Monday, March 11, 2013

Rebel without a cause

I'm going to repost some comments I left at Parchment & Pen, in response to a militant apostate:
Ryan says:

“Amateur practitioners of philosophy…”

Since Ryan objects to “amateurs” debating these issues, I’m sure he’d be happy to disclosure his academic credentials. Perhaps he can direct us to his academic webpage. Is he a working scientist? A professional philosopher of science? Where can we find his peer-reviewed articles?

“Methodological naturalists don’t automatically exclude supernatural explanations. Philosophical naturalists do. Methodological naturalists only exclude supernatural explanations when doing science. A scientists who witnesses a genuine miracle or supernatural occurrence can accept that as an explanation for the event, but will still be a methodological naturalist when they put on their ‘science hat.’”

i) There are secular historians who apply methodological naturalism to historiography. So, no, it’s not confined to science.

ii) According to eminent philosopher of science Michael Ruse:

“The methodological naturalist believes that everything in this world goes according to unbroken, blind law. What place then for miracles?” in “Atheism, naturalism and science: three in one?” The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (Cambridge University Press, 2011), 236.

His definition is less restrictive than yours. Forgive me for thinking his definition is more authoritative than yours.

iii) Let’s take some concrete examples. Although you don’t believe in the Bible, we can grant these examples for the sake of argument, to illustrate some basic principles:

a) Suppose we could load our scientific equipment onto a time machine and travel back to 1C Palestine. Say we attend the wedding at Cana. We could install security cameras to establish a chain of custody for the water pots. We could test the contents of the water pots prior to the wedding to establish that they contained H2O. We could establish that no one tampered with the water pots during the wedding. We could record the conversation between Jesus and Mary. We could establish that after one of the water pots was opened, it contained fermented grape juice. No known natural laws can account for the change. No extrapolation from natural laws can account for the change.

Why would a scientific investigator be barred from concluding that since there was no plausible natural cause, the cause must have been supernatural?

b) Or take the raising of Lazarus. We could verify that he was dead. We could take a DNA sample for comparison. We could inspect the tomb to make sure there was no hidden escape route. Our security cameras could confirm the fact that no one entered or left the tomb prior to the raising. We could verify that after 4 days, Lazarus was alive. We could very that all trace of necrosis was gone. We could perform a DNA test to confirm his identity. We could record the prayers, commands, and conversations of Jesus leading up to this outcome.

No known natural laws can account for the change. No extrapolation from natural laws can account for the change. Why would a scientific investigator be barred from concluding that since there was no plausible natural cause, the cause must have been supernatural?

“Contrary to your opinion, the goal of science is to create a body of facts, laws, hypotheses and theories that explain and predict how the universe behaves.’

I didn’t say anything about that one way or the other. However, not every philosopher of science agrees with your definition. Some think the goal of science is to create models rather than a body of facts (e.g. Bas van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism).

“Let’s define things carefully so you don’t miss the point. I’m going to try to be nice, difficult though it may be, but you honestly don’t know much about science, so definitions are necessary.”

What follows is Ryan’s effort to demarcate science. However, the demarcation problem is generally considered to be intractable. Because there are so many different branches of science, it doesn’t seem possible to subsume all branches of science under a common set of criteria. Different branches of science have different methods. What works for one branch of science may not work for another. For someone who touts his mastery of the scientific method, Ryan seems to have a very crude, simplistic understanding of the subject.

“So, a methodological naturalist could witness a supernatural event, and identify the supernatural as the cause. Nonetheless, he couldn’t use the cause to inform our scientific body of knowledge. The cause would have to be repeatable…”

Is repeatability a criterion in archeology, paleontology, historical geology, forensic anthropology? What kind of repeatability is Ryan alluding to? Repeatable events? Repeatable tests? Those aren’t the same thing.

“…observable to more than just a select few…”

Wasn’t evidence for the Higgs boson observed by a select few particle physicists at CERN?

Likewise, what if a large comet or meteorite lands in a remote, sparsely populated wilderness region? What if it flattens trees in a radial pattern? Would it be unscientific for a scientific investigation to attribute the blast pattern to a comet or meteorite because only a “select few” observers saw a bright object descending in the night sky?

What about rare, localized natural phenomenon–like ball lightning? In the nature of the case, we wouldn’t expect that to be widely observed. Is it therefore unscientific to admit the existence of ball lightning?

“...and it’s effects capable of falsification.”

Falsification is a slippery criterion in science. Is Ryan unaware of the literature on that topic?

“The supernatural event could have actually occurred and be true, but science being what it is could not use such an occurrence to create new laws, facts, hypotheses or theories, because these need to be repeatable and capable of being tested against the natural world.”

i) Notice the circular or regressive nature of Ryan’s argument. How can you test a scientific claim against the nature world unless you already have some scientific knowledge of the natural world to supply a frame of reference? Or does Ryan think prescientific background knowledge will suffice?

ii) Why does an event have to give rise to new laws or new theories to be scientifically assessable? If a forensic scientist solves a murder, must his explanation give rise to new laws and theories? Must archeological discoveries give rise to new scientific laws or new scientific theories?

So many of Ryan’s strictures amount to empty abstractions that lack concrete applicability. 

“Why would his explanation of the plague have to include prayers? Isn’t it perfectly possible the person who prayed is lying, delusional or mistaken?”

If the prayer was manifestly answered, then he wasn’t lying, delusional or mistaken. Rather, the outcome corroborates the prayer.

“Or that it’s a coincidence?”

Because it’s gullible to attribute certain conjunctions to mere coincidence. Let’s take some more biblical examples. I realize that Ryan doesn’t believe the Bible, but let’s treat these as hypothetical cases, to illustrate a principle.

i) Take the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. Yes, it could be coincidental that they died a few hours apart. It could be coincidental that they dropped dead right after Peter’s reproof. But if we think Acts 5:1-11 is an accurate account, isn’t that special pleading?

The account doesn’t say how they died. Suppose they died of a heart attack or stroke. Suppose a coroner autopsied the bodies. He could state the cause of death as stroke or heart attack. He could say they died of natural causes.

Perhaps, moreover, they both had heart disease. Not only could the coroner state the cause of death, but the cause of the heart attack.

That would all be true as far as it goes. But it would leave something out. In addition to natural causes, there was a supernatural cause behind the natural causes.

It’s possible that God directly stopped the heart from beating. Or it could involve a premeditated chain of events. When God planned the world, he planned for Ananias and Sapphira to have an unhealthy diet that contributed to heart disease. And God synchronized the progression of the heart disease with their sin, and Peter’s reproof, so that it all came to a head on that particular day. Perfect timing.

A full description of what caused their death must include the supernatural as well as the natural factors. By itself, a merely physical description is deficient and misleading.

ii) Let’s take another example. According to Ezk 13:17-23, it’s possible to kill someone by using witchcraft. Now suppose JAMA or NEJM began publishing peer-reviewed studies documenting a high correlation between death and hexes. The type of evidence wouldn’t be essentially different from other kinds of correlations, like carcinogens. Despite overwhelming statistical evidence, would it be unscientific to conclude that some witches were responsible for murder? What if just following the evidence wherever it leads strongly pointed in that direction? Should we just chalk that up to coincidence? Or would there come a tipping point where the evidence was too weighty to dismiss? I’m using that as a limiting-case for Ryan’s defensive posture.

“How would this supernatural explanation, even if it occurred, help us understand our natural world and predict matter’s behavior?”

Must every scientific explanation be predictive? Must archeological or forensic anthropological explanations be predictive?

“Do you understand why supernatural explanations can’t be used in science, even if you or I witness them directly? They can’t be repeated…”

Is repeatability a necessary criterion in scientific explanation? Are there no unique events in nature? What about freak mutations (to take one example)?

“…they can’t be tested against experience because we can’t isolate the variable, hold other factors constant and test for the variables effect in the natural world.”

Don’t we experience many things without isolating one variable while holding other variables constant? Experimental science is not the only form of scientific knowledge. What about observing nature in a state of nature. Leaving nature alone, but providing an accurate description of what happens in nature? One doesn’t have to manipulate nature to have a scientific understanding of how nature operates. Although experimentation may deepen our knowledge of nature, it’s not as if we must always experiment on nature to understand aspects of the nature world.

What if there are credible reports of ball lightning, even though we can’t reproduce ball lightning in the lab? Does that mean we refuse to classify ball lightning as a scientific phenomenon?

“My characterization of science was not narrow. Isolating variables, holding other factors constant and testing the variables effect on the natural world can and is done outside the laboratory.”

I didn’t say that can’t be done outside the lab. I said that can’t always be done outside the lab. Moreover, I said that’s not a necessary condition of scientific investigation.

“Field and natural experiments involve either controlling for other variables and observing the effects of the variable of interest…”

Suppose a zoologist studies a wolf pack in the wild. Or a troop of baboons. Suppose he keeps a meticulous record of what he sees. Suppose he goes out of his way not to interject himself into the equation. Keeps his distance. An attentive spectator. Suppose, after two years of painstaking field study, he publishes a description of his findings. He doesn’t propose any new theories, hypotheses, or laws. The publication is purely descriptive. A detailed record of their behavior in their natural environment. Is that unscientific?

“…or studying all the variables and establishing correlative relationships among them.”

That seems to be a reversal of your original definition.

“Regardless of the type of experiment/observation, the activity involves holding variables constant, isolating the variable of interest and testing it’s effects.”

Really? A zoologist who studies a wolf pack in the wild is “holding variables constant, isolating the variable of interest and testing it’s effects”? Seems to me that he’s reporting on what he sees rather than interfering with the natural course of events.

“Indirect experiments, the kind that occur in Astronomy and Physics, for example, use indirect experiments all the time.”

Once again, you have a strange habit of disproving objections I never raised in the first place.

“Eyewitness testimony is not enough. People lie, don’t remember properly, or have ulterior motives.”

You also have fraud in scientific research.

“Eyewitnesses wrote the Koran, the Vedas, Homer’s Iliad, the Satanic bible, the epic of Gilgamesh…”

What’s the basis for your claim?

“Experience is the best arbiter of truth.”

Including the argument from religious experience.

“Experience and the scientific method have produced exponentially more useful knowledge that explains/predicts the behavior of matter than any other domain of inquiry. It produced clean water, efficient sewage disposal, advances in medicine, a two-fold lifespan within a few centuries, and countless other benefits.”

Which is all consonant with a doctrine of ordinary providence.

“The majority of western analytic philosophers adopt a Quinian approach to philosophy. They believe philosophy should be subsumed under science, and its primary job should be to supplement and further clarify scientific findings.”

A hasty generalization. I could cite a host of counterexamples.

“Reason too far detached from experience is bound to lead to absurd falsity.”

Which is why atheism is absurd.

Working scientists don’t begin with definitions of science. Rather, they begin with curiosity. They like to figure out how things work. Or figure out what things are made of.

And working scientists are quite pragmatic. They invent what they need to get what they need.

Ryan’s dilemma is that he wants to weaponize science to attack Christianity. So he needs to (re)define the scientific method in a way that’s hostile to the admission of supernatural agency in the nature world.

But in so doing he creates a problem for himself. He’s no longer offering a positive definition of science, but a reactionary definition. Science defining itself in exclusion to divine design or divine causation.

And the dilemma that generates is that a definition of science that’s hostile to Christianity will be hostile to science! The definition bites itself in the tail. For an exclusionary definition of science excludes certain branches of science, or certain scientific methods and explanations.

Ryan hates Christianity more than he loves science. That’s why he keeps touting Rowe’s argument about the burning fawn even though Rowe’s argument runs contrary to fire ecology. Ryan would rather discount science (e.g. fire ecology) so that he can cling to the evidential argument from evil. Atheism, not science, is his touchstone.

“Steve. I judge amateur status by extreme overconfidence typical of pseudointellectuals and a highly selective understanding of science/philosophy in ways that favor your position.”

So you won’t object if we measure you by your own yardstick.

“Michael Ruse probably defined methodological naturalism different than I do in this context…”

Would that be an example of “extreme overconfidence typical of pseudointellectuals and a highly selective understanding of science/philosophy in ways that favor your position” on your part?

“In your ‘water turned to wine’ example…first, no reliable evidence exists to suggest this really happened.”

Irrelevant. I already prefaced the example by framing it as a hypothetical case. Did you miss that?

“Second, if one could do all that you asked for, send a scientists back in time, conduct the relevant tests, etc., and the water inexplicably turned to wine, and all other possible natural explanations were eliminated, then he would be perfectly justified in tentatively accepting a supernatural explanation.”

So is this your backdoor admission that your effort to compartmentalize scientific explanations from supernatural explanations breaks down?

“The scientist couldn’t, however, use this to formulate additional scientific theories or laws.”

You have a habit of repeating yourself, but I already addressed that. Are you claiming that every scientific explanation must yield additional scientific theories or laws? If not, your statement is a diversionary tactic.

“What would you call this new law in Chemistry?”

Why does that have to be a “new law of chemistry” to count as a scientific explanation? If a coroner says the victim choked to death when food got accidentally lodged in his windpipe, does that fail as a scientific explanation of death unless it generates a new law of asphyxiation?

 “’Water to Wine – it’s Magic!’ How would it help us understand natural laws?”

Why does scientific verification of an event have to help us understand natural laws? If, by process of elimination, scientific techniques eliminated natural or physical causes for the transmutation of water into wine, then a scientific explanation points to a supernatural cause. To ask whether that additionally helps us understand natural laws is a red herring.

“Predict chemical reactions?”

Once again, you’re repeating yourself, despite the fact that I already addressed that objection. Are you claiming that every scientific explanation or verification must be predictive?

Is there some reason you can’t adapt your position to new challenges? Is that why you keep falling back on your prepared answers, even when they are not responsive to the actual state of the argument?

“The magic could have really happened, but it doesn’t advance the goal of science to incorporate magic water to wine observations into current theories.”

Shouldn’t the goal of science be to arrive at a true understanding of what happened? You trivialize science by making methodology the goal of science, rather that putting methodology at the service of a quest for true understanding.

And if current theories can’t accommodate reality, then so much the worse for current theories. If miracles really happen, then current theories need to make allowance for that fact. If they don’t, then they ought to be revised.

You have an anti-intellectual habit of starting with prescriptive, man-made rules rather than starting with a man-independent reality to be discovered.   

“I never said all sciences use the exact same methods, rather, that all have in common the isolation of variables, holding others constant, and using experience to gauge the effects of variables of interest. Most scientists and philosophers of science doubt the possibility of reducing all of scientific inquiry to the subject of physics. Physics, after all, underlies everything, since everything is composed of matter. I suggest you listen more closely to what was actually said next time. Pointless jabs that create more heat than light, aren’t they?”

Since you can’t quote me attributing to you the claim that all scientific inquiry is reducible to physics, you’re the one who needs to turn up the hearing aid.

“By repeatable, I mean that another researcher or scientists could conduct the same line of inquiry under similar conditions and arrive at the same observation or conclusion.”

What if similar conditions are not repeatable? You keep defaulting to a laboratory model.

“This can and should be expected to occur in any scientific or systematic domain of inquiry, including archaeology or history.”

Historical conditions are repeatable?

“What I meant by a select few is one or two people who observed something, but the observation can’t be replicated by creating the same conditions.”

Recreating a large comet or meteorite striking the earth? How do you go about that, exactly?

“Physicists all over the world can ‘recreate’ the conditions that gave rise to the Higgs Boson. Your example is very silly.”

And do you refuse to believe in the Higgs Boson until that’s replicated?

BTW, you have a habit of making sloppy statements and hasty generalizations. When challenged, you scale back your original claim or tack on qualifications you failed to mention the first time around, then act as if this is what you really meant all along. Sorry, but you don’t get advance credit for what you didn’t say at the time you said it.

“Steve, this example sucks, man! Science doesn’t conduct investigation based solely on eyewitness observation. They could search for a meteorite impact site, for blast patterns that one would expect from a meteorite, for applying what is already known about meteorite impacts, acceleration, the forces involved, etc.”

This is yet another instance of your carelessness. Did I say they based their conclusion solely on eyewitness testimony? No. And, in fact, I specifically mentioned the blast pattern. Did you miss that?

You bring up the blast pattern as if you’re supplementing what I said. As if I wasn’t the one who initially mentioned that.

You keep overestimating yourself and underestimating your opponents. That constantly trips you up.

The question at issue is whether eyewitness testimony to the falling object would legitimately figure in a scientific explanation, even if that was only viewed by a “select few.” Do you now understand the argument?

“Karl Popper introduced this concept. It’s a crucial feature of scientific explanations, but isn’t a sufficient one.”

To say falsification is a crucial feature of scientific explanation is a highly contested claim. No don’t that’s ideal. No doubt scientists would like that to be the case. But is it realistic?

“The frame of reference consists of simpler scientific ideas/theories that have been proven correct by experience. Why is this difficult to understand? Galileo’s experiments with gravitational acceleration didn’t require knowledge of some magical ‘given’ that is known apart from experience. Only folks who anchor on philosophy and ignore other disciplines are confused about how this works.”

That’s still circular or regressive. For you’re asserting that scientific claims must be tested against a scientifically interpreted world. But since the comparative framework is, itself, a scientific construct, what’s the standard for that? Can science bootstrap its own criteria?

Your superior attitude isn’t translating into superior argumentation. Maybe you need to spend less time cultivating a superior attitude and spend more time cultivating a superior argument. For, as it stands, the gap between your intellectual tone and your intellectual performance is conspicuous.

“’Accessible.’ A forensic scientist won’t identify the cause of death as ‘Lightning Strike Via God.’”

But what if the cause of death was a lightning strike via God? What if, on a clear day, the victim looked up at the sky, shook his fist at God, and challenged the Almighty to strike him dead–followed by a deadly thunderbolt a moment later? Or perhaps a sudden, localized thunderstorm out of the blue?

“He/she would give a physical description based on evidence that could be replicated under similar conditions. This isn’t a hard concept to wrap your head around. Most of your examples are answered easily enough. As long as a researcher can replicate the conditions that gave rise to the observation, and observe the same thing, it can count as scientific.”

So the forensic scientist should recruit another human to stand outside, then coax a bolt of lighting to strike him dead.

“Most of these supernatural events you reference are not of this type.”

Assuming they happen, if they are not of this type, how should they be dealt with?

“I hope my previous example illustrated what I mean when I say that scientific conclusions have to be capable of being replicated by other researchers in order to verify the findings.”

No, you’ve only spoken in vague generalities.

“If…if the prayer was answered. Do we know if the prayer even took place? How many people witnessed the prayer?”

Once again, you have difficulty following the argument. As I said at the outset, you don’t have to believe any of this really happened. That’s not the point.

You need to keep track of your own argument. That’s what I’m responding to.

You’ve indicated that, as a matter of principle, scientific explanations can never acknowledge or incorporate supernatural factors. I’m giving hypothetical examples that pose limiting-conditions on your claim. Are there hypothetical situations in which a scientific explanation would overlap with a supernatural explanation?

If so, then you can’t exclude supernaturally-informed scientific explanations in principle. If, however, there is no conceivable situation in which you’d allow science to admit a supernatural explanation, even though that was the best explanation, then you’ve buffered science from God at the cost of buffering science from reality. You are so concerned to insulate science from the supernatural that you insulate science from the truth.

“Wow, were did all these assumptions come from? How do you know any of this really happened?”

This is the third time you’ve repeated the same mistake. Your attitude is especially ironic considering the role of thought-experiments in science.

The question at issue, Ryan, is whether you can erect a wall between scientific explanations and supernatural explanations. Is that a principled distinction, or just an ad hoc distinction to shield your atheism?

The problem, Ryan, is that unless reality is, in fact, compartmentalized, your attempt to keep supernaturalism at bay is artificial. Methodological naturalism is only warranted if metaphysical naturalism is true. If nature is all there is, then you can properly exclude supernatural explanations. But methological naturalism can’t make that call.

If, in fact, there are two domains–nature and supernature–then you can’t stipulate that these two domains never interact.

“If a study eliminated other possible variables, held the witchcraft factor constant, and noticed a direct effect exerted on the natural world by witchcraft, then you bet it could be incorporated into science.”

So you’re conceding that scientific explanations can’t exclude supernatural factors ahead of time. But in that event, methodological naturalism is premature and prejudicial. Indeed, methodological naturalism is the enemy of scientific inquiry, for it presumes to know what explanations are possible or actual before we even study the event or sift the evidence.

“And, most importantly, none such occurrence has been witnessed to date, so your thought experiments – so far detached from reality – are almost pointless.”

Christian exorcists claim otherwise.

“Even field studies involve isolating variables or drawing correlative relationships between variables. You know this…right?”

You’ve bundled two claims into one. You know this…right?

“No, because when establishing causation, he/she will undoubtedly try to isolate any other possible variable that’s affecting their behavior. Honestly, why is the concept of isolating variables, holding others constant, and testing for the effects of the variable of interest so difficult?”

Does a zoologist have to establish causation to publish a field report of what he saw? You keep confusing description with explanation. Honestly, why is that distinction so difficult?

“One need not interfere with nature to eliminate other possible causes for the observed behavior.”

Once again, reporting on what he saw doesn’t require him to establish causes or eliminate causes.

“I gave an example of how – at core – all scientific investigation shares important features that are absent in other areas, like divine revelation, theology, philosophy.”

You gave an example of something I never denied, as if you were refuting something I said.

“Mohammad claims to have been visited by the archangel Gabriel in a cave. Honestly, do you not know any of this?”

This is another example of how you make hasty generalizations, backpedal when challenged, yet act as if your newly-chastened, newly-pared down claim, was what you originally said.

You initially made a blanket claim about “Eyewitnesses wrote the Koran, the Vedas, Homer’s Iliad, the Satanic bible, the epic of Gilgamesh…”

But a lot of the Koran is clearly not based on eyewitness observation, even ostensibly. For instance, Muhammad summarizes his garbled, thirdhand knowledge of OT history and NT history.

Furthermore, your latest, modified statement won’t salvage your claims about the Vedas, Iliad, Epic of Gilgamesh, or “Satanic bible” (whatever that refers to).

“Non-sequitur! Annoying, isn’t it?”

Since you offer no supporting argument, no, it’s not annoying.

“So, you really think God’s existence is such a given that anyone who denies it due to a perceived lack of evidence is crazy or willfully ignorant? Is this really what you think?”

If you ask, I’d say you’ve been giving us a personal object lesson–albeit unwittingly.

“For example, literal interpretations of Genesis are falsified by science.”

Except for all the scientists who disagree with you.

“Science doesn’t say supernatural realms don’t exist. Science says: We aren’t equipped to deal with supernatural claims…”

That’s not what science says. That’s what Ryan says. That’s why atheists say. And that self-imposed blindfold is an impediment to real science.

“…to test them, to replicate them and their findings, and to use that to predict the behavior of matter.”

Did you memorize these phrases on flash cards? You keep reciting the same slogans, even though I’m pointed out how your characterization overshoots the mark.

“I don’t hate Christianity. You, however, love making unjustified inferences about motives.”

You’re a militant apostate. An evangelist for atheism. A secular fundamentalist.

“Rowe’s argument doesn’t run counter to fire ecology! It only deals with the apparent pointlessness of the fawn’s arbitrary suffering…”

Given fire ecology, Bambi’s demise in the forest fire isn’t pointless or arbitrary.

“…and how this counts as some evidence against the existence of an infinitely perfect, powerful God.”

So you keep saying, in the teeth of the counterargument.

“No, this is a common distinction in philosophy of science, one that dominates the subject. I’m surprised you haven’t encountered it before.”

If you consult the archives at my blog, you’ll see that I often distinguish between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. Once again, just because you learned something doesn’t make it new to the rest of us.

“Christian apologists can hijack the word all they like. You know what I mean by the distinction, so playing coy to obfuscate and avoid adding to the discussion just won’t cut it.”

The problem is that you’re using methodological naturalism to do the work of metaphysical naturalism. Methodological naturalism becomes metaphysical naturalism on the cheap.

“If natural laws changed every second, then all scientific laws are invalid.”

i) To begin with, you’re defining a miracle as a change in natural law. That’s a crude definition.

From a Calvinistic perspective, God planned all his miracles in advance. Miracles don’t have to break into the plot. Miracles were an integral part of the plot from the get-go. Miracles aren’t a fundamentally different kind of event from providential events. Every event is a part of God’s story for the world. Every event serves a teleological purpose in God’s cosmic narrative. God includes miracles for emphasis. But every event is an act of God, directly or indirectly.

ii) You reify natural laws as if natural laws make things happen. But natural laws are just general descriptions of what normally happens–all other things being equal.

“Therefore, any statement that scientific laws are based on predictability and the repetition of numerous studies that derive the same result is therefore potentially false, just because of my hypothetical syllogism.”

Humans agents frequently interfere with the natural course of events. Deflect the normal outcome. Does their meddling falsify every natural law?

Even if you treat natural laws as the default setting, that allows for a manual override. If human creatures can do that, why not the Creator?

“You guys waste so much time divorcing your reason from what experience actually reveals to be the case.”

Actual experience reveals the existence of God. Actual experience reveals miracles. Actual experience reveals the efficacy of prayer.

“No, because the scientist might believe the cause is supernatural, but no other scientist could presumably replicate the results by creating similar conditions.”

Irrelevant. The question is: Did it happen? Science must make room for whatever happens. If science refuses to acknowledge the occurrence of something that occurred, then reality debunks science. Science must follow reality, not censure reality. 

“Do you still not understand the difference between methodological and metaphysical naturalism? I can believe in the supernatural, but not incorporate it into scientific theories. Get off the computer and go take a philosophy of science course.”

Ryan has put his brain in the blind trust of atheism. He does what he’s told, an obedient foot soldier for atheism.

“Not necessarily. But it needs to jibe with current known theories, laws and facts.”

Even if we grant scientific realism and/or methodological naturalism, scientific theories and scientific laws are just a human intellectual construct. At best, they approximate the truth. But they are always subject to revision, even radical revision.

“The conclusion needs to agree with known scientific findings.”

Your appeal is circular. If the miracle at Cana happened, then that itself, is a finding of fact. That’s a real-world event. That tells us what can and does happen.

“Transmutation does not. Your dealing in the hypothetical realm of the imaginary to refute the scientific enterprise. I can create any number of hypotheticals that would – if true – refute the reliability of scientific inquiry. But the hypotheticals aren’t real.”

To simply deny the miracle at Cana begs the question.

“This is why rationalism is dead among those who actually contribute to our body of knowledge and advance our scientific knowledge. Some of the religious still cling to it and refuse to advance with the rest of us.”

Science isn’t purely empirical by any means. Consider the role of thought-experiments in science.

“Yes. Experience has taught us that true understanding is reliably obtained by the scientific method.”

If you redefine the scientific method according to methodological naturalism, then you’re filtering reality rather than observing and recording reality.

“History clearly shows that science is by far the most superior way of predicting our world and solving our problems. So far, supernatural claims haven’t withstood this scrutiny. Sorry.”

Actually, the Bible makes many important predictions. Sorry.

“So do voodoo practitioners, Harold Camping on the end of the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses on whether they are the only ones qualified to interpret the bible, scientologists on using auditing to improve one’s quality of life, and the list goes on ad nauseaum. You’re in good company.”

That’s a comparison without a supporting argument.

You made the blanket claim that “most importantly, none such occurrence has been witnessed to date, so your thought experiments – so far detached from reality – are almost pointless.”

I pointed out that Christian exorcists present prima facie testimony to the contrary. You may conclude that they are mistaken or fraudulent. The problem, though, is that you don’t even investigate the evidence. You decide ahead of time that it must be bogus. That isn’t the spirit of scientific inquiry.

“No, I haven’t. You said not all scientific activity consists of laboratory experiments. I agreed, and mentioned that field experiments involve the same activity I described earlier as being the core of the scientific method – isolating variables, holding others constant, testing the effects…this is done in field research, in addition to describing the behavior of whatever you’re observing. Is that confusing?”

Field reports don’t require “isolating variables, holding others constant, testing the effects.” You keep mindlessly reciting phrases you’ve memorized. That doesn’t reflect critical thinking skills.

“Are you rebuking a claim I never made. Of course scientists offer descriptions of physical events. However, if the description is highly unexpected, and deviates from what is known about what’s being observed, it will be scrutinized and perhaps discarded.”

Now you’re adding qualifications you didn’t admit to before.

“So, if you’re trying to sneak in some claim that biblical eyewitness testimony taking place in a time of superstition is similar to field observation, think again.”

I’m correcting your wooden concept of what counts as a scientific explanation or verification.

“Of course not. Who is denying this?”

Because you yourself repeatedly characterize field observations as “establishing or eliminating causes.” Nice to see you finally back down under pressure.

“You denied that science involves to a large extent isolating variables and testing for their effects. You thought this could only be done in a laboratory. I demonstrated how it could be done in the field or indirectly through inference. You missed it, apparently.”

Now you’re adding belated caveats (“to a large extent”) that you didn’t include in your original formulations.


  1. A copy of Steve's book "This Joyful Eastertide: A Critical Review of The Empty Tomb" can be found HERE

    The the link to the right of the blog is down (along with the links to some other books).

  2. "Eyewitnesses wrote the Koran, the Vedas, Homer’s Iliad, the Satanic bible, the epic of Gilgamesh…”

    Benjamin Foster would be interested to know that eyewitnesses wrote the Gilgamesh epic.