About miracles

Myths of Miracles

(text in French on the same topic, with some common points and some other points)

To develop a scientific viewpoint on miracles, we first need to split them into 2 categories : the miracles that happened, and those that didn't happen (and correctly sort the most famous examples into these).

Antiquity was full of mythologies, telling about creation stories, of miracles and incarnated gods.
It is natural, as people like to tell each other about wonderful stories, which seem much more important to them than ordinary ones. And, in quite hard contexts (low education level, low technologies, bad organization systems, bad transportation means, bad communication means, no internet available), they had no decent means to verify or refute the truth of stories that were told to them. So, myths could easily propagate, not easily be contradicted, and ifever at some time and place a myth was contradicted, people there would just shut up about it while it would keep propagating in other places.

They spread in many places all over the world. India is especially full of old stories of incarnated gods.
Stories evolved, inspired each other, generating new versions and mixtures of versions.
Myths of life-death-rebirth deities and virgin births were all over the place. The reign of Alexander the Great more than 3 centuries BC spanned far to the East and generated exchanges between religious traditions on large distances, thus including Buddhism.

Consider the story which officially serves as the root of today's most dominant religions: the Hebrew bible. It contains plenty of accounts of miracles, claimed to have happened many times during the history of the Jewish people. But these miracles suddenly stop occurring near the end of the story (the same time when the Jews are suddenly irreversibly becoming faithful to their God). Then, what happens when miracles finally stop occuring ? Then comes the reign of Josias. What happens during the reign of Josias ? You can read it in 2 Cronicles 34, or in 2 Kings 22 and 23. This is the account of the true creation of Judaism, and the circumstances how all these stories were made up, collected, put together and arranged into a seemingly consistent whole, out of inspirations from diverse older sources.

Now in recent times, archeological research was finally conducted without the forceful desire to prove the validity of the Biblical story. This research, conducted by Israel Finkelstein and others, happened to establish the evidence that the real story is very, very different from what the Bible says; and how did the Bible itself happen to be written. Namely, that there was no historical Exodus, nor any historical Moses (whose birth legend borrows from the birth story of Sargon of Akkad). The Egyptian empire was so large at the "time of Moses" that it included the land of Canaan. Hebrews emerged from a lower social class of Canaanites who managed to free themselves from the domination they were under. The full story of how things happened, as established by recent archeological findings, can be read for example in the book The Bible Unearthed (a good synthesis, whose main lines are now well-established, even if other archeologists may disagree on some details).

How easy it is in such conditions to claim having had many fulfilled prophecies, when both the act of prophecy and the claim of its historical fulfillment are in fact invented long after they presumably happened.

The implications of this discovery cannot be underestimated, as more than half of today's world population belong to religions heavily founded on the Hebrew bible (that they include in their sacred texts and crucially draw from it their claims of divine authority, or at least had to do so at their initial development), which they hold as historically rather accurate, at least concerning the reality of the Exodus and Moses as a historical figure.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee for this to make any significant difference to the popularity of these religions in the near future, as
Many things can be said (and can be found in many Web sites) about what's wrong with the Bible, either in terms of accuracy, consistency or morality.
Let us just make a few remarks (among countless possible other remarks)

When the Church opposed heliocentrism (in the Galileo trial), one of the arguments was the story in the Hebrew bible telling a miracle where the sun went back its way in the sky so as to make one day longer.

Not only the contents of the Gospels are probably all made up (there is no independent confirmation for the Jesus story), but they contain a completely distorted interpretation of the Hebrew Bible that do not resist scrutiny, so that careful Jews have no problem to refute claims of competing religion supposedly based on their Bible, especially Christian missionaries claims that Jesus would be the expected Messiah.

Christians of the first century believed that the end of the world was near, so that not all of them would die before it happened. Still now, based on the Revelation text, many Christians expect a new coming of Jesus that would mark the end of this world (an extremely miraculous change, for a 2000 years of reign of Jesus, followed by a total destruction of the universe). But what can be the sense of this "hope" and "good news" as the universe is billions years old, life miserably crawled on Earth without any help from God for millions of years, and just suddenly now is starting to open up to much more interesting possibilities (in terms of decent living conditions and meaningful progress towards knowledge, culture and so on) ???

The viewpoint of Jehovah's witnesses, in all its absurdity, still carries the following genuine remark that other Christians seem to ignore: in its beginning, Christianity was a quite materialistic religion. Indeed as expressed in 1 Corinthians 15, the reason why it was so important for the first Christians to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, is to serve as a first case and promise for the bodily resurrection of all people. And why did they need to believe this ? It is because they could not find any hope for a life after death as long as their body would remain in the grave ! They claim that these bodies are sleeping and waiting to be miraculously revived some time later. In other words, they could not make any difference between the soul and the body.

But, if life was only about bodily life, then we would only be machines (sorts of robots). Are we ? But if, on the other hand, the deep nature of consciousness is immaterial, then the connection to our body is temporary and with no fundamental value. A body is nothing else than an assembly of atoms in some specific order.
Quantum theory even explicitly proves that particles cannot be individually identified beyond their type: an exchange of 2 particles of the same type (2 electrons, or 2 atoms with the same numbers of protons and neutrons) does not modify the state of a physical system - and indeed, most of the atoms that make up our bodies are continuously replaced many times during our life. Thus if we could make an exact copy of a body by putting together other atoms in the same order as in the first body, this would somehow be another occurrence of the same body. Thus if ever the first body was destroyed while the second was still "empty" of soul, then the soul that was in the first body that is destroyed would just need to move to the second body in order to continue life normally. But then, if ever after death we still need to come back to an earthly life, why take an old, dead and scrapped body and expect some miracle to put back its atoms in some workable order ? Reincarnation to a fresh new fetus would be such a more interesting choice.
Thus, how silly is the Christian dogma of a bodily resurrection; and also their dogmatic denial of all possibility of reincarnation. This denial might have seemed like a defensible view in the context of some past culture which had not given any serious thought about the difference between mind and body, about a possibility of life out of the body, or of reincarnation, and where NDE testimonies suggesting reincarnation were not well-known either. But it is so pitiful to see them endorse the heritage of this past dire lack of understanding, in their way of regarding it as a divine revelation. See also the difficulties interpreting Jesus'Ascension.

What about other miracles ? For anyone who knows physics, it is clear that some miracles are totally unrealistic. Such a judgement is not, as stupid religious fanatics would assume, merely based on some arbitrary dogma that the "laws of physics" would have divine status over God, and cannot be broken because we saw them unbroken until now; to which they would reply that God is higher that our ideas on the laws of physics. It's much more subtle than this.
Can God make 2+2 equal to 5 ? Can He draw a square with 2 edges and 3 vertices ? So, there are some ideas that are impossible because of self-contradiction. People would naively assume that laws of physics are all of a different type, that their violation would be conceivable, and God could violate them in a miracle.
In fact, it depends on which laws. The known laws of physics are of different types, and once we know them and try to figure out that God would decide to break them, it clearly appears that some of them would be harder to break than others.
In particular, we know from general relativity (describing gravitation as an effect of the curvature of space-time) that the conservation of mass (or energy, which is the same), is absolutely unbreakable, as it comes as a theorem of geometry: once assumed that the equation of general relativity (relation between mass and the space-time curvature) is valid before and after a miracle, we can get as a geometrical theorem (by trying to glue together the space-time of before and after the miracle) that the conservation of mass still necessarily holds during the miracle too.
But one of Jesus's miracles claims to contradict this: the multiplication of fish and bread.
Naive people may imagine that if we have a little mass of food, then some miracle may expand this mass to let it feed more people, and leave more rests than the starting mass. In fact, this is absolutely impossible, as what it says requires to break the mass conservation, which we know can't be broken even by God. If we really want to force a possibility to get the claimed result, the best hypothesis would be to take some dark matter, which flows around invisibly, and transform it into ordinary matter. But, from the viewpoint of the laws of physics, this would be a very violent operation, much more violent than the explosion of a nuclear bomb. First, the little piece of food "used" at the start would be of absolutely no help, either as a model or a generator, for supplementary atoms to appear and form more food.
Second, for such a violent miracle, it is very surprising to not have observed any strong side effect.
Third, if really God had such a power, then it would be so pitiful to waste it just for fulfilling such a little need that could have been satisfied by much easier means (such as attracting a flock of birds and making them fall already roasted on the ground). There would have been so much more wonderful things to do with just a very tiny fraction of this power, such as creating thousands of living species much more wonderfully designed than those currently living on Earth (including some that would wonderfully replace humans), by writing down their DNA from scratch - if only God had enough proper imagination to know which are the desirable DNA codes.
Other example, someone pointed out in a discussion:
One does just not 'suspend the laws of physics' without there being some exceptional fall out - purely because everything we known about our planet is interconnected.
Take the story about the Earth standing still in Joshua.
If for some incredible reason the Earth suddenly stopped revolving, every single thing not anchored beneath the crust would immediately hurtle in one direction at a terminal speed of over 1000 miles per hour.
The would have the same effect as the fastest jet fighter suddenly hitting a brick wall at 1000mph...there would be nothing left of either the pilot, the plane or the wall.
Apply that to a planet filled with movable objects, people, oceans and polar ice caps....the carnage would be incomprehensible....because ...physics.
Take an example of the parking lot prayer... Dear God, please find me a parking space this Saturday afternoon. To oblige, god must rearrange the timelines of possibly thousands of people and events in order to magic up a parking space for one selfish individual, and so it goes.
One does not just suspend nature or physics in order to satisfy a story or a need to believe, without impacting everything else.
not only that, you would think even without the lethal force of the planet suddenly not rotating anymore, people would have noted and recorded it.
Some Christians may react to this by saying: in these miracles, God's goal was to give a spiritual message, so as to be understood by the people of that time, disregarding any troubles with the laws of physics that are nothing to Him, in ways that those people would not have understood.
Well... to make a comparison, it's just like saying: the reason why Jesus went through a wall here rather than use the open door just a few steps aside to reach that place, is that people were not aware of the fact there was a wall here and an open door there, so that they would not have understood why he would go that way; his way through the wall was useful for the spiritual message he wanted to provide.
Hum...

But another problem is that the story and teachings of Jesus are not even original, as they have many things in common with those of Buddha as well as other myths of that time - starting with the very idea that a divine person may come as a human incarnation, which was commonplace in India.
See Jesus Christ in comparative mythology.
The Gospel writers claims of prophecy of the Jesus life in the Hebrew Bible are wrong (and refuted by jews). For example, the Hebrew Bible never announced any virgin birth: the word in Isaiah meant "young lady", which was misinterpreted, falsely translated to "virgin" in the Greek version of the Bible which Christians took as their reference. Anyway, even possible similarities between the story of Jesus and the Hebrew bible cannot prove anything, as nothing can prevent the details of Jesus life to have been invented just for resembling excepts of Hebrew scriptures interpreted as prophecies.

Problem: if God did such miracles with His unique Son sent on Earth, why would so many details of the story have remained enclosed in the fruits of human imagination, as had been expressed by previous myths ? Is this the expression of a unique revelation and the trace of wonderful miracles by God above all human thought, as Christians want to depict things ?

Christians usually see as irrelevant the observation of similarities between Jesus (and Christianity) and the other myths and religions of that time, because:
1) There is no strict identity between stories. Yes but no myth is strictly identical to another myth either, yet many myths are vaguely inspired from other myths, so that this is not really a difference.
2) In their view, Jesus came to give us revelations from God and thus had no reason to have taken his inspiration from these other myths; such similarities would be a mere coincidence. Admittedly, there is no direct proof that the Gospels and other Christian traditions were not created from scratch, in the same way as there is no direct proof that the Earth and the Universe were not created from scratch by God 6,000 year ago with all these numerous fossils and images of faraway stars and galaxies (so far that their light cannot have been emitted by physical objects less than 6,000 years ago), just made to mislead us into believing in a much older universe.
However, these miracles were supposedly made by God for serving as a sign of the divinity of Jesus, rather than for being a source of ridicule and discredit.
Admittedly, the effect is different depending on the educational level of the listener. To the uneducated, claims of miracles can be received as a sign of divine authority no matter other circumstances.
But for educated people who had the chance to know about such similarities, this is a source of discredit, for the following reason.
Between two worldviews (whether the Jesus story is of a genuine incarnation of the Son of God or a myth), the argumentative power of an observation is defined by ratio of probabilities for the observed fact inside each worldview. In the Christian worldview, such a similarity between the Jesus life and other myths is a possibility but a very unlikely coincidence, (probability close to zero). But in a non-Christian view (Jesus myth hypothesis), such similarities are very much expected (probability close to 1). Thus the precise details of life, teachings and miracles of Jesus seem to be designed by God for the discredit of His own message.
All this seems very consistent with the Jesus teachings telling that intelligence and education have no value in the eyes of God, and even that God prefers people who choose to give up all use of intelligence in their approach to God. Thus, both sides may finally feel reinforced by these observations....

But let us hear the following explanation given in a TV debate in May 25, 2006, by Frederic Lenoir, philosopher and sociologist of religions (famous French writer, on a personal spiritual path mixing aspects of Catholicism, protestantism, orthodoxy, Buddhism and philosophy), to defend the authenticity of the Gospels against alternative stories, as the Da Vinci Code story was having its fame at that time:

"We must delve into the mindset of antiquity for which the interests of historical truth was not the same as ours, and we have many texts of the Ancients where what matters is to get the message no matter (we do not care) if it's exactly what was said by the character who is credited with this message. For example, St John's Gospel is very clearly a Gospel that wants to convey a theological message, ... who was Jesus and show he is the incarnate Word, with no necessary care for the accuracy of all his words, and that's why we know most of the Gospels were not actually written by their alleged authors. A gospel was attributed to that character because he was a close disciple of Jesus, but basically it was written by Christian groups, communities who wanted to convey a message ... and despite all this, the 4 canonical Gospels are still likely to be those closest to historical reality ...
[Unlike the writer of Iliad and Odyssey] the claim of the writers of the Gospels is to say: here is what Jesus said, here is what he did, even if they take some liberties with history. And then you realize that there is a mixture in the Gospels, of claims and historical events that have most probably occurred, although it is unclear exactly how (otherwise Christianity would have had none of the success it had if there had not been a man named Jesus who overturned a number of disciples at one point), but at the same time we can see, which historians of religions can spot very well, there are a number of entirely mythical events, for example, when the Gospel of Matthew says that during Jesus death there was a large solar eclipse (...)
It is a myth found in all religions during a major event, the birth or death of a founder of religion, we are always told that there is a solar eclipse, but (based on ephemeris) we know that there was no solar eclipse at the death of Jesus in Palestine (...) there was a large solar eclipse in November, but we know he died at Easter, this is one of the only things we are sure of, so we know there never was a solar eclipse in Easter, so we know it's a legendary event that was written to show that Jesus was an exceptional character, and like all great exceptional characters the whole Cosmos paid tribute to him when he died.
"

But when I tried a little before to argue with a devout Catholic about the historicity of the Gospels, he pointed me to a big article copied here. Problems:
  1. while it does all its best to provide the strongest possible favorable feeling to the historical truth of the Gospels, the best way it found to do so was to develop justifications for God's dire inability (or unwillingness?) to manage the circumstances of His son's unique and so crucial visit on the Earth so as to ensure any decent dose of credible confirmations to the reality of those miracles, which precisely are so extraordinary that they break all the floors of decent credibility (while the only official purpose of these miracles was precisely to provide credibility to Jesus'claim to be the Son of God)....
  2. Of its very few instances of claimed independent confirmations, is the one (from a Christian apologist's quotation of disappeared documents) of the Sun's eclipse at the time of Jesus death during full moon.

Speaking in tongues ?

Scientific studies have been made on the speaking in tongues, concluding that "this turns out to be only a facade of language", with no well-defined meaning : "One individual's ecstatic speech was tape recorded and played back separately to many individuals who sincerely and devoutly believed that they had received the gift of interpreting tongues. Their interpretations were quite inconsistent."

Possibly real miracles : a moral assessment

Diverse miracles have been reported by diverse people at diverse times, in ways that seem credible (somehow).
My point here won't be to claim or argue for any factual categorization of the reports listed below, as genuinely supernatural, or misinterpretations of natural phenomena, or pure inventions.

Instead, my point will be to check the moral value (or other value) of the "spiritual teachings" that these miracles seem to support; to observe that this value is close to zero, and therefore to dismiss these miracles as deserving no care, and anyway no admiration, even if they were real; thus rejecting as pointless the very question whether these miracles are real or not.

Healings

Christians sometimes witness and report healing miracles, and usually claim these to be only possibly made by God or by the Holy Spirit with Christians (and even sometimes, that it could only be made in their own branch of Christianity). But the truth is that such mysterious healings can happen in many religions as well.
In fact, this is the most common type of miracles in any religion. This way, supernatural power(s) seems very good at medicine. However, this is roughly the only field it is good at (together with possible paranoid sectarian indoctrination). As a consequence, worshipers of supernatural interventions (eventually seen as the expression of God's actions) usually come to be obsessed with these two issues, focusing their values system on these fields, as this obsession is the best way for them to see this supernatural power, in its interventions, as the most wonderful thing in life and in the universe.
Doing so, they are becoming blind to any other dimensions of knowledge, conditions of happiness or the world's problems.

Some even become unable to sanely assess the real value of the very subject of their amazement.

Examples:

- When Christians worship God for situations of unexpected healing, pointing out the surprise of doctors. Admitting that those situations really were as they say, and considering that doctors expectations are in fact just the expression of what usually happens in similar cases, this would mean that among a large number of "naturally" similar cases, that only God's will arbitrarily makes dissimilar, the will of God was to leave the overwhelming majority of cases into illness or death, and only heal a small minority. In other words: the more often God's will is to leave people in troubles, the most wonderful it is in Christians eyes.

- A special sort of medical miracle sometimes reported and very much praised by some Christian, is the healing of infertility (that people finally "miraculously" have children while they seemed infertile). How can they be foolish enough to ignore the fact that one of the most dreadful plagues on Earth, the environmental destruction that is now producing severe irreversible damage (biodiversity loss...) for millions of years (and thus for trillions of future humans and other living creatures), is the direct result of overpopulation ? And that therefore, in order for the world to come down to sustainability someday for the long run, any additional human put on Earth will have to be later reversed anyway, after having contributed to the damage ? And that for the very same reason that they see for themselves (as parents) the addition of more humans on Earth as a happy event, the later corresponding necessary future reduction of population, will in average take much more painful forms (as the case of sterile couples is among the least painful forms of population reduction) ? In the name of which morality do they justify that their personal happiness of having children is any more valuable than the one of any other humans ? Is it because their DNA is of better quality ? If yes, why can't they openly declare so ? Or does it come down to the fact that increasing the proportion of their fellow believers (their children that they will divinely indoctrinate) in human population by all cost above any other moral considerations (disregarding that this will indirectly and cowardly result in some future condemnation of other people, hopefully non-believers, to somehow die of competition for living space - but, hush, don't repeat this) is the one and ultimate moral value on Earth excusing the blind ignorance any other moral consideration (because it saves more souls for heaven) ? Or do they really think their future children will be the ones that will save the planet (while themselves and millions other co-believers were unable/unwilling to do so) ? What a dirty spirit of blindness, selfishness and narrow-mindedness are they showing from of the part of God's inspiration and revelation to their life in this way ! How can any sane person come to worship a God for having bothered making a miracle of such a doubtful value (following such an irresponsible and indefensible agenda), assuming He could not imagine any more valuable things to make on Earth by such miraculous powers ? Ah yes of course, since sane people are so rare on Earth and God hates intelligent people but only cares for gathering the worship of the most stupid, insane, narrow-minded people ready to worship Him even for evil actions (provided it superficially seems wonderful if we don't consider any serious questions), it is right, good and just for God to make lies, fallacies and evil actions, provided that it helps persuading people to worship Him (because worship and salvation by faith are all what matters).

- More generally, believers usually insist to worship God for His blessing on believers, claiming that they should trust God for providing all they need if they follow His will - and as an argument when evangelizing, they promise others that God will care for them if they convert and give Him their life. Moreover, when it comes to the question of going in mission and working for God, I once heard a Christian say that this work should in priority go to help other Christians. But at the same time, they also proudly claim that they will only get from God in this way what they really need, which is... just nothing: the only concrete effect will be to accuse of all sins and dirty things, anyone who dares to complain for not having got what one needs, because whatever the situation, if one did not get something then it must surely be because it was not really needed, God knows why; any trying to question this claim will be the worst sin ever, because God is perfect and knows better than us what we need (so even if the situation leads us to depression and suicide it will be our own fault anyway, for not having trusted God enough): 1) the Boss is right; 2) if the Boss is not right, refer to 1).

Precisely, holiness consists in seeing our salvation in Heaven, disregarding whatever dirty, earthly troubles we might face. Problem: if God and Christians care to concretely bless/help fellow believers (born-again, those who accepted Jesus in their hearts, or anyhow you wish to call the "true ones") in priority before sinners (disbelievers and heretics), is it because these "true ones" are those least affected by these material circumstances than others ?

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