Science says the universe operates only within its natural laws. True or false?
Science says that when a person dies, they stay dead. So how do Christians find it possible to believe that Jesus rose after His death on the cross? Because of the supernatural — miraculous — component of His death. That singular, seemingly improbable event becomes a possibility for anyone open to the possibility that God does exist.
David Hume, a Scottish philosopher from the 18th century, strongly influenced modern skepticism and naturalism. He asserted that though humans are influenced primarily by feelings, reason will always weigh strongly against miracle. Anyone who believes in miracles, he added, is both gullible and biased by their religious beliefs. But another influential thinker, Augustine of Hippo, argued that miracles are made possible by hidden capacities in nature placed there by God. That nature itself partners with God to produce the miraculous.
The Bible highlights numerous miracles performed by God, Jesus, and His disciples. Some Christian teachers assert that miracles no longer occur, that they ceased with the death of Christ’s last apostle. Yet those who have personally experienced or witnessed a true miracle know that God is still very much in the miracle business.
Should we be skeptical when we hear report of a miracle? Absolutely, as we humans are easily fooled. In the words of magician Justin Willman, right before he ran an experiment to see if two people could be convinced that they’d become invisible, “If the tiniest bit of evidence will make us believe the unbelievable, what would I have to show someone to make them believe the impossible?”
Great question. Let’s take a look at seven characteristics of true miracles.
Seven Characteristics of Miracles
Miracles Are Supernatural, Immediate Events
By definition, miracles are events produced by an infinite power. That there is some great, external agent who brings about the event in our natural world. In the Bible, miracles come from the hand of God; they are immediate, and they are always successful. When Jesus commanded the invalid to “Arise and take up your pallet and walk” for example, the man immediately became well (John 5:8). When Jesus told Lazarus to step out of his death tomb, Lazarus immediately shuffled forward in his burial cloth. When Jesus told demons to beat it, they reluctantly exited. When Jesus decided to walk on water, it immediately carried His weight. When Jesus told the stormy winds to cease their fury, they instantly calmed. Bottom line: God always accomplished what He intended to accomplish, for His glory.
Miracles Are Rare and Unpredictable Events
Miracles are exceptions to the normal rhythm of life. But that’s what makes them miraculous. There is no “magic” formula that produces a miracle. Mankind has no say in whether they happen, though the Bible tells us that our prayers reach God’s ears. God doesn’t grant a miracle because we’re “good enough” or “spiritual enough.” He doesn’t grant miracles because we’ve successfully bribed Him. Rather, he chooses when and where to supernaturally move in our natural world, according to His plans. To heal, or not to heal, much to our consternation, lies solely in His hand.
Miracles Hold No Contradictions
God always works within scientific natural law, in keeping with the world He created. Yet there is nothing logically contradictory about some events considered physically impossible. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli put it this way: “A man walking through a wall (as Jesus did) is a miracle. A man both walking and not walking through a wall at the same time and in the same respect is a contradiction. God can perform miracles but not contradictions — not because His power is limited, but because contradictions are meaningless.”
Miracles Are More Than Astonishing and Glorify God
Who doesn’t love a magic shows? A magician’s slight of hand mesmerizes us, delighting us with the seemingly impossible. But though a magician can perform an astonishing act, he or she can’t perform a supernatural event outside of natural means. Willman, for example, didn’t really make those two people invisible. When God performs a miracle, our minds are legitimately blown. When a 110-pound woman finds the strength to lift a car off of her child, is that a miracle? Science says no, that perhaps a huge spike in adrenaline produces momentary super strength. But could the reality be that God sent an angel to assist her?
Miracles Aren’t Testable By Scientific Means
True miracles can’t be tested via scientific inquiry, as they lack predictive value and can’t be replicated. Still, Science can’t exclude the possibility that God does unprecedented things. As Augustine wrote, “For Him, ‘nature’ is what He does.”
The usual argument against miracles, adds Oxford mathematician John Lennox, is that they go against the natural laws that Science has discovered. Lennox disagrees. Science proceeds on an assumption of cause and effect, he agrees, but its natural laws are not, themselves, causal. “No billiard balls have ever been set in motion by Newton’s Laws of Motion,” adds Lennox. “People wielding billiard cues set billiard balls in motion. But Newton’s Laws of Motion will describe the way in which a billiard ball moves once its set in motion.”
In his article posted to PhilosophyTalk.org, John Perry asks, “Should a sane, rational person ever believe in miracles?” No, he replies, unless you’ve ruled out all the non-miraculous first. My question: How far does one have to go to meet that requirement?
Suppose, adds Perry, that “I see you walking across the water — just like Jesus. There are no hidden walkways lurking below the surface. You’re not wearing inflatable shoes. You’re not being supported by gossamer rope tied to a helicopter. You haven’t learned to wiggle your toes rapidly enough to keep you afloat. Shouldn’t I conclude that the laws of physics have been locally suspended and we’ve got a genuine miracle on our hands?”
No, says Perry, because it’s more likely that we’ve still missed some other scientific alternative. “Look,” he asserts, “as soon as one is tempted to think he’s witnessed a miracle, he should stop and think again.” Why is that? Perry’s holdout: the “highly improbable” yet supposedly “possible” suggestion by scientists that the water molecules could, “completely by accident,” collect under our feet as we walk, bonding together strongly enough to form a kind of traveling bridge. “So maybe you can walk on water,” writes Terry, “but there are no miracles.”
Wait, what? An accidental, highly improbable traveling bridge of water doesn’t seem miraculous?!
Perry may be among those who believe that the Bible story of the Red Sea’s parting, which allowed the Israelites to flea from Egypt’s fast approaching army, was due to a strong wind, not the hand of God. So, then, it was mere coincidence that the parted sea walls snapped shut, to drown Pharaoh’s army, only after the last Israelite stepped safely out of the water? Perhaps, except that the event happened just as God said it would.
In describing existence as an “open system,” Lennox adds that the natural laws serve to describe what Science has so far observed to happen, which become the basis for future prediction. But these man-made laws, he asserts, can’t “forbid God from feeding a new event into nature.” If God is the designer of the system, He can’t be held its prisoner.
Just because we hunt for a natural explanation doesn’t mean God wasn’t involved! It is flawed thinking to assume that because a miracle is unprecedented, its probability must be zero.
Scientific observation can make miracles very improbable, agrees Lennox. But we have to stop pretending that Science isn’t handicapped by its inability to definitively prove theory — including the origin of the universe. Science claims evolution to be “fact” — when, in truth, is it merely its best current guess. Neo-Darwinian Evolution remains theory falsified by evidence, as a writer on EvolutionNews.com puts it — despite the scientific community adamantly asserting otherwise.
To Believe or Not to Believe
“Perhaps the universe is a pretty dull place,” posted a commenter anonymously on Perry’s post. “But, as a realist, I find that somehow comforting.”
We get his point. The comforting makes us feel somewhat in control of things, right? But our response would be, “What is it that keeps us from being open to acknowledging the miraculous?”
Deep minds, such as Lennox and Richard Dawkins, continue to debate the existence of God. Dawkins says Science disproves the existence of God, whereas Lennox views Science to be a reflection of God’s nature. Skeptics, atheists, realists, and others who want God exiled from reasonable thought have personal reasons for their position. But it’s not from knowing with full certainty that God is just myth. And to use the excuse that they can’t believe until God is proven with 100 percent certainty is a flimsy argument. Closing our minds to the miraculous doesn’t in any way negate its existence.
For Christians, the basis for believing in the miraculous goes back to the biblical conception of God. Says the very first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “If He has the ability to do this,” shares Abigail Biggs, “then a virgin birth, walking on water, feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, and the other biblical miracles become not only possible but expected.”
Hume argued that it is always more rational to disbelieve the testimony of a miracle than to believe in the miracle. But if there really is a God who created the world and designed its laws, He showed His ultimate mastery by raising His Son.
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.