Re: [asa] on miracles

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sat Mar 07 2009 - 10:48:18 EST

Ted is quite right to mention Hume here, especially in connection with the
resurrection. In spite of advances in both science & biblical studies in
the 2+ centuries since he wrote, arguments against the resurrection,
especially of those who come at the question as scientists, are generally
just Hume redivivus. The literary & historical support for the resurrection
of Jesus (which of course is not "proof") is not really considered because
the critic simply knows that such things can't happen.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, March 07, 2009 8:47 AM
Subject: [asa] on miracles

> I've said a lot of things in the past about miracles, including the
> resurrection (the miracle that literally created the church out of a group
> of trembling and downcast disciples), and I really can't repeat all of
> that
> here. The conversation here about Jesus walking on water (or "the sea")
> does IMO illustrate some of the ways in which the modern "dialogue" of
> science and religion can come very close to becoming a monologue, in which
> science reigns unchallenged in an inappropriate way. Keith's point here
> could be seen as an example:
> <Nothing prohibits God from doing whatever God wants to do. The issue
> seems to me to be one of our understanding of God's character, not of
> God's capability. So one question would be why would God create the
> physical universe in such a way that God had to break chains of cause-
> and effect in order to accomplish God's will? Why would God create
> in such a way as to frustrate God's creative will.
> Another perspective is that God never acts in a way that violates the
> created capacities of the creation. MORE snipped>
> Keith is right that questions about the character of God and the "created
> capacities of creation" come up in this connection. I certainly agree
> that,
> for someone who wants to engage the "miracle" question at a high level
> they
> can't be ignored. The danger of course is that the opening sentences of
> the
> two paragraphs quoted above are not simply in tension; the second, IMO, is
> rationalistic in the extreme and flatly contradicts the first. The second
> is pure David Hume, though I doubt that Hume would have put it that way
> since I doubt that Hume believed in God at all. The first is both
> biblical
> and orthodox, and IMO it is the first that ought to be the stated or
> unstated background assumption of Christians who approach this issue. The
> rest of that first paragraph could be seen as an inquiry into that
> assumption, since many thoughtful Christians would not want to say that
> "whatever God wants to do" extends to putting on circus side shows of
> pointless miracles, such as some of those in the non-canonical stories of
> Jesus. However, IMO, the latter part of that paragraph starts to employ
> too
> many implicit assumptions about the amount of confidence we ought to place
> in our understanding of what Calvin (perhaps a greater theologian than any
> alive at the moment) would have called the mysterious counsel of God. I
> spent several years working on "rationalist" and "voluntarist" theologies
> of
> creation (those might or might not be the best terms to use, but they are
> the terms most often used by the relevant scholars), and I admit that I
> fall
> squarely on the "voluntarist" side of this. Both are involved, of course,
> but the definition of voluntarism is essentially that God's will is not
> wholly conformable to God's reason--or, more to the point practically,
> what
> God wants to do and actually does is not wholly conformable to our reason.
> The position I just articulated, let me point out, is pretty much the
> official position of the ASA. I don't declare that as ASA V-P; I have no
> authority to make any such declarations. Rather I state it on the basis
> of
> the official ASA statement of faith, which all regular members and fellows
> affirm, and my expertise in science/religion. The third plank in our
> platform states, "We believe that in creating and preserving the universe
> God has endowed it with contingent order and intelligibility, the basis of
> scientific investigation." The explicit reference here to "contingent
> order" is undoubtedly a reference to what I just said at the end of the
> previous paragraph above. The term comes from Thomas Torrance, and the
> theology comes from the best parts (IMO) of the classical doctrine of
> creation, in turn based on biblical theology. This does not shut the door
> to reason--the "order" part of that term is a direct reference to our
> intelligence, made in the image of God, which enables us to comprehend
> quite
> deeply a great deal of the magnificent and subtle creative acts of God.
> But
> the "contingent" part means, as Keith said, that God does whatever God
> wants--and that (here I am drawing on my work as an historian of
> "contingency" in the relevant sense) our minds aren't going to be able to
> limit what God wants. As in, we won't be able to do it, b/c we aren't
> omniscient; but also, we won't be able to do it, b/c God can and does do
> things that lie utterly and entirely outside our ability to know them.
> That
> is precisely what is meant by "contingent" in this context.
> To summarize: go slowly here. It's not hard to understand why one might
> raise questions about the authenticity of any given "miracle" report,
> whether in the Bible or anywhere else. It's not hard to understand why a
> careful theologian might need to develop a coherent set of criteria for
> affirming the likelihood that God did act "miraculously" in a given
> instance
> (the resurrection would be simply one such instance, IMO, and many more
> could be added). At the same time, we must take appropriate care not to
> raise our limited intellects over God's freedom. Most of us probably
> believe that, without freedom, we wouldn't be human; some go further and
> say
> that, without freedom (in the sense of being a creature whose integrity is
> respected by the creator), the creation would be a genuine creation; I am
> stressing the essential point that, without freedom (in the sense
> explained
> above), God would not be God--and, I would add, if God isn't free then you
> can pretty much give up any illusion that you are, yourself.
> I had a detailed, lengthy exchange about this very point--that God would
> not
> be God, if certain theological assumptions were not challenged--several
> years ago with Howard Van Till, on this list. The archives should contain
> it, for anyone who wants to read more about this crucial issue.
> Ted
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Received on Sat Mar 7 10:51:09 2009

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