Re: Science: working in the flesh?

Rodney Dunning (
Thu, 20 Feb 1997 21:07:50 -0500 (EST)

On Thu, 20 Feb 1997, David Campbell wrote:

> Determining whether a miracle has occurred requires a historical
> rather than scientific investigation. (Of course, science also depends on
> historical investigation-you must believe the evidence that something
> happened in order to try to study or replicate it.) Science can provide
> possible explanations for an event, but cannot rule out (or in)
> supernatural involvement. An example is Elijah's altar: one commentator I
> read mentioned an obscure theory that he was actually pouring lighter fliud
> or the equivalent and not water over the wood to get a "miraculous" flame.
> Historical evidence shows that Elijah had no possible source for refined
> hydrocarbons, making this "scientific" explanation less credible than the
> alternative of actual water, followed by a miraculous combustion (possibly
> lightning, in which case the timing (especially without clouds) and aim are
> the miraculous aspects).

A historical investigation does make more sense, even though it cannot be
completely divorced from at least the findings of science. (I say
this knowing virtually nothing about the historical method.) Pointing out
that the commentator's imaginative theory is less credible than an actual
miracle is a very good point, and it reminds me of the issues surrounding
the resurrection. The most common apologetic approach to the resurrection
(that I'm aware of) is refutation of alternative hypotheses. Even though
a body coming back to life has to be the wildest claim a 20th century ear
can hear, careful investigation of the historical data shows that the
resurrection is just as likely (at worst) as the available explanations. For
example, given all that we know, supposing that the Romans stole the
body, or that Jesus swooned on the cross, and wasn't dead when they
entombed him is harder to believe than supposing that the Gospels are
true. (At least it seems that way to me.)

One drawback, for those seeking objective historical proof, is that we
don't know what we may yet discover. For example, one day someone may
propose an alternative hypothesis that is imminently more reasonable than
the resurrection. There is no way on purely rationalistic grounds to say
this won't happen, as far I know. It seems this is where faith enters into
the issue. My faith in Christ leads me to believe that such a hypothesis
CANNOT be discovered, or at least it cannot be successfully defended.

But this brings me to an interesting question. Let's suppose that the
search for this alternative hypothesis lends itself to the scientific
method (never mind how). Each of us believes that there is no theory that
can explain all the data in the Gospels but the resurrection itself. But as
scientists, do we ignore the search for one? Is it "scientific" to say
"there will never be any satisfying explanation of the available data
but the resurrection itself"? It is on points like this I feel a tension
between faith and science, insofar as faith SEEMS to say, the search for
truth is over (I know it doesn't really say that in general, but faith
does say "the resurrection happened- period"), whereas science seems to
say the search is never over.

Does this make any sense? Does anybody know what I'm talking about?

Rodney Dunning
voice: 910-759-4977 or 910-759-4980
fax: 910-759-6142