Is A Miracle Empirical?
Is A Miracle Empirical?
by Steve Miller
I’ve recently been asked by several people, “if God isn’t real then how do you explain miracles? There must be some sort of higher power. And that higher power evidently approves of the practices of my religion because those miracles are occurring to people of my religion. And many times it even happens as a direct result of my religion’s prayers or practices.”
So, here’s how I explain miracles:
First of all, all religions, including the ones they consider false, claim to be experiencing miracles. The miracles of their religion are of the same nature as the miracles of any other religion. So, even if there is a higher power that is performing miracles, it definitely doesn’t favor one religion over another.
Now, a miracle is when the laws of nature have been suspended in someone’s favor. But many will also consider improbable events, to be miraculous. However, as long as there is even a slight chance that it happened by accident through natural means, it cannot be considered a definite suspension of the laws of nature.
While this would be satisfying to a skeptic, many are not of the skeptical type. They tend to continue arguing that it is unreasonable to attribute improbable events to chance.
However, they fail to properly estimate the probability of chance. They don’t pay attention to the volume of insignificant events that happen every second of every day to each one of the over seven billion people in the world. Improbable things happen all the time. Among any large number of events, something unusual is bound to happen just by accident.
And those who consider improbable events to be miracles are actually quite inconsistent. Because when the unusual event is beneficial, they deem it a miracle but when it is unpleasant, they just dismiss it as an unfortunate accident.
And many of the things that seem to be improbable, are in fact very probable. Praying for the sick is one example. Considering the amount of people who believe in prayer, it can safely be assumed that nearly every patient has at least one religious relative or friend praying for them. When a patient was prayed for and later recovered, many would consider it improbable, just like winning the lottery. But notice that they also bought 90% of all lottery tickets. This is far from improbable.
So now that I got the improbable events out of the way, let’s move to the “real” miracles. Those that seem to be defying the laws of nature.
An event might sometimes be inexplicable. But that doesn’t imply that the laws of nature have been defied. It is far more likely that it is an unknown natural phenomenon that has yet to be discovered, rather than a suspension of the laws of nature (Occam’s razor).
However, there are so many possible natural explanations for miracle stories that the amount of real inexplicable events is minuscule.
The first thing to consider is that those who tell these miracle stories are generally eager to find any sign of a higher power. As a result, when something unusual occurs, they are usually reluctant to search for a natural explanation. They will rather quickly settle that it is inexplicable and deem it a miracle. However, in many cases, a deeper look would reveal its natural character. This alone should invalidate a large amount of miracle stories.
Sometimes a person will search for a natural explanation but not find one. That might just be because the event is complicated and might need to be researched by an expert in a particular field. It doesn’t mean that there is no explanation. There goes another chunk of miracle stories.
And even with proper research, the situation might still remain a mystery due to its complexity. When a patient’s health “mysteriously” improves, it is far more likely that it is natural but mysterious because the body is very complex, rather than that the laws of nature have been suspended. If anything, it is an invitation for further research. Another bunch in the trash.
Another big issue with many of those stories is reliability.
Have you ever wondered why miracles like splitting the sea, walking on water or people rising from the dead, just don’t seem to be happening in your lifetime? The possibility of a story being distorted over time or being completely false, increases significantly with every year that passes since the story supposedly took place. There goes a truckload of miracles, straight to the library’s fiction section.
The more you go back in time, the fewer scientific explanations there were. So many of the phenomena that we would consider to be natural, were once considered miraculous.
Today we know that hearing voices or hallucinations is a sign of mental illness. But many years ago, if a person heard a voice that no one around them heard they thought that a divine being was communicating with them. And if someone claimed to be seeing visions of angels, they were taken seriously.
How reliable is an individual’s memory? I recently heard from a highly respected and brilliant scientist who said that he once had a vivid memory of an incident and later when he watched a video of the incident, he saw that his memory was terribly off. This should make us reasonably skeptical when we hear an inexplicable story that has only been witnessed by one person, especially when the event was traumatic.
What about lying? Lying isn’t at all uncommon. Some might even justify making up a miracle story because it is done to strengthen people’s faith.
Many people won’t accept that someone they respect and admire, has possibly lied. But one doesn’t necessarily have to be lying to tell a false miracle story. A true non-miraculous story might just be turned into a miracle with a bit of exaggeration.
Sometimes, a person might just omit a detail to make a story sound amazingly miraculous. They might say that they were healed immediately after receiving a blessing from a rabbi. But in fact, it happened two days later and they had also seen a doctor in between. Sometimes, if you only knew “all” the details, you wouldn’t be impressed at all.
This leaves us with an extremely low amount of truly inexplicable miracle stories. And as I explained above, inexplicable phenomena is not evidence for a miracle. All it implies is that we don’t know the answer yet.
And even if you still insist that supernatural phenomena does exists, you still have a long way until proving that your god is behind it and not the god of a different religion or perhaps aliens for all I know…