Cladoselache (Greek for “branch-toothed shark”); pronounced CLAY-doe-SELL-ah-kee
Late Devonian (370 million years ago)
Size and Weight:
About 6 feet long and 25-50 pounds
Slender build; lack of scales or claspers
Cladoselache is one of those prehistoric sharks that’s more famous for what it didn’t have than for what it did.
Specifically, this Devonian shark was almost completely devoid of scales, except on specific parts of its body, and it also lacked the “claspers” that the vast majority of sharks (both prehistoric and modern) use to impregnate females. As you may have guessed, paleontologists are still trying to puzzle out exactly how Cladoselache reproduced!
Another odd thing about Cladoselache was its teeth–which weren’t sharp and tearing like those of most sharks, but smooth and blunt, an indication that this creature swallowed fish whole after grasping them in its muscular jaws. Unlike most sharks of the Devonian period, Cladoselache has yielded some exceptionally well-preserved fossils (many of them unearthed from a geological deposit near Cleveland), some of which bear imprints of recent meals as well as internal organs.
In the Holy Quran, God speaks about the stages of man’s embryonic development:
“We created man from an extract of clay. Then We made him as a drop in a place of settlement, firmly fixed. Then We made the drop into an alaqah (leech, suspended thing, and blood clot), then We made the alaqah into a mudghah (chewed substance)…” (Quran 23:12-14)
Literally, the Arabic word alaqah has three meanings: (1) leech, (2) suspended thing, and (3) blood clot.
In comparing a leech to an embryo in the alaqah stage, we find similarity between the two as we can see in figure 1. Also, the embryo at this stage obtains nourishment from the blood of the mother, similar to the leech, which feeds on the blood of others.
Figure 1: Drawings illustrating the similarities in appearance between a leech and a human embryo at the alaqah stage. (Leech drawing from Human Development as Described in the Quran and Sunnah, Moore and others, p. 37, modified from Integrated Principles of Zoology, Hickman and others. Embryo drawing from The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 73.)
The second meaning of the word alaqah is “suspended thing.” This is what we can see in figures 2 and 3, the suspension of the embryo, during the alaqah stage, in the womb of the mother.
Figure 2: We can see in this diagram the suspension of an embryo during the alaqah stage in the womb (uterus) of the mother. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 66.)
Figure 3: In this photomicrograph, we can see the suspension of an embryo (marked B) during the alaqah stage (about 15 days old) in the womb of the mother. The actual size of the embryo is about 0.6 mm. (The Developing Human, Moore, 3rd ed., p. 66, from Histology, Leeson and Leeson.)
The third meaning of the word alaqah is “blood clot.” We find that the external appearance of the embryo and its sacs during the alaqah stage is similar to that of a blood clot. This is due to the presence of relatively large amounts of blood present in the embryo during this stage (see figure 4). Also during this stage, the blood in the embryo does not circulate until the end of the third week. Thus, the embryo at this stage is like a clot of blood.
Figure 4: Diagram of the primitive cardiovascular system in an embryo during the alaqah stage. The external appearance of the embryo and its sacs is similar to that of a blood clot, due to the presence of relatively large amounts of blood present in the embryo. (The Developing Human, Moore, 5th ed., p. 65.)
So the three meanings of the word alaqah correspond accurately to the descriptions of the embryo at the alaqah stage.
The next stage mentioned in the verse is the mudghah stage. The Arabic word mudghah means “chewed substance.” If one were to take a piece of gum and chew it in his or her mouth and then compare it with an embryo at the mudghah stage, we would conclude that the embryo at the mudghah stage acquires the appearance of a chewed substance. This is because of the somites at the back of the embryo that “somewhat resemble teethmarks in a chewed substance.” (see figures 5 and 6).
Figure 5: Photograph of an embryo at the mudghah stage (28 days old). The embryo at this stage acquires the appearance of a chewed substance, because the somites at the back of the embryo somewhat resemble teeth marks in a chewed substance. The actual size of the embryo is 4 mm. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 82, from Professor Hideo Nishimura, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan.)
Figure 6: When comparing the appearance of an embryo at the mudghah stage with a piece of gum that has been chewed, we find similarity between the two.
A) Drawing of an embryo at the mudghah stage. We can see here the somites at the back of the embryo that look like teeth marks. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 79.)
B) Photograph of a piece of gum that has been chewed.
How could Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, have possibly known all this 1400 years ago, when scientists have only recently discovered this using advanced equipment and powerful microscopes which did not exist at that time? Hamm and Leeuwenhoek were the first scientists to observe human sperm cells (spermatozoa) using an improved microscope in 1677 (more than 1000 years after Muhammad). They mistakenly thought that the sperm cell contained a miniature preformed human being that grew when it was deposited in the female genital tract.
Professor Emeritus Keith L. Moore is one of the world’s most prominent scientists in the fields of anatomy and embryology and is the author of the book entitled The Developing Human, which has been translated into eight languages. This book is a scientific reference work and was chosen by a special committee in the United States as the best book authored by one person. Dr. Keith Moore is Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. There, he was Associate Dean of Basic Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine and for 8 years was the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy. In 1984, he received the most distinguished award presented in the field of anatomy in Canada, the J.C.B. Grant Award from the Canadian Association of Anatomists. He has directed many international associations, such as the Canadian and American Association of Anatomists and the Council of the Union of Biological Sciences.
In 1981, during the Seventh Medical Conference in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, Professor Moore said: “It has been a great pleasure for me to help clarify statements in the Quran about human development. It is clear to me that these statements must have come to Muhammad from God, because almost all of this knowledge was not discovered until many centuries later. This proves to me that Muhammad must have been a messenger of God.”
Consequently, Professor Moore was asked the following question: “Does this mean that you believe that the Quran is the word of God?” He replied: “I find no difficulty in accepting this.”
During one conference, Professor Moore stated: “….Because the staging of human embryos is complex, owing to the continuous process of change during development, it is proposed that a new system of classification could be developed using the terms mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah (what Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said, did, or approved of). The proposed system is simple, comprehensive, and conforms with present embryological knowledge. The intensive studies of the Quran and hadeeth (reliably transmitted reports by the Prophet Muhammad’s companions of what he said, did, or approved of) in the last four years have revealed a system for classifying human embryos that is amazing since it was recorded in the seventh century A.D. Although Aristotle, the founder of the science of embryology, realized that chick embryos developed in stages from his studies of hen’s eggs in the fourth century B.C., he did not give any details about these stages. As far as it is known from the history of embryology, little was known about the staging and classification of human embryos until the twentieth century. For this reason, the descriptions of the human embryo in the Quran cannot be based on scientific knowledge in the seventh century. The only reasonable conclusion is: these descriptions were revealed to Muhammad from God. He could not have known such details because he was an illiterate man with absolutely no scientific training.”
If you went back in time and looked at the first, unremarkable prehistoric sharks of the Ordovician period–about 420 million years ago–you might never guess that their descendants would become such dominant creatures, holding their own against vicious aquatic reptiles like pliosaurs and mosasaurs and going on to become the “apex predators” of the world’s oceans. Today, few creatures in the world inspire as much fear as the Great White Shark, the closest nature has come to a pure killing machine.
Before discussing shark evolution, though, it’s important to define what we mean by “shark.” Technically, sharks are a suborder of fish whose skeletons are made out of cartilage rather than bone; sharks are also distinguished by their streamlined, hydrodynamic shapes, sharp teeth, and sandpaper-like skin. Frustratingly for paleontologists, skeletons made of cartilage don’t persist in the fossil record nearly as well as skeletons made of bone–which is why so many prehistoric sharks are known primarily (if not exclusively) by their fossilized teeth.
The First Sharks
We don’t have much in the way of direct evidence, except for a handful of fossilized scales, but the first sharks are believed to have evolved during the Ordovician period, about 420 million years ago (to put this into perspective, the first tetrapods didn’t crawl up out of the sea until 400 million years ago). The most important genus that has left significant fossil evidence is the difficult-to-pronounce Cladoselache, numerous specimens of which have been found in the American midwest.
As you might expect in such an early shark, Cladoselache was fairly small, and it had some odd, non-shark-like characteristics–such as a paucity of scales (except for small areas around its mouth and eyes) and a complete lack of “claspers,” the sexual organ by which male sharks attach themselves (and transfer sperm to) the females.
After Cladoselache, the most important prehistoric sharks of ancient times were Stethacanthus, Orthacanthus and Xenacanthus. Stethacanthus measured only six feet from snout to tail but already boasted the full panoply of shark features–scales, sharp teeth, distinctive fin structure, and a sleek, hydrodynamic build. What set this genus apart were the bizarre, ironing-board-like structures atop the backs of males, which were probably somehow used during mating. The comparably ancient Stethacanthus and Orthacanthus were both fresh-water sharks, distinguished by their small size, eel-like bodies, and odd spikes protruding from the tops of their heads (which may have delivered jabs of poison to bothersome predators).
The Sharks of the Mesozoic Era
Considering how common they were during the preceding geologic periods, sharks kept a relatively low profile during most of the Mesozoic Era, because of intense competition from aquatic reptiles like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. By far the most successful genus was Hybodus, which was built for survival: this prehistoric shark had two types of teeth, sharp ones for eating fish and flat ones for grinding mollusks, as well as a sharp blade jutting out of its dorsal fin to keep other predators at bay. The cartilaginous skeleton of Hybodus was unusually tough and calcified, explaining this shark’s persistence both in the fossil record and in the world’s oceans, which it prowled from the Triassic to the early Cretaceous periods.
Prehistoric sharks really came into their own during the middle Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago. Both Cretoxyrhina (about 25 feet long) and Squalicorax (about 15 feet long) would be recognizable as “true” sharks by a modern observer; in fact, there’s direct tooth-mark evidence that Squalicorax preyed on dinosaurs that blundered into its habitat. Perhaps the most surprising shark from the Cretaceous period is the recently discovered Ptychodus, a 30-foot-long monster whose numerous, flat teeth were adapted to grinding up tiny mollusks, rather than large fish or aquatic reptiles.
After the Mesozoic – Introducing Megalodon
After the dinosaurs (and their aquatic cousins) went extinct 65 million years ago, prehistoric sharks were free to complete their slow evolution into the remorseless killing machines we know today. Frustratingly, though, the fossil evidence for the sharks of the Miocene epoch (for example) consists almost exclusively of teeth–thousands and thousands of teeth, so many that you can buy yourself one on the open market. The Great White-sized Otodus, for example, is known almost exclusively by its teeth, from which paleontologists have reconstructed this fearsome, 30-foot-long shark.
By far the most famous prehistoric shark of this time period was Megalodon, adult specimens of which measured 70 feet from head to tail and weighed as much as 50 tons. Megalodon was a true apex predator of the worlds’ oceans, feasting on everything from whales, dolphins and seals to giant fish and (presumably) equally giant squids. No one knows why this monster went extinct about two million years ago; the most likely candidates include climate change and the resulting disappearance of its usual prey.
What is Ecology?
Ecology is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them. Ecology also provides information about the benefits of ecosystems and how we can use Earth’s resources in ways that leave the environment healthy for future generations.
Ecologists study these relationships among organisms and habitats of many different sizes, ranging from the study of microscopic bacteria growing in a fish tank, to the complex interactions between the thousands of plant, animal, and other communities found in a desert.
Ecologists also study many kinds of environments. For example, ecologists may study microbes living in the soil under your feet or animals and plants in a rainforest or the ocean.
The Role of Ecology in Our Lives
The many specialties within ecology, such as marine, vegetation, and statistical ecology, provide us with information to better understand the world around us. This information also can help us improve our environment, manage our natural resources, and protect human health. The following examples illustrate just a few of the ways that ecological knowledge has positively influenced our lives.
Improving Our Environment
Pollution From Laundry Detergents And Fertilizers
In the 1960s, ecological research identified two of the major causes of poor water quality in lakes and streams-phosphorous and nitrogen-which were found in large amounts in laundry detergents and fertilizers. Provided with this information, citizens were able to take the necessary steps to help restore their communities’ lakes and streams-many of which are once again popular for fishing and swimming.
Non-Native or Introduced Species Invasions
Some non-native species (plants, animals, microbes, and fungi not originally from a given area) threaten our forests, croplands, lakes, and other ecosystems. Introduced species, such as the kudzu vine shown below, do this by competing with plants and animals that were originally there, often damaging the environment in the process. For example, the gypsy moth, a native of Europe and Asia, wreaks havoc on great swaths of forest lands by defoliating, or eating the leaves off of trees. At first, highly toxic chemicals, which also poisoned other animals, were the only methods available to control this introduced pest. By targeting vulnerable stages in the moths’ life cycle, ecologists devised less toxic approaches to control their numbers.
Ecologists have discovered that marshes and wetlands filter toxins and other impurities from water. Communities can reap the benefit of this ecological service. Leaving some of these filtering ecosystems intact can reduce the burden on water treatment plants that have been built to perform the same service. By using natural filtering systems, we have the option to build fewer new treatment plants.
Ecologists have discovered that many plants and animals produce chemicals that protect them from predators and diseases. Some of these same chemicals have been synthesized by scientists or harvested from the organism and used to treat human diseases. For example, the Pacific Yew tree produces a substance which is used in cancer treatments. Another example is a substance found in horseshoe crabs, hemolymph, that is used in leukemia treatments.
Lyme Disease is a potentially serious bacterial infection that is transmitted to humans by certain ticks. Ecological studies have found that people are more likely to get Lyme disease when acorns are plentiful. Why? Because mice and deer, which carry the disease and the ticks, feed on acorns. More acorns usually mean more mice and deer, providing a favorable environment for large populations of ticks to flourish. Knowing the connections between acorns, deer, mice, and ticks, ecologists are able to predict the likelihood of infection and let people know when they need to be more careful when outdoors.
Natural Resource Management
Endangered Species Protection
Some of our nation’s most cherished species, such as the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, as well as countless other less familiar species, like the Virginia Big-Eared Bat and the American Burying Beetle, have either been brought back from the brink of extinction or their populations have been stabilized. These successes are the result of successful captive breeding efforts, reintroduction methods, and a greater understanding of species, in part because of ecological research.
Ecological concepts have been applied to forest management and are slowly being integrated into traditional forest science. For example, ecological studies have shown that fire plays a key role in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems in certain types of forests. This knowledge has encouraged more research to find ways to use controlled fires to prevent unpredictable and costly wildfires.
Biological control is a technique that uses the natural enemies and predators of pests to control damage to crops. It is based in part on knowing the ecology of pests, which is used to understand when and where they are the most vulnerable to their enemies. Biological control alleviates crop damage by insects, saves money, and decreases problem associated with pesticides.
Ecological research has shown that estuaries are nursery grounds for fish populations that live in coastal waters, an important reason to protect these areas. Ecological research has also identified obstacles, such as dams, that fish encounter when returning to their breeding areas. This information has been used to help design structures for fish so they can move around these obstacles to reach their breeding areas.
An ecosystem is any geographic area that includes all of the organisms and nonliving parts of their physical environment. An ecosystem can be a natural wilderness area, a suburban lake or forest, or a heavily used area such as a city. The more natural an ecosystem is, the more ecosystem services it provides. These include cleansing the water (wetlands and marshes) and air (forests), pollinating crops and other important plants (insects, birds, bats), and absorbing and detoxifying pollutants (soils and plants).
Short for biological diversity, biodiversity is the range of variation found among microorganisms, plants, fungi, and animals. Some of this variation is found within species, such as differences in shapes and colors of the flowers of a single species of plants. Biodiversity also includes the richness of species of living organisms on earth.
The environment is the surroundings of an organism including the physical and chemical environment, and other organisms with which it comes into contact. This term is most frequently used in a human context, often referring to factors affecting our quality of life.
Natural resources are living and nonliving materials in the environment that are used by humans. There are two types: renewable (wildlife, fish, timber, water) and nonrenewable (fossil fuels and minerals).
A group of individuals belonging to one species (of bacteria, fungi, plant, or animal) living in an area.
Populations of organisms of different species that interact with one another.
Where Can I Go For More Information or Assistance?
If you are interested in learning more about ecology, or would like to know what you can do to become involved, a number of resources are at your disposal. Public and university libraries offer articles, journals, and books on a range of ecological research.
Many environmental organizations have developed educational materials that focus on species and ecosystems, and offer tips on becoming involved in community activities that relate to the environment. Finally, professional ecological organizations can connect you with scientific experts in all types of ecological study, from those that specialize in wetland ecology, to those that focus on endangered species, to those whose work emphasizes city environments.
1. The definition of “Miracle”
The problem I wish to investigate is the relation between science and religion, with a special focus on religion’s appeal to miracles. Let us define a “miracle” simply as an event which violates at least one law of nature. I realize that the term is used in other ways. For example, it is sometimes additionally required that miracles be caused by a supernatural being. For our purposes and in the interest of economy, that further requirement can be dispensed with. Alternatively, a miracle is sometimes taken to be any extraordinary event, particularly one that provides someone with a great benefit. That is certainly another use of the term in English, but not relevant to our topic, so let us disregard it. If we employ the definition initially given, that will allow us to focus on a particularly troublesome puzzle in the philosophy of science.
If miracles violate laws of nature, then they could never be explained by appeal to natural law. Note that it needs to be a genuine law of nature that is violated by a miracle, not a manmade generalization erroneously taken as a law of nature. This needs some clarification. By a law of nature I mean a proposition which describes an actual uniformity that obtains in our universe. An example would be the Archimedean Law that a floating body always displaces an amount of fluid the weight of which is equal to its own weight. And an example of a miracle which violates that law would be a man walking on water (thereby displacing an amount of fluid the weight of which would be considerably less than his own bodyweight). In science, events are explained naturalistically (i.e., by appeal to laws of nature), so a miracle would be an event that could never be explained in that way. But if events which cannot at present be explained in that way were to come to be explained naturalistically in the future, then, in retrospect, it would need to be said of them that they were never miracles, although they may at one time have (erroneously) been thought to be that. At the very least, the laws that miracles violate need to be genuine ones.
Consider an example. Centuries ago, it was regarded a law of nature that matter cannot be destroyed. Thus, an event like an atomic explosion, in which matter is destroyed, would at that time have been considered a miracle, for it violates the given law. But subsequent science came to abandon or amend the law in question in such a way that atomic explosions no longer violate natural law. A miracle, then, must be regarded, not as an event which violates current law (which may very well come to be superseded), but an event which violates one or more genuine laws, i.e., ones which can never be superseded by laws of nature which are more accurate and which cohere better with other parts of science.
What would be the status of laws of nature if miracles were actually to occur? First, would they cease to be genuine laws? If we say that a generalization that is violated by some event cannot be a genuine law of nature, then it would follow that miracles are logically impossible. That can be shown as follows:
(1) Miracles, by definition, are events which violate genuine laws of nature.
(2) If a generalization is violated by an event, then it cannot be a genuine law of nature.
(3) Thus, it is impossible for a genuine law of nature to be violated by any event. [from (2)]
(4) Hence, it is impossible for any event to be a miracle. [from (1) & (3)]
I think what we need to do here, to generate our philosophical issue, is to allow that it is at least logically possible for a law of nature to be violated. Let us therefore understand the concept of a law of nature in such a way that step (2) of the above proof is false. It may be that no laws of nature are ever violated, but there is no contradiction in the mere idea of it.
Another issue is that of truth. If a law of nature were to be violated, then could it still be true? One answer that might be given is: Yes, a violated law could still be true because laws of nature are only intended to describe events within the natural realm and miracles are outside the natural realm. Thus, miracles would not then render laws of nature false, for they would not show that the laws fail to correctly describe the natural realm. However, to view the matter in this way, the definition of “miracle” would need to be changed slightly. Instead of saying that miracles violate laws of nature, we would need to say that miracles are outside the natural realm and would violate laws of nature if they were in the natural realm. They would then not actually violate laws of nature, since laws of nature only describe events within the natural realm.
I do not like this way of viewing matters, because it places too much emphasis on the concept of a “natural realm.” To work with a definition of “miracles” as events outside the natural realm, we would need some criterion for deciding whether or not an event is inside or outside that realm, and we do not have any such criterion. The result would be that the term “miracle” would be obscure, perhaps even meaningless. Let us, therefore, simply go with our original definition of a miracle as an event which violates a law of nature. That results in the conclusion that if an miracle were to occur, then the law of nature which it violates would be false, since such a law would be a generalization with at least one exception to it. Thus, some laws would be false (namely, the ones violated by miracles) and other laws would be true (namely, those not violated by any miracles). This way of speaking, distinguishing true laws of nature from false ones, may sound rather peculiar, but there seems to be no other meaningful way to permit talk of miracles to enter the discussion. The idea of a law still being useful even though it is false is a familiar one. Newton’s Laws, for example, have been superseded in contemporary physics (and thus regarded as false), and yet they are still used in various practical fields. So, to speak of a law as false is not incoherent.
However, there is a problem here. Previously, a distinction was drawn between “genuine laws” and “erroneous (or superseded) laws.” How could that distinction still be drawn if we allow that even some of the genuine laws might be false? Let us say that if genuine laws are false, it is only because of isolated counter-instances which cannot be explained or predicted on the basis of any other empirical laws. But when erroneous (or superseded) laws are false, it is because of regular counter-instances which are both explainable and predictable on the basis of other empirical laws. Atomic explosions, for example, occur according to known regularities on the basis of which they could be explained and predicted. Thus, the law that matter cannot be destroyed is an erroneous (or superseded) one. But if a man were to walk on water, although that would make Archimedes’ Law false, it would not make it an erroneous law in the given sense. The counter-instance(s) would still be isolated and neither explainable nor predictable on the basis of any other empirical laws. Archimedes’ Law could still be a genuine law, though it would no doubt be somewhat suspect under such circumstances.
What would be the result if people walking on water were to become commonplace? Suppose various men were to do it every year, say, on Easter Sunday. Their action could not be explained by Archimedes’ Law, since the amount of fluid they displace as they walk on water does not correspond to a force sufficient to keep them from sinking. Some other force would be sought, but suppose that none is ever found and so their actions remain a mystery for science forever. Although such counter-instances to Archimedes’ Law would in that case not be isolated events, they would still be miracles if, indeed, the law cannot be replaced by other natural laws which are not violated by the given events. Thus, miracles need not be isolated events, but they do need to be events that violate natural law which are forever unexplainable within the system of science.
2. Scientists’ Attitudes
The philosophical issue which now comes into play is that of the relation between science and miracles (defined in the given way), particularly the attitude of scientists towards miracles. There seem to be at least the following possibilities:
(A) No scientist could ever believe in miracles under any circumstances.
(B) Scientists could believe in miracles, but not as scientists.
(C) Scientists could believe in miracles, even as scientists, but not when they are engaged in scientific research on the specific area in which the alleged miracles occur.
(D) Scientists, as scientists, could believe in miracles, even when engaged in scientific research on the specific area in which the alleged miracles occur, but such belief could not be regarded to be a result of the research or a scientific finding.
It seems clear that position (A) is incorrect, for there certainly have been scientists in the past who believed in miracles and there are still scientists today who do so (for example, many of those who identify themselves as Christians). But even if (A) is deleted, the question of which of the other positions is the correct one is rather difficult.
Certainly the last part of position (D) is correct. 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.”
It might be objected here that the purpose of science is not to try to understand reality but only to predict it and thereby control it. That is, science is of significance only to the extent that it yields (or has the prospect of yielding) technological results. This is the pragmatic view of the nature of science. I don’t particularly care for it, since I find it too limited, but even if it were correct, it would still leave no room for any appeal to miracles within science. There is no way that an appeal to miracles could lead to theories which produce predictions or technological results. Thus, whether science is construed realistically or pragmatically, all appeals to miracles would be excluded from it.
But even if the last part of position (D), above, is correct, the first part of it may not be. It could be, instead, that (B) or (C) is the correct approach to take on this matter. Let us consider a hypothetical situation. Suppose a man is diagnosed with a terminal illness but then recovers fully. Such events have been known to happen and they are often termed “miracles.” Some medical researchers believe that miracles, of that sort, do indeed occur. One main question is whether, when they express such belief, they can do so as scientists, or whether they necessarily do so only as laypersons (or private citizens, as it is sometimes put).
According to position (D), it is indeed possible for medical researchers to believe, as scientists, that a miraculous cure has occurred. It is simply that they cannot put this down as a “scientific finding.” But it might be objected that if they cannot put the result down as a “scientific finding,” then when they claim that a miracle has occurred, they are not speaking as scientists at all. In order to speak as a scientist, one must be in a position to report a scientific finding, for the reporting of such findings is a major component of science. The first part of (D), therefore, conflicts with its last part, and so (D) needs to be rejected.
According to position (C), it would be possible for other scientists to claim, as scientists, that a miraculous cure has occurred, but not those scientists (medical researchers) who are engaged in the specific area of research in question. But that seems rather anomalous. Why should scientists who are outside a particular field be in any better position to speak in the name of science on a matter related to that field than those scientists who are working in the very field in question? It would seem more reasonable to say that the people best able to speak in the name of science on a particular area would be the very scientists who are working in that area. Position (C) has other difficulties as well, but this one seems sufficient to refute it.
By a process of elimination, only position (B) remains, and that is the one which I shall endorse. Scientists can claim that miracles occur, but when they do so, they do so only as laypersons, not as scientists. But what, then, are we to say about such persons? Their minds seem to be compartmentalized into at least a scientific part and a religious part. When they think in terms of their profession, they have a positive outlook on science, assuming that what it deals with is in principle explainable by appeal to natural law, but when they think religiously, they have a negative outlook on science, assuming that there are aspects of reality that can never be explained by appeal to natural law, no matter how far science advances.
Why would anyone assume that science has such limits? What possible evidence could there be that there are events which science will be forever unable to explain? The only possible evidence is that certain events have not as yet been given naturalistic explanations. However, many such events in the past later came to be explained naturalistically. Thus, the mere use of induction should lead us to infer that, eventually, the events presently unexplained may very well, and perhaps even probably will, be explained. It would seem, then, that the epistemic stance most compatible with a scientific way of thinking would be to withhold judgement on whatever events have not as yet been explained naturalistically. To reason that what has not as yet been explained can never be explained would be invalid. It would be a non sequitur (more specifically, a kind of hasty generalization). Furthermore, one should not adopt a pessimistic outlook on science by calling such events “miraculous,” for to do so would be not only unscientific, but anti-scientific as well.
Two points should be made regarding this matter. First, if there are scientists who have such a pessimistic (anti-scientific) outlook with regard to their own profession, then presumably they acquired it from religion, which partly regulates the early mental development of most children. There is certainly no scientific basis whatever for such pessimism. And, second, it may be that the belief in miracles is connected with the idea that there are aspects of reality which must be forever beyond scientific scrutiny. If one already believes that there are facts which it is impossible for science to explain, then one would be already predisposed towards a belief in miracles. Well, what sorts of facts might those be? Here are some possible candidates:
(A) Religious experiences in people
(B) Selfless love and sacrifice
(C) Objective values (e.g., morality)
(D) God and an afterlife
(E) Free will
(F) Mind or consciousness
(H) Basic uniformities of nature
(I) The fact that the uniformities permit life
(J) Laws of logic
(K) Abstract entities, like numbers
(L) The existence of the universe itself
(M) The fact that something exists
In each case, there are two questions: whether there is some fact there to be explained, and, if so, whether there is any hope that science might come up with a complete and adequate explanation of that fact. If, for some items on the list, the answers are “yes” and “no,” respectively, then that would predispose one towards a belief in miracles. That is, if there are other facts to be explained which science can’t possibly explain, then there is not so much involved in adding (the occurrence of) miracles to the list. I think that many of the items listed above are ones which religion appeals to as “facts beyond scientific explanation.” At any rate, if one is indoctrinated by religion to believe that there are such facts, then the acceptance of miracles would come easily. If the person should later adopt science as a profession, then the kind of compartmentalization of the person’s mind mentioned above would be an expected outcome.
It is an interesting question whether any items on the above list really have the features claimed for it by religion, that is: (1) a fact to be explained, and (2) forever incapable of any naturalistic explanation. I myself am inclined to deny it. For some of the items, it is condition (1) that fails to be met. I would say that of (C), (D), (J), (K), & (M). For all the other items, it is condition (2) that fails to be met: i.e., naturalistic explanations can be given. I shall not defend this here, for it is a large topic and beyond the scope of the present essay.
Perhaps the main question before us at this point is whether, within such mental compartmentalization as described above, the person necessarily holds incompatible beliefs. What it comes down to is the issue whether the scientist qua scientist must believe that all of reality is naturalistically explainable. If so, then scientists who believe in miracles would be inconsistent in their thinking.
We have already established that the scientist qua scientist cannot believe in miracles. But it is a further question whether he must deny that they ever occur. In other words, is the scientist qua scientist like an agnostic regarding miracles, neither believing in them nor denying them, or is he like an atheist, denying that they ever occur? If he is like an atheist, then for him to believe in miracles in some other compartment of his mind would be inconsistent, for it would contradict something that he believes in the scientific compartment. But if he is only like an agnostic, then there need be no such inconsistency. In his scientific compartment, there would (necessarily) be no belief in miracles, but there would not be anything that contradicts their occurrence either.
So, what is the answer? I argued above that when people work as scientists, they necessarily have a naturalistic worldview. But do they, in addition, necessarily believe that such a worldview is complete and not contradicted by anything else in reality? There are indeed scientists who do not regard the naturalistic worldview to be complete in that way. In their scientific work, they are only methodological naturalists and not also metaphysical naturalists. That is, they assume naturalism as an outlook presupposed by their scientific work, but they do not regard naturalism to be generally true of all reality. They might say, “I can make no reference to miracles here in science, but science is limited; there are aspects of reality that lie beyond it.” Are such scientists necessarily deficient as scientists? I shall make no pronouncement on this matter here but will leave it open. Certainly scientists who believe in miracles have compartmentalized minds, and some of the time (in their religious life) they have not only an unscientific but an anti-scientific outlook. But whether they must also have inconsistent beliefs is a further matter, one which I shall leave to the reader to judge.