PoI Episode Suggestion - The Miracles of the Saints
Posted: 29 August 2008 12:53 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve been listening to the show for a little over a year and have heard a good number of skeptics come on and talk about how they hop around investigating miracle claims and the like, but they always seem to be describing the “i saw jesus’ butt imprinted on a piece of toast” variety of miracles that seem like they wouldn’t really be taken seriously by anyone anyway.

The Vatican has this unbelievably elaborate vetting process for attributing miracles to saints that my Roman Catholic friends claim brings in loads of evidence and opinions from skeptical “atheist scientists” and so on, and that it is quite rare for miracle claims to make it through this process.  They also claim that of the miracles that have made it through this process, the Vatican has never revoked any of these miracles as a result of new evidence providing a natural explanation and refuting the miracle claim.

I’d like to hear an installment or installments featuring people who have investigated or provided opinions on some of these miracles in recent years and maybe take a single example and go through the details of the whole process:

1) What it was about the events that qualified them to be Vatican-accepted miracles?
2) How was evidence collected?
3) What arguments and counter-arguments were presented?
4) Are there any specific Vatican-accepted miracles that are known to have natural explanations, and what is the rationale the church has for rejecting the explanations?

I’ve been to the Vatican’s web site, and I can’t find anything like evidential details for any one of the saints’ supposed miracles, so I would be absolutely fascinated to hear how this works.

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Posted: 29 August 2008 04:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I agree, Hoobajoob, that would be an interesting investigation. The Vatican used to have a “Devil’s Advocate” who played the prosecutor’s role, arguing against the evidence that someone was a saint, during this vetting process. This practice was abolished under John Paul II, because he basically felt the need to sanctify in large numbers.

From the sketchy accounts that I’ve heard, however, the evidence mustered even during the time where they did have a Devil’s Advocate doesn’t come anywhere close to probative by scientific standards, or even by standards of the court. Just to take one example, there appears to be a working assumption that miracles happen with some frequency, so one doesn’t need “extraordinary evidence” to prove them. Vague testimonials are sufficient, and no thorough forensic investigation is done to try to debunk them. Nor were the Devil’s Advocates trained in careful scientific investigative techniques. I’m not even certain that they had the power to launch any sort of physical investigation at all; my understanding is that their role was basically argumentative. And of course, without the wherewithal or training to do a proper physical investigation, the role of the Devil’s Advocate would have been practically toothless.

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Posted: 06 September 2008 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Interesting topic. Presumably the process is meant to-
A) rule out fakes so obvious as to embarass the church should they sign off on them
B) determine reliability of witnesses for reasons similar to A and
C) under condition of A&B;, find a lack of evidence. “miracles” amenable to physical evidence are vulerable to discreditation later. Events which nicely confine themselves to heresay is the best way to avoid heresy
D) venerate the people the Vatican has already decided it needs to beautify, whatever the cost

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