The Big Problem of Miracles For Modern Science
S cience used to say things like, 'miracles are outside of our remit,' or, 'we are not equipped to deal in the world of metaphysics and the supernatural, we are only concerned with the physical and what we can submit to testing in the laboratory or the field.' That was a fairly honest admittance. Most of the scientists of the last few centuries were very careful not to go beyond their limits; they recognised that religion and philosophy were entirely separate from their own endeavours.
David Hume (1711-1776)
David Hume was the very influential Scottish philosopher who constantly attacked the teaching of miracles. He never went as far as to completely reject the concept of God yet he certainly rejected the concept of a miracle-working God which most people would feel amounts to the same thing. His scepticism on spiritual matters and his insistence that we can only study physical matters are often seen as preparing the way for the Darwinism which would arrive around a hundred years later. It also prepared the way for the utterly atheistic 'Logical Positivism' philosophy which would arrive in the 1920s. 'Logical Positivism' is now considered to be dead and buried (although Richard Dawkins continues to worship at its 'altar').
A.J. Ayer, one of the leading voices of 'logical positivism,' eventually came to reject atheism and accept Theism before his death in 1989.
But things have changed. Undoubtedly due to the influence of a more aggressive type of atheistic and evolutionary science, as typified by people like Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones, science has mischievously decided to adjust its own borders. Modern science, at least a lot of the time, has now gone into philosophy; it has embraced a naturalistic, mechanistic type of philosophy. In short, the new approach states that the physical world is all there is, and all there ever can be. It states that a world of the supernatural is impossible. This is a departure from where the older kind of science stood. Since modern evolutionary science has never, as far as I know, officially announced this new approach, people, that is, the general public, need to be made aware of this because it has led to a more assertive 'we don't have any doubts' approach across many scientific fields, despite the fact that many of its statements are increasingly unproven, dubious and not backed up by any carefully gathered evidence. Why? Because it has wandered into philosophy; not only that, it has also been busily at work accepting and embracing relativism ('what is true for you may not be true for me').
What Are Miracles?
Now, what is a miracle? Several definitions are possible. Generally speaking we speak of the known laws of nature being temporarily suspended - sometimes dramatically so - in order to fulfil a divine intention or purpose. Yet we might speak of other things as 'miracles.' I always say that every single newborn baby is always a miracle every single time we see such a birth - an incredible and wondrous thing, but, in that case, we understand the physical laws involved. Other miracles may also be according to certain physical laws, but ones we don't yet understand. But the highest type of miracle would be where the laws of nature are completely suspended. Christians would point to the virgin birth of our Lord, to say nothing of various events during His ministry, including the dramatic healings and turning water into wine, then of course, the greatest miracle of all: His rising from the dead.
So there are three types of miracles:
1) The 'minor miracles' we observe all the time, newborn babies, the rainbows in the sky. We know the science, but these remain stupendous events. It is entirely understandable that we sometimes refer to such things as being 'miraculous.'
2) Other incredible occurrences which might well be according to physical laws but ones we don't yet fully understand. Why do we so often seem to think of people just before they ring us? Some ESP occurrences could probably be listed here.
3) The 'utter miracle' in which physical laws are clearly suspended. Without question, this has happened much more often than commonly realised. This would include the miracles of our Lord, Joshua's 'Long Day' (Joshua 10:12-14) and other occurrences too.
Modern science would look at my three categories and sneer, especially regarding my third point. But the irony is that science is unable to demonstrate that such things cannot occur. Let me re-state that, to ensure that we all understand this point: Science cannot prove, and will never be able to prove that miracles can never occur. Oh, it might point to some 'miracle' claims which were subsequently demonstrated to be fraudulent, but it can never demonstrate - by using its own means and tools - that miracles cannot occur. Why? because its own tools and procedures are unable to travel into the metaphysical/spiritual world. Miracles are well beyond the scope and remit of science. Science can only say - as it now often does - that such miracles are completely impossible because it has embraced a philosophy. That philosophy is a reductionist 'the physical is all there is and all there ever can be' stance and approach. Yet that is not science as the word is generally understood and accepted.
Certain people continue to believe that science has somehow now established the impossibility of miracles. But that is simply not true. Science can never establish - by the purely physical tools which it employs - that miracles are impossible. If and when it states such a thing we can know that it has entered into philosophy. Lutheran New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann - supposedly a Christian 'believer' - decided that in the age of electric light bulbs, the radio, and modern medical knowledge, he no longer thought it possible to accept a supernatural worldview. But why? Was there some scientific discovery which demonstrated the impossibility of a supernatural world, or of miracles? Actually no - there has never been such a discovery nor could modern science ever be capable of such a thing. Bultmann was simply talking about the materialistic worldview which he had embraced. Though born in the 20th century, he was very much a product of the enlightenment which set out to replace worship and reverence for a Creator with worship and reverence for the achievements of mankind. We still pay the price for the errors which this has introduced into modern society.
So we should all be clear that modern science has absolutely no right, scope, empathy nor jurisdiction over the world of miracles. Do not allow it to intimidate you! The new atheist propagandists may ridicule and sneer at those who believe in miracles but the unpalatable truth - for them - is that, through the ages, a majority of the human race have always accepted the possibility of miracles. For sure, science - only inhabiting a world of the physical and temporary that it does - will never be in the place of proving nor disproving miracles.
Robin A. Brace. March 5th 2015.
I have here purposely written an approachable 'entry level' article on miracles; for those wanting to go into this at a far deeper philosophical level, I would recommend the following:
The Problem of Miracles; A Historical and Philosophical Perspective
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