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The Why & Frequency Of Miracles: Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth Reviewed — Part IV

Read Part I, II, III.

MOTIVE

That miracles have supernatural origins is true by definition (see below, in PROBABILITY). Miracles, like all events, must have causes, and cause has motive as part of its aspect, as we have already seen. God must have wanted to perform the miracle, else, of course, He would not have done it.

Shapiro, however, says “God’s intentions, desires, habits, and so on are simply not available to us. Whatever we assume about God’s nature is purely speculative—guesses, really.” Both statements are (at least sometimes) false. If Jesus were God, as he claimed, then his intentions, desires, and habits were known and available. Deciding whether the miracle that a man can be God is a separate question. God’s, or Jesus’s, or even the Holy Spirit’s motives are not always plain, of course, but when a man begs Jesus to be made well, and Jesus heals the man miraculously, the motivation is clear.

If Shapiro is not an empiricist, he plays one in the book. Divining God’s attributes and nature, in our limited and fractured way, is the topic of theology and metaphysics (did you see the bad joke?). It can be done, and has. (See this series.) So Shapiro is wrong because he insists on measurement even when it cannot be had. He asks, “But how do we verify assumptions about God’s characteristics and ‘personality’?” How do we verify there are an infinity of numbers? Answer: we do not and cannot verify it. But we all believe it. An empiricist cannot believe it, however, because he cannot verify it. No math for Shapiro, then, nor logic. Also, that we cannot measure God’s attributes, though we can deduce some, is not a refutation that all our deductions are wrong. Instead, empiricism is a fallacy.

Shapiro’s main conclusion is that since, he says, we cannot discern God’s motives, then we “have no justification for believing” in miracles. “[B]ecause,” he says about one instance, “verification of either assumption [about motives] is impossible—we can’t simply ask Oprah to sit down with a divine entity for an interview about it goals and methods—we’re not justified in believing either of them.” And from this supposed lack of knowledge of motive he concludes “inference to supernatural causes is never justified.” That is the gist of the entire book.

Shapiro fails to see that motive can be guessed about some miraculous claims: that motivation is part of the inference to an explanation, when it accounts for the assumed metaphysics and theology. Shapiro assumes his own, but fails to see they are his own. He also did not acknowledge that we cannot always know motives even in mundane events, such as the example which opened this review (ball on table placed by Alice, Bob, or Charlie). Alice could walk in the room and say “I did it”, but Shapiro would have to reject her claim because he did not learn why she did it. With God, we sometimes do know the motive: He tells us. And sometimes we do not. In any case, that we do not does not mean what happened did not happen (if something indeed happened).

That Shapiro has fallen into these errors is because he attempts to divorce his metaphysics, about which he is mainly wrong, from his epistemology, which he misuses.

PROBABILITY

Shapiro thinks an event’s improbability is what, in part, makes it a miracle: “the more unlikely the occurrence, the more reason to believe that something supernatural is taking place,” and “miracles should be extremely improbable.” His two criteria for miraculous are:

1. Extremely improbable: a miracle should be unlike anything we have seen before. It should be contrary to everything we know about how the world works.

2. Supernatural: a miracle can’t have a natural explanation. It must be the product of supernatural and typically divine agency.

The second criterion is not controversial. The first is incorrect. The problem is, no miracle has a probability: no event does either. Nothing has a probability, not even the roll of a die. That means improbability cannot be used to judge the veracity of a miracle, or of anything.

Probability is only defined with respect to assumed evidence. Miracles, then, are more or less probable depending on the evidence for or against them that it accepted or assumed. It is the same for any event.

It is however easy to see why Shapiro (or anybody) would say why walking on water is improbable. It is because he gathers evidence of his experience and discovers, in relation to that, such events do not often happen, or have never happened (to his knowledge), and that he cannot think of a cause. Gathered, that evidence makes the event improbable. But, at least to to the one doing the act, who knows the cause (in all its aspects), the probability is certain.

Think about a non miracle, like being struck by lightning. Nobody “has” a probability of being struck by lightning. A golfer standing on hillock in a thunderstorm is under different circumstances than an office drone seated as his desk in a skyscraper. Their circumstances differ in ways we know to be related to the causes of lightning, hence their probabilities differ. Indeed, the golfer and drone may be the same man at different times. Probability solely depends on the evidence believed or assumed. If the evidence changes, the probability changes.

Shapiro finally attempts to turn improbability into a reason not to believe miracles, by referencing the base rate fallacy. This is a real fallacy and old saw (regular readers will well recognize it), introduced in every elementary probability book when Bayes’s theorem arrives. How worried should an asymptomatic women, aged 40-60, with no family history of breast cancer, be when the mammogram comes back positive, considering the mammogram is right (say) 99.9% of the time? Not that worried, as it turns out, because conditional on the information assumed the base rate of cancer is small. A positive mammogram adds to the evidence and increases the probability of cancer only a little. The fallacy comes in supposing the probability of cancer is close to the accuracy of the test.

This is applied to claims of miracles by first assuming miracles are rare, and then assuming claims of miracles are imperfect to some degree in the same way medical tests are. Going only by the “base rate” of miracles, the probability of a miracle is small. Add to the evidence a good but possibly imperfect report, and the probability of the miracle does rise, but it still remains small overall. “The absolutely crucial point is that when we are faced with testimony about something very improbable, such as an alien abduction, we have to ask ourselves one question: What is more likely—that the event really happened, as the witness reports, or that some other explanation for the testimony is true?”

This is a fine question which, as Shapiro says, should and must be asked. Notice it relates to cause, both of the purported event but also of the motivation of the reporter. Not everybody who relates a miracle properly interpreted what they saw, and not everybody tells the full truth. It therefore makes sense to examine every claim critically. And it even makes sense, as in the case of alien abductions, to ignore the claim, given the base information that heretofore all such events critically examined have proved false, or were very likely false (given the evidence accumulated in the investigation). This is because, given all past events like this were false or probably false, we judge the probability high that the newest claim will also be false or likely false.

But this does not work for miracles, for three reasons. One, not all claims of miracles have been proven false or likely false; some have been proved true or likely true. Thus, it is worth investigating substantial new claims, and worth ignoring insubstantial ones (like faces in burnt toast; notice how decision is wrapped up in this). Two, since miracles do not have probabilities, they do not have base rates. Their probability only makes sense with respect to assumed evidence. We can assume their near impossibility, making them immune to any report à la Hume, but this becomes a circular argument (a well known criticism). Three, if we were to rule out any report of unlikely events, nobody who (say) claimed (say) to win the lottery could ever be believed (lottery probabilities specify the precise evidence with which to calculate their probabilities).

Shaprio is finally wrong again, because rarity does not define miracles. Every day in tens of thousands of churches, the miracle of transforming nature of bread in the Body of Christ occurs. Another miracle is the universe being held in existence from moment to moment. Rarity doesn’t enter into it.

43 thoughts on “The Why & Frequency Of Miracles: Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth Reviewed — Part IV Leave a comment

  1. “some [claims of miracles] have been proved true or likely true.”

    I’m surprised I’ve never heard of one. This would seem to be a big deal! I’ve heard of many reported miracles, from multiple accounts of weeping Virgin statues to the remission that supported Mother Teresa’s canonization, that have been pretty definitively debunked. Note that multiple, corroborating witnesses does not constitute proof. All these debunked miracles had been attested to by multiple witnesses.

  2. A whole lot of words here to philosophize about miracles…much much easier to examine specific such miraculous events and determine if in fact they were miraculous, or not, or, if there’s enough evidence to suggest they might just be ordinary.

    For example, the Miracles of the Church website (www dot miraclesofthechurch dot com) presents a whole lot of words about the alleged miracle of the blood of St Januarius, which liquefies when a miracle is needed.

    Funny thing, it never just liquefies but instead requires the celebrant to turn the vial in which it is stored for a while, and then it gets visibly soft & then juicy. Similar to how cold ketchup, and a variety of other [thixotropic] materials respond. Including some known to have existed in the locale from before the time this particular substance was put in a vial. Or even the blood of mere mortals who have reproduced the exact same effect. The Church won’t let it be properly tested, so nobody knows what’s really there. This one seem very suspicious, and certainly not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Then there’s the ole weeping Jesus statue bit, this time in Mumbai, India: The Church leadership there wasted no time declaring a “miracle” occurring at the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. Pilgrimages began (along with a surge in the Church’s cash flow!). Then, Sanal Edamaruku, skeptic and seeker of truth, came along and proved — PROVED — not a miracle, just bad plumbing –specifically sewage water. That stopped hopeful pilgrims to the site from drinking what they thought was holy water, hoping for a miracle cure for ailments. So he gets sued via India’s blasphemy law. Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald, Cardinal Gracias has gone on record saying he’d have the charges dropped if Sanal would apologize for the ruckus he, Sanal, caused — shame on him for revealing the truth and getting ignorant hopefuls to stop drinking sewage. One wonders what is meant by “apologize”, “recant”? (reminds one of Galileo’s experience)

    And one can go on & on … ancient Greek temples have concealed plumbing clearly made to allow a confederate hiding in a back room make it appear statues of the deities in the temple were speaking. Other holes for fire & smoke effects. Similar hidden features are found in Maya & Aztec religious sites…and such is found at religious sites hither & yon… Showmanship is part & parcel of religious ritual.

    Miracles — easily found in the realm of philosophy, consistently debunked in reality.

    Faith — ensures believers claiming to be seekers of truth don’t seek too rigorously or look too closely … like Dean Martin was wont to not look too closely at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPb8ZjebUP8 .

  3. Ken – The events in India are particularly galling, and serve to remind us that Catholic officials are only too happy to join forces with the power of the State in order to violently oppress anyone who exposes their carnival trickery. And I’m always happy to see the word “thixotropic”.

  4. So, if you do not know the motive of a human for some performimg kind of act, that human also will not perform the act? Because that is what Shapiro is saying.

    It is even worse. Dogs do not understand why humans perform certain acts (like bumping high-velocity beams of protons into each other). ( There are plenty of humans who do not understand that. ) So the LHC has not been build, as dogs are too stupid to understand particle physics.

  5. Public miracles are suspect. Of course it’s also worth mentioning that transubstantiation is not considered a miracle or even to be true by many Christians.
    The man who says he has been talking to a demon for ten years and therefore needs two months off for Lent which he then does not take is not the best witness for the occurrence or veracity of miracles! Fox and chicken coup again.

    It’s not the atheist doubt and humour you need to worry about, it’s the great pretenders! the zombies who support fakers and blindly follow the crowd. Chanting! They’re the ones who can’t abide personal testimony.

    Keith Ward wrote a book about miracles and the laws of nature.
    It’s short and sweet, on audio and on youtube.

  6. The historian John Lukacs wrote that the motives of people in history are very often hard to determine, but their purposes usually are not, and one pf the worst tendencies of the present age is that to ascribe motives to peoples’ actions.

    “We marvel at something when, seeing an effect, we do not know the cause. And since one and the same cause is at times known to certain people and not to others, it happens that some marvel and some do not.”
    St. Thomas Aquinas
    Contra gentiles, III: 101
    http://www.dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3b.htm#101

    The astonishing thing is the extent to which Aquinas and Hume are not in conflict. Indeed, Aquinas does not define a miracle as something contrary to natural law, as Hume does, while Hume’s occasionalism not only sabotages the entire notion of natural law but he gives several examples of miracles that would have satisfied Aquinas.

    It is worth noting that Aquinas distinguishes several gradations of the miraculous.

    It is also worth noting that while several folks here like to assure one another on the venality of churchmen regarding miracles (while neglecting the possibility that skeptics may also be venal), it remains that the Church is the biggest skeptic on such matters and will typically send hit squads to investigate such claims. Medjugorje is an example.

    It is not clear what the practice of hollow pagan statues proves about Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, or Roman Christianity. Perhaps empirical examples can be named. In fact, perhaps an instance of such a pagan statue can be named. I have one of the latter, but talking statues never played a role in Christianity so far as I know.

  7. “the Church is the biggest skeptic on such matters and will typically send hit squads to investigate such claims.”

    While they do investigate and sometimes debunk, surely they’re not the biggest skeptic. The famous case of Mother Teresa is an instructive example. Pretty much everyone in a position to be informed, including the doctors, know that the supposed medical miracle never happened. But the “hit squad” knew what decision was required by Rome, and dutifully rendered it.

    I’m sure it’s possible that there are cases where skeptics had a venal or ulterior motive. Why not? I’m not familiar with any examples, though. Are there any?

  8. If the only remaining ctiterion is that a miracle is of devine origin, then isn’t every thing, at least every thing that tends toward the good, a miracle? I was leaning that way when I reached the last line of the essay, which says that a miracle hold the universe together. True enough.

  9. “we can’t simply ask Oprah to sit down with a divine entity for an interview about it goals and methods—we’re not justified in believing either of them.”

    I notice an unusual emphasis on “justified”, as if there is a judge to whom one must explain one’s beliefs, with consequences for getting it wrong.

    “inference to supernatural causes is never justified.”

    There we go again with justification. I don’t need no steenkin justification.

    Lee Philips writes: “I’m surprised I’ve never heard of one.”

    It is likely you have encountered my tales of miracles more than once, on this blog or elsewhere. Plain to see that you wipe it from your memory before it settles in, disbelief prevents even a consideration or contemplation of the claim.

    Ken writes: “much much easier to examine specific such miraculous events and determine if in fact they were miraculous”

    Well then let’s get started. I was driving toward Honolulu from Waipahu on Kam highway rounding Pearl Harbor. A voice, or a sensation similar to having just heard a voice (or the awareness that someone has just spoken, rather like sitting in class daydreaming and becoming aware that the teacher has just spoken, probably to you but you aren’t really sure, and you process the words) says, “change lanes now.” So, I did. There’s three lanes in each direction and I was in the inner or “fast” lane, not that most times it is particularly fast.

    No sooner I had changed lanes than a drunken driver came over the slight hill preventing me from seeing the danger, and he and his automobile were in the lane I had just vacated. This was before the days of cellphone but I’m a ham radio operator and called it in on my radio. The police caught up with the driver a mile or so westward at Pearlridge shopping center.

    The fact of the call will be part of police records. The reason for me to be alive to make that call is not public record; it is a claim. It does not matter whether anyone else on Earth believes it, because it was for me, not you, and I believe it.

    I consider it likely that NO miracle is intended for public consumption, but is intended for its beneficiary, and will be useful, not for show and tell. As rare as miracles may be, even more rare is for such a thing to exist for the purpose of demonstration to the world.

    Sheep know their shepherd’s voice and do not need grand dramatic miracles when a small one will suffice.

  10. Lee Phillips writes: “I’m sure it’s possible that there are cases where skeptics had a venal or ulterior motive.”

    Michael Shermer comes to mind. He has an obsession that I consider borderline unhealthy in his zeal to debunk miracles. A fair number of the evangelical atheists are similar. What they get is visibility, admirers, pretty much the same thing any evangelist gets from preaching to the public. In some cases it becomes his employment.

    Michael Shermer writes (*): “There is no afterlife. We just die, and that’s it. Which is why what we do in this life matters so much”

    No! If he is correct, then nothing we do matters. Right and wrong cease to exist. There is only what you or I want, and what we want is defined by chemistry. If a person was born homosexual, society now says he must be embraced; but what makes that particular deviation more acceptable than someone born a thief (he likes your stuff), or murderer? (he doesn’t like you).

    The short answer is nothing. That is the great lesson of sociology: there is no crime, only different ways of going through a pointless life.

    *https://michaelshermer.com/2005/06/why-i-am-an-atheist/

  11. The testimony of one doctor is not necessarily decisive; esp. when that doctor does not testify and refuses to show up when invited. Ditto for the husband, who was peeved at the photographers who were hanging around. A couple of other doctors did agree that there was no medical explanation and the condition was more serious than some were representing. There is a certain degree of hostility in India (outside Kerala and Tamil Nadu esp.) that has even resulted in the murder of Catholic priests by Hindu nationalists, so we must be cautious of motives that might seem to downplay events that might encourage apostasy.

    Then, once such a story gets reported, it gets repeated over and over in all the usual venues. There, it is taken as gospel-truth because the Right People assure them that it is.

    This reflexive hostility is understandable. Those who believe miracles are possible need not believe any particular miracle report is accurate. But those who believe miracles are impossible cannot allow any reports to stand and must dismiss each and every one of them. In this context, the remarks by most of the commenters in the Washington Post article, linked below, are instructive. Never has so much ignorance been displayed in such concentrated form by people who claim to be “rational.” [And note that it is always anti-Catholic. It is as if the Orthodox Churches do not even exist.]

    Related items:
    Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/the-vatican-believes-mother-teresa-cured-this-woman-but-was-it-a-miracle/2016/09/01/83664464-6e12-11e6-993f-73c693a89820_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e1b34bf799ec

    National Public Radio: https://www.pr.org/sections/parallels/2016/08/31/491937448/how-the-catholic-church-documented-mother-teresas-two-miracles

    National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-miracles-that-made-mother-teresa

  12. The doctor who was in charge of her treatment, the one who actually cured the woman (presumably, the doctor whom YOS describes as giving undecisive testimony and also not giving testimony), says that the patient never even had a cancerous tumor, but a cyst caused by tuberculosis, and that it responded in the expected way to the normal course of treatment. I think he is in the best position to know. And why on Earth would he “show up when invited”? He’s explained to anyone who wants to know the truth what really happened, or didn’t happen. Why humor a bunch of weirdos who show up from the Vatican? The husband also confirmed that there was nothing like a miracle, at first. But later, he converted to Christianity and said that it was a miracle, after all. Make of that what you will.

    Go to any Catholic site with a gift shop. I’ve been to the Basilica in DC. Mother Teresa stuff from floor to ceiling. The public relations windfall that they extract from this monstrous abuser of the poor is substantial. The pressure to pretend that there were miracles so she could be called “St.” was irresistible. I mention that because the issue of motivations was brought up. But, more to the point, I’m still interested in hearing any verified account of any miracle in the history of the world. People’s personal hallucinations may be important to them, but don’t qualify.

  13. I’m always willing to learn more and to be proven wrong, so I went to the first link, the WP article that YOS linked to, to learn more about the case. I was impressed by what I learned.

    The doctors are joined by the Minister of Health in pointing out that this was not cancer, and not a miracle, but a completely routine case;

    The “couple of other doctors” that YOS claims said there was “no medical explanation”? Nobody knows who they are. The Catholic bishop in charge of investigating the case claims that these anonymous doctors said this. YOS believes that these doctors are real. I see no reason to believe this.

    When challenged by all the evidence against the miraculous cure, the bishop is ready with a devastating response:

    “She was very sick, and she had a tumor and that tumor was cured after the intercession of Mother Teresa,” he said. “That is what is believed, and those are the facts.”

    Why would anyone think it at all likely that there was a tumor when the doctors who treated her say that there was not?

  14. Lee-

    Why not believe ‘the doctors’? And the Minister of Health? You mean, the same group-type that said Alfie Evans would die instantly when deprived of his ventilator? And who wouldn’t let anyone else have a crack at it (which might endanger their self-appointed halos)? The same bunch that sees no difference between birth and abortion? The same bunch that is constantly amazed when some ‘definitively brain-dead’ person awakes from a years-long coma? Isn’t this the same group that has a built-in bias against admitting anything that might smack of the non-physical? Sorry, I’ve seen to much of the modern Dr. Mengele crowd to place any faith in them. Medicine isn’t what it used to be. But miracles? They never change. And neither do the doubters. So we’ll all have to wait and see. And we all will.

  15. Lee Phillips,

    Why flog a dead horse? Why not examine 67 well-documented and declared cures at Lourdes?
    There you find multiple committees of doctors, some of them independent of the Church.
    There are eyewitness accounts by leading doctors, at least one Noble laureate in medicine.

  16. Lee-

    When I get sick? I go to bed. Where do you go, when you’re dead? Does your physician come to your funeral?

  17. John Watkins,
    When lee dies, where he goes is none of your business. Lucky for Lee you won’t be in charge.
    When your life is saved or that of your loved ones do you ask if the person believe in God or not?

    There is a world famous clinician, physio, Dr by letters, actually, who is an atheist, but only just, (in my projection) and I admire not only his work, but his dedication and genuine caring, I mean proper caring, about others, firstly because he’s a man but also because he appears not to be driven by a belief in God. It then makes me wonder. However I also know that when I am at work I’m not thinking about God unless there’s really something strange going on or if at all. It’s just not spoken about but it’s always there if prompted. So these things are a matter of the heart really for me, not only the mind, faith, I mean. Also why proving can’t be done.

  18. Lee and Joy

    Ianto Watt has written a “Teabag”-like “rant” in today’s post

  19. John B I can’t bear to read it. I’ll read it in about a year or so when I’ve forgotten why I wasn’t going to read it.

    “I consider it likely that NO miracle is intended for public consumption,”
    Yes.
    Self doubt is not a problem for individual people when they weigh an encounter like this. when these things happen they are quiet and plain, without bells and whistles, no grand fanfare or show. No computer or radio technology required!
    “…but is intended for its beneficiary, “
    Yes, These things matter crucially to the intended recipient, which then leaves the way for making more than the immediate realisation that a life was saved. That there is more going on than might seem the case in an apparently material, cold, chaotic world is the message.
    Mind and information again there. Perfect information which was given will produce a miracle. It doesn’t matter what others think.

  20. the issue of motivations was brought up.

    Certainly. But the pretense is that the motivations exist only on one side. There is also the fable that if you can imagine a material explanation, then it must be a True Fable.

    Keep in mind that because miracles might sometimes occur, it would be a grave error to count on them. If they always occurred, the wouldn’t be miraculous, as Thomas points out. Me, I don’t care one way or the other and keep in mind his taxonomy of miracles.
    ###
    The “couple of other doctors” that YOS claims said there was “no medical explanation”? Nobody knows who they are.

    Not “that YOS claims,” but that the commission claimed gave testimony. There are cases of folks who in other venues have preferred anonymity rather than risk ridicule or persecution. “A couple of other women” say “MeToo” and no one knows who they are. Are we to doubt their existence, too?

    Now you are perfectly free to doubt their existence; but those who received their testimony are also free to accept it. You reject the conclusion of the panel because the panelists are Catholic [in fact, they have not always been so], and that is also your prerogative.
    ###

    Part of the problem is Hume’s defective definition of a “miracle” as something contrary to natural law. This begs the question, at least for many people. It is also incompatible with much of Hume’s philosophy, since natural laws don’t exist in it. Remember, he rejected causation in favor of correlation, and even gave examples of events that might otherwise have been called miraculous but which he said he would accept as ordinary! Why fanboys of science think Hume is da man is beyond me.

    Here is what Aquinas said about miracles. Note that only one category would satisfy Hume’s definition, and that only in part.

    Things that are at times divinely accomplished, apart from the generally established order in things, are customarily called miracles; for we admire with some astonishment a certain event when we observe the effect but do not know its cause. And since one and the same cause is at times known to some people and unknown to others, the result is that of several who see an effect at the same time, some are moved to admiring astonishment, while others are not. For instance, the astronomer is not astonished when he sees an eclipse of the sun, for he knows its cause, but the person who is ignorant of this science must be amazed, for he ignores [lit., does not know] the cause. And so, a certain event is wondrous to one person, but not so to another. So, a thing that has a completely hidden cause is wondrous in an unqualified way, and this the name, miracle, suggests; namely, what is of itself filled with admirable wonder, not simply in relation to one person or another.

    a) somethig which nature never could do.

    b) something which nature can do, but not in this order.

    c) what is usually done by the working of nature, but without the operation of the principles of nature.

    Most of the examples bruited here are category c). That is why folks can say “spontaneous remission” under the illusion that they have provided a naturalistic explanation for something. Or they can dismiss the dead coming to life, as a friend of mine once did, while never batting an eye over the live coming to life.

  21. Seriously? If you had appendicitis, you would just lay [sic] down and die rather than going to the hospital?

    Hospitals? Hospitals? Oh, yes, those facilities established by the Church in late antiquity and early middle ages for the care of the sick. (Care of the sick being one of the corporal works of mercy commanded of them.)

  22. “the pretense is that the motivations exist only on one side.”

    Perhaps some people may hold the bizarre idea people can act without any motivation, but I certainly never expressed any such thing.

    ‘Not “that YOS claims,’

    It was your claim that these doctors existed that I was dealing with. You may have based your claim on someone else’s claim, but it’s still you who stated it as a fact.

    “A couple of other women” say “MeToo” and no one knows who they are. Are we to doubt their existence, too?

    Of course we are. Do you believe everything you hear? Some bishop claimed that some anonymous doctors said something. I have no reason to credit this whatsoever. You, of course, are free to believe it. And to then *claim*, as you did, that these doctors are real.

    “You reject the conclusion of the panel because the panelists are Catholic”

    That’s not really fair. Since they are working for the Vatican, and it’s reasonable to suspect that the Vatican desired, very earnestly, a certain outcome, it makes sense to at least take that into consideration when judging the veracity of certain claims, especially those offered without evidence, such as the story of the anonymous doctors.

  23. As “miracles” go, the Mother Teresa one is particularly tawdry. I could believe in a hundred miracles before breakfast, but will still be mortified to admit that I was taken in by this obvious con job.

  24. It was your claim that these doctors existed that I was dealing with.

    Then you did not read the linked articles?

    Since they are working for the Vatican

    Then you did not read the linked articles.

    A group advocating sainthood for Marguerite d’Youville, a nun who lived in 18th century Canada, for example, sought an alternative explanation for the sudden recovery of a woman with incurable leukemia who had prayed to the nun 200 years after the nun’s death. The assignment went to Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist at Queen’s University in Ontario.

    Duffin agreed to do the investigation, but only after warning the group that she was not herself a believer.

    “I revealed my atheism to them,” Duffin says. “I told them my husband was a Jew, and I wasn’t sure if they’d still want me. And they were delighted!”

    The group reasoned that if Duffin, as an atheist, found there was no scientific reason the woman should have recovered, who could doubt it was a miracle?

    https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/08/31/491937448/how-the-catholic-church-documented-mother-teresas-two-miracles

    Note that the people conducting the inquiries do not “work for the Vatican.” It always helps to examine the data before making magisterial pronouncements.

  25. “A couple of other doctors did agree that there was no medical explanation”

    That’s you making a claim that “A couple of other doctors did agree that there was no medical explanation”. It’s right up there on the screen. You didn’t say “according to so-and-so, a couple of doctors, etc., ” which would be a claim that someone else had claimed something. I don’t see why this is so confusing.

    “Then you did not read the linked articles. ”

    The article in the WP that you linked to, that I already mentioned that I read, is where I leaned about the bishop who told the tale of the anonymous doctors. The bishop was heading the investigation for, i.e., working for, the Vatican.

    You’ve descended into a series of bizarre non-sequitors, and I think the kindest thing now would be for me to stop paying attention, as one averts one’s eyes from the ranter on the bus.

  26. YOS,
    Are you saying that a thing might be marvel to one person but not to another. Like space flight.
    And a miracle is a thing “wondrous in an unqualified way”? That is a miracle is marvelous to everybody that cares to investigate?

    “Hume’s defective definition of a “miracle” as something contrary to natural law.”

    This is loose wording. It should be “laws of nature” and not “natural law”. And what exactly is problem with this definition? CS Lewis defines it similarly. And won’t a event that is contrary to the laws of nature be “wondrous in an unqualified way”?

  27. Hume’s definition was not vague and I believe it is misquoted or partially quoted. Hume set things up, as philosophers are bound to do, to make themselves right and all the others seem wrong.
    It’s easy to see the faults in his argument. (around definitions and the idea of ‘law’) It’s also easy to see why it would appear reasonable in a closed material system. No reason to get excited. It depends on world view! what a surprise.

    Shades of miracle? Are only shades when the person telling the story seems to think ther’e a high bar for what constitutes miracle in the first place. It either always meant something marvellous or wonderful or it always meant something that broke unbreakable laws!

    As for the tumour and Mother Teresa? it is a case of misdiagnosis. No need for sad slippery sophistry. The more I hear of her the more worried I get about her and then all those who lean on her. That there can be so much controversey of view on a person from recent memory and some have her pegged as a saint and some as satan is a sad reflection of the state of intellectual honesty today…but then we knew that.

  28. I’ve long said, and the comments here seem to corroborate, that the end of miracles is never to show unbelievers that There Is a God but to show the faithful that God Is There. The miracles in the Gospels are called Signs in that regard just as our little quotidian miracles the Sacrament are—signs daily pointing the place and time Uncreated Grace enters the world. But you’ll never get an atheist to believe God exists by pointing out the truth that He must exist because: There He Is, in the accidental appearance of bread and wine.

  29. And what exactly is problem with [Hume’s] definition?

    Because he elsewhere undermines the whole idea of laws of nature when he replaces causation with correlation; i.e., with longstanding coincidence. If A does not cause B, but B only follows A usually, then there is no law to it. Hume uses the example of snowflakes that are hot. By any account these would be considered contrary to laws of nature (if nature had laws). But if there are no actual causal laws governing nature, then the world is “just one thing after another,” some of which is regular, and some of these regularities are (someh ow) “privileged.” Nancy Cartwright discusses the four main approached to laws of nature in a provocatively titled paper, here: http://www.isnature.org/Files/Cartwright_No_God_No_Laws_draft.pdf

    ###
    That’s you making a claim that “A couple of other doctors did agree that there was no medical explanation”. It’s right up there on the screen. You didn’t say “according to so-and-so, a couple of doctors, etc., ” which would be a claim that someone else had claimed something.

    Literalists are so cuddly.

  30. YOS,
    There is a problem with Hume’s argument given his undermining of the laws of the nature.
    But there is no problem with his definition of miracles as something contrary to the laws of nature, or is there?
    This was what I am asking.

  31. According to Aquinas, the third grade of miracle is one which can be accomplished by the natures of things, but is not according to the normal principles of them. For example, a disease might be cured by the medical arts, but in a particular instance is not, or is cured more quickly than the medical art might account for. IOW, a miracle might go against a so-called natural law [whatever that might be] such as by having two objects occupy the same place at the same time or by having the sun reverse course in the sky or by having the sea divide itself]. But it might also be that an object is made to accomplish something within the scope of its natural powers, but not in the natural order or by means of natural principles. Hence, water may easily be turned into wine by natural means; but when it is done so intantaneously without using grapes and fermentation it is generally accounted marvelous. Similarly, iron does not normally float on water; but fashioned into a battleship it may do so successfully. As a purely logical proposition, nothing prevents a lawgiver from using the laws he has written to his own ends.

  32. Michael 2,

    “No! If he is correct, then nothing we do matters.”

    Why do so many Christians say this without explaining why they think it is true? There can’t be an absolute meaning to life that is completely outside of human affairs. If humanity was wiped out tomorrow, what meaning would this absolute meaning have?

    “If a person was born homosexual, society now says he must be embraced; but what makes that particular deviation more acceptable than someone born a thief (he likes your stuff), or murderer? (he doesn’t like you). ”

    The answer to your question is that two consenting adults having fun isn’t harming anyone else, unlike the thief and murderer examples you charmingly liken them to.

  33. If humanity was wiped out tomorrow, what meaning would this absolute meaning have?

    This seems to agree with Michael2: “If he is correct, then nothing we do matters.”

    Michael2: “If a person was born homosexual, society now says he must be embraced; but what makes that particular deviation more acceptable than someone born a thief (he likes your stuff), or murderer? (he doesn’t like you). ”

    The answer to your question is that two consenting adults having fun isn’t harming anyone else, unlike the thief and murderer examples you charmingly liken them to.

    You have added a second and third aspect — consent as the criterion of the good and the non-harming of third parties. But suppose a) the homosexual activity entrain disease that diverts medical research from pediatric cancer to AIDS or b) the thief steals only from people so rich they’ll just write it off and never miss the stuff. It also begs the question as to the nature of “harm.” Effectively, it has shifted the goalpost. Harm with respect to what standard? Physical only? Emotional? Individual, or group? Short-term or long? Must the actor be aware of dealing the harm: what if it is unwitting? Etc.

    Taking a step back: why should the lack of harm to another be a criterion at all? Who sez? Why should not the strong take what they want and the weak suffer what they must, as the Athenians told the Delians? Why should consent matter? If the act makes the marriage, as Germanic tribal law had it, who needs the consent of the bride? What makes the bride’s consent, insisted on by the Church, “matter more” than the will of the man? If humanity were to vanish tomorrow, what difference would consent or harm make?

  34. “This seems to agree with Michael2: ‘If he is correct, then nothing we do matters.'”

    Not at all. There is subjective meaning to life while we’re here, but not after. Absolute meaning doesn’t make sense because it would exist even if we didn’t. (Amongst other reasons.)

    [two consenting adults having fun isn’t harming anyone else, unlike the theft and murderer examples.]

    “You have added a second and third aspect — consent as the criterion of the good and the non-harming of third parties.”

    Lack of consent and harming of third parties are inherent in the theft and murder examples, so I’ve added nothing.

    “But suppose a) the homosexual activity entrain disease that diverts medical research from pediatric cancer to AIDS”

    I don’t see the point of this argument. There’s always a remote possibility of harm from an otherwise harmless activity, like getting injured on a theme park ride – so what?

    “If humanity were to vanish tomorrow, what difference would consent or harm make?”

    There wouldn’t be any consent or harm if we weren’t here. There is when we are here.