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Miracles and Science. Definitions of Miracle. C.S. Lewis: An interference with nature by supernatural power (Intervention Miracles) David Hume: A violation of the laws of nature (Intervention Miracles)

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Definitions of Miracle

  • C.S. Lewis: An interference with nature by supernatural power (Intervention Miracles)

  • David Hume: A violation of the laws of nature (Intervention Miracles)

  • John Polkinghorne: An event of an extraordinary kind, brought about by a god, and of religious significance (Natural Miracles)


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Scientific Skeptic:David Hume

  • Science shows that nature’s laws are unalterable

  • Extraordinary events require extraordinary proof, but reverse holds for miracle

  • Misperception, the “desire for the astonishing” or simple human mischief are more likely explanations

  • Why do competing religions all have miracles?


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Contingency Miracles

  • R.F. Holland points out that many miracles reported by believers simply involve very unlikely events

  • If such events can be described as miracles, why should the defintion or “miracle” necessarily involve the breaking of laws of nature?


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“Classical” Scientific View

  • Determinism: Everything that happens according to strict laws, with not exceptions (no freewill)

  • Reductionism (Mechanistic Outlook): The world is like a machine (eg clock) – the parts can fully explain the whole

  • Materialism: The world is composed of a bunch of distinct material objects (atoms)


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Quantum Mechanics

  • The physics of the very small developed early in the 20th century

  • Its well established theories present many findings counter to classical views:

  • Subatomic particles can behave as particles and waves

  • Can occupy more than one position at once

  • Can influence other particles over vast distances, with no apparent connection

  • Requires an observer


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The Double Slit Experiment

  • The behavior of sub- atomic particles changes when observed

  • The particles behave as waves and particles, depending on the observation

  • The exact trajectory of any atom can never be predicted with certainty (events can never be verified to be perfectly determined, but only behave according to laws of probability)


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John Bell’s Experiments

  • Source emits two photons (A & B) in opposite directions

  • Detector 30 km away detects A’s spin (which is indeterminate, but must always be opposite to Bs)

  • B is detected immediately after A (too fast for light to travel between the two)

  • B is always opposite spin of A

  • Established the QM notion of “Entanglement”


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The New Physics

  • World is not mechanistic, but interconnected (more like an organism)

  • World is not deterministic, but ruled by a mixture of law and probability (indeterminacy)

  • World is not clearly material, but is multi-dimensional and more like an information system than a mechanism


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Quantum Physics and Religion

  • Provides opportunities for integration between science and religion

  • Some people take the findings of quantum mechanics as proof of the eastern religions’ claims about the unity of all reality (holism)

  • Others see in these discoveries a space (the quantum zone of indeterminacy) for God to act providentially in the world that is compatible with science


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Polkinghorne

  • Miracles are possible, but not in Lewis’ sense

  • Quantum Theory or simple synchronicity make extraordinary events possible

  • Theological problem of Miracle—”Christian God of steadfast faithfulness” vs. interventionist god who practices favoritism

  • Perhaps miracles must be so rare b/c God is “self-limited by his respect of the freedom of his creation”


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Objections to Hume

  • Is rejecting miracle “on principle” really a scientific way of looking at the question?

  • Why must one assume deterministic view of nature?

  • Why must one assume that God would not respond to wishes of non-believers (exclusivism)?


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