The societal ramifications of an indisputable miracle

I don’t think MEBuckner was saying that there shouldn’t be scientific investigation of a miracle, but rather, that if a miracle indeed were proven to be true, the scientific approach ought to be to consider that - perhaps there is indeed something supernatural at work in the universe. If science means going by the facts and evidence, and there were evidence of, say, a deity at work, then the scientific thing to do would be, “Hey, it’s possible there’s a deity doing this.”

“Supernatural” is such a fiddly word, though. Does it mean that there’s something outside of the material universe that can affect it? If so, can material science not examine the instant and point at which the effect occurs?

So, everyone in the world spontaneously grows a third eyeball, due to the interference of a supernatural (or extradimensional or alternate-universe or programmer-of-this-simulation) being. I get that we can’t examine the being, using the tools of material science. But we examine those eyeballs: we can look for footage of their growth, we can cross-index the times at which they occurred, we can take DNA samples, we can assess their vision, and so forth.

That would be, I think, an excellent set of procedures to take.

Meanwhile, I guarandamntee you that there will be multiple competing religious explanations, whether it’s that the eyes were given us by Jesus such that we could see the sinners amongst us (send checks to my ministry to enable us to CAST OUT THE DEMONS), or that the eyes are a manifestation of humanity’s quantum leap forward in enlightenment, or that the eyes are to be used only to read the Q’uran and for no other purpose, or that the eyes are unholy demon-sent eyes and should be plucked out of their sockets. Unless the miracleworker gives a message which is itself miraculous, it’ll be hard to determine what the supernatural implications of the miracle are.

I’m not at all arguing that people wouldn’t seek explanations, or that people ought not seek explanations.

All I’m saying is that if miracles were real—“miracles” that resembled the traditional Christian definition of the term—they would not be susceptible to scientific explanation. (I also want to stress that I don’t believe in miracles—in real life, as opposed to the hypothetical in this thread, I don’t think there have been any “indisputable” miracles; not even close, in fact.)

To use a Christian conception, we’re talking about an event which violates or transcends known natural law and/or has no natural cause, but is also empirically verifiable (“grasped by the senses”), and—according to Christian theologians—is basically a mysterious act of God’s will, done according to “God’s grace”. Certainly no one has ever claimed that all the lame and sick will be healed; even very devout people may still spend their lives unable to walk, or just die young—if that’s “God’s plan” for them. Which makes miracles fundamentally irreproducible, and therefore essentially impossible to study the causes of or rules of. Why did God spare this person, and not spare this other person, both of whom were devout and praying and had devout loved ones who were praying for them? Well, who knows? “All prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is ‘No’!

Again, I don’t actually believe in miracles, and tend to think the theology of miracles is largely a series of dodges to explain why we don’t see easily verifiable miraculous events in the modern world, along with trying to cope with the always-difficult questions (for a theist) of theodicy.

IF miracles were real and were really happening, even if it didn’t lead to one religion triumphing over all the others, it would probably throw us back to a pre-scientific civilization, with very unpredictable results. Sure, some people would continue trying for a long time to make sense of this strange new world (at least until the Holy Inquisition made them stop). But science would be, at best, severely circumscribed. (How much would depend on how common these miracles were.) “Well, maybe you can show us how to dig a new well. Or maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster will just miraculously create one for us! Who can say?”

Thanks for the clarification. OK, I understand where you’re coming from now.

I suppose it’s worth noting that there are people who believe that’s the world we live in now - they believe there are things science cannot explain. I guess that’s what concerns me most, because it tends to be coupled with the view that science must not explain, or even investigate. God of the gaps gets smaller every time a gap is closed, so they don’t want anyone trying that.

If there really were women laying eggs, and it was miraculous in nature, I do think science could still describe it - for example if an eggshell miraculously materialises, that can be observed, and the absence of any causative mechanism, or chemical precursors can also be observed, so I would expect science to confirm it’s happening, confirm it’s mysterious and defies a current explanation, then keep studying it

I mean, science doesn’t stop studying things even when it’s thought that the mechanism is understood.

Or a fairy, or a powerful magician, or aliens, or the whole universe is an illusion, or any number of other possible weird answers. That’s the problem with so many discussions like this - they tend to be ‘if science can’t explain it, then my very specific and favourite supernatural answer is next up’

A few years ago, I had a debate with some friends about whether an indisputable supernatural phenomena could exist and what it would be. Ultimately, I settled on someone publically predicting the final digit of every single S&P500 stock ticker at closing bell tomorrow, I would accept that as an indisputable supernatural phenomena.

I just can’t imagine any non-supernatural method anybody could accomplish for pulling that off (that isn’t trivially detected).

So . . . Biff Tannen, with an almanac?

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

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.