Accuse me of tricho-fission if you must, but what about the misappropriate use of the word ‘in’? Specifically, when it’s coupled with ‘believe.’ Because it’s a bit presumptuous, isn’t it? I mean, it’s predicated on the acceptance of the existence of the object.

A while back, I was accosted on my way home from work by a couple of Mormons. They came out of a driveway, dressed in black shoes, black trousers, white shirt, and black tie. They were obviously doing the door-to-door thing… and I was between them and the next. ‘Uh-oh, here we go,’ I thought; and when I got within range, one of them rudely, loudly, quizzed, “Do you believe Jesus answers prayers?” I didn’t check my stride, although I turned as I walked past them, saying, “No I don’t; I’m an atheist; I don’t subscribe to that train of thought.” “Oh,” he said quietly, and didn’t persist. But I was annoyed for a while: in part on account of his rude disregard for polite protocol in not first saying “Excuse me” and introducing himself, before (em)barking on his interrogation; but also by my response – in not addressing the pitch of his question, which presumed that I must already accord ‘Jesus’ credence. Based, perhaps, on the statistical likelihood of this being so, regardless of whether or not I actually practice religion, what he really meant was, do I believe in Jesus?

What’s prompted this? Hugh McLachlan’s opinion essay in last week’s NewScientist: ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ Surely before you can believe in miracles, you have to be convinced of the occurrence of one or two. I find McLachlan’s piece quite confusing, in that I’m not sure exactly what point it tries to make; although my best stab is that it advocates we should be agnostic on the possibility of miracles, whatever our philosophical disposition. ‘Belief in miracles need not be inconsistent with an acceptance of science.’ (An acceptance of science?). Well okay. But it requires either a belief in miracles as occurring in contravention of known natural laws; or, if scientifically valid, belief in whatever brings them about: ie what – or who – causes a miraculous event. Alternatively, he seems to argue that a miracle ‘exists’ for whoever believes it has occurred. And why should the non-believer question it? Gets a bit into the ‘truth is relative’ thing. Ahh well, three sides to every story.

Before claimed miracles can be taken seriously, we need to agree on a definition. (Or is it okay for believers to stick to their own?) ‘Miracle’ has become a vastly over-applied word, a mediated resort pandering to the ignorance and/or gullibility of desirers of evidence for causative agency. Everything must happen – or have happened – for a reason. Even evolution. If someone asks you “Do you believe in evolution?” say “No.” Who believes in it? Using in in this context is nonsensical (innit?).

Just because there is no apparent clash with science when scientifically accountable phenomena outlandishly coalesce to yield some irregular, unexpected happening (there wouldn’t be, would there?), doesn’t warrant consideration that a miracle has occurred. A coincidence is not a miracle. Strange things happen from time to time. They make life more interesting. Evolution tossed up flatfish!

Oh, I should add that I am not a nihilist. I believe in lots of things; things that are personal to me, based on impressions I get, inevitably pre-coloured by my own formative background, environment, experience and circumstance, and – I hope – continuing education and scepticism (and bewilderment). However, I don’t believe in David Cameron, although I certainly believe he’s a twat.

5 responses to “‘In’apt

  1. Gotta love the “Jesus” people.
    The last time I told two Crusaders for Christ (some kind of uni club) I was atheist just for kix, I became their experiment under the microscope. I think I got asked that if I didnt believe in the afterlife, then what did I think was the point of being good in this life? and sth to the effect of, if my parents were to die in car crash tomorrow…how would i react? o_O
    ..I can’t really figure out McLachlan’s point in his opinion essay either, except that in his conclusion he says we ought to keep an open mind towards unusual phenomena, in spite of the skepticism of our more scientific/critical inner voices. which is..yea, more or less being agnostic.
    (on the other hand, I kinda wish some journal reviewers could keep an open mind about papers u submit to them…forget “miracles”)

  2. Yeah, it always bugs me how the sanctimonious moiety claims some monopoly on how to live a ‘good’ (now that is relative) life; and the second question is tantamount to emotional blackmail.
    (… and on the other hand, it’ll be a ‘miracle’ if I ever get this draft submitted.)

  3. The central point of my article is to discuss the methodological claims made by Hume and Dawkins with regard to the relationship between ‘miracles’ and science. Their arguments are defective. It is irrelevant to my argument whether or not miracles actually occur and whether, if they occurred, we would know that they occurred. Rather, the question addressed is: if they were to occur, would science be undermined? would its principles be violated?

  4. Hi. Whether or not Hume’s and Dawkins’s arguments are defective, they are at least, I think, correct in suggesting that we need a definition – otherwise it’s just free range. We can’t really argue whether or not miracles actually occur, unless we know what one is, otherwise we just argue the definition. And we can’t then just put that argument to one side, then try and discuss whether or not a ‘miraculous’ event contravenes known scientific laws – because that would be (for many) arguing the definition again. It’s circular reasoning
    I agree with your point on ‘degrees of miraculousness’, which is meaningless (a point some supposedly in the know seemingly fail to grasp ).
    Suggesting that a phenomenon is outside of science’s explanatory reach is fine (although it risks invoking the ‘God of the Gaps.’); but that, it seems to me, is still insufficient justification to apply the label ‘miracle’. (But, again, that statement implies a definition.)

  5. Thanks for clarifying Hugh.
    (& Boy, do I ever feel busted. kinda took for granted that these blog things are indeed public..heh.)
    …i think this is all great food for thought. It’s something i wouldn’t normally consider, the question of science v.s. religion or culture.
    The rhetorical questions you put out there are interesting, and they were clear in the first. However, I got lost in the subsequent arguments against Hume and Dawkins’s claims. I think you do attempt to answer those questions, quite logically, and I would agree with it. Science is more of a process, not a set of rigid laws, and its principles are continually being modified or rejected in favour of new ones But, this was perhaps somewhat hidden in your discussion of Hume’s claims.
    I’d agree with Lee, I felt like it was lacking a definition to hold everything in place. Also, yea, there is the implication that miracles would pertain to phenomena outside of scientific scope. But it would make for a loose definition. scientific theories are based on a set of observations made on a sampling of the whole, so there’ll always be the exceptions that were missed, overlooked or just simply a unique occurrence. It’d be a wide net for “miracles” to cover.


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