December 27, 2006

There is a Reason Why Miracles Require Faith

Po vodam.jpg
"Po vodam" by Ivan Aivazovsky, via Wikimedia Commons.

The title of this article (update: link no longer active) in The Arizona Republic, "Belief in miracles is a matter of faith," is quite fitting. Common sense would lead one to believe that a miracle (i.e., an unambiguous violation of natural laws by a supernatural agent) would serve as evidence of supernatural activity which would bolster one's faith.

Rabbi Bonnie Kopell believes that this is a mistake and that people should not view miracles as a test of supernatural power. She argues that it is inappropriate to lose faith in the absence of miracles adding, "The miracle is that more doesn't go wrong."

Just what is the relationship between miracles and faith? Faith appears to be a necessary condition of experiencing miracles. Rather than miracles providing evidence of faith, faith itself prompts one to interpret experiences as miraculous. Starts to sound an awful lot like people simply seeing what they want to see, doesn't it?

Sabahudin Ceman, imam for the Islamic Center of North Phoenix, says that persons of faith see miracles in tragedy as well as positive experiences. By his reasoning, one might perceive that one's survival of a tragedy that killed countless others was a miracle. What natural laws are violated here? Since when did luck or coincidence start to count as miraculous?

The problem is that religious believers tend to attribute any unexplained phenomena to their various gods. The inability of science to explain a given phenomenon in no way implies that anything miraculous has occurred. That electricity must have seemed miraculous at one point in time demonstrates this point rather clearly.

Curtis Dickman, a neurosurgeon with Barrow Neurological Institute, evidently believes in "divine guidance." The authors of this article appear to think that this is noteworthy; however, what is noteworthy is how he argues for his position. We are told that he believes in miracles. What is his evidence? "He has seen a boy whose head was nearly severed brought back to life. He has seen a sheriff's deputy shot in the head return from the brink of death." How do either of these incidents have anything to do with a supernatural entity suspending natural laws? These incidents are simply uncommon occurrences.

Suppose you win the lottery. Would that be a miracle? "Yes," answers the Christian a little too eagerly. Now suppose that a neighbor of yours you do not particularly like were to win the lottery instead of you. Would that be a miracle? You do realize that someone is going to win, right? So what does any of this have to do with miracles? Just because something is uncommon does not make it miraculous.

Fortunately, the reality-based position is represented in this article too (something we rarely see). "Spectacular claims require spectacular proof." Yep. To this effective statement, I would simply add what I have already said: simply because something is uncommon or cannot currently be explained does not make it a miracle.