The societal ramifications of an indisputable miracle

I like the observation Tim Minchin made in his short beatnik poem: “Storm”.

Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be NOT magic.

If these things happened, I’d immediately think that advanced aliens are messing with us. But I would have hope, because at least they had a sense of humor.

We just witnessed a miracle, and I want you to fucking acknowledge it!

I couldn’t resist.

As someone who has seen actual miracles occur (including physical healings of people I knew personally), I can confirm there is no such thing as a indisputable miracle.

It makes no difference how strong the evidence is. The capacity for doubt in humans is unlimited. There would be no societal ramifications whatsoever.

Hey! I haven’t seen you post in a while. I thought you might have left. I’m going to Pit you now.

Somewhat off-topic, but there are a couple of excellent works of literature about unreligious people experiencing an unexpected miracle.

Cold Heaven, a novel by Brian Moore. Made into a film by Nicholas Roeg in 1990-something. The film was’t very good.

The End of the Affair, by (of course) Graham Greene. Also made, more than once, into a not-so-great movie.

Details, please?

How can you study a miracle?

@MEBuckner is bang on with his definition. We are talking about a world in which it is widely accepted that the laws of nature as we know them no longer apply. The ramifications of this are enormous.

Science takes an axiom that there are laws of nature that can be discovered and that these laws are consistent across space and time. If I do an experiment in Edinburgh on Tuesday and you do the identical experiment in Lima on Thursday, we expect to get the same result. Otherwise what would be the point of doing experiments? In this world, if we did somehow get different results, we’d double check our equipment and remeasure and recalibrate and compare notes and expect to find some variable that differed between our two set ups. What we wouldn’t do is decide that the laws of nature are different in Edinburgh on Tuesday than they are in Lima on Thursday.

But in miracle world, that’s a perfectly fair conclusion! There aren’t any laws of nature any more. Same causes do not lead to same effects. What goes up might sometimes not come down. Who can say? When scientists investigate the human-birthed eggshell and find that it’s mainly calcium but with traces of helium, or whatever, what does that mean? Would they get the same results if they tested it tomorrow? If you can’t absolutely state that they will, what sort of conclusions can you draw?

In miracle world, the scientific method no longer works. At best you might say that there’s now a new error factor we have to account for probabilistically but in fact we’re dealing with unmeasurable uncertainty. Even if you rigorously calculate the known frequency of miracles to date, that tells you absolutely nothing about the expected future frequency of miracles. There’s no detectable underlying mechanism that allows you to make even broad predictions about miracles by definition. So relying on scientific knowledge becomes not even a gamble where you know the odds but a complete act of unsupported faith.

Hume said it was always irrational to believe an account of a miracle because however great the evidence for it, the evidence for the natural law that it was breaking would always be greater. This is true. But in a world where miracles happen, the reverse applies - it would be irrational to rely on natural law because the existence of miracles shows that no such law actually exists.

A world in which miracles occur is existentially terrifying. Science becomes an irrational faith and mystical attempts to propitiate ineffable powers become totally rational.

If the indisputable miracle happens, then simulation theory just got a lot more believable.

Oh Dev, who art in reality,
Hallowed be thy string,
Thy bonus level come, thy will be done,
Virtually as it is in reality,
Give us this day our daily procedurally generated bread
And forgive us our clipping errors, as we forgive whose who clip against us
Programme us not into temptation, and deliver us from simulated negative stimuli
For thine is the sandbox, the sysadmin privileges and the glory
Amen

There are still tons of scientific questions you could ask and answer in that scenario. At what speed are things falling up? 9.8 meters per second squared? Slower? Faster? What about the gravitational pull of other bodies, are they reversed too?

And right away you lost me, what Tim Minchin mentioned also implied what it has been observed about the vast majority of miracles out there. (History implies very, very strongly that some still unexplained miracles that remain should not lead automatically to assume that there will be no explanations in the future)

Consider the unexplained, until very recently, miracle of the Angel Glow seen during the Civil War in Shiloh.

For more than a century, the best explanation for many (and still is, as many are not aware that some meddling kids experimented and applied science to that miracle) was that angels or god performed a miracle.

There is a better explanation nowadays.

As the sun went down after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, some soldiers noticed that their wounds were glowing a faint blue. Many men waited on the rainy, muddy Tennessee battlefield for two days that April, until medics could treat them. Once they were taken to field hospitals, the troops with glowing wounds were more likely to survive their injuries — and to get better faster. Thus the mysterious blue light was dubbed “Angel’s Glow.”

The boys learned that P. luminescens live inside nematodes, tiny parasitic worms that burrow into insect larvae in the soil or on plants. Once rooted in the larvae, the nematodes vomit up the bacteria, which release chemicals that kill the host larvae and any other microorganisms living inside them.

Bill and Jonathan were slightly stumped to find out that P. luminescens can’t survive at normal human body temperature. But they figured out that sitting on the cold, wet ground for two days had lowered the wounded soldiers’ body temperature. So when the nematodes from the muddy soil got into the wounds, the bacteria had the right environment to thrive — and to save the men’s lives by cleaning out other, more dangerous germs.

Years ago some might have thought bats navigating perfectly in a completely dark room was a miracle. We humans are biased toward vision. IIRC scientists had to invent a machine that could detect the frequencies bats use for echolocation, since much of it falls outside our range, so we could confirm that. Until then we were blind to our own blindness deaf to our own deafness. Heck, some animals have senses we don’t have at all, like a pit viper sensing heat or sharks with electric field sensors.

So I think there are things that people may sincerely believe to be miracles. They’ve ruled out all kinds of possible explanations until all that’s left is something supernatural. Maybe science can’t explain them…yet. But one day a machine or procedure or test will show that it isn’t a miracle.

Also there are fakes, charlatans, tricksters, whatever.

So if I get this right, part of the rebuttal is, if it happened in the physical world, axiomatically there is a physical-world explanation for it, and maybe we just don’t/can’t detect it, but it still is not a miracle. Because, some say, it would turn the whole system chaotic and unpredictable.

ISTM, part of what makes a miracle a miracle, as opposed to applied magick, is that it is extraordinary. You still have carry on expecting things to happen according to the regular order of things. Extraordinary claims, etc. The problem is that believers in miracles then begin seeing miracles all over the dagblasted place and everything is a miracle and miracles happen every day. That wouldn’t be miraculous, that would be a new normal and yes, that would make a mess of everything.

The hypothetical in the OP is that genuine bona fide actual for real literal unquestionable bankable indisputable veritable true no-shit miracles occur.

If you’re lost at that point, this isn’t the thread for you.

Actually, many others do not see a problem on noticing the limitations of the OP.

As others noticed too, an undisputable miracle, as past ones showed, leads to more complacency and the slowing of progress.

It also leads to a big, big mess, because many faiths then will claim to be the ones that do understand why their own deity did it. It would seem to me that in that case, whoever is performing the miracle will come eventually with a revelation that will royally piss off the vast majority of faiths, or even worse: Come up with a new one that will seed more chaos on earth.

Coyote would be proud, though.

But the answers you find one day may be totally invalid the next.

Miracles are events contrary to the laws of nature. So to extend the analogy, imagine living in a state where the laws didn’t always apply. Some days, it’s OK to murder people. But you’ll never know when. Sure, you’d life both not murdering people and not expecting to be murdered, much as now. But the simple fact that at some point higher authority might decide that the law isn’t the law would have a fairly destabilising effect on society. We can see this in corrupt societies where it is at least possible to predict what class of people might benefit from the law not applying. Imagine if laws were annulled arbitrarily!

Similarly, yes, in miracle-world, I’d still exit my house by the door and not the second-floor window because I wouldn’t want to bet on a miracle happening. But the knowledge that at some unpredictable point the laws of physics could stop working would cause big changes in people’s behaviour, even if most people live their whole lives without being affected by a miracle.

As you say, false miracles would abound, con-artists would thrive, all manner of conspiracy theories would gain a new lease of life - as soon as we abandon the idea that there is a knowable objective reality, everything goes to shit.

Yes, very likely. In a world where miracles actually occur, religion is going to be a much bigger deal than science. Theology - the understanding of the god or gods who can affect our world so much - would become the most important human intellectual endeavour, quite possibly receiving similar levels of government funding as e.g. nuclear physics once did. In fact, theocracy may very well be on the cards.