Miracles and The Uniformity of Nature.

In regard to this post of mine on miracles, Steve Hays refers to James Anderson who argued the secularist has no principled reason for assuming that the future will resemble the past. Here

Steve continues: “The real dilemma is for the unbeliever. In order to exclude the miraculous, he must appeal to an iron-clad regime of natural law. But from a secular standpoint, he is unable to justify natural law, for he is unable to justify induction, which forms the basis of this covering law. The only principled way to ground natural law is by invoking divine creation and providence. But once you make that move, you have a God who is able and willing, under some circumstances, to perform a miracle."

Let me rephrase this argument of his: "Since I cannot prove with certainty that the future will resemble the past, I have no justification for accepting the principle of induction and of natural law which forms my basis for rejecting claims of the miraculous. Therefore I cannot exclude the possibility of miracles. The only way to justify natural law is by God's providence, which also at the same time allows for miracles."

But think on the following for a minute: what kind of justification is needed for anyone to believe something? I believe in the uniformity of nature and that the future will resemble the past because every experience I have ever had justifies this belief. Any experiment or any job I ever performed supported my belief in the uniformity of nature, of induction and in natural law. What else do I need?

Do I need to be certain of that which I believe and/or can justify? I think that's what he asks of me. If I don't need to be certain of what I justify then there's no problem, for I can justify most all of my beliefs. But if I/we must be certain of what I/we justify, then no one has a sufficient justification for believing anything--NO ONE!

What kind of justification is needed to believe your spouse loves you? Do you need some ultimate standard…proof…certainty, and lacking that, you wake up every morning suspicious and view him or her as untrustworthy? What kind of justification do you need that your computer will work when you turn it on in order for you to risk turning it on? What kind of justification do you need that your cell phone will work before you risk turning it on? What kind of justification do you need that your car will work before you risk turning it on and driving it?

When it comes to whether of not I’m absolutely certain the future will resemble the past, I’m not. But I’m not absolutely certain I’m actually even responding to one of my critics, either. Maybe I live in my very own inner world in some coma-like dream state where I am pounding on my computer to answer a critic who doesn't exist. So, what!? No one can be certain, absolutely certain of anything, much less that it can be believed with certainty that the God espoused by my critic exists. And if this God cannot be believed with certainty to exist, then I do not need to be certain about the laws of nature, of induction, and the uniformity of nature either before I act in acordance to those beliefs.

All I said was this: “When it comes to believing in miracles, Christians have a double burden of proof.” “On the one hand, they must show that a particular 'event' was not very likely.” This they must do. It means nothing for the Christian faith if a natural event takes place and is used to show Christianity is true. It must be an event that cannot be explained by natural causes. Actually, I claim something even stronger. It must be an event that requires a supernatural explanation. Anything less doesn’t show much of anything except to the gullible.

Then I said this: “On the other hand, Christians must show that the purported miraculous event happened. And yet, everything they say to establish the first burden of proof takes away the strength of the second burden of proof. That is, the more they argue that an event was miraculous, the less likely such an event occurred. But the more they argue that an event was likely to have occurred, then the less likely that event can be understood as miraculous.”

Neither Hume nor I stated that miracles cannot happen. But for a miracle to take place, as far as my whole experience in this life goes, this is about as likely as that the future will be found out to NOT resemble the past. Sure, what I believe here might prove in the end to be false. But I can only judge the future based on the present (and this goes for the past too; I can only judge the past from the standpoint of the present). To ask me to do otherwise is to ask me to suspend my judgment.


Jason said...

It seems obvious to me that one cannot explain induction by appealing to the existence of God, because God himself defies explanation. Appealing to a concept that is unexplained only pushes the question back a step.

Furthermore, all explanations for the attributes of God are conceptual, and therefore can only ever promise consistency, not truth. The rubber never hits the road, as they say, because God's existence isn't subject to empirical testing.

John W. Loftus said...

Let me anticipate and respond to one objection. Someone might object that we just don't know if the future will resemble the past, and we just don't know the past resembles the present. There's simply no way to know whether or not God will once again do a plethora of miracles in the future.

But I wonder in the very first place if such a God even exists. How am I going to know this? The only evidential support for believing in the specific Trinitarian Christian Incarnational, Redeeming, Resurrecting, and Returning God is found in the purportedly New Testament miraculous events.

And I'm asking whether I should believe these events actually happened in history. Believing in them goes against everything I've ever experienced. So I don't. I might be wrong, but I'm basing what I believe on everything I've ever experienced--and that's all I can reasonably do.

So I do not believe. This conclusion is a very reasonable one, even if God exists and even if he may once again totally suprise us all and do a plethora of miracles in the future.

Paul Manata said...

the question is not about if you are certain or not. to even suggest that shows your sophomoric understanding of the issue. the question is, what justifies you *proceeding upon the expectation* that the future will resemble the past.

i'd read B. Russell's chapter on this in his "Problems of Philosophy." It's ch. 7, I think, and you can also get it online, if you don't have the book.

Here's an example of your ignorance on the issue, you write:

"I believe in the uniformity of nature and that the future will resemble the past because every experience I have ever had justifies this belief."

But we're not talking about the past, Joh, We are talking about the future. You just begged the question. You just assumed that because nature was orderly in the past, this gives you a right to extrapoloate to the *future.* You assumed what you had to prove. The question is, "what basis do you have for believing the *future* will resemble the past. To say it always has in the past is to beg the question.

Furthermore, if Steve or I wanted to get nasty we could point out that you're relying on memory traces for your justification. That is, your memory of your past experiences, but what justifies memorial beliefs? Because you're memory has proven trustworthy before? But you used your memory to argue that, hence the question begging.

So, I'd hit the books before I make public posts for all the world to see how little I knew.

Just some advice.

Jason said...

So Paul, oh learned one, do you think that theism provides a substantial explanation for induction? What do you think of the fact that evolutionary theory explains inductive preferences in humans?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Don’t you just love presuppositional apologetics? Check out this classic presuppositionalist line of inquiry, followed by what presuppositionalists themselves think are the only answers possible:

Apologist: “the question is, what justifies you *proceeding upon the expectation* that the future will resemble the past.”

Expected answer: “Duh, I donno! Must be god did it!!”

Apologist: “what basis do you have for believing the *future* will resemble the past.”

Expected answer: “Duh, I donno! Must be god did it!!”

Apologist: “what justifies memorial beliefs?”

Expected answer: “Duh, I donno! Must be god did it!!”

Notice this gaff:

Paul: “You just assumed that because nature was orderly in the past, this gives you a right to extrapoloate to the *future.* You assumed what you had to prove.” (emphasis added)

Clearly Paul is just as ignorant on the issue as he accuses others (maybe even more so), not simply because he rests his solution on the subjective fantasy of god-belief, but because he expects the matter to be resolved by means of proof. And yet, the very concept ‘proof’ presupposes the issue in question (does Paul not expect the concept ‘proof’ to mean the same thing five minutes after he wrote his response?). See the glaring stolen concept there? Thus whatever “proof” even Paul as a theist hopes to provide in answer to the challenge (e.g., "God did it!") will end up begging the question, since his very conception of the problem is already fallacious. If, however, one recognizes that the essential model of induction is already present in concept-formation, it should not take a lot of effort to recognize also that the essential basis of induction is not established by argument any more than we inform our concepts by means of argument. On the contrary, concepts are formed by means of integration and measurement-omission, not by arguments. In fact, we’d not even be able to assemble any arguments had we not first formed at least some basic concepts to begin with.

The presuppositionalist’s problem, as I have pointed out before, is that he lacks a conceptual understanding of induction. This is in part a consequence of of taking thinkers like Hume and Russell seriously on the subject, just as Bahnsen did, and of adhering to a primitive philosophy which lacks a good understanding of concepts to begin with.

Here’s one for you, Paul: How would you validate your consciousness without begging the question?

I’ll wait for your answer.


John W. Loftus said...

Manata: the question is not about if you are certain or not. the question is, what justifies you *proceeding upon the expectation* that the future will resemble the past.

I told you why. It's because that's all I have ever experienced. Why is that not good enough? [BTW It's chapter 6 in Russell's book, and I have it and have read it.]

I know the problems of induction, I know the problems in claiming there are other minds, too, or that I'm not dreaming right now, or that I'm nothing more right now than a brain in a mad scientist's vat. What justifies your senses, Paul? And as far as memory goes, what's to say you didn't pop into existence last night with all of your present memories along with all of the furniture of your memories (like diploma's, Wedding Certificates, "ball-bat beating" trophies, and pictures that correspond to your memories)?

What if there is an absolutely evil (Cartesian) demon out there deceiving you right now as to the correct answer to 2+2=4, and deceiving you as to the nature of your logic and the existence of a good God, who will subsequently torture you forever in hell, while people like me will be rewarded with eternal bliss because I had the balls to state that there isn't enough evidence to believe?

Ya see you are asking for certainty, or at the very minimum, you are asking for more certainty from me than anything else we believe and know. But since absolute certainty is an illusion, reserved for only one proposition about doubting, there is plenty of PRAGMATIC justification for trusting my memory and my experiences about the past and the present.

The plain simple fact is that you cannot show me anything more than this either. You just claim to be able to do so, that's all. If by claiming to be able to do what no one can do allows you to appear to have the high ground, then doing so will only impress those who, like you, lack in understanding, or who are blinded by their faith.

Paul Manata said...

John, taking me up on that debate offer yet? Or, are you still using the yell from the stands method? I personally like to get on the field. Arm chair quaterbacking, by fat, beer drinking has beens, never was my thing.

To all: I'd like you to read an informal falacy book. See especially chapters pertaining to "shifting the burden of proof in debate."

Jason said...

You spelled "fallacy" incorrectly. It is highly pretentious of you to lecture me on informal logic. Have a look-see at what I've been working with lately.


Steven Carr said...

Paul continues to hammer himself in the foot, claiming that God has arranged that the future will be like the past.

Read Revelation. God has arranged that the future will *not* be like the past.

Theists have huge problems claiming that only theism allows us to conclude that dead people will stay dead in the future, while at the same time claiming that dead people will not stay dead in the future.

How does God stay unchanging? Do theists have any way to account for that?

John W. Loftus said...

There have been some people who are quick to label particular arguments as informal fallacies when they are not necessarily fallacies at all. It just sounds good to label an argument.

If I sidestep a question because it is off the main topic, then someone may wrongly label it a “red herring." But I am permitted to stick to what I consider the main question without allowing myself to be sidetracked. I may instead call that sidetracking argument of my opponent a "red herring"--off the topic, but it may not be off the topic to my opponent who may think it is crucial to the debate itself.

And this goes for most of the informal fallacies I can think of off the top of my head.

What needs to be understood is that most all of the great philosophers have committed these fallacies within their best arguments! Or, at least that's what those who disagree with them will argue.

I took a class with Dr. Craig on "Descartes," and I wrote a paper on the Cartesian Circle. It is claimed that Descartes argued in a circle when he argued from the Cogito ergo sum to the particular clear and distinct ideas, which were used to argue for the existence of God. Did he? Well that's the whole question.

It is argued that David Hume begged the question of miracles in his definition of miracles as "violations of natural law." Did he? Well that's the question.

It is further claimed that Hume is guilty of a "hasty generalization" when he claimed that miracles couldn’t be known to have happened because natural law is what a wise man should proportion his belief upon. They claim that the evidence may not all be in, and that in the future God may again do a plethora of miracles. So Hume draws his conclusion too hastily. Did he? Well that is the question.

The fact is, many times what is seen as a fallacy to one person is merely an anomaly to the other. And we all have anomalies to all of our control beliefs. That's the place where you say, "it's turtle all the way down..." [This turtle is what supports the elephant, which supports the tiger, which supports the dog, which supports the world].

John Locke used this story of "turtle all the way down," when asked how he knows that objects actually exist if all he can know are the things that represent the objects to him--his representational theory of knowledge. He just assumes they do, even though claimed he assumes what needs to be proved, and/or that he begged the question. But did he? That's the question.

Let me make some generalities about the fallacies as a whole.

1) The use of informal fallacies convinces people, even if the person doing the persuading doesn’t know he is arguing fallaciously. They persuade people to believe or do something. The appeal to force, for instance, works, even if one knows it is fallacious. Take for example the politician who is told that if he votes one way then his constituents will throw him out of office. It’s hard to get contractors over to Iraq because of the threat of terrorists (never mind the ethics of terrorism here, just note the persuasiveness of the argument). The appeal to popular belief, or common practice, may cause one to reconsider his or her opinions, since most everyone disagrees. The National Enquirer can be called all kinds of Ad Hominems (“The National Enquirer is a stupid magazine; their writers create fiction”) but those invectives still leads the hearer to being skeptical of one of its claims, even if we didn’t evaluate any single claim.

2) All people are persuaded by many non-logical factors. That’s the truth whether someone claims to be like “Spock” on Star Trek, or not. People are not completely logical. They never have and never will.

3) Furthermore, if we were completely logical we wouldn’t believe a great many things. Much of what we believe, whether we like to admit it or not, is because a trusted person tells us this is the way it is. We cannot investigate everything, so we believe for less than logical reasons.

4) Some of the fallacies seem to contain some hidden evidence anyway. For instance, the “argument from silence” may be evidential support for a proposition; especially if one can make the case that the silence demands an explanation.

5) Just calling a sentence or group of sentences an informal fallacy doesn't make it so. You have to do the additional work of arguing why it is so.

6) Some fallacies are merely anomalies to another world-view perspective, and that’s all.

Some examples:

Arguing From Silence is considered an informal fallacy. But consider these things:

1) The Synoptic gospels contain a great number of epigrams of Jesus while John's gospel contains long discourses from Jesus. Some of the catchiest epigrams are the great "I Am's" of Jesus, and known around the country on billboards. It would seem that if Jesus actually spoke them they would be in the synoptic gospels, but they're not. Therefore arguing from silence, it's likely Jesus didn't speak them, because the silence is telling.

2) We have no written record in all of the patristic authors that the empty tomb of Jesus was known or venerated for the first three centuries. Therefore, arguing from silence, it's likely there was no empty tomb of Jesus, because the silence is telling.

3) There is no known record of any ancient universal flood story in the surrounding areas of the Saraha desert, and in large parts of Africa and central Asia. If there was a universal flood then these areas should have universal flood stories like most all of the rest of the ancient world. Therefore it's likely there was no universal flood, because the silence is telling.

4) Matthew speaks of an earthquake at the time of Jesus' death and that the dead saints arose and walked the earth. But there is no such independent record of either of these events (Luke borrows from Matthew and adds to it), and it's quite probable that they would be mentioned somewhere by someone. Therefore, arguing from silence, it's likely that no such earthquake took place, nor that the dead saints arose from the dead, because the silence is telling.

To argue my case I must show that the silences are telling, that is, that it's probable that there should be no silences regarding these things. The job of someone who disagrees isn't to label these arguments as fallacious, but to show why such silences are not telling.

Most, if not all of the fallacies, may have a legitimate persuasive use, that’s why they persuade. The question is in knowing when they have persuasiveness and when they don't. That's where the tough work comes in, and it does no good to label an argument as fallacious when it has persuasive power due the control beliefs of the one making the argument.

Here's another example, the fallacy of composition--Reasoning fallaciously from the properties of the parts to the properties of the whole. Is the following argument fallacious? "Things we experience all have causes, therefore the whole universe needs a cause."

Compare these: "each drink is good; therefore a drink composed of all drinks would be good." Or, "individual basketball players are good; therefore a team of them would be good." Or, "every person here weighs less than 300 lbs; therefore together we weigh less than 300 lbs."

Reply: Sometimes you can reason from the parts to the whole, sometimes you cannot--the critic must show that reasoning to creation in this way is wrong. Eg’s: "Each block in this wall is a brick; therefore this wall is made of bricks." "All the states in the U.S. are located in the Northern Hemisphere; therefore the US is in the Northern Hemisphere."

Another example, when it comes to shifting the Burden of Proof. In the absence of a tie-breaker each side will try to argue that the other side has this burden, using an assortment of reasons. This is why Anthony Flew has previously argued in favor of the presumption of atheism, shifting the burden of proof to theists. Why should Flew's argument be considered non-persuasive, even if shifting the burden of proof is a fallacy? What would an atheist think if you merely labeled this argument as fallacious and then provided a link that describes this fallacy?

Paul Manata said...


You can't be that dumb?

Do you think a "general uniformity" (note, no scientist I know claims *absolute* uniformity, also philosopher Michael Martin does not claim this as well. So, you don't even know what uniformity of nature means, or what my claim about God regulating nature means, oh well), means that NOTHING will ever happen in the future that has not happened in the past?

Carr continues to shoot himself in the foot when he steps up to the plate. If he would have just put in his time on the t-ball field then maybe he would not have made such *elementary* errors. Fundamentals Steve, fundamentals.

VanTilsGhost said...

Interesting how young Mr Manata gets PWNED by "bahnsen_burner" and doesn't even attempt to respond...and then when he bitches about John's "falacy" and gets a response...he's oddly silent once again.


Bahnsen Burner said...

VTG: "Interesting how young Mr Manata gets PWNED by 'bahnsen_burner' and doesn't even attempt to respond..."

I noticed that, too. Very interesting indeed. Perhaps a catechism got his tongue?

Roy said...

John you commented, "All I said was this: “When it comes to believing in miracles, Christians have a double burden of proof.” “On the one hand, they must show that a particular 'event' was not very likely.” This they must do. It means nothing for the Christian faith if a natural event takes place and is used to show Christianity is true. It must be an event that cannot be explained by natural causes. Actually, I claim something even stronger. It must be an event that requires a supernatural explanation."

Yes I too believe in a double burden of proof for Christians. I never publish something to be a legitimate answer to prayer if it is only based on one "coincidence."

On the other hand, I have many examples of prayers answered in which I had double, triple and even quadruple evidences that the single prayer was more than coincidence. When a person has one coincidence which crosses with a second coinicidence which THEN crosses with a third (and even fourth) coincidence, at the same moment, the same time, each then makes the particular thing requested of God most astounding when recieved.

Then, faith in a divine personality who has love and truth in His Being is not foolish.

I could write so many examples but please allow just one here. A simple one here.

I enter a friends office down in Queens N.Y. He is a pastor with a Bible institute. I see lots of lateral file cabinets for all his files and binders behind his office desk, as he, like me is a careful researcher and publisher of truth.

I have thought about how much I need cabinets like these before. But at this point in my life I am so poor and cannot even think of purchasing any. I have a little faith and briefly in my heart ask God for cabinets like these... I only had a couple regular (cheap) file cabinets and they are maxed out.

That next Saturday I work at a security post in Manhattan - usually I am there weekdays. I have travelled down to Park Ave for a year. I have seen hotels throw away beds, I have seen some garbage out on the streets, like old computer monitors, but only in early evenings when I am not there. I usually was working security on third shift.

I have never seen file cabinets of any type out on streets though I regularly drive the streets of Manhattan and rollerblade in Central Park, etc.

This Saturday I get the call a few days earlier, and would not have taken it (But won't go into that coincidence). I park in the one stall garage - another necessity if I am to have my minivan available - instead of way down the street. My buddy who works the hvac systems is still hanging around so he can cover for me as my shift is supposed to begin at noon, right then. (He usually is not there on weekends either).

As I come in to work this Saturday I take a circuitous route around the block - i do not remember why, and see a whole lineup of lateral file cabinets on the sidewalk from which I can pick two three maybe four it seems. They look to be in excellent condition and of a good quality.

I pull up to the front of the 24 story ABN Bank building and the garage door is open! My buddy had it open because he was about to leave in his car. I jump out thinking this might be providential (of the Lord) and he says noone is working today and since I am subbing should have no problem with parking right there at the bldg. (parking is not allowed during weekdays but this is a holiday).

The other guard cannot wait for me; (he never will!) he leaves right away, but my hvac friend says he'll watch the desk, but then will have to leave. I run back out drive around the block again. put the seat down in the back of my minivan and load up four of these absolutely fabulous, (though somewhat older) lateral file cabinets.

A man coming in and out says yeah, grab em, he has new furniture going in, and these are trash waiting on a dumpster.

Okay, here as I see it are the conincidences which converge at the same time in answer to prayer.

1. In all my years I have never seen file cabinets lined up outside anywhere in Brooklyn or Manhattan waiting for disposal .

2. Rarely did I work on Saturday. I should not have been there actually on this day.

3. My buddy never comes on Saturday, but had to fix something and start it back up this day. He tells me he was supposed to be gone already but had been delayed.

He had come from Staten Island in his own car and (as he has the garage key) lets me pull my car in where he had parked after he leaves. He had only been there for a few hours.

(Weekdays my hvac buddy always comes on the ferry and subway. The garage door would not have been open.

Finding parking sometimes takes upto a half hour and more for me in NYC and on Saturday at noon I was not sure where I would park! and I would not even have considered picking upthe lateral file cabinets if I was going to have to drive up and down Park Ave afterwards. I would have been in big trouble if the front desk was unattended with folks like Michael Eisner coming through every so often, Disney had the top floors of the bldg).

I had never parked in the small garage area before, and never after either.

4. This convergence of events happens less than a week after I have simply prayed and asked the Lord, specifically, for some good cabinets like my friend's, because I have seen his office in Queens where he has about six lateral cabinets around the sides of his desk for all his research and educational materials.

5. Of course this is only one answer to prayer from a multitude of similar answers (with mulitple coincidences converging) which I enjoy during my year of working down on Park Ave while ministering in a poor church on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn.

The value of those cabinets was in the thousands when I was only making 300 a week with no reserve funds except what the poor storefront church would pay for in utilities and give our family a free residence.

So, I say, There is a God. He is alive and He is wise. He does answer prayers for those who love Him and follow the conditions in His revelation to recieve blessings from Him.

Too many folks are too wealthy in finances and in supposed logical and mental genius to need Him.

Others of us use our minds to read the Bible, test it - and Him, prove Him and then enjoy His presence, preparing celestial investments rather than mere worldly investments.

None of these coincidences ever happened again. I never worked on a Saturday in Manhattan again. I never saw file cabinets - of any kind - sitting out on the street anywhere, Brooklyn, Manhattan, LI, or anywhere else I have lived, and I have never asked God (or needed to ask) for file cabinets again. I never saw the garage door open again at the front of the building. It is always locked down tight and used for special people, emergencies and for garbage disposal.

This took place at 500 Park Ave. Manhattan, where I was the front desk security guard and studied Scriptures on a third shift post. Now that post was a wonderful answer to prayer in itself, but that is another story.

For all readers I hope you will go back to the Bible and read it as if it might be true.

Hebrews 11 says, He that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.

BTW, there were a couple of other coincidences to that story but I trust the above four will suffice to cause you to reconsider however briefly if there is a divine Being who is wise, loving and creative, or you might consider conversely, exactly how chaos causes order in the universe. We all are scientific enough I trust to know that the Laws of Thermodynamics are law and evolution is not "law" but a theory which must be believed as chaos producing order is not something we can experience today.

Blessings to you! Be a seeker of God for a little while, eh? He says if you seek with a whole heart you will find Him!


John W. Loftus said...

Roy, there are so many questions I could ask you here. Did you know that anyone of any particular religious (or non religious) perspective could offer a congnitive explanation of that event? It's much like horoscopes, where believers interpret them the way that best fits them. So, how can this be evidence of anything?

But, predict in advance some remarkable event as a result of one specific prayer that contains many details that bolsters one particular faith, and you'll get my attention. No second chances here, otherwise you could keep making a thousand predictions and one reasonable one just might come true.