Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are Miracles 'Religious' ?

We all know that almost all of the religions have something to do with miracles. The objective of this simple research is to find out what is the science behind these miracles. We all know that religious views are contradictory and thus the god of one religion is not the same as that of another. But still, miracles seem to occur in almost all the religions. What I am doing is a search through Google with 'religion name' <_> miracle. I am adopting this technique to avoid any personal bias on any religion. But please don’t think I am a member of the church of Google (thechurchofgoogle). With this technique I would be able to justify that miracles do happen in all the religions. If you are not interested in theology, you can simply skip this part and directly start reading the pre-conclusive para. This may ignite a few thoughts in your mind, which later can help you in contributing for The Quest of Truth!

Miracles in Buddhism:

Probably Buddhists are not as politically attached to their religion as Abrahamic religions. And probably so, they don’t show much interest in developing big missionaries (in modern sense WEBSITES). Also this is what Buddhists says:

"He taught that a monk who displays the first two supernormal powers for their own sake in order to impress people, is no different from the performance of a shaman or a magician. The Buddha said that a monk who practices such worldly miracles is a source of shame, humiliation and disgust. This is because such actions may impress and win converts and followers, but they do not help them put an end to their suffering."

Another Story:

"Another story illustrates the Buddha's attitude towards miraculous powers. One day the Buddha met an ascetic who sat by the bank of a river. This ascetic had practiced austerities for 25 years. The Buddha asked him what he had received for all his labour. The ascetic proudly replied that, finally, he could cross the river by walking on the water. The Buddha pointed out that this gain was insignificant for all the years of labour, since he could cross the river using a ferry for one penny!"

And this was the attitude of Buddha on miracles:

“In one sutra in the Digha Nikaya, the Buddha was asked to perform miracles so that "those who do not believe will believe, and those who already believe will have more faith". The Buddha's answer was something like this: "The Enlightened One can perform such miracles: He can read minds, He can float in the air, He can pass through solid objects etc etc etc. However, the Greatest miracle is the Miracle of the Dharma, the Teaching that destroys all sufferings. Thus, this is the only miracle I will perform here.”

Read this article (if you have time): http://www.parami.org/buddhistanswers/what_about_miracles.htm
And visit this site to know more about Buddhism: http://www.parami.org/buddhistanswers/

But here are a few miracles in Buddhism:

"The miraculous powers (abhinna iddhi /siddhi) often mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures, and sometimes manifested by the Buddha himself, include being able to multiply oneself, fly through the air, hear things over a long distance, read other people's minds, remember one's former lives and know how to destroy the defilements of the mind." (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/dharmadata/fdd63.htm)

"Burmese religious pilgrims flocked by the thousands at the weekend to Nyaunglaybin township, 160 kilometres north of Rangoon, to witness a "miracle" of multi-coloured light beams appearing from a Buddhist monastery." (Source: DPA, Germany, March 1997 )
Other Miracles on Buddhism seen are mainly like people flocking when light starts emmiting from Buddha’s statue. (http://www.einterface.net/gamini/buddhist.html).

Since Buddhists are monks, they meditate, perform martial arts and keep themselves healthy. They are said to have psychic powers beyond our imagination but Buddha has asked not to publicly display them since he said education is the biggest miracle.


Still there are Buddhist meditating center which are meant to heal diseases on body and soul (many videos are in YouTube).

Miracles in Christianity:

The first site that comes in Google is http://www.christian-faith.com/. You can read a lot of testimonies here, and links to YouTube.

"I was in Australia recently and there was a man who had cancer in his mouth. We asked the people with cancers to stand, and I commanded the cancers in the name of Jesus to disappear. Two minutes after the prayer, there was no cancer in his mouth; it was a perfectly new mouth. His doctor came over and verified the healing. That's slightly challenging if you don't believe in these things, isn't it?"

This is just one of the testimonies of many. Most miracles seen in Christianity is either healing from diseases through mass prayer, saintly faiths or some spiritual practices. Though Christianity can not be called as a single faith, within its numerous sects miracles are observed. Irrespective of the sect, miracles are quite highly dignified in this religion and well appreciated (except a few churches).

Probably because of the massive Christian population, well organized missionary and the miraculous nature of its patron Jesus, the search result is massive. The claims on stigmata, Jesus sightings etc are one in many. But I guess the list would be very long if I go through these paranormal phenomenon in the websites.

For the faithful believer in Christianity, these would be an additional proof but for others it may either appear to be superstitious or sometimes confuse them.

Miracles in Islam:

The first site that came when I Googled is http://www.miraclesofislam.com/. Many things appear here to be graphic designing for those who don't believe (as well as those who know about Adobe Photoshop) while for others this may appear as the sign of God.

But among this one photo appears to be genuine since I saw it in Reader's Digest and news was in newspapers too.



In the page http://www.miraclesofislam.com/indonesia.shtml there are 5 such mosques escaped from Tsunami, but I pasted one of those here since this was the same picture I saw in Reader's Digest. It is told that those who ran to that mosque during Tsunami, none was hurt. May be a coincidence or the Mosque was strongly build (coz the contractors wouldn’t have made much profit in the name of God).

Most of the websites in the first page of Google search gives Miracles of Quran probably because Muslims believe Quran is the biggest miracle of Muhammad.

Various scientific facts like embryonic development, movement of mountains, origin of universe (if Big-Bang Theory is Right), atmosphere protects earth, Einstein's theory of Relativity, moon reflects light, formation of petroleum from livestock, on deep sea and internal waves, how rain is formed etc. are written in Quran 1400 years ago (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qur%27an_and_science). Most of these interpretations are understood while the scientific knowledge is increased. And often it is quoted in Quran, "Verily, these are signs for those who possess intelligence".
Quran also prophesied many things some of which has already passed like how Roman Empire will be defeated and the preservation of Pharaoh in sea (which was excavated recently).
Apart from the above the latest claim for the Quran's authenticity is in the 19 based mathematical miracle discovered a few decades ago. Many chapters are initialed with letters, these letters repeat as a multiple of 19 in that chapter. This appears to be either a very careful coding of the Quran 1400 years ago by ceaseless effort of men or simply so because it is the word of God.


When I went deep into the subject I find some people are obsessed with 19 just like the Number 23 movie. They start relating everything in Quran to 19 (http://submission.org/miracle/).


Other claimed Mathematical miracle includes the total number of repetition of certain words in the whole Quran like:

ONE DAY-------------------30
MONTH----------------------12
MOON-------------------------27
etc.


These repetitions can probably be a coincidence but very strong evidence for a believer.


I believe prophecies of Muhammad in other scripture can not be put under this section since it must be put in the respective scripture’s section, since Mohammed is a historical character.
Other Miracles like Spiritual Healing etc are seen in mass prayers, Quran recitation, Islamic medicines etc. Though witchcraft is prohibited in Quran, there are instances when some Muslims consults Jinns (Jinns are spirits, which are further classified into good and bad) for aid (I do not know if it is permitted to seek help from good Jinns). Sufi miracles are those which are performed by Sufi saints during their lifetime. But after their death people visit their tombs for intercession and it is believed that many get help. Also Sufi therapy is widely available where miraculous healing takes place, for example visit http://www.all-natural.com/sufi.html.

Miracles in Judaism:


When I talk about the Jewish Miracles, I must say it is filled with miracles! From Noah, to Moses to Jesus (because Jesus himself was a Jew) all where supported with miraculous powers.
A Rabbi called Ba'al Haness, means “miracle worker” and comes from a Talmudic story describing how he saved his sister-in-law from the clutches of the Romans by a combination of subterfuge and uttering a single prayer: “God of Meir – answer me.

There are Jewish healing centers where many people are reported to get cured. Eg: The National Center for Jewish Healing (http://www.jewishhealing.org/).

But I could not get much information on the websites probably because the total Jewish population in the world is just 0.23% and many of them are engaged in war.
But at a quick glance at the first Google search page it is seen the miracles of escapes from the Holocaust, apart from the mass murders of Jews by Christians in the past and the present fight going on between Palestine and the newly formed country Israel.

Miracles in Hinduism:

Now considering my ancestral religion, there are innumerable miracles not just what I observe from the net but also from the daily hearings.

One thing what even I tried a few years ago with my dad was trying to give water to a statue of elephant we had in our home. This was a consequence of The Hindu Milk Miracle.

"The Hindu milk miracle was a phenomenon considered by many Hindus as a miracle which occurred on September 21, 1995" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_milk_miracle).

Now about Sai Babha, of all the miracles I have gone through this is most interesting:
"Sai Baba Raising the Dead:

Sri Satya Sai Baba raised Mr V Radhakrisna from the dead in 1953 after he had had been dead for about two days. He went Puttaparthi with his wife, daughter Vijaya and his son in law Mr. K S Hemchand. He was suffering from gastric ulcers, was very ill at the time of the visit and this was one of the reasons for visiting the ashram. He was given a room in the same building the swami lived and spent most of his time in bed and was visited by Baba before he went to a coma and died. On the third day after his death when the corpse was stinking Baba came to his room and asked his wife, daughter and son in law to wait outside and closed the door. After few minutes he opened the door and on the bed Mr Radhakrisna was looking up at them and smiling. Baba asked the wife to give him a hot drink and waited for another half and hour in the room. Family stayed at Prashanthi Nilayam for few more days and returned to their home in Kuppam. His gastric ulcers had vanished for ever and he continued to live for many more years afterwards."

Well at a quick look there are so many miracles and healing power reported to be possessed by so many Swamis. Let me tell you, this is a very hectic job and let me finish it here.

Miracles in other Religions at a glance:

One reason I had to mix many religions is not because of any inferiority towards these religions but the lack of internet participants (since their population is very low compared to the major religions).

But, the miraculous phenomenon is very high in religions like Spiritism, Wicca, Neopaganism etc. Confucianism, Jainism, Taoism etc have miraculous yogic healing.
To my surprise I saw coincidentally a program in NGC which lively showed the various African healing practices through spirits. They call these spirits good spirits which drives away evil spirits. Though I should not bring my personal opinion here, let me say that the goodness and badness are humanly chosen for their own convenience and hence relativistic.

Propagating religion in the name of miracles is considered to be fraud by a few Deist (Deism is a religion developed by Thomas Paine, a great American Revolutionist). Deism is based on natural reasoning, and they find it not reasonable to believe in scriptures. Thomas Paine was himself opposed for showing mistakes in bible in his famous book ‘The age of Reason’.

The final search on Miracles – A scientific approach:

Science being the proof of the existence of God for believers, a scientific understanding can be indeed a light to those who are confused over the subject.

Since science is evolving through generation, I must say that the lack of understanding of spirits does not mean that spirits do not exist. Probably the better understanding of physical phenomenon will let us know more about the things which can not be experienced by human beings through their five senses.

A basic characteristic of science is experimental reproducibility at a given condition. This is a necessary but not sufficient characteristic. Psychology and psychotherapy comes under this and hence these fields can be called as science. The sufficient characteristic of science could be achieved only if the reason for these phenomenon could be found.

With this introduction, I am entering into a scientific search.

Hypnotism is a field in Psychology which uses mind power for healing. Many miracles (though this word may not fit under this 'scientific' section) do happen through Hypnotics. Post-surgical hypnosis is a well accepted medical method. Wounds get instantly healed, scars gets vanished etc.

I shall support this with a testimony given by Ed Thiessen, please take time to go through the testimony, it is worth reading:

Healing of a Muscular Dystrophy, Blindness, Growing a Foot ...

"Six years ago, if you would have told me I would ever be happy and healthy, I wouldn't have even smiled at the thought. My health was so bad I couldn't even imagine being well.
That was before someone introduced me to the Silva Method [of self-hypnosis] and the power of the mind.

When I was born in 1962, I wasn't expected to live, but if I did it was predicted that I would have severe brain damage and cerebral palsy. It was later found out, through further examination, that I had muscular dystrophy as well. I was also partly deaf, had severely crossed eyes, and was legally blind.

The "experts" didn't give my parents much hope I would ever be able to read or write or function in the "outside" world - outside of a state institution. Because of this and my declining health, they didn't expect me to live for long.

At the age of two I had my first surgery on my eyes to correct my vision and my crossed eyes.
From 1967 to 1979 I was placed in institution and special schools and went through several operations on my legs and eyes to try to correct my many problems. But none seemed to really help. My eyesight, hearing, and speech were getting worse.

Then, in the early part of 1978, a volunteer gave me a book she had been reading. I often looked at books to see how many words I knew. As I read and reread the book The Silva Mind Control Method many times, over a period of time I mastered the techniques in the book. At times I even slept with the book. I wore the book out.

The doctors couldn't understand it, but my health seemed to be getting better. I did not tell them what I was doing - it's called "programming".

First I began walking. In a short time I no longer needed braces for my legs and arms. My hearing was restored, as well as my speech.

They said I would lose my eyesight, but, after I went to level [relaxed state of body and mind] three to four times each day, my eyesight improved. In the early part of 1980 I was able to leave the institution for good.

A few months later my aunt heart about Silva Mind Control, and she thought it would help me. She did not know how much it had helped me already. In December of 1980 we took the class.
The class helped me even more. My health improved greatly. In 1981 I stopped wearing glasses, and now I have 20/20 vision and am in perfect health.

In 1982 I took my GED test for my high school diploma and only missed one question, in trigonometry. That was because I did not program for the problem.

I used to have to buy two pairs of shoes for every one I needed, as my feet were not the same size. I programmed at the beginning of last year (1983); now both my feet are the same size. One foot grew three sizes in less then a year.

All that is left from the past is a slight limp. That will pass soon. That is one of my projects for 1984.

My success is not a "miracle", and I didn't do what I did because I am a super-special person. What I did, I believe anyone can co. It just takes belief, a method, and a lot of work."

And look here on one more interesting Testimony:

“Those who stood about watching tensely could see nothing until her hands suddenly moved slightly on the man's leg, and she took them away, saying quietly in Hawaiian, "The healing is finished. Stand up. You can walk."
The injured man, now entirely sobered, rose wonderingly to his feet, took a step, and then another. The healing was complete and perfect. The leg showed no indication of the break in any way.”

You can read more testimonies from this link: http://www.hypnosis-kids.com/hypnosis-healing-stories.htm.
You can even try to become a Hypnosis wizard through that site.
I shall give my personal opinion upon this in my pre-conclusion.

Pre-Conclusion – A Philosophical approach:

Let me try to go to the basics where I have to take the meaning of an oft repeated word:
Miracle: - An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature, the term is derived from Latin word miraculum meaning "something wonderful".

(The first definition shall be used hereafter in the explanation, unless * where the second definition holds).

From a historical perspective anything miraculous (i.e. “An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature”) was considered to be the work of a supernatural power or sometimes considered itself to be supernatural. For example, the various Greek gods and goddesses, godliness of some historic characters in various religions etc.

The evolution and growth of scientific knowledge broadened the spectrum of nature, thus bringing the super-natural phenomenons into the category of natural phenomenons.
Looking at the various miracles* described above (which was obtained by simple Google search, and hence can not be called comprehensive but appears to be sufficient for our purpose), some of them cannot be called miracles according to the first definition. For example, the scientific and Mathematical miracle* of Quran has come under the spectrum of Naturalness, and hence not a miracle now.

Further screening the above miracles they can be categorized into healing miracles and paranormal experiences. All these are happening irrespective of religions (though religious views are very much contradictory).

So something must be common over these phenomenons. Is it god (here ‘god’ means the gods of different religions, for our convenience saints, prophets etc are included under the term ‘god’)? Obviously not, since when wicca, neopaganism, spiritism experiences miracles, even strictly monotheistic religions like Islam and Judaism experiences the same miracles.
The study on scientific approach shows that even an atheist can be healed instantaneously through Hypnosys. This argument is sufficient to say that Faith is important. i.e. for the complete cure to take place, the atheist must have faith in what he is doing, probably the Hypnotist, or Himself. But, for a Sai Babha worshiper it has to be Sri. Sathya Sai Babha.
Now let me give a few statements as a believer in one God (This may contradict a few religions. But the oneness of God has been proved to me over prior thoughts and hence has to be supported to bring my thoughts to a higher level).

God does allow these things to happen as apart of the freedom given to his natural creations. The world is created and given its laws and everything here happens as per the natural law. Things appearing as supernatural are not actually supernatural but natural, but an understanding of nature through scientific means is required to prove the naturality.


The suffering of the world is enormous, billions of people are sick, millions are starving etc. Through scientific effort medicines are produced (which would have been called miracle by one who has no knowledge), which helps a huge percentile of people. Among the people who seek help through the psychological means only a few people gets cured. This fact proves the fact that, the way of approach by Yogis, Evangelist, Sufi saints etc and even hypnotists are very crude in nature.


I hope a further understanding of this science, will help in curing a wide range of diseases instantaneously and also help in establishing Truth, unity and equality.
As the final pre-conclusive sentence, let me say that as the spectrum of naturalness increases through scientific means, the word miracle itself will vanish.

Conclusion:
The conclusion part is left to the reader, since I can’t claim the universality of my thoughts.

Recommended Books: Some Sayings of the Buddha, Sufism - The Heart of Islam, The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece

5 comments:

  1. After reading this, I have come to the conclusion….We can accept everything as TRUTH. There is one set of truth. Ether God is Kind, or he is not. Ether there is hell Fire or heaven, good acts and bad, rights and wrongs, or not. When you look at the thousands of Religious sponsored wars, with the over 100 million deaths that have resulted over the last 99 years, it clearly shows that the majority of Religions must GO! The Greatest, most influential Prophet of all times, Jesus, said you would know his true people by the love they would have for themselves and others.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Examining Miracle Claims
    Joe Nickell

    ["Examining Miracle Claims" was originally published in the March 1996 issue of Deolog.]

    Today's widespread scientific illiteracy, even an outright attitude of anti-science, is concurrent with the spread of magical thinking even in our own relatively enlightened culture. With the rise of the "New Age" movement has come a resurgence of such nonsense as astrology, crystal healing, the "channeling" of departed spirits, and alleged abductions by creatures in flying saucers. Similarly, there has been a revival of religious fundamentalism, including miracle claims. These range from magical images and "miraculous" relics to various "divine" experiences and claims of healing by faith alone. Here is a brief look at some of the miracle claims paranormal investigators encounter.
    Magical Images

    While New Agers have their "Face on Mars" (a simple formation that is touted as evidence of an ancient civilization on the planet), the new religionists, especially Catholics, have their image of Jesus discovered in the skillet burns of a tortilla in 1978 (as still preserved in the New Mexico home of Mrs. Mario Rubio, as I learned from her daughter, when we appeared together on "Oprah"). This was followed by similar "miraculous" images that appeared in such unlikely locations as the foliage of a vine-covered tree (West Virginia, 1982), rust stains on a 40-foot-high soybean oil tank (Ohio, 1986), and a forkful of spaghetti illustrated on a billboard (Georgia, 1991). As well, portraits of the Virgin Mary were seen in such diverse places as the stains on the bathroom floor of a Texas auto parts store (1990), and the grime on a window in an Italian village (1987). These appeared not to be anything more than the result of what one priest termed "a pious imagination."

    "Miracle" images have frequently had an assist from the hand of man, not always a pious hand to be sure. Consider the mysterious faces that appeared, disappeared, and reappeared with changes of expression on the floor of a peasant woman's house in the town of Belmez de la Moraleda in Spain. By Easter 1972, hundreds of pilgrims had come to see the phantom portraits. Before long, however, local newspapers charged that the peasant woman was perpetrating a hoax for personal gain, and the secular and ecclesiastical authorities soon banned tourist trade at the site.

    Similarly notorious effigies are the "weeping," "bleeding," and otherwise animated icons that surface from time to time and raise troubling questions even for religious believers. For in shifting from the view that a statue is only a representation to the belief that it is truly animated is to seemingly cross a line from veneration to idolatry. Invariably, however, these are either investigated and found to be pious frauds or they are withheld from scrutiny. An example of the former was the statue of Our Lady of Fatima at a Catholic church in Thornton, California, in 1981. The sculpted virgin not only changed the angle of her eyes and tilt of her chin, reported churchgoers, but also wept, and even moved about the church at night. A bishop's investigation, however, found that the movement of eyes and chin were apparently only variations in photographic images, while the weeping and perambulations were branded a probable hoax. Conversely, in the case of a weeping icon in a Greek Orthodox church in Chicago in 1986, the bishop refused permission for tests, thus leaving the inference, to skeptics at least, that there was something to hide.

    As the Thornton case indicated, allegedly miraculous photographs are quite common. A few of these, in my experience, are blatant hoaxes, while most are photographic "glitches" of one sort or another. As "Investigative Files" columnist for the Skeptical Inquirer magazine, I received last year some "miracle" photos from the popular TV series "Unsolved Mysteries." My subsequent investigation showed that one was a "Golden Door" photo common to Marian apparition sites and thought by pilgrims to be proof of the doorway to heaven mentioned in Revelation 4:1; another, that showed (at least to Marian zealots) "angel wings" was caused by light leakage into the film pack; and so on.

    No doubt the most famous image that is touted as a miracle is that of an apparently crucified man appearing on the Shroud of Turin. Many believe this is the actual burial cloth of Jesus, and claim that the image cannot be explained by modern science.

    In fact, the shroud has no history prior to the mid-fourteenth century, at which time (according to a later bishop's report) the forger who made it was discovered and he confessed to having "cunningly painted" the image. Obvious problems with the image include hair that hangs as for a standing rather than recumbent figure, "blood" flows that are unrealistically "picture-like" and suspiciously still red (unlike real blood that blackens over time), and the unnatural elongation of the figure (resembling those in gothic art). "Blind" microscopic analyses show significant traces of paint pigment on image areas, thus proving the pigment red ocher was a component of the image. The "blood" was actually tempera paint. In 1988 samples of the cloth were independently carbon-dated at three laboratories around the world. Using accelerator mass spectrometry, the labs obtained dates in close agreement: The cloth dated from about 1260-1390, and that time span was given enhanced credibility by correct dates obtained from samples of ancient cloths of known date.

    As to the "impossible" image on the shroud likened to a photographic negative because its darks and lights are reversed skeptics have countered that the reversal is only partial and that similar quasi-negative images are automatically produced by an artistic rubbing technique. (Somewhat analogous to a gravestone rubbing, the cloth is first wet-molded to a bas-relief and, when it is dry, pigment is rubbed on with a dauber so as to darken the prominences and leave the recesses white. I proposed this solution in 1978.)
    Miraculous Relics

    If it were not a fake, the shroud of Turin might be called a relic an object associated with a saint or martyr. So prevalent had relic veneration become in St. Augustine's time (about 400 AD) that he deplored "hypocrites in the garb of monks" for hawking the bones of martyrs, adding with due skepticism, "if indeed of martyrs." His contemporary, Vigilantius of Talouse, condemned the veneration of relics as being nothing more than a form of idolatry, but St. Jerome defended the practice on the basis that God works miracles through them.

    Among the "miraculous" relics of Catholicism is the much publicized "blood" of San Gennaro St. Januarius in Naples. Januarius was supposedly martyred during the persecution of Christians by Diocletian, although the church has never been able to verify his existence as an actual historical person. In any case, since the fourteenth century what is represented as the martyred saint's congealed blood periodically liquefies and reddens, in apparent contravention of nature's laws.

    While outside researchers have never been permitted to conduct definitive tests on the material in the sealed vial, two modern investigative teams have nevertheless proposed solutions to the mystery. One, by three Italian chemists, involves a thixatropic gel (made by mixing chalk and hydrated iron chloride with a small amount of salt water) which liquefies when agitated and re-solidifies when allowed to stand. The other, proposed by forensic analyst John F. Fischer and me, uses an oil-wax-pigment mixture that liquefies at even a slight increase in temperature. The apparent reddening may merely be due to light being more readily transmitted through the liquefied substance. Although the actual formula may never be uncovered, it is important to note that the "blood" has occasionally liquefied on its own, without the usual prayerful entreaties and under circumstances (such as repair of its casket) that would seem unlikely for the working of a miracle. It should also be noted that since the fourteenth century there have been several additional saints' bloods that liquefy all in the Naples area and thus suggestive of some regional secret.

    Even more macabre relics exist among them the allegedly "incorruptible" bodies of saints, i.e. corpses that have "miraculously" failed to succumb to decay. Actually, however, in many cases artificial means even embalming have been used to help preserve corpses; other means, such as wax masks, have frequently been employed to conceal their poor condition. Some appear merely to have to have become mummified (fostered by tomb rather than earthen burial), or saponified (in which burial in lime-impregnated soil converts the body fat into a hard soap that resists putrefaction). Periodic examination and conservation are other factors that promote "miraculous" preservation. It should also be noted that many instances of alleged incorruptibility cannot be verified or more importantly are disproved by the facts, the bodies eventually being reduced to bones or requiring extensive restoration in order to be placed on view.
    Divine Experiences

    Some Christian fundamentalists (those who believe in the literal truth of scripture) place special emphasis on what are called "charismatic gifts of the Spirit" which include, notably, speaking in tongues, prophesying, and even (among a distinct minority) demonstrating imperviousness to fire and poisons, including poisonous snakes.

    Speaking in tongues known in psychological jargon as glossolalia is an ancient practice, mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 2:1-4), and recurring in Christian revivals through the ages. Modern analysis, however shows that it is actually "linguistic nonsense." A professor of anthropology and linguistics at the University of Toronto, William T. Samarin, conducted an exhaustive five-year study of the phenomenon on several continents and concluded:

    Glossolalia consists of strings of meaningless syllables made up of sounds taken from those familiar to the speaker and put together more or less haphazardly. The speaker controls the rhythm, volume, speed and inflection of his speech so that the sounds emerge as pseudolanguage in the form of words and sentences.

    Glossolalia is language-like because the speaker unconsciously wants it to be language-like. Yet in spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia fundamentally is not language.

    Samarin also noted that according to more than half of the glossolalists he studied, it was easier to speak in tongues than in ordinary language. "You don't have to think just let the words flow. One minister said he could 'go on forever: it's just like drumming.'"

    Another charismatic gift of the spirit is prophecy. Early Christians mined the richly metaphorical ore of the Old Testament to "discover" therein supposedly prophetic passages of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Some verses were held to accurately foretell such key events in Jesus' life as his birth at Bethlehem, his miraculous healings, his arrest and scourging, and his crucifixion. Actually, it appears that certain New Testament details were deliberately appropriated by the gospel writers from the Old Testament. For example, Isaac Asimov points to a passage in Matthew one absent from the other gospels "Which may well have arisen merely out of Matthew's penchant for interpreting and describing everything in accordance with Old Testament prophecy, ritual, and idiom..."

    Among modern prophecies, the most attention-getting ones are those that predict the biblical apocalypse or other doomsday scenarios. For example, consider the prophecy made by the founder of the Church Universal and Triumphant, Elizabeth Clare Prophet (whose surname, incidentally, is genuine: she is the former Mrs. Mark Prophet). She has predicted that the world will end in a nuclear holocaust, and her followers have located themselves on a Montana ranch where they are busily building nuclear shelters and stockpiling weapons. She has frequently postponed the date of Armageddon and explained each time that it did not occur as being the result of fervent church prayers. Countless such cases have occurred throughout history, not only attesting to the failure of prophecy but also bearing witness to the credulity of religious zealots.

    Taking up serpents is a practice of certain fundamentalist Christians (who take literally the passage from Mark 16:16-18, "they will pick up snakes in their hands"), that is too extreme even for many ardent Pentecostals. The practice is actually part of regular church worship that includes fervent preaching, "witnessing," speaking in tongues, and "hillbilly"-type singing. While poisonous snakes are indeed dangerous and must be handled carefully, the knowledge that the rural folk bring to the practice can be most helpful. For example, unless snakes are hot, hungry, or frightened, they move little and are relatively non-aggressive. Also, snakes raised from hatchlings can become accustomed to handling. Large snakes grasped behind the head will be unable to bite, and whenever they are lifted from the ground they usually will not bite.

    In the event a participant is bitten, the fact is attributed to lack of faith. The devout forego any medical help for snakebite, but that does not mean they forgo all treatment, which may consist of rest, the use of ice packs, and elevation of the wound to slow the spread of the poison and thus lessen the shock to the body. In fact, the effect of snake bites varies according to such factors as the health and size of the victim, the speed of venom absorption, the location of the bite and the nature of the bite whether it is mild (as with a glancing strike), moderate (which consists of only local pain and swelling), or severe (which results in excruciating pain, significant swelling and discoloration, and a general sick feeling); multiple bites are the most deadly, and an attack of several snakes is life-threatening in the extreme.

    The same biblical passage that refers to taking up serpents also promises, "if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them." Among certain independent "Holy Roller" churches, therefore, is the custom of drinking strychnine. This often precedes snake handling, which is interesting in light of the fact that strychnine has been advocated to treat certain physiological effects resulting from snake bite. It would appear that a healthy person could sip a little dilute strychnine without serious harm and that, in the event of snake bite, its presence could actually be beneficial.

    As to fire immunity, that is sometimes practiced by members of the Free Pentecostal Holiness Church, and it usually takes the form of holding kerosene lamps improvised from bottles to their hands or feet, even their chests and faces. Scott Rogo, author of the credulous Miracles: A Parascientific Inquiry into Wondrous Phenomena (1982), was impressed by this "type of 'miracle,'" but in fact the fire handlers invariably place their flesh beside rather than above the flames, keep their hands moving when they pass through the fire, and otherwise apply well-known principles of physics just like firewalkers and fire eaters throughout history.

    Among Catholics, there is an impressive variety of experiences that are held to be miraculous, including stigmata and visionary experiences. Stigmata, the supposedly miraculous duplication of Christ's wounds upon the body of a Christian, typically take the form of wounds in the hands less commonly the foot, side, and brow (as from the nail and lance wounds and punctures from the crown of thorns). Some writers believe the explanation for stigmata is an "auto-suggested effect," although experimental attempts to duplicate the phenomenon, as with hypnosis, have been ultimately unsuccessful. My own view considering the numerous cases in which a cause is known is that pious hoaxing may account for all such cases.

    Catholicism has a long tradition of visionary experiences, including that of a Mexican peasant named Juan Diego who in 1531 was allegedly visited by the Virgin Mary who caused her self-portrait to appear miraculously upon his claim that beneath the paint on the obviously traditional portrait is the divine image!

    Among the Marian apparitions in this century have been those at Fatima, Medjugorje, and Conyers. Only the visions at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 have been declared authentic. They were reported by three shepherd children, only one of whom talked with the Virgin. She was ten-year-old Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, an obviously fantasy-prone personality who frequently claimed to see angels and other apparitions and whose own mother described her as "nothing but a fake who is leading half the world astray." The events culminated on a rainy October 13 with an estimated seventy thousand pilgrims in attendance. Suddenly, Lucia directed everyone's gaze upward as the sun appeared from behind clouds whereupon many experienced what is known in the terminology of Marian apparitions as a "sun miracle." The effects are varyingly described but many say the sun performed strange gyrations none of which actually occurred, as astronomers know. The effects were surely optical ones. For example, because one cannot focus on an object so bright, the eyes may dart back and forth, thus creating, by the effect of image and after-image, the appearance that the sun is "dancing," or the eyes may attempt to focus, retreat, again attempt, and so on, thereby giving the illusion that the sun was "pulsating."

    Sun miracles are still reported at such modern-day sites as those which began at Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia, in 1981, and Conyers, Georgia, in 1990. Unfortunately, some pilgrims have reportedly suffered retinal damage at some sites, and there has lately been a tendency to discourage the masses from staring directly at the sun. Instead, many are now attempting to photograph the sun miracles with video sequences and polaroid snapshots (mentioned earlier). The former sometimes record an apparently "pulsating" sun, but that is due to the automatic light meter shutting off and on.

    Other reported phenomena at today's sites include rosaries that reportedly turn to gold (some claimants are careful to state "a gold color"). Examinations of many of these show them to have acquired a yellowish tarnish or to have worn through their silver plating so that the underlying brass showed through. An even more remarkable claim came from Conyers where statues with heartbeats were alleged. Asked to investigate these (and other effects) by an Atlanta television station, I found that there were no surprise heartbeats detectable by my stethoscope. Apparently people were reaching up to feel the pulsations and were feeling the pulse in their own thumbs.
    Faith Healing

    One of the most significant of the Marian apparitions was that allegedly seen in 1858 by fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous (now Saint Bernadette), at a grotto near Lourdes, a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Although the parish cur branded the affair a hoax, Bernadette's several visions culminated in her being directed to a hidden spring in the cave that had "healing" waters. Despite "multitudinous failures" over the intervening years (one such failure being Bernadette herself, who suffered for many years from tuberculosis of the bone and died at age thirty-five), a few cases have been certified as miraculous or rather as "medically inexplicable." Independent medical investigators have found otherwise, however, observing that virtually all of the diseases that were supposedly cured were those that were susceptible to psychosomatic influences and/or were known to show spontaneous remissions. Emphasizing the uncertain nature of Lourdes' power, French writer Anatole France visited the site in the late nineteenth century and said, surveying all the discarded crutches, "What, what, no wooden legs???"

    Uncertainty is characteristic of faith-healing cases in general. Healing occurs naturally in the body and as many as an estimated seventy-five percent of patients would get better even if they had no medical treatment. That fact together with spontaneous remissions, illnesses that have been misdiagnosed or simply misreported, and other factors, including psychosomatic illnesses and even outright fraud helps to explain the apparent success of so many faith healings. Quite often, the apparent success is short-lived and follow-ups often reveal that the old condition has resurfaced.

    So-called faith healing can even be deadly, if it causes people to reject medical treatment. This has happened in all too many instances, notably among adherents of Christian Science who following church dogma reject all forms of medical intervention, including drugs and instruments such as thermometers, as well as even such simple measures as ice packs or back rubs. Instead, members depend on faith healers called practitioners whose training consists of a brief period of religious tutelage and whose treatment is limited exclusively to praying.

    Of course one cannot prove miracles do not exist, but apart from the well known difficulty of proving a negative one does not have that burden, which is actually on the claimant. Invariably, when we subtract the cases which have been clearly disproved, or which have plausible counter- explanations, or that are inadmissible because they cannot be substantiated, there seems insufficient grounds for invoking a miracle. Perhaps this article will make people more aware of how easily they are deceived not only by pious fakes but also by their own wish-fulfilling natures.

    Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), and he contributes a column to that organization's magazine, the Skeptical Inquirer. A former professional magician and private investigator for an international detective agency, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1983;1988), Secrets of the Supernatural (1988), and Looking for a Miracle (1993).

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  3. Thanks Yoland. Hope you will keep in touch with the posts. And believe in the Truth rather than simply believing in a faith in which you were mended into.

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  4. I have a few notes.

    The Falun Gong note about "demonic aliens" is incorrect. I just did a search on falundafa.org and found that phrase doesn't exist in the teachings of Falun Gong. The part about "countless gods and spiritual beings" is accurate. You could say:

    "Countless gods and spiritual beings. Essence of the universe itself the principles of truthfulness, compassion, forbearance."

    The note about meat-eating being discouraged also isn't accurate. That is about getting rid of the attachment to eating meat, different from simply eating meat. The vast majority of practitioners eat meat. Maybe that note could be changed to "Relinquishing human attachments" or something?

    Cool site.

    Thanks for you consideration.

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