Not the civil law, mind you, but natural law. He notes my quote from Jerry Coyne, in which Coyne asserts that virgin births or resurrections are impossible, and my response, which was that the only way someone could know this is through a priori reason, to which the Reason Lyceum responds:
There is no a priori assumption. The argument by Coyne is completely a posteriori. The argument is based on the scientific observations of similar events. We have never seen a human female produce asexually, nor have we seen someone raise from the dead a whole 3 days postmortem. Additionally, all biological research has shown that these events should be biologically impossible. Therefore, it would be simply silly to assume that it should happen, especially without copious amounts of evidence.Now for those philosophically uninitiated, a priori (Latin: "from the prior") simply means knowledge obtained independently of experience; whereas a posteriori (Latin: "from the following") means knowledge obtained from from experience.
Why does Coyne (and Lyceros, author of the post at the Reason Lyceum) reject the Virgin Birth? Because he has seen many births and none of them are parthonogenic. Why does he reject the Resurrection? Because he has seen many deaths and none of them have been followed by the person coming back to life. In other words, he bases his view on the impossibility of an event by the fact that he has seen many other events similar to them that have not involved related miraculous events.
I'm trying to think how this kind of reasoning be received at, say, a trial. Say, a murder trial. Say, the O. J. Simpson trial:
Judge: Does the defense have a witness?Now Coyne and Lyceros may find this kind of reasoning convincing, but I'm trying to think of any other circumstance in which it would not be laughed out of the room.
Defense: Yes, Your Honor, we have quite a number of them.
Judge: Are these witnesses to the alleged murder the defendant's wife?
Defense: No, Your Honor, they are not.
Judge: Then why are you calling them to the stand?
Defense: Your honor, we are calling them to the stand because they did not see Mr. Simpson commit the murder.
Judge: Were these people at the scene of the alleged crime?
Defense: No, Your Honor, they were not.
Judge: You mean to tell me that the witnesses you are calling to the stand were not at the scene of the crime in which the defendant is alleged to have killed his wife?
Defense: That is correct, Your Honor,
Judge: Counsel, what value could your witnesses possibly have if they were not present when the crime was alleged to have happened.
Defense: Well, you see, Your Honor, the prosecution has called witnesses that saw the crime. But we have witnesses who didn't see the crime, and furthermore, we have many more witnesses who didn't see the crime committed than the prosecution can produce who did see it. You see, these are people who were present in circumstances similar to those which Mr. Simpson and his wife were in when the alleged murder occurred. And they never saw him murder his wife.
Judge: Will counsel approach the bench?
"It’s a blow to the belief in the miraculous," says Lyceros, "because it requires a cessation of the natural laws in order to happen." Ah. Natural laws. And what are they? Are they like civil laws? Do they say certain things must happen or cannot happen under certain circumstances? Where are these "laws"? Has Lyceros seen them? Can he quote them verbatim? Are they prescriptive? Are they, like, decrees?
Of course, Lyceros knows there is no evidence for a "law" in this sense--the only sense in light of which we can say any event we have not observed is"possible" or "impossible". All we have is the descriptive evidence that things have always happened a certain way. But somehow, Lyceros jumps from the descriptive evidence to a prescriptive law. One wonders how he does this.
Maybe he could enlighten us.
Lyceros has no evidence that there can never be exceptions to these laws--that there can never be a virgin birth or a resurrection--precisely because he was not been there to witness them. The only evidence we have for what the "law" is are numerous events we have observed.
You would think you would not have to say such a thing to someone who claims to be an empiricist. But it's a funny thing. The very people who claim to want to stick to the evidence of their senses posit "laws" they cannot point to. They cannot see or touch them. These are the people who are always accusing religious people of believing in things they can't see, like God.
Lyceros, show us the law. Not the effects of the law. A religious person could show you the effects of his belief too. I mean the real Law of Nature you believe in.
Show it to us. Where is it?
All Lyceros knows--and Coyne and Carroll and Myers and the rest--is that things have repeatedly happened a certain way. Then they invoke the term "law"--a term that has all sorts of prescriptive assocations based on civil laws (which, I hate to tell Lyceros, have authors)--and everyone is supposed to believe through this process of word magic by which all of these descriptive repetitions amount to something prescriptive.
But they can't say how. They have no rational justification for making this leap. It is a glaring example of the hypostacization of language.
Now I happen to believe in the laws of nature. I believe them for the same reason I believe in God: because I have seen the effects of His existence. Now I'm fine with someone telling me that
that is not a sufficient ground for believing in something. But when the same person starts spouting off about the laws of nature, for which the only evidence are its effects, then I start to wonder about his ability to reason properly--the problem, remember, that only religious people are supposed to have.
In fact, this sounds suspiciously like a bad case of "cognitive dissonance." You know, the thing that scientific rationalists are always accusing religious people of when they claim they are religious and believe in science too because they hold two seeming contradictory positions at the same time.
Here we have empiricists who believe in laws of nature that they have no empirical access to. Yup. A bad case, I'd say.
And the cognitive dissonance doesn't end there. Lyceros engages in the same self-refuting rhetoric as Coyne and his ilk. He defends the position that science "suggests the impossibility," and then, only several paragraphs later, denies what he just said.
Science does not ever prove anything ... It doesn’t prove miracles don’t happen, it just says that by all understanding, they don’t."All understanding?" What is that supposed to mean? Everyone's understanding? It can't mean that, since most people in this world believe in miracles in some form. So what does it mean? He doesn't say.
But, more importantly, if science "does not ever prove anything," then how can it suggest the "impossibility" (not "unlikelihood," not "improbability," but "impossibility") of miracles?
I'm trying to tell myself that that these are scientific people, and therefore they are more rational than I am. But it's not working.