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Rob Sheldon: If you want laws of nature, you must accept miracles

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Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek, Iráklion (Candia) 1540/41â 1614 Toledo), Oil on canvas
Christ healing the blind/El Greco, 1570

And Christianity too, says our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon. He explains:

Proposition: Miracles are violations of natural law.

1. What is natural law; Who invented it? Who enforces it? Who interprets it?

a) One argument is that natural law is merely inductive. The sun has risen daily for the past 5000 years of written history, therefore it is a law. But if it did not rise tomorrow, that would only be a 1/1,800,000 event. Are we saying that probabilities < 1:1,800,000 are always certain? Then certain rare forms of cancer should certainly never happen.

b) Another argument is that “Nature” operates by laws that we discover. But what is “Nature”? How do we meet “Nature”? If it is inductive, then see above. Or are laws of nature given by some authority; is “Nature” God? If so, then the whole idea of “miracle” is moot—everything is a miracle.

c) Another argument is that Laws of Nature are an intersection of math and symmetry, of logic and substance. For example, three-dimensional space permits the tying of knots, whereas 1, 2, and 4-dimensional space does not. Therefore knots are a consequence of math convolved with the geometry of the spacetime we live in; likewise laws of nature are similarly constructed. But if so, then miracles might simply be higher dimensions (your favorite string theorist’s compactified dimensions) impinging on our reality. This is the view, for example, that Edward Abbot and Hugh Ross popularize.

I conclude that there is no unique way to characterize laws of nature that eliminates the existence of miracles.

2. But we can argue the conclusion the other direction. Pick your favorite religion, be it atheism/materialism or deism or Islam or Hinduism/pantheism or Christianity. All but Christianity deny the existence of laws of Nature. Without laws of Nature, there cannot be miracles. So if you want Laws of Nature, you must also accept miracles. Here are some examples (following Stanley Jaki‘s argument):

a) Atheism/Materialism. Alvin Plantinga has done a nice job showing that the assumptions of materialism are inconsistent with the belief in materialism (ie. anti-miracles). Likewise, Hume has done a nice job showing that the assumptions of materialism are inconsistent with laws of nature. I believe Nancy Cartwright presents a modern argument for this.

b) Islam assumes a super-transcendent creator who is completely unlimited in power and authority. Therefore the Creator neither needs nor obeys laws of Nature. Accordingly, when something happens, God did it and doesn’t have to obey any other rule. Laws of nature would be a diminution of his power and therefore cannot exist.

c) Hinduism assumes an immanent creator who lives inside time just as we do. He cannot know the future, and therefore is just as much a victim of time and entropy as we are. Because there is nothing more permanent than the creator, laws of nature must change with time and vicissitudes of life. Because a changeable law is not the same as a scientific Law of Nature, so there can be no universal “rules” or mathematical laws of nature.

d) Deism assumes a super-transcendent creator who creates a machinery of laws to represent his will in the world. Thus we talk about the clockmaker and his clock. Because the “laws of nature” are a clock, they cannot be broken without breaking the will of the Creator and thus there are no miracles. But in such a deterministic world, we don’t have independence of thought, belief or consciousness, and we are right back to the materialist dilemma of a). Alternatively, we might think that the Deist creator can repair the clock, but then we still have the options b) or c) to deal with.

e) Christianity. Only in Christianity is there a possibility of a transcendent Creator who nonetheless submits to becoming a part of his creation. The incarnation without diminution of divinity is only possible in a Trinitarian framework. Only Christ can span the gulf between the transcendent and the immanent, which is precisely where science rests—midway between theory and experiment, between dogmatism and pragmatism, between logic and recipes. Therefore only in Christianity are there Laws of Nature. And just as necessary as Laws of Nature is the ability for God to intervene (or else we would be back to d), and therefore miracles are equally necessary (not just possible.)

Bottom line: If you want Laws of Nature, then you must also accept Christianity and miracles.

And that’s why these apologetic arguments make me dizzy.

Over to you, readers.

The Long Ascent: Genesis 1â 11 in Science & Myth, Volume 1 by [Sheldon, Robert] Rob Sheldon is author of Genesis: The Long Ascent

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See also: Rob Sheldon on why so many sciences seem to be devolving – not just social sciences

41 Replies to “Rob Sheldon: If you want laws of nature, you must accept miracles

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    Atheists deny the existence of laws of nature? That’s news to me.

    I would consider Newton’s Laws of Motion, the Principle of Least Action, and E = mc^2 to be laws of nature.

    Does that imply I must accept Christianity? I don’t see how (but perhaps I’m getting dizzy too).

  2. 2
    jdk says:

    Hinduism assumes an immanent creator who lives inside time just as we do.

    Really? I’d like to see a source for that.

  3. 3
    jdk says:

    And that’s why these apologetic arguments make me dizzy.

    Is this post supposed to be satire?

  4. 4
    EricMH says:

    From The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton

    “It is you who are unpoetical,” replied the poet Syme. “If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!”

    https://www.shu.edu/chesterton/upload/The-Man-Who-Was-Thursday.pdf

    Mathematically speaking, we should expect everything to be random chaos and all observations of order to be accidental, as Hume argued. The fact the world is not this way, i.e. the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, is only possible if we assume miracles are possible. As Leonid Levin explained, “the physical world is not chosen mathematically.”

  5. 5
    polistra says:

    Way too fancy. In the first place, most believers don’t see miracles as violations of Natural Law. Miracles are EXAMPLES of Natural Law, operating in ways that we didn’t expect. A miracle (if real) stirs us to expand our understanding of Natural Law.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    I agree with daveS that atheists do not deny the existence of the laws of Nature.

    What daveS and other atheists refuse to accept is that physical processes in and of themselves cannot account for the laws of Nature.

    There cannot be, in principle, a naturalistic bottom-up explanation for immutable physical laws — which are themselves an ‘expression’ of top-down causation. A bottom-up explanation, from the level of e.g. bosons, should be expected to give rise to innumerable different ever-changing laws. By analogy, particles give rise to innumerable different conglomerations.
    Moreover a bottom-up process from bosons to physical laws is in need of constraints (laws) in order to produce a limited set of universal laws.
    Paul Davies: “Physical processes, however violent or complex, are thought to have absolutely no effect on the laws. There is thus a curious asymmetry: physical processes depend on laws but the laws do not depend on physical processes. Although this statement cannot be proved, it is widely accepted.”
    Saying that laws do not depend on physical processes, is another way of saying that laws cannot be explained by physical processes.
    – Origenes
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-624496

    More specifically, the randomness postulate, that lies at the foundational basis of atheistic naturalism, is completely antithetical to the existence of unchanging universal constants.

    Thus, if an atheist were ever to be truly honest in his thinking, (which would be a miracle in its own right), he would honestly admit that he a-priori expects variance in the universal laws and constants, like this following astronomer did:

    Scientists Question Nature’s Fundamental Laws – Michael Schirber – 2006
    Excerpt: “There is absolutely no reason these constants should be constant,” says astronomer Michael Murphy of the University of Cambridge. “These are famous numbers in physics, but we have no real reason for why they are what they are.”
    The observed differences are small-roughly a few parts in a million-but the implications are huge (if they hold up): The laws of physics would have to be rewritten, not to mention we might need to make room for six more spatial dimensions than the three that we are used to.”,,,
    The speed of light, for instance, might be measured one day with a ruler and a clock. If the next day the same measurement gave a different answer, no one could tell if the speed of light changed, the ruler length changed, or the clock ticking changed.
    http://www.space.com/2613-scie.....-laws.html

    Or like Einstein himself honestly did, i.e. “a priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way”,,,

    On the Rational Order of the World: a Letter to Maurice Solovine – Albert Einstein – 1952
    Excerpt: “You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way. ,,,
    the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for instance, is wholly different. Even if the axioms of the theory are proposed by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the “miracle” which is being constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.
    There lies the weakness of positivists and professional atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only successfully rid the world of gods but “bared the miracles”.
    — Albert Einstein
    http://inters.org/Einstein-Letter-Solovine

    Atheists simply have no way of accounting for why the universal constants should be constant.

    Yet, Christianity, contrary to what atheists would prefer to believe, is very nurturing, even necessary, to the presupposition of unchanging universal constants.
    As C. S. Lewis put it:

    “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it.”
    Lewis, C.S., Miracles: a preliminary study, Collins, London, p. 110, 1947.

    And as Hugh Ross states in the following article, “Among the holy books that undergird the religions of the world, the Bible stands alone in proclaiming that the laws governing the universe are fixed, or constant.”

    Latest Test of Physical Constants Affirms Biblical Claim – Hugh Ross – September 2010
    Excerpt: The team’s measurements on two quasars (Q0458- 020 and Q2337-011, at redshifts = 1.561 and 1.361, respectively) indicated that all three fundamental physical constants have varied by no more than two parts per quadrillion per year over the last ten billion years—a measurement fifteen times more precise, and thus more restrictive, than any previous determination. The team’s findings add to the list of fundamental forces in physics demonstrated to be exceptionally constant over the universe’s history. This confirmation testifies of the Bible’s capacity to predict accurately a future scientific discovery far in advance. Among the holy books that undergird the religions of the world, the Bible stands alone in proclaiming that the laws governing the universe are fixed, or constant.
    http://www.reasons.org/files/e.....010-03.pdf

    At the 28:09 minute mark of the following video, Dr Hugh Ross speaks of 7 places in the bible that speak of unchanging universal constants.

    Symposium 2015 : Scientific Evidence For God’s Existence – Hugh Ross – video
    https://youtu.be/4mEKZRm1xXg?t=1689

    Here is a particularly crystal clear example:

    Psalm 119:89-91
    Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans.

    Thus, the existence of the unchanging laws of nature is truly miraculous in its own right. Moreover, the belief that there should even be unchanging laws of nature is a belief that finds its origin in Christianity and in Christianity alone.

  7. 7
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    Mathematically speaking, we should expect everything to be random chaos and all observations of order to be accidental, as Hume argued.

    That argument is sometimes made here, but I have trouble even picturing what this random chaos would look like. I guess it would involve bits of matter flying erratically through space, with particles spontaneously appearing then vanishing? Perhaps someone could upload a video simulation.

    My first thought on witnessing such a thing would be “what is the source of all this complexity (in the Kolmogorov sense, I guess)?”

    Therefore I conclude that an undesigned universe is just as likely to be a boring, deterministic one that could be completely described by its state at a single point in time.

    Disclaimer: I don’t find any of this reasoning about hypothetical universes to be very convincing, since we can’t test it. It’s highly speculative.

  8. 8
    jdk says:

    I agree with Dave’s disclaimer. I also think that the idea of “complete randomness” meaning things out of the set of all possible things just popping into and out of existence all the time, with no connection to anything else, is a ludicrous and silly thing to even think about.

    Randomness is only meaningfully defined in respect to a set of possible outcomes within an ordered set of some kind.

    And where did Hume argue that “Mathematically speaking, we should expect everything to be random chaos and all observations of order to be accidental.” That sentence doesn’t make sense to me.

  9. 9
    OldAndrew says:

    With concise, irrefutable logic, Rob Sheldon ends the debate forever and atheists everywhere give up and convert to Catholicism. Where has this guy been all these years?

    By his bizarre reasoning, absolutely no one could accept that nature had laws before Jesus walked the earth.

    This is about as useful as evolutionary psychology.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    Per daveS at 7:

    “IF YOU DON’T WANT GOD, YOU’D BETTER HAVE A MULTIVERSE”
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2008/11/a-universe-built-for-us/

    Bernard Carr, cosmologist at Queen Mary University of London, told Discover, “If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”1
    https://www.icr.org/article/4295/

  12. 12
    EricMH says:

    @daveS & jdk, why do you think testing tells you anything? That’s a huge assumption. For any set of data points, there are an infinite number of models that fit the data. There is no a priori reason to prefer any particular model, so you average across all of them, and you end up with a uniform prior, which makes all data useless for predicting anything.

    So, to do science, you have to appeal to assumptions that are not scientifically testable, such as Occam’s razor or correspondence between the future and the past.

    Of course, assuming a uniform prior violates common sense, but a uniform prior is forced by materialism. Therefore, by modus ponens, materialism is against common sense. In other words, common sense is a supernatural phenomenon. It somehow comes to us from beyond the material world.

  13. 13
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    So, to do science, you have to appeal to assumptions that are not scientifically testable, such as Occam’s razor or correspondence between the future and the past.

    One difference is that I have lots of everyday experience applying Occam’s razor and predicting the future based on the past. I have zero experience with universes other than ours, so I don’t know what to expect of them.

    Edit: Perhaps more to the point, I don’t see any reason to accept your claim that “we should expect random chaos” in one of these undesigned universes. Maybe it is true, but I don’t have any evidence to make a judgement.

  14. 14
    jdk says:

    Eric, what you say makes very little sense. I used to teach my students about linear functions by putting weights on various springs and plotting the data. We concluded that in all cases there was a linear relationship. To say that there are an “infinite number of models that fit the data” and that “there is no a priori reason to prefer any particular model” in this case is, frankly, silly.

  15. 15
    Axel says:

    @ your #5, polistra,

    Einstein asserted that there were only two ways of looking at the world : either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle. (not verbatim)

  16. 16
    EricMH says:

    @jdk for any finite plot of points on a graph, there are an infinite number of polynomial models that fit the points. Why do you prefer the linear one?

    @daveS, the problem is you cannot see our universe, or the multiverse. You only see an extremely small portion in time and space, and you are performing an enormous extrapolation.

  17. 17
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    @daveS, the problem is you cannot see our universe. You only see an extremely small portion in time and space, and you are performing an enormous extrapolation. Even more so if there is a multiverse and we have no idea which universe we are in. To make the extrapolation you want to make, you must appeal to some very strong assumptions.

    Yes, that’s true. So perhaps a test is useless.

    I still don’t know how I should be able to know that we should expect random chaos from these other universes.

  18. 18
    jdk says:

    re 16: We prefer the line because it is the simplest, and it works, and does so easily. Also, we have good physical understanding of how springs work which explain why the relationship is linear.

    Why would one consider some polynomial that just happened to be linear in this range and this scale when in fact a simple linear function works?

    I don’t understand why you would even be bothering with offering such an odd position a serious proposal.

  19. 19
    EricMH says:

    @jdk, right, to pick the linear model you must bring assumptions to bear on your observations. You are not deriving your conclusion from data alone. The question is, what are valid background assumptions?

    @daveS, at least from a mathematical perspective, most models that match our observation are these random chaos models. There is a principle called maximum entropy, where absent further information we take the distribution over hypotheses that maximizes uncertainty (entropy). In the discrete case, the maximum entropy distribution is the uniform distribution. So, without insight into the ultimate universe, we average over all these random models and our preferred orderly model with a uniform distribution, and the random models will drown out the orderly model leaving us with a prediction of randomness.

    Anyways, to sum up my thinking on the matter, it seems nigh impossible to justify a background assumption of orderliness on materialistic grounds. But, if we can also consider intelligent design as a viable hypothesis, then Bayesian reasoning quickly prefers intelligent design over materialism based on our observations, and justifies the orderliness assumption.

    Perhaps there is still a way to do this within materialism, but I have not seen any convincing account. On the other hand, it is so much easier with intelligent design, so it makes sense to go with intelligent design. A sort of Occam’s razor of explanatory effort, if you will.

    Now, if intelligent design turned out to be a thought blocker, I wouldn’t go there. But it seems that intelligent design actually offers more possible explanations for our world, so actually seems to be a broader perspective than materialism, since it encompasses materialistic explanations but not visa versa. Thus, not only is it a better fit for what we see, it appears to be a fecund source of explanations, so even more scientific than materialism if we approach the field rigorously.

    Also, based on my readings in philosophy and history, it appears that intelligent design is responsible for moving us from the chaos worldview that made systemic understanding impossible for the Homeric Greeks, to our modern scientific viewpoint, not to speak of our modern civilization in general. For example, in one of Plato’s dialogues Socrates explicitly refers to intelligent design as motivating his philosophical quest. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas’ trip into Hades gives him the insight that everything is governed by a mind, which is a major contrast to Homer’s worldview that everything comes from chaos.

    In general, the deeper I look into any theoretical field, the more it looks like intelligent design and less like materialism.

    I summarize some of my studies here:
    https://mindmatters.today/2018/10/does-information-theory-support-design-in-nature/

  20. 20
    jdk says:

    Of course I bring assumptions to analyzing data. One is that linear relationships are very common, and very often occur for very clear reasons involving constant rates. In the absence of any compelling reason, a set of what looks like linear data should be considered linear until we have reason to believe otherwise. Of course, the experienced analyst also has some skill in deciding when perhaps he needs to look at the data, or the possible explanations of the data, more closely.

    Analyzing data is a skill, but dismissing obvious models because there are a possible infinity of other explanations, with vastly small probabilities of being true, when would be silly.

    As the old saying goes, it’s good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.

  21. 21
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    There is a principle called maximum entropy, where absent further information we take the distribution over hypotheses that maximizes uncertainty (entropy). In the discrete case, the maximum entropy distribution is the uniform distribution. So, without insight into the ultimate universe, we average over all these random models and our preferred orderly model with a uniform distribution, and the random models will drown out the orderly model leaving us with a prediction of randomness.

    The main issue I have with this type of reasoning concerns the words “absent further information” and “without insight into”.

    AFAIK, we currently have literally zero information about these other universes. And as long as we remain completely ignorant about them, this principle entails that we should assume they consist of random chaos.

    Ok, I guess?

  22. 22
    EricMH says:

    @jdk & daveS, I completely agree the randomness hypothesis does not jive with common sense or best practices. But, as far as I can tell it is the position most consistent with purely materialistic explanations. So, given a much better alternative in intelligent design, why not go with that? I see no reason to maintain a commitment to materialism. You don’t lose anything regarding your current practices, and stand to gain more.

    One outstanding example: pure materialism predicted the human genome would be mostly junk DNA, which we now know through the ENCODE project to be false. Intelligent design gives us many more tools than materialism to handle the unexpected wealth of information in DNA. Dr. Ewert’s recent work is a good example.

  23. 23
    jdk says:

    The issue of seeing that a linear function best describes the behavior of weights on a spring has nothing to do with materialism, or theism: trying to cram every issue into the materialism/ID dichotomy is obsessive and not useful.

    Another saying: if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  24. 24
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    I don’t believe either of jdk or I are materialists (I can only speak for myself of course). To be clear, I don’t assert that everything is physical.

    I am also not a biology person, so I don’t know anything about that type of evidence for ID.

    Mainly, I just don’t believe there is god or other higher power, and I don’t know who else the designer could be.

    There are plenty of other issues that arise here, though, which I take an interest in.

  25. 25
    EricMH says:

    @jdk & daveS, Of course, you can just remain ambivalent regarding ultimate explanations. But, if you don’t, then Rob Sheldon’s argument makes a lot of sense.

  26. 26
    Bob O'H says:

    Rob Sheldon’s argument is confused and confusing: it conflates ontology and epistemology, and doesn’t make much sense. Some comments on the first part:

    1. What is natural law; Who invented it? Who enforces it? Who interprets it?

    a) One argument is that natural law is merely inductive. The sun has risen daily for the past 5000 years of written history, therefore it is a law. But if it did not rise tomorrow, that would only be a 1/1,800,000 event. Are we saying that probabilities < 1:1,800,000 are always certain? Then certain rare forms of cancer should certainly never happen.

    This is an epistemic definition: we human invent and interpret it. But this then means that any new phenomenon (e.g pulsars, or the England having a good football team) are miracles. This is pushing the usual definition of a miracle a bit far.

    b) Another argument is that “Nature” operates by laws that we discover.

    This is an ontic definition, i.e. the universe has some regularities (which we call laws), and science tries to find approximations to these laws. A miracle under this definition is closer to the usual concept (although because we can’t know that we know what these laws are, we can never be certain that something is a miracle. So if any omnipotent being wants to create miracles for us to see, they had better be damned obvious).

    But what is “Nature”? How do we meet “Nature”? If it is inductive, then see above.

    Wait, what? Here Rob Sheldon goes seriously off the rails (note to self: use this as a solution to the trolley problem). Induction is way of learning, i.e. it’s epistemic. So how can ontic laws be inductive?

    c) Another argument is that Laws of Nature are an intersection of math and symmetry, of logic and substance. For example, three-dimensional space permits the tying of knots, whereas 1, 2, and 4-dimensional space does not. Therefore knots are a consequence of math convolved with the geometry of the spacetime we live in; likewise laws of nature are similarly constructed. But if so, then miracles might simply be higher dimensions (your favorite string theorist’s compactified dimensions) impinging on our reality. This is the view, for example, that Edward Abbot and Hugh Ross popularize.

    This is an argument that restricts the scope of natural laws, but for it to define them, there has to be only one way the laws could be set up, i.e. only one way the universe could work. I’m sceptical of this, to say the least.

    On the second part I would merely note that Christianity, like Islam, assumes a super-transcendent creator who is completely unlimited in power and authority (actually the same one), so the argument against Islam makes no sense. Actually, it’s even worse than that: it provides a mechanism by which miracles occur: super-transcendent creator who is completely unlimited in power can easily make things happen that don’t follow laws of nature.

  27. 27
    EricMH says:

    I would disagree that Christianity and Islam have the same concept of the creator. Islam claims there is no analog between human reason and God. Some variants of Christianity believe this too (perhaps Islam is a heretical Christian sect?), but the largest branch Catholicism has traditionally believed in cataphatic theology, that there is a correlation between human reason and God. The justification for this correlation has been pinned to Jesus, i.e. God became a man we could relate to, which also is the reason Catholicism has icons but Islam does not. Which could lead one to wonder about the meaning of Protestantism’s iconoclasm.

  28. 28
    Bob O'H says:

    EricMH – if you’re going to disagree that Christianity and Islam have the same concept of the creator, you really shouldn’t then admit that some variants of Christianity agree with Islam. It does rather undermine your contention.

  29. 29
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    Of course, you can just remain ambivalent regarding ultimate explanations. But, if you don’t, then Rob Sheldon’s argument makes a lot of sense.

    I guess I just haven’t been able to make much sense out of it.

    A request: Would you be able to, at some point, write out formally the argument showing that “if laws of nature exist, then miracles exist”? I take it that’s the main point of the OP.

    One note: I assume the above statement means that if laws of nature do exist, then miracles have actually occurred.

  30. 30
    EricMH says:

    @daveS, I cannot speak directly to Rob’s argument. This is my formal take on it.

    We have two hypotheses:
    A. Miracles do not exist
    B. Miracles do exist

    We have observation X that is highly ordered.

    The hypothesis A says X is very unlikely, whereas B says X is very likely: P(X|A) < P(X|B). This is a standard result from algorithmic information theory.

    If we have no a priori information whether A or B is true, we use maximum entropy to set their probabilities to be equal: P(A) = P(B).

    In this case, Bayesian math says P(B|X) > P(A|X).

    In other words, an observation of significant orderliness X makes B the best explanation.

    On the other hand, if we insist that B is impossible, P(B) = 0, then we must also accept that X is a complete fluke. In other words, if we deny miracles, then we cannot believe X is common, and thus there are no laws of nature.

    I’m sidestepping a bit of the math detail for sake of delivery and writing speed, but I can note it down in a follow on comment if you wish.

    One more note: we do not need to set P(A) = P(B) to get this result. As long as P(B) > 0 (i.e. there is some slight possibility that B is true), then there is always some number of X observations after which it is always true P(B|X) > P(A|X).

  31. 31
    EricMH says:

    @Bob O’H not following your logic. How can Christianity and Islam have the same concept of the creator if the majority of Christianity has a different concept of the creator?

  32. 32
    Bob O'H says:

    Eric – according to you, different groups within Christianity have different concepts of the creator. Therefore some groups can have the same concept that Islam does.

  33. 33
    Silver Asiatic says:

    EricMH

    I would disagree that Christianity and Islam have the same concept of the creator. Islam claims there is no analog between human reason and God. Some variants of Christianity believe this too (perhaps Islam is a heretical Christian sect?), but the largest branch Catholicism has traditionally believed in cataphatic theology, that there is a correlation between human reason and God. The justification for this correlation has been pinned to Jesus, i.e. God became a man we could relate to, which also is the reason Catholicism has icons but Islam does not. Which could lead one to wonder about the meaning of Protestantism’s iconoclasm.

    It’s a fascinating point.

    What we see in Islam is an early instance of “Judiazing” sect. So, a “variant” of Christianity that returned to Old Testament legalism. Some historians say that Islam was a development of the Eboinite Christian heresy.

    As you point out, what about Protestant iconoclasm? As I see it, that’s the same sort of Judiazing principle at work.
    It’s a denial of the incarnation – where Jesus Christ truly lived on earth giving visible, human form to God (which is what icons imitate). Was the worship of Jesus idolatry (because he is human – and divine)?

    This actually causes a lot of problems in Protestant theology and I can see the parallel with Islam. The incarnational reality (sacraments, sacred authority, historical lineage) is dismissed and the focus moves to text-alone.

    In Catholicism the incarnation is present in the living Body of the Church, as is presented in icons and art forms.

    The text is dependent on the Church. The text comes from the Church.

    Answering Bob’s question – the term “Christianity” is often used here but it can have many different and conflicting meanings. Some scholars have said that Islam itself is a variant form of Christianity.

  34. 34
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Bob

    Eric – according to you, different groups within Christianity have different concepts of the creator. Therefore some groups can have the same concept that Islam does.

    Islam’s concept of the creator is not Trinitarian. It’s a different concept than the majority of Christianity.

    Some Christians share similar ideas about the attributes of the Creator that Islam has. But even there they have a different overall concept of the creator.

    Are you familiar with the differences between Allah and the Blessed Trinity?

  35. 35
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    Thanks for posting that. I do think it is quite a different argument than Rob Sheldon is making. He doesn’t refer to observations that X is highly ordered, if I’m reading correctly.

    I wonder if Sheldon actually means something like: No matter how you define “laws of nature”, the concept of “miracle” exists. And perhaps he’s not asserting that the existence of laws of nature implies that miracles must have actually occurred. This seems consistent with the sentence “I conclude that there is no unique way to characterize laws of nature that eliminates the existence of miracles.”

    To illustrate:

    I believe there are laws of nature.

    I also believe that the concept of “miracle” is coherent; I “believe in them” or “accept them” in that sense. If I saw someone turn a bottle of water to wine (under suitable conditions) then I would be comfortable concluding a miracle had occurred.

    I doubt that miracles have actually occurred, however.

  36. 36
    Bob O'H says:

    Silver Asiatic – the essential point is that Christians can have the same concept of the creator as Muslims, thus there can’t be anything intrinsic to Christianity (only some interpretations of it) that mean make the Muslim concept different to that used by, for example, Catholics.

  37. 37
    EricMH says:

    @Bob O’H, some Christians are atheists, so Christianity must share the same concept of God as atheists do. Also, some atheists believe God exists, etc. Perhaps the way we are defining terms is not so helpful.

    @daveS, Sheldon says miracles are necessary, not merely possible, so he doesn’t seem to completely agree with your formulation. It sounds more like laws and miracles require each other.

  38. 38
    daveS says:

    EricMH,

    Yes, if he is saying that if laws of nature exist, then miracles must occur, that’s different from my suggestion. Perhaps Rob will jump in and confirm.

  39. 39
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Bob O’H

    I’m not sure of your overall point here, but if you’re saying that the term “Christianity” is ambiguous, then yes, true. There is nothing intrinsic in what that term describes.

    I think Rob Sheldon is talking about a majority-Christian view. I believe he’s Protestant so probably it’s a “traditional-majority-Protestant” viewpoint. But even that can be questionable since many Enlightenment Protestants were Deists (Darwin for example) and had the same views as Muslims on the non-rational nature of God.

  40. 40
    bornagain77 says:

    daveS, wants the finely-tuned laws of nature as a given without having to give a robust and coherent causal explanation for their existence.

    Which is a surprisingly unscientific position that atheists will often invoke.

    An unscientific position which reminds me of this quote from Terence McKenna, ‘Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.’

    “As Terence McKenna observed, “Modern science is based on the principle: ‘Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.’ The one free miracle is the appearance of all the mass and energy in the universe and all the laws that govern it in a single instant from nothing.”4”
    – Rupert Sheldrake, Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation

    Indeed, Stephen Hawking himself, besides taking the finely-tuned laws of nature as a given, went so far as to ascribe miraculous power to the law of Gravity.,, He stated,,

    “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
    Stephen Hawking – The Grand Design

    To which John Lennox responded,

    “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.”
    – John C. Lennox

    The primary failing of Hawking invoking the unchanging law of Gravity to explain how the universe “spontaneously’ came into being is that, as is self-evident in the word ‘law’ itself, Gravity in and of itself is about as non-spontaneous as can be imagined. You release an apple from your hand for one million times, and for one million times the apple will fall to the ground. Repetitive, dull, and definitely non-spontaneous.

    Ascribing spontaneity to the law gravity is in fact a direct contradiction of terms. “Nonsense” as Lennox described it.

    Thus from Hawking, not only do we not get any explanation for why the law of Gravity is may be finely tuned (1 in 10^40), we also get a complete non-sequitur of spontaneity arising from that which is remarkably constant. Again, it is “nonsense”.

    As for the fine-tuning of Gravity that Hawking left on the cutting room floor, at the 4:45 minute mark of the following video, Dr. Bruce Gordon comments that varying the gravitational constant by just one inch, on an imaginary ruler that stretched across the entire universe, would either increase or decrease our weight by a trillion fold:

    Contemporary Physics and God Part 2 Dr Bruce Gordon – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ff_sNyGNSko

    The primary problem with atheists denying that the laws of nature are of miraculous origin, and with them wanting the laws of nature as a given, even wanting the laws of nature as a creator of the universe, is that in their denial of the necessity of the Agent Causality of God to explain why the universe was created, the atheists, in the end, also ends up denying their very own agent causality.

    Professor Budziszewski puts this self-refuting “denial of agent causality” position of atheists like this:

    A Professor’s Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist – University of Wyoming – J. Budziszewski
    Excerpt page12: “There were two great holes in the argument about the irrelevance of God. The first is that in order to attack free will, I supposed that I understood cause and effect; I supposed causation to be less mysterious than volition.
    If anything, it is the other way around. I can perceive a logical connection between premises and valid conclusions. I can perceive at least a rational connection between my willing to do something and my doing it. But between the apple and the earth, I can perceive no connection at all. Why does the apple fall? We don’t know. “But there is gravity,” you say. No, “gravity” is merely the name of the phenomenon, not its explanation. “But there are laws of gravity,” you say. No, the “laws” are not its explanation either; they are merely a more precise description of the thing to be explained, which remains as mysterious as before. For just this reason, philosophers of science are shy of the term “laws”; they prefer “lawlike regularities.” To call the equations of gravity “laws” and speak of the apple as “obeying” them is to speak as though, like the traffic laws, the “laws” of gravity are addressed to rational agents capable of conforming their wills to the command. This is cheating, because it makes mechanical causality (the more opaque of the two phenomena) seem like volition (the less). In my own way of thinking the cheating was even graver, because I attacked the less opaque in the name of the more.
    The other hole in my reasoning was cruder. If my imprisonment in a blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn’t trust my beliefs, then by the same token I shouldn’t have trusted my beliefs about imprisonment in a blind causality. But in that case I had no business denying free will in the first place.”
    http://www.undergroundthomist......theist.pdf

    Simply put, the atheist wants the laws of nature as an unexplained given. Moreover, as the Hawking quote illustrated, the atheist would prefer the laws of nature to be able to explain why the universe ‘spontaneously’ exists and also wants the laws of nature to be able to explain, not only why life exists, but also to be able to explain, all by their lonesome, “human behavior along with everything else”.

    Yet, in spite of what atheists would prefer, and with advances in Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics has now thrown a big ole monkey wrench in this grand scheme of atheists to explain everything, i.e. the universe and everything in the universe, solely by recourse to the laws of nature.

    As Steven Weinberg, an atheist, points out in the following article, “In the instrumentalist approach (in quantum mechanics),,, humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level.,,, the instrumentalist approach turns its back on a vision that became possible after Darwin, of a world governed by impersonal physical laws that control human behavior along with everything else.,,, In quantum mechanics these probabilities do not exist until people choose what to measure,,, Unlike the case of classical physics, a choice must be made,,,”

    The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics – Steven Weinberg – January 19, 2017
    Excerpt: The instrumentalist approach,, (the) wave function,, is merely an instrument that provides predictions of the probabilities of various outcomes when measurements are made.,,
    In the instrumentalist approach,,, humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level. According to Eugene Wigner, a pioneer of quantum mechanics, “it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.”11
    Thus the instrumentalist approach turns its back on a vision that became possible after Darwin, of a world governed by impersonal physical laws that control human behavior along with everything else. It is not that we object to thinking about humans. Rather, we want to understand the relation of humans to nature, not just assuming the character of this relation by incorporating it in what we suppose are nature’s fundamental laws, but rather by deduction from laws that make no explicit reference to humans. We may in the end have to give up this goal,,,
    Some physicists who adopt an instrumentalist approach argue that the probabilities we infer from the wave function are objective probabilities, independent of whether humans are making a measurement. I don’t find this tenable. In quantum mechanics these probabilities do not exist until people choose what to measure, such as the spin in one or another direction. Unlike the case of classical physics, a choice must be made,,,
    http://www.nybooks.com/article.....mechanics/

    And although Steven Weinberg, an atheist, rejects the instrumentalist approach precisely because of free will, (i.e. precisely because of the fact that “humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level”), science itself could care less about how Weinberg and other atheists would prefer nature to behave.

    Specifically, advances in quantum mechanics, with the closing of the ‘free will loop-hole’ and with Contexuality and/or the Kochen-Speckter Theorem, now confirm the reality of free will within quantum mechanics.

    For example, with the Kochen-Speckter Theorem we find, as leading experimental physicist Anton Zeilinger states in the following video, “what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure. Which is a very, very, deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers.”

    “The Kochen-Speckter Theorem talks about properties of one system only. So we know that we cannot assume – to put it precisely, we know that it is wrong to assume that the features of a system, which we observe in a measurement exist prior to measurement. Not always. I mean in a certain cases. So in a sense, what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure. Which is a very, very, deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers.”
    Anton Zeilinger –
    Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism – video (7:17 minute mark)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=4C5pq7W5yRM#t=437

    It is also interesting to note that, with their denial of the reality of their own free will, (which is something they themselves experience first hand, then something as simple as raising your arm becomes miraculous within the atheistic worldview.

    Dr. Craig Hazen, in the following video at the 12:26 minute mark, relates how he performed, for an audience full of academics at a college, a ‘miracle’ simply by raising his arm,,

    The Intersection of Science and Religion – Craig Hazen, PhD – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?f.....qlE#t=746s

    Of supplemental note: if we rightly let the Agent causality of God ‘back’ into the picture of modern physics, as quantum mechanics itself now demands, and as the Christian founders of modern science had originally envisioned, (Sir Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, and Max Planck, to name a few), then an empirically backed reconciliation, (via the Shroud of Turin), between Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, i.e. the ‘Theory of Everything’, readily pops out for us in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

    Copernican Principle, Agent Causality, and Jesus Christ as the “Theory of Everything”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NziDraiPiOw

    Shroud of Turin: From discovery of Photographic Negative, to 3D Information, to Hologram
    https://youtu.be/F-TL4QOCiis

    Particle Radiation from the Body – July 2012 – M. Antonacci, A. C. Lind
    Excerpt: The Shroud’s frontal and dorsal body images are encoded with the same amount of intensity, independent of any pressure or weight from the body. The bottom part of the cloth (containing the dorsal image) would have born all the weight of the man’s supine body, yet the dorsal image is not encoded with a greater amount of intensity than the frontal image. Radiation coming from the body would not only explain this feature, but also the left/right and light/dark reversals found on the cloth’s frontal and dorsal body images.
    http://www.academicjournals.or.....onacci.pdf

    etc.. etc.. etc..

    Verses:

    Matthew 28:18
    And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

  41. 41
    Bob O'H says:

    SA @ 39 –

    I’m not sure of your overall point here, but if you’re saying that the term “Christianity” is ambiguous, then yes, true.

    I’m not saying it’s ambiguous, rather that there are different beliefs within Christianity. So saying “Christianity says X” is wrong when you mean “some forms of Christianity say X”. If Shelden meant “some forms of Christianity say X” then his writing is mis-leading, so I hope he would correct it.

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