Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Providential science

These are some comments I missed when I was reposting comments I originally left at Parchment & Pen in response to a militant apostate:

Ryan says:

“By the way, while I’d rather not chat with Steve anymore…”

Constantly losing the argument can, indeed, have that effect.

“…something important needs to be clarified. Science has to be done under the assumption of methodological naturalism. Let me define. Philosophical naturalism is a metaphysical belief that only the material/natural universe exists. Methodological naturalism is a method of assuming, for practical purposes, that only material causes exist for material events.”

Ryan acts as if this is breaking news. Ryan, just because you learned something doesn’t make it new to the rest of us. 

“You do this in science.”

This is just a made-up rule, which Ryan dutifully parrots from his godless drillmasters. That, however, is not how real scientists have to do science. Take medical science. Rex Gardner, Kenneth McAll, M. Scott Peck, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones were all distinguished physicians.

They were content with natural causes as long as natural causes were sufficient to explain the condition of the patient. But when natural causes were not the best explanation, they were open to supernatural causes.

Likewise, Rupert Sheldrake and Mario Beauregard are distinguished scientists. They are satisfied with material causes so long as that adequately explains the phenomenon in question. But when material causes are not the best explanation, they consider immaterial causes.

“When you’re not doing science, you can believe in supernatural causes/realities all you like.”

Another one of Ryan’s problems, which I’ve let slide until now, is his failure to distinguish between natural explanations and naturalistic explanations. Natural explanations are consistent with Christian theology. Christian theology has a doctrine of ordinary providence. Second causes. That’s quite different from naturalism.

”Here’s why you must be a methodological naturalist in science. Science can only deal with natural causes. Why? Because science often makes it’s most important discoveries by holding variables constant (dependent variable), manipulating one variable (independent variable), and testing for the manipulated variables’ effect.”

That’s an artificially narrow definition of the scientific method. One that applies in the laboratory, with control groups, double-blind experiments, &c.

That works for some things. But science also involves discovering the world as it comes to us. Field observations. Nature in the raw. You can’t squeeze the world into a laboratory. 

“God, or any other supernatural force, can’t be held constant to test for it’s effect. It’s that simple.”

i) The obvious problem with that dictate is that it’s viciously circular and self-stultifying. Unless you already know that all natural events are produced by physical causes, it is prejudicial and willfully ignorant to limit the range of acceptable explanations to natural (much less naturalistic) explanations. That’s getting ahead of yourself. Pretending that you know the answer before the evidence is in.

ii) Let’s take a concrete example. In 2 Kgs 19 (par. 2 Chron 32; Isa 37), the Assyrian army is defeated in answer to prayer. In addition, Sennacherib will be assassinated as a delayed effect of the same prayer.

Now, the account doesn’t say how, exactly, God destroyed the Assyrian army. It merely mentions the agent of destruction: the Angel of the Lord. The angel might have destroyed the army directly. However, according to 1 Chron 21, the angel can kill indirectly by instigating a deadly plague. Some scholars think the army died from a tropical form of bacillary dysentery. Cf. D. Wiseman, “Medicine in the Old Testament World,” B. Palmer, Medicine and the Bible (Paternoster 1986), 25. 

Suppose that’s how they died. Suppose a medical examiner autopsied the casualties. If all he had to go by were the corpses, he’d conclude that they died of natural causes: a virulent strain of dysentery.

Likewise, Sennacherib was later assassinated. Put to the sword. If his corpse were autopsied, the cause of death would be physical. Maybe the sword pieced a vital organ, or maybe he bled to death.

In both cases you could give a complete physical description of the cause, yet in both cases, a complete physical description of the cause would be an incomplete explanation. For back of the natural causes was prayer. They died in answer to prayer.

If a scientific investigator knew about the prayers, if he knew about the timing of the prayers in relation to the opportune timing of the outcome, his explanation would have to include divine agency in response to prayer. Ryan can only close his mind to that explanation on pain of rejecting the correct explanation. Ryan will always opt for a false, naturalistic explanation in preference to a factual, supernatural explanation.

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