If something is consistent with the laws of physics, can it be a miracle? If something behaves inconsistently with the laws of physics, does it prove that there is a God? Does a scientific explanation of an event say anything about the existence or non-existence of God?
Consider the statement, “The earthquake was caused by the contraction of the crust of the earth”. The statement in itself clearly says nothing about the existence or non-existence of God. Yet people have often read meaning into disastrous events, considering them to be ‘acts of God’.
Whilst they may be right, just over 2000 years ago a tower fell on eighteen people and killed them. At the time an investigation might have concluded that the tower fell due to subsidence of the foundations, or poor workmanship – there might have been a completely explainable ‘natural’ cause. Yet there were probably a number of people who thought that this was God’s judgement on those eighteen people. The event is referred to in the Bible, and we hear that Jesus spoke to the crowd saying, “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” Clearly Jesus didn’t consider this event to have been an act of God.
Let’s consider another sequence of events that was also described in the Bible. Jesus tells one of his followers to:
“go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” (Ref Matthew 17:27)
Clearly this might be explained by the following ‘natural’ sequence of events: A merchant on a quayside dropped some coins and one fell into the water. A fish happened to be attracted to the large shiny silver coin, and tried to eat it (we use such ‘lures’ to catch fish today). The coin got stuck in the fish’s mouth. The fish was rather hungry and particularly attracted to the bait on the disciple’s fishing line. The fish was caught on the disciple’s line and he found the coin. This explanation is fully consistent with the laws of science and our experience of the sorts of things that happen every day. But that’s not enough to satisfy us. We can’t believe that it just happened by chance.
So why do we find the event so surprising? Is it because we know that the particular chain of events is very unlikely? We know that people drop money. We know that fish are attracted to shiny objects and swallow them. We know that people catch fish. So to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth does not seem so very unlikely. Each event by itself is possible, although the complete chain of events becomes increasingly unlikely – I don’t personally recall hearing of anyone else who has caught a fish with a coin in its mouth. What makes the story special is that Jesus predicted that the first fish to be caught would have a coin in its mouth, and that he instructed the disciple to do such a strange thing in order to get the coin. We recognise that there must be a ‘fix’ going on somewhere.
Derren Brown has been filmed tossing coins. The film shows him tossing ten ‘heads’ in a row. The probability of that happening by chance is (0.5)10 = 1 in 1024. When we see something happening that has only a one in a thousand chance we know that there must be some fix, especially when we know the man is a conjurer – and yet we’ve seen it with our own eyes. The explanation is that he spent days being filmed tossing coins until the unlikely event actually came up. The difference in the story above is that Jesus only had one shot at getting it right.
Almost every week someone wins the lottery. The chance of there being a winner of the lottery is extremely high. Yet if a friend gave you a ticket in advance of the lottery and said “This ticket will win”, and then you did win you would know that the friend had fixed it in some way. If you knew that your friend was not a crook, but had your best interests in mind it might make you pay somewhat more attention to what he said in future.
The conclusion from all these examples is that it is quite possible for something to be fully consistent with the known behaviour of the matter in the universe and yet still require some explaining. Is there some sort of ‘fixing’ going on that we don’t know about?
Examples of ‘fixing’ are taken by many to be indication of there being a God; scientific evidence for God. And such examples may not contravene the laws of physics, but just be very unlikely events. As we look at the discoveries of science there is no point doubting the validity, but (depending on your starting point) some things seem to be incredibly unlikely. It is worth wondering, is there some sort of ‘fixing’ needed?