By Sheikh Mansour Leghaei
What are miracles? Do they exist? Are miracles a form of magic? What is the scientific take on miracles? This and more in this very educative and thorough text.?
Miracle, Magic & Keramat
Some Examples of Miracles
The literature of religious traditions is filled with stories of strange and mysterious events. Muslims, Christians and Jews have all reported many different types of miracles from the Prophets. Here are some examples of the miracles performed by the Prophets as reported by the Bible or the Holy Quran.
1) Moses: It is mentioned in the book of Exodus as well as in the Quran, that when the Egyptians pursued the Israelites and caught up to them at the Red Sea, the Israelites panicked. Moses, by the will of God, split the sea and they crossed it to a dry land. The Egyptians pursued them into the sea and at God’s command, Moses stretched his hand forth over the sea and its water closed up again and the Egyptians were drowned.3
2) Jesus: According to the Bible and the Quran, Jesus was born of a virgin mother, healed a person born blind, raised the dead and ascended to heaven. The present Bible also narrates that he turned water to wine, walked on water etc. The miracle of his virgin birth is considered in Christianity the greatest miracle.
3) Prophet Muhammad: In spite of the false assumption of many orientalists who denied that the Prophet of Islam enjoyed any miracle, there have been many miracles reported from the Prophet of Islam too. As for now an example of his miracle was glorification of the pebbles in his hand. As I shall deal with his miracle in a separate chapter, I will not further discuss any details on it for the time being.
Since these events cannot be explained in ordinary terms, they can then only be explained in terms of some supernatural power, which means God caused them to occur. Thus, it proves the existence of God and the credibility of His messenger in whose hand the miracle has taken place. Imagine you see a shepherd stretch his hand over the sea and the sea splits into two parts and immediately a dry road opens amidst the sea! What other than a supernatural power could explain that?
There is however, a problem that the miracles as narrated seem contrary to the laws of nature that we know of. This created a question about the validity and credibility of the reported miracles.
In other words, if you believe in God and His messengers, then you are needless of any miracle and should it happen, it does not give you any more knowledge. But if you don’t believe in God and his messengers, then the narration of miracles prove nothing to you as they are contrary to your universal observations and hence sound more like fairy tales.
According to Newtonian’s concept of nature, the natural laws are fixed and immutable. In an empirical view we always observe physical objects fall in accordance with Newton`s law of gravitation. There are no known exceptions. But a miracle would be an exception. Hence, miracles are contrary to universal scientific observation.
The Jewish-born philosopher of the 17th century – Spinoza – has put this argument that can be summarized as follows:
• Miracles are violations of natural laws.
• Natural laws are immutable.
• It is impossible for immutable laws to be violated.
• Therefore, miracles are impossible.4
David Hume: After Spinoza, David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and developer of skepticism in the 18th century, continued the arguments in chapter 10 (Of the Miracles) of his book; An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
David Hume said of his argument: “I flatter myself that I have discovered an argument . . . which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion and consequently will be useful as long as the world endures.”5
In short Hume’s argument about miracles is as follows:
1. A Miracle is a violation of the law of nature.
2. No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony is of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, even in that case there is a mutual destruction of argument.
3. There is not to be found in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves.
4. There are many instances of forged miracles and prophecies, which in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence or which detect themselves by their absurdity which begets a suspicion against all relations of this kind.
5. The fact that such prodigious events never happen in our days, shows that ignorant and barbarous nations in the past would relate any event they had no scientific explanation for to a supernatural power, such as famine, sudden death and miracles is of the same nature.
6. Man’s inclination to the marvelous has given full opportunity to propagate miracles.
7. It is impossible for all religions to be established on any solid foundation. Thus, their testimony on their miracles destroys their testimony.6
I may add two more provisional points to the list of Hume which puts the religious people in a serious dilemma.
8. The law of cause and effect is one of the basic laws by which we prove the existence of God. That means for instance fire is always the cause of burning. Miracle, however, means fire sometimes doesn’t burn- as in the story of Ibrahim when thrown to the fire-. Thus, for a miracle to be true, the causative proof of God is wrong and if the law of cause and effect is not universal and necessary then no miracle can occur.
9. There must also be compatibility between a cause and its effect or else ???? ?? ?? ??? ?? ??? that means water does not boil by any cause, thus ice cannot cause water to boil. Therefore, there is a necessary relation between a cause and its effect, the lack of which results in the lack of the other. However, in the instance of miracle it is claimed that the cause is missing, but the effect exists!
The great problem of modern theology therefore is the place and value of miracles.
Now after all, is there any reason to suppose that miracles do exist? Is there any answer to the questions without a prior commitment to a general metaphysical position?
1. Naturalism V. Supernaturalism
C.S. Lewis the well-known 20th century’s Christian writer maintains in ‘Miracles’ that in order to assess whether miracles exist, it is first necessary to decide between naturalism and supernaturalism.
He argues:” It by no means follows from Supernaturalism that Miracles of any sort do in fact occur. God (the primary being) may never in fact interfere with the natural system He has created. If we decide that Nature is not the only thing there is, then we cannot say in advance whether she is safe from miracles or not. But if Naturalism is true, then we know in advance that miracles are impossible: nothing can come in to nature from the outside because there is nothing outside to come in, Nature being everything…our finest choice therefore must be between naturalism and supernaturalism.
Obviously, if Lewis is correct, then the existence of miracles could not provide any independent support for the existence of God, since in order to establish the existence of miracles one would already have to assume supernaturalism.
Moreover, even if we assume Supernaturalism, still one ought to be able to have a rational explanation for the miracles.
2. It’s Symbolic
Paul Tillich; the famous Protestant German-born U.S. theologian and philosopher, died in 1965, based on his opinion on religious language, suggests that the language of the Scripture is symbolic. Thus, passages such as ‘Jesus healed a born blind’ are more symbolic than narrating a historical event.
Sheikh Muhammad Abdu; the author of the Al-Minar interpretation of the Quran also suggests that when Jesus – as quoted in the Quran – says that he will create a bird with the permission of God, does not imply that he really did create a bird. He is rather informing them of the possibility of it, should God will so.
This explanation is rather disclaiming the validity of miracles and is not a solution to the problem.
3. Simultaneity of Two Events
Al-Ashaera denoted the law of cause and effect and believed that there is no real causative law in the universe. According to them, the observed order in the world is solely due to the fact that we are used to simultaneously seeing them together and hence assume that one is the cause for the other. For instance, we are used to always seeing fire burning, and hence by mistake assume that fire is the cause of burning. In other words, in reality fire burns not because it’s the cause of burning, but because it is the habit of God to burn wood when it is next to the fire.
Thus, God can change His habit and although fire is associated with wood, it may not burn, such as in the situation of Prophet Ibrahim.
Without the law of cause and effect one of the principle proofs of God will be missing. Also, this explanation is based on the assumption of faith in God which the miracle is claiming to prove. Also, ??????????????????????????????