If nobody believed in superstition it would be unable to hurt anyone

 

Testimony for a Miracle - Is it enough?

Main Points-
 
A miracle is a magical event that cannot be explained by natural causes or coincidence. It is a supernatural event.
 
You need really good evidence for miracles to avoid enabling fake miracle workers who may hurt people. You don't want to make their job easier by encouraging people to accept miracle beliefs too easily.

 

Belief in supernatural events, is based on testimony. There is no hard evidence.

 

Richard Swinburne put forward the Principle of Testimony. It says it is rational and correct to hold that people usually tell the truth. (See page 84, Philosophy of Religion for A Level, OCR Edition Anne Jordan, Neil Lockyer and Edwin Tate, Nelson Thornes Ltd, 1999). He points out that though people will think this approach is dangerous we all accept it unless there are solid reasons for assuming a person is not telling the truth. He spoke of the Principle of Credulity - it says I should accept your perception of what you have experienced unless there is evidence that you are lying, unless you are not acting like the experience really happened, unless you have been taking mind altering drugs, unless you are inconsistent (your story keeps changing and contradicting itself) or unless you have a better explanation for what the person experienced for their perception is not necessarily correct. Swinburne held that if a lot of people report perceptions of God, all together they point to the possible existence of God. They make a cumulative case.

 

You would not expect science to change its theories over testimonies. The stress on testimonies pits miracles against science. A testimony and an assertion are not the same thing. A person X who gives evidence that a car is stolen is doing something different from a person Y who merely says it was stolen. X is giving a testimony. Y is merely asserting. You do not need a testimony if somebody says they bought a newspaper last Sunday. You just need them to assert it. You need somebody to testify if the newspaper they got came from Martians or the Virgin Mary. If miracles are so normal as some seem to think, then they lose their importance.

 

Hearsay would be enough if you want to believe. So miracles should be rare.

 

Believers in miracles say their belief is based on the evidence given by those who have seen miracles. It is based on hearsay and testimony. Hearsay is a very weak form of testimony and very unreliable. Testimony though not infallible is dependable to a higher level. The testimony to a miracle is only accepted by those who already accept miracles on hearsay. For example, a child grows up hearing magical and miracle stories. She bases this on what she hears. This paves the way for her to accept somebody's miracle testimony. Whoever says their faith in miracles is about the good testimony they have got is wrong or lying. It is more about the hearsay.
 
A testimony to miracles is only accepted on these conditions:
 
#One presupposes without evidence that miracles happen.
 
# One forgets that testimony is what faith in an event being a miracle is based on but testimony means presupposing that everything that happens is natural. For example, if a miracle could fool John that X murdered Y what use would any testimony be? You presuppose that there is no chance of supernatural tampering. This is not biased or unfair - it is in the nature of testifying that the possibility that the supernatural is interfering or manipulating is excluded.
 
#The witness is judged as reliable.
 
#The witness makes you feel you want to believe.
 
#You suspend judgment of, excuse or ignore anything that seems to suggest the inauthenticity of the miracle or the miracle account.
 
#The miracle is made fairly safe from refutation. A miracle account where you are told that the Virgin Mary has moved into a cottage down the road will be rejected outright but you feel safer believing she appeared to somebody yesterday. This is really about trying to get yourself to believe. If you really that convinced that miracles happen you will not cherry-pick what miracle accounts to accept and what ones to reject or ignore. I am talking about when one miracle account is as well-substantiated as another. Miracle believers and healers and prophets are always careful to make it hard or impossible to test their claims. If you really believed you could heal you would tell a person not to let the doctors operate on her child's cancer but you don't. That contradiction and inconsistency makes it sensible to reject miracle testimonies and to regard a person who accepts them as stupid. The witness ruins the case their own own sincerity so their testimony can be dismissed.
 
#A miracle that one man got healed will be accepted while a miracle that claims the cure for cancer has been given by Heaven will be rejected. Again this is people trying to manipulate themselves and therefore others to believe. If one man is really miraculously healed then it is possible that a miracle revelation about the cure for cancer can come. The believers in miracles do not trust miracle claims as much as they say.
 
#A miracle that has some followers and believers will be heeded more than one that does not. This is not faith in miracles at work - it is our tendency to follow the crowd to fit in that is at work.
 
#A miracle from a loving God should be about inspiring people to love each other better. Thus it should be the lesson conveyed by the miracle that matters not believing in the miracle. If God appears to a dying man and gives him a drink of water, the lesson should be that we must help the dying and whether God really appeared should not matter. Miracles are magic if you assume that all supernatural events that cannot be attributed to pure divine love are magic. They downgrade your good side. Miracle tales are about something and it is not love even if they are sometimes made out to be love.
 
Without testimony we would not believe in miracles. People often want to believe in miracles and pretend it is because of the evidence and testimony. A miracle is so strange and needs such good evidence that the witnesses would need to make a huge effort to show that is not about what they want to believe. When they try so hard to have others believing it is a sign that it is about what they want to believe.
 
 It is more accurate to say that if you believe in miracles, you believe because you believe in the witnesses. This is not the same as believing in the miracle. To believe X that the car is broken down is believing X intends to speak the truth about the car not that the car is broken down. People enjoy the glory of being looked up to and listened to because of their miracle tales.
 
We tend to accept testimony because we have never disproven or had reason to question most of the testimonies given to us. But that does not make it reliable enough to base miracles on it.
 
The testimony to any miracle is not enough. Therefore we must ask, "Why wait for a testimony before accepting something as a miracle? Why not say that Saddam Hussein has risen from the dead though there is no testimony?" Belief in miracles is implicitly dangerous - the world cannot function if people start thinking like that. At least the flawed principle of depend
 
The argument that if we reject miracle testimony then we have no reason to trust anybody's testimony is incorrect. You can trust people except in supernatural claims. As long as you place enough trust to be able to function in society who cares? And you don't need to trust in supernatural claims to achieve that.
 
If religion did surveys and tests to examine how reliable people are when they see or think they have seen the supernatural at work and found that reliability is high, then it would be justified in saying that testimony to miracle should be taken seriously. It does no such thing.
 
The Church officially accepts only the stigmata claims made for St Francis of Assisi. There are hundreds of claims and many of these must be fraudulent. Yet the fact remains that nobody admits to engaging in such fraud. There had to have been friends and family and accomplices who caught them out and said nothing. This is overwhelming proof that testimonies to miracles must be accept with extreme caution and even the seeming virtue of the witnesses is not much of a reason to believe them.
 
Every religion and believer rejects some miracle claims though there seems to be good testimony for them.
 
If you base your faith on testimony, you must always be open to new testimony and new light which means you have to be prepared to change your faith if you need to.
 
If you don't want to dismiss a miracle testimony as nonsense, you can decide to sit on the fence. That is a lot more sensible than believing in the testimony.
 
Hard evidence is better than testimony. Testimony is evidence with lesser force. If we put supreme importance on faith in a God of miracles then testimony will never be as good as hard evidence and cannot be enough.
 
The person who testifies to miracle only testifies that they interpret what they remember as a miracle. Faith in their testimony is impossible when all you have faith in is their interpretation.
 
People who care about what they want to believe more than about the truth are vain. They want to think they are being reasonable. They are being arrogant for they are not. We know such people when they won't look at the case against what they believe and when they ignore the truth though it bites them in the backside. The worst of them actually puts their belief or opinion in a framework that makes testing the truth of it impossible. For example, Christians say that God never ignores a sincere prayer. They say that if you don't get what you want you will get something as good or better. But good things happen to everybody! And so do bad things! By making a doctrine untestable the believers safeguard their arrogance and conceal it. Thus they worsen their arrogance. They oppose the person who rejects the doctrine or who without rejecting it sees no reason to accept it. They oppose it inside if not in their outward deeds. They might even be derisory. If they don't act that way they are derisory in another way for the framework they make and maintain is derisory. It is an insulting attitude to have towards the fair and dedicated truthseeker. They have taken the first step towards persecuting that person.
 
Arrogant people do not set out to act arrogant for they know it makes them look ridiculous. The crafty among them try to hide behind the mask of humility.
 
The believer in the supernatural is a bigger danger than the non-believer who worships and promotes the untestable. If the believer in Jesus found out that Judas rose from the dead and pretended to be Jesus he will say this discovery is actually a supernatural hoax. He will say that maybe Satan magically faked the evidence that it was Judas. If there is no supernatural or if you don't believe, then there are less ways of making something untestable.
 
Belief in testimony is a necessary evil. Testimony helps but it is not enough to base faith in the magical on. Belief in testimony assumes there is no magical power out there to delude the person testifying to anything. When you ask somebody to believe you you are saying that there is no magic that could mean you were magically fooled or misled. Testifying to a miracle is a contradiction for a testimony presupposes that miracles do not happen.
 
If you want to believe in miracles, you are going to have to forgo testimony and believe any nonsense.
  
A miracle is what is not naturally possible. It is a supernatural occurrence. It is paranormal. It's an act of God.
 
Religion uses alleged miracles as evidence for the truth of its claims.
 
There is no hard evidence for miracles - just people testifying that they happened.
 
Only miracles armed with hard evidence should be taken seriously.
 
Some say, "Everything we believe is based on testimony. Our senses testify to us. So it stands to reason that our feelings testify to us too. If we feel there is a God then it is reasonable to accept this testimony of our feelings. Some say their feelings have magical powers and the power to transform. We think the testimony of our feelings to God makes more sense and is more reasonable. Instead of doing magic let us submit to the will and love of God."

We say we accept the testimony of others about things. We never do. We testify to ourselves that we want to accept this testimony. We accept not the testimony we are given but the testimony we give ourselves. It is our testimony to the testimony that we accept not the testimony. That is why we should question and doubt particularly in religious matters. Trying to argue that feelings are enough is a recipe for chaos and confusion. It stifles the voice of reason.
 
Testimony is considered to be important in court and in life in general. It is evidence. But it must never be final. It must always be provisional. For example, if you send the person convicted of murder to jail because of the witnesses you must be prepared to revise or end that sentence if new testimony appears that casts doubt on his guilt or clears his name. Religion asks for a lifelong commitment - you are expected to regard the testimony to the resurrection of Jesus as final and that is really an abuse of testimony. Catholicism is riddled these days with people claiming divine revelations from the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the Holy Spirit etc. Most of these revelations get no attention from the Church for they tend to be ignorant and vindictive. But surely if testimony is so important it follows that the Virgin and Co should be seen as dangerous spirits pretending to be good? Surely the testimonies show that say Mary is in reality a bad girl and it is dangerous to invoke her?

 

The Church says if exceptional and miraculous events happen, we cannot reject them as unbelievable. If we do, we are saying no testimony however honest and sane the testifier is is any good. But let us consider this. If we reject belief in them, we need not really reject the wonders. We could be just not making a decision one way or another.

 

If belief in miracles is based on testimonies, then it follows that it is the miracle stories told by the people that have the most sincerity that should be considered to be the most convincing. But the trouble is, the more absurd the report the more likely the testifier is to sincerely believe that he experienced a miracle! The implications are dangerous! The more the testifier gets ridiculed for his story and the stranger it sounds then the more sincere he is. Clearly then miracles are to be believed because they are so strange and bizarre. Jesus rising from the dead is not as convincing as a cat giving birth to fairies that then turn into pea soup.
 
If I reject all miracle testimonies, that does not mean I am being hypocritical in accepting testimonies to mundane or non-supernatural things. It looks as if I am for I often accept mundane or non-supernatural testimonies even on little or no evidence. That would seem unfair if there is reasonable or good evidence favouring the view that a miracle has happened. The logic is incorrect simply because miracle and mundane/non-supernatural are not the same thing. If you treat them the same then you can justify people shooting doctors on the basis that the Devil will turn all humankind to zombies if its not done. Indeed if you do not justify it you should. Miracle beliefs have dangerous implications. We experience the mundane and non-supernatural all the time so its not in the same category as a miracle.
 
I accept non-supernatural testimony quite easily for most of the time I do not catch witnesses out as liars. They might be liars and just not caught out. It seems to me that most testimonies are reliable.
 
You can never prove that somebody is truthful as you think so the best you can do is say that you trust them and you accept their testimony but not necessarily to the effect that a miracle they report is to be taken has having occurred. You might take it as something that could have occurred. You will not trust your beloved wife who you have known for years if she says she experienced an alien abduction. And she won't blame you. There is nothing wrong with that.
 
We have the right to reject even a reliable person's testimony if we think its silly. We do not accept everything a reliable person says. The religionist who condemns unbelief in miracles is a bigot. If miracles encourage that attitude then we should hope that people will discard belief in them.
 
Reliable people may not be as reliable as we think. Good liars cover their tracks well. As we cannot check all things out all the time, our default position is that a person is probably telling us the truth. Liars take advantage of that.
What is convincing evidence for one person is unconvincing and useless to another. In other words, you might think your evidence is rational but others may not.

 

If we trust the testimony of those who experience miracles, the best we can do is trust that they experienced something they interpreted as miraculous. We do not have to trust their interpretation. Miracle believers always think that believing an interpretation is the same as believing in a miracle. They trick other people by doing this conjuring trick with truth.
 
It would be worrying if you accepted somebody's interpretation of an event as miraculous when you make little or no effort to examine how good they are likely to be as interpreters.
 
If I rely on you, it is not you but my judgement of you that I rely on. I never ever believe in a miracle - strictly speaking. I really believe in my assessment that a miracle has happened, not the miracle. If I believe in me, I must just believe in me. What do I need to even contemplate miracles for? Faith in miracles does not exist, strictly speaking. What you have is faith in the faith others, the witnesses, seem to possess.
 
Believers in principle do not take seriously the testimony to a miracle of a man unless he is impeccably honest. This proves that it is not the miracle that they really value but the testimony.
 
If testimony is so important that its enough to defend belief in an occurrence that seems naturally impossible - it follows that if science contradicts it then science should not be taken as seriously as it. And if science can be ignored or not taken very seriously then we cannot what is a miracle and what is not.
 
Some say the evidence for miracles is always insufficient for it is more likely that a person has lied or made a mistake than that they have seen a miracle for they are so uncommon. David Hume said we could believe in a miracle only if the people lying or being wrong would presuppose a bigger miracle. People who don’t believe in miracles say that it has never been known for it to be more miraculous for people to be lying or mistaken than for them to have experienced what they said they experienced.
 
The Church says that if you refuse to believe testimony to miracles you can’t justify listening to anything people say. But we all pick and choose what testimony we believe and the Church knows that and even allows that so it is just trying to manipulate us. To reject a good testimony to miracle, is not doing this as much as denying a good testimony to a more ordinary event is. If you believe in miracle then how do you "know" that the miracle really happened? Testimony? But what if the miracle was the alteration of their memories? If a miracle happened you might only know that the miracle happened but not know what the miracle was.
 
If being disbelieving towards all miracles means you automatically reject all testimony, then what about the vast majority of reported miracles and apparitions (that have never been proved to be naturalistic hoaxes and which believers will have to accept as possibly true) in which the vision lied or contradicted itself or others? If you have such respect for testimony then you will say there is evidence and testimony that visions are unreliable even if they are supernatural. That implies that you see that there are forces that can trick you to make a false statement. That implies that you could have seen your mother going to the shop this morning and it could have been a false memory inserted miraculously in your mind. Miracles therefore depend on human testimony while at the same time they undermine it drastically and endanger our faith in the senses and in each other. When I have to put myself first I cannot desecrate myself to undermine the knowledge I have for I need that knowledge and need as much faith in it as possible in order to be safe. Miracles, if they happen, are acts of violence and contempt and are aimed at the human mind.
 
Denying testimony to miracles would not mean denying the value of all human testimony but only when it testifies to miracles which are not of nature but we can still believe in natural events no matter how bizarre they are for they can happen and we know it. We can believe the person who says they saw the Virgin Mary but hold that there was a natural but inexplicable cause why they think they encountered an entity claiming to be her. Also, the person who believes a strange story but who denies miracles is not being inconsistent or unfair for nature says strange things happen but does not urge us to accept miracles for they could be lies or mistakes.
 
It sounds reasonable to say that miracles must be believed to happen for it is natural for us to believe people when they testify to anything possible such as miracles. If we are going to dismiss what they say then we must ask why we would believe anybody when they testify to anything. We know by experience that most testimonies to anything are wrong or deceitful or mistaken. We find this out day by day in ordinary conversation. Many of the things we believe on somebody’s testimony are false and we just don’t know it yet and probably never will. The sceptical version of a miracle story is one exception among several versions that say the miracle was real. In other words, testimonies and evidences that the miracle is false are harder to get than ones that it is true. That problem is universally common. This proves that the testimony argument is worthless when it comes to miracles. Nobody is interested in finding out that the Amityville Horror was a hoax. Despite its conclusive refutation, the story is still popular and still appearing everywhere as the truth.
 
Religion accepts the testimony of miracle witnesses when it has done no professional tests to see how much or how little people will lie about the supernatural. If too many people lie about the supernatural then its reasonable to deny that their miracle tales should be accepted. Believing would then be deranged.
 
If one person records and collates a number of testimonies by people to a miracle the Church accepts the testimonies. But it is really only one person testifying that he did the interviewing and examining of witnesses properly. Religion would not accept a person saying, "Please convict X of murder for Mary and then Jesus and then Joseph appeared to me respectively last night. Each of them told me they saw him doing it. Their testimony is evidence of his guilt. It is satisfactory. They were eyewitnesses for they saw it happening from Heaven. That is what they said." If they accept that rubbish as evidence soon there will be no law and order. Everybody will be pretending that heavenly beings told them this and that. The example shows that religion itself admits that if a miracle is reported it should not be accepted as true but checked first. This is a principle. Then why is religion so deceitful and inconsistent? It only remembers the principle when it wants to.
 
There has to be some category of claim that must not be believed without sufficient evidence. If it is not miracle or the supernatural then its nothing! This is not about being biased or unfair. It is what we need to do. That's all. There are some things that must receive disbelief or scepticism no matter how dependable the testimony of the witness seems to be. There are some things that even good testimony isn't enough for. Testimony is not a reason to believe in miracles. There needs to be a limit on what is accepted on testimony. And if it is not miracles and the supernatural then there is no line.
 
There needs to be evidence apart from a mere testimony. It would be devastating if a hospital for example stopped giving chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments just because some psychic or holy man said that if treatment is discontinued that the people who need the treatments will be instantly cured by the Holy Ghost. We would end up believing anything!
 
The Catholic Church says that if you don't believe in miracles then you are saying that the wonderful testimonies from the most reliable of people that they happen are to be dismissed. The Church says that if people are that lacking in credibility, we can believe nothing they say. You can reply that you are not saying they must be dismissed or ignored. Trust means that you expect to hear sane things and decent things from decent people. You can trust them while having no opinion on their miracle claim. You don't have to take a position on everything somebody says.
 
Christianity is forced to say that if we say testimonies about miracles are based on mistakes or lies, then we can’t believe anybody who testifies to anything. This is not true. It would mean that we are accepting all plausible human testimony except when miracles are spoken of.

There is no such thing as a miracle witness going to experts to report the miracle so that they can help others to be justifiably sure that their testimony is true, that they must have experienced a miracle.
 
Scientists lie for money. If it were not for religion being so powerful and creating the incentive, this would not happen. If there was little interest in the Turin Shroud or it was invested with insignificance it would not happen either. We are entitled to reject or be suspicious concerning a miracle story even if “verified” by a top scientist.
 
A person might be totally honest but a liar in relation to a miracle claim. It's the one lie one can never get caught out for telling. If somebody stares at a spot on the wall and says they are seeing the Virgin Mary there is no proof that they are not seeing her. The fraud knows that and uses it to her or his advantage. People jump to conclusions in the face of the unknown.
 
Religion likes to say, "We are the true religion for God did miracles to show that we teach his truth." They say they have reliable witnesses of these miracles. But it is not the reliability of the witnesses we should be looking at. We should be looking at the general picture. We should be looking at the question, "is the human tendency to delude oneself and others with claims about the supernatural common enough and strong enough to make us assume that the reliability of a reliable witness is unproven?"
 
Reliable people in one religion testify to miracles that contradict the miracles testified to good people of another religion. Within a religion, there will be miracles that it rejects as inauthentic despite the testimony of reliable people that something miraculous was happening. Religion lies that it looks for reliable testimony to the supernatural and believes because of that.
 
It's discrimination to accept one miracle because of a reliable testimony and not others. To believe in a miracle is always irrational for you have to accept all testimony to all miracles and you cannot do that. When you accept say Fatima as a place of visions and miracles you are saying there could have been mistakes but you still believe. What right then would you have to disbelieve in any other miracle report then?
 
There are certain things that should not be accepted except by those who have checked them out carefully and slowly and thoroughly and found them believable. Miracles and magic are top of the list. Suppose some Catholic investigators have evidence that Lourdes really had been visited by the Virgin Mary in a supernatural vision. They cannot encourage anybody or let anybody agree with them who has not become an investigator like them. They cannot encourage people to mistreat the truth and to have disrespect for evidence.
 
The Christian religion claims to be based on the word of God. It claims to believe in miracles. But in fact it believes in men not miracles!
 
It is men who decide what the word of God is and what books belong in it. They use this then as a yardstick with which to judge the authenticity of miracle claims.
 
It is men who decide what miracles are evidence from God for their faith. They accuse the witnesses of miracles that contradict their theology of being liars just because these miracles indicate that some other faith is true. They say that to disbelieve in miracles is to say that human testimony is worthless. But they ignore most miracle claims. In doing that they are saying that there is more testimony for miracles not being true or dependable as sources of doctrine!
 
We do not have to believe in any human decisions and decrees. The best courts in the land can be wrong and often are. The arrogance of religion for claiming to be right!
 
The men of religion call themselves experts but even in the simplest things like what diet is the best for us you have the experts arguing with one another.
 
A following b does not mean b caused a. It can mean it might have or it happened in spite of it. If people believe and miracles seem to follow that does not mean the belief had any role in causing the miracles or allowing them to happen. Testimony has no power to help.
 
A following b does not mean b caused a. It can mean it might have or it happened in spite of it. Which should we assume if we have to assume only one of them?‏ It depends. Given that a miracle is uncommon it is better to assume it is b and only came about in spite of a.
 
Believers say that when God makes a Virgin Mary appear to you or raises your dog from the dead as a sign, that the biggest miracles are what he does in your heart. The outside miracle is like a sacrament that channels inner miracles. So the internal testimony comes first. The 911 hijackers were witnesses to the miracle of God telling them Islam was true and to die for his sake. They felt God was inspiring them. At least you see how dangerous the testimony doctrine is and it is a Trojan Horse.
 
The testimony argument in favour of believing miracles is over-simplistic.
 
appendix
 
The Bigger and More Important the Claim the Better the Testimony Needs to be

Credulity means we accept what others tell us without checking it out. Or it can refer to when we do check it out but neglectfully. It is dangerous for it is to blame for most of the evils and superstitions in the world. Think of the impoverished mother who gives away her last dime to a charlatan who says that God will reward her by healing her baby. We do not want to encourage a framework of credulity wherein that can happen. And that is what we are doing if we give any support to credulity at all. Many of us will make mistakes and be credulous without meaning to be. That has to be acknowledged. And we must not hold it against ourselves or others. We must learn from our errors and rash judgments.

Suppose a good friend, who we have never found out to be a liar, says to us that they experienced an instant healing from terminal illness because somebody gave them a satanic witch potion. It seems disloyal and insulting to suspend belief. Should we take the person's word for it? But nobody can expect us to have complete confidence in their being right but only in their sincerity . That is all any reasonable witness can ask. Thus we are entitled to investigate and ask questions to see if the person is sincerely mistaken. We are not accusing them of being unreliable or lying. If we are then it must be slander then for a lawyer to cross examine a witness to a crime! We ask questions all the time to check out what we are told. A true friend would welcome that. They wouldn't want us to see us led astray.
 
To protect yourself from being misled, to protect others too, to guard against the dangers of error, demand extraordinarily good testimony for extraordinary claims. And what is more extraordinary than miracles and the supernatural?