And Christianity too, says our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon. He explains:
Proposition: Miracles are violations of natural law.
1. What is natural law; Who invented it? Who enforces it? Who interprets it?
a) One argument is that natural law is merely inductive. The sun has risen daily for the past 5000 years of written history, therefore it is a law. But if it did not rise tomorrow, that would only be a 1/1,800,000 event. Are we saying that probabilities < 1:1,800,000 are always certain? Then certain rare forms of cancer should certainly never happen.
b) Another argument is that “Nature” operates by laws that we discover. But what is “Nature”? How do we meet “Nature”? If it is inductive, then see above. Or are laws of nature given by some authority; is “Nature” God? If so, then the whole idea of “miracle” is moot—everything is a miracle.
c) Another argument is that Laws of Nature are an intersection of math and symmetry, of logic and substance. For example, three-dimensional space permits the tying of knots, whereas 1, 2, and 4-dimensional space does not. Therefore knots are a consequence of math convolved with the geometry of the spacetime we live in; likewise laws of nature are similarly constructed. But if so, then miracles might simply be higher dimensions (your favorite string theorist’s compactified dimensions) impinging on our reality. This is the view, for example, that Edward Abbot and Hugh Ross popularize.
I conclude that there is no unique way to characterize laws of nature that eliminates the existence of miracles.
2. But we can argue the conclusion the other direction. Pick your favorite religion, be it atheism/materialism or deism or Islam or Hinduism/pantheism or Christianity. All but Christianity deny the existence of laws of Nature. Without laws of Nature, there cannot be miracles. So if you want Laws of Nature, you must also accept miracles. Here are some examples (following Stanley Jaki‘s argument):
a) Atheism/Materialism. Alvin Plantinga has done a nice job showing that the assumptions of materialism are inconsistent with the belief in materialism (ie. anti-miracles). Likewise, Hume has done a nice job showing that the assumptions of materialism are inconsistent with laws of nature. I believe Nancy Cartwright presents a modern argument for this.
b) Islam assumes a super-transcendent creator who is completely unlimited in power and authority. Therefore the Creator neither needs nor obeys laws of Nature. Accordingly, when something happens, God did it and doesn’t have to obey any other rule. Laws of nature would be a diminution of his power and therefore cannot exist.
c) Hinduism assumes an immanent creator who lives inside time just as we do. He cannot know the future, and therefore is just as much a victim of time and entropy as we are. Because there is nothing more permanent than the creator, laws of nature must change with time and vicissitudes of life. Because a changeable law is not the same as a scientific Law of Nature, so there can be no universal “rules” or mathematical laws of nature.
d) Deism assumes a super-transcendent creator who creates a machinery of laws to represent his will in the world. Thus we talk about the clockmaker and his clock. Because the “laws of nature” are a clock, they cannot be broken without breaking the will of the Creator and thus there are no miracles. But in such a deterministic world, we don’t have independence of thought, belief or consciousness, and we are right back to the materialist dilemma of a). Alternatively, we might think that the Deist creator can repair the clock, but then we still have the options b) or c) to deal with.
e) Christianity. Only in Christianity is there a possibility of a transcendent Creator who nonetheless submits to becoming a part of his creation. The incarnation without diminution of divinity is only possible in a Trinitarian framework. Only Christ can span the gulf between the transcendent and the immanent, which is precisely where science rests—midway between theory and experiment, between dogmatism and pragmatism, between logic and recipes. Therefore only in Christianity are there Laws of Nature. And just as necessary as Laws of Nature is the ability for God to intervene (or else we would be back to d), and therefore miracles are equally necessary (not just possible.)
Bottom line: If you want Laws of Nature, then you must also accept Christianity and miracles.
And that’s why these apologetic arguments make me dizzy.
Over to you, readers.
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See also: Rob Sheldon on why so many sciences seem to be devolving – not just social sciences