Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Inferring God's existence from miracles

Suppose that some event X occurs which cannot be explained by naturalism. Moreover, suppose X occurs repeatedly and is well-documented, but at the same time, is not repeatable (via laboratories, etc.). An example of this might be the stigmata, the apparently inexplicable appearance of Jesus' crucifixion wounds.

1. If a genuine occurrence cannot be explained by natural processes, it is either supernatural or inexplicable. (Premise)
2. The stigmata is a genuine occurrence that cannot be explained by natural processes. (Premise)
3. Hence, the stigmata is either supernatural or inexplicable. (From 1 and 2)
4. Genuine occurrences are not inexplicable. (Premise, PSR)
5. Therefore, the stigmata is supernatural. (From 1, 2, and 4)

I'm sure that there will be no trouble in accepting (1), (3), and to a slightly lesser extent (4). (4) assumes that events really have explanations, and do not just occur without any reason whatsoever. For someone who already accepts a fairly benign version of the PSR, that leaves us with (2).

The stigmata is a well-documented phenomena. [1] Naturalistic explanations range from deliberate hoax to psychosomatic self-infliction. Regardless of where one stands on this issue, I think it deserves more attention and study.

[1] See the following links: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14294b.htm, http://www.springerlink.com/content/mr77672706625313/


  1. Doesn't this run into some problems, given the elasticity of "natural processes" nowadays?

    Oddly enough, the first examples that come to mind for me would be some pretty basic quantum phenomena. The twin-slit experiment, entanglement, etc. Admittedly, many of these would commit a person to accepting/claiming that miracles are happening every moment of existence. On the other hand, isn't that exactly what a lot of skeptics ask for?

  2. Hi Crude,

    It's all a matter of debate, as far as I'm concerned. Physicists acknowledge that while there are some unusual findings on the subatomic level, these quantum phenomena are still subject to physical laws. I just don't think the stigmata can be explained by the spontaneity of quantum fluctuations. Of course, I could be wrong, but that's my take on the matter.

  3. No, I wasn't thinking stigmata could be explained that way at all. (I suppose someone could argue that any and every claimed miracle really happened, but was 'quantum', but that spins off into some whole other direction.)

    I was more thinking that, if we're going to be on the lookout for miracles, then why wouldn't those "unusual findings on the subatomic level" qualify? You suggest that an event being repeatable (in a laboratory setting) is sufficient to rule it out as miraculous. But I'd like to know why, at least if you have a reason for that. (If it's just convention, and you're trying to stay within convention, that's fine.)

    Look at your #1. The options are 'explained by a natural process', 'inexplicable', or 'miracle'. I don't think many of the appropriate quantum phenomena are 'explained by a natural process', even given certain interpretations of the measurement problem. My understanding is they're simply taken as brute - "this is how the world works, and that's that". Does calling a repeatable event brute and natural count as explaining it as a natural process? As an explanation at all? If not, or if this isn't clear, it seems we may have a miracle in play.

  4. Oh, I see what you're saying. For the most part, I was just trying to give a concise definition of "natural process." Quantum fluctuations may or may not be brute depending on one's preference for deterministic versus indeterministic interpretations. What we might do instead, in order to avoid confusion, is read "natural processes" as being related to the macro-level.