Science in Christian Perspective




Science and Miracle: Another Approach
W. Stanford Reid 
Rt. 3, Box 199 
Lake Placid Florida 33852

From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 171-172.

Recently I sat down one evening to read the December 1978 issue of the Journal ASA and found its three articles on Science vs. Miracle interesting and stimulating. But at the same time, I could not help feeling that really they had serious difficulties, for none of them seemed to deal with the question from a specifically Christian point of view. For people writing in the Journal on this subject this seemed to be rather strange. Hence this article,
John Montgomery stressed at the beginning of his article that he felt that miracle, particularly the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was a sound evidence of the Christian position. This theme he has reiterated in a great number of places over the past years. Yet I was astonished to read on in the article and discover that his whale argument was purely rationalistic in an endeavour to convince the unbeliever that miracles proved the Gospel. Approaching the whole question with his particular presuppositions, which he does not seem to recognize as being presuppositions, he maintains "that the more willing we are to allow empirical evidence of the unique and non-analogous to stand, modifying our general conceptions of regularity accordingly, the better scientists and philosophers we become. And the more willing we are as Christians to employ the biblical and classic miracle apologetic, the more effectively we can give reason to our dark age of secularism for the hope that is within us."

So, presumably, on the basis of an empirical proof of the truth of miracle, we can convince the unbeliever who will then be persuaded to accept the Gospel.

When I turned to Stephen Wykstra's reply to Montgomery I hoped that he would produce an article which did not have nearly so much of Bishop Butler in it. I found that he did criticize Montgomery's position effectively, but when it came to looking for something positive I was disappointed. Although he did not like what Montgomery had to say about Flew's book, he seemed to follow much the same scientific-philosophical method without producing anything really positive in the way of a Christian argument over against Flew and his cohorts.

The Basingers' article I found much more helpful for they sought to define what a miracle is. But here again I discovered not a biblical, but a philosophical discussion which sounded all very nice, but really produced nothing. They ended up with what they called a miracle, but which in theological terms would simply be providence. This they called "the 'weaker' concept of miracle" which they think "is sufficient for an intellectually defensible and experientially satisfying theistic belief system."

As on who has taught in secular universities for nigh on to forty years, I am afraid that I cannot see any of these articles having much effect upon my unbelieving colleagues, whether in the arts, social science or scientific departments. Their response generally would be, if they were polite: "So what?" If they were not polite, they would term the arguments not merely irrelevant, but wrong. I know for I have tried such argumentation, but it does not work.

One reason is that although (as the Basingers point out) a miracle is a non-explicable phenomenon, the average scientist will simply say, "Give us time and we shall explain it." Behind this assurance they have a good deal to support them. When the Black Death hit Europe in the mid-fourteenth century everybody thought the Plague was the result of magic and witchcraft, for there was no logical explanation for the way it acted. It was not until the nineteenth century that the explanation was finally shown to be the bubonic bacteria in the flea which was carried on the back of the Chinese rat. The history of science gives us great numbers of similar experiences. Therefore, when we present something to the scientist which we call a miracle, his answer almost inevitably will he, "Just give me time and I shall have the explanation." The inexplicable event never really brings conviction of divine interention in history.
Even if it did, there is another loophole for the unbeliever who does not wish to be convinced: chance. As Sir James Jeans states in the opening pages of The Mysterious Universe, everything which happens is ultimately by accident - even all the books in the British Museum, presumably including Jeans' Mysterious Universe - so even if Montgomery proves scientifically that Christ rose on the third day, it would really signify only another accident. As Jeans puts it, if only time lasts long enough every possible accident will happen. Proving a miracle really has no compelling impact on the thinking of one whose presuppositions are all geared to the acceptance of an ultimately chance universe.

Because of these two attitudes to the matter of miracle, the non-Christian's approach is virtually impregnable if we attempt to argue with him on his own ground. For then we are approaching him and accepting his basic presupposition of the basic normalcy of the human intellect and the validity of the scientific method for all matters relating to a law or chance controlled physical universe. He can then either say "Wait and we shall have an explanation," or he can interpret everything we put forward to prove a miracle as simply a matter of accident in a completely accidental world. On a purely empirical basis I do not think that the Christian can convince anyone of the apologetic value of a miracle, for the Christian in attempting to do so has surrendered the fort to the enemy by assuming a common ground of argument.

This is why, as a Christian, I object to the methods employed in all three articles. While they presumably accept the authority and the infallibility of the Bible, they do not turn to it for their view of the nature and purpose of a miracle. Instead they try to identify what a miracle is from some philosophical-scientific basis which ends up as simply something which will cause wonderment and awe, or an inexplicable happening. Consequently they have no basis for using miracles as an instrument of apologetics. In fact, a follower of Zoroaster would have as much right to say that his religion is proven by this reasoning. The biblical view of miracle is very different.

At the tame time, as pointed out in connection with the non-Christian reaction to their reasoning, the authors of the articles seem to hold that an empirical proof for miracles can be produced which will convict the non-Christian of the truth of the Christian Gospel. But the Bible states specifically that this is not the ease. This was the whole point of Paul's argument with the Corinthians as set forth in the first two chapters of his first letter. Merely proving that something inexplicable has happened means nothing, for it could have happened merely by chance or it may be explicable after more research. This is why Paul could say "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them because they are judged spiritually." (I Cor. 2:14)

To deal with the problem of miracle and science, therefore, we mutt go first of all to the Bible itself to understand the nature of a miracle. Here we see the miracle, whether in the Old or the New Testament, as an act of God, whether it is the rolling back of the Red Sea for the Israelites or the raising of Christ from the dead. But it is more. It is an act of God without, above or even contrary to means, i.e., secondary causes. It is special direct action by the divine power to accomplish God's purpose and counsel. Therefore, while man may be able to observe the result, he cannot by any empirical means actually prove that this is a miracle, for in the very nature of the case God's actions are not subject to empirical investigation, as for instance we would conduct an experiment in a laboratory. God's actions are beyond the scope of both our minds and our instruments.

We may use the term "miracle" loosely as do the Basingers when they give as an example a student receiving $500 from a relative who has had the idea of sending this money to the student who has prayed for it. But is that truly a miracle? Is it not really a special providence, even though we cannot explain it empirically at this point? It is quite possible that there are certain psychological secondary causes which the Spirit could put in motion.

This in turn raises the question of the purpose of a miracle, which the writers of the articles really do not touch. As we look at the Scriptures we see that miracles are always for the purpose of accomplishing God's purpose of judgment and redemption in history, not just for meeting the needs or wishes of some individual. And God uses miracles as a means of revealing his justice and his grace to his people by his action. Therefore, a miracle is not just a bare event in history, but is pregnant with meaning and significance to those who have the ability and understanding to see. One cannot speak of such an event in purely historical terms, for although it takes place in history and is observed by man in history, it has meaning far beyond itself; one might say that it has eternal meaning.

Yet that a miracle is indeed a miracle and that it has this eternal meaning is by no means obvious. This comes out in the reasoning in the articles in question, for the question of determining that a miracle is truly a miracle and not just some event for which man has no immediate explanation or which is a product of chance, can be known only as God himself makes the miraculous character of the event known. This means that a miracle and its interpretation is grasped by the human observer only through divine revelation, i.e., only when God says it is a miracle with a certain significance. This revelation comes through the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

Some may object to this statement, but for the Christian where else does one find God's revelation of himself and of his actions? Only in the Bible do we learn when and how God acts in history. True, we can guess at events which take place in history outside the range of biblical interpretation, but do we have any proof that some inexplicable event is in fact God's direct, miraculous operation? I do not think so. It would seem clear then, that to the Christian the only true miracles of which we can have a certain knowledge are those which are recorded for us in the Scriptures, which also give us their interpretation. From the bare fact of Christ's resurrection, can we by philosophical deduction conclude that "he was raised for our justification"? I do not think so. We know this because of the interpretation of his resurrection which he himself gave and which the apostolic writers, such as Paul in I Corinthians 15, set forth. To know and so understand a miracle, therefore, it is necessary to go back to the Scriptures as our source of information.

This means, however, that we must start with the inspiration and authority of Scripture, not with miracles. If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then we can accept miracles without any difficulty. But if we do not, all the philosophizing in the world will never bring the conviction that miracles do happen. Man will always produce some other explanation of the event, or simply deny it, because his presuppositions tell him that a miracle cannot happen, even as the Jewish authorities, despite all the evidence and testimony to the contrary, denied that Christ had risen from the dead. (Mast. 28:llff) Thus, when Christians seek to use miracles to prove to non-Christians that Christianity is true, they are in fact getting nowhere, for "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
Since the non-Christian, or the natural man oft Cor. 2:14, will not accept the authority of the Scriptures, how can he be brought to believe that the testimony of the Scriptures is true? In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the tendency was to say that we can prove that they are inspired and therefore authoritative, and there is much the same attitude among many evangelicals today. But as Calvin pointed out in the sixteenth century, the Bible itself states that no one is going to believe the testimony of the Scriptures apart from, and without, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. (John 3:Sff, 6:bff; I Cor. l:2lff). Only when one has become a new creature in Christ through regeneration, will he accept the teaching of the Scriptures, for only then will all things become new (2 Cur, 5:17). Then and then alone will he see and accept the validity of the evidence for the resurrection of Christ, and for any other miracle recorded in the Scriptures. Therefore, only as the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the spiritually blind will philosophical and scientific arguments make any sense.

From this point of view, then, the argument over the relation of miracle to science is really irrelevant. The non-Christian will not accept the idea of miracle as something which has valid meaning, as Christ pointed out in referring to the idea of Abraham being sent to speak to the brothers of Dives in the parable. (Luke 16:30, 31). They will not believe even if one rises from the dead, and we can see how true this was in the reaction of the authorities to the Easter resurrection. To the Christian, however, there should be no problem. If Christ is Lord over all creation, as Paul states in Colossians i:lsff, why should there be any difficulty? As Calvin, who had much to do with the development of the idea of natural law pointed out, if all such law is the secret working of the Holy Spirit in creation, why should the idea of miracle be in any way in conflict with science? Science is based upon the usual, uniform way in which creation operates, but if God wills to interfere or act without following this uniform way of operation, what will prevent him? As Lord of creation he can do what he wills in this regard without upsetting the general and normal way in which nature moves. Moreover, if he also gives us in the Scriptures an explanation of the fact that he has acted in this way and why, is that not sufficient?

But what good are miracles in an apologetic framework if they are limited to Scripture and require the sight-giving action of the Holy Spirit? In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, particularly before Hume, men tended to accept the Scriptures as being true historically, and so would listen to the arguments based upon them. With the rise of Humeian and Kantian scepticism coupled with biblical higher criticism and materialistic evolutionism, this acceptance has gone. In this more sophisticated (?) age quite frankly I do not think that the citing of evidence for miracles really has all that much effect, with two exceptions. First of all, it strengthens the faith of the Christian, giving greater confidence that the Bible is indeed the Word of God and that Christ is our living risen Savior. Secondly, as we present the evidence to the non-Christian we must truss that God in his grace will open the eyes of the blind that they may see that the evidence is convincing, convincing enough to bring them to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. But to those who remain blind miracles will have no effect, for like the Athenians on Mars Hill when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, they will mock the whole doctrine. (Acts. 17:32).