Science and Miracles

(Daniel Fisher) #1

I continue to wrestle to try to understand the BioLogos position that “we do not see scientific or biblical reasons to give up on pursuing natural explanations for how God governs natural phenomena.”

So a question to help me understand and clarify the core issues involved: Would scientists who embrace this position suggest that we ought not give up on pursuing natural explanations for the virgin birth, or Christ’s resurrection?

Why, or why not?

(Jon) #2

The virgin birth and resurrection are non-repeatable, untestable, events which we accept on faith (not science). They are not “natural phenomena”. They are not in the same category as regular, repeatable, testable phenomena such as the rain, which can be observed and studied by science.

My question for the other side is why we should abandon explanations such as gravity for phenomena such as the movement of the planets, in favor of the belief that what we call gravity doesn’t really exist, and the planets move because they are pushed around in their orbits by the cosmic hands and mighty arms of God, whose tireless and faithful Sisyphean labors give the false impression of movement resulting from natural forces.

(Christy Hemphill) #3

I’m not a scientist, but the way I understand the position is through that two book analogy. God’s book of nature gives reliable information about reality and is worth studying. God’s book of special revelation deals with subjects beyond the realm of scientific ways of investigating and knowing and is worth studying. If the Bible clearly teaches something is a once in history miracle, then it is beyond the realm of science and scientific ways of knowing. The virgin birth and the resurrection are not natural phenomena. They are God dramatically breaking into to human history as a sign of the coming New Creation.

(Daniel Fisher) #4

Christy, thanks for this. I don’t significantly disagree with your two book formulation.

I think my difficulty remains that I find plenty of reasons… both biblical and empirical, to recognize at least the real possibility that biological complexity may very well belong in the same book as the virgin birth and resurrection. But those sympathetic to the BioLogos position with whom I’ve interacted seem unwilling to acknowledge even the possibility, or legitimacy of considering, that the creation of life or biological complexity could in fact be in that “book.” To even raise the question seems criticized as being anti-science, etc.

…or, put another way, I can’t help but perceive a bit of question begging in the BioLogos statement (and the general approach as a whole); that is, there’s no reason to abandon seeking “natural explanations for how God governs natural phenomena.” But the very question at hand is as to whether or not biological complexity is or isn’t a “natural phenomenon.” To assert that it is, in fact, a natural phenomenon, and therefore to say we should not give up on seeking a natural explanation, is to assume the conclusion. (determining a priori that we know, without doubt, which of the two “books” biological complexity falls into).

ID: we think the evidence suggests that this biological complexity is not an example of a natural phenomenon.
BioLogos: well, because it is a natural phenomenon, you should not give up so easily on pursuing a natural explanation.
ID: but that is the very question I’m asking, whether or not it is or isn’t a natural phenomenon!
Biologos: it is a natural phenomenon, that’s why you shouldn’t even be asking the question.

That is, I could completely appreciate —philosophically — the legitimacy of critiquing the conclusions of the ID endeavor (trying to determine which “book” creation/biological complexity falls into). I do not understand Biologos’s critique of the ID endeavor itself as illegitimate or unscientific. To do so is to beg the question, to claim with certainty, a priori, that we know, infallibly, that every aspect of biological complexity does in fact fall into the “natural” book and not in the same book as the virgin birth or resurrection.

(Peaceful Science) #5

That’s a characture of the conversation. You know that right?

As i recall we covered this at length once before. Do you remember?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #6

Regarding your original question about the resurrection or virgin birth, I’m not sure why anybody needs to object to someone trying to provide material explanations. I don’t speak for Biologos, of course; but I suspect that the objections often raised in these corners are when somebody seems to want to cordon off miracles generally from any naturalistic sounding explanation. Yet the Bible itself doesn’t seem to shy away from doing this – regarding the plagues of Egypt for example or even the red sea crossing. God does it all; we get that from the text for sure. We are also given from the same text hints about how God did some of those things (e.g. a strong wind blew all night…) without any hint that the author thought of this as some sort of contradiction in the way people today might: (well – make up your mind: did God do it? or did the wind do it? the author cheerfully answers: “He used the wind to do it!”). None of this present-day nonsense is given any credence from Scriptures that God is somehow in competition with physical explanations for these things. In fact some Christians have gone so far as to suspect that there is no distinction between natural and supernatural, and that these are our own modern-minted ideas imposed onto the text. It’s all one glorious package under God. Now; does the central event of the incarnation and resurrection itself warrant being set apart as something special. Well sure! Hence the defensive ire raised when skeptics target that. Some might say “you can’t put that under your microscope!”; but there can be two different ways in which this is suggested. 1. “You shouldn’t be allowed to do this, because if you do (and I suspect you might succeed) then I might not like what you find.” or 2. “You can’t do this because you won’t be able to.” (i.e. ‘good luck with that!’) It’s the difference of protest when a parent tells a child “no, you can’t cross this street alone” vs. telling their young child “no, you can’t grow a mustache.” (thinking of a Calvin & Hobbes strip). The child notes with curiosity the apparent lack of parental concern in the second case; indeed it was only a casual observation with no imperative needed. The parent is more emphatic in the first case since they know it is in the realm of possibility that their child could actually wander across the street. I think the resurrection could be viewed in the same way. Either it is totally true (in which case we give the skeptic our blessing and wish him a hearty ‘good luck with that!’) or it is not true in which case none of this conversation matters.

In these same senses, I think ID people could be told (even encouraged) to pursue scientific results. In fact some on this site have begged them to produce something. But if their only approach is: we want this apparent lack of explanation in exhibit ‘A’ here to be acknowledged as positive evidence for design, then others are free to not find that compelling. But some ID enthusiasts want the compulsion to be evaluated as a more unavoidable kind. We would love to be able to corner others and compel them to particular kinds of belief that we think truer or more righteous or even demanded of us by God. But no such compulsion seems to be enjoying that kind of validation --either regarding design or resurrection. And what some ID people seem to be missing is that in even setting up this contest they have already conceded an important thing that no thinking Christian ought ever to have conceded: that a ‘natural’ explanation would somehow rule out the praise that “God does this!” And I would like to think that that is the main objection biologos folks have against it all – I know it is the objection I stand by.


As far as I’m concerned, the ancients didn’t distinguish between natural and supernatural phenomena, everything in fact occurs within the ultimate constraints of God and it otherwise would not have happened. That’s why we humans evolved, it simply couldn’t have happened any other way. It appears to me as if, in a way, everything is indicative of the existence of God because nothing would exist if there was no God.

Romans 1:20-22: Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools;

I am very pleased with the advances in cosmology and astrophysics of the 20th century, the universe can be said to have begun to exist and natural explanations seem futile to me at this point.

(George Brooks) #8


Firstly, you need to keep distinct the issues of “Creation of Life” vs. “Evolution of Life”. There is a whole category of challenges in the former that doesn’t exist in the latter.

Secondly, any effort to tell a pro-Evolution Christian that Speciation and Common Descent are not part of the natural order is like telling a man with eyes that he is blind.

All the major disciplines of science all point to the same thing: Evolution, Speciation, Common Descent.

So for you to ask, no matter how nicely, if they shouldn’t reject the scientific fields of Evolution, Speciation and Common Descent, is like you telling a race car driver if he wouldn’t prefer to get out of the car and walk.

(Christy Hemphill) #9

True. Do you think we should distinguish between natural and supernatural phenomena? Sometimes I wonder if maybe that is one of the major roadblocks in these conversations. A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of God’s “intervention” in creation. But, if God doesn’t intervene, (or at least not much) that is where we run into the problem of theistic evolution that is essentially deism. And if God does intervene a lot, then we run into the problem of ad hoc explanations that just posit divine interventions whenever natural explanations fall short. I prefer thinking that God has a single reality in which he functions in overlapping and somewhat integrated realms, the natural and the supernatural. He is totally present and active in both realms all the time. It’s not like he hangs out in his supernatural reality and once in a while pops into the natural reality to intervene. Science only has the tools to study the natural realm, but that doesn’t mean the natural realm is separate from the supernatural realm. There is only one reality. This is of course a metaphysical view and doesn’t offer much when it comes the the differences of opinion between ID and EC/TE folks. But as a non-scientist, right-brained, lit major, I don’t find either side capturing my intuitive sense of how the world works. I don’t have a problem affirming that God is actively involved in designing and creating all the time. How can God be the Creator if nothing is really his idea, everything is just unfolding without his input? But I don’t see the point of trying to prove his active involvement using the tools of science, I don’t think that is what the tools were designed to do. I think we look for natural explanations (ones we can model with math and physics and chemistry) because we are curious people who like to understand things and that our understanding brings glory to God because all truth is God’s truth. When ID folks insist that natural explanations rule out God’s activity, I’m not on the same wavelength. I think that is insisting on a false Greek/Western dichotomy between natural and supernatural realities that doesn’t fit the way God interacts in his single unified reality.

(Jon) #10

I really don’t see the problem here. This was all worked out in extensive detail by earlier Jewish and Christian commentators. In doing so they laid the foundation for modern science; methodological naturalism. It works, so obviously they were doing something right. Why not use them as a starting point for discussion?


I see God’s intervention all throughout human history, especially with the advent of Christ which literally was the most influential event to ever occur. Christians went on to take the Roman Empire – Christianity remains the only religion in human history to gain power, not through war or violence, but by literally converting an empire, one person at a time. Orphanges and hospitals are Christian inventions. The book itself only gained affluency as Christians began utilizing it over scrolls in order to collect their various biblical documents into a single binded structure, which was perhaps the greatest advancement in human history besides the computer. The world catapulted in advancement and progress in the center of Christian Europe, and Christianity further literally founded the modern basis of equality in every way, whether it comes to race or sex or more.

The fact that literally almost all the good in the world can be traced back to Jesus and the prophets of Israel is great confirmation that God has intervened again and again and again throughout history, through certain people.

When we leave humanity, and take a look at the bigger universe, God’s involvement becomes less obvious than, perhaps, the actual start of it all in the beginning. The next most obvious thing I see is the fine-tuning. But certainly, this universe was made for us, and that’s why God’s work is most obvious when taking a look at our history.

(Christy Hemphill) #12

Methodological naturalism works for science. I don’t see how it is useful for theology. God is not an object of study.

(Jon) #13

Of course it works for science, that’s the whole point. That’s why it works for natural phenomena, but not supernatural phenomena like God and the resurrection. I made this point in my first post in this thread.

The question being debated in this thread is “To what extent does God intervene?”. You’ve pointed out that we need to strike a balance between a deistic god who is completely hands off, and a micro-managing god (like the gods of the pagans), who has to intervene in everything or the whole lot will collapse.

I am saying that such a balance has already been worked out, and is articulated well in the Second Temple Period and Christian era literature, and that we could save ourselves some time by examining the balance they figured out, and the basis on which they founded it.

(Christy Hemphill) #14

Actually, I was saying I am unsatisfied with any conceptualization that sees divine action as “interventions.” I don’t like that conceptualization. So I’m not that interested in a balanced view of divine intervention. I think the question “To what extent does God intervene?” is a problematic question that assumes premises that have not been established.

(Jon) #15

Ok in that case I think you’re just making the entire issue more complicated than it needs to be. I’m an Occam’s Razor kind of person myself.

(Daniel Fisher) #16

Christy, just curious, have you ever read C. S. Lewis’s book “Miracles”? He addresses this very topic and concept with his usual wisdom and insight.

(Daniel Fisher) #17

Christy, I have great sympathy with your perspective here, including the fact that there is one reality, onot two (natural and supernatural). So much of God’s work as recorded in scripture most certainly are utilizing absolutely natural means… someone above mentioned the crossing of the Red Sea which was recorded as having been accomplished (at least in part) by the blowing of a strong wind, as well as a wind that brought quail for the Israelites to eat. many of the things that Scripture recognizes as God’s,intervention are nonetheless recognized, even by the Bible writers, as having been accomplished through natural means entirely. Some things are not claimed as miraculous whatsoever, must rather fortuitous timing.

Nonetheless, there are simply some things that can’t be explained, in their entirety, without recognizing God’s “direct” or quite purposeful intervention. When the people heard a voice from heaven that said, “this is my Son whom I love”… I would have no issue to discover that what they heard was due to some odd cloud formation striking an odd weather pattern in just the right way maybe with a gathering of dust as to spark a series of electrostatic discharges that vibrated the air in just the right way as to produce those particular sounds. But all the science in the world doesn’t explain the remarkable “coincidence” that those discharges made sound waves occur in the exact patterns that would correspond to the Aramaic words for “this is my son…”

Or my other favorite illustration… I’d have no issue whatsoever to discover that the original 10 commandments were actually carved into the rock by lightning produced by the tremendous ash interacting with gaseous volcsnic vapor that repeatedly struck a particular stone as to make numerous chips fall out of it. But all the science in the world couldn’t account for why these perfectly natural means just happened to make those chips fall in such a way that they said, in perfect Hebrew, “you shall have no other God’s before me, you shall not make unto thee…”

So all that leads me to this clarification…if I might speak to this… I can’t speak for the ID proponents themselves, but as one deeply sympathetic to their position, I would clarify in the strongest terms that they don’t think “natural explanations rule out God’s activity.” I certainly don’t at least. I am open to God’s activity in, behind, with, through, etc., all manner of action. And I would have no issue, in principle, with the idea that God utilized all manner of natural forces to create the first or any subsequent life.

It is just that the DNA code to me (and other aspects of biological life) is on the same level as the voice from heaven, or the message carved on the stone… the means may very well have been something we would call “natural.” But natural laws simply can’t explain why they lined up in such a very, very, very specific pattern. Nothing in nature explains this level of intentional arrangement. The amount of specific dna code required to be in certain orders to make even the simplest life function is absolutely astounding, I imagine on the level of the specific wavelengths required to produce the sound “This is my son…”

So for what it is worth, I don’t think it accurate to say that The ID position thinks “natural explanations rule out God’s activity.” Rather, it is that they see that some activity simply precludes natural explanation.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

I think maybe in college, but that was a while ago, and I was sleep deprived. Maybe I’ll look at it again. :slight_smile:

Isn’t the idea that miracles are by definition a violation of the laws of nature a post-biblical idea? It just sounds like something I read in Hume, not a Bible commentary. In the Bible, my impression is that miracles are simply signs that point people to God’s action. They are remarkable not for their inherent inexplicability, but for the response they provoke in people who see them with eyes of faith. And the contention “God acts in the world” is a premise, not the conclusion.

I don’t have any issue with God being a personal entity capable of agency in our world. Why should he not be able to manipulate sound and light waves, move things, set offerings on fire on mountain tops, etc.?

Fair enough. I’m sure I am responding to a caricature of ID people responding to a caricature of TE people. A huge percentage of the disagreement seems to be more political than theological. I think God designed and continues to design life, and evidence of his intimate involvement in creation and in our corporate and personal histories is everywhere for those who want to see the signs. But I also think it is presumptuous to insist that we should be able to tease apart reality and label certain parts “God’s agency” and other parts “merely natural.” That seems to me like objectifying God, and I don’t see how one goes about such study with integrity using the established methods of science, which seems to be the ID aim.

I also sense that part of the motivation for finding proof of design is apologetic and tied to a culture war, and there is this belief that if it could be nailed down scientifically that the Designer must exist, then we win. I’m just not all that interested in sticking it to all the doubters out there, nor do I think that any kind of “proof” of design would be capable of changing a single human heart. The whole ID endeavor looks to me somewhat like a quest for power and vindication, and it just doesn’t strike me as the Jesus way to go about winning hearts and minds for the Kingdom. And that is not meant in any way as a negative assessment of the character of the many fine Christian people who are committed to the ID cause, it’s just my gut level reaction. I want people to know the God revealed in Scripture who became incarnate in Jesus, not some religiously generic Designer. And I want people to know him because I think it will redeem their lives and ultimately the world, not because I want my faith claims taught in public schools or backed by Congress or funded by tax dollars.

But in any case, I don’t think there is anything about the EC position that insists you aren’t allowed to look at nature and see God’s intentionality and agency there. Maybe they would say you aren’t allowed to publish a scientific journal article about it, but you are definitely allowed to see it and acknowledge it. As Christians don’t we all believe that there are other valued ways of knowing and ascertaining truth than empirical observation, logic, and reason?

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #19

Hi Daniel,

I’m just a longtime lurker and occasional commenter here, but fwiw I’ve never seen BioLogos claim that ID’s pursuits are illegitimate, or even irrational. Unscientific, yes — but only because the modern scientific endeavor is circumscribed by methodological naturalism. ID seems to be an interdisciplinary program that combines philosophy and science. That’s perfectly logical and legitimate, for what it is.

This formulation strikes me as more defensive than offensive. Do you see it as attacking ID? What leads you to that reading?

There have been discussions on the Forum before where I’ve seen several folks on this board (including myself, as the least among the participants) say that they have no problem in principle with the notion of detectable design in creation, but they just haven’t been convinced of the evidence yet. For me, I understand the statement you quoted as saying something more like, “We don’t think we are less Christian just because we choose to pursue methodological naturalism as a research program, because after all we see it as highly successful scientifically as well as compatible with our faith.” You seem to read it as going further than that. Why?

(P.S. I have yet to respond to your comments about C.S. Lewis. It’s a busy season for me! But this was an easier response. :slight_smile: )

(Phil) #20

I would agree, though not sure the opposite is true, when the leading ID organization has a largely anti-evolution publication called “Evolution News and Views” which seems a little, shall we say, suspect. Doesn’t exactly foster trust.
To a large extent, I think there is continuum between ID and EC, with EC being a form of ID in that it affirms God in creation, just does not say we can tease the two apart as ID seems to do, but that is just me, your thoughts may differ.