Discuss science topics such as creation and evolution and how they relate to Christianity.

Do Miracles Really Violate the Laws of Science?

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  • Do Miracles Really Violate the Laws of Science?

    The late Christopher Hitchens, in his debates with Christians, liked to put his opponents on the spot with a straight question or two, gravely asked. “Do you really believe that Jesus was born of a virgin? Do you really believe that he rose from the dead?” If the Christian answered in the affirmative, Hitchens would turn to the audience with a theatrical flourish: “Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, my opponent has just demonstrated that science has done nothing for his worldview.”

    It is always a shrewd move to paint one’s adversary as an enemy of science, and Hitchens rarely let slip an opportunity for good theater. But good theater is not always good reasoning. Did Hitchens really believe that first century Jews didn’t know where babies come from or that Roman soldiers didn’t know how to kill an unarmed man? Did he doubt that peasants in an agrarian society had seen enough death to know that in the natural course of things, men who are dead—completely dead, not just mostly dead—stay that way? Christians from Pentecost onward have been shouting from the rooftops the astounding message that Jesus, who was crucified and buried, had risen bodily from the dead. Did Hitchens really think he could show them up by suggesting that there is something out of the ordinary about the claim?

    The great skeptic David Hume presented the world with a false dilemma when he tried to pit reported miracles against the laws of nature. Science tells us what nature does when left to itself; miracles, if they occur at all, occur precisely because nature is not left to itself. Believers and skeptics agree that there is a stable causal order, a normal course of events in which virgins do not become pregnant and dead men stay dead. And precisely because they are agreed on this point, it cannot be a significant piece of evidence against the occurrence of miracles. A river must flow, as one of Hume’s contemporaries pointed out, before its stream can be diverted. Some conception of the ordinary course of nature is required for us even to make sense of the notion of a miracle, which otherwise could not be recognized for what it is.

    Science itself places no limits on what may happen when nature is not left to itself. It can neither demonstrate that nature is always left to itself—that the physical universe is “causally closed”—nor legislate what might occur if it is not. Scientists may have their personal opinions on these matters; in fact, they often do, and sometimes they count on their scientific expertise to give weight to those opinions. But that involves stepping out of their own fields of specialization and into the realm of philosophy. And in that arena, one’s having a degree in zoology or microbiology does not, per se, entitle one’s opinions to any particular deference.

    One of our best tools for investigating hypotheses is to ask what we should expect if they were true. If we try this with theism, a cosmic ban on divine intervention is hardly what we would predict. What a strange thing it would be if the creator of the universe were somehow locked out of his own creation, unable to do what even the least of his creatures may do, to make his presence known! St. Paul’s rhetorical question is still pointed today: Why should anyone think it incredible that God should raise the dead?

    But isn’t all of this too quick? Many people disbelieve in the existence of God, either in the Judeo-Christian sense or in any other. A non-existent deity raises no one from the dead. On their view, the creator is not locked out; there was never a creator to begin with. If atheism is true, miracle claims (insofar as these involve reference to a deity) must be false. So why should an atheist even bother looking into a miracle claim?

    The short answer is that atheism might be wrong. Even those who strongly suspect that there is no God should not close themselves off from contrary evidence. It might take a lot to shift them from comfortable non-belief to the uneasy suspicion that there may be something to the God idea after all. But if nothing could, even in principle, count against their atheism, then something like Hitchens’ complaint comes back around with a vengeance: evidence does not appear to make any difference to their worldview.

    Still, life is short, and miracle claims abound. It is all very well to speak of being open to evidence, but no sensible person goes haring off after every supernatural claim to inquire into it in detail. Even thoughtful religious believers rarely bother to look into miracle claims in any tradition other than their own. Why should the irreligious be expected to do more? And if they were, then why, it may be asked, should they begin with one religion rather than another?

    The question is reasonable, and it may be as reasonably answered in terms that make no appeal to any particular religious tradition. In some circumstances, we have prima facie reason to doubt a miracle claim: when it is reported only long after the alleged event happened or at a great distance from the place where it happened, or when the report would have been permitted to pass without examination, either because such examination would have been impossible in the nature of the case (say, with regard to an event that would leave no public traces) or because the local population would have had no motive to inquire into its truth or falsehood (because, for instance, it fell in with their own prevailing religious prejudices). And it is also reasonable to doubt a miracle claim when no remotely worthy end could have been served if it had really happened—no deep questions about our origin and destiny answered, no striking teachings confirmed, no divine commission endorsed. “Let not a god intervene,” as Horace wrote, “unless there be a knot worthy of a god’s untying.”

    These criteria cut a wide swath through claims of the miraculous, not because they show them definitely to be false (for a claim might fail on one or more of these points and yet be true) but because they offer a plain reason for suspicion of fraud or muddle or the growth of legend. If honest skeptics would ask the proponent of any particular miracle claim to provide some evidence that it meets the criteria, there would seldom be any serious takers. On the other hand, claims still left standing after we have applied these criteria may fairly be said to deserve a closer look. And if those skeptics would follow up with equal honesty and with the seriousness that the issues seem to merit on any that really do appear to meet the criteria, then let the epistemic chips fall where they may.

    “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity,” C. S. Lewis once wrote, “if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it.” Nor am I. Nor should anyone.

    Dr. Timothy McGrew is professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University.

  • #2
    God made creation and controls all that it would do. Man created science to explain (whether believing in God or not) God's creation as best he can. Miracles happen in both the explainable and unexplainable realms.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
      God made creation and controls all that it would do. Man created science to explain (whether believing in God or not) God's creation as best he can. Miracles happen in both the explainable and unexplainable realms.
      I agree,

      Paul says of the law, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," does this apply in the spiritual realm as well as in the physical realm? - Galatians 6:7-8.

      God made creation, and though creation is bound by natural laws, our understanding of said laws has its limits. Our understanding is bound by logic or a system of reasoning. It is the principal used to arrive at correct conclusions. A proposition is that man cannot violate his own nature, and cannot go against what naturally is. We tend to think of any violations as a miracle, as if violating the laws of science (the interpretation of nature) determine a miracle. Logic is a valuable tool in witnessing particularly when using proofs of God's existence. Logic is true - not because it is logical but because it is a reflection of God's nature, which is order and truth. It would not be a miracle if God violated His own nature, order, or truth, which leads me to another proposition, God cannot violate His own nature, and cannot go against what naturally is. God's nature does not permit Him to lie, to not be God, etc. Those in opposition must be emphatically ready to accuse Jesus Christ of being a liar and deceiver if they attest to him as a historical figure, but not as the resurrected Lord. Christ lied and deceived his apostles if he was not raised from the dead. Either that or he was a lunatic preaching in ignorance. In either case, the opposition must admit that Christ is God or he is a liar. If He is God he ought to be obeyed. If he is a liar his testimony to God cannot be trusted. Note: the nature of man and God through both propositions.

      And this leads me to the scientific method which can be used to prove only repeatable things. It isn’t adequate for proving or disproving questions about persons or events in history. For example, "Who was Jesus of Nazareth, Was Jesus the Messiah? Was Jesus raised from the dead"? These questions are outside the realm of scientific proof, and we must place them in the realm of legal-historical proof. The Bible is, at the very least, an accurate historical document which would stand the test of any courtroom since it testifies to things without a “reasonable doubt.” It is always easier to believe that those who testify on behalf of such an event are mistaken than it is to believe that the event really took place. Therefore some rule out miracles on the basis of empirical skepticism (Thomas, James, Saul). The resurrection, for some, is just a figment of the apostolic writer’s imagination or that the dead Jesus continuously abides in the yearning hearts of believers. Reliance upon present experiences and empirical data does not allow us to make final judgments "absolutely", if at all. We could go as far to say that since history has only been in the past, and has only happened once for all time, then it cannot be reliable. History is not reliable. Since I was born once, my existence then is not reliable - a charge that goes against the unbelievers' testimony/ or narrative, and is as nonsensical as the natural man bearing against his own conscience which is a witness.

      God bless,
      William
      Comment>

      • #4
        If there's no hypothetical evidence that can refute your position, then you position isn't based on evidence. But, it's interesting that Atheists often propose hypothetical evidence that is absurd even if their position if false. It's really a form of dishonesty. Darwin proposed hypothetical evidence to test or refute Evolution, and by what he wrote in Origin of the Species, Evolution is refuted. One example is his prediction that there are innumerable, countless numbers of, transitional forms in the fossil record. But, today, Evolutionists can't do any better than propose a rabbit being found in precambrian rock. Even if Evolution is false, we shouldn't expect to find a rabbit in precambrian rock any more than we should expect to find a rabbit on the moon.


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        • #5
          Originally posted by Cornelius View Post
          If there's no hypothetical evidence that can refute your position, then you position isn't based on evidence. But, it's interesting that Atheists often propose hypothetical evidence that is absurd even if their position if false. It's really a form of dishonesty. Darwin proposed hypothetical evidence to test or refute Evolution, and by what he wrote in Origin of the Species, Evolution is refuted. One example is his prediction that there are innumerable, countless numbers of, transitional forms in the fossil record. But, today, Evolutionists can't do any better than propose a rabbit being found in precambrian rock. Even if Evolution is false, we shouldn't expect to find a rabbit in precambrian rock any more than we should expect to find a rabbit on the moon.
          If Darwinian evolution were true, we should distrust our cognitive faculties since they are the result of an unguided, irrational process. It never ceases to amaze when people reject the existence of God (an absolute law giver) while claiming themselves free thinkers - "Atheist believe thoughts are merely the results of atomic motion in the brain obeying the fixed laws of chemistry" - Dr Jonathan Sarfati

          God bless,
          William


          Comment>

          • #6
            Originally posted by William View Post

            If Darwinian evolution were true, we should distrust our cognitive faculties since they are the result of an unguided, irrational process. It never ceases to amaze when people reject the existence of God (an absolute law giver) while claiming themselves free thinkers - "Atheist believe thoughts are merely the results of atomic motion in the brain obeying the fixed laws of chemistry" - Dr Jonathan Sarfati
            One of the most profound ideas ever expressed was by Descartes, "Cogito, ergo sum." I think, therefor I am.

            If our thoughts were merely the results of atomic motion in the brain obeying fixed laws of chemistry, they wouldn't be thoughts. There is a lot of chemistry that is behind our thoughts, but there is something beyond chemistry. Our greatest computers aren't a bit closer than a rock to thinking. closer than a rock to thinking.
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            • #7
              I'm traveling incognito ergo sum. I used to travel by bus, then by freight.

              Atomic thoughts? What then causes the chemical actions that react to circumstances like falling off a cliff? Those people don't think... yet they are. Well, the miracle of thought is inexplicable and not always predictable. What's the difference between instinct, thought, and reasoning? We are told in the Bible to reason between ourselves. It says to judge ourselves. Instinct is in the spiritual realm of man, the knowledge that God exists, though many deny it. This is not to be confused with insects, etc. and their instinct, which their reactions are based on.
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              • #8
                Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
                God made creation and controls all that it would do. Man created science to explain (whether believing in God or not) God's creation as best he can. Miracles happen in both the explainable and unexplainable realms.
                That's a great statement. We just created science to help us explain things around us. And as what our science teacher said, science is not an exact science, what she meant was we are just in the advent of science and there are still so many discoveries and postulations to be made to cover just half of the physical world. One example is the Biblical account where Jesus walked on water. The law of bouyancy would fail on that incident for how can an object the size and shape of a man would float on water to allow that man to literally walk on water. This is just to show that when science fails to explain something, we call it miracle as a catch basin. And only in the Bible can we find so many unexplained events and occurrences called miracles.
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                • #9
                  I don't think that science contradicts science at all. If we consider that God is the creator of this universe, then wouldn't it make sense that he has set all the rules himself? In my opinion these rules are something like what an algorithm is for a computer programme: it's there to keep the system running. But that doesn't mean that the Creator has to tamper with the rules to induce the happening of extra events, what we call divine 'interventions'. Since the Creator is a beign way beyond our mundane perception, He can interact with his creations without us noticing. You cannot scientificaly measure something that you cannot even abstractly perceive or grasp.
                  Miracles are not scientificaly impossible, just very very unlikely to happen. Water can turn to blood or wine and dead can rise again. The practical problems in chemistry that stop these phenomena from happening spontaneously is that e.g. for water to turn into wine one needs to emulate a number reactions that need a lot of energy to complete (plain water already has all the necessary chemical components to become wine). Accurate chemical inductions is something both very hard as well as very unlikely to achieve by modern technology.
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                  • #10
                    Creationism and the Big Bang theory have the same problem, ´what came before´.. Neither can win a logical argument because the human mind cannot properly understand time. If you are talking about God, or you are talking about the Big Bang, both sides cannot answer the question, what came 1 second before. There are as many impossible questions you can pose to scientists that require as much ´faith´ in believing as any religious requires. In the beginning, supposedly all the matter in the universe was condense into the size of the head of a needle. Well, who put that matter there? Where did it come from? How long was it in that state before it exploded? What caused it to explode suddenly? Any answer even the smartest physicists give you to those questions will require just as much non-science based ´belief´ as just a belief in God.
                    Comment>

                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Cornelius View Post

                      One of the most profound ideas ever expressed was by Descartes, "Cogito, ergo sum." I think, therefor I am.

                      If our thoughts were merely the results of atomic motion in the brain obeying fixed laws of chemistry, they wouldn't be thoughts. There is a lot of chemistry that is behind our thoughts, but there is something beyond chemistry. Our greatest computers aren't a bit closer than a rock to thinking. closer than a rock to thinking.
                      It is interesting that you and Stratcat brought the one aspect of science that I am truly interested in and have invested a lot of time and math trying to figure out. I have two universities who are, at this very moment, working on some theoretical experimentation which I proposed that might shed some "light" on the subject.

                      Problem: At present, thought cannot be measured, seen nor heard by any of our present day instruments.
                      Matter of fact, there is no absolute definition nor diagram of thought but yet........it exists and not one person denies it. (one of my arguments against Atheism)
                      The contention that brain waves can be measured ergo thought exists is bunk even though brain activity definitely is in the aftermath of thought.

                      I can and will get a lot more technical if someone wishes me to do so. Perhaps there is another student involved with neural quantum mechanics right here in this discussion group? We might be of a great help to each other!

                      But, the bottom line here is that I am really starting to believe that just as God said, "I AM", thought is connected heavily to He who said, "I AM." hence: Thought defies the very lengths of science but as it stands it can quite well be considered the biggest unexplained miracle both yesterday, today and probably........ forever. May the Lord Bless You ALL.............Bobby
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Bobby Cole View Post
                        But, the bottom line here is that I am really starting to believe that just as God said, "I AM", thought is connected heavily to He who said, "I AM." hence: Thought defies the very lengths of science but as it stands it can quite well be considered the biggest unexplained miracle both yesterday, today and probably........ forever. May the Lord Bless You ALL.............Bobby
                        Interesting.

                        In regards to Creation arguments I am just amazed by the phrase "He causes to become", or "I am that I am". What is a thought, but more so, when thinking I often receive what I call the "light of revelation". Ya'know, those light bulb moments. I know some Gnostics considered this light, the light spoken of in Genesis chapter 1, that is, the Logos. I am not promoting that view, but I am curious as to what comes first, the light or the thought? Interestingly, I recently read an article where Scientist can now detect the moment of conception.

                        Here's an actual picture of an egg's flash as they meet sperm enzyme, capturing the moment that life begins. Conception is not only the action of conceiving a child or of a child being conceived, but it is also the way in which something is perceived or regarded. As you can see, there is a visible light at the moment of conception.

                        Here is a picture of a true miracle:


                        Click image for larger version

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by William View Post

                          I agree,

                          Paul says of the law, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," does this apply in the spiritual realm as well as in the physical realm? - Galatians 6:7-8.

                          God made creation, and though creation is bound by natural laws, our understanding of said laws has its limits. Our understanding is bound by logic or a system of reasoning. It is the principal used to arrive at correct conclusions. A proposition is that man cannot violate his own nature, and cannot go against what naturally is. We tend to think of any violations as a miracle, as if violating the laws of science (the interpretation of nature) determine a miracle. Logic is a valuable tool in witnessing particularly when using proofs of God's existence. Logic is true - not because it is logical but because it is a reflection of God's nature, which is order and truth. It would not be a miracle if God violated His own nature, order, or truth, which leads me to another proposition, God cannot violate His own nature, and cannot go against what naturally is. God's nature does not permit Him to lie, to not be God, etc. Those in opposition must be emphatically ready to accuse Jesus Christ of being a liar and deceiver if they attest to him as a historical figure, but not as the resurrected Lord. Christ lied and deceived his apostles if he was not raised from the dead. Either that or he was a lunatic preaching in ignorance. In either case, the opposition must admit that Christ is God or he is a liar. If He is God he ought to be obeyed. If he is a liar his testimony to God cannot be trusted. Note: the nature of man and God through both propositions.

                          And this leads me to the scientific method which can be used to prove only repeatable things. It isn’t adequate for proving or disproving questions about persons or events in history. For example, "Who was Jesus of Nazareth, Was Jesus the Messiah? Was Jesus raised from the dead"? These questions are outside the realm of scientific proof, and we must place them in the realm of legal-historical proof. The Bible is, at the very least, an accurate historical document which would stand the test of any courtroom since it testifies to things without a “reasonable doubt.” It is always easier to believe that those who testify on behalf of such an event are mistaken than it is to believe that the event really took place. Therefore some rule out miracles on the basis of empirical skepticism (Thomas, James, Saul). The resurrection, for some, is just a figment of the apostolic writer’s imagination or that the dead Jesus continuously abides in the yearning hearts of believers. Reliance upon present experiences and empirical data does not allow us to make final judgments "absolutely", if at all. We could go as far to say that since history has only been in the past, and has only happened once for all time, then it cannot be reliable. History is not reliable. Since I was born once, my existence then is not reliable - a charge that goes against the unbelievers' testimony/ or narrative, and is as nonsensical as the natural man bearing against his own conscience which is a witness.

                          God bless,
                          William
                          An interesting thing that the Jews brought out of Babylon was an aspect of death that affected 2 miracles that Jesus was involved in. The resurrection of Lazarus and of course, Himself.

                          According to an ancient custom, which the Jews picked up in Babylon, it was believed that the spirit of the dead would stay close to the body for 3 days. During those three days the spirit might come back to the body and the person would awaken.

                          Jesus waited for 4 days to call Lazarus forth; one day longer than the custom would allow for a person to come back to the living. For the Jewish people who entertained that particular belief, it was further proof that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, hence, a miracle indeed!

                          But, when Jesus was resurrected, it was 3 days, which was within the realm of believable possibilities, thereby placing yet one more of many stumbling blocks for the messianic message regarding Jesus. No miracle, no Messiah.
                          Comment>

                          • #14
                            Originally posted by William View Post

                            Interesting.

                            In regards to Creation arguments I am just amazed by the phrase "He causes to become", or "I am that I am". What is a thought, but more so, when thinking I often receive what I call the "light of revelation". Ya'know, those light bulb moments. I know some Gnostics considered this light, the light spoken of in Genesis chapter 1, that is, the Logos. I am not promoting that view, but I am curious as to what comes first, the light or the thought? Interestingly, I recently read an article where Scientist can now detect the moment of conception.

                            Here's an actual picture of an egg's flash as they meet sperm enzyme, capturing the moment that life begins. Conception is not only the action of conceiving a child or of a child being conceived, but it is also the way in which something is perceived or regarded. As you can see, there is a visible light at the moment of conception.

                            Here is a picture of a true miracle:


                            [ATTACH=CONFIG]n15219[/ATTACH]

                            Yes, I saw that very thing not too long ago, but I have a real shocker for you!
                            One of the experiments involved with determining the definition of thought is the activity found in bio-cellular photons after a stimulus. A new technique involving that very experiment has led to the discovery of consciousness. We can now determine consciousness in a person who's brain activity has seemingly ceased, hence, no more Terry Schiavo's.

                            The measurements taken of those bio-cellular photons from the activity of the spermatozoa fertilizing the egg is almost identical to that of the measurements which prove out consciousness!! How bout dat? !!!!

                            God Bess..........Bobby

                            Comment>

                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bobby Cole View Post
                              Yes, I saw that very thing not too long ago, but I have a real shocker for you!
                              One of the experiments involved with determining the definition of thought is the activity found in bio-cellular photons after a stimulus. A new technique involving that very experiment has led to the discovery of consciousness. We can now determine consciousness in a person who's brain activity has seemingly ceased, hence, no more Terry Schiavo's.

                              The measurements taken of those bio-cellular photons from the activity of the spermatozoa fertilizing the egg is almost identical to that of the measurements which prove out consciousness!! How bout dat? !!!!

                              God Bess..........Bobby
                              How about putting it in simpler terms for me! LOL.

                              I usually don't express these kind of musings out loud, but... .

                              In the Godhead, the perfect inward thought (thoughts are words and they are stored as words in our mind) of the Father are perfectly expressed outwardly and manifested in the Logos/Word/Son. Truly, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

                              It is just as amazing to me thinking that the Holy Spirit communicates and convicts us of the truth, regenerating us or making us conscious of God by giving us spiritual eyes and ears. God said, let there be light! And there was light. And it was good.

                              When I think about it, the object of our faith or belief is God. There is no belief without the object of our belief which is God. God exists, and his existence is communicated to us through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God hovered over the primordial waters. Only Chaos had existed, and the great logician created order (logos, nothing was made without being made by Him), rightly partitioning the earth.

                              And to think of the blessedness, long before the foundation of the world we were objects of God's affection, or "those" whom He foreknew or fore-loved.

                              God bless,
                              William
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