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:
- Do you believe in God?
- Do you believe in a God who exists at least in part outside of nature?
- 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.