Sunday, April 13, 2014

Can miracles happen?

The question of miracles can be quite divisive...even within the Christian community.  How does God act today?  Does he still perform miraculous healings?  If so, where are they?  If not, why not?  These are very difficult questions to wrestle with, and it is not always clear how to answer them.

On the other hand, one question is very clear to answer: "Has science disproved the possibility of miracles?"  The answer is a very definitive and resounding "NO!"

"But wait," you might ask, "science has shown that the world operates according to an inviolable natural law.  What room then are there for miracles to occur?"  And further, "Even if miracles could happen, they are so rare that it would be foolish to believe one, now matter how much 'evidence' there is for it."

But while these objections may seem plausible, they do not show that "science" has disproved to possibility of a miracle.  Scientific research and our knowledge about the natural world and how it operates could not even in principle show a miracle is impossible.  All it could do is help us understand what would happen were the intervening hand of God to...well, to not intervene.  The only way you can go from that step to concluding miracles are impossible is if you presume beforehand that God cannot or does not intervene (i.e., if you have a philosophical precommitment to naturalism.)  But isn't that the whole question in the first place?  You cannot assume your conclusion beforehand: that is circular reasoning.

OK, so what about the second statement?  Miracles are so rare, perhaps even the least likely thing that could happen in any circumstance, it would be foolish to believe in one, even if there is good evidence.  There are so many problems with this, it's hard to put it succinctly, but here are three quick problems with this statement.  First, frequency is not the same as probability.  Just because miracles don't happen often doesn't mean it can't be the most probable explanation for a particular event.  Second, if miracles are the least likely thing that could happen, this is mathematically equivalent to saying the probability is zero.  So if you take that point of view, you are again doing circular logic by assuming your conclusion beforehand.  Third, if you don't think you can ever believe in a miracle, no matter how much evidence there is, that is the precise definition of blind faith.  Again, the problem of the philosophical precommitment (i.e., the circular logic).  No good.

In other words, miracles are not an impossibility, and never will be, no matter how much we discover about the natural world.  Does this mean miracles happen today?  No.  I believe they do, for other reasons, but that is not what I am saying here.  What I'm saying is, the possibility of miracles, in the right context, should be on the table.