It must be difficult for a Christian trying to make sense of a world where literally any outcome is possible. If God can decide to overrule the laws of nature at his whim, then how can we ever know that things will behave in a predictable manner? How can we even say that there are laws of nature? And what is the value of science?
In the Christian world, God's intervention is more than just a rarity. It happens all the time. What Christian denies the existence of miracles? It's not just the astounding feats performed by Jesus. It's little things that happen every day. It's changing the natural course of events in response to prayers. It's God's guiding the entire course of natural history, from the creation of the universe, to the deliberate and careful steering of events over a span of billions of years that would eventually result in the evolution of mankind. In the Christian world, every biological creature is designed, and every beautiful sunset was made specifically for our benefit. In other words, the course of natural events is governed by the dictates of God - not by some set of impersonal and meaningless laws. The laws of nature are, at best, merely rules of thumb.
I've been trying to make sense of Victor Reppert's post called Evidence, Design, and Alternative Histories of Science, where he makes the assertion that the outcome of scientific investigation could have been very different, much like human history could have been drastically changed if only some particular event had happened differently. "What if John Wilkes booth had missed?" A whole alternative historical reality would have followed. And what if evolutionary scientists had not decided that the evidence indicates a lack of design in biology? By Victor's reasoning, the history of biological science (or perhaps all of science) could have turned out very differently.
He then laments inevitable dismissal of such an outcome by the scientific community:
But if this alternative history had taken place, would the design inference have also been dismissed as methodologically unacceptable, and an example of IDiocy?I think Victor's analogy is extremely poor, because it tries to relate things that are not remotely comparable. One is the reality of historical events, which is not under anyone's control, and the other is the enterprise of science, which follows a strategy known as methodological naturalism. It might have made more sense for Victor to draw a comparison between scientific method and historical method. Both have the goal of drawing inferences about reality (in one case natural events, and in the other case human events). Both follow a set of rules designed to arrive at the best inferences about the reality that underlies those events. Then, you could speculate about what might be different if John Wilkes booth had missed, but as long as historians follow established methodology, they would record the alternative historical reality accurately, whatever it might turn out to be. Likewise, if scientific evidence was different from what we observe, scientists would draw different conclusions based on that alternative evidence, in keeping with their methodology.
Heads I win, tails you lose.
But Victor seems to think that the methodology of science is flawed. It's flawed because it assumes the existence of natural laws. Being a Christian who believes that God routinely intervenes in nature to bring about his desired outcomes, Victor has a problem with making the scientific assumption that nature must behave in with accordance natural laws. This is, in his estimation, the bias of science that precludes any consideration of supernatural intervention in nature. But there are a couple of problems with his view of science.
One is that without following this methodology, science couldn't possibly proceed. There is no predictive power. You could make any hypothesis you like, and if it is not borne out by experimentation, you could just chalk it up to God's intervention. Thus, any outcome is possible, one scientific theory is just as good as any other, and the enterprise of science has no value at all.
The other problem with Victor's view of science is that methodological naturalism is completely consistent with observation, while Victor's approach isn't. As much as Christians insist that miracles happen, they can't produce a single shred of objective evidence that it's true. Sure, there are biblical accounts, and there are anecdotal stories, and there are charlatan "scientists" who all attest to these things, but ask them to put their evidence up for the whole world to see, or to subject their evidence to impartial scientific examination, and you'll hear a pile of excuses as to why they can't do that. If there really were any miracles visible to objective observers, science may fail as an enterprise, but at least we'd all be able to agree that methodological naturalism has no merit.
And even if that were true, I still don't see how Victor's analogy relating scientific discovery with the course of history illustrates the point he is trying to make. If science really is biased, that might be analogous to faulty historical method producing historical accounts that fail to convey the story of what really happened. In Victor's view, science is like fiction writing. You can make up the story to say whatever you like. But that would be the case in the absence of methodological naturalism, not as a result of it. He has it backwards. Because religion can postulate things that are never observed. Religion can make up whatever story it wants, and it doesn't have to verify or prove any of it. But unlike religion, science seeks to understand and play by the rules of nature - by following the established rules of science.