Miracles

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A miracle is a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature, such that can be attempted to be explained by divine intervention, and is sometimes associated with a miracle-worker. Many folktales, religious texts, and people claim various events they refer to as "miraculous". People in different cultures have substantially different definitions of the word "miracle". Even within a specific religion there is often more than one of the term. Sometimes the term "miracle" may refer to the action of a supernatural being that is not a god. Thus, the term "divine intervention", by contrast, would refer specifically to the direct involvement of a deity. In casual usage, "miracle" may also refer to any statistically unlikely but beneficial event, (such as the survival of a natural disaster) or even which regarded as "wonderful" regardless of its likelihood, such as birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a terminal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or 'beating the odds.'

For lessons on the topic of Miracles, follow this link.

Miracles as supernatural acts

In this view, a miracle is a violation of normal laws of nature by some supernatural entity or unknown, outside force. Some scientist-theologians like John Polkinghorne suggest that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but "exploration of a new regime of physical experience."[1] The logic behind an event being deemed a miracle varies significantly. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact. However, C.S. Lewis noted that one cannot believe a miracle occurred if one had already drawn a conclusion in one's mind that miracles are not possible at all. He cites the example of a woman he knew who had seen a ghost, who had discounted her experience; claiming it to be some sort of hallucination (because she did not believe in ghosts).

Many conservative religious believers hold that in the absence of a plausible scientific theory, the best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being, and cite this as evidence for the existence of a god or gods. However, Richard Dawkins criticises this kind of thinking as a subversion of Occam's Razor.[2] Some adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God.

Miracles in religious texts

In the New Testament

The descriptions of most miracles in the Christian New Testament are often the same as the commonplace definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature. In St John's Gospel the miracles are referred to as "signs" and the emphasis is on God demonstrating his underlying normal activity in remarkable ways.[3]

Jesus is recorded as having turned water into wine, fed a multitude by turning a loaf of bread into many loaves of bread, and raised the dead. Jesus is also described as rising from the dead himself, God his father having raised him. Jesus explains in the New Testament that miracles are performed by faith in God. "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “move from here to there” and it will move." (Gospel of Matthew 17:20). After Jesus returned to heaven, the book of Acts records the disciples of Jesus praying to God to grant that miracles be done in his name, for the purpose of convincing onlookers that he is alive. (Acts 4:29-31). Other passages mention False prophets who will be able to perform miracles to deceive "even the elect of Christ" (Matthew 24:24, 2 Thes 2:9, Revelation 13:13).

In the Qur'an

A 16th century Persian miniature painting celebrating Muhammad's ascent into the Heavens, a journey known as the Miraj. Muhammad's face is veiled, a common practice in Islamic art.

Miracle in the Qur'an can be defined as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings.[4] According to this definition, miracles are present "in a threefold sense: in sacred history, in connection with Muhammad himself and in relation to revelation."[4] The Qur'an does not use the technical Arabic word for miracle (Muʿd̲j̲iza) literally meaning "that by means of which [the Prophet] confounds, overwhelms, his opponents". It rather uses the term 'Ayah'(literally meaning sign).[5] The term Ayah is used in the Qur'an in the above mentioned threefold sense: it refers to the "verses" of the Qur'an (believed to be the divine speech in human language; presented by Muhammad as his chief Miracle); as well as to miracles of it and the signs(particularly those of creation).[4][5] In order to defend the possibility of miracles and God's omnipotence against the encroachment of the independent secondary causes, some medieval Muslim theologians such as Al-Ghazali rejected the idea of cause and effect in essence, but accepted it as something that facilitates humankind's investigation and comprehension of natural processes. They argued that the nature was composed of uniform atoms that were "re-created" at every instant by God. Thus if the soil was to fall, God would have to create and re-create the accident of heaviness for as long as the soil was to fall. For Muslim theologians, the laws of nature were only the customary sequence of apparent causes: customs of God.[6]

Miracles as events planned by God

In rabbinic Judaism, many rabbis mentioned in the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.

In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake (or some such other natural disaster) at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6.

Philosophers' explanations of miracles

Fundamentally, no philosopher sticking to the scientific world view could explain the existence or not of miracles, since miracles are incompatible with it by definition. What philosophers discuss is the fact that they could be taken or not as a justification to the existence of supernatural forms of expression different from those given to reason and experience, or in minor intellectual approaches, to what is considered to be fair and unfair from a human God's perspective to be given to the common human claims for palliation of suffering.

Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian views of miracles

Aristotle rejected the idea that God could or would intervene in the order of the natural world. Jewish neo-Aristotelian philosophers, who are still influential today, include Maimonides, Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, and Gersonides. Directly or indirectly, their views are still prevalent in much of the religious Jewish community.

Baruch Spinoza's view of miracles

In his Theologico-Political Treatise Spinoza claims that miracles are merely lawlike events whose causes we are ignorant of. We should not treat them as having no cause or of having a cause immediately available. Rather the miracle is for combating the ignorance it entails, like a political project.

David Hume's views of miracles

According to the philosopher David Hume, a miracle is "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.".[7]

Søren Kierkegaard's views of miracles

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, following Hume and Johann Georg Hamann, agrees with Hume's definition of a miracle as a transgression of a law of nature,[8] but Kierkegaard, writing as his pseudonym Johannes Climacus, regulates any historical reports to be less than certain, including historical reports of such miracle transgressions, as all historical knowledge is always doubtful and open to approximation.[9]

As products of creative art and social acceptance

In this view, miracles do not really occur. Rather, they are the product of creative story tellers. They use them to embellish a hero or incident with a theological flavor. Using miracles in a story allows characters and situations to become bigger than life, and to stir the emotions of the listener more than the mundane and ordinary.

  1. John Polkinghorne Faith, Science and Understanding p59
  2. The God Delusion
  3. see e.g. Polkinghorne op cit. and any pretty well any commentary on the Gospel of John, such as William Temple Readings in St John's Gospel (see e.g. p 33) or Tom Wright's John for Everyone
  4. Denis Gril, Miracles, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  5. A.J. Wensinck, Muʿd̲j̲iza, Encyclopedia of Islam
  6. Robert G. Mourison, The Portrayal of Nature in a Medieval Qur’an Commentary, Studia Islamica, 2002
  7. Miracles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  8. [links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-4189(195110)31%3A4%3C274%3AHAK%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2 Hume and Kierkegaard] by Richard Popkin
  9. Kierkegaard on Miracles
  10. Keller, James. “A Moral Argument against Miracles,” Faith and Philosophy. vol. 12, no 1. Jan 1995. 54-78
  11. "Are Miracles Logically Impossible?". Come Reason Ministries, Convincing Christianity. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  12. "“Miracles are not possible,” some claim. Is this true?". ChristianAnswers.net. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  13. Paul K. Hoffman. "A Jurisprudential Analysis Of Hume’s “in Principal” Argument Against Miracles" (PDF). Christian Apologetics Journal, Volume 2, No. 1, Spring, 1999; Copyright ©1999 by Southern Evangelical Seminary. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  14. http://jcgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,982807,00.html
  15. http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=3664
  16. Messori, Vittorio (2000): Il miracolo. Indagine sul più sconvolgente prodigio mariano. - Rizzoli: BUR.
  17. Religion in the Roman World

External links