[Richard Dawkins, a prominent evolutionist and militant atheist, is well known for his unsympathetic attitude to religion. While visiting Lourdes for his 2006 television documentary, The Root of All Evil?, he comments on the miracles alleged to occur there and 6:10 minutes into the documentary he questions Fr. Liam Griffin about them as follows:]
It may seem tough to question these poor, desperate people’s faith. But isn’t bracing truth better than false hope? What is the evidence for any miracles?
FR. GRIFFIN: There are actually sixty-six declared miracles. There are about two thousand unexplained cures here. But then we would say there are millions of people who have been healed in different ways.
DAWKINS: Healed in some sort of mental way?
FR. GRIFFIN: Healed in spiritual ways, or people who have come to terms with their own particular situation, people who have rediscovered God in their lives again, people who have received a new grace here in Lourdes.
DAWKINS: So you tend to get about 80,000 per year?
FR. GRIFFIN: There’s about 80,000 sick pilgrims who come here every year.
DAWKINS: That’s been going on for more than a century now—for a century and a half?
FR. GRIFFIN: Yes
DAWKINS: So, 80,000 per year, and, of those, sixty-six have been cured. I’m just. . . you see the way I’m thinking?
FR. GRIFFIN: Yeah
So the hard fact is that over the years with their millions of pilgrims there have been sixty-six supposed miracles. Statistically, it adds up to no evidence at all. I can’t help remarking that nobody has ever had a miraculous regrowing of a severed leg. The cures are always things that might have got better anyway.
[Notice that Dawkins makes an elementary mistake by equating the number of “supposed miracles” with the number of declared miracles. The 66 declared miracles (69 as of 2014) are drawn from a pool of about 7000 medically unexplained cures. (Fr. Griffin’s figure of 2000 is a subset representing those case for which the documentation is almost flawless.) Dawkins also takes a great liberty—essentially begging the question—when he says, “The cures are always things that might have got better anyway.” Claims of miraculous healings are never candidates for investigation by the Lourdes Medical Bureau if there is any possibility in the opinion of medical experts—much less any recorded case—of the medical condition getting better by itself. The investigation of a miracle is a long, expensive, and extremely rigourous process, and there is not the tiniest chance of a miracle being declared worthy of belief unless the documentation is as perfect as documentation can reasonably be expected to be for this kind of thing, and that includes the total cooperation of every medical authority connected with the person who has allegedly been miraculously healed.
From the Church’s point of view, too few declared miracles are immeasurably preferable to too many; for the Church is convinced, rightly or wrongly, that because so much is at stake naturalists are sure to make a mountain out of a molehill if given the slightest opportunity. Since naturalists feel certain that miracles do not occur, it seems eminently reasonable from their point of view to regard the merest logical possibility of fraud, delusion, or an unknown natural cause as potentially the key to an apparent mystery. But if miracles do in fact occur, then it would not be unreasonable to believe that the annual number of miracles at Lourdes would probably reach into the tens of thousands, since a majority of the (now) 90,000 sick pilgrims would almost certainly claim that they have received some kind of Divine aid. Nor would it be unreasonable to believe that the vast majority of these miracles, if genuine, were never meant to be used as public evidence to persuade curious unbelievers—much less to coerce devout sceptics. Indeed, for this purpose they would be entirely inadequate.]
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