- Religion and Philosophy
Reconciling biblical miracles and Science
For centuries, the nature of biblical miracles have been debated. Philosophers, skeptics, scientists, and critics all have maintained that because miracles violate the laws of nature, they are impossible. Many have mocked the Bible's supernatural claims, calling them "irrational." Many claim that science triumphs over miracles as scientific knowledge explains more about our world. In this article, i will explain why miracles are scientifically plausible, how science is misunderstood when debunking miracles, and how science is reconciled with the Bible.
Skeptics take the position that if you were faced with a complicated miraculous explanation vs. a natural simple one, you are to take the simplest one. This is known as Occam's Razor. While this may seem clever and common sense understanding of basic science, this is not how Occam's Razor is used.
What is Occam's Razor?
Occam's Razor is a heuristic device, a suggestion that when given two competing explanations for the same thing, the simpler one is to be taken. Explanations are based on what we can perceive through the five senses as opposed to what we can't.
Occam's Razor was originally intended to explain natural phenomenon, not rule out the supernatural. Brian Zeller sums it up perfectly:
"UFO debunkers do not understand Occam's Razor, and they abuse it regularly. They think they understand it, but they don't. What it means is that when several hypotheses of varying complexity can explain a set of observations with equal ability, the first one to be tested should be the one that invokes the fewest number of uncorroborated assumptions. If this simplest hypothesis is proven incorrect, the next simplest is chosen, and so forth. But the skeptics forget two parts: the part regarding the test of the simpler hypotheses, and the part regarding explaining all of the observations. What a debunker will do is mutilate and butcher the observations until it can be "explained" by one of the simpler hypotheses, which is the inverse of the proper approach"
Occam's Razor faces several problems. The first is that simplicity is subjective. The second is that the universe is never "simple." There are many complicating factors in the universe involved in natural phenomenon. Occam's Razor is a medieval concept that cannot be applied to all modern branches of science and thus should be discarded.
Science in no way deals with miracles. This is because miracles are defined as something beyond nature. Science only concerns itself with studying the natural realm, leaving the supernatural realm to philosophy. The media and others have popularized the definition of miracles violating nature. Critics claim that because miracles violate the laws of nature, they should be rejected. This argument is flawed because the laws of nature don't work that way.
What is a scientific law?
A scientific law doesn't exist. It is simply an uncontested and heavily supported theory. A scientific law such as gravity is a description of events we perceive. It doesn't explain why a phenomenon occurs or what causes it. Theories are subject to change. When critics argue around the lines that miracles "violate the laws of nature", they fail to realize that science doesn't depend on dogmatic authority.
Miracles and science:
Some may attempt to scare you into thinking that the knowledge of science can "explain away" miracles. Logically, it's impossible for scientists to keep track of everything that occurs in the universe. No amount of mathematics or knowledge is sophisticated enough to where scientists can simply go into a database and debunk every paranormal claim. There is no set "order" of nature distinguishing between the norm and the chaos in the paranormal. In fact, the findings of statistician David J. Hand explains in his book "The Improbability Principle", how extraordinary events happen all the time. This flies in the face of critics who try methodically to differentiate between natural common events and seemingly paranormal and highly unlikely acts.
Wonder or display of God's power
An accomplishment requiring amazing power.
What is a miracle?
Does that disprove the existence of miracles? Not at all. As i mentioned earlier, scientists propose natural laws as to debunk supernatural miracles. This is rooted in a misunderstanding of what a miracle is. A miracle is characterized by a supernatural unexplainable act but this is not the Bible's definition.
What is a miracle defined by the ancients of Scriptures? The ancients believed that the gods acted through the forces of nature. The ultimate cause of all events in the universe have supernatural origin. The ancients did not see each event in terms of laws, but as separate acts. This doesn't necessarily imply that an event must be above nature in order for it to be supernatural as we shall shortly see.
Owth and Mopheth often appear together. Here are a few examples:
Ex. 7:3 "But i will harden Pharoah's heart that i may multiply my signs (Owth) and wonders (Mowpheth) in the land of Egypt."
Deut. 4:34 "Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs (Owth) and wonders (Mowpheth) and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?"
Miracles were performed both to help and harm others. Opponents of God's people are also able to do miracles as seen in Exodus 7-8.
The Greek phrase "Semeia Kai Terata" is translated as signs and wonders. It was used to describe events beyond the norm of everyday observations from a logical approach, not a scientific or philosophical one. The Septuagint translates them as "marvelous acts" by God.
"Semeion" in classical Greek denotes a sign marked for recognition. It is probably the closest word to describe a miracle. It is not necessarily a miracle beyond nature, but a sign of special significance. Examples of it's usage are found in Luke 23:8 and Acts 4:16.
The word "Teras" can describe a wonder or an evil omen and can be applied to a wide variety of nouns. Examples of it are found in Acts 2:22 and Acts 6:8.
The miracles of Jesus were done in accordance with God's will. Their spiritual significance was not a mere display of power, but a sign of God's divine attributes and judgement. They are the result of him being the Word of God made flesh.
The Greek word "Ergon" in John 5 is translated as "work." When in context, the meaning of Jesus' healings was to demonstrate that God is active in the universe. God the father was working through Jesus in the earth.
The only events in the Gospels contradicting above normal expectations are the virgin birth and the resurrection. However even these events are seen with theological significance, not as mere supernatural acts (Evangelical Theology; an Introduction. 1963 pp. 68ff.) These are signs that God has become man as prophesied in the Old Testament.
Any agent acting on behalf of God's authority through miracles often did so to transform lives. The miracles happened because God authorized them. Symbolic actions such as Moses staff used to part the red sea were done to show God's character, not simply his control over nature. Miracles whether supernatural or natural are the result of God power on the world, not as a result of human action.
In summary, miracles are defined as signs with spiritual significance and amazing events. Miracles are not strictly supernatural or natural. Scientific minded skeptics can explain biblical miracles. They can even replicate them with the rise of modern technology. It is all irrelevant because they're not attacking the biblical definition. In no way is the trans-formative message displayed through miracles distorted.
As i've stated earlier, the virgin birth and the Resurrection are both phenomenal miracles. There seems to be countless examples of supernatural feats. However when one takes the ancient perspective of miracles, many miracles fall into natural explanation. Here are just several examples of how scientists have explained miraculous phenomenon. This doesn't "prove" that the biblical miracles happened, but that there is a scientific basis for them:
The burning bush - Physicist Colins Humphreys explains in his book "Miracles of Exodus" the scientifically based Old Testament miracles such as the burning Bush. He suggested that it grew under a volcanic vent. This would make sense as Mount Sinai had a volcanic region nearby. "Senah" in Hebrew refers to a species of the Acacia plant. The Acacia bush used to create charcoal would then burst into flames from the escaping heat. It could burn seemingly without end.
The ten plagues of Egypt - Archaeologists have found plagues in at the ancient city of Pi-Ramses on the Nile Delta, the capital of Egypt during the reign of Ramses the 2nd (1279BC and 1213BC.) It was later abandoned. Climatologists explain that a dramatic climate shift caused it's inhabitants to leave the area. They found that Ramses' period consisted of a warm and wet period then drifted into a dry period. Scientists explain that the dry climate caused the Nile to become a muddy slow-moving watercourse. The toxic algae "Burgundy Blood" multiplies rapidly in these conditions and stains the water red. This would affect the frogs and insects negatively, causing their numbers to grow beyond control. They would swarm the populated areas and cause all sorts of diseases. Livestock and grain would be consumed, leaving the people to starve. A volcanic eruption can cause the sun to be blotted out for hours and cause hailstorms. Because the firstborn were highly privileged in patriarchal societies such as Egypt, they were the family's first priority. They would get the first and best grain. However because of the toxic substances in the food contaminated by disease carrying organisms, they would die.
The parting of the Red Sea - Scientists say it is entirely possible for the Red Sea to split due to natural means. In 1822, heavy winds from the east blew across and exposed the bottom part of Lake Manzala. Natives were walking in the mud where fishing boats rested. Researchers suggested that a branch of the Nile flew into the area, forming a U-shape on meeting the lake. Experts have found that an east wind of 63 mph sustained for 12 hours would would clear a mud-flat path 2.5 miles across in length and 3 miles wide. People would only have 4 hours to cross before the lake recedes to normal. The Red Sea has been translated as "sea of reeds" and theorized to be located at the lake of Tanis, a shallow black lagoon. Moses living in the desert for years would know where the caravans crossed the Red Sea at low tide. Based on the night sky and ancient methods of predicting tides, he would've let the Israelites through that watery passage. The dust from horses and chariots would also give away the Egyptian's location, allow Moses to calculate when to act. According to Ocean Physics, wind blowing over a shallow waterway pushes back more water than wind blowing over a deep waterway. If the wind hit a low tide then it would have uncovered more sea bottom. The ancient author Eusebius of Caesarea (263–339 A.D) cites a source told by the people of Memphis which tells of “Moses, being acquainted with the country, waited for the ebb and took the people across the sea when dry.”
Swallowed alive in She'ol - According to Deuteronomy 11:6-7, the earth opened up and swallowed the men of Korah. An article in New Scientist, an earthquake hit Jamaica and killed 2,000 people. The town was on top of a pit of sand 20 meters deep saturated with water. The earthquake shook the sand and solidified, crushing the people stuck in it to death. Some were thrown up by the water. The same type of event occurred in Japan. In 1996, the city of Niigata sank due to a process called "liqufication." John E. Butler stated how this was possible:
"…in alluvial deposits which are saturated in the lower and middle levels, vibrations can cause the water to rise to the surface, saturating all the alluvium. The loss of friction between silt particles lowers the supporting ability of the material, and buildings sink into the mud." (Natural Disasters 1976 Heinemann Educational Australia p. 15)
The Jordan river and the walls of Jericho - It is recorded in the Bible that the Israelites marched around the city of Jericho until it's walls miraculously came crashing down in Joshua chapter 6. The Jordan river also suddenly stopped. A notable example of this type of phenomenon in our modern era is the earthquake of 1927. By examining several cases of earthquakes, this happened various times. Earthquakes have caused mudslides which as a result stop rivers from flowing. Various earthquakes have struck Jericho. Scholars also examined the remains of the Wall of Jericho and conclude that it was destroyed by earthquakes.
Elijah's miraculous sacrifice - According to 1 Kings 18:38, fire came down from heaven and burned his offering to God. Scientists in the BBC documentary "Lost science of the Bible" explain that water can sometimes cause flames to ignite. Certain chemical mixed with water causes heat which can then burst into fire when wood is present.
Sundial shadow turns back - The Bible records the shadow cast by the declining sun back ten steps in Isaiah 38:6-8. This is a common source for the argument that God violated the laws of physics. This however is explained by natural means:
"The going back of the shadow on the dial has repeatedly been noticed, even in the present [19th] century. It is dependent, not on astronomical, but on meteorological causes. The shadow is not invariably dependent upon the position of the sun, but upon the brightest point of light in the sky. If when the sun nears the western horizon a dark impenetrable cloud covers the orb, the shadow will be cast by the bright silver lining of the cloud, which may be near the zenith, and the shadow will repeat nearly a quarter of the circle. In the present century an instance is recorded by the Canon of Metz Cathedral. In the case under consideration, the object was the satisfaction of Hezekiah that the promise made to him was from God. The prophet is accordingly directed to foretell, as a sign, a natural phenomenon which was about to occur." (Quoted from Benjamin Scott F.R.A.S. in Bible Study Monthly January/February 1995)
The Virgin birth - This is one of the most miraculous events in the Bible that appear to contradict nature. When examined more closely however, it is quite possible due to a rare phenomenon known as Parthenogenesis. Female insects such as wasps, fish, birds, and lizards are able to produce healthy offspring without the aid of a male. If an egg gets a cellular "spike", it will start producing offspring as if it's been fertilized. During Meosis 2, the egg splits in two and only uses half of the genetic material to make room for the male DNA. If none is present then the egg will die. However as a result of genetic defects or calcium spike, a virgin birth can occur. There have been cases of "virgin births." A mother brought her infant son to a doctor who discovered his head was forming abnormally. When the doctor analyzed his blood cells, he found it was made only of his mother's genes. No one can conclusively explain how this is possible.
The miraculous catch of fish - It is recorded in John 21:1-11 that Jesus suddenly caught hundreds of fish after the Disciples failed. According to New Scientist (1996 December 21/28 p. 6), the sea of Galilee was salty. The salt is transferred through saline springs through mud and close to the surface. Ami Nisri, a scientist, said this:
"For some reason, fish like to gather around them. It's probably that they prefer the slightly higher temperature of the water, rather than liking the more saline environment."
Jesus walking on water - Jesus is recorded walking on water on the Sea of Galilee. However according to scientific studies, he might have walked on spring ice:
"A rare set of weather events may have combined to create a slab of ice about 4 to 6 inches [10 to 15 centimeters] thick on the lake, [making it] able to support a person's weight.."
The water doesn't freeze completely, thus it's still in a liquid form. Jesus technically still walked on water.
The resurrection - The greatest forms of miracles are people resurrecting from the dead. Surprisingly, this natural phenomenon happens today. It's known as "the Lazarus Syndrome." Experts currently have no idea how many people have risen from the dead. There have been numerous reports in which patients have been pronounced dead but rose again.
What is the verdict? The Bible's miracles can occur in natural or supernatural forms, but the aim is to inspire faith and give theological meaning. Some miracles are indeed supernatural in description and thus unexplainable, but most are in the form of natural phenomenon such as natural disasters. For the supernatural aspects in the Bible that are beyond the realm of science, we leave up to faith without ruining scientific integrity. Occam's Razor is not a principle ruling out unexplainable paranormal phenomenon, but a heuristic device examining several natural hypotheses. It cannot therefore be used to destroy the Bible's credibility by providing natural explanations for biblical miracles. Scientific laws are not guidelines set in stone dictating what is naturally permissible and what is not. They are simply descriptions of how things work in the Universe and are subject to change when new evidence is presented. Miracles have factually based scientific explanations. If it is possible for these events to happen to happen in the past, there is no reason why they cannot happen in the present or even the future. Miracles are for the most part fully reconcilable with science.