My immediate response, as both a Christian and a scientist, is a resounding YES! End of discussion, what more do you want to know?
I do realize, however, that that answer is singularly unsatisfactory for some pedants among us, so let me elaborate.
A scientist is one who observes and asks: Why? How? Can this happen under different conditions? What if I change this bit – will the outcome be the same? If not, why not?
This is the premise of the scientific method: observation, forming an hypothesis, carrying out an experiment to see if the hypothesis is supported or not, changing the hypothesis if it isn’t, and so on. So we can begin to predict outcomes: in other words, if I do this, then this should happen.
By this process of experimentation, we have developed principles by which we can explain how the natural world operates. Some of these principles become laws, for example the Law of Gravity, which operates everywhere that we can see in the universe. Thus one of the hallmarks of science is predictability.
Where direct experimentation is not possible, scientists can infer results based on previous observations and the behavior of things that are known.
There is, however, a limit to inference. There are often a number of things that must be assumed and the more assumptions that are made; the less confidence there can be in the inferences.
One of these areas concerns enormous time spans. We only have our limited frame of reference and human history can hark back to several thousand years. But to extrapolate to a time frame of millions of years in the past becomes uncertain: over such a huge time span there is no way of knowing, for example, that conditions were consistent with what we know now.
The investigative methods of science cannot, however, be applied to all areas of human endeavour. Issues pertaining to personality, motivation and human behavior, while often exhibiting consistency, cannot necessarily be relied upon to be reproducible. Neither can an observation or behavior be confidently transferred from one situation to another.
The term comes from the Latin miraculum, which is derived from mirari, to wonder. Therefore one could loosely say that a miracle is something that causes us to wonder. As such, it must be in some way extraordinary, unusual, or contrary to our expectations.
I could be cheeky here and suggest that much of science is, indeed, miraculous – ie a constant source of wonder!
Another way that miracles are thought of in common language is to call something a miracle if it appears to go against the laws of nature. For example, a person who is certified to be dead, but comes back to life. This would be a wondrous thing to behold – yet there are several instances described in the Bible of just this happening.
In the same way the Bible has accounts of crippled people being able to walk and blind people being able to see, or deaf people being able to hear. Not just the Bible either – there are accounts of evangelist Reinhard Bonnke seeing people healed and raised from the dead today.
Human nature hasn’t changed much since Bible times: in the story of the blind man in John Chapter 9, people did not want to believe that a miracle had happened. But the proof was right there in the man’s own story, and that of his parents.
The Bible has many accounts of things happening that can be considered miracles – not just healings but the Red Sea parting, the sun standing still are just a couple. In fact, these things are wondrous to us, but they seem to be taken for granted in the Bible!
The scientists among us want proof. But the available proof – people’s own stories of healing and change – cannot necessarily be replicated in a scientific way. There is no predictability – we do not understand why some people are healed and others not. So these events are truly wonders – or miracles, if you like.
Read the book
Ian Hutchinson, a professor of Nuclear Science at MIT, Boston, wrote a book titled “Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?” after many years of participation in Veritas Forums, pondering questions of faith and science.
Veritas Forums are events generally organized by university students at their local campus, where ‘the big questions of life are addressed in the context of the academy in a way that is sadly uncommon as part of the regular academic curriculum today’. Hutchinson’s book is a compilation of many questions coming from the audience after he has presented talks about faith and science.
It is a very intellectual book and would satisfy those who want to delve into detailed definitions regarding faith and science.
The upshot is, of course, that yes – being a scientist does not exclude believing in miracles! But you need to make up your own mind – I’ve just given a taste of some of the issues involved.
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science and theology under her belt. Aira is a panellist for Young Writers and indulges in reading, bushwalking, volunteering at a nature reserve and learning to play clarinet. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html