Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Miracle

As we approach Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus many moderns voice serious doubts or even scoff at the notion that a miracle such as a dead man returning to life is credible. Miracles, many believe, are impossible. This would be true, perhaps, if we knew a priori that there is no God, but if it's possible that God exists then it's certainly the case that miracles are possible.

One objection to miracles is raised by the scientifically-minded who argue that a miracle would require either an input of energy to, or a subtraction of energy from, the universe. This, it's argued, would violate the law of conservation of energy and, since the laws of physics are inviolable, miracles are impossible.

There are at least three things wrong with this argument, however. First, it's not at all clear that the laws of nature are "inviolable." It may be that we can't violate them, but that doesn't mean that the Being which created them can't suspend them or override them should he so choose.

Second, it's not clear that a miracle actually is a violation of a law of nature. Physical laws are simply statements about the way nature operates so far as we have observed it. Suppose there is a law of nature that says that once a person has been truly dead for three days they do not return to life unless God wills it. If that were the proper formulation of the law then instances of resurrection would be exceedingly rare, so rare as to never be noticed by those who codify the laws of physics. Yet it would certainly be possible that on some few occasions, particularly in the case of Jesus, God wills a revivification, and, if so, a revivification would not be a violation of the law at all.

Thirdly, it turns out that the claim that a miracle violates the law of conservation of energy is false. On cosmic scales energy isn't conserved. Cosmologist Luke Barnes calls this "the dirty secret of cosmology."

Perhaps objections to miracles are really rooted in nothing more substantive than an argument from personal incredulity on the part of skeptics. They simply can't imagine the world being the kind of place where miracles are possible. Or, perhaps they don't want the world to be that kind of place. Miracles, being acts initiated by a supernatural agent, are incompatible with their naturalistic worldview and therefore, they reason, miracles must be ruled out.

In any case, the most consequential miracle in the history of the human race, if it indeed happened, will be celebrated tomorrow. It is The Miracle. For a relatively brief summary of the reasons for believing it did, in fact, happen and a consideration of popular alternative explanations see this post.