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Question 47: Are there miracles?

April 30, 2013

The dictionary defines a miracle as:

“An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature
and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God”[1]

Many religious texts refer to moments of healing as miracles, Jesus creating wine from water is a typical example, and any sports aficionado can name several “miracle” plays. When you see the definition, it’s fair to say the term might be overused in relation to sporting exploits.

One the most important questions about the “laws of nature” is if we actually know what they are. Is it really written in stone you can’t instantaneously turn water into wine? Who says you can’t be raised from the dead, have your sight restored or walk on water?

Whether it’s virgin birth, manna from heaven or a glorious conquest, any claim to miracle status for these events cannot be substantiated by anything other than myth or a potentially biased historic record[2]. On this basis, we really should be asking

“Do miracles exist in today’s society?”

The pertinence of this question becomes even more compelling when you consider the magnitude of intellectual and scientific achievement over the last few hundred years. With all of the advanced technology and thought we’ve generated over the last century or so, have we eliminated the existence of miracles?

I don’t think so.

Of course, in today’s appropriately skeptical society, the bar for something to be perceived as a genuine, unadulterated “miracle” is much higher. There are certainly medical moments that give us pause:

a)     Tumors shrinking for reasons unknown
b)    Extraordinary tales of survival
c)     Maternal feats of strength to save children

In the future, all of these may be explained –  perhaps we’ll even find some people who are genetically predisposed to “miracles” – but I see limited value in arguing the case as:

1)     Belief in miracles may be the explanation for some of these events and I’m not going to mess with that.
2)     Until everything is explained, I’ll give God the benefit of the doubt on this one.
3)     Some events we observe, say life for example, are so spectacularly improbable, let’s enjoy the “miracle” regardless of its source.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, using the definition we started with, the only way to truly show a miracle has occurred is to:

a)     Know the laws of nature completely
b)    Identify something as impossible
c)    Show it happened
d)    Attribute it to God

Our daily lives are punctuated with the results of JOE and RUTH, many of which are highly improbable and may be incorrectly attributed to God.

While I’m not prepared to discount the possibility of miracles occurring, it’s possible the real miracles are when individuals or groups, through commitment and intellect, use their connection with their God to create positive contributions within their society.


[1] American Heritage Dictionary – online

[2] This doesn’t make them any less legitimate, just harder to prove.

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