Miracles: a matter of perspective (Pt.5 of 5)

The need for evidence and witnesses seems counterproductive with regard to miracles, but considering the on-going controversy it is necessary. It has already been established that even the internal groups within each of the three primary warring factions; atheists, theists, and agnostics, cannot agree amongst themselves regarding miracles. This division equally applies to how to handle alleged miracles. Some people believe every alleged miracle should be questioned, investigated, and scrutinized until it can be clearly labeled a miracle, a fraud, or a unique but natural occurrence. There are also extremists on the other side of the issue who believe questioning a miracle is like questioning God. Though it is curious why any Christian would make such a claim, because there are several passages within the Bible that actually encourage believers to put everything stated within it to the test. However, it is a fact that many other theistic beliefs discourage in-depth scrutiny, whether it is part of their doctrine, or merely emphasized by the leaders, which obviously pertains to more than just miracles. Fortunately, most people are not extremists on either side. It is understood that there is a negative element within society that attempts to capitalize off of innocent people when they can. We must guard against such negative activities by questioning methods and motives, and thoroughly investigating when appropriate. Alternatively, there is nothing wrong with people like Houdini and David Copperfield using magic tricks and illusions when they admit to being magicians, illusionists, and escape artists. However, the Uri Geller’s and Peter Popoff’s  of the world, who claim divine or supernatural abilities, individually or as the source, when it is nothing but a dishonest scam are detrimental to society on many levels, and should be dealt with accordingly. Another aspect to consider when deciding on whether it is appropriate to question alleged miracles is the consequence of the action. As previously mentioned, investigating faith healers is an appropriate action in order to protect society at large. However, humanity needs to play a major factor in when to question the healings, or when not to. After all, should an elderly woman who believes she has just been healed, and is painless for the first time in 20 years, be told the healing was merely psychosomatic and not a real miracle? For instance, over 7000 cures have been claimed by visitors who have made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, considered a holy site by Catholics, “but only 68 are recognized by the Lourdes Medical Bureau,” the medical unit charged with validating claims since 1905 (O’Keefe). Invariably, it always seems to come down to perspective. And that perspective is akin to personal beliefs: a result of personal beliefs, or a source for changing personal beliefs.

The overwhelming truth relating to perspective and personal beliefs literally changed the direction of this essay. During my initial attempt to acquire enough scholarly evidence and contentions for a long-winded debate, it became apparent that perspectives and beliefs clouded every issue. David Hume (1711-1776), who was respected “more in his own time for his writing on English history… [but] is best known today as the greatest of skeptics” (Cramer), believed he had come up with a winner-take-all argument that would be “an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion… useful as long as the world endures” (qtd. in Cramer). In short, the argument contends “A miracle is necessarily less probable than any alternative explanation, so the alternative is preferred to the miracle” (Cramer). This argument is the core belief to all skeptical contentions regarding probability: statistical or otherwise. And prior to Hume was the Jewish philosopher, Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), who argued from a naturalistic, or Newtonian, concept (Geisler). Spinoza claimed, “nothing then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her laws,” further contending that “a miracle, whether in contravention to, or beyond, nature, is a mere absurdity” (qtd. in Geisler). As you can see, most devout skeptics tend to advocate the universality of natural laws: believing they are immutable. And they accept this stance based on alleged universal observation. However, skeptics with a more agnostic point of view, instead of the previous science-based atheism, attempted to modify the probability argument. In Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the author contends that “miracles are theoretically possible but they are practically impossible” (Geisler). Kant believed humans must live as if miracles never occurred. This contention is based on the belief that if “we lived any other way it would overthrow the dictates of practical reason and erode the basis for both science and morality” (Geisler). Subsequently, those fears have proven irrational, since the religious beliefs have tried to maintain a more family-oriented and moral focus, while humanism, which sprang from universal laws followed by the sciences, have been one of the major contributors to the increase in society’s lack of morals.

It does not take long to realize the above irrational fears and personal beliefs cannot help but cloud the issue. For instance, the predominant contentions against miracles by science-based skeptics is founded on a core argument that automatically says choose any other answer over miracles from the onset. Such an argument throws out fairness, open-mindedness, and integrity from the start. And this is from the same group of people who contend they never accept anything as truth until it can be proven as truth with empirical proof to back up the claim. In other words, every scholarly skeptic, whether Hume, Spinoza, Kant, or any other, who claims there are no miracles, and base their claim on natural laws and their core argument, do so with a philosophical belief and not any actual evidence. And you will find that none of these skeptics, including Hume, the alleged greatest of skeptics, ever personally investigated miracles. Common sense alone should tell you the error in that methodology. After all, how many crimes would ever be solved if no one investigated them? And how many inventions would ever be invented if no one ever investigated all the possibilities? It peaks the curiosity to know why so many people go to such lengths to deny something the vast majority of them have never personally investigated.

Once again, it is shown that common sense tells us the prevalent inspiration behind most skeptical contentions is rooted in personal beliefs and perspective. Predominantly, science-based skeptics have never witnessed or experienced anything miraculous, so they assume their lack of experiencing these things confirms their scientific, or non-theistic, beliefs. They are conveniently forgetting that the lack of something is not the proof of something. For instance, the lack of water in the desert does not prove the Earth is void of water. Therefore, based on these common sense factors, it is not hard to ascertain why the science-based skeptics obsessively denounce miracles without appropriate proof. These skeptics must deny anything and everything that would validate any supernatural origin. If they accepted even one incident as a valid miracle it totally alters their belief of natural laws. Both the atheists and agnostics would then have to admit a supernatural element to our origins and everyday existence. And, as is often the case, atheists and agnostics retain their beliefs because they personally do not want to believe in a God they may someday have to answer to.

At the risk of sounding flippant I must state, it’s a miracle this controversy has lasted this long. I coined a phrase many years ago that I’ve used throughout my adult life: “intelligence without common sense is nonsense.” And that phrase sums up 99.9 percent of the contentions against miracles by skeptics. In the half-dozen or so incidents mentioned in the previous parts of this essay, there is plenty of evidence to clearly show what took place was beyond the boundaries acceptable to natural laws. After all, falling from heights in excess of 18,000 feet without a parachute, and surviving, is not an everyday occurrence. The same could be said about diseases and wounds that instantly heal, battle-hard troops dropping their weapons and fleeing at the sight of angelic beings, or coming back to life 42 hours after dying and being embalmed: without any side-effects. And the vast majority of skeptical contentions are based on the core argument that any alternative to a miracle is preferred because they simply refuse to accept miracles. What kind of logic is that? Obviously, it is the same kind of logic or reasoning that inspires them to write volumes of alleged scholarly text condemning miracles without investigating a single miraculous incident. Likewise, the magicians, illusionists, and escape artists that do investigate charlatans and hoaxes, as a lucrative career, equally refuse to investigate the most likely miracles: claiming they cannot be contained within a controlled environment for legitimate observation and study. And with regard to the core argument branching out into the often used contention of statistical probability, where is their empirical proof to validate the claim that miracles, if real, would only occur once? There has never been one shred of evidence to back up that claim presented by the scholarly skeptics: Hume, Spinoza, Kant, or any of them. Therefore, when I present the likely probability that atheists, agnostics, and even the theists who believe the age of miracles is over, continue to adhere to illogical contentions that are based on no solid evidence in order to retain personal beliefs, it is more than likely true. And, as shown, those beliefs are predominantly influenced by perspective.

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