Saturday, December 30, 2017

Evolutionary Science and the Existence of God

Arguments of the “evolution, therefore not-God” sort (pace E.O. Wilson, Robert Wright1 and 2, et. al.) are prevalent. Though these authors write at the popular level on the topic of theistic belief (among other things), what they advance are variations of Evolutionary Debunking Arguments (EDAs). There are many versions of EDAs across the spectrum of philosophy. These arguments typically impugn justification for affirming the truth of certain propositions, such as “there is such a being as God” or “objective moral values and duties exist,” and so forth.

EDAs seem to run hot and cold in the academic literature, and they are quite controversial. Alvin Plantinga delves deeply into this subject in his well-known book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Plantinga's primary focus is against naturalism, finding that it ultimately undermines what its proponent wants to show. I believe it is from Plantinga's work (even prior to the book cited above) that EDAs have become more prominent. Or, at least the question of evolutionary influence on beliefs has become a more widespread topic of discussion.

I find many problems with certain types of EDAs, some of which I will try to briefly sketch in this post. Here I will just cover EDAs as they relate to the question of God’s existence. In the future, I will try to address EDAs in ethics. My focus here is not on the science/theism discussion, as Plantinga and others have addressed.

To see some of the problems, we might break down the “EDA contra God,” as follows:
  1. All human beliefs are genetically/evolutionarily caused.
  2. Many humans believe in God.
  3. That many humans believe in God is genetically/evolutionarily caused (from 1 & 2).
  4. Any genetic/evolutionary factors causing human beliefs are (or can be in principle) ultimately explainable by evolutionary science.
  5. That many humans believe in God is ultimately explainable by evolutionary science (from 3 & 4).

[Note that I am not attributing this exact argument to any particular person or work. This represents a synopsis and synthesis of the EDA contra the existence of God.]

The main implication, or outright obviousness, proponents find in the conclusion of this argument is that “there is such a being as God or something like God” or “God exists” is false. And by "God" I mean that as conceived and understood under the general guise of monotheism. Such propositions about God cannot be an expression of something “real” (or "extramental reality") because evolutionary forces explain the entirety of why we think it/say it. We do not think it because it is true in any sense of the term “true,” but because, for lack of a better term, our genes tell us to think or utter it. Since it is evolutionary influences on our biology that cause us to think God exists, God must not really exist, or so the argument seems to go. For, it is possible - or even likely - that in the future evolution will have rendered belief in God unnecessary or the genes that now cause us to think that God exists will no longer have such an effect, or the current evolutionary by-product that causes us to think God exists might be eliminated by selective pressures. 

Something interesting to consider is that this type of EDA centers on belief. In a philosophical sense, the most such an epistemologically centered argument can legitimately hope for is to undermine justification or warrant for holding a certain belief. But only the theist holding to certain epistemologies will face challenges on this front. This issue gets further tangled up in questions germane to the internalist/externalist debate. Unless a question-begging premise is inserted, it does not seem the theist is necessarily faced with an intractable problem, depending upon how they cash out justification or warrant. Further, one opting for a Thomistic direct-realism, as I do, would not necessarily have any epistemological problems to overcome (again, unless there was a question-begging premise).

It is also worth noting the challenge in moving from an epistemological claim to an ontological claim. Even if the theist concedes the argument without rebuttal, it could still be the case that God exists. “God exists” or “there is such a being as God” could well be true, but one might not be rational in holding that belief if the argument is successful. So, the argument does not ‘disprove God’ or anything of the sort. Rather, it casts aspersions on such belief at best.And the extent one thinks it possible to undermine or defeat belief or justifications for belief by such measures will largely be driven by the epistemology they hold.

What was presented above is a general formulation of the EDA, but I think it is representative. As of late, the EDA contra God has worked itself into popular literature, hence the authors I referenced above. I have found this line of thinking represented in many personal interactions, as well as online/social media. I think philosophers like Daniel Dennett and Alex Rosenberg espouse similar arguments in higher level writings, aimed at more interested laypersons and even some academics.

Looking at the argument as formulated, an obvious tension exists between (1) and (5). For, if (1) is true, then belief in evolutionary science is also genetically driven. (1) puts all beliefs on the same genetically/evolutionarily determined plane. Recall that the EDA contra God is that “God exists” or “there is such a being as God” is false (or probably false, etc.) because the utterance of the very sentence itself is an output of evolutionary genetics. Yet, the EDA proponent is probably unwilling to subject the proposition “evolutionary theory is true” to the same evolutionary caused belief 'defeater'. If all beliefs are genetic outputs from natural and environmental inputs, then so is the belief in evolution. Plantinga and others have made this (or a very similar) point at length. The only way out for the EDA proponent seems to be special pleading, whereby evolutionary science, and maybe some other scientific disciplines as well, is excluded from evolutionarily caused beliefs.

The EDA contra God presents itself as a meta issue in many respects. It dismisses any arguments for God by calling into question the very offering of argument. In so doing, the EDA proponent operates from a privileged place. By this, I mean the EDA proponent assumes a vantage point by which they can make their argument with impunity. They assume the high ground and become the sole gatekeeper of truth. They set the very framework and rules by which any belief or proposition should be accepted. If it comports with evolutionary science, then accept it; if it does not comport, reject it. But why should anyone accept this? Such a view seems quite unscientific.  In any case, I am unconvinced that we have any good reasons to make evolutionary science the absolute yardstick, and a malleable yardstick it would be. Note I am not necessarily calling into question evolutionary science itself. Instead, I am questioning what appears to be an abuse of it.

There is another major problem with the EDA contra God. The argument implies that other scientific fields, especially physics and cosmology, are lesser than evolutionary science. Evolutionary science must govern any beliefs whatsoever resulting from scientific inquiry. But evolution itself seems to rest upon at least sciences like physics, geology, and chemistry, for without these, evolutionary theory could not well get off the ground. Further, the cosmologist studying the early universe might consider the anthropic principle and conclude that something outside the universe brought the universe (or multiverse, etc.) into existence or to have arranged the universe in such a specific way. Such a scientist perhaps originally begins research from a state of theistic agnosticism or even atheism and then, after many years of study concludes that the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe is that God (or something very much like God) exists. Now, in this case, the EDA proponent would be required to inform the cosmologist that his/her conclusion was not in fact based on their scientific research, but instead is the output of a genetic trait. Bubbling under the subconscious surface the entire time was this belief in God, ready to spring forth given enough intellectual rationalization or other (genetically/evolutionarily explainable) event. 

Per the EDA contra God, even the cosmologist in our example cannot in principle give a rational conclusion at the end of a reasoning chain. Instead, he/she must be told that, while his/her research might be good in all other facets, his/her conclusion was hardwired by billions of years of evolutionary history. Note that the cosmologist’s conclusions about the anthropic principle itself, and non-theistic inferences drawn therefrom, are not genetically predisposed to pop out. Just the “God exists” inference cannot at all be based on rigorous scientific inquiry, but reducibly based on factors that were either evolutionarily advantageous or by-products of the evolutionary process. The reasonable cosmologist would likely be quite indignant at such claims against their research and inference mechanisms. I would also submit that if the cosmologist in this example made the conclusion "God does not exist" after his long and labored study, the EDA proponent would no doubt applaud him for such a good and sound scientific conclusion. 

Another major problem with the EDA contra God is that it seems to commit a classic genetic fallacy. At least in terms of the ontological conclusion typically advanced. But why should we think that “God exists” is false because evolutionary forces brought this belief about? Unless the EDA proponent wishes to throw the truth value of all evolutionarily driven beliefs under the bus, the possibility must remain open that “God exists” is true. We should observe that EDAs tending toward skepticism instead will provide no safe quarter for the EDA proponent. This is because the belief disposition delivered by evolution must be applied universally to all beliefs on pain of special pleading/arbitrariness.

My conjecture on these arguments is that EDA proponents start with a metaphysical conclusion and then seek to justify it by other means. I cannot see any other reason one would pursue this line of argumentation. It is either this or an a priori commitment to scientism. The EDA proponent seems to ask themselves, “given that God does not exist, why do so many people believe in God?” Or, perhaps more likely, "given that I and many others do not believe in God, why is it that so many other people do?" From here, they naturally look to the sciences for an explanation. And within evolutionary science/genetics, they find solace in a wholesale explanatory mechanism. Since, on their view, there is really nothing about human existence that is not explainable by evolutionary science, then belief in God must fall exclusively into this bucket.

Much more could be said on this subject, and I intend to write more in the future. It should suffice for now to say that EDAs contra God suffer from many debilitating problems. But they should be taken seriously if for no other reason than the influence they have in popular and (occasionally) academic culture.   

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Old Earth vs. Young Earth Creationism and Apologetic Method with Ken Ham and Richard Howe

There's been a little dust-up recently between Answers in Genesis (AIG) president Ken Ham and Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES). At the most recent National Conference on Christian Apologetics (NCCA), Ken Ham and SES emeritus Professor of Philosophy Richard Howe engaged in dialogue about apologetic method vis-a-vis young-earth creationism. You can watch the exchange here. The interesting twist is that Dr. Howe is a young-earth creationist. That is, he agrees in principle with the biblical exegesis of Genesis 1 that is advocated by AIG. AIG believes that the creation account given in Genesis 1 is properly understood as six consecutive 24-hour solar days. 

The stated purpose of the NCCA dialogue was for each side to explicate and defend apologetic method, not hermeneutics or the age of the earth. Since the "age of the earth" debate continues unabated within (at least) western evangelical Christianity, it seems relevant that those who spend time in this space should subject their method to scrutiny. Ken Ham advocates for what has been termed "young-earth presuppositionalism," which is essentially a type of presuppositional apologetics fused with young-earth creationism. Dr. Howe argues for a classical approach to apologetics, which focuses on meeting the interlocutor on common ground without presupposing the Bible for purposes of argumentation. 

I watched this dialogue in person and thought it went well. The intensity did seem to ratchet up toward the end, but no animosity was observed. Both men stayed afterward, standing outside the hall to answer questions and interact with conference attendees. 

All seemed well...until Ken Ham sent out a communication on November 24. In this letter, Ham implied that he had been misled about the nature of the dialogue beforehand. Ham also reduced the issue to biblical authority, though this was not the premise at all. Essentially, Ham is accusing SES and the NCCA of compromising on Scripture because both do not make the age of the earth a litmus test for evangelical orthodoxy, and the NCCA has old-earth exhibitors and speakers (such as Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe). 

SES cordially responded to Ham's letter, inviting him to a formal debate at the 2018 NCCA to clear things up. Ham then replied, to which SES responded again. In both letters, Ham seems to be missing the point about methodology, proving Dr. Howe's argument to a large degree by dogmatically asserting the conclusion he is trying to prove. Ham continues to talk past the real issue at hand while simultaneously creating a separate one. 

The evangelical dialogue on the age of the earth and Genesis interpretation has moved into Titus 3:9 territory in many respects. But Ken Ham seems to have pushed things further by making it an issue of authority. That is, Ham thinks any view not in keeping with AIG is effectively denying the authority of Scripture. How things have gotten to this point is interesting, and possibly the topic of a nice research paper (that I would like to read!). 

What I lament is the lack of charity from Ham in this matter. And he has opted for more for rhetoric than substance thus far. If Dr. Howe is wrong about the pitfalls of young-earth presuppositionalism, then it would be great to see why this is the case. Young-earth creationists should (I think) be happy to have such a strong philosophical mind trying to help their case. Dr. Howe is a perennially congenial person, with a razor-sharp mind and wit. 

I think this issue can be viewed in two ways. The first is that, from an outsider standpoint, evangelical Christianity seems divided over so many things, such as the doctrine of election, eschatology, spiritual gifts, the age of the earth, etc. To the genuine truth seeker, this might be a turn-off. On the other hand, it is because of the robust truth of the Christian faith and God's ever-present grace and mercy that the Gospel goes forth unabated and the Kingdom of God grows in-spite of what might seem like a dysfunctional family at times. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Thoughts on Feser vs. Ahmed Dialogue on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley

Last week Dr. Edward Feser was a guest on the Unbelievable? With Justin Brierley. This radio show is a staple in Christian/non-Christian dialogue and I have always found it to be high quality. Opposite Dr. Feser was Dr. Arif Ahmed, a philosopher from Cambridge. Dr. Ahmed was a great choice for the dialogue. He seems to have a keen interesting philosophy of religion and takes theistic arguments seriously. Dr. Ahmed has debated the likes of Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Gary Habermas in the past, so he has shown a willingness to interact with some of the best in the theistic tradition.

The show was billed as a debate, but it was more of a discussion and interactive dialogue. A ‘mini-debate’ is perhaps a more accurate term. The discussion focused on two arguments from Dr. Feser’s latest book Five Proofs of the Existence of God. The two proofs discussed were the Aristotelian proof and the Rationalist proof. Overall, I thought it was an interesting exchange throughout. Each side made substantive points in their own favor and against the other. Both men were cordial and professional. This should be expected but is unfortunately too rare in our society.

I think the clear winner was the listening audience. Mostly because the stark contrast in philosophical approaches was so evident. Aristotelian-Thomism vs. Analytic philosophy was on full display. This is important because analytic philosophy is so radically different than Aristotelian-Thomism.  Many listeners to this dialogue will probably not be aware of how far apart these two systems are. It was regrettable that Feser did not have the time to make this point explicit. If one starts from the analytic model, it is unlikely that any of the proofs from Feser’s book, besides perhaps the Rationalist proof, will be convincing at all. The background conception of reality on each side is just too irreconcilable. Ahmed’s objections to the Aristotelian proof are some of the same that theistic philosophers offer in their critique. For example, Ahmed pressed on what he thought was a circular definition of causality (actualization of a potency, etc.). When Feser replied, he dove into some analytic type jargon (e.g. “counterfactuals”) to bridge the gap, which I think was helpful.

Ahmed seemed to operate from, and gave examples for, a Humean view of causality and disagreed in principle with the notion of essentially ordered causes. Ahmed argued that science can provide all that is really necessary for causes which we can (or potentially might know about) and that there is no need to posit the act/potency division of being to address Parmenides’ being/non-being dilemma. I think Feser could have perhaps pressed harder on the underlying principles of nature that result in one having to make a fundamental choice about being, act, and potency. The ancient Greeks are not so easily hurdled. But Feser did a fine job sticking to the argument and keeping the jargon digestible for the listening audience.

In analytic fashion, Ahmed argued that the non-contradictory nature of a proposition or event is sufficient to leave off positing anything like the Aristotelian causal regress. I think, at one point, Ahmed argued that the paradigmatic simultaneous causal notion of the hand moving the stick moving the stone was fallacious to the extent that the stick was posited as having no causal power. Brierley did a good job moderating, which in this dialogue meant helping to clarify concepts and spacing out time and response. It seemed like Feser got a bit more airtime than Ahmed, which was perhaps due to the brevity of Ahmed’s responses and questions aimed at critique with Feser defending.

The rationalist proof received less time that the Aristotelian proof. I think this was because it does not require as much in the way of background metaphysics. The rationalist proof is based on the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) and is quite close to Leibniz’ cosmological argument. Brierley pointed out that both proofs in the discussion turn upon the notion of the impossibility of an infinite causal regress, though this is inescapable when discussing causes or explanation. Ahmed essentially argued for limiting the PSR and seemed (at least to me) to come down on the side of brute facts like the universe. Feser did a great job showing the weakness and problems in limiting the PSR. I thought Ahmed’s objections against the Aristotelian proof were more substantive than those against the rationalist proof, and the Aristotelian objections demonstrated more of an outright rejection of Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics.

I encourage the interested reader to listen to the Feser vs. Ahmed dialogue. It will be enriching and a good example of how two people can respectfully disagree about something so important.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Earth 2.0: Bad News for God?

This post is a reprint of something I wrote in response to a piece that first appeared on a Huffington Post blog on July 23, 2015. It was written by Jeff Schweitzer, who is a scientist and former White House policy analyst. Mr. Schweitzer has published several popular-type works, including Beyond Cosmic Dice, a book about purpose and meaning in life without God. I think this topic is worth considering, since a somewhat frequent claim leveled as problematic for theism is the existence of aliens or other extraterrestrial life. 

The post begins with news of exoplanet Kepler-452b, announced (then) as a new discovery by NASA. Kepler 452b is an “earth-like” planet, which orbits the Kepler-452 star about 1400 light years away from our solar system. Although in this blog post he uses the word “religion”, it is clear Schweitzer is leveling his guns squarely at the Christian faith.  His argument seems clear: Christian theism is false because it must continually change to accommodate scientific discovery and because the Bible provides erroneous creation narratives and omissions.

This piece doesn’t seem to be written in the spirit of joy over an exciting new cosmological discovery. It doesn’t seem to be written to illuminate those who may be ignorant of such amazing occurrences and their practical importance. Rather, the impression one gets is that Mr. Schweitzer has an axe to grind. He wants to use the news of the discovery of Kepler-452b as a springboard to attack Christian theism. Though, I suppose, he did give us some fair warning in the post title.

A recurring idea throughout this piece, along with other writings by Mr. Schweitzer, is a wooden Biblical understanding. Hermeneutics seem relatively unimportant. We also find him attacking various straw men as he moves along in this piece,  either unaware he is doing so or ambivalent. 

Although it is a short post and Mr. Schweitzer has written more substantive material elsewhere, I thought it worth evaluating due to the subject matter and the aspect of the scientific discovery. I will evaluate most of the article chronologically, though some jumping was warranted. 

“With this discovery, we come ever closer to the idea that life is common in the universe. Perhaps you are not convinced. That is OK; let me speculate what would happen should we ever find evidence of life beyond earth even if you think such discovery unlikely. I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world's major religions. I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens…”

Apparently, Schweitzer wants to be on record now so he can say some kind of “I told you so!” when intelligent life is discovered on other planets at some point in the future and Christianity “contorts itself” to accepting this truth.

Schweitzer continues: “Let us be clear that the Bible is unambiguous about creation: the earth is the center of the universe, only humans were made in the image of god, and all life was created in six days. All life in all the heavens. In six days. So when we discover that life exists or existed elsewhere in our solar system or on a planet orbiting another star in the Milky Way, or in a planetary system in another galaxy, we will see a huge effort to square that circle with amazing twists of logic and contorted justifications...”

Here Schweitzer does not make a distinction between “life” and “intelligent life.” But, on naturalism, the distinction may not be important. For he might hold that intelligent life could develop from non-intelligent life by means of natural selection acting on random mutations (or some other theory). I am unsure of which evolutionary models predict complex biological life forms to develop in such scenarios. On the majority of the literature, it seems evolutionary biologists deem the likelihood of the development of human life itself so remote that it is unlikely to occur anywhere else in the observable universe. Further, I believe that Schweitzer’s argument here rests in large part on the discovery of complex biological systems in other parts of the cosmos. His postulation of the future position the Christian faith doesn’t seem to present any kind of dilemma if, say, only bacteria or fungus was discovered on another planet at some point in the future which never evolved into anything else.

Schweitzer dives into the deep end of the Biblical hermeneutic pool. He takes a strong position in favor of the literal 24 hour/solar creation day view to support his thesis and dismisses out of hand any other understanding of the Genesis text. While it is not clear how deep his real understanding of Genesis is, it is safe to say the conclusions on which his main arguments rest in this piece are not necessarily consensus among Christian scholars and theologians. 

Schweitzer goes on to quote Genesis 1:26 -27 (though the article says Genesis 1:1) writing: “Nothing in that [passage(s)] mentions alien worlds, which of course the ancients knew nothing about. Man was told to rule over the fish on the earth, not on other planets. But god would have known of these alien worlds, so it is curious he did not instruct the authors to include the language.”

The arguments Schweitzer begins here, and continues sporadically, are simply non-sequiturs. Just because God did not specially reveal creation (if it indeed does exist) on other planets does not imply such a creation would be excluded from the possibility of existence. This type of reading of Scripture is common among Bible critics and is often used in criticizing the Gospel resurrection accounts. The idea behind this line of thinking seems to be that if Bible doesn’t specifically mention something, say dinosaurs or rocket ships, then Bible does not allow for their existence, or, if the Bible doesn’t explain something the way we would explain it, it must be false. Schweitzer’s conclusions likewise follow from this rationale.

Moving forward, he writes: "Let there be light" there already had been light shining bright for at least 10 billion years. He was flipping a switch that had been turned on eons before by the thermonuclear reactions in billions of stars that predate earth. That light bathed other suns and other planets long before the earth was a loose accumulation of rocks orbiting our sun. Since this is the story of all creation, these tidbits seem an important omission that will undermine the entire story when we find life elsewhere. We were late to the game of "let there be light." But this is simply another allusion to 
to a Genesis interpretation which seems incompatible with modern cosmology. I have already addressed the cursory nature of this objection. 

The big guns are then brought out: “We can also have no doubt that the earth is the center of the universe, because this is where god placed man. In the trial of Galileo, Pope Urban VIII made perfectly clear the church's understanding of god's word that the earth is unambiguously the center of the universe… Yet it would be difficult to claim the unique position of universe center if other planets held life that was zipping around in anti-gravity cars traveling at the speed of light. Clearly, if the ancients knew there was alien life, any form of life at all, the idea that the earth was the center of the universe would be more difficult to sustain. Again, though, there is no mention of alien worlds or life beyond this little blue dot.”

The Catholic Church’s medieval position on geocentricity is a well-played out argument that goes nowhere. Simply because the Catholic church was wrong in its understanding of Scripture does not mean Scripture was wrong. Further, history tells us the Catholic church – while certainly quite wrong in their reading of Scripture if indeed geocentricity was the prevailing interpretation – was concerned with other issues not related to science in the case of Galileo.

Schweitzer goes on: “None of the 66 books of the bible make any reference to life other than that created by god here on earth in that six-day period. If we discover life elsewhere, one must admit that is an oversight. So much so in fact that such a discovery must to all but the most closed minds call into question the entire story of creation, and anything that follows from that story. How could a convincing story of life's creation leave out life? Even if the story is meant to be allegorical, the omission of life elsewhere makes no sense.”

Again, Schweitzer pounds on the omission of life on other planets in the Bible as evidence of its being nonsense. Leaving this aside for now, how does the omission of life elsewhere make no sense even if the Genesis creation account is allegorical? If the creation account is allegorical, then why would the omission of life elsewhere be problematic? This just does not follow.

Next Schweitzer throws the haymaker: “Be clear I am talking here only of how just the simple existence of life elsewhere undermines religion.”

Actually, life elsewhere seems undermine Mr. Schweitzer’s worldview. On evolutionary naturalism, the odds against the existence of complex extraterrestrial life anywhere in the observable universe are incalculably improbable. Yet Mr. Schweitzer postulates the possibility of millions –even billions of earth-like planets that are – or could be – teeming with life. On naturalism, the probability of extraterrestrial life is so infinitesimal it is almost zero.  The origin of life on earth – just the origins excluding development and evolution - is so highly improbable that most naturalists admit its slight chances. Given the fine tuning of the necessary conditions for life to even be able to exist as well as the odds against development of complex information processing life forms, the burden of proof falls squarely on the naturalist to show how their view is tenable in light of extraterrestrial life.

While I am sure Mr. Schweitzer was limited in his space and time, this article was not a good allocation of either.  What this piece lacks is any hint of scientific disproof of the existence of God (which the title alluded to) or any type of critique of the scientific proofs (however minor given the space) for God. At most he calls into question the inerrancy of the Biblical creation account.

Christianity simply doesn’t speak to whether life was created elsewhere. It is not an issue of the Christian faith. It is not a central or fringe issue in the Bible.  If ET landed at the White house tomorrow morning it would not change one Christian truth. In spite of Mr. Schweitzer’s understanding, Scripture is clearly God’s revelation to man on earth. The Bible is not a science textbook, nor was it intended to be. 

Therefore, the article in question fails to live up to its title. Kepler 452-b is not bad news for God in any way. And Schweitzer has done nothing to demonstrate that it is. But since he has already picked up his toys and gone home by preemptively dismissing out of hand any theistic response to his writing, it doesn’t seem like any dialogue is really welcome. Any theistic reply will simply be written off as contortionist and revisionist. 

Christians should continue to welcome scientific discoveries such as Kepler-452b. We should marvel at them in reverence of the One who created all things. And we should continue to eagerly engage the scientific community in hopes of continuing to develop constructive dialogue. 

Why Classical Theism Matters

What is Classical Theism?

In natural theology, the classical theist demonstrates the existence of God by reasoning from effect to cause. At the end of this deductively air-tight reasoning chain, the classical theist arrives at the conclusion that there is Existence Itself or Pure Actuality. That which is Existence/Pure Act is the cause of all outside of itself.  And this is, as Aquinas says, is what men call God. From this conclusion, certain other conclusions follow, such as that God is simple (metaphysically uncomposed), impassible, eternal (not subject to time), immutable (impossible for God to change), infinite (God is not limited), good (God is goodness), ineffable. God is not a being among others, He is Being Itself. God is personal but is not person. Other conceptions of God dispute one or more of these predications. Dr. Brian Davies explains the distinctions between classical theism and other views in his book Philosophy of Religion. Dr. Edward Feser has some great posts at his blog on this topic and in his book The Last Superstition.

Why is classical theism important?

How one conceives of God is critical to their philosophy and theology. For example, atheists often level the “one god further objection.” This often goes something like “well you [Christian] don’t believe in Zeus, Thor, etc. I just go the next step; I simply don’t believe in one god further than you/I am atheistic about one more god…” On a classical view of God, this objection is a straw-man because the classical theist does not mean anything like the Greek pantheon when he says "God." As mentioned above, for the classical theist God is not a being among others. He just is Being itself. Other conceptions of God might say that “God is like a person without a body” or something similar, in which case the classical theist thinks certain problems arise. For example, if God is composed of properties like maximal power, knowledge, and so forth, then what is the nature of such composition? And, how might one reconcile thinking of God as a 'person' with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity?

Further, I think when we look at how God is described in the Bible, the classical theist conception fits the best. A paradigmatic verse for this is Exodus 3:14, where God says, “I AM WHO I AM.” God is "He Who Is". The classical theistic framework helps the Christian exegete Scripture in a hermeneutically sound and consistent manner. The classical theistic conception of God as timeless seems more in keeping with divine knowledge. We are told God knows the beginning from the end (Isaiah 46:10). On classical theism, I think this is answerable in a way that does not create problems with diverse types of knowledge in God (e.g. foreknowledge and middle knowledge).

Much more could be said on this, and I plan to do so in other posts. Others have also said a great deal on the divergent views of God (see Davies). What I intended here was simply a general sketch so readers can better understand some of the theme in the blog. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Aristotle's Bridge: Metaphysical Realism and Dialogue with Skeptics

Everybody does metaphysics It is just matter of degree. Metaphysics is not just for high falutin philosophers with tweed jackets and pipes. The term probably throws people off quite a bit, and I sometimes wish there was a better one. In any event, the average person refers to being, substance, accidents, and so forth countless times each day. Human life functions around these concepts.

It is simply taken for granted that one is speaking truly when one says that their car is blue or that justice was served when the guilty criminal went to jail. And for something to be true means that it conforms to reality. Thus, at bottom, the correct notion most people operate under is that lots of different things exist, and it is just a matter of how they exist. I think this is a great bridge that can be used to have important discussions about subjects like God, morality, eternity, and so forth. 

A common objection to God’s existence is that He is not discoverable by the five senses. If God existed, then scientists would have ‘found’ him by now, or He would be physically discoverable in principle. This objection gets dressed up in more sophisticated ways, but is ultimately predicated on an austere empiricism/scientism. And it can be shown that such an objection is inconsistent with reality as most (sane) people take it to be. To deny that we believe in things we cannot see, touch, hear, and test for is absurd. The skeptic will find it difficult to consistently deny mathematics, properties/accidents, and other non-empirically testable things, not to mention that science itself is underwritten by causality and other non-empirically '"verifiable" principles. 

Thus, I suggest the common ground between the everyday skeptic and the theist is realism. And I think it is realism in the moderate, Aristotelian sense. The Aristotelian tradition encompasses the intuitions of the everyday person. The everyday person thinks that there really are such things as quantity, quality, time, and so forth. The Aristotelian paradigm says “yes, you are right…and here’s how that works.” Again, I think many theistic skeptics implicitly agree with the premises from which Aristotle formulated his thought. And it may also help to note that Aristotle carried no brief for the theistic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). We should pursue these means to have thoughtful dialogue, each side should discuss how we account for the things that exist. 

Of course, there are theists that are not realists and do not agree with the Aristotelian framework. For the theists that are Platonist, I think the realist bridge is still there to a large degree. For the theists that are nominalist, I think they face a huge problem with internal consistency and will find it difficult to find common ground with skeptics. The discussion between the theistic nominalist and most skeptic will stall, because the theistic nominalist essentially asks the skeptic to discard his fundamental intuition about reality.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

One Reason Why the Euthyphro Dilemma Is Not a Good Argument Against God

Alfred North Whitehead once famously said, "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." To that end, much ink has been spilled over Plato's Euthyphro dialogue. You can read it here. The very simple point I will try to make is that what Plato was gesturing toward in Euthyphro is exactly what classical theists mean when they say ‘God’. But more importantly, the classical theist understanding of God as Pure Being/Act (as opposed to God being a Person with maximally great properties, etc.) shows the futility in using Euthyphro to indict classical theism.

As the reader is more than likely aware, the dialogue builds up to a dilemma where Socrates asks "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" The question aims at the definition of piety, and the dialogue ultimately ends in an impasse. Euthyphro gets frustrated with Socrates’ prodding and heads off to piously prosecute his father.

In the millennia since Plato, those unfriendly to theism have recast Socrates' question in the following way "is something good because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good?" If the theist takes the first horn, it seems that what is 'good' is arbitrary. On this line of thinking, God could will abominable acts which would technically be ‘good’. If the theist takes the second horn, then there is something beyond God which even He is subject to, by which God says something is good, and thus God is not sovereign and/or metaphysically supreme. Thus, taking either horn impugns the nature of God and sinks the theist.

We should note that the theistic dilemma differs somewhat from what Socrates and Euthyphro discuss. If we just take the term 'piety', then it seems that we are talking about defining a virtue (or virtue itself). In this case, we might come to Euthyphro's aid and present a better definition. But what Socrates is really asking is “what grounds piety?” Certain actions might be pious, but why is this so? What is the objective means by which we say that something is pious?

It seems obvious that Plato answers the Euthyphro dilemma in his later dialogues. When we learn about the Forms we can surmise the pious by Pious/Piety. And Piety is ultimately rolled up under the Good. Temporally pious actions or a pious person exemplifies or participates (and so forth) in Piety. Piety is the objective means by which we say something is pious or impious. So, perhaps Socrates would have been satisfied if Euthyphro would have said: "something is pious by the Pious” and gone on to explain the Forms. Such would have been sufficient to show Socrates that the dilemma was indeed false. 

Theists typically respond to the Euthyphro dilemma as being false when this objection is leveled. The theist tries to split the horns of the dilemma; X is good because God is good. Goodness, Piety, and so forth are grounded in God’s nature. Thus, there are no arbitrary goods and nothing beyond God which He is subject to. God is the ground of objective moral values and duties. Or, so the typical reply goes.

The question then becomes how is God the ground of moral values and duties. This seems to be a fair question and demonstrates why I think the classical view of God decisively splits the horns of Euthyphro. It is because the classical theist conceives of God as absolute metaphysical Goodness. God is Pure Being/Act, having all perfections infinitely and simply, and is the only thing that could truly fulfill Plato’s notion of the Good. I think other theistic conceptions, most of which fit under the guise of ‘theistic personalism’ (read more about that here) face difficulty in splitting Euthyphro’s horns. This is because, on theistic personalism, God is a being that has the property of goodness; God is called good because He has the property of goodness to a maximal degree.

But saying that something has goodness versus that something is goodness are two very different propositions. The classical theist directly appeals, via analogical predication, to the nature of God as goodness itself, whereas the theistic personalist must say that God is a being that has goodness. On the theistic personalist view, it is difficult to think of how God is not metaphysically composed in some way, being made up of an amalgamation of maximally great properties. And if God’s composition includes the property of goodness, one cannot help but perceive this property existing apart from God. And if goodness can, in principle, exist apart from God, then we are right back on one of Euthyphro’s horns.

The Euthyphro dilemma ultimately has no force against the classical theist. The notion of the Good that Euthyphro alludes to is fully and truly explicated in the work of the great classical theistic thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas and those following in that scholastic tradition. These thinkers would, I believe, be unanimous in agreement that nothing composite could be the metaphysical absolute capable of splitting Euthyphro. And I think they would also agree that the dilemma is clearly false once a robust metaphysical inquiry is undertaken.

It is beyond the scope here to show how an atheistic Platonism would fail, and I may revisit this question later. I will simply state for now that Pure Being/Act is the only possible metaphysical Goodness per se. Plato’s system cannot provide a robust conception of being (ousia), and such a notion is necessary to have that which is Goodness per se. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

God Speaking Audibly

“I would believe in God if ___ happened.”

This notion is sometimes raised by skeptics when answering the question of what evidence they would require to affirm that God exists. It seems to go along with the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” assertion. I have even heard skeptics say “if God spoke audibly to me, then I would believe He exists.” This is, of course, a very sophomoric statement.

If the skeptic hears a voice saying “I am God, believe in me,” they would immediately doubt it was anything other than a natural anomaly. The skeptic's job is to explain away any possible sign of God by means necessary. In the case of an audible voice, perhaps it was a hallucination or some previously unobserved aspect of nature. The voice certainly could not be God because “God exists” is not a live option for the skeptic. If the skeptic will not accept any logical or metaphysical demonstration that God exists, they will not accept anything in the way of a sign or wonder.

It is only if a metaphysical demonstration of God’s existence is at least possible that the skeptic could even have something by which to reconcile an audible voice from the heavens (or whatever other signs they may want). In any event, the reality is that if the skeptic is being genuinely skeptical, there is never enough evidence to demonstrate anything out of their existing paradigm. Asking for a 'sign', an audible sign or a  molecule with "made by God' stamped on it would never suffice. That is why the request by the skeptic for God to 'show Himself' is fool's talk.

Thoughts on Discussing the Trinity and Incarnation

The Trinity and Incarnation are two of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. These doctrines are probably the most mysterious, and also the most difficult to properly explain to unbelievers and skeptics. First, it must be stated that because a doctrine is mysterious does not mean it is unintelligible or contradictory. A mystery is something affirmed by faith that cannot be fully comprehended by finite minds. When the Christian believes something by faith, they believe based on testimony, and this testimonial basis is rationally justifiable. Mystery does not contradict, but it does go beyond, or is not subject to nor arrived at by, purely logical demonstration.

It should go without saying that Christians must be Biblically informed on why they hold the doctrine of the Trinity. A shallow faith is one not explored for oneself within the page of Scripture. Given this, what Christians affirm of the Trinity is as follows:

  1.         The Father is God.
  2.          The Son is God.
  3.          The Holy Spirit is God.
  4.          The Father is not the Son.
  5.           The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
  6.           The Son is not the Holy Spirit
  7.       There is exactly one God.
There is much more that could be said (and volumes have already been written) on why and how Christians affirm the Trinitarian doctrine. But, given the above, there are at least three common points of attack on the Trinity leveled by skeptics. Each one is taken in turn below.

The Trinity is incomprehensible (so it must be false)

Simply because something is complicated or difficult to understand does not mean it is untrue. Trinitarian skeptics (ex. Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses) frequently make this very fundamental mistake. The reasoning goes as follows:  “a Trinitarian God is ‘more complicated’ than a Unitarian God, therefore the Trinity must be false.” The full argument seems to look something like this:
  1. A Trinitarian God is complicated.
  2. Complicated things are less likely to be true than simpler things.
  3. Therefore a Trinitarian God does not exist.
In syllogism form, the weakness of the argument is apparent in P2. It is unlikely anybody will agree that complicated things are a priori not true. Further, there are plenty of examples where the existence of something complicated is accepted as true.  One example that immediately comes to mind is biological activity within humans at the cellular level. The physical sciences have shown that what man used to think was quite simple is actually a very complex arrangement of microscopic machines that have certain functions and processes. A rational mind should not deny as true something because it is not easily understood. Such thinking would void the entire enterprise of science, and probably any other venture of human thought.

The doctrine of the Trinity was created/developed under suspicious circumstances.

Trinitarian skeptics will point to the Council of Nicaea or other church councils as evidence that the Trinity was created under sketchy circumstances. The reasoning goes that if a doctrine is developed under such circumstances, it must be rejected. The argument in syllogism form seems to be:
  1. The Trinity was developed under sketchy circumstances
  2. Anything developed under sketchy circumstances is false
  3. Therefore the Trinity is false.
Premise 2 is clearly false. This premise seems to beget a  type of genetic fallacy. How a person comes to believe something does not have any bearing on whether the belief is true. Such would be the same as arguing that religion R is false because person A only believes religion R because their parents were of religion R. But the question is just whether R is true or false. 

Premise 1 should also be closely examined. The skeptic wants to argue that the motives of those arranging or involved in the church councils were not to develop Biblical doctrine, but were politically or otherwise motivated. And so a sound historiographical approach must be used in evaluating whether there was any ‘suspicious circumstances’ at the church councils which would have effectively prevented proper Biblical doctrine from being expounded. If Constantine was a pagan and he arranged the council, does that mean the entire council was beholden to develop a certain desired doctrinal outcome? And what might that doctrinal outcome be?  

Further, even if there were suspicious circumstances, does this mean that the doctrines expounded or defended are false? Certainly not. Christians can look to the Scriptures themselves and see if any errors were made by the councils. To say that a church council decision has clouded the judgment of any Christian looking for the Trinity in the Scriptures is bad argumentation. The Christian could simply reply that the egg salad sandwich the skeptic had for lunch is clouding the skeptic’s judgment.
Similar responses can be made to the claim that the Trinity was developed based on pagan deities with three heads and the like. There is just no reason to think that because there were pagan deities with three heads or ancient images on cave walls of triangles that the Trinity is based on mythology. It is easily demonstrable that the creedal affirmations of the Trinity stand in no causal relationship with paganism. One need look no further than what the pagans affirmed and what the images (likely) meant versus what Christians believe. The difference is stark and irrefutable.

 The Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament

Since Christians accept the full canon of Scripture (at least with regard to 66 books, with all due respect to non-Protestant churches), including 27 New Testament books, this objection is quite weak. A common hermeneutical approach is what is called the ‘progressive revelation’ of Scripture. As time advances, God reveals more and more of His will, commands, character. Moses had more revelation from God than did Abraham, and the Jews at the time of Christ had more revelation than did Moses as many prophets had come and spoken from God since Moses. Those who accept the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures – Moses/Law, Prophets, Writings) must work very hard to deny progressive revelation. It should be noted that progressive revelation should not be thought of as God changing, but simply God revealing more of who He is. 

Given the teachings and sayings of Christ Himself, as well as the authoritative writings of the Apostles, denying the Trinity based on its apparent absence in the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) is not tenable. It is also quite debatable whether the doctrine of the Trinity is, in fact, absent from the Old Testament. The Messianic Psalms, for example (Psalm 22:22, 45:6-7, 110:1) seem to present at least the basic sketches of Messiah’s Deity. Quite simply, if Christ was who He claimed to be and the Apostles were authentic, then the full disclosure of God’s Tri-unity in the New Testament alone is not problematic.

The skeptic is certainly allowed to object to the Trinity based on other grounds. The skeptic could approach from the side of bad hermeneutic and say the Christian has wholly misunderstood the Scriptures referring to the Deity of Christ and the Deity of the Holy Spirit.  The skeptic can also argue that it is just impossible for the Trinitarian affirmations to be coherent (many have, in fact, argued this). The skeptic may argue along these lines that it is metaphysically impossible for God to be one in essence and three in person. But these approaches require deeper and properly constructed argumentation. The three, and I would argue most often used, objections discussed above have no force against the Christian.   

Scientism and Miracles

Skeptical Argument

If God is going to interact with the physical world, as is claimed when he performs miracles, he could then be detected by science. But if there is no physical way to detect God, then how could we possibly know about Him outside the want or desire for this to be true?

Possible Reply

The first thing to note is the claim that God ‘interacts’ in the physical world. The classical theist rejects this on grounds that God is continually acting in the world by divine conservation. There is no contingent thing that exists at any time which is not given its act of existence by God. And this conclusion is demonstrated from metaphysical inquiry, reasoning from the sensible to the supersensible. God is not necessarily doing more in the world when a miraculous event occurs then He is at any other time.

The second thing to note is the claim that, if a miracle is performed, it could be detected by science. The rationale here seems to be that miracles occur in the physical world and anything that happens in the physical world is reducible to scientific observation. I think this misses the mark for several reasons. First, miracles are by nature infrequently occurring and unique. There is no intrinsic repeatability or controlled environment with which miracles could be studied with the rigors demanded by science to the extent that the claimant would be satisfied.  Further, even if they could be, what would be observed in a laboratory miracle situation is simply the effect. The cause of a miracle is supernatural, as this is just what a miracle is. Thus, while the effect (miracle) is observed, the cause is not. Science comes up with a blank as to the cause of the miracle because the cause of the miracles is not within the realm of inquiry.

At this point, the skeptic thinks the theist is simply offering a gap argument along the lines of “I do not know the cause of X, therefore God must be the cause of X.” And then usually something like the scientific revolution is shown in contrast beliefs across the world to illuminate the foolishness of people thinking God or gods cause certain phenomena when certain phenomena are perfectly explainable by science. It is not demons possessing a person to make them sick, they simply have a virus. And so forth.

But the skeptic must be in tune with the claim the theist is actually making about miracles. The theist is not making a gap argument when he says miracles are possible, and at least some miracles have occurred. The theist is stating that, in certain instances, God acts in particular ways, sometimes through particular individuals, for particular reasons. If God exists, then He is constantly acting in the world by upholding every single existing thing in it. And, if God exists, it is the case that His effects are known and visible; and these effects may be known and visible in ways that are non-normative.

What seems to underlie the above claim against miracles is an a priori commitment to scientism. This is the belief that only the physical scientific disciplines can deliver true knowledge about the world. Much has been written on this subject, and I will not rehash this issue right now. The only thing that I will say is that the claim of scientism is not often defended in the philosophy of religion by atheists/agnostics. Some philosophers of science might defend variations of this position, but, in its purist sense, scientism hearkens back to strands of logical positivism, a la Carnap, Ayer, and friends which are notoriously difficult to defend.

The skeptical claim against miracles we are considering also begs the question against the theist and possibly creates a straw-man. The argument seems to imply “if God exists, He should be detectable by science. God is not detectable by science. Therefore, God does not exist.” But the theist makes the explicit claim that God is not physical. Since the domain of science, at least the ‘hard’ sciences advocated by the skeptic (note the implicit emphasis on empirical observation, testing, etc.), is physical, there is a complete disconnect from what the theist is arguing. Here the skeptic essentially denies God’s existence because God is non-physical. But the very nature of God is non-physical, and this is indeed what the theist claims. Nothing the theist says should lead one to think that God should be detectable by scientific methodology employed in the physical sciences.

There is not much to say regarding the claim about knowing God by our desire for Him to be real. This claim has been played out from Marx to Freud. And the conflation of metaphysical and epistemological claims is palpable. I tend to condense this down to the claim that God only has cognitional being or is a being of reason. This is to say that God exists in the same way hobbits and Star Wars characters do; they exist in the mind of existent beings but do not have their own independent acts of existence. Thus the skeptic claims that God only exists in the minds of theists, by their own acts of will or desire. And the only supposed way out of this conundrum for the theist would be if God was subject to verification of the physical sciences.

But the theist claims that God is Existence, is Pure Act, Being Itself. And this is a distinctly metaphysical claim. It is impossible that God exist within the existential act of another being. It is God who gives the act of existence to the finite being who discursively reasons from effect to cause. 

Divine Hiddenness and Miracles

Why doesn’t God show Himself more? Why don’t we see miracles today like we did in biblical times? These are deep and interesting questions that gesture toward the problem of divine hiddenness. The problem of divine hiddenness amounts to the fact that many people think God should make His existence more obvious. How He should specifically do so varies from person to person. It is not clear from those typically raising this objection whether an audible voice should be heard, cloud writings, or specific types of medical or physical miracles. Maybe it would be all of these things. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell once said “Not enough evidence!” when asked what He would say to God if he (Russell) met Him (God).

The atheistic argument is that, because God’s existence is not more manifest, one might justifiably doubt Him. Further, it seems that the biblical accounts are full of divine action in the world and there is a dearth of such action now. Why did God stop acting miraculously in the world? Wouldn’t it make more sense for God to continually show people that He is there and acting in the world as He did in the days of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus? Miracles, events in the space/time universe that are supernatural, would seem to be concrete and irrefutable proof that God exists. Maybe if Bertrand Russell had seen a man instantly healed of leprosy before his eyes he would have considered it sufficient evidence of a theistic miracle (I have my doubts).  

Since the scope here is small, I will only explore a certain aspect of the problem of divine hiddenness; though I believe the implications could be drawn out much further. The brief point I want to sketch is that miracles are not a particularly manifest proof of God’s existence. If more miracles occurred, there would not be any marked increase in belief in God. 

For the classical theist, God is not hidden in any kind of problematic way. His effects are constantly observed. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that He “upholds the universe by the word of His power.” In Acts 17:28, the apostle Paul says “In Him we live and move and have our being.” It is believed by scholars that Paul is quoting Epimenides of Crete, yet the apostle endorses such a view of God as correct. Both Scripture and unaided reason show that the evidence for God is immediately evident to any rational person because God is causing all things to exist at any moment in which they do. This is the doctrine of divine conservation, also sometimes called causality. God is the First Cause of the universe because He gives existence to all things that are.

Everything but existence itself (God) stands in potency to its act of existing. That is, everything but God is always contingent upon God. There are no exceptions to this and there is no ‘existential inertia’; God is not the ‘watch winder’ and spectator, dabbling His finger here and there into creation as He sees fit. The exact opposite must be the case if there is anything at all. God conserves every contingent thing, always, in the most fundamental way. Anything but God could cease to exist at any time (God cannot cease to exist because such an action would involve actualizing a potency in God. But God, as Pure Act, has no potentiality; there is no potency to actualize in God.  Everything else but God has potency to at least non-existence, and so necessarily receives its act of existing from God).

Thus, any effect in the world, a car, a pencil, a molecule, etc. is manifest evidence for God. The fact that any contingent thing exists serves as the beginning point of a demonstration for God’s existence. If God did not exist, then nothing at all could. From this it follows that miracles are not a particularly special evidence for God. In fact, without a notion of God, the notion of a miracle would be altogether nonsensical. It seems that a coherent notion of God is explanatorily prior to a miraculous event,and others have made this very case. It should not be thought that man has a notion of God and a miraculous event confirms that notion. Rather, the reasoning from effect to cause from the most common things in creation are, again, evidence for a sustaining existential cause. It is only from this framework can a miracle be understood as revelatory and intelligible.

It is only the ‘watchmaker’ view of God that can allow one to think that He only acts in creation (after it is made) by miracles. This view of God sees the elegant design of the ‘watch’ as pointing to God and the occurrence of miracles as further proof that God cares to act in creation after He initiates and shapes it. If God is seen as a distant observer of creation, or a as programming the machine and then letting it go, then miraculous events are perhaps needed to truly affirm theism (as opposed to deism).

For the classical theist, the absence of biblical-type miracles in the post-apostolic era is not any kind of evidential problem for God. The fact is God is not hidden at all. His effects are manifest at every moment, and so His conservation of such effects is manifest. It should be noted the Divine Essence itself is not experienced by man in its absolute fullness. One need only consider Isaiah 6:1-7 to understand that, even within a vision, the holiest man in Israel fell completely apart when glimpsing the presence of God. God, in His grace and mercy, allows man to experience Him in ways that befit the Creator/creature relationship.

Yet, despite this, man still demands to have a god that he can completely comprehend, to have a god that is small and pocket sized. This god fits man much better than One that is holy, infinite, and incomprehensible. Because God is incomprehensible, some think that He is not able to be apprehended. But this is not the case. Man can know that God is, and know some things about Him, through divine revelation and natural reason. Further, God can be known in an intimate way by man through Jesus Christ, the God-man.

Because miracles are not per se evidential proof for God does not mean that they have no value. Their value is great in the context of God’s revelatory purposes. Miracles are not necessary ‘special’ acts of God in the world in the sense that God was not acting, and now is acting when Moses parts the Red Sea, or Jesus feeds 5,000 people. Miracles are meant to teach us something, to authenticate the teachings and words of a prophet. Miracles deliver knowledge to man about God, His nature, and His desire for us. I think it would be beneficial if we would understand and focus on communicating miracles in this context.