Saturday, September 3, 2016

Drivel? Nun for me, thanks!

Check this NPR link to a story about the nun up for sainthood. Pay particular attention to the statements of the Canadian physician, Dr. Duffin: Miracles? Really?

Okay, so lets assume you do not immediately recognize this as drivel. First, I am sorry to hear that but do not surrender to goofy thinking.  Claims of miracles should be our last resort. Our very last resort. Chin up, we can walk through this.

The good doctor, a self described atheist, stated that she found no "scientific reason" the woman should have recovered. Not to be harsh with the physician here but, seriously? What the fuck does that even mean? There is no such thing as a scientific reason. Science is merely a well considered way of examining the world. It is a method. When we speak about the "reason" for something happening, that is about the "why". And anyone who truly understands how science works subscribes to the basic idea that science is not really in the "why" business. On the other hand, science is very much about the "how".

Let's give the doctor the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she intended to say, Apparently the woman was healed but I found no evidence that medical treatment should have resulted in her dramatic healing. Such results, though rare, are hopeful and cause for wonder. I'd have been among the first to offer praise and support for that.

The doctors statements leave us with a substantial problem. Critical thinking leads us right to the mess. All the doctor "proved" was, she was unable to gather sufficient evidence of a prosaic biological process that resulted in the woman's healing. That, obviously leaves open possibilities that include (but are not limited to) she missed something, the woman's body was healing itself and the prayers merely coincided with healing events, the doctor didn't miss anything but was hampered by current technology and/or medical knowledge. To be clear, the doctor provided zero evidence of a supernatural healing. I could have offered respect if she had simply said, "I don't know and that proves nothing beyond I don't know".

I feel the need to make a quick program note:

I am guilty of saying things like, "I believe in science". I now try to avoid such lapses. I am actively trying to eliminate believe and belief from my vocabulary. I find these words tend to muddle rather than clarify. For our purposes here, what I intend to say is, "I have confidence in the scientific method".

And now, back to our story.

How would one conclude that a given event had a supernatural cause? Think about that a moment.

To be sure, one could believe that to be the case. However, believing and concluding based upon the gathering of evidence and the evaluation of that evidence based upon logic and critical thinking- well, those are two different things. When belief is involved, no investigation is necessary. Likewise, when an investigation is necessary, belief does not and should not enter into it.

Further, if you should hear a person making claims about miracles and that person says something that resembles,  "You have to admit some humility and accept that there are things that science cannot explain", that is your clue. Somebody is trying to pull a fast one on you. The speaker has already fallen victim to Dr. Richard Feynman's ultimate caution: "The first principle is, you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool". The great physicist was reminding us that we are not clean slates. We all bring our hopes, beliefs, desires, and biases with us as we try to understand something or solve a problem.  Things can get muddled double quick.

So what? 

Well, if the answer is to admit humility,  we might well have begun down that path three thousand years ago and ceased all that bothersome "thinking" about matters such as the twinkling lights in the night sky, the nature of the various plants and beasts, and so on. This reduces the argument to, one needs to have humility and employ belief above everything. Why? Because, god. End of story. No investigation necessary.

I understand why the Catholic Church jumped right on this. They came to the process believing in miracles and simply wanted someone to offer something upon which they could hang their hats. Why Dr. Duffin became enmeshed in this mess escapes me.

The sainthood process and the proving of miracles is drivel. However, I am open to changing my mind on this. Bring evidence.

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