Prof. James McGrath on Historical Studies and Methodological Naturalism

He said:
On methodological naturalism, I don't see how historical study can adopt any other approach, any more than criminology can. It will always be theoretically possible that a crime victim died simply because God wanted him dead, but the appropriate response of detectives is to leave the case open. In the same way, it will always be possible that a virgin conceived, but it will never be more likely than that the stories claiming this developed, like comparable stories about other ancient figures, as a way of highlighting the individual's significance. And since historical study deals with probabilities and evidence, to claim that a miracle is "historically likely" misunderstands the method in question.

Link.

Good, now let's turn to the Bible...

6 comments:

Acheron said...

My question has always been, if one were to take a different approach, where would you draw the line between integrating a supernatural explanation vs. trying to find a naturalistic one?

Vinny said...

Once you allow for a supernatural explanation, how do you distinguish between an effect caused by God and one caused by a pixie, a gnome or a leprachaun?

Jeff said...

Vinny, that's easy. The fairies leave glittery dust all over the place :P

Kevin H said...

I think he's correct. Miracles are not very "historically likely". They are quite rare. Does that mean they can be ruled out a priori?

Scott said...

Kevin,

We do not need to say miracles are 100% impossible and can never occur under any circumstances. This would be exchanging one dogma for another. Instead, the question is, what would be the "take away" value of such an event (natural or even supernatural) if the occurred?

Do we really have enough information to reach a specific set of conclusions? Should we actually depend on these conclusions going forward?

Given what we know about human observation, we conclude it would be unwise to depend on supposed causal effects resulting from a proposed miraculous event. In addition, any elaborate or specific set of conclusions one might infer from a miraculous event would likely be highly inaccurate and biased.

Kevin H said...

Given what we know about human observation, we conclude it would be unwise to depend on supposed causal effects resulting from a proposed miraculous event. In addition, any elaborate or specific set of conclusions one might infer from a miraculous event would likely be highly inaccurate and biased.

Being that I think God most often works via secondary causation (he created nature, systems, etc.), and that the Scriptures say to "test all things" and to be cautious about these things, I think a miraculous explanation is always the last resort. Especially for the empirical sciences.

If a miraculous intervention is the best explanation for a set of facts, so be it. But it moves out of the domain of empirical or forensic science and into philosophy at that point.

On Christian Theism, I see no reason to suppose that God would monkey with our experiments or deceive us in our field studies, etc.