Are Miracles and Science Compatible?

29 thoughts on “Are Miracles and Science Compatible?”

  1. Dr. Groothuis, two miracles seem elusive to atheists:

    1. If matter, as some of them attest, is eternal, it must have taken a miracle to transform such matter from static to align with the 2nd law of thermodynamics (disorder).
    2. If matter is not eternal, then a miracle must have occurred to make it appear out of nothing.


  2. Dr. Groothuis:

    Excellent analysis on an excellent subject! I especially prize your inclusion of the miraculous today, since for so many contemporary Christian philosophers, it seems this is either denied or ignored. Why must we be so antecedently skeptical of miraculous claims in our day (seemingly convinced of such by contemporary criticism) while still adhering to belief in the miraculous in scripture (seemingly rejecting those rationales in these cases?)

    One quibble:

    You state that miracles are acts done by God that are impossible without intervention. But what of acts that happen that are improbable, yet not impossible, without intervention? Are those necessarily non-miraculous? The skeptic Michael Shermer, who is associated with my present phrontistery, dismissed most claims of miracles as being of this account (in his debate with John Lennox.) But I contend that claims of this sort are in many cases legitimate cases of the miraculous. Suppose God saves an individual from a particularly unfortunate event by their acquisition of a sickness, ( i.e. so as not to board the Titanic, in the case of one of my distant relatives) or by changing their mind at the last minute. Such things could certainly happen without intervention, but seem more probable when the divine hypothesis is considered.

    A minor quibble to all in all a trenchant analysis…

      1. In my original comment, I gave an example– someone acquires a sickness so as not to board the Titanic. This certainly seems like it could happen in the “normal” course of events (people acquire sicknesses frequently). But how do we know God hasn’t made it happen? Or in the Bible, an earthquake happens as Jesus is crucified. Earthquakes happen from time to time. Does this mean God had nothing to do with this particular earthquake? In this case what makes these two things improbable are the two factors involved. In case A) both failing to board the Titanic and acquiring a sickness may not be improbable, either of them. But that they occurred together might be. In case B, Jesus’ being crucified and an earthquake happening (as separate events) are not particularly improbable, but, happening together, they might be. I don’t think the probability of something happening within the “normal” course of events presents a necessary threshold for considering something as a possible miracle or not.

        Part of what I’m trying to say is that miracles have been subjected to an equivocation. On the one hand, miracles are thought of as “violations of the laws of nature,” or some variation of this, which the article discusses. On the other hand, miracles are thought of as “acts of God in the world.” Often times someone will set out to prove that miracles qua definition B do not occur by disproving miracles qua definition A. This does not work, since equivocation is fallacious. What this ultimately means is that even if one accepts the reasonings provided by David Hume or Robert Pennock or others who have summarily dismissed miracles qua definition A, we still would have definition B available to us, which is possibly more theologically interesting than definition A.

      2. Aaron,

        Your example of improbable is one of probability. When speaking of probability, one enters into quantitative analysis in terms of measuring the occurrence of events. For example, what is the probability of heads showing with the flip of a coin? The answer is always 50%. Why? You have two sides. There is never an improbability, or doubt of one or the other not occurring. However, one could introduce the edge of the coin as an occurrence. In that case, there remains a probability and not improbability.

        In the case of a simultaneous earthquake event when Jesus died on the cross, we still measure the occurrence by probability unless, of course one other variable is involved – God making it happen. In such a case, regardless of the number of possible outcomes given the number of variables that cause earthquakes and death, the two events occurring together is 100%. We could also say this about the resurrection. The certainty of the event is 100% with God’s intervention.

        Introducing “could be” and “maybe” really have nothing to do with probability per se. These words only introduce variables into the equation for calculating probability. Your Titanic illustration only suggests the proximity of variables to one another. Probability still remains and only turns on degree: 1/2, 1/3, 1/10, 1/2,000, etc. Measurements of events occurring do not turn on improbability but on probability.

        However, I believe you missed Dr. Groothuis primary point – that of God’s intervention does not contradict the laws of nature. When God speaks, the probability of an event occurring is unquestionably 100%.

        Please note Dr. Groothuis’ support for his point:

        “…many secular people define science in such a way to exclude miracles (or any divine design in nature). That is, science is seen as giving only natural explanations for natural events, and scientific endeavor is the only legitimate source for knowledge. No supernatural explanations are allowed in principle. So, even if the universe began from nothing, science cannot even suggest that a Creator is involved. Neither can science speak to the existence of a Designer to explain fine-tuning. And, of course, no one can be intellectually justified in believing in miracles. Such are the conditions for science as materialism: all that exists (or is knowable) is the material world.”

        I would add to this point that when some redefine science, they attempt to attribute to it some living status (i.e., “Prove from science that God exists.”). Such a bold pronouncement is ludicrous in that it attempts to make science an interpretive entity. Science cannot observe or interpret. Rather, it is the mechanism in the hands of the interpreter – individuals. Such a statement is actually demanding proof from the individual and not from science. More frequent than not, scientific inquiry does not trade on proof anyway but rather on hypothesis and theory. Such questions reveal naivety.

        Additionally, interpretation can often be erroneous. That is the reason scientists use the words hypothesis and theory in a tentative fashion. Hypotheses and theories are overturned. That is also the reason scientists use the term probability. The term probability speaks to the measurement of an event’s occurrence. Even then, along with such an event, many variables influence the way it occurs. Therefore, probability is the more appropriate term when addressing the measurement of event occurrences. That is the reason I asked you to give an example of “improbability.” You reply does not fit.

      3. My only point was this. Talk of miracles as “violations of the laws of nature” is to say a miracle can only happen when the probability of an event happening without God’s intervention is 0. I’m saying that God acts in ways (probably most of God’s activities in the world) are events that have a non-0 probability. Maybe someone might charge that anything that is not contradictory has a probability above 0. Fine. But violations of the laws of nature, or “suspensions” of them, seem to imply that the odds of them happening within the known material structure of the world are essentially nil. (That is before taking into consideration an act of God, which, as we’ve said, many will not consider.)

        Of course I agree that when God acts, the probability of that event becomes 100%. But that ‘s factoring in God’s activity. I was speaking about the events before you factor that in. Of course I also know that what I mentioned was about probability (in the sense that the events I described can have probability numbers affixed to them.) That does not mean the events would not be improbable. I have no idea where you acquired that definition of improbable, but that is not the standard understanding of it. You’re either defining it more as indeterminacy, where there is some actually open possibilities not yet determined, (which is not probability, which is assigned based upon our knowledge of the situation at hand) or else you are looking at the event as a whole (heads OR tails on a coin) and calculating the probability of the set of disjuncts at 100%. But this is uninteresting, as any exhaustive set of disjuncts will have 100% probability. It is each disjunct itself (heads, for example) that is interesting, not the set of disjuncts as a whole. When I say an event is improbable, I use the standard definition of “bearing a low probability.” An improbable event, then, is an event whose probability of occurring is of a significantly low amount. (That of course leaves room for interpretation as to how low the probability of something ought to be in order to be considered “improbable.”) “Improbable” does not mean, “lacking a probability value,” which seems to be the way you’re using the term. “Maybe” and “could be” have everything to do with probability. They are terms which indicate that the probability of this or that event is greater than 0. I could use the term “possibly” instead, for clarity’s sake, if you’d rather.

        But as I said, my entire point was that there is no probability threshold that something needs to pass in order to be up for consideration as an act of God. Our background knowledge of how probable a thing is does not determine whether or not it’s occurring could have been God’s action or not. God, by definition, can do the things that seem impossible, as well as common ones. I’m pretty sure Dr. Groothuis would agree with this, (I am a former student of his) I just wanted to add it to the conversation.

    1. Aaron,

      In your initial post, you never give an example of the improbable. That is the reason I asked for an example. Again, your Titanic and Jesus death and an earthquake examples deal with the probable and not the improbable. Just because they occur together does not make these events occurring simultaneously improbable. It remains probable that a person simultaneously was sick and did not board to Titanic. Just because these two events occurred together does not make the circumstance improbable per your suggestion in your subsequent post:

      “A) both failing to board the Titanic and acquiring a sickness may not be improbable, either of them. But that they occurred together might be. In case B, Jesus’ being crucified and an earthquake happening (as separate events) are not particularly improbable, but, happening together, they might be.”

      There is always a probability in the natural course of events for two events to occur as you noted above. The probability might be 1/10,000 or 1/200, but they remain probable.

      You also fail to explain the following statement. Why would “such things” be more probable with divine intervention rather than without? You never explain why.

      >>>”Such things could certainly happen without intervention, but seem more probable when the divine hypothesis is considered.”

      1. Yeah, improbable and probable do not mean what you are saying they mean. Improbable, as I explained, means something with a low probability, probable means something with a high probability. (Therefore, as per your statement above, something with a probability of 1/10,000 cannot be probable, unless you consider 1/10,000 to be a high number.) You keep using probable as “something we can assign a probability statistic to,” which is more of a definition for “possible” than for “probable.”

        The answer to why something is more probable (the fact that you can even use the phrase “more probable” implies that you understand the proper definition of the term, even if you aren’t using it) with God’s intervention than without is something you already answered. You said, rightly, that if God does X, then X has 100% probability. But if X did NOT have 100% probability without God’s doing it, then it is more probable if God acts than if not. Quite simple really.

      2. Aaron,

        You still did not reply to my initial question and my most recent statement. Just to claim I do not understand or am misusing terms is not a reply. You failed to define the terms you use. Besides, to define “improbable” as something with a low probability is not the standard definition of “improbable.” Whether something has a probability of 1/2 or 1/10,000 does not make it improbable. It remains probable but with a low probability. The event can still occur with a 1/10,000 probability. To assign 1/2 or 1/10,000 to an event is simply to assign a degree of possibility and likelihood. You are not using terms properly, and I am. I was very explicit in the use of probability, especially from the discipline of quantitative analysis (or statistics). One of the subsets of quantitative analysis is the study of probability of events and the measurement of such probability. If you took philosophy, then you would have also taken quantitative analysis and would know what I am talking about.

        As I also stated previously, you fail to elaborate on why an event would occur with divine intervention rather than without. I agree to such a likelihood and affirmed that when God speaks, the probability of occurrence is 100%. However, you do not support your claim or explain why.

        The Oxford Dictionary defines improbable as “Not likely to be true or to happen,” “unlikely,” “impossible.” The same dictionary also defines “probability” as “the likelihood of something happening.” In math (of which quantitative analysis is a part), probability refers to “the extent to which an event is likely to occur, measured by the ratio of the favorable cases to the whole number of cases possible.” Therefore, I am right in the use of probability when I express probability in the expressions 1/2 or 1/10,000. These expressions identify likelihoods of possibility and not improbability. Just because an event is probable to the nth degree does not make it improbable. You are incorrect.

      3. I really don’t want to belabor this point. Essentially the only quibbling is over a definition and I really don’t want to cause division with someone with whom I likely agree on many things over it.

        I did define my terms, more than once.

        The term “impossible” is used synonymously with “improbable” in the dictionary definition you provided. They are NOT used synonymously in philosophy. Impossible in philosophy means something that is false in every possible world; say, things that are contradictions. Most Christian philosophers that I am aware of, including Dr. Groothuis, would say that God either cannot or will not do these things. (As Dr. Groothuis said in class, “it doesn’t make sense.”)

        Something which is improbable in philosophy is something that, given a certain set of conditions, we ought to expect NOT to happen. (Although there is some non-0 probability that it could, otherwise the word “impossible” ought to be used.) Something that is probable is something that, given those same set of conditions, we ought to expect to happen or at the very least not be too surprised if it does.

        The examples I gave are based on the definition of improbable that I have been using.

        Under your definition of improbable, as best as I understand it, it is the same as “impossible,” (as per my def. of impossible above) and therefore my initial point would not be meaningful under this definition. However, without using the terms “improbable” or “impossible” I can likely convey the same meaning so as to fit within the syntax which you are using.

        Certainly the case which I provided about the earthquake happening simultaneously with Jesus’ crucifixion is of a different category than say, Jesus’ resurrection. Wouldn’t you agree? My initial point was, that I don’t think it has to be only the latter category that we should be able to consider as miraculous without also allowing for the former category to be considered as well.

        As to why case A is more likely with God’s intervention than without, I also answered that question as well. God’s intervention changes the statistical probability standing of the event.

        I can explain this in more detail after a bit. I need to go do some things right now.

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  3. I have noticed that often the skeptics will confuse their naturalistic epistemology with a naturalistic metaphysic. A friend of mine likes to jump back and forth fluidly from making statements about how the universe is completely uniform to the idea that we can only know what is empirical. And sometimes the metaphysical argument is given to prove the epistemological or vice versa. Another card he uses is pragmatism. That’s another slippery beast because some forms of pragmatism argue for a truth dependent version of it. How one can think that all empirical things are practical (granted) and that somehow this means that only empirical things are true or are practical (predictable etc…. etc…) is some kind of non-sequitur.

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  4. thomraff,

    You have not refuted Dr. Groothuis’ claims about miracles. Just to say that miracles are not compatible with science does not make your claim so. Furthermore, to point to another blog post is not a refutation.

    For your post to be successful as an argument and rebuttal, it must provide a successful refutation through logical syllogism. You have failed to do so. You have not cited one Groothuis’ claim. You have not shown how his claim is illogical or false. You have failed to show how his claim does not agree with reality. Therefore your claim fails, because it is no more than a hasty generalization without support.

    In fact the quote in the title of the blog you cited begins with a hasty generalization, straw man, and personal attack: “Belief without evidence is from our ignorant superstitious past.” Exactly what does this statement mean? What belief? What evidence? How are you applying this statement? Furthermore, the first citation in the body of the argument is an unsupportable philosophical assertion and is not a scientific one: “A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws.” Can this statement be explained scientifically? If not, then it is no more than presumption.

    This statement, as well as the premise, begins by ruling out miracles prior to scrutiny. That is bias on the part of the one making the statement. The second sentence of the article is self-defeating: “In such cases, eyewitness testimony’s value is inflated, as scientific scrutiny has failed to support the reality of any miracle.”

    The entire realm of science is based on eye-witness testimony (or observation) and is foundational to scientific discovery. If the author (and you) claim that eye-witness testimony is invalid because it “is inflated,” how is it that scientific observation (eye-witness account) is also not inflated? How do you or the author of the article know that one is inflated (religious) and the other is not (science)? Besides, science of itself does not do the observation and interpretation of data. You conflate science and those using science and therefore enter into irrationality. People make observations and science does not. Therefore, to make such a claim is bias and self-defeating. You cannot applies observation of one to be inflated and the other not without being philosophical and bias. Furthermore, one cannot apply the principle of observation to one (religion) and not to the other (science) without contradiction. You need to come up with far better support than you demonstrate to defeat Groothius argumentation.

    1. Action Faith Books Press, you said, “For your post to be successful as an argument and rebuttal, it must provide a successful refutation through logical syllogism.” Wrong. Philosophy, Logic and/or theological dogma is no substitute for evidence. Reality is full of illogical, counter-intuitive evidence. That is how science works and faith doesn’t. Last try: present any miracle verified by science. I assume you use science to get around your everyday life. Why do you put it away regarding religious matters?

      1. thomraff,

        >>>”Philosophy, Logic and/or theological dogma is no substitute for evidence. ”

        Unfortunately, your claim is a false dichotomy and categorically erroneous. You posit philosophy, logic, and theological dogma opposite evidence. Philosophy, logic, and theology or not opposites of evidence. Your statement is not only faulty logic but also self-defeating in that you attempt to use a philosophical argument through faulty logic without any evidence for supporting your point. Your statement is a claim stripped of support, and a faulty claim at that. Furthermore, logic, philosophy, and theology or not categorically the same. Besides, you never define your terms, which is the first step for framing an argument.

        >>>”…present any miracle verified by science.”

        First, you failed to read Dr. Groothuis’ argument. He already refuted your above statement, and I suggest you return and reread his article prior to writing anything else. Besides, your statement is a non-starter in that its basis is scientism – that science is the arbiter of all knowledge. Again, you ignored what I stated in my last post about you conflating science as a methodology while those who use the methodology perform the observation, interpretation, and application. Science is not, again, is not a living entity that arbitrates knowledge and offers verification. Science cannot do what you claim it can do, for it is not a living entity. People are engaged in such events through their interpretation of data. Science does not identify, interpret, or apply data. If you do not understand these principles, you will not get past square one with your claims.

        Nothing you write touches on my arguments, but simply engage in rabbit trails rather than salient points. Until you can support your claims, you will be henceforth ignored.

      1. If Apologetics is dead, then why are you having to prove that it is dead? If they are dead, then why is there a growing desire among Christians to learn from an ever growing list of Apologists? No. actually Apologetics exposes the fallacies and illogical arguments from supposed skeptics. If you truly are a skeptic, then should also be skeptical of your skepticism.

        If reality truly exists in science, can you prove that scientifically?

      2. ” – – – why is there a growing desire – – -“? False argument from numbers/popularity. Science works, claims of Christianity have been falsified by science. I presented several NT passages above that make claims on reality. NONE of them have been verified by science. You use science in your everyday life but, like all science deniers, cherry pick out from scrutiny anything against your religion.

      3. You seem to conclude my post inaccurately. I did not post anything about “numbers or popularity. I spoke of desire, an interest. Your “false argument from numbers/popularity” is also the same argument you are trying to propagate as science being the end all for proof.

        So let me get this straight, if a claim cannot be proven scientifically, then it must not be true right?

        Prove you loved your parents scientifically.

      4. thomraff,

        >>>”claims of Christianity have been falsified by science. I presented several NT passages above that make claims on reality. NONE of them have been verified by science. ”

        False assumption on your part. “Science” does not verify anything, because “science” is not a living entity that thinks and makes decisions. You conflate methodology and the interpreter.

        Please provide evidence from archaeology for your claim that “claims of Christianity have been falsified by science.” I will be waiting for your sources. I do not want your interpretation of evidence, because your interpretation does not count. I want you to point out how “science” has interpreted the claims of Christianity for falsifying it. Be specific concerning the “science” and the era of that science. Also, do not interpret the source, or I will call you out for interpreting. Show how science interprets. I will be waiting for your answer.

      5. Action Faith Books Press, he cannot provide any proof or evidence to back up his claims. In fact, he cannot prove what I asked him to prove scientifically. If he does respond, he will perform the usual atheistic rope-a-dope avoiding trying to avoid direct questions.

      6. To all those above who exposed themselves as ignorant of science and its methods, let me be brief and succinct, as this will be my last comment on this post. Christianity makes claims on reality. Science is the best objective tool to analyze such claims. I cited some Bible passages claiming that Jesus’ follower would do miraculous things. None of the claims for such has ever passed muster by science. That is only one example of the failure to justify that there is a god, much less the Christian version of such. Syllogisms only work if all the premises are true. Objectively look at every syllogism put out by apologists and honestly evaluate whether or not the premise(s) is true. Peace.

      7. So basically, you cannot prove what I asked scientifically. And yet, you claim that these events 2000 years ago are not true because they cannot be proven scientifically. So much for your argument. (The microphone drops)

      8. >>>”Christianity makes claims on reality.”
        How? What claims? Where? Why? You again engage in the logical fallacy of hasty generalization.

        >>>”Science is the best objective tool to analyze such claims.”
        Really? Says who? Support your claim from “science.” Prove it. Again, you attribute personality to science. This is simply an interpretative opinion without support. I am calling you out on making interpretation. Please support your claim from “science.”

        >>>”I cited some Bible passages claiming that Jesus’ follower would do miraculous things.”
        No, you did not, not in this discussion.

        >>>”None of the claims for such has ever passed muster by science.”
        Again, you fall back on raising “science” up as an entity that interprets and makes decisions, thus making it a living entity. Your claim already has been refuted, but you ignore this. Prove this claim by science, or prove it at all.

        >>>”That is only one example of the failure to justify that there is a god, much less the Christian version of such.”
        What is your antecedent of “that”? What example? Who was discussing the existence of God? By the way, proper names are always capitalized in standard grammar usage. Non sequitur.

        >>>”Syllogisms only work if all the premises are true.”
        Non sequitur. This statement does not follow from anything you have claimed beforehand.

        All you wrote are empty claims and dismissals without warrant, support, or investigation. You parrot what others have said before you and believe in them. You place your faith in science (scientism) as your god and in the people you read without question. Are you willing to wager that you and those you read could be wrong?

        My friend, what if the Bible is true? What if Jesus did rise from the dead? What if the biblical God is the one true God? Are you willing to risk all eternity on your rejection of Him? I dare you to read with honesty Pascal’s wager in his Pensees and determine if you are prepared to take that wager: Throw out what other atheists have told you and quit believing them without your own investigation, for you have read too much of their works. I know them from your writings.

        Atheism is the most irrational religious belief anyone can hold. It denies what one thinks and speaks, for in thinking and speaking of God, atheists simply affirm His existence. No one can think about that which does not exists, for there is no knowledge in non-existence, and where there is no knowledge there is no thinking of it. Let me also put in in another way. One cannot think about, entertain in one’s mind, speak of, or extrapolate from what does not exists. One might say, “I can think of Superman, the Greek gods, or alien beings, but they do not exist.” Mind you, all of these are extrapolations of what already exist in the material world. One imagines a man in tights who flies around. That man and those attributes are all part of what exists. The same applies to the Greek and Roman gods. They are all extrapolations of what already exists. You cannot entertain in your mind that which does not exists. The moment you think of God, you affirm His existence.

        Now back to Pascal’s wager. Read it with honesty, and ask yourself if you are willing to make his wager. You cannot dismiss this challenge with any integrity.

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