We sometimes read in newspapers or hear from the news on television “A child fell from the fifth floor and didn’t die!” or “A person survived a plane crash and came out without even a scratch!” These events, although familiar to us, cannot be explained by the laws of physics, chemistry, or biology. We then witness, in bewilderment, the attempts of scholars trying to race to find scientific(!) interpretations for these events.
These “interpretations” attempt to show that there is no such thing as a miracle and that everything in the world obeys the immutable laws of nature. According to such a view, all miracles narrated by the Holy books either must be reinterpreted, or if this is not possible-rejected.
The use of science as an argument against the possibility of the extraordinary acts of God is conceptually incorrect; today’s science starts from the assumption of the impossibility of miracles. In other words, scientists believe that miracles are impossible. Yet, a belief in the opposite is no less a legitimate position to adopt. Therefore, science’s statement that miracles are impossible is based on the assumption that they are impossible; this is not a logically acceptable argument.
There is a need to prepare the ground for such arguments by considering the definitions of science and its method. We have to realize the limits of the scientific method that is based on observations and experiments. The reliability of the human mind and its perception and the relativity of time are some of other issues that need to be considered.
Whatever happens around us is normally bound to a time scale. Billions of living creatures are born every day; some by cell division, others through the long process of pregnancy. Since these events abound in nature we consider them to be normal, nothing extraordinary. On the contrary, if we were to witness a child being conceived and born in one minute, as if someone had pressed the fast forward button, we would be amazed. In this case, a miracle would have occurred, not by the violation of the cause and effect principle, but rather from a change in time scale. Thus, our familiarity with phenomena is very important in distinguishing between a miracle and a non-miracle.
Science is based on what we can observe and what is understood from these observations by making generalizations. First of all, we cannot observe every moment and every place in the universe. Our experiments are limited in space and time. For example, if all experiments done by us confirmed Newton’s second law, F=ma, we still would not be able to rigorously prove that this law still holds true in some distant galaxy. We could not even prove that it were true for Earth throughout all of its history; it is not possible to say that that things happened in such and such way simply because they happen in that way today! However, at this point the scientific method with all its pros and cons comes into play to assert that this law is true for all of the Universe, for all of its past and future. This fact alone is enough to demonstrate that science has its limits.
Many miracles of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, happened in the presence of many of his followers or enemies. The splitting of the Moon, walking trees, and talking stones were just a few. One could try to explain these by saying that the people who witnessed them had undergone hypnosis or were having dreams; however there are miracles that resulted in people being able to drink water from his fingers or plenty of food emerging from a small amount. It is impossible to deceive one’s friends with a small lie even for a short time (the cold fusion scandal of 1989 should be a good example!); how could somebody possibly deceive thousands of enemies for fourteen hundred years? Thus, it is impossible to deny the authenticity of the miracles of Prophet Muhammad.
Before the advent of positivism, miracles were used as a powerful means to convince people in the truth of religions. Prophet Jesus was born without a father, Prophet Moses parted the sea and crossed it without drowning, Prophet Abraham emerged unharmed from the fire and Prophet Muhammad split the Moon and ascended to the Heavens; these are among the most prominent examples of miracles.
However, nowadays because of scientific “terror” people are afraid even to mention miracles. People have been so affected by scientific dogma that everything unusual is categorized as being nothing more than a “fairy tale.” The reason for this historical error is the inability of science to draw a demarcating line between observations and interpretations to date.
Positivism has its roots in the 16th century and thus all religions were affected by its destructive dogma. Before that time, people made explanations for natural phenomena, saying “a seed starts to evolve to produce a tree, it rains because the tree needs water, and the tree produces fruit because people need to eat,” or other simplistic explanations.
The realization of the fact that the same phenomenon can be interpreted in several ways brought up the question of what the mechanism was that lay behind the process. This in turn lead people to discover the cause and effect relationship inherent in nature. As a result, ordinary events were interpreted as happening without any interference from God, leaving the concept of God to be found only in the realm of miracles. However, the next century was to come with even more destructive dogmas, presented under the guise of science.
The modern usage of the term “laws of nature” was first coined in the 17th century. Scientists of the time believed that physical and biological systems were self-regulating and God was only “the first cause” capable of changing the laws of nature. However, Locke and Hume argued on the basis of Newton’s physics that the natural laws were unchangeable and hence miracles were impossible. In the 17th century, with its notion of an impotent God, the foundation of religious beliefs was shattered, but not to the same extent as happened in the 19th century.
In the 19th century, developments in quantum physics brought about new points of view. The already existing notion of an impotent God made people suppose that Divine Power was limited to conducting probabilities. When it was discovered that particle motion and interactions were based on probability, they began to think that God’s power was limited at the micro level, as well as believing that He was unable to change physical laws or work miracles.
Nowadays, the biologic uncertainty that was produced by molecular biology and “the exploratory journeys” into the depths of the cell has caused a significant debate, particularly in the discipline of sociobiology. In biology, you can arrive at a decision based on statistics. However, it is impossible to reach a result that is as precise and universally accepted as a formula in physics; this is because living systems maintain their lives in a continuously changing, but stable dynamic equilibrium. For example, we cannot say that there are 763 pores on the leaf of an apple tree, or that there are 5,891,633 erythrocytes in a cubic millimeter of blood, but we can express some relations based on some approximations and averages.
Having said this, we cannot tie the situation of miracles to the principle of uncertainty; in an inorganic physical world there is a much stronger determinacy than there is in biology. For instance, an apple that is separated from the tree falls to the ground because of gravity. However, we encounter large uncertainty when we get to the level of subatomic particles. Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty states this very clearly. Therefore, if we were to descend to the subatomic level for miracles like the splitting of the Red Sea or the division of the Moon that were witnessed in the inorganic world, we come across an indeterminacy of physical laws rather than a determinacy. In fact, it may not be correct to call this uncertainty, because although it may be uncertain for us, it is not uncertain for the Creator; therefore, it may be better to call this determinacy based on the knowledge, will, power, and free choice of the Creator.
In order to form a common ground or argument against miracles, it would be necessary to say that all rumors are incorrect and to refuse to believe all the people who claimed that they had witnessed these miracles. However, scientists have concluded that the rumors are false only because they think that miracles are impossible; namely, they remain in the same vicious circle. Yet, according to the main principle of logic, just one confirmation against thousands of denials is enough to be a proof. For example, if one person were to find a black swan, even if one million people claim that there is no such thing as a black swan and even if they say that they have searched the entire world, all these claims about the nonexistence of the black swan will be refuted. The miracles of the prophets took place for the most part in front of large crowds and have been transmitted to us as centuries as real events, not just rumors that can be disproved.
Hume’s point of view attacking miracles has been shown to be lacking valid support as well. According to Hume, every event has a unique cause and the event can be explained if this unique cause is known. Logically this is an erroneous view. One event may have multiple causes; in particular, causes that influence the events that occur in the dimension belonging to the different layers of living beings do not have to be confined to material events. Causes that are of a different nature that affect the same object may produce different outcomes; the same causes, on the other hand, may generate different outcomes because of a hidden characteristic of the object that is beyond the range of our knowledge. These elements are not controversial; on the contrary, they complement each other. By the same reasoning, it does not go against being “scientific” to explain miracles as being a product of Divine Power rather than a result of an incorrect observation or an unknown cause. Moreover, such an interpretation does not need a cause and effect relationship that will continue as a chain.
Medawar points out precisely that scientific understanding has limits “. . . The last questions of Karl Popper are even now being asked by children. How did everything begin? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Rigid and fanatical positivism did not consider these questions as real questions or neglected them. According to positivism these questions are only asked by the stupid, and only charlatans dare to answer them. However, the avoidance of these questions does not satisfy people because they are meaningful both for the people asking them and for the ones trying to answer them. It is a universally accepted fact that it is not in the realm of science to provide answers to such questions. As a matter of fact, the scientific approach has some definite limits.”
When we consider miracles, we can apply this approach as follows: it is impossible to verify or refute the miracles based on scientific measures. Moreover, the fact that we understand the mechanism behind a miracle does not prevent it from being a miracle.
In conclusion, it is easy to deny the possibility of miracles by finding scientific interpretations for them. However, to go down the opposite road is more profitable. Realizing that the refutation of miracles is no more scientific than the acceptance of them and that there is considerable evidence in their support will urge us to understand the limits of science and its methods.
An Argument on Miracles
- By Arif Sarsilmaz
- Category: Issue 47 (July - September 2004)
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