Science and Miracle:
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 nonChristian'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 nonChristian 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 theCOMMUNICATIONS
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).
W. Stanford Reid Rt. 3, Box 199 Lake Placid Florida 33852
Science in Christian Perspective
Science and Progress
Susan Watts Walker
2715 S. Jay Street
Denver, Colorado 80227
From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 172-174.
That humankind has changed cannot be questioned, but the degree and direction of that change are open for debate. We would like to believe that we have made progress, taken a definitive step forward, but have we? We have traveled for millenia by camel, horseback, horsedrawn cart or chariot, and in many instances, by foot. Only in recent history, has our mode of travel "advanced." Today, instead of chariots pulled by horses, we drive and ride in chariots of other kinds. A god called gasoline fuels our machines of transportation, and we consider ourselves highly sophisticated for having harnessed this deity's power. But have travel modes realty changed for the better? Has progress indeed been made? It is true that we travel faster, but the price we have paid for speed is almost immeasurable. Our clean air is fast disappearing; death and disability due to jet age travel is of monumental proportion; the world's supplies of petroleum are fast being exhausted in the service of convenient, quick business and pleasure travel for a relatively small number of the world's peoples.
Often, when scientists and philosophers of science write on the subject of progress, they state that our lot has improved greatly, especially since the rise of modern science. This improvement is usually defined in terms of longer lives, more relaxed life styles, less disease, and more power (both individual and societal). But are there qualities inherent in longer life, more relaxed life styles, less disease, and more power which clearly establish them as improvements? The answer must be no, for one can show that longer lives and less disease for some contribute to shorter lives and more disease for others. The chronically ill and elderly of our societies are now living long lives, and are thus helping to reduce the food supply for the more healthy and productive segments of society. The answer must be no also, because it can be easily demonstrated that more power and more relaxed life styles have been as detrimental as they have been helpful. The gluttony and all-around over-indulgence of a leisure society leaves sears in the forms of obesity, alcoholism, and drug addiction. The power and freedom which come to us as individuals and societies through modern technologies may soon be entities of the past, as they are contributing to air and land pollution, waste, and overall degraduation.
André Cournand sets forth a clear statement on progress in a recent issue of Science. He says in an article entitled "The Code of the Scientist and its Relationship to Ethics":
we live in a time in which the industrial countries are experiencing unparalleled technological development, in large part the fruit of science. However, the benefits of new technologies are distributed in a grossly unbalanced manner, not only within individualized industrialized countries, but also among all the nations of the world. Overcrowding and environmental degradation are already significantly reducing the quality of life in the developed nations and give stark evidence of their inability to confront the problems of the future and its planning. Excess population and famine are on the increase in some regions, while in others there are those who enjoy material goods and leisure as never before. In a word, our inability to regulate the processes of cultural and technological development poses a grave threat to our ability to achieve a decent and humane future."1
Dr. Cournand does not define decent and humane, but he obviously feels that decency and humanity have something to do with a more equal distribution of the benefits produced by science and technology. Somehow, as modern scientific beings, we believe that our upward mobility in technology will be matched by upward mobility in moral and ethical matters. But as has often been pointed out, our scientific and technological advances have not been followed by improved behavior patterns.
As Christians, we must recognize that the ''inability to distribute
of technology" of which Dr. Cournand speaks, is not an inability at all,
but a conscious, deliberate and in many cases, a maliciously chosen course of
action. Our so-called inability is really a deep-seated selfishness, a desire
for self satisfaction at all costs. The Bible - the book which guides our lives
and sets our standards for progress - says that progress is not possible apart
from man's acknowledgment of the Creator of the universe. Only as we
seek so right
our standing before our Maker will it become possible for us so change for the
Christ, in John 6:38, says that He came to earth not to do His own will, but to do the will of His Father. Whatever discomfort and inconvenience that might have caused Him personally, His mind was set toward fulfilling the will of God from His youngest years. Paul, in Romans 12:1,2 tells us that as Christians, our highest calling is, also, to do the will of the Father in Heaven. If we are so prove the good, acceptable and perfect will of God, we must be able to decipher that will. For this purpose, God has given us the Bible, which He tells us in II Tim. 3:16,17 is Godbreathed, and is ''profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Progress, then, for the Christian, must always be defined in light of God's word. Are we, because of our advanced education and technology, really any more progressive in God's sense of the term than was our forebearer Adam and his descendants? Can we realty boast (before God) of the accomplishments of modern man? No,
we cannot! It is true that gadgets, politics, government, cities, medicine etc. are more confusing and complex today, but this does not imply progress. And should we deem it proper to boast in she confusion and complexity we often mistakenly call progress, let us beware; for a moment's objective review will reveal the folly in such boasting. Despite 100 years of modern science, education and the "age of aquarius," we have more murder, rape, theft and general skulduggery than at any time in our history. And, though the Western world has luxuries only dreamed of by the majority of the world's peoples, suicide, drug abuse, and general depression run rampant. The United Nations and other peacemaking bodies and individuals practice detente with all the pomp and circumstance moderns can muster, but peace is nowhere to be seen. Why, if we have advanced so, do we have such unsolvable problems? Faith in, and love of, our own power to do is fruitless, says God (I John 2:15-17) and will bring destruction, for all our progress will someday burn up as wood, hay, and stubble. Festo Kivengere states, in his contribution to At the Edge of Hope:
"Progress, what a charming word; it carries a fascinating attraction - a hope for the better! It is a beckoning ideal motivating action for improvement and forward movement. But progress to what? To where? If progress loses its goal, it becomes its own goal and loses its control and balance, consuming itself by boring repetition. It is the transcendent dimension - "in Christ" that gives progress a human face and a meaningful direction. Progress is saved from dehumanization only as it is directed toward him from whom comes the light shining in the darkness of our history. Progress must be kept under the control of God's love,"2
A larger house or church, a better car, a more important job by the
- these, then, cannot be considered progress for the Christian.
humankind's obsession for the latest and most convenient gadget or toy and she
resulting wasteful obsolescence of, in many cases, perfectly adequate
must not be our way as followers of Christ. What exactly is progress
for the Christian?
We have said that it is doing the will of God as that will is
revealed in Scripture.
How can we make progress according to God's word and will?
1. Share the gospel. The Bible says in II Peter 3:9b that the Lord is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Truly, God wills the salvation of souls, according to all that we read in Scripture. Progress, for us, then, must be partially accomplished by the planting of the seeds of the salvation message in the hearts of our fellows. A recent Christianity Today carries an article entitled "Preaching with Power and Purpose.' In it Lloyd Perry of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School writes:
"The preacher should measure his ministry in terms of eternity rather than time. Like the prophets, he may sigh anxiously, but he will not despair, for he knows that in God's good time the challenge will be worth it all. The stamp of success may never appear in time, but it will in eternity."3
2. Share the benefits of bountiful economies, science and technology with a needy world.
As Christians, we often thank God for prospering us, with little recognition that much of what we call prosperity is really selfish gluttony and over-indulgence at the expense of the rest of the world's peoples. As followers of Christ in the western world, we have, in many cases, swallowed hook, tine and sinker, the message that happiness and progress come in fancy houses and clothes, expensive cars and entertainments, sumptuous dining, and fat bank accounts. Nothing could be farther from the will of God for us. Progress, in this case, may in fact be defined as regrets in the eyes of secular man. Our ultimate trust for the future is to be not in man's ability to progress through science and technology, but in God's providence and goodness (Matt. 6:24b33) Collecting large amounts of bounty is not right, God tells us in this passage; and in other parts of Scripture such as Dent. 24:12, Ps. 41:1, Pr. 19:1?, and Mats. 19:21, He makes it clear that what would have gone into private storage were we left to our own devices, should go to supply the needs of the rest of His creation.
Learning to make do on this earth for the purpose of giving more away, rather than constantly trying to get ahead, may be regress in the eyes of the non-Christian onlooker, but in God's eyes it is truly progress. It is laying up treasure in Heaven rather than on earth, and this again, is God's will for His faithful.
3. Get to know God. In a day when progress is measured by the standards of complexity, sophistication and power, a main goal of the Christian must be to know, in the most intimate sense, the author and sustainer of all that is. As Richard Bube reminds us in The Human Quest:
"If God were to 'turn Himself off,' everything would cease to exist! Without God there are no laws, no world, no us;
Not only do we rely upon God as the Creator at the beginning, as the source of order and purpose in the world, as the personal Father who gives meaning to love and depth to personal relationships; we rely upon God for our very existence."4
When we have grasped what Bube says here, we can begin to put human progress in
its proper perspective. Only because a wise and all powerful God allows it do
we think, exist, understand and know anything at all. We have been
granted a degree
of mastery, progress, and power in this world, but it has meaning only when we
recognize that is is a space and time gift from a gracious Creator.
To know this
God, the source of every good and perfect gift, is indeed progress
for the Christian.
Where science, technology, and their resultant "progress" will take us in these uncertain days, is not clear, although there have been predictions ranging from war and annihilation by the pessimistic, to a new breed of superbeings by the humanistic optimist. What we know for certain is that though "progress" has made life easier and more fulfilling in some respects, it has made it harder, more painful, and more complicated in others. Though we can treat the physical symptoms of V.D., we cannot solve the host of problems which may arise simultaneously with it - i.e. the unwanted child, the psychological pain and guilt. Though efficient machinery for production of term papers and sophisticated information retrieval systems are available to today's students, cheating (perhaps by copying, or paying someone else to do your work), stealing of books and journals has reached epidemic proportions; the saddest part is that in our modern progressive society, most teachers have no criterion by which to judge the behavior of their prodigy, though they somehow feel that cheating and stealing behavior is wrong.
As part of the Christian community, you and I must divorce ourselves from the 20th century American dream that tells us we must be constantly progressing toward bigger and better at the expense of others, and realize that a non-theistic, scientistic world view provides no basis for definable or directional change progress must simply equal change. The ideas of progress and regress, right and wrong, good and evil, forward and backward, barbaric and civilized, have only the most nebulous and relative definitions unless grounded in the God who made Heaven and earth, the Lord Jehovah of Judaeo-Christianity.
1Couroand, André, "The Code of the Scientist and its Relationship to Ethics." Science, Nov. 18, 1977, vol. 198 pp. 699-705.
2Kivengere, Festo. At the Edge of Hope. New York. Seabury Press, 1978.
3Perry, Lloyd. "Preaching with Power and Purpose." Christianity Today, Feb. 2, 1979, pp. 517-519.
4Bube, Richard H. The Human Quest. Waco, Texas, Word Books, 1971. Used by permission of Word Books, Waco, Texas.