is weak for all the reasons given on this reflector, and
>the second is back in the worthless kind of God.

What exactly do you mean by "subject to investigation"? Methodological
naturalism, as a method, can be attempted on anything. However, your
philosophy determines whether you think it will yield meaningful results,
or whether it is possible that a non-naturalistic explanation will be

If God of the gaps is defined as the view that God is specially present in
areas not explained by science, my view is neither God of the gaps nor
deistic. I agree that neither of these options is a satisfactory God.
However, there are many options between these two extremes. The
Westminister Confession of Faith, V:III states "God, in his ordinary
providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and
against them, at his pleasure." In other words, God is working both in
gaps and in non-gaps. Even most purported gaps have large "natural"
components to them. For example, the lack of a physical father is the only
peculiarity claimed about Jesus' birth, as opposed to the abnormal births
attributed to some of the Greek deities or the option of appearing without
development and birth.

>This is a question of investigation. Miracles investigated in the present, when
>enough data are present, always succumb to methodological naturalism. You are
>in a terrible situation if you argue that your favorite miracles can be
>disproved by scientific investigation. Are you willing to argue that Jesus came
>from a virgin birth (with I guess one complement of divine chromosomes), that
>paternity testing would reveal no connection with nearby men, and was
>resurrected from the dead? If true, then I surely would become a believing
>Christian. But the evidence so far is woefully weak from the viewpoint of
>methodological naturalism. Your only hope is for the case to never be capable
>of investigation. How about more recent miracles with good evidence that they
>must be miraculous? Having God split Cayuga Lake and allowing me to walk to the
>other side would immediately convince me.

I think we are using essentially the same definition of miracle-an event
that violates natural laws due to supernatural involvement. There are
certainly plenty of fraudulent claims of such. However, the Bible does not
suggest that miracles will be particularly amenable to scientific analysis.
Firstly, miracles are not very replicable. "You shall not put the LORD
your God to the test" has also been translated "You shall not experiment on
God". Skeptical challenges do not seem to be accepted by God very often,
though open-minded ones often are. Secondly, the primary purpose of
miracles in the Bible is to attest to someone's authenticity as a spokesman
for God. The completion of the Bible in New Testament times makes such
miracles unnecessary.

There may also be an element of "free will" involved. God does not force
people to believe in Him, and a fully documented miracle may be more
forceful than He wants.

I don't understand what the terrible situation is that is generated by
allowing scientific investigation of miracles. Although I don't think it
is likely that miracles will be readily examined, the question of "what if
someone could have performed this test at this point in the Bible?" is
certainly valid. The Bible clearly asserts Jesus' virgin birth; it also
clearly asserts that people knew that this does not happen (Luke 1:34;
Matthew 1:18-20, etc.). As to the chromosomal arrangement, the Bible is
silent, so I have no idea what one would expect. Actually, I'm more
inclined to wish that the cases were capable of more investigation, but I
suspect that God has a reason for doing things the way He does.

> I think you multiply your problems by saying, well, investigate miracles.
>If you do, and find a perfectly reasonable natural explanation, then you are up
>a creek. In the case of Jesus, or the thousands of cases offered up as virigin
>births in this century, methodological naturalism suggests strongly that none
>were virgin births. After all, we have only Mary's word for it, and that may be
>just a reconstruction that can be tracked down by Biblical scholars.

If you investigate a miracle and cannot find a reasonable natural
explanation, you are up the creek; I would only be up the creek if my
investigation disproved Jesus's resurrection or other basic aspects of
Chritianity. Although numerous "experiments" have shown that sex produces
babies and lack of sex does not, the conclusion is not part of the method.
(This is the only way I can think of that we can apply methodological
naturalism to the question, though other tests would have been possible in
Jesus' lifetime.) Drawing a general conclusion requires that you make the
assumption that you can generalize. This assumption is a part of
methodological naturalism and therefore cannot be concluded from it. If
you believe that it is possible for "gaps" to exist, but (as is often not
the case) you seek to confirm whether a claim is true, you would consider
the available historical evidence. In the case of purported gaps in
evolution, I don't think there is good evidence for any, and see some
contrary evidence; yet I find the historical evidence reasonably agreeing
with Biblical claims.

David Campbell