“This sounds evil. How can someone say people shouldn’t believe in miracles? Is he drunk or insane? Anyway, this is the sign of end times when satanic agents like him are everywhere polluting people’s minds with the agenda of the Darkness and Hell. He is obviously an antichrist.” I’m sure this is exactly what you’ve been saying since you saw this title and you bothered to open this article. Don’t worry. I understand your position. I can relate to it. However, if you can spare the next few minutes of your time to read this, you might learn one or two things.
What are “Miracles”?
It is important to define what I mean by “miracles” in this article. According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary,
▸ n. an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws, attributed to a divine agency.
This is the widely accepted definition but for the purpose of this discussion, I will like to modify two aspects of this definition. One is the “welcome” word. This suggests that miracles are always welcome events, i.e., good, happy events – healing, escape from danger, success, etc. However I will like to remove that word from the definition such that a miracle may be a good or a bad event. I will also want to replace the word “divine” with “supernatural” such that the happy or sad event may be attributed to God, Satan, demons, witches, etc. Thus my definition of a miracle here shall be:
An extraordinary event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws, attributed to the supernatural.
In other words, a miracle is an extraordinary event that can not be explained by humans but is attributed to the supernatural.
Miracles are Products of Man’s Intellectual Inconsistency
The first thing that points to the errors in the belief in the supernatural events is the inconsistency. If you remove the last few words in my definition above, you’re left with “an extraordinary event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws”. This means something won’t be a miracle just because you don’t have an explanation. This is the difference between a mystery (aka puzzle) and a miracle. Everyday people say things like “I don’t know how I managed to misplace my car key” or “I can’t explain how fire started in my apartment”. Lionel Messi was faced with an empty net and he still somehow missed the sitter. In these situations, we have no clue, no idea of how these events happened. We have no explanations. Yet we don’t ascribe them to the supernatural.
In other words, we don’t slam the “supernatural” tag on every event that we can’t explain. We only slam the tag when we feel it is supernatural. So how do we then know when to slam the tag and when not to? How do we know the difference between a miracle and a mere mystery? This is where I am confused. I don’t know how we differentiate between a mystery and a miracle but permit me to try.
Purpose? If you feel there is a purpose to the event, it becomes a miracle. For instance, if you are healed of a sickness and you feel it is because God loves you, then God must have healed you. Of course, if you prayed before the healing happened, then the healing has served a purpose — show that God answers prayers. If your child dies of a mysterious illness and you identify a purpose — say you’re suffering for your sins or being far from God, or Satan wants to see you cry, or God wants to test your faith — then it becomes a supernatural event. If you suddenly go bankrupt few days after an old woman stares at you, then there is a purpose — she wants to punish you — and you can conclude that a witch has done it.
What does this then say about miracles? It says miracles are arbitrary concepts. What qualifies as a miracle depends on our emotion and what we make of it. This means that miracles are nothing but products of attribution and thus, the whole process of attribution is not reliable. That is why what is a miracle to someone might be a mere mystery to another and vice versa. This is why there is a relationship between level of superstitiousness and the rate of miracle attributions. People who are more superstitious claim to witness more miracles in their lives than those who are less superstitious.
The Supernatural is an Impossible Concept
The “supernatural” when defined as “above or beyond the natural” is a concept that is dead on arrival. In other words, the supernatural is anything that is outside the natural. It’s like saying that something is outside Nigeria. It makes perfect sense because we know the boundary of Nigeria and thus we can know if something is outside or inside Nigeria. In other words, we know every location that is within Nigeria and it is this knowledge that enables us to know what will be outside Nigeria. However picture if Nigeria was an entity whose boundary could not be defined. Then you can no longer say that something is outside Nigeria. In this scenario, we can only know the things that are inside Nigeria; we can know nothing about what is outside. Thus saying A is beyond or above B is based on the knowledge of the extent of A.
Calling an event supernatural is based on the assumption that we already know everything about how nature operates and thus we are sure that this particular event is outside of how the nature operates. However this assumption is wrong. The progress of our knowledge of nature is a proof that at no time in human history can man boast of knowing everything about nature. As we have seen throughout our existence, whatever we think we know today gets dwarfed by what we get to know tomorrow and on and on ad infinitum. So it is comically erroneous to conclude that what we know about nature today is all that there is about nature. Thus it is comically erroneous to call anything supernatural.
The above definition mentions “scientific laws”. This is based on the erroneous belief that science is about what we already know. However science is actually about what we yet don’t know. That is why the first question that is asked about any research proposal is “How will this research work add to existing knowledge?” Research is meant to add to knowledge, not talk about what we already know. If science was about what we already knew, we would still be living in the cave right now. It is man’s innate quest to continue delving into the unknown and the unexplainable that brought us to where we are today. Science exists because of mysteries. The day we know all there is to know is the day science ends. This is where belief in the supernatural is antagonistic to science: while science endeavours to solve mysteries, belief in the supernatural venerates it.
So what happens to those miracles recorded in the holy books? Are they lies too? The answer to this question is not difficult. As human knowledge increases so do the population of miracle believers and the number of events that are called miracles decrease. It is thus not a surprise that extraordinary claims of miracles pervaded the ancient world. However we need to note that many of those so-called miracles haven’t been conformed to be true. Archeological evidence of the Israelites wading through the Red Sea for instance is still lacking. Jesus’ resurrection is still debatable as even Muslims don’t even believe that he was killed, talk less of him resurrecting. Similarly the claim of Prophet Muhammad splitting the moon in two for instance is yet to be corroborated by astronomical records till date. Look around you today. See all the ridiculous, miraculous claims people make especially in Africa. Picture if these lies were documented as facts for the next generations centuries from now!
Peter Keyz Theory of Supernatural Claims
This brings us to the next topic. I tried to describe what is going on in people’s cognition when they narrate supernatural stories (like when people give testimonies of miracles for instance). I described my thoughts in the chart below. Please note that this discussion is about those who narrate an event that truly happened not those who lie altogether. For me anybody that concludes that a true event can not be explained and thus is supernatural is either sincere (S) or insincere (D). It is possible that they truly don’t know how it happened (S1). So when they say it is a miracle or “it could only have been God”, they truly mean it even though they are most likely wrong.
However some people are insincere (D) about their miracle claims. Some of them won’t say the whole truth (D2). For instance, when say that their achieving a particular feat is a miracle, they are lying: they know what happened but they don’t want to disclose it. They actually did something that made them achieve the feat but they don’t want to say it, perhaps for the sake of appearing humble or for the sake of glorifying God (they don’t want to demystify God). This is common in stories of people who were successfully treated by doctors but came to church to falsely testify that the doctors couldn’t achieve anything till God stepped in.
Someone who got triplets from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) after 15 years of barrenness gave all the glory to God for the miracle: the whole world heard the testimony but it’s only those who are very close to her that know about the IVF. In her reckoning, mentioning the IVF will amount to reducing God’s glory or the image of her pastor’s spiritual power. How insincere! Other insincere people hide the truth for selfish reasons: they don’t want another person to achieve the same feat. An example is someone who read very well before an exam that he passed but claims that he didn’t read for the exam at all. This insincerity also manifests in people who know that the misfortune that has befallen them is due to their carelessness or negligence but they publicly claim that the misfortune is a “spiritual attack”.
There is nothing wrong in not knowing how an event happened once one is ready to find out (S1). However some people just don’t want to find out (S2). This is a form of insincerity in itself (D1). There are 2 reasons why people don’t want to find out. It’s either because they believe that an explanation can never be provided (S2B or D1B) or they’re afraid that finding an explanation for the event will upset their faith (S2A or D1A). Such people don’t want their bubble of comfort to be burst. That’s why no matter what you do, they won’t consent to subjecting their claims to scrutiny. When confronted with unexplainable scenarios, folks with scientific minds end up in S1 while folks who are not inquisitive end up in S2A/D1A and S2B/D1B.
Belief in Miracles Ruins the Society
Shortly after publishing a previous blog article titled “8 Questions to Ask About Miracle Claims”, someone asked me if I would ever be convinced by a miracle. I told him “No”. Then he prayed that a miracle that would convince me would happen to me sooner or later. Well, I told him that there’s nothing that can happen to me or anyone else that can be proof of the supernatural.
For instance, the miracle of an amputated limb instantly growing back to the same shape, size, and function has never happened. What if it happens right before my eyes? Will I believe in miracles? No, I still won’t. Rather than raising my hands in surrender, I will use that event as the subject of the next research. I will find out. This is why I’m disappointed in doctors who define unexplainable healing of their patients as miracles. I’ve heard qualified doctors (not traditional healers) who concluded that certain patients who died mysteriously under their care must have died of spiritual attacks (whatever that means). If that was how scientists in the past resigned to the supernatural concerning some events that they couldn’t explain, how would we have the knowledge that we have today? Today’s unknown is tomorrow’s known. So whatever is beyond human understanding today will be within human understanding tomorrow.
Just as there are things we don’t know so are there things we can’t control. Therefore it is true that certain things happen to us that are beyond our knowledge and control. For instance, if you’re a passenger in a car, you can’t control how the driver maneuvers or how the different parts of the car function at the time of an accident. So your surviving a car crash is totally beyond your control. However if we had a way of recording what happened, we could provide an explanation for how you survived and how the other people died. That we don’t have this information doesn’t then make your survival a miracle. It’s only a sign of human ignorance or lack of control.
Since a miracle is defined partly by the absence of an explanation, it follows then that what is called a miracle depends not only on the era as explained above but also on the claimant’s level of knowledge. So for instance, someone who is not medically qualified may believe that the healing of a sickness that spontaneously remits is a miracle. However to the medically qualified, it is not a miracle but a natural occurrence. This is the inconsistency that befalls any concept that is defined by ignorance, i.e., lack of explanation.
This is what is called the god-of-the-gaps argument. It says that a gap in our knowledge (or control) is the evidence for the supernatural. It’s disastrous for any society to have so many people who believe in miracles. In a society where everybody believes so much in the supernatural, scientific inquiry is impaired. When a scientist believes in miracles, he’s simply saying “I don’t understand and I’m not interested in finding out”. This hampers the progress of science and any society with hampered science can never develop. How will a doctor who believes that the recovery or death of his patients is supernatural contribute anything positive to the profession? How does such a doctor explain strange illnesses and discover cures to them? The countries with the highest populations of miracle believers are the most backward industrially.
Let’s go back to the concept of purpose I mentioned earlier. Belief in miracles attributes cosmic purposes to events. Why did you survive the car crash and they didn’t? One answer is that a mindful, purposeful God did it. Since God is not some random actor, he must have had a reason for arranging it that way. This reason could range from God considering you more perfect than those who died to God considering you being more useful than those who died. This is pure narcissism that should be discouraged if we desire a good society. Meanwhile this problem can be avoided altogether by a better answer that says that a combination of human factors and natural factors made you survive and made the others die.
Should You then Become an Atheist?
Thus far it looks like this article is asking everybody to become an atheist. Why should we then believe in God if we shouldn’t believe in miracles? Well I know many people won’t become atheists. However there are different ways by which rejection of the belief in miracles can be handled.
One is: become an atheist. If that won’t rock your boat, you can try deism. Deism is the belief that God exists but he doesn’t interfere in the universe, meaning he doesn’t perform miracles. In other words, deists believe that God exists but they don’t believe in miracles. American founding fathers, notably Thomas Paine, were deists.
Pantheism is another one. Pantheists believe that God exists but he’s not different from the universe. In other words, God is the universe and the universe is God and thus, it’s impossible for God to perform miracles in a universe that is himself. Albert Einstein is the most popular pantheist in human history. What about pure theists like Christians and Muslims? Yes. There are Christians who don’t believe in miracles. Rather they believe God won’t do anything except through human hands. Thus they believe that miracles are performed by us humans and nothing more. I know Christians who believe that miracles as claimed by religion are fraudulent while a scientific discovery is the genuine miracle. Very commendable position!
Whatever rocks your boat is fine but please, stop believing in miracles. I know the belief in miracles can be comforting. It’s reassuring to believe that an all-powerful entity is looking out for us and ready to intervene in our lives when necessary. It’s also reassuring to believe that a certain sad event in our lives is not our fault but that of evil supernatural forces. However these beliefs don’t describe reality and as long as we have too many people holding on to these beliefs, we should not expect any progress in this society.