William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Philosophic Issues in Cosmology IV: Creatio Ex Nihilo—Guest Post by Bob Kurland

From the Hubble deep field.

From the Hubble deep field.

Bob Kurland is a retired, cranky, old physicist, and convert to Catholicism. He shows that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.

Read Part III.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters…[Gen 1:1-2 (KJV)]

“The laws of nature themselves tells us that not only can the universe have popped into existence like a proton and have required nothing in terms of energy but also that it is possible that nothing caused the big bang,” Professor Steven Hawking (Discovery Channel broadcast).

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.” G.K. Chesterton

Historical

The Hebrew for formless and void in Gen 1:1 is tohu-bohu (or tohu va vo-hu), though one Hebrew told me the translation was topsy-turvy, a mess, confusion. That would be more in accord with notion held by many physicists that Creation arose from quantum fluctuations.

Where did ex nihilo come from? Besides scripture (2 Maccabees 7:28, Hebrews 11:3), the first Christian writer to promote the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was Theophilus of Antioch in the late 2nd Century, who wrote:

[B]ut then they (the Platonists) maintain that matter as well as God is uncreated, and aver that it is coeval with God. But if God is uncreated and matter uncreated, God is no longer, according to the Platonists, the Creator of all things, nor, so far as their opinions hold, is the monarchy of God established. And further, as God, because He is uncreated, is also unalterable; so if matter, too, were uncreated, it also would be unalterable, and equal to God; for that which is created is mutable and alterable, but that which is uncreated is immutable and unalterable. And what great thing is it if God made the world out of existent materials? For even a human artist, when he gets material from some one, makes of it what he pleases. But the power of God is manifested in this, that out of things that are not He makes whatever He pleases;

Theophilus was contesting the view of Greek philosophers, Platonists, neo-Platonists, that the universe was eternal, that a demi-urge had created it from pre-existing stuff. Theophilus’s theologic cudgel was wielded against the Gnostics by later Christian theologian/philosophers and fully developed by St. Augustine. It was St. Augustine who developed arguments about time, that time could have begun with creation, which is a view remarkably in accord with much of modern cosmology, e.g. “…no time passed before the world, because no creature was made by whose course it might pass,” St. Augustine, City of God bk 11, ch.4.

As Keith Ward (Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature) puts it: “For Augustine, God brought about time and space as well as all the things that are in them. Just as God did not create space at a certain place, but non-spatially caused all places to exist, so God did not create time at a certain moment, but non-temporally caused all time to exist.”

Note that Ward’s interpretation above does not require a first moment of time, a “t=0”, although Augustine did accept, on the basis of Revelation, that the Universe (which to him was much smaller than our conception) had a definite beginning.

St. Thomas Aquinas also contended against the Greek philosophers’ version of Creation. He agreed with Aristotle that creation required a First Cause, which Aristotle called the Prime Mover and which Aquinas called God. However, he believed that only Revelation, not reason, could assert that Creation began at an instant in time (ST, P1, Q46):

By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist…it cannot be demonstrated that man, or heaven, or a stone were not always. Likewise neither can it be demonstrated on the part of the efficient cause, which acts by will. For the will of God cannot be investigated by reason, except as regards those things which God must will of necessity; and what He wills about creatures is not among these, as was said above.

Even though the world might be eternal, Aquinas maintained that God’s creative agency would be and is continually active, as a creatio continua.

Time

Some comments about the forms “time” might take in a cosmological description of the evolution of the universe, and whether creatio ex nihilo requires a beginning, an instant in time about which we can say this is t=0, and there is no t<0.1

Our ordinary understanding of a universal time is confounded by the prescriptions in special and general relativity. Special relativity requires that the time of an event depends on the frames of reference of the object and observer; thus, an event A might be in the future for observer X in one frame of reference and in the past for observer Y in a different frame.

A further complication is found in general relativity, gravitational time dilation. To take these complications into account, spacetime is divided into space-like slices, for which some proper time, t, is assumed to be the same everywhere in the slice. This proper time can be replaced by another parameter (varying with time) such as R (the radius of the universe) which is constant in a slice.

The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics introduces still another complication: uncertainty in time x uncertainty in energy > h/(2pi). This means that to specify t=0 exactly there would have to be an infinite uncertainty in the energy of the system.

Contemporary

For the most part opinions of contemporary theologians are reactive to various cosmological theories about the origin (or non-origin) of the universe. Focus on the Big Bang (t=0) hypothesis and the Hartle-Hawking model (no beginning). Then, if God is eternal and timeless, how does God act in a world that progresses in time; in other words, what can we say about the temporality of God? This question is addressed in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature by several of the authors:

  • The Big Bang hypothesis confirms creatio ex nihilo by showing the Universe began at a definite time (t=0): William L. Craig, Ted Peters
  • The Big Bang hypothesis might be true, but it is also possible that the Universe could be eternal, with creatio continua by God: George F.R. Ellis, Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward*
  • The Big Bang hypothesis and cosmology, for one reason or another, are not all that relevant to theological ideas about creation: William Alston, Ian Barbour (in Robert John Russell’s article), Karl Barth, Wilhelm Drees, Arthur Peacocke (in Robert John Russell’s article), William Stoeger
  • The Hartle-Hawking model offers theologic possibilities (see Summary below): Wilhelm Drees, Chris Isham, Robert John Russell

Summary

The science/physics of creation is not settled with respect to creatio ex nihilo, either as a beginning in/of time or as a component of creatio continua. In terms of treatments of General Relativity (GR), the FLRW model yield a singularity at R=0 (t=0), the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorem showed that singularities are generally found as solutions of the GR field equations, and the Borde-Guth-Velenkin theorem demonstrates for classical relativity, if the Universe has an average positive expansion, it has to have a beginning. But GR fails in the domain near R=0, t=0, such that quantum gravity theory would have to be invoked—but there is no theory of quantum gravity.

None of the theories which have a purported quantum mechanical base have any empirical support. In the Hartle-Hawking model the introduction of the imaginary, it, to replace the time variable, t, in the general equation for the universe wave-function (if such were to exist) is arbitrary, done only for aesthetic reasons (to remove a singularity).

Robert J. Russell and Chris Isham claim that the Hartle-Hawking model is consistent with creatio continua, with nothing at the boundary of the closed universe. Robert J. Russell also argues that a finite universe is consistent with Creation theology, even if there is no definite beginning (as in Hawking’s argument that the south (or north) pole is not the beginning of the earth.) George F.R. Ellis points out that Hawking’s argument that the universe is pre-existent, caused by nothing other than gravity, is not correct since the Hartle-Hawking model includes (pre-existent Hilbert spaces, quantum operators, Hamiltonians,etc.) whose existence is if anything more mysterious than that of the universe itself,” quoted by Robert J. Russell.

My Take

The science/physics/cosmology of creation does show empirical evidence for a creation event, a “Big Bang”: the red shift showing a universe expansion; the COBE microwave background radiation showing the burnt embers of a very initial epoch; the hydrogen/helium ratio and lack of carbon-12 in ancient (far distant) stars; the more recent B-mode COBE results showing effects of early inflation.

Theologians seem to be wary about falling into a “God of the Gaps” pit, using the deity to explain what science cannot. That fear I believe is unfounded. At some point a God of the Gaps argument has to be introduced, as a prime mover, to explain why there is a science illumined by mathematical theory. There are theological and philosophical issues that are not yet (and may never be) settled: What is time? Does God change with time, or is He eternally fixed and, if so, how does he act in time?

Theologians and scientists have not improved very much, if at all, on the insights of Sts. Augustine and Aquinas. Faith and revelation give insight. The arguments of the Catechism are as forceful now as they were when first propounded by Theophilus of Antioch. And finally, we should keep in mind the aphorism of St. Thomas Aquinas: “It is not that God is irrational but that our understanding is limited.”

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1Objections have been made to the use of t=0 as a “beginning” in that arbitrary mathematical mappings can change t=0 to t = -infinity (logarithmic transform) or t= +infinity (inverse transform). I don’t consider such objections to be substantive, since they are artificial—we don’t perceive the passage of time in a logarithmic or inverse transform way, although as any husband knows who has waited for his wife to finish shopping, the subjective passage of time is not necessarily linear with a clock.

29 Comments

  1. To anticipate comments:
    unlike the other posts in this series I do present a religious bias… so sue me!

  2. “The Hebrew for formless and void in Gen 1:1 is tohu-bohu (or tohu va vo-hu), though one Hebrew told me the translation was topsy-turvy, a mess, confusion. That would be more in accord with notion held by many physicists that Creation arose from quantum fluctuations.”
    Ah, Briggs omitted some crucial words when he lifted it from the post… that should be
    “though one Hebrew scholar (a physician scripture scholar, not a Jew)…”
    Sorry Briggs…

  3. In order to get something from nothing, infinite power is needed. And then isn’t it curious that many theories lead to singularities and other infinities. Coincidence? Maybe so, maybe so.

  4. John 20:24-29
    24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
    But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
    26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
    28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
    29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    In Plain English: Proof (or the search for truth) is for Doubters. It’s the next best thing to touching the actual…

  5. Briggs,

    Why infinite power?

  6. Bob, the philosopher/ theologian, William Carroll, is very good in this area:
    http://www.theology.ox.ac.uk/people/staff-list/dr-william-carroll.html

  7. @Bob Kurland:

    “Theologians seem to be wary about falling into a “God of the Gaps” pit, using the deity to explain what science cannot. That fear I believe is unfounded. At some point a God of the Gaps argument has to be introduced, as a prime mover, to explain why there is a science illumined by mathematical theory.”

    Gap arguments, as usually understood, are invalid. How can an invalid argument explain anything whatsoever? And the arguments such as given by Aristotle, Aquinas or Leibniz, or even any half-decent philosopher or theologian, are not gap arguments, so what do you have in mind?

  8. My, CR, we do seem to be contentious! I thought that the phrase “God of the Gaps” was understood by those with a passing knowledge of the philosophy of science and of theology, but… At any rate it refers to giving a theological or philosophical explanation for something which, at the given time, cannot be explained scientifically…in the 18th Century, William Paley’s watchmaker analogy, in the 19th Century organic and biochemicals.. but which later does seem to be explained scientifically.
    Looking at the index of “Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature–Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action” (Vatican Observatory Press and CTNS) I find the following references, among others:
    p. 93: (Michael Heller, winner of the Templeton Prize) “…rapprochement between science and theology…almost inevitably leads to dangers of pseudo-scientific explanations and compromised ‘God of the Gaps’ strategies in theology. (Referring to use of the Big Bang and Quantum Mechanics in a theological context.)
    p. 240: (J.R. Lucas, Oxford) “The Big Bang is an embarrassment because it is a singularity, and the laws of physics break down at that point, and because it suggests the physicists are introducing God, as a sort of Deus ex Machina, to provide an explanation when physics itself cannot. Theologians, too, feel shy about invoking this type of explanation, and murmur they don’t want a God of the gaps. But they should not be shy. God, if he is God at all, is God of the gaps as well as of everything else, and there are bound to be gaps.” (Said much better than I did in the post, but this was what I meant to say.)
    p. 438 (Rev. John Polkinghorne, winner of the Templeton Prize”) “I have been criticized by some for what they believe is a return to the discredited notion of ‘God of the gaps’. My answer would be that what was discreditable about that illusory deity was that the gaps were epistemic, and thus extrinsic to nature, mere patches of scientific ignorance.”
    I hope that explains what is meant by “God of the gaps”.
    By the way, I don’t see in my post any reference to Aristotle, Aquinas or Leibniz making a God of the gaps argument, so what is exactly your beef?

  9. Excuse me CR, I see what you’re confused about. This paragraph:
    “Theologians seem to be wary about falling into a “God of the Gaps” pit, using the deity to explain what science cannot. That fear I believe is unfounded. At some point a God of the Gaps argument has to be introduced, as a prime mover, to explain why there is a science illumined by mathematical theory. There are theological and philosophical issues that are not yet (and may never be) settled: What is time? Does God change with time, or is He eternally fixed and, if so, how does he act in time?”

    My point was to emphasize, and this should have been clear from context, that there are many things that science cannot explain. As Polkinghorne and Lucas put it, there is a distinction between epistemic gaps, which one should not try to explain theologically, and real gaps that can be attributed to God.

  10. All,

    Apropos:

    Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?

    Ellis: Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did. And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

    Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being. Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.

    And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.

    It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.

    And “As I stated above, mathematical equations only represent part of reality, and should not be confused with reality.”

    Why haven’t we seen this guy before? Physicist George Ellis.

  11. Briggs,

    Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing.

    The cheap seats answer is that nothing is something. At which point I divide by zero and … oh sh–!

    How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

    Amen. We don’t like not knowing though, do we? As such, we’re disposed to create answers ex nihilo which appeal to us. So much the better if they’re logically defensible. Yet, I contend, that the most bomb-proof logic in the world does not dictate the reality of actual entities. In which set of real entities I include One(s) that are metaphysical.

  12. Briggs, I’m sorry to be dense. Were you joking about not having seen this guyEllis before? This is person whose article I’m trying to summarize… ok…I’m dense. I get it.

  13. @Bob Kurland:

    “My point was to emphasize, and this should have been clear from context, that there are many things that science cannot explain. As Polkinghorne and Lucas put it, there is a distinction between epistemic gaps, which one should not try to explain theologically, and real gaps that can be attributed to God.”

    If you are going to call me something, please call me, not contentious, but dense, stupid or obtuse, either each one in isolation or all three together. Thank you. As to the matter at hand, I asked two things:

    (1) I am well aware that there are things that Science does not and cannot explain. But the fact that there are things that Science cannot and does not explain does not thereby countenance us to fill the “gaps” (*) with God: *that* is indeed a gap argument and it is, quite obviously, a fallacious one, and everyone, atheist or not, should reject it. But maybe by a “God of the Gaps argument” you have something else in mind; none of the quotes sheds much light on the issue, and I do not have access to the original volume, but I guess it goes something like an inference-to-the-best-explanation for some state of affairs that does not admit of a scientific ewxplanation, not even in principle (e.g. something like an absolute beginning of the universe, assuming it had one). Am I right?

    (*) to classify a given state of affairs, since it admits of no scientific explanation, as “gap” is already off to a bad start; but (I think) I understand what you mean, so will drop the pedantic precision.

    (2) Part of the portion I quoted was: “At some point a God of the Gaps argument has to be introduced, as a prime mover, to explain why there is a science illumined by mathematical theory.” Prime mover is a technical term of art; it has a specific meaning in the context of cosmological arguments of Aquinas and Aristotle. But their arguments are in no way, shape or form, Gap arguments but rigorous deductive metaphysical demonstrations. Thus I asked: “so what do you have in mind?” The answer seems to be: (the arguments of) “Polkinghorne, Lucas, etc.”. Am I correct?

  14. “Excuse me CR, I see what you’re confused about. This paragraph:
    “Theologians seem to be wary about falling into a “God of the Gaps” pit, using the deity to explain what science cannot. That fear I believe is unfounded. At some point a God of the Gaps argument has to be introduced, as a prime mover, to explain why there is a science illumined by mathematical theory. ”

    Bob,
    No, you are mistaken ( I am even wearing a Jesuit cap now) You may put God forward as the source of physical laws, but you can never invoke God to explain any physical event, that’s the realm of physics, not metaphysics.

    The existence of the universe is an ontological question. The start< of the universe is physics.

  15. @Hans Erren:

    “You may put God forward as the source of physical laws, but you can never invoke God to explain any physical event, that’s the realm of physics, not metaphysics.”

    I certainly do not defend that; more importantly, I know of no serious theologian that would defend that — but this may well just be an index of my ignorance.

  16. More straightforward formulated:

    What caused the Big Bang? “Goddidit”
    What caused the lightningstrike yesterdayevening at 8.30 p.m.? “Goddidit”

    That’s God-of-the-gaps theology.

  17. More Hansforward.

    What caused the Big Bang? “Science”

    What cause the lightning strike yesterday at 8:30 p.m.? “Science”

    That’s Science-of-the-gaps philosophy.

  18. Hans you seem to be a target, but I’ve decided not to engage. I’ve been listening to an audiobook on argumentation (Prof. Zaresky, Northwestern Univ) and he says that it is necessary in a productive argument (where each side learns something) that there be some overlap of assumptions; as an example he says it makes no sense for a theist and an atheist to engage in arguments about God, because they have no common ground. I think his proposition makes sense, so I’ll let you say what you will..
    At least we agree on La Traviata!

  19. @CRodrigues
    First, let me quote my favorite logician, Lewis Carroll:
    ” ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ” (Alice through the Looking Glass)
    So, I don’t mean what you mean by ‘God of the gaps’. Unlike former times (as indicated in my earlier comment), in which God of the gaps became a pejorative term, I don’t mean something that science can’t explain at this time but might be able to in the future. For example, I don’t mean quantum gravity. I don’t mean theories that can’t be verified because we will never be able to achieve instruments with sufficiently high energies/resolutions/whatever to test them. What I meant in the post by “gap”was a gap that proceeded from rational, not empirical considerations: science can’t explain itself (one can conceive of possible worlds in which magic is the operative principle, see sf by L. Sprague deCamp); one can’t explain why mathematical rules govern physics (see Wigner’s article on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in describing the physical world). And there are a host of other things that science can’t explain…it can’t explain why questions–why are we here, the most important. So that is the God of the gaps I propose and I believe, what Lucas meant in his article. And I’ll stand by that.

  20. Hans may have picked a bad example but I think he intended something more like what Charles Krauthammer said in the Washington Post in re Intellectual Design:

    Let’s be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological “theory” whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge — in this case, evolution — they are to be filled by God.
    — Washington Post, Phony Theory, False Conflict, Nov 18, 2005

  21. “What caused the Big Bang? “Goddidit”
    What caused the lightningstrike yesterdayevening at 8.30 p.m.? “Goddidit””

    Hans, haven’t you said that the laws of physics are coeval with the universe? How than does that help the ‘big bang’? It seems to me your answer to the above two questions is: magic; and physical laws.

  22. Let me rephrase, as I am clearly not understood here: Physics is trying to find the answer to the “how” question. How does lightning start, how does the big bang start. By invoking a God that does “poof”, is giving a magical answer to a physical question. The theological and philosophical question “why” , cannot be answered by physics.

    God is is not the answer how an event occurred. However, if you need Him to answer your “why” questions, you are free to do so.

  23. Sander van der Wal

    August 5, 2014 at 3:05 am

    As I see it, scientists throw hypotheses against the wall and see whether they stick. In other words, any hypothesis is better than no hypothesis if you want to discuss aspects of reality which are not explained properly by current theories. All the theories discussing the earliest part of the Big Bang are that, hypotheses. And none of them seems to stick.

    But science is also about thinking up such hypotheses. So what if they are speculative? Being speculative is the steategy scientists use to cover ground quickly. You do not push against the boundary of knowledge, you jump over it.

  24. “Let me rephrase, as I am clearly not understood here: Physics is trying to find the answer to the “how” question. How does lightning start, how does the big bang start. By invoking a God that does “poof”, is giving a magical answer to a physical question. The theological and philosophical question “why” , cannot be answered by physics.”

    Hans, firstly, this rephrasing is no help and only shows that you do not understand the problem; namely you think that the ‘big bang’ and lightning are the same class of events, and yet they cannot be since the former is creation simpliciter while the latter is simply a transformation of matter and energy. Secondly, there is no mistake on my side involving a conflation of a ‘how’ with a ‘why’ question. Thirdly, the problem for you simply is that there is no prior ‘physics’ before the ‘big bang’; none at all which you can call upon to explain the ‘big bang’. Fourthly, God is not simply invoked, the attributes of that which we call God are deduced through argument. There is a difference which you seem incapable of recognizing.

  25. Dover_beach,

    I’m afraid that you need a deus-ex-machina to fill a knowledge gap. Just like lightning was explained as a miracle before we knew electricity.

    Science doesn’t explain itself using miracles.

  26. Hans: “Just like lightning was explained as a miracle before we knew electricity.”

    Except you don’t have recourse to this analogy because there was nothing prior to the ‘big bang’. There wasn’t something which we didn’t yet have the wit to explain; there was nothing, no matter, no energy, no ‘laws’, no thing. I know you’re wedded to this analogy but it really serves you no purpose.

    “Science doesn’t explain itself using miracles.”

    This is certainly true, except that given your argument the ‘big bang’ was magic, not even a miracle. Magic is simply something inexplicable; miracles at least have an explanation, by definition.

  27. dover_beach,

    Magic is simply something inexplicable; miracles at least have an explanation, by definition.

    I agree with your definition of magic. I do not agree that miracles are substantially different from magic. Both the Old and New Testament Deities are described as mysterious. Scripture is very clear that we are not meant to know all things for surety. Attemping and/or demanding to know for sure are explicitly sanctioned, and harsh consequences are oft recorded in detail by way of example of what happens to violators.

    The Abrahamic religions are the dominant extant description of Deity, yet they are not the only extant traditions. And neither are any such traditions monolithic — there are many competing theologies offering different and oft conflicting explanations for alleged miraculous events.

    Just because something empirically unexplained has occurred does not necessarily mean that it could only have been caused by Divine intervention. Nor is it necessary that something currently unexplained by objectively verifiable empirical means must therefore be forever inexplicable.

    None of the above argues that all things MUST be explicable by empiricism. To say such a thing is to commit the same arrogantly fallacious conclusion that all that is currently unexplained by empiricism is explained by one and only one arbitrarily favored theology out of very many.

  28. @Brandon Gates:

    “I agree with your definition of magic. I do not agree that miracles are substantially different from magic.”

    I think you are missing dover_beach’s point: miracles are partially *intelligible*; we may not be able to know the mind of God in full, but we know that He caused them. Magic just is unintelligible (*).

    (*) there are other accounts of magic, but large-scale brute-factness unintelligibility is certainly one of the standard ones.

  29. GR,

    I think you are missing dover_beach’s point: miracles are partially *intelligible*; we may not be able to know the mind of God in full, but we know that He caused them.

    Nooo, you’re missing my point: you’ve not defined what miracles you’re talking about, you’ve not demonstrated that any such miracles could not have been caused by something other than Divine intervention, and you’re asserting the existence of a God whose existence by definition cannot be objectively and independently verified.

    Such an Entity may in fact exist; I cannot rule that out. But I don’t have any knowledge or witness of One that I can tell. Maybe I missed something. But I know for a fact that I can’t demand the OT/NT God to show Himself as evidence of His existence without risking hellfire and damnnation. Which seems quite bizzare to me, but that’s what is written.

    Further, nobody can agree on exactly how to describe this God. There are literally thousands of different religious organizations based on the same Abrahamic tradition.

    None of that adds up to a compelling reason to accept anyone’s story about their personal version of the God of Abraham. The way I figure, if it’s important for that God to have some influence over my decisions in life, I would have long sense come to the same sure knowledge that you profess. So, either that God doesn’t exist, or it’s that God’s intent for me to figure things out on my own for now.

    Who is anyone to tell me otherwise than God Himself?

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