Do Miracles on Earth Require a Supernatural Miracle-Worker?
Raymond Fontaine, Ph.D. - September 15, 2005
To understand the issue under discussion in the following two e-mails, it is critical to agree on the meaning of the term "miracle". Webster's New World - College Dictionary defines it as follows. No.1: an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to supernatural causes, especially to an act of God. No. 2: a remarkable event or thing.
E-mail no.13: Pope Benedict 16 Presents a Case in Point
Good morning, my friend in Seal Beach. I believe it's my turn to choose a topic of discussion. I have one that can benefit our fellow-humans. In your last e-mail no.11, you mentioned that the designs in Nature presuppose Supreme Intelligence. That's a rational conclusion. But you quickly added that nature's designs reveal nothing more about that Intelligence.
Let me suggest that miraculous cures observed on earth presuppose a Miracle-Worker who intervenes at the request of saints in heaven who themselves are responding to the prayers of devotees on earth. Let me give you an example.
In 1944, a two years old child named Benedicta swallowed much of a bottle of Tylenol pills and became unconscious and was moving toward a coma that could prove fatal. So said the attending doctor Ronald Kleinman.
Hearing this, the child's parents prayed to Edith Stein, a very good nun who died in 1942 in the death camp of Auschwitz. Within days, the child recovered completely. The Vatican was immediately informed of this remarkable cure. .
After carefully double-checking the facts, in 1997 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints informed Pope John Paul 2 that a miracle had occurred as a result of Edith Stein's intercession. So, on October 11, 1998 the Pope canonized Edith Stein declaring that she is a saint in heaven.
Ray, in your e-mail no.11, you said that the designs observed in nature point to Supreme Intelligence. But you quickly added " the designs in nature say nothing more about that Intelligence: what it is; how it acts; whether or not or when it intervenes in the course of nature."
Unlike designs in nature, miracles on earth also throw light on other supernatural realities. For example, in the case of Edith Stein, the parents of the dying child prayed to Edith Stein who, they believe, is in heaven. They asked her to intercede with God. The child was cured. This means that Edith Stein is alive somewhere; she interceded with God; and He intervened on earth. Similar scenarios have occurred thousands of times before; they are still happening now; and they will undoubtedly continue in the future.
This belief in miracles is inspiring and comforting, unlike your belief in nature's designs pointing to an Intelligence that lets humans fend for themselves. Catholics believe that God can and does intervene in human affairs and in nature when saints in heaven intercede. I believe that saints who obtain miracles from God provide a spiritual link between heaven and earth, between God and humans and between the natural and the supernatural.
Given a choice between miracles on earth and designs in nature, Catholics prefer the first rather than the second by far. So would other humans if convinced that true miracles require a Miracle-Worker just as designs in nature require a Designer. Convinced of that, the Church keeps canonizing saints and promoting devotion to them, so that more people will pray to them and obtain miracles from God. This is a very effective way to evangelize the world. Please, let me know if you agree with me. Adios, my good friend.
E-mail no. 14: A Possible Flaw in the Pope's Theory
Greetings, Your Holiness. I hope you are having good day. I'll try not to spoil it. In your e-mail above, you say that humans can observe a series of events that terminate with God intervening in human affairs.
The first step, you say, is to verify that a competent medical or scientific person has declared that someone has a physical condition that is fatal and that no one on earth, no medicine and no surgery can prevent the inevitable - death.
Aware of this situation, someone prays to a saint in heaven, asking him/her to intercede with God. God is then asked to intervene on earth and cure the dying person.
In a short time, without any other known intervention, the sick or injured person recovers completely.
I agree that if this should happen, it would mean that a supernatural agent has intervened. Unfortunately, in the example you submit, there was a flaw in the first step. No competent person testified that there was no natural explanation for little Benedicta's sudden and complete cure.
Her attending doctor, Ronald Kleinman, did not agree to testify that nothing natural could have cured Benedicta. Nor would Doctor Michael Shannon who specialized in Tylenol overdoses in children. He said, "For the last fourteen years, I have taken care of hundreds of Tylenol-overdose cases every year, and probably, in my career, thousands. I have seen the complication that Benedicta had. Ninety-nine percent of the time children with Tylenol overdoses fully recover." (See The New Yorker, June 7, 1999.)
"Despite the fact that the two doctors most qualified to judge the case refused to say it was a miracle, it was on the basis of little Benedicta's case that Stein was canonized." So states Gary Wills in his book entitled Papal Sin -Structures of Deceit.
Your Holiness, I regret bringing up this flawed example of your theory regarding the process of bridging the gap between the Supernatural and the Natural. But your theory, as you described it, remains valid. But proof of it remains wanting. It may never be possible to find a situation that cannot be explained by natural causes. The resources of nature, as designed by the Supreme Designer, seem indefinite, far beyond man's present knowledge.
I understand why the present practice of canonizing saints will continue unabated. Their contribution to the Church's mission of evangelizing the world is immense. Cures of deadly diseases are desirable everywhere. Millions of Catholics believe that the many saints in heaven are ready to help. If called upon by prayer, they will intercede with God who can easily grant their wishes. Believing and teaching this, the Church will never stop looking for miracles attested to by truly knowledgeable and honest experts who value truth above all else.
When the Church succeeds to find such a miracle, please let me know and I will be delighted to receive the news and I will renew my former preaching about such miracles.
Until then, I remain committed to uncovering and communicating the truth and nothing but the truth. I will never accept or present a miracle in the second sense (a remarkable event or thing) as a miracle in the first sense (an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to a supernatural cause, especially to an act of God.) I am sure that you value truth as much, if not more than I do.
Please let me know immediately if you find fault with my thinking. I'm open to the truth. With this assurance I bid you farewell. Adios, my friend. Ray. To return to the list of e-mails, click here.