Wednesday, 1 August 2007

miracles happen?

I guess most of us have seen the bumper stickers ... Some are positive ("miracles happen", "magic happens"), some tell us more negative stuff that we already know.

But can miracles really happen? And how could we be sure?

are there any credible accounts of apparent miracles?

Again, most of us have probably heard them, stories and urban myths that have come to us maybe sixth or seventh hand, so we have no way of assessing their reliability. We'd like to know if the witnesses are reliable; we'd like to know if there's any documentation.

But here are a few accounts which do have documentation and do appear to have reliable witnesses, so they are at least worth considering.

  • Recently, American heart surgeon, Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall IV, gave an account of a man he had attended in hospital after he had suffered a massive heart attack. After attempts to re-start his heart had failed, the man was pronounced dead by the medical team. However Dr Crandall prayed for the man's healing, his heartbeat returned and he subsequently recovered. This is not the first time Dr Crandall has observed a miraculous healing after prayer. Dr Crandall is a respected cardiologist (as this summary shows) with over twenty years experience, he has performed heart operations in many hospitals and holds professorships in several universities, so this miracle is very well attested.
  • In January 2006, Patsy was admitted to hospital with a virulent form of encephalitis, a virus that attacks the brain. Within a few days she was in a coma, connected to life support, and the prognosis was grim - she was unlikely to survive, and if she did, it was likely her brain would be impaired. More than a thousand friends, relatives and friends of friends were enlisted to pray for her healing, and she started to improve. After a few months, doctors confidently predicted a full recovery. The family attributes her recovery to God's intervention, and her husband has set up a website and billboard to advertise this.
  • Many cases of apparently divine healing have been documented by the World Christian Doctors Network. Case studies of cancers, AIDS, multiple schlerosis and many other illnesses that were apparently healed miraculously are presented on the website, and include copies of case notes, scans and medical descriptions. It is hard to challenge such well-documented claims.
  • Lourdes is a village in France where many healing miracles are reputed to have occurred since 1858. Of the half million people seeking cures each year, several thousand healing miracles have been reported. Where possible, people claiming healing are examined on the spot by a medical bureau, and the information is reviewed by an international commission of medical specialists. To be regarded as authentic, claims have to satisfy three requirements: (a) the illness was well documented, (b) the symptoms disappeared within hours and (c) the healing lasted for several years. Most claims lack sufficient evidence to be verified, but 63 miracles have passed this stringent checking and have been proclaimed as authentic. (Read more here.)
  • I have also read a report of a medical investigation into 300 claimed miracles of healing at the Jamkaran mosque in Iran, in which 8 were authenticated, but I cannot find a reference to this now.

I find these reports, individually and as a whole, too credible to lightly discard.

but can we seriously believe miracles occur today?

Many people believe that miracle stories are simply not credible - our scientific knowledge has shown them to be impossible. But it seems to me that there are three possible explanations for an alleged miracle:

  1. The story is untrue - it was a mistake or a fraud.
  2. There is a natural explanation - perhaps coincidence or natural recuperative powers which we at present don't understand.
  3. A supernatural (= beyond nature) explanation - God or another supernatural being did it.

I cannot believe all the above reports are frauds or mistakes, and I cannot believe they are all coincidences. If you believe the universe is a closed system and nothing exists outside it to interfere, then you cannot believe in a supernatural cause, and there is no obvious explanation for these miracles. But if you believe there could be a god (which is not something science can prove or disprove), then you are able to consider that explanation.

So I don't think it is science which prevents our belief in miracles, but a belief that nothing exists beyond this natural world. I don't think that's a good assumption.

what may we conclude?

Each person will draw their own conclusions about how much all this "proves", but it seems at least we can say that:

  • it would be foolish to write off the miraculous too quickly, and
  • if we need healing, it would be sensible to ask.

Since I wrote this, I have searched out some other reports on the apparent miracle involving Dr Crandall. Check out these additional reports in a later blog, here.

For more documented accounts of apparent miracles, see Healing miracles and God.

Please let us know you've visited, and tell us what you think, by making a comment using the link below.

4 comments:

  1. i love stories of miracles, more good news to balance out the bad. as with many things these days, it's hard to know what's real and what's not, but i do believe miracles happen.

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  2. It is interesting how different people respond to such stories, or evidence. Some believe without scepticism, some react out of prejudicial scepticism, and some take a more balanced middle ground (slightly positive or slightly negative) as you have.

    For me, the challenge is: What do I do with this information?

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  3. yes, i know. i guess i would think it would serve to strengthen one's faith, but i can't say it really has that effect on me just because there is still that element of uncertainty. but then i guess that's the whole point of faith, isn't it?

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  4. I think I see faith and reason a little differently to many people. My reason tells my it is unlikely I will ever understand some things, and unlikely that reason will ever explain all things. And I think faith is not opposed to reason, but builds on it. So we use our minds for what they can work out, and then use faith to make a choice based on that information - that is why blind faith is dangerous.

    So as a believer, documented miracles do help my faith, but only because I already believe in a god. If I was an unbeliever, alleged miracles would not make me change my mind, but I reckon they'd make me think. And thinking again, reconsidering, should be part of all belief or scepticism I think, because we don't always know as much as we think we do.

    I can feel another blog post coming on ..... Watch this space!

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