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Bread and fish mosaic / Galilee Tabgha by the Sea of Galilee (Israel), Church of the Miracle of the Loaves
Image: picture-alliance/akg-images/J. Sorges

Are miracles 'outside the realm of science'?

April 11, 2018

Using science to study Biblical events like the 'parting of the Red Sea' or miracles like the 'resurrection' is tricky — even if you're religious. Just ask software engineer and atmospheric scientist, Carl Drews.


DW: How did you approach your study of Moses' parting of the Red Sea?

Carl Drews: I approached the Biblical story of Moses crossing the Red Sea respectfully, knowing that this epic event is very important to many religious people — myself included. I recognized the limits of what science can and cannot conclude. We can state that the narrative is plausible, but we cannot state that God was or was not involved. In particular, I avoided the use of the word "explain," because to many people that term means to "explain away." Exodus portrays the crossing of the Red Sea as a mighty work of God, and the hydrodynamic details of the crossing do not take away from that faith-based view. Most readers could understand that idea, whether they were religious or not.

Read more: Opinion: Science is scared of religion

What was the response to the study?

The biggest threat to scientific inquiry came from the New Atheists. The New Atheists are a small group of militant atheists who have taken it upon themselves to attack religious beliefs using science. A blogger named PZ Myers stated that he would reject the published paper out of hand if he were selected as a peer reviewer. The comments on his blog were similar to the hostility endured by climate scientists in publishing their research. The journal PLoS ONE came under pressure to retract the paper. Fortunately for me and for science in general, the executive editor, Damian Pattinson, held firm. I wrote about these events in my book "Between Migdol and the Sea."

Carl Drews
Drews says Biblical miracles are "outside the realm of science" but that science can still study the detailsImage: C. Drews/UCAR-NCAR

How about other events of religious significance, or miracles, such as the resurrection of Christ? Should science avoid studying miracles?

By its very nature, that miracle — the resurrection — is outside the realm of science. I define a miracle as God's temporary suspension of natural laws in response to human need. However, science can still study narrative details, like the grave clothes that were neatly folded and placed separately. Were those wrappings typical of the first century? What is the date of the Shroud of Turin? Those questions are certainly within the realm of science. Climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) face hostility all the time. I am inspired by their example to press on with scientific research.

Carl Drews is a software engineer in the department of Atmospheric Chemistry Observations & Modeling at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is part of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in the US. He has studied how weather events, such as storm surges and wind, could have parted the Red Sea, as in the Biblical story of Moses and the Exodus. Carl Drews was responding to questions via email.

DW Zulfikar Abbany
Zulfikar Abbany Senior editor fascinated by space, AI, the mind, how science touches people, European perspectives
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