The societal ramifications of an indisputable miracle

I guess I’m confused why science would be broken, though. What makes Zeus inscrutable to the tools of scientific inquiry?

Sure, we can conceive of impossible things. Writers of fantasy fiction do it all the time. But then the answer to the question “what would happen if [this impossible thing] occurred?” is “anything you like; anything you might wish to imagine in your imaginary fantasy”.


And what if it’s not even Zeus; what if it’s God with a capital G? He would be inscrutable to the tools of scientific inquiry, because He could just change the rules any time He felt like it.

“Oh, I guess things are falling up today.” “Yes, better hang on tight if you go outside. Poor Simmons!”

I don’t think so - even though you can always find one or a few crackpots who will deny reality, at a certain point (say, 99.99%,) something is indisputable. There is hardly anyone who denies that major real-life events were indisputable events, such as the fact that on January 6 a large crowd of people broke into the Capitol building, or that the USA dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, or that airplanes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11.

For a miracle, the skepticism would be far more intense. But for mainstream events that fit the flow of known science, such as Chernobyl, virtually nobody challenges that those events happened.

True, which is why I posited that, not only would it be a very large crowd of eyewitnesses from diverse backgrounds, but there would also be a lot of videotaping of it by multiple cameras, etc.

Perhaps I should have used the word “heavily-evidenced” or supported-by-a-great-deal-of-evidence in the OP thread title instead of “indisputable”.

If an indisputable miracle occurred I would acknowledge there are things about how the universe works that we do not understand.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that I would acknowledge the existence of some divine entity. Even if the person preforming the miracles attributed it to a divine entity. Maybe the person performing the miracles is an alien or a time traveler or a person with psychic powers. And they’ve just decided to use their powers, which our society doesn’t understand, to establish a theocratic government under their control.

Assuming somebody with powers you don’t understand must be a representative of the gods didn’t work out so well for Montezuma.

What about 'em? If he can make electricity operate in a super fucked up way, how does he do it?

True omnipotence, once demonstrated–the sort that can change whatever the rules are–would fuck with science, for sure.

But even then, you can use science to determine whether that’s what’s going on. If all that God can do is regrow uteruses or heal broken arms or allow safe 30’ jumps, that’s a real different result from God being able to round pi off to 33 digits such that all calculations of pi return the rounded-off result.

There are some “miracles” that would, I think, break science. Convince me of any of these, and I’ll throw up my hands:

  • P and ~P are both true.
  • The world I perceive is wholly illusory, and bears no discernible connection to reality.
  • Similar causes do not reliably beget similar effects.
  • A being that’s much smarter than me can, and does, change the laws of the universe on an irregular basis according to a pattern I cannot detect.

I think the first one is probably a logical impossibility (and probably so also would be “God being able to round pi off to 33 digits such that all calculations of pi return the rounded-off result”, although I am not a mathematician). Even for an omnipotent God, those would be kind of brain-breaking, and I can’t really see how they could ever be. (Although I am, of course, only a puny mortal.)

The other three are more what I’m getting at when I talk about physical impossibilities, things that we could conceive of—and that, for the third and fourth examples, could even be empirically demonstrated to be true—but that would nonetheless “break” science, or any hope of a scientific understanding of the Universe. At that point, you’re pretty much just reduced to wheedling, cajoling, flattering, or bribing Whoever is in charge (and hoping He, She, or They are enough like us to be susceptible to wheedling, cajoling, flattery, or bribery).

I would say “A being that’s much smarter than me can, and does, change the laws of the universe on an irregular basis according to a pattern I cannot detect” is pretty much the classical Christian conception of miracles. Thus, the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia article on “Miracle” talks about effects that happen “instantaneously without the means or processes which nature employs”; of an effect “of such a kind that no natural power could bring it to pass in any manner or form whatsoever” or “the effect is produced in a manner wholly different from the manner in which it should naturally be performed, i.e., instantaneously, by a word”.

Basically, according to classical Christian theology, sometimes God just suspends the rules, and no amount of poking around by impertinent scientists is going to give any coherent account of what has happened (although you could certainly confirm that it has happened: “…miracles in the strict sense are apparent. The miracle falls under the grasp of the senses”). Only theology—again, this is according to theologians—is going to get you anywhere with understanding miracles…but Christian theologians are very fond of the word “Mystery”, so if miracles (in this sense) were actually happening we’d likely wind up stuck “Throwing up our hands”, as you say. “God moves in mysterious ways!” and all that.

This is disputed by Republican Senators, who have stated for example “there was no violence … simply a group of tourists visiting” and that “a peaceful visitor was murdered by Capital police.”

Also was this ‘miracle’ that was witnessed by large numbers of well-prepared witnesses announced in advance?
If so, presumably the ramifications would depend on who claimed to have performed it.

It’s the last three passages of the following that often get mentioned, but ignore them for a moment; the setup in Revelation 13 seems a heck of a lot more interesting:

3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,

14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.

15 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

What, exactly, does working a miracle establish?

Is the miracle happening out of the blue, or is someone stating beforehand that they can perform a miracle and then doing so? If it’s the latter, can the miracle man repeat the miracle under scrutiny whenever asked?

I don’t think a one-time miracle out of the blue would change very much, even if there was no other explanation than a miracle. People that believe in God would attribute the miracle to God. People who don’t believe in God would simply say that something very odd happened that we don’t understand; there is a non-supernatural explanation, but we don’t know enough to produce that explanation.

If a miracle man says he’s going to perform a miracle, and then does so once, I think it would have a greater effect than an out of the blue miracle, but only some people would change their minds versus the path they were inclined to take otherwise. Say the miracle man said his powers were divine. Some agnostics would switch to believing in a divinity. Other people might not accept the explanation that a divinity was responsible, but would believe that something supernatural had happened. But I think most people would maintain the stance they were inclined to pre-miracle.

If the miracle man can repeat his miracles at pre-specified times and under scrutiny, then that’s what I think would be a world changer. If he’s saying his miracles are divine, and everyone should worship his divinity, then I think billions of people would join his religion. Many people would say that it was fraud, and the scrutinisers were in on the fraud. Many others would say that it was alien/future super-science, or non-supernatural phenomena that could ultimately be explained by science. But I think if the majority of people see a series of supernatural miracles, and independent observers confirm that everything they can see and check makes them believe the miracles are indeed miracles, then the majority of people will also believe they’re miracles and accept the word of the miracle man.

It’s happened. There were, like, witnesses and everything.

Fair. And, not to be insanely nitpicky, but I think the response to multiple, seemingly unconnected miracles would be categorically different.

A guy’s broken arm spontaneously heals? We use scientific tools to investigate.
Then a lady lays an egg from which a swan hatches, and a guy descends from the heavens hurling thunderbolts, and a paisley rainbow appears over Detroit, and everyone when they look in the sky sees their name (and only theirs) spelled out in the stars?

At that point our tools of inquiry become limited. We look for convincing messages from whoever’s doing this, and either accept them or reject them based on gut feelings.

That’s a lot better candidate for an undeniable miracle than any of the ones in the OP.

And, as noted in its last sentence, it wouldn’t lead to everyone concluding that said miracle was caused by God; let alone by any specific version of God.

So the societal ramifications I would expect would be a whole lot of argument, with various groups claiming credit for their version of God, others blaming it on somebody else’s version, and some saying it wasn’t God at all but was aliens, or some human group (again, with various claims as to which) that had done it with advanced secret technology.

snicker You would know it if I got my inner girly bits back, I would find the asshole and lay him out with a brick for forcing me to have my very painfully and bloody flawed bits back.

On the other hand, give me the distal end of my guts, with perfect anus and rectum, no cancer and I would actually be happy … and my insurance company would probably investigate the hell out of a couple hundred thousands of dollars and four years of treatments, chemo, radiation, imaging and surgical procedures they would consider themselves defrauded of. But it would be nice not to poop in a bag =)

Can we pick what gets miraculously healed? I have a little list =)

That not-so-old saw about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence applies. Once that extraordinarily-hard standard is met for a “miracle”, then we can talk about consequences.

Until then, I share warden Norton’s skepticism.

Well, yes - that’s what the OP posits - that that standard is indeed met. That’s what the whole hypothetical is.

The alternative that you seem to be arguing on the side of, is the termination of human curiosity. If cats start giving birth to puppies, or human women start laying eggs, you think people should just shrug and accept it - they shouldn’t want to examine what’s going on in close detail?

People would do that, not to deny that it’s a mystery, not because they would say they can explain it, but precisely because it is a mystery, and they can’t explain it. That’s what people have always done. Why would they stop? Why would you stop them?