Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the editor

On Miracles

George L. Murphy, ASA Fellow

From: PSCF 51 (December 1999): 278-279.

I am not always as careful as I might be in my statements but I donít recall "expressing discomfort" with miracles or saying that I "could accept the miracle of the resurrection but not much else" (PSCF 51 [September 1999]: 143). I do think that many appeals to miracles, such as the notion that they are needed to explain the origin of life, are theologically unsound. What Iíve tried to address on the ASA listserv and in other forums1 is not whether miracles have occurred but how they are to be understood and what they mean.

One traditional view has been that miracles are completely beyond the capacity of the natural processes with which God concurs, and must be seen purely as supernatural interventions. I believe that God works with and through all the natural processes which science understands or tries to understand, and that Godís usual self-limitation to what can be done through those processes is coherent with the divine kenosis which is described in Phil. 2:5ñ11. In view of this, it seems to me to be worth pursuing the ideas that miracles have some continuity with ordinary natural processes. The old rabbinic speculation that miraculous phenomena of the Old Testament such as the manna were "created on the eve of [the first] Sabbath, between the suns"2 suggests that some of what C.S. Lewis called "miracles of the old creation" might be "natural" but extremely rare phenomena whose possibility God build into creation. Though having some connection with more common phenomena (as the provision of manna and Jesusí feeding of the multitudes had with the "ordinary" work of the Creator), their rarity would mean that it would be very difficult for science ever to get a handle on them.

"Miracles of the new creation" like the resurrection are another matter precisely because they are new. Perhaps, in line with the ideas of some modern theologians and suggestions of theoretical physics, we should think of such events as originating in the future, and thus involving some sort of time travel or signals with reversed temporal ordering.3 Of course such a suggestion is very speculative.

It is possible that some miracles do have to be seen as simply outside the scope of the laws of physics. After all, G–delís theorem suggests that the mathematical pattern to which those laws approximate is logically open. On the other hand, I do not think it necessary to insist that any given miracle could only have come about in a way which is completely separate from natural processes.

It is also important to discern the real theological significance of miracles. My feeling is that exploring the connections between Godís miraculous works and the universe which science seeks to understand can help us to see the meaning of miracles more clearly.


1E.g., George L. Murphy, "MiraclesóBurden of Blessing?" Lutheran Partners 15.5 (September/October 1999): 33ñ4.

2R. Travers Herford, ed., Pirke Aboth (New York: Schocken, 1962), 129ñ31.

3George L. Murphy, "What Can Physics Contribute to Eschatology?" dialog 38.1 (Winter 1999): 35ñ9.