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Do you believe in miracles? With the rise of science, it seems like the miraculous has faded into obscurity—but that may not be the case.
A BahaiTeachings.org reader responded with a number of questions and comments to my series inspired by an Intelligence Squared debate on the motion that ”Science Refutes God.” He asked about God, the miraculous and the nature of life. How could I resist trying to answer?
The debate on the motion that ”Science Refutes God”—between physicists Lawrence Krauss and Ian Hutchinson, each paired with a non-scientist co-panelist—Michael Shermer and Dinesh D’souza, respectively—raised these issues and discussed them in an intelligent way. Our dear reader—I’ll call him Marty—sent me a series of questions about the essays, some of which centered around what he referred to as ”miraculism” and its opposing ’ism’, scientism.
Marty asked, first of all, if in asking where the first lifeform came from, I was suggesting that life arose because of a miraculous intervention from God and could not have occurred by natural processes. He made it clear that he didn’t think such processes refuted God and wondered if perhaps ”God creates a self-generating universe that builds itself and its own order through emergent processes based on its laws.”
His suggestion echoes my own sense of God’s relationship with the universe as gleaned from scripture—that it is self-generating through the laws of physics that God set in motion to produce life. Specifically, human life—that is, life capable of knowing its Creator. In my discussion of the creation of life, I was not suggesting miraculous intervention (which is something I resist even in my fiction), but was responding to the popular idea that Darwin’s theory of evolution covers the genesis of everything in the universe. In fact, it does no such thing. It covers only the evolution of life on this planet (and, we may infer, on other planets) from an unknown point. That this point was reached by a natural process is a given.
Marty then discussed miracles as a theological feature, noting that he felt atheists “try to adopt an ‘empirical’ stance to accept atheism.” He said he found this “lacking in intellectual honesty because it’s a double standard,” and asked what I thought.
To his point about belief in miracles (i.e., miraculism—great word), I first defined what I thought of as a miracle. This is a miracle: that the religion founded by a charioteer, a stammering Hebrew, a prince turned ascetic, a poor Nazarene, uneducated merchants, or a sheltered Persian nobleman could, unaided by great wealth, great temporal power, or force of arms, and in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, spread around the world, transform the lives of countless people, inspire entire civilizations and endure for centuries.
Regarding what we generally take as miraculous—breaking or bending laws of physics, for example—I’d merely observe that human beings bend those laws every day. If the prophets of God are what they claim to be, they have a far greater grasp of physics than Marty or I or Lawrence Krauss, for that matter. This may put at their fingertips things that seem magical to standard-issue human beings.
When Marty spoke of that ”empirical stance” that Krauss (among others) presents, I assume he meant the idea that atheism is inherently rational and that nothing lies beyond the reach of science (scientism, in a nutshell). I agree—this concept does seem like a double standard, something I addressed in the course of the original series of essays. I also agreed that only through avoiding the partisan extremes of miraculism and scientism will we progress in a real understanding of ourselves and our universe.
I’d further maintain that understanding ourselves is the more important of the two, for it informs how we will understand our universe. The Baha’i teachings ask each of us to make an effort to know our own self:
… man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 35.
This is not to belittle the importance of science. Science, to a Baha’i, is a way of knowing both our universe and ourselves:
Scientific knowledge is the highest attainment upon the human plane, for science is the discoverer of realities. It is of two kinds: material and spiritual. Material science is the investigation of natural phenomena; divine science is the discovery and realization of spiritual verities. The world of humanity must acquire both. A bird has two wings; it cannot fly with one. Material and spiritual science are the two wings of human uplift and attainment. Both are necessary … – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 138.
This, to me, is a call to avoid both miraculism and scientism and, instead, investigate the universe without and within, earnestly seeking truth and reality:
God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. – Ibid., p. 293.