Miracles & Science
There are several basic objections to the reality of miracles, all of which come down to the ongoing conflict between Atheistic Naturalism and Theistic Supernaturalism. For simplicity's sake, these objections are: 1. The universal experience of Man, as Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume claimed, is a proof of the impossibility of miracles. 2. Reported miracles can't be proved to be real ones. 3. If miracles are possible, then science has no meaning, as science has established the constancy and uniformity of natural laws, and miracles are violations of natural laws. Experience has to do with the past; it can tell us nothing with absolute certainty about the future, but at best only establish a probability. It can tell you what has taken place, but it does not assure you that the opposite can't take place. Universal experience tells me that water quenches fire, but it can tell me nothing as to whether on some particular occasion water will not fail to quench fire. Experience is the abused idea of the whole school of philosophy of which Hume may be regarded as the founder; but here the idea actually fails. As I will demonstrate, a special experience may report a class of facts beyond the range of ordinary experience.
Definition of a Miracle
What is a miracle? It is an effect that can't have been produced by any natural agency and must be attributed to the direct power of the Divine Being. It is produced in nature, but not by nature. The definition as thus understood excludes the act of creation, as creation didn't work in nature, but gives nature its origin. In a less strict sense of the word, the power exercised by an angel, deva, etc. over matter may be called miraculous. The moral effect produced by either kind of miracle may be the same, as in either case intervention from the Divine Being is manifest. A miraculous event always produces wonder in us; hence its name, which is from the Latin miraculum, ''a wonderful occurrence.' Wonder is aroused by the striking contrast between what is witnessed and what happens in the ordinary course of nature. In reference to natural laws, miracles may be divided into three classes. Some are above natural laws, as when a dead man is restored to life. Others are contrary to natural laws, as when a stone remains suspended in the air without any support. Others, again, are simply apart from, or independent of natural laws, as when a brain tumor that might be healed by a physician is healed instead by the touch of a saint, priestess, monk or guru. In all these classes of miracles either the substance of what occurs or the manner in which it occurs makes it impossible to attribute it to any natural agency.
Are Miracles Possible?
If we accept the existence of an omnipotent Divine Being who is the Source and Preserver of all finite things, it is inconceivable that this Being wouldn't be the Absolute Controller of that which is produced by Its external energy. If a human inventor can modify or interfere with the working of any given technology which is the product of his own brain, it would be much more easily done by an Infinite Being. This Divine Being could interfere with the mechanism of the universe at will. This simple fact must be convincing to anyone who believes in an omnipotent Divine; and, as to the Atheist, he must at least admit that if there is a Divine Being It can interfere in Its own creation. One can object to this reasoning on the grounds that, while a Divine Being could interfere with the action of natural laws, nevertheless it would be inconsistent with Its infinite wisdom to do so. Nature's laws are of this Divine Being's own making and are sufficient for the purposes of creation. Why, then, should It interfere with their working? Good question. Here's the answer: Nature's laws are sufficient for the ordinary purposes of creation, but higher purposes may be served by miracles. By means of miracles the Divine Being impresses upon us the truth that nature's laws proceed from It and are subject to It. By miracles the Divine Being can put the seal of approval on the words and deeds of those whom It has sent to teach and guide others on the spiritual path. By miracles the Divine Being can show forth the merits of adepts whom It has sent to be examples of sacred living. By miracles the Divine Being can give a striking proof that It loves us in and through nature, as well as transcending nature, and is exercising a continual providence over it. We are more impressed by what is unusual and exceptional than by what is ordinary and commonplace; and hence it is by extraordinary supernatural events that the Divine Being accomplishes the higher and more special purposes of Its will and love.
Miracles vs. Science
The stock objection against miracles in the Post-Modern era is made in the name of science, but we must distinguish between science and Scientism. Science is viewed by certain radical elements in the scientific community as the only repository of truth, and therefore, is the only thing worthy of faith. Taking this radical Materialist/Naturalist approach, a belief in miracles is regarded by them as backward, primitive superstition. They tell us that nature's laws are constant and uniform in their operation; that water quenches fire and stones fall to the ground by virtue of fixed and unchangeable laws; and miracles are a contradiction of this principle. An answer has long since been given to the objection, which is that the laws in question are uniform and constant in their action so far as the purely natural order is concerned, but that we have no evidence to conclude that the natural order may not be subject to interference from a higher order. To this they might say that if exceptions to natural laws are permitted, science can never be sure of its conclusions. To some extent that is true. Science can never be sure of its conclusions if there is no means of distinguishing exceptions from the rule; but a miracle, by its very nature, points to and emphasizes an exception to natural laws. The very word, in fact, arises from the astonishment felt at a departure from natural law. Here, first and foremost, the exception proves the rule. The rule remains in place and science is unfazed.
The scientists and adherents with whom we are dealing, however, don't believe in a spiritual realm, nor supernatural order. Yet that is the crucial issue; for, once a spiritual reality is admitted, the possibility of its interfering with the natural order must be evident. Science, after all, has added nothing to ordinary knowledge that tends to make a miracle more astonishing or, at first sight, less credible. From the days of our ancient ancestors, it has been known that a stone released from the hands falls to the ground. If by a miracle the stone should be suspended in the air, the fact isn't more astonishing today because science has given a name to the law by which the stone falls or has discovered more about the extent of its influence or has defined the mode of its behavior. And even where science has discovered a previously unknown law, exceptions to the law are no more astonishing than if the law had been known from the beginning of time. Why, then, invoke with all the reverence of a religion the name of science against a belief in miracles, as though science had imported a new element into the controversy? It is this religion that has been called Scientism that truly keeps people from recognizing the reality of the Self and spiritual realities.
There are some who, understanding the unnecessary nature of the false science vs. spirituality dichotomy, attempt to bridge this gap in their language to describe the actions of the Divine Being. Thus, we find the terms "universe" and "cosmos" used to replace any reference to an actual Divine Being, but meant to carry the implication anyway. Statements such as "the cosmos says.." are used instead of something like "the Divine says..", or "God/dess says...". This certainly might suit the ego of those who, through whatever circumstances have come to associate more accurate designations with negative religious experiences, but it simply adds another layer of illusion to their already illusory understanding of who/what that Divine Being is. Instead of a personal transcendental Being who loves them and sends them messages and miracles for their benefit, they're given the false concept that the universe is doing these supernatural things. The discerning mind will at once see this can't be so, since the universe began to exist, and anything that begins to exist has a cause and is contingent. It relies on something else for the energy of its "engine", so to speak. It operates by natural laws. All of this implies a transcendent Source of energy and a natural law giver. The cosmos is, of itself, an impersonal thing incapable of saying anything or doing anything beyond the natural laws programmed into it. This is why miracles of healing, suspension of nature's laws, and messages from the Divine Being are considered miraculous and supernatural. It is much better that we use terms that actually indicate the substance of our meaning. Certainly, there is no need for a Perennialist to insist on any given name for that Divine Being, nor is it necessary to use one when discussing such topics with those hurt by religionists who displayed character traits less than expected of someone who purports to represent that Divine Being. If someone was offended by the behavior of Christians or Muslims and wants to avoid Christian or Muslim terminology, then they should be free to use whatever term is comfortable, such as Divine One, Divine Spirit, The Absolute, etc. In this way they're always reminding themselves that this Being cannot be assigned to any given religion, and is not represented by the ignorant among the many sects, but is Love, Light and Compassion. The cold mechanism we know as the cosmos is simply not capable of any of these qualities and cannot produce miracles. Is this Divine Being one with the universe? Yes and no. The universe is the external energy of this Being and is of a gross material nature, and is, therefore, inferior to the internal essence of the Divine Being, which is subtle and spiritual. There is a distinction to be made between energy and essence. Through the energy we can certainly get glimpses of the essence, but we should never confuse it for essence itself, since energy is produced by essence.
How Are Miracles Recognized?
First, they can be known and recognized simply as extraordinary events, whether their true cause is known or not. As they commonly appeal to the senses, it is only necessary that the senses be in a healthy condition. In fact, in the history of world religion, many such events have been observed by numerous witnesses, by sober minded, unimaginative, and sometimes even skeptical observers, and their wonderful character has been acknowledged. It is a profound mistake to assume that all reports of miracles are myth, ignorance, lies, etc. Second, miracles may be known and recognized precisely as miracles, and not merely as wonderful events brought about by some unknown natural cause. To be able to pronounce an event miraculous I must be reasonably sure that no natural cause has produced it and that it has been caused supernaturally. It does not follow, however, that I must be acquainted with every law of nature. It is sufficient to know that one law has been contravened and that, at least, the circumstances connected with the event exclude the action of all other natural laws. Skeptics will undoubtedly object to this by asking how it is possible by a consideration of any circumstances to eliminate all the unknown laws of nature? Our knowledge of nature is limited; and when we see a thing happen that is contrary to all the known laws of nature, isn't it reasonable to suppose that if we knew more, we would have no difficulty in explaining the event by purely natural causation? Another good question, and my answer is as follows: The scientific approach necessarily prompts one to seek a natural cause for any interference with a known law of nature; and it is understandable that an Atheist or scientist would have a hard time accepting a supernatural event had occurred. The problem is, these Atheistic scientists take the approach that science is absolute knowledge, and that if an event cannot be measured, repeated, tested, etc., it simply didn't occur as described, or can't exist. This is essentially a claim to absolute knowledge. Physical science simply isn't such that it can witness to all the facets of either temporal or spiritual reality. Those whose expertise qualifies them to determine the genuineness of alleged miracles are the people to be consulted. The criteria for proving a miracle is as strictly logical as any that physical science can boast of. Within the pale of physical science, when attempting to determine the cause of a given mysterious phenomenon, the process of elimination is one of the first steps taken; the next is the seeking of positive evidence in favor of one cause in particular, of whose action and presence there are prima facie indications. A brilliant example was witnessed in the series of experiments made by Pasteur to test the conclusions of another distinguished scientist in favor of spontaneous generation. The one alleged cause was eliminated and the true cause positively demonstrated. Such experiments point out the true scientist; and we mention them because an analogous method of inquiry, and one no less thorough, is used by any thinking guru, priestess, monk, etc. in investigating the genuineness of miracles. The first stage of the process results in the establishment of the fact that the cure, if it is a case of that kind, can't be accounted for by any known natural agency; and this conclusion is based on the testimony of medical experts, of which there are many known to spiritual teachers. The next step is to determine whether the circumstances of the case are of a kind to warrant the elimination of all natural causation from the inquiry and the attributing of the effect to a supernatural cause. Only when natural factors have been eliminated can we say there has been a genuine miracle. Now, this isn't to suggest that there are no other characteristics looked for, as there very much are. An intelligent spiritual teacher understands that events can occur that are mistaken for miracles, when in fact they are mistaken perceptions, the products of mental illness, etc. Miracles do indeed occur and serve to affirm us in our spiritual journey. It would be a sad mistake to reject their possibility, accepting the Materialist worldview on the topic. Remember, Empiricism, which claims that all knowledge is gained from the observable, is incorrect in that assertion. There are other ways of knowing that don't rely on the data of the physical senses, as any woman who has had her intuition proved correct can tell you. Remain open to the entirety of spiritual possibilities. Gassho.