Saturday, April 14, 2012

Definitions: Miracle

A few recent discussions have gotten me thinking about the meaning of the word 'miracle'. Like many words, we all have some intuitive sense of what we mean when we say it, but actually nailing down a definition can be hard. Does miracle mean something that happened that is great and unexpected? Does it mean something that is incredibly unlikely? Does it just mean that God did it?

Let's think about miracles using the definition of divine intervention. To me, this is a strange definition as it requires the belief in God as an assumption. I have not seen any good reason to think God exists, and therefore by necessity, I don't think miracles are real either. You can't use miracles to prove that God exists, because if I accept that it is a miracle I have already accepted that God exists. But I think that misses the point of what is being said a bit, it is also something amazing that we can't explain without God. Let me try to explain my point with an example.

Suppose I have been in some accident and my right arm has been amputated. Then one day I wake up and overnight my arm has grown back. We would all probably call it a miracle, some colloquially, some would use it as evidence that their God exists. What is really being said is that we don't understand how this thing happened, I guess God is real. What if it turned out that some aliens had come to earth and they did it using unimaginably advanced technology. Maybe they abducted me overnight to study us and fixed my arm as an afterthought. Is it still a miracle? I would say no if the definition of miracle hinges on the fact that God did it. Now, what if those aliens never made themselves known. What if they were passing by, abducted me overnight, healed my arm, then decided humans suck and kept going without ever telling us they were here. In this situation, we can see that a miracle never occurred while the people of that reality would say one did. They will never have enough information to conclude that a miracle didn't occur, they will always think that God did it, but they will be wrong.

The idea of a miracle is poorly defined and impossible to prove. The parameters of a miracle require that we have a lack of knowledge, which means as we learn, things that were once miracles will be reclassified. As long as 'miracle' is poorly defined it is useless, people who already believe in them will call some things miracles while people who don't believe in God can easily say there are no miracles.

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