Skeppie challenges me to show him one miracle.
Me: 65 officially validated at Lourdes
Skepie: By the church. Sorry, I don't buy it. Show me a miracle that has been observed by someone who isn't under the influence.
Now we begin the game of a thousand qualifications, he didn't want just one miracle; turns out he wants it to be perfect. Okay, let's start the haggling. But is there anyone out there who for a minute believes that he will ever be satisfied no matter how may qualifications I meet? But he's not question begging he's just assertive that because he's right no evidence can count against his position.
What has been said so far implies that the supernatural is not a juxtaposed realm that has to break in upon the natural, but something that works within the natural to draw nature to a higher level, Ontologically, this is the “ground and end” of the natural. There might also be “supernatural effects,” however, as a result of nature being drawn to the level of the supernatural. These are effects that nature cannot produce by herself unaided. These effects we label “miracles.” Of course “miracle” is a very controversial idea, by virtue of the fact that it is such a slap in the face to our understanding of what can happen. The truth of it is that the concept of “miracle” is not all that coherent; it’s not only hard to prove, but it includes a built-in epistemological gap that can’t be traversed except by means of a judgment. What that means is, if one takes sides on the issue of miracles, it has to be a question of which side of an ideological split one comes down upon. It’s not a matter of factual disproof or proof. Again, the issue that “there is no proof” is misleading. The mantra of reductionism that “there is no scientific proof for miracles or the supernatural” is misleading, because there’s no reason to assume there could be the kind of evidence reductionists are seeking. On the other hand, there is evidence, and it is fairly persuasive—but also non-conclusive.
The best evidence for miraculous healing is found in Catholic circles (because of their evidence-gathering traditions). The Roman Catholic Church has two great centers of healing evidence; they run an evidential documentation process that is well thought out and is the best in the world. One center is for saint-making miracles, miracles that justify canonization of individuals as saints. The other is for miracles connected to the shrine to the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Lourdes is probably a bit more respectable scientifically, because they are free from the pressure of making people saints. For both, the rules are the same and the committee members are the same. The rules are strict and scientific, contrary to both atheist propaganda and popular belief. Yet there are problems which I will discuss.
First, let’s understand the evidential process. I will speak mainly of Lourdes for brevity’s sake. The shrine was established to commemorate visions of a young French peasant girl named Bernadette, who saw a woman dressed in white appear to her in radiant light, and after several such visions, a spring popped up; the application of water from that spring is said to produce miracles. A committee was established to investigate the veracity of the claims. Rules were laid down to govern the process. In the period before the committee and the rules, there were several thousand claims of miracles that were not investigated rigorously. Since that time there have been only 67 miracles that are officially pronounced to be so by the Church. Yet there are about 7000 cases that are so incredible that they would seem to qualify, but the rules are so strict that technicalities of documentation prevent them being officially accepted. These are called “remarkable cases.” In 2006, amid some controversy, the Church relaxed the rules, because doctors were increasingly reluctant to rule anything miraculous— but now it does not use the term “miracle,” only the term “remarkable” for these cases. In 2011 a certain Serge François, 56, was the first case pronounced “remarkable” since the relaxing of rules.
It’s hard to find real scientific or scholarly work on Lourdes, because anything critical would be stepping on the Church’s toes, and anything supportive would be taken as propaganda. The ideological climate in scientific circles prevents a fair treatment there, and the honest, critical nature of doing good science would probably be perceived as hostile by the faithful and the committee. Thus, a real critical view (in the best sense of the word) is not possible. This leaves the topic in the province of popular journalism. My argument is, therefore, not that any of these miracles is proved scientifically, but that the evidential process, closed and problematic though it may be, raises questions that are worth asking and promises the possibility of documenting real miracles.
There are several stages to the process. The committee (which is completely independent of the Church) creates its findings according to scientific documentation. They obtain all the diagnostic material, such as x-rays and EKGs, from the patient’s doctor; they examine the patient to see if they can verify that the condition of sickness existed, that it no longer exits, and that it ceased suddenly. The rules are set up in such a way as to control for diseases that have a high remission rate. They do use skeptics on the committee. I have seen arguments that the people reporting miraculous healings were never diagnosed, but the rules require that they must be. There has to be an accounting to indicate that they were diagnosed, and the material obtained has to be carefully studied.
Criteria according to the rules
1.“ Primum est, ut morbus sit gravis, et vel impossibilis, vel curatu difficilis ” – Firstly, the disease should be serious, incurable or difficult to treat.
2.“ Secundum, ut morbus, qui depellitur, non sit in ultima parte status, ita ut non multo post declinare debeat ” – Secondly, the eradicated disease should not be in its final stage or at a stage whereby it may involve spontaneous recovery.
3.“ Tertium, ut nulla fuerint adhibita medicamenta, vel, si fuerint adhibita, certum sit, ea non profuisse ” – Thirdly, no drug should have been administered or, in the event that it has been administered, the absence of any effects should have been ascertained.
4.“ Quartum, ut sanatio sit subita, et momentanea ” – Fourthly, the recovery has to take place suddenly and instantly.
5.“ Quintum, ut sanatio sit perfecta, non manca, aut concisa ” – Fifthly, the recovery has to be perfect, and not defective or partial.
6.“ Sextum, ut nulla notatu digna evacuatio, seu crisis praecedat temporibus debitis, et cum causa; si enim ita accidat, tunc vero prodigiosa sanatio dicenda non erit, sed vel ex toto, vel ex parte naturalis ” Sixthly, it is necessary that any noteworthy excretion or crisis has taken place at the proper time, as a reasonable result of an ascertained cause, prior to the recovery; under these circumstances the recovery cannot be deemed prodigious, but totally or partially natural.
7.“ Ultimum, ut sublatus morbus non redeat ” – Lastly, it is necessary for the eradicated disease not to reappear.
After 1977 these rules were added:
The diagnostics and authenticity of the disease has been preliminarily and perfectly assessed;
The prognosis provides for an impending or short-term fatal outcome;
The recovery is sudden, without convalesce, and absolutely complete and final;
The prescribed treatment cannot be deemed to have resulted in a recovery or in any case could have been propitiatory for the purposes of recovery itself.
These criteria are still in use nowadays, in view of their highly logical, accurate and pertinent nature. 
The Committee includes distinguished medical experts such as Franco Balzaretti and François-Bernard Michel. Michel is also a member and vice President of the National Academy of Medicine in France. The process of verification is long and complex. The church theologians give the final say about a case being deemed a “miracle” (or nowadays a “remarkable” case), because that has to square with theology. The data is given first to the medical committee, which works independently, and the Church takes no hand in what is passed on to them and what is not.
multiple sclerosis for five years; recognized by the diocese of Fribourg, Switzerland on 18 December 1960
Alice Couteault, born Alice Gourdon
15 May 1952
age 34; Bouille-Loretz, France
15 May 1952
age 34; Bouille-Loretz, France
multiple sclerosis for three years; recognized by the diocese of Poitiers, France on 16 July 1956
Ginette Nouvel, born Ginette Fabre
21 September 1954
age 26; Carmaux, France
21 September 1954
age 26; Carmaux, France
Budd-Chiari disease (supra-hepatic venous thrombosis); recognized by the diocese of Albi on 31 May 1963
Elisa Aloi, later Elisa Varcalli
5 June 1958
age 27; Patti, Italy
5 June 1958
age 27; Patti, Italy
Tuberculous, osteo-arthritis with fistulae at multiple sites in the right lower limb; recognized by the diocese of Messine, Italy on 26 May 1965
17 July 1959
age 22; Marseilles, France
17 July 1959
age 22; Marseilles, France
femoral osteoperiostitis with fistulae, epistaxis, for ten years; recognized by the diocese of Marseille, France on 11 May 1965
Sarcoma (cancer) of pelvis; tumor so large that his left thigh became loose from the socket, leaving his left leg limp and paralyzed. After taking the waters, he was free of pain, and could walk. By February 1964 the tumor was gone, the hip joint had recalcified, and he returned to a normal life. Recognized by the diocese of Trento, Italy on 26 May 1976.
Recurrent right hemiplegia, with ocular lesions, due to bilateral carotid artery disorders. Symptoms, which included headache, impaired speech and vision, and partial right-side paralysis began without warning in February 1964. During the next six years he became wheelchair-confined, and nearly blind. While on pilgrimage to Lourdes in April 1970, his symptoms became worse, and he was near death on 30 April. Wheeled to the Basilica for the Ceremony the next morning, he felt a sudden warmth from head to toe, his vision returned, and he was able to walk unaided. First person cured during the Ceremony of the Anointing of the Sick. Recognized by the diocese of Angers, France on 17 June 1978.
There are independent verifications of the process or incidents that may give us insight into workings of the committee. This is not scientific. The websites that talk about the cures are not scientific. The dispensing of information by the committee, regardless of how honest or good, is not science, because the process is not open enough. The committee may have tried to make the process very transparent, but it’s still not being performed by academic sources. The people involved in it have academic credentials, but they are part of a process that is overall under the sway of non-academic concerns. Yet procedures have been put in place to assure an impartial outcome.
Just how limiting the lack of scientific protocol is will be discussed. First, the independent verifications need to be understood. If the Vatican was only interested in “proving” miracles, they have 7000 remarkable cases to choose from. These “remarkable cases” are cases that are “amazing” enough and well enough documented that they could be declared miracles, but they won’t be because some technical problem in the documentation prevents them passing muster. That’s why there are only 67 cases called “miraculous,” although they have been working on this since the 1880s. It’s not because they don’t have the cases; they are just too picky.
Reviews and analysis of the Lourdes phenomenon
Jacalyn Duffin is an important diagnostician and medical researcher. She was asked to study a case involving a kind of cancer. She did not know who the client was. She assumed the woman was dead by that time due to the progression of the case, then was stunned to find that the woman was alive and that she was being put forward as a miracle at Lourdes. The independent verification process here uses a double blind technique, in that the researcher didn’t know she was studying an alleged miracle and the committee didn’t know who got the case to study. The process does involve follow-up and investigation using top-level medical research. Duffin was so taken with the fact that her work would be in the Vatican archives that she got permission to study the medical records in the archives. What resulted was her book: Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints and Healing. Duffin is a fine historian of medicine (see endnote for her credentials). Although it only scratches the surface of the Vatican’s investigation processes in the wealth of documents in its archives, this book is ground-breaking. Duffin examined 1,400 miracles found in the Vatican archives. She found that the doctor’s records were complete and meticulous. The doctors were skeptical. Many of the cases were resurrections, and many could not be explained. Some were mistakes, and some leave room for doubt.
One of the major problems she uncovered was the differences in the understanding of medicine in different eras. Many of the alleged complaints are not taken seriously any more. The book is written in a scholarly fashion, although accessible to the layman. It has a wealth of information in the form of charts, graphs, and tables. It traces the rise and decline of various miracles as their diseases become medically known or forgotten. For instance, there are no more documented healings from "dropsy" (swelling of body tissues), because it's not considered a separate disease anymore. But Duffin clearly finds believable the doctors’ reports and independent verifications of a great many cases.
In a 2012 article entitled “The Lourdes Medical Cures Revisited,” Bernard François, Ester M. Sternberg and Elizabeth Fee provide something closer to a scientific appraisal. They studied 411 patients cured in 1909-14 and thoroughly reviewed 25 cures acknowledged between 1927 and 1976. By “acknowledged” they mean cures that were officially declared “miracles” by the church. The 411 cures between 1909 and 1914 are part of the era known as “the golden age of Lourdes.” This was the time when Lourdes’ popularity was at its height, the medical committee was functioning smoothly with new rules, and crowds were pouring in. In earlier days, right after the visions began, there were many claims of miracles that went unrecorded, or that could not hold up to scrutiny, or that weren’t recorded in a systematic fashion. This state of affairs evolved through the late nineteenth century with the imposition of rules and the creation of the medical board. Since the 1970’s the official “miracles” and the crowds have decreased significantly. As the article puts it, “[T]he Lourdes mystique may have lost some of its momentum. It has been suggested that today's pilgrims as a whole have little in common with nineteenth-century believers….”
According to the article, data on the early period is found in the archives of the sanctuary of Notre Dame of Lourdes (April 1868-June 1944), which provide mainly unsubstantiated and anecdotal evidence. The authors also used Ruth Harris’s scholarly work Lourdes, Body and Spirit in the Secular Age. For the period 1885-1914 they used Annales of Notre Dame de Lourdes, Vol. 17-47, George Bertirins’ Historie Critique Des Evenments de Lourdes, and a host of other materials. The authors set out to determine if Lourdes cures really were cures. Their working methodology for this task was to evaluate the nature of the disease and then to assess the nature of the diagnostic criteria and evidence used for deciding that cure had occurred. The criteria improved over the years as diagnostic ability improved. Their conclusion? “[T]he Lourdes phenomenon, extraordinary in many respects, still awaits scientific explanation.”
Speaking of the “golden age” (1890-1915), François and his colleagues write, “Led by a talented physician… the Medical Bureau is said to have improved its method and gained a reputation for excellence, but it faced a daunting task…150,000 pilgrims a year.” Yet some of the cures of that era were deemed “remarkable,” such as those of Marie Lebranchu and Marie Lemarchand, cured of pulmonary tuberculosis, who attended Lourdes with the famous atheist writer Emile Zola; Gabriel Gargam, cured of post traumatic paraplegia in 1901 and still living in 1953 at the age of 82; and several others. Prior to the cures, patents were described as being in decline or in an “alarming state of health.” “Patients confined to bed for years would stand and walk, regain their weight, resume their prior activity… cured patients were evaluated again one year later... they were found healthy and as far as we know, the recoveries stood the test of time.” The researchers do note that modern researchers reading the accounts can sense the neurotic nature of some symptoms. There were obvious cases of hysteria. But there were also cases with evidence of anatomical abnormalities. “Scores of visiting physicians witnessed the disappearance of macroscopic lesions, easy to identify such as external tumors, uterine fibromas, open wounds, and suppurative or fecal fistulae.”
The cures were said to be instantaneous in 59 percent of 382 cases for which they had adequate records; this was all within the golden age period. During the golden age there were also strange, spontaneous healings away from the actual shrine, such as at a breakfast table, during a procession, or in the hospital ward in the town. Apparently it was WWII that put the kybosh on the golden age. The committee changed leadership many times, and doctors were scarce due to the war. 1947-2006 was marked by improved diagnostics, new young physicians, and more careful attitudes. They created an international committee designed to review the work of the Bureau. There were 25 patients cured and their cures analyzed from this period. The article’s authors had misgivings about some of these cases; but they acknowledge that “[s]pontaneous remissions of diseases, especially of cancers, do not measure up to the speed, power, and variety of the Lourdes cures.”
The authors found that the word “cure” at Lourdes was often misunderstood. Some of the incidents called “cures” were improvements in the state of health. “By cross checking available data we arrived at a rough estimate of medical events acknowledged as ‘cures’ as 4,516, in the period 1858-1976.” Most of these cures occurred before WWII, and most were based upon what is described as “flimsy evidence.” There was often a prior expectation of miracles, and no follow up afterwards. For that reason the authors found it impossible to assess the number of valid cures before 1947. There has been a decline in the number of cures for the last one hundred years, and the authors list several factors as the reason for this: increasing efficiency of modern medicine (diagnostic equipment and better definitions for the nature of a condition), and the canons of Cardinal Lambertini to qualify a miracle that have actually stood in the way of being able to declare many cases as miracles.
The requirements for these canons are as follows: (a) the disease must be severe, incurable, or difficult to treat; (b) it must not be in a final stage; (c) no curative treatment can have been given; (d) the cure must be instantaneous; (d) the cure must be complete without relapse. One can see that this is so strict (it’s difficult nowadays to find someone who has not sought some other cure before resorting to pilgrimage to Lourdes, for instance), that it’s one of the major reasons there are so few official miracles. There are examples from certain periods where Lambertini canons have not been met but still constitute remarkable cures. In the article’s study of twenty-five cured patients, six were cured of terminally ill diseases, and eight were cured in a matter of days, months or even years; these are sharp departures from the canons. The canons “seem to have been rescinded in 2006-8, when it was obvious they no longer applied to what was observed.” (That’s one thing that makes for the category I’ve spoken of before of the “remarkable case.” There are only 67 official miracles, but 7000 remarkable cases. Those are based upon a modern study of the committee, not part of the François article.) Miracles are not for the Catholic Church on the same level as the sacraments or the creeds, so belief in them is not obligatory. A parallel is drawn by the author between their work and that of Jacalyn Duffin. The pathological conditions are the same; the proportion of tuberculosis, neurological disorders and GI diseases were distributed in similar fashion; and the manner of the cures were the same.
For the period 1947-76, the article states, “Thirteen patients out of twenty-five... died nineteen to fifty-seven years after the cure and without relapse of the disease. For nine subjects living in 2008, the time elapsed since the cure was ten to fifty-four years.” They found that four cases of multiple sclerosis had remissions of four-year duration, which is equivalent to assumed cure. Four cases of tuberculosis were actually cured, and the speed of the cure was without known equivalent. Two were taken out of the study because key requirements weren’t met. Of twenty-five, the researchers had misgivings about eight. This means that while eight are doubtful and two discarded, seventeen are solidly documented cures. Looking back over the entire history of the phenomenon, the researchers suggest that about one third of the cases involve cures that were not spontaneous but required days or weeks. The researchers also found that there were significant mental factors present, and an atmosphere conducive to healing, but they did not conclude that this could “explain” it all away. It might also be worth pointing out even though they can’t be studied, there’s an “underside” of Lourdes: people who are healed in connection with prayers involving Lourdes or the use of the water away from the shrine, who never report in but send information so that a plaque can be put up. This number has been increasing, and was about ninety-four in 2008. While these cannot really be claimed as cures because they can’t be studied, they suggest the possibility that healings have been, and still are, occurring outside of Lourdes’ official domain.
The François article is extremely thorough, with sound medical and scholarly caution. It takes a critical view of the subject matter and the data. It tallies the kinds of diagnoses and which diseases were the most cured and the most reported. The authors describe a development over time from an early phase of inadequate reporting and uncritical acceptance of cures, to a modern setup which is well regarded and scientific. Modern controversy stems from the declining reports due to more stringent evidence requirements and the fact that many of Lourdes’ modern pilgrims do not report to the Medical Bureau. There is also controversy over relaxing the rules. All of this, and concern to leave religious considerations out of their analysis, lead François et al to speak of “cures” rather than miracles.
1 I refer to miracles such as healing incurable disease as “supernatural effects,” so that this can be marked as more of an abrupt departure from the norm than the “sense of the numinous.” Yet the sense of the numinous is an effect and could be called “supernatural effect”— but that gives the impression that it’s seen as a miracle and creates confusion. Both really are effects of Supernature, but the experience of God’s presence is more natural and more connected to the natural than healing of incurable disease. I want people to start thinking of religious experience as something that happens within the natural realm rather than in opposition to the natural.
2 Tom Heneghan, “Lourdes Calls a Healing ‘Remarkable,’ Avoiding the Term ‘Miracle.;” FaithWorld, March 25, 2011. online copy URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-catholic-miracle-idUSTRE72R4SK20110328 visited 10/3/12.
3Franco Balzaretti. “The Miracles at Lourdes, Comparing Science and Faith.” Leadership online source, URL: http://www.leadershipmedica.com/scientifico/sciedic02/scientificaing/10balzae/10balzaing.htm visited 10/3/12. From: De Servorum Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione, (liber IV, Cap. VIII, no. 2),
with commentaries up to the end of the chapter - Author: Cardinal Prospero Lambertini,
future Pope Benedict XIV, 1734.
Balzaretti is a member of Lourdes medical committee, Associazione Medici Cattolici Italiani (AMCI)
Membre du Comité Médical International de Lourdes (CMIL). I first saw this material in 2006. There is no date printed on it.
Membre du Comité Médical International de Lourdes (CMIL). I first saw this material in 2006. There is no date printed on it.
5 National Academy of Medicine, Website URL: http://www.academie-medecine.fr/organigramme.cfm?langue=fr visited 10/10/12.
6 “Recognized miraculous cures at Lourdes” Saints, SQPN. Com. website URL: http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/stb06001.htm visited 10/12/12
This is a partisan website, it’s based upon information supplied by the medical committee. The committee will answer requests to send material. More detailed information about each case can be found on another website: “Our Lady Of Lourdes” http://www.theworkofgod.org/Aparitns/Lourdes/Lourdes1.htm
7 Jacalyn Duffin, Medical Miracles, Doctors, Saints and Healing. Oxford University Press, USA. 2008.
Jacalyn Duffin, M.D. (Toronto 1974), FRCP(C) (1979), Ph.D. (Sorbonne 1985), is Professor in the Hannah Chair of the History of Medicine at Queen's University in Kingston, where she has taught in medicine, philosophy, history, and law for more than twenty years. A practicing hematologist, a historian, a mother and grandmother, she has served as president of both the American Association for the History of Medicine and the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine. She holds a number of awards and honors for research, writing, service, and teaching. She is the author of five books, editor of two anthologies, and has published many research articles. Her most recent book is an analysis of the medical aspects of canonization, Medical Miracles; Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World, Oxford University Press, 2009. It was awarded the Hannah Medal of the Royal Society of Canada.
8 Bernard François et al, “The Lourdes Medical Cures Re-visited,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (10.1093/jhmas/jrs041) 2012. Pdf downloaded SMU page 1-28; all the page numbers given are from pdf. Article may currently be viewed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3854941/.
Bernard François is former Professor Emeritus of medicine, Universite Claude Bernard Lyon. Elisabeth Sternberg taught at National Institute of Mental Health and The National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Elisabeth Fee was at National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
12Ibid, pdf page 8.
19 Ibid, 13.
20 Ibid.21, 27.
21 Ibid 19.
22 Ibid, 20.
23 Ibid. They cite Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 3 Section 1, Chapter 3 Article 2, Grace 2003.The Catholic believer may reject all ecclesiastical miracles as pious fables and he may reject modern miracles as imagination.
24 Ibid, 23. Mangiapan was president of the Medical Bureau
25 Ibid, 24.
26 Ibid, 25-27.