RE: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

From: Rich Blinne (
Date: Wed May 21 2003 - 13:10:39 EDT

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    -----Original Message-----
    From: []On
    Behalf Of Howard J. Van Till
    Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2003 7:59 AM
    To: Burgy;
    Subject: Re: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

    In his book, Religion and Scientific Naturalism, however, process theologian
    David Ray Griffin criticized my approach for its failure to be sufficiently
    daring and consistent. In effect, his question to me was, If supernatural
    intervention is unnecessary for the whole of the universe's formational
    history (as I believe it is) , then why not be consistent and dare to
    generalize to the position that supernatural intervention is not only
    unnecessary, but totally out of character for God. Reject supernaturalism
    altogether and adopt a naturalistic theism.

    I have said on many occasions that I found Griffin's criticism the most
    valuable criticism I have ever received. The consistency he encourages makes
    good sense to me. The naturalistic theism he articulates is consistent with
    the totality of my life experience, which includes my experience as a person
    trained in science. But it is not science, by itself, that moves me away
    from traditional supernaturalism toward naturalistic theism. It is the way
    that naturalistic theism rings true to the whole of my life experience that
    attracts me to it.

    I am not asking for anyone on this list to agree with my choice. The limited
    point is that my choice is one that goes far beyond science. To tie in with
    my opening question, SCIENCE does not deserve either the credit or blame for
    my choice.

    This whole situation begs a precise definition of supernatural and
    particularly miracles. John Locke's definition is as good as any:

    To discourse of miracles without defining what one means by the word
    miracle, is to make a show, but in effect to talk of nothing. A miracle then
    I take to be a sensible operation, which, being above the comprehension of
    the spectator, and in his opinion contrary to the established course of
    nature, is taken by him to be divine.

    Note that this presupposes a divine order is the norm. For Locke the
    purpose of miracles are as follows:

    To know that any revelation is from God, it is necessary to know that the
    messenger that delivers it is sent from God, and that cannot be known but by
    some credentials given him by God himself. Let us see then whether miracles,
    in my sense, be not such credentials, and will not infallibly direct us
    right in the search of divine revelation.

    It is no surprise that David Hume's naturalism reacted to Locke vigorously
    much like your process theologian did to you. Both Hume and your process
    theologian committed the same logical fallacy of incomplete induction.
    Quantum mechanics is not necessary because we observe classical mechanics as
    the norm. But once the experimental data is in quantum mechanics is
    established. Thus, while quantum mechanics is not necessary, nevertheless,
    it is.

    Your process theologian is extrapolating from what he observed to conclude
    any violation of the natural order is inconsistent with the character of
    God. It would be against God's apparent character if the purpose of
    miracles was capricious as appears to be the case in episodic creationism.
    If, on the other hand, the purpose of miracles is to give credit to the
    proposer ala Locke then it would not be a violation of God's character.
    That the natural order is overwhelming established gives miracles the
    sufficient force to establish Divine communication. A universal complaint
    against Christianity is the lack of communication between God and His
    creation. The complaint is universal because is there is a concomitant
    universal presupposition that if God exists He ought to communicate with His
    creation. So, it is well within God's character for God to accredit
    communication alleged to be Divine with miracles.

    By having a bar set too low for proof of miracles and the supernatural the
    supposed friends of Christianity discredit all miracles and ultimately
    Christianity itself. The nature of the Biblical miracles are undeniably
    Divine to both the scientific and unscientific mind. Both agree that if
    someone comes back from the dead after three days then that event is not
    possible in the natural order and must have a Divine cause. Thus, what is
    said by such a person has the Divine fiat. One consequence of this approach
    to miracles is that it has built in a cessation to them. Thus, the fact
    that we no longer observe miracles is not an issue because the purpose for
    them has passed save for identifying false prophets by their failure to
    perform miracles.

    So, what does this mean for the scientific Christian? It means that the
    choice between miracles -- properly defined -- and naturalism is a false
    one. Belief in both is not at all inconsistent. It also proves your thesis
    that it doesn't have anything to do with science but philosophy, or as you
    put it a worldview issue.

    I might add, however, that if you are already believed in naturalism that
    you might be attracted to science. Further, if lacking a
    traditionally-defined religion you might also make science your religion --
    or at least your ideology. So, science may be the symptom rather than the
    cause of irreligion amongst scientists. That is, the irreligious become
    scientists rather than the other way around. Science as religion happened
    in the 20th Century while art was the religion in the 19th. I am not sure
    what substitute "religion" for the 21st will be. My best guess is that the
    po-mo crowd will create a roll your own spirituality for this century. I
    realize my last point is painted in very broad strokes. Your mileage may

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