Polkinghorne on Miracles

I recently read Professor John Polkinghorne's short essay, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, a mostly enlightening essay. There is much to like in this work--though I question whether it really deserves the comparisons it draws from some reviewers to C.S. Lewis' works--but there is one passage in particular which has stood out especially:

"Science cannot exclude the possibility that, on particular occasions, God does particular, unprecedented things. After all, he is the ordainer of the laws of nature, not someone who is subject to them. However, precisely because they are his laws, simply to overturn them would be for God to act against God, which is absurd. The theological question is, does it make sense to suppose that God has acted in a new way? One thing that is theologically incredible is that God is some sort of celestial conjuror, doing a turn to impress today that he didn't think of yesterday, and won't be bothered to do tomorrow. God can't be capricious. He must be utterly consistent. However, consistency isn't the same as dreary uniformity. In unprecedented circumstances, God can do unexpected things. Yet there will always be a deep underlying consistency that makes it intellegible, for example, that God raised Jesus from the dead that first Easter Day, while, in the course of present history, our experience is that dead men stay dead. The search for this consistency is the theological challenge of miracle.

A simple parable drawn from science may help here. The laws of nature do not change, they are unfailingly consistent, yet the consequences of these laws change spectacularly when one moves into a new regime. Think of heating some water. The temperature rises steadily in a perfectly uniform way, until it reaches a boiling point. Then, something happens that, if we had not observed it every day of our lives, would astonish us. The steady rise is halted and a small quantity of water turns into a large quantity of steam. Physicists call this a 'phase change'. We have moved from the liquid regime to the gaseous regime. However, the laws of nature do not change at 100 [degrees] C, it is only their consequences that become radically different. It is a similar kind of account, with profound continuity underlying apparently discontinuous behavior, that we must seek if we are to understand the miraculous." (Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity pp 82-83).

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