Apocalypses now: modern science and biblical miracles

Boyle Medal winner Dr Mark Harris suggests that scientific explanations for Bible stories do not disprove miracles so much as offer new retellings.

Speaking at the Boyle Lecture in London, reproduced in an article published 21 November 2018 by Wiley Online Library, Dr Harris said:

“Many of the Bible's miracle stories can be explained scientifically and yet great numbers of people still believe they're miracles, on account of the fact that God's providential purposes are seen to be fulfilled.”

Could a volcanic eruption, storm wind or earthquake have parted the waters for Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites – or was the miracle in the timing, that they were in the right place at the right time?

"The important assumption here is that the Bible ‘tells it like it really happened’,” said Dr Harris. “But does it?”

Dr Harris found that while scientists believe they can find naturalistic models to explain what is said to have happened in the Bible, modern biblical scholars – “professional historians, archaeologists and linguists” - attribute more to the “everyday human phenomena” of story‐telling and retelling:

“The scientists are the believers in the integrity and literal reliability of the Bible, while the biblical scholars (the theologians) are the skeptics. The tables are turned. Science has become faith; theology has become disbelief.”

Further discussion

Distinguished academic John Hedley Brooke, author of ‘Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives’ (Cambridge 1991 and 2014) responded to Dr Harris’s lecture in an article, The Ambivalence of Scientific Naturalism, published in Zygon, December 2018. His response and Dr Harris’s reply are available via links below.


Dr Mark Harris. Apocalypses now. The Boyle Lecture 2018. Wiley Online Library

John Hedley Brooke’s response. The Ambivalence of Scientific Naturalism. Zygon. Wiley Online Library

Dr Harris’s reply. On “The Natural Nature Of Naturalism”: Answers to John Hedley Brooke's Questions. Wiley Online Library

Dr Harris’s web profile

John Hedley Brooke’s website

The Boyle Lectures at St Mary Le Bow, London