TCQ Week 3: Science and the Supernatural

Jun 19, 2024 | Creation, Manuscripts/Outlines

Last time, we paid special attention to the limits of science. In our quest to see whether science can disprove the Bible, we’ve seen that scientists often commit “category errors” and other logical jumps, taking them out of the realm of science and into philosophy.

In this lesson, we’ll explore that tension further by taking it to its logical conclusion. We’re going to deal with the seeming tension between science and the supernatural.

Many seem to think there is a necessary contradiction between a biblical worldview and our ability to do science. Critics often mock the Bible because it seems the Bible is set in a world where science is hardly a consideration, let alone possible.

We’ve already seen that the biblical worldview is not only a requirement to do science, we’ve also seen the facts of history—science arose out of a biblical worldview, not in spite of it.

Now, let’s explore from a more practical standpoint how the interplay between science and the supernatural shakes out.

Do Miracles Contradict Science?

David Hume was a well-respected 18th-century philosopher. His work is considered some of the most important when it comes to modern philosophical thought, particularly as it relates to the subjects of naturalism and skepticism.

He is perhaps most famous for his argument against miracles, which goes something like this:

  1. A miracle is a violation of the natural laws that are established by consistent and repeated human experience.
  2. Evidence should be weighed based on its probability, which is determined by past experience.
  3. Human testimony can be unreliable due to factors such as error, deceit, and exaggeration.
  4. When evaluating a miracle claim, one must consider:
    • The probability that the laws of nature have been violated.
    • The probability that the testimony is false or mistaken.
  5. Since the laws of nature are consistently observed, it is more likely that the testimony is incorrect rather than the laws of nature being violated.

For centuries, Hume’s argument against miracles was a cornerstone of anti-Christian philosophy. Hume’s argument is a strong one. Laws of nature seem pretty much inviolable, and yet we know human nature is quite fickle.

On Hume’s account, it’s simply more probabilistic that the biblical authors were making something up than to think the laws of nature were ever violated. And since Hume’s definition of a miracle was a violation of nature, case closed. Right?

This is a perfect example of why you should never take someone’s case at face value. Proverbs 18:17 says, “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.”

The King’s English is a bit difficult there, so here’s a paraphrase: “The first person to present their case may seem right, until someone else comes and questions them.”

That’s a biblical argument for cross-examination. What it assumes is that the “first person” may seem to have an airtight case, but there’s a fly in the ointment. Something’s off. And it will take someone to come along and question them to find out what it is.

Sometimes the problem with an argument is obvious. Sometimes it isn’t. In the case of Hume’s argument, the logic is flawed right from the get-go. Notice his definition of a miracle: “A violation of the laws of nature.”

One of my favorite Christian philosophers, Alvin Plantinga, has a saying: “Why think a thing like that?”

It’s a good question! Why think that a miracle must defy the laws of nature? Is there some specific logical contradiction between a miracle occurring and the laws of nature occurring? That doesn’t seem obvious to me.

What are the laws of nature, anyway, according to Hume? And in what specific scenario would a law of nature be violated by a miracle? These are the kind of questions we must ask to get to the bottom of issues people raise.

And when we consider what a law of nature actually is, a different picture emerges.

Dr. William Lane Craig more accurately describes how we arrive at them: “The laws of nature are idealizations of what will happen under certain given conditions.”

Here are a couple of common-sense examples:

  1. Because of gravity, if you drop a pen, it will fall to the ground. That’s unless you interfered by snatching it up with your other hand.
  2. Potassium and Chloride will combust when combined, but both are present in the human body and we seem to be fending off spontaneous combustion okay.

This is made possible by what are called ceteris paribus conditions (all things being equal). Put simply, the laws of nature have inherent conditions. If these conditions are not met, the law is not broken; it simply does not apply.

Craig summarizes the implications:

The laws of nature are idealizations that describe what will happen under certain conditions if no natural or supernatural factors are interfering with the idealized conditions implicit in the law. So when a miracle occurs, it doesn’t violate the laws of nature because the laws of nature describe what will happen if there is no supernatural agent interfering with the conditions. Therefore, miracles should not be considered to be violations of nature’s laws.

There is a further issue with Hume’s argument. He argued that no amount of evidence could ever establish a miracle because the improbability of the event itself would always outweigh the reliability of the testimony.

Since miracles, by definition, violate the laws of nature and are therefore incredibly improbable, according to Hume, it is always more rational to believe that the testimony is false than to believe that a miracle has occurred.

Dr Craig goes on to explain the problem with his approach:

“Probability theorists realized that if you simply compare the improbability of an event to the reliability of witnesses, you end up denying events we know actually happen. For example, the odds of winning the lottery are incredibly low, yet we still believe the news when it reports the winning number. Hume’s mistake was ignoring that you also need to consider how likely it is that the testimony would be as it is if the event didn’t happen. This means that even highly improbable events, like miracles, can be rationally believed if the evidence supporting them is strong enough. For instance, the probability that the morning news would announce a specific lottery number if it weren’t the actual winning number is incredibly small, making it reasonable to trust the report despite the low odds.”

Books like “Hume’s Abject Failure,” written by the secular philosopher of science, John Earman, show that Hume’s argument is Dead on Arrival and need not be taken seriously, despite the fact that you’ll still hear many “Internet Atheists” making his argument today.

Arguments For Miracles?

This leads naturally to another consideration: There is evidence for the miraculous! Hume only considered what is called the “prior probability”; meaning, the probably of the event occurring compared to its probability of violating the laws of nature before evaluating the evidence.

But that all changes once the evidence for the miracles enters the scene. The probability equation changes dramatically, then.

There are tomes dedicated entirely to miracle claims. A robust, yet lay-friendly approach can be found in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Miracles. I highly recommend reading.

For our purposes here, I’ll discuss two examples I like to use.


It should be clear by now that I do not personally believe in molecules-to-man evolution. But one line of argument I like to use often is called the reductio ad absurdum, or reduction to absurdity.

What it allows us to do is follow an argument all the way through to its logical conclusion to see if it holds up. If it’s a bad argument, it will implode on itself.

This happens with respect to miracles and evolution. I’ll once again allow Dr. Craig to explain:

…the idea that evolution could have occurred without an intelligent Designer is so improbable as to be fantastic. This has been demonstrated by Barrow and Tipler in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. In this book, they list ten steps in the course of human evolution, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and would have burned up the earth. They estimate the odds of the evolution of the human genome by chance to be on the order of 4^-360 (110,000)^, a number which is so huge that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement. In other words, if evolution did occur, it would have been a miracle, so that evolution is actually evidence for the existence of God! And here the Christian can be much more open to where the evidence leads. He could say, “Well, God could have used evolution; He could have used special creation. I’m open to the evidence.” But, you see, for the naturalist evolution is the only game in town! No matter how fantastic the odds, no matter how improbable the evidence, he’s stuck with it because he hasn’t got an intelligent Designer. So it seems to me that the Christian can be far more objective on this point.

The same could be said for the Big Bang. To put it simply, a Big Bang needs a Big Banger. In fact, the Big Bang was actually a derogatory name given to the theory in its early days, because it came under fire for looking so much like the biblical creation account (the leading theory at the time was called Steady-State, which posited an eternal universe).

So the two most popular scientific models used to discredit the Bible today—the Big Bang and Darwinian Evolution—even if they were true, would require theism to be true as well.

Near-Death Experiences

One area in which there is budding research are Near-Death Experiences, or NDEs. It may surprise you to learn there are hundreds of peer-reviewed medical journal entries around the subject of near-death experiences, alone!

Fortunately for Christians, one of the leading researchers on the resurrection of Jesus, Dr. Gary Habermas at Liberty University, is also one of the world’s leading experts on NDEs.

In an article written for Biola University, he cites the following case study:

For instance, in a well-documented incident, a young girl had nearly drowned, not registering a pulse for 19 minutes. The emergency room physician observed that he “stood over Katie’s lifeless body in the intensive care unit.” A CT scan showed that she had massive brain swelling, and she was without a gag reflex, while being “profoundly comatose.” Dr. Melvin Morse reported, “When I first saw her, her pupils were fixed and dilated, meaning that irreversible brain damage had most likely occurred.” Her breathing was performed artificially and she was given very little chance to survive. But only three days later, the girl surprisingly revived and made a full recovery. Katie began repeating an incredible wealth of specific facts regarding the emergency room, her resuscitation, and even physical descriptions of the two physicians. Morse confirmed that, “a child with Katie’s symptoms should have the absence of any brain function and therefore should comprehend nothing.” Katie recalled these recent details for almost an hour. Further, during her comatose state, she said that an angel named Elizabeth allowed her to view her family at home. Katie correctly reported very specific details concerning the clothing and positions of each family member, identified a popular rock song that her sister listened to, observed her father, and then watched while her mother cooked dinner. She even correctly identified the food: roast chicken and rice. Later, she shocked her parents by relating details from just a few days before (see Melvin Morse and Paul Perry, Closer to the Light (N.Y.: Random House, 1990), 3-14 and Transformed by the Light (N.Y.: Random House, 1992), 22-23).

What’s more, the evidence for miracles given the abundance of human testimony is simply overwhelming.

In his book The Case for Miracles, Strobel writes:

I wanted to know how many people have had an experience that they can only explain as being a miracle of God. As it turns out, nearly two out of five US adults (38 percent) said they have had such an experience—which means that an eye-popping 94,792,000 Americans are convinced that God has performed at least one miracle for them personally. That is an astonishing number!

This is evidence that simply can’t be ignored. When you combine this with the fact that, contra Hume, miracles are not violations of the laws of nature, it seems virtually laughable to conclude that miracles can’t—even don’t—occur.

Craig Keener summarizes his massive, two-volume work Miracles:

What the radical Enlightenment excluded as implausible based on the principle of analogy, much of today’s world can accept on the same principle of analogy. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide claim to have experienced or witnessed what they believe are miracles. Eyewitness claims to dramatic recoveries appear in a wide variety of cultures, among them Christians often successfully emulating models of healings found in the Gospels and Acts. Granted, such healings do not occur on every occasion and are fairly unpredictable in their occurrence; yet they seem to appear with special frequency in cultures and circles that welcome them.

So no—miracles don’t contradict science. They both work and coexist just fine, as they always have from the beginning.

Can We “Detect” Creation Through Science?

Speaking of the “beginning,” our discussion to this point leads to another big question: Where does creation end and science begin? Can we have direct evidence of God’s creative work? Should we expect to be able to find physical evidence of God’s intervention, say, in something like Noah’s Flood? Can design be detected in nature?

We’ll answer these questions by diving into a few specific case studies from both science and the Bible. Before doing that, let’s take a brief sidebar about the kind of conclusion scientists and historians are allowed to draw.

Are Scientists and Historians Allowed to Draw Supernatural Conclusions?

I’m going to complain about something that may seem contradictory at face value, but I think will make sense once I explain.

In prior lessons, I’ve argued that scientists often overstep their bounds by drawing conclusions they are not qualified to. For example, Richard Dawkins claiming that biology gives the appearance of design, but ruling out that possibility because of his commitment to naturalism.

But there’s a built-in implication in my complaint: If science is the study of the natural world, wouldn’t it be “overstepping bounds” to draw a supernatural conclusion? Wouldn’t that make Dawkins a philosopher, since he’d be veering out of the realm of science by definition?

There’s a subtle yet extremely important distinction to make, here. Philosophers and scientists ask different questions. That much we know. But what about when the RIGHT questions lead to the “WRONG” answers?

Dawkins is a biologist. He knows what questions to ask to come to conclusions within his field. These questions, at one point, apparently led him to conclude that biology gives the appearance of design. But there, his inquiry stopped.

Why did it stop? In other words, why not simply conclude: Design?

That’s because of the overwhelming assumption undergirding all of scientific work and study today, which would make most scientists of the past roll over in their graves: Philosophical Naturalism (PN), and its cousin, Methodological Naturalism (MN).

PN is the view that scientists and historians can only, in principle, draw naturalistic conclusions from their work. Supernatural explanations are considered off-limits and invalid within this framework.

MN, on the other hand, is the view that scientists and historians should only draw naturalistic conclusions from their work. This approach maintains that while supernatural explanations might be true, they are not suitable for scientific inquiry and historical analysis due to the methods and principles guiding these disciplines.

So, which is it? Do I want Dawkins and his ilk to stay in their lane, or not?

What I want them to do, which does not require any additional training, is to simply draw the conclusion that is suggested by the evidence. Although science is the study of the natural world, if the natural world was created by a supernatural entity, how could we ever come to that conclusion without being allowed to draw it?!

And that’s precisely the problem with PN and MN.

Dr. Paul Nelson, a philosopher of science working with the Discovery Institute in California writes:

In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer argues that inferences to intelligent causation, while fully warranted by the evidence of the Cambrian explosion, run afoul of the dictum of methodological naturalism (MN). As Meyer defines MN: “scientists should accept as a working assumption that all features of the natural world can be explained by material causes without recourse to purposive intelligence, mind, or conscious agency.” (p. 19) As Meyer later explains (p. 385), the fatal defect in MN is not hard to find: “if researchers refuse as a matter of principle namely, MN to consider the design hypothesis, they will obviously miss any evidence that happens to support it.” One cannot evaluate the evidence for or against any hypothesis that has been ruled out a priori. For this and other reasons, ID theorists regard MN as an obstacle to knowledge and hence a methodological rule that we would be better off without.

The phrase “an obstacle to knowledge” is extremely important. Science, after all, simply means knowledge. When we do science, we attempt to gain new knowledge. If that knowledge happens to be supernatural, so be it.

So, then, here’s the distinction: Yes, science is the study of the natural world. But sometimes the study of the natural world leads to supernatural conclusions. And if this possibility is ruled out before evaluating the evidence, it’s no wonder people use science as a weapon against God.

Another example comes from professor Bart Ehrmen. He’s a New Testament scholar and historian. He’s evaluated the evidence for the resurrection, and refuses to conclude that it actually happened, on the basis that it cannot in principle be evaluated historically. (He’s made an attempt to discredit this claimed bias, but in so doing, doubled down on it.)

This is a cop-out. A Christian can follow where the evidence leads. If you assume naturalism when you do science, you restrict the evidence out-of-hand, which is simply bad science.

Ironically, then, when scientists try to be philosophers, they do so by limiting the conclusions they are allowed to draw. Assume naturalism from the outset, get naturalism as your conclusion. It’s predetermined. A ruse. A faux attempt disguised at getting to the truth, all the while assuming the “truth” prior to investigation.

Let’s now look at some individual circumstances to talk about the line between natural study of the world and supernatural conclusions that can be drawn.

The Creation

I’ve always been intrigued by Genesis 1:11:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

This takes place on the 3rd day of creation. Prior to the close of that day (v.13) God declared what he saw to be “good” (v.12), suggesting that whatever he set in motion was accomplished before the end of the day. New creative activity (related to the heavens) took place on Day 4.

This has startling implications: We know today it takes grass, trees, and fruit a long time to grow. But that wasn’t the case during the creation week.

The words “bring forth” is the Hebrew word dasha, which means “to sprout” or “to cause to grow.” The picture is something like a time-lapse photo. Dr. Danny Faulkner, a creationist astronomer, has extended this thinking to the problem of distant starlight. He calls his solution, not surprisingly, The Dasha Theory.

Could we verify this time-lapse effect via science? That depends. It seems earth science will not grant this. There is simply no known mechanism that would allow us to detect whether the initial created plant flora were the result of a rapid growth process.

Dr. Faulkner is convinced of the same with respect to his astronomical theory as well. He writes:

General relativity is one of the best scientific theories we have. This is why solutions to the light travel time problem based upon general relativity are so attractive. But how much science as we now know it should we allow during the creation week? By its very nature, wasn’t the creation week miraculous? The creation of plants on day three hardly followed science as we know it. Ditto for the creation of swimming and flying things on day five and the creation of land animals and man on day six. The creation of light on day one seems to have not followed the pattern of how light is understood to work today. The creation of astronomical bodies on day four likely wasn’t accomplished by physical processes currently in operation.

As you might imagine, fellow creation scientists haven’t been thrilled with this proposal because it seemingly rules out, well, science!

Yet, one of my personal friends, Dr. Phil Dennis, is the leading creationist researcher on the subject of General Relativity. And he now believes his own starlight solution provides the scientific backdrop for the “unscientific” dasha theory.

We can also detect creation in the rock record. In a moment, we’ll talk more about the flood. We can detect rocks and fossils from the flood, which allows to detect rocks from before the flood. Those rocks would seem to be part of the initial creation. How cool!

Using something called baraminology (the study of the created kinds), we can use science to become reasonably clear about what the initial created organisms were that speciated and developed into the ones we know today.

So yes, even though creation was a supernatural event, we can detect certain aspects of it through science!

The Flood

When I first started learning about creation science, I was astounded to find how much time was spent talking about the flood. Ever wonder why Answers in Genesis chose to build the Ark in Kentucky? You’re about to find out why.

Turns out, the flood changes everything. As significant as it is in the biblical storyline in terms of God’s story of judgment and salvation, it’s also significant in what it means for earth history.

The flood is the great paradigm-shifting event. So many of the beliefs held by modern scientists today hinge on whether or not the flood happened. This means that investigating the flood is paramount.

We’ll learn more about this in lesson 7, but the core naturalistic assumption of modern scientists is called Uniformitarianism. You might have heard this referred to as “the present is the key to the past.”

This is a philosophical presupposition and is not a conclusion based on evidence. If the biblical worldview—the flood worldview—is true, the opposite is the case: The past is the key to the present.

The flood tells us so much. From it, we can learn things like:

  • Which rocks were created by the flood vs before/after
  • How the ice age happened
  • How and why volcanoes and mountain ranges form
  • What happened to the dinosaurs
  • How does fossilization occur
  • Why meteor impacts might have contributed to it
  • Why earthquakes occur
  • What animals did Noah take on the ark
  • Why conventional radiometric dates are wrong
  • And way, way more!

And from an apologetics perspective, the flood is hugely important, because it confirms so much about how modern science can map onto a biblical worldview.

This, perhaps more than any other event in biblical history, is able to be studied by science, and it’s a beautiful thing.

The Cell

Yet another fine example of design detectable in science is the smallest living organism: a single cell. The cell is far more advanced than any modern factory we have. DNA is what author Stephen Meyer has called the “Signature in the Cell.”

It functions as a language—much like a computer code. It uses the letters A, C, T, and G, and the specific arrangements of these four letters control all of life as we know it.

Importantly, cells contain both DNA and RNA. DNA stores genetic information, while RNA plays several roles, including acting as a messenger that tells the cellular machinery what to do based on the DNA instructions. For life to have evolved independently, both DNA and RNA must have been present and functioning together from the start.

To date, there is no clear path for how either DNA or RNA could have arisen on their own, let alone both simultaneously.

The importance of this discovery from a supernatural perspective cannot be overstated. The most fundamental unit of biological life—the cell—is so beyond our capacity to understand that we’re virtually clueless as to how it could have arisen, and we’re still learning daily about how it works.

It is the premier example of design in nature, and to me is just as wondrous to behold as the most regal star. God is the grand engineer, and to deny the reality of his work in creation is to defy all logic and abandon all credibility.

And for our purposes here, it is fitting that all scientific discovery essentially boils down to tiny unit of irreducible complexity. Too complex to have arisen on its own, it practically screams supernatural creation.

How Could a Christian Faithfully Practice Science?

To close out this lesson, I would like us to consider what it would look like for a committed Christian to practice science faithfully. I don’t think we should tell Christians who desire to be scientists what to believe, I think we should teach them how to think.

As I mentioned before, most of you will not be upending your careers to become scientists. But neither have I. And yet, I found this information to be so useful and exciting in my own Christian walk that I passionately share this with you now.

My hope is to transfer some of that enthusiasm to you. And who knows, maybe someone you know will become actively engaged in the sciences, and this information will be even more useful to you then.

Ready for adventure

Here’s a hot take: I think the way most creationists approach science is wrong. Most approach it as a way to “prove the Bible right.”

I think that is wrong-headed. I don’t need science to prove the Bible is true. (Notice why I titled this series: “Does Science Prove the Bible Wrong?” Doing the work to negate that claim is not the same as using science to prove the Bible right.)

While there’s nothing morally wrong with that use, the problem is that it leads to closed-mindedness.

Science is all about discovery and going where the evidence leads! It’s a great adventure! It’s not about making sure we get the “right” answer to satisfy our curiosities, it’s about getting the answer God built into creation for us to find!

Honest with the evidence

This should go without saying, but sadly, it doesn’t. In the past, some creationists have been known to be dishonest—usually in subtle ways, sometimes in not so subtle ways.

The subtle ways include overstating the case for creation, understating the case for evolution, not dealing honestly with another scientists work, looking for a specific answer to confirm a bias instead of seeking the truth, etc.

Some of the more overt cases have included manufacturing evidence, coming to clearly-wrong conclusions for the sake of maintaining a narrative, continuing to use discredited arguments, and purposefully excluding the evidence/research of information that would contradict creationist beliefs.

It should go without saying, but none of these things are befitting of a Christian. If we’re going to do science, let’s be honest with the evidence—for the sake of ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and those we’re trying to win to Christ.

Averse to wagon-hitching

Some scientists—usually those who believe the Bible but take the “two books” view we discussed in the last lesson—hitch their wagons to particular views of earth history.

The BioLogos organization are the leading promoters of evolution as it relates to Christianity. They claim it is their belief in Jesus that requires them to be “honest” with the data and accept the mainstream evidence for evolution as true.

But they have committed a grave mistake. They’ve hitched their wagon to a scientific model (one that is, in many ways, on the rocks, mind you). One of these days, their confidence in that model will be rocked to the core, and their entire organization will be almost pointless.

Worse still are those who’ve hitched their wagon to the Big Bang. It’s important to realize that the Big Bang is not “creation out of nothing.” It is a specific model of the origin of the universe that has some serious problems.

Those who’ve changed their interpretation of the biblical account to match the evidence for the Big Bang (I personally know many of them) have committed a mistake in hitching the Bible to a scientific model.

What’s the right approach? An example: In Flood Geology, the consensus theory is called Catastrophic Plate Tectonics, or CPT. Notice, I made zero mention of that earlier when discussing the flood. Why? Because all I commit to is what the Bible commits to—a global flood happened.

There are other theories of the flood, such as the Hydroplate Theory, but those have largely fallen out of favor. Still, CPT could be overturned tomorrow, and it would not shake my faith one bit. Why? My faith is in the fact that a global flood occurred, not the consensus scientific model.

Willing to question the mainstream

Sometimes being a scientist who believes the Bible will involve academic harassment, persecution, and more. I know scientists who’ve been drug through the mud, had their work taken away, and worse. (There’s an entire book about this called Slaughter of the Dissidents.)

I know scientists who wrote creationist publications under a pseudonym while in their doctoral programs, and am personal friends with one who feared he wouldn’t graduate because of his creationist beliefs (he did, and now teaches at Liberty, praise God).

It’s not always comfortable to be right. But if you’re going to be a Christian, sometimes that sacrifice must be made.

Maintain Christian charity and character

Finally, in all we do, we should seek to glorify God and maintain Christian charity and character. It’s easy to get lost in debate and rivalry.

The creation science community is so small, and yet there is so much controversy and division over seemingly very small things. It’s a community that needs each other. Everyone plays a part.

And I’m on the side of those who wish to create more unity than division and work together for the cause of science and the glory of God.

Next time, we’re going to get into one of the most controversial and exciting topics when it comes to the Bible and science: The age of the earth, and what it means for an ancient text to have anything at all to say about science.

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Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

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