JD WALTERS SAID:
Except your 'trivially easy counterexamples' are nowhere near in the same league as what the mature creationist proposes that God has done with the whole world. All your other examples of the mismatch between appearance and reality are an artifact of our perceptual (objects far away appear smaller, etc.) or imaginative (the brain throws up confused images synthesized on the basis of previous sensory experience during sleep) faculties. We are well aware of these limitations. They give us no reason for global skepticism, as they are both taken account of in a broader context in which they make sense as models or reflections of reality, not reality itself. Again, nobody thinks that faraway objects really are that small. From the waking standpoint, it is obvious that dreams are a product of a particular psycho-physiological state.
i) They don’t need to be in the “same league” (whatever that means), since the question at issue is a matter of principle rather than degree. Critics of YEC raise a moralistic objection: mature creation makes God a “deceiver.”
All I have to do is come up with “deceptive” appearances for which God is direct or indirectly responsible, viz., dreams, nature miracles, &c.
ii) Yes, it’s obvious from the waking standpoint that dreams are illusory. But, of course, that’s not obvious from the standpoint of the dreamer.
The mature creation view cannot be absolved as a reasonable extrapolation of these instances. The claim is that the processes upon which we rely to reconstruct the real past in any other context (such as erosion, sedimentation, meteor craters) arbitrarily break down at a certain point in the past (however many thousand years old YECers claim the Earth and the universe is) when all the evidence suggests that the same processes were also at work for much longer than that.
This statement is dishonest. You keep appealing to the “evidence,” but as I’ve pointed out on more than one occasion now, that begs the question. Since you refuse to engage the argument, I’ll have to repeat myself. When Jesus multiplied the fish (to take one example), what’s the evidence distinguishing a miraculous fish from an ordinary fish? None. But if, in fact, the two cases are indistinguishable, then in what sense are the physical features of an ordinary fish evidence for ordinary processes? The physical features are not evidentiary in that respect, for they are equally consistent with a natural or supernatural point of origin. What’s the evidentiary value of X if the same physical effects are consistent with disparate causes (natural or supernatural)?
In that case, the physical effects aren’t evidence for anything regarding the past history of that present outcome. You might say that dominical miracle is totally unique, but even one miracle like that is sufficient to nullify the principle. For even if the miracle were unique, you’re not getting that from the “evidence.” Rather, you’d have to get that from metaphysical principle like the uniformity of nature. And, of course, that tends to be viciously circular since the ostensible evidence for the uniformity of nature takes the uniformity of nature for granted. What would count as evidence for a closed causal continuum? Evidence that things “normally” happen in a certain way? But this tacitly assumes that events are, in fact, unfolding in a chain of physical cause and effect. If, however, the cause were supernatural, then that might well be indetectible.
What makes one thing evidence for something else? What make X an indicator of Y, even if Y is presently unavailable?
That’s an issue you need to buckle down and deal with head-on, not simply reiterate the same tendentious claim ad nauseum. It’s not something you can avoid or evade. Thus far all I see you doing is to posit that the opposing position has unacceptable consequences, then you reason back from the consequences to what you regard as a superior alternative. But that’s just make-believe.
And the stopping point at which the ordinary processes of development break down really is arbitrary. The mature creationist has no argument against the idea that 'real' history started five minutes ago, complete with technological society, the decay of past civilizations, and even an implanted history of God's revelation through the Bible. Does the Bible say that God created the world six thousand years ago? It's all just a part of the background to the real story God wants to 'tell', which actually started five minutes ago.
i) To begin with, that commits a level-confusion. You’re conflating the metaphorical depiction of the world as a story with an actual story about the world. But how we interpret a story about the world, and how we interpret physical evidence, do not involve the same set of rules.
ii) And the hypothetical of implanted false memories cuts against your own position just as sharply as it cuts against YEC. It’s not as if your own position can disprove that hypothetical. It’s not as if any evidence you adduce could count against that hypothetical.
This is the real face of mature creation. Just as archeological and other remains from the past 100 years tell a certain story, which historians have largely been able to reconstruct, so the remains from the past 13.4 billion years of cosmic history tell a story, including a past state when the solar system was nothing but a disc of heavy elements whirling rapidly around the sun, before planets formed, and a past state when the Earth had no life on it whatsoever, a completely lifeless rock (and no water on it yet either), etc. But unlike the past 100 years of history, we are supposed to believe that past a certain arbitrary number of years, history breaks down and everything that we assumed happened before that point on the basis of the evidence actually took place very differently.
If it is mere assumption that the past resembled the present, then it is a darn good assumption and makes the most sense both of our own experience of history and of the record of the more distant past. Apart from local situations such as the Gospel miracles and perhaps paranormal events, the only place/time at which we have good reason to think that the natural processes we observe today were not operative in exactly the same form is at the Big Bang singularity.
I think Troeltsch was right that the principle of analogy is an indispensable precondition of historical investigation, although of course when I say that the past resembled the present, I include the possibility of miraculous events in that present, and therefore by extension to the past.
That brings us to the bigger, deeper issue.
i) To begin with, we’re dealing with an issue of principle, not degree. As Lewontin put it: “Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”
I agree with Lewontin’s analysis. Where we differ is on the significance of the consequences. I’m open to miracles “rupturing” the regularities of nature in unpredictable ways. I don’t have any problem with that.
ii) I do think the chain of physical causation can and does break down in unpredictable and often undetectable ways. To take some examples:
a) I believe in creation ex nihilo. In the nature of the case, creation ex nihilo is abrupt, discontinuous, unprecedented, nonlinear. From nothing to something. Even if the result of creation ex nihilo were a closed causal continuum, there’s no telling (short of revelation) at what point in the continuum creation ex nihilo takes effect. Creation ex nihilo could initiate the cycle at an early phase in the cycle or a later phase in the cycle. And there’s no antecedent reason, that I can see, to think one is more likely than another.
b) I believe that angels and demons are agents who effect certain outcomes in time and space. I have no way of quantifying their contribution. It may be quite limited or it may be widespread. But even if the effect is physical, that’s not something you can trace back to a physical cause.
c) I believe that answered prayers frequently have physical outcomes. I have no idea what percentage of prayers are answered. But I don’t think it’s a trivial sum.
And even one answered prayer can have far-reaching effects. Take a Christian couple who prays to God to spare the mother from another miscarriage. If, in answer to prayer, the mother gives birth to a viable child, the life of that child will have multitudinous effects which would not occur had the child died in the womb. So God’s answer to that single prayer has a branching effect. And that effect is multiplied by countless answered prayers throughout the course of OT history, NT history, and church history.
From a Christian standpoint, I think it’s safe to say that history is honeycombed with the tangible effects of answered prayer. That’s a powerful dynamic in the course of world history.
Yet that’s not something you can’t trace back to a physical cause. If I offer a silent (mental) prayer to God, and God answers my prayer, that transaction falls outside the framework of physical causation. Even if I intone my prayer, God’s answer to my prayer is not just another link in the physical chain of cause and effect.
Thus, in a vast number of cases, our world has been shaped by the indiscernible factor of petitionary prayer. The present generation is the beneficiary of prayers offered by past generations, while the future generation is the beneficiary of prayers offered from the present generation. Yet, from an empirical standpoint, it usually looks like these things just “naturally” happen. They blend in seamlessly with the physical background. How could you tell, by looking at a teenager, that he is only here because his parents offered that prayer?
d) Likewise, some miracles are miracles of timing. Providentially opportune timing. Sometimes in answer to prayer, but not always. Miracles of timing employ natural mechanisms. So, in that sense, they’re perfectly “camouflaged.” They go unnoticed by the world at large. Only the beneficiary is in a position to perceive how timely, and unlikely, this was.
So, no, I don’t think we can simply start with a physical effect, then actually (or hypothetically) run back by through the physical links until we arrive at a physical cause. For in many instances, the trail of physical causes and effects runs out before it reaches the ultimate, supernatural cause. If something happens as a result of my prayer, then a scientist a 100 years later can’t trace the outcome all the back to God’s answer. The true explanation is physically untraceable. God left no fingerprints. Disposable latex gloves.
I follow Augustine in holding that miracles are not contrary to nature as such, but only nature as we know it and/or can influence.
You seem to be suggesting that miracles are the result of some hitherto undiscovered law of nature. However, miracles aren’t very law-like. Rather, they reflect the personal discretion of rational agent. It’s not like a machine that does whatever it was programmed to do, churching out a uniform product.
And I’m puzzled by your fanatical need to catalogue various events, then shelve them in the “right” place in your tidy little library. I expect many things which seem perfectly natural and normal this far down the pike go back centuries to something a long-forgotten mother mumbled on her knees in the corner of a hovel in some obscure, erstwhile hamlet.