Ian N. Mills of the New Testament Review Podcast offered a critique of my critique of methodological naturalism. Here’s the video with a few points of critique below:
First, a quick observation: if Mills can play clips from my video at 1.5x speed (or whatever it is) then why doesn’t he record himself at 1.5x speed? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, right?
Second, Mills says he is talking about the ‘supernatural’ and he accepts a definition, for the sake of argument, at least, according to which the supernatural is that which acts from outside our universe within our universe. But by that definition, the aliens of a Type 5 civilization on the Kardashev scale would be supernatural. I mean, I guess, but that seems a bit counterintuitive.
Third, Mills then refers to ‘gremlins’ as a possible supernatural entity. It seems to me, however, that gremlins and their existence would be properly classified under the designator cryptozoological entities rather than supernatural entities. (The same point would apply to ‘demons’ another class of entity to which Mills refers later on: demons are, by conventional understanding, non-physical entities in nature which are subject to particular laws as is clear by the rigorous methodologies that apply to the process of exorcism.)
So why does Mills appeal to ‘gremlins’? Frankly, this looks to me as nothing more than an informal poisoning the well fallacy. It’s like a creationist attempting to poison the well against biological evolution by balking at the notion that we evolved from ‘goo’. But regardless, the bigger point is that it is mere dogmatism to insist that a historian cannot consider in principle any evidence that might establish the existence of gremlins or demons, Big Foot or Yeti, Loch Ness Monster or fairies, extra-terrestrials or leprechauns. Indeed, the fact that we generally discount the existence of such entities is precisely because we can evaluate the evidence for them and we’ve found it wanting.
Fourth, Mills claims that we cannot appeal to miracles attributable to divine action because this violates analogical frequentative reasoning. He is simply wrong here. The person who appeals to a miracle does not deny frequentative reasoning: on the contrary, they appeal to such reasoning in order to establish that a miracle had occurred. It is precisely because the ability to perambulate on water by natural means is inconsistent with our everyday experience that we would look to a non-natural cause to explain strong putative evidence for the genuine occurrence of such an event.
Fifth, and this brings us to the heart of the critique, Mills attempts to establish a sort of ontological explosion or reductio ad absurdum according to which if we concede the possibility that God can act in history then we must be open to God as the direct explanation for any possible event. So, for example, if Mills is correct then if my car is egged when I’m driving by a group of bratty kids, it could be God who created the eggs ex nihilo and hurled them into my car. And this possibility undermines my justification for ever thinking it was actually the bratty kids.
I’ll give Mills this much: he has created an explosion. But the thing he has exploded is skepticism. Consider, he reasons that if an omnipotent God exists, that would undermine our ability to reason. But Mills does not provide any reason to think such a god doesn’t exist. Consequently, his retreat to methodological naturalism at that point is a mere retreat to pragmatism. That is, we actually have no idea what the cause of any event was, so we’re just going to pretend there are no divine causes to explain events. In turn, that pragmatism itself collapses into a radical epistemological skepticism about our prospect for knowledge of the past, present, and future.
While Mills’ own position leads to an explosion of skepticism, as far as the position I’ve defended is concerned, the effect of his critique is closer to a wet firecracker. What he should have recognized is that the mere fact that an event could be explained by direct ‘supernatural’ action from God or a Type V alien civilization, or direct cryptozoological action from gremlins, or demons, does not provide a reason to think it should be. At this point, the law of parsimony works just fine: stick with the mundane explanations unless and until you have a reason to move beyond them. But it is mere dogmatism to insist that we can never move beyond them.