Monday, January 21, 2008

God Doesn't Do Miracles, full version

Brothers and Sisters:

A draft of my full article arguing that God doesn't perform miracles is now posted here:

God Doesn't Do Miracles

Comments are welcome.




Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner
Bad news; your arguement has already been used. Roman by the name of... Celsus 170 AD. One of his arguements was that Christ was a carpenter who learnt sorcery during his stay in Egypt and hence did his "miracles" through magic, not divine power. The Christian responce was to burn his books (later on when there was more Christians and tinder).

Matt McCormick said...

Not sure how this comment is relevant. I'm not arguing that Jesus could do magic, whatever Celsus may have meant by that. My closest point is probably that the occurrence of a real miracle, and some guy claiming that he did it and that he's divine is insufficient to establish any of the things that people typically take miracles to show.


Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner
Oh, sorry. The point Celcus made was miracles aren't enough to prove divinity because magicians can do them. He doesn't make your arguement, but it is similar.

paulv said...

I follow the argument that a miracle cannot be taken as evidence for an omni-god. But I am having trouble with the inverse argument that an omni-god would be certain not do miracles (small miracles).

My problem with God arguments is a feeling that they are inherently circular and not that they are inherently inconsistant. So in priciple I think one should be able to generate a consistant circular argument with an omni-god and miracles. You I believe argue that miracles would be inconsistant with such a being.

If we assume an omnisient god, don't we assume that there is practically infinite amount of information, it knows, that we do not know. So how can we be sure that in this infinite amount of information, there are not valid reasons to do small miracles. Certainly based on the information we have, the more omniscient a being, the less often interventions should be "necessary" to achieve certain ends. But the choice of whether to intervene continually, occaisionally, or never to achieve the same desired ends, seems to be a choice that is never forced on the intervener.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for the comment PaulV. I address this at more length in the paper. But here's the start of an answer. The project I am critiqueing is one where the existence of God is supported by the occurrence of miracles. So for one thing, you can't argue from a miracle, and the possibility that God exists, AND the possibility that he might have a good reason that we don't know about, to the conclusion that God does in fact exist.

You're also wondering about whether or not we should then take the strong view that God would have no reasons, so God wouldn't do miracles. First, I give an argument on the basis of power that God won't underachieve with puny miracles too, so the knowledge possibility isn't a problem for that. Second, at some point when we have tried and tried to conceive of some reasons why God would do such a thing, and we've come up with nothing, and furthermore, we have good reasons to think that in general an omni-being won't make small gestures, it rings false to keep insisting that we should remain agnostic about his doing it. If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, acts like a duck, and feels like a duck, then what grounds do you have for still insisting that it's not a duck? Or maybe more fitting, if the room looks empty, if it sounds empty, if we can't devise any way to detect anything in the room, and if we have tried really, really hard, then it would be artificial to keep insisting that "maybe it's not really empty, but we just can't understand it's fullness." Yeah, maybe. But more likely, it's empty. Maybe it helps that that conclusion is defeasible--if new evidence comes along, then we can change it.


Reginald Selkirk said...

Presuppositionalism lives
the naturalistic worldview of atheism holds that all knowledge must be based on empirical data. But this belief about the nature of knowledge cannot be validated empirically, and therefore naturalism contradicts itself.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks, Reginald. Let's not presume that atheism should be equated with naturalism--they're not the same. And let's not assume that naturalism is equivalent to the form of positivism that you've criticized here. They aren't the same. Furthermore, the claim you've made about validating the claim that all knowledge must be empirically validated doesn't show a contradiction. There's no p and ~p claim here. If you'd like to offer an argument for the claim that we can't empirically validate the claim that knowledge is empirical, I'm all ears. But it won't suffice to just assert it. If you can give a compelling argument for that claim, then you'd have grounds to say that the claim that all knowledge is empirical can't be empirically validated. So you'd have grounds to say that the claim that all knowledge is empirical itself isn't something we know. But that's a far cry from refuting it or even showing that it is false.

Turning it around, suppose we allow that some knowledge can be had that cannot be empirically validated. I'm game--let's hear about what that different kind of knowledge is. You don't want to propose that just any old claim that anybody pulls out of his ass counts as knowledge. So presumably you want to have some standards for distinguishing this non-empirically validated knowledge from non-knowledge. What are those standards going to be? Remember, you don't get to use empirical validation here--how exactly are you going to separate this special knowledge you have from the lunatic mutterings from the homeless guy that lives in the park? He hears voices that tell him things--is that the kind of non-empirical knowledge you have? He has visions. He has over powering impulses and thinks God is talking to him. Is that the kind of non-empirical knowledge you'd like to defend?

In short, you're complaining that we've got no way to know that all knowledge is empirical. But every claim to knowledge, empirical or otherwise, must face the same question: when you think you've got some of it, what are the standards by which you know that you have knowledge? And you can't expect anyone to take you seriously until you can offer up some sort of answer. Asserting that not all knowledge is empirical is a long way from justifying the God belief as rational.


yogirl184 said...

i like it, it has great structure and the conclusion sums it all up nicely.

Anonymous said...

Here are some of my thoughts:

You misunderstand what "evidence" is. You seem to think if some other explanation is possible beside what the "claimed evidence" is being offered to prove then it is not evidence at all.

Its possible the blood at the crime scene was contaminated or that the police tampered with it. But that doesn't mean the dna results are not "evidence."

If someone says they were sent by the Jewish God and to prove this they walk on water, raise people from the dead, say they will die and rise from the dead after three days and then they do it, that is evidence that the Jewish God is real. Sure we can think of all sorts of possible other explanations. But its still evidence.

Second, you just assume that God's plan does not involve miracles. Because of that assumption you draw the conclusion that miracles must be something that God didn't anticipate and now he needs to correct it. You are piling error on top of error, based on a bad assumption.

Third you seem to think you know better than God what miracles are important. I guess the response is I doubt that is the case. But I suppose if someone was a strong anti-theist to begin with they might agree with you.

Fourth your final argument is really just the problem of evil. Why not more miracles? You ask. Why not stop all pain and all hardship and have us be perfectly happy all the time? This is nothing new. There have been many answers to this.