Miracles from Illness and Disaster: Nothing More Than Wishful Thinking?

We’ve all listened to the obnoxious song, “Miracles” by the Insane Clown Posse, who put forth a list of “miraculous” circumstances that seemingly don’t bare significant explanations. The outspoken rappers suggested the mystery of ocean, stars, giraffes, UFOs, childbirth, and magnets can’t possibly be explained by scientists. (‘Cause you know, “they lying.”) Aside from the sheer hilarity of the song, I believe it says something about the need for the unexplained and mysterious.

To get to my point, I think it’s important to define what it is I’m going to discuss. Once you categorize every facet of reality as “miraculous,” you’ve, sometimes purposefully, placed yourself in an irrefutable position. To take an honest approach, I’ll use the Oxford Dictionary definition.

Miracle - a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency”

So, there we have it. Easy enough, isn’t it? So the next step is to evaluate any miracle claim according to its merit. We know that the ocean, stars, giraffes, UFOs, childbirth, and magnets aren’t considered miraculous, but what about the most commonly-referred: Surviving illness and disaster? Is it reasonable to believe that they occur with or without the divine?

But they got better!

As atheists, we may have heard the popular phrase, “My mom had (insert any debilitating illness), and she got better after praying to God!” At some point, it’s almost expected to hear the similar phrase, “I know a guy who knows a guy who’s (again, insert any debilitating illness) was healed over night!” Though the claims carry a hefty burden, they can be analyzed. Following up with a question like:

“Was this person also receiving medical treatment”?

The importance of the question is significant. Confirmation bias is an infectious disease and can contaminate our reasoning capabilities. Instead of thanking the doctor for the hard work done, the wellness of the patient is often attributed to the power of the divine entity beckoned upon. Quite often, we’ll find there to be no miraculous intervention required; the recovery could be rightly traced back to an effective measurement of medical intervention. Is it not a coincidence that we never find an amputated leg regenerated or a brain-dead patient fully recovered? “Miracle work” involving medically-treated issues can be easily refuted, leaving nothing of the supernatural to be involved.

Countless times, we’ve read news stories in which children senselessly die from curable diseases only because their guardians chose to wish for a miracle rather than deliver them to a doctor. These faith-based injustices are avoidable, but only completely when skepticism of the supernatural is applied properly. Until a documented and irrefutable case demonstrates a miracle occurred, remain skeptical and wary. If anyone can present a truly mysterious case, I’d be willing to have a look.

Thank God the baby was saved!

Last year, devastating weather ravaged over our country. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and snowstorms rocked from the east coast to the west coast, leaving countless lives lost. It’s truly a saddening experience. But we may often hear of the unexpected survival of a small child or elderly individual, or someone pulled from a demolished home. Wolf Blitzer tried coaxing an appeal to God from Rebecca Vitsmun last May, who rightly corrected him with esteem and confidence. It’s something so common that even anchors expect it.

These truly are amazing feats, but quite often linked to the ever-watchful eye of a metaphysical being. Amidst the death of many lives and the enormous amount of damage done, the saving of one particular life seems to be extraordinary proof of the divine. It may never cross their minds that the metaphysical being they’ve paid homage to is also indirectly (or directly, if you’re Pat Robertson) responsible for the destruction in the first place. This harkens back to Sam Harris’ quote:

“Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.”

I once had a friend who rolled his trailerless semi, leaving the cab near-completely crushed. When the EMS arrived, he was injured but alive and safely nestled in an untouched portion of the cab. He knew how he survived, but suggested the unlikelihood of it only convinced him something unexplainable allowed him to live. Sometime after the occasion, I pressed him on the issue, and he couldn’t provide me with an answer as to why he needed to thank anyone other than the emergency personnel who tended to him. Surviving a natural disaster or a terrible accident isn’t miraculous to any degree; in fact, it happens quite frequently.

No god required.

Of course I haven’t had the time or resources to evaluate every miracle claim put forth. I’m speaking only from the experiences I’ve heard described.

If miracles such as these are easily explained, why all the commotion from the faithful? Surely they’ve acknowledged the presence of doctoral care involving illness or emergency medical professionals in the event of a catastrophe. Perhaps it is the seemingly insatiable hunger for an eternal caregiver and companion, the needful feeling of importance in our lives, or the blind-eye of confirmation bias. Whatever the case may be, it’s unreasonable to believe that the inclusion of religious faith played a significant role in the probability of a positive outcome.

People suffer from and survive deadly medical issues daily, and we’ll always find those who somehow narrowly escaped death uninflected – all without a god, deity, or supernatural force involved. People will believe what they wish and consider the common as a miracle. Wishful thinking refers to the belief in something that corresponds with a predetermined, hopeful thought rather than the evidence at hand – fairly describing the need for divine intervention in moments of dread and despair.

Credits: Art by Nathan Coley at Tate Liverpool, Photo by Jack Mottram

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