John Perry and Ken Taylor

Today I was listening to one of my favorite radio shows: Philosophy Talk. It is hosted by John Perry and Ken Taylor, philosophy professors from Stanford University. This week’s show was on miracles (see here). They discussed whether or not a rational person can believe in miracles. Of course, I consider myself rational (though not a rationalist), but I do believe that miracles can happen and that sometimes they do happen. That being said, I think that much of what we call miracles can be explained by the laws of nature. Let me give you a few of examples:

(1) In the Exodus narrative when Moses leads the Hebrews through the Red Sea this is something that doesn’t happen every day. If we accept the details of the story it is quite odd that the wall of water collapsed after the Hebrews had crossed and the Egyptians had begun their journey across the way. It seems that God must have been involved, but did God do this miracle without using any of the laws of nature? What if God used a particular stream of wind at a very high pace that could be measured by scientist had they been present? This would allow the laws of nature to explain how it happened, but not why it happened. Those who believe in God would point to God as the cause of the measurable effects, even if how God as the cause of the effect could not be measured, only the effect.

(2) Some of the demonic oppression described in the Gospels sounds a lot like epilepsy. People in the days of Jesus would have understood the demonic, but not the medical condition. In our world today people understand the medical condition, but most denounce the demonic. If we can observe something happening to someone and the physical signs point toward epilepsy must we completely exclude some immeasurable, spiritual force at work? Could an epileptic be troubled by the demonic so that what is happening spiritually results in physical stimulation to the body? We could explain what was happening in the body, but we would never be able to explain what was happening elsewhere. If Jesus was given power to deal with that exterior influence could people have measured the physical changes as he did the miracle had they had the technology?

(3) When I was a young boy I had chronic asthma. I was often in the hospital. I used a large breathing machine that asthmatics today have replaced with tiny little pocket size breathing spray tools (a miracle of sorts). During one particularly bad fit my mother took me outside, prayed for me, I puked, and I never had another asthma attack. My mother kept medicine around for sometime, but it never happened again. I cannot remember the medical explanation that one person gave me, but let us assume that it could be measured and explained. The how is there, but the why–especially as my mother is praying followed by something as odd as puking–seems quite odd to be a coincidence.

As we think on these examples let us assume some things considered miracles can be explained by science to some extent, does that invalidate them as miracles? What are your thoughts? Does a miracle have to be something where there could never be a natural explanation of some of the phenomena or can there be a natural explanation of some of the phenomena?