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“Nature Miracles”: Natural Hypotheses for God’s Actions

“Nature Miracles”: Natural Hypotheses for God’s Actions October 30, 2021

For Example: Noah’s Flood, Parting of the Red Sea, Quails, Earth Swallowing up Sinners, Sodom & Gomorrah, & Water from the Rocks

Atheist and anti-theist Jonathan MS Pearce recently put up an article about Sodom and Gomorrah possibly having been destroyed by a meteor / meteorite. The following is my response on his blog:

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I wrote about this three months ago, including a reference to the same article you cite at the end of mine. I viewed it, of course, as one of hundreds of scientific and historical / archaeological confirmations of biblical accuracy. What’s fascinating is your statement: “Certainly an interesting theory and one that is certainly more plausible as an explanation for the story than the biblical account!”

There is no necessary contradiction between the two. God can perform a miracle, or He can use natural events, with His perfect omniscient knowledge of what will happen and when — including His being outside of time (in this case, for judgment). Natural explanations and God’s intentions (sometimes using those) are not mutually exclusive at all. Personally, I think these scenarios are even more fascinating and interesting than a purely supernatural miracle, and nothing in the Bible would forbid these events that have been described as “nature miracles.”

Thus, in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, God warned of impending judgment. He knew that a meteor would be approaching soon, and so used the natural event in conjunction with His warning about the judgment. It was still His will to judge for sin. How He does it is a separate question. He can perform a supernatural miracle or use natural events for His purposes.

In my primary paper defending a local Flood in the Mesopotamian plains, c. 2900 BC, I cited geologist Carol A. Hill (“Qualitative Hydrology of Noah’s Flood”Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 58, Number 2, June 2006):

Noah’s Flood was a miracle because God intervened into his physical laws. One does not have to invoke the notion of the suspension or violation of natural laws in “nature miracles.” Divine action can simply be understood as higher-order laws (God’s ultimate purpose) working seamlessly with lower order laws (God’s physical laws). Is it any less a miracle because it can be explained by natural processes? This is the nature of “nature miracles”: to have the timely intervention of God into natural processes.

One of the best examples of a “nature miracle” that comes to mind is Jesus rebuking the winds and sea (Matt. 8:23–26). In Matt. 8:26, the calming of the winds and sea could be explained by a sudden change of barometric pressure—which was probably the case. But it was God who caused this change to take place exactly when Christ commanded the waves and wind to be still.

Similarly, I wrote in my article about natural explanations for quails appearing in the Sinai Peninsula at the usual spot and right time of year that can still be observed today with regard to their annual migrations:

Now, as always, God can work through outright miracles (He could create a million quails on the spot and send them down to the complaining Hebrews), or He can marvelously arrange in His providence for lots of quails to appear right at the time when He said they would appear. Both are entirely in His capability, and either is an extraordinary event, showing His power (omnipotence) and/or His omniscience and sovereignty over nature.

He knew from all eternity that the ancient Israelites would complain in the wilderness about not having meat (longing again for their wonderful time of slavery in Egypt), and He knew (if the natural explanation was what actually happened) that quail would migrate across their path at precisely the time that this murmuring came about.

I’m not opting for either scenario. I’m simply saying that it is entirely possible (and no less glorying to God) that a natural explanation could account for both the abundance of quail and death as a result of eating them. If that is the case, the inspired, infallible Bible would again be accurate in reporting what happened (as it always is).

Likewise, I wrote in my article about the parting of the Red Sea:

In the biblical, Christian worldview, extraordinary recorded events (ostensibly miraculous at first glance) may be partly natural and not wholly supernatural events. That’s the question to be pondered with regard to Moses’ famous parting of the Red Sea. Was it a purely natural phenomena, wholly supernatural, or a combination? Any of those scenarios are possible in the biblical worldview.

Sometimes in the Bible God is described as having caused something that is actually natural. In these cases, the meaning would be that God “upholds” creation and/or caused the origin of natural laws in the first place, which now govern natural events, short of the rare miraculous divine intervention with a miracle. In His providence these natural events occur at just the right time, so that it can be said that God caused them. Other times it is purely miraculous.

I don’t have a firm position on this, myself (i.e., as to the scientific explanation I shall present). I’m not totally convinced, but I’m not averse to being persuaded. I have an open mind. I’m not trying to explain away or dismiss any miracle. I fully believe in miracles and the omnipotent, omniscient God’s capability of brining them about. I believe that whatever happened in this instance, with Moses, the Pharaoh, and a body of water some 3,300 years ago, God was behind it, for His purposes, and that it was extraordinary.

Again, in my article about the earth swallowing up dissenters in Moses’ time, after noting two plausible and possible natural explanations, I wrote:

Or it was simply a supernatural miracle, directly brought about by God. That scenario is always possible in the biblical view, as are natural events that come about at just the right time, by God’s providence, or a combination of the two. So, for example, right after the above Bible passage, we have: “And fire came forth from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense” (16:35). That could have been supernatural fire from God or natural lightning, in a storm that would have also have naturally produced the collapse of a mudflat (assuming the people involved were near same).

Yet again, in my article about Moses drawing water from rocks, I detailed certain scientific (hydrological) explanations related to the Sinai Peninsula that have been observed and may explain this. I noted:

Once again, in these articles where I suggest a natural explanation for an ostensible / assumed biblical miracle, I am not dogmatically claiming that no miracle occurred; rather, I contend that a natural explanation might explain what actually happened in some instances, and can be seen at the very least as a possibility (if the evidence is strong enough). I have no disbelief in miracles whatsoever (no vested interest in one explanation or another), . . .

There is indeed a theologically liberal / skeptical mentality whereby every miracle in the Bible is dismissed and “explained away” by natural processes (because of disbelief in all miracles from the outset). I detest that, and it’s not at all my own position, expressed above. Rather, mine is a view that fully accepts the possibility and factuality of divine, supernatural  miracles, while at the same time recognizing that God’s omniscience and omnipotence, providence and sovereignty are such that He can and does also incorporate natural events into His divine plans for the human race and the accomplishment of His ultimate will.

Geologist Carol Hill (above) eloquently defined this concept as “higher-order laws (God’s ultimate purpose) working seamlessly with lower order laws (God’s physical laws).”

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Photo credit: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (1852), by John Martin (1789-1854) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: God can perform a miracle, or there can be natural hypotheses for God’s actions, utilizing His omniscience as part of His providence & sovereignty over nature.

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