Science can’t make miracles harder to believe in

June 28, 2013
jesus_and_peter

My sermon this Sunday is based on Matthew 14:22-33.

I’m still working my way through C.S. Lewis’s Miracles. So far, he’s laying the philosophical groundwork for miracles. It’s a bit of a trudge, but it goes to show, in case anyone doubted it, that Richard Dawkins and those guys really aren’t saying anything new (although I’m sure Lewis would be disappointed that they’re not saying it better). In one chapter, entitled “A Chapter of Red Herrings,” he tackles the modern myth that the “march of science” has somehow made belief in miracles impossible. “Of course the ancients were gullible enough to believe them! After all, they believed that the sun revolved around the earth. We know better now.” But this, he says, is a red herring. Here’s why:

If the miracles were offered us as events that normally occurred, then the progress of science, whose business is to tell us what normally occurs, would render belief in them gradually harder and finally impossible. The progress of science has in just this way (and greatly to our benefit) made all sorts of things incredible which our ancestors believed; man-eating ants and gryphons in Scythia, men with one single gigantic foot, magnetic islands that draw all ships towards them, mermaids and fire-breathing dragons. But these things were never put forward as supernatural interruptions of the course of nature. They were put forward as items within her ordinary course—in fact, as ‘science’… If there were fire-breathing dragons our big-game hunters would find them: but no one ever pretended that the Virgin Birth or Christ’s walking on water could be reckoned to recur. When a thing professes from the outset to be a unique invasion of Nature by something from outside, increasing knowledge of Nature can never make it either more or less credible than it was at the beginning. In this sense it is mere confusion of thought to suppose that advancing science has made it harder for us to accept miracles. We always knew they were contrary to the natural course of events.[†]

It pays to keep this in mind this Sunday, when I’ll be preaching on Matthew 14:22-33, a passage in which both Jesus and Peter walk on water.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 75-6.

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