We started today out by reading Isaiah 1:18…
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”
This sets the tone for how God wants us to interact with him. God invites us to reason with him, worshipping with our minds as well as our hearts. He even encourages pushback if things don’t make sense. We see this throughout the Bible that blind faith is not a biblical faith.
This is important because young people are leaving the church in droves. They think faith and science are incompatible. We are here to say not at all! We encourage people to be thinking, wrestling, and reasoning. This is why we do Q&As at our church, and why Greg wrote the book Benefit of the Doubt. We encourage intellectual wrestling with biblical concepts, because it produces people who are able to thoroughly defend their faith.
Many skeptics allege that there is an inherent conflict between science and believing in miracles, and they point to the laws of nature/physics, and think science has proven miracles don’t happen. They believe that Biblical miracles must be fabricated legends or mistaken perception.
We are here to say that it is NOT irrational to believe in miracles and that they aren’t even necessarily in conflict with science.
Greg breaks his reasons into four arguments:
1) The Map is Not the Territory
Those who insist that science disproves the existence of miracles are mistaking their map for the territory. If you hold in your hand a map of Minnesota, it will tell you where the roads and lakes are, and maybe the elevation. Maps just focus on what they are trying to describe. But you could never look at a map and feel like now you’ve been to Minnesota. That map will not tell you about the reality of the place — it won’t tell you about the texture of the sand on the shores of the St Croix river, or the sound of the wind in the trees.
Mistaking our map for the territory is a common mistake we make. It is faulty logic when we think that our understanding/perspective of something encompasses entire reality.
When it comes to miracles, the scientific method is a map, but it is not the territory. It is provides answers to certain questions about the mechanics of the physical world, helps us understand how things happen by analyzing the relationships between cause and effect, and describes how things work by deconstructing them into their smallest constituent parts. However, it can’t answer that which it was not meant to answer. It’s a map and was never meant to describe all of reality. The scientific method can’t say anything about God, or why we exist, etc. Asserting otherwise is an illegitimate conclusion to come to.
“Science achieves its success by the modesty of its ambitions. Science trolls experience with a course-grained net and many things of significance about the world in which we live slip between its wide meshes.”
– John Polkinghorne
A fishing net is a great way to think of science. Science will never catch all of reality.
To insist otherwise, is an incredibly arrogant. How can we know that our maps encompass all of reality? We don’t know what we don’t know! So we simply cannot say that science defines all reality. We have no way of knowing that. That assertion is nothing more than a statement of faith.
2) Evolutionary Theory Itself Requires Belief in “Transcendent” Realities
If a hardcore science lover accepts naturalistic evolution, this itself assumes there are realities that are beyond our current comprehension. Greg used his adorable dog Gracie as an example. There are so many things that she has no idea about. Trigonometry, economics, how many people are on the planet, the internet, politics, etc. Most of the world that Greg experiences is utterly incomprehensible to her. Her map is very small compared to the reality of the world she lives in.
This stage of our own existence also has built-in limitations. It is said that there is 95 million years of evolution between humans and dogs. All of the things we understand that dogs do not, took around 95 million years to bring us to the point of understanding. So the question is, what additional knowledge could we have 95 million years in the future? What realities and principles will we understand that we can’t even comprehend right now?
The theory of naturalistic evolution never assumes that there is an “endpoint” in the process. Everything our distant descendants will know in 95 million years already exists, we just have no comprehension of it right now! The limitations of our current stage of physical evolution make us unable to access entire realms of reality.
So if you have absolute faith in science, then by the very definitions of science you must admit that some humility is in order.
3) A Rumor of Angels
This is the title of a great book Greg read, but he likes it because expresses the “hints of transcendence” that we see all around us. Just in looking around, we can see hints of a world beyond the material world we live in. We are self-aware and make choices. This itself is something that the scientific method can’t explain. It tries to break the brain down into smallest constituent parts, but it can’t explain self consciousness. If we swear by science then we have no alternative than to conclude that consciousness, this thing we experience, is really an illusion. Science says that there is no true freedom, everything comes down to causes and effects, meaning that everything is pre-determined. Then we are not truly free. More than that, we are not even truly REAL — our life experience is just a collection of chemical reactions.
Chemical reactions have no Truth, and this demonstrates the limits of scientific method. Science cannot (and was not supposed to) answer the question “Why?” It can’t explain the astronomically improbable fine tuning of the universe “just so” to allow it to support life (in a reality where things happen by chance). It can’t answer why there is a mind-like quality to the universe. It can’t explain love. The truth is we just can’t reduce some things to just chemical reactions. We can’t reduce beauty, awe, wonder, or joy. Science also can’t answer how naturalistic evolution could have evolved beings that have longings for things that nature itself can’t provide (such as God). All of these unanswered questions point to a larger truth and reality that are not reducible by the scientific method. This is what we mean by transcendent reality.
4) People Experience Supernatural Occurrences
Those who say science rules out miracles cannot answer the unexplainable things that perfectly sane people swear they have experienced. Greg is one such person. In 1991, he was at a conference praying for a demonized young woman. Greg and a team of pastors spent the 6 hours casting demons out of her. At one point, she grabbed Greg by the collar and yanked him to her face growling. Even though he was in his thirties and working out every day, this twenty-something girl was unquestionably stronger than he was. Inches away, she stared into his eyes and continued growling. While one of her eyes stared forward, the other turned counter clockwise three times. Then she laughed and threw him against a wall. Greg cannot explain this using naturalistic laws of science. Eyes don’t do that, and petite girls don’t have the strength to throw grown men around. At some point, rational people have to concede that if there is no natural explanation, maybe we have to pursue supernatural explanations.
In the second volume of his book Miracles, author Craig Keener explores various accounts of miracles throughout history. There are stories involving multiple witnesses of people levitating and being healed.
One such story was from a woman named Edith Turner who later wrote a paper called The Reality of Spirits, in which she tells the story of an exorcism she witnessed in Africa.
“I saw with my own eyes a large gray blob of something like plasma emerge from the sick woman’s back. Then I knew that the Africans were right, there is spirit stuff, there is spirit affliction, it isn’t a matter of metaphor and symbol, or even psychology.”
When we hear these stories, we have to admit that there are some things that science just cannot explain. We have good reasons to believe in the supernatural. Our limited 5-sensed human understanding of the world does not capture most of reality.
This raises questions which are out of the scope of this sermon such as if miracles are possible then why do they seem so random? Why heal some people but not others? For more on questions like this, you should check out Greg’s book Is God to Blame . The world is much more complicated than we can understand or explain, but the one thing we can trust is that even though the appearance of miracles may seem inconsistent, God is not arbitrary or capricious.
Our expectations shape our experiences. While some people go too far and attribute every little occurrence to miracles, doing the opposite and denying their reality entirely is also flawed. And with this, one thing is certain, if we don’t believe in possibility of miracles, we won’t be praying for them, and we most likely won’t be seeing them. The faith of the New Testament is very much a supernatural faith. The possibility of the supernatural is supposed to be a part of our experience and belief system. We have to be open to things we don’t understand.
Many of us can attest to supernatural things happening in our lives- healings, the presence of God, etc. It becomes very obvious that it was a “God thing.” Most people intuitively agree that science can’t explain everything, and that is because it simply was not meant to.
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