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A miracle is most commonly held to be the intervention by a supernatural being – usually a god – in the normal workings of the universe. Different religions, however, have substantially different notions of a miracle, and disagreements are also to be found within religions. The word "miracle" comes from the Latin miraculum meaning "something wonderful".
In casual usage, "miracle" may also refer to any statistically unlikely but beneficial event (such as survival from a natural disaster), or even to anything which is regarded as wonderful regardless of its likelihood or naturalness, such as childbirth.
Miracles as supernatural acts
On this view, a miracle is a violation of normal laws of nature by a god or some other supernatural being. Some scientist-theologians like Polkinghorne suggest that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but "exploration of a new regime of physical experience".
Some modern religious believers hold that there is a scientific basis for believing in supernatural miracles. They hold that in the absence of a plausible, parsimonious scientific theory, the best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being, e.g. a god. Therefore, there is probably a supernatural being who performs what appear to be miracles. However, some scientists criticise this kind of thinking as a subversion, or perhaps deliberate misuse, of Occam's razor
Many adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, constitute proof of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent god. There are a number of criticisms of this point of view:
- While the existence of miracles may imply the existence of a supernatural miracle worker, that supernatural miracle worker need not be an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent god; it could be any supernatural being. That is, it only proves that gods might exist, not that there is a monotheistic god.
- Some argue that miracles, if established, are evidence that a perfect god does not exist, as such a being would not want to, or need to, violate his own laws of nature.
- Laws of nature are inferred from empirical evidence. Thus if an accepted law of nature ever appeared to have been violated, it could simply be that the accepted law was an erroneous inference from an insufficient set of empirical observations, rather than a supernatural disruption of the true course of nature.
Miracles as events pre-planned by God
In rabbinic Judaism, many rabbis mentioned in the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable, and thus the idea of contraventions of those laws was ruled out; at the same, however, time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.
In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6.