Miracles: A Very Short Introduction

by Yujin Nagasawa, OUP, 144pp, £7.99

Now, more than a century after the events at Fatima, my conversations have kept turning into debates about miracles. “Extraordinary claims,” declares a colleague, “require extraordinary evidence.” Yujin Nagasawa’s method of choice is to flood the reader with dozens of examples of miracles. The philosophy professor, based at the University of Birmingham, keeps each page fresh, presenting original insights on everything from singing buffaloes to faces on toast, although in the process he compromises on the depth of discussion.

Two thirds through the book, the central question is finally confronted: is it rational to believe in miracles? Slightly disappointingly, the author sits resolutely on the fence throughout the chapter’s discussion of David Hume’s argument against miracles.

But this is by no means simply an abstract question. Throughout the ages, miracles are the fundamental tools that religious figures have used to prove their claims. On his very first missionary journey, St Paul placed the Resurrection at the core of his sermon in Pisidian Antioch. Quoting from his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses that belief in this miracle is pivotal through a startlingly sombre reminder: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

However, as Nagasawa points out, Christianity isn’t the only religion claiming miracles: Krishna, the Buddha and Taoism’s Laozi all reportedly had miraculous births; Muslims praise Mohamed for “splitting the moon”; and exorcisms are carried out in all sorts of traditions.

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