Does science and natural law rule out miracles?

This post is a follow-up to “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ – Part Four” where I talked about miracles and why naturalists don’t believe in them. The subject of miracles is  important for Christians because God miraculously raising Jesus Christ from the dead is a central tenet of our faith. The question I want to look at today is whether science or natural laws preclude miracles.

For clarification, we should probably begin by defining what a miracle is. This simple dictionary definition will suffice:

miracle [noun] “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”

Now we’re ready to look at this subject. I will use a geneticist, a theoretical physicist, and a mathematician to explain their perspectives on miracles as scientists.

Does science rule out miracles?

First, I will show a brief interview with Francis Collins. Dr. Collins is a distinguished geneticist and former director of the Human Genome Project. He is currently director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. He was also formerly an atheist and now is a Christian.

As a scientist, Collins says that believing in miracles is not as big of a logical problem as it’s portrayed to be. He points out three questions that are pertinent to accepting the possibility of miracles:

  1. Do you believe in God?
  2. Do you believe in a God who exists at least in part outside of nature?
  3. Do you believe in a God who is still active in modern times?

He contends that if you’re willing to say “yes” to these questions, then it’s logically a short step to believe in miracles. The only trouble we will have is if we believe that natural laws are inviolable.

Next, I’ve included a clip from Ard Louis, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Oxford (video from a study in Luke). Louis makes the following point about the underlying assumptions we bring into the discussion of miracles:

“This instinct that science ruled out miracles doesn’t really arise from science itself but, rather, it stems from background beliefs that you may hold. If you believe that, fundamentally, there is nothing but atoms and molecules then it is a tall order indeed to believe that miracles…are possible. But you have ruled them out based on your prior beliefs. If, on the other hand, we believe there is more to reality than the brute act of nature, then you have a philosophical framework where miracles may indeed be a possibility.”

He goes to explain that the Christian worldview is that God sustains the universe (Col.1:16-17; Heb.1:3). While science studies the ordinary ways God sustains the universe (settled order of nature), miracles are God sustaining our world in a different way.

Do the natural laws make miracles impossible?

This view came from Enlightenment naturalist thinkers such as David Hume. As I said in the  other post, Hume postulated that miracles are a violation of natural laws. Our unalterable experience has established these laws. Therefore because miracles are outside our experience they are impossible. But is this true?

Do natural laws make miracles impossible? Or, if we go with Bart Ehrman’s view, miracles are so highly improbable that we should not even consider them? Here’s Oxford mathematician John Lennox speaking to students at Harvard explaining why this is not necessarily so. As Lennox says in the video, God is not a prisoner of natural laws. He who set the regularities there in the first place can Himself cause an event.

“What Christians are claiming about the resurrection of Jesus is not that He rose by some natural process. No, they say He rose because God injected enormous power and energy from outside the system. Now, unless you have evidence that the system is totally causally closed, you cannot argue against the possibility of miracles.”

Here’s the clip…

If you want to watch Dr. Lennox’s full lecture, including some fascinating Q&A, go here. I agree with Lennox when he said that forcing science into a naturalistic paradigm is closing it down, not opening it up.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 40 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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24 Responses to Does science and natural law rule out miracles?

  1. Good stuff!

    For me the whole question of miracles has become a matter of perception. We can either perceive nothing is a miracle or everything is. I go with everything is a miracle, breath,our heart beating,the sun rising and setting, it’s all miraculous. Once I could see the miracle in all those things I take for granted, than to be open to the possibility of other miracles is much easer. Miracles are now normal, familiar,ordinary, which of course they aren’t really, they are extraordinary, but at least my brain wasn’t so resistant anymore. I’m actually incredibly skeptical, very rational, (all jokes aside,) perhaps even too analytical.

    If you’re going to believe that mankind just sprung up from nothingness in a complete accident,than the the idea that Jesus rose from the dead shouldn’t boggle the brain. Life just suddenly originating for no reason at all is already a violation of natural law.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Good point on perspective. If we’re going to classify miracles as a temporary disruption of natural laws, those more rare occurrences, especially creation and the resurrection, which would be a one-off. But I also get what you’re saying about the everyday miracle of life and beauty and transcendent wonder all around us. It really makes you appreciate everything and stay in child-like wonder.

    • I too can be too analytical in thought. Therefore, for me it is much easier to accept those things by faith and not even attempt to try to figure out how God did them. It saves me much frustration. 🙂

  2. Citizen Tom says:

    Since my background is in science and engineering, I very much appreciate this and your last post. Very well done.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Tom. I also have an engineering background from my former life, so there is the “inner geek” in me that appreciates these people. I could listen to them all day! But my other brain loves the beauty and transcendent mystery, too. 🙂

  3. Arkenaten says:

    When Collins lists his three god questions he is not being totally honest, as he is a Christian and thus the god he refers to is surely the christian god.

    If Collins were to be posed the same three questions and the word Allah was substituted for ”God” what would his response likely be?

    In fact, what would your response be, Mel?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Ark, your point is irrelevant and judgmental. Collins was posing theistic questions, not specifically Christian ones. And, again, you love to throw out accusations but you clearly don’t even get the point. Theoretically, it would be true to all faiths. It’s not a question of whether their faith is true but whether there is a possibility of miracles.

      • Arkenaten says:

        It is not irrelevant in the least.
        Muslims believe they worship the same god as Jews and Christians. But like the Jews they do not consider the character Jesus the Nazarene to be anything other than a prophet. I don’t think the Jews afford the character even this much!
        So the point is crucial.

        And I did ask what your response would be.
        Will you please answer?

        • Mel Wild says:

          What does this have to do with Collins’s point on miracles? You are changing the subject again.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Because Collins stipulated these three questions by way of answer and then followed this up by saying it was a small leap from belief in God(sic) to accepting miracles.

          As you all – Jews, Christian, Muslim – worship the same god the question is pertinent.
          You do acknowledge that you worship the same gods, I presume , yes?

        • Mel Wild says:

          And those religions all accept miracles for the same reason Collins gave. This is why your point is irrelevant.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Therefore, what would Collins’ answer have been had he inserted ‘Allah’ into his three questions?

        • Mel Wild says:

          The principle is still the same. You are deceptively trying to change Collins’ point into something he was not making.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Because he was not being totally honest.
          And this is the gripe I have with you.

          So would you make the same assertion regarding miracles if we substituted ”God’ (sic) with the word Allah?
          Yes or No?

        • Mel Wild says:

          No, Ark, that’s total baloney. Collins was making a general statement about miracles. Your accusatory interpretation is what’s dishonest.

        • Arkenaten says:

          No he was not. He said if one accepts those three principles about ”God” (sic) then the leap to accepting miracles is easy. ( or something)

          And this is why I said he was not being totally honest.

          So you answer the question then,please.
          Insert Allah and tell me you still beleive miracles.
          Away you go …

        • Mel Wild says:

          Ark, give it up. This is a stupid argument. The argument for miracles is NOT making a claim for a particular religion.

          Your argument is fallacious because I believe in God, so I believe in miracles. It doesn’t follow that I have to believe in Islam to believe in miracles.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Of course it is making an argument for a particular religion. Collins is Christian and when pressed he offered the three provisos citing, I presume , (his) ”God” (sic) in each one.

          I know you believe in Yahweh, but do you accept that he is the same god as Allah?
          Yes or no?

  4. The inherent nature of miracles is our human inability to comprehend or understand them. We can only really wonder in the end. We can only stand in awe before the great mystery. And respect Transcendence who/that is bigger and more amazing than any human words could ever describe. The more that I’ve tried to put God in a box throughout the life, the smaller God has become. To my detriment, frankly. So I’ve come to acknowledge that I sometimes don’t know what I don’t know. In the process, I’ve come to truly embrace the amazing, undefinable God in my own journey.

    • “The inherent nature of miracles is our human inability to comprehend or understand them.”

      Amen! I really likes that concept. If we could fully understand and rationalize it, than it wouldn’t be a miracle. One of the blessings about God is that He does not fit in a box and He will not allow us to know everything. There are things kept cloaked in mystery.

      • Mel Wild says:

        I agree, IB. Good point, Jeffery. I like what Richard Rohr said about mystery. It’s not never knowing something, but ever knowing it. In other words, we can grow in our understanding of something so far beyond our comprehensive. I think that makes room for scientific discovery while understanding that it’s far more than we can possibly comprehend. It makes life very interesting. 🙂

  5. Hello Mel. I really appreciate your posts. There are very rational and affirmative of the truth of God’s hand at work in creation.

    Miracles do occur and they still abide with us today. Among believers here in my country Nigeria, we have seen blind men receive their sight, dead men come back to life and people diagnosed with terminal illnesses bounce back in remarkable health. All of these happen by the power of Jesus Christ.

    We have also seen hard core skeptics try to investigate the miraculous phenomena and after finding medical evidence for a complete turn around in the situations in view, refuse to say anything affirming the credibility of the occurrence. Most rather spend time nursing their wounds and speculating ‘other’ explanations.

    I am learning that the power conviction belongs to God and while I will do as much as I can to show with clarity the authenticity of truth. Some people would continue in their beliefs no matter how much evidence goes against it. This however should not be discouraging, because one person who turns to the truth wholeheartedly is a great assest in the Kingdom.

    I am glad to meet you. My educational background is Biology with a major in Microbiology.

    Press on in Christ Dear Brother.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thank you for your encouraging words, ELA (is it okay to refer to you that way?) I really appreciate your insightful comments here. And your education makes you more qualified to answer some of the critics here on biological issues. I do know theology and general science (my background was engineering before going into ministry).

      You are right that people stuck in a naturalist worldview won’t believe in miracles even if they saw one. We’ve seen many people healed at our local church. One time an atheist came to our church (was related to one of our members) and his arm was instantly healed. He couldn’t figure out why it happened but he still didn’t believe. My sister-in-law was healed of rheumatoid arthritis (chronic) that was so bad she had to take strong narcotics, which still didn’t take away the constant pain. She was instantly healed and the swelling went down in her feet so she could wear her shoes again. She has had no pain since. That was five years ago now. An elderly man in our church was healed of a brain tumor. He was in the ICU and the doctors gave him 24-hours to live. We went and prayed for him and he immediately started getting better and the doctors called it a miracle. That was 13 years ago and he’s been to Israel with us twice and several times to China and Europe since. He’s still doing remarkably well considering he’s in his upper 70’s. We have many other examples like this.

      Blessings to you, brother.

      • ELA is OK Dear Brother. I praise the Lord for the manifestation of His Power among you.

        May His convicting power continue to turn hearts to righteousness.

        I receive the blessings.

        More of Lord Jesus to you.

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