The Idea of the Miraculous: The Challenge to Science and Religion

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Most importantly, both science and Christianity are sceptical about relativistic theories of knowledge, a shared scepticism which has been brought into sharp focus by the rise of post-modernism. Contemporary western societies are profoundly ambivalent about science. On the one hand science is invested with exaggerated expectations and inflated hopes. The vision is for a high-tech universe in which we manipulate its powers to serve our own ends. At the other extreme a vigorous anti-science lobby perceives science to be the source of all our current woes.

Scientists are viewed as dangerous meddlers, wresting secrets from nature that are best left well alone, playing god as they pry into the secrets of the human genetic code and uncover the fundamental forces that hold the universe together. How should Christians respond to these opposing currents? Although it must be admitted that the distinction is not always clear-cut, there are some important differences.

Its task is to produce testable ideas. In its modern version, complete with experimentation, scientific journals and societies, science has been with us only since the 17th century.

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Only in the last two centuries has science had a dramatic impact on technology. Today there is even a case for suggesting that if a scientific discovery is made then, sooner or later, for better or for worse, it will find some application.

Protestantism has left us utterly confused

Yet the underlying fatalism inherent in such a view should be treated with some suspicion. In the final analysis it is human societies that choose the technological applications of scientific discoveries. Christians have a great responsibility to contribute clear biblical thinking to the ethical debate about the myriad applications of modern technology. However, it is science, not technology, which is the focus of this paper, because if science is intrinsically an enemy of Christianity, then clearly its applications in technology will be tarred with the same brush.

Conversely if science is at heart an ally, or neutral in its stance towards Christianity, then its technological applications can be assessed dispassionately on their own individual merits without prejudice stemming from hostility to the scientific enterprise per se. There have occasionally been times in the history of science, as also today, of conflict between Christian faith and the scientific enterprise. In most cases such conflicts arise from exaggerated claims about the nature and scope of either scientific or religious knowledge.

Philosophy of Religion

Similarly T. Huxley and his friends in the X-Club in late Victorian Britain campaigned vigorously for scientists to obtain the degree of financial support and intellectual kudos which society invested in the Church. The essence of scientism is the belief that scientific descriptions of reality are the only descriptions which matter or which are acceptable as real knowledge. Scientism is illustrated well by the zoologist Richard Dawkins when he claims that:. The aim of such scientistic statements is to exclude other levels of explanation. As it happens, scientific journals deliberately exclude vast domains of human knowledge and experience.

Steve Jones, professor of Genetics at University College, London, summarised the reasons for this well in his recent Reith lectures:.

Religion and Science (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Science cannot answer the question that philosophers — or children — ask; why are we here, what is the point of being alive, how ought we to behave? Genetics has almost nothing to say about what makes us more than just machines driven by biology, about what makes us human. These questions may be interesting, but scientists are no more qualified to comment on them than is anyone else.

A further cause of conflict between science and religion comes from the tendency by some scientists to conflate scientific and theological descriptions as if they were offering rival explanations.

But this mixing of scientific and theological categories is not a triumph of human reason and leads to confusion. Cosmological theories, however elegant and successful, provide complementary explanations to those concerning ultimate meaning and value which are provided by theology.

Equations per se are not theological. Yet if there is one question that science is woefully inadequate to address, it is precisely such a metaphysical question. It is this type of category-confusion which brings science into disrepute and generates unnecessary antagonism.

Philosophy of Religion

The stone that was rolled away from the tomb of Jesus was a very significant stone, a significance which is best expounded by the theologian. Yet the properties of stones in general are the province of science and have no particular theological significance.

No amount of scientific analysis of stones in general provides insight into the meaning of that one particular stone, any more than generalisations about human physiology can provide a basis for assessing individual human worth. Christians, too, are sometimes guilty of generating conflict with science where none need or should exist. The tendency of some Christians to criticise science without being well-informed can be embarrassing. Two areas in particular provide unnecessary sources of conflict.

However, there have also been those who are unsatisfied with explaining all phenomena in the natural world in strictly naturalistic terms.


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In both ancient and recent times, many have thought it necessary to posit spiritual, nonscientific reasons and explanations for certain events that occur in the world. In recent decades, this issue has been heightened in the academy as well as in the culture at large. Many people maintain that they have been miraculously healed or have had a religious experience of one sort or another—sensing the divine, say, or hearing God.

Yet others claim that affirming divine interaction or causality in the world, whether small or large, to account for any phenomena is unwarranted religious bias and that a scientific aka, naturalistic explanation—even if that explanation is not yet known—is always a more reasonable approach in our contemporary scientific age. Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF. Skip to main content. Communication is achieved through contrast: black ink on white paper, white chalk on a black board, the teachers voice and the silence of the class. In like manner the contrast between the normal order of nature and miracles is the contrast that God uses to write his love letters to humanity.

This is possibly one reason why healing miracles are relatively common, they demonstrate God's existence, his willingness to become involved, and his love all at the same time. But I digress, the point is that it is the contrast between the normal order of nature and the miracle that allows communication. I have created a YouTube video based on the above argument that, Miracles contrast with but do not contradict science. I have a short page on why the above principle of contrast would make it difficult to start Christianity in a world of superheros. Another Reason to Study Science Furthermore this provides another reason to study science.

One could not recognize a miracle without scientific knowledge. And what is more, a lack of scientific sophistication makes one vulnerable to false prophets and others who falsely claim to speak for God or other supernatural entity. The classic example of this is the pagan priests impressing the community by predicting an eclipse of the sun or moon.

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