Let There Be Ice Cream In Cones: On Determinism and Miracles

Ice Cream Miracle2


Last week I wrote that determinism is not a new idea for physicists, and I wrote that Christian apologists do not accept the deterministic conclusion that everything has a fundamental microphysical underpinning. This bears explaining. The key word is “everything.”

As far as physics goes, the material world does seem determined.* Scientists expect matter to follow laws of physics, otherwise, they would not be able to form hypotheses to do experiments and gather data to make predictions. Here the atheist and believer alike can agree as thorough materialists.**

I also explained last week that an atheist usually has an axiomatic assumption that the physical realm is all that exists, hence “everything” is assumed to be determined by physical laws. The believer goes beyond the atheist though. “Everything” to the believer axiomatically includes the physical and the spiritual realm.

“I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.”

Enter miracles. People often ask, “Does God contradict Himself by violating His own laws of physics?” I think of it like this.

Imagine there’s a father who loves his family immensely. He provides for them and guides them, and as the head of household, he establishes rules for the family. To the children’s chagrin, one of these rules happens to involve ice cream—no ice cream in cones because it’s too messy—and this steadfast rule is considered as firm as the Law of Universal Gravitation.

However, one evening, the father decides to override that rule because he wants to show his children his love in a special way, a personal love that goes beyond merely providing for them, guiding them, and being the Lawmaker of the Home. What does he do? He decides to take them out for ice cream and by-golly he orders them ice cream in cones, just this once. Why? Because he delights in seeing his children delight. Sure there are rules, but there’s more to life than rules.

This is like the miracle. The usual course of things is uniquely interrupted, but the miracle does not violate or change the rule. Rather, the gift is a revelation, a glimpse, of a greater truth. To quote C.S. Lewis, “By definition, miracles must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature; but if they are real they must, in the very act of so doing, assert all the more the unity and self-consistency of total reality at some deeper level.” Children need there to be order in the home, but that order is not all there is. Science needs there to be order in the universe, but that order is not all there is either. To understand this greater Truth, however, one has to accept this greater Love, rather than axiomatically decide this reality is impossible.


References and Further Reading

*As evidenced by the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics that occupied most of the twentieth century, this is debatable.
**This is why I think science is ripe grounds for ecumenism.

  • C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (United Kingdom: Harper Collings eBooks, 2009; original 1947), Chapter 8 “Miracles and the Laws of Nature.”
  • Christopher T. Baglow, Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge (Mobile, AL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2011), Concluding Chapter “Miracles: Signs and Wonders at the Crossroads of Faith and Science.” Baglow quotes Lewis’ above essay in this chapter.

Photo Credit: This photo was taken for the essay by the superb photographer, Beth Pack. You can see more of her work on her Facebook page, Elizabeth Pack Photography. Beth has an inspired gift; she captures the spirit of childhood. Please say a prayer for the boy in yellow, Leo, who is having surgery tomorrow.

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About the Author

Stacy Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She worked as a chemist for DuPont in the Lycra® and Teflon® businesses.

She teaches Chemistry and Physics for Kolbe Academy Online and Homeschool Program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She is teaching a set of summer mini-workshops titled "Science in the Light of Faith" for students, parents, other educators, or any Christian interested in the nuts and bolts of navigating science.

Similarly, she is teaching a "Reading Science in the Light of Faith" at Holy Apostles College & Seminary next Fall (2016). The course is funded by a John Templeton Foundation grant through John Carroll University for teaching science in seminaries. She is on the Board of Directors for ITEST (the Institute for the Theological Encounter with Science and Technology) where the essays from the course will be shared with the public.

Also in the Fall of 2016, she will teach a "Theological History of Science" course at Seton Hall University, where her mentor, the late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki was a distinguished professor. She is the author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki.

Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science is forthcoming with Ave Maria Press...

She teaches, researches, and writes from her family's 100-year old restored mountain lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband and children (and two German Shepherds) remain her favorite priorities. Here is her website.

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