Can science discover supernatural activity even though science might not call it that?


(Mike Gantt) #1

Until now, I’ve kept my activity in the Open Forum to the Biblical Interpretation. We’ll see how this veering out of my comfort zone goes.

I have worded my question as clearly as I can, yet I think that as I learn through this exchange I’ll probably see how to refine it.

I’m thinking of this question in specific cases. For example, if a 21st-century medical doctor with the best available equipment had the opportunity to examine the John 9 man born blind to whom Jesus restored sight, would that doctor be able to tell from a physical examination alone (whether 1 day later, a year later, or a decade later) that something supernatural had taken place with his eyes? Or leaving aside the “supernatural” label, would the doctor be able to identify something unusual about the man’s eyes (that we would say was a consequence of the healing Jesus gave)?


(Phil) #2

Well, I’ll give it a go, sort of in my area as I am a family physician, but not an eye doc. The answer of course is “maybe.” If born blind, say with congenital cataracts, then if the patient was examined before and they were documented, then after and they were gone, then yes, you could say so. If you had no documented pre-miracle exam, then no, just a normal eye I would presume. You could get into various permutations of this, but that is the short answer.
I will respond that some miracle healings are similar to when our friend had a child with a documented biopsied tennis ball sized childhood cancer, and when seen in the Medical Mecca a month later it was gone. A miracle? Sure, but about 10-20% of that type of tumor are known to resolve spontaneously, even among children of atheists :slight_smile:
In this case, it is noteworthy that the child’s father came to Christ through the process, which ultimately was the real miracle.


(George Brooks) #3

By definition … if there was supernatural activity that wasn’t intentionally ordered and predictable, scientific observation would label the activity as sporadic, random and unpredictable.

If Rain were only produced by God’s miraculous intervention - - and not in an orderly or repeatable way - - we would still not have the answer to the mystery of how rain occurred.

So, one might imagine then, that to look for the realm of God’s interventions, one only has to go to where things are random, chaotic or unpredictable.


(Ray Bailey) #4

Mike,

I believe NO.
To wit: When Yeshua heals, he does so completely.
I can;t speak to the perfection of the leprous and other medical healings as they don’t come with any details.
I do see only one possibly partial healing that might not have been perfect.

Yet I suspect if the healin wasn’t certain it would have been as a reminder to the man that his faith was inadequate, not that Yeshua did not do a good job of it.

Perhaps the Wedding at Cana is better example with external support. Not only did he turn water into wine, but it was declaimed as “the Best” which is normally served first.

From a scientific viewpoint I believe Elohim works all miracles within the strictures of so called “natural laws” if such laws include Quantum Physics where sub-atomic particles like Neutron can be “quarked” into Protons changing the constituent atoms into something else causing a chain reaction resulting in healing. Or some such which would repair all biological damage erasing all sign of it. Or by unfaith, having it revert back.

However, all instance of a reversion seem to have been instantaneous and not due to any natural recurrence.

Just my take.


(Mike Gantt) #5

Refinement of Question

Based the answers I’ve received so far, here’s a refinement of part of the question. If you’ve already answered, I’ve taken your answer into consideration in this refinement. I’ve also added a second example.

Example # 1 - If a 21st-century medical doctor with the best available equipment (but with no prior records of the man’s health available to him) had the opportunity to examine the John 9 man born blind to whom Jesus restored sight, that doctor would, of course, be able to tell from a physical examination alone (whether 1 day later, a year later, or a decade later) that the man could see. However, would that doctor be able to detect that the man’s ability to see had been given to him supernaturally? In other words, would the doctor find evidence of a supernatural act? If so, what would be the nature of that evidence and what might the doctor conclude from it?

Example # 2 - If a 21st-century chemist with the best available equipment (but with no prior records of the wine’s history) had the opportunity to examine the wine which Jesus created in Cana, he would, of course, be able to detect that the liquid was wine. However, would he be able to detect that the wine had been supernaturally produced? If so, what would the results of his examination indicate to him?

These are not rhetorical questions. They are elaborations on the information-seeking question that launched this topic.


(George Brooks) #6

There are good case studies, @Mike_Gantt!

And in both cases, we might expect (though cannot require) some I.D. supporters to propose that modern science would be able to detect the workings of the supernatural in both outcomes.

But we can also be sure to expect that some scientists, including even those Christian scientists who are considered born again by their respective churches, would not expect modern science to find evidence of God’s supernatural intervention because sometimes God divinely intervenes using processes of natural law!

Isn’t that what you concluded when confronted by the Job text that quotes God as saying snow and hail are stored in the Heavens until they are needed?


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Regarding your challenges of what a doctor or chemist would see could they inspect the “post-miracle” effects of the healed blindness or newly created wine respectively …

I think we all here would accept as undisputed that: miracles (whatever they are) have an effect on the physical world. Right? And that means that their results are (or would be if we were there) available for scientific inspection. And that even for those not immediately there, the results are still there for inspection later (such as friends of the formerly blind man visiting him at a later moment.)

Given your presumed agreement with the above, in what way would you expect the results to appear “deviated” from “normal” things? By this I mean, wouldn’t we expect any ideal healing to be a return to normal operation of eyesight --i.e. his eyes would be normal to any inspecting optometrist? Imagine somebody today being healed of heart disease. Suppose that God decided to “show off” in a way that couldn’t be mistaken and instead of making a person’s heart heal and function as it would for a healthy person, he instead decided to make all the person’s blood supernaturally bypass the diseased (and still non-functioning) heart and just miraculously keep coursing through the “healed” person’s body. Would we be impressed? I suppose all of us having arguments about science and miracles would be impressed, but the “healed” person might be understandably a little distressed about the situation. My blood is circulating sure enough, but I can’t see any compelling reason why it should keep doing so! When we pray for healing, don’t we always mean that we would like all our organs to be functioning within normal parameters? In short, we don’t expect to find some lingering signature in the results that shout “this is miraculous”! That signature is instead written in the fact that it happened at all, when it did, and with the efficacy that it had, and perhaps as a result of prayer.

Your wine example might supply a different slant here, but let’s inspect that too. Here we would be less disturbed to discover that the wine was different. In fact we’re told it was different than the formerly served stuff in that it was better! But was it categorically different? The steward still recognized it as wine --good wine at that. How would he know? He must have tasted good wine before. Had this wine had properties unlike any other wine ever had, we should probably expect the steward to be confused or put off rather than impressed. I.e. whatever properties really good wine had back then, the story conveys to us that this particular wine had those properties and was thus unsurprisingly enjoyed by the guests. Why should we expect any visiting chemist to find something different about this wine than any other high quality wines they had? The miracle was manifest in the method of provision, not in (I propose) in the properties of the substance provided (save in its exceptionally fine, but still recognizable quality).

This brings us to your (still unaddressed) challenge of “apparent history” in the wine. You argue that the chemist seeing normal water in a pre-inspection and normal, if very good, wine in a post-inspection would then have beheld something with an apparently “deceptive” history (at least on the reading of the deceptive-God arguments that you object to here). Does that about capture it?

I wonder if we can address it with a parallel situation: a rock innocently perched up at some high point on a hill. It’s location there is noted and documented by observers (It’s a very interesting rock, apparently). But then people wake up one morning to find the rock resting innocently at the bottom of the slope. Argument ensues over whether the rock was miraculously relocated there, or whether “natural” explanations suffice to explain its locomotion – perhaps some part of its support structure broke, or something shook it loose
and it rolled down where it is now. OR – maybe during the night I snuck up there as a prank and carried the rock down and set it in its new perch. In the latter case would we say there is a “false history” now associated with the rock? Where a rock would normally have just rolled and fallen, it was instead “supernaturally” carried there. Would the townspeople be misled if they looked for evidence (perhaps fresh impact marks) on the rock or its alleged path of descent? Should they expect to find such evidence? Not if I carried out my mischievous deed carefully. But otherwise, yes; they should very much expect to see that evidence there.

What people here (whom advance the ‘deceptive God’ argument you find objectionable) are seeing would be like this: I did indeed sneak the rock to where it is now, BUT I went back up to where it was and carefully crafted marks of violent descent all the way from where it was to where it is so that any careful inspection would conclude (falsely) that the rock had simply fallen to its present location. You can dispute that such marks are being correctly interpreted to find such a long history, but the vast majority of scientists agree from many different consistent and convergent lines of evidence that those marks are indeed there.

Now … you go on to object (in my particular ‘rock’ story): but what if I come forward and admit my deed to the townspeople? If I tell them what I’ve done (like the Bible telling us), then surely that puts a new perspective on the matter, right? Presumably, however, I’m also willing to explain to them why I felt a need to go to such lengths to fabricate the situation and fool them too. [I must have had a real change of heart over something to make me ‘fess’ up.] But what if I did not make myself available for any such confessions? What should the observers conclude? Which explanation is less conjured?

You propose that the Genesis passages could at least represent just such a statement to us that this is how it was done. Is it possible that you or others or any of us misappropriate such passages? Quite so. Is it also possible that we misinterpret scientific evidence – converging evidence from many different branches of science? Also possible. Putting it all together which of all this seems most likely? You are correct that we are not always good judges of “likelihood”, so we can always play that card to shunt past all logic or evidence if we really feel driven to do that. But hopefully you see why so many here see a much less conjured path that commends itself as a reasonable conclusion.

We [the believers among us] don’t get overly concerned about how God’s works might be “trumping” God’s word. They are both from God --and any contest we try to inject between them is a contest of our making, not of God’s. If one appears to “trump” the other more often, this is only a reflection of our access and ability to process different kinds of information from two very different kinds of sources. If you are given instructions by somebody about how to walk to a nearby grocery store (… then turn south on 2nd st. … ) and you proceed to walk that path; you don’t worry about how your eyes seem to be trumping the received instructions more often than vice versa. “I was told to walk south along this road, but my eyes are now sending me a minor corrective to divert this way just a little so as to go around this obstacle.” Should the errand-runner conclude that the original direction-giver didn’t know what they were talking about? --as if the directions had to be robotic instructions that alone would suffice without any more information input whatsoever? Of course not! We agree that would be silly, and that it is expected and normal that we would use our eyes (science) for daily small and large information input wherever we can, and that this usefully and necessarily supplements the over all directions given (e.g. Scriptures) that we also have. The exhortation that “we walk by faith and not by sight” is not an instruction to close our eyes as we walk. It is an exhortation to keep being faithful even when our eyes fail us.


(George Brooks) #8

@Mervin_Bitikofer

@Mike_Gantt is trying to sustain the following logic:

  1. Biblical Miracles occurred: water into wine and healing the blind man are two examples.

  2. Assuming on how thorough God made these miracles, we may agree that a modern scientist would not be able to distinguish “miracle wine” from “local wine”, or the “healed eyes” of the once blind man with the healthy eyes of his brother (if he had a brother).

  3. This shows that science is unable to distinguish “miraculous from natural” for some categories of natural evidence.

  4. So why do we think it is impossible for God to make a young Earth (that looks Old) that is indistinguishable from an Earth made only by natural processes and is genuinely 5 billion years old.

  5. And, in parallel, how do we know that all those fossils in the Earth are just being misunderstood as natural, in the same way that a scientist would misunderstand the miracle wine or the healed eyes?


(Ray Bailey) #9

As I thought about this last night, I remembered I witnessed a healing (1992 or so?) when I lived in California. Of course this is anecdotal and not empirical, but the physician involved explained what he saw.

A young man in our congregation was in an auto accident. His femur was definitely broke. X-rays before showed the break as a clean break. The accident was severe and the young man had other internal injuries. The church went to prayer not knowing the situation. Many prayed for healing. A few days later they x-rayed the fracture again before putting on a plaster cast. The x-ray showed the break was healed, with the usual bone scar. The physician said it appeared the break had occurred about two months prior.
He showed it around the hospital, and his fellow physicians who were not Christians (and even some of them) said they thought it was just the fact that the bone was healing faster on the outside than usual. They recommended the plaster cast be put on for the usual time.
The physician explained this to David. He chose to NOT wear the cast, feeling God had healed him. Never had a problem.
He had internal injuries that were not healed and took a few months to recover from. His mother insisted he did not go back to playing football that season. But he had no trouble running, working out and so forth.

The question we all had, was why was David’s leg healed and not his internal injuries? What purpose in that? I suspect we’ll never know until after.

Given this, I think the “natural” explanation in this case was “accelerated healing”. Yet Elohim could heal in any multiple ways. How are we to distinguish the various ways one from another?

I know this question is serious, but I think we might be tilting at windmills here. There are just too many ways Elohim works according to the needs of the individual involved, as well as the broader purpose of his will.
Ray


To what degree might chronological snobbery affect our thinking about the matters we discuss on this forum?
#10

If the wine were supernaturally created then it wouldn’t have gone through the fermentation process. This would also mean that yeast were never in the wine, so their DNA should not be in the wine. Naturally produced wine does have yeast DNA in it. That could possibly be one difference between supernatural and naturally created wine.


(George Brooks) #11

@T_aquaticus

I don’t think that is going to be a fruitful line of analysis. You are trying to define what kind of miracles a miracle-making God can accomplish.

There’s an old commentary about the trinity; how can one God be “a three” ?

The response from a wise old professor in the corner of the room said:

“If God can be a messenger (angel) to Moses, why cannot be God be three messengers to Abraham?”

Gen 18:1-2:

“And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And [Abraham] lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground…”


#12

Then you need to define EXACTLY what you mean by supernatural.

Perhaps a simpler example will be clearer.

You roll a dice and it comes up 6.
God desired that it come up 6 and it does. Proverbs 16:33
A scientist exams the dice and concludes it is a fair dice (not loaded). The scientist explains how the outcome was entirely determined by natural law.
Is there anything about this that could be shown to be supernatural, in the sense you could show by the 6 that it was God that did it?

You can perform this experiment today if you wish.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #13

Just did. Mine came up a four, though. Did I get a godless die?


#14

No you got the answer God intended. :wink:


(Mervin Bitikofer) #15

Good. It was a Google die (so … pseudo random). Still, it’s good to know Google is adhering to that God-fearing edge still. Their motto used to be “don’t be evil” you know. Never did hear why they saw fit to change that! :thinking:

Okay … back to science and supernatural activity!


(Phil) #16

So what is the diffence between supernatural wine and supernaturally old appearing rocks?
I would say that it is God’s purpose. It suited his purpose that there be wine at the wedding, and it would confuse no one as to its age, whereas a rock looking falsely old would tend to confuse and not be seen as a miracle but a deception. Miracles are for God’s purpose and while we may benefit from them, God is not Aladdin’s genie in a lamp. The water into wine showed God’s glory, and perhaps foreshadowed Jesus’s blood made wine for us to partake and echoed Moses turning the water into blood,but God’s glory is shown through creation as it is, not as it appears to be.
That reminds me that at the Louve, there is a huge painting of the wedding at Cana, that you can stand in front of and almost enter the scene as the figures are near life sized, but most the crowd ignores it to look at some little portrait on the other end of the some guy named Leonardo painted.


#17

I am going with the assumption that Jesus was not trying to deceive people by putting things into the wine for the sole purpose of making it look like naturally made wine.

If God wanted to he could plant DNA and fingerprints at crime scenes. However, I don’t see anyone claiming that we should throw out forensic evidence because of this possibility.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #18

That’s a good question. With all sorts of related ones … why scars left? why any other infirmities of any kind left? why not reappearances of amputated limbs, etc. I guess in the end we could seem like spoiled brats who want to be able to go out and do anything to or with our bodies and then have God make it okay again. All of it. Immediately. That would be a radically different world than the one we actually live in, wouldn’t it!

Indeed. There is no use in asking any such question, and in any case, the answer is already embedded in the question. Asking instead what God did do is much more practical. And science can help us discern that even if it only sees the “what” and “how” parts without the “who”.


#19

Here is another snarky quote from the 11th century:

[They say] “We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.” You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.–William of Conches


(Ray Bailey) #20

Yes, we did praise God more than a little about the Leg. But the parents were kind of put-off that they had to go through so much else. David didn’t care. That young man is now a pastor of some note!