Keith Ward, Big Questions in Science and Religion 4: Do the Laws of Nature Exclude Miracles?

Ward’s chapter 4 deals with a perennial issue at the interface between religion and science: miracles. Ward rightly points out that laws of nature are mathematical descriptions of aspects of the universe and not “laws” in any usual sense in which that word is normally used. Indeed, one might note the irony that such language seems to imply reference to a Creator, or more precisely, a Legislator.

As for whether miracles break natural laws, they need not do so any more than human actions do. Particularly those who view God as in some sense embodied in the universe, then there is no more violation of a law of nature were God to lift an object than were I to lift my arm. Yet although Ward seems at times to like this way of thinking of the God-world relation, we’ll need to revisit this subject when we get to his discussion of the “soul”. But certainly there are process theologians who are “religious naturalists”. This too is a subject to which we’ll return.

There is no scientific impossibility to miracles. The issues are matters of philosophy and of whether there is (and can ever be) sufficient evidence to justify believing that a miracle occurred. And on that subject, reasonable people have disagreed, and continue to do so, such as when the dead return to life, or the Red Sox win the World Series.

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  • Thanks for this. I run into this a lot. It seems to me that those who claim that questioning the historicity of miracle stories in the Bible means denying the possibility of miracles miss the point.The point, I think, is how we evaluate literature that contain miracle stories.