Can a miracle happen? Sure, why not? Sounds like a simple question with a simple answer. But don’t let it fool you. People have argued across the ages for and against the possibility of miracles. Bertrand Russell, the atheist, said, “Miracles certainly played a very large part in Christian propaganda.”
Some people believe the answer to this question affects the credibility of the Bible. Others feel proof for the existence of miracles will shake the foundations of science.
This essay briefly considers three questions:
- Can God intervene in nature’s laws?
- Can science prove miracles do or do not exist?
- What is the role of science regarding miracles?
Let’s Look, For Example . . .
From time to time God performs a mighty deed that goes beyond the laws of nature. We call this a miracle. For example, I have a friend who helps provide food to the poor on Thanksgiving. He goes to a low-income part of town and distributes turkeys from the back of a small delivery truck. Others go with him. They help with the turkeys and hand out sweet potatoes, stuffing, and other items to complete dozens of Thanksgiving Dinners.
A few years ago my friend was distributing frozen turkeys to the poor. On Thanksgiving Eve dozens of poor families stood in line next to the truck. There also were dozens of turkeys. My friend and his helpers dispensed one turkey after another. Eventually the turkeys were gone.
My friend said to his helpers, “There are a few more families. Bring out some more turkeys.”
His helpers replied, “There are no more turkeys. The truck is empty.”
My friend stepped down from the back of the truck. He had to tell the remaining families the bad news. They would have no turkey to cook for Thanksgiving Dinner.
The helper looked again in the back of the truck. “Wait! There are a few more turkeys in the back of the truck.”
From where did the turkeys come? Can you explain this? I cannot. I know these men. They are dedicated servants of God. They enjoy helping others. They do not lie. They are not blind. The back of the truck was empty. A moment later there were more frozen turkeys in the truck.
This is not a proof for the existence of God. Any atheist worth his salt would instantly scoff at this and roll his eyes. But a person of faith will wonder. Does God care enough for a the last few families to provide them with turkeys for Thanksgiving Dinner? Yes. Can God provide turkeys for these families by performing a miracle? That’s the key question.
Christianity is known for its miracles. Miracles do not prove the existence of God but they can alert us to His presence and providence. Miracles can remind us that God is involved in the daily operation of the world and that He cares.
Atheists hate miracles. Miracles are a direct threat to their world-view. If God actively intervenes in this world, He must exist. Therefore, they frantically deny the possibility of miracles. They use the most powerful weapon they have in their arsenal—their totally materialistic misrepresentation of science.
Can God Intervene in Nature’s Laws?
Even in ancient times people doubted miracles. Some of the witnesses of the risen Christ doubted what they saw (see Matthew 28: 17). In modern times atheists have used the authority of science not only to doubt miracles but also to claim miracles cannot occur.
The seventeenth century philosopher Benedict Spinoza denied the possibility of miracles based on a Newtonian concept of nature, writing,
“Nothing then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws, nay, nothing does not agree with them and follow from them, for . . . she keeps a fixed and immutable order. … a miracle, whether in contravention to, or beyond, nature, is a mere absurdity.”
Spinoza was dogmatic.
“We may, then, be absolutely certain that every event which is truly described in Scripture necessarily happened, like everything else, according to natural laws.”
Nature “keeps a fixed and immutable Order.” Everything “necessarily happened . . . according to natural laws.” And “nothing comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws . . .” (Quotes taken from Miracles and Modern Scientific Thought by Norm Geisler.)
Can God perform miracles? Atheists and skeptics shout a resounding “No!” They vehemently roar, “Miracles are unscientific.” Scottish historian David Hume, a skeptic, wrote the following in his book, “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,”
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. . . . Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. . . . And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full “proof,” from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior. Section X, On Miracles
Hume says a miracle cannot be a proof. He defines “proof” as the uniform experience of science. Therefore, a miracle is not a proof. Of course, this is the very essence of a miracle: it is not a normal experience. According to Hume, a scientific proof is the normal experience—the common course of nature. “A uniform experience amounts to a proof.”
Hume felt very smug about his answer,
“I flatter myself that I have discovered an argument . . . which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently will be useful as long as the world endures.”
Because a miracle is an anomaly, according to Hume, it cannot be an established proof for science. Obviously! But Hume does not study the miracle. He denies the possibility of miracles, closes his eyes, plugs his ears, and smugly walks away. He sees nothing, hears nothing, and proves nothing.
Hume seems to be saying that miracles are not scientific because miracles are one-time events. Science is based on laws that are the result of many, many observations. But many happenings in this world are one-time, unique events. Earthquakes are unique events. No two hurricanes are alike. Every human body is distinctive. Each of these events is similar to others in their category but none of them are identical.
Atheists also say miracles are not science because they cannot be predicted. Earthquakes and hurricanes cannot be reliably predicted. Scientists study hurricanes, earthquakes, and human bodies in order to know more about the way they work. Why should miracles be any different? Are atheists afraid of what they might find if they study miracles?
Can God intervene in nature’s laws? Impossible, according to some scientists. Does science even have the ability to make a ruling in the area of miracles?
Can Science Prove Miracles Do or Do Not Exist?
Can science prove miracles can or cannot happen? No, science is not equipped to accomplish this. Even if science was supported by a Christian world-view, the role of science would be limited to exploring the physical evidence surrounding a possible miraculous event. This does not disprove miracles. It demonstrates the weakness of science in regard to ultimate truth.
Science is a tool for exploring the physical world. Finding metaphysical truth is beyond its mandate or its abilities.
Think, for example, of the parting of the Red Sea. This is considered one of the greatest miracles of the Bible. Archaeologists and scholars try to figure out where this event happened, if indeed it did really happen.
Some think the event was related to the explosion of the volcano on the Minoan island of Thera in the mid-second millennium B.C. This explosion caused a tsunami that severely damaged Minoan civilization. Does this tsunami also explain the strange natural event we know as the parting of the Red Sea? Unfortunately, this event does not qualify as an explanation. It took place in the Mediterranean Sea (not the Red Sea) about 200-300 years before the exodus from Egypt.
Theologians and experts in ancient languages think the waters parted in a place called the Sea of Reeds, one of several shallow lakes in the area of the modern Suez Canal. The Bible names the location of the parting water as yam suph, which can be translated as Sea of Reeds. But this does not explain how the Egyptian army was drowned in a shallow lake.
Some scholars think the children of Israel crossed a shallow water area in the Gulf of Aqaba. Whatever the location, suppose someday science finds the exact location and explains scientifically the natural events that caused the Red Sea to part. Will their explanation cause this event to fall flat as a miracle? No, not at all. A miracle is more than just a scientific explanation.
The events that led up to the parting of the Red Sea were unique and specific. The Bible says in Exodus 14: 13, 21:
But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.” . . . Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. (NAS)
Why did the Red Sea part at the exact moment when Moses raised his hands? Science cannot answer that question. Science does well answering the What and How questions but it has no authority to provide answers to the Why questions.
What is the role of science regarding miracles?
Science has the mandate to discover the laws and secrets of the physical world. This mandate was given to science by God. That’s right, God has no problem with science. He’s the One who first thought about science. The Bible reports this mandate in Genesis 1: 28
[God said to the man,] “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (NAS)
The word “subdue” is the Hebrew word kabash. It means “to bring into bondage.” God intends for us to have a strong control over the earth. Science can give us such control.
Does this mean we cannot study miracles and compare them to the laws of science? No, of course not! Regardless of the differences between miracles and science, we can and should study miracles.
Science is a gift from God. It helps us accomplish God’s mandate for us to subdue the earth. But some unbelieving scientists twist the truth. Rather than understanding the limitations of science, they invent complicated riddles to show that science is superior to God. However, God has His own way of bringing the truth to light. God often uses simple explanations to answer difficult questions. Consider what the Bible says in I Corinthians 1: 27-29:
God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
There is another, simpler way to look at miracles.
A Simple Explanation
According to one interpretation of Occam’s razor, usually the simplest explanation is the most preferred.
Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis provides an example of this in his simple, straightforward explanation of miracles. Lewis wrote in his book Miracles,
It is therefore inaccurate to define a miracle as something that breaks the laws of Nature. . . . If God annihilates or creates or deflects a unit of matter, He has created a new situation. Immediately all Nature . . . makes it at home in her realm, adapts all other events to it. . . . The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.
You and I do this all the time but we don’t realize it. We introduce new situations into Nature constantly, every day. For example, suppose you are eating Christmas dinner at Grandma’s house. Your Grandmother has a set of china plates, cups, and bowls that she saves for special occasions. Her china is very fragile and impossible to replace.
During the meal one of the china cups falls off the table. Grandma shouts, “Oh, no!” She flinches, expecting to hear the cup shatter when it hits the floor. But the sound of splintering china never comes. What happened?
In the next moment one of your cousins places the fallen cup back on the table. Grandmother claps her hands together in excitement. “It’s a miracle!” she exclaims.
“Not really,” your cousin replies. “I caught the cup before it hit the ground.”
For a moment your cousin interfered with the laws of nature. He disrupted gravity’s effect on the cup. He exerted his will over Nature’s laws. But Nature quickly recovers. Nature’s laws are not broken. Nature goes on in the same way she always has.
If God performs a miracle, He interacted with Nature in an unusual way. For a moment He interfered with the laws of Nature. He exerted His will over Nature’s laws. But Nature quickly recovers. Her laws have not been broken.
If I can interrupt Nature in such a way, who are we to say God can’t do the same thing? But when He does it we call it a miracle.
Can a miracle actually take place? All we need is nature and an almighty God who has free will. It seems to me that we have both.
Can a miracle take place? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”