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Feedback archiveFeedback 2013

‘Natural law’ in the Creation Week?

Published: 1 June 2013 (GMT+10)

NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); K. Cook (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory).

Did nature behave in constant ways even during Creation Week? The fact that Creation Week was filled with miracles seems to suggest not at first glance. But do miracles have to be “changes in ‘natural law’”? If not, then perhaps nature’s behaviour was more constant than we might typically think. Scott M. writes in response to Modern science in creationist thinking. CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds with comments interspersed.

Hi! I’ve read all of your articles on CMI. First, I wanted to clarify for readers that may be confused about your comment on supernovae. The idea is that we receive evidence of supernovae from very far away, greater than 10,000 light-years. So if you say that they exploded after the fall, you have to say that they were within 10,000 light-years, of the Earth, which is unlikely. However, if we say that these stars lived and “died” during creation week (which is before the fall), then there are several theories that explain how we could see their remnants from so far away.

Sort of. This is true for time dilation cosmologies, but not for Dr Jason Lisle’s Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC) model (that the Bible uses ASC). He would say we could observe supernovae from >10,000 light-years away even if it occurred after the Fall because the ASC applies uniformly in time and space. This means the one-way speed of light really is infinite toward the observer. For instance, if a supernova occurred 20 years ago 20,000 light-years away from us, it really happened 20 years ago because the light from the event got here instantaneously. [However, CMI tends not to agree with Dr Lisle's model. Please see Anisotropic Synchrony Convention and The Anisotropic Synchrony Convention model as a solution to the creationist starlight-travel-time problem—Ed.]

Also, I wanted to know your thoughts on this: if I was a creationist, I would definitely subscribe to creationist worldview #1. It seems to me, and don’t take this the wrong way, that #2 could be blasphemous, almost implying that God isn’t all-powerful.
‘Natural law’ may just provide the behavioural context for physical events, while the conditions remain completely open to divine manipulation.

“Almost”, but not quite. Omnipotence is only violated if God can’t change the rules, and Dr Hartnett isn’t saying that. And who said miracles require a change in the way nature behaves? That assumes nature can’t absorb direct divine action. Think of the difference between conditions and behaviour. Nature consistently behaves in certain ways and not others. However, the specific results of that consistent behaviour vary wildly in time and space. Why? The starting conditions change. For instance, consider a large lead ball dropped from a plane, and then dropped from a truck trailer. The effects the lead ball will have on the ground differ wildly in each drop not because the way nature behaves has changed, but because the conditions the ball starts dropping from have changed. ‘Natural law’ may just provide the behavioural context for physical events, while the conditions remain completely open to divine manipulation.

But how do we know God can change the rules? First, He set them in place at the beginning (Genesis 1:1). Second, there appears to be two cases (with a third in the future) where God fundamentally ‘changed the rules’: the Fall (Romans 8:20–21), Jesus’ resurrection (Romans 6:9–10), and the consummation of history (1 Corinthians 15). However, these are the most important events in the history of the universe, with ample reason for the changes. These events magnify the consistent faithfulness of God far more than maintaining nature’s constancy does. Even so, the predictability of nature’s behaviour seems to have only changed in very specific and limited ways: suffering and death were allowed in the Fall (creation became as a flower cut from the plant), Jesus was raised never to die again, and creation will be freed from suffering and death in the consummation. The integrity of Adam’s, Eve’s, and Jesus’ choice and action in the physical world wasn’t compromised by even these instances of divine action.

But why would an omnipotent God maintain creation with such constancy even in Creation Week? First, perhaps as a reflection of His unchanging faithfulness: “If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25). Second, Genesis 1 seems to describe an initial creation event followed by a shaping of the original created material into a functional cosmos—i.e. there was only one ex nihilo event at the beginning of the week. Third, it gives us a way to render the astronomical data understandable. None of these reasons force God to act like this, but they seem to suggest that this is something like what God actually did.

Here me out: creationist cosmologies concede that the laws of physics must have been changed by God during creation week.

The laws of physics were set in place during Creation Week—this is implied by the absolute beginning, if not anything else. Creationists may disagree as to when during that week the way nature behaves was set in place.

Many of them try to figure out exactly which laws He changed and when. However, perhaps we can never hope to understand why or how He changed the laws if all we have to work with is our current-day laws and have no understanding of how God “works.” From which basis would we possibly be able to judge his preference for one “miracle” (change of laws) over the other?

As I above rejected this definition of miracles as inadequate, this question is moot.

I posit that I could create an infinite number of isomorphic creationist theories that would have no basis to be “better” or “worse” than any other creationist theory.

And we would say that naturalistic cosmology has at least the same flexibility (at least it can alter the timeline and event sequence!). All this should tell us is that physical data by itself is a poor way to decide between cosmologies, let alone worldviews, not that the biblical worldview is weak at this point.

However, there does seem to be an implicit understanding that God is somehow trying to be simple or straightforward.

God’s description of what happened is simple and straightforward. This does not imply that the mechanics of what happened with respect to the physical world were simple or straightforward.

However, if God was all-powerful, then why didn’t He just will the Universe into existence? Why did it take Him a full six days to do it?
God was not just trying to show how powerful He is in creation—He had other purposes.

Some Church Fathers thought in a similar manner, and concluded that God created everything in an instant (e.g. Origen, Augustine, Hilary of Poitiers). Why take a full six days? Remember that He also took a day to savour the finished creation (Genesis 2:1–3). Exodus 20:8–11 clearly makes Creation Week the historical precedent for the Israelite work week. Exodus 31:16–17 points out that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic covenant because it acts as a reminder of exactly which God Israel entered into covenant with. Jesus also said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Now, clearly God would have had foreknowledge of these events (the Sinai covenant and Jesus’ words) during Creation Week. Thus they reveal a dual planned purpose for the Creation Week: it set a healthy pattern for human work and rest, and it provided a sign for the Sinai covenant. God was not just trying to show how powerful He is in creation—He had other purposes.

I don’t believe we are meant to know the answer.

That assumes that all we have before us is what God could have done. It’s not. We also have God’s character to consider, as well as what He said He did. We also have science, which is a reflection of God’s character, and all the astronomical data. Even if we accept all those ideas as valid parameters and tools for historical investigation, we still may fall short of a definitive answer. But we may have a better idea of the history of physical effects in the cosmos as a result, nonetheless. Nobody denies that we all see through a glass darkly, but this does not mean we can’t discern anything at all.

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Readers’ comments
Robert S., Australia, 1 June 2013

The assumption that miracles contradict natural law does not take into account that all the workings in nature are not yet fully understood.

There are many things in the physical world about which deeper and more profound insights are being gained all the time that many would previously never have believed and accepted as reality, but which can only exist and function as unevolved and complete structures.

As more knowledge about the physical world is gained, it also looks more and more like everything was spoken into existence by an omnipotent Creator…

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth... For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast.” Psalm 33:6, 9

…except us, who he made with his own hands, but which all represents only a tiny fraction of his infinite power and wisdom.

And all the famous miracle’s that have been performed aren’t much of a stretch when compared to the whole of creation, which was and still is a vast miracle in its own right; the disbelief over which, is like someone having built a huge mansion with all of its furnishings, and then being called into question for the foot stool on the veranda.

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my foot stool. Where is the house that you will build me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things my hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 66:1- 2

To our physical eye, another person’s mind and intellect are invisible, but we know they exist because they manifest themselves through the persons’ words and creativity. So God’s invisible mind is also manifested through his word and his creation (Romans 1:20).

R. D., United Kingdom, 1 June 2013

I used to have a great problem reconciling "miracles and science", thinking the two were incompatible. Nowadays I'm amazed it took me so long (and a fair bit of help from CMI's people and others) to work it out...

"Science" is process, a method, which we use to study that which is constant in the physical realm. Consistency is required because the scientific method depends on repetitions.

The "laws of physics" (and chemistry) are descriptions of these physical constants and the regular, repeating forces which interact with them. The laws are not actually causative, just descriptive.

The regular, constant forces (e.g. gravity) are the manifestation of God's sustaining power.

Miracles are occasional additional use of force by God.

Regular forces can be compared to playing a scale non-stop on a piano, while miracles can be compared to occasional hitting of another key in order to achieve a specific desired effect.

There is no evidence from Scripture which shows conclusively that God did not implement all the forces (and even all the energy and matter in the Universe), which we describe with all the laws of physics and chemistry, in His first creative instant when He created space-time itself. This would mean that the "laws" apply right from the very start. I prefer to assume this is indeed what He did. I may be wrong, but I won't find out until I can ask Him.

Right now, my job isn't to pointificate on questions which I cannot possibly answer, but to preach the Gospel (and of course to obey His ethical standards in a fallen world). There is a finite amount of time to lead others to salvation - there is no limit on the time we have to converse with our Creator about His creation.

M M., United States, 1 June 2013

I know someone who believes in theistic evolution. Part of his reasoning is that God can't lie, so the laws of physics and biology have always been the same. In his mind, if these laws were ever different during creation week, God's character somehow comes into question (But what the difference is between that and manipulating biology through evolution to create man, I have no idea). So I appreciate the paragraph on conditions v behavior. I always think about Jesus calming the storm and wonder if there were any chain reactions to the weather pattern.

Thank you for all you do. Since discovering CMI, I finally feel like I have the tools to defend the gospel against secular attacks and the doubt I used to fight in my own faith. God bless.

Bob S., United States, 1 June 2013

This is truly an interesting article because it seems to hit the real root of the problem. The problem is the difference between God’s revelation and human interpretation. Every pseudo-scientific anti-Bible story told by anyone is simply an alternate story in competition with what God is saying. No one is close to even demonstrating that any of these competing stories is even possible let alone proving definitively that one of them actually happened. Since you can’t prove a lie, they will never be proved.

Since they have no proof, the ungodly begin by framing the argument in such a way that Naturalism, Materialism, and Uniformitarianism are the default, neutral position and anything that violates these three is extraordinary. However, these three lies are not real. If you ask an ungodly person to show you, by science, that any one of these three is fact, they are stymied. They can’t prove something that is outside of reality. God and His creation (material and spiritual) and what He tells us about His creation and Himself are real. The Holy Ghost reveals to us that God is real and the Bible is accurate directly without circular reasoning. The ungodly further imply that unless Christians can make up a detailed story about the things that God has not yet revealed, this proves the stories of the ungodly. Of course, it proves nothing of the kind. They bait Christians into adding to and taking from what God has revealed through speculations.

Theistic evolution, for instance, adds to and takes from both the Bible and what God has revealed through creation. We need to hold our interpretations very loosely and listen very closely to hear God’s voice so God can correct us. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My Voice.” The solution is in Jeremiah 23:18-22.

David S., United States, 1 June 2013

It is within the capacity of God to have created everything, including all peoples memories and all evidence of the past, yesterday. But it is more likely and consistent with His character that He did it about 10,000 years ago like His book says.

Richard L., United Arab Emirates, 2 June 2013

Scientific models (containing mathematical models) are fragile things, with respect to validity zones. Initial conditions must be accurately identified, something poorly done with cosmology models. The main natural-process factors within the investigated system, and their quantitative interrelationships, must be identified, for a scientific model to work. If any intrusion—whether other natural-processes or human or supernatural intervention—occurs within the system during the investigated timeframe, the model loses validity.

“God spoke, and it was” destroys that validity zone, far enough into the past. Excess investment in natural law (NL) and in a desire to have scientific models creates a tail that wags the dog: nature in the past must have existed such that NL cosmological models (CMs) have validity all the way back to the origin point. So, Biblical creation is hated—on a **NON-rigorous basis**—because it takes away CM toys that scientists want to play with.

Is this an unfair stumbling-block to faith, to put before scientists? No. As CMI has pointed out previously, empirically identified natural processes can’t get from a zero-type starting point to the present state of nature; those processes are trending in the wrong direction. Compelling evidence thus exists that a NL discontinuity existed in the past (while providential preservation did assist during the creation week).

Don R., Canada, 3 June 2013

To this interesting topic I would like to add two points. Speaking as a biological scientist, we do not know ALL the physical laws. After Newton came Einstein and now we have quantum mechanics. I suspect there are many physical laws yet to be discovered. A miracle is usually something that appears to transcend the natural laws THAT WE KNOW. Speaking as a Christian, when Jesus rose from the dead (a belief based on well-established evidence) God may have used laws of which we are unaware. We believe God to be all powerful and the one who made these laws. Why would the Creator make laws and then discard them--quite possible but in my opinion unlikely.

Shaun Doyle responds

Our understanding of the universe is incomplete, but it is not so incomplete that we cannot reasonably suggest when natural laws may have been transcended. For example, given the laws of thermodynamics Genesis 1:1 is not scientifically possible. There has to be a ‘nature’ for any natural law to be operative!

Regarding Jesus’ resurrection, I find the notion that it could be the result of some undiscovered ‘natural law’ rather problematic. Jesus’ resurrection body clearly contradicts the ‘corruption to bondage’ condition of creation God instigated in the Fall (Romans 8:19–23), and in which all our science has been done. Moreover, the notion of an undiscovered ‘natural law’ in operation in Jesus’ body would seem to suggest that we could in principle discover and reproduce Jesus’ resurrected condition before Jesus’ return with the right technology, which is clearly absurd. This is why I suggest Jesus' resurrection is not just a 'water into wine' miracle where the rearrangement of materials is clearly supernatural, but the wine behaves like any other wine, but that Jesus' body behaves in a way that fundamentally transcends the fallen condition in which we do all our science.

Richard L., United Arab Emirates, 4 June 2013

Like Shaun, I am uneasy about appeals to natural laws (NLs) not yet being fully discovered, as solutions to Bible-science issues. We need a theology of NL (and of miracles). Henry Morris and others helpfully pointed me to Col. 1:17 and Heb. 1:3. Jesus continuously (Gr: present participle) upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb.); without such action, the creation’s items would stop “cohering” (Col.). Compelling implications:

-The universe is not self-sustaining.

-Supernatural intervention (by Jesus) is continuously needed for nature (and NLs) to continue to exist.

-Logically, Jesus has the right (both morally and in his power) to **format** the universe **any way he wants** in each of these sustaining interventions.

-Being a God of order (1 Cor. 14:33), Jesus, the vast majority of time in these sustaining interventions, is nice enough to generate a **standard** format.

-Interesting features in the standard format are investigated by us and are labeled “natural laws”.

-Generating a non-standard format (localized exceptions) takes no more effort by God the Son; these exceptions are supernatural miracles.

-Such miracles do appear within spacetime-history **nature**; they do not conform to NLs; they thus cannot be fully investigated by scientific methodology—this puts the noses of a lot of scientists out of joint.

-Supernatural miracles, while not in accordance with NLs, don’t “violate” NL—NL does NOT have a JURISDICTION to be violated (since NLs are only interesting features within the divinely chosen standard-format).

-All this still leaves room for Christians to eagerly investigate the NL cause-effect under-layers of surface-layer NL phenomena. God is not marginalized by this. We, in acts of worship, discover more of the details of God’s standard-format.

Don R., Canada, 4 June 2013

I agree with most of what has been said above, but still must say that we must admit there are things we don't know and possibly cannot even understand with our human minds. This applies to natural laws and to our knowledge about God beyond what is revealed in scripture.

But one day we shall see Him as He is with (I believe) very expanded ability to understand and appreciate our Lord. I look forward to asking God to show me the "videos" of creation, like WOW!

In the meantime, a strong dose of humility is advisable both for scientists and theologians because His ways are so much higher than ours.

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