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Does Science Forbid Belief in Miracles or Ghosts?

Is the Possibility of Miraculous Help Desirable?

MIRACLE: An interference with Nature by supernatural power

Does god answer prayers? According to believers, the answer is certainly yes. [Here is] a simple experiment. For this experiment, we need to find a deserving person who has had both of his legs amputated. For example, find a sincere, devout veteran of the Iraqi war, or a person who was involved in a tragic automobile accident. God has no reason to discriminate against amputees. If he is answering millions of other prayers every day, God should be answering the prayers of amputees too. [Yet] no matter how many people pray, no matter how sincere those people are, no matter how much they believe, no matter how devout and deserving the recipient, nothing happens when we pray for amputated limbs. It is not that God sometimes answers the prayers of amputees, and sometimes does not. God never answers the prayers of amputees. God never regenerates lost limbs through prayer. You can electronically search through all the medical journals ever written—there is no documented case of an amputated leg being restored spontaneously. It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them. If you are a thoughtful, curious person, the case of amputees really makes you wonder: Is God real or is he imaginary?

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If [the miracle investigator] be a true scientist, not an Infallibilist masquerading as such, he will realise that it is the cures of the small minority rather than the non-cures of the vast majority which concern him.

Arnold Lunn

Lourdes is a useful touchstone to discriminate between those whose beliefs are inductions from facts and those whose views are deductions from prejudices. The scientific inquirer asks “What happened?” and examines the evidence for the alleged miracles. The unscientific secularist ignores the evidence, but is very eloquent about the motives of a Creator who would stoop to such devices. I have often debated miracles before secularists, and I have had the greatest difficulty in persuading my opponents to examine and to refute the evidence with which I support my case. “Why should poor people have to make this expensive journey to France? Why can’t they be cured at home?” is a contribution to one of these discussions by a distinguished scientist. I am not in the confidence of the Creator, and I do not know why miracles should occur at Lourdes rather than in the Council Chamber of the Royal Society. Nor do I know why the claims of English watering-places have been overlooked and France unjustly favoured. The question of miracles must be decided on the evidence and on the evidence alone. The available evidence, though adequate to suggest certain tentative conclusions about God’s actions, does not justify dogmatism about God’s motives.

Arnold Lunn

[Militant atheist, Richard Dawkins, weighs in with an argument against the alleged miracle of the sun at Fatima, taken from his anti-religion best seller, The God Delusion, 2006.]

On the face of it mass visions, such as the report that seventy thousand pilgrims at Fatima in Portugal in 1917 saw the sun ‘tear itself from the heavens and come crashing down upon the multitude,’ are harder to write off. It is not easy to explain how seventy thousand people could share the same hallucination. But it is even harder to accept that it really happened without the rest of the world, outside Fatima, seeing it too—and not just seeing it, but feeling it as the catastrophic destruction of the solar system, including acceleration forces sufficient to hurl everybody into space. David Hume’s pithy test for a miracle comes irresistibly to mind: ‘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 endeavours to establish.’

Miracles happen to those who believe in them. Otherwise why does not the Virgin Mary appear to Lamaists, Mohammedans, or Hindus who have never heard of her?

Bernard Berenson

[The theists storm back with some remarks from Fr. Benedict Groeschel, taken from investigative reporter Randall Sullivan’s book The Miracle Detective, 2004.]

Theophany? I asked. I’d never heard of the term. A theophany was a supernatural event of the highest order, [Fr. Benedict] Groeschel explained, “literally a divine manifestation.” The greatest theophany in modern times, he told me, had occurred at Fátima in 1917, with the appearance of a whirling sun. “Which was not the sun,” he pointed out. “The Greenwick Observatory is not very far away, and they didn’t pick up anything, but over an area of about forty square miles, everybody who was there—everybody—believers and nonbelievers, attentive people and inattentive people, saw this thing that looked like a whirling, multicoloured sun descending toward them. Many people actually fell to the ground. There were cases like that of a Freemason, a socialist who had gone there to laugh, and afterward he had to be hospitalized for three days. He was taken away from the scene in shock. That’s what a theophany does, because it registers in the external world.”

Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occurred in the past by examining the evidence “according to the ordinary rules of historical inquiry.” But the ordinary rules cannot be worked until we have decided whether miracles are possible, and if so, how probable they are. For if they are impossible, then no amount of historical evidence will convince us. If they are possible but immensely improbable, then only mathematically demonstrative evidence will convince us; and since history never provides that degree of evidence for any event, history can never convince us that a miracle occurred. If, on the other hand, miracles are not intrinsically improbable, then the existing evidence will be sufficient to convince us that quite a number of miracles have occurred. The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence. The philosophical question must therefore come first.

C. S. Lewis (from Miracles, 1947)

The literature of all civilized peoples abounds with accounts of ghosts and haunted houses. Such spirits have the power to trouble the sleep of even convinced materialists. The story is told that in a city of Touraine a large, beautiful house stood empty for many years. No one would buy or rent it because it was believed to be haunted by a young woman who had committed suicide there many years ago after a disappointment in love. One day a stranger in the city, ignorant of these stories, bought it, but the ghost is said to have raised such an uproar each night that he could not sleep in peace. Then a brave soul, who believed in nothing supernatural, let alone ghost stories, came forth and bet that he could spend the night in the haunted house. The next morning, he was found hanged. Those who told me this story do not believe in any form of survival after death; but they admit that they are troubled by such phenomena.

Ignace Lepp (from Death & Its Mysteries)

I think a Person who is thus terrified with the Imagination of Ghosts and Spectres much more reasonable, than one who contrary to the Reports of all Historians sacred and profane, ancient and modern, and to the Traditions of all Nations, thinks the Appearance of Spirits fabulous and groundless.

Joseph Addison

Thoughts about Miracles & Ghosts

A fact never went into partnership with a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance of wonders. A fact will fit every other fact in the universe, and that is how you can tell whether it is or is not a fact. A lie will not fit anything except another lie.

Robert Green Ingersoll

Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.

St. Augustine

A miracle is a violation of the laws of Nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established those 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.

David Hume (An Enquiry... Of Miracles, 1748)

It was Hume who first pointed out, and with all his customary lucidity, that from no finite number of observations, however large, could any unrestrictedly general conclusion be drawn that would be defensible in logic.

Bryan Magee

I only want to see a cut finger dipped in water and come out healed.

Émile Zola (before he witnessed the healing of Marie Lemarchand)

I do not believe in miracles: even if all the sick in Lourdes were cured in an instant I should not believe in them.

Émile Zola (after he witnessed the healing of Marie Lemarchand)

A person who believes in unalterable natural law can’t believe in any miracle in any age. A person who believes in a will behind law can believe in any miracle in any age.

G. K. Chesterton

The interference of the human will with the course of Nature is not an exception to law: and by the same rule interference by the divine will would not be an exception either.

John Stuart Mill

As nature preserves a fixed and immutable order, it must clearly follow that miracles are only intelligible as a relation to human opinions, and merely mean events of which the natural cause cannot be explained by a reference to any ordinary occurrence.


If a theory can explain anything that happens, no matter what, this must mean that all possible observations are consistent with its truth. But in that case no actual observations can ever be cited as evidence in its favour. So not only can it not be falsified, it cannot be corroborated either.

Bryan Magee

I think miracles exist in part as gifts and in part as clues that there is something beyond the flat world we see.

Peggy Noonan

It is very hard to deny the evidence of one’s own senses; so hard that perhaps God scrupulously avoids performing any miracle that would compel sceptics to believe things which are not congenial to them

The miracle is for the believer, not for the unbeliever.

John Henry Newman

It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.

Samuel Johnson

The most human response to ghosts is not to affirm or deny their reality but to preserve a tiny area of agnosticism on the question. And to hope that the question remains academic.

Philip Marchand

Miracle is faith’s dearest child.


In what way can a revelation be made but by miracles? In none which we are able to conceive.

William Paley

No ghost was every seen by two pair of eyes.

Thomas Carlyle

If I say “a peasant saw a ghost,” I am told, “But peasants are so credulous.” If I ask, “Why credulous?” the only answer is—that they see ghosts.

G. K. Chesterton

The existence of a liar is more probable than the existence of a ghost.

George Bernard Shaw

Wonders are willingly told and willingly heard.

Samuel Johnson

There is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves.

David Hume

Under ‘Levitation’ the Encyclopedia Britannica (1961 edn.) states, ‘The puzzling thing about levitation is that while it is intuitively rejected as impossible by the mind accustomed to scientific habits of thought, there is nevertheless a great weight of evidence in favour of its occurrence. This evidence would indeed be regarded as overwhelming if the phenomenon were intrinsically more likely.

We learn from experience that not everything which is incredible is untrue.

Cardinal De Retz

It requires only two things to win credit for a miracle: a charlatan and a number of silly women.

Marquis De Sade

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