Fatima: finding science in miracles

Tens of thousands of people witnessed the Miracle of the Sun (Wikimedia)

Can a scientist believe in miracles? This physicist does, writes Robert Kurland in Aleteia.

How does God do miracles? As a Catholic, I accept that God is all powerful; He can bend or modify the so-called laws of physics at his pleasure. But I also believe that God likes an orderly universe and does a minimum of tinkering, only as needed. And my curious, prideful intellect wants to understand how God works his ways. Here is my modest attempt.

Before considering two examples that might be susceptible to analysis — the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima (which occurred 100 years ago today) and Eucharistic miracles – let’s think about the type of evidence that’s usually presented for miracles.

First, miracles aren’t reproducible; they’re not scientific experiments or observations, but one-time events. So we must depend on testimony, the reports of observers for many miracles. Some miracles – medical cures, Eucharistic miracles, incorrupt bodies, relics (e.g. the Shroud of Turin) – can be subjected to scientific analyses to assist understanding insofar as we may understand.

The second important point is that the Church has rigorous standards for approval of miracles.

At Fatima, the three Portuguese children who had a visitation from Our Lady of the Rosary said that she would give a sign to attest to her visitation. And so she did: on October 13, 1917, in the presence of many tens of thousands of believers and nonbelievers, the sun appeared to do strange things: dance up and down, shine with different colors, grow dim. Although these happenings were local, they were reported by observers miles away, and by Pope Pius XII, walking in his gardens in Italy (disclosed in a later note).

Different phenomena were reported by different observers. Some unbelievers saw strange things and some believers didn’t see anything. What can we make of this? Scientific mechanisms have been offered: for example, Fr Stanley Jaki proposed an unusual temperature inversion and ice crystal clouds to give the observed effects. Others have proposed mass hallucinations. If we dig beyond the semantics of “hallucination”, we can come to another explanation.


From Fatima to the Eucharist: The science of miracles (Aleteia)

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