Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

On miracles

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on June 2, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

As I’ve often mentioned in this blog, philosopher David Hume famously said that “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,” setting the bar for believing in miracles properly high.

Unfortunately, many people blatantly ignore Hume’s advice, moving that bar so low that banal coincidences suddenly count as “miracles,” reinforcing their preexisting supernaturalist view of the world. One such instance took place in the q&a session after a nice talk I attended a few days ago at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. The talk was by Lawrence Bush, author of Waiting for God: The Spiritual Reflections of a Reluctant Atheist.

Bush gave an eminently sensible talk, starting out with the common observation of coincidences to which human beings attribute special meaning (a secular version of Carl Jung’s discredited idea of “syncronicity”). As Bush wryly commented at one point, while it is a good idea to pause and reflect on what happens to us in life, it is rather egomaniacal to imagine that the universe is sending us messages (often through catastrophes, personal or affecting others) just so that we can learn from our experiences.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, given the somewhat new-agey flavor of some (but by all means not all!) chapters of the Society for Ethical Culture, the q&a was as irritating as Bush’s talk had been level headed. One questioner in particular related a touching story of his adoptive grandmother being diagnosed with cancer and given six months life expectancy. The grandson reacted constructively to that abysmal prediction, using the remaining time to travel with his grandma to places where she had always wanted to go. Turns out the woman lived three years, which allowed for more travel and what I’m sure are indelibly good memories.

But then the grandson went back to the doctor and pointedly asked: “You said six months, she lived three years. What are the chances of that?” To which the doctor apparently replied with a no-nonsense (if a bit insensitive, assuming things really went that way) “One in seven hundred.” The conclusion of the story is that the questioner asked “What is the difference between 1/700 and a miracle?” strongly implying that his grandmother had of course been the beneficiary of a miracle.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”


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Paraplegic Man Suffers Spider Bite, Walks Again

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 13, 2009

Make whatever you want of this story. It is lacking enough details to even ensure this story is being reported truthfully. Either way sounds too much like a post hoc argument to me. Furthermore, this is reality not a Spider Man movie. Not that I wouldn’t be willing to accept it if more evidence came forth about just how this could even work, it’s just that the title seems a bit misleading.

MANTECA, Calif. (CBS13) ―

He has been confined to a wheelchair for 20 years. Now a paraplegic man is walking again, and his doctors call it a miracle. CBS13 went to Manteca to find out how a spider bite helped get him back on his feet.

“I closed my eyes and then I was spinning like a flying saucer,” explains David Blancarte.

A motorcycle accident almost killed David 21 years ago. At the time he might have wished he was dead.

“I asked my doctor, ‘Sir what happened? I can’t feel my legs’,” said David.

Ever since, David’s been relying on his wheelchair to get around. Then the spider bite. A Brown Recluse sent him to the hospital, then to rehab for eight months.

“I’m here for a spider bite. I didn’t know I would end up walking,” says David.

READ THE REST OF THIS STORY AT “CBS13”

The historical Jesus-Why care?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

There is a lot of time and effort spent by people trying to find out if a man named Jesus actually existed or not. The search for the historical Jesus is resurrected time after time. But why care? Does this missing piece of evidence matter? Why should we as skeptics care if Jesus really existed or not?

I suppose the answer is that we don’t, we shouldn’t. Jesus’ existence has nothing to say about his supposed miracles. We know John Edward exists, I can pretty much guarantee that, but that does not have anything to say about his supposed psychic abilities. That much ought to be clear to anyone, it’s simple, straight logic. But then why are people so obsessed with the quest of the historical Jesus?

I think at the heart of this lies a logical fallacy. At least based on what I have observed, I think that the religious folks are more obsessed with this issue than the non-religious. After all they are the ones trying to prove something. I think there is a thought in their head, albeit I do allow for the possibility that in many cases this may be unconscious, that if they prove that a man named Jesus actually lived, preached and died on the cross, that would lend more credibility to the Bible as a historical book, thus lending more credibility to everything the bible says, including the miracles and the whole God stuff.

I suspect they think that proving that Jesus existed will make his described miracles more true, than if he didn’t. In a certain sense that is true. He would have to have existed in order to have performed these so-called miracles. But nevertheless, just because a man existed does not, on its own, increase the likelihood of him having walked on water. Furthermore, when we as skeptics analyze the so-called miracles, we’re already assuming, for the sake of the argument, that that human being existed. We’re not even worrying about that, because as I said, if we did not assume that, there would be no conversation to be had. So we’re already giving the benefit of the doubt to the believer. You say there was a man called Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago. Fine, I’ll accept that claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that claim alone is not so extraordinary. The miracle claims on the other hand are quite amazing, so for those we require much more evidence than a book.

So to answer my original question, we shouldn’t care. I don’t care, it makes no difference one way or another if Jesus turns out to have actually existed or not. It’s inconsequential to the issue at hand, and there’s nothing to be gained in this regard by that piece of information.