Q. Is the existence of miracles a tenet of the Christian faith?
A. Yes. Miracles belong to the very fabric of salvation history from beginning to end. To dismiss them out of hand as impossible is to deny the foundations of Christian faith. As St. Paul insisted, a Christianity without miracles such as the resurrection of Christ is no Christianity at all. It is “empty,” “false,” in “vain” (1 Corinthians 15:12–19).
Some claim that science has disproved the possibility of miracles. But consider Webster’s dictionary definition of a “miracle”: “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” Using this definition, let’s examine the claim.
Science attempts to construct an accurate picture of the natural world. Essential to its method are observation, hypothesis, and experimentation through controlled conditions. Given this goal and method, how exactly would science go about disproving the possibility of miracles?
On a given occasion, of course, scientists might well be able to demonstrate that an extraordinary event can be accounted for by purely natural causes. But how could they show that it’s impossible for an event to have ever occurred in history that surpassed “all known human or natural powers” and had “a supernatural cause”?
First, scientists would have had to be present for observation at every event in history that has a claim to be miraculous. That’s obviously not the case. Second, they would need a hypothesis that reasonably accounts for every such event that has ever occurred. They have no such hypothesis. Finally, if an event should actually have a cause beyond nature (supernatural), then the merely natural means at scientists’ disposal would be incapable of observing it or controlling it for experimentation.
In short, science is too limited in both scope and method to disprove the possibility of miracles. On the other hand, science is often able to rule out known natural causes for certain extraordinary events. So the Catholic Church makes careful use of scientific methods when examining claims for contemporary miracles, such as those examined in a cause for canonization — knowing that, since an almighty God exists, truly “nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).