Pope John Paul II and the trouble with miracles – latimes.com

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No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.

– David Hume


Last week the Vatican announced that a meeting of cardinals and bishops had ruled that the late Pope John Paul II was responsible for a second miracle, and thus the way was cleared for sainthood.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints decided he had cured a woman from Costa Rica in 2011 after a panel of doctors apparently ruled that her recovery was otherwise inexplicable.

There's the rub, of course. There are many medical results we do not understand. Spontaneous remission of cancer, for example, occurs in a reliable but small fraction of the population; no immediate explanation can be presented on a case-by-case. basis.

Attributing that lack of understanding to the intercession of a dead pope is a huge step, and it illustrates a fundamental difference between "evidence" in religion and "evidence" in science.

The physicist Richard Feynman pointed out that in science, when we have an idea, we try to prove it wrong as well as right. This is an essential feature of scientific skepticism that helps us avoid the trap of interpreting accidental coincidences as significant results.

In every experiment, anomalies occur. We accept such randomness in science and test to see if any purported exciting new result is statistically significant before we then begin to examine it more carefully to see if we might be misinterpreting something mundane as something exciting.
 

Written By: Lawrence M. Krauss
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  1. They should be careful what they wish for.

    Many would scoff at essence of dead pope as a cause of cancer remission. But there are large emerging economies that place an extremely high scarcity value on essence of Black Rhino horn for various traditional Chinese medicines. Popes or cardinals aren’t yet on the endangered list. But previously harvested horn of rhino may not yet have completely run out. They’re only just hunted them to extinction. so there’s going to be room on the list of ingredients for the next source of miracles.

  2. There’s a nice little quote I read years ago that I haven’t ever forgotten: “Ignorance is the soil in which belief in miracles grows.” Checking just now, I see it attributed to Ingersoll!

    • In reply to #5 by Andrew B.:

      There’s a nice little quote I read years ago that I haven’t ever forgotten: “Ignorance is the soil in which belief in miracles grows.” Checking just now, I see it attributed to Ingersoll!

      My how life has changed! Ingersoll was a prominent Republican. At the height of Ingersoll’s fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day.

  3. Strains credulity doesn’t begin to cover it. Evidence isn’t evidence if nothing is actually demonstrated as being true.

    These are claims, and bad claims at that that. The whole notion of sainthood is patently ridiculous so since this is the RCC I’m certainly not surprised. Just saddened that some people are actually willing to take even a small portion of this idiocy seriously.

  4. To discuss the merits of catholic miracles is an exercise in stupidity. There are NO MIRACLES. This is superstition at best, and deliberate subterfuge most certainly. To refute it is giving it credibility it doesn’t deserve. It’s time the human race gathers the courage to call this nonsense what it is – at every opportunity. It is a boatload of crap.

  5. A good friend of mine died last week of respiratory failure. One of his hobbies was repairing clocks. His daughter noted that the clock in his workshop was stopped at about time of his death. In vain I pointed out that to my knowledge the clock had not been running for years. On the other hand he could have timed his death to coincide with what he knew the clock in his shop was reading just to stir up controversy – I wouldn’t put that past the stubborn old bugger!

  6. what’s particularly sad about this method of inventing magic ghosts is you get someone who’s sick (I know other miracles are acceptable but healing the sick is of course the favorite), decides they need help. oten they pray to someone like St Martin (tha’ts who i was made to pray to when suffering from asthma attacks) or in the case of this woman they pray to a non-saintly ex-pope (I have another dilema here of who gives power to whom? is it god who gives power to a dead pope, in which case he’s already a saint before he uses it surel? or is the power that of the vatican who ultimately make the decision, or is it actually with the lay-person who decides to pray to a non-saint, gets a miracle, thus creating a saint… but i digress)

    a woman has an illness, prays to a pope, gets better, the pope becomes a saint with power to cure the terminally ill.

    then the priests and parents tell sick children this fact. when they’re young, they’re told a saint will cure them, but they get worse, the saint is suffering with them, they have good days, the saint gets thanked for a few days of feeling better. thanked mind you, not asked “that all you got?”

    sometimes they get dragged to places like lourdes, made to listen to the testamonies of the cured, to look in wonder at those people who god/mary or whatever saint decided to cure. people in otherwords, not like them. special people, not people with special needs.

    the only lesson children can learn from this is don’t trust the people who claim they know best. if they live long enough.

    while the vatican likes to have saints as proof of the catholic church is the true religion in a strange tautological reasoning like when an american team wins the world series, they create new magic beings to raise the expectations of their followers. it’s a constant reminder that just because god doesn’t want you to benefit from a miracle, doesn’t mean they don’t happen to others

    i guess its the catholic way though. you can’t get people to believe in the worthy until they believe they’re unworthy

    • In reply to #13 by SaganTheCat:

      what’s particularly sad about this method of inventing magic ghosts is you get someone who’s sick (I know other miracles are acceptable but healing the sick is of course the favorite), decides they need help. oten they pray to someone like St Martin (tha’ts who i was made to pray to when suffering f…

      This is exactly what I’m always on about! Using supernatural reasoning….why would one pray to a non-saint? Prayers are free, why not pray to Jesus or straight to god? Who knows, this old pope may not be held in very high esteem by god. The entreaties of John Paul may be cast aside without a second thought. If you’ve only got one crack at this miracle business, why waste you’re time with an untested saint?

      While I’m on the subject of supernatural reasoning, I’ve had people tell me that they always pray to Saint……..when looking for parking, and they always find one. Beats me how we atheists ever get a park…but maybe that explains our difficulties.

    • In reply to #15 by rod-the-farmer:

      I am still waiting for a miracle involving an amputee growing a new limb……..

      Don’t some reptiles have the ability to regenerate missing limbs?

      With that in mind, I give you this little fellow rdf richard, which as we see can walk, or rather run, on water… so no prizes for guessing what it’s known as.

      I don’t know if it can grow back body parts, or heal its little friends’ eyesight if they should succumb to blindness, although I have it on good authority that it’s eagerly sought out by the very rare leprosy shrew.

    • In reply to #16 by JessW1:

      Hang on a minute……didn’t god give her cancer in the first place? So JP2 was going against his will. His mates have dropped him right in it with the big fella! I bet he’s fuming.

      To paraphrase (very loosely!) George Carlin, “What’s the good of being a dead pope if you can’t fuck up god’s plan?”

      Steve

  7. Later this week I shall be anointing Alan, my dead hamster, as Lord High Poo-Bah of Magic Lovely Land, after two recent miracles.
    (1) I found an extra can of lager in the bottom drawer of the fridge, when I thought I’d run out;
    (2) The next day I had a headache, but it got better without recourse to aspirins.

  8. dOG is omnipotent he can do what he likes, he is omniscient so he knows everything. That means he can’t change his mind and he knew the woman would have cancer and that the prayers to JP2 would effect a cure. So why the fek did he give her cancer in the first place if not to play dismal games? Either the doG of the catlicks is a seriously twisted tosser or his believers are.

  9. I note, “The physicist Richard Feynman pointed out that in science, when we have an idea, we try to prove it wrong as well as right.” Quite right, too. So, why do atheists have such a problem with being challenged to prove God does not exist?

  10. I previously posted this on the earlier thread about JP2 and miracles, so nothing new, but maybe worth repeating how scientific the Saint making process actually is !

    Ah yes ! I heard the ex Cardinal Cormack Murphy O’Connor explaining the process on Radio 4′s PM . Yes he of the non-believers are “something less than human” It really is very scientific, and repeatable, and there’s no room for error at any stage of the process.

    First find the beneficiary of the miracle, OK supporters of the RCC appear to be the only beneficiaries, but then it is the only TRUE church. Next send a scout up Mt Sinai to find some sap of the rare plant Moses Crapola. This has to be kept very carefully in a reason proof package. The sap is then tied to a goat which is is walked around a smited Olive Tree five times clockwise and 2/3 rds anti-clockwise. At this point the special high visibilty garments are brought into use. Mixed fibres are mandatory because the Pope has ruled that only certain parts of Leviticus are applicable in the modern world, and anyway he enjoys the odd prawn cocktail, so therefore prawns are OK but gays aren’t. The beneficiary of the miracle is then subject to stringent Catholic medical attention which proves beyond any possible doubt that the remission of the tumour could only have come about by, the beneficiary having been a Catholic, and having prayed to the then Pope, who was obviously close to God, that therefore, as there was no medical explanation, it must have been Jesus who saved this poor woman ! Truly a miracle ! Just wait 20 years to see if the beneficiary loses her faith and hey presto, we have us a miracle !

    Of course what the Saint was doing about child abusers in his church is a divine mystery never to be revealed !

  11. It seems the church continues to make attempts to cross the divide to the “holiness” (an illusion of course). Whether it be a spire soaring higher than anything else in an attempt to be closer to the “Maker” or incantations with smoke or posh clothes or jewels or stylish fabrics. But they never quite make it do they? It is always so near yet so far. Everything is down to men (in the sense of “MAN” – no sexism here!) and men’s ideas and men’s little ceremonies on a par with eye of newt etc, hoping one day the gates will open and there HE will be. Well, it’s all down here and nowhere else. It’s all dreamt up by them – sorry. Lovely though it would be if ‘t’were otherwise. Nothing is “god’s” idea. It’s all down to us. Doesn’t this recent “miracle” nonsense make them look so stupid in this day and age when people are so aware. It just seems SILLY! It will work on us no longer. We are not simple peasant folk now – vulnerable and gullible. Although there are still plenty in the world to be going on with. Now how can they make sure that they continue to produce many offspring and that we don’t run out of these victims?….ummm

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