Science, Miracles, and God

It is largely assumed that miracles are inherently unscientific. But let’s examine the premise for this belief. Science, it is said, shows us a predictable universe, one that follows uniform laws and rhythms. Miracles, by definition, are an aberration of those laws, a suspending of the norms of nature, and therefore are improbable if not impossible.

The secular philosopher David Hume wrote in his Essay on Miracles
that there are two questions to be answered: “Do miracles occur?” and
“Is Nature absolutely uniform?” Because he answers yes to the latter
question, he answers no to the first one. But, as C. S. Lewis points
out, Hume has engaged in philosophical sleight of hand for the two
questions are the same one. By asking is miracles occur you are simply
asking in another way if nature is always absolutely uniform. So, the
real question we have to wrestle with is the one of nature’s uniformity.

How do we know that the universe follows a uniform pattern of behavior?
Our first response tends to be: by experience or by observation.
But the truth is all we can say by experience and observation is that during the period of time that we have observed nature, we have observed her to behave is such and such a way. Even the longest periods of observation– decades for many things, centuries for a few things– is a relatively short period of time in light of the relative age of the universe. For scientists who believe in an earth that existed millions of years before mankind, even the short history of humanity (6000 years at our best guess?) is not enough to to answer the question of nature’s uniformity by experience alone. In fact, when we try to say that we believe in Nature’s uniformity because of our observation and experience, we are simply saying that we believe that the patterns we have observed are ones we believe to have been around before our observation and experience and will continue even beyond our observation and experience. And you would officially be in a circular argument.

Our second response is that we wish it to be so. This, of course, is irrational. And yet, highly practical. We couldn’t live day to day if we did not count on some level of predictability or reliability in nature. Life would be disastrous. And since it is beyond our control anyway, we assume that things will continue tomorrow as they have today, and that tends to work out in general. But such an answer cannot be enough.

Our third and most honest response is that science depends on a predictable universe and if we have up the sense of uniformity and order in nature we would lose science. We are now getting closer for we are admitting that science is predicated on a kind of faith: a faith in the general orderliness of the universe.

But what sort of belief system allows for that conviction? For the pure Naturalist– the one who believes Nature is all there is, that there is no God, no Spirit, no Force, no Mind– he is in a bind. The Naturalist is forced to admit that since there is no guiding Force or Mind, his own “deepest convictions are merely the byproducts of an irrational process” and therefore cannot be trusted. A person’s convictions– about the uniformity of the universe or anything else– is simply a fact about that person (like the color of his hair) and has no grounds for treating his conviction as more valid or reasonable than anyone else’s. (C. S. Lewis in Miracles wrote on this in Chapter 13). The Supernaturalist– one who believes in a Rational MInd/Force beyond nature– has the best grounds for accepting the uniformity of nature. He believes there is a great rational force that has set the universe in motion and its motion follows a sense of rationality for He is rational. “Men became scientific because the expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator” (Lewis).

The “catch’, however, is that the same grounds that lead you to accept a rational, uniform universe allows leaves you defenseless against the possibility of miracles. For if there is a God– a rational, creative Being– then we can expect the universe to be orderly; but we must also admit that if that God chose to break into His creation He could.

What sort of God would break into His creation? Here is where we turn away from what science alone can tell us and ask what religion tells us. The bulk of religion chronicles man’s search for God. But it is the Jewish-Christian story that begins with God’s search for mankind. “Adam, where are you?” God said in the beginning of our story. For the Jew and the Christian, God has always broken into time and space. And those occasions are often called “miracles”. For the Christian, the ultimate invasion of God into His world is in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him we see the most dramatic miracles: the virgin birth, the incarnation itself, the resurrection.

By no means does science prove God or miracles. But neither does science preclude it. Furthermore, because science itself needs to believe in an orderly universe, it admits the possibility of a “God”. But by admitting the possibility of a “God”, it must admit the possibility of miracles. So, our answer to Hume’s questions are yes, miracles can occur; and, yes, the universe is generally almost always uniform. It is my view that the Christian story best reconciles these questions. And it does so it a breathtakingly beautiful way.

[NOTE: I am indebted to Chapter 13 of C. S. Lewis’ Miracles for the content of this post. If you are intrigued, I recommend his book for further reading. You can also listen to my recent sermon on “Miracles and the Christian” HERE.]

Toward a Better Theology of Healing, Pt. 2

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Read the previous post, “Toward a Better Theology of Healing, Pt. 1”, for introductory remarks and points 1-3.]

4. The fruit of what was gained for us through Jesus has begun and is manifesting in us here and now; but it will not culminate in its fullness until He returns.
The Kingdom of God has come, but it’s full and ultimate reign is not yet. The favorite theological phrase is “already, but not yet.” It doesn’t appear to make much sense, but the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” is seen throughout the New Testament. Salvation itself is described as something that has happened, something that is happening, and something that has yet to occur. Traditionally, these “tenses” of salvation have been described as “justification”, “sanctification”, and “glorification”. Consider Paul’s letter the Ephesian church. In Eph 1:3, Paul says God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” But a few verse later he says that “his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ” will “be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph. 1:9b-10). Again in verses 13-14, he writes that we “also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

We have the deposit. Moreover, we have the guarantee. But the culmination will be when “the times have reached their fulfillment”.  This is an idea that modern Americans struggle with. How could you make the down payment for something and not enjoy it fully now? We make a down payment on a house and expect to move in right away. Not so in the ancient world. A deposit guarantees that it is yours. But it is not fully yours yet. It’s not to dissimilar from buying a gift for your child and placing it under the tree as a sort of guarantee that it is his, and yet asking him to wait until Christmas morning to open it. Here is the point some Charismatics can’t grasp: just because a thing is paid for doesn’t mean you will have it all now. 

If we didn’t believe this, that what’s coming is better than what is, that the fullness of what Jesus paid for will culminate later at the end of time, then we should not stop by claiming healing for cancer. We should take authority over baldness and weak joints and shortness of breath after exercise. We should not expect to die at all. After all, what Jesus paid for was more than healing: it was the ultimate restoration of all things: no more bodies that age and break down, no more injustice no more tears, no more suffering of any kind. If we want it all now, we should never have another believer die. Instead, we ought to remember, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, that Lazarus was raised from the dead only to die again. In other words, the best, the fullness of what Jesus paid for is not all to be enjoyed here and now. Those who insist otherwise are not being consistent in their behavior…neither is the universe, for that matter, for people age and die. And, what’s more troubling to that point of view is the fact that none of the apostles– not Peter who quotes Isaiah 53, not Paul, not James who tells us to lay hands on the sick, not John who outlives all the apostles– taught the no believer should get sick or suffer disease if they had enough faith. Furthermore, to my best knowledge of church history (and though I am no scholar, I am a student of church history), no one has taught that theology of healing– that all should be healed if there is no sin and enough faith.

5.  We Can Enjoy the Firstfruits (i.e. Healing and Miracles) Here and Now
This may challenge some who believe that healings and miracles were only for an age but are not for now. While it is true that what is coming is better than what is, it doesn’t mean there is nothing to enjoy now. There is the “foretaste of glory divine”, the beginnings of what is coming in fullness. To put it plainly, we can enjoy healing and miracles here and now. That is not to say we ought to demand it or simply claim it. But it does mean we should pray for it and believe. We can receive the foretaste of God’s ultimate “restoration of all things” here and now. This is what Jesus meant we He announced, “the Kingdom of God has come.” It is here. That explains why when He sent out the 70 (or 72) he simply told them to heal the sick. He reaffirms this in the Great Commission, telling them that for “those who believe” (i.e. disciples), they will “lay hands on sick people, and they will get well”. (Mk. 16:18) 

Throughout the Christian centuries, there are instances of healings and miracles that take place at the hands of certain devout men and women. Gregory Thuamaturgus (the “Wonderworker”) is an example in the early centuries. But the list continues through the saints. And since there is no indication that it was merely for an age, I would contest that it continues through followers of Christ today.

So, what are we to conclude? Chiefly that God is good. That His ultimate plan for us is total and complete healing. And that He has suffered and paid for it on through Jesus. And based on His goodness and His ultimate plan for us, we should pray and ask for healing here and now. But above all, we have hope: for what is coming is better than what is.