How does the success of science offer an objection to religious miracles?



I see today many newspaper columnists etc. say that atheism is a faith as much as any religious one. But surely (I say to myself) the success of science makes any religious claim about a supposed miracle, highly questionable.

I'm not asking whether miracles are impossible, exactly, but wanted to read a good argument - ideally one which is available to the atheist in the street - against any particular miracle. The resurrection, for example.


Posted 2015-10-24T18:19:18.833


1You don't argue against miracles. You refute these. Miracles never happen. – John Am – 2015-10-24T18:21:06.833

@JohnAm i think i get what you mean, the best explanation of the resurrection e.g. – None – 2015-10-24T18:24:57.263

What resurrection? – John Am – 2015-10-24T18:25:43.847

Religious miracles just don't happen. They are similar to green horses. Only science produce "miracles" after a lot of work. In general only straight work create miracles and in that case they are not miracles these are just products of painstaking work. – John Am – 2015-10-24T18:36:16.950

i agree, but just wanted an argument for the sake of it – None – 2015-10-24T18:38:51.623

In which answer do you refer? I haven't posted any answer... – John Am – 2015-10-25T09:04:28.663

1Considering the resurrection: some people (e.g. Gerald O'Collins; Rethinking Fundamental Theology) claim the resurrection is significantly different from miracles. There are important differences between how miracles are narrated in the Gospels and how the Easter appearances are narrated. The latter have some sort of ordinarity over them. Furthermore, the resurrection itself isn't described. That doesn't invalidate your question of course, I'm just not sure if the resurrection is the best example here. – None – 2015-10-25T09:04:38.747

I believe that this is your perception. If i judge from your "questions" then please stop patronizing me.

– John Am – 2015-10-25T09:11:35.287

@Keelan If you prefer we may chat about this. I can't write more in the comments – John Am – 2015-10-25T09:45:30.117

@JohnAm Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– None – 2015-10-25T10:41:36.623

1Every religion resists the miracles of all other religions. When Moses turned sticks into snakes, it was a miracle. Later, the Jews are warned off all forms of magic, witches and sorcerers. So that snake trick, was it OK, or not? Oh, OUR tricks are miracles, YOURS are tricks! – None – 2015-10-25T21:39:26.923



Until science fully explains the self, it is impossible for science to make the claim "miracles cannot occur," for there is a region of reality which they do not fully explain, so it would be folly to claim that which they do not know. You have to know everything about everywhere to make a negative claim such as "X does not exist."

That being said, science is very comfortable claiming things which it has no right to claim, and then falsifying them later. That's a very powerful feature of science. Science has no problem saying "there are no miracles," and then changing their stance when proof of a miracle occurs.

EDIT: From a lengthy chat with John Am, its clear there are many definitions of "miracle," and which one you wish to use affects the answer. This answer presumes what I will call a "soft miracle," which is one which is unsatisfactorily answered by the laws of science. Compare to a "hard miracle" which is one that, by science's laws, is provably impossible

Cort Ammon

Posted 2015-10-24T18:19:18.833

Reputation: 16 681

if a miracle could be scientifically explained then i assumed it wouldn't be a miracle. wouldn't it be the job of a philosopher to show that everything can be, and for science to offer an explanation of any particular report? – None – 2015-10-25T01:32:18.253

ah i think i just don't understand, maybe add some references whatever – None – 2015-10-25T01:47:54.973

Ahh, i think I misread. I was trying to argue that miracles can exist in the presence of science. Now that I'm reading your question, it's not that lofty... it looks like you're just asking us to pick a miracle of our choosing and try to beat it to death with science? – Cort Ammon – 2015-10-25T02:05:28.103

i don't know tbh, i don't know what is so base about asking whether there have ever been any miracles. i'm not asking about the metaphysics of it, so am less interested in whether they can exist, only if they do – None – 2015-10-25T02:09:37.053

In that case, in formal language, define "miracle." – Cort Ammon – 2015-10-25T02:22:06.320

i'm fine with the "not in nature's power" idea – None – 2015-10-25T02:23:29.470

Are your acts "in nature's power?" – Cort Ammon – 2015-10-25T02:24:03.307

i believe the self is a natural thing which maybe can't be explained or at least fully understood in natural terms. sorry for my poor phrasing, it's been some time since i read on this – None – 2015-10-25T02:26:04.810

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– Cort Ammon – 2015-10-25T02:26:33.573

"You have to know everything about everywhere to make a negative claim" What an absurd idea... – John Am – 2015-11-06T16:07:19.317

@JohnAm Go on. Explain what you mean. – Cort Ammon – 2015-11-06T17:47:55.420

It's obviously wrong. What else to say. That way you can't make any negative claim... – John Am – 2015-11-06T17:59:09.833

@JohnAm Forgive me if, on a philosophy forum, I'm not inclined to accept "It's obviously wrong" as a proof of a claim. You obviously have some concept of what must certainly be, and my statement runs afoul of it, but unless you expound upon your claim more, your claim can never be any more meaningful than a claim defended by "It's obviously wrong." – Cort Ammon – 2015-11-06T18:01:13.863

I can make negative claims without knowing everything about everywhere. Negative claims are very common. So i don;t have to explain, but you have to provide your reason for such a irrational claim. – John Am – 2015-11-06T18:02:41.003

@JohnAm There we go. Now there's something to work from. Perhaps I can clarify now. You're correct that anyone can make any claim at any time. Would it help if I adjusted my phrase to "You have to know everything about everywhere to make a negative claim such as 'X does not exist.' and be able to defend this claim as true using empirical evidence."? – Cort Ammon – 2015-11-06T18:07:23.577

No it wouldn't. Because the priority lies in the side of someone that affirms the existence of something. First you give your proofs about something that is considered as valid and after that someone else may try to deny this proof. If this isn't the case we would have to disproof an infinity of false objects. – John Am – 2015-11-06T18:12:43.140

@JohnAm Is there a material difference between how science would deal with "unicorns do not exist" and "there exists a reason why unicorns do not exist?" – Cort Ammon – 2015-11-06T18:18:16.933

"unicorns do not exist" implies, that there is a reason, unicorns do not exist – John Am – 2015-11-06T18:19:49.717

@JohnAm So you have stated that the priority lies on the side of someone that affirms the existence of something. However, this also implies that the phrase "affirms the existence of something" is important. By your rules, it decides whether a claim has priority or not. So how do I determine if my statement affirms the existence of something or not? From my example with the unicorns, it is clear that my intuitive sense of how to phrase existence questions does not line up with the ruleset you propose. – Cort Ammon – 2015-11-06T18:22:27.750

If you say "this is a unicorn", you affirm the existence of something, if you say "there are no unicorns" you deny it. To be able to say "there are no unicorns" someone before must have claimed that "unicorns exist someway". – John Am – 2015-11-06T18:26:08.537

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– John Am – 2015-11-06T18:29:12.837


If divine interventions (and thus miracles) are allowed, then the time and position at which they happen become distinguished, hence violating the laws of physics (if it were not, then it wouldn't be extra-natural, and could therefore be interpreted as part of "normal" life supposedly explainable by science). Thus, it would break the invariance of the laws of physics by time and space translation (no preserved energy or momentum, not even locally), and consequently distinguish both a point in space-time from any others, and a frame where the events happen at rest. It would also introduce a new form of dynamics and change: acausality, which is pretty scary.

In this respect, it is either our belief that there is no privileged inertial frames in physics that is a misconception, either the believe that divine intervention seen as extra-natural events can occur.

Now, not everything is explainable by science (thus the distinction between what is extra-natural and what is not is ill-defined - think about consciousness and life), nor the absence of divine intervention is killing the concept of a transcending "god" (in a weakened sense), with absolute moral and so on (encoded into existence through consciousness, feelings, ...).

My belief is that atheism as a rejection of any form of "supreme authority*" transcending the individuals and belonging to a deeper level of existence is much more naive than our usual religions. The success of science actually offers a much stronger objection to atheism and nihilism than it rejects the existence of some weaken form of god. "A little science estranges men from God, but much science leads them back to Him"

* the laws of existence itself (of physics, of reasoning, ...) are like that, try jumping from the 10th floor and see if you don't crash yourself on the ground.


Posted 2015-10-24T18:19:18.833

Reputation: 252

you seem to pick a miraculous event and show it cannot happen, and then generalise to anything similarly scary. is that right ? – None – 2015-10-25T17:48:18.180

I show that if our conception of physics is a conception we don't want to abandon (preservation of energy, momentum, causality, ...), then any form of divine intervention that goes against it cannot happen. This does not rule out any form of "indirect" divine intervention, either by something encoded in nature itself (and its laws), or in the parts of life that are in any case not explained by science (consciousness for example). – sure – 2015-10-25T19:37:40.507


Winch has suggested based on Wittgenstein's analysis of a miracle as a "gesture" of God

If Winch is correct, then the skeptic, who seeks to show that a putative miracle has a natural cause, is proceeding in the wrong direction—but then so is the theist who tries to show that the event cannot be explained scientifically. Such a theist commits the same error as one would who thinks that in order to show that a particular gesture is a bow, we must show that no physiological explanation can be given for it.

But if we agree with Salmon that we explain something when we know

  • it had to happen

I'm not sure that I can agree that explaining a miracle leaves a place God's agency.

Whether or not we have a perfectly good explanation of the sorts of claims that report on miracles (sudden bravery, or change of heart, reports from reliable people, etc.) is up to you, I guess.


Posted 2015-10-24T18:19:18.833



I distinctly remember Juan Smith telling people in an interview that doctors told him that he would never play rugby again after tearing his Achilles tendon a second time.

He is currently playing for Toulon. Lets we think that things scientist say will never happen do happen. I know only anecdotal evidence at best but still I think it has some worth to the discussion we are having.

Neil Meyer

Posted 2015-10-24T18:19:18.833

Reputation: 2 161


The biologist Stephen Gould had a theory of non-overlapping magisteria for the truths of science as opposed to religion.

An update of this can be found in Badiou where he posits four sites of not truth but truth-procedures: love, art, politics and science.

Notably and curiously as he is a philosopher, philosophy is missing in this account - but this is simply because he takes philosophy to be dialectic and Socratic; and the clay from which these sites were fashioned.

The logic that ties these sites and their suspension is not classical but intuitive, paraconsistent and progressive (in Whitehead - dynamic).

Notably again religion is missing from this account - and one might remark here that Badiou being explicitly communist has the common communist prejudice against religion; one cannot say because it is not scientific - for art is not scientific either.

One can perhaps locate an additional site for religion fashioned from the other four:

From Love: revelation or unveiling, and the relationship of personal involvement, as in Bubers I-Thou; luminousity and personal transcendence; also community - agape

From Politics: the clearing of space so that it's being can be, sought or defended

From Art: the numinous and the archetype; ritual and tradition; the positing of worlds other than this

From science: scholarship, exegesis, and hermeneutics.

Then religion having its own truth-procedure is neither denied nor affirmed by science (though in some senses it can be).

If this seems rather as though the issue is being ducked; recall the logic that ties these sites including now religion together is paraconsistent and dynamic.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2015-10-24T18:19:18.833

Reputation: 1

1ok, i don't mind the inconsistencies, but i don't know what to do with them. – None – 2015-10-25T02:10:06.207