Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Sun Apr 12 2009 - 20:35:04 EDT

Bill Powers wrote:
> George:
> When I said that we study God all the time, I didn't mean to say that
> everyone consciously does. What I intended to indicate was that it is
> possible to study God, as well as humans, scientifically inasmuch as
> both exhibit behaviors that give rise to regularities.
> If this is the primary objective of science, it would seem that
> non-natural, even supernatural beings can be studied by science.
I know definitions of the categories of "natural" and "supernatural" are
necessarily hard to come by. Nevertheless, the latter is assumed to
transcend the former *by its very name* is it not? So it would seem
that the only way you can think a supernatural being to be *directly*
available to scientific scrutiny is by first expanding the domain of
science to beyond nature itself. That, IMO, is highly problematic.
That is not to say that the effects or actions of supernatural beings
cannot be studied. Those effects, when observed at all, obviously are
within the domain of nature or we wouldn't be able to observe them.
When I push a pencil off the table, science can study and predict its
trajectory without knowing a thing about the initial cause or the nature
of my human will that precipitated the event. The same would be true of
God's actions. But to study the effects of an agent's actions is not
the same as studying the agent themselves. Creator and creation are
not to be confused per the Creator's own expressed preference.

> Before speaking of a study of God, let's consider the study of humans.
> What I am particularly interested in is the study of the willful
> aspects of human behavior. When we make theories concerning such
> willful behavior we may say something like, "humans when confronted by
> uncertainty tend to first withdraw to reconsider their situation."
> One might consider this a covering law or more appropriately a ceteris
> parabus law, not unlike Snell's law. As such, it expresses a causal
> disposition, one not, however, universal. One might say that it is
> not much of an explanation (even if it fits the D-N) model. And that
> is true. Nevertheless, one might be satisfied that something of a
> scientific nature was given here.
> It seems to me that such a ceteris paribus law is valuable and
> appropriately scientific despite the fact that the individuals
> involved may have non-combatibilist free will. If this is appropriate
> science, what makes it "natural"? The entities associated with the
> law are mental states of humans and perhaps an observable behavior.
> Are these natural? Despite our ability to describe mental states or
> grasp entirely their ontological status, I doubt that hardly anyone,
> but DesCartes, would deny that they are natural. Frankly, I'm not
> sure, but surely everyone would accept that they are appropriate
> scientific objects of study.
> If this is accepted, the step to studying God seems similar. It is
> possible, it seems, for an entity to be investigated in which not
> everyone believes exists. This has been true of every fundamental
> "particle" of which I am aware. While some may be studying Nature's
> regularities, others may be studying God's regularities. Tell me the
> difference.
I can't imagine there would be a difference except in the final
attribution --willful & voluntary contextualizing as George clarified
in one of his posts.

We have a propensity to think we have identified God's actions in the
breaks from regularity that we are most tempted to label "miracle". It
doesn't seem to interest us as much to think of God's action also
embodied in regularity. Yet that seems to match most closely with the
God revealed in Scripture.

> The MN position appears to be something of a gentlemen's agreement to
> speak only of Nature, permitting some, under their breath, to think of
> Nature as God's creation, even the manifestation of His Will.
I doubt MN assumers who are Christian would want their faith portrayed
as something they need to be furtive about, even in their workplaces.
They assume the great commission to the same extent all Christians do,
but recognize proper context and place for various expressions,
including religious faith. Their leaving religious faith statements out
of a professional scientific paper is not a denial of those convictions,
but a recognition that they don't belong there. Just as I don't plop a
critique of some great literary novel in the middle of a written math
lesson -- it would be non-sequitur. But since scientists are human
beings, there will be plenty of opportunity to share faith in any such
work environment, and such sharing won't/can't be restricted to some
rubric of science when it happens. It may be as simple as expressing
wonder and Christian context to a colleague about the vastness of the
universe, or perhaps about the need for honesty and integrity in
scientific works and writings. Such sharing is not itself science, but
transcends and includes the science work.


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Received on Sun Apr 12 20:35:38 2009

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