Sunday, April 03, 2011

An Intro to the Philosophy of Religion, Ch. 7 (Religion and Science)

[Rough Draft - comments welcome]

Rea and Murray begin by discussing three views on science and religion.  The inevitable conflict view maintains that scientific and religious claims are at odds, perhaps even down to the core.  Supporters of this view often define science and religion problematically.  For instance, when one claims that science alone can deliver justified beliefs about the natural world, they are making a claim about the natural world that is either unjustified or self-refuting.  Religion is likewise ill-defined as the claim that justified beliefs about the natural world come from divine revelation.

The independence view maintains that science and religion operate in two separate domains.  These two domains might be characterized as the natural and supernatural, or else sense experiences and religious experiences.  But what are we to make of the Christian who claims that Jesus healed a blind man?  This seems to be a religious claim about the natural world.

The potential conflict view simply examines the conflict on a case-by-case basis.  What are the religious believer's options when they balance conflicting evidence?
i. Reject their religion
ii. Reject their interpretation of the religious data
iii. Reject the evidence of their senses
iv. Reject their interpretation of the sense data
Rea and Murray don't think there is a straightforward rule for which of these options applies in a given case.  They continue to discuss some important cases of religion-science conflict.

Science and the Credibility of Miracles
Hume famously argued that justified beliefs about miracles were impossible.  But what are miracles?  Hume says, "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent."

The balance of evidence argument
Since Hume defines laws via repeated sensory experience, he argues that, when confronted with a miraculous experience or claim, a person should never accept them as valid.  The reason is that, by definition, the person has better evidence for the law (repeated experience) than he does for an isolated miraculous experience (or claim).  And of course, rational people should attune their beliefs in accordance with the weight of the evidence.

But is it true that an isolated person experience or testimonial claim is always outweighed repeated past experience?  It seems not.  Even the most well-confirmed scientific theories are subject to refutation by new evidence.  And this can happen after years of confirmation by repeatable experiments. [1]

The Wrong Laws Argument
This argument is very similar to the previous one, accept that it doesn't claim the person to reject miracles, instead it concludes that the person might be mistaken about the laws of nature.  In other words, which is more likely: that I'm mistaken about the laws of nature, or that the laws of nature have been transgressed?

The Purely Anomalous Event Argument
Ockham's razor dicates positing no more explanatory entities than necessary.  Hume thinks it follows that we would be better to just say the supposed miraculous event is uncaused than caused by a supernatural agent.  Of course, imagine standing on the banks of the Red Sea and watching these events unfold (in light of your prior knowledge about Moses and his claims).  It seems wrong to say that you should accept the parting of the Rea Sea as simply uncaused.

Humean-style arguments for the impossibility of miracles
Hume defines a law of nature as a true universal generalization, in other words, a statement about the way things always happen.  So if it were shown that a "miracle" occurred, all this would do is invalidate the law of nature.  It wouldn't serve to show that a miracle had "broken" the law, only served to invalidate it.  Thus, miracles--when defined as transgressions of the laws of nature--are impossible.  Rea and Murray simply respond by giving a better definition for a miracle: "an event (ultimately) caused by God that cannot be accounted for by the natural powers of natural substances alone."

1 See Alan Hajek's paper entitled, "Are miracles chimerical?"


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