This exchange occurred with my (former evangelical) atheist friend Jon Curry, in a Facebook combox for my post, Atheists, Miracles, & the Problem of Evil: Contradictions. His words will be in blue.
I wouldn’t say miracles are contrary to science. Science is just a method by which we evaluate hypotheses. No miracle has yet been evidenced in a manner sufficient to meet the standards of the scientific method. I’m always open to it, [but] for whatever reason God is unwilling to perform a miracle that comes with decent evidence. Maybe he will one day. If he does I’ll believe in him. He doesn’t. I figure it’s because God isn’t real. Nothing stopping God from proving me wrong some day.
And there never will be one sufficient for you if the hundreds already documented are not. Your premises disallow it. I prefer to modify my premises according to observed reality.
When the hundreds of miracles documented are of this nature (there is no known explanation, so we conclude a miracle happened) this to me is just not a rational basis for a miracle. Things happen all the time for which there is no explanation. Atheists, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, you name it, all walks of life can point to instances of cancer disappearing without explanation or similar such events. There is such a thing as forensic science which evaluates claims about singular events that are not necessarily reproducible repeatedly, like murders.
God could perform a miracle that could be evaluated using these methods. He could re-arrange the stars, control natural disasters, such as volcanoes or tornadoes, in a way that communicated divine intervention. Very easily this could be done. Instead it’s things like you mentioned. Somebody’s cancer disappeared, I can’t explain it, and the fact that I don’t accept this as a miracle supposedly is proof of my stubbornness and dedication to atheism. Or we’re supposed to believe in a resurrection because books written decades after the fact by devoted, superstitious followers are supposed to be convincing.
God doesn’t have to be so obscure, transmitting information in the least reliable way. The fact that this is how the information arrives to us is a hint that really there is no God. But don’t paint it like atheists preclude the possibility. We want something evidenced in a decent way. In fact it should be evidenced really well. That’s how we all operate when it comes to extraordinary claims. You make an exception for miracle claims in your preferred religion, while not making exceptions for miracles in non-preferred religions.
How do you explained the hundreds of incorrupt bodies of saints? This looks to be true regarding Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey, who is our local Detroit future saint. See also a general Catholic article about the incorruptible saints.
The explanation is within the news piece you linked. “(I credit the preservation to) a lot of effort to prepare the body accordingly,” I cannot tell you that (it’s due to a higher power). I can say this man who was identified as someone that needs to be there for posterity.” Earlier in the piece the doctor is quoted as follows. “I am not sure I would call it a miracle. I would call this unusual,” Dr. Spitz said. Something unusual happened. That’s not a miracle.
Right. You are so utterly predictable. I virtually could have written your reply myself . . .
It substantially supports my claim, but because it isn’t absolutely perfect, you think it is no support at all. This was from a Jewish doctor, from a standard understated medical / scientific outlook. We would fully expect him to describe it as he did.
It remains no less extraordinary and miraculous. Go dig up any body that’s been dead for sixty years and see what it looks like. Are you unaware of how bodies decay? But you have no choice but to discount the report in any way you can: no matter how absurd or exaggerated, because you cannot accept the actuality of a miracle.
Winning the lottery is extraordinary. I’ve heard of a case of a woman falling from an airplane and surviving. There was a guy sentenced to death by firing squad, shot eight times including one at close range to the head. He survived. Many very incredible things have happened, things that are often believable. They come with decent evidence, like a lottery winner quitting their job and being able to buy nice things. The firing squad guy has the scars that are consistent with the claim.
I’m not super familiar with how bodies decay, particularly when they’ve been subjected to the preservation process with chemicals, etc. I understand some mummies have been uncovered that were surprisingly well preserved. But this is such a strange miracle. The whole point of a miracle is to kind of show people that God’s work is at hand. Why so obscure? A body exhumed that is not entirely preserved, still decayed to some degree, just not decayed quite as much as expected.
Why wouldn’t God just preserve the body totally if he wants to demonstrate his power in this way? No, he expects us all to get a degree in the science of body decay so we can understand exactly what is possible naturally, and we supposedly can see in this case that it’s outside the normal range of decay so we’re supposed to be impressed? For you this is reasonable?
There are many bodies of saints that are totally incorrupt: even have a sweet smell. So how do you explain those away? You can rationalize away Fr. Solanus because of very minor decay overall. One would fully expect you to do so. You’ll take any imaginable “loophole” to avoid the obvious conclusion: that a miracle has occurred, which is not able to be explained by the laws of science as we presently understand them.
Give me an example of a saint with a totally non-decayed body.
“The Incorruptibles: What’s the meaning of this remarkable phenomenon?,” by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (The Catholic Answer / OSV, 7-1-07)
From your article: “Who exactly are “the incorruptibles”? They are saints whose mortal bodies have not FULLY decayed (or been “corrupted”) after death. Sometimes, one particular limb or organ of a saint’s body has not decayed, even though THE REST OF THE BODY HAS DONE SO.”