Miracles: Completely and totally underwhelming

By Andrew Seidel
FFRF Staff Attorney

AndrewheadshotCindy Jacobs believes in miracles. The televangelist recently recounted some of the awe-inspiring, tremendous miracles god’s omnipotent hand has bestowed upon her. (Click here to view the video.)

“We believe we’re moving into a supernatural season, where if needed, God will multiply food. I have seen God multiply food more than one time when I was cooking. When my kids were little they were always bringing their friends into the house and I remember spooning out spaghetti or whatever, just praying in the spirit over that, and God just made more and more and more. You know, I’ve seen oil multiply as I was praying for the sick. I’ve seen bottles of oil just fill up about a cup at a time of oil.

 

“Remember when we drove our car … on one set of tires, how many miles was it? [co-host answers “A lot.”] Way, way beyond what could ever happen with one set of tires. I mean, I remember one time that I had a pair of shoes that I wore and wore and wore and wore and it just — for years, these shoes did not wear out. And I wore them years and years and years.

 

“So, you know, sometimes God is saying little epiphanies to us, little things to us, but we don’t know how to listen to his voice.”

 

Wow! Tires and shoes that last an extra long, albeit unspecified time? An extra cup or two of oil? More spaghetti in the pot? Her god is so very… weak. It would be difficult to come up with four miracles more banal than these. And I can’t help but wonder why Jacobs thinks her god “multiplied” the spaghetti, when this is so clearly the province of “His Noodly Goodness,” the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Jacobs unwittingly exemplifies the problem with all religion’s “miracles.” They are so bland. Anatole France summed up the insipid nature of religion’s reported miracles after a visit to the shrine at Lourdes: “I paid a visit to the grotto where innumerable crutches were hung up in token of a cure. My companion pointed to these trophies of the sick-room and hospital ward, and whispered in my ear: ‘One wooden leg would be more to the point.’ ”

For all his supposed power, god’s miracles are all rather weak. Remember when the Virgin Mary “pushed” the bullets two inches to the left, so they wouldn’t take the pope’s life? Wouldn’t it been a better miracle if the bullets had not hit him — or the two innocent bystanders? Or if the wound had healed itself before he lost three quarters of his blood, and without the help of the highly competent doctors performing hours of surgery?

How disappointing it must be for believers that their all-powerful god struggles to produce more than one “cup of oil at a time” or a tire that will outlast a car. How vapid the burning bush compared to the atom-forging furnaces at the hearts of stars. How utterly boring Balaam’s talking donkey is compared to Einstein, the garrulous African Grey parrot or Koko, the gorilla fluent in American sign language. How commonplace the miracle of water coming out of a rock. This often happens when a permeable rock layer like sandstone sits atop an impermeable layer like shale. It’s not miraculous, it’s gravity.

It is pathetic that Cindy Jacobs finds it easy to accept the feeble crumbs her god offers as proof of his supernatural ability, particularly when her “marvels” are dwarfed by the everyday occurrences of our natural world. Jacobs really ought to read David Hume’s “everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion” found in, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume thought that we should weigh the probability that the laws of nature are suspended against the probability that the person so claiming is mistaken, delusional, or possibly lying. Applying Hume’s maxim to the miracles of Jacobs’ god, he might say “Jacobs’ testimony is not sufficient to establish the miracle of the multiplying spaghetti, unless Jacobs’ testimony is such, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than a violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that matter cannot be created.”

Comments

#84 - Dean Schramm said on January 12, 2013
Poem entitled Ordinary Miracles - from "Poking a Little Fun at Religion":

Two planes nearly collided on takeoff.
It was a very close call.
The pilots declared it a miracle.
No one had been hurt at all.

A plane had an engine malfunction.
It came down in a flash.
"It certainly was a miracle,"
Said those who survived the crash.

A bomb was placed on an aircraft,
And everyone was slain.
"A miracle," said those on the next flight,
Who might have been on that plane.

Now isn't it terribly amusing,
How often we hear such claims?
Survivors all declare miracles,
But the dead would dispute the same.
#85 - Robert said on January 12, 2013
Those shoes were made for walkin',
That's what they're goina do;
One of these days those Christian shoes,
Will walk all over you - and your Civil Rights !!!!!!

(a paraphrase of Nancy's Biggest Hit)(for ya youngsters - Nancy is Frank's daughter)( Frank????? Sinatra, of course).
#86 - Sandy said on January 14, 2013
"God will multiply the food" is a miracle or "milagro" here in New Mexico...how annoying it is to here this over and over again. And people actually believe this stuff...that's the scary part. Where was the miracle during the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary? Oh, God works in mysterious ways....I forgot. Amazing that Christians accept such crumbs for their faith.
#87 - Judy said on January 23, 2013
When I asked my next door neighbor, who was illegally washing his car during an extreme drought, if he wasn't concerned that some day he would turn on the tap and nothing would come out, he said, No, he wasn't worried because "god will provide." This is the same ignorance that makes it so hard to engage in environmental protection, the war on climate change, and even stopping the disposal of plastic bottles into the ocean. How close to extinction will we have to come before these fools figure it out?
#88 - Cornell said on January 27, 2013
Big problems here, and it appears that you haven't taken the time to address the objections to Hume's argument that have been put forth by Theists and Non-Theists alike.

You say:

". Jacobs really ought to read David Hume’s “everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion” found in, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume thought that we should weigh the probability that the laws of nature are suspended against the probability that the person so claiming is mistaken, delusional, or possibly lying. Applying Hume’s maxim to the miracles of Jacobs’ god, he might say “Jacobs’ testimony is not sufficient to establish the miracle of the multiplying spaghetti, unless Jacobs’ testimony is such, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than a violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that matter cannot be created.”

Now I will show why your argument is dubious at best


(With the aid of John Lennox)

First off one needs to know the difference between ‘Miracles’ and ‘Supernatural Events’.
Genuine miracles are supernatural events, but not supernatural events are miracles in the strict sense.
ie: If God exists, then the origin of the universe and it’s laws, though a supernatural event should need be subsumed under the name of miracle.

Miracles = events that are exceptions to recognized laws, so it follows then that it does not really make sense to think of the creation of the normal course of things, as a miracle.

David Hume steps in:

“A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation”

David Hume - ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ L. A. Selby Bigge, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), pp. 114

We will notice here that Hume uses two arguments that overlap:
First Argument: The argument for the uniformity of nature

A) Miracles are violations of the laws of nature
B) These laws have been established by *firm and unalterable* experience
C) In conclusion, the argument against miracles is as good as any argument from experience can be
Second Argument: The Argument for the uniformity of experience
A) Unusual, yet frequently observed, events are not miracles. ie: A healthy person suddenly dropping dead.
B) A resurrection would be a miracle because it has never been observed anywhere at any time.
C) There is uniform experience against every miraculous event; otherwise it would not be called miraculous

CONTRADICTON ON HUME- Well Hume denies miracles, because miracles would go against the uniform laws of nature, BUT elsewhere he denies the uniformity of nature.
Hume famously argues: “just because the sun has been observed to rise in the morning for thousands of years, it does not mean that we can be sure that it will rise tomorrow. This is an example of the problem of induction, on the basis of past experience you cannot predict the future”.

Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,
Now suppose Hume is right and no dead man has ever risen up from the grave throughout all of Earth’s history up until this point, by his own reasoning he STILL cannot be sure that a dead man will not rise up tomorrow, so in conclusion he CANNOT rule out a miracle.

Well Hume just destroyed the very basis on which he tries to deny the possibility of miracles. Now we could use this same argument backward in time, as forward.
ie: Since no person has been observed to rise from the dead in the past 1,000 years, that doesn’t guarantee that there was no resurrection before that. Uniformity =/= absolute uniformity

So in conclusion, if according to Hume we can infer no regularities it would impossible to speak about the laws of nature, let along the uniformity of nature with respect to those laws, and if nature is not uniform then using the uniformity of nature against miracles is completely absurd.

Atheist philosopher Graham Oppy weighs in

"Given Hume’s characterization of miracles and laws of nature, it is plausible to claim that the result of Rutherford’s experiment – in which he fired α-particles at gold foil, and some of the α-particles came straight back at him – was a miracle: there was ‘absolutely uniform experience’ against this experimental result prior to its being carried out. If you’d asked Rutherford prior to the experiment what probability he attributed to this experimental outcome, I take it that he would have said that it is as low as you please: not zero, on grounds of regularity, but certainly of no more than negligible size. Nonetheless, after Rutherford has made his observations and published his results, people reasonably believed him, presumably because they judged it much more likely that the α-particles rebounded from the gold foil than that Rutherford was lying, or otherwise mistaken, about this. So, it seems that we have reason – based on experience! – to claim that the ‘proof from experience in favour of testimony’ can be more compelling than the ‘proof from absolutely uniform prior experience’ against the occurrence of a certain kind of event. Since Hume should not want to deny that there can be spectacular scientific discoveries, I take it that he ought to concede that he has no good grounds for claiming that ‘the proof from experience in favour of testimony cannot be more compelling than the absolutely uniform experience against the occurrence of a given kind of event’: there are new things under the sun, and we can come to have knowledge of them."

Arguing About Gods, 380-381


In conclusion this argument from the FFRF is extremely weak, perhaps you should take some time an read this AGNOSTIC's book that utterly dismantles Hume's claims on this subject. Until then you need to either address these objections or come up with new material.

"Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles"
John Earman
#89 - Wesley Mahan said on January 28, 2013
@Cornell: seldom have I read such a boring and irrelevant response to a posting. Oh, yes, I realize it was your attempt to show all the readers how erudite and educated your are, but it came across as pretentious and self-aggrandizing.
#90 - Cornell said on January 30, 2013
Wesley says "@Cornell: seldom have I read such a boring and irrelevant response to a posting. Oh, yes, I realize it was your attempt to show all the readers how erudite and educated your are, but it came across as pretentious and self-aggrandizing."

Hmm let's see

No objections to the post itself - check

A lot of overtone, but yet no substance - check

Meaningless banter that adds nothing to the discussion - check

So Wesley, does the fact that my post was 'boring' to you, automatically make it wrong?
#91 - Cornell said on January 30, 2013
It appears my last comment did not go through, anyways Wesley do you have any of 'substance' to add to this discussion or do you truly think that 'boring' entails 'Cornell must be wrong'?
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