Miracles Versus Science

We were already getting into the interview but we had not yet paused to define our terms. Before going any further, I knew it was important that we settled on what 'miracle' means.

"We throw around the word pretty haphazardly," I said. Harking back to my day thus far, I added, "For example, I might say, 'It was a miracle I made my flight to Atlanta,' or, 'It's a miracle I found your house.' Is that being too loose with the word?"

"Yes, I think it's a misuse to talk about these things as miracles," he said. "They're clearly natural events with natural consequences."

"Then how do you define the term?"

Craig spelled out his definition with precision. "In the proper sense," he said, "a miracle is an event which is not producible by the natural causes that are operative at the time and place that the event occurs."

As he said it, I silently repeated the definition in order to cement it in my mind. I mulled it for a few moments before continuing with what I considered to be the next logical question.

"But then isn't there a contradiction between science and miracles?" I asked. "Atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse said, 'Creationists believe the world started miraculously. But miracles lie outside of science, which by definition deals with the natural, the repeatable, that which is governed by law."7

"Notice that Ruse does not say miracles are contradictory to science," Craig pointed out. "He says miracles lie outside of science, and that's quite different. I think a Christian who believes in miracles could agree with him on that. He could say that miracles, properly speaking, lie outside the province of natural science-but that's not to say they contradict science."

I tried to digest the distinction. "Can you think of another example of something like that?" I asked.

Craig thought for a moment before answering. "Well, ethics, for instance, lie outside the province of science," he replied. "Science doesn't make ethical judgments. So I wouldn't necessarily object to Ruse's statement. He's saying that the goal of science is to seek natural explanations, and therefore miracles lie outside of the scientific realm."

Before I could ask another question, Craig spoke up again. "I should add, though, that you can do a theistic form of science. For example, there's a whole movement of people like mathematician William Dembski and biochemist Michael Belie who infer by principled means that there is an Intelligent Designer of the universe and the biological world." They aren't being arbitrary-from a rational and scientific perspective, they're concluding from the evidence that there must be an intelligent Creator."

"So," I said, "you're disagreeing with the great skeptic David Hume, who defined miracles as being violations of the laws of nature."

"Yes, absolutely. That's an improper understanding of miracles," he said. "You see, natural laws have implicit ceteris paribus conditions-that's Latin meaning, 'all other things being equal.' In other words, natural laws assume that no other natural or supernatural factors are interfering with the operation that the law describes."

"Can you give me an example of that?"

Craig's eyes swept the room in search of an illustration. He finally landed on one as near as his own body.

"Well, it's a law of nature that oxygen and potassium combust when they're combined," he explained. "But I have oxygen and potassium in my body, and yet I'm not bursting into flames. Does that mean it's a miracle and I'm violating the laws of nature? No, because the law merely states what happens under idealized conditions, assuming no other factors are interfering. In this case, however, there are other factors interfering with the combustion, and so it doesn't take place. That's not a violation of the law.

"Similarly, if there's a supernatural agent that is working in the natural world, then the idealized conditions described by the law are no longer in effect. The law isn't violated because the law has this implicit provision that nothing is messing around with the conditions."

I told Craig that his explanation reminded me of a conversation I had several years earlier with J. P Moreland, the noted philosopher who wrote Christianity and the Nature of Science. He used an illustration of the law of gravity, which says that if you drop an object, it will fall to the earth. But, he said, if an apple falls from a tree and you reach out to catch it before it hits the ground, you're not violating or negating the law of gravity; you're merely intervening.

"Yes, that's my point with the ceteris paribus conditions," Craig said. "The law of gravity states what will happen under idealized conditions with no natural or supernatural factors intervening. Catching the apple doesn't overturn the law of gravity or require the formulation of a new law. It's merely the intervention of a person with free will who overrides the natural causes operative in that particular circumstance. And that, essentially, is what God does when he causes a miracle to occur."

That made sense to me. I knew, however, that some scientists would nevertheless dismiss the miraculous as mere superstition. I decided to pursue this line of questioning further.

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