Argument # 20: Miracles are impossible and defy everything we know about science.
We could begin this the geeky anal retentive way by attempting to define what a “miracle” is, but since any average English speaking person knows what it is, I think it’s unnecessary. The difference is that though miracles are generally assumed by most to be supernatural or paranormal in nature, skeptics consider such events to be merely “unexplained” or explainable by natural phenomena or spontaneous healing flukes.
These skeptics consider supernatural or paranormal miracles to be impossible. While not all skeptics adhere to it, there are some that do nevertheless. This claim is based on an a priori assumption that our known physical laws are all there is. How would skeptics know all that is possible and impossible though? Our natural laws are our interpretation of how the universe works. These laws are subject to change as new discoveries are made, which is how science has always been. (See rebuttal to Argument # 10) Current scientific principles only reflect the current knowledge that has been tested and replicated, not all that is or can be. In fact, what is considered to be miraculous or supernatural at first has often turned out to be natural once it’s understood. Dean Radin elaborates on this in his book The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena: (page 19)
“But a few hundred years ago virtually all natural phenomena were thought to be manifestations of supernatural agencies and spirits. Through years of systematic investigation, many of these phenomena are now understood in quite ordinary terms. Thus, it is entirely reasonable to expect that so-called miracles are simply indicators of our present ignorance. Any such events may be more properly labeled first as paranormal, then as normal once we have developed an acceptable scientific explanation. As astronaut Edgar Mitchell put it: “There are no unnatural or supernatural phenomena, only very large gaps in our knowledge of what is natural, particularly regarding relatively rare occurrences.””
History has shown that those who use the word "impossible" are usually proven wrong one way or another. Many things that were said to be impossible at one point were later proved to be possible such as flight, breaking the sound barrier, space travel, relativity, quantum theory, etc.
As Arthur C. Clarke, inventor of the communications satellite and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, states:
“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
- Arthur C. Clarke's First Law
In either case, miracles do happen. Many doctors and nurses can attest to this. The question is, and skeptics like to point this out too, in how you define a miracle. Skeptics will usually accept miracles such as the miracle of life and science, or miracles due to flukes and rare chance occurrences such as spontaneous remission, but not if they involve supernatural forces or divine intervention. Possible explanations of miracles include supernatural forces, divine intervention, psychic abilities, unknown powers and healing abilities of the mind, spontaneous remission of illness, chance, or natural causes not yet understood. Whatever the case, the “miracles are impossible” argument is illogical because miracles have happened already. There is ample evidence of this both from anecdotals and hard evidence from X-Rays of the affected region of the patient’s body that were taken before and after the miracle.
In fact, according to a Newsweek poll, described in the May 1, 2000 issue, 84 percent of adult Americans say they believe that God performs miracles and 48 percent report that they have personally experienced or witnessed one. Three fourths of American Catholics say they pray for miracles, and among non-Christians, and nonreligious people, 43 percent say they have asked for God's intervention. Now, 48 percent of Americans is a huge number, about 150 million people. And that can’t all be due misperception, mistake, or flukes on the probability curve. Common sense tells us that statistically, such widespread reports probably points to a real phenomenon, whatever it may be.
Robert S. Bobrow,
of the Department of Family Medicine at the Health Sciences Center in
“Summary Paranormal phenomena – events that cannot be explained by existing science – are regularly reported in medicine. Surveys have shown that a majority of the population of the United States and Great Britain hold at least one paranormal belief. Information was retrieved by MEDLINE searches using keywords ‘paranormal’ and ‘psychic’, and from the author’s own collection. Reports are predominantly by physicians, and from peer-reviewed, MEDLINE-indexed literature. This is a representative sample, as there is no database for paranormal medical phenomena. Presented and discussed are: a case of systemic lupus erythematosis ameliorated by witchcraft; an analysis of studies on distant healing; acupuncture, as a bridge between what is now accepted but recently would have been deemed paranormal; a carefully-done study of a psychic; auditory hallucinations informing a patient, correctly, that she had a brain tumor; two nearly-identical lay press reports of self-predicted death; lycanthropy (the delusion of being an animal); the development of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious; hypnosis – still questioned despite documented therapeutic benefit, and a well-researched report of a person speaking a foreign language, apparently unlearned (xenoglossy) while hypnotized; and multiple examples of children who spout the details of the life of an unknown, deceased person. The inability of existing paradigms to explain these observations does not negate them; rather, it elucidates a need for more research.”
To read the full report, you can download it from my site at: http://www.debunkingskeptics.com/Paranormalphenomena_LitMedical.pdf . My Bobrow has also written a book entitled The Witch in the Waiting Room: A Physician Investigates Paranormal Phenomena in Medicine.
One famous documented case of a miracle is the case of Vittorio Michelli. Michael Talbot in his book The Holographic Universe describes the case:
most powerful types of beliefs of all
are those we express through spiritual faith.
In 1962 a man named Vittorio
Michelli was admitted to the Military
Hospital of Verona, Italy, with a large cancerous tumor on his left hip
So dire was his prognosis
he was sent home without treatment, and within ten months his hip had
completely disintegrated, leaving a the bone of his upper leg floating
nothing more than a mass of soft tissue.
He was, quite literally,
As a last resort he traveled
Over the course of the next month he felt such an increasing sense of well-being he insisted his doctors X-ray him again. They discovered his tumor was smaller. They were so intrigued they documented every step in his improvement. It was a good thing because after Michelli's tumor disappeared, his bone began to regenerate, and the medical community generally view this as an impossibility. Within two months he was up and walking again, and over the course of the next several years his bone completely reconstructed itself (see fig. 12).
A dossier on Michelli's case was sent to the Vatican's Medical Commission, an international panel of doctors set up to investigate such matters, and after examining the evidence the commission decided Michelli had indeed experienced a miracle. As the commission stated in its official report, "A remarkable reconstruction of the iliac bone and cavity has taken place. The X rays made in 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969 confirm categorically and without doubt that an unforeseen and even overwhelming bone reconstruction has taken place of a type unknown in the annals of world medicine." (O'Reagan, Special Report, p. 9.)”
Some skeptics claim that miraculous healings are due to flukes in the probability curve. Their reasoning goes like this:
“Most people who are seriously ill are prayed for or seek divine intervention. The ones that don’t make it are considered tragedies and forgotten cases. The few cases that result in a sudden complete recovery or go into spontaneous remission are then noticed and attributed to prayer or divine intervention. These cases of course, are the ones that get media attention.”
However, this explanation is a lot like saying that anything we don’t understand must be due to chance. Sure spontaneous remission happens as well, even to those who are Atheists and those that haven’t been prayed for. But even so, who’s to say that spontaneous remission is solely the result of chance and luck? The bottom line is that miracles do happen, that is a fact. How we interpret them is the issue.