I recently had a dinner table conversation with my son, after he had finished his medical studies. He made it clear that he was not able to believe some of the miracles in the Bible, especially healings, as he found himself unable to defend them to his colleagues in the medical profession. His particular objections had to do with the 10 plagues of Egypt from the Book of Exodus, the sun standing still at the command of Joshua from the Book of Joshua and possibly some of the healing related miracles from the New Testament.
My eyes were opened up to the probability that many Christians like my son were embarrassed by these incidents. A few have tried to attribute some of these miracles to natural factors – the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah as the result of an earthquake, the red sea being parted by a strong wind or the drying of the Jordan river by a landslide. Even though there are many natural causes that seem plausible, many Biblical miracles cannot be accounted for by natural causes – five loaves and two fishes, healing of leprosy, an iron axe head floating on water or even for the fire coming down from heaven.
Scientific minds are quick to question miracles – can they be believed? Pertinent queries like these need to be addressed with clear answers, that denying the miraculous means denying the God of the Bible. Richard Dawkins tweeted recently on people who believe Jesus turned water into wine. He questions how such people were able to hold down a job in the 21st century. In order for someone to be able to hold down a job, they could not be rational and evangelical at the same time. Sweeping statements like the above by scientists like him have the power to influence minds worldwide, especially those who have not been able to reconcile matters of faith and science.
Many atheistic scientists discount the possibility of miracles due to their belief that Bible was written in the pre-scientific age, for people who were willing to believe in miracles, in a time when lightning and earthquake were seen as divine action. And now that natural explanations are available for most phenomena, we don’t feel the need to believe in miracles. However, science has continuously reaffirmed that the God of the Bible is not a god of the gaps, who seems to vanish a little bit more with every new scientific discovery.
David Hume, a prominent Scottish philosopher, vehemently opposed miracles. He claimed that miracles were violations of the laws of nature and as miracles are outside of our experience, they are impossible. However, that is a misleading caricature. Hume evaluated the possibility of miracles based on a subjective claim, that miracles are not possible because they were not within the sphere of his experience. A miracle can be defined as an event that cannot be explained by natural processes or phenomena, which requires a supernatural agent to perform it. Miracles are rare events by nature. It’s therefore not surprising that most people have never witnessed a miracle. This line of reasoning is circular in nature – because I have not seen something, it does not exist and it does not exist because I have not seen this thing. My grandmother, who was from the deep southern part of Tamil Nadu, advocated her belief in the non-existence of snow through this very type of reasoning!
Strangely enough, a majority of the world’s population, including the secular Western world, believes in miracles. A survey among doctors in America revealed that over half of them have witnessed a miracle that could not be explained by natural phenomena. The 2009 Pew Research Centre survey puts the figure of people who have experienced a miracle at 49% and the 2000 BBCs Soul of Britian Survey puts it at 76%. The naturalistic mind set finds it difficult to believe in miracles, unless and until they experience it. About 12 years ago, I experienced something that changed my mind set on miracles. While working out at a gym, I tore my meniscus and my knee and leg swelled up badly. I found it painful to walk even for a short distances After an MRI, I was advised to undergo a surgery. I couldn’t come to grips with undergoing any kind of surgery. As a new believer in Christ, I had just then started reading the Bible and discovered Jesus’ power to heal everyone who touched Him, I took the Bible verse, “By His Stripes, I am healed” literally and prayed that I should be healed through the 39 lashes that He experienced in my place. The day I was scheduled to go for surgery, my swelling came down and eventually, went away completely. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself not needing surgery anymore.
Every believer can expect miracles to happen in their lives on a daily basis. C.S. Lewis said that the Supernatural is not remote and abstruse; it is a matter of daily and hourly experience. And Christianity is the only religion that depends, for its overall coherence, on the authenticity of miracles. The core of Christianity always remains entirely miraculous or supernatural. Christian miracles are different from miracles advocated by other faiths, in that they show divine invasion by a powerful force which is loving and personal, and not alien and dangerous. God does not perform miracles to amaze and astound people; Jesus refused to perform miracles to satisfy people’s curiosity. Moved by His love and mercy, God performs miracles to testify to the truth of God being revealed in His son, Jesus, and to confirm the authority of those sent by God. Miracles can be viewed as “signs” of the kingdom; a foretaste of the promised future when God would restore and renew creation.
The second objection of Hume is that miracles are a violation of the laws of nature. Centuries ahead of Hume’s time, Thomas Aquinas stated that a miracle is an event beyond the powers of natural order. Miracles happen when an agent from outside of the natural world does something within, which the natural world could not have generated through its own regularity.
C.S. Lewis said that miracles are the evidences of the existence of an intelligent being, which is superior to men. Miracles can only be understood as a concept, when we begin with the premise of the existence of an Almighty God. If God actually exists, He can, from outside of the realm of the natural world, perform acts within the natural world, which are perceived to be impossible. I recently set up a bird cage in my house and have put beautiful love birds in it. Since I often go out of station, I have made a provision through some mechanical structures to feed and water them in the morning and in the evening. This mechanism sustains my birds. The birds have started to feel that this is the norm. The birds know only the laws that govern their natural world, the cage. But they do not understand my involvement in their world. If I come to the cage in the middle of the night, open the cage from the back and try to clean it, the birds might feel like someone is intruding on their natural world. I have the right to act as per the natural law by which I have set up the cage. I also have the right to act in ways abnormal to the birds, by opening up the cage and cleaning it. Similarly, God, who is the source of this world and us, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, normally acts in the world through the natural laws of Physics, Biology, and Chemistry. But He occasionally acts in ways abnormal to us, by His intruding in His world. The laws of nature are channelled according to His say so and He intervenes because of His love.
God has the capacity to heal the sick, part the Red Sea and change water into wine. He can become incarnate as a human being, the most incredible miracle of all. Other than this miracle of incarnation, and the event of creation, the grandest miracle of all time is the miracle of resurrection of Jesus. This miracle is the foundation of our faith, as it is proof of the immortality of the soul. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is incredible and is based on very solid evidence. Jesus death on the cross was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. This was confirmed by the observation of ‘blood and water’ that came from Jesus’ pierced side. The case for the resurrection of Jesus relies on the witness of the apostles, the disciples, the women and St Paul, apart from the writings of secular historians of the time like Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus and Lucian, etc. There were as many as 500 people who saw Him at one gathering, after His crucifixion and before His resurrection. The rapid spread of Christianity after Christ’s death, and the martyrdom of the Christians across time suggest a living power behind the resurrection story that compelled many to follow Jesus Christ, even to the point of death.
However, naturalists claim that the resurrection is one of the many miracles that violate the laws of nature, specifically the law of conservation of matter and energy and so, it could not have happened. This is because of the belief that the laws of nature are deterministic and so, they cannot be violated. However, with the advent of modern science and due to the revolution in quantum physics in this century, it is found that the universe and the laws of nature are probabilistic, not deterministic.
As per the quantum world, irregularities are allowed; deviations from the ordinary workings of nature are permitted. Natural anomalies can exist as possibilities. While carrying out the design of the Tunnel diode, a low noise amplifier, I found this interesting phenomenon called Quantum Tunneling, in which a particle tunnels through a barrier that it cannot surmount. This can be compared to a ball trying to roll over a hill. Classical Mechanics predicts that a ball without sufficient energy to surmount the hill would roll back down as there is no possibility for such violation of the law of conservation of energy. However, in Quantum Mechanics, there is a very small possibility that the ball can roll over the hill. In this case, the particles can cross the barrier and tunnel to the other side. Quantum Tunnelling plays an essential role in several other physical phenomena, such as the nuclear fusion that occurs in stars like the Sun, in quantum computing, etc.
Tunnelling can be explained using the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. It states that the position and velocity of an object cannot be known precisely at the same time. This implies that it is possible to violate the law of conservation of energy, provided it is for a very short time, where tunnelling is concerned. Now, one may wonder if this uncertainty is a function of our ignorance or inabilities or if it is a characteristic of the system. This question was the reason for the debate between Albert Einstein and Neil Bohr. Einstein argued that the uncertainty was about a function of our inability and our ignorance to describe certain phenomenon. On the other hand, Bohr argued that the uncertainty was an innate fundamental characteristic feature of the system. Einstein was proved wrong. When one is talking about very short intervals of time, there are large uncertainties in the energy of a system. If there is a built-in uncertainty, indeterminacy, unpredictability to Nature, then the Lord of the Universe too can suspend or violate the laws of nature, for a short period, if He so wills it.
Though the laws of nature have been formulated based on what we have observed in the past, it is surprising to know that they have changed during the history of science. James Clerk Maxwell, who was acknowledged by Albert Einstein as the man who changed the world forever, modified the Ampere’s law by the introduction of displacement current to ensure the conservation of change and unified Electricity, Magnetism and Optics. Einstein’s theory of Relativity punched a hole in Newton’s logic and predicted that a mass can warp space and gravity as a natural outcome of the mass’s existence in space, in addition to Newton’s understanding of gravity as an ever present force that all objects exert on nearby objects. A single fact can disprove a well-established theory. Our discoveries and understanding of science seem to evolve but the God of Creation knows all at a glance.
Many naturalists are intrigued by the fact that a God who is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, can actually exist. Richard Dawkins in his book, ‘The God Delusion’ states that “A god who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such Bandwidth!” In fact, he sees the idea of an all-powerful God, who has an on-going connection with all of His people simultaneously, as a joke. But again, quantum mechanics has proved him wrong. The basic entities which God has created in His universe, exhibits this idea.
In 1935, Einstein was forced to ask a profound question about nature that whether or not objects are only influenced by their nearby environment, because he and his colleagues had found a very interesting phenomenon. The wave equation implied that once measured, two entangled particles, could somehow instantly communicate, much faster than the speed of light, to link up their states. This curious phenomenon called as Quantum entanglement occurs when two particles remain connected, even over large distances, in such a way that actions performed on one particle have an effect on the other. For instance, when two electrons become entangled, they are perfectly correlated, when you observe one, the other one will always be opposite; if one particle is spun in a clockwise direction, the result on the second particle would be an equal anti-clockwise spin. This effect is instantaneous, even if the other electron is in a rocket at the other end of the galaxy; this possibility upset Einstein so much so that he discounted this as “spooky action.”
Exactly 80 years later, a team of scientists, led by Professor Ronald Hanson from Delft University of Technology, performed the Loophole-free Bell test, the ultimate test against Einstein’s worldview, which was published in Nature Today recently. The scientists found that two electrons, separated by 1.3 km from each other on the Delft University campus, can indeed have an invisible and instantaneous connection; the spooky action was proved to be real. Recently, it was found that quantum entanglement works over astonishingly large distances. Even when two entities were separated by 143 km that is 88 miles (between the Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife), they were still connected and found interacting with one another. When modern science has proved that particles can interact with each other even while separated with distance, one has to logically conclude that the God of the Universe can interact with all of His people instantaneously, in a much effective way, be it at a distance of infinity or zero.
Miracles give me great comfort. They are the proofs of the grand truth that a superior infinite power outside of the realm of nature that can supersede and counteract any other force exists. I am reassured that the universe is not exclusively under the control of the laws of nature and physical forces. Miracles in all forms tell us that a loving God who has the power to violate or suspend the laws of nature exists and that He periodically steps into time and space, to make Himself known through His supernatural acts. A supernatural display of divine power is not an arguable disposition but a dramatic, demonstrable fact.