Dealing With Miracles

There’s no news out there today, so let’s talk about miracles. Miracles are events that are contrary to the laws of nature, which are attributed to supernatural causes. By definition, they are incomprehensible.

In The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Miracles we divided miracles into two categories. Category One miracles are those that, having been said to occur, don’t leave any contradictory evidence to discredit the tale — other than the event’s inherent impossibility, of course. It requires faith to attribute any credit to such tales, but that’s the nature of faith — it’s belief in the absence of evidence or logical proof. Category Two miracles are those that are contradicted by evidence (e.g., young-Earth creationism), and we’re not discussing those here.

Theologians still refer to theology as the queen of the sciences. They usually confine their claims to Category One miracles that are uncontradicted by evidence. e.g., the existence of deities. They’re on safe ground when doing so, but it seems to us that by staying only with “safe” claims, their theology is more like the maiden aunt of science, rather than the queen. The old gal is still with us, but she’s incapable of being productive. So the question arises: As with some nonsensical assertion from one’s maiden aunt, how should we politely respond to an uncontradictable miracle claim?

We suggest acknowledging that science hasn’t yet provided an answer, and may never do so. As for the truth of a miracle which can never be experimentally tested, perhaps the best response is to say that: (1) as mere humans, we are incapable of dealing with it; and (2) we don’t need to concern ourselves with it, because either we will never know the truth of the matter, or one day (perhaps) all will be revealed to us and then we will know. Meanwhile, it is futile to worry about such matters.

There may be a better way to deal with such issues. We would appreciate your input.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “Dealing With Miracles

  1. In such matters I generally I follow Bertrand Russell’s advice: “It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.”

  2. Your classification of miracles into two types is good, as long as we are talking about the sense “events that are contrary to the laws of nature, which are attributed to supernatural causes.”

    There is another sense that confuses the issue. That one is exemplified in the text printed on a cotton T-shirt given to me by a prominent farmer in cotton country: “Cotton is a miracle of nature.” I immediately jumped on the declaration as an oxymoron. If it was of nature, it could not be a miracle of nature, and vice versa.

    I reconsidered after realizing that the etymological root “mira-” refers simply to something to marvel over. Etymology is no infallible key to meaning, but in this case the original meaning of “a wonder or marvel” is still current. Dictionary.com gives an example of a similar usage: “a miracle of modern acoustics.” It is not hard to see how people applying the word to supposed supernatural events could extend the meaning to the point where “unnatural” becomes the salient trait of a miracle.

    Confusion results in contexts where the writer could mean by the word or the reader could read into it either meaning, as when new parents refer to the birth or the baby as a miracle, or people describe their survival of a tornado that killed their neighbors as a miracle.

    Just one more example of an ambiguity that makes it important to stipulate the meaning one intends, as you have done. Kudos.

  3. I suggest one look at the Wikipedia article on the “Epistemic theory of miracles” for a different opinion.

  4. docbill1351

    It is certainly a miracle that I got through the Advanced Quantum Mechanics II final exam after I mistakenly took a Laplace transform, then got lost, reversed a sign, looked at my watch with two minutes to spare, and drew the projected atomic orbital as a sphere with a radius of 1.2 Å. Why the point two? I dunno, one-point-oh didn’t seem to weigh more than a duck so I added point two.

    Anyway, I got 3/4 credit not the least of which was due to the fiver that inexplicably found itself lodged in my Blue Book.

  5. Science will never be able to deal with Category One miracles exactly because they are uncontradictable.

  6. Miracles, by definition, can never be experimentally tested because those which have have turned out not to be miracles. So, miracles are violations of the laws of nature that you weren’t there to see, so I respond with the favorite question of creationists “Were you there?” If you weren’t then you are just spouting hearsay.

    In the Catholic church, to “confirm” a miracle, the eyewitnesses have to be debriefed (aka interrogated) by a Vatican official. They could, at least extend the same courtesy to a member of the scientific community.

  7. Okay, I made a snarky comment. here’s a serious one: when presented with a claim for a miracle, one that isn’t the usual “we all prayed you’d get better and you did” type, a typical response would be: so what? Something that violated the laws of nature occurred. It is not something that happens often or it would have been noticed before. Since it is inexplicable, almost by definition, any claims that the miracle had a cause is very questionable. Miracles do not have causes and effects that can be identified. If they did, they would be natural. So, whatever cause they think the miracle had is almost irrelevant. Second, if they were praying for such a thing to happen just before it happened, any claim that the prayer had an effect is very debatable. If it did all of the times I fervently wished for my baseball team to score a run and they did would have to be classified as miracles. Third, There is no possible proof that the laws of physics were violated because there was no observational equipment in place to be able to detect forgeries. I have seen people walk on water and army tanks made to disappear by illusionists. Our brains are wired to be fooled, we are entertained by people who take advantage of such wiring, so in the absence of corroborating data, the fact of the miracle cannot be proven.

    I could go on, but I am probably more bored than you at this point. The basic recipe for a miracle is to: “start with a full cup of wishful thinking, …”

  8. A “miracle” is usually defined as a phenomenon which explicitly contradicts the actual laws of nature, not merely one which goes against what we think we know of those laws. Therefore, we cannot be sure that any event is actually miraculous.