Is a Miracle Unscientific?

By now, many of you know I believe there is a conflict between religion and science. It’s not simply the case they have different methods and different bodies of knowledge; it’s that this difference exists while they try to answer questions in the same field. There is a scientific way of distinguishing life from death and it has to do with the brain and physiological function, and the absence of such function. Religious talk of the soul and of resurrection is in direct conflict with both the methods of science and what is scientifically known about science.

(I am responding to this blog post.)

There’s more than one type of ‘it’s a miracle’ claim. The most pedestrian of these―“I found my keys! Hallelujah”―need not concern us. However, ‘it’s so rare/unlikely an event and it conforms to my religious narrative’ miracle (unlikely miracles) and ‘I believe it happened even though I understand all rational enquiry suggests not just that it did not happen, but that it could not happen’ miracles (impossible miracles). Just to add some flesh to the bones of those two, I’ll offer some examples. Religions are rife with impossible miracles: the virgin birth, the resurrection, the great flood, flying to Heaven on a winged horse. Unlikely miracles are more likely to arise in people’s daily lives: a baby survivor in a terrible tragedy, for example; or the face of Jesus appearing in breakfast foods.

More than once I have had religious people try to explain the impossible miracle of the flood to me in terms of an unlikely miracle. This means they acknowledge that the impossible flood narratives remove their religion―or those claims, at the very least―from the domain of “reasonable faith”. Kent Hovind, for example, argues that the flood was caused by a massive store of water above the Earth (which answers the question of where the water came from, but not where it went). I’ve also been told that the water all came from underground at such an immense pressure that it fired up and hit the moon (which explains where it went, but not how it ever hung around to be considered a flood instead of a geyser). I use the word “explains” here more loosely than is advisable.

Despite this translation of impossible miracles into unlikely miracles, there are still proponents who advocate impossible miracles happen. As so they should, I believe. There’s not much point reducing the Bible to a list of unlikely miracles, confusions and tricks and still claiming they stand as evidence for a God. It does great damage to God’s reputations to claim Moses actually crossed the Reed Sea or that the Red Sea separated because of tectonic movements. It does little to encourage one of the majesty of Jesus if his resurrection were actually just a case of being mistaken for dead after being tortured and given a suspect bitter wine to drink. For religious realities to actually make sense, some of these must actually be impossible miracles.

Let’s look at the resurrection and ask ourselves this: does science have a position on the resurrection? Afterall, no scientist was there. There is no repeatable experiment we could carry out to tell us directly whether Jesus was resurrected or not. There’s no video to review and no interview with God to conduct. Just like the pair of pants I was wearing when I wrote this (15/12/2015), the resurrection of Jesus is just a fact lost to time. You can’t even be sure I was wearing pants when I wrote this, or that I wrote this on the date I just claimed I did.

Except, it is a crippled caricature of science of imagine that every single detail must be directly observed. None of you have ever met me (except Kataryna, if she still reads this). Yet, if I claim I am a kangaroo and by way of an impossible miracle I operate technology and think at the same level as human being, you will be unconvinced. This is because you have some sort of understanding of how things operate. Perhaps you have seen the research into measuring the relative intelligence levels of various animals. That understanding has reach and the research has a little more reach again: kangaroos aren’t discursive operators of technology. Humans are, and various types of non-human primates can be taught to do it to varying levels (but never the level I am currently demonstrating), but certainly not kangaroos. Your understanding has sufficient reach for you to not need to investigate whether I am a kangaroo, even if―by way of “explanation”―I tell you it is a case of me being an impossible miracle.

(I expect to see comments emerge below that denigrate me for the ‘Kangaroo analogy’ and berate the comparison. I expect these comments to be lacking in actual substance but for the commenter to feel they have presented a cogent reason they can distinguish between the miracles of the intelligent kangaroo those of the resurrection. Keep an eye out for such comments (as well as coherent comments) because if there is a complete absence of comments with good explanations and a few really bad explanations, that stands as evidence (although, not the best evidence) that the distinction between impossible miracles one believes and ones one does not believe is preference.)

That a body of knowledge that allows us to make claims about a presented miracles exists can be said of the resurrection. We have examples of people being dead for three days. What happens in all these cases is they go on to be dead for four days, and then five days, and it goes on like this. They do not come back. It is not merely a case of induction (i.e. it’s what always happens, thus it always will): there exists sufficient understanding of biology to explain reasons why no one ever comes back from the dead, but also of a good explanatory crane. Enough biopsies and autopsies and dissections and surgeries and research has been done as to create this understanding of biology. The scientific understanding of biology is such that we can have a robust stance on the resurrection of Jesus: it didn’t happen.

The ‘nonoverlapping magisteria’ argument states that this is a case of science attempting to operate outside of its purview; that there is a domain in which science has the answers and a domain in which religion has its answers (and, presumably, other domains where other lines of enquiry have their answers). It’s akin to attempting to use your chemistry textbook to answer English literature questions. For certain genres of question this distinction is very clear. The question “how do we secure a supply of sufficient clean water?” and the question “what is the nature of God?” clearly belong to different camps, and as a result one can answer the questions to different levels of certainty, using different methods. But on the question of impossible miracles, both seem to be invading in each other’s territory. Does this claim of an impossible miracle really supersede the scientific enquiry? If one could demonstrate that miracles were necessarily outside the purview of science I would concede they are ‘non science’ and trying to apply science to them is irrational. However, it seems this is a case of overlapping magisteria. It is therefore either scientific or unscientific to claim miracles happened.

The argument then goes that God did and science can’t prove that God didn’t do it. Therefore it is non-science. The problem is that this offers no good explanation. It is as valid to argue that Jesus was resurrected as it is to argue that I am a kangaroo. Because: miracle. This argument could be applied to anything and thus remove it from the purview of science. Watch as I “explain” why germ theory is non-science: you can’t prove God didn’t do it. Evaporate away, Boyle’s Law: you can’t prove God didn’t do it. Computers? God. Such a vague statement is by no means a rational explanation. The defence makes the schoolboy error of confusing “you can’t disprove…” with “… is a reasonable idea”. You can’t disprove I am God, therefore that I am God is a reasonable idea.

It’s difficult to dismiss out-of-hand the fact that miracles implicitly request to be excused from scientific enquiry, by claiming to belong exclusively to the religious magesteria. And Stephen Jay Gould didn’t give us any indication of what to do when his “nonoverlapping magisteria” seemed very much to overlap. We could evaluate the credibility of miracle claims. For example, we could look at the parting of the Red Sea. That may be a miracle the facts of which are lost to time (like my pants), but it’s an element in the story of Exodus. Evidence for Exodus doesn’t support the parting of the Red Sea, but no evidence for Exodus is a serious problem for the parting of the Red Sea. And, despite looking, there is no evidence for the story of Exodus; there’s no archaeological evidence for the mass migration of thousands and thousands of people; no settlements, no homes, no property. Nothing. The credibility of the Bible as a source of knowledge for impossibly miraculous things is poor.

One rebuttal is that science deals with that which ‘normally’ happens and that miracles are a very different type of claim. Although all the words are different, this is actually just a restating of the assertion that impossible miracles happen; that they aren’t normal and don’t belong to the science magisterium. It doesn’t support or explain the assertion, it simply says it again in different language. But it does call for a slightly different response. See, science does occasionally make probabilistic or likelihood based claims. Take, for example the average height of different genders: men are generally taller than women. That is the statistically ‘normal’ situation. However, that claim is steeped in statistics, tendencies, trends and uncertainty. If certainly doesn’t tell you all men are taller than all women. But not all science talks in probabilistic or likelihood terms. It is the case that the best understandings and explanations we have in biology do not allow for ‘normal tendencies’ and ‘occasional exceptions’ on the question of death: the resurrection is not a bell-curve anomalie. To assert there is this other domain of physical events that are not just unknown or unknowable, but actively violate the knowable in unpredictable ways disarms one of the ability to tell nonsense from sensible claims. Anything could just be, by way of miracles.

To take the claims of impossible miracles seriously, we have to ignore the normal types of thinking we do in all other cases and ignore the science on every related concern. Our normal types of thinking exclude impossible miracles, like me being a kangaroo. We must abandon all enquiry and choose to accept the presented miracle regardless of its credibility or coherence, but you won’t make such a decision for my claim that I am a kangaroo despite the fact I am indeed a kangaroo. This distinction is not one of reasoned enquiry but of convenience. By contrast, the applicability of science to the issue of Jesus’ resurrection and my taxonomy can be established by reasonable enquiry. Just like the fact seas don’t part and humans don’t perform pathenogenesis, people don’t come back after being dead for three days. These are not probabilistic statements that deal with what ‘normally’ happens, but a statement of our best understanding.

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129 thoughts on “Is a Miracle Unscientific?”

  1. If you were to attach an audio version of the above it would still fall on deaf ears. I ran over to read the post you are responding to and, well, the author is clueless. The kind of thinking displayed is exactly what happens when someone makes up his mind and then looks for evidence to support his position.

    If I were to speak to that author I would ask him “Other than what some others tell you, how do you “know” or believe this?” And “If you base what you “know” or believe on others, how do they know. If he says, “because Jesus tells me so,” as in the child’s song, then he hasn’t read the Bible.

    Most Christians can’t even resolve the problem of the NT and OT. I ask: is Genesis true? I ask: should we follow the 10 Commandments? If they say yes to either, I then lead them to their point that the reason that they don’t follow the 600+ other Commandments in the OT is because the “Law” of the Jews was superseded by Jesus. How can these people defend theologically/scriptually the OT when they also claim the NT supersedes it?

    Their arguments (above) are not only very weak scientifically, they are very weak theologically.

    1. I’m making an effort to not get caught up in the comments of these people for that exact reason. They willfully foster an echo chamber, where their ways of “thinking” (and I use that term loosely) is not ridiculous. Good argumentation and evidence will not hold sway there.
      But most of my religious readers are more open minded, and so I suspect my ideas will penetrate a little deeper with my readers than their readers.
      (Plus, if I manage to put into words things other people were thinking but hadn’t articulated, I’m just adding to arsenal of improving the context and environment for safely raising religious doubt.)

      I do wonder what a strong theological argument would look like in Christianity. There’s so many contradictions and little surprises between the OT and NT (and even between chapters inside them) that I doubt such a thing exists.

  2. Here’s an “impossible miracle” for you: the universe exists. Faith in unsupported-by-an-evidence multiverses notwithstanding, we know of no means by which universes can come into existence. How does the “logic” of the O/P transfer to this (rather more uncontroversial in its occurrence) event?

      1. The common understanding (possibly somewhat metaphorical) is that the Big Bang was an event. Do you really want to nitpick that?

        1. Yes. I really do.
          One is a claim for which I have evidence and agree is correct (‘the universe exists’) the other I do not know whether it is correct, and there is a rather long and tiresome game of making sure we understand each other’s language before we can even express to each other what our levels of understanding are (‘The universe came from the ‘Big Bang’ some finite amount of time ago’).

          Which of the claims are you here to discuss?

  3. The O/P makes liberal use of the word “science”; we understand something about science. Science is ultimately the search for explanations of things. How do you feel about the search for the explanation of “the universe exists”.

      1. Let me try again: What do you think of the fact that the universe exists? Is its existence a “given” (a “brute fact”)? Is it meaningful to consider its incipience? What can we conclude from what we know about how the universe came to be as it is?

        1. What do you think of the fact that the universe exists?
          It makes blogging easier.

          Is its existence a “given” (a “brute fact”)?
          I think you’d be extraordinarily hard pushed to doubt the existence of the universe. Does that mean the same thing as it being a ‘brute fact’?

          Is it meaningful to consider its incipience?
          Of course. But it’s probably more meaningful to make sure you have some understanding or working definition of what a universe is, first.

          What can we conclude from what we know about how the universe came to be as it is?
          Literally everything we know is a conclusion of how the universe is.

          Why don’t you ask the question you mean to ask? Then, I’ll ask you to define your terms.
          After you do that, I’ll give a brief account of what I am aware of on the issue. Then I’ll get back to the question of a miracle.

  4. Your first demonstrates a disinclination to approach things scientifically. Your second demonstrates a philosophical ignorance. Your third demonstrates an inability to read with comprehension. If you don’t want to engage the question, fine; but please don’t pretend I haven’t been asking it.

    1. Doug, before you start making assertions about this universe, could you let me know how many other universes you’ve studied so as to arrive at these assertions/assumptions of yours?

      And just a word of advice, you might try and tame that ego of yours. You come across as a colossal assclown.

      1. Presumably, ad hominems are encouraged in this combox because, they are — you know — totally scientific? Get over yourself, John.

      2. And since you seem to have missed an important distinction, I’ve been asking questions about the universe, not making assertions.

        1. Based, evidently, on certain assumptions/assertions you already have.

          So, Doug, before continuing, could you let me know how many other universes you’ve studied so as to arrive at whatever assertions/assumptions you have of this universe?

          I look forward to your answer.

    2. My first answer didn’t approach your question scientifically because the question wasn’t a science question. Just a reminder, the question was: “What do you think of the fact that the universe exists?”
      My answer is that it’s convenient.

      My second answer expressed two philosophical sentiments: ‘I think therefore I am’ and doubt in the meaningfulness of your use of the term “brute fact”. I have no idea where my philosophical ignorance is in that.

      My third answer said that if you want to consider something’s coming into being, you must be sure you know what the thing is. I’m not sure how you think I lacked comprehension there.

      I am answering the questions you are asking. It’s just that I also suspect that you are not asking the questions you want answers to.

    1. Please don’t play silly evasive tactics, and do please use the Reply button.

      Doug, before continuing, could you let me know how many other universes you’ve studied so as to arrive at whatever assertions/assumptions you have of this universe?

      1. 1. The “reply” button disappears after a number of “levels
        2. Don’t be a jerk. I come asking questions, and everyone dances around them. Then you ask a question, and if I don’t answer right away, you get to pretend I need to answer it immediately. Nice try.

        1. Doug, do please address the question put to you.

          Doug, before continuing, could you let me know how many other universes you’ve studied so as to arrive at whatever assertions/assumptions you have of this universe?

  5. @John,
    Not my blog. Michael doesn’t censor anyone (at first — you need to be really rude to get booted) — he’s busy, and if you made your first comment on his blog, he’ll give it a once-over. Same thing happens here — only Allallt was able to put it through in reasonable time. Have patience.

    1. Well, for one, that this universe came to be as it is, as you put it. That smacks of teleology. It would appear you’re assuming design. So, back to the question you keep evading:

      Doug, before continuing, could you let me know how many other universes you’ve studied so as to arrive at whatever assertions/assumptions you have of this universe?

      Please address it.

      1. Wow. Your reading comprehension needs work — I asked Allallt “What can we conclude from what we know about how the universe came to be as it is?” and you turn that into an “assertion”? Do you deny that the universe is “as it is”? Do you deny that it wasn’t always this way and thus “came to be as it is”?John, unless you can do better at characterizing my “assertions/assumptions”, don’t hold your breath for an answer.

        1. Doug, you said, “came to be as it is.” That is an assumption. You are assuming it could be some other way. I’m interested in this. Hence the question:

          Can you let me know how many other universes you’ve studied to make the assumptions you’re making?

          I look forward to reviewing your answer.

        2. But it was some other way, at other stages in its timeline. It’s been smaller and hotter and denser.
          The thing you’d need other universes for it to establish probabilities of what has occurred. Is ours a normal universe? An exceptional universe? How many standard deviations out it is? Or it is basically a median value?
          “Likelihood” is theory driven; “probability” is data drive. We don’t have enough information for a robust theory to establish likelihood, and we certainly don’t have a big enough sample to establish a probability.

          I think this might be the argument you’re aiming at.
          But, that the universe has changed seems uncontroversial. That’s why we have a last scattering background — and it is only because the early universe (which you may remember that I define roughly as this pocket of intelligibility — which began 13.8 billion years ago) was different that it could be heterogeneous and give way to planets and galaxies.

          Although, I didn’t expect to see that answer coming from Doug any time soon. He used you as an out from the conversation I was having. It was going to get all “un-moved first mover” and “non-contingent cause” up in here!

          I wonder if Doug can get us there.

        3. Just for you, Doug, I have updated my Glossary page (allallt.wordpress.com/glossary)
          You will find a small discussion at the bottom that articulates part of the problem with the question I suspect you were alluding to (but never quite asked).

  6. @John,
    Really: I came asking a question. But you ignored it. Instead, you insist that I must (for some unspecified reason) answer your question. But I object to the framing of the question. If you have a more sensible one, I’d be willing to attempt to answer. Better yet, perhaps you could answer mine?

    1. “Came to be as it is”. It is one way. I agree. How many other ways are you aware of? What are the odds of this universe being the way it is, Doug?

      You can see why my question is valid, can’t you?

      So, once again:

      Doug, before continuing, could you let me know how many other universes you’ve studied so as to arrive at whatever assertions/assumptions you have of this universe?

      1. John/Allallt, before continuing, could you let me know how many other resurrections you’ve studied so as to arrive at whatever assertions/assumptions you have of the resurrection of Jesus?

        1. If you read my post, is the examples of death that apply here. Although, as John points out, all resurrection examples are fiction.

  7. @Allallt,

    that the universe has changed seems uncontroversial.

    Whew. Something we can agree on. Might John be so kind as to also acknowledge this blindingly obvious fact? So… are you familiar with the ancient (pre-Christian, even) arguments that start with observing that change occurs and end with the “non-contingent” cause you mention? Any response to them?

  8. @John/Allallt,
    One of you suggests that Jesus’ resurrection is (at least in some way) represented by fictional accounts.
    The other suggests that Jesus’ resurrection is (at least in some way) represented by the (roughly) 75 billion people who have lived and died, and not resurrected.
    Which is it? It can’t be both. Let me know when you decide?

      1. I’m happy to answer your question in kind, John. There is the Star Wars universe; there is the Doctor Who universe, there is the Star Trek universe; there is the Foundation universe; there is the Dune universe; there is the…
        Happy now?

        1. These are all this universe, inhabited by humans, just represented at different times.

          I’m afraid the question stands.

          You’ve avoided answering this nine times already. Are we really going for a tenth?

          Doug, before continuing, please tell me how many universes you’ve studied so as to arrive at whatever assertions/assumptions you have of this one?

    1. One line of argument is ‘every other account of a resurrection is intentionally fictional’. Another line of argument is that ‘dead people are dead and don’t come back 3days later’.
      Two different (and valid) arguments, two different datasets. John gave you the one you asked for, I told you why what you asked for isn’t the point.

  9. The scientific understanding of biology is such that we can have a robust stance on the resurrection of Jesus: it didn’t happen.

    After a brief visit to the glossary, I have a word for this: faith. You’re pretending to know something that you don’t know. The scientific understanding of biology is so primitive, we can’t even begin to imagine how life came into existence. (and yes, John, that is a legitimate assertion: life came into existence). So I guess we fall back to induction (and all its inherent weaknesses) then?

    1. we can’t even begin to imagine how life came into existence.

      Complete and utter nonsense.

      In 1953, Stanley L. Miller and Harold C. Urey set out to test Alexander Oparin’s and J. B. S. Haldane’s hypothesis that conditions on the primitive Earth favoured “chemical reactions that synthesized organic compounds from inorganic precursors,” and through their experiments successfully cooked up the first manmade Amino Acids in the lab. Since then NASA’s Stardust probe triumphantly returned to earth in 2006 with Amino Acids it’d captured after intercepting the comet 81P/Wild (Wild-2) around Jupiter, proving that these fundamental building blocks of life occur naturally on earth and are found equally naturally in space.

      The process of how life emerged on earth follows then that the first membranes inside which Amino Acids could join to build strands of proteins formed from Fatty Acids fashioned naturally and regularly inside thermal vents; geothermal pools on land and not as common perception would have it in the oceans. These protein strands became very primitive forms of RNA: the first organic encoding device which over time and through natural mutation became more complex and eventually gave rise to DNA, or cellular life.

      In 2009, Dr. Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute and his graduate student, Tracey Lincoln, pretty much nailed primitive ‘life’ – a progenitor of life if you like – when they developed a molecule composed of nothing but RNA enzymes in a test tube that replicated and evolved, swapping genes for just as long as the conditions were right to do so. Doing what molecules do it Xeroxed itself by using its own basic structure as a scaffolding from which to build new copies from pairs of smaller molecules. Incredibly, when incorrect copies were made mutations arose and the molecule quite happily passed on those changes to the proceeding generation, and so it slowly evolved. Although not technically speaking ‘life’ Joyce and Lincoln’s work was an astonishing in-road into a beautiful albeit strikingly simple process first teased-free by Darwin five generations ago.

      Also in 2009 John Sutherland of the University of Manchester went even further when he successfully cooked up two of the four ribonucleotides found in both RNA and DNA molecules and by doing so created the first stirrings of life on earth. Unlike other researchers before him, Sutherland and his team did not jump right into sugars and nucleobases rather they started first with a host of simpler molecules most likely around in earth’s primordial goo. They diluted the molecules in water, heated the solution, and then allowed it to evaporate so as to replicate sequential changes in conditions which was then irradiated with ultraviolet light; a process which left behind hybrid half-sugar, half-nucleobase molecules. To this residue they again added water, heated it, allowed it evaporate, irradiated it, and repeated the process over and over. Remarkably, with each passing phase the molecules became more and more complex and when phosphates were added in the very last stage Sutherland found himself staring at two ribonucleotides; half a naturally built RNA molecule.
      “My ultimate goal,” said Sutherland, “is to get a living system (RNA) emerging from a one-pot experiment. We can pull this off. We just need to know what the constraints on the conditions are first.”

      Even more recently and perhaps even more remarkably researchers led by Phil Holliger at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge announced in early months of 2012 they’d successfully made the first synthetic RNA and DNA molecules which they called, XNA: xeno-nucleic acids. They achieved this mind-jarringly colossal leap in constructing artificial life by building synthetic versions of RNA and DNA’s nucleobase ladder rungs. By synthesizing enzymes (what they’ve called, polymerases) they could then bind the XNA molecules to DNA or reverse the process back to a single RNA strand; passing genetic information between the natural and synthetic molecules at will, leading MRC scientist, Victor Pinheiro, to observe “Thus heredity and evolution, two hallmarks of life, are not limited to DNA and RNA.”

      If you want to read about a recent advancement I’d point you to Jeremy England’s stunning work which appears to have nailed it.

      Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

        1. Again, complete and utter nonsense. We have quite a strong idea of how it happened, and England’s work (in conjunction with enormous leaps in our knowledge over the last decade) looks like it. And nice to see you read the rest of the comment. You should. You might actually learn something.

  10. @John,
    I answered the question. If you haven’t the wit to appreciate the answer, you may repeat the question as many times as you please.

    1. John, I think it’s fair to say there are a handful of universes he’s studied and they are all approximately like this one. Now, let’s see where this data set takes him.

        1. Unless he goes on to say the Dr Who and Marvel and Marvel 2099 universe aren’t real — then we’re back to just this universe…

        1. Please Doug, tell me: How many universes have you studied so as to arrive at the assumptions/assertions you have of this one.

          This is the 14th time I’ve asked.

          Will I have to ask a 15th?

  11. @John/Allallt,
    Your faith (yes: the word is used correctly according to the glossary) in origins-of-life research having even a remote connection with the reality of the origin of life is amusing. But it won’t do.
    Even if (big if) the Miller-Urey (get the spelling right, chaps — it helps bolster the illusion that you have a clue what you are talking about) extensions can produce all the “building blocks” of life, the “putting it all together” is non-trivial.
    1. You need to have a minimum-length coding unit (RNA/DNA-like) — you haven’t any idea what that is, how long it is, the elements required, etc, etc, etc.
    2. You need to have a chirality filter — you haven’t any idea how to create such a thing.
    3. You need to be able to “put Humpty Dumpty together” — you haven’t any idea how to accomplish this; otherwise, we could break primitive cells (providing all the building blocks) and “fix” them. We can’t.

    1. Why are you focusing on work performed in 1953, 63 years ago? Is this your tactic, ignore all recent advancements in science? I suppose you like to focus on things Darwin didn’t know, too, right?

      1. On the contrary, indeed you are. You made the claim “The scientific understanding of biology is such that we can have a robust stance on the resurrection of Jesus: it didn’t happen.” You don’t know this. But you pretend that you do.
        First, the current scientific understanding of biology is remarkably primitive.
        Second, suggestion that biology should be the decider on the issue is question-begging.
        Third, the use of the word “robust” is unsupported – hence “pretense”.
        All in all, it seems pretty clear that you are exercising faith according to your favorite definition.

        1. How is it that you’re characterising my ignorance on abiogenesis as an ignorance of biology? How on earth have you concluded that biology is a crude discipline? What are you talking about?

        2. I have two questions for you:
          (1) Are we forgoing any further talk of cosmology?
          (2) What about biology do you think I have faith in?

  12. @John,
    Did you miss the word “extensions”, John. I’m not doing the focusing you’re accusing me of. Please at least attempt to read with comprehension.

  13. @Allallt,
    I scrolled up, and noticed the status of the cosmological part of the thread: “So… are you familiar with the ancient (pre-Christian, even) arguments that start with observing that change occurs and end with the “non-contingent” cause you mention? Any response to them?” I asked. “It is an unsubstantiated claim”, you replied. But calling the argument I referenced a “claim” (let alone “an unsubstantiated claim”) indicates that you are not familiar with it. So why bother continuing?

  14. @Allallt,
    In response to your second question, you claim that your understanding of biology is sufficient to conclude that the resurrection never happened. It just isn’t. You are pretending to know what you do not know.
    First, your understanding of biology isn’t sufficient to define, explain, or even describe the origins of life. Second, you are assuming that the (alleged) resurrection was (entirely) a biological phenomenon.
    But that’s never been the claim. The claim is that the One responsible for life in the first place is more than capable of resurrecting the dead if it pleases Him. Given that you have no command of the former (i.e., the origin of life), you are clearly in no place to make pronouncements on the latter (i.e., the resurrection).
    Please note: the above is not an argument (let alone a proof) of the resurrection — nor am I pretending that it is. It is simply a more-than-effective defeater for your sophomoric attempt to… pretend that you know something that you do not.

    1. The origin of life is irrelevant to the issue at hand. My ignorance of it doesn’t relate in any way to what I can say about the resurrection.
      I am not assuming the phenomena is entirely biological — read the post again. I’m talking about how you deal with “overlapping magesteria”.
      Third — what exactly about the ancient infinite regress argument do you not think I understood? You asked me for my response to that argument, and I offered it. What, precisely, did I not understand?

    2. Let me clarify: I do not need to understand how chemistry became biology. What I need to understand is what happens to complex biological systems that are oxygen-starved for three days.
      I know you want to proclaim “miracle” and use that to paint my ignorance. But I discuss that in the post: I am a kangaroo. I don’t behave like other kangaroos because: Miracle.
      So, when I say you should read the post again, I mean it. I dealt with the “miracle” claim already.

      Once you’ve read my post again, perhaps you could try a more informed and mature answer to the question: what do you think I am pretending to know that I just don’t know?

      1. No idea why you need to invoke “miracle” here (or even invoke amateur — and incorrect — psychology imagining that I want to even bring up the topic). The issue is one of logic.

        Your claim is that you know enough biology to establish that the resurrection did not happen. But you haven’t the faintest clue how to put life together. Since putting life (back) together is a requirement for the resurrection, having a faint clue about putting life together is certainly a requirement for making any such claims about the resurrection. Abiogenesis is just a convenient stand-in here (and, I might add, an immensely easier matter than the resurrection). So until you can demonstrate that you do, in fact, understand how chemistry could possibly become biology, you really have nothing to say about the resurrection. And by claiming to have such a thing to say, you demonstrate that you are pretending to know something you not only do not but could not know.

  15. Everything I wrote is certainly true:
    1. You did claim to know enough about biology to establish that the resurrection did not happen.
    2. You haven’t a faint clue how chemistry became biology (you introduced the phrase!)
    3. Getting life (biology) from chemistry (a dead body) is a necessary condition of the resurrection.
    4. Claiming to understand a resurrection without understanding a necessary condition is invalid.
    5. Given 1., 2., 3., and 4., it is clear that you were pretending to know something that you did not know.

    1. I also didn’t claim to have any level of understanding of a resurrection, except insofar as it violates biology.
      3 is false, there’s an equivocation between 2 and 3.
      I’m not sure I’m willing to write that off as accidental, either.

  16. @Allallt,
    Oh come on. Do you really mean to pretend that there could be a resurrection without “chemistry becoming biology”? Now your not making any sense. #3 is most certainly true by the definition of “resurrection”!

      1. @Allallt,
        Since the concept appears to be challenging, the essence of a resurrection is not the piece at the beginning that you claim to know something about. It is the part at the end when “chemistry becomes biology”. It really doesn’t matter how much you know about the first part: you know jack about the only part that makes it a resurrection by definition. And so, once again, your claims are on the basis of jack-knowledge. You are pretending to know what you most assuredly do not know.

        1. Okay. Well I can see the route this is going to take: you’re going to persist in this singular, esoteric and clunky method of understanding in place of sensible methods of understanding.
          I can see that coming to an understanding is not important to you and you’re more interested in this rhetorical trickery to appear ‘to win’. And for that, your strategic misunderstandings are probably very useful. But in terms of having an actual conversation and coming to an understanding, you’re just wasting my time.
          In terms of chemistry becoming biology, it only happens to simple chemistry. For what you eat to become living, it must be digested and then assimilated. The chemistry actually being explored as a candidate for the kind of processes that might lead to biology, all involve simple chemicals. A highly ordered stack of dead cells is not a candidate.
          And, to repeat, I didn’t need that understanding; there are simpler robust understandings in biology that still exclude a resurrection.
          The person here with a reading comprehension issue is not me.

        2. @Allallt,

          you’re going to persist in this singular, esoteric and clunky method of understanding in place of sensible methods of understanding.
          I can see that coming to an understanding is not important to you and you’re more interested in this rhetorical trickery to appear ‘to win’. And for that, your strategic misunderstandings are probably very useful. But in terms of having an actual conversation and coming to an understanding, you’re just wasting my time.

          You’ve just described the standard operating procedure of Doug and The Crew over at Shadow to Light. It has nothing to do with learning, nothing to do with finding out about different opinions and how they informed, nothing to do with investigating what is the case, nothing to do with holding an actual conversation, and everything to do with scoring. That’s why Doug refuse to answer John’s simple question: he would allow John to score, you see, and he cannot tolerate that when he can avoid allowing that score to occur.

          And you’re right: Doug and The Crew are a waste of time and effort. They are apologetic faitheists with an agenda who care not a tinker’s damn about anything you have to say, any points you may raise, any truth and/or knowledge value you may offer: all they care to do is vilify New Atheists because, well, because they deserve vilification and Doug and The Crew will make any shit up they need to play this game so that they can feel they are winning. They are cowards when challenged by an excellent question and/or line of reasoning and intellectually dishonest in their avoidance to answer it plainly r follow it with comprehension.

          Shadow to Light is an excellent resource if you wish to go Dumpster diving for faitheists.

  17. That “method” that you call “singular, esoteric and clunky” used to be known as “logic”. That it makes you so uncomfortable should give you pause.
    If you want to exclude the resurrection, you need to be able to understand what it is that you are excluding. It is clear that you do not. Nor are you making any apparent effort to do so. NB: this is prior to any considerations of it actually happening — we’re only speaking in the abstract for now. But if you don’t understand something in the abstract, you clearly can’t make grandiose proclamations about its instantiations, alleged or otherwise.

    1. What you’re using is not logic. It was a contrived narrative desperate to fit in something I said I couldn’t talk about.
      As for understanding the nature of the claim of the resurrection, I do. The topic of miracles and the fact they demand to be excused from scientific enquiry is what my post is about.

      1. It must be amusing to you, then, to have someone (yours truly) actually requiring you to think about the resurrection (you know, like it was the topic of scientific inquiry, or something), while you make no effort to think about it at all — dismissing it for its (apparently unacceptable) association with the miraculous!

        1. Doug, let’s cut to the chase. You are proposing the re-animation of a three day dead organism is physically possible. OK, that’s your hypothesis. Can you now detail the mechanisms by which you think this is possible.

  18. After reviewing “Jeremy England’s stunning work which appears to have nailed it.” I must say that I’m underwhelmed. The “stunning work” is the proposition that energy dissipation is the principle that enables the transition from chemistry to biology (almost as if we change the name of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it will suddenly have exactly the opposite effect of that Law). That’s it. In the “Aftermath” (NB: not “Conclusion”) Dr. England sums it up effectively:
    “At this point, dissipative adaptation should seem like too simple an idea to be true”.
    Indeed.

    1. You don’t understand the second law of thermodynamics. The YouTuber potholer 54 comes up with a nice little multiple choice question for when you think you understand a subject better than the experts (especially when you have no extra evidence to bring to the table): do you believe the experts (a) are incompetent (b) paid off in an elaborate conspiracy or (c) know something you don’t?

  19. @Allallt,
    What are you talking about? Dissipative adaptation derives from an extension to the Second Law of thermodynamics (which I understand quite well, thank you very much). Have the decency to understand the expression “almost as if”?

    1. We’re talking about an open system and you’re talking about entropy. It’s almost as if the second law of thermodynamics explicitly doesn’t apply.

  20. My, my, my … i hestitate to insert myself into this discussion, but since I suspect that I may be the only one on this blog to have replicated the Miller-Urey experiment I must share an old joke (a chemist’s joke) and it is: fire, air, earth, water, etc. —-(ED)—> any chemical you might want to name. The “ED” stands for “electric discharge” and quite a few new chemical compounds have been made this way. By subjecting any chemical feedstocks to an overwhelming input of energy (ED essentially is lightning) those initial chemicals are blasted into bits which recombine willy-nilly, hence you will make almost anything that way. But this technique is similar to a great many monkeys banging on a great many typewriters to create great writings …. It is terrifically inefficient.

    What this brings me to is the claim that the universe seems to be designed for man/life. (I am tired of the universe had a beginning and therefore a cause argument as it is fallacious. Until there is a mechanism determined for “the beginning” we do not know the cause. Possible, a former universe collapsed and then exploded to make a new one (the Big Bang was preceded by a “Big Crunch”), in which case there is no “beginning” involved. On maybe this universe started through a leak from another universe. At this point we cannot say that this universe had a beginning.)

    But the claim that this universe seems to have been created for us or complex life, now that is interesting … but also wrong. This universe seems to have been created to make vacuum. There is far more of it by volume than anything else. After vacuum, I would say “stars,” this universe was created to make stars. Way more stars than people there are. After that planets, etc. In order for life to exist, there must be a substantial energy source nearby because creating complexity requires a lot of energy. Creating noncomplexity happens spontaneously (possibly because the universe is currently expanding). For a planet to support life it needs to be close, but not too close, to this source of energy (a star) which gives us the concept of the “Goldilocks zone.” That planet also needs a magnetosphere, which means a molten core, which means volcanoes and earthquakes will be common. Presumably four of the last five mass extinctions were caused by massive volcanic activity. But the volcanoes won’t die out until the core cools and when that happens we lose our magnetosphere and cosmic rays turn Earth into a huge microwave oven (with cosmic rays standing in for the microwaves–we are all cooked.

    So, life only happens on unstable planets, where the energy supply is large enough, the chemical composition contains the right elements, there is enough time between mass extinctions for life to develop and evolution (Adapt or die!) can function to create complex life. If there is a creator, his equation for life must have been: stuff —(ED)—> life! Not a particularly good creation if one assumes we are to be the product. Now, if He was trying to make vacuum, well … damned good universe, I say.

  21. For any proposition P, we know that it can either be true (P) or false (~P).
    However, when it comes to knowing, things are slightly more complicated.
    We can claim k(P) (that is, we know P) or we can claim k(~P) (that is, we know ~P)
    But the claim ~k(~P) is not the same as the claim k(P).
    Let’s be a bit more concrete: the O/P represents the claim k(~R) {R=Resurrection of Jesus}
    Every comment I have made has been toward the proposition ~k(~R) — (i.e., the O/P is “pretending to know what the author does not know”)
    But now, John claims that “[I am] proposing the re-animation of a three day dead organism is physically possible.” supposing that the proposition ~k(~R) implies k(R).
    Logic fail.

    1. If you check my etiquette page, it talks about not misrepresenting me to me. Not only is it disingenuous, but it can’t work; I know what I said and what I mean.

      Now I’m torn between accusing you of a violation of the 9th commandment or of very poor comprehension abilities.

      First, let’s deal with you P/-P distinction. It’s wrong. Proposition P can be true, false, incomplete, paradoxical, poorly defined. It’s not as simple as you made out.

      So, when you claim k(P), a counter position can be -k(P), k(-P) or criticise the comprehensibility of P.

      (I know I shouldn’t be using the “-” symbol, but I can’t find the tilda on my keyboard. European layout, British software.)

      Into the more meaningful detail, however: I did not claim k(-R). I claimed that the resurrection is a question that is trespassing explicitly on the topic of science, and science excludes it. I said we have understandings of reality that exclude it.
      Now, if you want to claim that this one claim doesn’t fall under the purview of science, despite clearly falling under the purview of science, I point you back at the post I’ve actually written that actually deals with that actual position. But, I also direct you to the pre-amble to this comment, where I point out it’s not a true/false dichotomy.

      1. In the case we are discussing (namely R=Resurrection of Jesus), the options are:
        R=the event happened
        ~R=the event did not happen
        …are you seriously suggesting that any one of “incomplete, paradoxical, poorly defined” is actually in play for this example?
        In the Intro to Logic course I took at uni, if a proposition was incomplete or poorly defined, then it wasn’t a proposition in the first place. As for paradoxes (typically recursive propositions), fair enough. But if we always needed to give the nod to paradoxes whenever we did anything logical it would be quite tedious indeed. They are considered a “special case” for good reason.

        1. It’s not just the claim of a resurrection, it is also the claim that the resurrection deserves a special exemption from science.

          In which case, I can argue that I am a kangaroo. I mean, how would you argue against me?

  22. Now you state: “I did not claim k(-R)”. Good thing the etiquette page is as good for the goose as it is for the gander: the O/P happens to include the phrase “it didn’t happen”. So either:
    1. you’re mistaken about what you did or did not claim.
    or
    2. The O/P’s “it didn’t happen” was “just a stance” and not a “knowledge claim”.
    Which is it? (or perhaps an alternative I could have overlooked? — either way, please enlighten me?)

    1. Here’s a lovely thing called context:
      “The scientific understanding of biology is such that we can have a robust stance on the resurrection of Jesus: it didn’t happen.”

  23. So: you seem to be saying “oh that! that was just a stance”. Well, ok, but what does it mean for this stance of yours to be “robust” when you (now) pretend never to have made a claim to knowledge?

    1. Weird that you think I’m back peddling when I’m simply quoting the initial post.

      You coming to understand my position — which has not changed during our discussion — is not me back peddling. Now, if you need to characterise your change (i.e. coming to understand) and my change (i.e. back peddling) perhaps you need to re-evaluate how you come at conversations in general.

      “The scientific understanding of biology is such that…” Is this insufficient context for you? Are you incapable of understanding this?

      1. It would appear that you are incapable of avoiding equivocation. What does it mean for this stance of yours to be “robust” when you (now) pretend never to have made a claim to knowledge?

        1. I’m going to take that to mean there isn’t enough context here for you.

          It’s been fun getting you to display your ignorance. Glad everyone can see it.

          I’m as sure the resurrection didn’t happen as I am that science holds.

        2. At a bible school, or an actual institution of higher learning which the rest of the First World would call a “University”?

    1. (1) Because it’s the content of the post and discussion.
      (2) Because although you haven’t said it, you’ve alluded to it several times by alluding to the idea that science won’t hold…

  24. Now you say “I’m as sure the resurrection didn’t happen” when you said (only a few minutes ago) that you were not claiming to know that the resurrection didn’t happen(!) or does the “as I am that science holds” give you an out?

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