Vatican Miracle Game

August 25, 2009

After the Vatican sent a representative to Wichita—to investigate whether a late Kansas priest, Emil Kapaun, should be made a saint—I was asked to comment on one of the alleged miracles being attributed to the priest. I spoke on KSN-TV on July 3, 2009. (See .)

The supposed miracle involved twenty-year-old Chase Kear of Colwich, Kansas. After recovering from a severe head injury received the previous fall in a pole-vaulting accident, Kear was dubbed the “miracle man” by family and friends. They believe he would never have recovered except for a prayer devoted to the priest, circulated by e-mail and repeated over and over. Their view is supported by the Wichita Catholic Diocese which holds that Kapaun should be elevated to sainthood for facilitating the “miracle.” The Vatican representative thought the evidence was good enough to warrant further investigation.

In fact, as I told KSN-TV, it was obviously modern medical science that saved Chase Kear. Doctors promptly performed the necessary surgery to remove a damaged piece of skull and so relieved pressure on the athlete’s brain caused by swelling. Although one doctor used the term “miracle,” he later clarified: “I’m not one to define what a miracle is or what is truly miraculous. That’s for someone else to decide. His situation was clearly unexpected.”

In other words, the miraculists have no evidence that praying had anything whatsoever to do with Kear’s recovery, and they are simply engaging in a logical fallacy called arguing from ignorance. It goes like this: “We don’t know why this person survived a trauma; therefore, it was miraculous”—in brief, “we don’t know, so we do know.”

Now, everyone is glad Kear is well. People should praise the surgeons and medical science for making his recovery possible. If the faithful wish to honor Father Kapaun, they should do so for his courageous work as a chaplain during the Korean War in which he risked his own life to save wounded soldiers under fire. (See “Wichita ‘miracle’ causes Vatican to send investigator,” online at .)

What should cease is playing the miracles game: the constant attempt to trump science with what is fundamentally ignorance and superstition. It is unnecessary and, indeed, offensive to critical thinking.


#1 @BangClangCrash (Guest) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 at 12:59pm

Absolutely correct, sir. I wonder how well he would have done if he had seen a faith healer instead, or dipped him in Lourdes? Science saves.

#2 j. (Guest) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 at 7:25pm

The account on Catholic News Agency website and the heartfelt expressions of gratitude by subscribers in response to the “miracle” would be laughable if not so gullible and pathetic. Such sentiments reflect a worldview immune to logic.

#3 Trimegistus (Guest) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 at 9:09am

Bashing Catholicism has a long history and it’s perfectly safe and easy to do.  One wonders if you would be so energetic about debunking Muslim claims.

#4 Edwardson on Wednesday August 26, 2009 at 10:51pm

What gets my goat is that the Catholic Church still is in the business of proclaiming miracles when it knows all too well that this position is indefensible. It has philosophers and theologians who’ve been trained in logic. They know about fallacies. So how can they possibly keep declaring any event X to be a miracle on the basis of current lack of explicability? This is an egregious error that would earn an undergrad an F. So it seems to me that the hierarchy is being willfully disingenuous. Cardinals and bishops have to say this and that are miracles because I think they’re afraid that if they told the truth they’d have a Catholic mob at the doorsteps of the Vatican and every diocese.

#5 Lee (Guest) on Saturday August 29, 2009 at 11:36am

Miracles are simply unlikely fortunate events. Believers attribute all events, fortunate or unfortunate, to their god; the fortunate are called blessings or miracles, and the unfortunate are not discussed much. Certainly, when someone dies from a head injury, nobody says god ‘cursed’ him, though the concept does exist. Nor are believers likely to say god neglected someone. So, first rule for the faithful, give your all-powerful god all of the credit but none of the blame.

So how to explain bad things happening to good people? They are either 1. a test (if the poor soul survives) or 2. part of god’s mysterious plan, his will, and no more questions, no one understands god. To say that god is testing us posits a sick, sadistic god. And if he has his reasons but refuses to tell us is practically the same as saying things sometimes happen for no reason.

Not the god for me…if he were my god he would have some explaining to do before he earned my faith.

#6 Darin Edmund on Monday August 31, 2009 at 10:00pm

The miraculists have no evidence that praying had anything whatsoever to do with Kear’s recovery, and they are simply engaging in a logical fallacy called arguing from ignorance.
public records check

#7 Susan Gerbic (Guest) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 at 8:52am

Nice article Joe, but the best part was the fact that the church called you in to investigate.  What a nice Win for science and reason!  You didn’t say what they thought of your results or what they planned on doing with the request for sainthood.

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