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 ksn.com .)

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 catholicnewsagency.com .)

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.