Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It's a Miracle!

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. -Mark 5:25-29 (NIV)
We all have heard of claims of miraculous cures. Miracles and supernatural claims are the mainstay of religious myths.

The Roman Catholic church claims to have investigated and satisfied itself that miraculous cures have happened before declaring someone a saint, for every saint it canonizes.

On September 5, 1998, Monica Besra, a Bengali woman from the village of Dangram, near Calcutta, India and a mother of five was in pain. She had a malignant ovarian tumor and a visible lump on her belly. To help her, the nuns from Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity placed a medallion of the late Mother Teresa on her stomach and prayed. A beam of light from the medallion came towards Monica, reportedly. When Monica woke up next morning, the tumor was gone! [1] This was the first miracle that the Roman Catholic Church claimed for Mother Teresa's beatification, bringing her a step closer to sainthood.

The story does not end there. Monica Besra later admitted to having gone to the state-run Balurghat Hospital and taken the prescribed medication. Monica's husband Seiku Murmu went on record that his wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle. [2] Dr. Tarun Kumar Biswas and Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, who treated Monica over several months, say Monica responded to their treatment and the lump in her abdomen was not a full-grown tumor. The Vatican reportedly did not consult with these doctors before confirming the miracle. [3] [4]

Here's another story. Back in September 21, 1995, in a temple in New Delhi, a devotee offered milk to a statue of Ganesha. Devotees have been doing this for centuries now. But this time, to everyone's surprise, the statue actually drank the milk. It was a miracle! The miracle was repeated again and again not just in that temple but in nearby temples as well. The news spread rapidly by word of mouth and Ganeshas all over India and even outside India were drinking milk. Statues of other deities like Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, Lord Ganesha's parents were also drinking milk. By end of day, it had taken the proportion of mass religious hysteria. [5]

Scientists from India's Ministry of Science and Technology investigated this and found nothing more than capillary action causing the porous idols to suck up the milk to be the cause. This didn't stop the miracles from recurring in 2006 and again 2010. [6] [7]

The Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, first appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old girl from Lourdes, France back in 1858. The Virgin appeared to her 17 more times. Millions visit Lourdes every year many reporting miraculous healing.

In 1917, the Virgin appeared again, this time to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, three shepherd kids at Fatima, Portugal. On October 13, right before the eyes of a crowd numbering thousands, the Sun reportedly changed colors and rotated like a wheel. Jacinta “beheld St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun.” [8]

Every year, at Sabarimala in the Western Ghats of South India, a few million devotees of the Hindu God Ayyappan assemble for prayer and festivities. Lord Ayyappan the child of Lord Shiva and Goddess Mohini (Lord Vishnu in the female form) is supposed to have meditated at Sabarimala. Every year, on the day of Makara Samkramam, a miraculous light or the Makara Vilakku lights up on the hills near the temple while pilgrims watch. That some people have come forward clarifying that burning a big heap of camphor is the source of the light has not dampened the spirits of the pilgrims. [9] [10]

Not very far from Shabarimala is Potta, a tiny village, also in Kerala, India. Fr. Matthew Naickomparampil, a Catholic Vincentian priest upon receiving divine revelations and gifts of the Holy Spirit founded a 'Divine Retreat Center' at Potta. Since its beginning back in 1987, it has grown to become one of the most famous prayer groups in the state. It has since moved to Muringure, near the banks of river Chalakudy. A few thousand people attend the services every week. Many return home cured of their illnesses!

In 2004, in the home of Gregg and Diana Duyser, the face of the Virgin Mary appeared on the grilled cheese sandwich, no less. [11]

The Islamic world is not averse to miracles either. In 1996, a farmer in Senegal discovered a watermelon on which the name of Allah had appeared. In 1999, a Toman fish with markings resembling the words “Ya Allah Ya Malik” got a lot of publicity. Listings of miraculous appearance of the word Allah on the Moon, mountains, fruits, babies' bodies etc is just a google search away.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba, a God-Man from India claimed to have been the reincarnation of another 19th century holy man called Sai Baba. Sathya Sai Baba counted as his devotees ministers and judges and industrialists in India. He was known for producing sacred ash or golden Shiva lingams out of thin air for his devotees. As a child, he was once punished by being asked to stand up on his bench. The teacher who punished him thus was magically glued to the teacher's chair until another teacher stepped in and asked Sai Baba to sit down! These and various other miracles are documented by books published by the Sri Sathya Sai Books & Publications Trust and the websites maintained by them. [12] [13]

Demonic possession is a phenomenon that the Catholic church accepts and has guidelines on how demons may be exorcised. [14] Priests with the sanction of a bishop can perform exorcism. [15]

Stigmata (marks resembling the wounds of the crucified body of Christ) has been claimed by many from St. Francis of Assisi to Padre Pio. [16] Padre Pio went on to be canonized as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and in anticipation of the canonization, two statues of of the Padre reportedly wept.

Statues sweating or weeping blood or oil or tears have been reported many many many times. Bleeding Eucharists are quite common too. [17]

These are but a sampling of reported miracles. These are not isolated incidents. Reports of miracles and miraculous cures are actually dime a dozen! Yet, none of these miracles, not a single one has been reproduced under controlled conditions where scientists can investigate them. Many have been investigated and some found to be outright fraud. Some aren't. But not a single miracle has been reported in a science journal as a direct result of a deity in action. Not one. Now why would that be?


Confirmation bias

If you are a Protestant or Evangelical Christian, you are very likely to have had a quiet chuckle about the miracles claimed by the Catholic church. If you are a Catholic, the Ganesha miracle would have sounded funny to you. Idols drinking milk! Oh, those idol worshiping Hindus!

Why is it that we wear the skeptic's hat when it comes to other faiths? It is for no reason that it is said that we are all atheists when it comes to most religions that humanity has believed in! Yet, when it comes to our own, we are willing to believe.

Humans have a tendency to exhibit selective thinking and favor information that confirms our beliefs. We are biased in the way we gather information. We are biased in the way we process and retain information. We tend to reduce the importance of pieces of information that conflict with our beliefs and interests. This is a well known phenomenon called confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias explains why we tend to believe the miracles and supernatural claims from our own religious group but are very skeptical about those from other groups.

How do we distinguish faith in miracles from gullibility?

References


[1] Time.com, "Mother Teresa's First Miracle?", Amanda Bower.

[2] Telegraph.co.uk, "Mother Teresa 'miracle' patient accuses nuns", Peter Foster.

[3] Slate.com, "Is Mother Teresa's Miracle for Real?", Charles Duhigg.

[4] Time.com, "What's Mother Teresa Got to Do with It?".

[5] About.com, "15 Years of the Ganesha Milk Miracle: Paranormal Phenomenon of the Last Millennium", Subhamoy Das.

[6] IndianExpress.com, "Idols 'drinking' milk is pure science", Press Trust of India.

[7] About.com, "Did Statues of Hindu Gods Miraculously Consume Milk Offerings to Them?", Whitney Hopler.

[8] Fatima In Lucia's Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs. 16th edition, July 2007. Edited by Fr. Louis Kondor, SVD.

[9] TheHindu.com, "TDB was lighting the fire: ex-Commissioner", Radhakrishnan Kuttoor.

[10] NewIndianExpress.com, "For God’s sake, end this fraud", M Kesavan Nampoothiry.

[11] CSIcop.org, "Grilled-Cheese Madonna", Joe Nickell..

[12] Time.com, "Sathya Sai Baba: The Man Who Was God Is Dead", Jyoti Thottam.

[13] saibaba.ws, "The Divine Life and Message of Sri Sathya Sai Baba QUIZ", [via the internet archive].

[14] NewAdvent.org, "Catholic Encyclopedia: Exorcism".

[15] Vatican.va, "The Celebration of the Christian Mystery: The Celebration of the Christian Mystery".
When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.

[16] CSIcop.org, "Padre Pio: Wonderworker or Charlatan?", Joe Nickell.

[17] CSIcop.org, "Eucharistic ‘Miracles’", Joe Nickell.

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