I recently posted a video explaining why, philosophically and scientifically, there is nothing impossible about miracles occurring:
Afterwards, I received a response from a physicist and supporter of mine that I feel is necessary to address:
First let me say, I have a great amount of respect for Luboš Motl, and the work he does on his blog, “The Reference Frame.” In the past I have referred people to his work and he has supported my videos on quantum theory, so I don’t want people to think I am attacking him, only his response to my video. He is a very intelligent physicist and a great writer, however, even the smartest of us can make mistakes and his response to my video on miracles was nothing more than a bait and switch. So in this blog entry I’ll point out why miracles are still logically and scientifically possible and the error that occurred in his rebuttal.
First, he doesn’t really address my points as to why miracles are not logically impossible, and he simply dismisses them and says they are, “cute and make me smile but they are just totally silly.” It is one thing to poke fun at an argument, it is another to actually address it. You can poke fun at an argument all you want, but not before you actually dismantle it. Motl has not, and has simply brushed over my main points, then simply followed this with something I do not even dispute.
His main point seems to be that miracles cannot happen because natural processes do not allow them to. He explains Jesus could not have turned water into wine by going over how this naturally cannot occur. But this is nothing I or any other Christian would disagree with. Of course, Jesus didn’t naturally turn water into wine. Motl spends a large section of his blog explaining why this is naturally impossible, but no one argues Jesus turned water into wine through natural processes. This is why we call it a miracle: because it is not caused by the regularities of natural, but by an agent with powers beyond the natural; one that changes something in the system. Miracles are not bound by natural laws or caused by natural forces, which is why they are not violations of natural laws. They are caused or created by powers beyond the natural system. So if Jesus turned water into wine, he did not do it by natural processes, but by heavenly processes, meaning it cannot be explained or prohibited by natural laws, because it was never a natural event to being with. So why argue that Jesus did not naturally turn water into wine – a point Christians agree with. No one has ever claimed such a thing! Jesus would have done it by heavenly powers, and therefore not explained by natural processes.
Next, Motl says it is far more likely the story of Jesus turning water into wine is a lie than it actually happening. Well first off, this was not the claim of my video. My argument in the video was that miracles are logically possible, not that they have definitely occurred. I’ll argue in upcoming videos that at least one miracle has occurred, due to the evidence it is far more likely such an event happened instead of people making it up, but that was never the topic of this particular video, which means this point is nothing but a red herring.
Miracles should be judged on a case by case basis, not dismantled outright from sweeping dismissals, because of a philosophical bias towards naturalism. Let’s be open to the evidence and do our best to allow the evidence to sway us, instead of dismissing evidence that doesn’t agree without philosophical presumptions. But I digress.
However, prior to this section of his blog he basically rehashes Hume’s old argument, as he says:
“Has Jesus been turning water into wine? Now, let me destroy your Sunday before the Christmas: He hasn’t. How do I know that? I haven’t observed Him. His daily life was as inaccessible to me as ice is inaccessible to the aforementioned poor Saudi prince.”
Well, there is not much to say here, since we have already shown in the video you cannot assume your subjective experience somehow shows certain things cannot happen. Especially if Motl agrees with me that the laws of nature are only our approximations of the regularity of natures, to the best of our ability. This means our approximations do not exclude an event, just because it is beyond our personal experience. For example, everything beyond the boundary of the singularity point before the big bang is beyond our experience, but that doesn’t mean it did not happen. Many things are beyond our experience, as Philosopher Michael Beaty says:
“The confident belief that many practicing scientists have in the reality of electrons (which are not visible) seems inappropriate if evidentialism is true. Thus it seems that this version of evidentialism does not intellectually measure up. It’s too restrictive. Moreover, we might discover that what scientists assume to be adequate evidence for their assumptions are compatible with what counts as good reasons in religious matters. For example, belief in God can be treated as an explanatory hypothesis, like belief in electrons. In both cases, the evidence may be persuasive if not determinant. In both science and religion, tenacity of belief is common and often a good thing. A scientist’s tenacity in a belief, despite paucity of evidence and doubt from peers, may lead her to develop a radically different conception of some aspect of our world, but one that is nonetheless true and significant.”
There are many things in science beyond our observation, but that doesn’t mean they do not account for the evidence. In the same way, just because the study of history or the life of Jesus is beyond our experience that does not mean the evidence points away from something that has happened beyond the explanatory power of naturalism. I’ll argue the evidence indicates this in my series on the resurrection. But I digress again.
The point remains the same though: just because you, personally, have never observed a miracle, that doesn’t mean they can never happen or are logically impossible. One cannot say Jesus did not turn water into wine merely because it is out of your immediate experience.
However, his main argument just seems to be it is not scientifically possible that water cannot be turned into wine, and I agree with this, which is why Christians have never said Jesus was doing scientific experiments when he performed miracles, because they were not natural processes at work, but heavenly. If that is his main argument, then it boils down to a bait and switch, and is nothing that really addresses my video.
Another thing I agree with Motl on is that although quantum mechanics does allow for insanely improbable things to occur, they are pretty much forbidden by the approximate regularities of nature. As Motl says:
“But quantum mechanics still predicts many things to be so wonderfully improbable that for all practical and most impractical purposes, we may say that they’re forbidden. For example, if the probability of something is much smaller than 10^-125, we may say it will never happen in our Universe.”
I could not agree more, and I don’t know why he is bringing this point up. I practically said the same thing in my video:
“…even scientifically speaking, there is nothing that violates a natural law in causing an miraculous event, they are extremely improbable and would not happen on their own in a 1000 lifetimes, but still possible within the quantum nature of the universe..”
Such improbable events would only be likely if God wished to use them to fulfill a purpose of His.
So of course, according to the approximate laws of nature such events will not come about on their own. However, if there is a God, who wants to cause something irregular to happen, there are opportunities built right into the laws of nature that can be acted upon. Of course, they would not come about on their own, and practically have a 0% probability of naturally occurring. There needs to be a powerful outside agent in this equation for them to even be possible, let alone happen. No theists denies that, and nothing in my videos disagrees with Motl’s conclusions on this issue. Only if there is a God are miracles possible. Combine that with this improbabilities in the quantum nature of the universe and miracles are not impossible, according to the quantum nature of the universe.
Finally, there is one more thing that needs to be addressed. Motl doesn’t seem to like the fact that I mentioned the main philosophical theories of the laws of nature (regularity, comic necessity, and causal dispositions theory) and says, “By the laws of Nature, I imagine string theory – or the Standard Model combined with general relativity in some way – and their derivable implications for numerous “more mundane” situations. The three “parts of the laws of Nature” listed above sound like some philosophers’ superstitions.” Well, no. They are not “philosophical superstitions”. They are formal philosophical views about how the laws of nature would work and how theories, like string theory or the standard model are explained philosophically. We must remember one cannot do science until they have worked out philosophy of science. The scientific method is a philosophical construct, and there is debate in philosophy of science as to how science is even suppose to be done. For more on this, I recommend the book, “For and Against Method: Including Lakatos’s Lectures on Scientific Method and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence”
But basically my point is this: one should not dismiss philosophy of science without first understanding what is going on. We all have philosophical constructs about how nature works and the relationships that happen in the natural world. Philosophy of science helps us to understand what we believe regarding these things so we can study science in a more efficient way. These three different philosophical definitions of natural laws do not contradict the standard model other scientific theories. They are ways in which we understand such theories. So it seems that Motl, although a very intelligent scientist, doesn’t understand philosophy of science quite well, and his attack on philosophy is only as childish as he calls my Christian beliefs.
In conclusion, I don’t think his critique is a challenge to Christianity or shows miracles are impossible. It seems he agrees with me that miracles cannot be caused by natural processes. If we agree on that, then there is no challenge to my claim that miracles are possible events that would need to be caused by heavenly powers, and thus, there is no real disagreement. The only real disagreement is he does not think God probably exists or that miracles have occurred. But we would probably agree that if a miracle has happened there needs to be good evidence to infer its truth, which is what I will embark to do in my next few videos, and with that, there is nothing more I can say until I publish them.