JD WALTERS SAID:
“There is nothing whatsoever sinister about God designing us that way.”
I didn’t say there was anything “sinister” about it. I’m simply addressing the argument from “deception,” so popular among opponents of YEC. God has designed us in such at way that, barring lucid dreams, we are fooled by dreams (to take one example). I don’t think that’s sinister either.
“There IS something sinister about leaving traces through the world and the universe of natural events that never happened.”
There’s nothing more sinister about that than certain nature miracles.
“If you don't see something wrong with Dick Whitman (from Mad Men) passing himself off to everyone else as Don Draper, complete with a purple heart from service in the Korean war (in which he never fought), a forged employment history, personal belongings carefully chosen to fit the new persona and insincere relationships, then I can't help you. You must have some different definition of deception than I do.”
All you’re doing is to stipulate an analogy. Since I don’t acknowledge the accuracy of your comparison, it’s beside the point.
“My objection was to the idea that there are different rules for evaluating physical evidence than there are for evaluating worldviews.”
Which is not the same thing as how to correctly interpret a story about the world.
“So how and for what reasons would you reject those views?”
I don’t see why I should head down that rabbit trail right now. I’ve blogged on both issues in the past.
“That's why I said, all three things, the Bible, Christian theological reflection, and science point to creation ex nihilo starting at the absolute beginning of the cycle. There is no indication from any of those sources that the world sprang into existence mature and fully formed. God started with some formless raw material, which he then progressively differentiated and developed into what we see today.”
i) On the traditional reading of Genesis, God doesn’t take the molecules-to-man approach. Instead, he creates cyclical, self-replicated processes. So he does, indeed, instantiate the cycle at a later phase in the cycle.
Of course, you can take issue with the traditional reading, but it’s not as if you can treat the Bible as prima facie evidence for your macroevolutionary position.
ii) ”Christian reflection” is not a source of information regarding what happened.
iii) For reasons I’ve already given, science can only deal with appearances, including the appearance of origins. But depending on where in the cycle the universe was instantiated (by fiat creation ex nihilo), that would incorporate the appearance of earlier stages in the cycle.
“I don't see what the big deal is. Who ever thought that because my watch shows 2010 as the current year means the watch has actually been ticking for that long?”
Because you’re operating from a principle of reverse linear extrapolation, taking the current readout (the present) as your frame of reference, then running everything backwards.
But you can’t tell from the current readout when I set my watch. Maybe it says 2PM. Maybe I set my watch at 12 PM. You can hypothetically extrapolate way past the time I set my watch. You could go back to 6AM, or whatever. But that abstract extrapolation doesn’t correspond to the real time-setting.
Same problem when you mentally run natural periodic processes in reverse. They don’t tell you when they were set. They just give you the “time” (figuratively speaking) from the moment they were set. But at what phase of the cycle was the cycle phased in? The cycle can’t tell you that. Your inference is naïve.
“…anymore than all the clocks in a city suddenly stopping for an hour and then starting again simultaneously means that an hour hadn't elapsed.”
But since all the clocks are synchronized, and all the clocks are off by an hour, you can’t tell what time it really is.
“I don't think the watch reading is a very good analogy to a universe created in medias res, precisely because we never use the watch reading to find out when it was set.”
Which is your problem. Natural “chronometers” are all you’ve got. So you’re using one natural process to time another natural process. Using one “clock” to calibrate another “clock.” But, of course, that’s circular.
Now that may be adequate for constructing a relative chronology, but it won’t get you an absolute chronology.
“Not on my definition. Before there is a regular course of nature with which we can contrast miracles, there is just an act of God.”
The act of God initiates the “regular course of nature.”
“In the example you gave, the parents were infertile. That would be reflected in their medical histories, and the fact that the mother had a baby anyway would be evidence that a miracle had occurred, just like in the case of Sarah in the OT.”
No, in the example I gave, the wife is prone to miscarriage. But let’s spend more time on this general issue:
i) Take a miracle of timing. Maybe I’m in a bind, and I can’t see anyway out. Maybe I don’t even pray about it. But “out of the blue,” something highly unlikely and totally unexpected happens that solves my problem.
Now, to an outsider, judging by appearances, there may be nothing special about the timing of the event. And that’s because the timing of the event is only meaningful to me, in my situation. The relevance of the timing is person-variable. What is opportune for one individual isn’t opportune for another.
ii) Or take answered prayer. If I offered the prayer, I may be in a position to recognize the significance of the outcome as an answer to prayer. That doesn’t mean a second party can also recognize this outcome as an answer to prayer.
If I told him in advance what I prayed about, he’d be privy to the same information. But he couldn’t know the contents of a silent prayer otherwise.
Now that answered prayer will impact events further down the line. But this doesn’t mean someone five generations later can reverse engineer the cause. That someone may be a long-range beneficiary of the prayer. But he doesn’t know that. There’s nothing miraculous in the immediate circumstances of his life. And he can’t retrace the process unless he has enough trace evidence to work with. Even if the answered prayer triggered a chain-reaction, he can’t go back through all the train of events if there are missing links. Without continuous evidence for the intervening events, the trail runs dry.
Yet if we believe that answered prayer is a factor in historical causation, then there are countless instances in which answered prayers impact the outcome even though it won’t be possible at this stage of the game to detect their contribution. Yet that isn’t reducible to a closed continuum of physical cause-and-effect.
“There's no problem with the admission that many outcomes involve supernatural influences, but in particular cases we should start with the presumption of natural causes because human beings are remarkably prone to false positives when it comes to the supernatural.”
Our assumptions shouldn’t exceed what we know. Since there are supernatural factors in history, like angelic/demonic activity, answered prayers, miracles of timing, &c., it would be a false assumption to presume that everything happens by physical cause and effect unless proven otherwise. Your artificial presumption is a recipe for false negatives rather than false positives. That’s no improvement. That’s no truer to the facts than the opposing extreme.
“Take a case for example when loved ones pray for someone's recovery from cancer, but it is not God's will to heal that person. A completely natural remission may then be interpreted as God's answering their prayers, only for the loved ones' joy to come crashing down when the remission is followed by a relapse and then death.”
i) I don’t know that spontaneous remission from cancer is “completely natural.” I tend to think “spontaneous remission” is just a euphemism for medical ignorance. And lots of doctors believe in the power of prayer.
ii) On the one hand, we need to be cautious when we attempt to discern God’s providence, for it’s always possible to misinterpret God’s providence. An apparent answer to prayer may not be an answer to prayer.
iii) On the other hand, we shouldn’t be so cautious, on that account, that we never thank God for apparent answers to prayer or other blessings which befall us. Gratitude is the hallmark of the Christian pilgrimage.
“Finding the truth involves the twin tasks of being open to possible truth, but also avoiding error. The presumption of natural causes is a method that contributes to the latter task.”
Since, according to Christian theism, both natural and supernatural factors shape history, and do so on a regular basis, your naturalistic bias is a recipe for misinterpreting the world.
“I'm not at all threatened by that idea. A presumption of natural causes does not mean that I will always conclude that an event had natural causes (that would be naturalism). The presumption is the starting point, not the ending point.”
Actually, I think you’re overreacting to your religious upbringing. To overcompensate for your cultic charismatic background, you’ve gone to the opposite extreme. That’s how you play it safe.
“Is there the danger that that presumption, which is designed to protect against false positives, will also result in some false negatives? Sure. But that's the balancing act we all have to perform in our efforts to find the truth and avoid error.”
You’re not “balancing” the two. By definition, your one-sided presumption artificially tips the scales.
“Which implies that you do think there is a meaningful distinction between the two.”
i) My belief about the Virgin Birth isn’t based on a general presumption one way or the other. Rather, that is based on specific information.
ii) And I didn’t say there was no meaningful distinction between natural and supernatural factors, although that’s often a difference of degree rather than kind, since every event is ultimately an act of God.
But to draw a distinction is not to create a presumption. It certainly doesn’t mean we should treat physical factors as the default assumption, which can only be overridden by evidence to the contrary.
“The problem is with God creating a world with lots of evidence of events that never happened. Let's keep our eyes on the target here.”
I don’t see that as a problem. God didn’t run through the usual process of conception, gestation, and maturation to make Adam and Eve. He created them as full-grown adults. Same thing with the miracle at Cana, and the feeding of the multitude. These are paradigm-cases of God doing what you find so unbearable.
Of course, you interpret Gen 2 parabolically. I don’t.
“This is not about some physical effects being due to natural and some to supernatural causes. This is about part of the road we can see going off into the horizon being real, and the rest being merely an illusion on a convincing matte painting.”
You don’t base your position on divine precedent. Rather, you begin with your preconceived idea of what God should or shouldn’t do.
Yes, you’ve tried to justify your position exegetically (God’s “commitment to creation”), but since you treat your prooftexts parabolically, that doesn’t tell us what God really did.
“And I find it hard to deny that it does help weed out false positives.”
It weeds out some false positives to clear the ground for planting some false negatives.
“There is already enough of that in the form of belief in astrology, homeopathy, astral projection, fake mediums, etc. which I'm sure you reject at least prima facie as well.”
The occult is rife with charlatans. But the occult also has a basis in reality.
Conversely, I don’t see that methodological atheism is any improvement over superstition.
“I will accept as many miracles as there is good evidence for. No more, no less”
The question at issue is not what you believe in any particular case. As I’ve been arguing, we frequently need to suspend judgment because we know, in the abstract, that both natural and supernatural factors shape history, but we generally don’t know how that pans out in any particular case.
You, however, don’t want to withhold judgment. You want to begin with an artificially and frankly unchristian presumption which is hostile to supernatural factors. By contrast, I reserve judgment unless I have evidence that points in one direction or another.
“Like I've said, there are two dangers in our search for truth: false positives and false negatives. We should try to avoid both errors equally.”
But your naturalistic presumption is inherently inequitable. You have your thumb on the scales to tilt it against the supernatural dynamic. You put a 100 lb. weight on one side of the scales, then defy the Christian to counterbalance that starting-point.
“And all these actions presuppose the stable operation of natural processes. Do you hoist yourself from a rope when you go down the stairs on the way to the hospital because you don't know whether God plans to keep the stairs in existence or make them disappear into nothing?”
The longer you talk, the more you sound like a closet atheist. You act as if divine intervention is equivalent to parlor tricks. Weird, capricious anomalies.
That’s how unbelievers attack Biblical miracles. They come up with absurd counterexamples to ridicule Biblical miracles, as if Biblical miracles are analogous to silly, whimsical events–depicting God as a two-year-old with omnipotent powers.
“There are cases where it is reasonable to focus on wondering just how God intends to work, usually salient events like a sickness, or perhaps a missionary in jail for distributing Bibles.”
Which misses the point. I didn’t suggest that we should focus on how God “intends” to work. I said we shouldn’t prejudge his methods.
“But by and large we all take for granted the stable operation of natural processes.”
How do you pray, exactly? Or do you still pray? Do you pray like this:
“Lord, I take for granted that prayer is normally futile, given the closed causal continuum, so with that disclaimer in mind, I pray that…”
“And speaking of quantification, I think most people can attest to the fact that in most cases of illness God does not supernaturally heal. Such miracles are comparatively rare. That is certainly not grounds for excluding the possibility that in any given case God will work a miracle, but it does properly provide a clue of God's normal mode of operation.”
i) Which is irrelevant to what I said. Since you don’t know in advance what mode of operation God will use, you both pray for your friend and take him to the doctor. But maybe I’m assuming too much about you. Maybe you’re at the point where you don’t bother to pray.
ii) On a related note, I don’t know how you quantify the results. How would you know what percentage of patients are healed as a result of prayer? After all, if a patient is the recipient of prayer and medical invention alike, and if he’s cured, how can you tell which factor was the differential factor? (Or maybe both in conjunction).
You seem to be assuming that a miraculous healing would be spectacular. Why?
“No, because presumably there have been enough cases of terminal cancer that have been allowed to run their course for doctors to have a good understanding of its evolution. If God's supernatural healing is comparatively rare, and if by implication God intends most healing to be natural with the aid of doctors, then it would be churlish of God not to provide medical researchers with a sufficient number of cases in which the diseases are allowed to take their course in order for researchers to develop effective medicines and treatments.”
So do you think Christians should have a prayer quota? If my father and my brother both come down with cancer, should I pray for one but not the other? “Sorry, I won’t pray for both of you because if God answered my prayer, that might mess up cancer research. And, after all, cancer patients exist for the sake of cancer research, not vice versa. So I’ll flip a coin.”
“What matters are not the events leading up to the experiment, but whether, under the same initial conditions, we get the same outcomes.”
Just because you want to arbitrarily limit your illustration to the actual lab conditions rather than historical factors leading up to that situation doesn’t mean I should feel constrained by your example. I don’t isolate the present from the past.
“The worry is whether the same initial conditions will lead to different outcomes in a substantial majority of cases due to supernatural influence.”
Yes, that worrisome divine-foot-in-the-door. If God comes knocking, we better make sure we have the door locked and the security system armed. Maybe have a guard dog on the premises just in case the double bolt gives way and God breaks in. Come to think of it, we should also keep some sawed-off shotguns at the ready.
“In which case, there are no regularities of nature to speak of, and there is no science to be learned.”
Science is not an end in itself. And, of course, you’re setting up a false antithesis.
“Of course, we should distinguish between operational science, which aims to discover natural regularities, and origin or reconstructive science, which aims to reconstruct past events from present evidence. The legitimacy of both is threatened if natural regularities are interrupted too frequently and too arbitrarily, but the danger is somewhat different in each case.”
At the very least, God should submit a schedule. We can’t have him show up unannounced just any time he pleases. All visitations must be prearranged with the social secretary. If she approves, then we will give him an hour of our time. But God needs to learn how to act like a proper houseguest. He can’t just barge in day or night.
“My citing of Genesis 1:14 was not disingenuous. Remember, even though I don't read these chapters as history, I still aim to derive theological truth from it. I think it's clear that one of the truths the author meant to convey with that verse is that God was concerned that certain natural processes would allow people to keep time.”
While solar and lunar calendars may be adequate for religious festivals, they are hardly exacting. That’s why various gimmicks (e.g. intercalation) must be used to keep them from falling in arrears.
“While the world endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and warm, day and night do not cease.”
While church history endures, answers to prayer do not cease.