Monday, March 14, 2016

Why "Miracles" Are A Load Of Malarkey

Carlo, the math -accountant monkey in Barbados. Is he a "miracle"? Hardly! Just well trained with an abacus!

In a would be age of reason and enlightenment it is incredible how many still believe in "miracles" in the most advanced technological nation on Earth. I can understand it a bit better in Barbados, where the local Cable & Wireless Earth station dish is still the biggest scientific advancement in decades - and a monkey on the East coast is supposedly able to do accounting with an abacus for sales of breadfruit. I can't understand it in a nation that's sent men to the Moon, landed specialized craft on the planet Mars and has even flown another craft past Pluto.

The miracle meme is being pushed even harder (despite 80 percent of Americans already believing in them) as we behold a headline article "Do You Believe In Miracles?" in one of the Sunday magazines. The actual article account focuses on one Annabel Beam -  the subject of a new movie (just in time for Easter) entitled "Miracles from Heaven".  Annabel had evidently suffered "from two painful, life threatening digestive diseases requiring a regimen of 10 drugs daily". (One was defined as 'pseudo-obstruction motility disorder'- suggesting the young girl's organs were a bit out of alignment.)

Anyway, "miraculously", the girl fell from a tree one day and lo and behold, instead of suffering serious injury she miraculously recovered - and never again asked for her medications. Her folks and friends immediately concluded it was a "miracle from heaven" but it more likely was just that the fall suddenly re-aligned her displaced digestive organs as they should have been.

Which do you accept?  If you believe it was a genuine miracle, implying some kind of "divine" or supernatural intervention, then you commit the fallacy of ignotum per ignotius. That means using the least well understood explanation to account for a not well understood event.  

Basically, the issue is not about faith or humility, or belief or the lack thereof. It is, rather, whether the concept of "miracle" has validity in the physical world. A serious claim has been made about the nature of the universe and how it is alleged to behave. This claim implies that physical laws can be repealed haphazardly. It further implies that all scientific predictions rest on a wholly uncertain foundation, and that they cannot be trusted to yield reliable information from one era to the next, or one day to the next. (Since at any time, a supernatural intrusion can neutralize the law.)If accepted, the premise of variable physical laws introduces a horrendous set of consequences. For example, it allows for the possibility that all cars on the planet work on gasoline today, but may require water tomorrow. Or, one minute my word processor may be here on the table and the next it may rise up and dissipate into atoms. Or this year I may be able to predict lunar and solar eclipses - or asteroid close approaches - but not next year!

This is not an attempt to be facetious, or to necessarily ridicule religious beliefs. I am illustrating the sort of haphazard universe that results when physical laws are treated frivolously and with disdain for their predictability and repeatability. Hundreds of years of painstaking effort and research have gone into the discovery of these laws. Precisely for this reason it is incumbent on the miracle claimer to shoulder the burden of proof, or at least provide substantial evidence in proportion to the claim made.
Basically when all is said and done, the optimal test for a bona fide miracle remains that provided by philosopher David Hume:

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."

In his essay collection Unweaving the Rainbow, biologist Richard Dawkins, Britain's most prominent atheist, chose the Fatima miracle of 1917, where 70,000 people reportedly saw the Sun move back and  forth, to apply Hume's principle: As Dawkins observed:

"On the one hand, we are asked to believe in a mass hallucination, a trick of the light, or mass lie involving 70,000 people. This is admittedly improbable. But it is LESS improbable than the alternative: that the sun really did move...If the sun had moved in truth, but the event was seen only by the people of Fatima, an even greater miracle would have been perpetrated: an illusion of NON-movement had to be staged for all the millions of witnesses not in Fatima."

In other words, the aim of the Hume miracle test is - given two equally improbable choices- one always elects the LESS improbable one as the most likely description. For example, consider the claim of Jesus “walking on water”. Prof. Hugh Schonfeld (The Passover Plot) offers a much simpler and more sensible explanation: a mistranslation of the Hebrew word “al” which can mean “by” or “on”. So, when a scribe really wrote “walking by the water” it was translated as “walking on the water”.

Now let us apply the Hume miracle test. Is the Schonfeld claim of mistranslation MORE or LESS miraculous (i.e. improbable) than a man actually violating the law of gravity and walking on water? It doesn’t require a lot of thought or effort to see that the mistranslation of a passage of the New Testament is LESS miraculous (or if you prefer, less improbable) than that a man actually, literally walked on water.

Again, going back to the Annabel Beam case, it makes more sense to accept that her digestive organs were suddenly aligned properly in her fall, than that there was any supernatural intervention.

In the PARADE piece, spiritual guru and author of "A Course In Miracles", Marianne Williamson insists that "people are evolving beyond a purely rationalistic world view to a more holistic perspective" and part of this is due to "quantum physics".  But while, quantum mechanics does support a nonlocal cosmos, as I showed in my recent book, Beyond Atheism, Beyond God, that doesn't meant it supports miracles.

Much of the over extension is predicated on physicist David Bohm's development of the quantum potential, in a number of his papers (published in Foundations Of Physics) and in his books, especially 'Wholeness and the Implicate Order'.   Bohm is also the author of one of the most trenchant textbooks, Quantum Theory (Dover, 1951) Below the quantum potential is depicted by Bohm for a pair of Gaussian slits:

Bohm is also credited with first pointing out (op. cit., p. 169), the very precise analogy of quantum processes to thought. In particular, the quantum "wave packet collapse" (e.g. to a single eigenstate, from a superposition of eigenstates) is exactly analogous to the phenomenon of trying to pinpoint what one is thinking about at the instant he is doing such thinking. More often than not, when one does this, as Bohm notes: "uncontrollable and unpredictable changes" are introduced into the thought process or train.

Recall as I noted from earlier blogs (See: 'A Material Model of Consciousness', Parts I-III), that Bohm also provided a putative basis for a "quantum mind" which he referred to as the Holomovement. This was done by positing a hyper-dimensional reality (e.g. 5- dimensional) in which mind was enfolded as part of an "implicate order".  A lot of this was based on his postulate of "hidden variables".

While all this looks fascinating, even Bohm admitted the plausible acceptance of his conjecture rested on the outcome of a particular experiment. The experiment he proposed was actually designed by Rapisarda and Gozzini and became known as the "Gozzini experiment". It was originally to be conducted near Pisa, Italy ca. 1995. Alas, up to now - so far as I know- it hasn't been carried out. But if it had, and real de Broglie waves had been detected then this would be at least an indirect basis for Bohm's claims, as well as a feather in the hat for the claim of "quantum mind". Without it, we have no valid basis to assert such a claim, and can only adopt Bohm's vision as "inspiration".

So long as this vast gulf exists, there is no plausible basis for invoking quantum mechanics (QM)  as a handmaiden to either the world view promoted by Williamson, or Deepak Chopra or author Michael Talbot (The Holographic Universe) among others. If there isn't one can't press QM into service to support miracles either.

One of the most compelling reasons to consider miracles as rubbish was revealed in the same article, based on research by Kate Fowler of Duke University Divinity School. She found that "religious people are convinced God makes targeted or random choices on whom he will heal or save at any given time over another".

Which is pure poppycock.  If really believed it means a person who survives an airplane crash, where all others have perished,  can claim some special divine dispensation. Based on what? She read her Bible or said her rosary more times than the others? Or, noting Aurora victim Bonnie Kate Pourciau - who claimed "God was holding us in His hands" as the Aurora massacre unfolded-  was one of the chosen few spared- while a six year old (Veronica Moser) had to lose her life. Because ...what? She didn't say her prayers before bedtime? Give me a break! But when gullible people embrace special instances of LUCK as divine intervention, this is what you get: bare bollocks.

In the end, belief in miracles is a waste of mental capital, as bad as investment in crank scientific theories like the "Reciprocal system" (which also carries supernatural overtones in some of its presentations), and the "natural cycles" alternative to anthropogenic  global warming. Contrary to Williamson's argument that we can "either believe in an  age of miracles or violence" I say we have a third: we can believe and promote an age of genuine reason, and that must include critical thinking!

See also:

No comments: