This is an unedited excerpt from my upcoming book with Crossway: The Discipleship Book: Now That I Am a Christian. Chapter title: “Pain and Suffering” (book name and title tentative).

The overwhelming majority of Christians who suffer with significant doubts in their faith do so due to the pain and suffering they experience in their lives. The late Christian philosopher Ronald Nash once said that it is completely irrational to reject the Christian faith for any other reason than the problem of evil. This expresses the respect he gives to this issue. The “problem of evil” is the problem of pain and suffering. This is, indeed, a tremendous problem. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, wrote a very academic book on pain, suffering, and evil called The Problem of Pain. It was a wonderful, monumental work and I recommend it without hesitation. But after he wrote this work, he experienced pain and suffering at a different level. It is one thing to evaluate something from the outside; it is quite another to personally experience it. C. S. Lewis lost his wife after a battle with cancer filled with ups and downs. It broke him and brought him to his knees, and he rested for a bit in front of God, asking painful questions which stemmed from his disillusionment. Thankfully, his whole experience is recorded in another book about pain. This one was a very personal book called A Grief Observed. In it he laid himself bare before God, expressing his confusion. I highly recommend this book as well. These are two very different works, one intellectual and one emotional, by the same person about the same subject.

I don’t want you to be surprised by suffering. I want you to be able to handle evil and pain both in an academic way and an emotional way. I am going to talk first about the academic side of evil, pain, and suffering. It is often called the “intellectual problem of evil.” Hang with me, as things might get a bit technical.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil

The intellectual problem of evil attempts to address a logical problem in a world that has pain, suffering, and evil, yet has a good and all-powerful God who rules it. Let me define this problem using a syllogism:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil.

The debate over this problem has only intensified in a world where technology allows us to share in the sufferings of millions of people all over the earth. The internet brings us one click away from faces of those who have had their children kidnapped, are starving to death, are diseased and deformed in unimaginable ways, and whose unloving parents leave them locked in a closet as they go out to dinner. We can’t go a day without hearing about evils that, while not all are part of our immediate community, are a common experience for the human race.

Therefore we begin to question God’s role in all of this. And we are brought to this dilemma. If God exists, if God is good and does not like evil, and if God is powerful enough to change things, why does evil still exist? Let me give you some of the wrong ways people handle this issue.

1. The Sadotheistic response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and Evil Exist

Conclusion: God enjoys to bring about suffering and pain for no reason at all.

God is on an opposing team.

The Sadotheist believes that God is an evil sadist who enjoys bringing about suffering with no good intentions whatsoever. This could be true. It could be the case that God is a sadist. What I mean is that there is no logical difficulty here that cannot be overcome. The problem with the Sadotheist position is that this is not how God has revealed himself in history or in the Bible. The cross of Christ is the greatest illustration of God’s love that we have. God himself got his feet dirty and his hands bloody in order to save mankind. On top of this, the Sadotheist has to borrow from God’s morality in order to judge God! In other words, how does the Sadotheist know what good and evil are outside of God’s love and existence? This view, while logically possible, is biblically wrong.

2. Open Theistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: God has self-limited his abilities so that he can truly relate to mankind. Therefore God cannot stop all suffering and evil.

God is on our team, but he is only a cheerleader on the sidelines who is rooting for us as he watches things unfold.

In this response, the open theist handles the problem of pain and suffering by saying that God, due to his commitment to man’s freedom, can’t do anything about it. This is a self-limiting of both God’s power and his knowledge. Evil may happen, but it is only because God is committed to the freedom of man’s will. This view is logically possible as well. In other words, God could have this more or less hands-off approach to the happenings of the world. But this militates against much of Scripture, which says that God is in control and he does know the future. For example, look at what the book of Daniel says about this:

Dan. 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?

It looks like God is in control of things. Whatever happens is in some sense God’s will, even evil. I think it is important for us at this point (as I can see your eyebrows raise and hear your heartbeat increase!) to distinguish between what theologians call “the two wills of God.” God has two wills. We call them his “will of decree” and his “will of desire.” Does God want you to suffer? Yes. Does God want you to suffer? No. These are both correct! Hold on now, I have not gone crazy. Let’s put it this way: Did God will that his Son be killed on the cross? Yes. Did God will that his Son die on the cross? No. You see, there is a sense in which God’s ultimate desire or will is that no one ever sin or suffer evil. But in a fallen world, God uses sin to accomplish his purposes. If God did not use sin and evil, then he would not be involved in our world, for there is nothing else to work with! He has to get his hands dirty, if you will, and use sin if he is to accomplish his good purpose. Ultimately, this will lead to a world without sin and suffering (heaven). But for now, he works with it and, in a contextualized sense, wills it. The Open Theist response to evil fails to see how God could be involved in such terrible things. But it also fails to consider that God is working all things together for good, even suffering and pain.

Rom. 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

3. The Pantheistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: Suffering and Evil are illusions we create with our own mind. To eradicate them, we must deny their existence.

God is not on any team since there is not actually any opposition.

The pantheistic view is simply to close our eyes and ears and act as if evil, suffering, and pain do not really exist. In this view, all suffering is an illusion that we must train ourselves to be blind to. But this does not work, either rationally or biblically. To deny the existence of something does not determine the existence of something. The Bible speaks very clearly about the existence of evil. Even in the Disciple’s Prayer we looked at in a previous chapter, we see that Christ tells us to request deliverance from “the evil.” Would he command us to pray against something that does not exist? I don’t think so. Therefore, the Pantheistic response is not a Christian option either.

4. The Atheistic Response

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil.

God is not on any team because he does not exist.

The atheistic response looks reasonable on the surface, but when we take a closer look, it is logically absurd. First (and most importantly), like with the Sadotheist, in order to define the very concept of “evil,” the atheist has to borrow from a theistic worldview (one that believes in God). In other words, if there is no God, there is not really any such thing as evil. Second, if there is a problem of evil, there is also a problem of good. If there is no God, how do we explain the good that happens in the world? In the atheistic worldview, there is actually no such thing as good or evil. This, itself, does not make atheism wrong (there are many other arguments that do), but it does show the absurdity of this argument. Finally, (and read this carefully) the one who believes in God has to explain the existence of evil; the atheist has to explain the existence of everything else. Which is easier?

5. The Christian Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: God has good reasons for allowing suffering and evil to exist. He uses suffering and evil to accomplish a greater good, even if we never know exactly what that reason is.

God is on our team and he is both the quarterback and coach!

You see, the “logical problem of evil” is not really a problem, if by problem you mean something that cannot be solved, rationally or biblically. Rationally, there is no reason to assume that God cannot have a purpose for evil that results in good. We see this every day. When someone goes in for brain surgery, they have to endure the intense suffering of having their skin cut and their skull taken apart. But the greater good of the cancer being removed is evident to all. There is no reason to say that God can’t use even the most atrocious suffering to bring about a greater good.

Biblically, this is very clear. Not only does Roman 8:28 say that God works all things together for good (and this most certainly includes evil), but there are many stories in the Bible which evidence this. For example, in the book of Genesis, Joseph, who loved and followed God, was sold into slavery by his very own brothers. After he was wrongly imprisoned for many years, he was finally released and elevated to a position second only to Pharaoh. While in this position he made it possible for most of the world, including his father and brothers, to live through the famine which lasted seven years. His suffering was intended by God in order to bring about good. Notice what he said to his sorrowful brothers:

Gen. 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

“God meant it for good.” Therefore, the intellectual problem of evil can be dealt with without sacrificing intellectual integrity. In fact, as we look through the options, the Christian option is the option that makes the most rational sense.

But this does not make it a slam dunk. Intellect is one thing. Emotions are another.

Want more? Get my book. 2013

 


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    218 replies to "The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil"

    • Ryan

      Facts: Confirmed observations. These are observations confirmed many times under similar conditions that become accepted as facts. By themselves, they do little to explain or predict matter’s behavior.

      Hypothesis: Statements of relationships among things, usually taking the form of a hypothetical syllogism, i.e. if…then statements. These statements are testable against experience , and are thus falsifiable.

      Laws: Empirical generalizations about what, under certain conditions, will happen. Think of Newton’s laws of motion, inverse law of gravity, etc.

      Theories: Interconnected combination of facts, laws and tested hypotheses that explains a feature of the natural world.

      So, a methodological naturalist could witness a supernatural event, and identify the supernatural as the cause. Nonetheless, he couldn’t use the cause to inform our scientific body of knowledge. The cause would have to be repeatable, observable to more than just a select few, and it’s effects capable of falsification. The supernatural event could have actually occurred and be true, but science being what it is could not use such an occurrence to create new laws, facts, hypotheses or theories, because these need to be repeatable and capable of being tested against the natural world.

      “If a scientific investigator knew about the prayers, if he knew about the timing of the prayers in relation to the opportune timing of the outcome, his explanation would have to include divine agency in response to prayer.”

      Why would his explanation of the plague have to include prayers? Isn’t it perfectly possible the person who prayed is lying, delusional or mistaken? Or that it’s a coincidence? How would this supernatural explanation, even if it occurred, help us understand our natural world and predict matter’s behavior?

    • Ryan

      Do you understand why supernatural explanations can’t be used in science, even if you or I witness them directly? They can’t be repeated, they can’t be tested against experience because we can’t isolate the variable, hold other factors constant and test for the variables effect in the natural world. That doesn’t mean the supernatural isn’t true, it means that science has very little to say about it.

      My characterization of science was not narrow. Isolating variables, holding other factors constant and testing the variables effect on the natural world can and is done outside the laboratory.

      Field and natural experiments involve either controlling for other variables and observing the effects of the variable of interest, or studying all the variables and establishing correlative relationships among them.

      Regardless of the type of experiment/observation, the activity involves holding variables constant, isolating the variable of interest and testing it’s effects. Indirect experiments, the kind that occur in Astronomy and Physics, for example, use indirect experiments all the time. We can confirm the presence of unseen planets by indirectly detecting their gravitational effects on other bodies of mass. We can detect subatomic particles by taking what we know about the known particles, look for anomalies in the data, eliminate other possible explanations and use this to generate more tests.

    • C Michael Patton

      Ryan, I don’t know who you are or whose side you are on, but that does not happen on my blog. It is immature, ad hom, childish talk. If you are a regular here, please read the rules. Such preclusions only smack of insecurity, for the faith or against it. Chill. Think about what you are going to say. Go out of your way to be terribly kind. Or please create your own place to blog and comment.

    • Ryan

      The bottom line here is, science can’t deal in supernatural explanations. This doesn’t make the supernatural nonexistent, though.

      Belief in biblical Christianity requires going beyond the evidence to a considerable extent. Eyewitness testimony is not enough. People lie, don’t remember properly, or have ulterior motives. Eyewitnesses wrote the Koran, the Vedas, Homer’s Iliad, the Satanic bible, the epic of gilgamesh, and any other number of creation and supernatural myths issuing from hundreds of ancient societies.

      Moreover, you behave more like a pre-enlightenment century rationalists than an empiricists, or at least adopting a Kantian attitude about compromising between empiricism and rationalism.

      Aristotle thought heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects due to weight differences. Makes good common sense, right? Galileo decided to test this against experience, and discovered that friction, not weight, produces differences in acceleration due to gravitational forces. Experience is the best arbiter of truth.

      Experience and the scientific method have produced exponentially more useful knowledge that explains/predicts the behavior of matter than any other domain of inquiry. It produced clean water, efficient sewage disposal, advances in medicine, a two-fold lifespan within a few centuries, and countless other benefits.

      The majority of western analytic philosophers adopt a Quinian approach to philosophy. They believe philosophy should be subsumed under science, and its primary job should be to supplement and further clarify scientific findings. Reason too far detached from experience is bound to lead to absurd falsity. You need only look to many pre-enlightenment rationalists and the grotesque, superfluous structures of explanation they erected to verify this.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Ryan,

      I read in a prior comment that you started out intending to become a Christian apologist while in college, but that has obviously changed. Curious, did you grow up in a Christian home with “conservative” Christian parents?

    • Ryan

      Those were almost my exact words, yes.

      I don’t see why that matters, though. The fact that my beliefs evolved over time isn’t a function of someone leaving a bad taste in my mouth for religion. It’s a function of being exposed to more information and revising my beliefs.

      The only reason I care is because of what religion can sometimes motivate people to do in terms of how they treat homosexuals, their attitude towards science and watering down science education, retarding stem cell research.

      It’s a strange spectacle to observe some of the religious who genuinely believe they’re engaging in honest, intellectual reflection and defense of their beliefs, while they cherry-pick only those concepts from science and analytic philosophy that confirm their beliefs. Not all of the faithful do this, but it seems to be a popular attitude these days.

    • steve hays

      Ryan says:

      “Amateur practitioners of philosophy…”

      Since Ryan objects to “amateurs” debating these issues, I’m sure he’d be happy to disclosure his academic credentials. Perhaps he can direct us to his academic webpage. Is he a working scientist? A professional philosopher of science? Where can we find his peer-reviewed articles?

      “Methodological naturalists don’t automatically exclude supernatural explanations. Philosophical naturalists do. Methodological naturalists only exclude supernatural explanations when doing science. A scientists who witnesses a genuine miracle or supernatural occurrence can accept that as an explanation for the event, but will still be a methodological naturalist when they put on their ‘science hat.’”

      i) There are secular historians who apply methodological naturalism to historiography. So, no, it’s not confined to science.

      ii) According to eminent philosopher of science Michael Ruse:

      “The methodological naturalist believes that everything in this world goes according to unbroken, blind law. What place then for miracles?” in “Atheism, naturalism and science: three in one?” The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (Cambridge University Press, 2011), 236.

      His definition is less restrictive than yours. Forgive me for thinking his definition is more authoritative than yours.

      iii) Let’s take some concrete examples. Although you don’t believe in the Bible, we can grant these examples for the sake of argument, to illustrate some basic principles:

    • steve hays

      a) Suppose we could load our scientific equipment onto a time machine and travel back to 1C Palestine. Say we attend the wedding at Cana. We could install security cameras to establish a chain of custody for the water pots. We could test the contents of the water pots prior to the wedding to establish that they contained H2O. We could establish that no one tampered with the water pots during the wedding. We could record the conversation between Jesus and Mary. We could establish that after one of the water pots was opened, it contained fermented grape juice. No known natural laws can account for the change. No extrapolation from natural laws can account for the change.

      Why would a scientific investigator be barred from concluding that since there was no plausible natural cause, the cause must have been supernatural?

      b) Or take the raising of Lazarus. We could verify that he was dead. We could take a DNA sample for comparison. We could inspect the tomb to make sure there was no hidden escape route. Our security cameras could confirm the fact that no one entered or left the tomb prior to the raising. We could verify that after 4 days, Lazarus was alive. We could very that all trace of necrosis was gone. We could perform a DNA test to confirm his identity. We could record the prayers, commands, and conversations of Jesus leading up to this outcome.

      No known natural laws can account for the change. No extrapolation from natural laws can account for the change. Why would a scientific investigator be barred from concluding that since there was no plausible natural cause, the cause must have been supernatural?

    • steve hays

      “Contrary to your opinion, the goal of science is to create a body of facts, laws, hypotheses and theories that explain and predict how the universe behaves.’

      I didn’t say anything about that one way or the other. However, not every philosopher of science agrees with your definition. Some think the goal of science is to create models rather than a body of facts (e.g. Bas van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism).

      “Let’s define things carefully so you don’t miss the point. I’m going to try to be nice, difficult though it may be, but you honestly don’t know much about science, so definitions are necessary.”

      What follows is Ryan’s effort to demarcate science. However, the demarcation problem is generally considered to be intractable. Because there are so many different branches of science, it doesn’t seem possible to subsume all branches of science under a common set of criteria. Different branches of science have different methods. What works for one branch of science may not work for another. For someone who touts his mastery of the scientific method, Ryan seems to have a very crude, simplistic understanding of the subject.

      “So, a methodological naturalist could witness a supernatural event, and identify the supernatural as the cause. Nonetheless, he couldn’t use the cause to inform our scientific body of knowledge. The cause would have to be repeatable…”

      Is repeatability a criterion in archeology, paleontology, historical geology, forensic anthropology? What kind of repeatability is Ryan alluding to? Repeatable events? Repeatable tests? Those aren’t the same thing.

      “…observable to more than just a select few…”

      Wasn’t evidence for the Higgs boson observed by a select few particle physicists at CERN?

    • steve hays

      Likewise, what if a large comet or meteorite lands in a remote, sparsely populated wilderness region? What if it flattens trees in a radial pattern? Would it be unscientific for a scientific investigation to attribute the blast pattern to a comet or meteorite because only a “select few” observers saw a bright object descending in the night sky?

      What about rare, localized natural phenomenon–like ball lightning? In the nature of the case, we wouldn’t expect that to be widely observed. Is it therefore unscientific to admit the existence of ball lightning?

      “…and it’s effects capable of falsification.”

      Falsification is a slippery criterion in science. Is Ryan unaware of the literature on that topic?

      “The supernatural event could have actually occurred and be true, but science being what it is could not use such an occurrence to create new laws, facts, hypotheses or theories, because these need to be repeatable and capable of being tested against the natural world.”

      i) Notice the circular or regressive nature of Ryan’s argument. How can you test a scientific claim against the nature world unless you already have some scientific knowledge of the natural world to supply a frame of reference? Or does Ryan think prescientific background knowledge will suffice?

      ii) Why does an event have to give rise to new laws or new theories to be scientifically assessable? If a forensic scientist solves a murder, must his explanation give rise to new laws and theories? Must archeological discoveries give rise to new scientific laws or new scientific theories?

      So many of Ryan’s strictures amount to empty abstractions that lack concrete applicability.

      “Why would his explanation of the plague have to include prayers? Isn’t it perfectly possible the person who prayed is lying, delusional or mistaken?”

      If the prayer was manifestly answered, then he wasn’t lying, delusional or mistaken. Rather, the outcome corroborates the prayer.

    • steve hays

      “Or that it’s a coincidence?”

      Because it’s gullible to attribute certain conjunctions to mere coincidence. Let’s take some more biblical examples. I realize that Ryan doesn’t believe the Bible, but let’s treat these as hypothetical cases, to illustrate a principle.

      i) Take the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. Yes, it could be coincidental that they died a few hours apart. It could be coincidental that they dropped dead right after Peter’s reproof. But if we think Acts 5:1-11 is an accurate account, isn’t that special pleading?

      The account doesn’t say how they died. Suppose they died of a heart attack or stroke. Suppose a coroner autopsied the bodies. He could state the cause of death as stroke or heart attack. He could say they died of natural causes.

      Perhaps, moreover, they both had heart disease. Not only could the coroner state the cause of death, but the cause of the heart attack.

      That would all be true as far as it goes. But it would leave something out. In addition to natural causes, there was a supernatural cause behind the natural causes.

      It’s possible that God directly stopped the heart from beating. Or it could involve a premeditated chain of events. When God planned the world, he planned for Ananias and Sapphira to have an unhealthy diet that contributed to heart disease. And God synchronized the progression of the heart disease with their sin, and Peter’s reproof, so that it all came to a head on that particular day. Perfect timing.

      A full description of what caused their death must include the supernatural as well as the natural factors. By itself, a merely physical description is deficient and misleading.

    • steve hays

      ii) Let’s take another example. According to Ezk 13:17-23, it’s possible to kill someone by using witchcraft. Now suppose JAMA or NEJM began publishing peer-reviewed studies documenting a high correlation between death and hexes. The type of evidence wouldn’t be essentially different from other kinds of correlations, like carcinogens. Despite overwhelming statistical evidence, would it be unscientific to conclude that some witches were responsible for murder? What if just following the evidence wherever it leads strongly pointed in that direction? Should we just chalk that up to coincidence? Or would there come a tipping point where the evidence was too weighty to dismiss? I’m using that as a limiting-case for Ryan’s defensive posture.

      “How would this supernatural explanation, even if it occurred, help us understand our natural world and predict matter’s behavior?”

      Must every scientific explanation be predictive? Must archeological or forensic anthropological explanations be predictive?

      “Do you understand why supernatural explanations can’t be used in science, even if you or I witness them directly? They can’t be repeated…”

      Is repeatability a necessary criterion in scientific explanation? Are there no unique events in nature? What about freak mutations (to take one example)?

    • steve hays

      “…they can’t be tested against experience because we can’t isolate the variable, hold other factors constant and test for the variables effect in the natural world.”

      Don’t we experience many things without isolating one variable while holding other variables constant? Experimental science is not the only form of scientific knowledge. What about observing nature in a state of nature. Leaving nature alone, but providing an accurate description of what happens in nature? One doesn’t have to manipulate nature to have a scientific understanding of how nature operates. Although experimentation may deepen our knowledge of nature, it’s not as if we must always experiment on nature to understand aspects of the nature world.

      What if there are credible reports of ball lightning, even though we can’t reproduce ball lightning in the lab? Does that mean we refuse to classify ball lightning as a scientific phenomenon?

      “My characterization of science was not narrow. Isolating variables, holding other factors constant and testing the variables effect on the natural world can and is done outside the laboratory.”

      I didn’t say that can’t be done outside the lab. I said that can’t always be done outside the lab. Moreover, I said that’s not a necessary condition of scientific investigation.

      “Field and natural experiments involve either controlling for other variables and observing the effects of the variable of interest…”

      Suppose a zoologist studies a wolf pack in the wild. Or a troop of baboons. Suppose he keeps a meticulous record of what he sees. Suppose he goes out of his way not to interject himself into the equation. Keeps his distance. An attentive spectator. Suppose, after two years of painstaking field study, he publishes a description of his findings. He doesn’t propose any new theories, hypotheses, or laws. The publication is purely descriptive. A detailed record of their behavior in their natural environment. Is that unscientific?

    • steve hays

      “…or studying all the variables and establishing correlative relationships among them.”

      That seems to be a reversal of your original definition.

      “Regardless of the type of experiment/observation, the activity involves holding variables constant, isolating the variable of interest and testing it’s effects.”

      Really? A zoologist who studies a wolf pack in the wild is “holding variables constant, isolating the variable of interest and testing it’s effects”? Seems to me that he’s reporting on what he sees rather than interfering with the natural course of events.

      “Indirect experiments, the kind that occur in Astronomy and Physics, for example, use indirect experiments all the time.”

      Once again, you have a strange habit of disproving objections I never raised in the first place.

      “Eyewitness testimony is not enough. People lie, don’t remember properly, or have ulterior motives.”

      You also have fraud in scientific research.

      “Eyewitnesses wrote the Koran, the Vedas, Homer’s Iliad, the Satanic bible, the epic of Gilgamesh…”

      What’s the basis for your claim?

      “Experience is the best arbiter of truth.”

      Including the argument from religious experience.

      “Experience and the scientific method have produced exponentially more useful knowledge that explains/predicts the behavior of matter than any other domain of inquiry. It produced clean water, efficient sewage disposal, advances in medicine, a two-fold lifespan within a few centuries, and countless other benefits.”

      Which is all consonant with a doctrine of ordinary providence.

      “The majority of western analytic philosophers adopt a Quinian approach to philosophy. They believe philosophy should be subsumed under science, and its primary job should be to supplement and further clarify scientific findings.”

      A hasty generalization. I could cite a host of counterexamples.

      “Reason too far detached from experience is bound to lead to absurd falsity.”

      Which is why atheism is absurd.

    • steve hays

      Working scientists don’t begin with definitions of science. Rather, they begin with curiosity. They like to figure out how things work. Or figure out what things are made of.

      And working scientists are quite pragmatic. They invent what they need to get what they need.

      Ryan’s dilemma is that he wants to weaponize science to attack Christianity. So he needs to (re)define the scientific method in a way that’s hostile to the admission of supernatural agency in the nature world.

      But in so doing he creates a problem for himself. He’s no longer offering a positive definition of science, but a reactionary definition. Science defining itself in exclusion to divine design or divine causation.

      And the dilemma that generates is that a definition of science that’s hostile to Christianity will be hostile to science! The definition bites itself in the tail. For an exclusionary definition of science excludes certain branches of science, or certain scientific methods and explanations.

      Ryan hates Christianity more than he loves science. That’s why he keeps touting Rowe’s argument about the burning fawn even though Rowe’s argument runs contrary to fire ecology. Ryan would rather discount science (e.g. fire ecology) so that he can cling to the evidential argument from evil. Atheism, not science, is his touchstone.

    • Ryan

      I actually published two papers in peer-reviewed journals when I was an undergraduate, not that it makes a difference for our discussion, Steve. I judge amateur status by extreme overconfidence typical of pseudointellectuals and a highly selective understanding of science/philosophy in ways that favor your position.

      Michael Ruse probably defined methodological naturalism different than I do in this context, where I’m distinguishing between those who deny immaterial reality altogether and those who ignore it when constructing scientific explanations. Scientists can still separately believe in the supernatural, but can’t use it in science. The Cambridge dictionary of philosophy draws this same distinction, and calls it “methodological naturalism” and “Metaphysical or philosophical” naturalism. It’s a pretty basic distinction one encounters in introductory studies of philosophy of science.

      In your “water turned to wine” example…first, no reliable evidence exists to suggest this really happened. Second, if one could do all that you asked for, send a scientists back in time, conduct the relevant tests, etc., and the water inexplicably turned to wine, and all other possible natural explanations were eliminated, then he would be perfectly justified in tentatively accepting a supernatural explanation.

      The scientist couldn’t, however, use this to formulate additional scientific theories or laws. What would you call this new law in Chemistry? “Water to Wine – it’s Magic!” How would it help us understand natural laws? Predict chemical reactions? The magic could have really happened, but it doesn’t advance the goal of science to incorporate magic water to wine observations into current theories.

    • Ryan

      I understand what you mean about the goal of science, Steve. But let’s articulate it more clearly.

      Realism – the position that scientific theories, facts and laws correspond to the way things actually are.

      Anti-realism – the position that scientific theories, facts and laws correspond to ‘useful fictions’ that may or may not be true, but that nonetheless are true in a sense because they predict the behavior of matter.

      The atomic theory of matter was once considered a possible target of this distinction. That is, until we recently viewed actual electrons orbiting a nucleus. In any case, scientific theories, while some may not strictly refer to the underlying nature of reality, nonetheless predict the behavior of matter, and are in some sense true. I never said all sciences use the exact same methods, rather, that all have in common the isolation of variables, holding others constant, and using experience to gauge the effects of variables of interest. Most scientists and philosophers of science doubt the possibility of reducing all of scientific inquiry to the subject of physics. Physics, after all, underlies everything, since everything is composed of matter. I suggest you listen more closely to what was actually said next time. Pointless jabs that create more heat than light, aren’t they?

      By repeatable, I mean that another researcher or scientists could conduct the same line of inquiry under similar conditions and arrive at the same observation or conclusion. Is this confusing? This can and should be expected to occur in any scientific or systematic domain of inquiry, including archaeology or history.

      What I meant by a select few is one or two people who observed something, but the observation can’t be replicated by creating the same conditions. Physicists all over the world can ‘recreate’ the conditions that gave rise to the Higgs Boson. Your example is very silly.

    • Ryan

      “Likewise, what if a large comet or meteorite lands in a remote, sparsely populated wilderness region? What if it flattens trees in a radial pattern? Would it be unscientific for a scientific investigation to attribute the blast pattern to a comet or meteorite because only a “select few” observers saw a bright object descending in the night sky?”

      Steve, this example sucks, man! Science doesn’t conduct investigation based solely on eyewitness observation. They could search for a meteorite impact site, for blast patterns that one would expect from a meteorite, for applying what is already known about meteorite impacts, acceleration, the forces involved, etc.

      “Falsification is a slippery criterion in science. Is Ryan unaware of the literature on that topic?”

      I didn’t say that was the sole criteria for what counts as science. Karl Popper introduced this concept. It’s a crucial feature of scientific explanations, but isn’t a sufficient one.

      “Notice the circular or regressive nature of Ryan’s argument. How can you test a scientific claim against the nature world unless you already have some scientific knowledge of the natural world to supply a frame of reference? Or does Ryan think prescientific background knowledge will suffice?”

      The frame of reference consists of simpler scientific ideas/theories that have been proven correct by experience. Why is this difficult to understand? Galileo’s experiments with gravitational acceleration didn’t require knowledge of some magical ‘given’ that is known apart from experience. Only folks who anchor on philosophy and ignore other disciplines are confused about how this works.

    • Ryan

      “Why does an event have to give rise to new laws or new theories to be scientifically assessable? If a forensic scientist solves a murder, must his explanation give rise to new laws and theories? Must archeological discoveries give rise to new scientific laws or new scientific theories?”

      “Accessible.” A forensic scientist won’t identify the cause of death as ‘Lightning Strike Via God.” He/she would give a physical description based on evidence that could be replicated under similar conditions. This isn’t a hard concept to wrap your head around. Most of your examples are answered easily enough. As long as a researcher can replicate the conditions that gave rise to the observation, and observe the same thing, it can count as scientific. Most of these supernatural events you reference are not of this type.

      “So many of Ryan’s strictures amount to empty abstractions that lack concrete applicability.”

      Really? Yikes, please read more about science, less about theology and philosophy. I hope my previous example illustrated what I mean when I say that scientific conclusions have to be capable of being replicated by other researchers in order to verify the findings.

      “If the prayer was manifestly answered, then he wasn’t lying, delusional or mistaken. Rather, the outcome corroborates the prayer.”

      If…if the prayer was answered. Do we know if the prayer even took place? How many people witnessed the prayer? Was the society in which this account comes out of notorious for attributing natural events to divine causation? Were they illiterate? Fearful? Inclined to accept supernatural explanations over ordinary ones? These observations should diminish our degree of confidence in their testimony, right?

    • Ryan

      “That would all be true as far as it goes. But it would leave something out….In addition to natural causes, there was a supernatural cause behind the natural causes.
      It’s possible that God directly stopped the heart from beating. Or it could involve a premeditated chain of events. When God planned the world, he planned for Ananias and Sapphira to have an unhealthy diet that contributed to heart disease.”

      Wow, were did all these assumptions come from? How do you know any of this really happened?

      “What if just following the evidence wherever it leads strongly pointed in that direction? Should we just chalk that up to coincidence? Or would there come a tipping point where the evidence was too weighty to dismiss? I’m using that as a limiting-case for Ryan’s defensive posture.”

      If a study eliminated other possible variables, held the witchcraft factor constant, and noticed a direct effect exerted on the natural world by witchcraft, then you bet it could be incorporated into science. Of course, the witchcraft could create a physical effect we don’t yet understand. And, most importantly, none such occurrence has been witnessed to date, so your thought experiments – so far detached from reality – are almost pointless.

      “Don’t we experience many things without isolating one variable while holding other variables constant? Experimental science is not the only form of scientific knowledge. What about observing nature in a state of nature. Leaving nature alone, but providing an accurate description of what happens in nature? One doesn’t have to manipulate nature to have a scientific understanding of how nature operates. Although experimentation may deepen our knowledge of nature, it’s not as if we must always experiment on nature to understand aspects of the nature world.”

      Even field studies involve isolating variables or drawing correlative relationships between variables. You know this…right?

    • Ryan

      “Suppose a zoologist studies a wolf pack in the wild. Or a troop of baboons. Suppose he keeps a meticulous record of what he sees. Suppose he goes out of his way not to interject himself into the equation. Keeps his distance. An attentive spectator. Suppose, after two years of painstaking field study, he publishes a description of his findings. He doesn’t propose any new theories, hypotheses, or laws. The publication is purely descriptive. A detailed record of their behavior in their natural environment. Is that unscientific?”

      No, because when establishing causation, he/she will undoubtedly try to isolate any other possible variable that’s affecting their behavior. Honestly, why is the concept of isolating variables, holding others constant, and testing for the effects of the variable of interest so difficult?

      “That seems to be a reversal of your original definition.”

      That seems to have come right off the hip and doesn’t reference anything that actually happened during our discussion.

      “Really? A zoologist who studies a wolf pack in the wild is “holding variables constant, isolating the variable of interest and testing it’s effects”? Seems to me that he’s reporting on what he sees rather than interfering with the natural course of events.”

      Yes, he is doing exactly that. One need not interfere with nature to eliminate other possible causes for the observed behavior. Man….

      “Once again, you have a strange habit of disproving objections I never raised in the first place.”

      You identified my characterization of the scientific enterprise as narrow and restrictive. I gave an example of how – at core – all scientific investigation shares important features that are absent in other areas, like divine revelation, theology, philosophy.

      “What’s the basis for your claim?”

      Mohammad claims to have been visited by the archangel Gabriel in a cave. Honestly, do you not know any of this?

    • Ryan

      “Which is why atheism is absurd.”

      Non-sequitur! Annoying, isn’t it?

      So, you really think God’s existence is such a given that anyone who denies it due to a perceived lack of evidence is crazy or willfully ignorant? Is this really what you think?

    • Ryan

      “Ryan’s dilemma is that he wants to weaponize science to attack Christianity. So he needs to (re)define the scientific method in a way that’s hostile to the admission of supernatural agency in the nature world.”

      Not really, Steve. I have many friends and family members who are Christians, many of whom I respect and admire. It’s your pseudointellectualism that separates you from them, Steve. Science can only “attack” religion when religion makes a claim about the natural world that can be tested against experience. For example, literal interpretations of Genesis are falsified by science.

      “But in so doing he creates a problem for himself. He’s no longer offering a positive definition of science, but a reactionary definition. Science defining itself in exclusion to divine design or divine causation.”

      Science doesn’t say supernatural realms don’t exist. Science says: We aren’t equipped to deal with supernatural claims, to test them, to replicate them and their findings, and to use that to predict the behavior of matter. Your pseudointellectualism is showing again, Steve.

      “Ryan hates Christianity more than he loves science. That’s why he keeps touting Rowe’s argument about the burning fawn even though Rowe’s argument runs contrary to fire ecology. Ryan would rather discount science (e.g. fire ecology) so that he can cling to the evidential argument from evil. Atheism, not science, is his touchstone.”

      I don’t hate Christianity. You, however, love making unjustified inferences about motives. Rowe’s argument doesn’t run counter to fire ecology! It only deals with the apparent pointlessness of the fawn’s arbitrary suffering, and how this counts as some evidence against the existence of an infinitely perfect, powerful God.

      I’ve offered plenty of other arguments against God’s existence. I doubt his existence, I don’t deny it, btw. You just honed in on one or two arguments and ignored the rest, as is your custom.

      Stop the quotes,…

    • C Michael Patton

      If there is a God, the terms science and supernatural don’t exist as distinct forms of action. If we did not just pop into existence from nothing or eternally exist from nothing (both philosophical absurdities), then everything is supernatural and everything is science. For God there would be no distinction. There are just some things he has allowed is to know and other things that are left in the dark.

      Resurrection is not supernatural to God it is just like everything else, his science if you will. Therefore, what one calls a mystery another calls supernatural. What one calls a miracle the other calls an anomaly. What one calls God of the gaps the other calls science of the gaps.

      One day we may perfectly understand the physics of resurrection, healings, and the like. It does not make it any less God’s domain.

    • C Michael Patton

      And Ryan, please read the rules. You are spamming the comments. There is a reason why there are character limits. One post at a time. Two in a row have to go.

    • mbaker

      Ryan,

      Some of your responses have been interesting to say the least. However the big question remains: Scientists can certainly create and believe in certain realities, and even lay people, as you pointed out, can do the same things. We know for instance the stupidity of driving the wrong way on the freeway at 70 miles an hour, or deliberately shooting ourselves in the head. So those realities are a given for all humans, believers or not.

      However, here’s what I wonder. You seem to think that the existence of God cannot be proven evidentially, so therefore He does not exist. Are there not many things that still cannot be discovered by science, yet scientists go on trying to prove their existence, even though one could argue they also have a supernatural belief despite the lack of evidence? Isn’t this why they call Darwin’s discoveries the ‘Theory’ of Evolution? All the blanks haven’t been filled in there either, and there is so far limited evidence that human and apes are related. except in theory of genomes, and Lucy the ‘humanoid’, yet many in the scientific community consider it a foregone conclusion.

      It’s hard for us on the other side to tell the difference.

    • Ryan

      Michael,

      That’s a big if. I could just as easily say: “If natural laws spontaneously change every million years, then all scientific inferences about what occurred in the distant past based on the assumption that natural laws don’t change are null and void.”

      But we’re justified in assuming the gravitational acceleration constant doesn’t change, nor does the decay rate of radioactive isotopes or any number of things.

      There’s not a problem with belief in God. There is a problem, however, with those who characterize unbelievers as heretic rebels willfully ignorant of the evidence right in front of them.

      For me, there just isn’t enough evidence to warrant belief. Not only that, but it doesn’t seem to be relevant to my life. I can still know what’s right and wrong and have a meaningful life regardless of whether I believe in God.

      God really might exist, who knows? However, his existence is anything but a given, and it certainly can’t matter that much, because if it did, he would have made the evidence for it more accessible to us. Right?

    • Ryan

      It seems like you self-servingly adopt the “we don’t know much and anything is possible” attitude only when it’s convenient.

      I identify with that position. There’s a lot we don’t know, and I think truly educated people understand and are comfortable with that. But it’s another thing entirely to only adopt that posture when it benefits your argument.

      When I highlight difficulties within the bible, lack of evidence for god’s existence in the natural world, you’re quick to say that for all we know the natural and supernatural are one and that God rules it all, but are never willing to say that YOU could be wrong about God’s existence. For you, God’s existence is a given and not open to questioning or doubt, whereas almost anything else in science or any other domain of inquiry is open to questioning.

      Can you not see why I view this as a bit self-serving?

    • rockingwithhawking

      Ryan (Mavis) said:

      “I actually published two papers in peer-reviewed journals when I was an undergraduate, not that it makes a difference for our discussion, Steve. I judge amateur status by extreme overconfidence typical of pseudointellectuals and a highly selective understanding of science/philosophy in ways that favor your position.”

      Well, that depends. Speaking as a med student familiar with scientific research:

      1. What field(s) were your papers published in? Since you didn’t explicitly say, was it a scientific field? Which particular field in science? This would be relevant since you’re touting your research background here.

      2. Which journal(s) did you publish in? Not all peer-reviewed journals are created equal, so to speak. There are of course many journals which have a high standard for publication. (Although even the best journals make mistakes as can be seen in well-publicized scientific misconduct affairs for instance. Take Science publishing Hwang Woo-suk.) However, there are other journals which will publish just about anything. It’d be unbecoming of me to name names, but working scientists will know what I’m talking about within their respective fields.

      3. Most undergraduates don’t publish on their own. Most require the expertise and experience of a professor or other researcher and publish in conjunction with them. Were you, say, the first or second author on a paper?

      4. If it was scientific research, what did you do exactly? Some undergraduates do nothing more than help clean lab equipment or pass out surveys or somesuch, whereas others are far more integral to the research process.

      5. There are other questions one could ask but these are some basic ones to help better determine whether you’re more toward (as you put it) the “amateur” side or I suppose the professional side with regard to scientific research.

    • Ryan

      Mbaker,

      I never said that since God’s existence can’t be proven “evidentially”, that he therefore doesn’t exist. I said this casts doubt on his existence. There is a world of difference between the two.

      And why is the attitude of requiring evidence before granting belief so bad in your view? In every other area of life, you operate under this attitude. If someone tells you randomly your brakes will fail today, you’ll want some evidence before assenting to that belief. It’s pretty obvious.

      And scientists posit hypotheses that are testable. Even if they aren’t proven yet, the hypotheses reference material causes that can be confirmed or falsified by experience. This is why material hypotheses are different from guesses about supernatural entities. The latter can’t be confirmed or denied by experience.

      Second, and most, most, most importantly, the word ‘theory’ in science doesn’t mean what it does in everyday usage. Theory in science is a combination of facts, laws and hypotheses, and explains why something is happening.

      Hypotheses don’t ‘graduate’ to theory status once they’re proven. This is a common misconception. Theories will always be theories, and are the most important part of science. A theory is a well-substantiated concept that explains something, and could never be more than what it is. The kinetic theory of gases, while it could never be a ‘fact’ or ‘law’, is so well attested by the evidence that it’s not questioned. It is universally accepted. Evolution is the same way. It is a concept that explains the diversity of life, and is well-attested by evidence. No serious scientist questions it anymore. Only the religious do. The DNA, fossil, embryological, morphological, geological evidence is overwhelming.

    • rockingwithhawking

      Just briefly since I only have a few more moments: It seems to me Ryan keeps arguing for an a priori commitment to methodological naturalism. But that’s the very point of contention. That’s what Steve Hays, among others, has been calling him out on. Sorry to say so but I don’t see Ryan appreciating this at this point.

    • mbaker

      Ryan,

      That’s where we Christians think you are being unfair. We think there is evidence that God exists even if it is not from the present. We also have archeological evidence and eyewitness accounts. You have given a great amount of arguments as to the fact that the universe didn’t come from nothing. So how did the universe and life come in being in the first place? This is not a question even the most learned scientists can answer, without a qualifier.

      I have a blogging friend who is a quantum physicist and a Christian, and he will be the first to say so.

    • Ryan

      Who are all these random people coming to Steve’s defense? And why is the blog host focusing exclusively on my one or two violations of the blog rules while people on his “side” as he calls it, commit 20 in the first place?

      Have I not spent this entire time defending why methodological naturalism is necessary in science? How on earth did you come to the conclusion that I’ve missed the point or failed to defend it?

      My only goal was to expose a decided lack of willingness to be objective, impartial, and fluent in science and analytic philosophy. I think we’ve arrived.

    • mbaker

      Ryan,

      I was not one of the ones who personally criticized you but I am wondering how you cannot see that a “decided lack of willingness to be objective, impartial, and fluent in science and analytic philosophy” to quote you, is exclusive to Christians. There have been a great many good comments on here, which you have chosen to call ‘silly’ or other names. I hope you will continue to interact here but remember this is a Christian theology site, and we are not scientists. And this post is not about science anyway.

      I would also like to ask what your own credentials are as far as training and education. I believe someone already has, but I don’t recall your answer.

      Thanks.

    • Ryan

      MBaker,

      I know you weren’t. None of that applies to you. And the attitude I describe isn’t peculiar to Christians. All types do it. And I’ve met plenty of Christians who don’t.

      I understand that most of you aren’t scientists, and neither am I. So, the rational thing to do when confronted with a subject about which you know very little is to stay silent, or at least be tentative about what you think you know in that subject. On this forum, many portray a degree of scientific literacy that isn’t borne out through conversation and rebuttal.

      I have a philosophy degree. I went back to school recently for a M.S. degree (graduate science degree).

      It’s not that I’m an expert in science. It’s that I understand at a fundamental level what scientists are really doing to construct a scientific body of knowledge that’s highly reliable, predicts how matter behaves, can be replicated by others, and improves our quality of life by replacing fear and uncertainty with understanding/information.

    • steve hays

      Ryan says:

      “Steve. I judge amateur status by extreme overconfidence typical of pseudointellectuals and a highly selective understanding of science/philosophy in ways that favor your position.”

      So you won’t object if we measure you by your own yardstick.

      “Michael Ruse probably defined methodological naturalism different than I do in this context…”

      Would that be an example of “extreme overconfidence typical of pseudointellectuals and a highly selective understanding of science/philosophy in ways that favor your position” on your part?

      “In your ‘water turned to wine’ example…first, no reliable evidence exists to suggest this really happened.”

      Irrelevant. I already prefaced the example by framing it as a hypothetical case. Did you miss that?

      “Second, if one could do all that you asked for, send a scientists back in time, conduct the relevant tests, etc., and the water inexplicably turned to wine, and all other possible natural explanations were eliminated, then he would be perfectly justified in tentatively accepting a supernatural explanation.”

      So is this your backdoor admission that your effort to compartmentalize scientific explanations from supernatural explanations breaks down?

      “The scientist couldn’t, however, use this to formulate additional scientific theories or laws.”

      You have a habit of repeating yourself, but I already addressed that. Are you claiming that every scientific explanation must yield additional scientific theories or laws? If not, your statement is a diversionary tactic.

      “What would you call this new law in Chemistry?”

      Why does that have to be a “new law of chemistry” to count as a scientific explanation? If a coroner says the victim choked to death when food got accidentally lodged in his windpipe, does that fail as a scientific explanation of death unless it generates a new law of asphyxiation?

    • steve hays

      “’Water to Wine – it’s Magic!’ How would it help us understand natural laws?”

      Why does scientific verification of an event have to help us understand natural laws? If, by process of elimination, scientific techniques eliminated natural or physical causes for the transmutation of water into wine, then a scientific explanation points to a supernatural cause. To ask whether that additionally helps us understand natural laws is a red herring.

      “Predict chemical reactions?”

      Once again, you’re repeating yourself, despite the fact that I already addressed that objection. Are you claiming that every scientific explanation or verification must be predictive?

      Is there some reason you can’t adapt your position to new challenges? Is that why you keep falling back on your prepared answers, even when they are not responsive to the actual state of the argument?

      “The magic could have really happened, but it doesn’t advance the goal of science to incorporate magic water to wine observations into current theories.”

      Shouldn’t the goal of science be to arrive at a true understanding of what happened? You trivialize science by making methodology the goal of science, rather that putting methodology at the service of a quest for true understanding.

      And if current theories can’t accommodate reality, then so much the worse for current theories. If miracles really happen, then current theories need to make allowance for that fact. If they don’t, then they ought to be revised.

      You have an anti-intellectual habit of starting with prescriptive, man-made rules rather than starting with a man-independent reality to be discovered.

    • steve hays

      “I never said all sciences use the exact same methods, rather, that all have in common the isolation of variables, holding others constant, and using experience to gauge the effects of variables of interest. Most scientists and philosophers of science doubt the possibility of reducing all of scientific inquiry to the subject of physics. Physics, after all, underlies everything, since everything is composed of matter. I suggest you listen more closely to what was actually said next time. Pointless jabs that create more heat than light, aren’t they?”

      Since you can’t quote me attributing to you the claim that all scientific inquiry is reducible to physics, you’re the one who needs to turn up the hearing aid.

      “By repeatable, I mean that another researcher or scientists could conduct the same line of inquiry under similar conditions and arrive at the same observation or conclusion.”

      What if similar conditions are not repeatable? You keep defaulting to a laboratory model.

      “This can and should be expected to occur in any scientific or systematic domain of inquiry, including archaeology or history.”

      Historical conditions are repeatable?

      “What I meant by a select few is one or two people who observed something, but the observation can’t be replicated by creating the same conditions.”

      Recreating a large comet or meteorite striking the earth? How do you go about that, exactly?

      “Physicists all over the world can ‘recreate’ the conditions that gave rise to the Higgs Boson. Your example is very silly.”

      And do you refuse to believe in the Higgs Boson until that’s replicated?

      BTW, you have a habit of making sloppy statements and hasty generalizations. When challenged, you scale back your original claim or tack on qualifications you failed to mention the first time around, then act as if this is what you really meant all along. Sorry, but you don’t get advance credit for what you didn’t say at the time you said it.

    • steve hays

      “Steve, this example sucks, man! Science doesn’t conduct investigation based solely on eyewitness observation. They could search for a meteorite impact site, for blast patterns that one would expect from a meteorite, for applying what is already known about meteorite impacts, acceleration, the forces involved, etc.”

      This is yet another instance of your carelessness. Did I say they based their conclusion solely on eyewitness testimony? No. And, in fact, I specifically mentioned the blast pattern. Did you miss that?

      You bring up the blast pattern as if you’re supplementing what I said. As if I wasn’t the one who initially mentioned that.

      You keep overestimating yourself and underestimating your opponents. That constantly trips you up.

      The question at issue is whether eyewitness testimony to the falling object would legitimately figure in a scientific explanation, even if that was only viewed by a “select few.” Do you now understand the argument?

      “Karl Popper introduced this concept. It’s a crucial feature of scientific explanations, but isn’t a sufficient one.”

      To say falsification is a crucial feature of scientific explanation is a highly contested claim. No don’t that’s ideal. No doubt scientists would like that to be the case. But is it realistic?

      “The frame of reference consists of simpler scientific ideas/theories that have been proven correct by experience. Why is this difficult to understand? Galileo’s experiments with gravitational acceleration didn’t require knowledge of some magical ‘given’ that is known apart from experience. Only folks who anchor on philosophy and ignore other disciplines are confused about how this works.”

      That’s still circular or regressive. For you’re asserting that scientific claims must be tested against a scientifically interpreted world. But since the comparative framework is, itself, a scientific construct, what’s the standard for that? Can science bootstrap its own criteria?

    • steve hays

      Your superior attitude isn’t translating into superior argumentation. Maybe you need to spend less time cultivating a superior attitude and spend more time cultivating a superior argument. For, as it stands, the gap between your intellectual tone and your intellectual performance is conspicuous.

      “’Accessible.’ A forensic scientist won’t identify the cause of death as ‘Lightning Strike Via God.’”

      But what if the cause of death *was* a lightning strike via God? What if, on a clear day, the victim looked up at the sky, shook his fist at God, and challenged the Almighty to strike him dead–followed by a deadly thunderbolt a moment later? Or perhaps a sudden, localized thunderstorm out of the blue?

      “He/she would give a physical description based on evidence that could be replicated under similar conditions. This isn’t a hard concept to wrap your head around. Most of your examples are answered easily enough. As long as a researcher can replicate the conditions that gave rise to the observation, and observe the same thing, it can count as scientific.”

      So the forensic scientist should recruit another human to stand outside, then coax a bolt of lighting to strike him dead.

      “Most of these supernatural events you reference are not of this type.”

      Assuming they happen, if they are not of this type, how should they be dealt with?

      “I hope my previous example illustrated what I mean when I say that scientific conclusions have to be capable of being replicated by other researchers in order to verify the findings.”

      No, you’ve only spoken in vague generalities.

      “If…if the prayer was answered. Do we know if the prayer even took place? How many people witnessed the prayer?”

      Once again, you have difficulty following the argument. As I said at the outset, you don’t have to believe any of this really happened. That’s not the point.

    • steve hays

      You need to keep track of your own argument. That’s what I’m responding to.

      You’ve indicated that, as a matter of principle, scientific explanations can never acknowledge or incorporate supernatural factors. I’m giving hypothetical examples that pose limiting-conditions on your claim. Are there hypothetical situations in which a scientific explanation would overlap with a supernatural explanation?

      If so, then you can’t exclude supernaturally-informed scientific explanations in principle. If, however, there is no conceivable situation in which you’d allow science to admit a supernatural explanation, even though that was the best explanation, then you’ve buffered science from God at the cost of buffering science from reality. You are so concerned to insulate science from the supernatural that you insulate science from the truth.

      “Wow, were did all these assumptions come from? How do you know any of this really happened?”

      This is the third time you’ve repeated the same mistake. Your attitude is especially ironic considering the role of thought-experiments in science.

      The question at issue, Ryan, is whether you can erect a wall between scientific explanations and supernatural explanations. Is that a principled distinction, or just an ad hoc distinction to shield your atheism?

      The problem, Ryan, is that unless reality is, in fact, compartmentalized, your attempt to keep supernaturalism at bay is artificial. Methodological naturalism is only warranted if metaphysical naturalism is true. If nature is all there is, then you can properly exclude supernatural explanations. But methological naturalism can’t make that call.

      If, in fact, there are two domains–nature and supernature–then you can’t stipulate that these two domains never interact.

    • rockingwithhawking

      Ryan said:

      “Who are all these random people coming to Steve’s defense?”

      Come on, man. No need to get your feathers all ruffled. This is an open blog. Anyone is free to comment.

      By the way, if you’re referring to me, I’m not coming to Steve’s defense. I’m sure he does just fine on his own.

      “My only goal was to expose a decided lack of willingness to be objective, impartial, and fluent in science and analytic philosophy.”

      Seriously? Anyone can read or re-read your previous comments and see that’s hardly been your “only goal”!

      More importantly, you’re coming into this with your own fairly strong presuppositions, which is fine, but one could make the case you’re hardly “willing” to be “objective” and “impartial” based on your own comments in this thread.

    • steve hays

      “If a study eliminated other possible variables, held the witchcraft factor constant, and noticed a direct effect exerted on the natural world by witchcraft, then you bet it could be incorporated into science.”

      So you’re conceding that scientific explanations can’t exclude supernatural factors ahead of time. But in that event, methodological naturalism is premature and prejudicial. Indeed, methodological naturalism is the enemy of scientific inquiry, for it presumes to know what explanations are possible or actual before we even study the event or sift the evidence.

      “And, most importantly, none such occurrence has been witnessed to date, so your thought experiments – so far detached from reality – are almost pointless.”

      Christian exorcists claim otherwise.

      “Even field studies involve isolating variables or drawing correlative relationships between variables. You know this…right?”

      You’ve bundled two claims into one. You know this…right?

      “No, because when establishing causation, he/she will undoubtedly try to isolate any other possible variable that’s affecting their behavior. Honestly, why is the concept of isolating variables, holding others constant, and testing for the effects of the variable of interest so difficult?”

      Does a zoologist have to establish causation to publish a field report of what he saw? You keep confusing description with explanation. Honestly, why is that distinction so difficult?

      “One need not interfere with nature to eliminate other possible causes for the observed behavior.”

      Once again, reporting on what he saw doesn’t require him to establish causes or eliminate causes.

      “I gave an example of how – at core – all scientific investigation shares important features that are absent in other areas, like divine revelation, theology, philosophy.”

      You gave an example of something I never denied, as if you were refuting something I said.

    • steve hays

      “Mohammad claims to have been visited by the archangel Gabriel in a cave. Honestly, do you not know any of this?”

      This is another example of how you make hasty generalizations, backpedal when challenged, yet act as if your newly-chastened, newly-pared down claim, was what you originally said.

      You initially made a blanket claim about “Eyewitnesses wrote the Koran, the Vedas, Homer’s Iliad, the Satanic bible, the epic of Gilgamesh…”

      But a lot of the Koran is clearly not based on eyewitness observation, even ostensibly. For instance, Muhammad summarizes his garbled, thirdhand knowledge of OT history and NT history.

      Furthermore, your latest, modified statement won’t salvage your claims about the Vedas, Iliad, Epic of Gilgamesh, or “Satanic bible” (whatever that refers to).

      “Non-sequitur! Annoying, isn’t it?”

      Since you offer no supporting argument, no, it’s not annoying.

      “So, you really think God’s existence is such a given that anyone who denies it due to a perceived lack of evidence is crazy or willfully ignorant? Is this really what you think?”

      If you ask, I’d say you’ve been giving us a personal object lesson–albeit unwittingly.

      “For example, literal interpretations of Genesis are falsified by science.”

      Except for all the scientists who disagree with you.

      “Science doesn’t say supernatural realms don’t exist. Science says: We aren’t equipped to deal with supernatural claims…”

      That’s not what science says. That’s what Ryan says. That’s why atheists say. And that self-imposed blindfold is an impediment to real science.

      “…to test them, to replicate them and their findings, and to use that to predict the behavior of matter.”

      Did you memorize these phrases on flash cards? You keep reciting the same slogans, even though I’m pointed out how your characterization overshoots the mark.

      “I don’t hate Christianity. You, however, love making unjustified inferences about motives.”

      You’re a militant apostate. An evangelist for…

    • steve hays

      “Rowe’s argument doesn’t run counter to fire ecology! It only deals with the apparent pointlessness of the fawn’s arbitrary suffering…”

      Given fire ecology, Bambi’s demise in the forest fire isn’t pointless or arbitrary.

      “…and how this counts as some evidence against the existence of an infinitely perfect, powerful God.”

      So you keep saying, in the teeth of the counterargument.

    • rockingwithhawking

      Ryan said:

      “I have a philosophy degree. I went back to school recently for a M.S. degree (graduate science degree)”.

      Just like your above claim about “peer-reviewed articles,” this is a fairly vague statement. There are a lot of different sorts of “graduate science degree[s]”. For example, there are master of science degrees in accounting, finance, economics, various social sciences. A few universities offer master of science degrees in philosophy too. But obviously these wouldn’t necessarily involve the same sort of scientific background required in graduate fields of biology, chemistry, or physics.

      Likewise there are master of science degrees in computer science and different areas of engineering. Not to mention mathematics. But again research in these fields don’t necessarily involve the same scientific background as would be required in biology, chemistry, or physics. At least not without some crossover (e.g. bioengineering).

    • rockingwithhawking

      I’m sorry for the bluntness, but I think it’s necessary in this case: Ryan is a bully. He bullies Christians who are not as well versed in apologetics (given he claims he was once an aspiring Christian apologist), debate tactics, and the like as he is. It’d be fairer for him to debate Christians who have had some experience in debate. Take some of the Christians who comment over on Triablogue. I’d recommend Triablogue as an apologetics venue worth checking out.

    • Ryan

      I can’t do this with you forever, Steve. I have some actual science to study.

      “Would that be an example of “extreme overconfidence typical of pseudointellectuals and a highly selective understanding of science/philosophy in ways that favor your position” on your part?”

      No, this is a common distinction in philosophy of science, one that dominates the subject. I’m surprised you haven’t encountered it before. Christian apologists can hijack the word all they like. You know what I mean by the distinction, so playing coy to obfuscate and avoid adding to the discussion just won’t cut it.

      “Irrelevant. I already prefaced the example by framing it as a hypothetical case. Did you miss that?”

      If natural laws changed every second, then all scientific laws are invalid. Therefore, any statement that scientific laws are based on predictability and the repetition of numerous studies that derive the same result is therefore potentially false, just because of my hypothetical syllogism. You guys waste so much time divorcing your reason from what experience actually reveals to be the case.

      “So is this your backdoor admission that your effort to compartmentalize scientific explanations from supernatural explanations breaks down?”

      No, because the scientist might believe the cause is supernatural, but no other scientist could presumably replicate the results by creating similar conditions. Do you still not understand the difference between methodological and metaphysical naturalism? I can believe in the supernatural, but not incorporate it into scientific theories. Get off the computer and go take a philosophy of science course.

      “You have a habit of repeating yourself, but I already addressed that. Are you claiming that every scientific explanation must yield additional scientific theories or laws? If not, your statement is a diversionary tactic.”

      Not necessarily. But it needs to jibe with current known theories, laws and facts.

    • Ryan

      “Why does scientific verification of an event have to help us understand natural laws? If, by process of elimination, scientific techniques eliminated natural or physical causes for the transmutation of water into wine, then a scientific explanation points to a supernatural cause.”

      The conclusion needs to agree with known scientific findings. Transmutation does not. Your dealing in the hypothetical realm of the imaginary to refute the scientific enterprise. I can create any number of hypotheticals that would – if true – refute the reliability of scientific inquiry. But the hypotheticals aren’t real. This is why rationalism is dead among those who actually contribute to our body of knowledge and advance our scientific knowledge. Some of the religious still cling to it and refuse to advance with the rest of us.

      “Shouldn’t the goal of science be to arrive at a true understanding of what happened? You trivialize science by making methodology the goal of science, rather that putting methodology at the service of a quest for true understanding.”

      Yes. Experience has taught us that true understanding is reliably obtained by the scientific method. History clearly shows that science is by far the most superior way of predicting our world and solving our problems. So far, supernatural claims haven’t withstood this scrutiny. Sorry.

      “Since you can’t quote me attributing to you the claim that all scientific inquiry is reducible to physics, you’re the one who needs to turn up the hearing aid.”

      I know you didn’t. But my goal in this discussion isn’t just to win an argument. It’s also to track truth. Some of us have grown up. And my point was to say that, while science takes slightly different forms depending on the line of inquiry, it all has in common isolating variables and holding others constant so the effects of variables can be measured. This was in response to your criticism that my characterization of science was narrow.

    • C Michael Patton

      Folks, this is the last warning.

      Steve, please don’t post so many comments.

      Ryan, you have already been warned. I suppose that what I say does not matter?

      • C Michael Patton

        I am only involved here due to it being an older post and it exploding with comments again just lately. Once this happens, it grabs my eye, even though I know that the rules are broken on a daily basis that I don’t know about.

        This is highly charged. Emotions are high. When this happens, blogs like this do very little to advance any cause. They usually just end up wasting time. Finish up here. I don’t want to have to close this down…I just don’t have time to moderate.

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