Even in the technologically driven environment of the late 20th century, Americans steadfastly cling to their belief in events that defy explanation according to current scientific knowledge. Although most Americans have never personally witnessed a miracle, nearly four out of five say they believe miracles occur.
Yet the public's belief in miracles contains a significant amount of skepticism. Many think that most so-called miracles are not actual miracles at all, and few believe in faith healers, weeping religious icons or "miracle sites" such as Lourdes.
TO BELIEVE OR NOT TO BELIEVE
Belief in miracles is pervasive -- nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they believe in miracles, and 19 percent are non-believers. Personal religious beliefs have an impact on whether or not people believe in miracles.
|48 Hours has taken a close look at miracles. Read about a boy's trip to Lourdes to cure a tumor and about the next potential saint.color>|
More of those who say religion is an extremely important aspect of their daily life -- about one-quarter of adults -- believe in miracles, as do Protestants, women and people living in the Midwest and South.
BELIEF IN MIRACLES
Despite the widespread acceptance of miracles, the public thinks that authentic miracles are few and far between. Not ALL events proclaimed to be miracles ARE miracles, and in fact, many Americans express skepticism about MOST so-called miracles. Nearly half of the public thinks that most of the events called miracles are explainable by science or modern medicine. About one-third think that most such events are real miracles, and 17 percent aren't sure.
Personal views on religion affect how people interpret so-called miracles. Nearly two-thirds of extremely religious Americans think that most so-called miracles are authentic miracles However, this figure drops to 19 percent among those who say that religion is less important to them. A 69 percent majority of these less- religious Americans view most "miraculous" events as having a rational scientific or medical explanation.
MOST MIRACLES ARE...
If seeing is believing, then belief in miracles is an act of faith for many Americans, since most people have little direct experience of miracles themselves. The majority -- 63 percent -- say they have never experienced or witnessed a miracle.
However, more than one-third of the public -- 35 percent -- claim they HAVE seen a miracle. Extremely religious Americans are especially likely to have experienced or seen a miracle, as a majority -- 59 percent -- make this claim.
Most commonly, people report seeing or experiencing miracle cures of serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or some other life-threatening illness, named by 14 percent of Americans. About 6 percent say they have experienced or witnessed other people surviving a serious accident or resolving a desperate personal situation, such as a money or job problem or difficulty becoming pregnant.
There has been a growing interest in spirituality among Americans during the 1990s, as reflected by the popularity of alternative medicine, wellness, and mind-body health. Given this environment, is it not surprising that a clear majority of the public -- 87 percent -- think that personal prayer or other spiritual or religious practices can help the medical treatment of people who are ill. This represents an increase since just last year, when 80 percent said the same.
Although the role of spiritualim in recovery from illness is acknowledged by most of the public, far fewer Americans take this a step further to include belief in miracle "healers" just under one-third believe that some people have the power to heal others with their touch. This has risen only slightly in the past year, from 28 percent in 1998 to 31 percent now. A clear majority -- 61 percent -- do NOT believe that some people can heal others just by touching them. By 38 percent to 56 percent, extremely religious Americans also tend to reject rather than accept belief in healers.
Few Americans have personally experienced a spiritual "cure." One-quarter say they have ever been cured of an illness as a result of prayer, religion or other spiritual practices. Those who are extremely religious, however, have more experience with such cures. Forty-two percent say they have been cured of an illness as a result of spiritual or religious practices.
SPIRITUALITY AND HEALTH
| || |
|SPIRITUALISM HELPS SICK PEOPLE||87%||9|
|SOME PEOPLE HAVE HEALING TOUCH||31%||61|
|EXPERIENCED A CURE||24%||75|
The American public casts a skeptical eye when confronted with eyewitness reports of religious miracles, as few accept claims of such events. A small minority -- les than 1 in 10 -- believe stories about religious paintings or statues that weep or bleed, and 41 percent say outright that they disbelieve that such things occur. However, a sizable number of Americans - 45 percent - say they just aren't sure whether these things are true.
There is similarly low public acceptance of the authenticity of miracle sites -- just 14 percent believe that there are places such as Lourdes or Fatima where miracles are more likely to happen. About two in five dismiss this claim outright. Once again, however, a sizable number of Americans don't know what to think -- 44 percent say they aren't sure whether or not this is true.
|YES|| NOT |
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|STATUES/PAINTINGS THAT WEEP OR BLEED||9%||45||41|
|MIRACLE SITES LIKE LOURDES OR FATIMA||14%||44||39|
It is noteworthy that extremely religious Americans, most of whom profess a strong belief in miracles and who tend to interpret events as miracles, are highly skeptical about accepting these phenomena. One in five very religious Americans believe there are sites where miracles are more likely to occur, and 14 percent believe in statues or paintings that weep or bleed.
THE IMPACT OF RELIGION
Personal religious beliefs have an impact on many of these questions. Catholics are more likely than those of other religious faiths to accept that there are sites such as Lourdes or Fatima where miracles are more likely to occur -- 29 percent believe in this. Catholics are also most likely to believe that religious paintings or statues weep or bleed -- 19 percent. Both of these manifestations of miracles have deep roots in Catholicism.
Protestants more readily accept the existence of miracles generally, and believe that most so-called miracles actually are miracles. This may be because more Protestants -- 40 percent -- claim to have experienced a miracle themselves. They are also most likely to accept the concept of the healing touch, and think prayer helps people who are sick get well.
This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 878 adults, interviewed by telephone April 13-14, 1999. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points. For full question wording and poll findings, please contact the CBS Election and Survey Unit at 212-975-5554.