An article on the history of dealing with testimonies of the impossible

This was an interesting well-researched article on cross-cultural, throughout time, testimonies of miraculous signs like levitation and bilocation.

This leaves the historian or anyone with a critical mind in a tight spot. If wild facts are “paradoxical absurdities,” are there any facts whatsoever left to study? The answer is yes. The fact we can explore is not the act of levitation itself, the wild fact that is inaccessible to us. The fact we can deal with is the testimony. This issue is as brutally simple as it is brutally circumscribed: since we have no films or photographs to analyze for authenticity with the latest cutting-edge technology, all we have is the fact that thousands of testimonies exist in which human beings swore they saw another human being hover or fly, or suddenly materialize in some other location. Consequently, a history of the impossible is a history of testimonies about impossible events. Our dominant culture dismisses these testimonies as unbelievable and merely “anecdotal”—that is, as accounts that have no point of reference beyond themselves, no wider context, and little or no credibility. So why not call it a history of lying, a history of hallucinations, or a history of the ridiculous? Because the testimonies themselves self-consciously accept the impossible event as impossible, as well as bafflingly and utterly real—even terrifying—and of great significance. Moreover, the sheer number of such testimonies is so relatively large, so widespread across time and geographical boundaries, and so closely linked to civil and ecclesiastical institutions that they most certainly do have a broader context into which they fit. And that is a very rare and credible kind of evidence, as unique as the events confirmed by it.


Accepting these phenomena as possible requires a certain way of thinking about the fabric of reality. It requires accepting as fact that the cosmos consists of two dimensions, the natural and the supernatural, and that these two dimensions, though distinct, are nevertheless intertwined in such a way that the natural is always subordinate to the supernatural. In this mentality or worldview, which was reinforced culturally by social custom and the political forces of church and state, the natural order could be constantly interrupted and overpowered by the supernatural. Any such irruption of the supernatural was a miracle (miraculum or prodigium ), and the natural world constantly pulsated with the possibility of the miraculous.

The advent of the Protestant Reformation brought about a sudden redefinition of concepts such as religion, magic, superstition, and idolatry, as well as of assumptions about the relation between the natural and supernatural realms. Distinctions that had reigned largely uncontested in the Catholic Church of the West and the Orthodox Churches of the East since the first century suddenly began to be challenged in the early 1520s when an earth-shaking paradigm shift took place. The change in thinking resulting from this new Protestant take on reality was similar in scope and significance to the one caused by Copernicus in astronomy, but its impact was much more immediate and widespread. It gave rise to a disparate mentality that still saw reality in binary terms but drew the line between religion and magic differently, rejecting the intense intermingling of the natural and supernatural as well as of the material and the spiritual, thus placing much of Catholic ritual and piety in the realm of magic.


Thanks, Christy. I need to read this……sometime. So much to read. The segments you quoted were helpful.


Doesn’t this boil down as to whether Miracles can or do happen? And, maybe, what can be defined as “impossible”? IOW is the impossible just soemthing we do not understand or have never preconceived?

I would think that considering the possibility of lies or illusions is opening a very nasty can of worms.


I just think it’s interesting when people acknowledge that it is the testimony of a pretty significant population of people, throughout time and across many places, that hard to explain stuff happens.

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To me it’s the same as the thousands that have seen Bigfoot or the dozens that witnessed witches and so on or people who see stars dancing. People use to swear they saw sea dragons and stuff too.

For me it could easily be settled if someone just goes to St. Jude and before a skeptical group of people, instantly heal several kids of cancer or resurrect a few kids that are for sure dead.

From a scientific standpoint, isn’t human testimony just anecdotal evidence and weakest type there is?

And to put the skeptic hat on, in this modern era where everyone has a video camera in their pocket and surveillance is through the roof, why do we not see incontrovertible evidence of miracles caught on video tape that are not explainable many different ways—including fraud?

Appeal to popularity is a fallacy. The propensity of a significant portion of the population to believe in miracles really says nothing at all about whether they happen or not.



Because they won’t happen. Miracles rely on many things, one of which is secrecy. As someone who has witnessed the miraculous I can assure you that it exists but in every case the hand of God was obscurred to all but the participants. God cannot be tested, or paraded. God cannot be proven physically or beyond doubt. God is a God of faith. Faith is no longer if there is tangible proof.

As for witnesses? Anyone trying to promote God through mracles is abusing God’s gifts. And anyone claiming to heal has forgotten where the power comes from.

(I am now waiting for a rebuke because of Christ, But that will only demonstrate a misunderstanding of Christ’s miracles and scripture in general.)


Says you. You will get your Christ-centered rebuke.Jesus did a whole bunch of public miracles. Hell, per the gospels he fed five thousand people fish and loaves from a small basket. Twice! Per Paul he appeared to over 500 people after death as well. When he died the sky went dark, there were earthquakes and the temple veil split in two. How many verses like the following in Matthew 15 should I dig up?

Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.”

We can certainly dispute the historicity of these stories but they do nothing for me in suggesting miracles are secret events biblically speaking. Extremely public events of the supernatural variety.

When someone tells me they possess secret knowledge and witness things in private from God no one else can the word “cult” is the first thing that comes to my mind. Though, admittedly I cannot disprove an unfalsifiable position

God can perform miracles . He may currently do so. You may very well have seen them. You may also think you saw them. They could happen all the time but this doesn’t negate the fact that believers might have mistakenly thought they were recipients or witnesses of supernatural miracles millions of times. I’m not really buying it.

Please tell me how I am misunderstanding these public miracles and scripture in general?

Maybe we should tack on the ten plagues of Egypt. Though mostly fiction to me, there ain’t no secrecy there.

Can you define “faith” and help me distinguish it from “blind belief?” Further, can you explain why God desires or love and trust but apparently, hides himself from the world intellectually in your view?

Are we supposed to just Pascal’s Wager it? This seems like a shallow definition of faith.

And many people think there is good evidence for believing in God even if “proof” is difficult to find. Not all would agree either. Many think faith is demonstrable including part of the NT.


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Sure, but that’s the argument. Do we limit our understanding of the world if we limit ourselves to scientific frames for understanding all of reality? I think we do. I’m all for methodological naturalism when it comes to scientific endeavors. But I don’t think science is THE tool that unlocks all of reality, because I believe reality is an integration of natural and supernatural.


I don’t think science is the tool to unlock all doors of reality and so on. But I do think the complete absence of any verifiable miracles , especially the ones we hear of all the time like raising the dead, instantly healing cancer, speaking in tongues of angels and exorcisms on people full of supernatural almost immortal beings that can give them magical powers or knowing the future and super strength to break chains, is a major check against them.

Consider ghosts. People all around the world, for thousands of years have witnessed ghosts. People to this day see them. Some people even have visions, warnings, and threats from them. Some people make their life earnings from communicating with them and summoning them from boards, to plasm pouring out of their mouths and even channeling them while temporarily possessed by them and the old
Testament itself warns against necromancers. Jesus even seemed like a ghost by visually appearing to people at odd times and hours and vanishing through walls.

But no one today can take skeptics to a haunted house and they get to see them.

This is my stance. I’ll listen and I’ll enjoy the story and place it in the mental folder for things not true and or irrelevant. It’s not that I don’t think God can preform miracles or that he’s not interacting with humanity. But nowadays there seems to be miracles of potentially intelligence behind them guiding the processes vs miracles that just seem to be completely supernatural and not connected to this modern world .

For example I’ve heard this story, and many versions of this story, since my childhood.

A church wrote Bible verses on a balloon. One old lady felt it on her heart to write “ the lord is your keeper “ psalms 121:5. They then attached a business card of the church to the tail of the balloon and set it free. Just happens a front came in. Sometime the next night almost a hundred miles away there was a woman who was woken up by a man who broke into her house. He was on top of her when they both heard a pop from outside the window he climbed in. The man, startled someone was there fled the house through the front door. The lady closed and locked everything and called the cops. The next morning the lady went outside and saw a balloon strung up on a tree and seen the verse on it and contacted the church. God put it on the pastors heart for everyone to write verses that day. God out that verse in the mind of the woman to write down. That balloon landed on the tree a hundred miles away and popped just seconds before a crime was committed.

It could be true. If true, I would be hard pressed that it’s a coincidence. I would think somehow God played a role in it all. Take it as evidence that sometimes when I feel a pull suddenly to drive to a certain tree and on the way there I come across a broke down car of a teenage girl hundreds of miles away for spring break, perhaps I was brought there to help her so she did not fall prey to another. Or perhaps…. She’s just a young girl that made me feel more dutiful to help than the dozens of other people I drove by broken down on the road that I think myself… he’s a dude with a local tag I’m sure he’s already got someone on the way.

I’ve had two events in my life that I believe God was involved either that i mentioned before.

These odd things happen and I don’t think most people , especially Christians, take issue with it. At least until it’s not a Muslim girl explaining allah helping her or a pagan girl who swears a fairly helped her and so on. I’ve heard plenty of stories of some Wiccan girl flipping a tarot card that wants of death from a shinning knight only met a man a few days later but she made him leave her house because her cat who always likes people hissed at him. He leaves and she is alone watching a movie and drinks her soda only to wake up 16 hours later dazed and goes to the hospital and finds out that guy drugged her but because of a card and cat she escaped something worse just like the woman with the balloon.

The miracles i tend to take issue with are those where someone claims to have a special ability. Like the woman who went around southeastern USA around 2002-2006 called the rapping grandma who was a prophet filled with the Holy Ghost who allowed her to rap the future.

True to type and expectation.

When Jesus walked this earth belief in God was not the issue.
The Bible assumes God exists.
Things are different now. The dynamics have changed. It is futile to compare what Jesus did with modern miracles.


Check out this remarkable coincidence:

Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre, while Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln car made by the Ford Motor Company.
Both presidents were shot in the back of the head on a Friday, and their assassins, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, were known by their three names.
Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy, and Kennedy’s secretary was named Lincoln.

Can God be compared to a conspiracy theory? Actually, yes. The dynamics are very similar. It depends on how you view things. But, and here is the crunch, it still boils down to personal opinion and belief.
I have the Holy Spirit. I know this. I do not need personal proof. But, I cannot prove it. Not to you or anyone else. I cannot weild it at will or claim a special status. It is fof God’s use and glory not mine. I may never be called to use it again.
It is all about purpose. And the purpose of the Holy Spirit does not include the proof of God.


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Ironically, I am strongly.persuaded Oswald acted as a lone gunman. What he was able to do was truly a fluke of history or chance. The governor of Texas changed the parade route at the last minute, and Oswald was such a remarkable loser that it defies all reason to think a highly sophisticated government operation would rely upon him to clean the closet. Same thing with Epstein, if they were able to make it in his cell the first time, there would have been no need for a second time. But giving Epstein the proverbial rope to hang himself might be what really happened.

I don’t think @heymike3 was advocating for a conspiracy just that it was (and it was) a chain of remarkable coincidences. What are the odds?

As someone who is fascinated by the phenomena of conspiracy theories, I agree. Agenticity, is a central plank of both belief in God and conspiracy theories. But they diverge pretty quickly from there.

For example, most Christians would say God exists but his existence cannot be conclusively proven since salvation requires a degree of faith. On the other hand, most Conspiracy theorists not only believe that evidence for their theory exists but that the evidence conclusively proves the veracity of said theory. However, that evidence is either hidden, ignored, misinterpreted, and/or actively suppressed. In the case of active suppression, this usually involves the work of some ill-defined, nebulous, yet powerful authority, which, should the truth come out, would lose said power and authority. Hence, the need for a conspiracy in the first place.

In reality, a more compelling comparison is not God and conspiracy theories, but conspiracy theorists and militant Young Earth Creationism.


Found out this morning from a coworker, who confirmed the list with me yesterday, that Lincoln did not have a secretary named Kennedy

Here’s the wikipedia article on it. There are several more noteworthy similarities

Seems like a lifetime ago, I had a friend who was heavily into the Alex Jones kind of conspiracy theories. “The illuminati are everywhere and throwing secret hand signals. Alex Jones is a Christian too, so…”

Paul’s warning to Timothy about not being concerned with endless genealogies seemed to be a pretty good fit and I did not my best to pass that on.

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Ha! From the article on Lincoln and Kennedy, the OG Matrix… what a spoof



Not only is there the problem of what defines the word “miracle,” but just because you believe “impossible” events can happen doesn’t mean you have to believe that some vague description of an event must necessarily represent one of these “impossible” events.


Testimonies about the miraculous are the raw material for the study. They do not prove that something supernatural happened but there is a possibility to analyze the testimonies. If there is only one testimony, that does not reveal much but if there are multiple, partially independent testimonies, these can be compared in detail.

What is interesting is also what kind of consequences did the witnessing of ‘supernatural’ events have in the life of the persons? That is information that is usually lacking because the focus has been on the ‘supernatural’ event, not on the persons witnessing it.

I assume that many testimonies were innocent or less innocent stories about something that was misinterpreted or interpreted in a very purposeful way. For example, there has been advantages in getting the reputation of miracles happening in a particular place or through a particular person, potential ‘saint’.
I believe that at least some are real in the sense that they were consequences of an intervention of God or some spiritual entity. This is also the interpretation that is consistent with the traditional teachings of Christianity.

Interpretation of the testimonies is partly a matter of faith, unless something happens so that people get some evidence. Even in these cases, the evidence may not be accepted by those that believe supernatural events do not happen. For example, there are some medical reports of exceptionally rapid (momentous) healing. These medical reports have been questioned by sceptics, in other words the evidence has not been accepted because it is against the beliefs of the sceptics. Today, few give much weight to photographs or videos because it is too easy to forge these.

I find your view of faith odd. Seeing a miracle happen can strengthen one’s faith. When John the Baptist shared his doubts over Jesus, Jesus spelled out the miraculous things he was doing. The miraculous is evidence of God being present. And that leads to faith, at least in some. But he doesnt heal someone or do some other miracle because some want a sign.