Miracles -- An Unreal Conversation
Theist: So what about miracles and visions? They are proof for the existence of a powerful entity, aren't they?
Atheist: Unfortunately, no! Most miracles turn out to be hoaxes anyway. There are thousands of conmen and tricksters waiting to make a quick buck by preying on the public's religious beliefs. Religious organizations themselves are sceptical about weeping statues, stigmata and related phenomenon. Every incident warrants an investigation and needs to be studied properly before conclusions are drawn. So far no miraculous event has ever occurred that proves beyond doubt the existence of God. Also just because science may not have developed suitable tools to unearth the reasons for certain occurrences does not necessarily mean that it is inexplicable and will forever remain so.
David Hume, the 18th century philosopher and atheist, sums up his criticism of miracles and their evident absurdity in the following manner:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it happens in the common course of nature. But it is a miracle that deadman should come to life, because that has never been observed in any age or country. When anyone tells me that they saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived or that the fact which he relates should have really happened. (Kennedy 1999)
Almost all of the so-called "miraculous" phenomenon can be explained by science. An ideal example would be the incident where a statue of Lord Ganesh started to drink milk, thereby generating public hysteria all over India. The scientists, after examining the phenomenon decided that the phenomenon was a result of capillary absorption.
This little tete-a-tete is found in an online course offered at Suite 101 entitled The Philosophy of Atheism by Nikesh Murali. The course is so incredibly shallow and superficial as to be a complete waste of time for anyone who is seriously interested in the issue of the truth or falsity of theism and atheism. His "hack-job" summaries of the arguments for the existence of God would be laughable if it weren't for the fact that his course may be being read by people without much knowledge of the subject.
But what most caught my attention is this "conversation" that he sets out (and which I have set out, above) between the theist and the apparently much wiser and better informed atheist. Of course, there is no counter to the pronunciations of this atheist-sage, so I felt that a brief rejoinder may be in order.
Theist: That's very interesting, Atheist-friend. But I guess I'm confused about a couple things in your response and was hoping you could help me out.
First of all, why is it you assume that because there are admittedly some charlatans out there who claim to be performing miracles when they are not, that all claims of miracles are, in fact, hoaxes. Isn't that an unwarranted leap? Logic tells us that simply because you have a sample of a class that all share a quality, it is not logically sound to assume that every member of that class shares that quality. For example, if you are trying to deduce the color of ducks and you see some ducks that are black, does that mean that all ducks are black?
Atheist: That's different. We are talking about an event that goes outside of the laws of nature; not the color of ducks. The fact that there are some con-men (as you readily admit) coupled with the fact that miracles require events that go beyond the laws of nature shows that all of these alleged miracles are merely cons or the result of laws of nature that we don't yet understand.
Theist: Well, as you point out even the church agrees that we should be careful in calling something a miracle. That is why claims of miracles are investigated so thoroughly. Yet churches still recognizes that miracles do happen after these investigations, do they not? For example, there have been at least 66 confirmed miraculous healings in Lourdes. The 66th recognized healing was a gentleman named Mr. Jean-Pierre Bely who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and, by 1987, was completely paralyzed. However, after an anointing on Friday, October 9, 1987, he felt a strange sensation, and later began to walk. In 1999, following a thorough investigation of the facts, the Roman Catholic Church recognized and acknowledged "the authenticity of the cure which Mr. Jean-Pierre Bely experienced at Lourdes on Friday, October 9, 1987. This sudden and complete cure is a personal gift of God for this man and an effective sign of Christ the Savior, which was accomplished through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes." Are you saying that the Roman Catholic Church was "in cahoots" with the conmen?
Atheist: They may be.
Theist: And what evidence do you have of that?
Atheist: Ummmm . . . I don't have any in front of me, but I am sure it exists.
Theist: Fine. Let me know when you find it. In the meantime, let's get to your other point. You say: "Almost all of the so-called 'miraculous' phenomenon can be explained by science." Are you acknowledging by this statement that some of the so-called "miraculous" phenomenon cannot be explained by science?
Atheist: Of course. Science has advanced a thousand-fold in the last Century and it will continue to advance in the future. Things that would have seen like miracles in the past (such as the use of electricity to light up a light bulb) would have seemed like a miracle to the ancient people. Some day, we will know sciences that we have not even yet begun to dream of that will make what we know of science seem infantile.
Theist: I agree that science has expanded greatly in the past and it will continue to do so in the future. But I guess I have a problem with your unwavering faith that it will provide new laws or theories that will explain such things as miraculous cures. Tell me, how is it that you know that future advances in science will give us such knowledge?
Atheist: It follows from past scientific advances.
Theist: Okay, so you are saying that there are scientific laws that exist in the universe that we know nothing about that act irregularly to cause what we perceive as miracles of varying types to occur without any apparent rhyme or reason? I mean, there are two people lying side by side in hospital beds with cancer. One "miraculously" recovers and the other doesn't (and I personally know a man whose cancer "miraculously" went into remission and disappeared, so this isn't a hypothetical). This is caused by some law of nature that acts on some people but not others? I thought laws were supposed to be regular?
Atheist: It could be that one person's genetic structure or physiognomy is more suited to having the laws act on it then the other.
Theist: Sounds like a lot of conjecture to me. Personally speaking, I would agree that it is possible that there are some events that appear to be miracles that could be the result of undetected laws, but the mere possibility of such an event does not amount to a disproof of miracles as you claim. At best, it says that we can never fully confirm that a miraculous cure or miraculous event was miraculous because it is always possible that a scientific explanation may be forthcoming even though there is no evidence at the present time that such an explanation is imminent or even remotely likely. Isn't that what you are really saying?
Atheist: Well, I wouldn't put it that way.
Theism: How you would put it isn't important. What is important is that you be willing to acknowledge that all you have done is raise doubts about the supernatural nature of miracles based only upon the barest suggestion that a non-supernatural law that is thus far completely conjectural only with no reason to believe that it actually exists beyond your commitment to a naturalistic worldview is the real cause of the events that we see we would otherwise call "miraculous."
Atheist: But you have to have a reason for believing that God exists before you can claim that God supernaturally imposed his will through a miracle! To rely upon miracles as proof of God's existence when you first have to have proof that a god or gods exist that could cause miracles is circular reasoning.
Theism: Well, I don't think it is circular reasoning to start from an event that after a thorough investigation appears to violate the known laws of nature and then speculate that it came from one of two sources: either an unknown law of nature or something that can bypass the laws of nature. Now, if I had no other evidence that something exists that can bypass the laws of nature, then I would agree that I am arguing circularly. But we do have other evidences that God exists, and if you like, I can share them with you . . . ."