Science in Christian Perspective
Science and Biblical Miracles
RUSSELL MAATMAN, PH.D
Haddonfield, N. J.
The concept of Biblical miracles is not accepted by unbelievers, many of whom have vague reasons for rejecting Biblical miracles. There is no doubt that unbelieving scientists attempt to be carefully logical in this matter. Unbelieving scientists say that the concept of Biblical miracles is contrary to natural science and that one must accept either miracles or natural science--not both. They unhesitatingly reject miracles and accept natural science. But these unbelieving scientists go even one step further: they accuse scientists who are Christians of being inconsistent when they hold to both Biblical miracles and natural science.
Now, this is a serious accusation and we as believing scientists must meet this challenge, for we must hold to Biblical miracles. If we let them go, the Christian faith is lost and the unbeliever knows it.
Christians have given two types of answers to this accusation. These will be discussed and because they seem to be inadequate a third answer will be proposed.
Miracles Outside of Physical Law
Some Christians have admitted that the Christian position is apparently inconsistent. Cannot God violate the natural law He creates? For these Christians the objection of the unbeliever to this position in this matter offers no problem at all.
One objection to this answer is that we are put in the position of saying that God performs two basically different kinds of acts. It is as if He created two natural laws which apparently conflict. We cannot prove He did not create two laws, but it does seem that making such an assumption weakens the Christian position. It would be well not to be satisfied with such an assumption.
Another objection to the idea that miracles are violations or suspensions of natural law is that this idea omits the relationship there is between miracles and the spiritual world. Many miracles are interactions between the created spiritual world and the physical world. Consider, for example, the appearance of the angel to Balaam when Balaam was on his way to the encampment of the Israelites. We must consider the appeafance of the angel to be a miracle, for it certainly was an event outside of natural law as man knows it. It would be difficult to conceive of a definition of miracle that would not include this event. But this event took place in both the spiritual world and the physical world. The two worlds met at this point. At this point in time the events in one of these worlds could not be understood without presupposing the existence of the other world. At this time Balaam's donkey spoke. Was not this also a miracle? It is not foolish to assume this was not also an interaction between the spiritual world and the physical world? By some power we do not see, the animal spoke. In the same way there are many Biblical miracles which are interactions between the spiritual world and the physical world. We neglect this interaction when we say miracles are violations of created natural law.
A third objection to this view of miracles is that defining a miracle as a violation or suspension of natural law is necessarily a vague statement. No part of natural law we know is ever known with certainty, and therefore this definition is also vague, inexact, and unscientific.Miracles Within Physical Law
Other Christians give a second general answer to the charge of the unbeliever that Christians are inconsistent when they hold to both Biblical miracles and natural science. According to this answer miracles actuallv do occur within physical law. There is therefore no conflict.
Probably some Biblical miracles can be explained more or less-by modern science. But some Biblical miracles can never be explained. Certainly Christians are not going to say that the appearances of angels were evidences of some physical law we do not know. For we know that angels are spiritual beings. Even if we consider only other miraculous events, it seems to be far too much to expect that these hundreds of miracles can be understood by man. One need only think of reviving the dead, multiplying food and healing the sick with a word-sometimes without the prior knowledge of the sick person.
But there are Christians who say that while miracles occur within physical law, miracles are only statistically improbable events. This view utilizes the fact revealed by modern physics that exact prediction is impossible. Miracles are unexpected, but not impossible, events. This view is not tenable because the approximate number of these "miracles" can be calculated and it is far too small to account for the frequency of Biblical miracles. Few consider seriously this concept of miracles.A Real Natural Law
While Christians must accept Biblical miracles, there seem to be difficulties with either important Christian view concerning them. More than a mere definition of Biblical miracles is needed. A better concept of natural law must be obtained.
If true natural law is the law that, in the scientific sense, "predicts" events in creation, then when we speak of true natural law it should refer to all of creation-to the created spiritual world as well as to the physical world. This grand natural law that only God can know is the simple, all-embracing law of which man's generalized laws are but feeble prototypes. This true law correlates all events in both worlds -miraculous and non-miraculous. Because there is this true law the scientists must eventually fail in his efforts to unify all events into one grand scheme.
Accordingly, this definition of miracles is suggested:
Miracles are events that evoke amazement in observers, that are not understood by any observer, and that
teach men-among other things-that God knows
more about natural law than do these observers.
With this concept of Biblical miracles we may be able to answer some attacks unbelievers make on them. First, the charge that we are inconsistent in accepting both natural science and miracles is not a correct charge because we have a broader view of creation than do unbelieving scientists when they refuse to go beyond the "universe". In short, we have a different starting point. We show unbelievers that we cannot discuss with them this matter of inconsistency because we do not have the common ground that is necessary for discussion. (Of course, the ultimate starting point upon which Christians and unbelievers dif f er is not the question of the existence of Creation as the Christian knows it, but the existence of the Triune,, creating God as the Christian knows Him. For the present discussion it is sufficent to consider that Christians and unbelievers diverge on the matter of Creation). Christians are not guilty of inconsistency, but unbelievers are guilty of narrowness.
A second type of attack that is made on Biblical miracles is that given enough time, science may be able to "explain" all of them. Then, says unbelievers, there will be no more miracles to talk about. Christians know that the Bible indicates some miracles cannot be understood by man. But what about the other miracles? Is the number of miracles decreasing? Science does occasionally explain Biblical miracles in terms of modern concepts. But, according to the definition of miracles that is proposed here, even such events remain miracles. The important thing is that God showed observers He knew more about nature than they did. If modern science finds a fish large enough to swallow alive a man like Jonah, that does not mean the event is not a Biblical miracle. It is no less astounding to us than it was before the large fish was found. We know now that when Moses sweetened the bitter desert water at Marah with a tree, he might have been using an ion exchange resin. There is no reason that our wonder at the event should therefore be at all diminished, or that we should not consider it a miracle. If we marvel less at such an ,, explained" event than than an "unexplained" miracle, we show that we forget that basically-as scientists well know-all events are unexplainable. As man probes deeper and deeper into nature, he realizes more and more that he can never have basic knowledge about any system he studies. For example, the scientist can never answer the ultimate "why" of matter. When God shows us a miracle, He shows us that He does have the ultimate "why". He causes miraculous events and non-miraculous events. Is God any less a providential God in the incident at Marah because we now know of ion exchange resins?
A third type of attack on Biblical miracles is made by the skeptic, David Hume. He said that if he observes an event occurring one thousand times one way, and one time another way, he will reject the lone observation. It might be a faulty observation. Thus, the majority wins. Miracles therefore will always be rejected. If the events in the physical world were isolated from anything else that existed, Hume would have a strong argument. But his argument contains within it an assumption which rules out interaction between the spiritual world and the physical world. Christians say some spiritiual power-angelic or more directly the hand of God-kept Peter from sinking when he walked on the water. If we assume that the hand of God never does such things and that there are no angels, then we agree with the argument of Hume. We would then say people were deceived when they thought they saw Peter walking on the water.
With the concept of miracles that has been proposed we might attack the ideas of at least some unbelievers. We know that God has created a spiritual world because He has shown us some miracles. Balaam knew that there were angels because he saw one. Some unbelievers deny the possibility of miracles but do believe there is a created spiritual world. Very likely close examination in individual cases will reveal such persons accept the created spiritual world because they also-in some way-accept at least one miracle. The existence of the created spiritual world and the existence of Biblical miracles stand or fall together. Christianity cannot be accepted or rejected piece-meal; existence or non-existence of miracles and the created spiritual world is one example. Christians would do well to recognize the absolute exclusiveness and complete otherness of Christianity.
Unbelievers insist we be consistent. We should ask this of them.Conclusion
The Christian believes God created the spiritual world and the physical world. Some events are common to the two worlds. These are miracles. The complete description of all the events of the two worlds is the grand, true natural law that only God can know. This creation of God is harmonious and no events conflict with true natural law. Miracles are an integral part of God's creation.