Re: [asa] Random and design

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Fri Dec 08 2006 - 04:04:02 EST

You're using "natural law" in a religious sense, whereas my usage was in the scientific sense. (This is, after all, a forum for scientists.)

Natural in the religious sense is whatever God wants, so by definition God can't violate that kind of "natural law." But this--like a tautology--says nothing interesting.

Some of the "wonders" recorded in the Bible clearly violate what scientists call natural law. Such wonders simply can't happen naturally according to our current understanding of nature. Two examples: Turning Lot's wife into salt, turning water into wine. Both these events require transmutation of elements, which cannot happen as reported and still lie within the confines of what scientists understand as natural law. So I proposed (in ad hoc manner) to define "miracle" as an act of God that violates one or more such laws of nature.

The context was a discussion of how God might influence matter. There appear to be three ways: 1) brute force, 2) by manipulation of quantum probabilities, and 3) by having his Spirit enter into or otherwise directly influence spiritual entities such as humans. The quantum route would allow God to influence matter without violating any law of nature. But Scripture indicates God does not restrict himself to this kind of influence. Any kind of influence other than (2) or (3) would appear to require brute force, meaning that God would cause an outcome that would not have occurred naturally and hence would have violated some law of nature.

The answer to your initial question, then, is that we want to talk about something that might be of interest to scientists.


  ----- Original Message -----
  Sent: Thursday, December 07, 2006 2:06 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Random and design

   And just why would we want to define miracle as an act that violates natural law? Scripture itself never uses the term. It uses "signs" [semeia], "wonders" [terata], "mighty works" [dunameis], and "works" [erga]. For most of the history of the church, "miracles" were not considered violations. Augustine considered miracles not to be "contrary to nature" but rather "contrary to our knowledge of nature". And:

  "Isn't the daily course of nature itself a miracle, something to be wondered at? Everything is full of marvels and miracles, but they are so common that we regard them as cheap and of no account."

  (Perhaps we could paraphrase by saying the ID shouldn't look for fingerprints --it's ALL fingerprints?!)

  Historian Peter Harrison points out that it was only at the Reformation and beyond, especially with the "voluntarists" that miracles were given an independent status as evidence -- and thereby opened the door to Hume's critique. [See his "Miracles, early modern science, and rational religion" in Church History, 2006, v. 75, p. 493-510].

  Karl V. Evans<>

  -----Original Message-----
  Sent: Wed, 6 Dec 2006 4:37 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Random and design

  Among the several limitations of science is its inability to monitor more than a negligible fraction of what goes on in the world. If we define miracle to be an act of God that violates natural law, it is not inconsistent with science to believe there may be miracles going on all the time. That is, the number of possibilities for miracles exceeds Avogadro's number by a large factor, and the number of measurements that scientists can do is negligible in comparison. This means the chance any scientist would happen to measure one of these hypothetical miracles is close to zero. If he did happen to measure one, and it gave him a wild result, the usual practice would be to throw it out as unexplained bad data.

  Science relies on averages, and a miracle almost by definition would lie outside the expected range and hence give unusable data. What we can say is that the world is consistent enough to allow science to be useful; in other words, the averages practically speaking can be counted on to work all the time. Nevertheless, to conclude as scientists commonly do that all parts of the world must always behave in accord with their averages is unwarranted.

  The point is that miracles could be far more common than scientists think. In random conversations I've found many people who sincerely believe either they themselves or close acquaintances have witnessed miracles. (And none were in the category of the Virgin on a piece of toast.) If I can extrapolate these conversations to the rest of the world, a large fraction of people must believe they've witnessed miracles. Are they all wrong? Probably most are, because miracles make life exciting and meaningful, so people are motivated to experience them even if they aren't real. But some of the miracles may have been real. In most cases science can't say they weren't.

  (Of course, if you carefully investigate, as RCs do at Lourdes, for example, you may be able to say they weren't.)



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Received on Fri Dec 8 04:04:01 2006

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