True. I guess I’m getting too hypothetical. But is there utterly no rhyme or reason to such assistance? If there is any pattern at all, I would think the possibility exists that it could conceivably be detected. That’s the only point I’m trying to make–I’m not trying to delineate how God might perform miracles.
Ann Gauger's latest salvo against Dennis Venema's arguments against an original pair of human beings
Part of Francis Bacon’s original hopes for his new science was that, given enough data, some knowlege might be gained of the patterns of God’s providential working, as well as the regularities of nature.
You’ll see the catch in that - he assumed that one would first be able to distinguish the “natural” from the “providential”, thus showing how he worked from a different worldview than the methodological naturalist who would start by subsuming such “patterned” providences into nature.
If we took Bacon’s line regarding healing miracles, then “theistic” science could certainly be done. Craig Keener documents sources from around the world for thousands of healings, acknowledging that the quality of reprts varies widely (for example, the difference between the publicity of a Televangelist and what he witnessed himself).
But it would be quite possible, if one avoided hypercriticism, to do statistical analyses for the kinds of healings claimed amongst various conditions, geographical or denominational variations, and so on. It would start as sociological work, because it necessarily depends on human reports, and would therefore inevitably give results more like sociology than physics, even before one got to trying to discern patterns of divine activity rather than human activity (eg if Africans are healed more, it may well be because they pray more - obvioulsy trelavant if the study is about “answered prayers”).
So it’s quite possible, but fraught with the hazards of any sociological research - the main one being that neither the objects of research nor researchers can be free of bias.
Those things are not detectable because we can’t know what God will do (“How great is God—beyond our understanding!”, “he does great things beyond our understanding” Job 36:26 and 37:5) nor can we tell Him what to do (“Who can tell God what to do?” Job 21:22). Specifically in your hypothetical study, God doesn’t always answer prayers and we can’t know whom, if anyone, God will choose to heal in answering prayers. He’s just not detectable in that way. But, as far as evidence for God’s existence, I think Paul said it best in Romans 1:20:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
In my time as a Christian, I’ve studied the bible with hundreds of people and have had literally thousands of in-person conversations about God, Jesus and the bible. From those I’ve seen that the vast majority of people have, “always believed in God” and don’t have a discernible time when they started to believe. (note that this is different than starting believe in Jesus and/or the bible). So the passage in Romans describes what I’ve seen in the world. For people who believe the greatest evidence is existence. That’s why people like myself think that ID science completely misses the boat.
I’m not sure what you mean by this.
Some more hypothetical examples. What if God decided the best way to ensure his health was by using a stent made of some unknown (to us) biomaterial. Or to replace his entire circulatory system with that of a healthy 20 year old. Those would be detectable things. I’m not saying God would have to do things in such a radical and readily detectable way. However, all else being equal, I don’t see why any way he chose to use would necessarily escape our detection as being outside the norm of what could be expected in nature in a human body. As you highlight above, there may be scriptural or theological reasons why God would desire to ensure that miracles were undetectable, and if so that would end this line of enquiry from me I suppose.
Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." (Matthew 12:39). Meaning, the only miracle you need is myself rising from the dead. I think that God would say, with people trying to, “detect” Him in science, “I’ve created a live-giving universe and had my son tortured and murdered to show you the way after you messed up, his testimony intact, and you’re looking for me in the weeds?”
Yes, God could give the person a stent, or a whole new circulatory system, or make him immortal, etc. A little theology, God created the physical existence for man to struggle in - “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:19). There is a transformation in our souls that God desires - the only way for that is through Jesus. Otherwise we’d all be angels in heaven with no problems for eternity.
So in the end you’re not going to detect God through the scientific method since He refuses to be, “detected” in that way.
Or another way to think of this might be to say: “He refuses to be ‘creaturely’ in that way.” He became ‘creaturely’ in Jesus, and that was enough. To think of God as being a tinkerer, even a cosmic one, is to pretend he is or ought to be a member of the created universe like all of its other members, whether they be vegetable, mineral, or scientific law.
Thanks for the answers. A small quibble–it’s not necessarily a question of trying to detect God. The miracles are either detectable or they’re not. Some might be “trying”, but if they’re detectable, people would be able to notice the phenomenon first and then try to draw whatever conclusions from it.
Isn’t actively ensuring that miracles aren’t detected a kind of “tinkering”?
I suppose it would be if there was any reason to think God was doing this.
Not if he is veiled by default. Knowing God requires revelation. God was the one who approached Abraham, not the other way around.
We’ve kind of come full circle in that case. Even if God himself is veiled, why are the physical traces of the miracles undetectable? Unless God wants them to be, I don’t see why they would necessarily be. If he wants them to be, he must be making some kind of overt act to make them so.
If the answer is that God is undetectable, but he affects our reality directly through miracles that can’t be detected, because he doesn’t want them to be, but this is somehow a default condition of the miracles, I’ll just say that I find it an unsatisfying explanation, but I will chalk it up to having learned something about a possible Christian perception of the situation (not sure if there are others), and thank you all for taking the time to explain it.
A lot of people seem to think there is! I admittedly resist supernatural explanations, but I enjoy thinking about it and talking about it.
You bring up some good points. My thought is that such miracles would have physical traces, but as one-off events, would be essentially unprovable. In most cases, I am of the sort that believes God works through us in circumstances, but actual miracles outside of the sort explainable by natural causes, are unusual and rare and have a unique purpose.
Indeed, that would be a taller order.
Perfect answer, @jpm.
And there are those who argue that engaging humanity through the medium of Faith is God’s primary intention.
I think explaining the odd text where Jesus says that Abraham says to the Rich Man in Hades, even if people saw a man dead for 3 days rise again, they would not believe.
This is the oddest of texts in my view. One, I think there would be people who would believe. It’s as though a New Testament writer out-did himself for being clever. He writes a snippet that a more consistent theologian would read and say: so Abraham is arguing against the life of Jesus?
It’s really quite a conundrum - - but nobody seems to ever notice it enough to discuss it…
The situation is complicated. Most Christians believe that God works in subtle ways. If I pray for a new car, I’m pretty sure God won’t manufacture one and leave one in my driveway. (As much as I’d like him to.)
Further, many Christians don’t believe the miraculous claims of other Christians. For instance, I don’t know any Protestants who believe in Marian Apparitions, such as the one where Mary appeared to three Portuguese children in 1917. (Search for Our Lady of Fatima and the miracle of the sun.) There is even disagreement among Catholics themselves about which alleged apparitions are valid, and whether claims of miracles by various saints are valid.
Phil, that view would seem to depend either on a review of worldwide evidence (such as that presented by Craig Keener), or from a faith conviction.
The latter could either be based on an argument from theology (eg early modern cessationism - ie though miracles were common in the early church, they ceased for some reason) or from naturalistic principles (things usually ought to happen as if God didn’t exist). I think one would have to present a watertight case for either, and I’m not sure there is one.
Probably the worst reason would be our common experience in US or UK (cf Matt 13:58). I happened to read about an hour ago (on another site) an anthropology student in Scotland remarking how a couple of his lecturers had either shared some of their own experiences abroad (and then decided not to pursue it), or told him that workers in the field frequently came across inexplicable, apparently supernatural, events, but knew it would be bad for their careers to write them up in papers. I know that my pastor friend in Sri Lanka expects prayer to result in healing regularly - most of his people can’t afford medicine anyway.
“It is the theory which decides what can be observed.”
Based on the experience of living 30 years in a place where supernatural events large and small are routinely taken for granted, I’m not so sure
Where were you? I think the things we accept vs the things we reject are heavily influenced by our culture and expectations. If a statue of Mary is said to move, and you believe it, you are more likely to see it move.
In “Born a Crime,” Trevor Noah wrote about his childhood in South Africa. He explains that while his mother was a devout Christian, witchcraft was also part of the culture.
I live in Taiwan. In my opinion there’s a marked cultural disposition to what I would in general call superstition. A wide array of religious beliefs are present as well, ranging from cultish to considered. Your everyday superstition or ghost story is a totally blasé affair, with many people quickly affirming a seemingly unquestioned belief when asked (with we “foreigners” being well known for our stubborn unwillingness to believe in them) but most people keep religious beliefs closer to the vest. There are a lot of unconcerned non-believers around too. I don’t think twice about telling people I’m atheist here (not to say it’s a common topic of conversation, totally the opposite) and almost no one would think about it for more than two seconds, just part of the spectrum so to speak.
When I was working in Kuwait (around 2009 to 2010), the occasional copy of the English-language newspaper was always a source of some amusement… or something.
One day, a Kuwaiti citizen was reported as being arrested for “casting spells on a neighbor’s house.”
As I scanned through the article, I kept looking for something that would describe the actual crime for which she had been arrested and jailed.
By the time I reached the end of the article, I had concluded that she had been arrested because they considered her genuinely capable of casting spells on a house.
Living to see someone arrested for being a Witch is not something I expected…