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Opinion: Why Science Can’t Accept Miracles (Even if They Really Exist)

January 20, 2009

Since we are on the topic of miracles, I though I’d post this excellent article by Professor Steven Dutch of the College of Environmental Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  The definition of miracles in this article is quite broad since it also includes meteor showers but typically means an event which has a very low probability of happening. In that sense the logic applies to other supernatural miracles as well. It’s somewhat lengthy but an excellent article nevertheless.

Why Science Can’t Accept Miracles

 

 

Here’s an excerpt

 

So it’s not skepticism per se that annoys believers in miracles. It’s skepticism directed against their miracle claims.

And here we get down to the real reason most scientists reject miracles. The vast majority of alleged miracle accounts are untrustworthy. If you’re inclined to take offense at that remark, go look at any magazine put out by a religious denomination that accepts miracles, say Pentecostal Evangel. Almost invariably, the magazine will require that an alleged account of a miracle be certified by a minister. Out of thousands of alleged cures at Lourdes, the Catholic Church accepts only a few dozen as meeting its criteria for miracles. Why this skepticism on the part of religious bodies that believe in miracles? Because they themselves have found out the hard way that the vast majority of alleged miracle accounts are untrustworthy, even those claimed by their own adherents.

Certainly these groups don’t dismiss all dubious claims of miracles as frauds, nor should anyone else. A large fraction are probably ambiguous. If someone in a storm cellar prays to be spared from a tornado, his survival may have been due to divine intervention, but may also have been due to the fact that tornadoes have narrow paths. Whether the tornado followed the path it did because of supernatural intervention is not something that can be tested by any known means. There are certain classes of miracles that never seem to happen. People have been alleged to be revived from the dead, but no decapitation victim ever has. Nor are there any reliable accounts of severed limbs regenerating. The fact that some types of miraculous cures are cited fairly frequently while others never seem to happen suggests strongly that other explanations are at work.

 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2009 8:18 am

    Interesting. The fact that some types of miracles are cited and others are not suggests that people find the miraculous in events to which they’d tend to attach special importance.

    I’m also currently posting on miracles – specifically, on whether it’s even possible to meaningfully distinguish miracles from natural events.

  2. January 22, 2009 2:31 pm

    Lol, ironically, I agreed with much of what was said in this article. Science shouldn’t accept things on the grounds that they are miraculous, and most of (if not all of) what we call “miracles” today are either pure hype or fairly ambiguous. Even as a Christian, I don’t buy into it.

  3. nitwitnastik permalink*
    January 22, 2009 10:45 pm

    @ Maurice

    Yes, I agree with you. Please do let me know when you have realevant posts.

    @ Kreit

    Ah ! I always knew you had a sceptic in you !! ;-). Well, what you call ironic, I call common sense and frankly there’s nothing mutually exclusive about being a religious follower and using our common sense.

    I agree with the author too. I also don’t feel that we should reject such happenings outright as false. But, in my opinion we should investigate from the position of a sceptic and try to disprove it. If, after exhausting all possible scenarios and looking at all possible evidence we are unable to account for it then maybe then we can say that it was a miracle, but not before that.

  4. January 23, 2009 11:59 am

    Great article Nastik. Thanks for sharing.

    I would like to posit that Miracles are not just Strange and Rare occurrences. They are miracles because they purport to violate known laws of nature.

    So the golfer example (2 successive holes-in-one) is worthwhile examining and challenging purely from a statistical probability point-of-view.

    Money disappearing from a vault is not a matter of probability it is a violation of basic laws of nature.

    In this sense Jefferson could be “excused” for disbelieving stories about stones falling from heaven because the known laws of nature then possibly did not include meteoric activity. This is legitimate and healthy skepticism even if it turns out to be factually wrong.

    The acute intellectual paucity in the religious position is that just because one phenomenon cannot be currently explained, it automatically vindicates even more fantastical claims of God, heaven, hell, virgin-birth, resurrection, ascension to heaven….. This is the kind of naked fakery that needs to be exposed.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      January 23, 2009 1:46 pm

      @Holydude

      Yes, I agree with you. Although, if you look at violation of laws of nature they are very rare occurances and statistically small in number, not impossible ( even when they defy present day scientific knowledge) as you pointed out by the meteor shower example.

      I also take issue with the fact that many believers are ready to take the jump of faith where “miracles happen” = “God exists”. Even if tomorrow a small town newspaper in New Mexico reports that people saw frogs falling from the sky on a bright sunny morning, how does that prove God exists?

  5. March 14, 2009 2:36 am

    ah, now that i agree with. but then again you could just turn and say the end of the world has coem and gulible people would accept it. so, i God is poweful and benevolent, then why does he just give miracles to a few people?

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