Are Miracles Possible?

I am happy for atheists to visit this blog and join in with the comments box, and there are few topics which I like more to engage atheists in than the topic of miracles.

This is because miracles are the one topic where both the atheist and the believer exhibit the fact that both are almost completely closed minded. This is because they start with two very opposite basic assumptions. The atheist (yes, I know there are some atheists who aren’t like this…) assumes that miracles can’t happen because well…miracles can’t happen. In other words, he believes that the natural order is closed. The laws are set. They can’t be altered. That’s that. If there is something that we can’t explain it’s just that we haven’t learned how that part of nature works yet. Certainly he admits that there are strange phenomena,but because he can’t admit the existence of God he also can’t admit the usual explanation of miracles: that God did something strange and spooky. Read more.

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  • Amy H.

    Father, I have sat under dispensational teaching (and it still rather haunts me) that states that miracles stopped with the Apostles, and that since Satan is the “prince of the power of the air,” he too has the power to “effect miracles.” How does one counter THAT?! How is one to know if it’s God bestowing a gift, or Satan stirring the pot to bring about doubt and confusion?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Dispensationalist teaching is heresy. Disregard it and use common sense. God does miracles. This is part of the witness to the truth.

  • Dave

    Good post Father. I believe it was St. Anthony of the Desert that said that Satan can only do things that appear to be miracles but are essentially knowledge that Satan as a spirit could know, such as the coming of a visitor or approaching army etc. that would be known to a spirit who can see things in other places. However, he cannot predict anything that has not happened or is not happening at the moment. Therefore, we are to dismiss any occult predictions etc. as it is heresy to do so. Do you perhaps remember the exact context of that? It escapes me at the moment.

  • tioedong

    One of my professors in medical school said that few physicians were church goers but fewer still were true atheists, because we saw too many people recover against odds, and too many die despite all we do. If we didn’t believe that there was an ultimate reason for what we saw, we would despair.

    That said, although I’ve seen things that were miraculous responses to prayer (but probably had “natural” explanations), I am usually disgusted at the willingness of believers to shout “miracle” at some obviously natural phenomena, especially in those who disdain ordinary medical treatment and then praise God for miracles.

    Right now I’m thinking of a miracle working the rounds on Catholic blogs, where a mom risked her baby’s life with a home birth, and now says her baby’s recovery was a “miracle”, when it was probably the hard work of the NICU staff who had to contend with the baby harmed by her careless reliance on “natural” home birth and an incompetent midwife.

  • Amy H.

    I guess I never thought of dispensationalism as a heresy, just a “more enlightened” way of interpreting the Scriptures :( But, really, by definition, wouldn’t Protestantism itself be an heresy? I thought I was using my common sense when I took the plunge into it!

    At the time, dispensationalism seemed to have an abundance of common sense within it, which is what drew my husband and me to it. They would claim Catholicism was heresy! And having grown up in the Catholic Church, I would nod along with their assessment, because it made so much sense! Now (12 yrs later) that I am back in the Catholic Church, I can see that the only fruit of dispensationalism was intellectualism, anger, and pride.

    Yet thought patterns are hard to overcome; I’ve only been back in the Church about two months, and I’ve struggled a lot this past week or so with conflicting thoughts. I think it’s time to visit my parish priest again :)

  • Bernard Burlew

    Of course, prostestantism is a heresy.

  • Korou

    I’m sure everyone would agree that when hearing about miracles we should be very skeptical. There’s certainly no argument that “miracles” are reported which really do have perfectly natural causes; sometimes they were made up and people lied, sometimes they exaggerated, sometimes they misinterpreted or remembered incorrectly. So when we investigate miracles we should certainly be very skeptical. Since most atheists say that God could exist (it’s just that they’ve seen no convincing evidence that he does) I suppose it’s also reasonable to say that miracles could happen in principle.
    So the question is, what evidence is there that they do?

  • Korou

    Regarding your story about the cars, there are some things I expect an investigator would take into account. 1, you were asleep when it happened. 2, it was at night, and so it was difficult to see what happened. 3, it happened very fast. 4, it was a terrifying moment, and the heightened emotion may have led people to misperceive things. Is it possible that there was a space, or a lower part of the bank, which enabled the other car to squeeze past?
    Now I hope this won’t lead to accusations of close-minded atheists who stubbornly refuse to believe anything. After all, if people didn’t have high standards of evidence we’d all believe a lot of ridiculous things, and probably be burning at the stake anyone who could do card tricks.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    No, these are good questions, and ones which every Catholic should ask as well. The incident I recorded is an account my parents told later. I was an infant in the back asleep. Both parents were wide awake and both said it was impossible for the car to have got past them. They may have misperceived what happened, but they would have no motivation for concocting a story like this, so I must assume that something inexplicable took place. As a believer I attribute it to a divine miracle, but I accept that the inexplicable event does not necessarily demand religious belief.

    Last week a friend told me a similar story. I should say that this man is a very sober professional with a PhD. He is not prone to emotional or psychic experiences and he tells this story without claiming that it is a miracle. Goes like this: He was driving down a four lane road here in town. He was in the right lane. There was a car directly behind him–about ten yards. There was another car in the left lane running at the same speed right next to him. A child of about seven years old was on the sidewalk with his mother on the right. My friend said to his horror the little boy jumped down the bank directly into his path. My friend veered to the left and prepared for the impact of hitting the car on his left and colliding with the car coming up behind him. But the car neither car was there. He veered back into his right lane and in a moment pulled up to the traffic light he had been approaching. The car was there again to his left and also the car behind him.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I have always found the evidence of the Shroud of Turin to be very mysterious and inexplicable. If you have not done so already, why not examine that evidence and see what you make of it?

  • DrDJ

    There are no miracles, just random chance and feeble human imaginations looking for patterns.

  • Julie

    Jesus healed me once. I felt the pain lift up and out of my body after I prayed. I don’t tell many people about it because I know what most people’s reactions would be.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    If there is nothing but random chance how are you able to say so since language is rational, structured and grammatical? Could language develop in a random universe?

  • Bernadette

    I was driving to an airport last year to a cousin’s wedding in Ireland. It was a dual carriage motorway towards Stansted and with the road ahead reasonably clear I started to overtake a lorry in front of me. He was going at a steady 60 mph and I knew I could manoevre past him quickly. As I was adjacent to the lorry with still a good few yards ahead to clear him and pull in, out of nowhere, came a speeding car towards me on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CARRIAGEWAY. I was staring death in the face and within less than 2 seconds, I had somehow cleared the lorry ( who had slowed down to let me in) and just missed the head-on with the silver high-performance car by a split hair. My ten year old daughter was in the front passenger seat. I asked her what had just happened. she said ” Mum, a car was coming right at us but somehow it missed us.” Five minutes later I pulled over, shaking. A driver behind me pulled up as well. He got out and came to our car. He said “Are you OK ? DO you realise that you are very lucky to be alive ? You should be dead” We know. To this day we attribute our survival to a miracle. we called the police to let them know there was a mad driver on the wrong side of the motorway. He was never caught. Yes, Miracles do happen.

  • DrDJ

    Of course it could, and has. Language is innate to the human, and has been so since the evolution of homo sapiens.

  • DrDJ

    You can assign whatever importance or pattern you wish to see in a random event.
    If your god is so benevolent in granting some life-saving miracle, what about all the times he failed to come through and let that innocent child die a horrible death. Read the newspaper, it’s full of the absence of god.

  • Korou

    “…I accept that the inexplicable event does not necessarily demand religious belief.”

    Fair enough.

  • Korou

    Two points about what are commonly called “miracles”

    You have to have high standards for investigating miracles. Otherwise you could end up believing anything. How can we know if miracles are true or not?
    Razor blades, findng keys…relief of pain, spontaneous remissions…these are things which can be explained better by coincidence and luck. Where is the evidence that a miracle has happened?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    We have explained our position clearly: while there may be many gullible Catholics who are too quick to see a miracle, the official teaching of the church is that we are to be properly cautious. We allow that miracles are possible, but we look for every natural explanation possible before we claim a miracle.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I think it is pretty clear to all that Hitler was never a practicing Catholic. He doesn’t need excommunication if he was never in communion.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    My point is that language, which is ordered and structured could not evolve in a random universe.

  • Korou

    Can you point me to any articles explaining how miracles have been investigated? I would be interested to read the process the Church went through to ensure that an event was a miracle (and I might have better luck asking than googling “Catholic Church investigates miracle.”

  • Korou

    You have explained the church position clearly, and I’m glad to hear of it – even if I don’t agree with the end results. But I thought, given the stories told by some around here, that these two links were worth making a point with.

  • savvy

    There is a book written by an atheist who spent time at the Vatican investigating the church’s approved miracles. The book is called Medical Miracles

    I would also add that Catholics do not have to believe in these things, even if they have been declared official by the church. They can if they choose too, since private revelation is not part of the deposit of faith.