Making miracles

MiraclesReview by NICK MATTISKE

Book | Miracles: A Very Short Introduction | Yujin Nagasawa

You may know a miracle when you see one, but they are not so easy to define. Or so it seems from this book in Oxford’s A Very Short Introduction series.

For a small book, philosopher Yujin Nagasawa spends a lot of pages discussing ‘non-miracles’. But that is because he is carefully winnowing potential cases and moving towards the definition of a miracle as “a violation of the laws of nature that is caused by an intentional agent and has religious significance”.

That explanation may indicate, correctly, that the book is less a celebration of miracles and more an attempt to figure out philosophically what miracles are, and, crucially, whether they are possible and why people still believe in them.

He writes that they are impossible from the standpoint of the laws of nature, but logically possible.

Whether they actually happen is a question he leaves somewhat hanging, perhaps reflecting a general consensus in the modern world that we are not sure exactly what to make of them. After-all, one can be religious and reject miracles. Conversely, more Americans believe in miracles than they do in life after death.

Miracles can take many forms: levitation, teleportation, bilocation, transfiguration, walking on water, controlling the elements, transforming matter and finding the image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast (supposedly).

Jesus was known primarily for his miracles of healing and exorcism.

But Jesus also warned not to get carried away by signs and wonders. This prompts Nagasawa to go somewhat off-topic to suggest that what is most remarkable about religion is, even if it is not exactly miraculous, it tends to inspire altruism.

Available at: www.oup.com.au

RRP: $15.95

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