Philosophy
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Can an Intelligent Well Educated Person

Regard Miraculous Help as Possible?

[The first argument comes from the scientific naturalists (a.k.a. atheists).]

Does god answer prayers? According to believers, the answer is certainly yes. [Here is] a simple experiment. For this experiment, we need to find a deserving person who has had both of his legs amputated. For example, find a sincere, devout veteran of the Iraqi war, or a person who was involved in a tragic automobile accident. God has no reason to discriminate against amputees. If he is answering millions of other prayers every day, God should be answering the prayers of amputees too. [Yet] no matter how many people pray, no matter how sincere those people are, no matter how much they believe, no matter how devout and deserving the recipient, nothing happens when we pray for amputated limbs. It is not that God sometimes answers the prayers of amputees, and sometimes does not. God never answers the prayers of amputees. God never regenerates lost limbs through prayer. You can electronically search through all the medical journals ever written—there is no documented case of an amputated leg being restored spontaneously. It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them. If you are a thoughtful, curious person, the case of amputees really makes you wonder: Is God real or is he imaginary?

(from whywontgodhealamputees.com, edited)

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[Next we hear from the theists, with Catholic convert Arnold Lunn making the case.]

Lourdes is a useful touchstone to discriminate between those whose beliefs are inductions from facts and those whose views are deductions from prejudices. The scientific inquirer asks “What happened?” and examines the evidence for the alleged miracles. The unscientific secularist ignores the evidence, but is very eloquent about the motives of a Creator who would stoop to such devices. I have often debated miracles before secularists, and I have had the greatest difficulty in persuading my opponents to examine and to refute the evidence with which I support my case. “Why should poor people have to make this expensive journey to France? Why can’t they be cured at home?” is a contribution to one of these discussions by a distinguished scientist. I am not in the confidence of the Creator, and I do not know why miracles should occur at Lourdes rather than in the Council Chamber of the Royal Society. Nor do I know why the claims of English watering-places have been overlooked and France unjustly favoured. The question of miracles must be decided on the evidence and on the evidence alone. The available evidence, though adequate to suggest certain tentative conclusions about God’s actions, does not justify dogmatism about God’s motives.

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[Richard Dawkins, a prominent evolutionist and militant atheist, is well known for his unsympathetic attitude to religion. While visiting Lourdes for his 2006 television documentary, The Root of All Evil?, he comments on the miracles alleged to occur there and questions Fr. Liam Griffin about them as follows:]

It may seem tough to question these poor, desperate people’s faith. But isn’t bracing truth better than false hope? What is the evidence for any miracles?

FR. GRIFFIN: There are actually sixty-six declared miracles. There are about two thousand unexplained cures here. But then we would say there are millions of people who have been healed in different ways.

DAWKINS: Healed in some sort of mental way?

FR. GRIFFIN: Healed in spiritual ways, or people who have come to terms with their own particular situation, people who have rediscovered God in their lives again, people who have received a new grace here in Lourdes.

DAWKINS: So you tend to get about 80,000 per year?

FR. GRIFFIN: There’s about 80,000 sick pilgrims who come here every year.

DAWKINS: That’s been going on for more than a century now—for a century and a half?

FR. GRIFFIN: Yes

DAWKINS: So, 80,000 per year, and, of those, sixty-six have been cured. I’m just. . . you see the way I’m thinking?

FR. GRIFFIN: Yup

So the hard fact is that over the years with their millions of pilgrims there have been sixty-six supposed miracles. Statistically, it adds up to no evidence at all. I can’t help remarking that nobody has ever had a miraculous regrowing of a severed leg. The cures are always things that might have got better anyway.

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[Richard Dawkins again, this time from his anti-religion best seller, The God Delusion]

On the face of it mass visions, such as the report that seventy thousand pilgrims at Fátima in Portugal in 1917 saw the sun ‘tear itself from the heavens and come crashing down upon the multitude,’ are harder to write off. It is not easy to explain how seventy thousand people could share the same hallucination. But it is even harder to accept that it really happened without the rest of the world, outside Fátima, seeing it too—and not just seeing it, but feeling it as the catastrophic destruction of the solar system, including acceleration forces sufficient to hurl everybody into space. David Hume’s pithy test for a miracle comes irresistibly to mind: ‘No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.’

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[The theists storm back with some remarks from Fr. Benedict Groeschel, taken from investigative reporter Randall Sullivan’s book The Miracle Detective]

Theophany? I asked. I’d never heard of the term. A theophany was a supernatural event of the highest order, Groeschel explained, “literally a divine manifestation.” The greatest theophany in modern times, he told me, had occurred at Fátima in 1917, with the appearance of a whirling sun. “Which was not the sun,” he pointed out. “The Greenwick Observatory is not very far away, and they didn’t pick up anything, but over an area of about forty square miles, everybody who was there—everybody—believers and nonbelievers, attentive people and inattentive people, saw this thing that looked like a whirling, multicoloured sun descending toward them. Many people actually fell to the ground. There were cases like that of a Freemason, a socialist who had gone there to laugh, and afterward he had to be hospitalized for three days. He was taken away from the scene in shock. That’s what a theophany does, because it registers in the external world.”

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[The final argument is from C. S. Lewis’ 1947, but still timely, book Miracles.]

Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occurred in the past by examining the evidence “according to the ordinary rules of historical inquiry.” But the ordinary rules cannot be worked until we have decided whether miracles are possible, and if so, how probable they are. For if they are impossible, then no amount of historical evidence will convince us. If they are possible but immensely improbable, then only mathematically demonstrative evidence will convince us; and since history never provides that degree of evidence for any event, history can never convince us that a miracle occurred. If, on the other hand, miracles are not intrinsically improbable, then the existing evidence will be sufficient to convince us that quite a number of miracles have occurred. The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence. The philosophical question must therefore come first.


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