Monday, October 17, 2011

Do Miracles Undermine Science and Knowledge?

INTRODUCTION:  My atheist friend Alex, whom I debated last week has argued that if a miracle working God exists, then we wouldn't be able to do science or know that the universe was understandable since we wouldn't know whether the results of our scientific and rational investigation was God doing a miracle or whether it was natural processes.  Here's how Alex summarizes his basic argument:
However, if . . . we live in a universe where miracles can happen at any moment, which leads unavoidably to us not being able to trust any observations of the world around us. If miracles can happen, if the basic functions of reality can be altered at the whim of an all knowing super being, then there is no guarantee that scientist A and scientist B will get the same results even when examining the same phenomenon.

Basically, if [this argument] is right, intelligibility is impossible, as reality can change, for no naturalistic reason, at any time.  [Thus, this] argument is self refuting.

It is a false dilemma to claim that because God does miracles that reality is unintelligible since this would mean that God could go around the universe arbitrarily contravening natural law at a whim. This argument is simply an old, re-cycled argument from the 19th c. theological liberals that has been repackaged for atheistic consumption.

Miracles are an addition to natural law

First, miracles are an addition to natural laws rather than a contradiction of them. This is because natural laws are formulated in isolated systems. For example, Newton’s 1st Law of Motion states that objects will continue in a straight line at constant speed — if no unbalanced force is acting. But there is nothing in the law to prohibit unbalanced forces acting; otherwise nothing could ever change direction!

This can be applied to skeptics who claim that Jesus couldn’t have walked on water because it would ‘violate’ Archimedes’ Principle, ‘Objects will sink in water if they weigh more than the buoyant force’. But this is true only if no other are forces operating. For example, if you were tied to a helicopter you wouldn’t sink. There is nothing that ‘violates’ Archimedes Principle, just that it can’t preclude other forces acting.

Since God exists, there is no truly isolated system. Thus there is no basis for disallowing miracles unless you could prove that God doesn’t exist, but you can’t prove a universal negative. Since Jesus is God Incarnate, He can certainly bring other forces into play without violating science.

C.S. Lewis applied these concepts to the virginal conception of Christ: that is the zygote was made by the Holy Spirit’s action on Mary’s ovum, i.e. an addition to the system. But after that, the embryo developed in the normal manner.

Natural Laws are descriptive not prescriptive

Second, your comments against miracles treats natural laws as real entities. In reality, scientific laws are descriptive of what we observe happening regularly, just as the outline of a map describes the shape of a coastline. Treating scientific laws as prescriptive, i.e., the cause of the observed regularities that rules out miracles by definition, is like claiming that the drawing of the map is the cause of the shape of the coastline. Such is nonsense, but atheists argue in this manner when they assert this false dilemma.

Any old god won't do

Third, we are not just advocating any ‘god’. Christians don't advocate just any ‘god’ who may or may not be capricious. Rather, they identify the Designer with the faithful triune God of the Bible.  The Bible explains that we are made in the image of a rational God (Genesis 1:26–27), God is a God of order not of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), God gave man dominion over creation (Genesis 1:28), and He commanded honesty (Exodus 20:16), and that He upholds a general regularly to nature (Gen. 8:22; Jer. 33:25; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3).

Applying this, as well as a correct understanding of the nature of scientific laws as description, leads to a worldview that historically led to science without jettisoning miracles.

The founders of modern science, like modern creationists, regarded ‘natural laws’ as descriptions of the way God upholds His creation in a regular and repeatable way (Col. 1:15–17), while miracles are God’s way of upholding His creation in a special way for special reasons. Because creation finished at the end of day 6 (Gen. 2:1–3), creationists following the Bible would expect that God has since mostly worked through ‘natural laws’ except where He has revealed in the Bible that He used a miracle. And since ‘natural laws’ are descriptive, they cannot prescribe what cannot happen, so they cannot rule out miracles. Again, scientific laws do not cause or forbid anything any more than the outline of a map causes the shape of the coastline.

Because creation finished at the end of day 6, biblical creationists would try to find natural laws for every aspect of operation science, and would not invoke a miracle to explain any repeating event in nature in the present, despite atheists' protestations otherwise.

So, atheists are wrong to imply that Christians are in any way hindered in real operational scientific research, either in theory or in practice. Philosopher and apologist J.P. Moreland said:
‘But some will object, “If we allowed appealing to God anytime we don’t understand something, then science itself would be impossible, for science proceeds on the assumption of natural causality.” This argument is a red herring. It is true that science is not compatible with just any form of theism, particularly a theism that holds to a capricious god who intervenes so often that the contrast between primary and secondary causality is unintelligible. But Christian theism holds that secondary causality is God’s usual mode and primary causality is infrequent, comparatively speaking. That is why Christianity, far from hindering the development of science, actually provided the womb for its birth and development.’ [Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation, Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 226, 1989.]  
God is the necessary precondition for science

Regarding the assertion that the existence of a miracle working God undermines the intelligibility of reality, the exact opposite is true. Without a belief that the universe was made by the God of order and that we are made in the image of this God, we have no basis for either an orderly universe or that our thoughts can be trusted, as explained in our debate last week.

Atheists can’t prove that the universe is orderly, because the proofs would have to suppose the order they are trying to prove.  This constitutes another vicious circle on their part.

Atheists can treat these premises as axioms, i.e. accepted as true without proof, but again, as noted in last week's debate, they are unable to escape the problem of induction unless they appeal to the a priori, non-arbitrary propositions of Scripture. Indeed, atheists can’t prove that the universe is orderly, because the proofs would have to suppose the order they are trying to prove. Similarly, they can't prove that their thoughts are rational because the proofs would have to assume this very rationality. Yet evolution would select only for survival advantage, not necessarily rationality or truth.

So, the idea that either God exists and He cheats with miracles, or the world obeys strict rules of action and consequence in a naturalistic fashion is a false dilemma.

However, the only rational alternative is a God of order who used miracles for creation, and in rare occasions at other times when working out His program, but normally works by what we call ‘natural law’. The logical feasibility has been amply proved in practice by the good science discovered by believers in miracles.

IN CONCLUSION, an atheist cannot derive an orderly universe from the proposition ‘God does not exist’. Indeed, you need to accept an orderly universe as a ‘brute fact’, which ironically was actually plagiarized from the Christian world view to argue against it, as we've previously demonstrated.