If nobody believed in superstition it would be unable to hurt anyone
Are miracles just religiously significant
coincidences, eg a prediction of the future coming true despite the odds being
nearly 100% against this?
That means miracles are natural. But if miracles are
natural then it follows that we should always assume that there is a natural
explanation for them even if we don’t have one yet which means they are not
A person who is dead for a week and coming back to life
is naturally impossible. If it happens, it is thought to be a miracle.
Today, many Christians think that miracles are somehow
They see coincidences, the more stunning the better, as
miracles. They see those coincidences as giving them an inspiring message.
They say that the coincidences are signs when you
consider the way they coincide with religious teaching. For example, if people
are praying to the Virgin Mary in front of her statue and some unknown natural
law makes the statue bleed, this coincidence shows that it is a sign from God.
Another example is how Israel was able to cross the Red Sea to escape the
Egyptians. Some thinkers feel that rather than a miracle, freak natural events
allowed this to happen and it was a remarkable coincidence how this worked so
well for the Israelites.
Richard Swinburne would say "Whether one thinks a miracle
is really just a pile of coincidences that naturally take place through God's
agency or involves supernatural intervention, the main thing if not the only
consideration is its spiritual and deep significance" (page 238, Philosophy of
Religion for A Level, OCR Edition, Anne Jordan, Neil Lockyer and Edwin Tate,
Nelson Thornes Ltd, 1999). If that is true, does it really matter if some human
agency is rigging at least some of the coincidences or if the coincidence is
only in your head? What if the coincidence is really happening but your
understanding of why it is happening is really just in your head?
Is it really right for God to create coincidences and
signs like that when he refuses to give a child with an incurable disease a
cure? Why are not all the coincidences helpful or happening where they are most
needed? The coincidences are not really a convincing way for God to get a
message across. It is sick to say that it is okay for him to arrange that a dove
will hover over the pope as a sign but not to send a boat when children are
drowning when the message is that hard to fathom and make out.
The coincidences thing to atheists is evidence that
believers are mistaking remarkable coincidences for miracles or treating them as
communications from God. They need not lead to faith but can draw you away from
faith. Many atheists do argue that magic and miracles are really the result of
chance and coincidence.
The view that miracles are coincidences that endorse a
religious faith leads to chaos. It gives people too much scope in seeing
miracles and signs where nothing of the sort is intended. If you want to believe
any rubbish and hope for miraculous coincidences to come along they will.
Coincidences are a part of life and we never even notice the half of them or
The view also encourages people who pray for the sick who make an unexpected recovery afterwards to think their prayers effected a miracle recovery.
The recovery happening after the prayer does not prove or
indicate that the praying did the healing. If you start thinking stupidly and
magically like that and arrogantly assume your prayers cured the person you are
only corrupting yourself and those who are influenced by you.
Also, the person's recovery is not down to one
coincidence but many. And each one of those considered individually will show no
sign of being anything other than natural (page 172, Philosophy of Religion for
A Level, OCR Edition Anne Jordan, Neil Lockyer and Edwin Tate, Nelson Thornes
It does not really make sense to describe a coincidence no matter how incredible as inexplicable. Coincidences have to happen. And what is incredible to person y is not that stunning or remarkable to person z. If you want to define miracles as inexplicable coincidences, you will have to look at the individual causes and coincidences that led to and formed this remarkable coincidence. You will have to find enough of them inexplicable before you can proclaim the big one to be inexplicable. I am not saying you need to check out everything that led to this for you will go back for decades - checking the last while would be enough.
If you take coincidences as signs, it is up to you to
decide or guess what they are signs of. What if you take them as signs that you
should become a suicide bomber? What if somebody else who, inspired by you,
thinks that coincidences are divine signs starts feeling inspired to be a
A person considering atheism could go to a library. A top book promoting atheism could fall out. He picks it up and becomes a convert to atheism. He would say that it some kind of supernatural approval for his atheism. He could say it’s a sign. Satanists and Witches and Buddhists and every ism out there has faith because they think they have experienced meaningful coincidences that they have taken as signs. In psychology, the term for it is confirmation bias!
People are biased towards accepting evidence for
positions they already hold. Instead of making up their minds after they see the
evidence, they make them up beforehand. They then lie that they care about the
evidence and what it says.
St Augustine, siding with the view that miracles are
natural, said that miracles are not contrary to nature’s laws but only to what
we know of these laws. Some of the Christians say that we must not see a miracle
as God intervening. If a man comes back to life, God planned it all along so it
was not a case of him having to get involved because something in the universe
went wrong. This implies then that we do not need to see miracles at all. It
would be a sin to treat the miracle as an intervention or indeed as even strange
because it is not an intervention.
But if it looks like an intervention then that is what we
must take it to be. The believers are rationalising - they are trying to make
miracle belief look sensible by putting an interpretation on it that is not
justified by how it looks. If you see a young girl you do not say, "She is an
older girl but has had plastic surgery to make her look youthful."
Some reports such as men being dead for days and coming
alive again cannot be talking merely about some remarkable coincidence. If it
looks like an intervention miracle then what other way can we see it?
If a miracle is a sign and it is a remarkable coincidence then religiously important coincidences must be very rare and very unlikely occurrences. But coincidences that are interpreted in a religious way are pretty common. And coincidences that happen and which can be interpreted in a religious way but are not are even more common. A genuine miracle as in remarkable coincidence will need to be so improbable that you will need a lot of evidence to show that it happened. But such evidence is virtually non-existent.
Holy books with too many miracles are thereby proven spurious.
People tend to imagine that coincidences are signs from above. But every religion experiences these coincidences. They do nothing to help us find the true religion if there is one. All they do is lead to separate and sometimes bitter religions. We can do without all that discord and disunity.
Miracles are supposed to be rare and very uncommon.
Reports of them are relatively common. When there are so many reports going
around, some of them have to appear to be very convincing indeed. If a fortune
teller has enough clients she will make a few readings that seem to prove she
has mysterious powers. Yet it is all the work of chance. If you identify
coincidence and miracle you end up in danger of becoming super-superstitious or
paving the way for others to become like that.
It is narcissistic to imagine that coincidences happen in order that you may enjoy signs from God. You rationalise that its a sign and that is arrogance.
Worse, others will see your example and go astray.
Miracles are not evidence for God. Miracles are
blasphemy. Miracles do not give us any reason to take any religion to be true.
A religion that makes hugely serious claims such as that those who curse the pope will suffer for it forever in Hell unless they turn to God before they die has no right to offer paltry miracles as evidence for such terrible doctrines. What about the Koran claiming to be the word of God? That is a huge thing too for it commands violence in the name of God and polygamy. Miracles are paltry evidence. If miracles are supernatural they are not enough. If they are stunning coincidences they are even worse as a basis for authenticating a religion.
We cannot do without evidence and have to accept what it
points to. But it could still be wrong or misinterpreted which is why you need
to remain open to new light and evidence. If remarkable coincidences happen, it
might be pure coincidence that the evidence in favour of an intervention miracle
is good and persuasive though accepting the miracle as genuine is actually
wrong. Instead of using coincidences to help ourselves say that miracles
happen, we should be assuming that coincidence proves we can never reasonably
believe in miracles. This is not bias - it is fair because it is the same
principle as: Do not consider x to be an interventionist miracle when it might
be a remarkable coincidence. Assume it is a coincidence.
Further Reading ~
A Christian Faith for Today, W Montgomery Watt, Routledge, London, 2002
Answers to Tough Questions, Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Scripture Press, Bucks, 1980
Apparitions, Healings and Weeping Madonnas, Lisa J Schwebel, Paulist Press, New York, 2004
A Summary of Christian Doctrine, Louis Berkhof, The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Veritas, Dublin, 1995
Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988
Enchiridion Symbolorum Et Definitionum, Heinrich Joseph Denzinger, Edited by A Schonmetzer, Barcelona, 1963
Looking for a Miracle, Joe Nickell, Prometheus Books, New York, 1993
Miracles, Rev Ronald A Knox, Catholic Truth Society, London, 1937
Miracles in Dispute, Ernst and Marie-Luise Keller, SCM Press Ltd, London, 1969
Lourdes, Antonio Bernardo, A. Doucet Publications, Lourdes, 1987
Medjugorje, David Baldwin, Catholic Truth Society, London, 2002
Miraculous Divine Healing, Connie W Adams, Guardian of Truth Publications, KY, undated
New Catholic Encyclopaedia, The Catholic University of America and the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc, Washington, District of Columbia, 1967
Raised From the Dead, Father Albert J Hebert SM, TAN, Illinois 1986
Science and the Paranormal, Edited by George O Abell and Barry Singer, Junction Books, London, 1981
The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan, Headline, London, 1997
The Book of Miracles, Stuart Gordon, Headline, London, 1996
The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000
The Encyclopaedia of Unbelief Volume 1, Gordon Stein, Editor, Prometheus Books, New York, 1985
The Hidden Power, Brian Inglis, Jonathan Cape, London, 1986
The Sceptical Occultist, Terry White, Century, London, 1994
The Stigmata and Modern Science, Rev Charles Carty, TAN, Illinois, 1974
Twenty Questions About Medjugorje, Kevin Orlin Johnson, Ph.D. Pangaeus Press, Dallas, 1999
Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer, Freeman, New York, 1997