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Can an Atheist Scientist Believe in Miracles?

Microscope

Peering down the microscope, I saw a deadly leukaemia cell and decided that the patient whose blood I was examining must be dead. It was 1986, and I was reading a large stack of bone marrow samples "blind" without being told why.

Given the nasty diagnosis, I imagined that it must be for a lawsuit. Perhaps a grieving family was suing the doctor for a death that really could not have been helped.

The bone marrows told a story: the patient took chemotherapy, went into remission, then relapsed, had more treatment, and went into remission for a second time. Then the slides stopped.

Later I learned that she was still alive some seven years after her ordeal. The case was not a lawsuit. Instead it was being considered by the Vatican as a miracle in the dossier for canonization of Marie-Marguerite d'Youville. No saint had yet been born in Canada.

But the Vatican had already rejected the case as a miracle. Its experts argued that she had not had a first remission and a relapse; instead, they contended that the second round of treatment produced a first remission.

This seemingly subtle distinction was crucial. We speak of the medical possibility of cure in first remission, but not following a relapse. The experts in Rome agreed to reconsider their decision if a "blind" witness would examine the slides again and find what I had just seen.

My report was sent to Rome.

A Lengthy Process

 
I had never heard of the canonization process and could not believe that the decision would require so much scientific deliberation. Would-be saints need a miracle to establish that they are with God. They also need to have lived exemplary lives documented with evidence in biographies.

Out of curiosity, I read the biography of d'Youville. Born near Montreal, she had established a home for the poor and disabled, a hospice, a soup kitchen, and an order of nuns who founded schools around the world. Her life certainly seemed exemplary.

Time passed. I was invited to give testimony about my report at an ecclesiastical tribunal. Worried about being asked something difficult, I took along some articles from the medical literature about survival in leukaemia, highlighting the most relevant passages in bright pink.

At the end of the session, I left the papers with the investigators. The patient and treating physician also testified at the tribunal. The patient explained how she had appealed to d'Youville during her relapse.

More time passed. Finally, we learned the exciting news that d'Youville would be canonized by Pope John Paul II on December 9, 1990. The nuns who had been promoting her cause invited me to attend the ceremony.

At first, I hesitated not wishing to offend them; I am an atheist and my husband is a Jew. But they were happy to include us both in the ceremony, and we could not pass up the privilege of witnessing the recognition of our country's first saint.

An Unforgettable Moment

 
The ceremony was in St. Peter's Basilica. There were the nuns, the treating doctor, and the patient. Immediately following, we met the Pope—an unforgettable moment.

In Rome, the Canadian postulants gave me a present—a book that altered my life utterly. It was a copy of the Positio—the bound testimony of the entire Ottawa miracle that had been submitted for review.

It contained the hospital records and transcripts of the doctor and patient testimonies. It also contained my report and the articles that I had left with the tribunal. The bright pink highlighting had reproduced as black redaction. But it didn't matter because references for the articles were complete.

Suddenly, I realized with amazement that my medical work would reside in the Vatican archives. In that same instant, the historian in me wondered, what were all the other miracles that had been used for canonizations past? Were they healings too? What diseases were cured? Was medical science involved in the past as much as it is now? What did the doctor witnesses do and say?

Striking Parallels

 
Twenty years later and after many trips to the Vatican Archives, I have published two books on medicine and religion.

In the first, Medical Miracles, I analyze 1,400 miracles used in the canonization process for several hundred saints over the course of 400 years. Almost all of these miracles are healings and the majority involved up-to-date science and the testimony of physicians.

The second book, Medical Saints, opens with the full story of my miracle summarized above and continues with an analysis of the modern veneration of Saints Cosmas and Damian—twin-brother doctors, martyred in the year 300.

Their popularity in North America seems to be on the rise. They too are invoked by people who are ill, people who also consult their doctors and take their medicine.

The research uncovered dramatic stories of recovery and courage. It revealed some striking parallels between medicine and religion in terms of reasoning and purpose, and it showed that the Church had not shrunk from science in its deliberations over the miraculous.

Though still an atheist, I believe in miracles—wondrous things that happen for which we can find no scientific explanation.

That first patient is still alive some 30 years after her brush with acute myeloblastic leukaemia, and I cannot explain why. But she can.
 
 
Originally posted at BBC Religion. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Yale)

Jacalyn Duffin

Written by

Jacalyn Duffin, MD (Toronto), FRCP(C), PhD (Sorbonne), FRSC, a hematologist and historian, occupies the Hannah Chair of the History of Medicine at Queen’s University, Kingston Canada. A former President of both the American Association for the History of Medicine and the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine, she is author of eight books and holds several awards for research, writing, teaching, and service. Her research interests include disease concepts, medical technology, and religion and medicine. She holds fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada (2012) and in the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (2013). Her current clinical activity is in breast cancer, and she participates in an award-winning research project on music memory and dementia. Jacalyn's most recent book is Medical Saints: Cosmas and Damian in a Postmodern World (Oxford University Press, 2013).

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  • David Nickol

    miracles—wondrous things that happen for which we can find no scientific explanation.

    It seems to me a miracle is something for which there can be no scientific explanation. The fact that we cannot now explain something scientifically does not mean eventually we will not find a scientific explanation. Also, if there are things that we never find scientific explanations for, that does not mean they are miracles (see cognitive closure). For an event to be a miracle, it must violate the laws of nature, not simply be inexplicable in terms of current scientific understanding. And by definition, it seems to me, a miracle must take place by divine intervention. So I am not sure how a person could truly believe in miracles and also be an atheist.

    I would not rule out the possibility of miracles. However, to declare something a miracle because we cannot find a scientific explanation for it is setting the bar too low. A miracle, it seems to me, is not something we can't explain. It is something that can't happen, but does.

    • Colin Gormley

      > Also, if there are things that we never find scientific explanations for, that does not mean they are miracles (see cognitive closure).

      If my understanding of cognitive closure is correct it requires an assumption that the mind is limited by its (physical) properties. If one rejects this assumption cognitive closure falls apart.

    • Timothy Reid

      I like your final definition of miracle. It's more to the point. Maybe change one word and say "something that shouldn't happen, but does."

      • David Nickol

        How about "something that, according to the laws of nature, can't happen"?

        • Timothy Reid

          That works too.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi David,
          I have an observation and a question if you don't mind me asking. First if i was on the third story of a building, and dropped an apple, you were on the second floor and caught the apple, then let it continue to fall, you wouldn't say that you "broke" the laws of gravitation, but rather that you interrupted them. i think that might be kind of an important distinction. Secondly, how much evidence would it take for you to believe in a miracle, or rather is there no amount of evidence?

          • David Nickol

            Secondly, how much evidence would it take for you to believe in a miracle, or rather is there no amount of evidence?

            As I have said a number of times, I am not an atheist (although I do have flashes of doubt in which it seems to me quite a reasonable conclusion that God does not exist), and I think in light of my own views the standard for being convinced of a miracle would be very similar to the standard for being convinced, as a juror voting where the death penalty was a possibility, of a person's guilt in a murder trial—proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

            I think medical cures are perhaps the weakest examples of possible miracles because there is so much room for misdiagnosis and so much precedent for spontaneous remission of even the most serious diseases. And yet "confirmed" miracles are almost always medical cures, it seems to me.

            In your dropped-apple example, I don't see any breaking or suspension of the law of gravity. If you would like to propose that when a miracle occurs, the laws of nature are "interrupted" or "suspended," I have no particular problem with that.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            That seems to be to be a pretty objective answer, thanks

          • Timothy Black

            But having proof beyond a reasonable doubt wouldn't constitute any sort of faith. It would just be knowledge at that point. Good or bad, you'll probably never get that sort of proof in terms of the existence of God.

          • David Nickol

            But having proof beyond a reasonable doubt wouldn't constitute any sort of faith.

            If something miraculous happened to me or in my presence, I don't see why I would need faith to believe it. I also don't think it would necessarily confirm the existence of God (that is, the Christian God). For me, unlike Dr. Duffin, a miracle is a supernatural event, so it would confirm the existence of the supernatural.

            Certainly the people in the Gospels who witness the miracles of Jesus (if they indeed happened as described) had every cause to believe in miracles. If I saw someone instantly curing lepers, or instantly curing blindness, or raising the dead, I wouldn't need faith to consider those things miracles. I presume if I were knocked off my horse on the way to Damascus in the manner Paul is said to have been, I would have been converted like he was.

          • Timothy Black

            "Certainly the people in the Gospels who witness the miracles of Jesus (if they indeed happened as described) had every cause to believe in miracles."

            You would think, but it's recorded that many still didn't. So that isn't really true either. Many people see amazing things and still blow them off as nothing important or miraculous. There is something in scripture about having to have faith before you see the miraculous. Not the other way around. Those who can't or refuse to believe, will never have enough proof.

            "Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand." as St Augustine said.

          • David Nickol

            You would think, but it's recorded that many still didn't. So that isn't really true either.

            While the Gospels certainly don't present the apostles as having solid, unshakable faith, I don't think there is anything in the Gospels that indicates they didn't believe in the miracles of Jesus. In any case, my point is not that the followers of Jesus believed in his miracles, but that the kind of miracles described in the Gospel would be convincing to me if I witnessed them firsthand. I'm not speaking for the apostles or anyone else. I am just saying what my criteria would be.

            I am speaking hypothetically, of course. I have never personally experienced anything like an unexplained healing. What I am basically saying is that I have an open mind about miracles. If something astonishing happens to me, I will not consider it axiomatic that a supernatural explanation simply cannot be considered.

          • Timothy Black

            A completely fair comment. I was referring more to the witnesses outside of His inner 12, or the 3000 on Pentecost. But yes, even the 12 had issues. Peter was always sticking his foot in his mouth yet God founded the Church on that rock. I think about that a lot...the message being delivered in earthen vessels and such. But anyway...that is probably another topic.

            There are other stories about those who turned away even after having been witness. And many having a very difficult time with the Eucharist (John 6) and turning away and such.

          • Ignorant Amos

            First if i was on the third story of a building, and dropped an apple, you were on the second floor and caught the apple, then let it continue to fall, you wouldn't say that you "broke" the laws of gravitation, but rather that you interrupted them.

            You wouldn't have "interrupted" the law of gravity, you would have just intercepted the apple in its fall. By your analogy, the ground is interrupting the law of gravity every time a falling object hits it. Gravity is still working on the apple even though it is not falling and held in your hand.

            The apples mass hasn't changed because you caught it and the Earth's pull hasn't lessened on that mass because you are holding it in your hand.

          • Fr.Sean

            HI Ignorant Amos,
            That is a good point. The distinction i was attempting to make was simply highlighting what happens in a potential miracle. Thus, one way to look at it would be that a miracle somehow goes against the laws of nature, or "violates" the laws of nature. Instead of seeing it as a violation of the laws of nature, as if for a time being they are all in a state of instability, they aren't violated as much as interrupted. they continue on their normal course after the interruption. in like manner if you were on the second floor of the building it wouldn't be so much that you broke the laws of gravity, but you interrupted them.

          • Max Driffill

            How would you establish a miracle.
            A woman gets better from some illness, whose prognosis had been terrible. Did a miracle occur? How could you tell? The doctors say they don't understand what happened? Has a miracle occurred? Again tell me, how you think you could say so?
            In my hypothetical we examine the case rate fatality for the people in the woman's condition, where we find that something like 1 person in 100,000 cases turn around and get better. No one knows why. are those miracles or just products of variation owing to large numbers?

            From a scientific perspective we can't declare these instances miracles. All we can say is that some percentage of people will recover even at a very late stage from a disease process. We may figure out why this is the case, or we may not. Ambiguity is okay.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Max,
            That's a good question. I would first say that it's important to recognize that none of us makes a decision based upon 100% certainty. We make decisions based on a balance of probability realizing that at times our choices may be wrong. When it comes to miracles it's difficult to prove something beyond doubt that does not have a scientific explanation. so there's always going to be a bit of a mystery to a miracle. From a purely scientific perspective i think a decision about whether or not a miracle occurred should be refrained from until all of the facts are evaluated. in my opinion one should approach a potential miracle with a high degree of suspicion but also a willingness to be objective and open to the possibility. Dr.Duffin did that and concluded that a miracle occurred. You'll never be able to be 100% certain that a miracle occurred, but then again, there's almost nothing that you can be 100% certain about.

    • icowrich

      Everything you say is true, yet, given your statement that "if there are things that we never find scientific explanations for, that does not mean they are miracles," then you are arguing (by default) that a real miracle can escape detection. That is itself an instance of cognitive closure, right? In other words, any claim that there are no miracles is a non-falsifiable claim.

      This is why such things a miracle of faith. This is not the realm of science.

      • David Nickol

        It seems very clear to me that if there really are miracles, nevertheless some (perhaps almost all) miracles could escape detection. We know that, because of the high rate of spontaneous remission for breast cancer, the Vatican does not accept unexplained breast-cancer cures as miracles worth investigating. But assuming that 99% of all spontaneous remissions of breast cancer are non-miraculous, that doesn't mean that 1% might not be real miracles.

        In other words, any claim that there are no miracles is a non-falsifiable claim.

        In order to falsify the claim that there are no miracles, it would be necessary only to prove one miracle occurred. If there are miracles, it seems to me that they are most likely to be the kind of things requiring personal experience to be convincing. Of course, one can imagine undeniable miracles. For example, if at 8:00 p.m. New York time tonight, every television set in the world were to simultaneously show an appearance of the Virgin Mary and in her message she included the chemical formula for a drug that cured all cancers (and it worked), I don't see how anyone could deny it was a miraculous occurrence.

        • icowrich

          But woudln't you just reply: "if there are things that we never find scientific explanations for, that does not mean they are miracles"?

          • David Nickol

            "if there are things that we never find scientific explanations for, that does not mean they are miracles"?

            I agree with that, but I am incapable of writing anything that short and succinct. :-)

          • icowrich

            ...which means that it IS non-falsifiable, right?

          • David Nickol

            ...which means that it IS non-falsifiable, right?

            If I understand what you are asking, the answer is no.

            I'd say if there is a scientific explanation for something, it is not a miracle. However, the converse is not necessarily true. That is, just because we don't have a scientific explanation for something does not necessarily make it a miracle. That would mean that everything we didn't understand would have to be classified as miraculous. There are some things we don't understand because we haven't figured them out yet. There are other things we don't understand the conceivably we will never figure out at all. I think for something to be a miracle, it must be something that can't happen, but does. The reason it can't happen is because it violates laws of nature that we know to be true (or at least reliable). We know, for example, that cancerous tumors occasionally shrink and disappear spontaneously. We don't know why, but that doesn't make it a miracle. It is something we haven't figured out the cause of, but presumably one day will. But if a tumor were to vanish instantaneously, that would be a miracle. Tumors don't vanish instantaneously, and in fact nothing in the physical body vanishes instantaneously. Leprosy can now be cured with drugs, but it can't be cured instantaneously, and in fact no damaged or diseased skin becomes normal, healthy skin instantaneously.

            It does seem to me that there are things almost everyone would consider miraculous that are not technically impossible. For example, if I announced in advance that God was going to make me the winner of the next 25 lotteries (MegaMillions, PowerBall, NY State Lotto, etc.) I bought tickets for, and it happened, that would not exactly break a law of nature, but it would be so fantastically against the odds that I think it would have to be seen as a miracle.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I think something like spontaneous rejuvenation of a missing limb would be very very difficult to explain away. Not in the manner of the miracle of Calanda, but with scientific checks and balances.

          • icowrich

            Well, now we no longer differ in principle, but are merely haggling on degree. At that point, it seems, you have admitted the possibility of miracles. As I've never experienced one (and don't expect to), I don't think I could ask any more from you on this matter.

    • Christopher

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF0_ysUivxE

      Here's something that can't happen but did. If the sun moves the planets falls because the earth circles the sun by gravity. Correct? Here the sun moves. Why did the earth not fall? I guess the video is a lie. But if it is true you must believe in God.

      • David Nickol

        It's possible that if 10,000 people saw the sun move, a miracle occurred, but the miracle was not that the sun moved. The miracle was that the people had had some kind of vision. Even with the much more famous "Miracle of the Sun" at Fatima, thousands of people at and near Fatima claimed to see the sun move, but others did not, and nobody in locations other than around Fatima saw the sun move. So the sun didn't move. If the sun were to actually move, millions and millions and millions of people would see it, not just 10,000 or 100,000.

        I did not see the sun moving in the video in any way it doesn't move every day (e.g., rising at dawn, setting in the evening).

        If you were to tie a weight on a rope and swing it around your head, it would be like the earth orbiting the sun. If the sun were to miraculously wink out of existence, the earth would not fall. It would act the same way the weight would act if you let go of the rope. If the sun were to move suddenly, it would surely affect the earth, but the effect would depend on the way the sun moved. I can't imagine a way that the sun could move that would cause the earth to "fall," if by fall you mean "move toward the sun."

        I guess the video is a lie.

        If people say they saw the sun move, then I am willing to accept that they saw the sun move. There is no reason to accuse anyone of lying. But there is also no reason to believe the sun actually moved in some unusual way. Maybe they had a vision, or maybe what they saw was an illusion (like a rainbow), or maybe there was a mass hallucination. But I think the one thing we can say for certain is that the sun did not really move.

        • Christopher

          OK I got it. When you see with your own eyes the supernatural you make up other possibilities. And if a deluge of "miracles" were given to you each with its own unique fantastic story about the circumstance in which it occurred it can all be explained naturally using adjective like claims, purported, and alleged. OK got that too. Irrational and stubborn resistance is not seen by yourself as your frame of reference despite the fact that if you put hundreds even thousands of things that can't happen but did happen together which are considered miracles by the vast majority of thinking society. And of all these miracles, and by the way In the Catholic Church it takes two to make a Saint, all it takes is one miracle to be true and that is evidence of God. Just one and there are 8050 Saints. That's at least 1600 miracles! Some saints have thousands of miracles attributed to them just by themselves! Add to that number all manner witnesses. Did you know that the skeptics answer book is about as thick as telephone book in New York? That's a lot of push back. However, how likely is it that one miracle is true out of all these miracle? You may not think so but the odds are in the Christians favor don't you think? And unless you are unillengent, and I will grant that you are not, even if Christianity is wrong per your inclination with those odds it is not unreasonable to be a Christian. Correct? I mean, is it your position not to be confused by the facts because your mind is made up?

          Well, with that said these are my personal few reasons why It is not unreasonable. I know you will shoot them down, but collectively it's only a hundred:

          http://en.lourdes-france.org/deepen/cures-and-miracles

          http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/a3.html

          http://listverse.com/2008/07/14/top-10-astonishing-miracles/

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        I'm sorry, but that makes no sense. Even if the video is true (and quite frankly the sun doesn't seem to be doing anything special; the CAMERA appears to be dealing with overexposure and filter problems, but that's an entirely different problem) that wouldn't imply one should believe in god. That's a complete non-sequitur.

        • Christopher

          See above reply

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Your reply does not address my comment.

          • Christopher

            Yes it does. I am giving you the big picture.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Not actually. Claiming that if the video is true one must believe in god is a non-sequitur. The video shows nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing.

            And it is indeed quite possible that every record of a miracle we have is either false, or simply a god-of-the-gaps fallacy. In fact, that's by far the most likely explanation.

          • Christopher

            Well you could not be an investigator. A good investigator does not have preconceived notions and the facts determine the truth. And since you start out with the notion that the supernatural does not exist you can never conclude the supernatural happened. All doctors know if you don't think of the diagnosis is possible you will never make it.

            I noticed that in these kind of discussions people disagree then become the judge in their concluding remarks. For example, you said "by far the most likely explanation". Based on what? The answer is this is your opinion only. Yes, you have you push back. I have push back too! Why are you more right than me? Because you say no louder? Please! You can say man did not go to the moon too as loud as you want. I gave you contrary reasoning based on international committees of Lourdes, based on all manner of witnesses, based on logical statistics, based on the World Health organiztions Examinations too. They can be found in the 100 examples I gave you. There are over 20,000 thousands miracles and all I need is one to prove God. I like my changes. Your response is no, no, no, cause I said so. Got it.

            So again, isn't this your opinion based on your personal reasoning? Of course it is, be honest. I'll admit my position is my opinion. Remember being dismissive is not an argument. It's a cop out. I made the point that it is not unreasonable to be a Christian based on the odds of at least one miracle being true and based on witness testimony it is more likely they all are true! Courts use witnesses to determine truth don't they? I'll answer for you, Yes, courts do use witnesses to determine truth. You seem to have a higher standard than courts to determine truth! Amazing, cynical narcissism!

            I gave you a lot to read and I am surprised you already reviewed all of what I presented. But don't worry, if you refute my hundred I have a lifetime more for you to keep you busy saying no base on a mindset instead of a seeker of truth. Reading is fundamental!. PS but excuse my typo's (Smile) Good bye!

          • Ignorant Amos

            There are over 20,000 thousands miracles and all I need is one to prove God. I like my changes.

            How would one or 20,000 miracles prove God or gods?

          • Christopher

            Close your eyes and think!

          • Ignorant Amos

            Nope, nothing happened.

            The word "miracle" is often used to characterise any beneficial event that is statistically unlikely but not contrary to the laws of nature, such as surviving a natural disaster, or simply a "wonderful" occurrence, regardless of likelihood, such as a birth. Other miracles might be: survival of an illness diagnosed as terminal, escaping a life-threatening situation or 'beating the odds'. Some coincidences may be seen as miracles.

            Now you try!

          • Christopher

            Lol I can not convince the convinced! I can't debate context or perspective.

          • Ignorant Amos

            No, you will not convince this critical thinker with the so-called evidence being presented to date. Given the numerous examples of pious fraud, I remain sceptical of miracle claims.

            If the Sun was to "dance" about in the sky, in that it shifted about in space, the effects here o Earth would catastrophic. Observatories and weather stations around the world would be recording such a phenomena. So what does your rational thinking brain surmise really happens, given context and perspective?

          • Christopher

            Critical thinker? You mean cafeteria thinker. You pick and choose your facts then give yourself a pat on the back.

          • David Nickol

            Critical thinker? You mean cafeteria thinker. You pick and choose your facts then give yourself a pat on the back.

            I doubt that Ignorant Amos or most other people on Strange Notions would get fired up about remarks such as yours, but they are personal attacks. We're supposed to be discussing people's ideas here, not the people themselves. That means we don't question people's intelligence, integrity, or sincerity.

          • Christopher

            I don't think it is personal to tell someone they are picking over what I believe are facts.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Ha ha...that is the point, you "believe" they are facts. That does not make them facts.

            A fact is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be proven to correspond to experience.

            Calling something that is highly improbable a miracle doesn't make it so, in the supernatural sense of the word.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Thanks for the support there David. I think you know me well enough to be aware that I have a thick skin and can hold my own

          • Ignorant Amos

            Take a look in the mirror and see if ya see a black kettle in there.

            Have you ever heard of a miracle where an amputee has grown a limb? Other than the farce of the miracle of Calandra, NO.

            If miracles were a reality beyond reasonable doubt, the human race would be Catholic, think about that while drinking her coffee.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Plus, I don't think miracle claims of a saving from harm or healing nature do your god any favours. What sort of unfair entity would such an obviously non omni-benevolent being be? Saving one individual out of thousands. And don't gimme the gods plan apologetic.

            Other religions and gods miracles also apply.

          • Christopher

            OK, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a historical picture of people gathered at Fatima.

            First of all why are all these people there in the first place? The historical answer is they were looking for a promised miracle, correct?

            What are all these people looking at? The historical answer is the sun, correct

            Was it raining very hard before the sun came out? Historically Yes

            Was the ground completely dry after the event?

            Historical accounts say yes.

            How much energy would it take from the sun to dry ground in an instant? (Historically that is what happened).

            I let you figure that one out but I think enough to kill everybody there.

            What was the end result of this event?

            Historically the atheist that were there converted to Christianity, World War two was predicted, a Catholic Church stands there today almost 100 years
            later.

            Newspaper accounts, eyewitness testimony, now a good
            encyclopedia all recount the facts. History is something you can't change or be skew unless you get an unreliable source that is biased. And if you were suing in a count of law about the truth or falsehood of the matter The events would be held up as true.

            Even with this to those who believe, no explanation is needed. To those who don't believe no explanation is possible.

            My opinion is you can't discount facts historical events and claim to be a critical thinker. And adding ad hominem venom at God by saying, "What
            sort of unfair entity would ...), only makes your argument seemed based on emotion rather than factual. It is easy to dismiss what you don't understand.

            And trying to dismiss the "God's plan apologetic" before I give it only shows me you think I am trying to convince you about God's existence which clearly I can't. I can only present to you why what I hold to be truth is completely reasonable and why I think you are unreasonable in your position. I am not trying to make you drink the water, I am just trying to show you that I see the water and you don't because you need to stand on the hill I am standing on to see.

            There is a physics we don't understand. Atheist such as yourself use that point to point out that with the growing understanding in science will come a natural explanation. I get that. But to me it can go the other way and you should not dismiss that possibility as fervently as you do. With each unexplained phenomenon comes more evidence of the supernatural that can't be dismissed with the broad brush of higher standards of proof that you require.The standards of a court of law is reasonable. Correct?

            In any event, many of the faithful who believe in God believe they are intentional blinded in this life, by God, to many spiritual facts. It is their belief that God will make his intention known when they die.To Christians God is a invisible reality just as the wind is an invisible reality. Our life is a test designed to give us the opportunity to obtain our place in heaven or hell based on how we love in this life. Heaven or hell then becomes the reward for whatever side we worked for in this life. Can I prove this to you? Sadly no. But Am I wrong? Well at least I had those people in the picture believe in what I believe and right now I have a few billion people who also agree with me there is a God!

          • Christopher
          • Ignorant Amos
          • Christopher
          • Ignorant Amos

            Did you read your own link?

            No movement or other phenomenon of the sun was recorded by scientists at the time.[3] Not all witnesses reported seeing the sun "dance". Some people only saw the radiant colors, and others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.

            Various explanations have been advanced. Auguste Meessen, a professor at the Institute of Physics, Catholic University of Leuven, points out that looking directly at the Sun is known to cause phosphene visual artifacts and temporary partial blindness. Meessen contends that retinal after-images produced after brief periods of sun gazing are a likely cause of the "dancing" effects, and the colour changes were caused by the bleaching of photosensitive retinal cells.[13] Meessen observes that solar miracles have been witnessed in many places where people have been encouraged to stare at the sun. He cites the apparitions at Heroldsbach, Bavaria, Germany (1949) as an example where exactly the same optical effects as at Fátima were witnessed by more than 10,000 people.[13] Another theory is a mass hallucination stimulated by the religious fervor of the crowd.

            So, not everyone who was there seen the same thing or anything at all, how can that be?

          • Christopher

            Amos, you are missing my point. I am not blogging about the validity of Fatima. There are contrary points of view in various court trials, in research trials, in everything. The real question is when you sit and deliberate who are you going to believe? I believe the historical, scientific evidence that is presented on one side and you believe the other side. You gave your reasons and even presented theories as possible plausible facts. But say what you will, again many, many people disagree with you and it is not unreasonable to do so I am sorry to tell you!

            Hey, it's been interesting sharpening my intellectual skills with you all. A Catholic arguing with an Atheists is a tough debate and will not be solved on blogs. No hard feeling. I wish you all well in your future endeavors.

          • Ignorant Amos
          • Christopher

            I agree to disagree with you because my earlier points and your points speak for themselves. No need of beating a dead horse further.

            I now have a fuller understanding of why Atheist believe what they believe even if I disagree. I am sure you see why I believe what I believe even though we think each other's position is nonsense. I appreciate the your have dialogued with me on this matter.

            I have funny sign in my office that I think sums up your feelings and my feelings. I am sure you will agree with me. It says, "Those who think they know it all annoy those of us that do"! (Smile)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            No. Actually I'm still not sure I understand why you believe what you believe. I don't even think you understand why your claim of scientific and historical evidence for Fatima is erroneous.

          • Christopher

            Really? OK well I will repeat, "Those who think they know it all annoy those of us that do"! (Smile)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I am not claiming to know it all; I am making a simple factual statement: there is no scientific evidence for the moving sun at Fatima. None. There is evidence of what people thought they saw, which is not evidence of the sun moving.

            You need to understand the difference between anecdotes, personal opinions and experiences, and actual scientific evidence. I'm not sure that you do.

          • Christopher

            I see you don't have a sense of humor and you want to bait me into another long no win back and forth. Granted I don't have the double blinded prospective study required to prove to you my contentions. Neither did cigarette smoking have the proof it caused cancer in the 1940's when everybody then knew it caused cancer.
            It took 50 years for proof.

            dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith
            faith (feɪθ) —n: 1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence: 2. a ...

            So let's just say base on thousands of Miracles one of which is illustrated by an Athesit who wrote this above arguement I believe. You can have the last word. I do appreciate your perspective. Thanks for the dialogue. I'm out.

          • M. Solange O’Brien
          • Doug Shaver

            "Neither did cigarette smoking have the proof it caused cancer in the 1940's when everybody then knew it caused cancer. "

            If they had no proof, they did not know it. They just believed it.

          • Christopher

            Because human beings have limited intellects we can not hope to comprehend fully truth, especially the truth of God. Consider this parallel: Someone living in a one-dimensional world, where there can only be points on a line, could not imagine a square. And in a two-dimensional world, where squares exist, a cube would be incomprehensible.
            This is the problem of thinking and considering evidence. If a person is a one-dimensional thinker then "proof" is only as good their intellectual limits. If evidence presents itself outside those limits then they are discounted as not possible and assigned to the "not figured out yet" category even if the volume of this evidence is over many thousands. Opposing theories then become real probabilities and allow people the explain away real truth. This is why they are so confounded and why skeptics require only "real" evidence which is only determined by their limits.

          • Doug Shaver

            Because human beings have limited intellects we can not hope to comprehend fully truth, especially the truth of God.

            I believe plenty of things that I don't fully comprehend, but I believe them because of evidence.

            If evidence presents itself outside those limits then they are discounted as not possible

            You can call it discounting if you must, but it isn't evidence just because you say it is. I do not say that miracles are impossible. All I say is that lots of believers claiming that miracles have happened is not a good enough reason for me to believe they have happened.

          • Christopher

            You are thinking exactly as I described and so it will never be good enough reason for you to believe. So it is discounted thinking and you can say it's not if you must. I've seen real science and scientific commissions discounted this way and explained away just as you are doing. So why should I try to convince you? That's impossible as I explained. It's always the same argument. "It isn't evidence" just because I say it is. And so you use words like claiming and alledged and purported. And the beat goes on!

          • Doug Shaver

            So why should I try to convince you?

            That depends on what you think is going to happen to me if I don't change my mind.

            It's always the same argument.

            It's always the same apologetics.

            "It isn't evidence" just because I say it is.

            If you think your say-so should be enough to convince me, then I'm sorry, but I've known plenty of people who claim to have plenty of evidence that Roman Catholicism is nothing but a conspiracy and a fraud. I'm not taking their word for it, either.

          • Christopher

            "If you think your say-so should be enough to convince me, then I'm sorry"

            Again Why should I convince you? Here why I can't
            To quote me again:

            "Consider this parallel: Someone living in a one-dimensional world, where there can only be points on a line, could not imagine a square. And in a two-dimensional world, where squares exist, a cube would be incomprehensible.
            This is the problem of thinking and considering evidence. If a person is a one-dimensional thinker then "proof" is only as good their intellectual limits. If evidence presents itself outside those limits then they are discounted as not possible and assigned to the "not figured out yet" category even if the volume of this evidence is over many thousands. Opposing theories then become real probabilities and allow people the explain away real truth. This is why they are so confounded and why skeptics require only "real" evidence which is only determined by their limits."

            http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/paris-chapel-of-miraculous-medal

            So if I, for example, point out to you that at this Church there are two incorrupt bodies of two great saints (meaning that their bodies are not embalmed, they have flexible joints, and the don't smell) and there is the incorrupted heart of another Catholic saint and their is a documented historical evidence of instantaneous headings from an infectious disease epidemic based on a medal the the Mother of God asked them to make you would not doubt say it is not true because it is not possible and/or say it is not true because an explanation has not yet been found. It's so so to you so the beat goes on!

          • Ignorant Amos

            Christopher, I just don't feel the need to invoke the supernatural as a rational explanation for extremely rare, improbable, or the yet unexplainable phenomena. It is your prerogative to do so if you wish, though it confounds me coming from a scientist, but there you go.

            Atheists, by and large, don't profess to know everything, that is the purview of the religious. Atheists are sceptics who require evidence.

            "Those who think they know it all annoy those of us that do"!

            I love it...seems appropriate

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Well you could not be an investigator.

            False. I am a scientist.

            A good investigator does not have preconceived notions and the facts determine the truth.

            Correct.

            And since you start out with the notion that the supernatural does not exist you can never conclude the supernatural happened. All doctors know if you don't think of the diagnosis is possible you will never make it.

            Absolutely false. I do not start out with that notion. Where on earth would you get that idea? Later in your post you talk about reading. I'd suggest you take up the practise.

            I noticed that in these kind of discussions people disagree then become the judge in their concluding remarks. For example, you said "by far the most likely explanation". Based on what? The answer is this is your opinion only.

            Absolutely false. I am using simple inductive reasoning. We have never found a supernatural explanation for anything; the odds are better that something has a natural explanation based on the improbability of finding a supernatural explanation. Quite simple math.

            Yes, you have you push back. I have push back too! Why are you more right than me? Because you say no louder? Please! You can say man did not go to the moon too as loud as you want. I gave you contrary reasoning based on international committees of Lourdes, based on all manner of witnesses, based on logical statistics, based on the World Health organiztions Examinations too. They can be found in the 100 examples I gave you. There are over 20,000 thousands miracles and all I need is one to prove God. I like my changes. Your response is no, no, no, cause I said so. Got it.

            I have read your sources. Nothing in them indicates a miracle. There are cases of spontaneous remission or partial remission of diseases, but nothing that cannot be found in the literature of people who HAVE NOT been to Lourdes or the various "miracle" incidents you cite. All your sources have done is demonstrate confirmation bias and "god-of-the-gaps" analysis.

            If you wish to convince me, and I assure you that actual evidence will convince me, you're going to have to do far better than dump reams of poorly documented cases of 'god-of-the-gaps' analysis. Got any real evidence?

            So again, isn't this your opinion based on your personal reasoning? Of course it is, be honest. I'll admit my position is my opinion.

            And here you inadvertently point out the difference: I am using reasoning; you are offering opinion.

            Remember being dismissive is not an argument. It's a cop out.

            Then you shouldn't engage in it.

            I made the point that it is not unreasonable to be a Christian based on the odds of at least one miracle being true and based on witness testimony it is more likely they all are true!

            Look, you're probably not a Christian because you read all these stories, made a reasoned decision, and said, "Great!" You're a Christian because you were raised to be a Christian. You accept your sources because they accord with your belief system.

            And no. You have not made your point. You CLAIM that it's not unreasonable to be a Christian, but I don't see that you have made an argument to that effect.

            Courts use witnesses to determine truth don't they? I'll answer for you, Yes, courts do use witnesses to determine truth. You seem to have a higher standard than courts to determine truth! Amazing, cynical narcissism!

            Apparently you've never been in court. Courts don't use witnesses to determine truth; courts use witnesses to provide evidence. It is known that witness testimony is among the very worst kind of evidence.

            I gave you a lot to read and I am surprised you already reviewed all of what I presented.

            I'm a scientist and a fast reader. None of your sources was very complex or contained much actual information.

            But don't worry, if you refute my hundred I have a lifetime more for you to keep you busy saying no base on a mindset instead of a seeker of truth. Reading is fundamental!. PS but excuse my typo's (Smile)

            Why should I waste my time following up gigantic data dumps? If you have an actual argument, make it here. Make it succinctly and soundly and I'll be happy to listen. But I have far better things to do than wade through reams of poorly evidenced "miracles". There's absolutely no payback for me.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I know it is an argument as populum, but six billion folk around the world wouldn't make very good investigators either. Of course other religion's have miracle claims too, confirmation bias much?

          • Christopher

            See above reply. I am a scientist too!

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Since we know the video to be false, there is no reason to believe in god, right?

  • Kevin Aldrich

    At Dr. Duffin's request, Oxford University Press has sent me her two books on miracles. I look forward to reading them and offering a review here.

    In my own OP on the miracle attributed to St. Josemaria Escriva, there were nothing but unanswered questions because we could not delve into the process or sift the evidence. But Dr. Duffin has done this and with the requisite medical understanding.

    • David Nickol

      Here is a question I would be interested in hearing the answer to. Once a person is canonized and has had two miracles attributed to his or her intercession, are subsequent alleged miracles reported and investigated? If I pray to St. David (Welsh bishop of Menevia during the 6th century) and believe he intercedes for me and obtains a miracle, will that be investigated? Or are miracles investigated only for beatifications and canonizations?

      • Mike

        Good question. One I've considered before. I would think they could be, but the resources of the Vatican may be devoted to individuals who are being considered for canonization. I'd be interested to know the answer.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I'd say *not officially investigated by the Church*, given the time and money it takes to do such an investigation. However, if there was a "Society of St. David," the members would certainly like getting reports of miracles attributed to him and would probably investigate them to the extent their resources permitted.

      • Timothy Reid

        The healings that have taken place at Lourdes are also investigated by the Church. Would we attribute those miracles to Mary or Bernadette? If so, they're already saints and don't need to be canonized.

  • Sqrat

    Though still an atheist, I believe in miracles—wondrous things that happen for which we can find no scientific explanation.

    The job of the medical researcher ought to be to find a scientific explanation for so-called medical miracles so that those miracles can be replicated by doctors on an everyday basis, and cease to be miracles.

    • Mike

      Hi Sqrat,

      I would agree with what you've said, but add a modifier. It should be the job of any scientist to seek, find, or discover the truth. Including the possibility of miraculous events.

      You assume that there is a scientific explanation for the "so-called medical miracles". I'm not claiming that there isn't one, but we don't know it with certainty.

      Furthermore, many good men and women of all backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs spend their lives in such pursuits. Many of my co-workers, past and present, as well as my wife are among them.

      • Sqrat

        You assume that there is a scientific explanation for the "so-called medical miracles". I'm not claiming that there isn't one, but we don't know it with certainty

        You are correct. It seems like a perfectly reasonable assumption (in fact, the only reasonable assumption), regardless of whether we can know it with certainty.

        In the case described here, the inability to identify a scientific explanation for a particular remission from cancer was used by the Church as a justification for canonizing someone as a saint. The Church seemed to be comfortable with assuming, that, in the absence of scientific explanation, a miracle had occurred. I submit that that was a vastly more dubious assumption than the assumption that no miracle had occurred.

    • David Nickol

      I agree that seems like a spontaneous cure should not be classified by the medical profession as a miracle (in the sense of an act of God breaking the laws of nature) and should instead be investigated to see if medical reasons can be uncovered for its cause and exploited in the hopes of finding a new treatment or cure. However, as a consultant, it really is the job of someone like Dr. Duffin to do what is asked of her, which is to determine whether the spontaneous cure is explicable or not. Neither she nor the original physicians who treated the patient may be in a position to devote themselves to medical research into why the apparently spontaneous cure happened. And even researchers working on the particular disease might be following more promising leads.

      It is not clear to me what Dr. Duffin really means by miracle, since I don't see how an atheist can claim to believe in "true" miracles (divine interventions that violate the laws of nature).

      • Bobert

        Atheists don't think there is no higher power. To them, there may be, there may be not. But it is in the realm of possibility. they just don't beleive in the one God we all speak of.

        If she was Agnostic on the other hand, then I'd be impressed in her belief in miracles, but then that would not make her Agnostic. :)

      • Sqrat

        She did the job she was paid to do, which was to say whether or not she could find a medical explanation for the remission. That she couldn't find one is not to say that one could not possibly be found.

        It is not clear to me what Dr. Duffin really means by miracle

        She says that miracles are "wondrous things that happen for which we can find no scientific explanation." Presumably that's different from "divine interventions that violate the laws of nature." I see no evidence in the article that would lead me to conclude that she thought a "true" miracle had actually occurred in the case in question.

        I wonder if the Church paid her expenses to get to Rome so she could attend the ceremony.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      You are telling an actual medical researcher what she may and may not spend her time doing?

      • Sqrat

        Actually, I don't believe I've ever told Dr. Duffin a thing.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          "The job of a medical researcher ought to be . . . "

          Dr. Duffin's job is as a medical researcher" . . .

          Ergo . . .

          • Sqrat

            As I said, she did the job she was paid to do, presumably as a job for hire by her laboratory, under the mistaken impression that it was probably related to some lawsuit. I don't fault her for that. However, she subsequently allowed herself to be associated rather too closely with the Catholic "miracles" thing for my taste.

            Back in 2010 a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail wrote, describing the affair,

            How does the Vatican screen miracles? With great care, as it turns out, using doctors and scientists who don't know they've been hustled into the Vatican's saint-making - or unmaking - skunk works.

            A little harsh, perhaps, but not dissimilar from my own view.

          • I'd be happy to explore Vatican miracle claims. No need to hustle me. I bet a lot of other scientists and doctors would be interested. It sounds as though Jacalyn Duffin would do it again.

            All they're looking for is that no one has a reasonable explanation for a particular event. And you might get to meet the Pope! How cool would that be?

          • Sqrat

            I have to reiterate my opinion that I wish she hadn't chosen to lend her name to the "no scientific explanation for a particular event at this time = therefore a miracle occurred" machine.

          • Medequcb68

            A judge is not worthy of his judgment if he is not convinced of his judgment; a scientist is not worthy of his calling if he couldn't defend his finding; Duffin did her job and render her opinion based on her competence. If her findings were referenced and presented as a corroborative evidence, it is her duty to explain her findings and render her opinion on the matter regardless of who the audience are or for what purpose her testimony was intended. If she truly believes in her scientific findings she has no choice but to be associated with her findings even if they are against your wishes.

          • Sqrat

            Her findings did not include that Marie-Marguerite d'Youville was alive and well and living in heaven, occasionally interceding with Jesus (also alive and well and living in heaven) to sweet talk him into supernatural interventions on behalf of cancer patients. My regret is that she has seen fit to associate herself in any way with that particular "finding", especially when she does not endorse or believe it.

          • David Nickol

            My regret is that she has seen fit to associate herself in any way with that particular "finding", especially when she does not endorse or believe it.

            If you watch this video starting at about the six-minute mark, it appears Dr. Duffin's philosophy is something along the lines of "It takes all kinds, and we should celebrate that." It may seem a bit too "open minded," but atheists or skeptics would probably welcome such an attitude in religious people. It seems to me that the religious person with such an attitude would be saying, "Well, I personally believe in miracles as interventions by God, but if you don't, and you want to look at them differently, that's great. It would be a dull world if everyone believed the same thing." Such an attitude would take alleged miracles off the table when it came to arguments about the existence of God.

  • Ignorant Amos

    Let's say, for a moment, that 'miracle's' in the supernatural sense occur. Let's then say that intercessory prayer can invoke such a 'miracle'. Here's my questions.

    Why would a person with a chronic disease pray to what is at the time a 'nobody' of on the grand scale of things?

    Are we to assume that the person praying was not also praying to a higher authority, say a recognised Saint, Jesus or even God?

    Given, as I would expect to be the case, the patient had been praying to at least one other higher authority, should the 'miracle' not be attributed to the higher divinity?

    Perhaps a family member, a friend, a work colleague, a member of the local congregation has been praying to a higher divinity, and that's how the 'miracle' was invoked?

    What about looking at it from another angle? Are we to assume that others that are suffering and pray to the 'nobody', and to which no such intercession occurs, are being shunned by the exemplary potential Saint, or 'nobody' as of the time being prayed to?

    BTW, at least the rules for becoming a Saint are a lot more stringent in these modern times, for example, Augustine could hardly be described as being exemplary.

    • Mike

      The way I understand it is that God is the only entity that can perform miracles, but the Saints intercede to God.

      • Ignorant Amos

        So the Saints put in a good word on the behalf of those praying and God either acts or not, depending on..on...on...?

        But if God is the only entity that can perform miracles, what's the point of praying to other religious characters? Particularly a Nun with no definitive credentials, yet? I know that if I was terminal and a believer of God, I'd be taking no chances. My Prayers would be solely for the organ grinder, the one with the power to get things done.

        A bit like canvassing a friend who is high up in a company to put a good word in on an application for employment.

        I just don't get it though, it all seems a bit blasphemous to me.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The person who prays does not consider the person he prays to a nobody. He considers that person already a saint in heaven able to intercede.

      • Sqrat

        Question regarding a point of Catholic theology -- someone can get into heaven before Jesus has judged him/her?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          According to Catholic doctrine, each person is judged by Christ at the moment of death. It is called the "particular judgment" (CCC 1021-1022)

          According to St. John of the Cross,

          "At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love."

          • David Nickol

            How is it known whether someone who has died (and not gone to hell) is in purgatory or heaven? Can souls in purgatory intercede with God?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Q1: It can't be known unless the person is beatified.
            Q2: Yes.

          • Ignorant Amos

            How do you know?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            These are basic Catholic teachings. You could probably find them yourself if you search the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

          • Ignorant Amos

            So someone told you?
            Okay.

          • David Nickol

            These are basic Catholic teachings. You could probably find them yourself if you search the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

            I don't have time to look it up now, but apparently then-Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Eschatology has quite a different take on purgatory (not a place but a process, perhaps not a period of time but an instant) that seems to be at odds with basic Catholic teaching. I have the book and will attempt to report back later.

            It seems to me that "basic Catholic teachings" are at least sometimes, if not often, irreconcilable with very solidly Catholic theologians say. As I have noted before, some "conservative" Catholics claim Benedict was a heretic because of his writings on Original Sin and that he was not even the pope.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I have been immersed in basic Catholic teachings and what theologians say about it. I don't really see the problem. For example, the CCC refers to purgatory as a condition, not a place. It also seems perfectly sensible that it is a process of transformation and not just painful incarceration!

          • David Nickol

            Interestingly, the Catechism finesses the question of whether purgatory is a place.

            1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

            As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

            It is "backward compatible" with older conceptions of purgatory as a place, but it carefully avoids saying that purgatory is a place. Exactly how you have fire in a process but not a place (or for that matter, how a disembodied soul could either be in a place or undergo a process, especially one with fire) is somewhat of a mystery.

            On the matter of whether the souls in purgatory (in the process of purgatory?) can pray for us, the old online Catholic Encyclopedia says the following:

            Do the souls in purgatory pray for us? May we call upon them in our needs? There is no decision of the Church on this subject, nor have the theologians pronounced with definiteness concerning the invocation of the souls in purgatory and their intercession for the living. In the ancient liturgies there are no prayers of the Church directed to those who are still in purgatory. On the tombs of the early Christians nothing is more common than a prayer or a supplication asking the departed to intercede with God for surviving friends, but these inscriptions seem always to suppose that the departed one is already with God. St. Thomas (II-II.83.11) denies that the souls in purgatory pray for the living, and states they are not in a position to pray for us, rather we must make intercession for them. Despite the authority of St. Thomas, many renowned theologians hold that the souls in purgatory really pray for us, and that we may invoke their aid. . . . .

            So it would seem the guy in the video who is so confident that souls in purgatory pray for the living is giving us his opinion, not an official teaching of the Church.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            See Peter R's fuller quote from the old Catholic Encyl. above.

          • David Nickol

            See Peter R's fuller quote from the old Catholic Encyl. above.

            Thanks, but I quoted from the same entry myself and I read the whole thing before quoting an excerpt. The point is that the guy in your video gave one side of an ongoing debate as if it were the teaching of the Church. It is not the teaching of the Church that souls in purgatory can intercede for the living. It is one view of people within the Church, and there are people who hold the opposite view. That souls in purgatory can intercede for the living is not a teaching of the Church. That they cannot intercede for the living is also not a teaching of the Church.

          • Peter R.

            Yeah I think that that is pretty much the bottom line.
            And seeing as how there are an abundant number of Saints in Heaven who are closer to God then anyone in Purgatory, I will be praying to them instead. Plus I am a real Thomist and if the argument is open for discussion and there is really no more logic behind one view than the other, I side with St. Thomas.

          • Peter R.

            I am sorry, I didn't even notice that the Catholic Encyclopedia had already been quoted. Stupid me.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            I don't know if you read Eben Alexander's book, but after he "left his body" he was in some place that seemed like purgatory. he said he felt he needed to be there to "detach" from a lot of the things he was overly attached to in this life or soemthing to that effect. his book was focused on the scientific aspect so he attempted to stand clear of identifying with any specific religion. it was an interesting connection though.

          • David Nickol

            I have the book and have leafed through it, but I haven't read it. Based on what I know about the book and on various interviews I have read, Alexander doesn't claim to have seen Jesus or Mary. Of course, if there is a heaven, I have no idea what it would be like, but what I know of Alexander's description of what he saw and what he experienced, it doesn't sound like a confirmation of the Christian idea of heaven.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            Well, having read the book i'll just give my brief take, but i do think it's worth the read. He was Episcopalian i believe but was more agnostic, and almost went out of habit and for his family. Alexander being a neurosurgeon had heard countless patients talk about having out of body experiences when they were having surgery or died briefly etc. he was familiar with all of the modern scientific explanations for why one may think they are having an out of body experience. he always thought it was "Chemical reactions in the brain" or some other natural explanation but never wanted to throw cold water on them. when he had his experience he knew it wasn't simply a natural phenomenon but that he had really experienced some form of underworld (purgatory perhaps but didn't say, place to detach from our world) and then heaven which he described as like earth only much more beautiful. thus when he came too he wanted to go through the scientific explanations of why people "thought" they had an out of body experience to show how his experience and understanding of brain activity did not match scientific explanations, and therefore the natural explanations were false. my take on the book was that Alexander was attempting to focus on it being a scientific evaluation of the phenomenon and thus wanted to steer clear of identifying with any specific religion least he lose his scientific audience. if you do read the book Alexander jumps back and forth between what was happening with his body and what was happening on the other side. i found it helpful to go back and read just the other side to get the entire context after i had finished the book. i don't remember reading anything that conflicted with Catholic theology. i hope you enjoy it if you do read it.

          • Michael Murray

            Worth reading this article on Alexander

            http://www.esquire.com/features/the-prophet

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,
            Interesting take, not exactly similar to the book, seemed more of a parody, but oh well. i have heard a few things about people questing his character. at the time he was struggling a little with trying to reconnect with his biological family. but i have heard method of avoiding the contents of one's perspective is to try to make the evil, stupid or both, Mr.Dittrich seemed to be shooting for both. Nevertheless, thanks for sharing the link.

          • Ignorant Amos

            There's that confirmation bias kicking in again Sean. An investigative journalist lifts the lid on a snake oil salesman and you chose to attack the journalist. What about the obvious lies in Alexander's testimony? What about his self confessed fraud? What about the impossibility of his claims?

            No, according to how you see it, everyone is picking on Alexander. Everyone from the Dalai Lama to the attending doctor to his malpractice victims.

            Alexander writes a book about visiting heaven and the gullible believe it, sound familiar? Abraham, Mohamed, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard et al anyone?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Ignorant Amos,
            Thanks for the insights. I'm not attacking the journalist, i'm just attacking the method. I base that on the idea that i read the book and then read how the contents of the book were distorted. No one can no for certain specifically know what Alexander experienced, and he would be the best witness. I did hear in politics that if one cannot contend the contents of one perspective one often applied method is to; make your opponent look stupid, make him look evil, or both. The distortions of what was said in the article as compared to the book shows Mr.Dittrich employed both methods.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I'm not attacking the journalist, i'm just attacking the method.

            By attacking his method you are inferring he is being disingenuous. You will need to cite examples of where you think Dittrich is being so.

            I base that on the idea that i read the book and then read how the contents of the book were distorted.

            I am less interested in the contents of the book than I am of the integrity of the author. But as I've said, please cite examples of Dittrich's distortion and why you think it matters to his overall charge that Alexander is just a money grabbing charlatan.

            No one can no for certain specifically know what Alexander experienced, and he would be the best witness.

            Exactly! That is why we need to look at Alexander's character, his motives and his past indiscretions to see if what he says can be relied on to pass basic muster in honesty. From what the article reports, he cannot. No more than the charlatans that I listed above can be relied on in their testimony. Unless you believe, for example, the report that Joseph Smith was presented, by the angel Moroni, some golden tablets on which was written hieroglyphics that required magic seer stones to decipher the scripts? I doubt that you do. If I wrote a book relaying my experience of being transported to a planet on the other side of the universe, with a lot of fanciful details, you'd not arbitrarily believe me, and rightly so. But the soon as someone mentions heaven and a god in a fanciful report, all rational thinking goes out the window.

            I did hear in politics that if one cannot contend the contents of one perspective one often applied method is to; make your opponent look stupid, make him look evil, or both.

            Why? To what ends would Dittrich do such a thing? Politicians have an agenda. Are you suggesting that Dittrich made up the malpractice lawsuits, the doctors testimony, Alexanders own fanciful account of a guy called Chuck who wasn't, but it seems probably was, but for nefarious reasons made stuff up? Are you saying that Dittrich has misreported the accounts his interviews with Alexander? And why hasn't Alexander slapped a lawsuit on the reporter and magazine?

            >blockquote>The distortions of what was said in the article as compared to the book shows Mr.Dittrich employed both methods.

            No, those distortions, if they are indeed distortions, are a non sequitur to the purpose of the article, that is to show Alexander as a liar and a fraud that made stuff up and put it in a book in order to make money under false pretences, which it does. Alexander admitted such himself during the interview. Why are you hell bent on defending such an untenable state of affairs?

            The passages from the book appear in italics, so it should be easy enough to show these distortions.

            They were [Alexander's 3 words] crystal clear, and heard by all the doctors and nurses present, as well as by Holley, who stood a few paces away, just on the other side of the curtain.

            "God, help me!"

            Do you think that possible with an intubation tube stuck down ones trachea?

          • Gargoyley Man

            It would appear that these are not “basic Catholic teachings.”
            In fact St. Thomas Aquinas would disagree with you in regards to the latter question on souls in Purgatory. He states: “Those who are in Purgatory though they are above us on account of their impeccability, yet they are below us asto the pains which they suffer: and in this respect they are not in a condition
            to pray, but rather in a condition that requires us to pray for them.” (see Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis,
            Q. 83 A. 11)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here is somebody explaining things differently than you:

            http://www.catholic.com/video/can-the-souls-in-purgatory-pray-for-us

          • Gargoyley Man

            Well if this is to be simply an argument of authority, then I think that you should re-evaluate the authority of St. Thomas Aquinas' writings. Check out Leo XIII's encyclical, Aeterni Patris, especially A.17-34. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_04081879_aeterni-patris_en.html

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you aware, at least, that many theologians and saints think that while the souls in purgatory cannot do anything for themselves, they can do something for us?

          • Peter

            Which theologians and saints?

          • Peter

            Moderator - there are two Peters.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Just do an internet search with something like "can the souls in purgatory help us?"

          • Peter

            So you really have no clue that there are "many saints and theologians" that hold the same ideas as you?

            If you seriously know that there are, then please direct me to them. If you don't then maybe you should try and find some to support your earlier statement:

            "Are you aware, at least, that many theologians and saints think that while the souls in purgatory cannot do anything for themselves, they can do something for us?"

          • Peter R.

            Here, I will make your argument for you. Here is what some saints and theologians have taught: (courtesy of the Catholic Encyclopedia)

            Do the souls in purgatory pray for us? May we call upon them in our needs? There is no decision of the Church on this subject, nor have the theologians pronounced with definiteness concerning the invocation of the souls in purgatory and their intercession for the living. In the ancient liturgies there are no prayers of the Church directed to those who are still in purgatory. On the tombs of the early Christians nothing is more common than a prayer or a supplication asking the departed to intercede with God for surviving friends, but these inscriptions seem always to suppose that the departed one is already with God. St. Thomas (II-II.83.11) denies that the souls in purgatory pray for the living, and states they are not in a position to pray for us, rather we must make intercession for them. Despite the authority of St. Thomas, many renowned theologians hold that the souls in purgatory really pray for us, and that we may invoke their aid. Bellarmine (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv,) says the reason alleged by St. Thomas is not at all convincing, and holds that in virtue of their greater love of God and their union with Him their prayers may have great intercessory power, for they are really superior to us in love of God, and in intimacy of union with Him. Francisco Suárez (De poenit., disp. xlvii, s. 2, n. 9) goes farther and asserts "that the souls in purgatory are holy, are dear to God, love us with a true love and are mindful of our wants; that they know in a general way our necessities and our dangers, and how great is our need of divine help and divine grace".

            When there is question of invoking the prayers of those in purgatory, Bellarmine (loc. cit.) says it is superfluous, ordinarily speaking, for they are ignorant of our circumstances and condition. This is at variance with the opinion of Francisco Suárez, who admits knowledge at least in a general way, also with the opinions of many modern theologians who point to the practice now common with almost all the faithful of addressing their prayers and petitions for help to those who are still in a place of purgation. Scavini (Theol. Moral., XI, n. 174) sees no reason why the souls detained in purgatory may not pray for us, even as we pray for one another. He asserts that this practice has become common at Rome, and that it has the great name of St. Alphonsus in its favour. St. Alphonsus in his work the "Great Means of Salvation", chap. I, III, 2, after quoting Sylvius, Gotti, Lessius, and Medina as favourable to his opinion, concludes: "so the souls in purgatory, being beloved by God and confirmed in grace, have absolutely no impediment to prevent them from praying for us. Still the Church does not invoke them or implore their intercession, because ordinarily they have no cognizance of our prayers. But we may piously believe that God makes our prayers known to them". He alleges also the authority of St. Catharine of Bologna who "whenever she desired any favour had recourse to the souls in purgatory, and was immediately heard".

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thank you for that.

          • Peter R.

            No problem, I am not just trying to support my own ideas with sophisticated arguments and equivocations. I am searching for the Truth, the same as everyone.
            But, based on the above, Tim Staples is still wrong when he claims Tradition.

          • David Nickol

            the souls in purgatory

            I watched the video you linked to, and it sure sounds like they are talking about purgatory as a place.

            Also in the video is the statement that "Jesus (at the right hand of the Father) ever lives to make intercession for us." The idea of a saint interceding with an omniscient God, outside of time, for God to grant something requested by a person on earth is a strange one. But the idea of Jesus interceding with God the Father is even stranger still. What does it mean for one person in the trinity to intercede with another? The dictionary definition of intercede is as follows:

            to act between parties with a view to reconciling differences : to beg or plead in behalf of another : mediate

            What can it possibly mean for Jesus to intercede with God the Father?

          • David Nickol

            Here's another "practical" question. How do those in heaven know they are being prayed to? Can they hear us? Can they hear our thoughts? Or can they hear only when we pray? Or does God have to relay prayers to them?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I dunno.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Or does God have to relay prayers to them?

            That would mean God hears the prayers, tells the particular Saint about the prayers, then the Saint tells God about the prayers in order for God to intercede.

            Wouldn't an omniscient God already know about the individual, their ailment, that the ailment would remiss because of prayer, and whether he would or would not intercede on each particular case?

          • David Nickol

            This is an example of what I have been calling "the theology of everyday piety," which is basically wrong. In academic theology, nothing attributable to God can involve a before and after. Not to be cynical, but if skeptics accept explanations couched in the theology of everyday piety, that's fine. But if skeptics point out problems, apologists can then start citing academic theology and say something like, "Well, God is outside of time, so he doesn't really know things in advance (and so on). Temporal explanations simply don't apply." So for almost any position put forward involving the supernatural, there will generally be a fallback position that saves the day if the original position is too successfully criticized.

            I am not saying this is a clever plot by those defending religion to avoid losing an argument. It seems to me it's just the way complex religious edifices are built. Whether the theology of everyday piety is a dumbed down version of academic theology, or whether academic theology is a highly intellectualized version of the theology of everyday piety, I am not sure. But I lean toward thinking it is the latter. I am by far no expert in theology, but it does strike me that Aquinas takes rather simple and ordinary questions and gives complex, highly intellectualized answers to them, creating a system of academic theology in the process.

            I see from googling that Aquinas answers the question of whether the saints are aware of our prayers. The answer seems to be yes, but I have not taken time to follow the reasoning.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I like that term, "The Theology of Everyday Piety". It is better than my "Pretzelmania", less confrontational and mocking. I may adopt it with your kind permission, at least for use in places where using "pretzelmania" might get one banhammered?

          • Danny Getchell

            "the theology of everyday piety,"

            That is a superb phrase, David, and cuts to the core of my attitude toward Catholicism.

            The Catholics I know and have known as friends have, I suspect, never studied any of the church fathers in depth, nor read the philosophical writings of the Ratzingers of this world.

            But they have been schooled thoroughly in the theology of everyday piety and have completely internalized it.

            And it's that theology which I find myself unable to accept, intellectually or emotionally.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Danny, Could you give an example of what you mean by something ordinary Catholics are thoroughly schooled in that you can't accept?

          • Danny Getchell

            All my Catholic school friends were quite convinced that my parents and I were bound straight to hell - and it was a very painful hell, right out of Dante - because we weren't Catholics and did not believe in God.

            It's only in recent years, after lurking and posting on a few Catholic, intellectually oriented blogs, that I've learned that no Catholic can really know for sure who is and who is not hell-bound. I wish I'd had a chance to bounce that off the priests and nuns who taught my friends, I wonder if they would agree.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What decade are you referring to?

          • Danny Getchell

            May I ask what relevance that would have to my point??

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Because this does not sound like anything in the past 40 years.

          • Danny Getchell

            This would have been in the late 1960s - pretty close to the outside of your time window but given the assumption that church teachings do not change over time, I still do not see the relevance.

            I had rather expected you to tell me that I just misinterpreted everything I heard back then, in which case the dialogue would have ground to a standstill.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            People's ignorance changes and they can be wrong in a plethora of ways.

          • Michael Murray
          • Sqrat

            Thanks, Kevin. Judgment (particular or otherwise) might be an interesting topic for a future discussion.

      • David Nickol

        The person who prays does not consider the person he prays to a nobody. He considers that person already a saint in heaven able to intercede.

        Ignorant Amos said

        Why would a person with a chronic disease pray to what is at the time a 'nobody' on the grand scale of things?

        You didn't actually answer the question he asked. A person who has died and is a candidate for beatification is certainly "a 'nobody' on the grand scale of things."

        First, even for a believing Catholic, there is no guarantee that a candidate for beatification is in heaven. It's possible that the deceased person is in hell, otherwise there would not need to be a miracle and a beatification, and then another miracle and a canonization.

        Second, someone who is a candidate for beatification or even canonization is a 'nobody' in the grand scheme of things compared to God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and "big name" saints like the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Peter. In earthly life, we may call upon a family member or a mutual friend to intercede with someone we have little contact with or little influence, but in prayer, why not simply ask God directly?

        One possible reason (and, it seems to me, a bad one) to pray to a candidate for beatification or canonization is that you think to yourself: "They need a miracle to get canonized, and I need a miracle to get cured, so why not pray to someone who needs a miracle to his or her credit rather than someone who doesn't?" If you pray to someone who needs a miracle to get canonized, and you get your miracle, it's a win-win situation.

        A related reason, which I mentioned recently, is that you believe some particular saint (a) is more sympathetic to your cause than God and therefore more likely to intercede for you and (b) has a unique and influential spot in heaven and therefore more "pull" than another saint to succeed in convincing God to work a miracle. For example, if you pray to the Virgin Mary and she is sympathetic to you, how (the theory goes) can God turn down his mother when she asks for something?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I disagree about your designation of nobodies. Nobody is a nobody in God's eyes. I'd even go further to say, in God's eyes every person is the most important person in the world.

          • David Nickol

            So why ask a saint to intercede for you? And why ask one particular saint rather than another?

            It sounds like you are saying God loves all human beings equally. But if I read Thomas Aquinas correctly, he did not think so. Also, as we recently discussed in reference to the story of Moses and Pharaoh, Paul says of God, "Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills."

          • Sean Alderman

            So why ask a saint to intercede for you? And why ask one particular saint rather than another?

            As Paul also says: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church."

            Why a particular saint? Because Christ was afflicted (suffered) in a very specific way, a way different from how Paul suffered, a way different from how I suffer. It is helpful to know that there are examples of people who managed to suffer with such grace and joy, so we ask for the favor of intercession on our behalf. Very much the same as we might ask another person on this earth for help.

          • David Nickol

            It is helpful to know that there are examples of people who managed to
            suffer with such grace and joy, so we ask for the favor of intercession
            on our behalf.

            I am not quite sure what you are saying. Is it that you pick a saint to pray to that can identify with what you are going through, will look upon you with greater sympathy than other saints who never had that experience, and consequently will be more inclined to intercede for you?

            It seems to me that (and I think I may be repeating myself) what people do is first pick a saint whom they feel will be effective—that is, a saint with influence or "pull," a saint whom, if he or she decides to intercede, God will more likely to be persuaded by.

            But the problem is that God can't be persuaded to do something he would not otherwise have done.

          • Sean Alderman

            David,
            I'm not sure how to address your comment in general terms, as I can only speak for myself. Personally, I might seek a saint who was afflicted in a similar way that I am suffering, and ask that saint for intercession. The end of such intercession is not purchasing a miracle or my way into heaven, but so that I may learn to accept the "cross" I have been asked to carry in a holy and virtuous way similar to the particular saint.

            I personally have never prayed to a venerated or beatified soul with the hope that through their intercession a miracle would be granted. I can relate your comments to scripture though... After witnessing the Jesus giving sight to the blind man, Jesus is asked if the man was made blind because of his own sin or that of his parents. The response from Jesus relates to how I read your comments... That the man was made blind so that God's will could be shown through him. The answer given is a rejection of the either/or premise of the question. God is not confined to our perceptions, our ways, or our worldly understanding.

            It is certainly easy to make a generalization from an anecdote. I seem to read a lot of comments with the complaint that SN posts make generalizations about atheists from anecdotes of the experiences of certain theists with certain atheists who may or may not be in fact atheists or represent the same brand of atheism the person subscribes. I read your comment doing the same in reverse. But perhaps there is some element of truth in your words. It is not what you know, it is who you know, but the "who" is simply Jesus. Christianity is a personal encounter with a divine person.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Why not just pray to oneself in that case?

            Perhaps you are getting hung up on the term 'nobody' as you are prone to do?

            Strike 'nobody' and replace with 'everybody' if it makes you feel better. The point being made still stands.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't understand any of your four sentences.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Why not just pray to oneself in that case? Given that you said...

            "Nobody is a nobody in God's eyes. I'd even go further to say, in God's eyes every person is the most important person in the world."

            Why a particular Nun, or Priest, or insert favourite human being here______?

            When I said, "Perhaps you are getting hung up on the term 'nobody' as you are prone to do?", it is because I have witnessed your getting into semantics over non-believers use of descriptors you disapprove of for various reasons. You know fine well what I meant by a 'nobody', someone of no particular importance to the rest of us.

            Strike 'nobody' and replace with 'everybody' if it makes you feel better means exactly what it says, replace the word 'nobody' in my comments with 'everybody', as in 'every person' as you state is the important person in the world to God. In other words, why not just intercede directly to God oneself?

            The point being made still stands. Why use a middleman? Especially if the situation is so dire that one might be taking a risk. Somewhat Pascalian a risk, no?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            To answer all those points in one fell swoop, I think it has to do with the way the divinely created human "economy" is. We are interpersonal persons. We are social beings. We are made to need one another. We all have something to offer one another.

          • Ignorant Amos

            WHAT? Word salad that has nothing whatsoever to do with what we are talking about here.

            Did you just suggest that God is economising by sub-contracting out prayer listening?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Economy also means "the disposition or regulation of the parts or functions of any organic whole." It does not just refer to money-related-stuff. (The CCC uses the word in the former way about a hundred times.)

            Have you ever read what St. Paul wrote about the Body of Christ consisting of many "members," each of which has its own important part to play? God evidently likes to delegate authority to make everyone important.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Paul never talks about a physical Jesus.

            God evidently likes to delegate authority to make everyone important.

            Really? Okaaay...so God delegates authority to make everyone important even though that authority is groundless because only God can answer prayer with miracles? Is that what you are asserting?

            A bit condescending of God don't you think?

            I mean, a Universe creating entity with omniscience and omnipotence would hardly need to allocate tasks surely?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            IgnAms
            Paul never talks about a physical Jesus.

            Paul
            For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:23–25

          • Ignorant Amos

            Sorry, I can't condense this link into a few lines.

            http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp08.htm

            .....but your Pauline passage is addressed.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Now you're being lazy! I'm supposed to read all that to figure out what you mean?!

          • Ignorant Amos

            Kevin, firstly your tardiness was in that you just fobbed my questions off and didn't even bother to offer sources.

            Secondly, "all that" was one web page. Have you forgotten your last recommendation to me as source material was to read a whole book by Benedict. Now, granted I was not prepared to pay for said book to read after going to lengths to research the contents, contents that even Catholic clerics have issues with, never the less, I did not dismiss you out of hand...and that is not even including David's comment on the book, of what he had read of it so far anyway.

            The non believer is continuously requested to review catechism, papal encyclicals, scripture and the writings of church fathers, not withstanding some of the garbage in some of the OP's, in order to understand Catholic arguments, yet when it comes to a crucial misunderstanding like the physical Jesus in the writings of Paul...it is just too much of an effort.

            It is typical of the religious...it is the reason the church guarded the availability of the scriptures to the masses for so long.

            It doesn't matter to me that your understanding of Paul's letters are clouded by reading them in light of latter texts...read Paul in context, that is, pre-gospels, and the picture is a lot different. But don't use Corinthians to support a position that critical biblical scholars refute without considering the refutation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay.

            The original discussion was about whether such a thing as the economy of redemption exists and whether it includes intercessory prayer.

            And I cited something Paul wrote about the body and its members to support the idea of members of the Church helping one another.

            And you claimed "Paul never talks about a physical Jesus." What is the relevance of that to anything and why should I go fishing in that lake? Could you summarize why I should read that very long article?

          • Ignorant Amos

            It was an aside remark...but I don't really care if you can't be bothered, if you don't wish to know why you are wrong, indeed don't bother. But don't compare what you assert as my laziness to that of your own. I at least cited a source in refutation of your misconception of what the passage in Corinthians is saying. Indeed, your remark that that "Paul wrote about the body[of Christ] and its members to support the idea of members of the Church helping one another", backs it up. But what that has to do with God delegating the task of prayer listening to Saints I don't know. If your god is omniscient, he already knows what prayers are going to be said, and which ones to which he will intercede, ahead of time, so the whole thing is nonsense...or as David states it, "the theology of everyday piety".

            I am well aware of the fear of the truth that grips the believer...that and the confirmation bias.

            A long article vis a vis a book of theology, a tad hypocritical methinks.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Both remarks about laziness were intended to be jocular, but I guess that did not come across in writing.

          • Ignorant Amos

            A problem regularly experienced using this medium of comms...hence the use of icons of a smiley type or LOL in text speak.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "I mean, a Universe creating entity with omniscience and omnipotence would hardly need to allocate tasks surely?"

            Have you ever done something you didn't need to do? As long as you had a reason adequate to motivate you, you did it.

      • Ignorant Amos

        A bit of a risk in my opinion. The Vatican doesn't even take it that way until all the tests are done. How many occasions has someone claimed divine intervention only to find that their preferred candidate failed the Vaticans processes. What are the miraculous interventions put down to on such instances.?

        It's a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario. Why even risk it? It all seems unnecessary to me, particularly if the last word on action is Gods anyway.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          There are many more saints in heaven than there are canonized saints. There are many more miracles than certified miracles.

          You might look into the doctrine of the Communion of Saints about the interactions between the head and the members of the body of Christ.

          • Ignorant Amos

            There are many more saints in heaven than there are canonized saints.

            I'd be interested to know how you could know such a thing Kevin.

            There are many more miracles than certified miracles.

            How do you define a miracle then? And how do you prove it?

            You might look into the doctrine of the Communion of Saints about the interactions between the head and the members of the body of Christ.

            Where does this doctrine come from? And when?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I prefer not to be your personal information assistant.

            Why do you suppose there is so little interest here in what an actual scientist and historian has to say about miracles? She has studied 1400 miraculous claims in detail and at their sources and she does not even believe in God.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I prefer not to be your personal information assistant.

            That'll be a "I don't know then?"

            Why do you suppose there is so little interest here in what an actual scientist and historian has to say about miracles? She has studied 1400 miraculous claims in detail and at their sources and she does not even believe in God.

            Kevin, you wrote that comment in all seriousness? If the doctor does not believe in God, then whatever she is inferring by her use of the word 'miracle', it is not the supernatural intervention by the God of the Roman Catholic tradition now, is it?

            The doctor, scientist and historian, is using the word 'miracle' in the sense that she hasn't a clue what happened. That's not to say it is unknowable, although it might be, but that is no reason to therefore assert Godidit.

            In any case, one professional a consensus does not make.

            And it is a non sequitur to answering anything I've asked.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is not an "I don't know." It's an "I'm too lazy to answer."

            I did not mean to assert a non-sequitur but to introduce a new topic with what I see as having a more direct bearing on the OP.

          • Ignorant Amos

            It is not an "I don't know." It's an "I'm too lazy to answer."

            I'd far rather have that honest answer than the previous 'snark' answer....if it is indeed honest.

            The point of this site , I think, is to enable Atheist and Catholics to explore each others views. I'm not interested in the stock answers in doctrine, scripture and dare I say, catechism, I don't need to be here to read those. I'm more interested n the personal view, The Kevin Aldrich view when I'm in discourse with KA.

            I'm an Igtheist born into the highly sectarian Protestant tradition of Northern Ireland so my manner might be a bit hamfisted, but I have a great deal of interested in understanding what makes the Catholic believer tick.

            I did not mean to assert a non-sequitur but to introduce a new topic with what I see as having a more direct bearing on the OP.

            No problem, and I answered you, but perhaps you should have started it in a new combox....just saying.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I was going to ask you what an Igtheist is, but then I just went and looked it up. Anyway, I'll be happy to answer your questions if you really want to hear them.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Well, if we achieved nothing else Kevin, at least ya have idea what an Igtheists views are.

            I was not asking for rhetorical reasons...I'm not au fait with the minutiae of your beliefs as per Kevin...you are long enough on this site to realise they are not standard fair. e.g. Rick

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks.

            If by Rick you mean Rick Delano, his views are not standard Catholic ones, though he'd wear me out proving he's right and I'm wrong.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I don't see any standard views, just the most popular. The replies to the praying in purgatory question on this very thread bares that out.

            Rick certainly had a knack of wearing folk out, on both sides, that's for sure, but he is certainly not alone in his conservative views of what it is to be an RC. To say one has the correct theological interpretation over another is to fall foul of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There are many degrees of dogma and doctrine, right down to the level of opinions.

          • David Nickol

            There are many degrees of dogma and doctrine, right down to the level of opinions.

            Here is some information from that I am lifting from an older post of mine about the "hierarchy of truth." It's from By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful by Richard R. Gaillardetz and gives the level of truth (in bold) and the required response from the believer (in italics):

            Dogma - Assent of Faith [The believer makes an act of faith, trusting that this teaching is revealed by God.]

            Definitive Doctrine - Firm Acceptance [The believer "accepts and holds" these teachings to be true.]

            Authoritative Doctrine - "A Religious Docility of Will and Intellect" [The believer strives to assimilate a teaching of the Church into their religious stance, while recognizing the remote possibility of church error.]

            Provisional Applications of Church Doctrine, Church Discipline and Prudential Admonitions - Conscientious Obedience [The believer obeys (the spirit of) any church law or disciplinary action which does not lead to sin, even when questioning the ultimate value or wisdome of the law or action.]

            It seems clear to me that the proposition that the souls in purgatory can intercede for the living falls outside any of those categories, and is not classifiable as dogma or doctrine.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I was thinking more along these lines, David:

            1. De fide. Divine revelations with the highest degree of certainty, considered Divine revelation (and infallibly asserted)

            2. Fides ecclesiastica. Church teachings, which have been definitively decided on by the Magisterium in an infallible manner

            3. Sententia fidei proxima. Church teachings, which are generally accepted as divine revelation but not defined as such by the magisterium

            4. Sententia certa. Church teachings which the Magisterium clearly decided for, albeit without claiming infallibility

            5. Sententia communis. Teachings which are popular but within the free range of theological research

            6. Sententia probabilis. Teachings with low degree of certainty

            7. Sententia bene fundata. A well-reasoned teaching which does, however, not arise to being called probable

            8. Opinio tolerata. Opinions tolerated, but discouraged, within the Catholic Church

            I think this is Ott's table but I pulled it from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_dogma

  • David Nickol

    Maybe the atheists reading this piece should just declare victory and move on. A highly credentialed physician has argued that "miracles" do not prove the existence of God. I presume what we are supposed to take away from this piece is that the Catholic Church takes pains to confirm that, before declaring something a miracle, it rules out known natural explanations. But the OP tells us that even then, it's not necessary to assume God was responsible for the "miracle."

    It seems that from Jacalyn Duffin's point of view, although she has no problem with it at all, the God who works miracles is a "God of the gaps."

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I would put it this way:

      The judgment that an event cannot be explained naturally does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that God exists. That is true. But this is not a new insight. The pharisees and Herod believed Christ worked miracles but it did not lead them to believe he was the Son of God. But miracles can provide evidence of God's existence. Think of the way Christ used a miracle as evidence that he could do something that only God can do.

      Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say,' Rise, take up your pallet and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic--"I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" (Mk 2:9-12)

  • Danny Getchell

    No discussion of evidences in the canonization process should fail to note that the office of "Promoter of the Faith" (commonly known as the devil's advocate) was abolished by John Paul II in 1983.

    Since that change, the canonization rate per year has increased by something in excess of 1,500 percent.

  • It should be possible in principle to test the test. Take a bunch of cases, with a certain percentage of them false miracles (cases for which the witnesses later recanted, or for which good evidence later was found to show that what happened was not a miracle), and give the Vatican the records blind. See if they can pick out the miracles from the hoaxes. I wonder what their success rate would be.

    Also, is there any way to find out how many proposed miracles fail the Vatican's tests? Is it 10%? 80%?

    • David Nickol

      It would also be interesting to see how many verified miracles from different eras in the past would be considered inexplicable by medical science today. Of course, it could be difficult to determine, since the records for past miracles would necessarily be limited by the medical capabilities of the time they were investigated. It would be difficult to determine if there had been accurate diagnoses in cases fifty or a hundred years old or older. As has been discussed before, "impossible" miracles don't seem to happen.

      • Alejandro I. Sanchez

        I would also like to know how many miracles of past centuries would today not be considered miracles at all. But wouldn't it be fair for a believer to insist that the atheist, who suspends his belief in the supernatural, due to evolving science and medicine, is guilty of following an "atheism of the gaps"?

        • David Nickol

          But wouldn't it be fair for a believer to insist that the atheist, who suspends his belief in the supernatural, due to evolving science and medicine, is guilty of following an "atheism of the gaps"?

          In my opinion, no. The trend has been clear for centuries that there is an ever-shrinking set of phenomena that can't be explained naturalistically. A recent piece by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker put it this way:

          Experience shows that those who adopt this strategy end up defending a smaller and smaller piece of ground. They used to find God’s hand in man’s very existence, then in the design of his eyes, then, after the emergence of the eye was fully explained, they were down to the bird’s wing, then they tried the bacterial flagellum, and now, like Meyer, they’re down to pointing to the cilia in the gut of worms and the emergence of a few kinds of multi-cellular organisms in the Cambrian as things beyond all rational explanation. Retreat always turns to rout in these matters.

          When one alleged gap after another is closed, it is not unreasonable to suspect they eventually all might be closed. The piece goes on to make a very interesting further point:

          As the explanations get more desperately minute, the apologies get ever vaster. David Bentley Hart’s recent “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss” (Yale) doesn’t even attempt to make God the unmoved mover, the Big Banger who got the party started; instead, it roots the proof of his existence in the existence of the universe itself. Since you can explain the universe only by means of some other bit of the universe, why is there a universe (or many of them)? The answer to this unanswerable question is God. He stands outside everything, “the infinite to which nothing can add and from which nothing can subtract,” the ultimate ground of being. This notion, maximalist in conception, is minimalist in effect. . . . This God is obviously not the God who makes rules about frying bacon or puts harps in the hands of angels. . . .

          As it appears that there was less and less in the history creation and of the universe for God to do, he becomes less and less of a person and more and more of a philosophical abstraction.

          • Alejandro I. Sanchez

            That's a good point, David. I'm sure proponents of Intelligent Design Theory have had to modify and, maybe even in some cases, do away with certain arguments. But coming back to this issue of miracles: a thing I find interesting is these claims of miracles, or medical phenomenon, happen more than most people would guess. Now it could just be that medical science is delayed in explaining why these miracles occur at all. But if that day ever comes we'd have to admit that it was a pretty big coincidence that these phenomenons happened to so many believers who petitioned God and the intercession of the saints in hopes to bring them about. While we'd both, probably, bet that most petitions to heal those inflicted with grave illnesses go unanswered, I think there is an argument to be made that it is divine intervention because they happen to those who are asking. What do you think?

            I'm also curious to read Dr. Duffin's book in which she researches some 1,400 miracles which occurred over the last four centuries in which she says "almost all of these miracles are healings and the majority involved up-to-date science and the testimony of physicians.". I'm wondering if any of these cases she researched, especially the earlier ones, can be readily dismissed as valid miracles today.

          • Susan

            we'd have to admit that it was a pretty big coincidence that these phenomenons happened to so many believers who petitioned God and the intercession of the saints in hopes to bring them about.

            If every case were true (and I've seen some dubious cases) have they been compared against cases where no one prayed or cases where people prayed to gods or saints of other religions?
            Also, does your god only violate the laws of physics in an apparently benevolent way? The whole justification for the problem of evil is that your god is a myste

          • Michael Murray

            Unlikely things do happen. Many years ago when I was a university student (many years ago!) I was driving to university and something went wrong with traffic lights. I ended driving through a line of cars and clipped the back of one. It was my father driving from his work into the city for a meeting. Oops!

            Odds of this happening in a city of around 2 million?

          • Susan

            Odds of this happening in a city of around 2 million?

            Man, I would love to know the odds of that. If only there were someone on this site with some knowledge of mathematics who could show us how to calculate that.

            Then calculate the odds of you being born at all and eventually clipping your father.

          • Michael Murray

            And the traffic lights failing !

          • Ignorant Amos

            Odds of this happening in a city of around 2 million?

            From a maths boffin I'll take that as a rhetorical one...}80)~

            Everyone nots the rare "hits", but seem to disregard the numerous "misses", like reading newspaper horoscope.

            I recommend everyone read "Unweaving the Rainbow".

            I once met a lad in the RAF while holidaying in Spain, sometime later while sitting in the recreation area of that rust bucket of a ship, the TEV Rangatira, Falkland Islands, who should I see bimbling past, but that same Aircraftsman I'd met in Spain....a soldier uncannily reunites with an airman on a naval vessel...what a coincidence, yes, a miracle, nah.

            I can relate numerous such improbable events...that when the math is done, are less improbable than first thought.

          • David Nickol

            For those interested in this kind of thing, there's a new book I have just begun titled The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand. Here's the book description from Amazon:

            In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that extraordinarily rare events are anything but. In fact, they’re commonplace. Not only that, we should all expect to experience a miracle roughly once every month.
            But Hand is no believer in superstitions, prophecies, or the paranormal. His definition of “miracle” is thoroughly rational. No mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why someone is lucky enough to win the lottery twice, or is destined to be hit by lightning three times and still survive. All we need, Hand argues, is a firm grounding in a powerful set of laws: the laws of inevitability, of truly large numbers, of selection, of the probability lever, and of near enough.
            Together, these constitute Hand’s groundbreaking Improbability Principle. And together, they explain why we should not be so surprised to bump into a friend in a foreign country, or to come across the same unfamiliar word four times in one day. Hand wrestles with seemingly less explicable questions as well: what the Bible and Shakespeare have in common, why financial crashes are par for the course, and why lightning does strike the same place (and the same person) twice. Along the way, he teaches us how to use the Improbability Principle in our own lives—including how to cash in at a casino and how to recognize when a medicine is truly effective.
            An irresistible adventure into the laws behind “chance” moments and a trusty guide for understanding the world and universe we live in, The Improbability Principle will transform how you think about serendipity and luck, whether it’s in the world of business and finance or you’re merely sitting in your backyard, tossing a ball into the air and wondering where it will land.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Just bought the Kindle version, thanks for the recommendation.

            Have you read Dawkins' "Unweaving the Rainbow"?

            Amazon Review

            Why do poets and artists so often disparage science in their work? For that matter, why does so much scientific literature compare poorly with, say, the phone book? After struggling with questions like these for years, biologist Richard Dawkins has taken a wide-ranging view of the subjects of meaning and beauty in Unweaving the Rainbow, a deeply humanistic examination of science, mysticism and human nature. Notably strong-willed in a profession of bet-hedgers and wait-and-seers, Dawkins carries the reader along on a romp through the natural and cultural worlds, determined that "science, at its best, should leave room for poetry."

            Inspired by the frequently asked question, "Why do you bother getting up in the morning?" following publication of his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins sets out determined to show that understanding nature's mechanics need not sap one's zest for life. Alternately enlightening and maddening, Unweaving the Rainbow will appeal to all thoughtful readers, whether wild-eyed technophiles or grumpy, cabin-dwelling Luddites. Excoriation of newspaper astrology columns follow quotes from Blake and Shakespeare, which are sandwiched between sparkling, easy-to-follow discussions of probability, behaviour and evolution. In Dawkins' world (and, he hopes, in ours), science is poetry; he ends his journey by referring to his title's author and subject, maintaining that "A Keats and a Newton, listening to each other, might hear the galaxies sing."

          • Ignorant Amos

            The Miracle of Calanda is a cracker Susan.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_Calanda

            Author Brian Dunning has done extensive research and notes that "there is no documentation or witness accounts confirming his leg was ever gone." He presents a non-miraculous explanation that Pellicer's leg did not develop gangrene during the five days at the hospital at Valencia. He spent the next 50 days convalescing, during which he was unable to work. He turned to begging, and discovered that having a broken leg was a boon. After his leg had mended, he decided that if a broken leg helped, a missing leg would be better. Traveling to Zaragoza, he bound his right foreleg up behind his thigh and for two years played the part of an amputee beggar. Later, back at his parents home in Calanda, forced to sleep in a different bed, his ruse was discovered. The story of the miracle was a way to save face. Dunning notes "that no evidence exists that his leg was ever amputated — or that he was even treated at all — at the hospital in Zaragoza other than his own word. He named three doctors there, but for some reason there is no record of their having been interviewed by either the delegation or the trial." That the hole in the cemetery of the hospital of Zaragoza in which the leg had been buried was found empty is consistent with the leg never having been amputated.

            Hmmmmm!, who'd have thought it? }80)~

          • David Nickol

            I think there is an argument to be made that it is divine intervention because they happen to those who are asking. What do you think?

            It would be interesting to know, but I don't think there is any data showing that spontaneous cures happen more often to people who pray for them than to people who don't. You'd also have to determine whether people who keep alive their hope of recovery have a better chance of being spontaneously healed (naturally) than people who give up. I think we already know that optimism itself has some beneficial effects. I recently read a news report (which, unfortunately, I can't find now) about a psychology experiment in which people who prayed did better on some subsequent task than people who spent the same amount of time doing something like meditating. It didn't matter if the people who prayed were believers or not. As I recall, the conjecture was that mentally addressing another person (real or imaginary) had some of the same psychological benefits of socially interacting with a real person. How much experimental psychology tells us about "real life" I don't know, but the experiments are often interesting.

          • Alejandro I. Sanchez

            I, too, vaguely remember that study. They are interesting, indeed.

  • Proteios

    an atheist can do whatever they want. THey may believe this or that. One thing today a contradicotry thing tomorrow....or at the same time. Its whatever you feel like thinking, believing or anything. Most importantly, noone really cares. Except when cult leaders like dawkins and the diefied create a psuedo-religion from the random. THose 'atheists' are more of a cult. Otherwise, many of my good friends are atheists and dont struggle with amazing things, miracles or just whatever tickles their fancy. The idea they are somehow locked into science as a dogma means they are adopting religion. Its called scientism. As an academic I see many of those. To filter them out, just ask if they 'believe' in evolution. It takes shape pretty quickly after that. They are also pretty bad scientists as they struggle to distinguish a tool like science from belief system using science as validation.

  • Anon knee mouse

    Just a thought--
    It seems to me that "if" miracles do happen - AND if they are brought forth by a supernatural power, wouldn't that really mean that our current understanding of natural laws are rather too narrow. We would have to expand what those laws are in order to include the supernatural. If something actually happens then it must be attributed to some natural law-even if we can't conceive of it enough to name it.

    • Ignorant Amos

      A lot of "ifs" there. In saying that, you've just explained what a miracle is when you said...

      If something actually happens then it must be attributed to some natural law-even if we can't conceive of it enough to name it.

      Or know enough yet about the phenomena to explain the cause. Ignorance is no excuse to posit ghosts, ghouls and gods. Not in this day and age in any event.

  • Otis Idli

    Yawn. It's the miracle-of-the-gaps again. When you consider the effort and money spent on considering supernatural explanations, it's just shameful. The whole enterprise just feeds the theistic brain viruses.

  • cromthelaughinggod7

    So why does some people get cured and others die without their prayers being answered? Right now I am in a state of confusion. Part of me wants to believe in God the other is very angry at God. My father died 2 months ago to cancer. I miss him very very much. I don't have peace in me at all. I begged to God to save him not only did the Chemo do nothing. My family turned on me the one who was trying to save him with a better alternative that would work. I didn't have the money for the alternative for his cancer but my selfish family did. I asked God to give me the money for it and got no answer. I know atheist who are still alive with cancer for over 10 years. So does this mean there is no God or that it is by luck or does God ignore people of color which it seems like to me at times? I have so much chaos going on my life right now it isn't funny. I was an Atheist for some time and believe in God before that and recently said I would try to give God a chance. I am slowly now as of today going back to becoming atheist. I have no relation of miracles or never seen a miracle. I have been homeless, financially destroyed and the weight grows day by day. If God exist why won't he answer any of my prayers just one that is all I ask. The main one about my dad has got me angry.

  • Max Driffill

    No they can't. All we can say, is that, as yet, we have no explanation for that. A miracle represents a one off event. It is hard to draw conclusions from a sample size of 1.