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Part of the reason events like Moses parting the Red Sea or a person tunneling through a wall is considered miraculous is because this is considered a violation of a law of nature.

But doesn’t the modern theory of quantum mechanics imply that even these things are possible just at an absurdly low probability? If so, if events like that did happen, could we still be justified in saying that there’s a natural explanation for this? This admittedly seems very counter intuitive but my question amounts to: would events like the Red Sea parting be a violation of a scientific law and thus count as a miracle and potential evidence for divine intervention or not?

Intuitively, even if these events are possible, it would seem reasonable to conclude that they didn’t happen naturally if they were also coincident with a claim that God is about to cause it. However, how would one distinguish between the parting of the Red Sea happening naturally from the parting happening because God guided Moses to do it?

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    Either case "the whole exodus story along with the parting of the red sea is a complete fabrication and never happened" (applicable to many other miracle claims) remains the most probable explanation, though.
    – armand
    Feb 22 at 3:57
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    There's a much more simple and prosaic than QM or miracle explanation: its a story! Not too many ppl ask whether Harry Potter talking to owls and riding on brooms is a miracle or QM. Likewise here.
    – Rushi
    Feb 22 at 4:46
  • We are justified in saying that a natural explanation is more likely whether the event violates a strict law or simply has astronomically low probability. All laws known to us are inductive generalizations and we can assert their strictness only with high probability anyway, not with absolute certainty. We do not have to worry about distinguishing, if God wants us to know of his guiding we will know, if not then we won't.
    – Conifold
    Feb 22 at 6:18
  • I’m not sure how that works as a justification @Conifold I understand the part of the law being an inductive generalization. However, why does that justify a natural explanation for the case in which we saw the sea part for example? Feb 22 at 9:03
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    It's far, far, far more likely that there was no miraculous parting of a sea at all. If you want to explain biblical miracles, you don't need to stretch so hard - the easiest explanation is that they're tall tales. edit @Rushi beat me to it
    – TKoL
    Feb 22 at 9:12

3 Answers 3

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Like always with miracles the principle of investigation should be:

First the facts, then their explanation.

Not the other way around.

Concerning “miracles” in a religious context: Did the event, which is considered a miracle, actually happen – the Red Sea parting, the fall of the walls of Jericho, stopping the move of sun and moon, Jesus’ resurrection, …? Who testified the fact?

No doubt, those who pass on similar stories are convinced that the event happened. And that it can be interpreted only as a mircacle due to divine intervention. But did they try to find out, what really happened?

The probability from quantum mechanics that a person is tunneling through a wall is negligibly small. Did you try to make an estimate for the probability that an electron tunnels through a wall of normal thickness?

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    Everyone is responding to this question as if it's about whether one should believe in miracles, but that's pretty clearly not the point of the question. Feb 22 at 5:15
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No more than Newtonian mechanics does. Under either scheme improbable events can happen. Under both schemes the probability of an event such as the parting of the Red Sea is vanishingly low. Under neither scheme is there a plausible mechanism for water turning into wine, for five thousand people to be fed with a small amount of food, for cripples to become cured, and so on.

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doesn’t the modern theory of quantum mechanics imply that even these things are possible just at an absurdly low probability?

Yes (with some caveats for conservation laws), but...

If so, if events like that did happen, could we still be justified in saying that there’s a natural explanation for this?

Yes, but...

would events like the Red Sea parting be a violation of a scientific law

Not necessarily, but...

and thus count as a miracle and potential evidence for divine intervention or not?

...but there's no such "and thus" to be inferred.

You wouldn't accept any claim that an event from a broad category of events with a total probability indistinguishable from 0 had happened by quantum happenstance if it wasn't an alleged miracle, so you shouldn't accept a claim that an event with a probability indistinguishable from 0 happened by quantum happenstance if it is an alleged miracle. See: special pleading.


Moreover: The old standby for dismissing evidence - "everyone involved in measurement was lying or had a similar hallucination!" - is much more likely by so many orders of magnitude than any macroscopic object doing intact quantum teleportation, that the contribution of quantum mechanics to the probability can be dismissed anyway. If you're going to advance a bad argument, at least advance the stronger bad argument.

(In point of fact, the probability that quantum mechanics is irrelevant because everybody involved in figuring out quantum mechanics is, incredibly, having the same kind of hallucination, or that they are all participating in the same vast, incredibly improbable conspiracy, is itself many, many, orders of magnitude larger than the quantum-mechanical probability of macroscopic quantum teleportation. The model defeats itself.)


Maybe more to the point: Shouldn't we expect that when Nature acts in accordance with her most fundamental ordering principles, that her actions should appear compatible with, yet inexplicable by, the most fundamental principles identifiable by us? Just as quantum mechanics is itself compatible with, yet inexplicable by, the Newtonian kinematics of macroscopic bodies?

Rightly or wrongly, theists tend to believe that God is the fundamental ordering principle of the universe. Phenomena which are compatible with the most advanced models of physics, but which no physicist could have predicted, seems to be exactly what a good theistic model would predict.

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    By my reading, the question is not about evidence or what should be believed; it is about the status of current scientific theory, so this answer does not answer the question. Feb 22 at 5:14
  • @DavidGudeman I have edited my answer to hopefully address the question more explicitly.
    – g s
    Feb 22 at 8:19
  • That addresses my complaint. Thanks. Feb 22 at 14:35

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