Monday, 13 September 2010
Miracles, by definition are those phenomena that do not have natural explanations. The term supernatural is cast on them and they are generally attributed to the work of a deity or higher entity. When these are scrutinized and perhaps explained in a natural way, they cease to be miracles and become natural. Eclipses were once considered miraculous but it is common knowledge today as to what causes them naturally. Similarly, miraculous healing, when studied, almost always turns out to stem from natural causes such as the body's own healing processes, correlation over cause, observation bias, sampling error, etc. (Prayer has actually been shown to have a negative affect on people subjected to controlled and blinded medical trials rather than a positive affect. Funnily enough the people who knew they were being prayed for thought their ills must really be bad if people were praying for their health.) The placebo effect, which as I’m sure you know is a complex and multifaceted epiphenomenon, is generally an adequate reason given for the efficacy of both miracles and prayer. The application of Occam's Razor to any supernatural claims soon establishes the more likely cause for life or death in the face of an anomalous event.
Try this thought experiment. The first part goes like this. The most common form of a supposedly miraculous prayer success comes in medical form. Usually a heart-disease patient, or something like this, is prayed for and they are healed either partially or completely. The people praying for the person are convinced that it was the intercessory nature of their prayers that caused the healing. But what if the conventional medicine and doctors with decades of study and training had actually caused the healing through their treatments? Or what if the human body, a fascinatingly complex and largely un-fathomed organism, managed to heal the affliction all by itself, in much the same way as one heals from a bad cold or a wound on the arm? Or perhaps it was a convergence of both? Additionally, why doesn't the prayer work on everybody at every time, surely there are more prayers as worthy of intercession as those that are answered?
One simply needs to ask, why would an omnipotent being reach down and heal one person of a sickness that statistically they had a chance of surviving naturally or at least partially from?
The second part goes this way. If there is to be even the beginnings of proof for miracles and the efficacy of prayer then there must be an unambiguous event, one that no-one of right mind could disregard (a 'super-miracle' as Richard Swinburne says). I propose (and I am not the first to do so) that the immediate or gradual re-growth of an amputated limb would suffice to cover such a super-miracle. Such a clear example of a miracle would lend heavy weight to their existence. Why hasn't this ever been observed? I would like to suggest that it is because such an event is absurd and physically impossible; unlike the "miraculous" curing of cancers or other malicious diseases. Healing of such things probably occurs at about the same rate among believers of a certain religion as it does with those adherents of another, those belonging to no religious demographic.
However, I jump the gun a bit here. If such a miraculous event as the re-growth of a limb were to occur then surely there must be some natural process in which the environment allowed it to do so. This is where a scientific assessment would begin to research. If there is found such a natural process then bam! the miracle is suddenly moved from supernatural to natural again. No god or deity needed after all. So unfortunately it is extremely difficult to think of an event in which a miracle is the best explanation. It is even more difficult to attribute a miracle to one particular deity or another. If you do indeed observe a miracle occurring as suggested above, then how are you to know which god performed it? This is not a trivial question as each believer thinks the do indeed know the "truth" about god and that their god is capable of performing miracles.