Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? Ian Hutchinson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Veritas Books, 2018.
Summary: A collection of responses to questions about God and science asked by students at Veritas Forums on university campuses throughout the country.
There is a popular conception that science and religion are at war and that anyone who is engaged in scientific research rejects the idea of a God. If that is the case, Ian Hutchinson apparently didn’t get the memo. That’s all the more extraordinary because Hutchison is a plasma physicist doing research and teaching at MIT. He has published over two hundred peer-reviewed articles and at least two books in his field. And he didn’t grow up Christian, as he shares in this book. He came to faith in college after a careful search.
Hutchinson has been willing to go public with his faith, speaking at a number of university campuses through the Veritas Forum. One of the features of these speaking engagements are audience questions from students in attendance. Over the years, he has collected these questions, many of which concern how scientists can possibly embrace the Christian faith. In this work, after sharing his own journey to faith and subsequent life, he organizes these into thirteen chapters. In this case, listing the table of contents may be the best way to summarize the issues he covers:
1. A Spiritual Journey
2. Are There Realities Science Cannot Explain?
3. What Is Faith?
4. Do Scientists Have Faith?
5. Does Reason Support Christian Belief?
6. What Is Scientism?
7. Is There Really Spiritual Knowledge?
8. Creation and Cosmology
9. Do Miracles Happen?
10. The Bible and Science
11. Of All the World’s Religions, Why Christianity?
12. Why Does God Seem Hidden?
13. Is There Good and Evil?
14. Personal Consequences: So What?
As you can see, the title of the work is just one of these chapters. How he approaches this is a good reflection of the approach of the whole book. He starts with a definition of a miracle: a miracle is an extraordinary act of God. He observes that because of its extraordinary character, the existence of miracles cannot be proven or disproven because science requires reproducibility. This is actually modest because he admits that miracles involve interpretation. All science can do is speak to the likelihood of such an event. He also argues that the inviolability of nature’s laws is not a doctrine of science. Natural explanations of events needn’t be the only explanations. Quantum reality actually suggests a universe that is not a closed system of natural laws. He discounts many miracle legends and focuses on the miracles of the incarnation and resurrection as central to Christianity. Along the way, he addresses natural explanations as well as the possibility of miracles in other religions, arguing that these are most worth considering when consistent with the whole worldview of that religion.
Several things are striking: there is respect for the questions, the responses both explore the logic, as well as possible misconceptions, of the question and then offers reasoned responses with significant documentation. Throughout, there is high regard for the work of scientists and the results of science and the conviction that there is nothing in science that calls into question the existence of God or the truth of the central claims of Christianity. Actually, the question that is the most challenging for Hutchinson is not a scientific one but rather the existence of evil and the questions it raises of the goodness of God. He does offer thoughtful responses to this as well, and observes that evil is also a problem for the atheist.
Because of the question-based format, this does feel a bit like a question and answer session. That may be useful as a reference for someone who has similar questions or friends who do. It also reflects the tone I’ve witnessed when I’ve heard Hutchinson speak: articulate, forthright but not arrogant, gracious and yet well-reasoned. One interlocutor told me that he had checked out Hutchinson ahead of time and agreed to engage with him, convinced that they would have a real conversation, not a set up. And that’s what one finds here.