Thursday, July 12, 2012

No, I don't believe your miracle.

While talking with theists, I am sometimes told of a miracle that happened to him or her.  Apparently, something "impossible" happened, doctors were baffled, and God is good.  I haven't really bothered getting into all the reasons why I don't believe these stories lately, but I figured maybe it would be a good idea to write a one-size-fits-all response to supposed miracle stories in case anybody wants to know why I don't find them very convincing.

And mind you, I'm talking about one's personal "miracle" story.  I'm not referring to the miracles of the Bible, The Koran, The Ramayana, or the Star Wars saga.  I don't believe those either.  (Well, maybe Star Wars, a little.  I mean, if The Force isn't real, then how did Luke manage to blow up the Death Star without his targeting computer?  I mean, come on...)  I don't believe those because they're not verifiable, among other reasons.  (Although the events of Return of the Jedi do verify the prophecy of The Phantom Menace, as Anakin Skywalker did indeed bring balance to The Force.)

So, here's why I don't believe your personal miracle story.  If you can give a reasoned explanation as to why your particular story doesn't fit the criteria for my incredulousness below, then please let me know.  But if you think you have a bona fide miracle on your hands, please don't blabber on about it without addressing the following problems.  (Unless you don't care whether I believe or not, of course.  In that case, why would you bother telling me about it in the first place?)

1.  Your story is an anecdote.  That's the thing.  Anecdotes are not proof, at least, not all by themselves.  If I were to accept every anecdote as proof for something, then I'd believe that aliens kidnapped Sammy Hagar and probed his mind.  Why should I believe your story over Sammy Hagar's?  He sang for Van Halen.  Have you sung for Van Halen?  Unless you're David Lee Roth or that other guy, then the answer is no.

But seriously, if I'm to accept anecdotes as evidence, then I have to believe all of them - including Sammy Hagar's.  I don't get to just believe yours because you're a nice person and are really sincere.  So, if you want me to believe yours, then at least be consistent and tell me to believe all of them -which means you have to as well.

2.  If your story was true, then why the heck have I not heard about it?  Or at least, why isn't this making front-page news?  If a god really cured you of your incurable disease, then why isn't anybody reporting it?  Can you send me a link to a news article?  Am I supposed to believe that the media wouldn't be all over a bona fide miracle?  Shoot, they like to report on morons like John Edward who do a circus sideshow act, why wouldn't they report on something that could stand up to some serious scrutiny?

3.  Show me that it's repeatable.  For example, if a god really heals people from cancer, then show me that those with cancer who get prayed for are more likely to recover than people who aren't.  And the rate of the faithful being healed has to be significantly greater - statistically significant to the point where we couldn't chalk it up to chance.  Because unless you can do that, then random chance is really all you have, and that would be the same whether your god exists or does not.

4.  Sometimes we can't explain things.  You don't get to use your deity of choice as the explanation.  Once we couldn't explain thunder and lightning.  That didn't prove Thor.

5.  This one's a bit of an anecdote on my part, but it will help to explain my personal feelings, whereas I think that the other criteria are based more on logic and reason.  However, I'll include it anyway.  The problem is, whenever I have a chance to ask followup questions on these "miracle" stories, and the more I learn about the set of circumstances behind them, they tend to fall apart and the stories usually aren't told with a dedication to the facts.

Now, if you're some fence-sitter when it comes to miracles, reason #5 is a lousy reason for you not to accept them.  Again, that one's subjective and only explains my personal feelings.

6.  You're still stuck with a HUGE problem even if you can get past problems 1-4, and that is, not to put to fine a point on it, your god is a prick.  You were healed of a heart condition?  Fantastic.  Half a million people died of malaria in 2010.  God got you up out of a wheelchair?  Wonderful.  Children are dying because their parents would rather pray than take them to a hospital.  God made your back all better?  Wunderbar.  There's a worm that lives by eating people's eyes.

Oh yes, I know the response to the last one.  We just can't understand God's ways.  Who knows why he cures some people who live in areas with modern medical facilities but not so many who don't?

Do you know why that sounds like a cop-out?  'Cause it is.