Miracles are paranormal phenomena—almost always positive in nature—attributed to the actions of a deity. Devout adherents to all religions accept the possibility of such intervention. In modern times, the most commonly cited examples of miracles are unexpected reversals of serious illnesses, such as occurs when a person suffering from a terminal cancer suddenly discovers that the disease has gone into remission, and instances where someone is saved from death under amazing circumstances, such as by walking away from a horrific automobile accident unscathed. However, some people define miracles in stricter terms, by saying that true miracles are only those events that so defy the laws of nature that they could only have been brought about by divine intervention. In other words, they cannot be explained away by, for example, ongoing medical treatments or skilled driving and the wearing of a seatbelt. Instead, under this definition, a miracle would have to be something as dramatic and inexplicable as those said to have been performed by Jesus, such as the turning of water into wine and one fish and one loaf of bread into dozens of fish and loaves.

Devout Christians would place visible manifestations relating to their faith into this category. These are said to occur when people see the shape of the Virgin Mary, for example, in candle drippings or tree bark, or when a religious statue appears to be weeping tears or shedding blood. Devout Christians also consider to be miracles all cases of incorruptibility (whereby the body of a particularly pious person seems not to decay after death) and stigmata (whereby bleeding wounds suddenly appear on a person, matching the wounds said to have been suffered by Christ during his crucifixion) as well as healings accomplished at religious sites like Lourdes in France. Another Christian category of miracle is divine intervention, whereby a person is saved from death after praying for God to spare his or her life. Such was the case, for example, with John Lee. While waiting to be hanged for murder in 1885, he prayed for divine intervention, and afterward the trapdoor of his gallows refused to open four times. In between each attempt to execute Lee, various people tried to figure out why the trapdoor had jammed, but in every test of the mechanism it worked perfectly. (Eventually, under the belief that God wanted Lee spared, officials commuted his sentence to life in prison, and after twenty-two years he was released on parole.)

Whenever prayer seems to cause such an event, sceptics call it coincidence. They also dismiss the notion that weeping or bleeding statues or paintings are caused by God, saying that these phenomena are due to flaws in the clay or paint used to make these objects. Sceptics also doubt that many of the stories of miracles are accurate. For example, sceptic Robert Todd Carroll, in his book The Skeptic’s Dictionary, says that miracles stem from “the tendency of people at all times in all ages to desire wondrous events, to be deluded by them, to fabricate them, create them, embellish them, enhance them, and come to believe the absolute truth of the creations of their own passions and heated imaginations.” Carroll goes on to say that although this does not mean that miracles are impossible, it means “that when a miracle is reported, the probability will always be greater that the person doing the reporting is mistaken, deluded, or a fraud than that the miracle really occurred.”


  • Faces appearing in Objects
  • Lourdes
  • Stigmata
  • Weeping Images


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning