How can you believe in miracles?
Dr Andy Bannister continues his series tackling common questions or objections to Christianity ...
We live in an age that’s very sceptical about miracles. A culture that shouts at us that science can explain everything, and that to believe in the miraculous is positively medieval.
There’s no such thing as the supernatural, we’re told, just the natural – a universe where the naturalistic laws of physics, chemistry and biology can explain everything.
So, has science confined miracles to the dustbin of ideas? Not really.
Let’s begin with the observation that the Bible doesn’t really believe in the supernatural either. Nowhere does the Bible teach that you can divide the world in two like this – the ‘supernatural’ bit that God is responsible for and the ‘natural’ world that more or less does its own thing.
Rather, the Bible teaches that God sustains everything. Every atom, every particle, every law of physics only exists because God upholds it.
Far from science being independent of God, science is only possible because God is actively, deeply and personally involved with the world, sustaining it and giving it existence moment by moment. This is obvious when you think about it – because for all the talk about science being all-powerful and able to answer everything, science can’t even explain its own foundations.
For example, why is there something rather than nothing? When you have a universe full of stuff, science does a good job explaining why that stuff behaves the way it does.
But as to why stuff exists in the first place, science can say nothing at all. (Just as the rules of cricket can’t explain the existence of the game of cricket itself.)
Then there’s the question of why maths and science fit together. This was famously pointed out in1960 by Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner, in an article called The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences in which he remarks how odd it is that maths and physics work so well together.
Why is that odd?
Well, if there is no God and maths is just a human invention, then numbers were something invented by Mesopotamian goatherders sometime around the second millennium BC to keep track of their goats.
So how is it that numbers can describe the curvature of space-time or the geometry of black holes? Either those goatherders got really lucky, or something else is going on.
Where do we go with all of this?
Well, maybe it’s helpful to reflect that trying to play off “God” and “science”, or “natural” and “supernatural” misses something very important, namely that there can be different levels of explanation.
Let me illustrate with a humble cup of tea.
Sitting on my desk as I write is a steaming mug of English Breakfast. Why does the tea exist? A physicist might talk about how electrons and protons form atoms, from which all material things (including tea) are made.
A chemist might explain how molecules work, or explain the Brownian Motion of the particle in my cup.
A biologist might wax lyrical about the evolutionary history of the tea plant. And so forth.
All are good answers to the question: “Why is tea?”
But what if you asked me? I’d look at you, laugh, and say: “The tea exists because I need something to dunk my Jammie Dodger into.”
Does my explanation contradict the scientists? No, it’s just a different level of explanation. And it illustrates something very important: that there are scientific explanations but there are also personal explanations.
The laws of science tell us what will happen unless somebody personally intervenes: drop a ball, and it will fall in accordance with Newton’s Second Law of Motion. But reach out your hand and catch the ball – and that law no longer applies. You have personally intervened in the universe.
And now the question arises: if humans can intervene and act personally, what about God?
Clearly if God exists, he can. So the question isn’t can he, but has he? And this is where Christianity is fascinating because the whole faith is founded on the historical claim that God intervened at one point in history in particular – in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (for which, as we saw in a previous column, there is tremendous evidence).
Of course if God can – and has – acted in history, that raises the next and the more important question: what are you going to do about it?
As I often remind my sceptical friends, miracles can do many things, but they can’t prevent somebody refusing to consider the evidence.
It’s fine to be an honest doubter – just don’t miss the greatest miracle of all because you’re a dishonest sceptic.
+ Got a burning question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may tackle it in a future issue
Dr Andy Bannister is the Director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and an Adjunct Speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. His best-selling book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments) is available from all good book stores. Check out the popular Solas video series, SHORT/ANSWERS, at http://www.solas-cpc.org/shortanswers/
If you’d like to explore this question more deeply, read In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History by R Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas.