Sunday, March 27, 2011

The nature of miracles

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I don't believe science and religion are as incompatible as some claim. It's an idea that comes up sometimes in books I read or online forums I've participated in. Just as some religious people can be very closed-minded about scientific discoveries, 'people of science,' for lack of a better term, can frequently be (dare I say?) religious in their condescending dismissals of religious faith, as if Science had conclusively disproven the existence of God. And as far as I'm concerned, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I have no interest in arguing about it.

I recently read The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World by Laura J. Snyder (which I received from Amazon Vine). It's about four men - William Whewell (pronounced "who-el"), John Hershel, Charles Babbage, and Richard Jones - who, in their school days at Cambridge, met Sunday mornings to discuss the state of science in the early 1800s, or "philosophy" as it was then called. All went on to become very influential and had a great impact on the direction of scientific research, making it more orderly and fact-based in its approach and less of a simple philosophical (or mental) exercise. The book was 'okay' but not as interesting or engaging as I had hoped. All four shared fairly similar religious beliefs and it discusses Whewell's argument for the existence of God and miracles, and it defines a "miracle" as something that is unexplainable by the known laws of science. It's a position that's always bothered me and I found the same argument in The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

My problem with this line of thinking is that it's a definition that's too narrow. To me, science is our effort to understand the laws by which God operates - and it's a perfectly worthwhile endeavor. We should be reaching for a more perfect understanding and be open-minded even when "evidence" seem to contradict our prior understanding of things. The scriptures available to us don't contain the truth of ALL things, and maybe our understanding (or interpretation?) of them needs to be adjusted. But, just because we begin to understand something that was previously "miraculous" doesn't make it any less so.

I prefer to define miracles as "manifestations of divine or spiritual power" that are meant to teach us and increase our faith. They are a part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and demonstrate His love for us and they usually occur in response to our faith. A couple of scriptural stories illustrate this well.

The first is the young man who was stricken with a palsy (Mark 2: 1-12). His friends brought him to be healed of Jesus but couldn't get close enough to the house because of the crowd. But their faith was so strong that they climbed on the roof and made a hole to lower him through, and the way Jesus responded is very interesting. He first forgives the man of his sins, and perceiving that some scoffed at such presumptuousness, he then heals the man of his infirmities (interesting that it was done in that order, and maybe a lesson for us?). Second is when he raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:22-43). Jairus was a ruler in the synagogue but had the faith to seek out Jesus to save his beloved daughter. Can you imagine how worried this father must have been? And yet Jesus doesn't seem to hurry enough. At one point, he even stops to ask who touched him (when there's a crowd pressing around him, no less!). Of course, it was an old woman who had such great faith that if she could only "touch but his clothes" she would be healed (v. 25-34). By the time Jesus finally reaches the home of Jairus his little daughter has died, but Jesus reassures him to "be not afraid, only believe" (v. 36). And after he raises her from the dead, he counsels them to keep it to themselves (perhaps it was a caution against pride on the part of Jairus?). (And thanks to my friend Kurt for some valuable insights.)

So, I remind myself that others haven't had the same experiences I have, and don't understand the reason for my faith. I don't know how exactly Adam and Eve were created or how much of Darwin's Theory of Evolution is correct or how the Flood happened or (etc. etc. etc.)..., but I believe there is an explanation for it all that will make sense from both a religious and a scientific viewpoint. I hope to understand it all someday.

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