(urth) Information, etc.

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 12 12:42:47 PDT 2006

>Dan'l Danehy-Oakes wrote:
> > Actually, this is (from the Catholic perspective) quite a dangerous
> > course also, in that it denies miracles, and the Christian (and so
> > Catholic, and, I presume, Wolfe's) faith is _based_ on miracles,
> > from the Virgin Birth to the Resurrection, not to exclude (at least
> > for Catholics) ongoing miracles such as the limited infallibility of
> > Popes and the transubstantiation of the Host in the Eucharist.
>I think Chris is probably thinking more along the lines of Aquinas,
>whose limits to God's power to do the impossible were more about the
>ability of humans to construct paradoxes, prefiguring Godel's Theorem.

Descartes, IIRC, vacillates between indirectly assuming that God can't 
violate natural law or produce true contradictions and that he simply won't. 
If you look for it you'll find some confusion in the Cartesian tradition on 
precisely this point. I'm thinking of Descartes because he had a somewhat 
more direct influence on the modern scientific worldview. In any event Dan'l 
is correct that either way you cut it you find yourself in some trouble, and 
some thinkers spent an awful lot of time trying to work around that, to 
varying degrees of success.

>As for miracle-based faith, IIRC the only overt miracle formally
>required for Christian belief is Christ's Resurrection. Papal
>infallibility and the incidental qualities of the Host are not
>observable or falsifiable.

There is a general problem with saying that the Christian *faith* is "based 
on" miracles. Basically if you know, by whatever means, that the event is 
possible, then it doesn't require faith at all. In its ideal form, faith 
would admit that the event was rationally impossible, and believe in it 

Now Hume assumed just what you and Dan'l have said - that the Christian 
faith is based on miracles - and then gave a tricky little proof that 
miracles were impossible. I say tricky because the main body of the proof is 
mostly handwaving, and the meat of his position is hidden in the definitions 
he uses. A miracle, he says, is something which contradicts the laws of 
nature. Now for Hume a "law of nature" is a customary connection that is 
made when a certain effect is *always*, uniformly, conjoined with a certain 
cause. Thus if we ever *did* have an experience that didn't conform, Hume 
would oblige us to say, not that we had witnessed a miracle, but that we 
were mistaken about the law of nature (since, obviously, the "miraculous" 
event is an experience that breaks the uniformity of the connection). This 
isn't all that different from what we do today with scientific theories, 
except we don't call those "laws of nature" generally. If an experiment 
contradicts theory, we don't say it's a miracle, we say our theory isn't 

In any event Wittgenstein later said something astute about miracles - which 
I don't think were a matter of general concern to him - that went something 
like: it makes no sense to talk about whether a miracle does or doesn't 
break a law of nature, because to look at an event with an eye to its causes 
is a completely different way of looking at it than the way of looking at it 
as a miracle... when you give an explanation, what you explain is only the 
*event*, and the miracle is nowhere to be found in it.

In any event the same might be said to apply to Wolfe. We can (and are 
driven to) come up with causal explanations for some of the wondrous and 
confusing events in his stories. When we do it seems like we're assuming 
that there was nothing wondrous about the event in the first place; but the 
wonder we experience when first reading the story is nowhere to be found in 
the events we try to explain.

[Please accept that last paragraph as my belated excuse for wandering so far 
afield with this convo. See, it has something to do with Wolfe after all!]

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