Re: MD On Faith

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Wed Oct 27 2004 - 23:37:03 BST

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    Hi Mark,

    > msh says:
    > In this case there is abundant empirical evidence to support the idea
    > that someone else is thirsty. In fact, if he is indeed in a state of
    > dehydration, it is a logical necessity.
    > msh says:
    > I'm suggesting there is a reasonable and empirical middle ground
    > between believing everything that's reported, and believing nothing.

    We're in agreement on that latter part. On the former, I'd recommend reading (or re-reading!) Witt's
    'On Certainty' - as and when you have a spare half a day! Witt's main point is that you don't
    *deduce* that the person is thirsty, you simply react. The process of assessing empirical evidence
    is highly complicated and rarely used, and only appropriate in specific circumstances.

    > msh says:
    > I guess I need to understand the sense in which you DO believe in
    > miracles. I'll wait to hear, but I bet it's one variation or another
    > of wanting to believe in order to fill a real or perceived need.
    > Which, BTW, I think is fine. I just think it's a mistake to believe
    > that everyone has the same needs.

    The classic conception of a miracle understood it as a 'sign' - in other words, the important point
    is the meaning of an event, not its natural/supernatural status (which itself uses dodgy language,
    but that's a whole other story).

    Imagine something happening which you would accept as a 'miracle' in the interventionist sense (and
    if you can't imagine such a thing then that reveals the assumptions you are making). So, for
    example, imagine wandering in a shopping mall and your companion in the midst of a conversation
    suddenly sprouts a second head on his left shoulder, which left head starts to communicate in fluent
    Japanese or Swahili or some such. After investigation, there is no possible scientific-style
    explanation found. Is this a 'miracle'? No, because it doesn't point to anything else; it's an 'odd'
    happening, it's an anomaly in the way we understand the world, and we can live with these sorts of
    anomalies for ever (science lives with anomalies all the time).

    So what makes a miracle a miracle is not the 'power' or 'law-breaking' aspect, but the significance
    of an event, ie what is *revealed* through it. So, for example, in John's gospel, you have a
    structure geared around Jesus' "signs", which include turning water into wine, feeding the five
    thousand, raising Lazarus from the dead etc, but also the cleansing of the temple which involved no
    'supernatural' power whatsoever. You could say (slightly tongue in cheek) that the real miracle is
    when we learn to see properly - ie when we see the DQ in what everyone else sees as SQ. (NB I'm not
    as 'orthodox' on this reading as on other things, that is, I think the Vatican reading on miracles
    is entirely an interventionist one. I think I'm more in tune with early tradition though.)

    I think your point about 'wanting to believe in order to fill a real or perceived need' is an
    allusion to a Freudian style reading of religion as a 'cure' for neurosis. If there is a need, it
    flows from the common human nature you referred to in another post. And as you might imagine, I
    don't see religion as a crutch or shield, behind which I might be sheltered from the harsh realities
    of life. Rather the opposite. We could pursue this if you like.


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