Challenge Response: Miracles Can’t Happen

Posted: December 2, 2010 by Brett Kunkle in God is Real, Weekly Challenge

Here’s my response to this week’s challenge:

  1. Sam Harper says:

    The only thing I don’t agree with is that the laws of logic are prescriptive. The laws of logic describe reality. The rational ought derives from the accuracy of that description, but the rational ought is not itself one of the laws of logic. That two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense describes the way reality is, but it doesn’t prescribe anything. That we ought to think logically and avoid contradicting ourselves is not one of the laws of logic; it’s just the rational ought. We ought to think logically because reality is logical.

  2. Elliot Neff says:

    The scottish philosopher David Hume is arguably the most quoted by skeptics today in an attempt to bring down the case for miracles. What I find ironic, is that in most debates, the Atheist will only quote small portions of Hume’s work, leaving out the core center of his argument. In reality, it is because Hume’s arguments were later shown to be not only circular, but self-defeating. However, at a glance, his arguments might look rather convincing.
    Christopher Hitchens, while reflecting upon the arguments of Hume, once declared, “Which is more likely: that the laws of nature have been suspended, or that a 1st-century Palestinian Jew told a lie?” in an attempt to reveal the “irrationality” of the Resurrection.

    The real objection to miracles here, I would argue, is really a presuppositional bias against miracles of any kind. When William Lane Craig asked Atheist Peter Atkins about the possibilities of the disciple’s account of the Resurrection, the two options he presented were either that the disciples lied or that they hallucinated. It was not even a possibility that the disciples were telling the truth and that Jesus really did rise from the dead. It’s been ruled out ahead of time.

    The fact of the matter is that if God exists, which I believe is well established by the natural laws of theology, then the greatest miracle of all already occurred– the creation of the universe! God normally operates in accordance with the laws of nature, but as Brett said, miracles are to be expected in a universe with a divine creator.

    We should look to the simplest explanations first– ones in accordance with the laws of nature– according to Occam’s Razor, but when all naturalistic explanations have been ruled out (being less plausibly true than a supernatural explanation) and it is plausibly true that a supernatural explanation is the cause, a miracle must be concluded. Most astonishing events are simply that– astonishing, but explainable by the laws of nature. Some, however, undoubtedly are works of the supernatural.

    In short, miracles are possible if God exists. If miracles are possible, then we should look to them as a possible explanation. When a supernatural cause is more plausible than not, a miracle can and should be concluded as the best explanation of the facts at hand.

    Miracles can happen.

  3. Defeating Defeaters says:

    Hi Sam,

    William Vallicella provides an argument against the claim that the laws of logic are empirical generalizations:

    1. The laws of logic are empirical generalizations. (Assumption for reductio).
    2. Empirical generalizations, if true, are merely contingently true. (By definition of ‘empirical generalization’: empirical generalizations record what happens to be the case, but might have not been the case.)
    3. The laws of logic, if true, are merely contingently true. (1 and 2)
    4. If proposition p is contingently true, then it is possible the p be false. (True by definition
    5. The laws of logic, if true, are possibly false. (From 3 and 4)
    6. LNC is possibly false: there are logically possible worlds in which p & ~p is true.
    7. But (6) is absurd (self-contradictory): it amounts to saying that it is logically possible that the very criterion of logical possibility, namely LNC, be false. Therefore 1 is false, and its contradictory, the clam that the laws of logic are not empirical generalizations, is true.

    Victor Reppert says, “Logic, I maintain, picks out features of reality that must exist in any possible world. We know, and have insight into these realities, and this is what permits us to think. A naturalistic view of the universe, according to which there is nothing in existence that is not in a particular time and a particular place, is hard-pressed to reconcile their theory of the world with the idea that we as humans can access not only what is, but also what must be.”

    • Sam Harper says:

      Defeating Defeaters, after reading what you wrote here, I wonder if there is some misunderstanding going on. It’s not my position that the laws of logic are empirical generalizations.

  4. Defeating Defeaters says:

    Good morning, Sam

    1) How are you defining reality? I’m assuming you are referring to physics, right?

    2) Perhaps I don’t understand what you mean when you say the laws of logic describe reality. Taken straightway, a description of reality is a generalization we make to describe reality. How are these different?

    3) If logic is merely a description of reality _as it is_ then if the universe were different, we can imagine a world in which cats are on and off the mat simultaneously which is absurd. So the reductio leads to absurdities you will not want, right?

    4) Now, of course, even if you agree with me so far that logic is not merely descriptive over reality (physics), I still haven’t shown you that logic is prescriptive. I think that’s fair. Unfortunately, I cannot think of a way to do this right now. Perhaps I’ve so juxtaposed these words (descriptive – prescriptive) so long I’ve assumed the failure of one entails the success of the other, which is of course lazy… I’ll think a bit more.

    Take care

    • Sam Harper says:

      Defeating Defeaters,

      1) By “reality” I mean “the way things really are.” I don’t limit that to physics.

      2) When I say the laws of logic describe reality, I mean they describe the way things really are. When I said that I don’t take the laws of logic to be empirical generalization, I was objecting to “empirical” more than I was objecting to “generalization.” Whether I would call them generalizations or not depends on what we mean by “generalization,” and I can see how a person might take it in one of two ways:

      a) A conclusion arrived at inductively (e.g. all crows are black because every crow I’ve seen so far has been black). I definitely don’t think the laws of logic are generalizations in this sense.

      b) A description of something that applies universally (e.g. one of anything added to one of anything else results in two things together). I do think the laws of logic are generalizations in this sense.

      3) I don’t think the laws of logic are contingent truths, so it’s not possible for them to be otherwise or for there to be any possible world in which the same laws of logic do not apply. So no, I don’t think it’s true that just because something describes reality that it therefore could’ve been different. Lots of things could’ve been different about our universe, but I don’t think the laws of logic are among them.

      4) Ronald Nash wrote a little bit about this in his book, “Reasonable Faith.” He said that the laws of logic are not merely laws of thought. They are laws of being. While it’s possible for people to think incoherently or contradictory, it’s not possible for reality to BE contradictory. I can SAY “square circle” and maybe even believe in them if I’m crazy enough, but there can’t actually BE any square circles in reality.

      But there is a connection between “thought” and “being.” We hope, if we are rational, that our thoughts correspond to reality. Reality is logical, and if we want our thoughts and beliefs to be true, then we must think logically. We must not believe in contradictions. We must affirm conclusions arrived at deductively with true premises. Etc. If all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then we have a rational obligation to believe that Socrates is mortal. But this rational obligation is not itself one of the laws of logic. The laws of logic describe the way things really are. The rational ought prescribes what we ought to believe. The laws of logic describe “being.” The rational ought prescribes that our “thoughts” correspond to “being.” We ought to believe in the laws of logic because they are true and accurate descriptions of reality. We ought to believe that Socrates is a man because it follows from the logical laws of inference and true propositions.

      • Defeating Defeaters says:

        Indeed the laws of thought describe ‘being’ if by ‘being’ our referent is God and not some physical contingent entity. But then I would also agree that the laws of morality describe God inasmuch as moral laws are conceptual entities from the mind of God. If I’m correct, then I’m well on my way to show that the laws of thought ARE prescriptive – If the latter are prescriptive (telling us how we ought to live) then why not the former (which determine correct vs. incorrect ways to reason)? I haven’t thought this all through…

        I do believe you’ve said a lot of good things.

  5. Defeating Defeaters says:

    Re. Miracles

    I think it’s pretty weird that Christian theists get charged with affirming the UNbelievable, that is, for believing in miracles or the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah.

    If physical laws are contingent, then there’s no reason to think that when people die they should stay dead, right? Isn’t it physically possible that when people die, that
    instead of them staying dead, we find them rising on every third day?

    I’m serious!

    • Sam Harper says:

      I can tell you what David Hume would probably say in response. He’d say, “Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to believe.” Hume’s argument was based on weighing probabilities. He did not argue that miracles are impossible. He only argued that it can never be rational to believe in miracles because, by the very nature of what it means to be a miracle, probability will always be against them.

  6. Defeating Defeaters says:

    I’m not an expert (or novice) in probability theory, but on the face of it, two comments seem appropriate: 1) I fail to see how probabilities are a necessary or sufficient condition for rationality 2) if in the probability calculus we insert the condition that God exists, something like a resurrection is arguably not extraordinary – instead it’s just non-normative!

    • Sam Harper says:

      Regarding your first point, I agree with you. Regarding your second point, I think adding God to the equation merely raises the probability from “none” to “something.” After all, even if we grant that God exists, we still have to look at the probability of his acting. Using Hume’s reasoning, we could grant that God exists and still conclude that resurrections are still highly improbable just because it is so rare that God ever raises anybody from the dead. Hume’s argument was circular because he based this on the assumption that we have a uniform experience against them. In other words, they have never happened, which is the issue under dispute. But Hume could’ve escaped that circularity by saying that even if we grant that all the past accounts of resurrections are true, the probability of any particular resurrection is still very low just because resurrections are so rare. It would look something like this: If out of the several billion people who have ever lived, only a handful have ever risen from the dead, it is highly improbable that the next person who dies will rise from the dead, and whatever evidence is offered to demonstrate that they DID rise from the dead will have to make the probability of the resurrection higher than the prima-facie probability that he would remain dead. If the prima-facie probability is something like 1 in a billion that he would not rise from the dead, then the evidence would have to give us a probability of at least a billion and one to 1 that he rose from the dead. But since no amount of testimony or circumstantial evidence can give us that kind of probability, the prima-facie probability against resurrection wins every time. I’m not saying I agree with this reasoning. I’m just saying this is probably how Hume would respond to you, and I’m basing that on my own assessment of his argument. I wrote a paper about it in college.