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Christmas is a time to celebrate one of the most remarkable miracles found in the Bible: the virgin birth of Jesus. God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin who was engaged to Joseph. The angel explained to her that she would become pregnant through the Holy Spirit without requiring a human father. Mary was initially upset by this news but the angel explained to her that God was pleased with her and that she would give birth to a son who would save his people from their sins.

圣诞是为了庆祝圣经中最瞩目的神迹之一:处女诞下耶稣基督。上帝派天使加百利来到玛利亚身边,她是一个与约瑟订婚的童贞女。天使向她解释说她会受圣灵感孕,并不需要一个人类父亲。起初,因为这个消息玛利亚很烦乱,但是天使解释说上帝对她很满意,会让她生下一个能把上帝子民从他们的罪孽中救赎出来的儿子。

Reports of miraculous childbirth are not, however, limited to Christianity. For example, Karna, a central character in the Sanskrit epic, Mahābhārata, from ancient India, is said to have been born from his virgin mother Kunti through the sun god Surya. The Buddha is believed to have been born from the right side of Maya’s body while standing. Indeed, it is said that when the Buddha was born he immediately walked seven steps and at each step a lotus flower appeared. Muhammad is also believed to have been accompanied by a bright light when he was born, while the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi is said to have been born as a fully grey-bearded man.

然而,对于神迹般分娩的报告不止于基督教。举例来说,来自古印度梵文史诗《摩柯婆罗多》中的核心人物迦尔纳,据说就是她的处女母亲贡蒂和太阳神苏利耶生下的。佛祖据信由摩耶夫人站着从体右侧出生。据说他刚出生时就立刻走了七步,每走一步现出一朵莲花。默罕默德降生时,据信也伴随着明光,而古代中国的哲人老子,据说生下来就是长完全了的灰白胡子老人。
(译注:佛经《根本说一切有部毗奈耶杂事》卷二十记载:“尔时菩萨降母腹中...... 十月满足往蓝毗尼林攀无忧树枝。暂时伫立便于右胁诞生菩萨。尔时大地六种震动。放大光明与入胎无异。菩萨生时帝释亲自手承置莲花上不假扶侍足蹈七花行七步已。遍观四方手指上下作如是语。此即是我最后生身。天上天下唯我独尊。”)

My recent book Miracles: A Very Short Introduction introduces many other miracle reports found in religious texts. These examples suggest that belief in miracles is historically, geographically and culturally widespread.

我最近出的书《那些神迹》是一本短小的入门书,介绍了载于宗教典籍中许多其他神迹的报告。这些例子表明了对奇迹的信仰在历史、地理和文化上都是传播极广的。

Old miracles die hard

古老的神迹死不绝

Many people believe in miracles even in the 21st century. According to recent surveys in the UK, 77% of people agree with the statement that “there are things in life that we simply cannot explain through science or any other means”. Moreover, 16% say that either they or someone they know have experienced what they would call a miracle.

哪怕在21世纪都有许多人相信神迹。根据英国最近的调查,77%的人同意这个论断:“生活中有些东西不是我们单纯能通过科学或其他方式解释的”。而且,16%的人说他们自己或一些他们认识的人经历过被他们称为神迹的事。


According to recent psychological research, a cognitive mechanism that detects violations of the laws of nature is in place as early as infancy. In one experiment, two-and-a-half-month-old infants consistently showed “surprise” when the researchers made it look like their toys violated the laws of nature – by seeming to teleport or pass through solid obxts.

根据最近的心理学研究,一种察觉违背自然法则的认知机制早在婴儿期就已存在。在一项实验中,当研究人员把两个半月大的婴儿的玩具弄成看上去违背了自然法则的状态时(瞬移或穿过固体),这些婴儿们一致表现出了“惊讶”的表情。

Some psychologists argue that such a violation of expectations creates an important opportunity for infants to seek information and learn about the world. Some psychologists also argue that well-known miracle episodes, such as the virgin birth of Jesus and his transformation of water into wine, have a common character: “minimal counterintuitiveness”. This means that they spread successfully through generations because they are slightly counterintuitive rather than outright ridiculous in an overly complex manner. While they offer an idea that is challenging enough to attract attention, they avoid overtaxing people’s conceptual systems.

一些心理学家认为,这种对期望的违背创造出了让婴儿去寻求信息并了解世界的重要机会。一些心理学家也认为,闻名于世的神迹事件比如处女诞下耶稣以及他化水为酒,都有一个共同的特征:“最低限度的反直觉”。意思是它们能够成功地世代流传是因为它们有那么一点点反直觉,却不是以一种过度复杂的方式呈现出来的彻头彻尾的荒唐。当他们抛出一个其挑战性足以吸引关注的观念,他们避免了使人们的概念系统负担过重。

Ice cream illusions

冰淇淋幻觉

These psychological findings provide cumulative support for the hypothesis that belief in miracles is widespread because we are cognitively and developmentally biased towards forming and transmitting belief in miracles. This, however, does not necessarily mean that all miracle reports are false or untrustworthy.

这些心理学上的发现,为人们普遍信仰神迹是因为我们在认知和发育上对建立传播对神迹的信仰怀抱偏见这个假说提供了不断累积的支持。然而这未必就意味着所有的神迹报告是假的或不足采信。

Consider a parallel example. Suppose that psychologists discover that people with a sweet tooth tend to see illusions of ice cream in their freezers. This does not mean that whenever they see ice cream in their freezers they are seeing illusions. It may well be the case that they really do have ice cream in their freezers. Similarly, even if psychologists can explain that there are cognitive and developmental origins of miracle beliefs, such as the virgin birth of Jesus, whether miracles can actually take place remains an open question.

现在来考虑一个与之平行的例子。假设心理学家发现,嗜好甜食的人们倾向于产生在他们的冰箱中看见冰淇淋的幻觉 ,这并不意味着无论何时他们在冰箱中看见的冰激凌都是幻觉。很可能他们的冰箱中确实有冰淇淋。与之类似地,哪怕心理学家能解释神迹信仰在认知和发育方面的根源,诸如处女诞下耶稣这类神迹是否真的发生过仍然是一个开放性问题。

Richard Dawkins wrote that “the 19th century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment”. It seems unlikely, however, that belief in miracles will disappear any time soon. After all, millions of children still believe that Santa Claus will be paying them a visit in a few days’ time.

理查德·道金斯曾写道,“19世纪是一个受过教育的人承认相信诸如处女生子这类神迹而不觉得尴尬的最后一个世纪”。然而,看上去神迹信仰不太可能很快消失。不管怎么说,成百万的儿童仍然相信圣诞老人会在几天内拜访他们。
(译注:理查德·道金斯(Richard Dawkins,1941- ),英国著名演化生物学家和动物行为学家,为捍卫进化论的坚定斗士,有“达尔文的罗威纳犬”(Darwin's Rottweiler)之称)