Ian Hutchinson: Can A Scientist Believe In Miracles?

One of the best public communicators of science I know, and a fellow Veritas speaker, Ian Hutchinson answers question after question from real college audience about science and faith.


What about historians?
Only a prior bias absolutely excludes such; the testimony from history says otherwise.

There’s a lot to unpack there. Are you asking if a historian can believe in miracles? What do you mean by “exclude”? Exclude from what?

Historians have to deal with historical testimony, and try to unpack what would account for it. There are plenty of historical accounts which record alleged miracles; only a prior metaphysical commitment underlies their complete denial, i.e., excludes them from historical consideration.

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What do you mean by “excludes them from historical consideration”? What exactly do you want historians to do?

Deal with historical testimony, and not just resort to a veiled ideology. Most do a fairly good job of it. Why --do you think I’m complaining about something? Maybe like Holocaust denial?

Holocaust denial? Sorry I don’t get that.

Historians work from source material and then make an assessment of what is likely to have actually occurred. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by a miracle, but let’s say it’s a report of something occurring which we generally regard as being physically impossible. What kind of likelihood should be placed on such reports in general? The truth of any historical assessment is relative. It’s not like by making an assessment, the historian is creating truth. They can only tell us what they think happened, with varying degrees of certainty.

I don’t even get what you’re trying to say here. Can you be a little clearer?

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If you heard that, say, a friend from your childhood rose from the dead, how would you begin to go about evaluating that claim?

Right before your workshop at the ASA meeting last year I was able to go on the MIT field trip, which included a personal tour by Ian of Alcator C-Mod, the tokamak fusion reactor at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center. Since it was shut down in 2016, we got to go inside (behind very thick concrete walls) and see some pretty amazing experimental setups. I have pictures of “BNC cables” the size of 10" drain pipes and “wires” that looked like railroad rails.

At the end of the tour, while we were waiting for the van to pick us up, we got to talk to Ian a little bit about the future of energy. It was very cool. He is a good communicator and very gracious. I think it does help science broadly when Christian students who have an interest in science can see successful scientists who share some of the same core beliefs and faith commitments.


I’d go to his grave.

And if you found it?

If the friend is still around… first thing to do would be to meet him and get s first hand account from him.
Then from those who were with him at the time the incident occurred . (Including medical personnel if available).

And if you documented all this research in written narrative form, it would become a part of history. Historians would have to deal with it, despite any prior metaphysical commitments against it. They might try to explain it away, but they couldn’t ignore it, nor totally overturn the possibility of the narrative’s truth claims.
That’s all I’m saying.
Prior metaphysical commitments do not overrule actual history, they just color our preferred interpretations of it… that goes for “theists,” too.
They do not creative objectivity.