Why Do Catholics Believe in Miracles? *

The Book of Sirach recounts significant figures in ancient Israel's history, many of whom, such as Moses, were associated with miracles (see 45:2-3). Many New Testament figures as well were reported by witnesses to work similar wonders--above all, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles (see Acts 2:22; 5:12).

Such miracles in fact belong to the very fabric of the biblical story from beginning to end. To dismiss them out of hand as impossible is to deny the foundations of the Christian faith. As St. Paul insisted, a Christianity without miracles such as the resurrection Christ is no Christianity at all. It is "empty," 'false," in "vain" (see 1 Cor 15:12-19).

Has science nevertheless disproved the possibility of miracles? The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines a "miracle" this way: "an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause. "Using that as a working definition, let'l look closer at the claim.

Science attempts to construct an accurate picture of the natural world. Essential to its method are observation, hypothesis, and experimentation through controlled conditions. Given this goal and method, how exactly would science go about disproving the possibility of miracles?

On a given occasion, of course, scientists might well be able to demonstrate that an extraordinary event can be accounted for by purely natural causes. But how cold they show that it is impossible for an event to have ever occurred in history that surpassed "all known human or natural powers" and had "a supernatural cause"?

First, scientists would have had to be present for observation at every event in history that has a claim to be miraculous. That is not the case. Second, they would need a hypothesis that reasonably accounts for every such event that has ever occurred. They have no such hypothesis. Finally, if an event should actually have a cause beyond nature (supernatural), then the merely natural means at scientists' disposal would be incapable of observing it or controlling it for experimentation.

In short, science is too limited in both scope and method to disprove the possibility of miracles. On the other hand, science is often able to rule out known natural causes for certain extraordinary events. So the Catholic Church makes careful use of scientific methods when examining claims for contemporary miracles--knowing that, since an almighty God exists, truly "nothing will be impossible (Lk 1:37).

Other related scriptures: Jb 38:1; Lk 1:1-4; 1 Jn 1:1-3.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 156; 159; 547-549; 1335; 2003; 2293-2294.

*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com Original title: Hasn't Science Disproved Miracles? L-3

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