Bogus miracles, fake news, intellectual and moral cowardice

Okay, this is fun.

The other day we got an email from a fellow who described himself as an atheist, but who professed he was a bit taken aback by a miracle claim that had come his way, about a Florida doctor who is supposed to have prayed a man back to life. He pasted a news story into his email, and some quick Googletronic Googlefication confirmed my suspicions: that this is one of those stories making the rounds in fundagelical circles, that they email one another as a big social reinforcement exercise, but for which there are no accounts — either confirming or disconfirming — from a secular source anywhere.

I tracked the story down to one website (which probably isn’t the one that originated it, but they’re certainly spreading it), Australia’s Catch the Fire Ministries. Here you may read the 2007 story in full. It is written in the form of a press release, but it comes from Assist News Service, one of those phony Christian “news” services that feeds press releases to the likes of the 700 Club, and probably WorldNutDaily, the AFA’s One News Now, and so on. The medical “conference” at which this miracle testimony was given is — you guessed it — a “Christian doctors’ conference”. If it dismays you that there are people out there with at least enough going on between their ears that they can pass eight years of med school, eight years of residency, go on to become M.D.s, and who are yet gullible and nonskeptical enough to swallow bullshit about Jebus doing miracle resurrections in the ICU, it should. And really, they’re everywhere.

Anyway, in response to the first comment on that page I linked to, where some dimwit tries to say that “…unbelievers will ignore the doctor’s eyewitness testimony and will cite the fact that they have never witnessed such an event,” I wrote:

No, we will point out that there’s not a shred of evidence that this anecdote is true. A Christian doctor gives a testimonial in front of other Christian doctors abut praying a man back to life, and hallelujah! they believe him. Big surprise there. No religious confirmation biases at all, nosiree.

Christians have a little problem understanding that the plural of anecdote is not data.

You should not be surprised that my comment was not approved. Unlike atheist sites, many Christian sites are completely closed to comments from dissenting voices. (This is perhaps the one regard in which Ray Comfort can be said to be better than most of his ilk. But then, baiting atheists is really the only shtick Ray has.) We only turn moderation on to prevent outright spam and trolling from guys like Dennis Markuze. But we love it when guys like Seth R. in the Mormon thread, or “MrFreeThinker” drop by to mix it up.

But that isn’t the most fun part. Guess what is. Catch the Fire Ministries sent me a concern-trolling evangelizing email! They wouldn’t let my comment through, but they will use my email address for stuff like this. Hilarious.

May the one true living God bless you Martin, atheists and all people with His Saving Truth and Everlasting Love! (John 3:16-21)

We at Catch the Fire Ministries will keep praying for you to believe the Bible (Word of God) as the mighty Voice from Heaven that calls, “I died on the cross for you and rose from the dead to save you from eternal death, hell and destruction! Repent of your unbelief / doubt and surrender your life (past, present and future) to Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord before it is too late!”

Time is running out as we will soon stand before Him face to face as our Final Judge! (Revelation 20:11-15)

Say, ‘Yes to Jesus, Yes to Heaven Forever!’

Say, ‘No to Jesus, Yes to Hell Forever!’

Make the Right Choice, Your Eternal Future Depends On It!

I wrote back:

Hello, and thanks for writing.

So, it’s the usual thing, in other words. Lacking evidence, Christianity must resort to threats to compel belief. Most atheists have heard this tiresome routine before, and it always makes us shake our heads sadly that you do not realize how much it confirms both how intellectually and morally adrift your religion is.

And anyway, I notice that in your zeal to evangelize you utterly failed to refute or even respond to my point. Where precisely is the evidence that this doctor prayed a man back to life? “Uh oh, gotta thump my Bible harder!” is not a way to deal with tough questions.

So, what else you got?

Martin

PS: I noticed you refused to approve my comment. The kind of cowardice that suppresses dissenting opinions and hard questions rather than addressing them is indicative not of righteousness, but insecurity and weakness.

(And before some creotard latches onto my PS, thinking he’s found a “gotcha” quote exposing atheist hypocrisy about intelligent design, be aware the scientific community has addressed ID, comprehensively, and shown it to be vacuous and utterly nonscientific rubbish. It’s kind of what the whole Dover trial was about.)

Christianity is peddling an inferior product. Its adherents know this, and yet they cannot allow their reason to overcome their emotional investment in the fear of death and desire for a celestial daddy who’ll keep them safe from the monsters under the bed. So this is why, when you ask a tough question, many times they’ll just stick their fingers in their ears and sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in a loud voice until you’re done, at which point they’ll switch on Witnessing Mode, ignoring everything you’ve said. I know the answer to my last question: they got nothin’, and they’ll prove it by writing me back (if they do) with just more Bible quotes, more emotional appeals, more veiled threats of the dire fate that awaits me if I reject God’s “love,” and ad infinitum into the moral wasteland and rhetorical cul-de-sac that is evangelism.

If they do write back, I will naturally let you know.

A thumb to suck, a skirt to hold

That was Isaac Asimov’s blunt dismissal of religion. And its appropriateness is never more evident than in this pitifully sad article currently on CNN.com, in which the point is made that “when it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.”

More than half of randomly surveyed adults — 57 percent — said God’s intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand that treatment continue.

When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.

Here’s the utility of religion spelled out: it continues to persist, more than anything, as an anodyne against the fear of death. Say what you will about its role in building a sense of community for its followers, or the repeated testimonials from believers about God giving them a sense of direction and purpose in life. What it boils down to is that religion is mostly used by people to manage their most profound insecurities and fears. And nothing is more devastating than the loss of a loved one, except perhaps, for some people, the prospect of their own eventual death.

In a sense I can understand the desperation here. There are harsh truths few people have the courage to face. But where I think believers would tell you that their faith gives them the courage to face those truths, I see the opposite in play: they’re clinging to their faith like a drowning man clutching at a reed, to justify their ongoing denial of truth, simply because facing it involves taking an emotional body blow that the thin shield their faith provides really would buckle under the force of it. And they know it, deep down.

What, apart from people’s innate fears, keeps this practice of clinging to hope of miraculous divine intervention in the face of very real tragedy alive? Well, the fact that, on occasion, people do bounce back for any number of reasons from death’s door. And these rare occasions are justification enough for the religious mind. All it takes is one cancer patient branded terminal to go into remission instead, and the instant that person’s family starts braying about God’s miraculous cure, a million other people going through the same pain are cruelly given false hopes, only to see them dashed more often than not. It’s exactly the mentality of people who habitually play the lottery: “Sure, the odds are pretty long, but you never know.”

I remember a caller to the show back when I was host, a nice young woman who asked what we felt about such a hypothetical cancer patient, and if such events were or were not a good reason to consider the likelihood of God. I replied that I would have even more moral qualms about a God like that existing, as I would be troubled by the thought of why God would choose to save one dying mother, but not all the other dying mothers and fathers and children who were doubtless languishing in that hospital’s very same oncology wing, with family members keeping vigil by their sides with just as much pain in their hearts. Why not grant miracle cures to everyone all at once? It would hurt no one, relieve many of their emotional suffering, and give believers much stronger evidence of miracles to point to when talking to the unconverted. The caller admitted she hadn’t thought of it that way.

I think it’s good to see doctors (and frankly, if I’m ever hospitalized, I sincerely hope not to get any of the ones in that 20 percentile) dealing realistically with patients’ families in their stubbornness about godly intervention that isn’t coming. While it’s important to be respectful — no, not of the irrational beliefs, but of the very real pain and confusion that’s feeding them — it’s doubly important to guide these people towards an acceptance of the reality we will all have to face in our lives, that our loved ones die, that we too will die. As one woman interviewed in the story, who tragically lost her children in an accident, begrudgingly admits, “I have become more of a realist. I know that none of us are immune from anything.” It’s terrible she had to go through such an awful experience to learn such a lesson. I guess that’s why they’re called lessons.

Take each day as it comes and appreciate it to the fullest. If it’s a particularly shitty day, make an effort to do something to make it slightly less shitty. Take a walk in the park, jam out to your favorite album, hug a dog, excuse yourself from the presence of people who are being assholes to you. You don’t get to do this one again, and no miracle will be coming to let you hit the reset button. If nothing else, at the very end, you can say to yourself and to those who don’t want to see you go, “Don’t be unhappy. I lived.”