I define a miracle as a supernatural event that cannot be explained by any natural or scientific law. Such an event would clearly be a strong evidence of the supernatural and an indication that God exists. However, it does not automatically follow that a complete absence of miracles would disprove the existence of God; it merely gives us the choice to believe one of three options: he doesn’t exist, he exists but is utterly removed from mankind or he exists but wishes to hide his existence from mankind.
In my topic, God doesn’t want his existence proven I describe how God might want his existence to remain unproven to allow mankind the freedom to make their own moral choices. However, a God who wishes to remain unproven would not necessarily want to hide his existence altogether; if he were to exist he could still reveal himself through the supernatural and still remain unproven. Most of the world’s religions believe in a God that reveals his existence on occasions and I believe that it is reasonable to expect to find some evidence that cannot be purely attributed to natural phenomenon.
If God were to exist he might not limit himself to supernatural acts. For example, we owe the existence of the human race to numerous highly improbable natural events. The omission of one of these would have meant that life on earth, the universe as we know it or even matter itself would not have existed. The combined improbability of these events has led some people to postulate that a divine being might be working within the natural laws of the universe to steer the outcome of chance events to create life. Others have remained resolute that God does not exist and have instead questioned the accepted understanding of the origins of the universe and life.
In the same way that the absence or rarity of miracles on their own shouldn’t lead us to assume that God doesn’t exist we need to guard against the opposite mindset where we assume that all unexplained events are miracles. We are fortunate to live in a time where our understanding of the physical world is far greater than it has ever been before. In fact, our understanding is so good that nearly all events that we experience on a day-to-day basis can be explained. However, there are still some areas of the natural world that are poorly understood. Little is known about the mechanisms that underlie the conscious mind and emotions. A profound and sudden healing of the emotions may be miraculous, but, because we know so little about the functioning of the human brain, we cannot rule out a natural cause. In addition to being cautious in areas where scientific knowledge is poor, we also need to be careful to screen out the effects of external and random influences. For example, some medical conditions can fluctuate in their intensity overtime due to any number of influences: diet, physical exercise, stress. A sudden alleviation of symptoms might be miraculous,but they might instead be attributed to one of these other external influences.
The placebo effect can add even further complications. A patient’s belief in their healing could also make them feel better even when they are not cured in the same way that the mere act of taking a sugar tablet can have the same effect.
Miracles cannot be tested like medication in a medical trial
Medical trials attempt to screen out these effects statistically by assuming that the medication that they are testing is one influence of many unknown or random influences. If the medication is a consistent positive influence then its effect will appear as a significant bias in the test results. However, we are looking for miracles that, by definition, are acts of God and are therefore subject to the will of God and not under our control.
Miracles are reported to happen to one person at a time; they aren’t repeated on demand in the same way that medication can be re-administered to a group of patients. It is impossible to use statistical analysis with this sample size of one. We are therefore forced to limit our search of the miraculous to events that are profound, where scientific and natural laws have either been broken or where the effect of the miracle is too great to be attributed to random external influences. This is a demanding challenge and would be the equivalent to finding a ‘miracle drug’ with a single medical test on a single person. This approach becomes the most sceptical of filters, screening out all events that could be attributed to natural causes.
Four criteria for a miracle to be treated as evidence of God
With this in mind my criteria for selecting these ‘super miracles’ are:
- The natural limitations of the situation before the miracle should be fully known. So, for a healing, the health condition must be one that medical science fully understands and has identified all possible remedies that aren’t supernatural.
- It must not be possible to attribute the miraculous change in the situation to a natural phenomenon. So, for a healing, it must not be possible to attribute the recovery to dietary change, physical exercise, the placebo effect, an immune system response or medication.
- The change in the situation must coincide with a spiritual event or experience, for example, prayer or worship.
- Evidence must be available for both the situation prior to the miracle and for the changed situation after the miracle. So, for a healing, these might be medical notes that record the medical condition and the recovery.
The first three criteria help ignore any miracle that could be attributed to natural phenomenon. The fourth helps to ignore those that could be attributed to exaggeration, imagination or even worse a hoax. The isolation of these ‘super miracles’ is still a work in progress for me, but for the moment here is one that has a high profile on the internet: the healing of Delia Knox.