If I tell you that science cannot explain why that stone fell to the ground, you will say that I am a lunatic, but if I tell you that science cannot explain the ultimate laws of physics, you will say that perhaps I am right (a read it here, written by one of the panelists). But if science cannot explain part of physical reality, why is it only the ultimate laws of physics? Perhaps physical events that cannot be explained by science are happening all the time. Perhaps some of those events can be called "magic" or "miracles", no?

When you say that science can or cannot explain this or that what you ought to mean is that, at the bare minimum, the proposition that this or that happens can be deduced from some other more general proposition or propositions. So it is not unreasonable to think that there isn't anything science can't explain. Maybe there are infinitely many propositions, and they are all related deductively. Here I am just applying the nomological-deductive model of explanation, but the same point could be made using any other model, in its terms. It also seems to me that your question confuses two senses of "explain", one in which why a stone falls to the ground is explained when we deduce it from a proposition about gravitation, and another one, in which explanation is ultimate and absolute rather than relative to other propositions, and in which we cannot explain why the laws of nature are what they are and why they exist at all. If you stipulate that the second sense of explanation is legitimate, then your problem is bound to appear. Yet if we do not use the second sense to explain the path of the stone, why should we insist that we use it for the existence and content of the laws of nature? It goes considerably beyond all this, though, to suggest that negative answers to the questions legitimate the concepts of magic and miracle. One would need at the least to know what a miracle is. Is it for example just an event that contradicts an existing law of nature? In that case of course the law of nature is no law of nature after all.

To add a few thoughts to my colleague's response:

We could use the following as a rough working definition of a miracle: a miracle is an intervention in the course of nature by the deity in which the usual regularities are suspended or over-ridden. There's lots of room to refine and polish that, but it gets around one objection to the very idea of a miracle, namely that laws of nature aren't really laws of nature if they have exceptions. Laws of nature would encode the way the world works when God doesn't intervene. But of course, even if we can come up with an intelligible notion of "miracle," it's a long ways from there to having reasons to believe that there actually are miracles, let alone that any particular occurrence is a miracle. The fact that we don't have an explanation for something at the moment provides more or less no reason by itself to think that it's a case of divine intervention.

"Magic" is a more complicated concept than "miracle," in my view. If you go back and look at how magic was discussed in earlier periods, you'll find that "magical" and "natural" aren't straightforwardly opposed. For example: some kinds of magic were understood in terms of the existence of what are sometimes called "demons." (The word "demon" here doesn't automatically entail that the beings were evil.) These beings had powers that we humans don't, but they were part of nature in a broad sense, and the powers they had were a matter of their own natures. The magician could use various means to get the demon to do his bidding. But all of this was understood against a backdrop of what sorts of things the physical universe consists of and what laws those things follow. The point is that if this sort of magic were real, it would still follow various principles and laws, and there would be what we might call a "science" of what its rules are.

This point is even clearer in the case of things like magnetism. At one time, magnetism was seen as an example of what was called "natural magic". ("Natural magic" was contrasted with "demonic magic.") Magnetism was "occult" in the sense that whatever made it work was hidden or invisible. It also involved what we might call action at a distance: a lodestone doesn't have to be in physical contact with what it moves. But we gradually came to believe, for good reason, that there are no demons, and that the phenomena attributed to them could be explained in the same sort of way that we explain things that no one would think of calling magical. The upshot is that nowadays, there's not much work for the concept of magic to do. There's not much in the way of good reasons for believing in anything like what the ancient world thought of as demons, and science has made piece with the idea that the forces of nature don't correspond to things we can observe.

The upshot is that if there's something we don't know how to explain, saying that it might be magic just doesn't say very much or else says something that just isn't plausible. It's not plausible if it calls for invoking the action of "demons." And if it's not a matter of talking about demons, to say that it's magic doesn't obviously come to much more than simply saying that we don't know how to explain it.

There are subtleties and side-roads that I've ignored here; spelling them out would call for an essay rather than a post. But the bottom line wouldn't change much if we added the subtleties. The most important take-home message is that even if we have clear concepts of miracle and magic, it's a long, winding road from the fact that we don't happen to have an explanation for something to the serious possibility that it might be miracle or magic.

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