Matthew P. Schmidt
The Miracle Closet
There is a certain argument I’ve seen skeptics on the internet use over and over again when confronted with the supernatural, though it’s rarely laid out explicitly. It goes like this:
- There are many events in the world which are prima facie evidence for the supernatural.
- Natural explanations for all of them have inevitably been found.
- Ergo, though I do not currently have an explanation for this specific incident, I am justified in ignoring it, on the basis that a naturalistic explanation will inevitably arise.
As an argument, it is not all that bad. After all, even apologists–really, of any sort of theism–will say the vast majority of apparently supernatural things are not actually supernatural.
But the problem is that this only works a limited number of times. I call this the Miracle Closet.
Suppose the skeptic is confronted with the miracle of the sun at Fatima. The skeptic can, of course, suggest theories, but if any of them were really convincing beyond a reasonable doubt, then we would not be talking about the miracle to begin with.
No matter! We can simply assign this to a list of currently inexplicable events. After all, all sorts of things like this have been disproven.
Then suppose the skeptic is confronted with, say, the bloody stigmata of Padre Pio. Once again, if there was a single convincing explanation, it would not even be a subject for conversation. But no worries, there’s bound to be one eventually.
Next, the Shroud of Turin. So what if the modern methods used to reconstruct it would not have been available to the medievals who would have constructed it to begin with? Doubtlessly some explanation will surface, eventually.
And so on. The issue, as you can see, is that the more miracles stuffed into a closet pending some future explanation, the less intellectually honest it is to keep stuffing them. The statement that the entire contents of the closet will be explained, as everything else has, loses strength the more explanations are promised in the future.
Eventually, the use of the Miracle Closet becomes a low-budget argument like Hume’s circular argument against miracles. The proof that everything will be explained is that everything will be explained, and we know there are no exceptions to this rule because the rule has no exceptions.
The alternative is to stick one’s feet to the fire and demand actual explanations or an admission that there is none. Otherwise, it’s ultimately just a rhetorical trick, to declare “There is no evidence for miracles!” then use this declaration to disprove all evidence for miracles.
A meditation on the controversial topic of trigger warnings.
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