If nobody believed in superstition it would be unable to hurt anyone
CAN EVIDENCE JUSTIFY YOU BELIEVING IN AN IMPROBABLE MIRACLE?
CAN ACTUAL EVIDENCE OUTWEIGH THEORETICAL IMPROBABILITY?
What's a Miracle?
A miracle is an event that is not naturally possible. That does not mean it is necessarily impossible. There could be a power greater than nature such a god that can do it. A miracle is a supernatural event. It's like God doing magic. A miracle is when God does magical things like raising Jesus from the dead.
Miracles are likely or unlikely. To say they are likely means its no big deal if one refuses to take one's cancer treatment in the belief God will take the cancer away. To say they are somewhere in between likely or unlikely also says it doesn't matter if you get the treatment or not. Believers and sceptics agree that miracles are unlikely but differ as to the degree of how unlikely they are.
To say miracles are unlikely means that we need very good evidence for holding that they happen. It also means that they are so out of the ordinary we need to see and understand the evidence ourselves. We cannot depend on authority. You may answer, "If I am told I have cancer, I do not ask for a whole investigation." But if you had any suspicion you would have the right. If you should have any suspicion you would have the right. We should question things if we see a reason to. A miracle needs to be questioned. You can't believe just anything and everything supernatural.
Hearing of some miracles is enough to refute them!
Religion says it is irrational to say miracles do not happen when you will not investigate before you speak. But this overlooks the fact that some claims are untrue and realising they cannot be true is investigation enough.
Plus religion tells you what miracle claims to investigate. In other words, it is putting a bias in you. You would not be investigating unless you suspended your belief that the story does not seem to be true. It knows you cannot investigate them all.
If a miracle is not worth believing but is actually genuine then you have to give people evidence that it is worth investigating. There is difference between evidence that shows something is worth checking and evidence that you need to check it out.
Religion never gives you evidence that something is worth
looking for evidence for. It is not a true friend of evidence.
The Intuition that Strong Miracle Evidence is Needed
When there are two or more competing explanations of the available evidence, accept the explanation that is the simplest for the simplest one is most likely to be true and reject any inadequate ones. This is Occam's Razor. It is essential if one wants to be sane or stay sane. Life would be worse than Hell if we keep inventing explanations for things instead of seeking out the simplest explanation. Occam's Razor can only work if you stick with natural explanations.
Once you bring in the supernatural it becomes useless.
Once you discard the Razor, the potential for error
becomes very great. People can apply the principle wrongly but the principle in
itself is flawless. Even if the principle could make you err, not having it
would make you err more!
Evidence is the only way to test what is said to be true.
We cannot believe anything, not even revelation from God, without having some
evidence for belief or grounds for belief.
David Hume reasoned that miracles are so improbable that we need to go beyond a normal amount of evidence to verify them or make them believable.
This is obviously correct.
Most believing people even in the Catholic Church have a weak belief in some miracles. They do not agree with Hume fully but they agree to a large level. They agree with him when they meet a miracle claim they do not want to believe.
Nobody agrees on exactly what was a miracle and what was not. Some Christians are suspicious of the resurrection of Jesus. People implicitly imply that testimony to a miracle is not enough and more is needed. Hume would have agreed.
Nobody believes in miracles for the exact same reasons as somebody else. The reasons are more important than the belief. Believing in the miracles of Lourdes because your parents told you they happened is really just believing your parents. It is trusting them not God. Hume criticised this kind of thing as superstition. It would not be superstition to believe in Lourdes if the evidence was satisfactory but to believe it on hearsay would be risky and superstition. If you believe the truth because of hearsay you are not honouring truth. Your reasons for accepting it are wrong. And tending to have the wrong reasons is a dangerous habit.
The person who believes the truth for the wrong reasons is no better than a person who believes lies for the wrong reasons. He or she is still not recognising the truth as truth. To see your mother when your glasses are distorted means you don't know if you really see her or not.
Those with any faith at all - little or large - may not hold on it to it very long.
The vast majority of people do not take miracle claims as seriously as they do say claims that the VAT rate will rise etc. They agree with Hume more than what they may think.
What Hume reasoned is intuitive. Religion is trying to skew our thinking and feelings by brainwashing us to feel and see it differently.
You can't settle for an alcoholic's testimony that Charlie murdered Sheila. The testimony however hard to believe is evidence but it is not enough. You need a better testimony than that. For example, the testimony of forensics that Sheila's blood was under Charlie's fingernail. The more serious and the stranger the claim the better the quality of evidence that is needed. And a claim coming from an alcoholic liar is a strange claim by default!
Religion says that when it checks miracles such as apparitions from Heaven, it ensures that the visionary really believes they are seeing Jesus or Mary or whatever. But that is not proof that we should believe them. It may only indicate the possibility that they are sincere - not that they are right. Sincere but incorrect testimonies were rife during the Jack the Ripper investigations in London 1888. All miracle evidences are not evidences for miracles at all. They are only evidences for the faith and belief of the people involved in experiencing the miracle.
Hume said that we need miraculous evidence to justify believing. Evidence that is naturally good can only back up natural events. Evidence that is magically good is the only kind of evidence that can back up supernatural events. For example, if Jesus really rose from the dead we should find a miraculous CCTV recording of it preserved for us for two thousand years.
This would not be absolute proof. There would still be room for scepticism. But it is the very least we would expect in order to believe.
The case in favour of Hume then is watertight. But Christians try to undermine it nonetheless. If people in authority tell you often enough that the truth is to be doubted they can stop you feeling and seeing the full force of what Hume said. And Christians deploy that tactic. They desensitise themselves and others.
We take things for granted
We take it for granted that princes do not turn into frogs. We take it for granted that dead men do not rise again after three days in the tomb. We take it for granted in other words that the magical events called miracles are based on errors and fraud and that what happened is natural, not paranormal or magical or supernatural.
Religion opposes this intuition. Christianity claims that Jesus rose from the dead after being killed by crucifixion and lying three days in a tomb. Islam teaches that God supernaturally revealed a book written by God to Muhammad. There are all kinds of examples of alleged miracles.
Catholics reason that their religion is true because God did miracles to show it is the right religion and his creation not man's. This claim is arrogant for the evidence itself is based on the vice of belief in miracles. Indeed, if the faith is really from God he will be expected to do miracles to show that it is from him.
Religion uses miracle claims as part of its propaganda to get power and money and influence. There is no buzz better than the buzz of getting people to believe your ridiculous doctrines on your authority. Religious missionaries must be motivated by this buzz.
High Probability and Evidence
Hume is right that we need better evidence than what we have got for saying, for example, that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. Jesus needs to appear to top world doctors and let them test him. For some sceptics this will still not be enough. But that is their right. For many it will be enough. The claim, "God will not give us better evidence for so many people won't believe anyway," is a rationalisation. People are insulted for the sake of a religious doctrine.
The Christians lie and try to obfuscate the truth. They say Hume is assuming that the evidence will never suffice. They say it can and does. For example, they say its true that it is very improbable for dead people to rise but the evidence says there was one exception: Jesus. It is more respectful to demand more evidence than to be satisfied with less in the case of a miracle. And that is what we sceptics do.
The believers say they believe that we need the evidence to tell us what to believe and evidence does at times show improbable claims to be true. That seems quite fair. But that is a superficial fairness. Why? Because it covers improbable natural events such as a middle aged woman looking like she is 20. But the supernatural is a totally separate question.
They have not dealt with the problem but sidestepped it. The problem is, what is naturally improbable must be believed if sufficient evidence says it happened but we need an even higher level of evidence for the supernatural. The evidence would need to be unnatural. For example, we would find the witnesses of an apparition of Mary would have a perfect memory of exactly what happened every second of the day they experienced the miracle.
Evidence tells us what is probable and improbable
We should only believe things when there is the highest degree of probability that they are true. Hume said that. And we agree. We do not believe that there are ten thousand year old queens running kingdoms in Egypt no matter how good the evidence is that there are.
The believers say that probability and evidence are not the same thing. They are different. But they are extremely closely related. Probability is what we think is likely to happen based on the evidence. It is evidence that tells us what is probable. For example, we know that drinking a mug of cyanide will probably kill us. That is because we have seen the evidence that cyanide is poison and kills people.
The Christians talk as if improbability is independent of evidence. It is not. Evidence makes probability and it makes improbability. Therefore if the evidence says that x is improbable it is stupid to say, "Oh its improbable but the evidence says it happened".
Sometimes evidence comes up showing that the improbable has happened. But if you agree with the probable you have to admit that the improbable can happen. That is what probable means - what is most likely to happen not what is certain to happen. So you have to acknowledge and recognise the probable before you can acknowledge and recognise the improbable.
It is very improbable that I will win millions on the lottery. Yet if I lie that I won, Christians will believe me without evidence apart from my testimony - which is not enough for an improbable claim. They are lying if they say that they believe in improbable things such as the resurrection of Jesus if the evidence is good enough. And just because they provide evidence does not mean it has led them to believe. Sometimes people make up their own minds before looking at the evidence and then use the evidence to make themselves look concerned about evidence and truth.
Evidence can Outweigh Theoretical Improbability
Some say we cannot say a miracle is too improbable to be believed in for we don't know what is improbable. It could in theory be true that a miracle could be as likely as it is unlikely. But we are talking about our knowledge here. Is a miracle likely or unlikely as far as we are able to know? The question of a miracle really being likely or unlikely is different to the question of how well we can know what it is.
David Hume was a philosopher who showed that belief in
miracles is superstitious. He said that it is very probable to our minds that
the sun will rise tomorrow. He would say that it is very improbable to our minds
that it will not. He did not say that miracles are violations of natural law and
conclude that "natural law doesn't change so miracles are impossible". He was
saying miracles could be possible but they are very unlikely in our perception.
He was not saying they really were unlikely but only that we have to see them as
unlikely. We do not believe that if we put water in our fuel tanks that it will
turn into diesel.
Christianity says that Hume said that miracles must be
assumed not to happen because we need to assume nature does not change. They
argue that it is false to say that nature is that fixed. But this point is
actually irrelevant. Hume never said nature was that fixed only that we have to
approach it as if it is.
By natural law, he only meant not that it was strict law or real law but that it was probable that x will happen and not y.
Hume was merely saying that miracles are so improbable we
are entitled to hold that even if there is excellent evidence for them that it
is not enough. For example, excellent evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is
nothing in comparison to the evidence that dead people stay dead. This is the
only rational approach. He is not being dogmatic and refusing to consider the
evidence. Yet Christians ALWAYS misrepresent his argument and say he is. They
say he is rejecting miracles as nonsense without considering the evidence for
them. A faith with an attitude like that is hardly dependable when it comes up
with evidence for miracles! It is unfair and uncharitable and peppered with
Christians say that Hume is doing the wrong thing in
having actual evidence outweighed by theoretical probability. They say actual
evidence does outweigh theoretical probability. For example, they say its true
that it is very improbable for dead people to rise but the evidence says there
was one exception: Jesus. They say that is very improbable to get a perfect hand
while playing bridge but it can happen. This is their proof. But though the
perfect hand is theoretically very improbable it is possible without the
supernatural. In relation to the resurrection, we are not talking about
something that is naturally very unlikely but about something that is
supernatural and not natural at all. The Christian view about actual evidence
and theoretical probability is irrelevant as regards the resurrection. But
though it is theoretically very improbable it is possible without the
The religionists do not believe that actual evidence
outweighs theoretical probability. They are lying when they say they believe
that. If they had a dream that came true and in which it was presented as a
miracle proof that Jesus was a fraud they would not believe it. And dreams that
seem to be prophetic or clairvoyant are quite common. That lies have to be told
in order to defend belief in miracles is enough to put us off them and those who
say they happen.
The religionists deliberately neglect to tell us that even if actual evidence outweighs theoretical probability it doesn't always. For example, if you had the codes to start a nuclear war and sound witnesses told you that they had a vision of Jesus that you should use them for God has a plan you should not listen.
Actual evidence outweighing theory about probability does
not apply to miracles.
READ THIS CAREFULLY: The religionists deliberately forget
that belief in evidence itself is based on theoretical probability. You theorise
for example that the evidence is real and not planted by aliens or some unknown
conspirator for those scenarios are improbable. Maybe they are not improbable
but you have to assume that they are. From this it is clear that theoretical
probability should always be put before actual evidence because it is only down
to theoretical probability that you believe in evidence at all.
Belief in the supernatural intrinsically stops you
When we weigh up evidence we must necessarily presuppose that there is no supernatural force tampering with the evidence.
Supernatural beliefs make you biased and immune to logic and evidence. For example, if you believe God raised your Messiah from the dead and the CCTV shows trickery you can say the Devil did something to the CCTV. Without authentic commonsense the world and life is f**cked.
Nobody can say that the evidence for miracles comes before the theoretical improbability that miracles happen when miracles are intrinsically anti-evidence. Without evidence we cannot even work out what is probable or improbable. The whole thing falls apart.
Christians deny that we should put theoretical probability before the evidence. They say we may believe improbable things if the evidence supporting them is sufficient. But they are tricking us. We are not talking about theoretical probability at all. It is the idea that we make an assumption about what is probable or improbable. Do we assume that miracles are likely or unlikely? We are saying that rather than making assumptions let the evidence point us in the direction of seeing what is probable or improbable. If you let the evidence tell you what is theoretically probable then you cannot believe that Jesus came to life when so many dead people stay dead.
Evidence that is there is outweighed by our theories about what is probable. But if the evidence says something is probable or improbable then do not accuse those who follow it of advancing their ideas of theoretical probability. They are letting the evidence talk - not their theories.
The religionists' reasoning only makes it possible that miracles happen. It still does not mean we may believe in them. Evidence however strong is never proof. You cannot prove that the person you see killing another really did it. Maybe you took a fit of insanity. Maybe it was a demonic trick.
Probability and Miracles
The more probable a miracle is, then the less the evidence that is needed for believing in it.
If your philosophy tells you that you need a saviour to suffer and die for you for the forgiveness of your sins then its probable in your view that that might happen or have happened.
The resurrection of the saviour from the dead might be probable. But that does not mean we will be allowed to know that it has happened. It may be enough to know that it is needed and probably happened. It would not necessarily encourage faith in Christianity with its Jesus who rose from the dead.
What assumptions we make about what is probable determine what kind of events we will regard as true miracles. For example, the Mormon may think that Mormonism is the one true faith and that God hates all other faiths. This makes the Mormon regard Catholic miracles as so improbably true that if there is evidence for such miracles then it does not justify faith or belief.
Naturally Improbable and Supernaturally Improbable
For religion there is naturally probable and supernaturally probable.
For religion there is naturally improbable and supernaturally improbable.
We must assume that there is only naturally improbable and naturally probable. We have no experience of supernaturally improbable and probable.
Natural to assume its not a miracle!
If there is wonderful evidence for a miracle, we still cannot believe. There are things we cannot be expected to believe. If miracles and magic don't fall into that category then nothing does. If we cannot be expected to believe in them, people must not promote belief in them. It demeans us.
The less good evidence there is, the more we cannot believe. And the more we insult ourselves and others by opposing our friend, reason.
Christianity commands faith in miracles and it has no right to do do that. Asking would be fine but it says its God commands it to command others to believe.
The view that it is most likely that a miracle report is
down to a mistake or delusion and not a real miracle seems to forbid you from
ever believing in a miracle. If you lost a finger and God gave it back to you,
would you have to conclude that your belief that you lost it was a delusion? No.
That would be going too far. Something being unlikely doesn't make it
Even religions that are ardent chasers after miracles do not put evidence above theory but use evidence to work out what the theory should be. For
example, if six children claim that they see the Virgin Mary and she raises the whole graveyard from the dead as a sign, but the Virgin teaches absurdities, nobody will believe in the apparition. The theoretical does not always override evidence in individual cases such as this. But when it comes to the general question of do miracles happen? it does.
Believers say that Hume was right to say that in his experience the way nature works makes a miracle story too unlikely to be believable but that does not give him the right to say that it is the same for anybody else. But most people are in Hume's position so most people should not believe in miracles!
Christianity says miracles are improbable. It says however that the evidence is good enough to justify believing in them. A miracle might be improbable but as you get evidence and testimony the probability that it happened increases. The improbability decreases. It can be very improbable that a testimony to a miracle is wrong. So if miracles are inherently improbable, there are other concerns that might reduce that improbability.
So evidence overrides improbability. Actually it is evidence that says a miracle is improbable. You weigh this against evidence that it happened. It is true that theoretical improbability is outweighed by evidence. But that is actually irrelevant here. We are not talking about theoretical improbability here at all. We are talking about evidence saying miracles are improbable and then evidence turning up that a miracle has happened. We are not theorising about what is probable but basing our belief in probability on what evidence indicates.