December 21, 2004

Christian Naturalism

I've been talking about miracles a lot lately, and the subject has also come up in an otherwise excellent essay I was reading, "On Being a Christian Academic" by William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig unfortunately makes the mistake of assuming that several philosophical doctrines (e.g. platonism in philosophy of mathematics) are clearly repugnant to Christianity, when, in fact, they may have Christian interprettations. To this end, I am writing today about miracles and, in particular, my own view; a sort of Christian naturalism. By naturalism I do not mean materialism (my metaphysics, at present, is neo-Berkleyan in nature, and as such I believe not only that minds exist non-physically, but that the physical exists only insofar as these minds perceive it). Nor do I mean the denial of a "first philosophy" ontically prior to natural science (this sort of move is patently ridiculous, despite its current popularity. A sound metaphysics and philosophy of science are needed in order to interpret scientific evidence, and so natural science is clearly dependent on them). What I do mean, is the belief that every occurence in the physical world is governed by a set of fundamental laws to which there are no exceptions. This has been argued from a purely secular philosophical perspective countless times, so I will not repeat these arguments. Rather, I will argue from Scripture in favor of this view, and then provide a theory of miracles based upon it.

First, the Bible: In Genesis 8:22, God promises, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night, shall not cease." The sun and the moon and the constancy of their orbits are frequently used in Scripture as illustrations of constancy (see, e.g., Psalm 72). In fact, this kind of constancy and naturalism is what distinguishes the Biblical account of creation from the Pagan myths preceding it; in the Biblical version, rational explanations are available. The sun and moon are lamps God placed in the heavens, not gods themselves. Every living thing is made to reproduce after its own kind. Everything is regular, orderly, and predictable.

This is not to be construed as an argument for deism, or the autonomy of nature. God didn't just set nature in motion and leave it to do what it wanted. Rather, this is an illustration of another Biblical truth: The constancy of God (see, e.g., Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6). The God of the Bible is rational. He is not haphazard, unreliable, or random. Everything He does is for a purpose as part of some greater plan. If one defines a "miracle" to be an exception to the laws of nature, then certainly a miracle is, by its very definition, an argument for the supernatural generally - but it is an argument against the Judeo-Christian God. A God who causes exceptions to the laws of nature He set forth is not the kind of constant and changeless God the Scriptures describe.

What are these laws of nature? The doctrine that there are inviolate laws of nature follows directly from the constancy of God and the utter dependence of the creation upon Him. The laws of nature are observed regularities in the simplest aspects of the will of God. God wills force to be equal to mass times acceleration. All the time. (Well, actually we now know that this is really just an approximation for objects within a certain range of sizes in the same inertial frame or some such nonsense - I don't know, ask a physicist. But that's beside the point). God wills matter to be equivalent to an amount of energy equal to the mass of the matter multiplied by the square of the speed of light. All the time. He is constant. He doesn't change His mind about these things ("God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind." - Numbers 23:19).

What's a miracle, then? A miracle is an event in which the "higher functions" of the divine consciousness, i.e. the part equivalent to the conscious functioning of the human mind, that makes plans and designs regarding human lives and the like, are more apparent than the "lower functions" which are the laws of nature. To put it more simply (but less precisely) a miracle occurs when the laws of nature conspire together to acheive some intelligent end. These sorts of miracles are a definite argument not just for the existence of a spiritual being in general, but for the existence of the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

Posted by Kenny at December 21, 2004 3:46 PM
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Comments

Indeed, the natural laws which God wills to be are very much so miracles. Amazing and a great display of Gods trancendent intellect and creativity. But what is to be said about the happenings that occur not in accord with these natural laws. Are you say that such events are not from God?

Posted by: GRC at December 27, 2004 11:53 PM

I'm saying that there are no such events. God's natural laws are absolutely binding on all of Creation. If there seems to be an exception, then either our observation or our formulation of the law in question is incorrect. Many events appear to contradict natural laws, but I claim, along with modern science, that none of them actually do.

Posted by: Kenny Pearce at December 28, 2004 12:22 PM

That makes perfect sense. There is human error in the interpertation of the natural laws.

Posted by: GRC at January 2, 2005 4:22 PM

I just came to this while doing a search, and i know this is an older matter. But as I understand Craig (and from his writing on the latter chapters of a book he co-authored with Moreland: "Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview), the kinds of implications Platonism would have would be a compromise on our understanding of God's aseity... that upon Him all else is dependent for their existence. God is the only being whose existence is necessary, and if we should find one other entity that is said to eternally co-exist with God, we have a sort of metaphysical pluralism. I suppose it's more of a matter of the existential sovereignty of God over all other things which derive the reason for their existence from him, not independently of him.

Posted by: Daniel at June 21, 2006 3:18 PM

Daniel, Malebranche would be called a (small p) platonist with regard to mathematics. On his view, the mathematical ideas are necessary entities existing within the mind of God - that is, the nature of God is such that he must have these ideas. Thus the ideas are simultaneously metaphysically necessary and dependent on God. This is just one example of how this might work.

Posted by: Kenny at June 21, 2006 3:31 PM

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