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More Real Miracles

Entry 1726, on 2015-07-07 at 21:03:37 (Rating 3, Comments)

Readers of this blog might be aware (how could you not be) that I am a skeptic. By this I mean that I take the default position of not taking new claims on trust, especially when they are from sources which have a history of being unreliable. Examples of these sources might include alternative medicine supporters, religious groups, and political parties.

On the other hand I do tend to be more trustful of new scientific announcements. This certainly doesn't extend to unquestioning support because I realize that the majority of scientific findings are actually wrong (yes, it's true), but the difference is that science has an effective correction mechanism so the errors are fixed.

Anyway, now that my traditional introduction is out of the way what is my main theme for this blog entry? It arises from a podcast I recently listened to which noted how scientific and technological advances are just accepted and treated as mundane by many people. It went on to comment on how, if these same advances had come from other areas of human activity, we would be totally astounded,

The example in the podcast was of cochlear implants. These are small devices which can give the deaf the ability to hear again. There are many videos showing the total amazement and joy when the patient treated with these first experiences them working.

Now this "miracle" was provided by science and, apart from the recipient of the device, we all just take it for granted because we are so accustomed to the success of technology. How would we react if this success had been the result of a homeopathic treatment, or healing prayer, or acupuncture?

I'm not talking about a single occasion where it might seem that one of these methodologies has worked but could equally easily be just a fluke (maybe the person just recovered spontaneously or maybe they didn't have a genuine case of the affliction to begin with). I'm talking about a reliable, predictable technique which works in almost all cases (we don't necessarily expect 100% success).

If someone could cure the deaf (or any other genuine medical condition) with close to 100% reliability by using just prayer we would all be totally amazed. It would be amongst the most incredible news ever, but when science does it we barely notice.

Why?

Well it's quite simple really. Science works, we know it works, and we see constant examples of it working. Despite what they say, I think the majority of people know that alternative medicine, prayer, and other pseudoscientific and superstitious beliefs don't work, so if they suddenly started getting positive results we would quite rightly be astonished!

I am currently flying at about 900 kilometers per hour at 11,000 meters and tapping this post on an iPad while enjoying a coffee. These are all miracles! Not miracles of the unexplained, supernatural kind, but miracles of the well understood kind, originating through science and brought to fruition by technology.

Imagine if I had enchanted a broomstick with a magic spell and could fly in the stratosphere at great speed and with impressive safety and comfort. Imagine I had found ancient secret knowledge in the form of a book which could store thousands of pages of text, pictures, and videos, and could source information from all over the world instantly. Imagine I could summon a coffee grown on the other side of the world instantly by just praying.

These would be miracles, but miracles of the kind which never happen and we all know that. The kind of miracles I am experiencing now are less surprising because they do happen, and that is because their source is something real. Something that humanity has discovered works better than superstition. But it is something that far too many people just take for granted or even reject.

Yes, despite the obvious success of our science many people do reject it in favor of nonsense. But they still enjoy the benefits because, well, the science and technology experts are pretty generous with distributing the results of their work, even when they aren't really given the appreciation they deserve.

So anyone who thinks their alternative view is pretty miraculous I challenge you to do this: just examine what you do during the day and count how many examples of technological "miracles" you encounter. Now compare that with the miracles of your alternative ideas (remember they must work most of the time for everyone). How did that turn out? Let me guess the score: scientific miracles: hundreds, other miracles: nil.

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Comment 1 (4391) by richard on 2015-07-09 at 17:59:37: (view recent only)

Of course you are absolutely right Owen, to proclaim the 'wonders' that science and technology has provided us with, particularly in recent times. They are truly wonder-ful.

But of course this highlights the 'problem' with the term 'miracle'. By definition a miraculous event has two main 'features'. 1 - an event that appears to 'defy' our understanding of the natural world and laws. This is why 150 years ago the sight of a man made object leaving the ground under its own power was perceived as a 'miracle', now it is not, because the general populace has sufficient understanding of how we have harnessed the relevant natural laws to achieve the goal.

But similarly, it is also not perceived as a miracle because we see it happening every day, even for those that have no clue as to how it works. This means 'miracles' have another feature that defines them - precisely that they are rare!

It is rather similar to the way that events are 'newsworthy' only because they are rare. A murder in NZ used to be BIG news, now we barely notice it, and the more they happen, the less they are 'newsworthy'. Miracles are 'newsworthy' by definition.

So while I do understand the point of your post, suggesting the other types of miracles may not be 'real', saying other miracles must happen most of the time for everyone is denying the very definition of miracle.

It is the case that if some 'miracle' healing were to occur, 'most of the time for everyone' whether thru some 'prayer' or other apparent cause that was not clearly related to natural causes, then it too would quickly lose 'miracle' status - in fact it would become a very part of the 'natural' framework studied by science, and simply described - as natural law!

For example, that an apple falls from the tree to the ground every time for everyone, is no less a 'miracle', simply because Newton described the law he observed. While he was accurately able to 'describe' the phenomena, science cannot answer the question of why the 'law' exists, or why it is constant. It is still miraculous.

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Comment 2 (4392) by OJB on 2015-07-09 at 20:14:04:

My dictionary gives 4 definitions of the word miracle and only one states the event must be rare. Another sates it must be of supernatural origin. I was going more with the idea of something wonderful that the average person probably doesn't fully understand. And the fact that many don't appreciate these "miracles" is part of the point I was trying to make.

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Comment 3 (4393) by OJB on 2015-07-09 at 22:53:49:

Also you might be missing the point a bit. I only used the word "miracle" to make a rhetorical point because some religious people claim miracles as something exclusively their own. If you object to "miracle" try "impressive achievement" or something similar instead.

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Comment 4 (4394) by richard on 2015-07-10 at 10:29:04:

I had hoped you saw that my comments were actually agreeing with your point Owen, that 'miracles' are not exclusively in the religious domain, and I am not objecting to the point of the word you are making at all, just pointing out the problem with the word as commonly used in helping you make your point - actually on your side here!

However, am just adding the thought that even if this were the case, that some claim that miracle is a religious domain only, it's hardly the fault of the religious. It's the generally used definition of miracle (that I understand you are complaining about in this post) that causes this problem, which is not their doing alone. Any impressive achievement at all for which there is no obvious natural explanation (yet) seems like a miracle - if it happens rarely.

Any common place 'impressive achievement' is not given the credit it deserves - I heartily agree. I am just pointing out too, that the same would happen for all impressive achievements - if people routinely rose from the dead for example, then it would just be considered part of the natural 'ways of things' and become a part of science, (observable, repeatable etc) and not be newsworthy at all, and that is whether we fully understood it or not. Just saying...

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Comment 5 (4395) by OJB on 2015-07-10 at 14:16:55:

Yes, OK. I would say that miracles in the form of events which cannot be explained by the application of natural laws simply don't happen. No claims of anyone rising from the dead, for example, have any credibility. Probably best not to get into that debate right now though.

There have been some rare events which are of natural origin and are of truly exceptional importance, of course. The Big Bang and the first self-replicating proto-cell might be two of them. These are far more rare than a mere resurrection! Better stop here, seem to be straying into controversial territory.

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Comment 6 (4396) by richard on 2015-07-11 at 10:44:51:

Ha ha - yeah you are, and it wasn't my intention either. Just chose a most obvious example of a 'rare' miracle not to start that debate, but to merely illustrate the point about rarity (miraculous) vs something we (arbitrarily) define as 'natural'. Whether that event actually happened or not isn't relevant to this point of logic. Likewise, in that respect you are right too - the two rare events you mention are indeed miraculous, in fact a decent scientific look at the odds reveals just how incredibly miraculous they are. And again not meaning to stray from topic - that is true however one chooses to account for them. Cheers.

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