Miracles and the Definition Science

How do you define science?  What are its boundaries?  Does the scientific mind have any space for miracles?

Came across a BioLogos Forum series on Miracles and Science by the physicist Ard Louis.*  Below’s a quote on defining science, from the end of Miracles and Science, Part 1.

The problem of deciding where to draw the lines around science has vexed generations of philosophers. Like many unsolved issues, it has been given its own name — “the demarcation problem.” Although one can determine with some degree of consensus what the extremes of the science/non-science continuum are, exactly where the boundary lies is fuzzy. This doesn’t mean, however, that we cannot recognize science when we see it, but rather that a watertight definition is difficult to create. The old fashioned idea (still taught in many schools) that scientific practice follows a well-defined linear process — first make an observation, then state a hypothesis, and then test that hypothesis — is certainly far too simple —  Miracles and Science, Part 1 (Ard Louis. BioLogos Forum. 06/25/2010).

In the Miracles and Science Part 2 (7/3/2010), Louis weaves together the tapestry of science (experimental results, interpretations, explanations, etc.) and points out some of the limits of science.  At least one more post in the series, but you can jump directly to more of the material as it’s drawn from a recently-posted scholarly essay.**

So how do you define science?  What are its boundaries?  Does the practice of science (or a scientifically informed perspective) have any space for miracles? Do you frame these questions along similar lines to Louis?  If  you’re uncomfortable with Louis’ perspective, do you have an alternative to offer?

*Reader in Theoretical Physics and a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, where he leads a research group studying problems on the border between chemistry, physics and biology. He is also the International Secretary for Christians in Science, an associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and served on the board of advisors for the John Templeton Foundation.

**A.A. Louis. Miracles and Science:  The Long Shadow of David Hume, i.e., a translation of A.A. Louis, “Wonderen en wetenschap: De lange schaduw van David Hume,” Omhoog kijken in Platland, ed Cees Dekker, Rene’ van Woudenberg en Gijsbert van den Brink, Ten Have (2007).

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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3 Comments

  • W. Brian Lane commented on July 7, 2010 Reply

    I would certainly agree that scientific progress is not always linear. In fact, the best breakthroughs occur seemingly by accident. I also think we science educators (perhaps with the assistance of our colleagues in philosophy?) should develop ways to cultivate what Sire (in “Habits of the Mind”) calls “lateral thinking” in our students in the sciences.

    In my introductory physics courses, I illustrate this concept by having the students watch and discuss and episode of “House.” In nearly every episode of this show, the characters practice the linear middle-school-textbook scientific method for the first 39 minutes of the episode, making nearly no progress. Then, once House stops thinking about the problem (a key to lateral thinking), he has a flash of insight and solves the case in a few seconds. But, my students often astutely point out, such flashes of insight almost exclusively occur in the context of a linear scientific method. (Also, in the episode we watch, House is racing against the clock, which the students point out is not conducive to good scientific inquiry.)

  • lovelyrita.may@gmail.com'
    cornerstone university commented on July 15, 2010 Reply

    I agree with what Mr.Lane said about science being linear. Holds true more today since there has been a lot of branches emerging and lots of inventions/ideas are being discovered accidentally.What it is trying to limit itself though is in terms of what is observed,measure and verified.

  • mdsunc29@aim.com'
    Mike commented on October 31, 2011 Reply

    A friend of mine suffered a terrible accident when he was 15 (this was back in the 60s) and he was burned by gasoline to point where 80 percent of his skin was burnt. The doctors initially didn’t think he would live. Once he survived, they said that he would be badly disfigured for his entire life, with scars all over his body. Over a period of several years, God miraculously healed him so that all of his scars disappeared. I recently created a short documentary on his story which he has also written a book about entitled Angel in the Fire. You can watch this short documentary for free at http://bit.ly/s4f1S5 and click on “Angel in the Fire”. This has been a very moving piece for myself and others and we hope will touch the lives of many.

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