Miracles, "Skeptics" and Logic
Tonight we celebrate what many describe as the greatest miracle in the history of the universe: the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. But as we know, God continues to work in miraculous ways throughout history, even in our own time. An episode of ABC’s 20/20 on Good Friday featured a number of alleged modern miracles, and all in all, they did a nice job.
Unfortunately, the man they brought on to give “the other side of the story” — Dr. Michael Shermer, Executive Director of the Skeptics Society — managed to commit a basic logical fallacy, and in so doing, gave a poor showing for those who see themselves as better practitioners of logic than those of us who rely on both faith and reason.
Dr. Shermer stated in the episode that he doesn’t believe in miracles. When Elizabeth Vargas (20/20’s host and reporter for this episode) pointed to some of the medically-inexplicable healings which were featured in the episode, his response was (I’m paraphrasing), “what about all of those who’s prayers weren’t answered?”
Of course, that’s a rather obvious non sequitur: in no way did this response actually respond to the question. The issue was that there are medically-inexplicable healings, and while it’s worth asking why not every prayer is answered, that simply doesn’t function as a rebuttal to the fact of an event which science is unable to explain. It’s a total and complete dodge.
Later in the episode, Dr. Shermer offered another argument against miracles which is less obviously illogical, but which still fails to achieve its aim. He appealed to the Law of Big Numbers (sic): given enough possibilities, anything is possible. So in the case of a woman in Hawaii who was spontaneously, instantaneously, and permanently healed of a fatal type of cancer, Shermer opines that there are probably thousands of cases of spontaneous healings. His reasoning? Even if there is only a fraction of a percentage of a chance of a spontaneous healing of cancer, given that there are millions of people who suffer from the disease, there are bound to be many people who experience such spontaneous healings.
Really? So… where are they? If he’s correct, then we should be hearing all sorts of these types of stories, and not only in the context of alleged miracles. So as I said… where are they?
As the 20/20 episode indicated, the process for a healing to be deemed an official is extremely rigorous: there are many instances of such healings which — while being scientifically unexplainable — do not meet the bar, because the bar is so darn high! There must be absolutely no medical explanation for the cure… if there is, it can’t be deemed an official miracle.
I’m all for rigorous critical thinking… I wouldn’t be a Catholic if I didn’t find it rational or reasonable to be so. But sometimes, it’s possible for those who wear “critic” as a badge to lose sight of their purpose and — as we all can do very easily — see what we want to see, not what’s really there.
Early on this Easter Sunday I pray that Dr. Shermer and others like him might realize that Catholicism doesn’t require the willful suspension of disbelief, but in fact demands that we employ one of the greatest gifts God gave us: our reason… our intellect… our mind.
He is Risen!