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A miracle is a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature, such that can be attempted to be explained by divine intervention, and is sometimes associated with a miracle worker. Many folktales, religious texts, and people claim various events they refer to as "miraculous". People in different cultures have substantially different definitions of the word "miracle". Even within a specific religion there is often more than one of the term. Sometimes the term "miracle" may refer to the action of a supernatural being that is not a god. Thus, the term "divine intervention", by contrast, would refer specifically to the direct involvement of a deity.

In casual usage, "miracle" may also refer to any statistically unlikely but beneficial event, (such as the survival of a natural disaster) or even which regarded as "wonderful" regardless of its likelihood, such as birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a terminal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or 'beating the odds.'

Miracles as supernatural acts

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

The logic behind an event being deemed a miracle varies significantly. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact. However, C.S. Lewis noted that one cannot believe a miracle occurred if one had already drawn a conclusion in one's mind that miracles are not possible at all. He cites the example of a woman he knew who had seen a ghost, who had discounted her experience; claiming it to be some sort of hallucination (because she did not believe in ghosts).

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

Finally, miracles would contradict the hypothesis of the Non Overlapping Magisteria proposed by Stephen Jay Gould, in that they would both be evidence for supernatural beings in the theological magisterium, and also subject to scientific investigation.

Miracles in religious texts

In the Hebrew Bible

Descriptions of miracles (Hebrew Ness, נס) appear in the Tanakh.

In the New Testament

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

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

In the Qur'an



Miracle in the Qur'an can be defined as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings. According to this definition, Miracles are present "in a threefold sense: in sacred history, in connection with Muhammad himself and in relation to revelation." The Qur'an does not use the technical Arabic word for miracle (Muʿd̲j̲iza) literally meaning "that by means of which [the Prophet] confounds, overwhelms, his opponents". It rather uses the term 'Ayah'(literally meaning sign). The term Ayah is used in the Qur'an in the above mentioned threefold sense: it refers to the "verses" of the Qur'an (believed to be the divine speech in human language; presented by Muhammad as his chief Miracle); as well as to miracles of it and the signs(particularly those of creation).

In order to defend the possibility of miracles and God's omnipotence against the encroachment of the independent secondary causes, some medieval Muslim theologians such as Al-Ghazali rejected the idea of cause and effect in essence, but accepted it as something that facilitates humankind's investigation and comprehension of natural processes. They argued that the nature was composed of uniform atoms that were "re-created" at every instant by God. Thus if the soil was to fall, God would have to create and re-create the accident of heaviness for as long as the soil was to fall. For Muslim theologians, the laws of nature were only the customary sequence of apparent causes: customs of God.

Miracles as events planned by God

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

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

Philosophers' explanations of miracles

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

Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian views of miracles

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

Baruch Spinoza's view of miracles

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

David Hume's views of miracles

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

Søren Kierkegaard's views of miracles

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

James Keller's views of miracles

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

Nonliteral interpretations of the text

These views are held by both classical and modern thinkers.

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

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

As products of creative art and social acceptance

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

As misunderstood commonplace events

Littlewood's law states that individuals can expect miracles to happen to them, at the rate of about one per month. By its definition, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace. In other words, miracles do not exist, but are rather examples of low probability events that are bound to happen by chance from time to time.

Claims of miracles

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

Religious groups

Catholic Church claims

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

The Catholic Church claims to have confirmed the validity of a number of miracles, some of them occurring in modern times and having withstood the test of modern scientific scrutiny. Among the more notable miracles approved by the Church are several Eucharistic miracles wherein the Sacred Host is transformed visibly into Christ's living Flesh and Blood, bleeds, hovers in the air, radiates light, and/or displays the image of Christ. The first example of the Host being visibly changed into human flesh and blood occurred at Lanciano, Italymarker around 700 A.D. Unlike some miracles of a more transient nature, the Flesh and Blood remain in Lanciano to this day, having been scientifically examined as recently as 1971.

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

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

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

Protestant claims

There have been numerous claims of miracles in Christendom. Mainline protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians accept spiritual gifts, including healing and the working of miracles.Some of the types of miracles that are claimed to occur in modern times are healings, casting out demons, multiplying food, etc.

Hindu claims

The Hindu milk miracle was a phenomenon considered by many Hindus as a miracle which occurred on September 21, 1995.

Individuals

Buddha

Buddha is said to have performed miracles such as walking on water. (see Miracles of Gautama Buddha)

Muhammad

Vespasian

The emperor Vespasian was credited with having performed several miracles. According to stories recorded by the Roman historians Dio Cassius and Tacitus, Vespasian worked several healing miracles, while visiting the shrine of Sarapis in Egyptmarker. Among these miracles, Vespasian is credited with healing a blind man and restoring another man's crippled hand (Tacitus Histories 4.81). It should be noted that these "miracles" of Vespasian were performed after consulting with human physicians that the infirmities were in fact within the reach of human skill (Tacitus Histories 4.81).[8398]

Apollonius of Tyana

According to his later biographer, Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana possessed extraordinary gifts, including innate knowledge of all languages, the ability to foretell the future, and the ability to see across great distances. Apollonius's possession of divine wisdom also endowed him with the ability to heal the sick and demon-possessed, and Philostratus narrates the miraculous quality of a number of these cures and exorcisms.

Miracles in other religions

Followers of the Indian gurus Sathya Sai Baba and Swami Premananda claim that they routinely perform miracles. The dominant view among skeptics is that these are predominantly sleight of hand or elaborate magic tricks.

Some modern religious groups claim ongoing occurrence of miraculous events. While some miracles have been proven to be fraudulent (see Peter Popoff for an example) others (such as the Paschal Fire in Jerusalem) have not proven susceptible to analysis. Some groups are far more cautious about proclaiming apparent miracles genuine than others, although official sanction, or the lack thereof, rarely has much effect on popular belief.

Dismissal, Disbelief and Skepticism

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

See also



Notes and references

  1. John Polkinghorne Faith, Science and Understanding p59
  2. The God Delusion
  3. see e.g. Polkinghorne op cit. and any pretty well any commentary on the Gospel of John, such as William Temple Readings in St John's Gospel (see e.g. p 33) or Tom Wright's John for Everyone
  4. Denis Gril, Miracles, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  5. A.J. Wensinck, Muʿd̲j̲iza, Encyclopedia of Islam
  6. Robert G. Mourison, The Portrayal of Nature in a Medieval Qur’an Commentary, Studia Islamica, 2002
  7. Miracles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  8. [links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-4189(195110)31%3A4%3C274%3AHAK%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2 Hume and Kierkegaard] by Richard Popkin
  9. Kierkegaard on Miracles
  10. Keller, James. “A Moral Argument against Miracles,” Faith and Philosophy. vol. 12, no 1. Jan 1995. 54-78
  11. http://jcgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,982807,00.html
  12. http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=3664
  13. Messori, Vittorio (2000): Il miracolo. Indagine sul più sconvolgente prodigio mariano. - Rizzoli: BUR.
  14. Religion in the Roman World
  15. The Writings of Thomas Paine, Volume 4, page 289, Putnam & Sons, 1896
  16. Jeremy Kosselak (November 1998). The Exaltation of a Reasonable Deity: Thomas Jefferson’s BIBLE of Christianity. (Communicated by: Dr. Patrick Furlong). Indiana University South Bend - Department of History. http://www.iusb.edu/~journal/1999/Paper9.html. Retrieved 2007-02-19.
  17. R.P. Nettelhorst. Notes on the Founding Fathers and the Separation of Church and State. Quartz Hill School of Theology. http://www.theology.edu/journal/volume2/ushistor.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-20.
  18. Letter to William Short (31 October 1819), published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904, Vol. 12, pp. 141–142.
  19. New York Times, Page 8, April 24, 1882
  20. New York Magazine, Apr 26, 2007
  21. John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815
  22. Elbert Hubbard, The Philistine (1909)
  23. Ethan Allen, Reason, the Only Oracle of Man, 1784


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


Bibliography

  • Houdini, Harry Miracle Mongers and Their Methods: A Complete Expose Prometheus Books; Reprint edition (March 1993) originally published in 1920 ISBN 0-87975-817-1.
  • Andrew Dickson Whitemarker (1896 first edition. A classic work constantly reprinted) A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, See chapter 13, part 2, Growth of Legends of Healing: the life of Saint Francis Xavier as a typical example.


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