In a recent conversation with a teen, the following questions came up: Why does it seem like miracles hardly ever happen anymore? Were people just more superstitious back in the day?
There is a lot going on in these two questions, so we’ll need to slow down and define some terms and make a few distinctions. The second question will be addressed in the next post.
First, let’s define “miracle.”
In our world of rampant scientism, one may think that science has explained away the miraculous. We often hear it said that “science has explained that.” The logic goes like this: because many things that once “appeared to be miraculous” can be explained by science, therefore, there are no such things as miracles.
This approach actually works from a rather narrow definition of miracle as “that which cannot be explained by science.” There are a couple of problems with this definition: 1) It presumes that science is the way in which we know anything about everything, and 2) it misses the essential point about what a miracle is.
(For the record, I believe that God can do whatever supernatural stuff he wants, even things that cannot be explained by natural sciences – which is good for science, because it keeps it in business – and never will be. That said, I want to examine an expanded understanding of miracle.)
So, what is a miracle? Here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) definition:
“A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power.”
Let’s go back.
What does science do? Science measures stuff. It tells us how the world operates on the material level. It explains how things interact and how they help to create something new. It explains how a healing may have happened on the physical level – the cause and effect of the physical realm.
We live in a material world (“and I am a material gir“…). Stuff really is made out of matter (e.g. my body, my computer, this tree, that car, etc.). When something material mysteriously changes, science should have something to say about how it changed – that is its job.
But, once you ask the “why” question, science necessarily finds itself with limited words.
Refer back to the CCC definition and the use of the word “attributed.” Because we live in the natural, created order, events can be explained in natural terms (i.e. science) to a degree. But, when a person begins to ask “Why did this happen?” or “What/Who caused this?” the human mind and heart shifts to a need to attribute a cause or a meaning – to understand what happened, how it happened, and why it happened for/to me. In short, an unreduced reason (openness to all of reality), an unhindered human curiosity, an insatiable desire to understand meaning is open to prospect of the miraculous – attribution of events to a Divine Cause.
Bob Rice has a nice article on this topic. In it, he simply defines a miracle as, “an action of divine intervention. Which means we’re surrounded by miracles every day. Our very lives, our very breath, is a miracle.”
This post has simply freed the word “miracle” from the modern definition – one that has been horribly reduced by post-enlightened culture.
To answer the first question, then, one could argue that miracles happen just as often now as they always have. We (as people, or a society) are incredulous. We lack the eyes to see. We lack the proper openness (religious sense) to reality in all of its factors – open to new possibilities for explanation or causality. We lack wonder.
Miracles, then, happen at the same pace they always have – we have just decided not to see them as such. After all, isn’t man the new master of the universe, and the measure of all things?