Miracles and Science

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I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga is known for reviving the presence of religion in philosophy, largely by countering prevailing attitudes that belief in God is not intellectually, philosophically or rationally plausible.

I learned about Plantigna as a college student studying philosophy of religion, so when I heard he would be lecturing in my town, I was extremely excited to engage with one of today’s leading thinkers. The lecture I attended focused on whether or not miracles, such as those recorded in the Bible, are necessarily and inherently untenable given the extent of current scientific knowledge.

Here is my summary of his argument:

Even in modern science (Newtonian) the world is not inherently or necessarily a causally closed system. Even Newton himself did not believe the system was causally closed. This means that something outside of the universe could act causally inside the universe.

We live, however, in a post-Newtonian world of relativity and quantum mechanics. The causal chains linking events are not as determined as we once thought. Everything is probabilistic. There is a probability that my computer could turn into a lamp. Or all the items in the room could bundle up into one small corner. The probability of any of these events is excruciatingly, mind-bogglingly small, yet the possibility exists. It is not impossible. It is not incompatible with science. There is nothing inherent within science that eliminates the possibility that if there is a God, that God could control these improbabilities.

The goal of Plantinga’s lecture was to dispel the myth that science and miracles are incompatible. His inclusion of post-Newtonian physics in his evaluation offers a much more satisfying clarification than C.S. Lewis’, though his treatment is a stimulating read.

Having recently finished Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I immediately thought of the improbability drive on the Heart of Gold. A fictional example, but great for analogy. God is able to participate causally in the universe such that quantumly improbable events occur according to his will.

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