Are miracles really possible? I’m not talking about how some describe a baby being born as “the miracle of life.” I’m talking about biblical reports of Jesus walking on water, healing the blind, and physically rising from the dead. Atheists sometimes say miracles overturn the laws of nature—and that’s not possible. Before considering the evidence, however, many skeptics have already decided that naturalism is true. But what about this? Do miracles—by definition—really overturn the laws of nature?
In the foreword to The God Conversation, Lee Strobel notes how J.P. Moreland responded to this challenge with a simple defense: ”The laws of nature are the way we describe how the world usually works. If someone drops an apple, it falls to the floor. That’s gravity. However, if someone were to drop an apple and I were to reach over and grab it before it hit the ground, I wouldn’t be overturning the law of gravity. I would simply be intervening. In a similar way, God is able to reach into the world that he created by performing a miracle. He isn’t contravening or overturning the laws of nature. He’s simply intervening” (7).
Human beings are non-material minds. We have bodies that our minds can control. We cause effects on our bodies by using our free will. And God is a non-material mind just like us. Only he doesn’t have a body, so he can intervene at any point in space and exercise his will. It’s not a violation of natural laws when we do it, and it’s not a violation of natural laws when he does it.
10 thoughts on “Do miracles imply a violation of natural laws?”
I tend to agree with you. However, I’ve heard it said and have pondered: Since there is a sense that we are never permanently separated from a physical (whether pre- or post-resurrection, spiritual) body, we might emphasize “being a mind and having a body” too much. I understand the point being made in the distinction, but it might be better to say we are a body-soul being by nature.
Yes, it’s just that this body gets transformed later so I am not sure if it is necessary.
After reading The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World by C. John Collins, I’m convinced that the gap between miracles and the natural workings of nature is much narrower than we think. I also think that the question “violation of natural laws” is faulty in and of itself.
I say this because Christian doctrine asserts that the natural world does not self-sufficiently exist on its own — as in the “mechanical” view of Newton, and as the Evolutionary Game Show “What’s My Mechanism?!™” assumes. The very term mechanism leads us in the wrong direction.
Christian doctrine asserts that God is active in upholding and sustaining the universe at all times. So, the move between upholding and gently and subtly directing (as in e.g., a God-sent “miraculous” weather event like at the parting of the Red Sea) is not as great as one might think; and the move between gently directing to intervening or interposing (as in the resurrection of Lazarus) is one of degree, not of kind.
God “acted” in the case of Lazarus — he commanded his spirit to re-enter his corpse, and he did the necessary restorative work to restore Lazarus’ body to working condition. But, would we say that a plastic surgeon has violated the laws of nature? (Actually, in some cases we might!) When doctors “bring a person back” from death, have they violated the laws of nature?
The term “laws of nature” is a human construct; a human way of looking at the regularities in nature which God gives us. They make science possible, and for this we, and scientists, should be grateful. While we are almost invariably subject to these rules (participation in miracles the exception), God, the Creator and Sustainer of them, is not. He is an Agent acting in the world, whose causal powers are greater than ours. We can’t turn water into wine; he can.
So, “overturning the laws of nature” is the wrong way of posing the problem. The fact we pose the problem this way is our problem, not God’s!
It would be like an ant riding a model railroad boxcar. The owner of the model railroad shuts down the train in order to move a model tree. The ant exclaims, “did someone just violate the laws of railroads?!
“It’s not a violation of natural laws when we do it, and it’s not a violation of natural laws when he does it.”
Well put. Thanks for sharing this. I’d love to see your comment on my original post. Great blog!
Richard: ‘The term “laws of nature” is a human construct; a human way of looking at the regularities in nature which God gives us.’
Very good words and the rest of the paragraph and following ones about science, model rail roads, and ants, and all.
God is the Builder and Former of our world and is the One Who put in place ‘laws’ where they did not exist before, for our benefit.
When God acts on our behalf/for our benefit, it is no miracle to Him, only to us. To Him, He is just being and doing what He does and had always done. He blesses.
WK — what do I have to do to get a photo of me, like Mikel has? Please provide both a miraculous and non-miraculous version.
You need to go here and create an account. After that it will show up everywhere on all sites you comment on. This would be the non-miraculous version. And thanks for leaving all of these great comments. I always happy to see your name in my in-box.
Moreover, the ‘Science!‘ fetishists don’t even themselves believe the logic of their own selective hyper-skepticism.