Are Miracles For Real?
According to Skeats’ Etymological Dictionary, the word miracle is rooted in the smi of Sanskrit, related to our smile. In this sense of the word, a miracle is something that makes us smile with awe and wonder. It’s not often that we can do that; but it doesn’t seem like a bad thing. And yet, nothing irritates some materialists more than talk of ‘miracles.’ Why is that? Materialists are atheists, but miracle suggests the idea of a God who can suspend the laws of nature and thus perform miracles.
Now that sounds spooky and potentially full of unnerving surprises. Materialists seem to prefer an orderly universe that can be predicted and of course controlled. Sorry, but the universe is not only spooky, it’s top-heavy with mysteries and enigmas larded with puzzles and conundrums.
Speaking of miracles, it’s my hobby to collect accounts of them, and lately have glommed onto to Pierre de Rudder’s miraculously fused tibia and fibula. This is a famous 19th century case. De Rudder was a Belgian peasant who broke his leg, leaving his leg bones split apart and exposed. The best medicine of his day failed to help him, and he suffered much pain and discomfit for eight years. Under the care of a skeptical patron, De Rudder finally was permitted to visit Oostakker’s shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. He had wanted to do this all along, but his former patron refused to underwrite the journey. The new patron was also skeptical, but chose to send de Rudder out of the goodness of his heart.
De Rudder stood before the statue of the Madonna and prayed for her assistance, saying it was for the sake of his children and wife. Suddenly, it was all over; the infected wounds of eight years immediately vanished. The two bones fused and the infection cleared. It was revealed by the bones of de Rudder after death that a strip of new bone materialized that fused the two broken bones; the new bone was whiter than the old bones. The case caused a sensation in Europe. The evidence for the reality of this event—numerous eye-witness reports, medical documentation, postmortem autopsy--was massive. But it was not enough to convince fanatical anti-clericals from trying by every devious argument to throw water on the evidence.
So does de Rudder’s healing qualify as a “miracle”? If by miracle you mean events that physical science is completely unable to explain, then the term “miracle” fits. And yes, such stories do make us smile with intellectual amazement. However, in this basic sense of the word, divine intervention is not implied. It is no argument to hold that whatever science cannot explain implies the existence of God. I have a more useful definition of miracle as denoting a scientific mystery that occurs in the context of religious beliefs, persons, practices.
In fact, all sorts of historical phenomena are unexplained, from the guiding voices of Joan of Arc to the thirty-five years of Joseph of Copertino’s very public levitations. And, much to the chagrin of our materialist friends, miracles—scientific mysteries--are rife in modern times.
I’ll just mention two recent cases: in India, 1995, and since, periodically, the Ganesh milk dematerializations and in Zeitun, Egypt, for three years (1969-1971), a silent interactive woman made of light, believed to be the Virgin Mary, appearing more or less regularly. The phenomenon, with reported healings, and other bizarre effects, was witnessed by millions. An incredible lack of curiosity reigns in the scientific world toward matters that profoundly challenge it scientifically.
But science should not be squeamish about events that baffle their most ingrained assumptions. For that is the way to the expansion of knowledge. But the odds are against it in these religion-tinted cases. In the halls of academe, a cloak of silence is draped around the forbidden phenomena. But to my mind there is nothing more contracted than a mind with inflexible assumptions of what is possible.
Given our definition of miracle, there are countless examples, from cases that are minor but still baffling to those that I call singularities, novelties that open up new dimensions of the possible. Joseph of Copertino was a singularity that opened up a new dimension of experience of gravity. Joseph is just one of a collection of human singularities I’m currently working on.
It must sound strange to speak of the abundance of miracles. And yet the truth is that the best minds wilt before the common miracles that stare us in the face night and day: for, by our definition, it is a miracle that anything at all exists and that we are conscious of existence. Science does not know why something rather than nothing exists. And science is clueless as to why we are conscious. Our very being and basic human awareness are scientific mysteries. So it seems we’re surrounded, pervaded by the miraculous, a fact that warrants some humility. And for the fun of it, we ought to keep our minds open—just in case something miraculous bops us on the head.
Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort
to make a very good article… but what can I say… I put things off
a lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.
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