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Science cannot “disprove” miracles

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Profile picture for user Amy K. Hall From Amy K. Hall at Stand to Reason:

Recently, when I asked an atheist why he was an atheist, the first reason he gave was that “science has disproved God.” When I asked what he meant by that, he started listing miracles in the Bible—such as the virgin birth—that were impossible for him to believe “because of science.”

This is simply a misunderstanding of what a miracle is and, therefore, how one can evaluate it. Yes, people have used the methods of science to study the natural workings of the reproductive system and have very accurately said that virgins do not get pregnant naturally, but of course, no Christian ever claimed they did! We agree on how the reproductive system works, and we agree that in the normal course of things, a virgin does not get pregnant. The miracle claim is not that Mary became pregnant naturally (a ridiculous idea refuted by science), but that God caused her to conceive supernaturally. That is, in a unique situation, God personally intervened to cause something to happen. More.

The atheist in Hall’s account is professing naturalism, the belief that nature is all there is. Therefore, nothing can happen that nature does not produce. But that is a belief that guides what is accepted as evidence, not a fact in itself.

Christians think that God became a man (incarnation). That is an event that could only happen through a unique and irrepeatable process. So the question is not whether it can be accounted for in nature but whether it happened at all. Hall’s atheist probably wouldn’t accept evidence in the matter or treat it fairly.

As for other unusual events that people have termed miracles, the question comes down to, if there is a divine intelligence, is that intelligence able to intervene? If not why not? Note: “Theistic evolution” claims that such an intelligence “would not” intervene are a distraction.

Hat tip: J. R. Miller

See also: Thought for the day: Wayne Rossiter on science, miracles, or a blend of both

and

How naturalism rots science from the head down

17 Replies to “Science cannot “disprove” miracles

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Science can support the belief that miracles did occur.
    Science can also give good evidence that what we usually call a miracle did not occur.

    Science cannot explain why its own findings are true or even if they are beneficial. Science cannot explain why a valid experiment is better than a false one.

  2. 2
    Dick says:

    We are justified in believing that miracles are impossible only if we know apriori that there is no God.

    If the God of theism exists then miracles are possible and each claim to a miracle needs to be evaluated on the basis of the evidence for it, not on the basis of one’s prior commitment to a naturalistic worldview.

    An alleged aversion to miracles is often in fact a diversion from the real issue which is the existence of God.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    Recently, when I asked an atheist why he was an atheist, the first reason he gave was that “science has disproved God.”

    I’m always a little suspicious of homely little anecdotes about what some anonymous atheist is supposed to have said. I don’t doubt that there are atheists who think that but I believe there are a lot more who think we simply don’t know but act on the assumption that there is no such being.

    All we can say of alleged miracles is that they are phenomena that appear to violate what we know of how the Universe works. But since our knowledge is far from complete we have to allow that it was still possible they happened.

    This brings us back once again to the burden of proof, in which the person stating a claim bears the responsibility for arguments and evidence to support it. If the claim is that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus then we need evidence that these people actually existed and that the event happened as described. Without that we are under no obligation to believe it.

    What is ironic is that believers will demand – quite rightly – that science provide detailed accounts of how things happen or they will not accept them. Yet they will happily believe a story about the virgin birth of Jesus or how the Universe was created in six days, apparently without the slightest curiosity about how those alleged events were brought about. Is that a double standard I see before me?

  4. 4
    ronvanwegen says:

    Re Seversky: “atheists… who… don’t know…”
    That’s the definition of an agnostic, not an atheist.

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks,

    anytime I see science and “prove” or “disprove” joined together, a red flag trips.

    Science, as an inductively rooted exercise simply cannot show things to be or not to be the case beyond revision.

    Yes, observations — which BTW immediately locks out the remote actual but unobservable past of origins — may be sufficiently warranted to be regarded as fact, but that is not science as such. In any case, we make inferences to the best current explanation (including laws, theories, models etc) that we hope are more or less observationally reliable, but are open to correction. That is, they are inherently provisional.

    Going beyond, the notion that the general or total body of observations uniformly reports that certain laws obtain or that “exceptions” do not occur is inherently incapable of locking out future cases that show limitations. Just consult the fate of Newtonian Dynamics.

    Going yet beyond, scientific observations show typical patterns that may generally hold, but that presumes an “other things being equal.” Miracle would precisely be cases where that does not obtain: the action of God who upholds all things by his word of power — the actual root of the concept, natural LAW — for good reason to act outside the typical course for good reasons of his own cannot be ruled out by inductive inferences.

    What is really happening is the smuggling in of veiled physicalism, which asserts that the physical “facts” exhaust reality, so there is nothing beyond blind mechanical necessity and chance to be at work through evolutionary materialism’s blind watchmaker cascade from hydrogen to humans. So of course, on this, miracles are impossible. By definition.

    By question-begging definition.

    Oops.

    But then, so would be the commonest “miracle” of all, conscious rationally contemplative, responsibly and rationally free mindedness that rises above the mechanical necessity and chance of a GIGO-limited, inherently non-rational computational substrate. You’re nothing but a pack of neurons playing GIGO computation through cellular electrochemistry and whatever interconnexions obtain is a self-referentially incoherent view. As Haldane long since pointed out:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” [“When I am dead,” in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (NB: DI Fellow, Nancy Pearcey brings this right up to date (HT: ENV) in a current book, Finding Truth.)]

    So, let us start again, on sounder footing.

    KF

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: If naturalism is so far broadened that the cord to the physicalist core actually snaps [instead of being too fine to notice, like the line tied to a lure and going back to the reel mounted on a rod], it becomes meaningless (as “nature” then becomes an empty synonym for “reality” . . . whatever exists), cf: https://uncommondescent.com/science/what-about-the-broader-view-of-naturalism-and-how-does-this-tie-in-with-methods-of-science/ Thus, we can freely infer that naturalism is not severed from the physicalist core, leading to all the challenges of evolutionary materialistic scientism and its self-referential incoherences on the nature and possibility of knowledge and of mind.

  7. 7
    Fasteddious says:

    The following is a human model of a “miracle”:

    You and I are playing billiards. You have a red ball sitting in front of a corner pocket, with the cue ball lined up two feet away – an easy point. I am standing by that corner. You hit the cue ball towards the red ball. As it approaches, I reach down and lift the red ball off the table, allowing the cue ball to fall into the pocket. I immediately replace the red ball where it was. Within the context of the billiard game, it looks like the cue ball went through or past the red ball, missing it entirely. A miracle!

    Of course, you will say, I simply cheated, and indeed I did, by breaking the rules of the game. However, those rules are a human invention, so can be easily “broken” by humans. Within the context of the billiard rules, the event was supernatural – beyond the nature of the game.

    In a similar way, the “laws of nature” are made by God, so surely he can bend, suspend, or even break them, if he so wishes. Within the context of our natural world, such actions appear to be supernatural miracles. Whether they represent “cheating” I’ll leave between you and God, noting that you and he are not in the same game, as it were.

    God’s miracles usually make a spiritual point or advance a spiritual cause. If he can “play” in his creation by inventing new species (the basic idea of ID), and if he can intervene in his creation personally by speaking to prophets, or ultimately, in Jesus the Christ, then surely he is able to intervene in the natural course of events for his own good purposes.

    Context is everything. If you believe that the natural world is all there is, then there is no supernatural reality and miracles are impossible by definition. If, however, you are open to the possibility of some sort of supernatural reality, then the possible existence of miracles is evidence you will want to look at.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    Fasteddious actually, since methodological naturalism rules agent causality, (i.e. free will and consciousness), out of ‘scientific’ bounds, demonstrating a miracle is easier than that.

    Dr. Craig Hazen, in the following video at the 12:26 minute mark, relates how he performed, for an audience full of academics at a college, a ‘miracle’ simply by raising his arm,,

    The Intersection of Science and Religion – Craig Hazen, PhD – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?f.....qlE#t=746s

    Of related note:

    Do You Like SETI? Fine, Then Let’s Dump Methodological Naturalism – Paul Nelson – September 24, 2014
    Excerpt: “Epistemology — how we know — and ontology — what exists — are both affected by methodological naturalism (MN). If we say, “We cannot know that a mind caused x,” laying down an epistemological boundary defined by MN, then our ontology comprising real causes for x won’t include minds.
    MN entails an ontology in which minds are the consequence of physics, and thus, can only be placeholders for a more detailed causal account in which physics is the only (ultimate) actor. You didn’t write your email to me. Physics did, and informed (the illusion of) you of that event after the fact.
    “That’s crazy,” you reply, “I certainly did write my email.” Okay, then — to what does the pronoun “I” in that sentence refer?
    Your personal agency; your mind. Are you supernatural?,,,
    You are certainly an intelligent cause, however, and your intelligence does not collapse into physics. (If it does collapse — i.e., can be reduced without explanatory loss — we haven’t the faintest idea how, which amounts to the same thing.) To explain the effects you bring about in the world — such as your email, a real pattern — we must refer to you as a unique agent.,,,
    some feature of “intelligence” must be irreducible to physics, because otherwise we’re back to physics versus physics, and there’s nothing for SETI to look for.”,,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....90071.html

  9. 9
    vmahuna says:

    I would note that the ancient Greeks and Romans, and Egyptians and Sumerians etc., etc., also observed and accepted miracles. And many ritual healings by Shamans can be considered miraculous, since no medicines or surgical procedures are involved.

    The Roman Catholic Church has a well established procedure for investigating miracles and continues to accept some small number of odd events as miraculous almost every year.

    On the other hand, there are any number of events, such as the arrival of Haley’s Comet, that are now explainable by modern physics or mechanics or chemistry.

    And of course, there is the VERY old myth of the incarnation of a god in the womb of his virgin mother. When the Egyptians told the myth, the virgin was named Isis and her divine son was named Osiris. But the Egyptians who studied the Mysteries understood that the myth was an allegory, a story that explained some truth indirectly, and those Egyptians understood that Isis and Osiris never existed as real people. Promoting fables as “miracles” leads quickly to confusion.

  10. 10
    Seversky says:

    Fasteddious @ 7

    In a similar way, the “laws of nature” are made by God, so surely he can bend, suspend, or even break them, if he so wishes. Within the context of our natural world, such actions appear to be supernatural miracles. Whether they represent “cheating” I’ll leave between you and God, noting that you and he are not in the same game, as it were

    How do you know this isn’t all just a game? An all powerful God could have created this Universe 13.75bn years ago or 10,000 years ago or last Thursday or just a minute ago. How could we ever know? If it was last Thursday or just a minute ago, that would mean everything before, including the events in the Bible, is just a fiction made up for God knows what purpose.

    An omnipotent deity who can and does intervene at will in the natural order of this Universe would render our attempts to make sense of it all – the whole scientific enterprise – utterly futile.

  11. 11
    Nonlin.org says:

    bornagain77@8,

    Dr. Craig Hazen, in the following video at the 12:26 minute mark, relates how he performed, for an audience full of academics at a college, a ‘miracle’ simply by raising his arm,

    Exactly! Everything is a miracle from waking up to going to sleep. People just got used to all these daily miracles.

  12. 12
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    All we can say of alleged miracles is that they are phenomena that appear to violate what we know of how the Universe works.

    Both materialism and evolutionism rely on miracles.

    This brings us back once again to the burden of proof, in which the person stating a claim bears the responsibility for arguments and evidence to support it.

    Proponents of materialism and evolutionism have FAILed to do so.

    What is ironic is that believers will demand – quite rightly – that science provide detailed accounts of how things happen or they will not accept them.

    Then people should not say they have detailed accounts.

  13. 13
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    How do you know this isn’t all just a game?

    Total lack of evidence that it is a game, duh.

    An omnipotent deity who can and does intervene at will in the natural order of this Universe would render our attempts to make sense of it all – the whole scientific enterprise – utterly futile.

    LoL!- Just saying it does NOT make it so and you cannot make your case, so you lose, as usual.

  14. 14
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Sev

    An omnipotent deity who can and does intervene at will in the natural order of this Universe would render our attempts to make sense of it all – the whole scientific enterprise – utterly futile.

    It would make our assumption that the scientific enterprise can and should be able to explain everything in the universe, a futile assumption. But why do we think that science should explain everything?
    If the natural order was created to teach us certain truths, then interventions into that same order also teach us (to put aside our hubris in thinking we can understand it all).
    Miracles show us that there is something more than natural laws. We can see that we are not entirely determined, or imprisoned, by natural forces alone.
    At the same time, the scientific enterprise never proves anything anyway – it’s all a matter of probability. Even without interventions, we do not know if the so-called laws are fixed and will always remain consistent.

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev, just for a moment ponder the grue-bleen paradox, e.g. here: https://everything2.com/title/grue-bleen+paradox The issues are a lot more complex than we are wont to think, just on induction. As to the oh a god would capriciously create a chaos not a cosmos, ask yourself why you have set up a strawman chaos-god, instead of addressing the relevant creator-sustainer of cosmos that real world theists are addressing: our God is a God of order, the one who upholds all things by his word of power etc, where this is actually the root of LAW of nature terminology. In that context, ponder the principle of many founders of modern science, that we seek to think God’s creative and sustaining thoughts after him. Also, C S Lewis’ point that to stand out as signs, miracles would have to be exceedingly rare relative to the normal course of the world. KF

  16. 16
    anthropic says:

    Sev, the Old & New Testaments both affirm that what we experience is real. Not total reality, as that involves dimensions invisible to our senses, but reality nonetheless.

    Psalms 119 and Romans 1 are most apposite on this point, as they say we can truly know something about God from his creation. If the creation we experience is a fraud or game, that wouldn’t be true.

  17. 17
    anthropic says:

    This is also one of the reasons why I reject young earth creationism. If the universe is less than ten thousands years old, what we observe in the night sky is 99.9 percent illusion.

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