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For other uses, see Miracle (disambiguation).

According to many religions, a miracle, derived from the old Latin word miraculum meaning 'something wonderful', is a striking interposition of divine intervention by God in the universe by which the ordinary course and operation of Nature is overruled, suspended, or modified. People in different faiths have substantially different definitions of the word miracle. Even within a specific religion there is often more than one usage 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 refers specifically to the direct involvement of a deity.

Miracles and religionEdit

Different religious traditions and doctrines are divided on their views of miracles. Some religions view miracles as the provenence of their deity or deities only, while others report ongoing miraculous occurrences. Some faiths subscribe to the belief that miracles happened in the past, but do not currently occur. There is also division within sects, and between the religious leadership and the followers of many religions.

Miracles and ChristianityEdit

The description of most miracles in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the Christian New Testament are generally the same as the modern-day definition of the word: God intervenes in the laws of nature. Examples of God's miracles include raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, returning a shriveled hand to normal, cleansing leprosy, calming a storm, and walking on water.

A literal reading of the Biblical accounts shows that there are a number of ways this can occur: God may suspend or speed up the laws of nature to produce a supernatural occurrence; God can create matter out of nothing; God can breathe life into inanimate matter. The Holy Bible does not explain details of how these miracles happen, except that they require faith.

Today many Orthodox Jews, most Christians, and most Muslims adhere to this view of miracles. This view is generally rejected by non-Orthodox Jews, liberal Christians and Unitarian Universalists.

Some events commonly understood to be miraculous may not be instances of the impossible. For instance, consider the parting of the Red Sea. This incident occurred when Moses and Israelites fled from bondage in Egypt, to begin their exodus to the promised land. The book of Exodus never says that the Red Sea split in an immediate fashion, and the "waters [as] a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left" could be figurative. The text might rather be interpreted to say that God caused a strong wind to slowly drive the shallow waters to land overnight. In this scheme there is no claim that God pushed apart the sea as it is shown in many films; rather, the miracle would be that Israel crossed this precise place, at exactly the right time, when Moses lifted his staff, and that the pursuing Egyptian army then drowned when the wind stopped and the piled waters rushed back in.

Early Christian writers of the first few centuries appear to take the biblical stories of miracles at face value. In addition, they report additional miracles that happened in later centuries. The purposes of miracles vary, but recurring themes are miracles done for the benefit of a person, such as physical healing, or raising from the dead; miracles done to prevent or discourage some evil from happening, such as Herod Agrippa being consumed with worms upon inviting people to worship him, or various martyrs being found unusually difficult to kill, such as not being touched by flames (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; or Polycarp of Smyrna); and oftentimes to increase the faith of those who witnessed or later heard of the miracles, whether the faith of current believers or unbelievers moved to convert to Christianity after witnessing a miracle.

Miracles are central to most of Christian theology; they are the pillar upon which the reasonableness or truth of the religion is set to stand. Although most Catholic and certain Protestant theologians believe that the existence and certain limited properties of God can be proven philosophically and/or scientifically, these theologians explain that other elements of their beliefs have come from statements made by God either directly or through a person who proved that the statement was coming from God by performing a bona-fide miracle. This is seen by many theologians as the primary reason for Jesus to perform miracles, to prove that he was God so that humans would follow him. The miracles of Jesus were performed in front of many people, not in private. He did them wherever he went, at all times, for those who believed. They were done for all types of people, not just Jews. The miracles benefited the people Jesus was with, not Jesus himself other than serving as proof as to who he was. C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Christians who engage in Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible. [1] [2] [3][4][5].

There have been a large number of Catholic Christians, philosophers, and clergy who have discussed a wide variety of ideas concerning the nature of miracles. These ideas vary from strict literal acceptance of the Biblical text, to neo-Aristotelian rationalist interpretations of miracles. In some Catholic views, a miracle is an unnatural occurrence that is brought about by divine intervention. Saints like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony have been credited with hundreds of miracles during their lifetime and thousands after their death. Many Catholics believe that dead saints are still performing miracles, by interceding on behalf of the sinner before God.

Miracles and JudaismEdit

Summarised by Maimonides:

"...Our Sages... said.. as regards miracles:... that the miracles are to some extent also natural: for they say, when God created the Universe with its present physical properties, He made it part of these properties, that they should produce certain miracles at certain times, and the sign of a prophet consisted in the fact that God told him to declare when a certain thing will take place, but the thing itself was effected according to the fixed laws of Nature." (Guide for the Perplexed 2:29; but see below.)

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 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; Midrash Koheleth; and Pirkei Avot 5:6.

Miracles in other religionsEdit

Miracles also play a role in Islam and Hinduism.

Miracles as supernatural acts Edit

File:NeObgig Samara.jpg

In this view, a miracle can be defined as a violation of laws of nature by God or some other supernatural being. To wit:

  1. There are events that seem to be miracles.
  2. The best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being.
  3. Therefore, there is probably a supernatural being (i.e., God) that performs what appear to be miracles.

Many adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are logical proof of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God. A number of criticisms of this point of view exist:

  1. While the existence of miracles may imply the existence of a supernatural miracle worker, that supernatural miracle worker need not be an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent God; it could be any supernatural being. That is, it only proves that gods might exist, not that there is a monotheistic God.
  2. Some argue that miracles, if established, are evidence that a perfect God does not exist, as such a being would not want to, or need to, violate his own laws of nature. Catholic theologians do not accept this reasoning; they conclude that the miracles are from an omnipotent God, because they accept as already logically proven (through concepts like the prime mover) that there must be a single omnipotent, omniscient, God, when speaking philosophically. (However, Catholic theology does not depend on philosophical arguments for God, but rather Revelation.)
  3. Laws of nature are inferred from empirical evidence. Thus if an accepted law of nature ever appeared to have been violated, it could simply be that the accepted law was an erroneous inference from an insufficient set of empirical observations, rather than a supernatural disruption of the true course of nature.
  4. All claims of miracles are premature until such time as complete knowledge of all natural laws is held by all making and examining the claim and the miracle is demonstrated to be not natural. As all claims of natural laws are falsifiable and therefore complete knowledge is impossible, it is not now nor has it been nor ever will it be time to claim that an event has broken a natural law.

Philosophical Views Edit

Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian views Edit

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.

Hume's views Edit

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." [1]

Non-literal reinterpretations Edit

These are held by both classical and modern thinkers.

See also Edit

Notes and References Edit

  1. Miracles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Colin Brown. Miracles and the Critical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. (Good survey).
  • Colin J. Humphreys, Miracles of Exodus. HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.
  • 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.
  • Andrew Dickson White (1896 first edition. A classic work constantly reprinted) A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, See chapter 13, part 2, Growth of Legends of Healing: the life of Saint Francis Xavier as a typical example.

External links Edit

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