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What Constitutes a Miracle?

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Miracle

After reading some exchanges on Facebook that were inspired by my recent blog post concerning miracles, it became clear I need to explain exactly what a miracle is.

A miracle is defined as an extraordinary sensible effect wrought by God that surpasses the power and order of created nature.

That’s a mouthful, so let’s unpack it. There are five aspects to the definition.

Aspect #1: Exclusively attributable to divine power

Only God can be the cause of a miracle. This excludes any sort of occurrence that may have unknown created causes—whether it be a hidden force of nature, a force of nature applied by man in an artificial way, or the forces of nature utilized by pure spirits acting with only their natural faculties. Such effects would be wonderful and marvelous, but not miracles.

Aspect #2: Beyond the power of created nature

An effect can be beyond created powers in three ways.

First, a miracle may surpass created powers in the essence of the effect produced. The glorification of the resurrected body at the end of time is an example of this. Such glorification is—by its nature—beyond the power of any created cause. Another example would be the sun moving east instead of west, or standing still as recounted in Joshua 10:13.

Second, the miraculous effect may surpass created powers with regard to the subject in which it manifests and not the essence of the effect, which may be produced in another subject. For example, nature produces life in humans, but it cannot do so in a corpse. It is natural to have sight, but not for the blind. Notice the miraculous is not identified in the essence of the effect—life and sight—but in the subject—a corpse and damaged eyes.

The third way a miracle may surpass created powers is according to themode or manner that produces the miraculous effect. In other words, God may cause an effect that nature usually produces but contrary to the way nature produces it. For example, it belongs to the order of nature for a fever to pass. But if the fever leaves by command, then it is a miracle. A broken bone naturally mends itself over time, but if by the power of intercessory prayer the bone heals immediately, then it is a miracle. Rain is another example. Created powers within nature produce rain, but we consider it a miracle if by the command of a prophet rain falls from a clear, blue sky.

In sum, effects can supersede created powers by the essence of the effect produced, with regard to the subject in which the effect occurs, or according to the mode in which the effect is produced.

Aspect #3: Beyond the order of created nature

So far a miracle has been shown to be solely the work of God—beyond all created powers. But the creation of the world and the soul are effects attributable exclusively to God. Are these divine acts considered miracles?

The answer is no. While the creation of the world and the soul are effects that only God can cause, it is not beyond the order of created nature. The creation of the world is the beginning of the order of created nature, and the creation of the soul completes human nature, which is a part of creation. Both actions bring about things belonging to the order of created nature and thus are not miracles. This idea that a miracle must be beyond the order of created nature constitutes the third aspect of our definition.

Aspect #4: Extraordinary

In saying a miracle is extraordinary we simply mean it is contrary to the ordinary natural and supernatural course of things. To return to our example of the creation of the human soul, it is not extraordinary, because God decreed from all eternity that creating human souls would be part of the ordinary course of things, especially considering the human soul completes human nature.

Miracles must also be contrary to the ordinary supernatural course of things. For example, the infusion of grace in the soul through the sacraments and the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to perform saving and meritorious acts are not miracles because God wills them as a regular occurrence in the supernatural order.

Aspect #5: Sensible

The last aspect of a miracle is that it is sensible—subject to perception by the senses. This follows from the purpose of miracles defined by the First Vatican Council:

"[I]n order that the submission of our faith should be in accordance with reason, it was God’s will that there should be linked to the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit external indications of his revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all." (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, ch. 3; emphasis added).

The Council Fathers make it clear that miracles are meant to prove the authenticity of God’s revelation. Such revelation must be marked with a divine character plain to see in order that all, including the ignorant, may know it is authentic. Here miracles have their function, serving as a seal to authenticate God’s communication to humanity, putting the revelation’s authority beyond all doubt.

Furthermore, as miracles confirmed the authenticity of Jesus’ revelation in the apostolic age, the miracles performed throughout the history of the Catholic Church prove the Church’s claims to be true—namely, that it is the church founded by Christ.
 
 
(Image credit: NoDealBook.com)

Karlo Broussard

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After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Thanks Karlo. I'm wondering if you could clarify on several points related to "Aspect #1" :

    1. What is the doctrinal basis for the assertion that miracles must be exclusively attributable to divine power?

    2. What does it even mean to be an exclusive causal agent? For example, how could God "exclusively cause" the Red Sea to part without the pre-existing (created) Red Sea as a material cause? I can see that God's participation is necessary (but not sufficient) in the occurrence of a miracle ... but then again I think God's participation at some level (to greater and lesser degrees) is necessary for everything that happens, so that doesn't seem to be a distinguishing factor of miracles.

    3. From a human standpoint, how could one possibly distinguish between a phenomenon whose causal basis will be forever unknown and a phenomenon that is "exclusively caused" by God? If we have no epistemic basis to distinguish, what is the value of the distinction?

    • David Nickol

      1. What is the doctrinal basis for the assertion that miracles must be exclusively attributable to divine power?

      It seems to me a common belief among Catholics (and I am pretty sure it is official teaching) that Satan and his demons can exercise supernatural powers on earth. I think in general it is assumed that when you say something is a miracle, you are attributing it to God. But what then is a supernatural event that violates the laws of nature and is attributable to other than divine power?

      (I recall that Archbishop Chaput gave as one example of Satan's power in the world the near ubiquity of Internet porn. It seems to me that is about the last thing that requires a supernatural explanation.)

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I think your question is a good one. I have to say though, that I agree with Chaput on that point, depending of course on what one means by "supernatural". I think there are particular configurations of humanity that are so incurvatus in se, so intensely anti-charitable, that we simply don't have "natural" terms that are sufficiently descriptive. In those cases I think we need the language of the demonic (and the divine) in order to adequately describe what we perceive.

        • David Nickol

          In those cases I think we need the language of the demonic (and the divine) in order to adequately describe what we perceive.

          Are you saying there is a fallen angel named Satan—a malevolent spirit with intellect and will who personally has helped orchestrate the easy availability of Internet pornography? Or are you saying that you think the word demonic can legitimately be used to describe certain kinds of evil without necessarily believing in fallen angels called demons?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't mean to be dense, but I'm not sure I understand the distinction you are making. To me those are two ways of saying almost exactly the same thing. When I say that there is a fallen angel named Satan, that to me is just using traditional language to say that there is an inherent freedom in the universe that turns in upon itself, and therefore away from God. And when we behave uncharitably towards one another, when we participate in that pattern of freedom gone awry, we are (to use the traditional language) "under Satan's dominion". I think that pattern reaches a fever pitch in the relationships that arise from internet pornography. I'm not sure if that answers your question?

          • David Nickol

            I'm not sure if that answers your question?

            Not even close! ;-)

            Is Satan a real person—an individual, a created spirit with intellect and will—or some kind of metaphor (like Mother Nature)?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't think Satan is a person in the same way that you and I are persons (and of course, I also don't think that God is a person in the same way that you and I are persons). I would nonetheless say that a very good way (perhaps the best way) to conceptually model Satan is as a person. I would say that our depictions of Satan are certainly symbolic (not to mention silly, in many cases), and our descriptions of Satan generally rely on metaphor, but the name "Satan" nonetheless refers to a primary reality. It is not (in my view) an indirect reference to something more transient and controllable like certain brain states, etc.

          • David Nickol

            I don't think Satan is a person in the same way that you and I are
            persons (and of course, I also don't think that God is a person in the
            same way that you and I are persons).

            But God is a person, is that not correct? Or rather, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all persons, are they not? The dogma of the Trinity says there are three persons in one God, so a Catholic who says that, for example, the Holy Spirit is not a person is a heretic.

            So it seems to me you are saying the story of fallen angels is not to be taken at face value. God did not create angels, some of whom rebelled, and foremost among the rebellious angels was one called Satan, who was cast into hell, and as a person—in the same way, broadly speaking, that you, I, and God are persons—roams the world encouraging people to do evil.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would say that God is a person. What I said was that God is not a person in the same way that you and I are persons. My personhood entails constraints, e.g. me being me means that I am not you. God's personhood doesn't involve those sorts of constraints.

            Notwithstanding the differences between human personhood and God's personhood, I would still say: "I think the best way to understand God is as a person."

            Let me put it this way. What is the practical difference between:

            "David is a person"

            and

            "I think the best way to way to understand David is to conceptualize him as a person".

            The latter statement more explicitly evinces epistemic humility (which, preferably, can be implicitly conveyed in most conversations between adults), but otherwise, don't those two statements amount to the same thing?

            Do our words ever describe reality in itself? Isn't it rather the case that our words describe our best models for reality?

          • David Nickol

            So God did not create an initially good angel—a pure spirit with intellect and will—called Satan, who rebelled, was cast into hell, and roams the world encouraging evil?

            Are there only good angels, or are there no angels at all?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Of course there are angels, and of course there are bad ones among them. Everyone knows that. Stop asking silly questions! ;-)

            In all seriousness, I would say, in long form:

            "I think the best way to understand the fundamental nature of freedom and evil (both primary aspects of reality whose existence I think any reasonable person perceives and acknowledges) is to conceptualize initially good, pure spirits with intellect and will, one (or several ... whatever) of whom rebelled and roams the world encouraging evil. I am not saying that is the way reality is in itself (we are never privy to that), but that is my best model for thinking about those aspects of reality."

            Or, in short form:

            "There are good, pure spirits with intellect and will, one (or several ... whatever) of whom rebelled and roams the world encouraging evil."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am not saying that is the way reality is in itself (we are never privy to that), but that is my best model for thinking about those aspects of reality.

            It seems preferable to identify the actual causes of evil (greed, lust for power, etc) than to place blame on evil spirits. Makes for great stories, metaphor, and poetry.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm fine with that ... though I would want to change the wording around a bit and say evil is the cause of greed, lust, etc, and not the other way around. In any case, what do you think are the cause(s) -- not just the proximate causes, but the ultimate causes -- of greed, lust for power, etc.?

            I want you hear your answer, but let me further articulate my own in the meantime: I perceive (vaguely) that there is some common root of evil. I perceive that that root is ultimately mysterious, that it precedes human life, and that it is not entirely predictable or controllable by humans. Though I can perceive that root only vaguely, there is nonetheless something there that I can name, and I think the first step after perceiving a category of reality is to name it. So I name it. If you want (since we haven't yet established any person-like qualities), we can just name it "Evil".

            Then, having named it, I set about trying to describe it. In my perception of the way it works, Evil seems to manifest in ways that I would describe as surprising, creative, and goal oriented, to mention just a few attributes. In other words, Evil behaves (in my view) as if it has a mind of its own. I therefore find it entirely appropriate to model it as if it is intelligent, and to give it other names (e.g. "Satan") that connote personhood.

            But anyway, that's just me. What do you perceive as the root causes of greed, lust, etc. ?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This is bearing my soul a bit to the hecklers out there, but I actually have been tinkering with some related verse. It is still pretty rough, but it pretty much says what I want to say about dealing with the root causes of evil, so I will share it anyway.

            An Exorcism for Technocrats

            What battle are you waging?
            Will you defeat Darkness?
            Imagine his dancing glee,
            as you swing clumsy metal at shadows.

            The priestly clan flees the coming wrath.
            Wise men know better, bring gifts for Wrath.
            Let it come upon you,
            Let it crucify
            your Logic.

            Kali's many arms press thorns
            into your thick dumb skull.
            Say it motherfucker:
            I KNOW NOTHING! lama sabachtani ?
            I KNOW NOTHING! lama sabachtani ?

            ... no nothing ...

            Now rest, and breathe. Be fed,
            and meet the Lord of the lord of the flies.
            He is your NO NOTHING, and your are His.
            Now you are truly possessed.

            Darkness lingers, but now you know:
            Noli timere.
            Deceiver's spirit, so like your own,
            incorrigibly serves,
            in the fields of the Lord.

            Amen

          • Lazarus

            I love it. Whether that is the root cause of evil or not is another debate.
            Keep on writing.

          • David Hardy

            In any case, what do you think are the cause(s) -- not just the
            proximate causes, but the ultimate causes -- of greed, lust for power,
            etc.?

            If it is alright, I would like to offer a thought here. I understand you directed this comment to another, but I wanted to hear your thoughts on my view.

            I believe that the ultimate cause of things like greed and lust are found within survival instincts. However, this requires a little clarification to avoid misunderstanding. Greed seems based in the desire to gather resources (since wealth is related to status, there is probably a cross influence from the desire to establish influence and stability within a social system). Lust seems based in the desire to reproduce. These are extreme examples of instincts that have a healthy expression -- it is not evil to want shelter, food, be part of society, or find a mate.

            In my experience, all traits in humans that are described as evil are extreme forms of instinctive drives. Instincts provide general impulses -- the desire to gather resources will vary depending on what resources are available and desirable within the person's environment, for example. These impulses have a degree of internal control built in (such as satiation after getting something desired), but not to the point that the instinct cannot be expressed in an extreme, unhealthy way. Evil, to me, is when we recognize the expression on an instinct to be harmful and unacceptable. A wide range of traits fall under the heading of evil because each is based in an instinct that can become expressed in a harmful and unacceptable way.

            Moral evil itself can be contrasted with moral good, which seems to usually relate to social relationships -- how we treat others. Acts that are deemed good generally support strong social bonds and often involve a degree of personal control and sacrifice for the greater social good. This further suggests that evil is perceived when some instincts are expressed in a way that runs contrary to our instinct to empathize, bond, support and cooperate with others. Morality appears to provide a second level of control over instincts, above and beyond the built in controls, in order to allow for stable social systems to form and endure over time.

            That, of course, is a more technical description of evil and good, focusing on the actual apparent cause. It does not capture how these instincts are actually experienced, nor how profound these experiences can be. At an even further step back, one could say these developed through evolution, with social bonds being a later evolutionary development relative to many of the other instincts. The social instinct ultimately subordinated many of the other instincts since socialization is a valuable evolutionary trait for those creatures that express it. As with any evolutionary trait, this is not always true in every case -- some people do not subordinate other desires to being part of a social system, and sometimes putting the social system first does not help at an individual level.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for the response David.

            I think I agree with everything that you have written, but let me ask you some questions to move the analysis to an even deeper level. Why do you think it is it that our instincts have evolved in a way that can be expressed in harmful, unhealthy ways? Whence the apparent non-optimality of the evolutionary algorithm? Do you think think that if we follow the causal chain back far enough, this non-optimality is ultimately traceable to something in the physical structure of matter, for example? Do you think there is a sort of "not-enoughness" that is built into the structure of the universe?

          • David Hardy

            Rather than respond to each question individually, I will try to respond to them through a single explanation that hopefully will capture the spirit of the questions. If I fail to do so, please direct me to the aspects that I missed in my response.

            Imagine you have a particular set of rules within a society, both laws and social customs. For the most part, these rules work well, but there are exceptions coming up over and over. Times when mitigating circumstances make a person's rejection of a rule acceptable, or times when trying to follow a rule causes significant harm. One could take from this that the rules are sub-optimal, that better rules are needed. Some societies try to make laws to cover every possible exception, and this also seems to rarely lead to an improvement. Alternatively, one could conclude that the rules are useful because they generally lead to good outcomes, but no general system will always achieve optimal results.

            Taking this metaphor to evolution, evolutionary traits are general drives. They affect creatures across generations within whole populations, rather than being some circumstance specific effect. The hunger instinct does not come with a menu of the foods accepted and those that will be rejected, for example. As a result, even those all of the instincts can be understood as good general "rules", if I may stretch the metaphor a little. However, each has specific instances and examples where following the rule causes harm, or rejecting it leads to a positive outcome. This does not reduce the value of the instinct in my understanding, but rather reflects on the fundamental limitations that any broad influence, genetic instincts included, inherently have. In other words, evil is individual and circumstance specific expressions of genetic drives that are shaped through what works on a species-wide, general basis. Where the rules metaphor breaks down is that instincts cannot be set aside when they are harmful in specific circumstances -- they will find a way to be expressed, and the individual level challenge is to find an alternative healthy way to do so when this is not the natural way they are coming out.

            Hopefully this covers the questions you were presenting.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Why does any broad influence have inherent limitations?

          • David Hardy

            Because a broad influence operates on what will work best most often. This is the strength of a broad approach. However, this means that the broad influence will sometimes push in the wrong direction. Broad approaches also have to be able to account for and respond to a number of specific possibilities, which requires more flexibility and less rigidly defined responses.

            An added issue here is complexity -- instinct is not a single thing, but a wide range of inherent drives, all of which are generally useful. They developed because of their utility, this does not guarantee that they will always work in harmony, so even the general rules will sometimes conflict. For example -- I decide whether to eat my meal or give half or all to a hungry friend --

            hunger and the social instinct not necessarily pushing in the same direction.

            Therefore, a broad influence, due to what is necessary for it to be a broad approach, is limited as a focused approach, just as a focused approach would be limited as a broad approach due to what is needed for it to be focused (more specificity). A broad influence that is, itself, a collection of influences that are sometimes in competition is further limited in some ways -- the collection of influences are accounting for a wider range of needs than any one would, but also lead to internal conflicts at times.

            As a side note, I do not treat limits as bad. A screwdriver is limited in its ability to hammer in a nail, and a hammer is certainly limited in its ability to screw in a nail. That is not a problem, but an indication that the tool is being considered outside of its scope. The limitations are due to the tool's strength in doing what it normally does. Hopefully this metaphor stretches to cover instinct without adding confusion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, that is all sensible. So, we need some collection of instincts, some of which will work in some environments, and others of which will work in other environments, and that necessary diversity of instincts implies that in any given environment we will have at least some unnecessary or even undesirable instinctual baggage.

            So then, if I follow you, you are saying that the presence of evil is ultimately traceable to the diversity of environments that we must live in in order to have aggregate success as a species?

          • David Hardy

            So then, if I follow you, you are saying that the presence of evil is ultimately traceable to the diversity of environments that we must live in in order to have aggregate success as a species?

            Close, but I would add two things. First, is is traceable to the diversity of environments through evolutionary adaptation to those environments. This is more a expansion that a disagreement. Second, evil itself seems to be a concept deriving from our social instinct of how to treat others. Therefore, the behaviors that are labeled evil arise from instincts that are adaptations to the environment. However, the concept of evil itself seems to arise from an instinct (the social instinct) regulating other instincts. The social instinct likely adapted to do this because it was a more successful adaptation than prior instincts on their own -- a social group is better able to gather and store food, protect against threats, and provide mating options, for example, all of which make those whose other instincts are subordinated to the social instinct more likely to prosper. Therefore, the behaviors described as evil are ultimately traceable to successful evolutionary adaptations to a range of environments, but the behavior of identifying behaviors as evil (the concept of evil) is also traceable to a successful evolutionary adaptation to the environment. I add this to point to the concept of evil itself as something that is instinct based, arising out of the fact that it is a necessary part of the highly successful adaptation of socialization.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK. That doesn't entirely sit well with me, but I think that is a reasonable view and I will run with it.

            In that case -- and I'm sorry to be tiresome in pursuing this line of questioning -- why are we faced with a variety of environments? Why isn't the earth homogeneous? To cut to the chase, isn't this line of thinking eventually going to lead us to consider the deep physical structure of the universe? And so, to return to my earlier line of questioning, aren't we ultimately faced with a universe that, at a deep (presently mysterious) structural level, is conducive to evil? (Or, to modify that to a phrasing that I think you would be happier with, isn't it conducive to our instinctual reaction to identify certain things as evil?)

          • David Hardy

            OK. That doesn't entirely sit well with me, but I think that is a reasonable view and I will run with it.

            I appreciate the gesture. If you wish to discuss what does not sit well, I would be happy to do so, but I will leave that up to you.

            Why isn't the earth homogeneous?

            Here is what may be an interesting division in thinking. I begin with what I can best confirm seems to be true, and develop my view around that. In my experience, at least for questions like these, that means sense data that can be repeatedly verified and explored. As a result, the beginning of my view is that things are not homogeneous, as evidenced by sense experience. Having a highly limited view of the universe, in both time and space, leads me to the conclusion that anyone attempting to explain why it is a certain way at a deep level is attempted to resolve questions beyond our ability due to these limitations, and those who have tried to do so have not changed this view. That is not to say that some aspects of the question of why there is diversity may one day be resolved, but rather that there will likely always be basic questions that we, in our limitations cannot answer. My answer to the quoted question is "I don't know", and my impression is that this is the answer of everyone, and although some seek to present some other view as certain, I have never heard anything that seems to actually support that certainty.

            And so, to return to my earlier line of questioning, aren't we ultimately faced with a universe that, at a deep (presently mysterious) structural level, is conducive to evil?

            I suppose one could argue this from my viewpoint, but only within the context that evil itself is defined within the underlying impulse of good. A species with no concept of society is not generally treated as being immoral when member of that species engage in behavior that harms other creatures. The universe, through the expression of habitable planets with abundant but locally limited resources, is conducive to morally good behaviors (social instinct) being beneficial to living creatures, and at times it may benefit an individual to deviate from that good (instincts expressed in anti-social ways). Of course, I am using benefit in an evolutionary sense, not a value based one.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My answer to the quoted question is "I don't know", and my impression is that this is the answer of everyone

            Agreed. This is essentially what I mean when I say that the source of evil is mysterious. It it beyond our ability to comprehend and/or beyond our event horizon, or whatever.

            But now, faced with the unknown, there is the question of how we relate to the unknown. That is the so-called existential decision that we have to make in the dark. Specifically, so long as we are limited in our ability to understand the deep structure of the universe, we have to decide whether we will relate to it as if it is music coming from a player piano, or if we will relate to it as if it is music coming from a live musician (or musicians). I am not aware of any scientific arguments one way or the other, and this experience of life has always seemed a lot more like live music to me. So, I relate to the unknown as if it is a live musician.

            From that point of departure, the Satan stuff is almost just a nuance, imagining (for various reasons that I won't rehash at this point) that the primary musician has deigned to share the stage with other freely operating musicians.

          • David Hardy

            Specifically, so long as we are limited in our ability to understand the deep structure of the universe, we have to decide whether we will relate to it as if it is music coming from a player piano, or if we will relate to it as if it is music coming from a live musician (or musicians).

            Before I proceed, I wanted to say that I appreciate the metaphor you offered, and I think it is well suited to the conversation. While I do not see agency at the foundation of things in my own experiences, I do think that there is some truth to that view in a different way, even within my perspective. We do not directly experience the universe, but rather our senses and brain generate an inner universe based on the data coming to the senses about the universe. Therefore, those things that drive human nature at a deep level, including morality, could fairly be described as part of the ground of being for our inner universe in my estimation. While I do not go past this to ascribe it to the ground of the external universe, that does not diminish its place within us. So, for me, I would relate to the universe as both live musician and player piano, knowing the my experienced universe is the live musician, but also that my understanding of the universe suggests that the outer universe is most likely the piano player player-piano.

            EDIT: Corrected an error.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            but also that my understanding of the universe suggests that the outer universe is most likely the piano player.

            [ Did you mean to write: "... is most likely like the player-piano", i.e. most likely proceeding in a purely mechanistic way ? ]

            Is your opinion on this point rooted in the fact that we have been very successful in describing certain aspects of the universe using mechanistic models? If not, what do you think informs your opinion on this point?

          • David Hardy

            Hello Jim,

            Yes, I meant player-piano, sorry for the confusion (I will go back and edit it for clarity, but with a strike-through so the subsequent comment makes sense). My opinion is based on where we can confirm sentience and sapience, the conditions that seem necessary for it, and how this contrasts to other objects in the universe. We confirm sentience and sapience in creatures with nervous systems. These systems are different both in form and how they function relative to most of the universe. Where there are breakdowns within these systems, a breakdown in sentience and sapience is also observable (not just at death, but with, for example, brain damage due to injury or medical condition). On the other hand, processes in the universe do not seem to operate in a conscious, adaptive way as living creature do, but rather in what might be better described as a mechanistic way. This suggests to me that these qualities are the later development of evolutionary processes, and depend upon the biological structures of living creatures to exist.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If I could nitpick a bit, I don't think we use our analysis of nervous systems to confirm the existence of sapience and sentience, but rather to (partially, and debatably) explain those phenomena. I think we begin by perceiving something, we go on to name it "sapience", then we go on to define it (phenomena associated with creative goal seeking, or something like that), and then we go on to analyze and explain it, including mechanistic and semi-mechanistic explanations. I don't think that analytic / explanatory phase provides any confirmation of the existence of those phenomena that wasn't already there when we first perceived it. If we had never dissected or otherwise looked at an animal nervous system, we would still have all the confirmation we needed of sentience and sapience, because those are names for phenomena that we reliably encounter in our experience.

            I think my nitpick is important, in this way. If I perceive something in the order and creativity and narrative trajectory of the universe, that seems to me to be already enough to start using the language of "sapience" and "sentience" in referring to the unknown mystery that envelops and gives rise to the universe. I don't need to model it mechanistically or otherwise explain it in order to name it and describe it. And, since I am not engaging in explanatory modeling, I think there is neither the need nor the possibility of confirming my model by detecting some complex configuration of neurons that is associated with the mystery.

            Not necessarily expecting to sell you on my viewpoint, but I hope that at least makes me seem like a somewhat reasonable person.

          • David Hardy

            If we had never dissected or otherwise looked at an animal nervous system, we would still have all the confirmation we needed of sentience and sapience, because those are names for phenomena that we reliably encounter in our experience.

            I am not speaking of confirming sapience and sentience, but rather understanding the conditions under which it arises. We know from a range of brain studies how damage to the brain impacts both of these qualities in a range of ways, and how brain death brings an end to all of the external signs that these qualities normally show in living creatures. These provide evidence that sapience and sentience depend on neural structures. Until we find any evidence that they have ever arisen outside of a functioning neural structure, it seems reasonable to hold that the rest of the universe is neither sapient nor sentient. In addition, we have evidence that humans infer human-like sapience and sentience where evidence suggests there is none (anthropomorphize). This further suggests to me that skepticism is appropriate when a person tries to infer sapience and sentience to things.

            Not necessarily expecting to sell you on my viewpoint, but I hope that at least makes me seem like a somewhat reasonable person.

            I never had any doubt that you were a reasonable person. Reasonable people reach differing conclusions all of the time, especially when the level of knowledge available leaves room for significant uncertainty, as it does regarding the basic nature of the universe.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Until we find any evidence that they have ever arisen outside of a functioning neural structure

            What would be the nature of such evidence, in your view?

          • David Hardy

            It would probably involve clearly observing qualities we relate to sentience and sapience (adaptive responses to the environment, communication of intentions or ideas) within something that our current understanding would suggest is neither sentient nor sapient, such as a natural phenomena or an object with nothing resembling a nervous system.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            In addition, we have evidence that humans infer human-like sapience and sentience where evidence suggests there is none

            This is true, but I think it's neither here nor there in its implications, because we also know that many humans suffer from hypoactive agency detection (in autism for example).

            So, we are all seeking the "Goldilocks" amount of agency detection: not too much, not too little. We come to different conclusions as to what that "right amount" is.

          • David Hardy

            because we also know that many humans suffer from hypoactive agency detection (in autism for example).

            I am afraid I must object to this point, since autism and similar disorders that inhibit the ability to read social cues and infer motivation are much less common than the tendency to infer human intention in other creatures and inanimate objects, which is observable in most of the human race to one degree or another.

            So, we are all seeking the "Goldilocks" amount of agency detection: not too much, not too little. We come to different conclusions as to what that "right amount" is.

            Despite the previous objection, however, on this point we can certainly agree.

          • David Hardy

            Evil behaves (in my view) as if it has a mind of its own.

            On a related note, if evil is, as I suggest in my other response, an expression of internal drives that sometimes conflict with other internal drives, it would make sense that it would operate as if it has a mind of its own. The mind is not a single process, but a range of processes. Where an instinct has no healthy outlet, or where it has become habituated to an unhealthy outlet, it will seek to express itself through those means, potentially leaving the person experiencing this to feel that it is something separate or other. However, in my experience, it is possible to redirect those instincts in healthy ways through understanding and working with them, distinguishing the unhealthy expression from the underlying drive. This, of course, does not prove things either way, but it is another thought I had on this subject.

  • David Nickol

    N. T. Wright has some interesting things to say about miracles in Who Was Jesus? Here is an excerpt or two:

    There have been many Christians over the years, and there are many today, for whom the point of Christianity is basically that it is supernatural. It isn't so much that they believe in Jesus, and then find that their worldview needs stretching to take in things that they hadn't bargained for in their prevailing culture. It is more that their basic commitment is to the idea of a supernatural dimension to life, and they find this conveniently confirmed by Jesus.

    This supernaturalism has been under attack for the last two hundred years. Frankly, it deserved it. It needs to be said as clearly as possible that the 'supernatural' is not the same thing as the "Christian'. The great divide between the "natural' and the 'supernatural', certainly in the way we use those worlds today, comes basically from the eighteenth century, bringing with it the whole debate about 'miracles'. Many Christians over the last two centuries have thought that being Christians committed them to believing in 'miracles', in the sense of irrational suspensions of the normal laws of nature. . . .

    Believing in 'miracles', in the eighteenth-century sense, is no good as a test of genuine Christianity. On the one hand, plenty of people believe in 'miracles' without connecting them in any way with Jesus. On the other hand, the eighteenth-century idea of a 'miracle' envisaged a 'God' who was a remote, detached Being, who normally kept his hands clean from involvement with the space-time univers, but just occasionally used to 'intervene'.This is a total travesty of the biblical picture. If saying you believe in miracles commits you to that kind of picture of Gd, then it would be better for a Christian to refuse.

    But what if the God who made the world has remained active within the world? What if the word 'God' itself might refer not to this distant, remote, occasionally-intervening Being, but to a God who breathed with the breath of the world? . . . .

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      My admittedly amateur suspicion is that if we dive deep enough into classical meaning of the words "natural" and "ordinary", we will find that the meanings differ by degree and not by kind. If that is true, then "extra-ordinary" and "super-natural" would also be concepts that differ only by degree, and it would then make no sense to speak of "ordinary supernatural events" (as in the second paragraph of Aspect #4).

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      He makes a similar point, in perhaps stronger terms, in this lecture:

      http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_StAndrews_Inaugural.htm

      The fateful Enlightenment split between the gods and the world has generated a new meaning for words like ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’. It is now widely believed by would-be Christian apologists that part of the task is to defend something called ‘the supernatural’, in which a normally distant divinity invades the ‘natural’ world to perform ‘miracles’ or even, in the Christian story, to become human. But this merely reinscribes and perpetuates the Epicureanism which still serves as the framework for the discussion.
      ...
      Rather, I want to insist that to understand the first Christians we must understand the radical difference between the ancient Jewish worldview and the ancient Epicurean worldview (remembering not least that one of the sharpest insults a Rabbi could offer to heretics was to call them apikorsim, Epicureans). In the ancient Jewish worldview, the one God was not removed from the world, but was mysteriously present and active within it, at least in theory, so that if he remained absent, as in the second-Temple period, there was precisely a sense of that absence. And the modes of his presence and activity were concentrated on the major Jewish symbols: Temple, Torah, land, family, and not least the great narrative which was continuing and would be fulfilled even though it might have seemed for the moment, like a submerged stream, to be running underground. This was the air Jesus and his first followers breathed. And the task of describing, from an emic viewpoint, the mindset and motivation of the earliest Christians is thus one for which the Epicurean worldview is singularly badly suited.

  • Sample1

    As an atheist, I don't see how I am invited to participate with this blogger's five aspects, all of a faith nature. Is this article just for believers?

    I might have to sit this one out and wait to engage in the comments.

    Mike, faith-free

    • David Nickol

      It seems to me the OP is pretty much "inside baseball" for Catholics of a conservative bent. As I understand it, if I were in a life-threatening situation and had to talk my way out of it, then by the above definitions, it would be a miracle of God inspired me with the words to save my life, but it would not be a miracle if God (the Holy Spirit) gave me the grace to formulate my own argument to save my life. Each requires a special divine intervention, but the latter is in some ways a "routine" intervention, so it doesn't count as miraculous.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I have always thought of miracles in somewhat simpler terms.

    I would want to say that an event is a miracle if and only if,

    1. It is eternally surprising, from every vantage point except God's, and

    2. It invites semiotics of ultimate significance. (I.e. if it is a "message from God").

    That's it. This proposal is vaguely informed by Catholic teaching (e.g. by Bishop Barron's video on the topic), but I've never made any systematic attempt to assess its doctrinal soundness. I am curious if anyone feels this is out of step with Catholic teaching in any significant way?

    • Sample1

      I think "eternally surprising" presents a hiccup in the logic. It would exclude humans, let alone bloggers, from ever claiming an event in this temporal life as being definitively a miracle. Then again, perhaps you don't do that which would place you outside Catholic teachings on miracles.

      Mike
      Edit done.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I don't need a perfect estimator in order to define an estimand. I think we can make reasoned (albeit fallible) inferences that some things will never be explained in terms of natural causes and will therefore always remain surprising. All human knowledge is imperfect. That doesn't trouble me.

        • Sample1

          Sorry for the delay. I've queried the help of others on EN about your response and all had good advice. Maybe I'll bring them up later, but for now let's look at a few things you've posted in your reply.

          1. Reasoned, albeit fallible, inferences.

          2. Some things will never be explained.

          3. Human knowledge is imperfect.

          What stands out to me above is that each point involves uncertainty.

          I will claim that any reliable method of fact discernment uses uncertainty as a provisional place holder term.

          In your usage uncertainty appears to be a conclusory descriptor with explanatory value; in this case for miracles.

          I think you are incorrectly applying uncertainty to mean something more without saying why that should be so.

          Mike
          Edit done.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Huh. Could you tell me what I wrote that gave you that impression?

            I did say (or meant to imply) that surprise can have special semiotic value, i.e. it can be meaningful. And it is the case, I think, that surprise depends on incompleteness of knowledge, since it is (I think) impossible to be surprised by that which we fully understand. And it is the case that incompleteness of knowledge implies uncertainty. But nowhere in there am I talking about explanatory value. So ... can you help me understand what motivated your comment?

            EDIT TO ADD:

            To be more explicit: I do not think that saying, "Event X was a miracle" has any explanatory value whatsoever. To my mind (and this differs from the way that Karlo has laid things out), the essence of a miracle is precisely that there is no explanation for it. If we could explain it, it would no longer be surprising, and if it were not surprising, it would lose its semiotic value as a sort of "triple exclamation point" in the midst of our experiences.

          • Sample1

            I equated your use of meaningfulness with being explanatory in its own right. Perhaps this is wrong. I'm very confused by your words, to be honest.

            At any rate, you've provided a bit more to chew on with your reply. In trying to understand your suprise/miracle construct, I'm left with a couple of new questions.

            Will God cease to be surprising when the dead are privileged to see him as he is? Is not your logic therefore implying that heaven is devoid of semiotic value?

            Mike

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Perhaps this is wrong. I'm very confused by your words, to be honest.

            So, if I say, "Go look in the garden", or "The flower is very beautiful", or "I made you pot roast", those sounds coming out of my mouth would convey meaning, but they would not explain anything, right?

            Will God cease to be surprising when the dead are privileged to see him as he is? Is not your logic therefore implying that heaven is devoid of semiotic value?

            In response to you second question, use of surprise is not the only way to convey meaning, so no, I don't think so. But I still think your first question is a great one. Obviously I don't know the answer, but I sort of imagine this is why things need to be drawn out in time, why we need this pilgrimage through space and time in order to develop the proper relationship to God. If we simply saw him face to face from the git-go, there would be no encounter, no surprising experience of other.

            EDIT TO ADD: To expand on my last point, consider the truism that we tend to take our mothers for granted. My mother was so present in my youth that I was almost unaware of her, in the same way that a child is unaware of himself. I think there is a sense in which I never truly saw my mother until I had been away from home, been beaten down a bit by life, and came back home. I imagine that our own journey from past primordial garden to current purgatory to future New Jerusalem will function very much in the same way.

          • Sample1

            would convey meaning, but they would not explain anything, right?

            If something conveys meaning, I think linguistically one must say that that something has a use and one can't say the latter without having an explanatory model in place. So no, I don't think it's correct to say nothing would be explained.

            In response to you second question, use of surprise is not the only way to convey meaning, so no, I don't think so

            Yes I saw that coming, just thought I'd ask anyway.

            If we simply saw him face to face from the git-go, there would be no encounter, no surprising experience of other.

            Does this encounter/surprise construct apply to angels, who presumably have been worshipping him face to face from the get-go?

            Mike

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Let me clarify what I mean with an example. Suppose a parent says something to a young child in a loud, harsh voice. The child, presumably, knows little about diaphragms and vocal cords and generally doesn't have much of an explanatory model to explain how the parent modulated his voice, but he can nonetheless determine that the parent is angry (even if may not understand why the parent is angry). Thus, the essential meaning of the voice modulation is conveyed, without the child having so much as a tentative hypothesis about how it happened.

            I am proposing that God uses surprise in a similar way. We don't need to know how a truly bizarre thing happened (we don't even need to know if it happened with or without the aid of secondary causality) in order to reasonably interpret the phenomenon as God's way of calling our attention to a given moment.

            Does this encounter/surprise construct apply to angels, who presumably have been worshipping him face to face from the get-go?

            I have only the vaguest phenomenology of angels. I would no more hazard a guess about their inner lives than I would hazard a guess about the inner life of quarks.

          • Sample1

            Children (let alone adults) can be mistaken as to a caregiver's emotional intention through voice or any other communicative signal. If your analogy is a good one, I'd have to ask how a believer discerns miracles from ordinary gaps in knowledge.

            Mike

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That is true. In any communication, there is the risk of misinterpretation. But let's hope this is not a reason to forego interpretation of all communication!

            I think there are a lot of strategies to avoid misinterpretation, but perhaps it begins with adopting a stance of humility and living with the attendant uncertainty. As Pope Francis has said:

            The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ We will find only a god that fits our measure.

            and (prior to that) :

            If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

          • David Hardy

            This is a bit off topic, but I wanted to jump in and say I greatly enjoyed the quotes you provided from Pope Francis, so much that I went and found and read the original interview. The quotes remind me of some dialogues between Buddhists and Christians I have read about the similarities in how to approach spirituality in practice between these worldviews, despite the differences in underlying beliefs.

          • Sample1

            Your first quote brought to mind a lyric from The Inner Light: The farther one travels, the less one knows...

            This rings true for naturalistic journeys where discovery always adds new questions but why should it be thus for--you might say--the spiritual journey counterparts?

            Mike

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think our experience of the natural world is an encounter with infinite mystery. As far as we can tell, nature itself is not infinite, but I think nature is a finite expression of an infinite mystery, in the same way that a finite human body reveals a bottomless interior life.

            I also think our experience of sexuality, and of suffering, and of death, and of new life, and of recollecting the past, and of envisioning the future, all of these experiences are modes of encounter with infinite mystery, and taken together, this path of encounter is the spiritual journey. It always raises new questions because it is an exploration of the infinite.

            The job of re-ligion (however much religion may fail at this task in practice) is, I think, is to re-ligate all of the various strands of our spiritual journey (I know that etymology of religion is debatable, but I think it is very fitting). I think we need that re-ligation, but we also need to be careful not to ligate things too tightly, remaining aware that the infinite mystery will not be constrained by our nice tidy conceptual packaging.

          • Sample1

            Infinity is a concept that, so far as we know, exists only in the human mind. I personally would not link the natural world to infinity as if infinity existed apart from evolved brains. As such, your "experience/infinite mystery" construct is confusing for me.

            I suppose I should ask, what do you think you'd lose if you viewed the natural world sans your infinity mystery; without that re-ligation?

            Mike
            Edit done.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't know. I don't give that a lot of thought, to be honest. I suppose I think that living in a world with more limited horizons would be, at the very least, less exciting? To paraphrase Walker Percy, I don't see why I should settle for anything less than infinite mystery. Do you think I should?

            As you said yourself, our "naturalistic journey" (which I take to refer to our scientific probing of the universe) seems to be endless, constantly revealing new questions and new sources of awe. If it seems to be that way, and if it is enlivening to live as if that is the case, then why would I assume otherwise?

          • Sample1

            Perhaps as a consequence of my use of the word lose, you've interpreted that as my asking for a conception of reality to imagine fewer horizons or limiting questions. That's not my meaning.

            What I mean to probe is the makeup of your spiritual journey's components and see if they are stand alone concepts as it were, or are they rather part and parcel of a naturalistic journey with natural explanations?

            In other words, do you think it is possible to study a spiritual journey naturalistically or is something lost in that translation. And if so, what?

            If there is a "what" that can be identified, how would losing that affect your view of the natural world?

            Mike

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think reasonable explanations are on offer that allow us to at least partly explain spiritual realities (by which I mean things like: love, freedom, evil, etc) in terms of material realities (so, yes, I think one can scientifically study spiritual journeys) but I also think reasonable explanations are on offer to explain material realities in terms of spiritual realities (e.g. the explanation that the something-rather-than-nothingness of the universe is an expression of charity). I see no reason why I should look at the world from only one perspective.

            If I were to no longer look at the existence of the material world as an expression of an infinitely mysterious charity, that would not change my understanding of how the material world works, from a mechanistic perspective. It would just make the whole thing, as I said, less exciting. It would be like reading a novel and only analyzing the syntactic structures, never trying to infer the intent of the author.

            EDIT TO ADD: Mike, the real world is getting way ahead of me and I gotta play catch-up. I'm going to leave off again for a little while as I've done in the past. It's been a pleasure chatting with you this time around and I hope we can continue at some point in the future.

          • Sample1

            One of the things I find beautiful about accomplished writers is how their intent isn't necessary for me to make my own meaning from their content. But that's just me. It's interesting, in a way, that both of us would appear to be animated by what we find exciting. I think we can violently agree that much less than infinity can occupy our minds with enough excitement for many lifetimes. As such, infinity sort of cancels out of the equation for me when considering your viewpoint.

            I do agree that scientific explanations are on offer regarding things like love, freedom and evil. But I'm hard pressed to acknowledge how the word reasonable is also to be mapped onto spiritual claims in the same way. If there are explanatory models of reality, it seems to me that scientific ones replace historically spiritual ones. One must admit, that the scope of religious explanation for reality has been on a shrinking trajectory. Perhaps that will change, I just don't see it.

            I'm happy to leave the talk here but if you'd like a final word, go for it.

            Mike
            Edit done. Done again.

    • Mary B Moritz

      The "message" point is very important. Let's take the miracle of the sun in Fatima in 1917. Father Stanley Jaki has a very interesting explanation for this, finding even a "natural explanation", thus not making it qualify as miracle sensu strictu accoprding to the article by Karlo. Still, the timing and circumstances amde it a message coming from God - a true miracle.

      https://www.facebook.com/ScienceMeetsFaith/photos/a.398653416872164.85214.393336394070533/1008250022579164/?type=3&theater

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Thanks Mary. I don't have an especially strong opinion or interest in Fatima, but yes, I agree completely with your general point.

        I guess another way I would try to say it is: I don't see what theological insight is gained by strictly demarcating between miracles (per a definition such as Karlo has offered) and other wondrous and meaningful phenomena.

        Take rainbows. On the one hand, I would not try to argue that rainbows be classified as miracles. We've each seen them hundreds of times, and they are even fairly predictable, since we understand the physics, at least at a proximate level. On the other hand, they are still awe-inducing (to greater and greater degrees as we understand the physics at deeper and deeper levels), and they can still be interpreted as a sign of God's covenant with the earth. In that sense, rainbows function in the same way that miracles do, just (perhaps) not quite as dramatically. Again, I can perhaps see a technical distinction, but I don't see what theological insight is gained by emphasizing that distinction.

        Pope Francis has spoken very often of our "God of surprises". I interpret this word choice as a deliberate attempt to reclaim the more general sense of miracles as "meaningful surprises", while shedding the more strictly "freaky supernatural" connotations that have accreted onto the word "miracle" in modern parlance.

  • GCBill

    The examples you chose for aspect 2c make it appear to be in tension with #1. You begin by saying:

    "Only God can be the cause of a miracle. This excludes any sort of occurrence that may have unknown created causes—whether it be a hidden force of nature, a force of nature applied by man in an artificial way, or the forces of nature utilized by pure spirits acting with only their natural faculties. Such effects would be wonderful and marvelous, but not miracles."

    Then soon after, you say this:

    "The third way a miracle may surpass created powers is according to the mode or manner that produces the miraculous effect. In other words, God may cause an effect that nature usually produces but contrary to the way nature produces it."

    While you can certainly argue that the most likely explanation for healing by prayer/command is miraculous, it's hard to rule out unknown created causes in these cases (especially in the case of fever remission). I don't think this represents an actual contradiction in your desiderata, but your examples seem poorly-chosen IMO.

    I guess I'm not that clear on aspect 3 either. Couldn't you argue that a lot of miraculous healings also bring about an outcome "belonging to the order of created nature?" Following Aristotle, health just is the functioning of body and mind according to human nature, which would seem to place its realization within the order of creation. Though perhaps I simply don't understand your point here.

    Anyway, thanks for the article. My comments here are often critical, but that's for the sake of productivity, and not out of contempt.

  • If I could put it simply, but that is questionable, my question would be - why is there no mention put forward as to a 'necessary' relation of the miracle, (as in biblical texts, often referred to as a sign) to the revelation that the miracle is 'supposed to point to' - as perhaps some kind of God-given empirical evidence, (as in the article) that what is 'revealed' by the 'sign' is indeed ' that (a message, or revelation?:) which comes from God'. Within my usual word-stew, such a distinction would at least be helpful to me....at least as far as making an attempt to distinguish say- an hallucination of a burning bush from a real empirical phenomena, and that the voice I hear is indeed the voice of God, and not merely 'in my head'!!! ..... But I shall stop here, because I wouldn't want to challenge the mysterium, oh I mean magisterium....which I assume is the basis for your 'description-analysis-definition?'.....Promise--- I'm going back into my silence of sound again...as that's about the limit of my ability to comprehend miracles - without hearing any voices, that is!!!! :) (Just feel that this paints the whole concept of 'miracles' into some kind of corner, but as usual I'm going on intuition and wouldn't attempt to prove 'my case'....) Thanks.
    Edit: But somehow I still 'feel' the importance of the revelation has been De-emphasized in this study.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Just feel that this paints the whole concept of 'miracles' into some kind of corner

      I think there is nothing sadder than systematic analysis of miracles. I would almost say that the whole point of miracles is to crucify our habitual categories for understanding reality, to break the conceptual models that we so fall in love with, so that something more wonderful can resurrect in their place. This I how understand the intellectual dimension of the paschal mystery:

      we are awakened to new symmetries --> we fall in love with those symmetries --> we begin to cling to our understanding of those symmetries (we "pick the fruit off the vine", ignoring the accounts in Genesis as well as Neil Young's advice that "Love is a rose but you better not pick it. Only grows when it's on the vine") --> the symmetries that we cling to are broken --> we are awakened to new and more glorious symmetries ... rinse, repeat, etc.

      • VicqRuiz

        Jim,

        Isn't "systematic analysis of miracles" required for elevation to sainthood?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I guess so. I still find it depressing.

          • Michael Murray posted an interesting comment on EN. That sort of fits with what I was thinking of here, or not thinking of, (which ever is the better 'argument'). Maybe the dilemna can be expressed as such: How does one speak of miracles as 'constituted' by God, when the Emperor is 'in some way' - naked to our vision??? (Doubt whether I am making 'sense' here, but recently I have realized that I am indeed getting crazier by the moment, which may or may not be a good thing!!!...which assessment is yet another dilemna which may or may not be considered theological(ly motivated (another edit here) ?????). Ah! Language!! Poetry!!! Will we ever go back to our humble origins, -give up the (edit- forbidden?) fruit of knowledge, the 'universal' - (edit: that abstract? which even according to Plato we 'do not know') and begin anew to 'see' again eternity in a grain of sand; heaven in a wild flower?

            Edit: Just been 'thinking?'. Maybe mathematical 'abstractions' do not break the continuity in 'concrete' relationships, the way that 'language universals'? do? I wish a mathematician could tell me if it is possible (my conjecture) that mathematics always 'retains' the particular, even within its abstractions. Unfortunately, my knowledge of math is limited to 2 plus 2! but you may think that is fortunate, because it limits my 'speculations'!!!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't agree with the gist of Michael's comment, or of related comments that others have made, that this topic is irrelevant for discussions between theists and atheists. Among the many objections that atheists have to believing in a theos, one of those objections is that miracles (as they understand them) are entailed by theism, and miracles (as they understand them) are highly implausible, therefore a theistic worldview is likely to be a poor lens for interpreting reality. Theists seeking to respond to atheists have to respond to their objections one at a time, and this is just a (partial) response to that one objection. One cannot respond to an objection until there is some common understanding on terminology. Specifically in this case, there needs to be some common understanding as to what miracles are before we launch into a discussion about whether the implausibility of miracles is sufficient basis to dismiss theism.

        • Lazarus

          Recently, Pope Francis has waived the miracle requirement for several saints.

          • David Nickol

            Do you think this is a good move? The Church teaches that even though a person may objectively do great evil, it is not up to us to judge that person's heart or claim that when the person died, he or she went to hell. So it seems to me a life of great virtue is no more proof of entry into heaven than a life of great evil is proof of entry into hell. Surely the case of Marcial Maciel proves that one can be thought a saintly man while being guilty of serious wrongdoing.

            Is two miracles too much to ask for canonization? Perhaps the difficulty of coming up with a second miracle was a sign that Pope John Paul II shouldn't be canonized. Most of the "conservative" Catholics here at Strange Notions put great stock in miracles.

            It would appear that, for some reason or another, miracles are "drying up." One might expect, in the age of the Internet, with communication from almost anywhere being so quick and easy, more miracles would be brought to our attention.

          • Lazarus

            I'm not convinced that it is a good strategy to reduce or do away with the miracle requirement. The skeptic will say that even the Church no longer believes in miracles, and the faithful may be left wondering why this is now necessary.

            Does this cheapen sainthood ?

            I don't think your problem with a good life hiding bad actions is really taken any further by an adherence to the miracle requirement, though. I suppose those bad times can arise after your miracles?

          • David Nickol

            I am not sure I understand your last paragraph, but it seems to me the thought is that while humans may be fooled by an evil (or just seriously flawed) person who lives an outwardly virtuous life, God can't be fooled. So two authenticated miracles give the kind of certainty about the person's ultimate salvation that a mere examination of the person's life might not yield.

            As I understand it, the process of saint-making has been seriously watered down—or, if you approve of it, "streamlined." For one thing, Pope John Paul II dramatically reduced the role of the "devil's advocate" and made other changes that resulted in his canonization of more saints than all the popes in the previous 600 years combined!

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Perhaps Pope Francis views saints primarily as role models and only secondarily as intercessors. A through examination of a prospective saint's life and actions should be enough to determine whether or not that person is a role model, and obviously Marcial's crimes would have been uncovered in such an examination.

            I know that Episcopalians, and perhaps this is true of other member churches of the Anglican Communion, only take a person's life and works into consideration before officially adding them to the calendar of saints. I would not be disappointed if Rome were to movie in the same direction.

            I wonder, do other ancient churches such as the Eastern Orthodox and the Copts require miracles before canonization?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            obviously Marcial's crimes would have been uncovered in such an examination.

            This is not at all obvious.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            If a thorough investigation would not uncover his crimes and immoral deeds, how can it be that his crimes are known now?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There exists an investigation that uncovered Fr. M's crimes does not imply that all investigations would uncover Fr M's crimes.

            Just because one person was found guilty does not mean that other equally guilty people don't fly under the radar. This is basic logic.

            Fr M was basically a cult leader inside the RCC. The church should be ashamed that his abuse went on as long as it did. The RCC is blinded by its imaginary mission from an imaginary deity. Not very good fact checkers, I'm afraid.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            There exists an investigation that uncovered Fr. M's crimes does not imply that all investigations would uncover Fr M's crimes.

            Yes, because not all investigations are thorough. Some investigations are superficial or partial. How could a thorough investigation not, for example, uncover the existence of Marcial's children?

            Marcial was not under perpetual investigation throughout his lifetime, so of course his evil activities went unnoticed for a long period, and yes, church authorities should indeed be ashamed.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Yes, because not all investigations are thorough. Some investigations are superficial or partial. How could a thorough investigation not, for example, uncover the existence of Marcial's children?

            Given that we are fallible humans, I would think that it is possible that the investigators are doing what they consider a thorough investigation and end up missing things.
            Anyway, if the Church is infallible, why even bother with an investigation at all, surely the Pope can pray on it and make a decision. This method would save money and resources for the poor....

          • Arthur Jeffries

            It is not Catholic teaching that canonizations are dogmatic, and, in light of the grave risk to ecumenism, I doubt that a pope will ever speak ex cathedra again.

          • Darren

            David Nickol wrote,

            Perhaps the difficulty of coming up with a second miracle was a sign that Pope John Paul II shouldn't be canonized.

            Really? They can't even find something as dubious as the Mother-Theresa-(plus six months of chemo)-cured-my-cancer miracle?

  • David Nickol

    It's my understanding that Father Stanley Jaki, who has been written about in several posts by Strange Notions contributor Dr. Stacy Trasancos, believed that the phenomena at Fatima called "The Miracle of the Sun" had a naturalistic explanation (it was caused by a weather anomaly) but was nevertheless a miracle because of its timing. I believe that by the definition in the OP, "The Miracle of the Sun" could then not be considered a miracle.

    Suppose that the next ten winners of the New York State Lottery, Mega Millions, and PowerBall were named Jesús (a not uncommon name in New York, with its large Hispanic population). Would that qualify as a miracle by the above definition?

  • David Nickol

    Another example would be the sun moving east instead of west, or standing still as recounted in Joshua 10:13.

    While I do not for a minute believe this happened, it's another one of those "dark passages." Reading Joshua 10 we find our all-loving God not only facilitating Josua's slaughter of the Amorites, but getting in on the action himself:

    While they fled before Israel along the descent of Beth-horon, the LORD hurled great stones from the heavens above them all the way to Azekah, killing many. More died from these hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword.

  • Peter
    • VicqRuiz

      I would invite the James Randi Foundation to take a look at it.

    • Michael Murray
      • Peter

        Maybe you need to read the link I posted more carefully:

        “in the histopathological image, the fragments (of the Host) were found containing the fragmented parts of the cross striated muscle. It is most similar to the heart muscle. Tests also determined the tissue to be of human origin, and found that it bore signs of distress.”

        What bearing does this have on bacteria?

        • David Nickol

          I have little or no hope of finding it, since there is so much "fan fiction" about alleged Eucharistic miracles, but I remember reading an article pointing out that allegedly finding blood or other human tissue in the Eucharist was exactly the opposite of what transubstantiation was all about. Such alleged miracles confirm the charges of cannibalism. If Jesus had wanted his followers to actually eat his flesh and drink his blood, he could have allowed them to do so at the Last Supper.

          Imagine finding a long lost account of the Last Supper which depicted Jesus opening a vein into the cup of wine at the Last Supper and inviting the Apostles to actually drink some of his blood, or perhaps slicing some skin from his arm and putting it on bread for the Apostles to eat.

          So-called Eucharistic miracles (the article—as I remember it—alleged) made the idea of the Eucharist grisly and creepy and not consistent with Catholic thought about transubstantiation.

          • Peter

            Creepy or not, the partial transformation of a host into human muscle tissue would constitute a miracle, would it not?

          • David Nickol

            Creepy or not, the partial transformation of a host into human muscle tissue would constitute a miracle, would it not?

            If a miracle, by definition, is something done directly by God, then one question that must be asked of any alleged miracle is, "Is this something that it makes sense to attribute to God?" Now, I don't pretend to have any special knowledge of the mind of God, and I lean toward agnosticism, to boot. But my best judgment tells me that God, if he exists, would not transform a communion wafer into muscle tissue. So if someone claims that it happened, I would have to say that I don't believe their claim. At best, they must be mistaken.

            If I had an inexplicable vision of someone who looked exactly like my conception of Jesus, and he told me to go out and kill a baby to prove my obedience, I would not do it. I would have to say to my self, "I would rather disbelieve my own eyes and ears than believe Jesus would command me to murder an innocent child." I think (I hope!) we all have some sense of what God would not do that we would rely on in the event that something inexplicable is attributed to God. It is my understanding that when the Catholic Church makes the judgment to accept something as a miracle, it is not doctors or scientists who make the final decision. It is theologians, who must obviously (or so I surmise) ask the question, "Given that we can't explain this, does it make sense to conclude it is from God?" If the answer is no, then it just remains an unexplained phenomenon.

            Now of course I could be wrong. It could be that there have been actual Eucharistic miracles, with blood and human tissue and whatever, with the purpose of convincing people of the Real Presence. But it doesn't make any sense to me. If the God I was led to believe in by my Catholic education actually exists, then of course there is no question that he could turn a communion wafer into human tissue. But it is my conclusion, based on what I guess I would have to call theological grounds, that he wouldn't.

        • David Nickol

          Question: If human muscle tissue is found, then certainly there is enough DNA for analysis. If it is really the heart muscle of Jesus, then why not send it off to 23andMe and find out who His ancestors were?

  • bdlaacmm

    Karlo,

    Your "Aspect #5" (sensible) appears to exclude the Eucharist from being a miracle. Was this an oversight, or do you actually mean this?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I would guess that was intentional, as it accords with Aquinas's opinion that transubstantiation should not be considered miraculous. See the end of Bishop Barron's youtube video on miracles.

      • Edit: Have had to do a couple of rewrites on this- and still it is not 'saying' what I would like it to say.....Enough for now - will attempt once again to remain within the 'sound of silence'....Adieu.
        I'm back. Am posting. Why not. But as usual it's too long. If brevity is the source of wit- don't look for it here. Maybe I'll learn something. I may be back again though.... Cause I know it needs 'work' - but hey - at least I got somewhere with the Godel paradox...

        I believe that distinction would be 'consistent with my attempt to distinguish miracles from revelation; a correlate of fact with idea. Transubstantiation, the incarnation, even the resurrection, would then be considered 'primarily' as revelations, but the emphasis is often still placed on the 'miraculous' within interpretations. There seems to be some difficulty in finding a relationship between idea and fact in the case of miracles, both respect to the religious revelation as well as a scientific naturalism. As well, the 'miracles' are often exemplifications of the general themes within the faith, which indirectly point to the substantial issues such as the incarnation.

        What a miracle 'means' can often be translated from the poetically based metaphorical content through an intellectual understanding as to what 'constitutes' or 'describes' or 'explains' - this 'empirical evidence'/miracle, or 'philosophical object of wonder'. This can involve what is often referred to as superstitious explanations, or within a more generous critique, an 'excessively uncontrolled imaginative capacity within associative thinking. This happens as a result of attempting to convey what cannot be 'immediately' understood with respect to what is being 'revealed'. Indeed what ideas are perceived could perhaps be attributed to 'extra-sensory' perceptions, as for instance, a reflection on one's thoughts, and other perceptions that are not directly related to the five senses: (the Indian third eye, the fifth sense, or the idea of visions are descriptions of such 'internal' perceptions). Such experiences which perhaps could not be explained, even today, could even be satisfied by the designation of psychotic perceptions within a natural scientific classification. Such 'perceptions' could thus be what is referred to as being 'super' or above the natural, simply because they do not encompass the external natural order perceived by the five senses.

        Indeed, although it is not yet possible to translate such terms as 'extra-sensory perception' and even 'supernatural' and 'superstition' into a vocabulary that would be more scientifically attuned, - may I at least say, Oh yes - miracles! they are all so too too 'human'!!! Such concepts could possibly be misunderstood or confused perceptions or ideas that have evolved as a result of our capacity for self-reflection, self-consciousness, and even self-reference, the latter which I believe need not involve the contradictory if for instance what is expressed as 'the barber does not shave his -self- focuses instead on the shaving of the 'beard' which with the emphasis on the particular would eliminate the self-reference that the barber would merely shave himself. The same type of faulty language use, which occurs I suggest in the development of explanations that are regarded as 'superstitions', are then perhaps still possible within today's language use, if only as misnomers. Such often include what are to some found to be incredulous perceptions that are offered as fact or any empirical evidence which assumes an 'unknown cause' and for this lack of explanation are considered 'miraculous'. by the religious, and possible evidence of psychosis. Yet the descriptions of individual personal experience may indeed be mere attempts that reflect for example, particular truths within memories that for various reasons, including trauma, may be difficult to recall, with often unsuccessful attempts that involve some form of incoherence.

        Or perhaps - we may think that speaking of 'miracles' is in a way- our way of attempting to understand what we cannot understand!!! But the question continues to be asked: can you 'explain' this? And in situations where it is difficult to simply admit of some degree of ignorance, or where retention of the belief is a substantial part of a person's life, the retention of the description will, I believe, be justifiably retained. But even if/when the miraculous could/can be 'explained' - whether that understanding would be within the context of the human or divine, does this mean that the description offered even of the 'miraculous' need necessarily be dismissed as having had no relevance or value? Could there not be a reinterpretation of the language, as in the case of finding an allegorical rather than literal interpretation of ancient sources, including biblical text, or in the case of a psychosis, a new self-understanding that comes with overcoming the trauma through an integration of the experience facilitated to some degree at least through the experience of the psychosis/miraculous..

        Indeed would it not be possible to draw parallels between what conditions scripture/theology?-and scientific discovery or in a secular interpretation - a scientific theory are considered acceptable? Could this perhaps include even 'knowledge' of the personal - whether this 'personal' is thought of as human or divine? Within this context the 'hiddenness' which was presented within the miracle, could be found even within merely an empirical context, in which we still cannot perceive,empirically, for example, the 'whole chair' . Can such a lack in what can indeed be perceived by the five senses alone, even within the natural world be 'transformed' into the/a 'revelation', understood in the comparable terminology as 'theory' within science now that our five sense have been aided through technology. Within our new understanding of the world, is it possible to still maintain the understanding that there is indeed a cause for awe even within our day-to-day perceptions of the natural world?

        Consider: Imagine if a scientific description of what a 'whole chair' would consist of, including all its atoms and the empty space, black matter, etc. etc. could have indeed been expressed at some time in our historical past in a language which would today be considered an expression of the 'miraculous' because it identified these 'super-natural' references within a religious terminology. Fortunately, within the context that is available to science today, such extrapolations on possible natural data can be considered more 'objectively' and less 'imaginatively' perhaps, but the idea that there is something unknown that is 'beyond' what is perceived within what is considered a 'natural world context' need not be necessarily condemned. Rather a complete analysis of possible interpretations of such terms as 'supra/super' with respect to the 'natural' and the 'super-stition- meaning 'above our standing' would have to include words that are still acceptable such as 'under-standing' which remain within our current vocabulary. A translation of words used to describe the 'miraculous' thus could possibly be a benefit both to scientists and the religious, especially with respect to placing the religious terminology within a more 'under'standable scientific context. Indeed with the advancement of the cognitive sciences, it is perhaps 'inevitable' that such descriptions will indeed be made through a re-interpretation of language.

        Unfortunately, it is perhaps a truism that during the process of development from the superstitious to the scientific, there has perhaps been a reversal in emphasis on what can be appreciated from a subjective perspective. Whereas within extreme imaginative 'disclosure' of the 'miraculous', the 'revelation' (the idea) was obscured because the language was/is not as precise as that of mathematics, or the 'clear and distinct' ideas of Descartes, often when 'revelation' is understood, merely within a scientific context, the perception of natural empirical evidence is no longer seen to be anything within the world that could be considered 'miraculous' in the sense of being a source of 'wonder' or 'awe' inspiring. Do we for instance consider an infinity of 'multi-verses', as being in any way miraculous, even though this is not a strict 'scientific theory'? The loss of 'wonder' perhaps happens within scientific discovery/or philosophy when the 'universal' replaces with such parameters as 'identity/the categorical', etc. those perceptions of order and beauty found within the 'aesthetics' of theology; that intuitive sense of awe with respect to existence, found for example in children. This can happen as well even in the case of human relationships, when what a person says becomes 'boring', because we have lost interest, or with respect to religion, when even the possibility that there could be a 'God', or a 'greater purpose', reflects a loss of the sense of awe that was the original part of the definition of philosophy as well as theology,

        As I believe Einstein said: you can either see nothing as miraculous or that everything is indeed a miracle!!!! Or perhaps a contrast could be suggested between an idea suggested by Wittgenstein in his Tractacus that: everything that is 'is' is a fact: as contrasted with a recent summary of anti-realism that 'there are no facts' - only language. In all of these cases, it will be noted that there is still a possibility of confusion between what is 'essentially' - a fact and/or an idea.

        Edit: Jim: Just read your response to the comment that this post avoids reference to the 'question?' of God's existence. Yes, I did find Michael Murray's comments to be a parallel questioning of the article. What 'constitutes' a miracle: an intellectual argument or definition or (according to this critique) the assumption that there is a God - would be one way of putting it. Hopefully this comment can serve as some kind of attempt to make a 'connection' within the parameters you so wisely distinguished between how an 'atheist' and 'theist' may understand miracles. This would possibly include the placement and use of imaginative thought, in possible descriptions of empirical evidence, or in contrast, imaginative developments within the domain of methodology. I've been speaking 'metaphorically', (personally?) and not as precisely or scientifically, as is usually warranted, I realize. I do believe however, that I understand and appreciate your comments. Hope you see this edit....

        And a later edit: Never thought of objectivity in this 'sense' before. I find the idea most difficult to understand. How would it be applied to this 'argument'? I 'wonder'! Esse est percipi? Are hallucinations indeed - real? in the sense of being objective, or 'objective' in the sense of being 'real' - even as perceived memories, etc. etc.) Idealism, objectivity, God.

        A: We run past some of the first arguments in Hylas and Philonous when we shouldn’t. B: Like which? A: Even the initial argument from heat generalizes across all ...
        View on thomism.wordpress.com

  • I was going to say this is interesting, but I do not believe in any gods or divine power or non-natural forces, so it has little import for me. But then again, I did not find it interesting either.

    An interesting discussion for this page would be "how can we confirm phenomena or accounts of phenomena are miraculous as opposed to unknown natural phenomena?"

    • neil_pogi

      how about your 'self-replicating molecules'? what's its origin? what food it eats? is that your gods which/who has the power to create life?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Ymir's corpse, obviously.

        • neil_pogi

          that's what i'm expecting. another ridicule.

          that's is positive atheism' if you have no answers to that simple question, just leave it blank.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            why should your religious special pleading be taken more seriously than other religions special pleading?

          • neil_pogi

            why not just post your explanations on my questions?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'll leave that to the atheists. I believe in the all-father

          • neil_pogi

            why?
            just want to hear your answer!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why what?

      • What self replicating molecules? The origin of all molecules is through chemical processes, the origin of their elements is stellar nuclear synthesis. Molecules do not eat. I am an atheist and I do not think there are any gods. I don't know what you mean by the power to create life. Several molecules we know of are instrumental in reproduction of living organisms. I would not call this creating life.

        • neil_pogi

          so you are denying your 'self-replicating molecules' as your 'creator'? that's what atheists are telling the public that there must be the 'self-replicating molecules' that should exist to create life. dawkins and others like him have proposed that idea.

          well scientists have just told us that 'we are just cousins of stardusts'... well, i'm not against that idea. they even say that 'organic molecules' are just floating in space. well, i'm not against that idea --- but the question is 'who' or 'what' causes them to self-organise and become living things? (ex: human being)? the computers' parts are made up of elements that are easily found in our backyard, and the question is, 'who' or 'what' caused them to become computers?

          • I have never seen or heard anyone but you say yah self replicating molecules created humans. We have many chemicals in our bodies and environment that are involved in human reproduction and development. They don't "create" they are chemicals.

            We are not cousins to stardust. The atoms in our bodies were generated in stars. Many organic chemicals are in outer space.

            These chemicals react the way they do because of the electromagnetic force. The process by which atoms found in nature through chemistry and mechanical processes are pretty well understood. Have you take high school chemistry and biology? This is not too difficult to understand.

            Humans designed and assembled computers. I don't think you really suspected otherwise.

          • neil_pogi

            if these 'self-replicating molecules' are not discovered in 1950s, what would be the atheists' fairy tales of creation? these SRM are matter, and we knew that matter has beginning, and therefore your SRM is eternal by nature?

            i agree to your statements: The atoms in our bodies were generated in stars. Many organic chemicals are in outer space.

            These chemicals react the way they do because of the electromagnetic force. The process by which atoms found in nature through chemistry and mechanical processes are pretty well understood. -- but 'who' or 'what' organize themselves to become living organism? computers are made up of elements that we see easily within our environment, but only intelligent agents like scientists, computer programmers, etc, are able to create a 'something' (computer) from scratch (virgin elements). you can't deny that facts.

            how many times and so much efforts are done by scientists in order to produce a life in the lab? (it does mean that it takes intelligence to create life)

  • Lazarus

    A really interesting and contemporary look at miracles can be found in "The Vatican Prophecies" by John Thavis. Time well spent.

  • Doug Shaver

    After reading some exchanges on Facebook that were inspired by my recent blog post concerning miracles, it became clear I need to explain exactly what a miracle is. . . . There are five aspects to the definition.

    If you want to convince me that miracles really happen, then yes, you do need to tell me exactly what kind of events you're talking about.

    Only God can be the cause of a miracle. This excludes any sort of occurrence that may have unknown created causes

    OK. But a theist will say that any natural cause is a created cause. And in that case, since I don't believe in God, I'm off the hook. No matter what event you can convince me actually occurred, I can deny that it was a miracle by attributing it to some unknown natural cause.

    An effect can be beyond created powers in three ways.

    If I should ever be convinced that some particular event (a) actually occurred and (b) is inexplicable by natural law, then I might be interested in a discussion that attempts to identify the exact discrepancy between the event and the laws of nature. But first I need sufficient reason to believe that the event really occurred.

    But the creation of the world and the soul are effects attributable exclusively to God. Are these divine acts considered miracles?

    If it serves apologetic interests to draw a distinction between supernatural events that are miraculous and supernatural events that not miraculous, they're welcome to do so. I don't believe in God because I'm an atheist. I don't believe in the soul because I'm also a materialist. For both reasons, I don't believe that God created the soul, and that has nothing to do with whether it would have been a miracle if he had.

    the infusion of grace in the soul through the sacraments and the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to perform saving and meritorious acts are not miracles

    Fine. But whether they are miracles or not, I still don't believe they happen.

    Furthermore, as miracles confirmed the authenticity of Jesus’ revelation in the apostolic age, the miracles performed throughout the history of the Catholic Church prove the Church’s claims to be true—namely, that it is the church founded by Christ.

    When I become convinced that any miracle has occurred, then I will be interested in investigating whatever implications it has for which religion (if any) is the True Religion.

    • bdlaacmm

      Doug, you are living proof that Dostoevsky knew whereof he spoke when he wrote, "In my opinion miracles will never confound a naturalist. It is not miracles that bring a naturalist to faith. A true naturalist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles. And if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him." (The Brothers Karamazov)

      • Doug Shaver

        "And if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him."

        Maybe. And if so, then without presupposing the truth of your religion, how do you explain what is wrong with that position?

      • How do we know something is a miracle?

      • George

        do you have a problem with that? I don't mean to sound combative.

  • neil_pogi

    actually the biggest believer of miracles of any sort are the atheists' because, they believe, along with their scientific cohorts, that the state of nothingness can create the state of 'somethingness'. for instance, the universe just created itself from nothing.

    so too the multiple universes they just invented (many worlds hypothesis) in answer to the fine tuning for life of the universe.

    • A strawman fallacy. In any case this would hardly fit with a "miracle" as defined in this article.

      The multiverse is not the only explanation of apparent fine tuning.

      • neil_pogi

        when we call a certain thing a miracle, it should also include the statement i made above. why are you not calling that a miracle? is it because atheists really believe that a something just 'pop'? it's magic to me!

        about the 'apparent' fine tuning, then why 'apparent'? you need to explain that? if the multiverse is true, then 'who' or 'what' generated them? or the multiverse just 'pop'?

        so you see, atheists just want to cherry=pick what they want to believe.

        if david hume is living today, how would he react to that?

    • neil_pogi

      to lazarus: are you stunned and speechless?

      • Lazarus

        Yes, amongst other emotions.

        • neil_pogi

          i just wanted to hear your opinion

  • neil_pogi

    if life is just a product of natural processes, then how come that wickramasenghe and his disciples, would care to develop the idea of panspermia? or that aliens deposited 'seeds of life' here on this planet?

    • Because people disagree on these issues?

      • neil_pogi

        most of the scientists who proposed that ludicrous idea are atheists themselves. they know that the cause of life is not ' natural', they sorted out that life must originate thru the interventions of aliens. (why they hate God, is it because God has moral requirements for us, and that aliens don't?)

        the inclusion of 'aliens' things in science is very laughable and irrational. science doesn't deal with 'intelligent cause' like aliens. (ex: intelligence, guided processes should not be allowed in studying sciences, and then here, those top atheist apologists are telling the public that aliens did the causing of life here on this planet, why not the other planets?

  • neil_pogi

    atheists are questioning the validity of miracles performed by Jesus 2,000 years ago. (walking the sea, transforming the flat water into wine, brought life to a dead man, healing the sick instantaneously, etc)

    when the fact is that He is the Creator of the universe?

    • Gordon Reid

      There is a real big problem if miracles actually happen. If miracles actually happen, then all of science is reduced to chaotic nonsense. For example, if miracles exist, you cannot tell me whether gravity actually exists or does not exist. It is possible that God created the universe without gravity. Then after creating the universe God has been doing a miracle to produce the effect of gravity. The problem is not with God or with miracles. The problem is that if miracles actually happen, you cannot know whether gravity exists. Here is another example. A doctor is doing research into a cure for cancer. Three of the patients are being prayed for and God answers the prayers and cures those patients with a miracle. The doctor publishes the results of his study. Does that study accurately reflect the results of applying that cure for cancer? The answer is no. Similarly, God could be performing miracles on all scientific tests or just some scientific tests and it just is not possible to know whether any test result is an accurate reflection of reality. That is the problem if miracles actually happen. Please note that I am not saying God does not have the power to do miracles. I am just saying that science becomes incoherent nonsense if God is doing miracles.

      • Well said. Theists object that if atheism is true, one cannot explain the uniformity of nature. On the contrary however theism (at least this kind) accounts for it even less if miracles are posited.

        • Lazarus

          Why could God not create a uniform universe, with uniform, predictable rules as far as science is concerned, but choose to intervene at His will, for specific purposes, at extremely rare instances? This would still make science predictable in a practical sense.

          • He might, but then again he might not. The point is it opens the door to uncertainty when miracles are introduced.

          • Lazarus

            Only to the extent that God may intervene, rarely.
            To what extent can we say that your concern hampered Christian scientists, who believe(d) in miracles, in the execution of their work?

          • Without knowing what they thought about miracles, I can't say. Kepler at least seems to have thought it was a problem. I think the definition of miracles will decide it. Some people seem to think they happen constantly, others such as you rarely. I was specifically responding to what Gordon Reid said up above.

          • Lazarus

            I can't see that it should be of any concern in the pursuit of any scientific endeavor. The Christian would accept the possibility, and occurrence, of a miracle as part of her worldview, and the atheist would not think it possible that such miracle would occur. Everyone is good to go.

          • I think it's a concern because a miracle is another cause that would need to be accounted for if they occur. So if you say that "humans do not levitate, because gravity" it only holds without miracles. I don't think the solution would be to just accept or ignore miracles as possible a priori. Really that seems anti-science to the core.

          • Lazarus

            Why would it be an anti-scientific approach for the Christian scientist to either expand his view of science to include God on occasion suspending the established rules, or to compartmentalize the two, and remain perfectly functional, scientific and even successful. We have long lists of examples of Christian or theist scientists who do just that. Maybe your view of what science can include is too limited. Maybe the true scientific method would not exclude certain phenomena simply because they may have something to do with God.

          • I'm not singling out Christians, but saying that it would be anti-scientific for either to decide it a priori in that way. I completely agree science should not exclude miracles assuming they exist. I've long disagreed with methodological naturalism, although I do lean towards philosophical naturalism.

          • Lazarus

            Ok, thanks for the clarification.

          • Sure.

          • Gordon Reid

            No everybody is not good to go. When I was doing nuclear research for a PhD. (didn't get it) and was a very involved Christian I ran into this problem. It occurred to me that God might be performing a miracle on my experiment that would change the outcome of the experiment. My solution to this problem was to simply assume God was not doing miracles on my experiment. I think this is what all Christian scientists do either consciously or unconsciously. They make the assumption that for them, miracles do not happen. This is not a good assumption when we are talking about studies of cancer patients where lots of patients are being prayed for and miracles are reported more often than rarely. The Christian scientists cannot account for miracles in the research, and therefore, they assume them out of existence. They must make this assumption, because otherwise, their test results would not reflect the world as it actually is. In other words, Christian scientists are good to go only because they assume miracle never happen anywhere near them. But this is just a bad assumption. If miracles are not happen near me, where are miracles happening. Just which scientific experiment is being effected by miracles. This question cannot be answered so the good scientist who believes in miracles must assume that all experiments are tainted by miracles. So you are free to assume that miracles happen, but the down side of that assumption is that all of science becomes just unexplainable, chaotic nonsense.

          • Lazarus

            Your view, and your personal experience, is simply not born out by reality, by the successful scientific endeavors of many Christian scientists. I think, with all respect, that you are seeking to generalize your own experience into a universal one.

          • Gordon Reid

            Let's set my anecdotal experience aside. Consider a Christian scientist is doing an experiment, for example, studying the effects of a cancer drug on cancer patients. If God performs a miracle on one or more of these patients, are the results of the study an accurate reflection of how that drug would work if given to other patients? In other words, does that study produce a good scientific result or a bad scientific result?

          • Lazarus

            It's only a problem if the possibility of a miracle impedes the Christian scientist's ability to conduct good scientific work, which again I say is completely unnecessary and unproven. If we approach the situation then from the other side, where a miracle has now occurred, it would be open to that scientist to continue investigating the phenomena by using the scientific method, or to regard the experiment as having been affected by the miracle and to run it again. In your example, it would be wise to not count on a repetition of the miracle so as to benefit humanity in general.

            In any event, what is science other than a study of reality. If miracles occur at times, then that is a part of reality. It already forms a part of reality for many Catholics, maybe science should start considering it as a potential part of reality too.

          • Gordon Reid

            The point I am trying to make is that miracles actually destroy the foundation of science. Thus, it is not possible to "start considering it as a potential part of reality too." Let me explain. A very concise answer to the question, "What is the most fundamental axiom of physics?", was given by Jesse Brewer, University of British Columbia. "That there is an external reality with consistent behavior that we can learn about by experimentation." Miracles falsify this axiom. The existence of miracles means that the external reality does not have "consistent behavior." So miracles actually destroys the very foundation of physics. I agree that their are many very successful Christian physicists. I would also propose that they are precisely successful because, if they believe in miracles, they assume those miracles only happen to someone else or at some other place. Christian scientists compartmentalize miracles out of existence when they are doing their science.

          • Lazarus

            Well, I did suggest compartmentalization as one way out of your perceived dilemma. And I understood your concern, I just disagree with it.

            The best we can then do with your point is to say that "Miracles destroy the foundation of science except where such miracle is cause for further investigation, where it is excluded in further testing, or where such potential miracle is excluded by prior compartmentalization."

            If occasional, rare miracles are accepted as a possibility then that in itself is "consistent behavior", even though we cannot predict when it will happen.

            In any event, thanks for the discussion. I'm not trying to say that scientists should do their work based on an anticipation of miracles. Just that there should be a small space left for it ;)

          • Gordon Reid

            Thanks for the conversation :-}

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm actually sympathetic to your complaint, but I think this is where things depend critically on one's understanding of what a miracle is.

            If one understands the statement "Event X was a miracle" to have explanatory value and if, moreover, that explanatory value is considered to be a reason to foreclose on future inquiry, then your complaint is fair. If one instead understands the statement the statement "Event X was a miracle" to mean "There is no explanation for event X, and that lack of explanation is meaningful in itself" and if one does not thereby foreclose on future inquiry into possible explanations, then I don't think your complaint applies.

            In my view, to say: "God is the reason X happened" carries absolutely zero explanatory value. God is (on the Christian view) ultimately the reason everything happens, so "God did it" is a complete non-explanation. The scientific question should remain: "how did God do it?", just as the theological question "why did God do it?" should also remain. It should not therefore lead anyone to foreclose on future enquiry. And practically speaking, I'm not aware of cases where any Catholic scientist has foreclosed on inquiry into a purported miracle. If anything, labeling something a miracle seems to foster more inquiry.

          • Gordon Reid

            I agree with you this. Not foreclosing on future inquiry is incredibly important. I am using the definition for a miracle as provided in the OP. Specifically, Aspect #2 makes it impossible to conduct future inquiry. With this definition of miracle there just isn't anyway to conduct a future inquiry.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'Christian scientists, who believe(d) in miracles, in the execution of their work?' not really true. are you also trying to say that christian doctors are telling to their patients to: 'pray 3 x hail mary's a day' and you will cure of your disease?

          • neil_pogi

            the universe is run by natural laws

      • neil_pogi

        that is why miracles are rare, happens only in once. for example, the creation of the universe, this is miraculous because it happened only once. if life came from non-living things, then, can you call it a 'natural process'? you can't prove that because it only happens once. supernatural came first before natural

        • Gordon Reid

          What I understand you said that miracles happen rarely. Also that creation of the universe was a miracle that happened a long time ago? Do you think miracles are happening today or did they only happen before you were born?

          • neil_pogi

            i would rather say that miracles only happen when a supernatural event/agent/entity is involved

            as defined by webster, 'an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment'

            miracles happen even up to this day. but the miracles of the creation of the universe only happens once, life, once too.

    • You are begging the question here.

  • Lazarus

    The brand new Catholic Study Bible tells us that :

    "Our relationship with God is based on what Jesus has shown us about God’s love for the world. Sometimes God will express love by a miraculous healing, but we should not think that miracles are anything more than a small sign of God’s greatness."

    A small sign of God's greatness. Does it need to be anything more than that?

    • Sample1

      A small sign of God's greatness. Does it need to be anything more than that?

      That would depend on one's audience. For me, not a Catholic, it really doesn't provide any explanatory power. At all.

      Mike

      • Doug Shaver

        It is a sign of God's greatness to those who already believe that God is great. Generally, it seems, miracles reinforce belief rather than create belief.

        • Lazarus

          Would we expect them to compel belief? Or should the final choice remain the observer's, whether to accept or reject it?

          • Doug Shaver

            Would we expect them to compel belief?

            Think of any proposition that you cannot doubt. Is your belief in that proposition compelled?

          • Lazarus

            Some of them are.
            If miracles compelled belief faith would not be freely given, faith would not exist.
            We have had a few of those threads about that. I believe that the hiddenness of God is a reasonable explanation and that following from that, miracles should not compel belief. So, I would agree with you that miracles reinforce belief, but I would say that they can indeed create belief, subject to the experiencer's assent.

          • Doug Shaver

            Think of any proposition that you cannot doubt. Is your belief in that proposition compelled?

            Some of them are.

            And in the other cases, your belief is an act of will?

          • Lazarus

            I would like to think so, yes.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not sure beliefs act that way, but let's suppose they do. Would you agree that just wanting to believe something is not a good enough reason to believe it, and that not wanting to believe is not a good enough reason to disbelieve it?

          • Lazarus

            I fully agree with that.

          • Doug Shaver

            But we could choose to want to believe only what is true, and to want to disbelieve whatever is false, could we not? Or, are our desires not also subject to our free will?

          • Lazarus

            Our will is not always free, and we struggle to find the truth sometimes.

          • Doug Shaver

            I certainly cannot do everything I want to do, and that often includes discovering the truth. I can only try to do it as well as I can, always remembering how many times the truth has turned out to be contrary to my wishes.

          • Lazarus

            Oh yes, truth can be very inconvenient.
            Like C. S. Lewis I did not want to become a Christian. It is however as close to the truth as I feel I can get. An honest searcher for the truth will always have my respect. It's a tough job, finding the truth. No wonder it's so unpopular.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think it unfortunate that truth is sometimes represented as if it were never likable. I remember a moment several years ago when I discovered that a certain woman was in love with me. I wasn't expecting to find that out, but it was quite a pleasant discovery.

        • Sample1

          I bet that's right.

          Also, I suspect that miracle stories reinforce belief within a group but not those outside of the group. It would be interesting to know, for instance, how many Catholics travelled to witness Lord Ganesh consume milk offerings in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

          Mike

      • Lazarus

        Understood. The question also remains, however, to what extent we should expect God to cater to our wishes. If God chooses to be a hidden God, if faith is grace, if we have to work to obtain and maintain faith, why would miracles be different?

    • Doug Shaver

      Does it need to be anything more than that?

      Credible would help.

      • Lazarus

        Many, many people find them credible. Some don't. The problem doesn't lie with the credibility of these miracles, but in the willingness to consider such events as evidence.

        • Doug Shaver

          Many, many people find them credible

          Of course they do, and for the same reason I used to. It's called confirmation bias.

          • Lazarus

            What, your walking away from finding them credible was confirmation bias?

            I'm kidding ...

  • Who defined miracles in this manner, and why should we accept that definition?

    When the sun stood still, were all the attributes of the Earth this would normally effect simultaneously altered also for the duration? Or rather did it only seem to stand still, with the sun actually moving on its regular course? I think this question could be asked of all alleged miracles, although usually on a lesser scale.

    How do we tell that something is a miracle if some other force also could achieve this? You mention how for instance a miracle is something beyond nature's power. It could be however that we are simply ignorant of all nature can do.

    It is interesting that miracles are defined here as being "sensible". I wonder why then some Catholics (like here http://www.ibosj.ca/2013/02/thinking-through-evidence-with-richard.html ) object to the idea that the supernatural could be empirically tested. It seems like they could be, obviously, by this definition. I make the same rebuttal there in the comments.

  • David Nickol

    What Constitutes a Miracle?

    A new topic more than once a week.

    • Lazarus

      Lol

  • Only God can be the cause of a miracle. This excludes any sort of
    occurrence that may have unknown created causes—whether it be a hidden
    force of nature, a force of nature applied by man in an artificial way,
    or the forces of nature utilized by pure spirits acting with only their
    natural faculties. Such effects would be wonderful and marvelous, but
    not miracles.

    Interesting - by this definition of a miracle, all claims of miracles are based on a leap of faith rather than on anything to do with evidence, since the believer cannot have used evidence to exclude unknown natural and supernatural forces.

    And for the same reason, the believer cannot offer a putative miracle as evidence of their god's supposed existence, since calling it a miracle in the first place presupposed that leap into the blind, and was not a step guided by the light of evidence.

  • neil_pogi

    the name 'universe' derived its name from 'one' 'voice' (uni-verse).. how would atheists react to it?

    • You got the etymology wrong.

      • neil_pogi

        how about the invention of multi-verse?

  • neil_pogi

    energy is neither created nor destroyed... what kind of energy is that? intelligent energy or not?

    unintelligent energy, like the increased energy that comes from the sun, is dangerous and destroys everything including life.

    while intelligent energy transforms non-living matter (earth, clay, dust) into living matter. that's what i call, a miracle!

    • I promise you, I went out into the sunshine today and neither me nor the trees around me nor the planet underneath me was destroyed by the sunshine.

      Maybe you should start with actual facts, rather than nonsense.

      • neil_pogi

        our temperature here in Manila is unusually very hot.. i suggest you come here and experience it by yourself. if you can, try a 12 hour soak under the sun and see what happens to your skin? to your cells (mutations)?....

        because trees and plants are specially created to receive its energy from the sun.