Sunday, July 05, 2015

Capturing Miracles

Recent post from Friendly Athiest...

I think this article really cuts to the heart of the difference between healthy skepticism and blind belief. The World Religion News assumes that miracles MUST be happening so just go out there and use social media to capture them. What would this even look like? How do you show/capture that something happened miraculously?

Miracles you hear about:

Face of Jesus or Mary (sorry Joseph) appearing in toast, tree roots, pizza, etc.

One time in Chicago a stain appeared on the side of an underpass on the Kennedy Expressway that looked like the Virgin Mary. It was a fucking stain! Sure enough people started bringing candles, building a makeshift shrine,  and praying to the stain.

This is a well known phenomena: Pareidolia. We are wired to look for people. We naturally see faces where there are none. I always find it interesting that the images of these holy people are recognized even though no one actually knows or had recorded what they looked like. How sad if the real image of Jesus was popping up on toast the taco shells all over the world but no one recognized the short bald Jewish guy!

Someone recovers from a serious illness. It was a miracle. 

The theist attributes an unexplained event as miraculous. The skeptic says, not explained yet. The lack of an instant logical explanation does not then automatically point to the divine. Sometimes people do just get better. However as  Hemant points out, no one has yet grown back a limb or had a tumor magically disappear.

Escape from a disaster

This one should really piss more people off. A tornado goes ripping through a town leveling houses and killing numerous people. But not all. A survivor staggers out of his crawl space with neighbors houses flattened all around him. He looks around and says, "Well I guess God was just watching over us". Asshole. What about your dead neighbor? Are you so pathetic that you have to look at your survival as evidence that somehow you are more special than your dead neighbor?

Why is it so hard to understand that the highly random violence of a tornado is going to kill some and leave some alive. Period. No miracle is needed to explain what you are seeing.

An expert does what they are trained to do and it is called a miracle.

"Miracle on the Hudson".  Sullenberger actually trained hours for just such a landing on water. He knew the key was keeping the wing tips out of the water and did just that. I think the fact that some would call this expert performance a miracle because they are not expert at anything. They can't understand what it means to dig in and really master something. When you keep explaining the world by saying a miracle happened you just show your lazy thinking. This turns another way. Feeling so inept and then covering that with a blanket of theism forces a whole group of people to even deny that a really clever thing happened. Namely, the moon landings. The fact that people got together to be THAT clever is upsetting to the uneducated believer so deny, deny, deny.(1)

The whole thing about looking for miracles, ghosts, Big Foot,  or the Bermuda fucking Triangle is that they all represent a-priori thinking. That is, one assumes that there are (ghosts, miracles, etc) up front and then sets out to find them and find them you will because you already assume that they exist. A track in the mud - could be Big Foot. A bump in the night - could be a ghost. This is the opposite of skeptical thinking where you have no reason to assume that a thing exists until evidence presents itself. A bump in the night - Let me list all the things it could be... If it turns out that a phenomena can have several logical explanations and one miraculous one then there is no reason to jump to the miracle.

I used to live on a sailboat which means repairing the damn thing on a daily basis. When the water pump wouldn't pump water to the galley sink here was the process:

Is the pump running? If so will it pump water out of a bucket. Yes? then why won't it pump water out of the water tank? Tank empty? NO? OK, is the pump trying to pump water up too high? Lower the pump nearer the water source? Work now? Yes! Install pump in this position.

Notice that it would have done me no good to posit, "Maybe there is an invisible gremlin living in the pump that magically forces it to not work". What would I do about it anyway? Magical thinking is a dead end. It can make one feel smug and secure as if they had actually figured something out. It's lazy thinking and it is encouraged and taught by the church.

Another tack - Let's assume that a miracle had occurred. Let's say that Jesus actually brought Lazurus back from the dead. If it happened there was a WAY that it happened. What is the process by which the Lord performs miracles? How did he rearrange the atoms in Lazurus to get them going again. How were dead cells reactivated? Does he emit some sort of ray? Could this curing ray be detected independently? Could we then build a deivice to duplicate this process and bring everyone (ick) back from the dead? Moreover what extra organ does Jesus possess that he activates to perform the miracles? Is Jesus' body different from ours? If you say, no, he just channels the power of God, then you get to ask how THAT works. What is that process.? Is there a communication? Can we detect it independently and so on.

The whole idea of a miracle though is that it doesn't have a process. It just happens. We skip over any step by step and just blink (like I dream of Jeanie) or wiggle your nose (like Bewitched) and reality itself is just changed. That would be a miracle! 

(1) I don't know that the moon landing hoaxers are also theists. I'm speaking more to the idea of being intimidated but someone being more clever than you so you deny that they even did it.