For many people this time of year is a time to celebrate miracles. For Christians, Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection. For Jews, a one day supply of temple lamp oil that burns for eight days. Christians seem to have the edge in the miracle department—birth and death being more dramatic than a burning lamp—but I never fail to wonder, “Where have all the miracles gone?”
Never, ever, not even once, has there been a thoroughly documented miracle worthy of a National Academy of Sciences stamp of approval. Most miracles worthy of their name are reputed to have occurred hundreds of years ago, conveniently before the age of modern science and the methods that now could assess the miraculousness of an event that seems to defy the known laws of nature.
The James Randi Educational Foundation has a long-standing offer of a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. No one, the foundation web site says, has ever passed the preliminary tests for this prize.
Now, it can be argued that only God performs miracles, not humans. So this explains why no man or woman has ever been able to demonstrate a divine power. But many religions and spiritual paths do indeed claim that saints, gurus, mystics, yogis, and the like have the ability to perform miracles. The big question is: Why is there no evidence of this?
The simplest explanation for why documented miracles are non-existent is that they don’t exist. And this includes miracles of yore as well as miracles of today. Which, of course, pretty much demolishes the foundations of Christianity and Judaism. Islam too, for that matter, since Muhammad is held to have miraculously received the message of the Koran directly from God in a trance state.
Myself, I hold to the view that the greatest miracle is that there aren’t any miracles. The cosmos is wonderfully guided by the intelligence of universal laws that are so seamless, there is no capacity for untoward events to happen. This, at least, is a perspective that fits both with the findings of modern science and the teachings of the most enlightened mystic philosophers such as Plotinus.
In my book about Plotinus I say: Isn’t it interesting that miracles are, by nature, so rare and miraculous? Well-documented miracles are few and far between (skeptics would say non-existent). Even purported miracles are so much an exception to the general run of worldly predictability that they receive widespread and avid attention in both holy books and impious tabloids.
If great souls have lived on Earth, and I believe they have, then why hasn’t a miracle been performed that is so grand, so out-of-the-ordinary, so impossible to disregard, that believers and unbelievers alike are left awestruck at this display of other-worldly power?
For example, adding another full-sized moon to the night sky would be the sort of thing that would grab everyone’s attention. Emblazoning a message on the newly-created celestial body—“Believe!”—would be a nice additional touch.
Recently I got an email from my wife’s sister, Dee Pagac, who shares my skepticism about miracles. I liked what she said and will share it below. Yes, unlikely events like the one she describes do happen. But if a “miracle” is a one in a million event, and there are almost three hundred million people in the United States, each of whom experiences many events each day, then daily chance alone guarantees that there will be hundreds of seeming miracles in this country.
Anatole France said, “Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign.” Well, you could also say, “God is perhaps the pseudonym of chance when believers want to forge a miracle.”
Here are Dee’s thoughts on the subject:
“The thing I think is goofy is the belief that there is a god that we can pray to and he can make differences down here on earth. That ‘God’ gets all the credit for the good stuff and none of the blame for the bad stuff.
There was just a front page story last week in the Indianapolis News about a woman who while driving on a main street, felt compelled to turn her car into a trailer court and park behind a white van that turned out to be the one that had killed her son. Her 26 year old son had been killed in a hit and run while bike riding, I think a couple weeks before this.
People had reported seeing a white van or SUV. She said she just felt compelled to drive there and once there called her sister and told her about being there and not knowing why. Her sister came and they looked at the van and saw front damage, called police and it turned out to be the vehicle. The story ended with her saying this was proof there was a god cause it had to be god who led her there. Nice story.
What it made me wonder about, though, was why, if god could make her turn the wheel all the way on to another road and stop in a certain place just so she could get justice for her son, why couldn't he have made the killer turn the wheel just a little to miss the son on the bike or make the son turn the bike just a little to be missed by the van? That sure would have been a lot nicer of him.
If he has the power to save and cure people how does he decide when to do it? If he can talk to televangelists why doesn't he talk to atheists like me who need convincing or even regular religious people who are not becoming millionaires bilking old ladies like the televangelists.
If I were a queen and told people I had control over the life and death of my subjects and I was going to let some die by violent means - would my subjects still like me just because I said I would let them know who did the killing? If I could cure sick or injured people but only would if enough of the others prayed to me a lot - would they love me for that?
Anyway, that is my main question, why do people believe in a ‘God’ like that. To me it just doesn't make any sense.”
To me neither, Dee. Thanks for sharing your ideas.