• Quote of the Day – Stephen, on Miracles

    OK, so it was at DC, not here, but it was on my post. Anyway, Stephen was replying to Vincent Torley, of Uncommon Descent, and about whom I did several posts, on the subject of miracles. Here it is:


    Thanks Vincent,


    I would reply: either you have some proof that miracles are impossible or merely some argument that they are improbable.


    In times past, people believed in lots of things like miracles. Mermaids and faeries were believed to be real literal creatures, every bit as real as dogs and cats. Some people believed that thunder was produced by Thor banging his hammer, and that volcanic eruptions were the work of an unhappy Vulcan, Hephaestus, or Pele. Some people still believe some of these things. Some people leave offerings for Pele at Halema’uma’u Crater, or burn “hell money” there so that their ancestors can buy stuff in the afterlife, or as a bribe to Yan, who is depicted on such fanciful bills, into holding their ancestors captive for a shorter period. People today live in many other pseudorealities than the xian one, and their particular pseudoreality seems every bit as real to them as your xian pseudoreality seems to you. But they can’t all be veridical.

    I am guessing that these are not your beliefs (by virtue of nothing except the circumstances of your birth) and that you therefore won’t display confirmation bias toward these other gods. Do you think there’s any point to whipping out the calculator and computing P-values for the chance that any of these things intersect with veridical reality? Since you lack the necessary confirmation bias, no, of course you don’t. Why, it’s obviously an exercise in foolishness. I don’t know how to make it any more clear that I did not, and am not mounting any argument that might result in computing P-values for the chance that miracles might be veridical events. I am saying that any hypothesis I can think of that would permit even the possibility of miracles in the general case,prima facia, appears to be nothing more than abject foolishness. A reasonable person would need compelling evidence that miracles were more than people’s imaginations running away with them. I invited you to come up with a more reasonable, less foolish-sounding schema for how miracles might be possible than I and my weak brainpower were able to come up with, and the invitation still stands.


    If it’s the former, then let’s see the proof.


    It’s definitely the former. But regarding proof—seriously? You can’t shift the burden of proof away from yourself, when the burden of proof has always, and will always rest upon those who make the postive claim, not those who fail to accept apparently foolish claims without proof. Claims do not stand until refuted. You are the one who needs to present proof that miracles are possible. This is the oldest and cheapest apologetics trick in the book, and par for the course I’m afraid. Nice try, though. If you’ve got some proof that miracles could reasonably be rationalized into veridical reality, please do present it. The ball is in your court.


    You suggest that one would need to establish that “the known laws of physics are not entirely immutable.” I have to ask: do you have 100% confidence that the laws of physics will hold? On what do you base that? You only have a finite number of observations to go on.


    Admittedly. Humanity in toto will only ever have a finite number of observations. In your wildest fantasies, you could still never hope to have an infinite number of observations for your “miracles.” Therefore, we’re both in the same boat in that respect.

    Of these admittedly finite observations, how many of them establish instances in which the known laws of physics did not hold? Unless you’re the next Einstein and you’re prepared to revolutionize the field of physics to include not just the strong, weak, electromagnetic and gravitational forces, but also the previously overlooked miraculous force, yes, I have as close to 100% confidence as intellectual honesty permits that the known laws of physics will continue to be observed to always hold, and quite to the exclusion, I’m afraid, of “miracles.”


    You’re treating miracles as if they were regular occurrences – which by definition they’re not. The demand for replication of miracles makes no sense unless (a) one knows who is producing them in the first place; and (b) that person has previously indicated a willingness to accede to your requests.


    First, there is a difference between a miracle-worker who is capable of breaking the laws of physics at will either by his own aegis or at the supposed behest of some other cooperating aegis, and other ways that the laws of physics might someday be demonstrated not to hold, such as some far-flung corner of the observable universe in which gravity appears not work, somebody claims to have observed a “tachyon,” or an Einstein comes along who realizes that the known laws of physics need some revision.

    No, I am not treating miracles as though they are “regular occurrences,” but I am treating them as though they should be just as “regular” today as they were reputed to have been 2,000+ years ago, however “regular” that may (or may not) have been.

    Claims that miracles are at least as “regular” if not moreso today are absurd. While there are lots of claims of “miraculous healings” which are usually supposed to be “answers” to some general set of “prayer,” since healing is something the human body does on it’s own, it’s a little hard to establish that these are “miracles” and not merely the human body doing it’s thing, even when doctors are “surprised.” I know, when I was a xian, I heard about these things on a semi-regular basis too, however, more often than not, supposedly “miraculous” healings did not occur. I guess now we know who all the “bad” people were.

    OTOH, if you know of anyone who is a bona fide “miracle-worker” who can suspend or break the laws of physics upon command, please share that with us? What kind of miracles does he do? Can he accurately foretell the future? Can he make “manna” rain from the sky? Can he turn a stick into a snake, so that it can eat other snakes, and then turn it back into that same stick again that weighs no more than it did before eating? Whenever people think they are a miracle-worker and do accede to such requests, which means that someone keeps track of the misses and not just the hits, and calls them out on charlatan’s trickery, their “powers” don’t seem quite so remarkable anymore.


    I might add that there are a number of very well-attested miracles from the 17th century, involving hundreds and even thousands of eyewitnesses.


    Do tell. Any from the 20th or 21st centuries? I mean, besides David Copperfield. If he went back in time to the 17th century, he too would be a bona fide “miracle-worker” would he not? He made the friggin’ Statue of Liberty disappear! What? Why are you skeptical? That was no cheap parlor trick. Oh, it was just a trick? Wait, what are you doing on my side all of a sudden!

    See my problem?


    Well, I would. I’m quite open to the possibility of miracles occurring today…


    Yes, but only if your god were supposedly the aegis of said “miracle.” That’s your confirmation bias talking. You wouldn’t be so open to miracles from Pele, Allah, or Xenu. That would just be silly, now wouldn’t it, because those are the the wrong pseudorealities!

    Category: MiraclesNaturalism


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce