Thursday, November 17, 2005

Miracle Whipped

There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?
--Richard Dawkins

Last night during the Caplan-Iannaccone debate about the rationality of religion, Prof. Iannaccone made a rather amazing argument for a trained mathematician: he told us miracles proved themselves.

A virgin birth is a crazy idea because every other birth at that time was non-virginal. "But that's the whole point," Iannaccone said. "It's a miracle."

Is that all you need, Professor? Someone to tell you something amazing is happening? If I tell you I've seen those fairies Dawkins refers to, will you build altars at your garden? Will I be your new God?

If a miracle is by definition unprovable and supernatural, how can we possibly tell if it's a miracle? We can't, which makes them rationally useless.


Ryan Peterson said...

Can you rephrase this? I don't think I understand the question. Why is it hard to know that something is a miracle -- if the impossible were to happen, it'd be a miracle, right?

Was his point that miracles prove themselves? I thought he was simply saying that because the claim of a virgin birth is made specifically *because* it is impossible, dismissing it as impossible is missing the point. Aren't those two different arguments?

David said...

He was responding to Caplan's criticism of believing in the virgin birth (all other births weren't by virgins). Iannaccone said (paraphrased) "That's the whole point; it's a miracle!"

The logical extension, then, is if someone claims something impossible and justifies supernaturally, then anything's a miracle. From this perspective, the only real different between the crazy homeless guy and Bible stories are the number of people that believe them. Miracles prove themselves.

Also, just because the "impossible" happens doesn't mean it's supernatural. Science doesn't always get it right the first time. For a long time, everyone thought an atom was indivisible. That doesn't make an atomic bomb an instrument of God.

jeremy h. said...

Hey, this is the 3rd time (by my count) you've quoted Dawkins this week. What's going on?

David said...

It's because I discovered his entry on WikiQuote and realized how many great quotes he has.

For example, "...when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong."

Remind you of just about every free-market debate in college?