On choice of tools (Was: Pentecost responses)

Instead of eirenically ending one philosophical debate, as I had hoped,
I seem to have inflamed a worse one.  I ask the seminar's indulgence if
I reply to John Richards, and I promise to be brief.

>This all makes it effectively certain that the virgin birth narratives
>in Matthew and Luke are a LITERARY DEVICE and have no basis in an actual
>event, so "science" here has nothing to explain. Talk about "Science is
>not interested in miracles, nor is it in conflict with them, because it
>does not deal in unique events" is very disingenuous in such
>circumstances. Science very much IS interested in pretended breakings of
>the known laws of causality. What is meant is that fundamentalists wish
>to goodness science would leave them alone to believe and promote any
>idea they like - in spite of the real evidence on the subject.

Fr Richards cannot have it both ways.  Either there is scientific
evidence, in which case science would be interested, or there is no such
evidence, in which case the event reported simply does not enter into
science.   Biological science is intrinsically probabilistic, because
living organisms are stupendously complicated entities, the behaviour of
which cannot be predicted with certainty.  (Modern Physics is also
probabilistic, but on quite different grounds which should not be
casually conflated.)  

However, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"; there are
other kinds of facts than scientific facts.  John Richards lists five
grounds for disbelieving the literal truth of the virgin birth story.  I
do not dispute the wweight of any of them; as it happens, I do myself
have _theological_ difficulties with this doctrine.  I would merely
point out that none of them has anything whatever to do with science. 
They are literary grounds or historical grounds, and these, in the
context, are the only kinds of grounds which may be discussed.

It was in this very discipline that Morna Hooker wrote her splendid
paper "On using the wrong tool" so many years ago.  In biblical studies,
science is almost always "the wrong tool".  I don't mind being labelled
a "fundamentalist" (true fundamentalists might!), but this does not
advance the argument.

Adrian  Machiraju,                              uhyl005@vax.rhbnc.ac.uk
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