16
Oct

Can you Believe in Anomolies but not Miracles?

miracles

CS Lewis writes in Miracles that “But if we admit God, must we admit a miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain.”[1] A barrier for some who find the evidence of Jesus Christ compelling is that they do not believe in the miracles surrounding his ministry. They find that Jesus resurrection defies natural law and therefore determine it could not have really happened. The Naturalist position is that only natural laws and forces operate in the world, that anything that exists is composed of physical components[2].   The Naturalist, clings to the order of nature and that these laws are immutable because they are general, predictable, and observable. They presume that any deviation of these laws are impossible even though science cannot explain where and how the natural order we observe comes from.

If one is to take an honest and purely scientific position against miracles than one would have to admit that their position has some liabilities. For example science cannot explain everything that happens in our world or universe, and yet we do not deny that these in explainable things occur. Some of these deviations occur in violation of natural laws and when they cannot be explained by science, they are label as anomalies. Just like anomalies, miracles are unpredictable in nature and deviate from natural laws and natural order. If naturalists would agree that anomalies, which are deviations of natural laws occur, than they would also have to agree that miracles, which are deviations of natural laws also occur.

To understand physical laws of nature we must first define how these laws operate with each other. Natural order is defined as the physical universe being considered to be an orderly system subject to natural laws.[3] These natural laws are observable laws relating to natural phenomena. For example, two natural laws that work together are the laws of gravity and motion. We would all agree that gravity and motion are things we observe everyday which are general and predictable in nature. Natural order comes from the prediction of how natural laws will behave together.  For example, if I drop a book gravity and motion will act in such a way that the book will hit the floor, thus the natural laws of gravity and motion work together.

            Scientists by and large cannot explain Natural Laws because they are descriptive and predictive in nature[4]. These laws are based on observations and presuppositions that these laws will work together because this is our general experience. If we dropped a book and it stayed suspended in mid air, this would not be something that we generally experience or that natural laws would predict but, science would no more be able to explain this than why the book falls every other time it’s dropped. This incident with the suspended book would be called an anomaly.

            Unlike a natural law, which is general and predictable in nature, a scientific anomaly is something that is specific, unpredictable, or difficult to classify. A good example of this is the Placebo effect. The Placebo effect is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. [5]

Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have an improvement in a medical condition, which cannot be explained. Although science does not have an explanation for this effect, they would not label someone experiencing healing from this effect as a miracle. However, they would be comfortable labeling it an anomaly.

Miracles by definition are events that appear inexplicable by the laws of nature and so are held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God[6]. The only difference in the definitions between anomalies and miracles appear to be why the deviation of the natural law occurred and where they came from. The Christian would say that it is possible for a God who created this universe to reach in and act outside of the natural laws. The skeptic would say that if anything unexpected occurs than, it is a fluke or an outlier, no matter whether the occurrence was beneficial or not. Labeling something as a miracle or an anomaly seems to be more about the person than whether miracles are possible. As a Christian I would call someone being healed with prayer a miracle, while naturalists would call it an anomaly by way of Placebo effect.

Christians and Philosophical Naturalists do not disagree that natural laws can be violated and that deviations can occur. The debate is, if deviations of natural law can happen what do you call it? It would be unreasonable then for someone holding the belief that anomalies can occur to say that miracles do not occur, when they are both deviations from natural order and laws.   

 Jassen Bluto

http://www.forensicfaith.com/content/can-one-believe-anomalies-not-miracles

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[1] Lewis C.S., Miracles (HarperCollins, 1974), 169.

[2] Goetz and Taliaferro, Naturalism (Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), 9.

[3] Webster’s New International Dictionary, 3d ed., s.v. “Natural Order.”

[4] Norman Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 75.

[5] Wikipedia contributors, “Placebo,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Placebo&oldid=576536946 (accessed October 11, 2013).

[6] Keener Craig, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Books, 2011), 216.

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One Comment

  1. Jason,

    Nice foray into this difficult area.

    The accepted definition of science in most academic circles follows that of the anti-creationist, Eugenie Scott, Director, National Center for Science Education, “Science requires testing of explanations against the empirical world, and requires explanation through only natural causes.” Notice the last three words! This is why Stephen Jay Gould described the two non-overlapping magisteria of science and religion – that definition of science excludes the miraculous, which is at the root of Christianity.

    As we discussed, anomalies and miracles can’t be tested because their frequency doesn’t rise to the accepted scientific standard of meeting the 95% confidence interval criterion. It is difficult if not impossible to design a fool-proof experiment to test miracles. I believe what you are getting at is more clearly reflected in Unwin, Stephen D. 2003. The probability of God, a simple calculation that proves the ultimate truth. New York: Crown Forum. 259 pp. In this book, Unwin, a risk analysis specialist, set about using the stock of his trade, the Baysian theorem to calculate the probability of God. “In the Baysian world, a probability is an expression of a degree of belief” (Unwin, 2003). In summary, Unwin examined the probability that five evidentiary areas supported the existence of God: “the recognition of goodness,” “the existence of evil,” the existence of “intra-natural miracles” (miracles that occur in compliance with natural laws-such as the miracle of birth), the existence of “extra-natural miracles” (miracles that occur outside natural laws), and “religious experiences.” You are probably talking about the latter two in your discussion. Most scientists would categorize anomalies as something that had a natural explanation, but it is not yet known, i.e, intra-natural miracles. In some instances they are probably right. In others, I am more inclined to believe the real explanation falls into one of the latter two-categories. But we can never prove that, even if we experience a miracle ourselves, such as what occurred between two strangers on the upper parade ground at Norwich that resulted in the founding of Norwich Christian Fellowship.

    Again, as I stubbornly maintain, God is not in the business of proving Himself. Rather to allow us to choose, He only provides strong evidence for His existence to anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to look.

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