Matthew P. Schmidt

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The Miracle Closet

Dec 7, 2020 | Thoughts, Writings | 2 comments

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:

  1. There are many events in the world which are prima facie evidence for the supernatural.
  2. Natural explanations for all of them have inevitably been found.
  3. 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.

2 Comments

  1. “Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be NOT MAGIC.” – Tim Minchin

    Just a thought:

    I’m no expert of miracles, I only read about a plausible debunktion of the “Shroud of Turin” item. But all the miracles you listed are interesting but not that impressive. If I think about miracles I think about something flashy like real angels stopping a war or something… and then I realise even without beliving in god or something for me there are very impressive miracles. Like this awsome planet with billions of species stunning forests unimaginable depths in the seas. I don’t need a “miracle” miracle we just need to leave our citys and look at the impressive miracles this planet holds in every corner… we just don’t see them because of all the buildings around us. If you realise your tinyness in front of a snow covered mountain or your short lifespan at a thousands years old tree on yakushima… don’t look up because if you look into the miracle called space you will realise that time and size on our young and small little planet is so insignificant we can’t even understand it.

    Are humans that know so little about the universe even able to say what is or is not a miracle? Does it even matter? And is life itself even if science can explain everything not the greatest miracle we could wish for?

    Science did awsome things for us but being able to do research is the miracle nobody looks at because we take our lives as granted too easy. For me everything is a miracle a few parameters off and this planet would be a dead rock and we would not have those kinds of conversations.

    Reply
    • Whoops! Sorry about the late comment approval.

      “Miracle” here is used in its technical sense of an event inexplicable by science. In that sense, the intelligibility of the universe and fine-tuning are indeed miracles. However, everything is a miracle then science has no explanatory power–everything just is or isn’t for no explicable reason.

      Reply

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