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Hall of Miracles and Relics

The Anglican writer C.S. Lewis succinctly defined a miracle as "an interference with nature by a supernatural power." Investigation, however, demonstrates that miraculous claims are often based on nothing more than a lack of knowledge regarding the true explanation, thus involving a "leap of faith."

The word miraculum (from mirari "to wonder at") has been defined many ways.  Typically, it is held to be a supernatural event, attributable to divine intervention, because "it can't be explained" by recourse to natural laws.  However, such a claim is based on logical fallacy called arguing from ignorance (that is, from a lack of knowledge).  One cannot say, "We don't know what caused a statue to seemingly weep bloody tears; therefore, it was a miracle from God."  Science has never, in fact, authenticated a single miracle, and it remians for a claimant to prove an event was miraculous, not for a skeptic to prove otherwise.

Because they are commonly regarded as having miraculous powers, relics are included here.  In Catholocism, a relic is an item (or portion of it) that was once connected with the body of a saint -- possibly a lock of hair or fragment of bone (called a first-class relic), or an item used by a saint, such as a piece of clothing (second-class relic); it may also be an item deliberately touched to a first-class relic (thus becoming a third-class relic) or touched to a second-class relic (with the intention of creating a fourth-class relic).

So prevalent had become the sale of relics in St. Augustine's time (about 400 CE) that he deplored "hypocrites in the garb of monks for hawking about the limbs of martyrs," adding with due skepticism, "if indeed of martyrs."

(For more on miracles and relics, see Joe Nickell, The Science of Miracles, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013, and Relics of the Christ, Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007.)


digitized 2014 by Amanda Shepp, MLS