Cross-examining Bernadette’s healing

Still digging my way through the comment backlog. I’ve worked my way up to Jayman’s response to the post on the healing of Bernadette McKenzie, and I think it’s worth discussion. [EDIT: sorry, that's the wrong citation. Jayman was responding to an earlier post, not the one on Bernadette's healing.]

Your calculation for the number of miracles that happen each day in the U.S. makes two unwarranted assumptions. First, it assumes that each miracle is experienced or witnessed by only one person. Second, it assumes that Americans who have experienced or witnessed a miracle did so on U.S. soil. Both your assumptions are false and therefore your number is wrong. You cannot accurately calculate the number of miracles that happen each day in the U.S. solely from the statistic I offered.

Your calculations from the Gospels are just as bad. First, the Gospels do not claim to recount every miracle Jesus worked nor the exact length of his ministry, making it impossible to calculate the number of miracles Jesus worked per day. Second, you compare the (wrong) number of miracles per day in the entire U.S. with the number of miracles performed per day by Jesus (apples to oranges).

First let me commend Jayman on his rigorous skepticism. I’m glad to see he’s not just taking my word for things, and that he’s carefully considering what I have to say. That’s an attitude that would make a difference if more people applied it to more situations.

I’ll stand by my calculations, though, at least as a rough estimate. If 48% of 300,000,000 people have seen a miracle in the past century or so, that’s still roughly 2,500 instances, on average, of some American witnessing a miracle each day. If you want to propose that some of these miracles happen outside the US, that’s fine, but you still have 2,500 miracle-witnessing events per day, on average, even if some of those instances involve the same witnesses. So neither of Jayman’s objections materially reduce the rate at which we ought to be seeing miracles, if the original statistic is correct.

Jayman next tries to explain why we still have no verifiable evidence of miracles, despite the remarkably high frequency with which people claim they are observed. He makes three arguments.

(1) Disagreements are the norm for humans. This would not be the only case where people can look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions.

(2) There are skeptics who will not believe in the supernatural regardless of the evidence provided and admit as much.

(3) The vast majority of miracles appear to be historical occurrences that cannot be anticipated beforehand. This rules out scientific investigation, at least in the sense of repeating the same thing over and over again.

Disagreements are a problem under two conditions: when we don’t have enough information to draw a reliable conclusion, and when the subject concerns matters of subjective opinion, belief, values, etc. If miracles are indeed being observed at the rate of 2,500 or so per day, there ought to be plenty of information on which to base a conclusion, and on the other hand, if miracles are purely a matter of subjective beliefs rather than objective reality, well, that rather settles that.

Blaming skeptics for the lack of evidence is a red herring, since one man’s refusal to look at the evidence is no reason why that evidence can’t be made available to the rest of us. Nor is lack of repeatability a serious obstacle, since science studies non-repeatable phenomena (the Big Bang, Mt. St. Helens, etc.) all the time.

Jayman then makes a claim that, by his own standards, is rather extraordinary.

I admit that people can be mistaken or careless when examining miracles and may believe a miracle happened when, in fact, none did (or the term “miracle” can be used in a non-supernatural sense). However, I also know there are many stories that have no natural explanation. Your attempted explanations for miracles do not adequately explain all miracles (which is the very thing you need to do in order to confidently assert God does not show up in real life).

He knows that many stories have no natural explanation. Not just that we currently don’t know what the explanation is, but that no natural explanation is even possible. This, I have to say, looks like a double standard to me: if I cannot prove that a natural explanation exists for each and every claimed miracle, then I’m not allowed to say God has not shown up in real life, but Jayman does not need to prove that each and every possible natural explanation is wrong before he can claim that no natural explanation exists. No fair! :)

But seriously, the problem here is not that I lack an adequate explanation for all reported cases of presumend miracles. I do have an explanation: people are not omniscient, and frequently fail to understand the causes of what they see, and often substitute superstitious attributions in place of explanations that are consistent with the real-world truth we do understand. Just because we do not currently understand what those causes are, does not mean that they do not exist. We are not God: we don’t cause things to exist by thinking them, and they don’t need our understanding in order to be real.

And in any case, as I mentioned before, if the miracle consists merely of our ignorance of the actual cause, then God still has not shown up, because if He had shown up we would no longer be in ignorance of what the cause was. The act of showing up in real life would be the extraordinary evidence which would suffice to demonstrate, not just the miracle, but the existence of God which the miracle is supposed to prove.

Oops, I skipped a paragraph. Jayman writes:

You and Tony were discussing whether our present day observations are consistent with what the Bible says and I hope he has further comments. You claim that the Gospels say God wants to spend time with us in person. Where? I can think of passages where he says he will send his Spirit, but I assume that is not “in person” in your mind. More importantly, the “us” given the Spirit is his followers, not just anybody.

Where in the Bible? John 3:16, for one, assuming that “love” is not some strange variation in which the One who loves has no desire to interact or associate, in any personal or tangible way, with those He allegedly “loves.” And note that the distinction between “His followers” and “just anybody” is irrelevant: God does not show up for believers, either, otherwise they would not be forced to resort to using appeals to ignorance and superstition as though these things were genuine miracles.

Well, I’m out of time for this morning, so we’ll pick up here tomorrow. Cheers.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 26 Comments »

26 Responses to “Cross-examining Bernadette’s healing”

  1. cl Says:

    Bear with me for a few, I’m here in good faith.

    You said, “And in any case, as I mentioned before, if the miracle consists merely of our ignorance of the actual cause, then God still has not shown up, because if He had shown up we would no longer be in ignorance of what the cause was.”

    As I hear you right now, this translates to, “When we don’t know the actual cause, we can be sure it is not God.” I can’t help but say that’s bunk.

    So the truth of the matter stems from your ability or inability to believe it? Some people believe God did show up during Alleged Miracle X. You believe they didn’t.

    Who are you to define what is and isn’t the actual cause? I see this as a cop-out on your behalf, but whether it is conscious or not I don’t presume to know. How do we accurately know when lack of an explanation results from causal ignorance vs. causal impossibility? Let’s take the example of spontaneous remission (SR). We don’t know what causes SR. How does that give you free reign to state what does not cause SR?

    This is why I say we need some serious definitions of terms for this discussion. Otherwise each side is always provided an out, and we’re always back at square one.

    What is a miracle, and how do I know when I’ve found one you’ll accept as truly miraculous?

  2. Dave S. Says:

    d:

    “As I hear you right now, this translates to, “When we don’t know the actual cause, we can be sure it is not God.” I can’t help but say that’s bunk.”

    That you cannot say A does not mean that you must be saying B. There is a third option, that we simply don’t know.

  3. Airor Says:

    Jayman writes:
    “First, it assumes that each miracle is experienced or witnessed by only one person.”
    DD responds:
    “If 48% of 300,000,000 people have seen a miracle in the past century or so, that’s still roughly 2,500 instances, on average, of some American witnessing a miracle each day. If you want to propose that some of these miracles happen outside the US, that’s fine, but you still have 2,500 miracle-witnessing events per day, on average, even if some of those instances involve the same witnesses.”

    DD is wrong and didn’t hear what Jayman was proposing. If all 48% of the population saw the same miracle, then only one miracle occurred. If one thousand on average saw each miracle, then only 2.5 a day occur. So Jayman is correct that DD is overestimating miracles by assuming each individual miracle is witnessed by only one person.

  4. Airor Says:

    DD wrote: “And in any case, as I mentioned before, if the miracle consists merely of our ignorance of the actual cause, then God still has not shown up, because if He had shown up we would no longer be in ignorance of what the cause was.”
    CL responds: As I hear you right now, this translates to, “When we don’t know the actual cause, we can be sure it is not God.” I can’t help but say that’s bunk.

    You are correct that it would be bunk if it actually translated that way. But that isn’t what it translates to. What DD is pointing out is that for God to “show up” in real life he would have to be present: i.e. there would have to have some kind of manifestation that we could point to and say ‘that right there is God’.

    When something unexplained occurs, we don’t have information about the cause (God or anything else) so we don’t have information that god showed up. So he isn’t saying God could not have done it, he’s saying we have gained no additional information about whether or not God did it. Therefore pointing out lots of unexplained occurances does nothing to further the argument that a God exists.

    CL, Does this answer your question?

  5. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Airor:

    No, if 116 million people see the same miracle, then it’s still 116 million instances of X, where X is “someone sees a miracle”. If you have 116 million instances of X over a 116 year period, mathematically that’s an average of 1,000,000 instances of X per year. It doesn’t mean that those instances are necessarily divided up at the rate of an even 116,000,000 per year, it’s just a ballpark approximation of how common X ought to be.

    Now granted, it would be pretty meaningless to apply the concept of average-over-time to a sample set where all 116 million samples were simultaneous, but I don’t think that’s really a concern in this case. If 116 million people, or even only 1,000,000 people, all saw the same miracle at the same time, I think the rest of us would have heard about it by now. But it’s more likely that reports of miracles are a bit more evenly distributed than that. Not uniformly, of course, but like a stock market chart, with peaks and valleys and constant changes.

    Note too that my experience has been that those who think they’ve seen one miracle tend to think they’ve seen others also, which would mean we ought to revise our estimate up by whatever is the average number of miracles seen by the average person reporting them. I’d make a rough guess that this factor would tend to compensate for any negative trend caused by multiple people reporting the same miracle.

  6. Airor Says:

    You might have a point if he were talking about the number of instances of “someone sees a miracle.” The problem of course is that nobody but you is talking about that. What your argument depends on, and your statistic implies is a count of the actual number and the rate of miracles occurring.

    We have both pointed out that a statistic like “48% of the population has seen miracle” says absolutely nothing about the number of miracles seen, let alone how many occur a year. Without that missing information it is absolutely illogical to come up with a number of sightings a year without assumptions. We pointed out one (that you could be assuming only one sighting per person, and one person per sighting). You’re suggesting that instead you used another (that the rate is relatively constant and that the overestimation approximately equals the underestimation). Note that both sets of assumptions are equivalent and both are equally being made up from nowhere.

  7. Deacon Duncan Says:

    cl:

    I am certainly not saying that if we don’t know the cause, then we know the cause was non-divine. If that were the case, I would be making the same mistake as Jayman, treating the absence of knowledge as though it were the presence of knowledge.

    My point is related to what I call the Undeniable Fact and its Inescapable Consequence. The Undeniable Fact is that God does not show up in real life. The Inescapable Consequence is that we have no basis for our conclusions regarding God, other than to put our trust in the words, speculations, and feelings of men. This is a serious consequence, because it means so-called faith in God is really just trust in fallible men (who happen to contradict themselves, each other, and observable reality).

    In that context, if we encounter some event whose causes we do not understand, God still has not shown up. Even if He secretly and miraculously performed the deed that puzzles us, He did not make Himself sufficiently observable enough for us to know that He was the cause of the event, and therefore the Inescapable Consequence is still inescapable. There is no observable behavior of God for us to base our faith on, there are only things that fallible and limited humans fail to understand, and which some of them superstitiously attribute to the deity or magical entity of their choice.

  8. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Oh, and as for your question about what I would accept as a miracle, I’d have to ask, Why settle for a miracle? The term “miracle” is a by-word for something so rare it virtually never happens, as in “if that deadbeat dad ever showed up to spend time with his kids, it would be a miracle.” Is the Gospel really compatible with the Heavenly Father being that kind of deadbeat dad, so negligent and uncaring that it would literally be a miracle if He ever showed up?

    But to give your question a more direct answer, I would say that it ought to be fairly easy: just demonstrate that God behaves in real life as though He believed that what the Gospel says about Him were true. It shouldn’t be too hard for Him, right? How should any loving father behave towards his children? Absentee parenting is not the sign of a loving and concerned father.

    I have no demands, so I can’t tell you what I would require. I merely observe, and compare the words of men with what I see in the real world. My faith is in the real-world truth, so all I really care about is whether the words of men are consistent with that standard.

  9. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Airor, Jayman was quoting a statistic from Newsweek stating that 48% of the population claim to have seen a miracle. That’s 116 million sightings more or less, which is plenty of data for science to work with whether it’s one event with a huge impact or a huge number of events with a less perceptible impact. At either end of the spectrum, or anywhere in between, we’ve got a huge body of data that ought to be available for us to work with. We can’t claim both that miracles are a hidden or obscure phenomenon and that they have been sighted 116 million times over the course of the lifespans of the current population.

    The problem is that this huge body of data turns out to uniformly confirm the conclusion that the events themselves are not verified/verifiable miracles, but merely combinations of ignorance, superstition, exaggeration, misperception, and so on. This leads the apologist to want to argue that miracles are too rare to be observed, but that contradicts the claim that God must show up in real life because 48% of the population has seen miracles. Either there’s enough raw material there for us to work with to get answers about miracles, or there isn’t, but we can’t claim that both are true at the same time.

  10. cl Says:

    Dave S,

    Thanks for the review of the false dichotomy.

    Airor,

    You said, “You are correct that it would be bunk if it actually translated that way. But that isn’t what it translates to. What DD is pointing out is that for God to “show up” in real life he would have to be present: i.e. there would have to have some kind of manifestation that we could point to and say ‘that right there is God’.”

    So are we arguing against manifestations or miracles? The two are clearly not the same, as least, when I and others define them.

    You continue, “When something unexplained occurs, we don’t have information about the cause (God or anything else) so we don’t have information that god showed up. So he isn’t saying God could not have done it, he’s saying we have gained no additional information about whether or not God did it. Therefore pointing out lots of unexplained occurances does nothing to further the argument that a God exists.”

    Of course, and it never will if we can simply wave away any allegedly miraculous phenomena. Whenever something miraculous happens, the cause is not conventional, correct? Else why would we even assume the miraculous when the cause can be said to be conventional? The skeptic always has an out here, where he or she can say, “Oh, that wasn’t a miracle… Just another mysterious phenomenon we can’t explain.” This is weak; any miracle we bring DD can simply be eschewed, because God is not standing next to the little girl who suddenly was healed of cancer after prayer.

    IMO, DD is conflating manifestation with miracle, so no, you’ve not answered my question. BTW, my question is, What is the definition of a miracle? I’ve got some very rough starting points from jim and John Morales, but in order for these types of conversations to go anywhere, we need working defs that cannot be reneged on.

    Here’s where I agree with you all the way: You said, “We have both pointed out that a statistic like “48% of the population has seen miracle” says absolutely nothing about the number of miracles seen, let alone how many occur a year. Without that missing information it is absolutely illogical to come up with a number of sightings a year without assumptions.”

    I agree.

    DD,

    You said, “I am certainly not saying that if we don’t know the cause, then we know the cause was non-divine. If that were the case, I would be making the same mistake as Jayman, treating the absence of knowledge as though it were the presence of knowledge.”

    That’s good to know. Thanks for clarifying.

    Then you say, “The Undeniable Fact is that God does not show up in real life…”

    I reject that entire paragraph. Don’t you equally scoff when Fundies treat their pet opinions as fact? You are not omniscient and you cannot make this claim in an intellectually honest manner, IMO.

    However, I think your third paragraph clarifies everything for me. So, sans an empirically-detectable autograph, you’ll accept no miracle as proof of God or gods? IOW if today, you went outside for a smoke (or whatever you do outside), and somebody decapitated a man, then an hour later you witnessed this man’s head re-attach to his body enabling him to get up and go to the store, such would not be any reliable evidence for God IYO?

    If that’s the case, then there’s really no point for me to ask you to define a miracle, and I’m simply wasting our time.

  11. cl Says:

    DD,

    Sorry to not read all the way before finishing my comment. You said, “The term “miracle” is a by-word for something so rare it virtually never happens…”

    Exactly my point. That’s why I’m seeking some non-subjective definitions of terms. But I don’t think it matters, because you’ll only accept manifestation as evidence, correct?

    You said, “Airor, Jayman was quoting a statistic from Newsweek stating that 48% of the population claim to have seen a miracle. That’s 116 million sightings more or less, which is plenty of data for science to work with whether it’s one event with a huge impact or a huge number of events with a less perceptible impact.”

    I disagree. The actual data surrounding Miracle X does not change whether 3 or 3 million people saw it. “Sightings” and anecdotes aren’t evidence.

    You said, “The problem is that this huge body of data turns out to uniformly confirm the conclusion that the events themselves are not verified/verifiable miracles, but merely combinations of ignorance, superstition, exaggeration, misperception, and so on.” (bold mine)

    Whatever data exists turns out to uniformly confirm the negative conclusion to you, and in this sentence, you are doing exactly what you denied doing earlier and accused Jayman of doing. You’re saying, “The data shows this was ignorance and superstition, not a verifiable miracle.”

    How is that not treating the absence of knowledge as the presence of knowledge? If we truly don’t know, the answer is NULL, not negative.

    Just being honest here – I’m having a hard time following you; you’re sending mixed messages to me.

  12. Jayman Says:

    (1) I think it’s self-evident that calculating the number of miracles per year in the U.S. based solely on the percentage of Americans claiming to have witnessed a miracle is poor methodology.

    (2) Disagreements still occur even when we have tons of information and the subject is objective (e.g., Holocaust denial).

    (3) Science can only study historical phenomena to the extent that past events leave behind artifacts; and even then the artifacts don’t tell the whole story. There are few miracle stories I have heard where we would expect to have something like an archeaological record of the event.

    (4) My words may have been somewhat ambiguous, but I intended merely to say that there are many stories that do not have natural explanations according to our current understanding of nature. I did not intend, nor did I explicitly state, that natural explanations will never be possible for such stories.

    (5) You realize that people are not omniscient yet you make a claim (that God has never acted) which only an omniscient being could know is true.

    (6) I’m curious how you would respond if God did physically manifest himself and cause something to happen. I’m guessing you would still come up with rationalizations. This being’s claims to be God would not be good enough. The mere fact that he worked inexplicable wonders would not be proof that he was really God. Etc.

    (7) You make the false assumption that the Spirit cannot interact and associate with believers in a personal and tangible way. And the distinction between believer and unbeliever is relevant because God has shown up for me but not for you.

  13. Damian Says:

    Hi cl.

    (I commented on your blog a few weeks ago, but I forgot to check back!)

    You said:

    “Whatever data exists turns out to uniformly confirm the negative conclusion to you, and in this sentence, you are doing exactly what you denied doing earlier and accused Jayman of doing. You’re saying, “The data shows this was ignorance and superstition, not a verifiable miracle.””

    “How is that not treating the absence of knowledge as the presence of knowledge? If we truly don’t know, the answer is NULL, not negative.”

    I can see what you are saying here, but that is not what DD is suggesting (unless DD wishes to correct me, of course).

    The point is: whenever a perceived miracle has been examined methodologically (using tried and tested practices), they turn out to be the result of either “ignorance, superstition, exaggeration, misperception, and so on”. And I would add that (and DD has explicitly suggested the same, even if it doesn’t appear in that sentence) , when we cannot explain a particular incident, it is only reasonable to admit as such. Or in other words, the most that we can admit to is ignorance. But that doesn’t help your cause, either. It will remain a mystery until we can explain it. And as Victor Stenger said — disagreeing with Carl Sagan’s famous quote — an absence of evidence in science really is pretty good evidence of absence.

    Of course, we are all free to disagree with any conclusion, but to do so, you would also need to explain why there are no confirmed miracles in the scientific literature. If it were possible to ascertain that miracles have occurred — however rare — each and every one should have, and surely would have, been examined, re-examined, and examined once more, in the scientific literature. But that is not what we see.

    Indeed, if (most) scientists genuinely believed that miracles are not only possible, but regularly occur, it would cause them to doubt many of the most fundamental conclusions of the last four centuries.

    And this highlights yet another contradiction that is fundamental to many religions: On the one hand we are to believe that god is the explanation for the “The Principle of Uniformity of Nature”, and the fact that we can take advantage of scientific methodology at all to understand the world around us. And on the other we are to believe that god, at his own behest, can “break” or “bend” the laws of nature. All that this really shows is that god is both an explanation for everything and nothing at the same time.

    So, you are left with very few choices. Either scientists — and in particular, religious scientists — do not believe that any of the thousands (if not millions — who cares how many?) of acclaimed miracles are amenable to the perfectly rational and logical methods of science, or they are all wrong, and one has to wonder why cl (or Jayman, or anyone else for that matter) has not set about producing a paper that will reveal the existence of said miracles.

    Otherwise, as DD has been trying to explain, the most that we can say about a phenomena that is as yet unexplained is that we are ignorant of its cause. To insert god in to the equation is to commit either the god-of-the-gaps fallacy, an appeal to ignorance, or both.

    Neither myself, DD, or pretty much any non-believer, would suggest that, therefore no miracle has objectively, and with absolute certainty, ever occurred, but until there is objective, agreed upon (by numerous scientists) evidence, it is perfectly reasonable, if not strictly philosophically justifiable, to claim that god has never acted in a way that is amenable to serious investigation by humanity.

    Strangely, believers are perfectly comfortable with these conclusions, and this language, up-to-but-not-including the point where their own particular religious beliefs are involved. At that point they insist on strict philosophical rigor, but only from those who do not not accept their claims. There is a word to describe people like that……

  14. Arthur Says:

    All this B. McK. stuff sounds an awful lot like A and B having separate conversations, where A is people who look at the Bible first, and then at the rest of the world, and B is people who just look at the world. At least, that’s what I’ve come up with to explain this fascination with miracles, and this disbelief that a reasonable person could fail to be persuaded by them.

    I can find literally nothing, anywhere, that credits miracles in a way that qualitatively separates the subject from alien visitations, parapsychology, ghost hunting, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. What’s a non-Christian to believe—that his head is stuck in the sand? That, deep down, she really just doesn’t want God to be real? But don’t supporters of alien visitation and etc. claim the same sorts of stuff, e.g. people not wanting to know the truth, bias and malicious neglect by mainstream science, that sort of thing?

    Anyway, didn’t an apologist once tell me that all the early scientists were Christians? What happened to them? Surely history should be a story of science finding more and more reasons to believe the Gospel, instead of the story of science gradually drifting away from religion generally.

    And speaking of which, what about every other religion in the world? Do any of those make any claims? Where is the bulshytt filter that eliminates all that human vanity without causing structural damage to the Gospels? What’s a non-Christian to think?

    With or without this enormous surfeit of supernatural/ paranormal/ miraculous claims, it makes complete sense to say: in general terms, anything is possible; but, for every single specific statement of supposed fact, the more it’s in conflict with previous experience, the more complete must be the evidence to justify us believing it.

  15. cl Says:

    Damian,

    Your comment on my blog was thoughtful, and you’re welcomed back anytime.

    You said, “…when we cannot explain a particular incident, it is only reasonable to admit as such…”

    Okay, so given the absence of evidence, we default to the NULL position. That’s reasonable. Yet just before this, you said, “…whenever a perceived miracle has been examined methodologically (using tried and tested practices), they turn out to be the result of either “ignorance, superstition, exaggeration, misperception, and so on”.”

    Here you leave the NULL position and you’re doing the same thing as DD. The quality of being unexplained is an intrinsic property of any perceived miracle, correct? So, if some perceived miracle is unexplainable, then like you say, you should simply say that it’s unexplainable. As it is, you say perceived miracles turn out to be the result of ignorance, superstition, etc. You’ve left the NULL position, but on what rational ground can you stand when the phenomenon in question is unexplainable? Again, I’m hearing, “It’s unexplainable, the result of ignorance and superstition, not a miracle.” Logical disconnect for me.

    DD’s exact words: “The data shows this was ignorance and superstition, not a verifiable miracle.”

    How can data lead to such a conclusion? What scientist who wants to remain working would ever say that data points to ignorance and superstition? This is preposterous. The data shows that ; that’s why the phenomena in question are unexplained. The data doesn’t show that one particular conclusion is ignorant or superstitious. The data doesn’t show anything reliably conclusive or these conversations wouldn’t arise at all.

    You said, “Of course, we are all free to disagree with any conclusion, but to do so, you would also need to explain why there are no confirmed miracles in the scientific literature.”

    There never will be. Science presupposes methodological naturalism for a good reason. Scientists aren’t in the business of confirming miracles. Scientists are in the business of explaining things empirically. The most any respectable scientist can say when presented with a potential miracle is, “I currently cannot explain this.” I’d be very skeptical of any scientist who claimed to have confirmed a miracle. Wouldn’t you?

    Incidentally, what is your definition of a miracle?

    “Indeed, if (most) scientists genuinely believed that miracles are not only possible, but regularly occur, it would cause them to doubt many of the most fundamental conclusions of the last four centuries.”

    I disagree. That miracles may regularly occur is no reason to doubt that which has stood the tests of empiricism and the scientific method. Laws of nature proceed consistently unless overtaken by greater laws.

    “…one has to wonder why cl (or Jayman, or anyone else for that matter) has not set about producing a paper that will reveal the existence of said miracles.”

    I’m left to wonder why you assume I haven’t. I’ll be glad to show it to the world too, once I can get some definitions of the word miracle that leave no outs for anyone. Problem is, whenever somebody brings an example of a miracle to a skeptic, the skeptic simply waves it away with, “Oh, that’s not a miracle.” Then what is a miracle? Commenter jim says amputees regrowing limbs and cancer wards emptying out would constitute a miracle in his eyes, yet, couldn’t we simply say that these things are not miracles, just as DD denounces all other miracles? If I could grow back an amputated arm, what’s to prove that’s a miracle? Get my drift?

    Not all people can be persuaded by miracles, and I’m okay with that, but I don’t want to play that silly game. From anyone who can be persuaded by a miracle, I want painstakingly precise definitions of terms beforehand, as well as a reasonable manner in which we might eliminate the confounders of spontaneous remission and the placebo effect. Essentially, I want to cement the goalposts before we start, because I’ve been down this road far too many times now.

    “Otherwise, as DD has been trying to explain, the most that we can say about a phenomena that is as yet unexplained is that we are ignorant of its cause. To insert god in to the equation is to commit either the god-of-the-gaps fallacy, an appeal to ignorance, or both.”

    That’s all fine and dandy, but what fallacy occurs when we insert ~God to the equation? Atheists also use GOTG reasoning. DD says it’s an Undeniable Fact that God doesn’t show up in the world. That’s subjective opinion, not an undeniable fact, and certainly not the voice of reason. DD is clearly in the camp of people who cannot be persuaded by miracles. DD could witness a resurrection tomorrow and would just ascribe it to ignorance of cause.

  16. John Morales Says:

    Laws of nature proceed consistently unless overtaken by greater laws.

    You’re disingenous. I’ve already responded to you on this assertion. Such laws are considered universal and invariable facts of the physical world and a single counterexample invalidates them.
    You ignored that.

  17. cl Says:

    John Morales,

    I’m not going to respond to your opinion that I’m disingenuous. I can’t help that people will see what they want to see, where they want to see it.

    You said, “Such laws are considered universal and invariable facts of the physical world and a single counterexample invalidates them.”

    I agree, and nothing in this statement challenges mine. And I ignored your prior comment because there I see absolutely zero sense in attempting to prove a miracle to someone whose very definition of the word cannot allow a miracle to be proven.

    Makes sense to me, anyways.

  18. Arthur Says:

    I agree that the idea “that miracles may regularly occur is no reason to doubt that which has stood the tests of empiricism and the scientific method.” The problem is that all the things which have withstood those tests constitute reasons to doubt that miracles occur at all.

    What on earth–so to speak–do the believers in miracles (or alien visitations, or communication with the dead, or Joseph Smith, or etc.) have to offer the believers in observation (plus inductive and deductive inference)? Both parties have a shared history–it’s not like they’ve been ignoring each other until now–and that history has every appearance of being a gradual winnowing of the first party’s ideas out of the second party’s purview.

    Miracles only serve to highlight this relationship: those claims have been there all along; folks back in the day had a vested interest in reconciling them with the way the world was being shown to work; yet it seems safe to say that this is not what happened, and it seems silly to claim anti-Christian bias or something.

    Ignorance, superstition, exaggeration, and misperception are observable facts of the world. They are powerful explainers of many things (and that’s just the “not deliberate” category). If an event can be found to be a product of these observably real things, then that event has been explained to the satisfaction of reasonable people.

    My Merriam-Webster says that a miracle is “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” There is no one with two neurons to rub together who wouldn’t be persuaded by a “miracle” of this type, Deacon included. Now, if the divinity in question chose to be deliberately obfuscatory…then we’d be in the position we’re in right now, with some people trying to guess Her intent and the rest of us shrugging and getting on with things.

  19. cl Says:

    Arthur,

    “The problem is that all the things which have withstood those tests constitute reasons to doubt that miracles occur at all.”

    I disagree. That we can empirically prove repeatable, testable phenomena does not entail reasonable grounds for doubt that miracles can occur.

    “What on earth–so to speak–do the believers in miracles (or alien visitations, or communication with the dead, or Joseph Smith, or etc.) have to offer the believers in observation (plus inductive and deductive inference)?”

    Why do you present a false dichotomy? Why can’t a believer in miracles also be a believer in observation?

    “…history has every appearance of being a gradual winnowing of the first party’s ideas out of the second party’s purview.”

    I agree. We’ve come a long way from thinking fire was a demon.

    “…folks back in the day had a vested interest in reconciling them with the way the world was being shown to work, yet it seems safe to say that this is not what happened…”

    I have no such interest, and this is exactly what should have happened. IMO, a miracle is something that cannot be reconciled with the way the world is being shown to work.

    “Ignorance, superstition, exaggeration, and misperception are observable facts of the world. They are powerful explainers of many things…”

    I agree, but…

    “If an event can be found to be a product of these observably real things, then that event has been explained to the satisfaction of reasonable people.”

    Are we talking about the product of purported miracles? Or are we talking about the cause of purported miracles? A conclusion proves nothing concerning cause. So how do you suggest a scientist can prove that ignorance and superstition are the cause of an unexplained phenomena? Regarding unexplained phenomena, the minute we leave the NULL position without evidence, we suffer – no matter which direction we go.

    “My Merriam-Webster says that a miracle is “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.””

    And that’s about useless as a definition. To one person, a girl whose cancer vanishes after a prayer meeting meets this definition. To another person, it doesn’t. So how can we define a miracle such that a miracle can be objectively identified?

    “There is no one with two neurons to rub together who wouldn’t be persuaded by a “miracle” of this type, Deacon included.”

    Although I can’t speak for DD, from what I can glean of his writings in this series, any miracle can be relegated to ignorance – unless of course, God actually manifests and takes credit for the miracle – but even then, how do we know the being which manifests to take credit for the miracle is actually God?

  20. Arthur Says:

    What does it mean to say that you believe in events which are, by your definition, irreconcilable with the way the world is being shown to work? This, plus the statement that science doesn’t provide reasonable grounds for doubting the occurrence of miracles (plus all the other miracle posts I’ve been reading), makes me think that we’re talking past each other.

    I’m not a believer, so when my dictionary says an event “manifesting divine intervention,” I take that to mean unambiguous divine intervention, and not some kind of vague mysteriousness which makes believers keep believing, and which may or may not be more satisfactorily explained in the future. The world is full of complicated things we understand poorly, and it’s also full of people making all sorts of extraordinary claims. So, from where I’m standing, vague mysteriousness can only give guidance to people who already know what conclusion they want to be guided to (and, from where I’m standing, those people are cheating). More explicitly, see my post on “What is Superstition?” (I don’t know how to link).

    It seems like plain common sense to me to say that, in general terms, anything is possible; but, for every single specific statement of supposed fact, the more it’s in conflict with previous experience, the more complete must be the evidence to justify us believing it.

  21. Damian Says:

    Damian,

    Your comment on my blog was thoughtful, and you’re welcomed back anytime.

    Thank you very much. We may never agree about religion and God (apart from a few minor issues), but sensible, intellectually honest people can always enjoy these discussions and agree to disagree in the end.

    Here you leave the NULL position and you’re doing the same thing as DD…. Again, I’m hearing, “It’s unexplainable, the result of ignorance and superstition, not a miracle.” Logical disconnect for me.

    I’m sorry, I (and perhaps others) should have been more explicit. I’m talking about two separate instances — (1) where it is possible to poke dozens of holes in the testimony which renders it as utterly worthless, and thus, the probable result of ignorance and superstition, and (2), where an incident is, after careful examination, currently unexplainable. I can see how you reached the conclusion that you did from my words, so I apologize for not making my point more clearly.

    I would contend that most of the instances of supposed miracles that I have read about would fit in to the first category. There is either a perfectly reasonable natural explanation that the claimant has chosen to ignore (we know how confirmation bias works, and I would readily admit that if I saw something that was unexplainable, I wouldn’t instantly believe it to be a miracle — that is my confirmation bias), or their story is so chock full of holes and inconsistencies that is only reasonable to conclude that the individual is not revealing the whole story and that they are attempting to force a conclusion.

    There are, of course, things that we are yet to explain, but a newspaper story (which was provided as evidence of miracles) is certainly not an acceptable source of evidence.

    How can data lead to such a conclusion? What scientist who wants to remain working would ever say that data points to ignorance and superstition? This is preposterous.

    Plenty of psychologists and experts on the “paranormal”, using a strict scientific methodology, have concluded that claims are essentially the result of “ignorance and superstition”. If your only complaint is that they may not couch it in those terms, then I would agree with you, but make no mistake, that is what they mean.

    We seem to be talking at cross purposes here, and I hope that my earlier clarification has helped. Sure, some claims are yet to be — and in fact, may well never be — explained, but it is only reasonable, given what we really do understand about the universe, to err on the side of caution, to apply the principal of parsimony, and to conclude that it is likely that nothing untoward happened — or at the very worst, that we may never be able to explain such instances. It emphatically does not mean that we can therefore conclude that a miracle has occurred, as I’m sure that you would agree.

    Now, if that is the aim of believers, it is up to them to find a live (as in, very recent) case, and investigate it using a strict methodology, and preferably with the help of several skeptical scientists. There is absolutely nothing, in principal, that leads me to reject the claim that a miracle has occurred, apart from the fact that, if it really could be ascertained, it would literally be the most amazing scientific conclusion that has ever been reached, and as yet, there is no indication that anyone who is serious about mapping our beliefs to reality has declared that they honestly believe that a miracle has occurred, and that it can be objectively confirmed.

    There never will be. Science presupposes methodological naturalism for a good reason….Incidentally, what is your definition of a miracle?

    This isn’t strictly true. Science is a method, and while many atheists like to dress it up as some sort of exclusive club that only those who agree with its methodology can join, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are thousands of “scientific methods” (the only real standard being that it is likely to derive reliable conclusions), and while most scientists have concluded that, as an overarching principal, methodological naturalism is most likely to produce results, if scientists believed that it were possible to detect, isolate, and study so called divine intervention, they would be falling over themselves to do so. Can you imagine the kind of grants and world-wide attention one would attract if one could seriously detect something “otherworldly”?

    But that isn’t the only problem. The Templeton Foundation was formed with the expressed intention of doing scientific research pertaining to the promotion of religion. They are yet to hand out the $2m grant to someone who believes that it is possible to even infer design, miracles, the hand of god, etc, using a strict and rigorous scientific methodology. That says a lot, in my opinion.

    As to what I would consider a miracle, there is a decent discussion at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    This is part of the discussion on definition:

    In his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume offered two definitions of “miracle;” first, as a violation of natural law; shortly afterward he offers a more complex definition when he says that a miracle is “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent”. This second definition offers two important criteria that an event must satisfy in order to qualify as a miracle: It must be a violation of natural law, but this by itself is not enough; a miracle must also be an expression of the divine will. This means that a miracle must express divine agency; if we have no reason to think that an event is something done by God, we will have no reason to call it a miracle.

    I would say that an objectively observed and agreed upon “violation of natural law” would be the starting point. I can’t speak for others, but it would be nice if we could follow a causal chain to the point where even skeptics could agree that, either there is something about the universe that we have completely overlooked (and which looks like it is the result of divine origin), or that it is reasonable to conclude that perhaps it actually is the result of divine origin.

    Now, I am happy to concede that we could argue about this sort of thing all day long and still not agree. What would something of divine origin look like? But we must also take in to account that, as Ken Miller (biology professor at Brown University, also a Roman Catholic) says, when talking about evolution and Intelligent Design, if the conclusions of science over the past 150 years are incorrect, and Intelligent Design (direct intervention in the genome, etc) really can be inferred, God did a terrific job of convincing the vast majority of scientists that life really has evolved.

    So in other words, if you accept the “conclusions” of ID, it is difficult not to also conclude that God is a bit of a trickster, and that He has gone about His work in a way that is almost indistinguishable from natural, mechanistic, non-divinely originated, evolution. The findings of science sure as hell look as if nothing divine was involved, and the inference that it was requires not only a stretch of the imagination, but some pretty bad theology. At least, that’s what most religious believers tell me (note: that does not mean that God did not set things in motion, but that He is emphatically not a constant tinkerer (and a pretty poor designer), continually intervening to correct what would necessarily have to be His mistakes in the first place).

    Why is this important? Because it suggests that, to infer divine origin — when everything that we have applied a strict methodology to so far has suggested the opposite — would require something that is completely “unnatural”; something that utterly distorts well established knowledge, so that there is literally no other explanation. It may even require several instances of this to truly convince even religious scientists that something is going on. In essence, this is what we mean when we say that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

    It may appear to be an impossible standard, but you really are implying that the impossible is actually possible. And given that there are numerous examples of elaborate hoaxes, false inferences (such as a divine origin for everything from disease to earthquakes), as well as our understanding of the human capacity to arrive at these bogus conclusions, I don’t believe that we are asking for too much.

    …. whenever somebody brings an example of a miracle to a skeptic, the skeptic simply waves it away with, “Oh, that’s not a miracle.” Then what is a miracle? Commenter jim says amputees regrowing limbs and cancer wards emptying out would constitute a miracle in his eyes, yet, couldn’t we simply say that these things are not miracles, just as DD denounces all other miracles?….Essentially, I want to cement the goalposts before we start, because I’ve been down this road far too many times now.

    Most miracles are assigned as such by the Catholic church, or some other organization, and then pretty much forgotten. Don’t you think that if people genuinely believed that a miracle had occurred, and that it was verifiable to all but the most cranky of skeptics, that it would be more prominent? If I thought that I could objectively show that something miraculous had occurred, I wouldn’t simply categorize it as such, and then continue on with normal life. You must realize how much of a revelation a genuine miracle would be, right?

    Look, I admit that, even if you could objectively show that a limb had grown back, most people (including religious scientists) would scramble to find a natural explanation. But that is precisely because, thus far, pretty much everything that was once assigned to divine origin or intervention has now been explained by natural means. So, I accept that convincing people of the reality of miracles in not a simple task, and that to do so might even require following the causal chain back to the divine agency. But there is an important lesson for all religious believers here: that is one of the principle reasons that most scientists accept methodological naturalism as the starting point for scientific investigation (the other being, practicality (fantastic, we have discovered that such-and-such is the result of divine origin, but how does that help us to cure cancer, etc)).

    So, it may well be the case that it will always remain impossible to assign anything to divine agency. But if that is the case, what are we arguing about? The only other alternative is to relax our methodological standards — which we insist on for even the most trivial of conclusions in science — for something which would be considered as possibly the most important discovery in human history! That simply isn’t going to happen.

    Atheists also use GOTG reasoning. DD says it’s an Undeniable Fact that God doesn’t show up in the world. That’s subjective opinion, not an undeniable fact, and certainly not the voice of reason. DD is clearly in the camp of people who cannot be persuaded by miracles. DD could witness a resurrection tomorrow and would just ascribe it to ignorance of cause.

    I think that this is a little unfair. I get the impression that many believers see skeptics as simply attempting to avoid the reality of God. I can’t speak for others, but I have certainly never felt that way, and indeed, I really do go out of my way to avoid forming unsupportable beliefs, as well as confirmation bias. It would seem eminently reasonable to me that, if we are to conclude what would be the most mind-bending, fantastical conclusion that has ever been reached, there can be no short cuts, no sloppy reasoning, and no hasty conclusions.

    But what do we see in the real world? With creationists and pretty much all but the most well respected religious philosophers, that is precisely what we see. You can’t really blame us for being skeptical, I’m afraid. The vast majority of what we see can only be described as either a complete distortion of known science, an inversion of intellectual honesty, or a perceived commitment to force a conclusion that most religious believers are thoroughly embarrassed by. I’m only being honest here.

    As I continually remark to ID advocates: go away and do the necessary work and then publish the results. That’s all that you can do. In the end, we have no choice but to hope that the vast majority of people who matter are willing to give others a fair hearing. History bares that out, as well. There have been many an unpopular conclusion that has eventually been accepted due to the sheer weight of evidence.

  22. cl Says:

    Damian,

    I just noticed your last response is lengthy – which is not bad, don’t get me wrong. However, I want to give you a fair response, and I don’t have the energy to parse your response right now. I will try to get to it within a few days. Busy with lots of school Saturday, and weather permitting, Sunday is skateboarding day.

    DD,

    I was rereading through the thread here, and this caught my attention:

    “The Inescapable Consequence is that we have no basis for our conclusions regarding God, other than to put our trust in the words, speculations, and feelings of men. This is a serious consequence, because it means so-called faith in God is really just trust in fallible men (who happen to contradict themselves, each other, and observable reality).”

    I disagree and feel you’ve presented an either/or fallacy. Reasonable believers engage in a form of testing that is systematic and analogous to empiricism. When I was a kid, I performed such experiments, for example here. Mind you, this particular experiment yielded negative results. Point is, your statement claims that epistemologically, the only thing believers can do is trust the words of fallible men (and women) when at least one other option clearly exists. Such is incorrect.

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