Science and Belief

Science and miracles

with 20 comments

I’m a scientist who believes that miracles can happen. I don’t think I’m all that unusual. I could name a lot of other scientists who believe the same thing, and from time to time they make themselves known – as in this Nature article.

First of all, what’s a miracle? Miracles are signs of God’s particular grace to his people in particular circumstances. They are events that happen in response to prayer or a desire to connect with God. Their mechanism or timing defies normal scientific reasoning, and show us something special about God’s character. I think this is a Biblical definition of a miracle – a sign; a wonder; something that shows us how amazing God is and how much he loves us. And a miracle doesn’t HAVE to defy scientific explanation – some miracles are ‘ordinary’ events with incredible timing.

Why should a scientist believe in this sort of thing? Put quite simply, if God created the universe he can do what he likes with it! We know from experience that things in the universe can often be reduced to ordered, rational principles, like the ‘law’ of gravity, the speed of light, and so on. I believe that God sustains the universe: if he wasn’t there the whole thing would disappear. And God chooses to sustain things in an orderly way – so we get seasons, patterns and the ability to do science. But is God bound by these laws? I don’t think so! Why should he be? Occasionally he chooses to act in a different way: in a way that defies scientific explanation, and the resurrection of Jesus provides a powerful example – something that all Christians believe happened.

Going back to whether a scientific explanation can be found for a miracle, I think our desire to find stories that defy scientific explanation is a symptom of our scientific culture. If you want to say anything significant these days you need some sort of scientific evidence to back it up, and Christians often buy into this. This makes it extremely tempting to spend a lot of time justifying miracles – especially miracles of healing – as events that cannot be explained scientifically, and dismissing miracles that can be explained scientifically as nothing remarkable, when something very remarkable indeed has happened – someone prayed and God acted.

The Bible doesn’t differentiate between miracles that defy scientific explanation (like Jesus turning water into wine) and those that don’t (like the wind blowing all night and driving the waters of the red sea back – the picture in this cartoon I think overdramatises it a little, but it was nonetheless an incredibly remarkable event that etched itself on a whole nation’s consciousness for thousands of years afterwards) – both types of event are possible, and both are ‘signs and wonders’ pointing to God’s incredible power and care for us.

More importantly, Jesus recognised that miracles alone will do nothing to convince people that God is serious about caring for us. Miracles were an important part of Jesus’ ministry, and are still important today, but some of the people who watched Jesus heal person after person were the same people who cheered for his execution. And Jesus himself said that even if someone rises from the dead people still won’t believe if they don’t want to. It’s only within the whole picture of what Jesus came to do that miracles really make sense.

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

March 26, 2011 at 9:01 am

20 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this Ruth. What is interesting though is that very often ‘miracle’s in Scripture are much less ‘miraculous’ than we want them to be. For example, your picture of the crossing of the Red Sea is much more dramatic than it was portrayed in Exodus, where it is a very natural phenomenon–’a strong east wind blew all night.’

    ian Paul

    March 26, 2011 at 9:39 am

  2. Absolutely – hence my comment ‘the picture in this cartoon I think overdramatises it a little’. But at the same time, it was obviously an incredible event that the people involved never forgot.

    Ruth Bancewicz

    March 28, 2011 at 9:31 am

  3. Really interesting article Ruth, Thanks.

    I notice the Nature article (I can only get the abstract) has no paper pre-1985 in its references.

    Any more recent research on this kind of thing,

    You blog an oasis after having spent some time with P.Z. Myers,

    Neil

    Neil Glover

    June 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    • Yes sorry, if you’re not on a uni campus you won’t be able to get the journal links… I’m afraid I don’t have anything to hand that’s not in Zygon or Science & Christian Belief (subscription only) but perhaps this is an incentive to finish the review paper on recent literature on miracles that I’ve been trying to write for about 2 years…

      Ruth Bancewicz

      July 4, 2011 at 9:11 am

      • “. . . perhaps this is an incentive to finish the review paper on recent literature on miracles that I’ve been trying to write for about 2 years…”

        Perhaps you are already familiar with Graham Twelftree’s books on miracles and Jesus as exorcist. If not, you will find him on Amazon.

        discovering vashti

        April 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    • This link should work – if not, click on the “Download PDF” on the abstract site.
      http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v322/n6077/pdf/322321a0.pdf

      Mijinjax

      January 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm

  4. A friend of mine suffered a terrible accident when he was 15 (this was back in the 60s) and he was burned in a gasoline fire so badly that 80 percent of his skin was burnt. The doctors initially didn’t think he would live. Fortunately he survived, but the doctors then said that he would be badly disfigured for his entire life, with scars all over his body. Over a period of several years, God miraculously healed him so that all of his scars disappeared. I recently created a short documentary on his story you can watch for free at http://bit.ly/s4f1S5 – You can click on “Angel in the Fire” and determine for yourself whether this was actually a miracle.

    After directing, editing the video, and talking with the people involved, I think this case is either a miracle, or at least someone who experienced a healing that is a mystery to everyone who witnessed it. It didn’t happen in one moment, it happened over several years, and it shows that these events (whether miracles or mysterious healings) do occur even today.

    mike

    October 31, 2011 at 4:43 am

  5. Thank you for the content of this post and your blog. I am seeking a ‘miracle’ and this is inspiring to me. I have just begun to blog myself about deliberate creation http://www.mental-physics.com, It is so important to understand the power of our Beliefs and Thoughts. Would love to know more about your Test of Faith materials. Right now the more I can think about the possibility of miracles I will be encouraged, hopeful and have faith.
    Melanie

    Melanie Kershner

    January 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

  6. I love this post. I recently experienced a non-scientific defying miracle – what your post refers to as “‘ordinary’ events with incredible timing.” And the cool thing about miracles is that they don’t always have to be BIG – just that it reveals who GOD is and his incredible love for us. Thanks for the post!

    Sheryl

    February 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

  7. An interesting read Ruth and quite refreshing as most scientists are reluctant to express views about this topic.What is your view on natural miracles and supernatural physics?

    michala

    May 4, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    • If you hang around http://www.cis.org.uk/ for long you won’t experience such reticence from their members! I actually wouldn’t make a distinction between the natural and supernatural – that’s more to do with certain forms of ancient Greek philosophy and not biblical Christianity. If God is actually there, then he’s God of the whole universe. I guess people make that distinction now probably because of what they observe – in general the world behaves in regular ways, but occasionally something extraordinary happens. That makes sense to me – we can live fruitful lives and do good science because God has made a universe that runs in regular ways, but he can do something else if he chooses.

      Ruth Bancewicz

      May 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

  8. Thanks Ruth.I guess you’re qualified to express those views,amongst others.I will check out the link.As we cannot prove/disprove God,we tend to rely on science to explain most things in this material world.Natural or Supernatural events defy the laws of science,but as science is progressive, we may have a better understanding one day.I believe evolution is inconclusive based on the contrary scientific evidence.Also,I have noticed biologists[medical doctors] more than physicists etc. recognise a pattern in Nature[seen & unseen] which may indicate a creator or unknown force.

    michala

    May 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm

  9. May be miracles and science are not mutually exclusive.

    michala

    May 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    • Absolutely! That’s what I was trying to say, but obviously wasn’t very clear… So many people have explained it in so many ways, but it’s clear that someone can be a scientist and believe in miracles.

      Ruth Bancewicz

      May 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm

  10. there are christrians who believe darwin & evolution theory.however,there are others who cannot accept fully evolution with the biblical account of creation due to different time lines and scientific methodology

    michala

    May 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm

  11. Thanks Ruth for the article.
    All scientist should believe on miracles.

    Clifton

    April 4, 2014 at 2:53 pm


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