To make the case that science can determine whether or not God exists, Coyne believes that miracles can be part of a science. Yet the majority of scientists and philosophers insist that miracles can never truly be part of science. For example, philosopher Theodore Drange expresses this mainstream position:
It could never be a scientific finding that a miracle occurred, for science is the attempt to understand reality in terms of the laws of nature. To say that a miracle occurred is to abandon the scientific (= naturalistic) perspective on the matter. If a scientist were to end up with such a belief, then it would be incompatible with the scientific point of view. It would be as if to say, “Here is something that could never be naturalistically explained and so it lies outside the domain of science.”
Another way to think of a miracle is that it represents a Gap – something that cannot be explained by natural laws.
In essence, it would represent a gap in our scientific knowledge.That Coyne is ready to embrace belief in God because of a gap, some phenomenon that could not be explained by science – a nine-hundred-foot-tall-Jesus or the sudden appearance of Jesus’s head on Mt. Rushmore – shows that he is advocating the “god-of-the-gaps” approach.And anyone familiar with science knows that the “god-of-the-gaps” approach has no place in science.Things that cannot be explained by science are not part of science.
So Coyne’s willingness to include miracles/gaps in science runs contrary to mainstream views of science. What’s more, it runs into two major problems:
- Coyne speaks of “documenting” these miracles. Yet with many of his examples, he fails to explain HOW science would go about documenting a miracle and reaching the conclusion that a miracle truly occurred.
- Coyne doesn’t seem to understand “documenting” something doesn’t really capture the essence of science. Science is concerned with explaining phenomena in terms of cause-and-effect, where the cause of one effect can be the effect of another cause. Science is thus focused on how things work and how things are connected – a focus on mechanisms. If Coyne introduces gaps into science, he has radically redefined science such that the focus on explanation and mechanism has been suspended. A scientist would want to understand the mechanism behind the miracle – how did that face of Jesus materialize on Mt. Rushmore. If the cause is supernatural, how could scientists, trained to use natural laws to derive explanations, ever hope to probe the mechanism of this miracle?
In the end, Coyne’s argument about incorporating the supernatural into science is a train wreck. This should not be a surprise given that Coyne never bothered to define “science” and “supernatural,” has never published a single scientific study that addresses a supernatural cause, and shifts the focus from “science” to the observations/beliefs of scientists.
At this point, Drange says something that is quite pertinent
Scientists can claim that miracles occur, but when they do so, they do so only as laypersons, not as scientists.
Coyne is free to embrace a miracle as a person, but when doing so, despite the fact that he is a scientist, science is not incorporating the miracle.
A miracle does not need to be documented by science or incorporated into science to have happened.