- Religion and Philosophy
Dark Miracles - Superstition at Work
For believers few things inspire continued belief like miraculous events found both in scripture and around them in their everyday lives. But for many on the outside of Christianity, and religion in general we desire more than simple stories and dismiss stories of miracles as often having natural explanations or perhaps having never happened at all. A Christian generally doesn't see Muslim miracles as valid and most Muslims wouldn't take stories of reincarnation seriously.
In this hub I want to discuss miracles as evidence of the supernatural and focus on one possible approach to proving the supernatural that reveals the problem with the whole idea of divine or supernatural intervention.
If you go into any church chances are you can find someone testifying to a miracle, or who will tell you the story of one that they know of. Many of these might be first or second hand accounts, you may be able to speak directly to those who claim a miracle happened to them. The ones I was constantly bombarded with as a Christian, for example, often involved the remission of cancer and mysterious disappearance of tumors. Patience with a bad prognosis were told they had six months to live and that treatment might kill them, then, after the laying on of hands and fervent prayer, the cancer receded and the scans came back negative.
Stories like this are everywhere. Believers see the hand of God moving in the natural world, defeating cancer, canceling aches and pains and ailments left, right and center. But what about the perfectly natural disappearance of such symptoms? What do believers have to say when a Muslim's cancer goes away, or when an atheist is on death's door and suddenly recovers? Have miracles occurred for the unbeliever and the one who worships a false concept of God? Or is it just nature taking its course?
You see if it's nature taking its course IN THOSE INSTANCES than how can we know it is a miracle when prayer is involved?
When I was a child and I was sick I was given medicine by my parents and often times they also pray for me to be healed. For a time when I was very young I believed that God would heal me, that he would speed my recovery, that my sickness would subside. Eventually though I realized, however subtly, that my recovery when I was prayed for was not any improved or sped up at all in comparison to the times that I wasn't prayed for.
I understood enough as a child to know that your symptoms are part of your body's defenses when fighting off the germs that cause disease. It was my fever which purged my body of germs, it was white blood cells and natural immunity that defended my body from disease. While I did still believe that God healed people I came to the conclusion that he only healed those who really needed it, that miracles were a rare thing indeed.
The thing that really brought doubts into my mind was the fact that God did not heal my Father. My Father had a sudden re-conversion to Christianity and, in a matter of about a year, had stopped smoking and drinking. After this we went to church often, I was baptized, said the Lords prayer and by the time I was fourteen or fifteen I was speaking in tongues. My Father also has a degenerative muscular condition one for which we prayed on a regular basis. The entire church got together to pray for his healing and often times I was right there asking God to show his power and heal my Father. I wanted to see that miracles were real and that the God I believed in was the one true God.
Needless to say my Father was never healed. At the time this perplexed me and caused doubts but now, years and years later, as an atheist, it makes sense that a God who does not exist cannot perform miracles. This is why we see unexplained or lucky cancer remissions or recoveries from other injuries/diseases as miraculous, because a true impossible miracle, like the regrowth of an amputated limb or an Alzheimer's patient suddenly having access to total recall.
In fact a miracle is an impossible thing that suspends the natural laws and surpasses the boundaries of reality. If these events were happening with any frequency the evidence would be everywhere, observable and perhaps even testable as we watched cancer cells recede with no physical explanation or watched an amputated or deformed limb be restored. But we don't see any of this evidence and when we do lack an understanding of how or why something happens leaping to the supernatural has never yielded satisfying or accurate results.
Night and Day
So why is this hub called DARK Miracles? Because when believers see miracles in the positive but perfectly natural events around us they are forgetting that once upon a time supernatural forces were at work not just in the positive but in the negative events. Largely rejected are the absurd notions that disease, war, famine or natural disaster are brought about by a darker form of miracle. This type of superstitious thinking, of linking unexplained events, or even mundane events that seem to conform to a pattern or desire, to the supernatural is just as valid (or invalid) when applied to the darker side of life.
Curses were commonly believed in by the believers throughout the ages and are mentioned in the Bible, even dubbing God's punishment of all creation after the Fall a curse. Primitive superstition held that almost all events in the world were connected but not by a stream of cause and effect that, while often hard to determine, was nonetheless real, but by mysterious forces. Gods, fates, the very hand of destiny itself reached out and touched the world. But alongside the angels that promoted good-will and wellness were demons, witches and Satanic forces, dark spirits sending out plague and misfortune.
Typically in the modern Christian faith there is no emphasis on this absurd idea, that bad luck or illness are caused by dark supernatural forces. And yet it is just as good an explanation for why someone got sick in the first place as wholesome supernatural forces are for why their sickness went away. If we can simply presume the hand of a God in the event of someone's recovery from cancer why not see Satan's hand in the fact that they had cancer to begin with?
If believers seriously want us to see their anecdotal tales as proof positive of the supernatural than should not every tragic death or serious illness also be evidence that the devil is at work? For every car crash “miraculously” survived, for every Mother pulling her child from a wrecked car using “superhuman” strength, is there not also an epidemic or a drought or a Typhoon to go along with it? There is no reason to pick and choose which events around us to explain using the supernatural.
The fact is that events in the Universe are bound by the law of causality and to suggest that an event violates that cause and effect, to insert an external supernatural agent as an explanation, requires evidence that anecdotal stories and ancient tales like those in religious texts simply cannot offer.
It may be that believers have cut out the darkness from their superstition but the thinking they are engaging in here is just as primitive and ridiculous as the sort of stuff believed in the Dark Ages. If a string of good luck is evidence of Providence smiling down upon you is a series of unfortunate incidents the work of a witch, or perhaps even a demon about to beset you?
Thinking like this also begs the question, why does God allow these horrors in the first place? For every “miraculous” recovery there seems a dozen who simply succumb to their disease, or their starvation or whatever dark fate, and die. Is this God's will? To save only the faithful from woe? And even among the faithful death is just as common, no matter how hard you believe statistically the only advantage you have to being Christian is the likelihood of being born in a Western country with decent medicine.
God's Dark Days
The fact of the matter is that in the Bible God freely does horrible things and brings down dark miracles on people all the time. If you read the Old Testament God is often seen as smiting, bringing famine, unleashing plague. Numerous times in the story of the Exodus he threatens to wipe out the Israelites wholesale and has to be talked out of his indignation by Moses.
The God of the Bible is a warlike plague-bringer, the ultimate arbiter of devastation and death. In Egypt he makes sure to harden Pharoah's heart, telling Moses and Aaron that he does so to make sure his "wonders" are multiplied. His wonders, of course, afflicted the Egyptian people with horrible maladies one after another causing mass suffering before culminating in act of vengeful genocide against CHILDREN.
Dark miracles are a part of the Christian religion whether they like to admit it or not...
The Harlem Bible
A recent gas explosion in Harlem leveled and damaged several buildings in Harlem and killed seven people. Amidst the rubble of a church located at the site of the blast was a Bible, barely battered at all by the explosion. Immediately the tragedy stricken neighborhood latched onto the Bible as a sign of a higher power at work, a minor miracle had occurred to save it from the massive explosion.
This incident illustrates my point perfectly. God had no interest in warning anyone of the gas leak in advance. God had no interest in rescuing seven poor souls who perished. God, those who perpetuate this type of thinking say, preserved his Word. God's priority was to save a Bible, not the lives of the creature's he supposedly loves so much as to die for them in the form of Jesus. Even to a Christian the survival of this Bible being hailed as a miracle should be a slap in the face, not a beacon of hope. Each human being is unique, seven billion completely different people and how many Bibles are there? And yet God valued this Bible more than he valued those people?
They say God works in mysterious ways but mainly, it seems to me, that God only works in ignorance of the facts. One must ignore cause and effect, or be ignorant of it, in order to push God into the gaps of the world around us. One must ignore the hard work of Doctors, the research and dedication that goes into exploring treatments and administering those treatments, to claim the hand of God in a healing. One must ignore the amputees, still waiting for their missing limbs, still receiving more help from prosthetic technology than they ever have from any God.
It is ignorance that creates a worldview where God takes time out of his day to heal your toothache while a thousand children starve and die in the span of a few minutes. For some perhaps there is a self-important arrogance, the idea that God is bound to their commands, that all they need to do is ask. Or perhaps it is a sycophantic reliance, a fear that if they do not give credit to God for even the most minor positive change in their lives that they are guilty of some sort of sin.
No miracle has ever been confirmed, minor or major and certainly that which is claimed paranormal, and studied, has always turned out to be natural. If there is a force of some kind operating beyond our understanding and influencing the natural realm perhaps it is too subtle and slight for us to detect. A God is not a subtle thing nor would one expect the actions of a God to be obscured, especially if that God is expecting the belief and adoration of his creation. This God that works in mysterious ways seems indistinguishable from one who does not exist at all.
If believers want the existence of the supernatural or paranormal to be accepted they must provide more than fill-in-the-gaps reasoning. The remission of cancer or the otherwise unexplained recovery from any ailment is not sufficient evidence especially where natural alternative explanations, such as treatment or natural immunity, DO exist. Believers are just as well off saying that volcanic eruptions are caused by homosexuality and hurricanes by abortion and childhood cancer by the sins of the parents (and some still do). Such ideas are outdated and absurd, and though they lack the comforting hope of the positive miracles they are an equally invalid claim to the supernatural. Thanks for reading!