Miracles1 and the Uniformity of Nature2
- Many today reject the Biblical accounts of miracles because men of science, having examined nature with great care, have discovered that it has certain laws which it obeys. It is reasoned that if miracles were to be permitted, this regularity would not be observed, and one could never tell what would happen the next day.
- It is not a question of nature obeying laws but of behaving (from the human point-of-view) in a predictable and reducible way. The fact that uniformity is observed in the large is not a reasonable objection against there having been deviations from it on certain exceptional occasions.
- The concept of order, regularity, and in general, uniformity of natural order is a Biblical concept. God promises the regularity of seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. (Gen. 8:22). Jeremiah affirms that the sun, moon and stars fulfill their function because they move according to the ordinances which God controls. (Jer. 31:35,36). The regularity of night and day is called a covenant of God which cannot be broken. (Jer. 33:20). See also Job 38:8-11; Psa. 104:8,9; Prov. 8:29.
- Men have discovered that in most of their researches it is possible to discover nature doing precisely the same things in precisely the same circumstances. But it cannot be assumed from this that "all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3:4, R.S.V.). That is, one cannot logically extrapolate to say that there is an inviolable set of laws, which it is impossible for events to transgress. There is not the omnibus of knowledge required to justify such a statement. Scientific law is a systematized approach to the complex interrelations of the universe. It is not a handbook to tell us what cannot happen. The relativity of scientific law is illustrated in the revision of Newtonian laws which was required by Einstein's "theory of relativity."
- Belief in the "uniformity of nature" is in itself an act of faith and not of logic. It requires the projection backwards of the regularity observed in the present as well as predicting future events on the basis of the past. Although many regularities in nature are observed these observations only cover a minute fraction of the events that actually go on and have gone on. The observations are, therefore, of no use unless one believes in the uniformity of nature - i.e., that nature behaves in the same way when it is not being observed.3
- Biblical claims of miracles cannot, therefore be dismissed a priori (beforehand) as violations of "the law of uniformity of nature." Uniformity of nature is a belief, not a scientific law.
- "Miracle" as used here, refers to the direct operation of God's power in such a manner as to be an arresting deviation from the ordinary sequence of nature. Return
- Uniformity of nature is the belief that present causes solely have operated in the past. The concept was popularized by Charles Lyell in his text, Principles of Geology, 11th ed. rev.; (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1892) I, pp. 317-318. Uniformitarinism has been accepted in all major centers of scientific learning. Darwin built his theory of organic evolution upon the uniformatarian foundation. Return
- C.S. Lewis in Miracles, (London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1947) makes the same point as follows: "Experience, therefore, cannot prove uniformity because uniformity has to be assumed before experience proves anything. It is no good saying, 'each fresh experience confirms our belief in uniformity and therefore, we reasonably expect that it will always be confirmed', for that argument works only on the assumption that the future will resemble the past - which is simply the assumption of uniformity under a new name. Can we say that uniformity is at any rate very probable? Unfortunately not, we have just seen that all probability depends on it. Unless nature is uniform, nothing is either probable or improbable, and clearly the assumption which you have to make before there is any such thing as probability cannot itself be probable . . . " pp. 106-107. Return