116 million case studiesFebruary 19, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Just a few more points from cl:
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.
Regarding whether or not statistics are evidence, I must say I’m a bit surprised at cl’s objection. If these 116 million case studies were actually instances of independent observers witnessing genuine miracles, why would they not constitute evidence that miracles are real?
Either way, my main point still stands: God does not show up in real life, and that’s why there is no evidence of genuine miracles.
I want to correct a misunderstanding on cl’s part, however. When I point out that the events in question are not verified/verifiable miracles, I am not being superstitious, nor claiming that knowledge is ignorance. I’m not even claiming to know that these events are not miraculous (whatever “miraculous” means). I do have other reasons for concluding that some unknown natural explanation is more likely, but that’s another matter. When I say that these alleged “sightings” are a combination of ignorance, superstition, exaggeration, misperception, and so on, I am merely stating the verifiable facts that we can observe about these events and people’s reactions to them.
Take Bernadette’s case. We don’t know what caused her to recover. That’s ignorance, the absence of knowledge. Bernadette (and many others) would like to give God credit for her recovery. That’s superstition: ascribing credit to a magical cause with no verifiable or describable connection to the cure.
Other stories have some of the other features. I knew a lady in a church I once attended who claimed to have been miraculously healed of cancer by God. She was quite vocal about it, to the point of being nearly charismatic (which stood out in the conservative Baptist congregation she and I were attending). One day I asked her for the details, and she suddenly became much less vocal. It turns out she had a tiny, early stage melanoma that her doctor found and removed in an outpatient visit. The usual survival rate was better than 98%, but to her, the (doctor-assisted) cure was a miracle. That’s exaggeration.
Misperceptions? Zeitoun, though that was very likely what you might call a deliberate misperception. The “apparitions” have fraud written all over them, but true believers are almost literally blind to the signs of deliberate deception. And so it goes.
Ok, you may say, but that’s only a handful of cases out of 116 million. Is it reasonable to extrapolate those few anecdotal instances to all 116 million cases? I think it is, because this is not a random sample. These are cases that are selected by advocates of miracles as being the best and most convincing cases available. These are the cream of the crop—if these “miracles” turn out to be cases of ignorance, superstition, misperception and so on, then it’s reasonable to assume that the lesser cases will also fail to qualify as anything more than just ordinary human fallibility.
I’m not claiming any knowledge based on ignorance here. Where we are ignorant, I agree that we are ignorant. There are unexplained phenomena, and it’s true that we do not currently have explanations for such cases (obviously). The fact is, however, that it is universally true that whenever we have discovered the correct answers to previously unexplained phenomena, these answers have turned out to be natural causes. We’re not saying anything unreasonable when we say we expect future answers to be consistent with the answers we’ve always found in the past.
It’s also true that we do observe the characteristics we do observe. Ascribing things to magical causes, in the absence of any demonstrable connection between the two, is superstition, so when we see people arbitrarily ascribing things to magical causes without any describable connection between the two, it is merely factual to say their “explanation” is superstitious. And when the data relating to an alleged miracle fails to provide you with any means of verifying whether or not a genuine miracle really occurred, you’re merely being accurate when you point out that this does not constitute a verifiable miracle.
I think perhaps where cl might be going wrong is in assuming that if a genuine miracle actually happened, it would necessarily be verifiable and non-superstitious. But a genuine miracle is not necessarily mutually exclusive with superstition and a lack of verifiability. If a sneaky deity performed a secret miracle, such that men could never detect the connection between the miracle and the deity that performed it, it would be superstitious for men to ascribe that miracle to the deity without having any evidence or explanation showing a verifiable connection. And if the same deity performed a miracle that was indistinguishable from the results of natural causes, it would still be unverifiable as a genuine miracle.
The catch is that if all miracles are superstitious and unverifiable, then men are left without a valid reason for believing that genuine miracles actually occur. A deity Who was performing clandestine miracles would know that He was depriving people of the opportunity to honestly and rationally conclude that miracles are real. Consequently, it would have to be the case that He was either unwilling or unable to give us a valid reason for believing in miracles.
But if there were some compelling reason for Him to be either unwilling or unable to give us a valid reason for concluding that miracles exist, then that same reason would prevent Him from performing any of the Biblical miracles attributed to Him. We can travel down the logical path that allows us to assume that miracles are real anyway, but at the end of the road we find that our modern rationalization is inconsistent with the ancient Bible stories.
And that’s just par for the course. Look for miracles, look for God to show up in real life, and you end up with ignorance, superstition, excuses, and inconsistencies. It is objective, observable, verifiable fact that God does not show up in real life, despite the best efforts of believers to find some valid real-world basis for believing in Him. Alethea shows up, but the Christian deity/deities seem unwilling, or unable, to do it.