If There's No God,
Then Who Performs
From: Brian McGee
To: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, May 01, 2001 4:34 PM
I am an atheist, but various religious people have often asked me "If there is no God, who is responsible for the miracles that occur at Lourdes?". Personally I do not believe that miracles actually have occurred at Lourdes, but I would love to know what you think.
I look forward to hearing from you.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Brian McGee"
Subject: Re: Atheism
Date: August 08, 2001 8:18 PM
Sorry this is so late: this letter got lost in our Drafts folder.
I'm with you. This is a trick question which presupposes the answer to the very question we have raised. I don't remember what kinds of "miracles" are alleged to be happening there -- whether it's something difficult to explain, such as people re-growing amputated limbs and extracted teeth, or something easy to explain, such as people being worked up into a frenzy and being talked into donating their pills and crutches to the "collection" -- only to realize later that they need to by a new crutch.
But I'm sure that some skeptic has taken the trouble to write down the other side, if for no other reason than because his sister or grandmother was taken in by these guys. There are several skeptical collections available in book form, and Michael Shermer is working on a new Encyclopedia of Skepticism, which will surely have a section on Lourdes.
So, let's get down to business: I don't know what "miracles" are being touted at Lourdes, so let's talk in general terms.
First, we don't know whether these accounts are even truthful. We are depending upon hearsay and thereby judging the legitimacy of the reports. Unless it's my back that straightens out, I am simply listening to someone else talk about their back straightening out (or, most often, somebody else talking about a third person's back straightening out -- and chances our reporter doesn't even know the third person or wasn't even there!).
Thus, it would take much more than a simple report of miracles, or a book that states that "scientists" have "scientifically proven" these things to be true. It is much more likely that some clown with a Ph.D. would lie than that the laws of physics would be broken simply to validate this or that religious teaching to a band of wandering shepherds.
Why would a supernatural entity use the equivalent of parlor magic tricks to show or prove anything to humans? If you had supernatural powers, would you prove to others that you had these skills by pulling rabbits out of a hat?
Even if we could establish that miracles had occurred (unlikely to the point of absurdity, but let's go ahead with it), we still would not have established the credibility of the interpretations given by various people to these miracles. The Bible teaches that even false prophets can perform miracles:
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
So, the notion that a miracle is proof of anything goes right out the window (defenestrated) even if we could show the validity of these reports.
The only thing we could prove by proving that the supernatural existed would be that the supernatural existed. We would have proved nothing else.
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