When waters rise

While listening to the rain hit the roof and windows I am reminded of another rainy day just over a decade ago that left a lasting impression.

 

On December 30th, 2005, Willow Creek overflowed its banks and sent torrential floods pouring through our neighborhood and into the northernmost section of downtown.

 

After receiving an evacuation notice from the fire department, Karen notified me at work. But my attempt to get home was quickly met with obstacle after obstacle. Police barricades, impassable streets, fallen debris, and a collection of lookie-loos intermingled with travelers attempting to get through.

 

Our home was in one of the worst sections of the flood: right along the creek. And, though I normally enjoy four-wheeling, trying to get my truck across the raging water was not a fun task. How I kept it from stalling is beyond me.

 

I parked at the highest point of the driveway (where the water just touched the bottom portion of the doors), yet soon found myself sloshing through water up to my thighs while crossing the lot; where I saw Jeffrey on the top step, obviously scared, but doing his best to put up a brave front. — No matter what faults he has, or what sort of trouble he’d been in lately, I was as proud of him at that moment as I have ever been of anyone.

 

Upon entering I found Karen hard at work, trying to get as many necessities packed as she could. But the situation was taking a noticeable toll on her. So, the water be damned, I decided the family needed a little prayer time to calm things down. And we stopped everything, stood there in the kitchen holding hands, (with me dripping wet) and prayed for strength and for God to hold back the water…(like He’s done before.)

 

The very next time I went out to check the water level I realized it had not increased at all since my arrival. Within an hour I could see a slight decline. And by 9 pm the water was off the step, barely on the sidewalk, and parts of the lot were again visible.

 

Sure, some may scoff, or claim “coincidence.” And everyone is entitled to personal opinion. But we three; Karen, Jeffrey and I, had no doubt who helped us out and held back the water (especially since it continued to rain hard).

 

A good thing He did too, since we soon discovered that in Karen’s haste to pack up she forgot to supervise Jeff’s attempt to pack. And “necessities” means something quite different to an 8-year-old. Like three large duffle bags filled with only toys and videos.

 

Oh well! Live and learn.

 

 

[*Just remember, whenever a problem, like the water, rises in your life there is always someone to turn to.]

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Miracles: a matter of perspective (Pt.5 of 5)

The need for evidence and witnesses seems counterproductive with regard to miracles, but considering the on-going controversy it is necessary. It has already been established that even the internal groups within each of the three primary warring factions; atheists, theists, and agnostics, cannot agree amongst themselves regarding miracles. This division equally applies to how to handle alleged miracles. Some people believe every alleged miracle should be questioned, investigated, and scrutinized until it can be clearly labeled a miracle, a fraud, or a unique but natural occurrence. There are also extremists on the other side of the issue who believe questioning a miracle is like questioning God. Though it is curious why any Christian would make such a claim, because there are several passages within the Bible that actually encourage believers to put everything stated within it to the test. However, it is a fact that many other theistic beliefs discourage in-depth scrutiny, whether it is part of their doctrine, or merely emphasized by the leaders, which obviously pertains to more than just miracles. Fortunately, most people are not extremists on either side. It is understood that there is a negative element within society that attempts to capitalize off of innocent people when they can. We must guard against such negative activities by questioning methods and motives, and thoroughly investigating when appropriate. Alternatively, there is nothing wrong with people like Houdini and David Copperfield using magic tricks and illusions when they admit to being magicians, illusionists, and escape artists. However, the Uri Geller’s and Peter Popoff’s  of the world, who claim divine or supernatural abilities, individually or as the source, when it is nothing but a dishonest scam are detrimental to society on many levels, and should be dealt with accordingly. Another aspect to consider when deciding on whether it is appropriate to question alleged miracles is the consequence of the action. As previously mentioned, investigating faith healers is an appropriate action in order to protect society at large. However, humanity needs to play a major factor in when to question the healings, or when not to. After all, should an elderly woman who believes she has just been healed, and is painless for the first time in 20 years, be told the healing was merely psychosomatic and not a real miracle? For instance, over 7000 cures have been claimed by visitors who have made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, considered a holy site by Catholics, “but only 68 are recognized by the Lourdes Medical Bureau,” the medical unit charged with validating claims since 1905 (O’Keefe). Invariably, it always seems to come down to perspective. And that perspective is akin to personal beliefs: a result of personal beliefs, or a source for changing personal beliefs.

The overwhelming truth relating to perspective and personal beliefs literally changed the direction of this essay. During my initial attempt to acquire enough scholarly evidence and contentions for a long-winded debate, it became apparent that perspectives and beliefs clouded every issue. David Hume (1711-1776), who was respected “more in his own time for his writing on English history… [but] is best known today as the greatest of skeptics” (Cramer), believed he had come up with a winner-take-all argument that would be “an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion… useful as long as the world endures” (qtd. in Cramer). In short, the argument contends “A miracle is necessarily less probable than any alternative explanation, so the alternative is preferred to the miracle” (Cramer). This argument is the core belief to all skeptical contentions regarding probability: statistical or otherwise. And prior to Hume was the Jewish philosopher, Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), who argued from a naturalistic, or Newtonian, concept (Geisler). Spinoza claimed, “nothing then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her laws,” further contending that “a miracle, whether in contravention to, or beyond, nature, is a mere absurdity” (qtd. in Geisler). As you can see, most devout skeptics tend to advocate the universality of natural laws: believing they are immutable. And they accept this stance based on alleged universal observation. However, skeptics with a more agnostic point of view, instead of the previous science-based atheism, attempted to modify the probability argument. In Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the author contends that “miracles are theoretically possible but they are practically impossible” (Geisler). Kant believed humans must live as if miracles never occurred. This contention is based on the belief that if “we lived any other way it would overthrow the dictates of practical reason and erode the basis for both science and morality” (Geisler). Subsequently, those fears have proven irrational, since the religious beliefs have tried to maintain a more family-oriented and moral focus, while humanism, which sprang from universal laws followed by the sciences, have been one of the major contributors to the increase in society’s lack of morals.

It does not take long to realize the above irrational fears and personal beliefs cannot help but cloud the issue. For instance, the predominant contentions against miracles by science-based skeptics is founded on a core argument that automatically says choose any other answer over miracles from the onset. Such an argument throws out fairness, open-mindedness, and integrity from the start. And this is from the same group of people who contend they never accept anything as truth until it can be proven as truth with empirical proof to back up the claim. In other words, every scholarly skeptic, whether Hume, Spinoza, Kant, or any other, who claims there are no miracles, and base their claim on natural laws and their core argument, do so with a philosophical belief and not any actual evidence. And you will find that none of these skeptics, including Hume, the alleged greatest of skeptics, ever personally investigated miracles. Common sense alone should tell you the error in that methodology. After all, how many crimes would ever be solved if no one investigated them? And how many inventions would ever be invented if no one ever investigated all the possibilities? It peaks the curiosity to know why so many people go to such lengths to deny something the vast majority of them have never personally investigated.

Once again, it is shown that common sense tells us the prevalent inspiration behind most skeptical contentions is rooted in personal beliefs and perspective. Predominantly, science-based skeptics have never witnessed or experienced anything miraculous, so they assume their lack of experiencing these things confirms their scientific, or non-theistic, beliefs. They are conveniently forgetting that the lack of something is not the proof of something. For instance, the lack of water in the desert does not prove the Earth is void of water. Therefore, based on these common sense factors, it is not hard to ascertain why the science-based skeptics obsessively denounce miracles without appropriate proof. These skeptics must deny anything and everything that would validate any supernatural origin. If they accepted even one incident as a valid miracle it totally alters their belief of natural laws. Both the atheists and agnostics would then have to admit a supernatural element to our origins and everyday existence. And, as is often the case, atheists and agnostics retain their beliefs because they personally do not want to believe in a God they may someday have to answer to.

At the risk of sounding flippant I must state, it’s a miracle this controversy has lasted this long. I coined a phrase many years ago that I’ve used throughout my adult life: “intelligence without common sense is nonsense.” And that phrase sums up 99.9 percent of the contentions against miracles by skeptics. In the half-dozen or so incidents mentioned in the previous parts of this essay, there is plenty of evidence to clearly show what took place was beyond the boundaries acceptable to natural laws. After all, falling from heights in excess of 18,000 feet without a parachute, and surviving, is not an everyday occurrence. The same could be said about diseases and wounds that instantly heal, battle-hard troops dropping their weapons and fleeing at the sight of angelic beings, or coming back to life 42 hours after dying and being embalmed: without any side-effects. And the vast majority of skeptical contentions are based on the core argument that any alternative to a miracle is preferred because they simply refuse to accept miracles. What kind of logic is that? Obviously, it is the same kind of logic or reasoning that inspires them to write volumes of alleged scholarly text condemning miracles without investigating a single miraculous incident. Likewise, the magicians, illusionists, and escape artists that do investigate charlatans and hoaxes, as a lucrative career, equally refuse to investigate the most likely miracles: claiming they cannot be contained within a controlled environment for legitimate observation and study. And with regard to the core argument branching out into the often used contention of statistical probability, where is their empirical proof to validate the claim that miracles, if real, would only occur once? There has never been one shred of evidence to back up that claim presented by the scholarly skeptics: Hume, Spinoza, Kant, or any of them. Therefore, when I present the likely probability that atheists, agnostics, and even the theists who believe the age of miracles is over, continue to adhere to illogical contentions that are based on no solid evidence in order to retain personal beliefs, it is more than likely true. And, as shown, those beliefs are predominantly influenced by perspective.

Works Cited

“Americans Believe in Miracles.” Christian Century. 24 May 2000. 595. Print.

“Battlefield Miracles.” About Facts Net. n.d. 2005. Web. 13 Jan 2010.

Beno, Jolene. Personal interview. 13 Feb 2010.

Carkeet, David. “Unplanned Freefall? Some Survival Tips.” Green Harbor Publications.

n.d.2001-2004. Web. 25 Jan 2010.

Cramer, John A. “Miracles and David Hume.” The American Scientific Affiliation. Sep 1988.

Web. 9 Jan 2010.

Geisler, Norman. “Miracles and Modern Scientific Thought.” Origins. Christian Leadership

Ministries. 14 Dec 2002. Web. 9 Jan 2010.

Hamilton, Jim. “Free Fallers.” Green Harbor Publications. n.d. 2001-2009. Web. 25 Jan 2010.

Jackson, Wayne. “Miracles.” Christian Courier. 18 Oct 1998. Web. 17 Jan 2010.

Johnson, Jeff. Personal interview. 8 Feb 2010.

“Miracle.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Dec 2009. COCC. 27 Feb 2010.

Murray, Paula. “Heavenly Healing: Former Tire Salesman Claims He Can Make the Sick Well

with a Little Angelic Help.” Sunday Express. Express Newspapers. 1 Jun 2008. News. 49.

COCC. In Academic. Web. 30 Jan 2010.

O’Keefe, Michelle. “150 Years of Healing: Pilgrims to Mark Lourdes Anniversary.” The Mirror.

MGN, Ltd. 9 Feb 2008. News. 26. COCC. In Academic. Web. 30 Jan 2010.

Rabuka, Sitiveni. “Divine Intervention.” Fiji Times. 26 Oct 2008. Features. 1. Web. 13 Jan 2010.

Randi, James. “Investigating Miracles, Italian Style.” Scientific America. Feb 1996. 124 Print.

Rees, Simon. “The Christmas Truce.” First World War. 22 Aug 2009. Web. 13 Jan 2010.

Salmon, Jacqueline. “Most Americans Believe in Higher Power, Poll Finds.” The Washington

Post. The Washington Post Company. 24 Jun 2008. A-02. COCC. In Academic. Web. 30 Jan

2010.

Servant, David. “The Resurrection of Pastor Daniel Ekechukwu.” Bible Probe Ministries. n.d.

Web. 8 Jan 2010.

Siegel, Judy. “Fetus Declared Dead Found Alive 5 Hours Later in Hospital Morgue. Doctor:

Infant’s Survival ‘Like a Medical Miracle’.” The Jerusalem Post. 19 Aug 2008. News. 1. COCC.

In Academic. Web. 30 Jan 2010.

Wade, Rick. “Miracles.” Leadership U. Bible Probe Ministries. n.d. 1996-2003. Web. 8 Jan2010.

Weintraub, Stanley. “Amid Mud and Blood, Christmas Won Out.” Los Angeles Times.24 Dec

  1. Features. B 11. COCC. In Academic. Web. 13 Jan 2010.

Wooding, Dan. “Heart Surgeon Tells of Resurrection from the Dead.” Prorege-Forum. Bible

Probe Ministries. 18 Jul 2007. Web. 8 Jan 2010.

Miracles: a matter of perspective Pt.4

No discussion on miracles, especially regarding perspective on healing, would be complete without touching on near-death experiences. Judy Siegel, in an article for The Jerusalem Post, tells of a baby girl born premature, “during the 23rd week of gestation,” who is declared dead after a lengthy struggle by the medical staff. And yet, five hours later, when the child’s body is brought from the morgue for the mother to say a loving farewell, the girl begins to breathe. Even the medical professionals are awestruck. Dr. Moshe Daniel, the deputy director of the hospital, a physician for 35 years, claimed he had “never heard of such a case. It was like a medical miracle” (Siegel). And even when considering the possibility of the refrigeration process aiding the reanimation of the child, Daniel made it clear that, although there have been some rare cases of people nearly frozen coming back to life, there has never been a case of a baby doing so. Unfortunately, even when the attending physicians; who know far more about anatomy, and life and death than most skeptics; claim it is a “medical miracle,” they do so to deaf ears. The skeptics pull out the old stand-by, probability. The argument being, that if any human has ever been revived after freezing conditions lowered the metabolic rate, than there is a statistical probability of it happening again: whether adult or child. Obviously, they are forgetting the vast differences between what a grown person can endure compared to a premature infant.

Therefore, let’s remove the freezing element from the equation. Since most scientific or logic minded skeptics claim the freezing element is the key factor to all recorded incidents of near-death experiences, if that key element is removed we should find no other near-death events outside that statistical probability. Fortunately, for the individuals brought back to life, the skeptics are wrong on that assumption as well. Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall IV, a renowned Palm Beach cardiovascular surgeon, testified before 120 doctors representing 50 countries, as they  “sat in stunned silence” while he “produced evidence” of praying for “a patient who had died and was being prepared for the morgue,” and the patient came back to life (Wooding). The patient revived without the cooling element, without being shocked with the electrical paddles, and without the use of medication. Crandall simply prayed for him in the presence of the nurse who was preparing the body for the morgue: and the nurse was a non-believer. Of course, skeptics, who will clutch at any straw no matter how thin, may contend the patient was never really dead. And that might be a valid argument if ordinary citizens made the claim, but not top level medical personnel. Even Crandall’s description of the patient prior to his prayer confirms death:”There was no life in the man. His face and feet and arms were completely black with death” (Wooding).  This is not something a respected cardiologist and the surgical team are going to misdiagnose. So do miracles happen? Most rational and open-minded individuals would at least acknowledge the possibility of the miraculous in the above situations. However, for the sake of the die-hard skeptic, let’s review another case that will have everyone scratching their heads.

For the hard-line skeptic, with the “deny at all cost” mentality, see if you can find the probability in this next case. Daniel Ekechukwu, a Nigerian pastor, died after sustaining traumatic wounds when his vehicle slammed into a concrete pillar (Servant). He had been rushed to the nearest hospital, a small third world hospital in the country that was ill-prepared to handle massive trauma cases such as this. So they sent him by ambulance to a larger city hospital, but Ekechukwu died in-route. Since he was D.O.A., and it was late at night, they shipped his body to the Federal Medical Center where “he was confirmed to be dead by Doctor Josse Annabunwa,” and a “death certificate was issued at 11:30 P.M.” (Servant). The body was then sent to Ikeduru General Hospital Mortuary, where the resident mortician, Barlington Manu, began to prepare the corpse by injecting embalming fluids into the hands and feet. This was done because it was a small country mortuary that had no refrigeration units to store the body in. However, the pastor’s wife received a vision that told her to take her husband’s body to a specific church that was having a special service. The mortician prepared the body for transport. He even had to cut the clothes to get them on because rigor mortis had already set-in, and the cadaver was stiff. When he finished he placed the body in the casket, which, ironically, the guards at the church would not allow at the service when they arrived: believing it might hold explosives. So Ekechukwu’s body was carried to the basement where sometime during the prayer and healing service taking place upstairs, between “3:50 and 5:15 P.M. on Sunday afternoon,” Ekechukwu abruptly “sneezed and arose with a jump” (Servant). It had been over 42 hours since his death, the body was never medicated or placed in cold storage, and the mortician had already begun to inject the body with formaldehyde. Therefore, when you consider a body is, for all intensive purposes, both physically and clinically dead within two hours of it ceasing to function, this case, along with the prior two, fall way outside any contention of probability for natural law: whether skeptics want to admit it or not. And to add to the preponderance of evidence, this last case was witnessed by hundreds of people: medical professionals and laypersons, atheists, theists, and agnostics alike.

 

[*The final thoughts tying the various points together come in Part 5.]

Miracles: a matter of perspective (Pt.3)

Perspective has always played a primary role on the topic of miraculous healing as well. It is rather easy for someone who has never witnessed or personally experienced a physical healing to condemn all claims of miraculous healing as bogus. They remain convinced that it is the work of charlatans, or if there was an actual change, than the change was merely psychosomatic. Both options are easy to accept because, truthfully, there have been a multitude of hoaxes perpetrated by all manner and skill levels of con-artists throughout the ages. Whether it is the various forms of occult practitioners mentioned in the Bible, the famous Uri Geller (Randi), or the more recent Peter Popoff (Jackson), the deceptive scam artists can usually find willing targets to believe their claims and illusions without question. Perhaps the adage “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” has something to do with it. People want to replicate a positive. After all, just because there are 10,000 Bruce Lee imitators, and 100,000 Elvis impersonators, does not mean the original Bruce Lee and Elvis were also fakes. The problem arises when those without the same level of talent, commitment, and integrity create the illusion of a positive, but built on a negative foundation.

Wayne Jackson, a theist who approaches the issue from “the age of miracles is over” stand-point, claims that those who performed wonders in the first century “did not do so for the purpose of enhancing themselves financially — unlike the wealthy ‘faith-healers’ of today.” James Randi, magician and escape artist who investigates claims of the paranormal and pseudo-science, points out the fact that many in possession of alleged healing artifacts, including the Vatican, will not allow any hands-on investigation of the pieces involved in their claims. After all, a negative report would cut into their profits. And Jackson further contends that “miracles were not slow progressive processes,” but had “instantaneous effects.” And he points out how there are many claims of slow progressive healing “among the devotees of modern charlatans” (Jackson). Although an atheist, Randi agrees with Jackson on the issue of slow progressive healing. And where Jackson contends miracles must be “independent of secondary causes,” in other words, cannot be explained by natural means, Randi’s career and reputation has been built on that premise. So when the Jackson’s of the world remind us that there “are many illusions that modern magicians perform” which baffle the normal person, yet still have a natural explanation; the Randi’s of the world put forth the effort and use their knowledge to investigate and demystify the claims. And when Jackson brings up specific fraudulent events to back up his claims, such as the Popoff affair, the con-artist preacher who had his wife, and others, feeding him information about audience members secretly by radio transmitter from backstage, it is no surprise that Randi was the investigator who exposed Popoff on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (Randi). Ironically, the investigators have become equally wealthy in their pursuit to debunk the psychic scams and other fake healers: especially after the proverbial spotlight has exposed the dishonest schemes and cut deep into the schemers pockets.

Oddly enough, exposing frauds for who they truly are does not guarantee society will be rid of their chicanery for good. There are simply too many people, whether gullible, ignorant, or just plain desperate, that overlook the obvious in order to clutch at any available straw to give them a sense of hope. A perfect example is Popoff, who had to file bankruptcy within a year after Randi unmasked his multi-million dollar scam over twenty-years ago. And yet, he came back in the news with a so-called miracle cure in a bottle, and making millions again. And this global scam by Popoff, along with other scams, show how millions of people fail to heed the adage, “burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me.” Another popular miracle scam works like The Emperor’s New Clothes: you give them nothing but the sales pitch. For instance, in Scotland, a former tire salesman, Steve Henvey, passes himself off as “an angelic therapist practitioner” (Murray). He insists no less than 34 archangels have communicated with him, though the sole archangel healing through him is called “Shuriel.” Though I would suspect Shuriel is a bit pissed off, since he allegedly does all the work, but Henvey named his so-called healing center after the more famous archangel Michael. And, coincidentally, Henvey makes sure to pussy-foot around any solid positive claims. In fact, he carefully walks a thin legal line by insisting, “I don’t make any promises of miracle cures or give false hope” (Murray). However, it seems to me, that if you are passing yourself off as someone an archangel heals through than you are attempting to give false hope.  And, like all charlatans, he has no problem charging nearly 50 pounds (GBP) per session. Unfortunately, scientists must admit some minor benefits do arise in some faith healing situations. They insist the benefits are “in the mind” (Murray). Dr. Jennifer Cleland, clinical lecturer in Medical Education and Primary Care at the University of Aberdeen, admits to observing the same minor improvements in controlled groups where actors pretended to be healers (Murray). In actuality, such psychosomatic and/or mind over matter results appear to fit most claims of healings by faith healers, along with alleged healings at pilgrimage sights like Lourdes and Medjugorje.

 

[*No discussion on miracles, especially regarding perspective on healing, would be complete without touching on near-death experiences: coming in Part 4.]

Miracles:a matter of perspective Pt.2

Let us look at the probabilities of battlefield miracles, such as the previously mentioned mortally wounded soldier (from Pt.1) that was miraculously healed before an experienced war correspondent. It was reported by a professional observer who makes his living reporting nothing but the facts: though reports of battlefield miracles are nothing new. There have been reports of unusual or unexplainable events in every war that’s been recorded throughout history. For instance, reports of instant behavioral changes in the midst of war, when adrenaline-filled battle-hard troops engaged in firefights, and even hand-to-hand combat, cease all violent actions and befriend the enemy. And these seemingly miraculous conversions have occurred in small two-man encounters all the way up to entire battlefields of men. Probably the most famous non-biblical example of mass behavioral change on the battlefield took place in 1914, on the dreaded western front, during World War I. It is known as the Christmas Miracle of Flanders, or the Christmas Truce (Rees). There were Germans on one side, the French and British on the other, and “no man’s land” in-between. Trench warfare: they lived, fought, and died in horrific conditions. Their home was water-logged, muck, and blood-filled trenches in the dead of winter. And to make matters worse, they often lived and slept beside the corpses of their fallen comrades. But on the 24th, Christmas Eve, a few German soldiers had a change of heart, and they began communicating with the enemy. The leaders on both sides did not know what to do when their troops stopped fighting. The officers urged, cajoled, and threatened to no avail. So they finally agreed to a cease-fire over Christmas; a Christmas truce that quickly escalated with soldiers from both sides meeting in no man’s land to exchange gifts, frolic, and compete in sporting events. Of course, skeptics are quick to point out that the cease-fire ended, and the war continued for a few more years.

Yes, the war continued, but there are individuals, like myself, who believe that how we respond to miracles has something to do with their success and longevity. As individuals with free will, it is up to us whether we will accept the positive aspects of an apparent miraculous event or not. For instance, at Flanders, the cease-fire was ended by high ranking officers who were not even present on the battlefield. And those officers used whatever intimidating methods necessary to have their subordinate officers force their men to re-enter the war. And yet, many men on the front line continued their own personal cease-fire well into the new year. And many of the men who took up arms again fired them into the air, or into the ground (Weintraub). In other words, if the leaders would have followed the example set forth with the miraculous behavioral change of their men on the front line, the cease-fire presented a perfect opportunity to negotiate an early end to the war: especially since the event had already hit the news, and sparked conversations about extending the truce indefinitely. Therefore, you could say that free will and unbelief slammed the brakes on that miraculous event. Instead of accepting it as a positive, the naysayers refused to heed the alleged divine intervention, and in so doing, they paved the way for the continuation of what became the bloodiest war in history. It is far too easy for skeptics, who did not observe or participate in the event, to denounce it for their personal beliefs and agenda.

Unsurprisingly, skeptics, or non-believers who are present during unexplainable events act a bit differently. In fact, records show they predominantly corroborate the event at the risk of sounding bizarre. For instance, during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, an Israeli soldier single-handedly captured an Egyptian column, and when the Egyptian commander was asked why they surrendered to a lone soldier, he insisted that there had been “thousands of them” (Rabuka), but they began to vanish without a trace as they reached the Israeli lines. And yet, the Israeli soldier, who was never aware of this alleged divine assistance, swears he was alone when the Egyptians surrendered. Another situation, during the six-day war in 1967, involved Gershon Saloman, who was wounded and about to be finished off by a group of Syrian soldiers (Rabuka). The soldiers were systematically terminating the wounded, but when they approached Saloman they surprisingly dropped their weapons and fled. And, instead of remaining quiet, a report was made to UN officers by the Syrian soldiers claiming they ran away after seeing “thousands of angels” protecting the wounded soldier (Rabuka). In both incidents a superior force out-numbered a solitary soldier who was unaware of any divine assistance, yet the assistance was visible enough to scare the hell out of armed soldiers. And both groups of soldiers, knowing how ridiculous it would sound to anyone not present at the event, still reported the apparent sightings of angelic beings. It would appear that individual perspective, where a person is during the event, truly does play a role in how the person will respond to the miraculous nature of the occurrence: theists, atheists, and agnostics alike.

[*I will deal with how perspective plays a central role in accepting miraculous healings in Part 3.]

Miracles: a matter of perspective

Today begins a five-part series on miracles.

 

While reporting from the front lines of the 1967 six-day war between Israel and the Arab states, an experienced war correspondent witnessed a wounded Israeli soldier rush into his observation post. The soldier’s guts were torn apart and hanging out, and the journalist had seen enough wounds to ascertain the young man did not have long to live. So he decided to make the soldier as comfortable as possible. Suddenly, the soldier cried out to God for healing; the last ditch effort of many mortally wounded, as the journalist knew, and why he stood awestruck as he watched the soldier get instantly healed, jump up, and leave (Battlefield Miracles). Yet for all who read the above account, and were not there, are we to believe it was a miracle, myth, or mirage? Sure, it sounds fantastic, and it is something we all wish could be true, but isn’t it more likely to be a fatigue and stressed induced delusion in a chaotic time of war? After all, that’s what many will claim.

The controversy over the existence of miracles has raged for thousands of years. Do we then have the right to condemn their belief? And why should it matter?  Obviously, it should matter because the subject of miracles is too important to leave alone. The issue needs to be resolved in the minds of us all in order to validate our personal beliefs. In fact, the subject of miracles is strongly influenced by personal beliefs and individual perspective. Consequently, when a person’s perspective is based on experience their personal beliefs are usually altered to include the supernatural source that they believe can manipulate natural laws. In other words, people who have witnessed or experienced a miracle are more likely to believe in God, gods, or some other form of the supernatural than people who have not.

The concept of miracles appears to have changed since the days of Noah’s flood, Moses parting the Red Sea, or the walls of Jericho tumbling down, but many in society still choose to believe in them. In a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life poll in 2008, 36,000 adults were interviewed about their beliefs. Approximately 80-percent claimed to believe in miracles (Salmon), which closely mirrored various other polls on the subject. A 2000 Newsweek poll showed 84-percent claimed to believe in miracles (Americans Believe). With an average of four out of every five individuals confessing a belief in miracles, it is a wonder that the controversy continues to rage. Undoubtedly, no war would continue to rage without the participation of opposing factions. Yet, there are three primary contending factions within the miracle controversy: atheists, theists, and agnostics. Atheists reject any notion of a divine being or beings, thus refuse to believe in any form of divine intervention. Theists accept the concept of either a solitary divine creator (monotheism), or multiple divine beings or gods (polytheism). And agnostics believe that the existence of the creation origin or original cause, whether God, gods, or the essential nature of things, are unknown, unknowable, and will remain so.

Likewise, each of the aforementioned contending factions has distinct groups within their ranks. Most of these distinct groups equally argue amongst themselves, adding fuel to the proverbial fire. For instance, some base their beliefs on natural laws and the hard sciences, while others claim to believe based on philosophy, psychology, theology, and various other reasons. And this variance can be observed among all the groups. For example, atheists, many of whom reject anything that contradicts natural laws, still have a contingent amongst them who view miracles as something extraterrestrials might institute during their interaction with the human race. Similarly, other atheists, while resisting any godly belief, entertain a pseudo-scientific leaning toward the paranormal, and believe what society calls miracles may arise from these paranormal forces. And then there are the theists, with thousands of different denominations, equally differing in their accepted beliefs and interpretations of miracles. There are theistic factions who doubt a divine creator would stoop to intervene in the trivial affairs of humans. After all, as science student Jeff Johnson contends, “Why would the potter talk to his pots?” (Johnson). Yet other theists believe the Creator designated a time for miracles to establish specific points, but that designated time, the age of miracles, is now over (Jackson). However, the majority of theists, in fact the majority of people, as the polls continually show, believe miracles are still part of our everyday existence. And rounding off the contrary factions, agnostics, who feel miracles can never be proven one way or the other, still come to the topic with differing beliefs. These differing beliefs range from “it’s possible” (Beno), to “not a chance,” and “who cares, we’ll never know anyway” (Johnson). Consequently, all the contentions make it tougher to refute or validate miracles to everyone’s satisfaction. And in today’s society it is even time consuming to wade through all the definitions of miracle.

Defining miracle in a society that overuses and abuses the word for the sake of marketing is an ever-increasing challenge. We have all grown skeptical at marketing and media claims promoting the newest, latest, and greatest. The newest miracle bra defies gravity. The latest miracle cream grows hair where you want it, and removes it from where you don’t. And let’s not forget the greatest miracle of medical mastery, an instant cure-all to whatever ails you, and all within a tiny pill. Unless, of course, you want the elixir: but that costs extra. All of which does little for the definition of miracle. So I asked a friend if he had ever seen a miracle, and he said, “No.” So I asked what his definition of a miracle would be, and he said, “Getting along with my wife.” Obviously, he has a worthwhile desire, but a rather weak standard to base any hypothesis on. However, there is always the simplistic standby, the dictionary. Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition:

Miracle, n. A marvelous event not ascribable to human power or the operation of any natural force and therefore attributed to supernatural, esp. divine, agency; esp. an act (e.g. of healing) demonstrating control over nature and serving as evidence that the agent is either divine or divinely favored.

 

Most non-theistic definitions are similar to the above definition. The majority of theistic interpretations place a greater emphasis on God in the definition. Herbert Lockyer, in his book All the Miracles of the Bible, claims a miracle is “some extraordinary work of deity transcending the ordinary powers of nature and wrought in connection with the ends of revelation” (qtd. in Wade). And Professor Rick Wade, theologist and philosopher, clarifies three key elements, “miracles are supernatural, or the work of deity; they transcend or override natural law; and they are part of God’s means of revealing His nature and purpose to us” (Wade). In other words, on any given day our definition on what should or should not be considered a miracle is filtered through our beliefs, interpretation of the alleged facts, and our perspective.

Individual perspectives of miracles are predominantly the easiest to comprehend. For instance, three World War II airmen, Lt. I.M. Chisov, Sgt. Alan Magee, and Sgt. Nicholas Alkemade, a Russian, an American, and a Brit, all survived freefalls of 18,000 feet or above without parachutes (Hamilton). Yet skydiving experts and doctors concur that any freefall over a hundred feet is a guaranteed death-drop. So were all three airmen recipients of miracles? Well, skeptics like to point out that Chisov was seriously injured, Magee sustained a bad arm injury, and even Alkemade, though it was minor, twisted a knee. The obvious implication being that if they were miracles why were the men injured at all? However, from both a medical and natural law perspective, each airman survived a guaranteed death-drop. And yet, skeptics will then contend that, since it has occurred before, it falls into the realm of probability. And if it is in the realm of probability it cannot be considered a miracle. Similarly, such a contention presupposes that even a miraculous event like the parting of the Red Sea would not qualify as a miracle, because there are similar events in the Bible where water is parted. However, the claim falls short since it is a mistaken attempt at logic that utilizes no pertinent evidence to back it up.

Other skeptics attempt to discard freefall survivals through physics, using aerodynamic jargon, such as “surface area molecules hitting a bunch of atmospheric molecules” (Carkeet), and creating a reduced rate of acceleration. Although, they conveniently forget to mention it reduces the fall rate from approximately 150-mph to 120-mph, which is still considered “terminal velocity,” when atmospheric drag resists gravity’s acceleration” (Carkeet). In other words, it is still a guaranteed death-drop. Thus, it brings up a curious question, how would each of the skeptics feel about it if it had been them falling thousands of feet without a chute? When you consider the adage, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” it could easily be applied to chute-less freefalls over 18,000 feet as well. After all, it is highly unlikely that such a personal perspective would still find the skeptics, as they are plummeting to Earth, considering the probabilities.

[*In part 2 I will begin with the probabilities of battlefield miracles like the previously mentioned mortally wounded soldier that was miraculously healed.]