Why I’m Not An Atheist Part 5: On Science And Miracles
By: Robert E. Meyer
The Apostle Paul warns in 1 Timothy 6:20 : “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.”
Several centuries ago, the German astronomer Johann Kepler, justified scientific inquiry in that such investigation was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” The scientific method was bathed and developed in a culture that presupposed the existence of God. Many scientific originators of whole branches of science were themselves biblically astute believers.
From that point forward, there was a gradual diversion from that philosophical approach, to a newer, evolving view, deeming science and theology as antithetical disciplines. This view eventually came to a codified perspective in the 19th century, due to voluminous treatises authored by John W. Draper and Andrew Dickson White, which chronicled the alleged war between science and theology. In that same era, Darwinâ€™s Origin of the Species, provided skeptics with a pathway to become “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
I have been puzzled, from the time of my earliest consideration of the matter, that science is used as a means of discrediting the existence of God. It should never be the objective of Christians to oppose the wonders of scientific progress, but only â€œscience falsely so called;â€ that is, metaphysics festooned as science.
History certainly documents numerous incidents where the church acted in embarrassing ways to hinder progress. Chief among these is the Roman Catholic Church’s ban of the writing of Galileo. But such a prohibition was never a scriptural necessity. Nothing in the Bible would have contradicted Galileo’s new cosmological model.
Recently, we have seen a court case which declared Intelligent Design Theory to be a religious dogma, rather than a plausible conclusion of scientific inquiry. That seems to imply that â€œtrue scienceâ€ can never ask the question: â€œIs this occurrence too complex to be the result of chance or natural selection?â€ I doubt reason by itself would ever allow such interrogative principle to be excluded by default from any other field of inquiry.
This is one of the greatest areas of doublespeak, in the ongoing debates between atheists and theists. We frequently hear that science confines itself to a naturalistic explanation of events. That is fine as far as it goes. But, when people claim that there is nothing in the universe exclusive to natural explanations, however, they are arguing outside the realm of science, and have become purveyors naturalistic philosophy. That is no longer a methodology of objective inquiry, but a religious-like, dogmatic assumption, upon which foundation only certain conclusions will be allowed to subsist.
Unfortunately, that is often the philosophical edifice of what is defined as “modern science.” From this launching pad, we are told that people of the biblical periods, were ignorant as to the workings of science or natural law, so they falsely attributed certain phenomena to the miraculous realm.
In Thomas Paine’s 18th century screed against Christianity, The Age of Reason, he makes an argument about miracles that reverberates from the lips of many contemporary skeptics, but which was never very convincing to me. To paraphrase him, he said that if one should hear of a very strange event like a miracle, the veracity of the claim could be answered quite easily. Have we ever seen a miracle he asks? In the same space of time we have heard millions of lies. The odds are then at least millions to one that someone who claims to have seen miracle is a liar, or so he concludes. The irony is that even if all the miracles in the Bible are true reports, the ratio of lies to miracles over time would still be lopsided in favor of the lies.
The problem here is that Paine confuses the statistical correlation of two unrelated events with the possibility that a given event can occur. If we are going to merely prostate to statistical probability, then what about the mathematical challenges against the “molecules to man” type evolution occurring on earth, as was presented by Hoyle, Wickramansinghe and others? Arguments based on probability are shunned or ignored when they present stumbling blocks to the atheist worldview.
As a rebuttal to Paine’s charge, I could say that nobody has ever been hit with a brick falling off the Empire State Building; therefore the odds of it happening are highly unlikely (millions to one). But let’s change the circumstances surrounding the claim. Let’s say a team of masons procures numerous pallets of bricks on the observation deck. If single bricks are thrown off the deck in rapid succession, while a parade of marching bands perform on the street below, the odds become good that someone will be struck. Since Paine believed that the initial creation itself was a miraculous event, why would he have doubted that miracles of a lesser intervention could also happen? It was because his concept of God precluded belief in them.
Often, the arguments that biblical peoples unnecessarily attributed unusual natural phenomena to God and the realm of the miraculous are made without sensible explication. For example, not many biblical descriptions of miracles are of this nature: A group of dessert nomads sees a Boeing 747 fly over their heads. They all bow down to pay homage to the “great silver bird God.” Or Mary tells Joseph she is pregnant with a child from God. Joseph says “Yes, gods impregnating women are quite possible, so letâ€™s not worry about it.”
There also seems to be an assumption that if one professes a belief in the supernatural, then it follows that the same individual views miracles as normative and frequently observed events. Such a person may be mockingly called upon to perform miracles, as a magician might dazzle his audience with a series of illusions. This is nothing but gang-tackling a straw man.
I once heard a debate with the late skeptic, Dr. Gordon Stein. He said that if there is a God, he should do a miracle so that anyone but a fool would believe. Such argumentation only shows the extent to which atheists are oblivious to the resilience of their own presuppositions. If Stein had actually seen a miracle, his own biases would likely have caused him to say that while he couldn’t explain the event which had just happened, some day he would be able to explain it via naturalistic principles. The Bible on the other hand, is uncanny in its description of human tendencies. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the record indicated that while many believed, some still doubted. My conclusion is that people, who don’t want to believe, won’t be persuaded by appearances of the miraculous.
The problems with appeals to science to buttress atheism, is that they require extrapolations of naturalistic philosophies outside the realm of science, and assume the exclusivity of empiricism. Iâ€™ve already argued against that.