Thursday, May 04, 2006

What about miracles?

One of the funniest satires of all time is Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Some took it as a satire on Christ but it wasn’t. It was a satire on belief especially on belief unwarranted by the facts. It ridiculed political factions and religion both.

Basically this poor chap named Brian is mistaken for being the messiah and the more he tries to escape this label the worse it becomes. At one point, having unwittingly gathered a following, he attempts to flee from those who want him as their leader. He runs into the desert to try and escape them. With no where else to hide he finds a hole dug in the ground occupied by a hermit who has taken a vow of silence.

The terrified Brian jumps into the hole to hide landing on the poor man’s foot. The man yells out in pain and then becomes very upset when he realises that after years of keeping his vow of silence this one incident has caused him to violate it. He starts jumping up and down yelling at Brian about this matter. The crowd sees this and gathers around. The hermit yells: “I haven’t spoken a word in thirteen years until he came along.” He points in anger at Brian. The would-be believers start yelling: “A miracle, a miracle.”

But it is useful to discuss what is meant by miracle.

The typical believer is like the crowd chasing after Brian. They are very quick to proclaim something a miracle that is not one.

I remember a woman testifying at a faith healing meeting how she came down with a cold and prayed to “Dr. Jesus” only to find she was healed a few days later. As were virtually all people with colds including those who deny Jesus as god. She wants miracles and she finds them. She has merely proclaimed the natural healing process a miracle.

An air plane crashes and some passenger who missed the flight is interviewed by the news crews. He or she tells how they had a ticket for this flight and something delayed them and they missed the departure time. This is proclaimed a “miracle” and they talk about how some god spared them. Little regard is given to the hundreds of others who presumably were sent to their doom by the same deity.

Now of course in life there are things that randomly happen. Things which are not out of the ordinary, given the millions of opportunities for them to happen. It is no miracle to miss a flight. People miss them all them the time. Thousands and thousands of people per day miss flights. And the odds are that now and then one of those flights will have an accident.

Humans face life-threatening circumstances all the time. And sometimes they survive and often they do not. With or without a deity this is going to happen. Sometimes a fire is spotted and children rescued and sometimes they suffer horrible deaths. But the believer concentrates on the statistically probably cases of some amazing rescues and immediately proclaims them miracles.

The same can be said of illnesses. Often they point to “miracle healings”. But I’ve witnessed, first hand, many of these so called miracles. And the miracles are not so miraculous. Often people are healed of problems yet they were never diagnosed with those problems. They self diagnosed and then proclaimed themselves healed. And often they have a strong motive for distorting the facts to bolster their own faith.

Now and then a real disease goes into remission for no apparent reason. The religious automatically proclaim this a miracle from a god. Yet when the same thing happens to unbelievers they don’t do that. With or without a belief in the divine such “miracles” take place all the time. There is no connection between believing and miracles.

Now when the Bible speaks of miracles it speaks of some incidents that would be real miracles --if they were ever duplicated. But of all the miracles that a god could perform today these real miracles are lacking from his repertoire.

If a man is totally dead and rises from the grave that is a miracle. And while myths float around of such things happening there is no verifiable case on record. We know people can go into comas that make them appear dead and they can revive shocking the hell out of anyone around them at the time. But to have a clear case of death that is reversed without medical assistance is unheard of. There is one reason that such stories today always come out of some jungle in the middle of Nigeria or a similar location. There is little or no medical facilities to verify such stories.

Believers want there to be miracles so they buy into the story. They say this is their god showing his power. Well, why not show it in a way that is absolutely clear without any other explanation? There are plenty of people who die every day and are unquestionably dead. Instead of some peasant in a jungle without medical care “rising from the dead” why not have just one person rise from the dead after there was no dispute that he was dead? In fact if this god wanted to make the miracle really clear then raise them from the dead after they were embalmed!

It was noted that at places like Lourdes their are plenty of crutches on the wall supposedly representing miracles. But if someone hobbling around on a crutch, who throws it aside is an example of god’s power then why not something really obvious. Diseases can be psychosomatic and often are. On the other hand if this god were to grow a leg where one had not existed, or had been amputated, now that would get everyone’s attention. Instead he chooses to perform miracles that have other reasonable explanations for them. It is almost as if this god goes out of his way to make his “miracles” seems less than miraculous.

We read in the Bible of the Red Sea being parted, the dead being raised, people being caught up into the air in front of witnesses, horns blowing and walls collapsing as a result. Yet when the same god performs feats today he is pale shadow of his former self. None of these spectacular examples exist. Jesus walked on water but today his followers don’t see anything more miraculous than a baptism.

The miraculous has been subjected to a dumbing down process. Now a car swerving and missing another car on the roadway is proclaimed divine intervention. The miracles of god today are a pale imitation of what they used to be.

Had Princess Diana knocked on the coffin the day of her funeral I would have called that a miracle. Had those air planes on 9/11 unexplainably travelled through the Twin Towers without harming anyone I would call that a miracle. If a leg grows where one does not exist I would proclaim it a miracle.

But these are not the incidents that today’s believers point to. They point to minor things all of which are naturally occurring or which have natural explanations. Cancers go into remission and do so for no known reason and they go into remission for reasons we understand. That it happens is not a miracle in the supernatural sense of the word. And most of the time, when people proclaim something a miracle they really only mean that it unlikely. But it is unlikely I will win the lottery but not a miracle if I do -- after all somebody has to win.

The true miracle would not be the occurrence of the unlikely as the unlikely occurs all the time as counter intuitive as that may sound. What is really miraculous is not the unlikely but the impossible. Part the Red Sea today and I’ll say that is a miracle. Go down to the grave yard and raise a body or two and I’ll say that is a miracle.

But pull the crap of “legs lengthening” or people being healed of “sugar diabetes” and other parlour tricks from faith healing frauds and I won’t find it impressive. I’ve seen too many of those con men exposed for the charlatans that they are. If there is a god and he is performing miracles he is doing a damn good job of hiding them. Today almost anything that happens is easily documented. Cell phones record images, video cameras abound. The media is everywhere. Yet for some reason the miraculous is well hidden from us. What we get instead are urban legends, myths and stories about cousins who claimed to see things. What we lack is good hard evidence of the impossible happening.

To search for a “real miracle” we need some precision. First any “miracle” would need to be verifiable. Mere assertion, legend, hearsay accounts, etc., do not count. The “miracle” must be observable and confirmed.

But we also have to clarify what is a miracle. As I have stated already believers want miracles defined very broadly so that naturally occuring incidents count. Of course they don’t mean any naturally occuring incident is a miracle only those that are not likely or are improbable. But the improbable is not the impossible. Believers assume that any incident with a low likelihood of occurring is fair game for a miracle. But this is only because they have no grasp of how odds work.

But because the improbable is not the impossible then this means the improbable happens all the time. It is improbable that one person will win the lottery twice but not impossible. More importantly someone is likely to win the lottery during any drawing. Every day occurrences can be improbable. Take the simple deck of playing cards. Now statisticians say that the odds are such that anytime a deck of cards is shuffled the end result will be cards in a specific order which has never before been seen on the planet. Yet thousands of time an hour decks of cards are shuffled all around the world.

Statistically the odds of that unique combination of cards being created during a shuffle are extremely tiny. But they happen thousands and thousands of times per day. That an incident is rare is not a miracle. That it is impossible, and yet happens, is a miracle. But this is where things go badly for the believers in miracles. Incidents that are verifiable are incidents that are possible. Claims of the truly miraculous are almost non-existant and the few that we do encounter can not be verified. But this is precisely what what one would expect in a godless world.


Blogger Derreck said...

Hmm, lucky that God does not master the fine art of flying, he'd fly a plane in every house he could find. It disgusts me to see that people actually believe God is conrtolling everything, even do things because God made them.

God controls aircraft as well as He controls weather. Which He doesn't. What a crappy God we would have if all He would do was make aircraft crash and be loved & praised by the ones He left standing on the ground.

Oh, by the way; Monthy Python rules! (Jeeey!)

May 05, 2006

Blogger keith said...

A very fine blog, but unfortunately no serious threat to institutionalized irrationality. You are chipping away at it's cliff face. If you would be interested in a proposal for setting TNT in a bore hole hundreds of meters back from the face, with a view to bringing down the whole mountain, then please visit my blog, at

Best regards,

Keith Sewell

May 12, 2006

Blogger oscar wilde said...

A fellow has a bit of a crash in the car and then fakes he's lost the use of his legs.
Theinsurance company have him before dozens of dotors, none can find anything wrong with him.
The guy sticks it out and finally the insurance pays out a bundle.
they are far from happy and follow the guy in his wheelchair night and day.
After a few weeks yer man has had enough and turns to the investigator thats following him and hands a big wedge.
Investigator says what's this for?
Yer man says go and get two plane tickets to Lourde, you about to witness a bloody miracle.

May 12, 2006


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