Miracles and Science: A Third Way (Part 2)

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Slyly? (Buzzer sound) Presupposition failure. Just because the process is not explicit and open does not make it deserving of a pejorative.

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Yeah … “Schleiermacherian” is a mouthful, isn’t it! (Be glad it was Darwin and not somebody like Friedrich, whose name we are saddled with in debates over evolution).

I don’t think there is anyway to completely dodge the experiential aspect of all this. That will and must be a part of the Christian testimony, and appropriately so. Perhaps the problem arises when we try to turn personal experience into the cornerstone of our foundation. I.e., if we like Descartes, try to build an edifice of reason on only that foundation (and then include faith somewhere within that edifice), then we have probably succumbed to the criticisms of subjectivism that are leveled against Schleiermacher.

Good point, Eddie. However, I don’t think one can scientifically determine whether the quantum realm is deterministic at this time. There are various interpretations but nothing definitive.

It’s possible that Russell wanted to propose a palatable mechanism for those that favor ‘indeterminism’ but I don’t see how tweaking ‘quantum events’ provides much of an explanation. How does imparting information into various points of universe not violate ‘natural law’ as we currently understand QM and relativity? Or put another way, I don’t see how imparting specific outcomes via an unspecified super-QM-mechanism provides any more of an investigatable proposition than any other possible alteration on the universe that God could perform. I don’t understand how one could assess its likelihood.

I don’t think invoking ‘quantum’ helps at all. Second, it needn’t involve events influenced by quantum mechanisms. The only statistical criteria required for an influence to remain “undetected” is to stay indistinguishable from a null hypothesis. There’s plenty of obscuring noise in the world. Neutral theory can account for the vast majority of genetic variation between humans and chimps. So there’s plenty of room to hide a signal there.

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His PhD is in physics.

Interesting discussion. I think an important question is how often God determines the outcome of quantum events. If it is “not very often” then the model is open to the charge of episodic deism (as well as to Eddie’s concerns about what justifies these “interventions” and not others). What’s God doing when not fixing the outcomes of a few quantum events? If it is “all the time” then the non-Calvinists among us get concerned about God determining everything (at least insofar as “everything” can be determined by quantum events). That dilemma makes me think there is something wrong with how the problem is set up.

Furthermore, there seems to me to be the real possibility that if God is monkeying with the quantum states constantly, then over the long term God’s action would be detectable through empirical means. If God is always fixing the outcome of what we thought were random events, then an overall pattern would emerge that shows the outcomes couldn’t realistically have happened randomly. But since Russell aims to avoid this detection of general providence, it seems a problem for his theory.

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OK. Sorry.
The “null hypothesis” is described here. Let’s say you find 500 point mutations have accumulated in a lineage over x-years. Based on your observation about spontaneous mutation rates you determine that over x-years, you’d expecte 498 +/- 30 mutations. Scientist-Y wonders whether a molecular biologist might have also introduced specific mutations into the line, though he doesn’t know which mutations they were. The ‘null hypothesis’ is that the mutations arose without human intervention. The alternative hypothesis is that someone introduced additional mutations.

You found 500 mutations in the lineage. Without human intervention, you expected 498 +/- 30. That difference is statistically insignificant. Based on this information, Scientist-Y cannot make a case for intervention by a molecular biologist at some point in the past. It’s possible that a molecular biologist really did make a few specific mutations but in this case, that ‘signal’ is lost in the ‘noise’ of spontaneous mutagenesis.

Part of the wavefunction of any particular car extends across space. If one could select a few out of an essential infinity of possible states for the car then one could ‘teleport’ (or ‘tunnel’) that car to the surface of Mars. As long as energy is conserved – say, for example, by porting an equivalent mass of Martian soil to the car’s parking space at the same time – would that break any ‘natural laws’. It would be certainly be wildly improbable and not something you’d expect to see within the lifetime of the universe, but if someone could pick out particular states for a particular place and time, then it would be possible. Perhaps as easy as selecting when a particular atom’s nucleus should decay.

The question is: Can we really say that the ability to alter and direct the outcomes of quantum-level events comports with any definition of ‘natural laws’

The core problem is not with Russell’s proposal. The root issue is: How does God interact with His creation? What is the nature and mode of that interaction? That is a subject which has been discussed and argued over for millenia by philosophers and theologians. I’d suggest figuring that out first and then worry about any possible mechanisms.

Will do! And then what should we do with the rest of the evening once we’re finished with both of those tasks?

What if God just does things – macro, micro, and in the middle that will always confound the analytical-minded among us who keep wanting to be the “outer-most observers” looking in on everything including even God? What if they keep failing in that endeavour into perpetuity? Even in the midst of all their toil, at some points they hang up their lab coats and live a little. Trust a little. Relate a little. Stop running from their humanity in other words.

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On your last point, surely the problem is in suggesting that there is a thing called “random” which is independent of God’s actions, whereas it’s possible (and goes back to Aquinas and even the biblical Deuteronomic historian) to see randomness as merely the signature of God’s overall activity in sustaining and governing his creation.

Thus, the appearance of any particular letter in this post is random as far as Kolmogorov would be concernced, though the overall distribution would show a specific mathematical pattern (as do quantum events, hence the possibility of quantum physics) that corresponds to a piece of English prose, rather than Italian or Welsh. The only way to distinguish it as purposive, rather than as words chosen “randomly” from a dictionary by a computer, is to read it.

So there is a detectable monkeying with events (let’s assume we mean “quantum” events to suit Russell, but it needn’t be restricted to that), and it’s called the order, beauty, intelligibility, and purpose of reality. Which, like English prose, can only be perceived by assuming meaning, not by abstracting data scientifically.

Now such a conclusion would, I grant, demand that the whole of [quantum] reality, not some subset of “key” events, would constitute God’s activities - or else these would be distinguishable from “nature” - understood as something sitting apart from God’s governance. In other words, understood via the Enlightenment distinction between “God” and “Nature”, rather than the historic doctrine of “God’s creation”. Kepler did not seek to find the bits of nature that God determined, but how he determined nature.

You suggest that this conclusion means the problem is set up wrong, because it only fits with Calvinism. But with respect, I thought the project of both science and theology was to match our ideas to reality, not reality to some particular theoretical idea like “Arminianism” or “Kenoticism” - or “Calvinism”, come to that.

Otherwise one would have to say that evolutionary theory has been posited wrongly simply because it is incompatible with Young Earth Creationism, whereas BioLogos, at least, is arguing that science makes YEC a non-runner as an idea.

Some of us would argue that dividing creation up between “God” and “Nature” leads only to incoherence. Up to and including Arminius, the business of mainstream theology and theological philosophy was to explain how God was both sovereign over (ie, “willed” or “determined”) every detail of reality, and how that could nevertheless encompass the existence of evil, of genuine human choice, of secondary causes and so on.

I would argue it was only really the influence of Socinanism that began to insist on a stark dichotomy between God’s will and everything else. So the idea that “God cannot determine everything” is just as subject to criticism as “God created the world in 4004 BC” - the main difference being that the former has been part of mainstream Jewish and Christian doctrine for millennia, whereas the latter has only been a major issue for a couple of hundred years, in Western Protestantism.

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As I’ve said before, I completely accept that Calvinism is a legitimate Christian tradition, but it is not the only Christian tradition. I do not accept the understanding of sovereignty according to which everything in the universe happens exactly as God has willed and determined it to happen (and this for reasons that don’t have much to do with models of divine action). So perhaps a model of divine action that suggests every event is determined by God does not trouble you; I take it as a reductio.

I’m a little confused here. Russell’s is a proposal for how God interacts with his creation, viz., by determining the outcomes of (at least some) quantum events. My point was that Russell’s proposal seems to lead to conclusions that he meant to avoid.

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