RE: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

From: Alexanian, Moorad (
Date: Wed May 21 2003 - 21:40:27 EDT

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     I believe the words natural and supernatural are equivocal. The more appropriate terms to use are physical and nonphysical. The former is the subject matter of science and purely physical devices can collect the data. If the nonphysical does not exist in nature, then we have materialism. Examples of the nonphysical are human consciousness and reasoning, which are the attributes of the scientists that allow them to give explanations and infer theories from the physical data. Even if scientists can write down theories that not only describe nature and make predictions but also explain all that is physical still the existence of conscious, rational beings would not be part of the consequences of the theory.


    Miracles are improbable events that the believer believes were a consequence of his/her prayers and supplications to a Supreme Being. Can we ever establish the latter as a fact? Clearly, not. Do I believe in miracles and that prayers are answered? Obviously, yes. We can weave all sorts of arguments to make miracles palatable to those who do not believe in them, but in the final analysis, it is a matter of faith not our power of persuasion.


    Pascal said that morality does not make sense without immortality. That is one way to approach the problem of human immortality but there are all sorts of ways and all ought to be considered. Do I believe in immortality? Yes, I do.

    Notions of morality are clearly nonphysical and thus not the subject matter of science. Let us face it, science deals with a rather limited aspect of reality.


    Some may say that the definition I give above of the subject matter of science is rather limited. That is the point otherwise; we can claim some aspects of reality to be the purview of science when they clearly are not. The study of humans by science will have to relay on detection and measurements by purely physical devices. Is parapsychology good science or nonsense? One can make all sorts of theories of all that we can detect by purely physical devices. However, in the study of humans that will give us a rather superficial and limited aspect of the true nature of who we are.




            -----Original Message-----
            From: Dr. Blake Nelson []
            Sent: Wed 5/21/2003 4:47 PM
            To: Rich Blinne; Howard J. Van Till; Burgy;
            Subject: RE: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

            It seems to me that the definition of supernaturalism
            by naturalists is akin to the problem of the
            definition of intelligent design. One does not have
            an exhaustive definition of what is natural and so one
            does not have a good way to draw lines between the
            natural and the supernatural or the naturally evolving
            and the irreducibly complex.
            George's previous point, if I may paraphrase it
            without doing injustice to it, about miracles already
            being built into creation from the beginning is
            apropos here. There is nothing to a priori say that
            the "natural" order does not have the capacity inbuilt
            for particular miracles that appear supernatural
            ("miracles" of course can be explicable through
            natural phenomena, such as wind parting the sea).
            I am interested in Howard's take on something he
            promised to get back to me about probably over a year
            ago (if he did, I missed it) and that is what sort of
            eschatological hope is offered by the sort of deity
            that is posed by Griffin and PT. As I understand (and
            I could well be wrong since I am not that well read
            vis-a-vis Griffin), Griffin has come around to the
            position that the continuation of the person as a
            subjective center of experience after death is
            necessary (a position he earlier rejected), but
            doesn't that involve supernaturalism on some level?
            If God is able to act in a redemptive manner in that
            way, why isn't "supernaturalism" (however poorly
            defined) legitimate otherwise? (Isn't communication
            between God and creation as a persuader or lure in
            itself supernatural?)
            Is a god that can only persuade and lure creation a
            proper source of eschatological hope if he is not the
            Creator of the universe? (of course I am also ignorant
            as to why there should be or necessarily is a
            relationship between a self-existing god and an
            eternally (self?) existing universe; is this an
            accurate characterization Griffin's view that both are
            eternally existent?)
            Second (which I have not asked Howard about before),
            as I recall, Griffin has defended as legitimate,
            "natural" phenomena lots of areas that most scientists
            reject, including a wide variety of parapsychological
            phenomena. I would presume that this is a way of
            naturalizing stuff that normally gets lumped into the
            supernatural. However, I am curious on what Howard's
            take on these phenomena are. It seems to me that
            Griffin alternately suffers in this position depending
            on one's view in one of a couple ways. By naturalizing
            things that are generally thought to be in the realm
            of the supernatural, Griffin is admitting that we
            don't have a comprehensive understanding of what is
            "natural". How then is he in a position to say that
            the supernatural is out of bounds for God? He doesn't
            accept mainline definitions of natural (most
            scientists seem to think parapsychology is bunk and/or
            hocum), and admits that we don't have a complete
            definition of what is natural in order to make
            categorical distinctions that he tries to make. It
            seems that either he is wrong in expanding
            naturalistic explanations to include the phenomena he
            wants to include, or he artifically excludes phenomena
            he defines as supernatural.
            What is Griffin's current position on
            parapsychological phenomena? How does it fit into PT?
            --- Rich Blinne <> wrote:
    > (SNIP)
    > ------------------------
    > 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
    > vary.
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