Re: [asa] Dowd, Miracles, and ID-TE/ASA-List Relations

From: dawson wayne <>
Date: Wed Apr 29 2009 - 05:28:47 EDT


> CW: Let me ask you a question about this:
> "WD: As a Christian, I have to accept that the bible has proclaimed
> miracles that I cannot explain with my craft."
> CW: My response is: Why should you be able to explain a miraculous
> occurrence by science? And why should you feel troubled if you can't? I
> don't see the problem here. If God parted the waters of the Red Sea in the
> way that the story depicts, why should we expect that we should be able to
> understand how that could happen? Luther didn't try to find out the natural
> causes behind such miracles. Nor did Calvin. Nor did any of the great
> medieval saints, or any of the ancient martyrs. Last I heard, neither
> did American theologians like Jonathan Edwards or J. Gresham Machen. It is
> very odd to suggest (a) that scientific explanations should be findable for
> Biblical miracles; and (b) that there would be any spiritual value in
> knowing such explanations even if they were available. The stories were not
> written as a challenge to our scientific ingenuity. They were written to
> express the mighty works of God in the life of Israel. To approach the
> miraculous events as technical problems to be solved is to approach them in
> a modern secular spirit that was alien to the spirit of the Biblical writers
> and the original readers alike. So I am not expecting you or anyone to
> explain any miracle scientifically, and I am not blaming you or anyone for
> failing to do so.

I was being rather matter of fact. Like it or not, when I tell people I am a
Christian, which I certainly do, I can expect to be confronted with the
usual list of questions. So rhetorically, that is a statement of fact from
my perspective, not my opinion about how I should deal with it. Earlier in
my life, I was far more a concordist, but now I don't know anymore what
exactly I think.

> CW: The point of my original post to Ted was not that TEs should do a
> better job of explaining miracles; it was that many TEs seem to have serious
> doubts about the very *occurrence* of the majority of the miracles. And
> lying behind that hesitation to accept the events, in my view, is the
> determination that "naturalism" must reign, not only now, but at all moments
> in the past. Once that attitude is universal among "enlightened"
> Christians, the exceptions insisted upon by Ted and/or George, e.g., the
> virgin birth and the physical resurrection, cannot long be maintained.
> (They can of course be maintained throughout the lifetimes of Ted and
> George; but in the long run of Western culture, they cannot and will not be
> maintained, unless the presumption of naturalism regarding past events is
> dropped.)

I read two points here. First, that the world could have been different in
the past and God could have done miracles that do not happen now. Second is
that letting naturalism reign in on biblical interpretation will eventually
reduce the bible to irrelevancy and lead to the demise of Christianity.

To the first point: naturalism is something we have to live with. It is a
compelling argument that the "world" (at least the physical "world";
i.e., the laws, interactions and consequences) has not changed for quite a
long time; probably at least 12 billion years. It is true that naturalism
could be a mistaken proposition. However, given consistency is the only
test we really have, it seems to be pretty consistent. No matter how far we
look back in the astronomic record or the geologic record or the
archaeological record, the laws appear to be constant. There are no obvious
independent records reading "this is an act of God's intervention with the
world". There is no clear way to infer them. We have little to go on
there. Consistency being the test, it is at least logical to assume that
the patterns we see today are the same as they were in the past, though this
is of course an assumption that we make. Everyone has his/her taste, and
probably those of us heavily trained in the physical/biological sciences
find ourselves more comfortable with things that don't unnecessarily tax our
credulity. It may happen that, in the end, the water really did turn into
wine exactly as said, but, whatever happened, I think it is more productive
to look for rock solid reasons to carry on in the faith rather than preach
about miracles that most people who don't believe won't believe because of
these claims anyway. Look for the more important reasons why we believe,
not the trivialities.

On the second point, it is hard to say what is the way that Christianity
will best survive. That should at least be left up to God, not us. I would
think that throwing out the methodological naturalists would make the church
too parochial to most of the population that we both wish to reach. I don't
think we should be keen on throwing all miracles out, but I also think we
should not stubbornly hang onto miracles that are not central to our faith.
Miracles like the Ressurection we must accept, miracles like the sun
standing still are probably open to interpretation. Probably people said
exactly the same thing when geocentricism was being challenged. God was
bigger than us and the church survived. Indeed, it survived _in spite_ of us
(the Church). If we (the Church) are the full example of God's work in the
world, I think I would be more inclined to run and hide.

> CW: On another point: I never denied that belief in Scripture requires
> trust. But that has nothing to do with intelligent design. Intelligent
> design is not about Scripture. It's about discerning God's fingerprints in
> the book of nature. Many people here seem to think that it is a mark of
> great piety to deny that we can discern God's fingerprints in the book of
> nature. But this distaste for seeing God's wisdom in nature is historically
> a modern one. Traditional Christians were quite comfortable with the idea.

Yes, but that does get into the science. I do know Dembski's book on the
Design inference, and it is trying to find a probabilistic way to prove
event that cannot happen by chance. The book was not directly about
detecting the finger prints of God, but it has within its objectives a way
to rule out chance and detect the work of an intelligent agent. It
therefore assumes something about the intelligent agent. For example, that
the intelligent agent would want to leave an "Intel inside" stamp on the
Creation. If this is the way God works, then fine, but God may not work
that way. From what I can see at the boundaries of science and faith, God
gives us the choice to look at the world through the eyes of faith (or
not). So I can look at the world and realize God is there, and the atheist
can look at the exact same world, and say he is not. The bible say that he
is hidden from the wise.

Let's reflect on it a a different way. If the miracles were so obvious, why
would Pharaoh resist? If this was some Hollywood show with all the special
effects, surely Pharaoh would have given in. Instead, God sent a washed up
Moses and his motley crew. This loser tells Pharaoh what he expects Pharaoh
to do, and expects Pharaoh to agree. There was some cheap display of magic
tricks, and Moses' supposed god did have a few tricks up his sleeve that the
palace magicians didn't know, but so what. His palace magicians were
already speculating on how Moses succeeded and they had their own vested
interests to watch out for. After all, this was Imperial Egypt, not some
silly god of slaves. None of this came with the usual pomp and circumstance
expected of a "big boss". There wasn't the big stage drop where God comes
walking down the isle with all the pretty little angels twirling about his
fancy robes decorated in royal regalia. Just this Moses and his pathetic
motley crew. Pharaoh was thinking just like the way we think about who is
important. God seems to be reminding us constantly that that we can easily
get it wrong.

So it may be those finger prints are out there, and certainly they are for
eyes of faith, but, as far as I can tell, God wants our faith, not our
fear. Where we are dazzled by cheap displays of knowledge and power, God
would seem to care less.

> CW: I am not sure how much ID material you have read, Wayne, but I
> have read thousands of pages of it, so let me give you the short version of
> ID on the issue you raised. ID does not attempt to prove that the
> "designer" it detects in nature is the Triune God of Christianity. The
> identification of the designer with the Christian God is for every ID
> proponent a matter of faith, not of science. Period. If anyone has told
> you anything different about ID on this point, they are either ignorant of
> the ID position or lying out of malice toward ID.

But again, that would depend on how God interacts with the world, on God's
purposes for doing so, and on what things God leaves behind after such
interaction. We do have a universe that we can live in, but of course
atheists will point to infinitely many universes where ours just happens to
have all the right stuff for intelligent life. Even if all the theories
about a multivers are thoroughly demolished, they will still rationalize it
away as an event of chance. So the evidence is there, but only through the
eyes of faith. ID certainly could, in principle, be used to detect if
aliens visited the earth (since they are likely to have similar foibles as
humans; e.g., pride, hubris, avarice, greed) but we may not be able to
undeniably detect God or whatever we want to call such an intelligent
agent. It might prove useful for thinking about the things a criminal would
do to cover up his tracks and therefore finding something he forgot. But
since we do not know the mind of God, it would be hard to know how to
detect his track if any are made at all. It seems like he is not going to
let us have that.

> Thus, the knowledge of God's existence available through ID, which is
> very meagre, is not salvific knowledge. It does not compete with the
> Gospel. It does not render the Gospel unnecessary.

I only said "questionable". You were challenging the views of TEs.

> The position of ID on this is not different from the position of Thomas
> Aquinas, arguably the greatest Christian theologian who ever lived, and
> certainly the most philosophically competent. And I will stand corrected if
> someone will provide textual counter-evidence, but I am told that Calvin
> himself accepted a limited natural theology of the sort implied by ID, and
> Calvin can hardly be accused of saying that human reason can substitute for
> faith in Christ.
> I have said all this before, to other ID critics here and elsewhere, but
> they are apparently hard of hearing, because they neither refute my point
> nor agree with it, but keep arguing against it as if I have never made it.
> There seems to be a pathological stubbornness against the reception of
> alternate viewpoints, and even against the reception of correct
> information, among several of the "orthodox TEs" on this list. I'm hoping
> that you don't share in this pathology, and that you will grasp my point
> instantly, and will either accept my correction of your mis-impression
> concerning ID (which is offered in good will), or, if you think I am wrong,
> will disprove it, by providing passages from the ID theorists or from
> classical Christian theologians or from the Bible, to show me where I am
> wrong.

Perhaps I should not have added the point about "theologically
questionable". I didn't chose to use the word "heretical" or some of
the other pungent classics that have come up on the list. I just said
questionable. You were clearly questioning the views of TEs on our
reluctance to stand on miracles with the implications that this was
something "questionable". It seemed only fair. <grin>

The one thing about this list is that nobody agrees with anybody else.
That's what we definitely agree on and maybe that is the definition of an
"orthodox TE". I'm not sure anyone even listens to anyone else, but it is
easier to make a home here than on an atheist list. That much I do notice.
Maybe it is also a matter of temperament. Some people only like to hang out
with the latest fashion, some people like to sit back and think about things
a lot, others don't like to follow fads and do things their own way.
 Probably most people who stick around here would fall in the second or
third group. But most of us here are Christians, and, probably, we
represent part of that "other" view.

by Grace we proceed,
Wayne (ASA member)

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Received on Wed Apr 29 05:29:24 2009

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