Do Miracles Still Happen? (Part I)

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?

This piece of sentimental “religious art” would perhaps better read: “Miracles are perceived by those who believe.”

What is Theology?

Well, most of us will answer this question by breaking down the word like this:

“I know ‘ology’ means ‘the study of.'”  In Greek, the logos we’re referring to here means “treatment of.”

“So, what is ‘theo’?”  Actually, it is from the Greek theos, or “god”.

Theology, then, is the treatment of, or study of God.

Bored?  I know many of you know this stuff, but it is important to start from the beginning.

Faith:  An Implied Requirement in Any Science

Not just anyone can do theology.  Only the believer.  How can you study nothing?

For the atheist, God definitively doesn’t exist.  There is nothing.  Again, how can you study nothing?  You can’t.  Objects in reality, objects in time and space that present themselves to my intellect can be recognized, studied and understood.  Something must exist in order for it to be known.  And, one must believe in that object’s existence, ie. have faith.

This applies to every science.  I will repeat: faith applies to every science.  Let me show you:

In order for the biologist to study living things, he or she must believe that those living things actually do exist, and that he or she is not just a brain, in a jar, in some laboratory that is being manipulated in various fashions by some mechanized electrical process – meaning that everything sensed is a mere illusion.

While this, and other crazy possibilities could actually be the case, the biologist, without  performing any sort of scientific processes upon himself, can, in fact, be quite certain about his real existence in time and space, along with the many objects he bumps into.  His certainty lies mostly in:  experience, intuition, freedoms, etc.  Yet, none of these “scientifically” prove anything.  Instead, they point out a great probability, that he is, in fact, real, and so is the world.  And, he believes it.  For the human being in real life, stopping every second to verify things with the scientific method would cause a tremendous traffic jam in this thing called life.  Scientism is an impossible reduction.  A certain level of faith is required for every endeavor in life, from the faith I have that my mother is not going to poison me this morning, to the faith I have in the driver across from me at the traffic light.  This holds true in every pursuit of knowledge.

To return to our biologist: in order for the biologist to do real biology, life must exist – must be real.  Now, the highly unlikely prospect that the biologist is actually just a brain in a jar could actually be the case, so some degree of faith is required, even for the scientist!

My ultimate point with regard to theology:  one must have faith in God in order to do real theology, in order to give a treatment of God, in order to understand what God is, what God consists of, what God does, etc.  So, in order to do theology, in order to study God, God must exist.   God must somehow be knowable in time and space, which is where human beings operate.

St. Anselm, back in the day, set his aim as “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum).  This, then, can help us to sum up our definition of theology.  It requires faith and demands an account for that faith.  Faith seeking understanding means, to quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”

Theology is this seeking.