Post Author: Bill Pratt
This is a familiar theme for long-time readers of the blog. I am deeply interested in where the scientific method can shed light and where its light begins to fade. For mankind, to know everything is to know all that really exists. If you think of everything that exists as falling inside a giant circle, the question that fascinates me is, “How much of the area of that circle can the scientific method enlighten?” Is it the whole circle? Is it half? Is it a tiny fraction of the circle?
The question asks us to take a position on the supernatural and spiritual. If you believe that there is a vast supernatural world out there, a world where God, angels, and demons exist, then you will probably say that the scientific method can only illuminate a small fraction of the circle of all things that exist. The scientific method can only tell us about things or events that occur inside the four dimensions of space-time.
If, however, you believe that the four dimensions of space-time are all that exists and that the supernatural is imaginary, then the entire circle of all that exists can eventually be filled out by the scientific method. In my discussions with skeptics over the years, there are those who fall in this latter group, but there are also those who remain open to the existence of the supernatural.
Those who maintain that the scientific method will eventually fill in the entire circle sometimes go on to make the following claim: “The scientific method forces us to conclude that miracles cannot occur.” To me, this is a deeply confused statement. It is true that miracles, in their totality, entail a supernatural element. It is true that science cannot directly observe that which is supernatural, as the supernatural does not exist in space-time where science can operate. But to say that the scientific method absolutely precludes miracles from existing is false.
The scientific method is one tool we have to fill in the giant circle of all that exists, but there are other tools (e.g., philosophy, logic, mathematics, spiritual disciplines). Think of the scientific method as analogous to a screwdriver. The screwdriver is a truly useful tool that we use all the time in construction. In fact, any time we need to attach two objects with a screw, we use a screwdriver. But we would find it very odd if screwdriver enthusiasts one day started running an ad campaign with the following slogan: “If you don’t use a screwdriver, you’re not constructing anything!”
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has another way to answer those who say that science precludes miracles.
[This] argument…is like the drunk who insisted on looking for his lost car keys only under the streetlight on the grounds that the light was better there. In fact, it would go the drunk one better: it would insist that because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light.
Science is tremendously useful and the benefits of modern technology are hard to overstate, but let us never forget the limits. There may very well be a supernatural world out there (in fact, most of us believe that). Those who flatly say there is not are making a statement of faith that is not based on the scientific method, but based on their metaphysical worldview.