Superstition


Miracle  uh, Whip!Further to my first post about miracles (wow that was almost a year ago) the following thoughts came to mind today as I was reading In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Actions in History, which examines the concept of the miraculous in light of Hume's essay "Of Miracles" (and later works which expanded upon that essay).

The idea that science disproves the possibility of miracles is, IMHO, extremely misguided. Science is able to confirm that certain things are testable and repeatable, that is, empirically verifiable in the present. Miracles, by nature, are none of these things. For example, today as I rode home on the bus I glanced out the window as the bus came to a stop. To my surprise I saw a rabbit sitting on the grass beside the road. I had never seen a rabbit here before (a fairly built-up area along a heavily trafficked road). This event is still not testable (you'll have to take my word for it that I observed a rabbit earlier today) and not repeatable (even if we were to get on the same bus, drive along the same road, etc, the circumstances could never be exactly the same) and yet the event really did occur. There is no reason to claim that this was a miraculous event, but even here science cannot test whether this mundane event occurred.

Therefore it's no surprise that science has not (cannot) confirm (or disprove) the miraculous. Richard R. Purtill notes in his essay "Defining Miracles" (also part of the aforementioned book) that scientists "tend to confine their investigations to the ordinary course of nature and to ignore such exceptions as might be made to the course of nature by God, since exceptions brought about by personal agency cannot be predicted from a study of what normally happens".

Trying to test whether a supposed miraculous event occurred in history using the scientific method is sort of like trying to determine whether a banana is tasty by sticking it in your ear and listening to it. It's inappropriate methodology. There's nothing wrong with the scientific method for testing natural phenomenon. However a miracle is not natural, and therefore it is misguided to dismiss, say, the resurrection by appealing to science that shows that people rising from the dead is impossible. Of course we observe that dead people stay dead, and that's entirely the point. This wasn't lost on first century people either: Jesus' resurrection was a big deal because people knew that dead people are supposed to stay dead.

This does not mean that science has no part in examining the truth claims of miracles, but only that as unique events in history, a miracle claim is more properly investigated as history rather than science.

Further reading: The Facts Concerning the Resurrection: Don't believe the New Testament is a reliable historical source? I'd argue that the NT is historically reliable, but try let's throwing out most of what it contains, and only focus on facts agreed upon by the vast majority of scholars, Christian or not. What we find might surprise you!

Alister McGrathAt one point in Dr. Richard Dawkins' interview with Dr. Alister McGrath, Dawkins proposes a scenario: A disaster of some sort occurs where 1000's are killed, but one child survives. Dawkins asks McGrath if God saved that one child, and McGrath affirms that yes, God did save that one child. Dawkins is perplexed by this, because the natural question that arises from McGrath's answer (that God saved the one child) is: Why God did not save the other children?

That particular question could be addressed by appealing to God's transcendent knowledge and so forth. However, my answer to Dawkins' inquiry would've differed from McGrath's response. I might have said something like this … well, if I was quick enough to respond somewhat articulately in the heat of the moment, that is:

No, I don't think we can say that God saved that one child. Neither can we say that God did NOT save that one child. While God has the power to supersede the natural order, unless there is evidence that He has done so in a particular situation we should not automatically conclude that He has done so. In this hypothetical scenario, there just isn't enough information given to make that decision. The issue we're really talking about here is whether a certain event was caused by miraculous intervention by God or not. I would not claim that God miraculously intervened unless the context of the event supported this conclusion.

A similar example of this came up earlier in their discussion, regarding the issue of Jesus' resurrection. If claims existed that Karl Marx had been raised from the dead, these claims would differ from the resurrection accounts because (among other reasons!) there was in the first century socio-religious context present to make sense of the meaning of Jesus' resurrection. It was not simply a curious event that had no greater meaning; it was in fact triumphantly meaningful.

Of course, McGrath's reply that it is right and proper to be thankful for the blessings we receive is correct; however I would just be more hesitant to say that God had worked a miracle in a particular situation.

The SecretI said I would post about "The Secret", Rhonda Byrne's ridiculous new-agey DVD/book that proposes the not so novel theory that "OUR THOUGHTS … CREATE … THINGS!" … however I've decided against wasting my time doing a meticulous refutation, in the hopes that the fad will die off soon. However, I did write an article for The Life recently about The Secret, titled What is "The Secret"?. I invite you to read it as a summary of my views on this subject.

thesecret.jpgToday I started reading The Secret, and came across the following quote:

Quantum physicists tell us the Universe emerged from thought! (Page 15)

I admit my knowledge of quantum physics is sorely lacking … is this statement accurate? If so, what exactly does it mean? I know what it means in "The Secret" context, but what does it mean in the world of quantum physics (if anything)? (I'm not trying to be a smart-ass by the way, this is a serious question!)

I'll post some thoughts on the content of The Secret as I get farther in the book. For those who haven't heard of the book, it's basically the best-selling New Age repackaging of the 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking. Available via Amazon, eBook version from eBooks.com (this is the version I got) or your local bookseller. I'm reading it because I'm writing one of my research papers on it. My initial impression is that the power of positive thinking stuff is generally good, but the "thought magnet" stuff and the implication that thoughts create reality is simply unnecessary at best. [Edit: As I read further into the book, I'm becoming more increasingly concerned. I think this book could actually be harmful.]

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