Frequency of Miracles

Frequency of Miracles November 15, 2013

From via Pinterest

Anyone who has looked into this will know that it is incorrect – for as long as there has been photography, there have been photos of allegedly supernatural or paranormal things. Photoshot is just a more convenient tool for the task.

But it is interesting to ask why, despite the fact that few people actually claim to have experienced a miracle themselves, belief in such things has not waned in the manner that modern skeptics and scientifically-minded individuals have presumed and predicted. But that doesn’t say anything about who is right about whether one ought to believe that such things occur.

Do you believe in miracles? Why or why not?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ian

    Have belief in miracles not waned? I’m rather skeptical that we’re living in an age of rational enlightenment, but I’ve not come across any long term data on belief in miracles.

  • Is it Live or is it Memorex? Is it real or fake? Miracles, I’ve had my
    share of them. But the strangest encounters have been with spirits
    during the funerals of the deceased. I guess I’m popular with them
    there. Is there a saluting sailor ghost captured by my camera, or is it
    a Photoshop deception? Oooo, Bela Lugosi.

  • I don’t believe in reports of miracles. The laws of nature have been established with a certainty infinitesimally close to 100%, making the probability of any report of a violation of those laws being accurate, infinitesimally close to zero.

    There have been a couple of articles on this recently.

  • Jeff Carter

    I believe in the possibility of miracles (or maybe it’s I -want- to believe in the possibility) though I’ve never experienced any directly

  • I used to, but now not so much. I’ve never actually seen a miracle, but have had experiences that I chalked up to maybe being miraculous. The funny thing is when I stopped actively being a Christian, these same types of experiences still happen.

    • I believe miracles are happening to us every day. We just don’t know how to interpret and categorize the events correctly. Is it chance, coincidence or an intervention from the Holy Spirit that blends so stealthily into our daily lives. I think Apollo 13 was a miracle for the whole world to witness in 1970. As well as the failed assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in May 1981. And the never detected terrorist atomic bomb, which didn’t explode in the cargo hold of the freighter docked in Galveston in 2008. What you see may be a miracle, even if the impact of the event is meaningless to you.

      • Unless you are simply changing the definition of miracle to “good things that happen”, I don’t see how it is meaningful to arbitrarily assign the term in this way. If Apollo 13 was a miracle, what was the Challenger disaster? If failed assisinations are miracles, what are successful assisinations? If miracles are so prevalent, why does human misery still exist? Punishment for the fall of Adam?

        • That’s exactly what I was going to say….

          • Alice, try this thought if you are searching for the meaning of miracles. If we can ignore God, then God can ignore us. When you notice God working in your life, you will love him more. And when this happens, miracles will become very easy to notice and understand. All of life is a miracle.

        • The miracle is that they survived. I can’t see any miracle being anything other than the result of the Power of Love working to make something good and wonderful to happen. There is no miracle in a Tornado, Earthquake or War. But the miracles are plentiful when Love intercedes before, during and after. God is Love and let this belief, bring miracles into your life.

          • The Apollo 13 crew survived because of the intelligent and courageous efforts of the crew and ground control,

            Now, I’m sure that some of those good efforts were motivated by love, and that’s a great thing. I would never denigrate acts that are done out of love.

            In fact, I’m a big fan of good things that we do out of love. If there were a word that I could define as “the power of love working to make something good and wonderful to happen”, I think it would be a very good word. I would use it to describe the way I care for my children or the way that Americans are reaching out in big and small ways to care for the victims of destructive weather.

            I just don’t think it’s useful to call those things miracles, when they have clear, naturalistic causes, and when this post is clearly discussing miracles in the traditional sense of supernatural events.

  • Ed

    Miracles may exist. I have never experienced or observed one. However I think David Hume may offer valuable perspective. I paraphrase; If I saw a man brutally executed last week and this week I observed the same man walking about, what is more likely? That the laws of nature would be suspended on my behalf or in a manner that I approve or that I am laboring under a misapprehension. I have heard many claim to have experienced a miracle, but upon closer examination, no evidence could be found.

  • David Evans

    I think “paranormal” is not a synonym for “miraculous”. UFOs, alien abductions, ghosts, lake monsters – if these were true they would imply, to a greater or lesser extent, that our current scientific model of the world is incomplete. They would not imply the direct intervention of God which I regard as an essential component of a miracle.

    • So, the miraculous is a form of the paranormal, but not necessarily visa versa?

      • David Evans

        I think that’s true, though many people who take an interest in the paranormal have no interest in miracles as I define them, and might not want to include them in the meaning of the term.

    • Yeah, precisely!
      And there could be physical ghosts made up of a different kind of matter.
      Those of us believing in an infinite multiverse should at the very least be open to their possible existence in a paralell world.

  • belief in such things has not waned in the manner that modern skeptics and scientifically-minded individuals have presumed and predicted

    -[citation needed]. Also, somewhat off-topic, but bizarre: the Pew Forum reported a fifth of atheists believe in God!

    • Sorry, I embedded a link to Bultmann, who famously said “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.”

      • My point wasn’t that modern skeptics didn’t predict it, but that your statement that “belief in such things hasn’t waned” is questionable.

        • Well, Bultmann’s statement about what is supposedly impossible does seem to have overststed things.

          • True. I can easily imagine a savage thinking both radio waves and New Testament miracles are simply different manifestations of magical forces. But there is no good reason for one with even the meagerest amount of science education to think that.

  • Chris Eyre

    Interestingly, I posted on the subject 10 minutes before reading this. Don’t you just hate coincidences?

  • I think it all depends on one’s epistemology.

    I think there is a SMALL minority of UFO cases which would have been deemed conclusive in mundane areas of investigations such as military espionnage.
    Note please that I am skeptical about little grey men visiting the earth.
    I am agnostic about this, but I find it is a great topic for writing fictional novels, very far from academic peer review 🙂

    As for the graphic, the fact that 95% or more turned out to be hoaxes or delusions does nothing to show that there are not genuinely unexplained (albeit not necessarily inexplicable) cases out there.


    I think there is a SMALL minority of UFO cases which would have been deemed conclusive in mundane areas of investigations such as military espionnage.

    Note please that I am skeptical about little grey men visiting the earth.

    I am agnostic about this, but I find it is a great topic for writing fictional novels, very far from academic peer review 🙂


    As for the graphic, the fact that 95% or more turned out to be hoaxes or delusions does nothing to show that there are not genuinely unexplained (albeit not necessarily inexplicable) cases out there.



  • Keith

    Concerning your claim that “few people actually claim to have experienced a miracle themselves,” have you not read Craig Keener’s recent “Miracles”? And, are you thinking only about the West? Just wondering?

    • I’m aware of his book. And as someone who came to a personal faith in a Pentecostal context, and studied at a Bible college with a cross cultural mission focus, I myself once viewed the world as full of miracles. I’m skeptical of my own past stance on this matter, and have the impression that the prevalence of belief in supernatural miracles in a society has to do with the penchant of people to believe that such things occur, which becomes self-reinforcing.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Not to mention that an argument relying on the testimony of “non-Western” people, like individuals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some who also still execute people for witchcraft, to me isn’t strengthening their viewpoint.

        Also, I have no doubt belief in miracles HAVE waned in the West. Some Pew study asking “do you believe in miracles” is not adequate, b/c believing in a miracle ie a cancer reversal or chance meeting and believing in a miracle ie people levitating off the ground or rising from the grave are fairly different IMO.

  • Matthew

    A “miracle” can simply describe the unlikelyhood of an event and the fortitude that a happenstance creates when it actually occurs………….for instance, there is enough “cold air” in the atmosphere right now to superfreeze someone if all the slower molecules were simply to coagulate around a single organism.

    Despite the fact the matter that this is very possible to occur because all the elements necessary are there, the probability of it occurring requires too much coincidence in order for that to eventually happen however. That means if someone does in fact ‘superfreeze’ that would be a ‘true happenstance’. If I put arbitrary nomenclature to this happenstance, of someone ‘superfreezing’, it would be “tragedy”. Let’s assume tragedy has an opposite, let’s assume that the ‘complement to tragedy is a miracle’ of some sort.

    Now let’s ask the question; “do you believe in miracles?”.

    If I can put a twist on this conversation about miracles in order to support a very specific point, that miracles do in fact occur. I am going to assert that based on scientific knowledge evolution seems pretty apparent. However the likelyhood of such a convergence requires far more calculation in order to make it something more than “likely happened on a cosmic scale”. Whether it a the law of universe people pretty much assume that it happened. Regardless of the evidence or the likelihood of evolution being observed on such a large scale it is assumed as real; “evolution is believed in”.

    Regarding miracles; I say this pretty sarcastically because the answer is quite clear.

    Who doesn’t believe that the impossible happens? Rather I doubt that even the skeptic is fooled by his own wonderings and ramblings as even the skeptical mind must have a level of faith because in what he knows he will never know he must assume truths in order to move past his own short comings and beliefs.

    • I’m not sure that I understand your point. The evidence for evolution, not only in fossils but in the DNA of all living things, is overwhelming, and so that counterbalances any purported unlikelihood – although you are probably thinking about the probability of evolution following any particular course, rather than the probability of it happening. All events are relatively unlikely in relation to the total sum of possible events, but that isn’t the kind of probability that is being referred to here.

      • Matthew

        The evidence is in incoherent by any measure of statistical analysis, due to the likelihood of a believed to actually occur as projected.

        There is a such a thing in statistics called the “law of large number”. It’s not really a law but merely a way to express an idea that many of us are familiar with. ‘The larger the number the more apparent its probability is measured’; except that this idea of “overwhelming evidence” statistically does not imply that it actually happened. Due to the fact when the large numbers are employed to measure probability here is where you get a little sticky in calculating the likeyhoof of an occurrence, “the larger your extremes the more apparent your probability”. Consequently one can be 98% sure that an occupancy happened between A and B extreme, but in fact you’ll never really know when the occurrence happens or if it really happened at all.

        Maybe the issue is that miracles aren’t correctly defined then……..I see the idea of a miracle as something that is both of a metaphysical nature in essence, but also something that coincides with man’s logos or his belief in reason.

        “I see the miracle, even when the probability can be calculated.”

        Such happenstances can only be described as unique, ubiquitous, auspicious, and marvelous.

        And so my use of evolution as an example is inconsequential, as the likehood of such a reality would be rather miraculous any way, wouldn’t you agree?

        • I think you are using “miraculous” in a manner that can include things which need not posit a divine action in order for them to come about, which is confusing the issue.

          • Matthew

            I assure you there is no confusion. I think you haven’t defined what you believe is a miracle and so the assumption is that miracles are something beyond mechanical reason. I disagree; but this is beyond the objective of your original question in any case. I believe in miracles. I explained to you why.

            Because the mechanical probability of an event still doesn’t discount the fact that ‘when it happens’ can still be rather “awe inspiring”.

            Miracles can also describe something that is simply highly unlikely and improbable. But that is the mechanical nature of Prophecy and revelation in and of itself. How many people would be converted in a modern sense to have belief of some kind if the miraculous gift of faith had not been issued?

            If God has provisioned all things, then I think there I think is a false assumption on our part that “divine” or “miracle” simply means “beyond reason”…….

  • John MacDonald


    Seneca famously said “Religion is true to the masses, false to the wise, and useful to the rulers.” For example, Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was cleverly introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.

    It is not out of the realm of possibility to speculate that the miracle/resurrection tales about Jesus started as Noble Lies to assist in selling Jesus’ ethical teaching of “love your enemy and neighbor,” a cause the disciples may have been willing to die for.

    (A) There were certain instances of well thought of lies in Greco Roman literature, such as the Noble Lie of Plato, and the lie Cadmus advocates for about Dionysus in Euripides’ Bacchae.

    (B) As for the bible, there are numerous instances where lying was permitted:

    1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh.
    And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives. Exodus 1:18-20

    2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies.
    And the woman [Rahab] took the two men and hid them and said thus: There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were; and it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark that the men went out; whither the men went I wot not; pursue after them quickly, for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house and hid them with the stalks of flax. Joshua 2:4-6
    Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. James 2:25

    3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah.
    David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business…. 1 Samuel 21:2

    4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die.
    Benhadad the king of Syria was sick … And the king said unto Hazael … go, meet the man of God, and enquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease? Elisha said unto him, go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die. 2 Kings 8:8-10

    5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.”
    Tobias said to him: I pray thee, tell me, of what family, or what tribe art thou? And Raphael the angel answered … I am Azarias. Tobit 5:16-18

    6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.”
    [Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. John 7:8-10

    7. Even God lies now and then by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets.
    And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. 1 Kings 22:21-22

    The permission of lying under special circumstances would not separate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures from other ancient spiritualities. It would actually put them all very much in line. The justification of lying hypothesis is very interesting. It resonates with much in spirituality … even shamanism …where the neophyte is taken in with ‘magic’ to attract their attention and then is taken to the Truth… and the understanding that what they initially thought was magic was simply deception … and the recognition of how early they were deceived.

    Justified lying occurs a lot in ancient spirituality. Confucius, in the ‘Analects,’ indicates:

    “The Governor of She said to Confucius, ‘In our village we have an example of a straight person. When the father stole a sheep, the son gave evidence against him.’ Confucius answered, ‘In our village those who are straight are quite different. Fathers cover up for their sons, and sons cover up for their fathers. In such behaviour is straightness to be found as a matter of course.’ (13.18)”

    The Noble Lie also has a history of societal structuring intentions. For example, The pious fraud or noble lie is present in Plato’s Republic in Book 2, Sections 414-7, where Plato says a functional stratified society could be realized if they could convince the people of the lie that everyone from different levels of society were created by God to exist in a certain level of society.

    Also, Euripides has Cadmus say in the Bacchae that “”Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race.”

    This is also true of the Code of Manu. Roger Berkowitz argues of the Manu based society, that its division of society into four castes, each with its own particular obligations and rights, is a desired end because it reflects the natural order of society. He says ‘“The order of castes, the highest, the most dominant Gesetz, is only the sanction of a natural-order, natural legal- positing of the first rank, over which no willfulness, no ‘modern idea’ has power. It is nature, not Manu or the Brahmin legislators, that divides the predominantly intellectual from those who are predominantly physically or temperamentally strong, and both of these from the mediocre, who are extraordinary in neither intellect nor strength. The Indian caste system is an artifice, a Holy Lie—but it is a lie that serves natural end.’

    Similarly, we see the permission of lying in Islam. In the Pro-Muslim book ‘The Spirit of Islam,’ Afif A. Tabbarah writes, concerning the mandates of Muhammed, “Lying is not always bad, to be sure; there are times when telling a lie is more profitable and better for the general welfare, and for the settlement of conciliation among people, than telling the truth. To this effect, the Prophet says: ‘He is not a false person who (through lies) settles conciliation among people, supports good or says what is good.’”

    So, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose the miracle/resurrection stories about Jesus were lies that his followers told to sell Jesus’ ethical system of “loving your neighbor and enemy,” a cause his followers were perhaps willing to die for (like Socrates).

    • John MacDonald

      A conclusion can be drawn: Given what has been said (from the point of view of logic), just as it is “mere speculation” to suppose the original Christians were being “dishonest,” so too is it “mere speculation” to suppose the original Christians were being “honest.” Such is the nature of “The Postmodern Deconstruction of Religion.”

      • John MacDonald

        And finally, as I posted elsewhere on this blog: THE ANTINOMY OF RELIGION

        Eisenman is right. There is no reason to trust Paul. Paul obviously “lies” to support his arguments. For instance, Paul claims the risen Christ appeared to “500 of the brothers AT ONCE (1 Corinthians 15:6).” That’s ridiculous! Paul is obviously making stuff up to persuade his readers that Christ really rose.

        I any case, you can picture Jesus and his followers running around the ancient world threatening and scaring people with the lie that “The World Is About To End, so you better get right with God and start loving one another!” A healthy dose of made-up miracle stories and a resurrection story would have helped to sell the ethical message of loving one another, especially decades after Jesus was gone and it became apparent that the world wasn’t ending any time soon.

        Anyway, there is no way to determine if the motives of the original Christians were honest or dishonest, so it is equally impossible to say whether the original Christians were scamming people, or if they were actually devoted to a man they believed was responsible for a plethora of miracles and a resurrection.

        So, the long and the short of it is we can’t argue the original Christians were “honest” in their motives (because of the antinomy of undecideability between the “honest” theory and the “dishonest” theory), so contemporary Christian faith cannot be “rational” in its ground. It requires a leap of faith to believe that the original Christians didn’t have dishonest motives. There is simply no way to access the motives of the original Christians.

        “I sense a plot to destroy the Jedi” (Mace Windu)

  • jekylldoc

    A medical scientist (self-avowed atheist), hired to verify “miracles” for the RCC’s beatification process, said in her N.Y. Times Op-ed that unexplainable healings do occur. And we kind of already knew that. Richard Dawkins makes much of the fact that miracle stories never include certain particularly unlikely events, such as the re-growth of an amputated limb. I think the obvious conclusion is that unexplained does not mean impossible, and what we are really talking about is highly unexpected events occurring through mysterious processes about which we have little or no knowledge.

    But when I ask myself why belief in supernatural processes persists, I am reminded of Zadie Smith’s conclusion about Jehovah’s Witnesses (in White Teeth), that it is about who gets to declare truth. Sure, it is comforting to think that some mysterious process in the universe is taking a personal interest in me and my turmoil, and that I might just win the lottery because of it. But when it comes down to it, these “beliefs” are not held mainly because of evidence or because of practicality, nor are they held because any belief that is comforting will be adopted. Rather they symbolize an alternative social hierarchy, a different power structure about which beliefs will be accepted.

    That can be amazingly beautiful, or it can lead to witch burnings.

    We are called to persuade not by careful assessment of evidence (valuable as that is) but by our willingness to, say, put flowers in the ends of the guns pointed at us by the soldiers.