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A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles.[1] Theologians say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well.[2]


A miracle is often considered a fortuitous event: compare with an Act of God.


In casual usage, "miracle" is seen as any event that is statistically unlikely but beneficial, (such as surviving a natural disaster), or simply a "wonderful" occurrence, regardless of likelihood, such as a birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a terminal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or 'beating the odds.' Some coincidences may be perceived to be miracles.[3]


Explanations for miraclesEdit

Supernatural actsEdit

A miracle is a phenomenon not fully by known laws of nature, or an act by some supernatural entity or unknown, outside force. Some scientist-theologians suggest that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but "exploration of a new regime of physical experience".


Criteria for classifying an event as a miracle varies. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact. Many conservative religious believers hold that in the absence of a plausible, parsimonious 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. Some adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God.


Events planned by GodEdit

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.


Nonliteral interpretations of biblical accountsEdit

Biblical literalism is not rigidly believed by all scholars: Non-literal interpretations of some scripture are held by both classical and modern thinkers. This may include the use of figure of speech, allegory, and exegesis.


In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this biblical story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions. (Of course, such dreams and visions could themselves be considered miracles.)


Joseph H. Hertz, a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God's command."


Religious textsEdit

Hebrew BibleEdit

Descriptions of miracles (Hebrew Ness, נס) appear in the Tanakh. Examples include prophets, such as Elijah who performed miracles like the raising of a widow's dead son (1 Kings 17:17–24) and Elisha whose miracles include multiplying the poor widow's jar of oil (2 Kings 4:1–7) and restoring to life the son of the woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:18–37).


New TestamentEdit

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. The gospels record three sorts of miracles performed by Jesus: exorcisms, cures, and nature wonders.[4] 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.[5] In the New Testament, the greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus, the event central to Christian faith.


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 "if possible, even the elect of Christ" (Matthew 24:24, 2 Thes 2:9, Revelation 13:13).


Qur'anEdit

File:Miraj by Sultan Muhammad.jpg
Main article: Islamic view of miracles

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Miracle in the Qur'an can be defined as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings.[6] According to this definition, Miracles are present "in a threefold sense: in sacred history, in connection with Muhammad himself and in relation to revelation."[6] 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).[7] 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).[6][7]


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.[8]


Claims of miraclesEdit

Religious groupsEdit

BuddhismEdit

The Haedong Kosung-jon (Biographies of High Monks) records that King Beopheung of Silla had desired to promulgate Buddhism as the state religion. However, officials in his court opposed him. In the fourteenth year of his reign, Beopheung's "Grand Secretary", Ichadon, devised a strategy to overcome court opposition. Ichadon schemed with the king, convincing him to make a proclamation granting Buddhism official state sanction using the royal seal. Ichadon told the king to deny having made such a proclamation when the opposing officials received it and demanded an explanation. Instead, Ichadon would confess and accept the punishment of execution, for what would quickly be seen as a forgery. Ichadon prophesied to the king that at his execution a wonderful miracle would convince the opposing court faction of Buddhism's power. Ichadon's scheme went as planned, and the opposing officials took the bait. When Ichadon was executed on the 15th day of the 9th month in 527, his prophecy was fulfilled; the earth shook, the sun was darkened, beautiful flowers rained from the sky, his severed head flew to the sacred Geumgang mountains, and milk instead of blood sprayed 100 feet in the air from his beheaded corpse. The omen was accepted by the opposing court officials as a manifestation of heaven's approval, and Buddhism was made the state religion in 527 CE.[9]


The Honchō Hokke Reigenki (c. 1040) contains a collection of Buddhist miracle stories.[10]


ChristianityEdit

Main article: Miracles of Jesus

C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and other Christians have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible. For example, C.S. Lewis says that a miracle is something that comes totally out of the blue. If for thousands of years a woman can become pregnant only by sexual intercourse with a man, then if she were to become pregnant without a man, it would be a miracle.[11][12][13]


There have been numerous claims of miracles in Christianity. This includes the Roman Catholic Church, Christian Science, Protestant, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic and others. Some of the miracles that are claimed to occur by these denominations are faith healings and casting out demons.


Catholic ChurchEdit

Template:See also The Catholic Church recognizes miracles as being works of God, either directly, or through the prayers and intercessions of a specific Saint or Saints. There is usually a specific purpose connected to a miracle, e.g. the conversion of a person or persons to the Catholic faith or the construction of a church desired by God. The Church says that it tries to be very cautious to approve the validity of putative miracles. The Catholic Church says that it maintains particularly stringent requirements in validating the miracle's authenticity.[14] The process is overseen by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.[15]


The Catholic Church claims to have confirmed the validity of a number of miracles, some of them occurring in modern times.Template:Citation needed According to the Catholic Church, these miracles have withstood the test of modern scientific scrutiny.Template:Citation needed Among the more notable miracles approved by the Church are several Eucharistic miracles wherein the Sacred Host is transformed visibly into Christ's living Flesh and Blood, such as the Miracle of Lanciano.


According to 17th-century documents, a young Spanish man's leg was miraculously restored to him in 1640 after having been amputated two and a half years earlier[16] (see miracle of Calanda).


Another miracle approved by the Church is the Miracle of the Sun, which occurred near Fátima, Portugal on October 13, 1917. Anywhere between 70,000 and 100,000 people, who were gathered at a cove near Fátima, witnessed the sun dim, change colors, spin, dance about in the sky, and appear to plummet to earth, radiating great heat in the process. After the ten-minute event, the ground and the people's clothing, which had been drenched by a previous rainstorm, were both dry.


Velankanni (Mary) can be traced to the mid-16th century and is attributed to three miracles: the apparition of Mary and the Christ Child to a slumbering shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of Portuguese sailors from a violent sea storm.[17]


In addition to these, the Catholic Church attributes miraculous causes to many otherwise inexplicable phenomena on a case-by-case basis. Only after all other possible explanations have proven inadequate may the Church assume Divine intervention and declare the miracle worthy of veneration by the faithful. The Church does not, however, enjoin belief in any extra-Scriptural miracle as an article of faith or as necessary for salvation.


St. Thomas Aquinas, a prominent doctor of the Catholic Church, divided miracles into three types in his Summa contra Gentiles:

These works that are sometimes done by God outside the usual order assigned to things are wont to be called miracles: because we are astonished (admiramur) at a thing when we see an effect without knowing the cause. And since at times one and the same cause is known to some and unknown to others, it happens that of several who see an effect, some are astonished and some not: thus an astronomer is not astonished when he sees an eclipse of the sun, for he knows the cause; whereas one who is ignorant of this science must needs wonder, since he knows not the cause. Wherefore it is wonderful to the latter but not to the former. Accordingly a thing is wonderful simply, when its cause is hidden simply: and this is what we mean by a miracle: something, to wit, that is wonderful in itself and not only in respect of this person or that. Now God is the cause which is hidden to every man simply: for we have proved above that in this state of life no man can comprehend Him by his intellect. Therefore properly speaking miracles are works done by God outside the order usually observed in things.


Of these miracles there are various degrees and orders. The highest degree in miracles comprises those works wherein something is done by God, that nature can never do: for instance, that two bodies occupy the same place, that the sun recede or stand still, that the sea be divided and make way to passers by. Among these there is a certain order: for the greater the work done by God, and the further it is removed from the capability of nature, the greater the miracle: thus it is a greater miracle that the sun recede, than that the waters be divided.


The second degree in miracles belongs to those whereby God does something that nature can do, but not in the same order: thus it is a work of nature that an animal live, see and walk: but that an animal live after being dead, see after being blind, walk after being lame, this nature cannot do, but God does these things sometimes by a miracle. Among these miracles also, there are degrees, according as the thing done is further removed from the faculty of nature.


The third degree of miracles is when God does what is wont to be done by the operation of nature, but without the operation of the natural principles: for instance when by the power of God a man is cured of a fever that nature is able to cure; or when it rains without the operation of the principles of nature.[18]


HinduismEdit

An incident concerning Raghavendra Swami and Sir Thomas Munro has been recorded in the Madras Districts Gazetteer. In 1801, while serving as the Collector of Bellary, Sir Thomas Munro, who later served as the Governor of Madras is believed to have come across an apparition of Raghavendra Swami who had died almost two centuries back. Sir Thomas Munro is recorded as having spoke with Raghavendra Swami in English over an endowment proposal which he ultimately quashed as per the Swami's advice.[19]


IslamEdit

Sufi biographical literature records claims of miraculous accounts of men and women. The miraculous prowess of the Sufi holy men includes firasa(clairvoyance), the ability to disappear from sight, to become completely invisible and practice buruz(exteriorization). The holy men reportedly tame wild beasts and traverse short distances in a very short time span. They could also produce food and rain in seasons of drought, heal the sick and help barren women become pregnant.[20][21]


JudaismEdit

During the first century BCE, a variety of religious movements and splinter groups developed amongst the Jews in Judea. A number of individuals claimed to be miracle workers in the tradition of Elijah and Elisha, the ancient Jewish prophets. The Talmud provides some examples of such Jewish miracle workers, one of whom is Honi HaM'agel, who was famous for his ability to successfully pray for rain.[22]


Most Chasidic communities are rife with tales of miracles that follow a yechidut, a spiritual audience with a tzadik: barren women become pregnant, cancer tumors shrink, wayward children become pious.[23] Many Hasidim claim that miracles can take place in merit of partaking of the shirayim (the leftovers from the rebbe's meal), such as miraculous healing or blessings of wealth or piety.


IndividualsEdit

Individuals who are claimed to have performed miracles include: Template:Multicol

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CriticismEdit

Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution, wrote “All the tales of miracles, with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for impostors to preach and fools to believe”.[24]


Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, edited a version of the Bible in which he removed sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists.[25][26] Jefferson wrote, "The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems, [footnote: e.g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc. —T.J.] invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning."[27]


Robert Ingersoll wrote, "Not 20 people were convinced by the reported miracles of Christ, and yet people of the nineteenth century were coolly asked to be convinced on hearsay by miracles which those who are supposed to have seen them refused to credit."[28]


Writer Christopher Hitchens, when asked for his favorite Bible story replied “Casting the first stone” is a lovely story, even though we’ve found out how much it wasn’t in the Bible to begin with. And the first of the miracles. Jesus changes water into wine. You can’t object to that."[29]


Biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins criticises the belief in miracles as a subversion of Occam's Razor.[30] (It should be noted, however, that William of Occam himself was a Friar and theologian who accepted the possibility of miracles. He considered certain spiritual matters immune to what would later become known as his Razor.)


John Adams, second President of the United States, wrote, "The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?"[31]


Elbert Hubbard, American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher, wrote "A miracle is an event described by those to whom it was told by people who did not see it."[32]


American Revolutionary War patriot and hero Ethan Allen wrote "In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue."[33]


Philosophers' explanationsEdit

Aristotelian and Neo-AristotelianEdit

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 SpinozaEdit

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. See Epistemic theory of miracles.


David HumeEdit

Main article: 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."[34] The crux of his argument is this: "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact which it endeavours to establish."


Søren KierkegaardEdit

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, following Hume and Johann Georg Hamann, a Humean scholar, agrees with Hume's definition of a miracle as a transgression of a law of nature,[35] but Kierkegaard, writing as his pseudonym Johannes Climacus, regards 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.[36]


James KellerEdit

James Keller states that "The claim that God has worked a miracle implies that God has singled out certain persons for some benefit which many others do not receive implies that God is unfair.”[37] An example would be "If God intervenes to save your life in a car crash, then what was he doing in Auschwitz?". Thus an all-powerful, all-knowing and just God, predicated in Christianity, would not perform miracles.


LittlewoodEdit

Main article: Littlewood's law

British mathematician J. E. Littlewood suggested that individuals should statistically expect one-in-a-million events ("miracles") to happen to them at the rate of about one per month. By Littlewood's definition, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace.


See alsoEdit


Notes and referencesEdit

  1. Template:Cite book
  2. Template:Cite web
  3. Template:Cite book
  4. Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. Introduction, p. 1–40
  5. see e.g. Polkinghorne op cit. and a commentary on the Gospel of John, such as William Temple's Readings in St John's Gospel (see e.g. p. 33) or Tom Wright's John for Everyone
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Denis Gril, Miracles, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  7. 7.0 7.1 A.J. Wensinck, Muʿd̲j̲iza, Encyclopedia of Islam
  8. Robert G. Mourison, The Portrayal of Nature in a Medieval Qur’an Commentary, Studia Islamica, 2002
  9. Korea: a religious history, James Huntley Grayson, p. 34
  10. Keene, Donald. Twenty Plays of the Nō Theater. Columbia University Press, New York, 1970. Page 238.
  11. Template:Cite web
  12. Template:Cite web
  13. Template:Cite web
  14. Pathfinder.com
  15. 30giorni.it Template:It icon
  16. Messori, Vittorio (2000): Il miracolo. Indagine sul più sconvolgente prodigio mariano. – Rizzoli: Bur.
  17. Velankanni shrine miracle
  18. Template:Cite book
  19. Guru Ragavendra miracles
  20. The heirs of the prophet: charisma and religious authority in Shi'ite Islam By Liyakatali Takim
  21. SAINTS AND MIRACLES
  22. Mishnah Ta'anit 3:8 Hebrew text at Mechon-Mamre
  23. The encyclopedia of Jewish myth, magic and mysticism, Geoffrey W. Dennis, p. 49
  24. The Writings of Thomas Paine, Volume 4, page 289, Putnam & Sons, 1896
  25. Jeremy Kosselak (November 1998). The Exaltation of a Reasonable Deity: Thomas Jefferson’s Bible of Christianity. (Communicated by: Dr. Patrick Furlong). Indiana University South Bend – Department of History. IUSB.edu, Retrieved 2007-02-19
  26. R.P. Nettelhorst. Notes on the Founding Fathers and the Separation of Church and State. Quartz Hill School of Theology. Theology.edu Retrieved 2007-02-20.
  27. Letter to William Short (31 October 1819), published in "The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes", Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904, Vol. 12, pp. 141–142.
  28. New York Times, p. 8, April 24, 1882
  29. New York Magazine, April 26, 2007
  30. The God Delusion
  31. John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815
  32. Elbert Hubbard, The Philistine (1909)
  33. Ethan Allen, Reason, the Only Oracle of Man, 1784
  34. Miracles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  35. Hume and Kierkegaard by Richard Popkin
  36. Kierkegaard on Miracles
  37. Keller, James. “A Moral Argument against Miracles,” Faith and Philosophy. vol. 12, no 1. Jan 1995. 54–78

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General references and booksEdit

  • Colin Brown. Miracles and the Critical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. (Good survey).
  • Colin J. Humphreys, Miracles of Exodus. Harper, San Francisco, 2003.
  • Chavda, Mahesh, Only Love Can Make a Miracle. Charlotte: Mahesh Chavda Ministries, 1990.
  • Krista Bontrager, "It’s a Miracle! Or, is it?", Reasons.org
  • Eisen, Robert (1995). Gersonides on Providence, Covenant, and the Chosen People. State University of New York Press.
  • Goodman, Lenn E. (1985). Rambam: Readings in the Philosophy of Moses Maimonides. Gee Bee Tee.
  • Kellner, Menachem (1986). Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought. Oxford University Press.
  • C. S. Lewis. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York, Macmillan Co., 1947.
  • C. F. D. Moule (ed.). Miracles: Cambridge Studies in their Philosophy and History. London, A.R. Mowbray 1966, ©1965 (Good survey of Biblical miracles as well).
  • Graham Twelftree. Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study. IVP, 1999. (Best in its field).
  • Woodward, Kenneth L. (2000). The Book of Miracles. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82393-4.
  • M. Kamp, MD. Bruno Gröning. The miracles continue to happen. 1998, (Chapters 1–4), Bruno-Groening.org

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Further readingEdit


External linksEdit

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