jeudi 10 novembre 2011

Laws of nature

Evidence*) can be deduced for or against the occurrence of specific events, but such evidence *relies* on general laws. That is because the whole theoretical model of scientific explanation rests on the idea that *every* particular event is subsumed under general rules. We test the rules by reference to the data, which in turn are comprised of specific events.

That brings us back to the guy who without looking at registers assumes he has 32 different persons as grandfather's grandfather's father and so on up to grandmother's grandmother's mother. He is subsuming the specific event under the general rule, but he is stating the general rule sloppily. Just because - being sufficiently distantb from first men - he has to have a grandfather's grandfather's father (or rather eight, but one of them a father's father's father's father's father) as well as a grandmother's grandmother's father (eight, one of them a mother's mother's mother's mother's father) he cannot really know, but he thought he knew, that they were two different persons.

In Western Larger Cities, having 28 - 32 different persons in that generation is not at all uncommon, due to avoiding of close relatives. I think that excepting Jews and Gipsies, who avoid cousin marriages less, as well as recent Near East Immigration, 28 - 32 different people is more common than anywhere between 4 - 26, whereas 2 would be outstanding: in order to have only two of them, one would have to be either five generations after Adam and Eve, or five generations on an isolated island which started out with a single couple like Adam and Eve.

Now, as said earlier: if a man who was really fifth from Adam and Eve (but living away from them, in Nod East of Eden, and so not seeing them) were to extrapolate from the fact that as everyone has two parents, every parent is someone who has two parents, and so on, and conclude that he had 32 different persons five generations back rather than Adam and Eve having sixteen ancestor roles each, would be getting the general rule wrong, because he tried to formulate the general rule before discounting evidence because it conflicted with the general rule.

So, just for example, we can't "test" the hypothesis that the sun went down on July 28, 50000 BC. It's an event, not an explanation. But if someone asked what evidence we have for the truth of the proposition, we could only appeal to the observably law-governed motion of the planet, and the absence of any well-attested discontinuity.

A Christian can reply: it did not set back then, because that year did not exist. God created Heaven and Earth, I will not say later than then, because that gives a false view of God's eternity before creating, if I got St Thomas Aquinas right, but more recently. I will also reply that discontinuities are attested:

  • a) 24 h standstill in Joshua's times;
  • b) one King of Judah asking a prophet to make the sun go backwards two measures on the sun watch (probable limit between equinox Taurus and equinox Pisces if only sun, but neither moon nor fixed stars went back);
  • c) one of those probably equals the exaggerated account of Greeks of Sun rising in the West and setting in the East, when Thyestes made Atreus eat his own sons;
  • d) the two occasions are confirmed losely also by Egyptian astronomers who reported four irregularities for the last ten thousand years (=more than the world existed, thus Egyptians have deliberately misdated to make their culture and knowledge look older than it is).

As for sources neither Jewish, Greek or Egyptian, their records do not reach uninterruptedly as far back as that. As far laws, the one who claims that the Sun obeying Joshua is impossible is very like a man who claims it is impossible that potato cut into pieces can take half an hour to boil soft, from when water starts boiling, because he knows it takes ten minutes at sea level (twenty for big uncut potatoes) and he has never been at Titicaca. Saying there is neither any God nor any angel who can do what bodily creatures cannot, is misstating the laws of nature. And, as in water boiling at 100°C, misstating in such a way that one can live very long without seing the mistake corrected.

I'd prefer not to distinguish between facts and laws, since laws (at least in the framework I'm supposing) are just a certain type of general fact. But, obviously, they're quite different from reports of specific events. To confuse those two sorts of things is just very sloppy.

Precisely: laws are general facts and need scientific explanation and repetated universal or next-to-universal attestation. Specific events are not general and need attestation.

If frequency of attestation is the rule by which we go in accepting or rejecting not so probable events, miracles are in as good a position as plagues or wars - or even better.

If rejection of the supernatural is your rule, because acceptance of the supernatural would in your eyes make the general principle you enounced harder or - though that is just your take - impossible to apply, then you are no longer in a position of inquiring about whether miracles occur, but in the position of one rejecting them. On a certain principle.

Quite obviously, we Christians would not be sharing that principle. So, either the principle is not self evident, or we are unusually stupid for not grasping a self evident principle. Indeed, seeing that atheist materialists are such a clear minority of the World Population, most of the world would be unusually stupid and only a minority sane as usual - but then that "sane as usual" would no longer be "as usual" but rather exceptional. So, where does your principled superiority over the rest of humanity come from? A good question to ask before bowing down to you wisdom, I should think.

It does not come from the logic of your mate who - after reading my previous post here - asks "what sober witness would state that dead men walked" about St Matthew, as if that were a self-evident principle between both parties, and on top of it misses that the one Apostle to be certain eyewitness to the Crucifixion is also the one who reports that blood and water came from Christ's side when St Longinus pierced Our Lord's side with his lance. Nor from his confusion about "not stating same things" as if it were tantamount to stating contradictory things.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
*)On the thread under these arguments came up.

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