Science, History, and the Miraculous

People have a naturally skepticism toward the miraculous. If I say I know of a guy who hit four home runs, in four consecutive opportunities, against four different pitchers, in the World Series, some will be skeptical. Some may say that would take a miracle. It's already happened. Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees did it in 1977 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It's different, and contrary to expectations, but not miraculous. It's also historical.

  • History is a record of what happened.
  • Science is systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation. Scientific fact is repeatable.
  • A miracle is an event or action that contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to an act of God.

These are three different things.

If history is a record of events that happened, a miraculous event in history cannot be distinguished from a non-miraculous event in history, because they are both historical. History is observable, yet non-repeatable. That is true of the miraculous and the non-miraculous. Reggie Jackson's home runs have never been repeated, yet they were observed and recorded. The same is true for the Kennedy assassination - never repeated, yet observed and recorded. The same is true of the resurrection of Christ - not repeated, but observed and recorded.

A historian is a writer of history. A historian, using all the means available at their disposal, must seek to determine what did occur. The historian cannot simply rule out the miraculous due to their own personal skepticism. For example, some people have serious doubts that man ever went to the moon. They think NASA's Apollo moon program was a fake. Lunar exploration cannot be omitted from history just because some historians feel it's "unlikely". For that same reason, historians cannot reject eyewitness testimony or documentary evidence simply because it involves the miraculous. If throughout a careful examination, testimony is persistently trustworthy, or if documentary evidence is reliable, then miracles must be accepted despite one's personal prejudices.

This is a quote from the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, page 23:

If the attorney can trap the opposing witness into statements that contradict what he has said previously or furnish evidence that in his own community the man has a reputation for untruthfulness, then the jury may be led to doubt the accuracy of the witness's testimony that bears directly to the case itself. This is true even though such untruthfulness relates to other matters having no relationship to the present litigation. While the witness on the stand may indeed be giving a true report on this particular case, the judge and jury have no way of being sure. Therefore, they are logically compelled to discount this man's testimony.

The same is true for Holy Scripture. If the statement it contains concerning matters of history and science can be proven false by extrabiblical records, by ancient documents recovered through archaeological digs, or by the established facts of modern science, then there is grave doubt as to its trustworthiness in matters of religion.