Another great article on Aeon magazine this week is about why no one should believe in miracles, by Lawrence Shapiro. Shapiro takes a tasty stock of Hume’s argument against miracles, adds a dash of Bayesian epistemology, and rounds things off with a nice discussion of the base-rate fallacy—surely worth a read. But after reading it, I wondered why we don’t use this much simpler argument against supernatural intervention:
THE A PRIORI ARGUMENT:
- Miracles violate the laws of nature.
- The laws of nature are exceptionless—that is, they are (expressed by) true universal generalizations
- Conclusion: There are no miracles.
The argument is valid, and both of its premises have a claim not merely to truth, but to conceptual truth. The first premise is a characterization of what makes God’s miraculous action supernatural: miracles contravene or override the natural laws which govern the world. The second premise is guaranteed by most views about the laws of nature, but anyway here’s a quick argument for it: the laws of nature are nomically necessary, and necessity implies truth. So the laws are true. Unless something has gone wrong, we don’t merely have inductive reasons to doubt that miracles have happened (as Hume and Shapiro claim) but a priori reason: the very idea is conceptually incoherent. But of course this argument is too quick: though we may have good reason to doubt that miracles have happened, that reason is not conceptual incoherence. What went wrong?
The Cosmology Group’s summer school at the University of California, Santa Cruz opened yesterday with two talks by David Albert on the foundations of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. The talks are available on youtube under the cosmology group’s channel, Phil Cosmogroup. You can also find them on the summer school’s webpage, We’ll keep posting regularly as the school progresses, so keep an eye on our page–and if you have any questions about the talks, post them in the comments here!
Dr. Albert’s discussion focusses on the temporal asymmetries of thermodynamics; his first lecture lays the groundwork for understanding the second law of thermodynamics, outlining three formulations of it and arguing that they are deeply connected to apparently unrelated arrows of time. His second lecture runs over Boltzmann’s arguments motivating the second law from statistical mechanics, and introduces the reversibility objections to these arguments.
For a complete schedule of the talks at the UCSC summer institute, look here. We’ll be posting links to the talks there as we post the talks on youtube.
Structure in Physics, a two-day conference examining the metaphysical implications of physics, will be held at Rutgers University from Friday, April 26-Saturday, April 27. The conference will bring together leading researchers to discuss the relationship between physics and metaphysics and the metaphysical implications quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and cosmology.
For more information, see the conference webpage.