The healing of Bernadette McKenzie

Boy, I leave town for a few days and the comments go nuts! Oh well, that’s a good thing, so bear with me while I try and dig myself out again. It’s a bit dated at this point, but I wanted to use the Bernadette McKenzie story as a practical illustration of the point I was making in my earlier post about miracles. For reference, here is the story, as quoted by Jayman:

A decade ago, at the age of 12, Bernadette McKenzie found that she could no longer stand upright, even after three operations. She suffered from a tethered spinal cord, a rare congenital condition causing constant pain. The nuns at her school in suburban Philadelphia began a series of prayers, seeking the intercession of their deceased founder, Mother Frances de Sales Aviat, whom they regard as a saint. On the fourth day, Bernadette herself knelt by her bed, telling God that if this was to be her life she would accept it. But she wanted to know–a sign. If she were to walk again, she pleaded, let her favorite song, “Forever Young,” play next on the radio. It did. She immediately jumped up and ran downstairs to tell her family. Bernadette didn’t even notice that her physical symptoms had disappeared, something her doctors say is medically inexplicable. Her recovery is currently being evaluated by the Vatican as a possible miracle [it's since been accepted].

Notice, this is what’s considered a real miracle, as defined by the Vatican, so it’s fair to assume that other alleged miracles will have similar traits. And yet, it’s easy to show that this does not constitute an instance of God showing up in real life, nor is there any particular reason to suppose that anything supernatural is involved. Bernadette’s experience is a textbook example of superstition: “explaining” something by ascribing it to a purported cause even though you not only cannot show any actual connection between the two, but cannot even describe what such a connection would consist of if it did exist. And if this is a fair sample, then we are justified in concluding that the others are not actual supernatural manifestations either. If the Vatican had real miracles to offer, would they tarnish the value of the term “miracle” by applying it to a mere superstitious attribution?

Notice first of all what the evidence actually consists of. In this case we have what we might call the “major miracle” (the healing itself) and the “minor miracle” (the coincidence of the requested song playing on the radio as she was praying for it). The “minor miracle” is actually pretty unremarkable. There’s nothing supernatural about a radio station playing a popular tune, even if the timing seems a bit coincidental. Isn’t it a funny request, though? If you’re going to ask God to intervene in your life and prove His existence via an undeniable and powerful miracle, is it too much to ask that He show up and say “Ok, you’re good”? What’s with the mysterious please-work-a-miracle-to-tell-me-you’re-going-to-work-a-miracle stuff?

Obviously, even as a believer attending a parochial school, under the instruction of devout and faithful nuns, Bernadette had no serious expectation that it was even possible that God might show up in real life and give her some clear guidance, so she resorted instead to the ancient and pagan practice of divination. Not, of course, that she is the first person to do so with God’s implied blessing. But it is no less an occult magical practice, like palmistry, tarot, and reading tea leaves, for all its Biblical precedent.

So the “minor miracle” is really just a subjective and superstitious interpretation of an ordinary event, heightened by the occult and superstitious nature of the request. There are any number of perfectly natural ways the event itself could happen: she could have been generous (and forgetful) in her estimation of which song the “next” one was, she could have been praying for a while and made the request more than once, or she could have subconsciously heard the DJ announce that the song was coming up soon while her conscious mind was focused on praying.

Or it could have been just plain coincidence. I once prayed to my left little finger, asking, “If you are truly the One True God, please let my wife find her car keys,” and I no sooner said “Amen” than she found them. Since I’ve never asked for anything else, my left little finger has a 100% success rate in granting me what I’ve asked it for. You think that is just a coincidence?

The “major miracle” fares no better. Notice, it’s not that we know that this was a miraculous healing, it’s that we don’t know what caused her symptoms to improve (or at least abate). If indeed she had endured three separate operations whose goal was to produce the relief she eventually ended up with, it could just be that the last one was indeed successful, and her continued symptoms merely the psychosomatic product of her own fears that she would never be healed. Or, more ominously, it could be that the symptoms have only been masked, and that the underlying problem is still there.

Which brings us to the moral problem of miracles. Suppose, first of all, that God does indeed have the power to heal. If that’s the case, then Bernadette’s healing proves that there is no particular obstacle (such as free will) that would prevent God from healing people, otherwise He couldn’t have healed Bernadette either. Since He clearly does not help most of those who need it, however, His ability to provide relief means He is morally responsible for the suffering of all those He does not heal, just as He is morally responsible for all the other crimes, tragedies, and evil which He could (allegedly) prevent and/or relieve, and manifestly does not.

Or take the other possibility: that God did not heal, and that Bernadette’s experience has a natural explanation. In that case, science would be very interested in discovering what that explanation is. It could be extremely important to someone else suffering similar symptoms, you see, if doctors could learn from Bernadette’s experience how to relieve seemingly intractable problems with tethered spinal cords. Or conversely, it could be extremely important to Bernadette, should the “cure” turn out to be a malfunction of painful symptoms that might otherwise alert her to a dangerously deteriorating condition.

Yet so long as Bernadette insists on treating her experience as a miracle (i.e. as magic that has no scientific explanation), scientists will be denied access to the detailed facts, or at least hindered in their attempts to discover the natural causes involved. Superstition opposes science, because superstition requires scientific ignorance in order to make its claims. Bernadette may not want doctors to figure out what really happened, since finding a natural explanation would rob her of her special status as a Christian uniquely blessed by God Himself.

In any case, though, ignorance is the absence of knowledge, not the source of it. The fact that doctors don’t know how Bernadette’s symptoms were relieved is ignorance: they don’t now what they don’t know. And there’s nothing shameful about not knowing, so long as you admit that it’s ignorance. It’s only when ignorance pretends to be knowledge (as in, “We don’t know what caused it, therefore we know Who caused it”), that it becomes superstition.

And that’s what Bernadette’s “miracle” does. It’s a superstitious attribution, nothing more. There is no actual, demonstrable connection between her purported cause (God) and the observed effect (the relief of her symptoms). If healing the sick were a crime, there would not be enough evidence to convict God as the perpetrator. It could, for example, have been Santa Claus, who also allegedly possesses magical powers. You will respond, of course, that Santa couldn’t have done it, since his is not real. But I will retort, “He must be real if he’s going around healing people.” After all, isn’t that the argument you are giving me? that God must be real if He’s healing people?

So Bernadette’s “miracle,” as astonishing and urban-legend-worthy as it is, is not a case of God showing up in real life, but is merely an example of people being unable to understand all the causes of what they see. And it certainly requires no supernatural miracle for people to fail to understand all the causes of what they see! That is a very ordinary event, and one that requires only the ordinary proofs that we see all the time.

This example also falls under the principle that the truth is consistent with itself, for if God were permitted, by His own abilities and the general circumstances, to intervene in people’s lives in such a public, manifest, doctor-stumping miraculous way, then He ought also be willing and able to take the lesser, more fundamental, and yet more significant steps of showing up in real life and preaching the Gospel Himself. This would produce a huge increase in the number of saved souls simply by eliminating the heresies, atheisms, and other distractions that prevent men from knowing Him. And yet, though this is what He wants badly enough to die for (literally), we do not see Him doing this. Should we believe that the greater miracles are being performed by a God unwilling and/or unable to do even the most trivial and obvious of the lesser supernatural signs?

I want to close by addressing a specific comment of Jayman’s in relation to miracles in general.

On the other hand, you are making an extraordinary claim when you say God never intervenes in history. In essence you are saying that 48% of Americans were mistaken, deceived, or deluded. And not just some of those people, but each and every one of them. That is an extraordinary claim and you have provided no evidence to support it, let alone extraordinary evidence. If you were to try and explain many of the miracles you would offer extraordinary explanations as well.

The laws of nature are, by definition, ordinary, which is why we call them laws of nature and not “things that nature might possibly do once in a great while if it feels like it.” When I claim that unknown causes are most likely to be consistent with natural laws (i.e. with the way we ordinarly observe things working), I am necessarily making the ordinary claim for which there exists the ordinary proof that we see nature work this way all the time. In fact, we would not have any of knowing what the laws of nature were, if it were not for the fact that they always make things happen in the same way.

What’s more, we know that the laws of nature continue to function consistently even when they are poorly understood by men, or not understood at all. The self-consistent nature of real world truth is what has made it possible for us to progress from our initial ignorance of natural law to a greater understanding of things we used to explain superstitiously. People can be fooled, and can even fool themselves. Even 48% of the people. But you can’t fool nature, it just keeps working the same old way no matter what people believe. So by definition, the natural explanation is necessarily the ordinary explanation, and comes pre-loaded with the ordinary proof that consists of the real world behaving normally. It is those who want to make the extraordinary claims (i.e. of supernatural intervention) who need to provide the corresponding proof.

 
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Posted in Superstition, Unapologetics. 34 Comments »

34 Responses to “The healing of Bernadette McKenzie”

  1. Tacroy Says:

    If you google her name, you will find that the circumstances around her miracle are not what Jayman said. The link is a transcript of the entire episode of CNN, so just search for “Bernadette”.

    The account of what happened, in her own words:

    It was very peaceful, actually. The day started like any other day. I was homebound, of course, and I was doing schoolwork. And the next thing I knew, a time period elapsed and I couldn’t account for it.

    I just knew that it was the afternoon. And I realized I didn’t feel any pain anymore. So I stood up slowly, and I realized I could do that. And then I started testing myself.

    I started walking around slowly, and then up and down the stairs, and realized I could do all of these things and I wasn’t in pain. And that morning, my parents, when they left me, I was in bed. And when they came home I was standing at the door ready to greet them.

    The CNN segment doesn’t mention any operations; if she’d had one or even three, the whole “blacking out and then suddenly being able to stand” thing sounds suspiciously like nerves reconnecting.

  2. jim Says:

    Tacroy:

    Thanks for this. Note this difference between the CNN transcript of an actual interview with Bernadette-

    “I just knew that it was the afternoon. And I realized I didn’t feel any pain anymore. So I stood up slowly, and I realized I could do that. And then I started testing myself.

    I started walking around slowly, and then up and down the stairs, and realized I could do all of these things and I wasn’t in pain. And that morning, my parents, when they left me, I was in bed. And when they came home I was standing at the door ready to greet them.”

    with the story in Newsweek-

    “On the fourth day, Bernadette herself knelt by her bed, telling God that if this was to be her life she would accept it. But she wanted to know–a sign. If she were to walk again, she pleaded, let her favorite song, “Forever Young,” play next on the radio. It did. She immediately jumped up and ran downstairs to tell her family. BERNADETTE DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE THAT HER PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS HAD DISAPPEARED, something her doctors say is medically inexplicable.” (emphasis mine)

    So, according to her own testimony, she became aware that her pain was gone BEFORE her parents came home.
    Also, the part concerning the song on the radio is suspiciously absent. And thus, the myth-building begins. Obviously, Newsweek has subtly altered the story to heighten the dramatic element. Unfortunately, this sort of embellished storytelling is part of normal human behavior. The expression ‘tales grow in the telling’ didn’t just drop out of the sky! People are not merely dispassionate relayers of facts. We often tend to spice things up, ESPECIALLY when we want to bolster our own beliefs in the telling. Add a little here. Cut a bit there. That’s the way it goes.

    Now, imagine this particular dynamic working its way through a frenzied crowd of Marian cultists, or UFO enthusiasts, or what have you. It isn’t hard to imagine the dizzying heights to which the human imagination might stretch. Statues talking. Blobs of shadow sprouting doves of light. Even the sun falling out of the sky. It happens all the time.

    BTW, the CNN transcript mentions that Bernadette’s tumors are still there. Well, it seems the operations were a partial success, anyway. I wish her the best.

  3. pboyfloyd Says:

    I don’t want to appear snarky, but my score is..

    Duncan 1

    Jayman 0

    .. good effort trying to turn tables by Jayman.

  4. Jayman Says:

    Note that I initially brought up the story to show the logical inconsistency in being an atheist and believing extraordinary claims (in the sense of unusual or abnormal) require extraordinary evidence (in the sense of exceptional in quality or quantity). As I mentioned yesterday, Bernadette’s story was merely chosen because it was the first story in an article I had used for a different purpose earlier. The story I cited is from Newsweek and is not in my own words. There are numerous stories of inexplicable events that could be used to illustrate the same point. In responding to Deacon Duncan I will try to focus on the logical contradictions he holds since that was my point all along.

    (1) While some other alleged miracles have similar traits to Bernadette’s story many other alleged miracles do not. It is not logical to assume that if you can explain one story you can explain all stories. Rather, to confidently assert that God never acts in history, which you do regularly, you would have to be omniscient. Therefore, it is an extraordinary claim to assert that you know God never acts. The extraordinary evidence for such knowledge is never offered.

    (2) The term “superstition” does not help move the discussion forward because it is subjective and pejorative. You believe Bernadette’s belief in a miraculous cure is an example of superstition because she explains her cure by ascribing it to a purported cause that cannot be connected to the cure, even in theory. But a theoretical connection between God and the cure can be made. For example, she could posit that God disconnected some tissue attachments that had been stretching her spinal cord. Moreover, even scientists will ascribe a purported cause to an event when they can’t show an actual connection between the two. One need only think of dark matter. The fact is that if one waited for proof that X existed before considering evidence pointing to X’s existence one could never acquire any knowledge. It is a double standard on your part to call Bernadette superstitious while not holding others, including yourself, to the same standard.

    (3) You edited the story so that you can attempt to provide an explanation for the healing that is not extraordinary and thus does not place you in the position of having to choose between competing extraordinary claims. (A) Bernadette and the nuns did pray for a cure, not merely a sign. (B) Bernadette has been investigated by “hundreds of doctors and theologians” and no medical explanation has been provided. This means we can dismiss your attempted diagnoses and that you’re wrong in implying Bernadette is denying doctors access to herself. Apparently she is not as superstition has you’d like to believe.

    Ultimately, you have no explanation. You say admitting ignorance is not shameful and that superstition is ignorance pretending to be knowledge. You are ignorant of how Bernadette was cured but claim to know God was not involved. You’re superstitious according to your own definition.

    (4) You assert that it is normal for people not to understand the causes of what they see. Even if true, it does not get you out of trouble because you do not profess ignorance of God’s activity.

    (5) You claim that unknown causes are most likely consistent with natural laws because we see nature working this way all the time. The problem is that we don’t see nature working this way all the time. This is why the doctors don’t know what happened.

    (6) You claim that the natural explanation is necessarily the ordinary explanation. This is false. For example, few men have ever conquered as much land as Alexander the Great. The explanation for how the conquest happened is both extraordinary and natural. In order to be consistent, you must provide extraordinary evidence even for extraordinary naturalistic claims or replace the word “extraordinary” with what you really mean (which would prove my point about the phrase being ambiguous).

  5. cl Says:

    See, here’s the thing and why I think so much of this so-called dialog between believers and atheists is just to pass the time. Atheists are quite fond of saying, “Show me just one miracle and I’ll believe,” but then whenever something is offered, they simply explain it away or widen the goalpost. Doesn’t matter if the alleged miracle is an image of Jesus in a wafer, or something more complicated like this story of Bernadette. I mean what do atheists want? Like a genie that will grow back limbs whenever the correct mantra is spoken? Seriously. What is a fair definition of a miracle, and how do we eliminate the confounders of spontaneous remission and the placebo effect? I don’t see that we can, hence, and alleged miracle can be simply waved away with, “Oh, that wasn’t a miracle you stupid Christian, that was spontaneous remission.” Yet we have no explanation for spontaneous remission and we’re all back to square one. It just gets old I guess.

    You come out with this: “And yet, it’s easy to show that this does not constitute an instance of God showing up in real life, nor is there any particular reason to suppose that anything supernatural is involved.”

    How is that easy to show? Is God falsifiable or not? If so, then how is this easy to show? If not, what of the difficulty in declaring the inaction of an unfalsifiable being?

    You give us this and that’s about it regarding the major miracle: “Notice, it’s not that we know that this was a miraculous healing, it’s that we don’t know what caused her symptoms to improve (or at least abate).”

    What I’m hearing from you is, “I don’t know what caused her symptoms to improve, but I know it wasn’t a miracle.”

    That is simply not persuasive to a person of reason. Certainly you can’t be held accountable for whatever conclusion some random person deduces from your writing, but is this what you want readers to hear? Because to me it just sounds like a well-written argument from personal incredulity, like any other.

    So, can we get an acceptable definition of what constitutes a miracle IYO, and start there?

  6. cl Says:

    Sorry but I have to rant just a bit more here. I mean really, does a booming, thunderous voice that two or more people can hear also have to accompany the alleged miraculous healing?

    Also, I’m thinking about Jayman’s (3) above, which hits the nail on the head IMO: “You say admitting ignorance is not shameful and that superstition is ignorance pretending to be knowledge. You are ignorant of how Bernadette was cured but claim to know God was not involved. You’re superstitious according to your own definition.”

    That’s exactly how it looks from here, too. It looks like, “Oh, we don’t know what cured her, but we know it couldn’t have been God.” It just looks silly, like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Incidentally, this is the exact same argument going on at DaylightAtheism over Qi. When unexplained phenomena come up, doubters say, “Oh, well, surely we haven’t explained everything, but Qi will not be found necessary in explaining those things.” How does that pass for a logical argument? I can frame the possibility of phenomenon X out of existence a priori, too, but have I accomplished or refuted anything, or even approached the question honestly? These people are essentially saying, “Although we don’t know everything, Qi has not been needed to explain anything yet, so it will not be needed to explain anything.” Aside from classic genetic fallacy, I can’t see how this attitude isn’t just absurd, but then again, people think the way I see things is absurd too, so go figure.

    More absurdity to pass the time, I suppose.

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2009/01/popular-delusions-xii.html

  7. John Morales Says:

    cl,

    So, can we get an acceptable definition of what constitutes a miracle IYO, and start there?

    This is a longstanding exchange over multiple posts.

    I’ve already expressed my thoughts regarding your question, should you care to track back.

  8. jim Says:

    Hiya cl:

    “I mean what do atheists want? Like a genie that will grow back limbs whenever the correct mantra is spoken?”

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I want. Something unambiguous. Something that doesn’t easily fall onto the skeptic’s side of Occam’s razor. In other words, something that cannot be suitably explained away by a naturalistic hypothesis. Of course, your question is framed as a somewhat snarky rhetorical one, meant to be dismissive. But don’t you find it the LEAST bit curious that not ONE limb has EVER been grown back in the recorded history of the world, seeing that God is supposedly granting ‘miracles’ of healing? Not one child’s cancer ward emptied out, thus turning the statistical tables on their heads? No group of worshipers levitated out of a burning church? No buried Christian miner ever magically translated to safety?

    What do we have in the Bernadette McKenzie story? So far, a STORY. And a story that’s already changed between the two different sources we’ve seen. These kinds of stories are the ordinary sort of evidence that we’ve heard all our lives. Show me something extraordinary, something unambiguous and stringently verified. There are hundreds of millions of Christians on this planet praying for such miracles. Show me ONE! Grow ONE lost leg back as people are praying, get it on the news (even FOX news, for crissakes!), and I’ll give the idea of miracles a lot more respect. Until then, it’s all a bunch of bunk to me, and all these pedantic defenses of the idea are nothing more than sophistry.

    SHOW ME THE MONEY!

  9. cl Says:

    John,

    You said, “This is a longstanding exchange over multiple posts.”

    Well, I figured as much, and not to be rude, but thanks for nothing. A few comments up from the one you linked to, I found this:

    “What would make an event miraculous is if it (a) it’s clearly contrary to the “laws of nature” (in practice that it contradicts current scientific theories (which would make such a theory wrong)) and (b) the most parsimonious reason for that is divine intervention.”

    These are subjective, relative criteria entirely, hence useless for my interests. Air travel was once thought clearly contrary to the laws of nature, no? People once thought the most parsimonious explanation for schizophrenia was demonic oppression, no?

    Who are you to say what’s contrary to the laws of nature? Who are you to judge that Explanation X is the ‘most parsimonious’ explanation of Phenomenon Y? Why should I accept what you say here? I don’t, but I’m interested in obtaining a working definition of a miracle, and if you have anything non-subjective let’s hear it.

  10. jim Says:

    cl:

    “These are subjective, relative criteria entirely, hence useless for my interests.”

    Then nothing can EVER be offered, by definition, to assuage your ‘interests’, since ANYTHING ANYBODY COULD POSSIBLE OFFER can be pigeonholed this way.

    “Who are you to say what’s contrary to the laws of nature? Who are you to judge that Explanation X is the ‘most parsimonious’ explanation of Phenomenon Y? Why should I accept what you say here? I don’t, but I’m interested in obtaining a working definition of a miracle, and if you have anything non-subjective let’s hear it.”

    Again, since you by definition label anybody’s standards as ‘subjective, therefore dismissible’, there’s nothing really left to say. This line of reasoning could be used to dismiss ANYTHING, even the fact that your words mean the same thing as they did five minutes ago. In other words, there is a line, fuzzy though it may be, that when crossed puts one in the camp of the sophists. You, my friend, have crossed that line. We are forever destined to talk past one another, for the simple fact that your line of argumentation is inherently unreasonable.

    Feel free to disagree…LOL! After all, it’s all just ‘subjective’…right? *wink*

  11. jim Says:

    cl:

    BTW, I’d like to thank you in advance for agreeing with everything I’ve said (prove you don’t), and I’m glad you’ve decided to convert to atheism (prove you haven’t). I was also somewhat surprised to find out you’re also one of the Radish Beings from planet RadishAlphaFive (prove you’re not).

    Getting my drift here?

  12. cl Says:

    jim,

    You said, “BTW, I’d like to thank you in advance for agreeing with everything I’ve said (prove you don’t), and I’m glad you’ve decided to convert to atheism (prove you haven’t). I was also somewhat surprised to find out you’re also one of the Radish Beings from planet RadishAlphaFive (prove you’re not). Getting my drift here?”

    I can’t comment on any of that because I don’t know what any of those terms mean. You getting my drift here?

    Now, believe me, I’m a “Show me the money” kind-of guy, and don’t misread frustration for snark; I’m not mad at or mocking anybody here. It’s just that I’ve had it up to neck-level with these sorts of stupid intellectual charades. In my experience, nothing ever gets solved from them, if I might just state a negative for free. It’s the same scenario: Atheist A promises to believe upon miracle X. Believer Y produces as many possible variant examples of miracle X as possible, each of which are promptly rejected by Atheist A, typically for no good reason other than personal incredulity. Or Atheist A replies with, “Oh, that wasn’t what I really meant by a miracle.” Honestly, it’s a joke and everybody’s just dancing around to avoid a hole getting poked in their own psychological safety nets.

    You said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I want. Something unambiguous. Something that doesn’t easily fall onto the skeptic’s side of Occam’s razor. In other words, something that cannot be suitably explained away by a naturalistic hypothesis.”

    Look, I’ll tell you what I can’t produce evidence of, and that’s a magic genie. But you provide a bunch of subjective mumbo-jumbo like John and expect me to work with that? Quantify the terms you’re throwing around here. How might you define and differentiate between what can and cannot be suitably explained by a ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis? Just what is a ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis in the first place? The way I see it, we’re forever destined to talk past one another because you won’t clarify these subjective words, and what they mean in the real world, and more importantly, how your opponent might know when they’ve discovered something that meets these criteria.

    You asked, “But don’t you find it the LEAST bit curious that not ONE limb has EVER been grown back in the recorded history of the world, seeing that God is supposedly granting ‘miracles’ of healing? Not one child’s cancer ward emptied out, thus turning the statistical tables on their heads? No group of worshipers levitated out of a burning church? No buried Christian miner ever magically translated to safety?”

    I don’t know whether any limbs have ever grown back throughout recorded history, so I don’t presume to have knowledge where I do not. I do know that when a child is occasionally unexplainably cured from cancer, the first people to deny the possibility of the miraculous are typically atheists. “Aw nah, Mildred… see, that wasn’t a miracle. That was jus’ what them doctors call a spontaneous remission. It happens, well you know, all the time… enough that little Jenny’s story wasn’t a miracle, at least.” So, we don’t know how spontaneous remission works, but we do know it’s never miraculous? How does that work? And if some miner did claim to have been magically translated to safety, do you really mean to tell me that you’d believe him or her? Isn’t the miner’s anecdote just a story as well, just like Daniel in the lion’s den? Come on man! Of course you wouldn’t believe it.

    You say, “Show me something extraordinary, something unambiguous and stringently verified.”

    Provide complete and non-subjective definitions for each of these three terms that you promise not to reneg on later, and I’ll try. I really will.

    to your second comment,

    Look, you can try to denounce me by claiming I’m in the solipsist camp, but it’s not going to impress me. It just makes you look like you’re lazy or otherwise unwilling to answer, when I’m betting you can come up with better.

    You said, “Then nothing can EVER be offered, by definition, to assuage your ‘interests’, since ANYTHING ANYBODY COULD POSSIBLE OFFER can be pigeonholed this way.”

    Ah, I see… Since I reject your definitions, I’ll reject all definitions? What kind of illogical hosing is that? I rejected the definitions offered, so you get to jump to conclusions and commit the genetic fallacy and call me a solipsist? Just because you and John provided purely subjective criteria doesn’t mean everyone else has to, or that neither of you can’t further clarify your subjective definitions to make them more objective. But what is ‘unamiguous’ to you might be ‘ambiguous’ to somebody else, no? So define ‘unambiguous’ in a way that any reasonable person can detect it when they see it. Define ‘extraordinary’ in a way that any reasonable person can detect it when they see it. Define ‘stringently verified’ in a way that any reasonable person can detect it when they see it. Any sensible trial establishes definitions, and there’s no point in me showing you anything if I leave you a hole or three through which you might escape, now is there?

    You said, “Again, since you by definition label anybody’s standards as ’subjective, therefore dismissible’, there’s nothing really left to say.”

    If that’s how you want this to end, so be it, but you’re off your rocker. I’ve not labelled ‘anybody’s standards’ as subjective; I’ve labelled yours and John’s particular definitions subjective and dismissable as stated. If either of you want to phrase your criteria better, that’s fine. But don’t just say, “Well we can never provide you with an acceptable definition,” because that’s a bunch of crap. If neither of you are willing to present definitions, I can give it a go myself, but either way, let’s either agree on some definitions of terms and try to proceed, or else forget all about it and fast.

    Otherwise it’s just like I said: Something to pass the time, and that’s not what I’m in this thread for.

  13. John Morales Says:

    cl:

    Air travel was once thought clearly contrary to the laws of nature, no?

    Dunno about prehistory, but since historic times, no. Anyone can see that birds, bats and insects can fly! :)

    [my definition]What would make an event miraculous is if it (a) it’s clearly contrary to the “laws of nature” (in practice that it contradicts current scientific theories (which would make such a theory wrong)) and (b) the most parsimonious reason for that is divine intervention.”

    These are subjective, relative criteria entirely, hence useless for my interests.

    Not so. The laws of science are various established scientific laws, or physical laws as they are sometimes called, that are considered universal and invariable facts of the physical world*. Laws of science may, however, be disproved if new facts or evidence contradicts them.

    [...] but I’m interested in obtaining a working definition of a miracle, and if you have anything non-subjective let’s hear it.

    Um, you just quoted my definition, apparently all unaware. I just quoted it again, quoting you quoting me.

    Heh.


    * Yes, science needs some metaphysical assumptions. It reluctantly acquiesces only to those shown absolutely necessary by reason of their explanatory power.
    A supernatural realm is not one of those necessary assumptions.

  14. John Morales Says:

    Um, I’m thinking cl may be a bit slow; so to be explicit:

    Laws of science may, however, be disproved if new facts or evidence contradicts themThis is because they’re empirical. A single counter-observation will negate their status, as happened to parity conservation (once considered a law, disproven by observation).

    So yes, an observed event that contradicts those laws meets criterion (a). Meet that criterion, and then consideration of criterion (b) can meaningfully apply.
    Meet both, and (definitionally) a miracle has occured.

    Dispute my definition or not as you see fit, but understand that it is a definition.

  15. cl Says:

    John,

    The only thing that seems slow to me around here is your ability to comprehend what I’m trying to say, so tit-for-tat there. Your (b) is horsepuckey, because the ‘most parsimonious’ explanation is a matter of conjecture entirely. Divine intervention will likely never be the most parsimonious explanation for an atheist! To prove the stupidity of this, what will you say when I tell you that spontaneous remission is evidence of the miraculous?

  16. jim Says:

    cl:

    Firstly, for the record, I didn’t accuse you of being a ‘solipsist’, but a ‘sophist’…at least, I THINK I did. Who knows, maybe our realities are different. Could be.

    “You said, “BTW, I’d like to thank you in advance for agreeing with everything I’ve said (prove you don’t), and I’m glad you’ve decided to convert to atheism (prove you haven’t). I was also somewhat surprised to find out you’re also one of the Radish Beings from planet RadishAlphaFive (prove you’re not). Getting my drift here?”

    I can’t comment on any of that because I don’t know what any of those terms mean. You getting my drift here?”

    And there you’ve gone and proved my point for me…again.
    I’ll continue for a bit, but this’ll be it for me in this thread.

    “It’s the same scenario: Atheist A promises to believe upon miracle X. Believer Y produces as many possible variant examples of miracle X as possible, each of which are promptly rejected by Atheist A, typically for no good reason other than personal incredulity”

    False statement. Believer Y has only produced as many possible variants as he is able, NOT as many as are possible, ESPECIALLY if his claims were true, and reasonable.

    “But you provide a bunch of subjective mumbo-jumbo like John and expect me to work with that? Quantify the terms you’re throwing around here.”

    Reasonable, well-defined criteria have been offered ad nauseam throughout this thread, including my original post to you. You simply choose to dismiss it as ‘subjective, relative criteria’. When you manage to come up with some ultimately objective criteria regarding evidence for ANYTHING, divorced entirely from subjective interpretation, you let me know, ‘k? My verdict: sophistry.

    “…rejected by Atheist A, typically for NO GOOD REASON other than personal incredulity…”

    Hm, seems the ‘no good reason’ is solely based on your own, subjective criteria.

    “Since I reject your definitions, I’ll reject all definitions? What kind of illogical hosing is that?”

    Not illogical at all. Any and all definitions offered will be derived from peoples’ subjective take on the matter, thus rejected by you (as inferred from your previous rejection on THOSE grounds).

    I could go on, but I think I’ve made myself reasonably clear about what I think of yours and Jayman’s approach here. And…I have to run and pick up my daughter. Anyway, the arguments have been made, you’ve said your piece, and I doubt anything fruitful can come from lingering on this excruciatingly painful roundabout. We’ll pick it up another time, another discussion. Out for now.

  17. John Morales Says:

    [1] Your (b) is horsepuckey, because the ‘most parsimonious’ explanation is a matter of conjecture entirely. [2] Divine intervention will likely never be the most parsimonious explanation for an atheist!

    1. It will be if other explanations can be excluded. So far, for all observed well-investigated phenomena, natural explanations have sufficed.
    You’re welcome to try to cite a counterexample.
    2. Agreed, inasmuch as for it to be, so all natural explanations must be excluded (else it’s definitionally not the most parsimonious, requiring an entire new realm in addition to the natural). Care to dispute that natural explanations in the 21st Century are more comprehensive and justified than they were at the time of the creation of the surviving religious traditions?

  18. cl Says:

    jim,

    You said, “I doubt anything fruitful can come from lingering on this excruciatingly painful roundabout.”

    I’m an optimist and I think we could get far if we get the damn thing off the ground, but it won’t get anywhere if we can’t get some working definitions. Do you really mean to tell me that you can’t or won’t come up with something clearer and more comprehensive than, “stringently verified” for example? What would you consider to be an example of a stringently verified phenomenon? Gimme something I can go out and look for in the real world, something quantifiable and identifiable.

    You said, “Not illogical at all. Any and all definitions offered will be derived from peoples’ subjective take on the matter, thus rejected by you (as inferred from your previous rejection on THOSE grounds).”

    I’m not rejecting you and John’s defs because they are derived from your subjective take on the matter. I’m rejecting them because they not objective, ie, in the sense that they are not quantified or identifiable. To you, stringently verified can mean something entirely different than what it means to me, correct? So I’m asking you folks to clarify your terms so I can attempt to deliver what you want, the way you want it.

    It’s like you two are saying, “Bill is a male in the Western hemisphere.” So what? I could bring you any one of many Bill’s that fit this bill, no pun intended. However, if you tell me, “Bill is a male in the Western hemisphere, wearing a watch and a Red Sox hat, and also has a birthmark under his left eyeball,” well, that’s something more to go on, right? Something I might actually be able to narrow down and produce, right?

    What I’m saying is, by the definitions you two have given, I can simply say your average case of spontaneous remission constitutes a miracle. And why would you object? Doesn’t matter, because that you would object proves my point.

    Just because I think your definitions are too slippery doesn’t mean you can’t provide definitions that are not slippery. Of course anything a person says is subjective; that’s not how I’m using the term. I’m saying your definitions are subjective, not their categorical nature. The nature of any definition is subjective, but for the purposes of trying to get somewhere here, we can all agree to abide by particular definitions.

    So, what exactly do you mean by unambiguous? What exactly do you mean by extraordinary? What exactly do you mean be stringently verified?

    If you can’t provide exact, specific definitions, how can I be sure when I’ve found a suitable example? You can then simply say, “Oh, that wasn’t what I meant by stringently verified,” and that’s the game I really don’t want to play.

  19. cl Says:

    John Morales,

    You said, “So far, for all observed well-investigated phenomena, natural explanations have sufficed.”

    Of course they have! Are we questioning the existence of miracles here? Or the existence of observed, well-investigated phenomena? When discussing a purportedly natural phenomena, all supernatural explanations can be excluded. Science cannot proceed without presupposing methodological naturalism a priori. Science doesn’t look for supernatural explanations; it looks for reasons to abandon them.

    What you don’t seem to get is that your prompt dismissal of spontaneous remission supports my point about your definitions being slippery. If I hypothetically say that spontaneous remission violates a law of nature, and that divine intervention is the most parsimonious explanation for cases of spontaneous remission, what will you say now?

    You said, “else it’s definitionally not the most parsimonious, requiring an entire new realm in addition to the natural”

    Exactly my point. So by your definition, a supernatural explanation (whatever that is) will never be the most parsimonious, because it requires an entire new realm in addition to the natural. So, definitionally, ‘the most parsimonious’ is a matter of conjecture entirely.

    Look, all I want here is some concrete definitions for a miracle, and I’ll go about my business. Whatever is the ‘most parsimonious’ or ‘unambiguous’ or ‘stringently verified’ is going to differ from person to person. Gimme targets I can hit and let’s quit dancing. Otherwise just say you can’t or won’t clarify your criteria, and I’ll be done with it.

  20. John Morales Says:

    cl,

    [1]Are we questioning the existence of miracles here? [2] Or the existence of observed, well-investigated phenomena?

    1. yes.
    2. No.

    Science doesn’t look for supernatural explanations; it looks for reasons to abandon them.

    False dichotomy. Science looks for the fewest necessary assumptions. If an observed phenomenon is explainable under existing postulations, no further postulations are required.
    A natural, regular reality where cause leads to effect is already postulated, and explains all investigated phenomena.

    Look, all I want here is some concrete definitions for a miracle, and I’ll go about my business.

    Ahem- I try again.
    A miracle is any observed phenomenon which is (a) unexplainable under current scientific knowledge and (b) excludes causation by other than divine means.

    Whatever is the ‘most parsimonious’ or ‘unambiguous’ or ’stringently verified’ is going to differ from person to person.

    Not so. The most parsimonious explanation is defined as that which requires the least assumptions.
    I note that [Natural & Supernatural] has a higher cardinality than [Natural]. What’s subjective about that?

  21. jim Says:

    cl:

    “What would you consider to be an example of a stringently verified phenomenon? Gimme something I can go out and look for in the real world, something quantifiable and identifiable.”

    I’ve already offered several examples, and by logical extrapolation you could come up with several more of your own, I’m sure. However, on your terms such things can always be dismissed as ‘magic genie’ expectations.

    “To you, stringently verified can mean something entirely different than what it means to me, correct? So I’m asking you folks to clarify your terms so I can attempt to deliver what you want, the way you want it.”

    I’ll restate once again: Anything which stands out from the background of alternative naturalistic explanations. I and others have offered several concrete examples of stringent verification, all of which you seem to reject on one ground or another.

    “I can simply say your average case of spontaneous remission constitutes a miracle. And why would you object? Doesn’t matter, because that you would object proves my point.”

    It proves your point ONLY because you reject the criteria you’re asking for. Unambiguously contra-naturalistic evidence of the sort offered in the various examples. This reminds me of the dictionary game, where you seek a definition, then the definition of each of the words IN the definition, etc. etc.

    “So, what exactly do you mean by unambiguous? What exactly do you mean by extraordinary? What exactly do you mean be stringently verified?”

    You keep asking the question, while ignoring the answer which is offered time and again. Definitions have been given. Several examples have been offered. I find the reiteration disingenuous.

    “If you can’t provide exact, specific definitions, how can I be sure when I’ve found a suitable example? You can then simply say, “Oh, that wasn’t what I meant by stringently verified,” and that’s the game I really don’t want to play.”

    And you can keep claiming the definitions aren’t specific enough to suit you. Or you can say any offered examples don’t precisely fit the definitions. It IS a game, cl, but I’m afraid you’re the one playing it.

    Ok, I’m really out of it now. Actually, this thread was spent well before you arrived, and you haven’t offered anything new that I can see. Sorry if I’ve been a bit short, but your general snarkiness combined with the paucity of reasoning with which you’ve made your ‘case’ has been rather irksome (to me). Frankly, I find your approach blatantly sophistical, which gets rather tiresome over the long haul (to me).

    Play nice, and watch both ways before crossing the street (providing, of course, that you acknowledge the existence of the street) :)

  22. cl Says:

    John Morales,

    So, I notice that after all this, you’re finally clarifying some of your definitions… That says it all for me. You said, “The most parsimonious explanation is defined as that which requires the least assumptions.” See? Not so hard. You’ve clarified just a wee bit, and now we have at least something to go on. But let’s run with that for a tangential second. If while discussing the origins of the universe, I simply say, “Goddidit!” you’ll decry that as unacceptable. Why? Because it’s not scientific? I thought science sought the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions? To say that an assumed God created the universe requires less assumptions than to say that a series of assumed processes created the universe, right? All the theist has to do is assume one all-powerful being. What does the atheist have to assume to explain the universe?

    At any rate, you also said, “A miracle is any observed phenomenon which is (a) unexplainable under current scientific knowledge and (b) excludes causation by other than divine means.”

    Does dark matter count as a miracle in your world view? Why or why not? Who must observe this phenomenon? How many people? 1? 2? 3? Thirty? Does it matter what their belief systems are? And how do you define unexplainable? Would you consider spontaneous remission of metastasized carcinoma to be an example of an unexplainable phenomena under current scientific knowledge? Why or why not? That I can still ask these questions shows just how badly these terms have been defined.

    Your (b) is still effectively useless, and I’m not doing this for fun or to be a pain in the ass. We have no point of reference for divine causality, so at what point is one justified in excluding causation by other than divine means? We don’t yet know the cause of dark matter. Does this mean we can safely exclude all forms of natural causation concerning dark matter? Basically, you leave yourself an out, because at any point where the believer might see fit to exclaim ‘divine causality needed’, the skeptic can simply reply, ‘no reason to assume divine causality needed’, and we’re back to square one.

    Lastly, you said, “False dichotomy. Science looks for the fewest necessary assumptions.” I’ll just let you think you got me there. Good one, John!

    jim,

    You maintain, “I and others have offered several concrete examples of stringent verification…”

    I fear you’ll slap your head here, but where? You said specifically that you want a magic genie who will grow limbs back when the correct mantra is spoken. I can’t give you that. Then you said, “Grow ONE lost leg back as people are praying, get it on the news (even FOX news, for crissakes!), and I’ll give the idea of miracles a lot more respect,” and that’s it. So all I gotta do is get a healed amputee story on the news and you’ll buy it? Does the person have to be an amputee? What about a single cancer patient? Is being on the news your criteria for stringent verification? Because that sure wouldn’t be my definition of ‘stringently verified’. Most crap on TV is not stringently verified.

    Then, when I asked you to clarify what you meant by ‘unambiguous’, you said, “Anything which stands out from the background of alternative naturalistic explanations.” Don’t you see the problem here? Any old woo-ish explanation will stand out from the background of naturalistic explanations! God, ant excrement and the backs of giant, cosmic turtles all stand out from the background of alternative naturalistic explanations concerning the origins of the universe. Why are they not acceptable?

    See, here’s what I’m looking for, criteria like these: I would classify something as ‘stringently verified’ when three or more independent sources have corroborated the story. By independent sources, I mean disparate groups of people with no discernible conflicts of interest. These people can be described as more independent if they share conflicting world views, and they can be described as less independent if they share the same world view.

    I would classify something as ‘unambiguous’ when a naturalist explanation cannot account for the evidence, but even that is totally shaky, because the range of evidence naturalist explanations can account for is always increasing. We might say today, “Oh, that girl was healed in a way naturalist explanations cannot account for,” then a year later science may in fact turn that stone over.

    As for ‘extraordinary’, well, I take this word at face value – not ordinary – but BDSM and peeing on one another are quite ordinary behaviors for some people, so what is this saying?! Do you consider spontaneous remission and/or the placebo effect to be ordinary or extraordinary? Why? What types of healings will you accept as ordinary vs. potentially miraculous? Why?

    You said, “Ok, I’m really out of it now. Actually, this thread was spent well before you arrived, and you haven’t offered anything new that I can see. Sorry if I’ve been a bit short, but your general snarkiness combined with the paucity of reasoning with which you’ve made your ‘case’ has been rather irksome (to me).”

    Well fine, then get some sleep, or come back later when better refreshed, or just stop replying. Of course I haven’t offered anything new; I’m not trying to offer anything new sans definitions. Rather, I’m going back in the thread and disputing some of the presuppositions that arguments in the thread are built upon, for example, what is a miracle?

    So don’t tell me, “Last go,” and then return to insult my reasoning when I’m not able to make a reasoned case yet because we can’t agree on basic definitions! Do you see what I’m getting at? Precise definitions work in everyone’s favor. Cry about it all you want, take it however personal you want, but I’m not being mean or disingenuous or playing a game. I’m trying be clear, thorough and painstakingly specific from the outset of our discussion – I’m trying to nail you and John Morales down on your definitions so that we can have an actual discussion and not just talk past each other – as was clearly going on before I got here.

    Getting to it, you say you want me to bring you Bill? Fine. I’ll try my best, I really will, but you gotta give me a bit more to go off of than, “White male named Bill. Has penis.” There are lots of white males named Bill that have penises. I don’t presume you speak to hear yourself talk. Don’t presume the same of me.

  23. jim Says:

    cl:

    Ok, I’ll respond once more, but simply to point out the sophistical nature of your arguments. I generally prefer to bypass this kind of stuff, and to stick to the actual points of the discussion; but you’re such a textbook case of how apologetics work, that I can’t pass up the opportunity.

    “You maintain, “I and others have offered several concrete examples of stringent verification…”

    I fear you’ll slap your head here, but where? ”

    Well, here were a few offerings from myself- ‘But don’t you find it the LEAST bit curious that not ONE limb has EVER been grown back in the recorded history of the world, seeing that God is supposedly granting ‘miracles’ of healing? Not one child’s cancer ward emptied out, thus turning the statistical tables on their heads? No group of worshipers levitated out of a burning church? No buried Christian miner ever magically translated to safety?’

    What? Not acceptable because of the form of the question?

    “You said specifically that you want a magic genie who will grow limbs back when the correct mantra is spoken.”

    No, you brought up the magic genie, and I just included it in my quotation. What I said was ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I want. Something unambiguous. Something that doesn’t easily fall onto the skeptic’s side of Occam’s razor. In other words, something that cannot be suitably explained away by a naturalistic hypothesis. Of course, your question is framed as a somewhat snarky rhetorical one, meant to be dismissive.’

    It’s obvious from the context here that I don’t literally want a ‘magic genie’, but that my emphasis concerns the nature of evidence. Your zoning in on the first sentence is just a lame debating ploy.

    “Then you said, “Grow ONE lost leg back as people are praying, get it on the news (even FOX news, for crissakes!), and I’ll give the idea of miracles a lot more respect,” and that’s it. So all I gotta do is get a healed amputee story on the news and you’ll buy it?”

    No, not just a ‘story’, since the nature of stories is what’s under dispute in the first place. But credible witnesses and a camera would provide exponentially more compelling evidence. Of course, that should be evident. But wait! What do I mean by ‘credible’? What do I mean by ‘compelling’? What do I mean by ‘amputee’, or ‘exponentially’, or ‘Fox news’??? Sorry, just anticipating a bit there…LOL!

    “Does the person have to be an amputee? What about a single cancer patient??

    Here you’re using sort of a ‘bait and switch’ technique, trying to substitute a less extraordinary event for a truly extraordinary one. Because as has already been pointed out, remission falls under the purview of oft observed naturalistic occurrences, while a regenerated limb certainly does not. Of course, you can dispute the nature of remission, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that NO LIMBS ARE GROWING BACK.

    “Then, when I asked you to clarify what you meant by ‘unambiguous’, you said, “Anything which stands out from the background of alternative naturalistic explanations.” Don’t you see the problem here? Any old woo-ish explanation will stand out from the background of naturalistic explanations! God, ant excrement and the backs of giant, cosmic turtles all stand out from the background of alternative naturalistic explanations concerning the origins of the universe. Why are they not acceptable?”

    More bait and switch. You’ve suddenly switched to ‘explanations concerning the origins of the universe’, from the original subject. Understandable, since there lies one of the gaps in scientific knowledge into which you can slip your ‘God, ant excrement, and giant turtles’. However, in the context of the thread, ant excrement is considered natural, while God and/or giant turtles certainly WOULD stand out from the naturalistic background, thus illustrating a grand example of unambiguous evidence for the supernatural. Unfortunately, neither have yet to appear.

    “See, here’s what I’m looking for, criteria like these: I would classify something as ’stringently verified’ when three or more independent sources have corroborated the story. By independent sources, I mean disparate groups of people with no discernible conflicts of interest. These people can be described as more independent if they share conflicting world views, and they can be described as less independent if they share the same world view.”

    I have no doubts that if somebody’s leg spontaneously regenerated from scratch due to prayer, there’d be no end to verifiable evidence that pretty much everybody would accept. Same goes for emptying out a child’s cancer ward.
    People would be on their knees all around the world.

    “I would classify something as ‘unambiguous’ when a naturalist explanation cannot account for the evidence, but even that is totally shaky, because the range of evidence naturalist explanations can account for is always increasing. We might say today, “Oh, that girl was healed in a way naturalist explanations cannot account for,” then a year later science may in fact turn that stone over.”

    Works for me! One of the more sensible things you’ve said, actually.

    “As for ‘extraordinary’, well, I take this word at face value – not ordinary – but BDSM and peeing on one another are quite ordinary behaviors for some people, so what is this saying?! Do you consider spontaneous remission and/or the placebo effect to be ordinary or extraordinary? Why? What types of healings will you accept as ordinary vs. potentially miraculous? Why?”

    The first sentence is so ridiculously out of step with the context of the conversation that I’ll simply let it stand on its own as a testament to your sophistry. Spontaneous remissions and placebo effects might or might not be directly explainable by natural means, depending on the individual case. But just the fact of their existence says nothing about supernatural agency, since they exist within the natural domain (unless, of course, we decide ALL natural phenomena are actually supernatural…that might work for you). Again, one can imagine dozens of scenarios in which a solid case for the supernatural could be built, but I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence. But you certainly can’t ARGUE such evidence into existence, which is what’s been going on here. As for the kinds of healings I would accept as supernatural, I would posit two categories- one qualitative, and one quantitative. The former would have to do with the nature of a specific healing, such that it couldn’t fit into recognized naturalistic categories. Of course, there will always be instances of healings where we’re just not sure of the precise mechanisms involved. I’ll certainly admit that all evidence isn’t purely black and/or white. However, a limb instantaneously growing back would clearly cross any questionable gaps, and would offer proof of the miraculous to most people-barring some new naturalistic insights, of course.

    In the quantitative category I would place any healings in the aggregate, even healings hitherto explained as ‘natural’, that would so skew our statistical understandings of healings within population groups, that we’d be forced to acknowledge forces at work outside the naturalistic paradigm. For instance (and again) ONE major childrens’ cancer ward miraculously cleared out in a day would turn the numbers on their heads.

    Enough on that stuff, I think.

    “So don’t tell me, “Last go,” and then return to insult my reasoning when I’m not able to make a reasoned case yet because we can’t agree on basic definitions! Do you see what I’m getting at? Precise definitions work in everyone’s favor. Cry about it all you want, take it however personal you want, but I’m not being mean or disingenuous or playing a game. I’m trying be clear, thorough and painstakingly specific from the outset of our discussion – I’m trying to nail you and John Morales down on your definitions so that we can have an actual discussion and not just talk past each other – as was clearly going on before I got here.”

    My personal opinion is that you really don’t care much about definitions, or even logic, as you generally tend to either not accept the definitions offered, or simply ignore them and keep on contending that they’ve never been offered. You’re all about rehashing over and over, ignoring salient sections of arguments, misrepresenting implicit context, and retooling questions so that any and all answers will never suffice.

    Webster’s says:

    sophistry
    n.,
    pl. -[tries 5ME sophistrie < ML sophistria6
    1 unsound or misleading but clever, plausible, and subtle argument or reasoning; sophism
    2 the methods or practices of the Sophists

    sophist
    n.
    5L sophista < Gr sophistcs, wise man: see prec.6
    1 [often S-] in ancient Greece, any of a group of teachers of rhetoric, politics, philosophy, etc., some of whom were notorious for their clever, specious arguments
    2 any person practicing clever, specious reasoning

    I guess that’s about all I have to say to you. Due to its somewhat personal nature, some may find what I’ve written here distasteful. So be it- personally, I find your tactics specious, and disingenuous, and I think it’s worth pointing out sophistry from time to time.

    Apologies to Duncan and commenters for the length of this reply.

    One more thing:

    “Getting to it, you say you want me to bring you Bill? Fine. I’ll try my best, I really will, but you gotta give me a bit more to go off of than, “White male named Bill. Has penis.” There are lots of white males named Bill that have penises. I don’t presume you speak to hear yourself talk. Don’t presume the same of me.”

    There! You’ve gone and made me smack my forehead! Happy?

  24. John Morales Says:

    cl:

    Your (b) is still effectively useless, and I’m not doing this for fun or to be a pain in the ass. We have no point of reference for divine causality, so at what point is one justified in excluding causation by other than divine means?

    (my bold)

    Indeed :)

    Remember, the burden of proof is on the claimant. It’s not for me to show that something is not supernaturally caused, but on the miracle-mongers to show that it is.

  25. cl Says:

    jim,

    You know what’s funny about what I actually read in your volatile screed? You cry emphatically that Yes, you’ve provided definitions. And Yes, I agree you have. All I wanted was some specific clarification on them, and you act like I’m unreasonable to the point that personal insults are now fair game. Pretty telling, jim.

    Then, somewhere in the middle, exactly at the point where I clarified the slippery definition of ‘unambiguous’ you offered, you replied, “One of the more sensible things you’ve said, actually.” Note that John Morales also clarified part of his definition as well. So apparently these definitions weren’t that tight to begin with, as I said.

    And when you say, “…credible witnesses and a camera would provide exponentially more compelling evidence,” of course I’ll have further questions, and I’m actually surprised to see a rationalist with such little patience for questions. I would ask you to further define credible and to state a minimum number of witnesses, so I can have a specific target to hit.

    But really, nevermind at this point, because if you call that sophistry, then yes, we are done. And no, I can’t bring you footage of an amputated arm growing back, or a ‘stringently verified’ account of a cancer ward emptying out. So God does not exist and I’m just another apologist idiot to you, and insulting as it is, I’m okay with that.

    John Morales,

    You said, “Remember, the burden of proof is on the claimant. It’s not for me to show that something is not supernaturally caused, but on the miracle-mongers to show that it is.”

    Thanks for the review, but so long as we’re working with slippery definitions, no progress can ever be made. If you want to get on some common ground here, I’m down. Other than that, see ya around.

  26. John Morales Says:

    cl:

    Note that John Morales also clarified part of his definition as well.

    No, I merely rephrased it. There is no difference in the semantic content between the two instances.

    Let me revisit your original comment, to which I responded:

    So, can we get an acceptable definition of what constitutes a miracle IYO, and start there?

    Well, I’ve provided a definition, and clearly you consider it not acceptable. Your sticking point is you have a problem (“We have no point of reference for divine causality”) with my criterion that the cause of the putative miracle should be best explained by a deistic agency. But this is precisely the causal agency that religious people impute to their “miraculous” examples!

    I contend that both my criteria are necessary: remove the first, and naturally-explainable events qualify as miracles; remove the second, and any supernatural event qualifies as divine.

    That you have a problem with the second says more about the unjustifiable nature of the claim than about my understanding of it.

    Thanks for the review, but so long as we’re working with slippery definitions, no progress can ever be made. If you want to get on some common ground here, I’m down.

    Well, you’re welcome to provide your own “non-slippery” definition, you know. Care to try?

  27. Jayman Says:

    cl, in another thread I asked for Jim’s opinion on the Marian apparitions in Zeitoun, Egypt which were photographed, videotaped, and witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people of differing religious beliefs. You’ll note he is not impressed with numerous witnesses and cameras in that case so I’m not sure why he would be impressed if numerous witnesses and cameras were present when someone’s limb grew back.

  28. John Morales Says:

    Um, considering cl’s demonstrated acumen, I feel it worth making the implicit explicit in my previous comment.

    I wrote “non-slippery” definition in response to your claim (it being a facile handwaving) that mine is somehow so. To make it clear, there is nothing ambiguous about criterion (b); that you acknowledge you consider there is no way to meet it in the real world does not make it “slippery”. I reiterate, your problem is that, when clearly defined thus, the nature of the claim becomes apparent.

    You can show me wrong by showing any non-congruence between my definition and the claims of miracle proponents.
    Or, you can show me wrong by submitting a definition that either obviates one of those criteria, or adds further necessary ones.

  29. jim Says:

    Jayman:

    Um, perhaps because amorphous blobs of light and mob imagination ignited by religious fervor, are different than testimony from relatively unbiased witnesses videotaping with professional equipment in a setting where YOU CAN ACTUALLY MAKE OUT THE DETAILS OF WHAT THEY’RE FILMING!

    I saw a video of Bigfoot once, and I didn’t believe that either.

  30. Jayman Says:

    Jim, I think that thread gives a decent look into how you think about such things. If you’re willing to accuse witnesses of religious fervor or bias even when it does not make sense (non-Christians were overcome with religious fervor for Christianity and are biased towards Christianity and against their own religious beliefs?), how can anyone expect that you will find any eyewitness testimony for the miraculous persuasive? Without credible witnesses (in your eyes) you’ll be free to dismiss any photographic or video evidence as inauthentic.

  31. jim Says:

    Jayman:

    Again, I have no evidence of testimony from non-Christians. I have unsupported assertions that these exist, but that’s all. Stories passed down from…when was it? 40 years ago, or so? And I have old photographs of blobs of light (sometimes with suggestive images painted over the top…doesn’t that suggest ANYTHING to you about the nature of these things, and the persuasive techniques used to bolster belief?).

    On the positive side, I have LOTS of methodological research concerning irrational mass psychology and behavior, especially in but not confined to religiously minded people. Plus, having once been a Christian minister, I have loads of personal experience concerning this stuff. I’ve seen how it operates from the ‘inside’, so to speak. From there, I simply reason from the general, to the specific. In spite of your doubts, there is certainly a kind of evidence that would AT THE VERY LEAST raise grave questions in my mind, and cause my to do some further investigating. Same goes for the scientific community. If there were miracles going on at even the minimum end of the scale of what logically MUST be happening across the board, none of this would even be a question anymore.

    Instead, whenever such things CAN be tested, they either fail, or are, at best, inconclusive. Take the research into prayer for heart patients, for instance. Certainly positive results should be easy to measure under these controlled circumstances, and yet…nothing. So far, I haven’t found any even slightly supporting evidence for miracles. Of course, one can always argue via the ‘ultimate gaps in our knowledge’ route; but by allowing too much, that argument proves absolutely zilch. ANYTHING is possible in a hypothetical world of all possibilities. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the kind of world we live in.

    It all comes down to extraordinary claims vs. evidence which speaks to the contrary regarding those claims. I see nothing even remotely convincing to me so far. If something, changes, I’ll let you know.

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