Monday Meslier: 3 – Similarity Between Ancient and Modern Miracles


If our Christ-worshipers claim that God endowed their saints with power to perform the

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Your host, Jean Meslier

miracles related in their lives, some of the Pagans claim also that the daughters of Anius, high-priest of Apollo, had really received from the god Bacchus the power to change all they desired into wheat, into wine, or into oil, etc.; that Jupiter gave to the nymphs who took care of his education, a horn of the goat which nursed him in his infancy, with this virtue, that it could give them an abundance of all they wished for.

If our Christ-worshipers assert that their saints had the power of raising the dead, and that they had Divine revelations, the Pagans had said before them that Athalide, son of Mercury, had obtained from his father the gift of living, dying, and coming to life whenever he wished, and that he had also the knowledge of all that transpired in this world as well as in the other; and that Esculapius, son of Apollo, had raised the dead, and, among others, he brought to life Hyppolites, son of Theseus, by Diana’s request; and that Hercules, also, raised from the dead Alceste, wife of Admetus, King of Thessalia, to return her to her husband.

If our Christ-worshipers say that Christ was miraculously born of a virgin, the Pagans had said before them that Remus and Romulus, the founders of Rome, were miraculously born of a vestal virgin named Ilia, or Silvia, or Rhea Silvia; they had already said that Mars, Argus, Vulcan, and others were born of the goddess Juno without sexual union; and, also, that Minerva, goddess of the sciences, sprang from Jupiter’s brain, and that she came out of it, all armed, by means of a blow which this god gave to his own head.

If our Christ-worshipers claim that their saints made water gush from rocks, the Pagans pretend also that Minerva made a fountain of oil spring forth from a rock as a recompense for a temple which had been dedicated to her.

If our Christ-worshipers boast of having received images from Heaven miraculously, as, for example, those of Notre-Dame de Loretto, and of Liesse and several other gifts from Heaven, as the pretended Holy Vial of Rheims, as the white Chasuble which St. Ildefonse received from the Virgin Mary, and other similar things: the Pagans boasted before them of having received a sacred shield as a mark of the preservation of their city of Rome, and the Trojans boasted before them of having received miraculously from Heaven their Palladium, or their Idol of Pallas, which came, they said, to takes its place in the temple which they had erected in honor of this Goddess.

If our Christ-worshipers pretend that Jesus Christ was seen by His apostles ascending to Heaven, and that several of their pretended saints were transported to Heaven by angels, the Roman Pagans had said before them, that Romulus, their founder, was seen after his death; that Ganymede, son of Troas, king of Troy, was transported to Heaven by Jupiter to serve him as cup-bearer that the hair of Berenice, being consecrated to the temple of Venus, was afterward carried to Heaven; they say the same thing of Cassiope and Andromedes, and even of the ass of Silenus.

If our Christ-worshipers pretend that several of their saints’ bodies were miraculously saved from decomposition after death, and that they were found by Divine Revelations, after having been lost for a long time, the Pagans say the same of the holy of Orestes, which they pretend to have found through an oracle, etc.

If our Christ-worshipers say that the seven sleeping brothers slept during one hundred and seventy-seven years, while they were shut up in a cave, the Pagans claim that Epimenides, the philosopher, slept during fifty-seven years in a cave where he fell asleep.

If our Christ-worshipers claim that several of their saints continued to speak after losing the head, or having the tongue cut out, the Pagans claim that the head of Gambienus recited a long poem after separation from his body.

If our Christ-worshipers glorify themselves that their temples and churches are ornamented with several pictures and rich gifts which show miraculous cures performed by the intercession of their saints, we also see, or at least we formerly saw in the temple of Esculapius at Epidaurus, many paintings of miraculous cures which he had performed.

If our Christ-worshipers claim that several of their saints have been miraculously preserved in the flames without having received any injury to their bodies or their clothing, the Pagans claim that the Holy women of the temple of Diana walked upon burning coals barefooted without burning or hurting their feet, and that the priests of the Goddess Feronie and of Hirpicus walked in the same way upon burning coals in the fires which were made in honor of Apollo.

If the angels built a chapel for St. Clement at the bottom of the sea, the little house of Baucis and of Philemon was miraculously changed into a superb temple as a reward of their piety. If several of their saints, as St. James and St. Maurice, appeared several times in their armies, mounted and equipped in ancient style, and fought for them, Castor and Pollux appeared several times in battles and fought for the Romans against their enemies; if a ram was miraculously found to be offered as a sacrifice in the place of Isaac, whom his father Abraham was about to sacrifice, the Goddess Vesta also sent a heifer to be sacrificed in the place of Metella, daughter of Metellus: the Goddess Diana sent a hind in the place of Iphigenie when she was at the stake to be sacrificed to her, and by this means Iphigenie was saved.

If St. Joseph went into Egypt by the warning of an angel, Simonides, the poet, avoided several great dangers by miraculous warnings which had been given to him.

If Moses forced a stream of water to flow from a rock by striking it with his staff, the horse Pegasus did the same: by striking a rock with his foot a fountain issued.

If St. Vincent Ferrier brought to life a dead man hacked into pieces, whose body was already half roasted and half broiled, Pelops, son of Tantalus king of Phrygia, having been torn to pieces by his father to be sacrificed to the Gods, they gathered all the pieces, joined them, and brought them to life.

If several crucifixes and other images have miraculously spoken and answered, the Pagans say that their oracles have spoken and given answers to those who consulted them, and that the head of Orpheus and that of Policrates gave oracles after their death.

If God revealed by a voice from Heaven that Jesus Christ was His Son, as the Evangelists say, Vulcan showed by the apparition of a miraculous flame, that Coceculus was really his son.

If God has miraculously nourished some of His saints, the Pagan poets pretend that Triptolemus was miraculously nourished with Divine milk by Ceres, who gave him also a chariot drawn by two dragons, and that Phineus, son of Mars, being born after his mother’s death, was nevertheless miraculously nourished by her milk.

If several saints miraculously tamed the ferocity of the most cruel beasts, it is said that Orpheus attracted to him, by the sweetness of his voice and by the harmony of his instruments, lions, bears, and tigers, and softened the ferocity of their nature; that he attracted rocks and trees, and that even the rivers stopped their course to listen to his song.

Finally, to abbreviate, because we could report many others, if our Christ-worshipers pretend that the walls of the city of Jericho fell by the sound of their trumpets, the Pagans say that the walls of the city of Thebes were built by the sound of the musical instruments of Amphion; the stones, as the poets say, arranging themselves to the sweetness of his harmony; this would be much more miraculous and more admirable than to see the walls demolished.

There is certainly a great similarity between the Pagan miracles and our own. As it would be great folly to give credence to these pretended miracles of Paganism, it is not any the less so to have faith in those of Christianity, because they all come from the same source of error. It was for this that the Manicheans and the Arians, who existed at the commencement of the Christian Era, derided these pretended miracles performed by the invocation of saints, and blamed those who invoked them after death and honored their relics.

Let us return at present to the principal end which God proposed to Himself, in sending His Son into the world to become man; it must have been, as they say, to redeem the world from sin and to destroy entirely the works of the pretended Devil, etc. This is what our Christ-worshipers claim also, that Jesus Christ died for them according to His Father’s intention, which is plainly stated in all the pretended Holy Books. What! an Almighty God, who was willing to become a mortal man for the love of men, and to shed His blood to the last drop, to save them all, would yet have limited His power to only curing a few diseases and physical infirmities of a few individuals who were brought to Him; and would not have employed His Divine goodness in curing the infirmities of the soul! that is to say, in curing all men of their vices and their depravities, which are worse than the diseases of their bodies! This is not credible. What! such a good God would desire to preserve dead corpses from decay and corruption; and would not keep from the contagion and corruption of vice and sin the souls of a countless number of persons whom He sought to redeem at the price of His blood, and to sanctify by His grace! What a pitiful contradiction!

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It does seem that the gods and demigods have a limited bag of tricks. Limited, perhaps, by the human imagination.

Keep this one in your back pocket next time you run into a christian apologist talking about miracles.

A number of years ago, I read about cancer cures that allegedly happened at Lourdes. I tried to determine, based on the number of people who went through the holy place, and the typical base-rate of cancer and spontaneous remission, whether there were any miracles happening at all. I wasn’t at all comfortable with the numbers I was able to pull together (what about cancer sufferers where it’s not manifesting yet? what about remission probabilities by cancer type? then how do we find out what kind of cancer was miraculously cured?) but I was coming up with a remarkably low number that was arguing that going to Lourdes made your cancer less likely to go into remission. That might make some sense, actually, if the preponderance of cancer-sufferers who go to Lourdes were late-stage. It was too complicated to sort out, I’m sad to say; the miracles just aren’t very well-documented.

Comments

  1. says

    busterggi@#1:
    Well, that’s the standard beliver/nonbeliever split.

    As a nonbeliever, of course, I can’t answer any way but “who needs faith at all?”

  2. says

    It does seem that the gods and demigods have a limited bag of tricks. Limited, perhaps, by the human imagination.

    Yes, comparative mythology is very interesting. There was a hell lot of plagiarism going on. Mythologies in general are interesting and full of nice stories (my favorites are Greek, Scandinavian and pagan ones).

    I also find it interesting that God’s miracles are diminishing. 2000 years ago God supposedly fed the hungry and healed the sick. Now God helps pastors find their car keys and makes toasts with abstract images of Jesus. Or prevents Bibles from being destroyed during fires and tornadoes (incidentally, God is reluctant to save human lives during these disasters; somehow a bunch of paper seems more valuable for the most powerful being in the universe).

    It’s curious that all the cool miracles happened centuries ago. Now when humans have better abilities to record and analyze events, God somehow tends to not intervene and cut down on his miracles.

    A number of years ago, I read about cancer cures that allegedly happened at Lourdes. I tried to determine, based on the number of people who went through the holy place, and the typical base-rate of cancer and spontaneous remission, whether there were any miracles happening at all.

    The so called miracles aren’t exactly miracles. A cancer patient uses chemotherapy while simultaneously praying to God (or going to some sacred place or whatever). Once she is healed she attributes her improved health to God’s miracle (rather than the treatment she received in the hospital).

    There have been some scientific attempts to measure the efficiency of prayer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer Ultimately, that’s a waste of time though. It’s obvious that pilgrimages or prayers do not work and any beneficial effects are placeboes.

    Now that I think about fun myths… Maybe you’ll like this one. It’s from Latvian pagan mythology. Latvian pagan devil (called Velns) was a funny character. Velns was ridiculously strong, somewhat evil (mischievous and willing to hurt humans), he had lots of gold, but he was also really stupid.

    Once a young peasant boy met Velns who started bragging about his strength. The boy and Velns agreed to compete against each other to test their strength. They also agreed that the loser must pay the winner the amount of gold that fits inside a hat. The competition started with Velns taking a rock and smashing it in his fist so that only dust remained. The boy took a bird egg and smashed it getting liquid. Regardless of how hard Velns tried smashing rocks, all he ever got was dust, he couldn’t get liquid out of rocks. The boy won the first round. Then Velns took a rock and threw it up in the air. He threw it up very high, it took the rock a very long time to fall down. The boy took a bird and “threw” it up in the air. The bird only flew up higher and higher and never fell down regardless of how long they waited. The peasant boy won the second round, because his “rock” never fell down, that means he threw it up higher, therefore he was stronger. Velns admitted his defeat and agreed to give the boy gold as promised. The boy dug a big hole in the ground. He tore a hole in his hat and put the hat on top of the hole. The gold coins Velns threw in the hat just fell through the hat and landed deeper into the big hole below the hat. Velns emptied countless bags of gold coins until he finally filled the boy’s “hat” with gold. The peasant boy became a rich man by fooling the devil.

    Personally I don’t like Christian (and Jewish) myths. Other mythologies are a lot more fun.

  3. Brian English says

    As a nonbeliever, of course, I can’t answer any way but “who needs faith at all?”

    Faith is the rejection of rationality. If something is most probable, as far as you can assertain, then that should be what you believe. People making up stories is something everybody knows happens, and all religious people reject other religions stories as being myth, but not there own. Either through faith or some special pleading they say this story is real. Some try to argue that it’s all more probable, which lead to an interesting contradiction/paradox, that a miracle is only miraculous if it’s stunningly unlikely and memorable, but if it’s the most probable it wasn’t stunningly unlikely, and so much special pleading…Those who go for faith, which often turns out to be most when you point out flaws in reasoning, are saying, I don’t care if it’s so close to being impossible as to be indistinguiable from impossible, I’m going to assert it’s true, and women shouldn’t have control over their bodies, and the priests say this and how dare you question my faith!

  4. says

    Brian English@#4:
    Some try to argue that it’s all more probable, which lead to an interesting contradiction/paradox, that a miracle is only miraculous if it’s stunningly unlikely and memorable, but if it’s the most probable it wasn’t stunningly unlikely, and so much special pleading…Those who go for faith, which often turns out to be most when you point out flaws in reasoning, are saying, I don’t care if it’s so close to being impossible as to be indistinguiable from impossible, I’m going to assert it’s true

    That’s basically David Hume’s argument. It wouldn’t be interesting if it weren’t so improbable as to be almost certainly false. As usual, Hume’s skepticism crushes everything in its path! Yours, too!

  5. John Morales says

    Brian English:

    Faith is the rejection of rationality.

    An universal claim which I don’t accept.
    This refers to religious faith, presumably — but there are other kinds.

    Even with that qualification, I still disagree because I think that it’s true in some cases, but not all.

    If something is most probable, as far as you can assertain, then that should be what you believe.

    Only if you require such belief — it can be withheld — and only provisionally at that.

    (To do otherwise would be irrational, no?)

    In passing, for me a proper definition of ‘miracle’ is something which should be impossible, not just something highly (or even stunningly) unlikely.

  6. Brian English says

    Marcus:

    That’s basically David Hume’s argument.

    No doubt I cribbed from the canny Scot.

    John:

    An universal claim which I don’t accept.
    This refers to religious faith, presumably — but there are other kinds.

    In an article about religion, by a religious cleric who left a manual for disbelief found postumously, you need clarification that we’re talking about religous faith? Sorry, thought the context was obvious.

    I still disagree because I think that it’s true in some cases, but not all.

    What cases, where there is no probable justification for a religious claim, and plenty of other more probable explanations, would you weight these probablities, that is be rational, and end up saying the religious claim is rational?

    Only if you require such belief — it can be withheld — and only provisionally at that.

    (To do otherwise would be irrational, no?)

    I have no problem with people withholding belief when probabilities are hard to acertain and you have no idea of the possible causes, but again we’re talking about religious faith, and people who haven’t withheld belief, not only haven’t, but have ignored the probable explanations.

    (I’m not Bayesian, so I’m not arguing prior-probabilities or that, just regular everyday reasoning. Car goes missing, it seems more reasonable to assume it was stolen and call the cops than search the sky for car stealing aliens. Both are possibilities, and I’m sure there are more.)

  7. Brian English says

    for me a proper definition of ‘miracle’ is something which should be impossible, not just something highly (or even stunningly) unlikely.

    Me too. But not for the believer. I’m sort of like ‘for th sake of argument, let’s say miracles are not impossible, then they’re still the least probable and it’s irrational to beleive in them’. I don’t believe it’s possible the sun spun on a top in Fatima whilst the rest of the world didn’t notice such a suspension of the physics for example. :)

  8. John Morales says

    Brian, I appreciate your response to my criticicism.

    What cases, where there is no probable justification for a religious claim, and plenty of other more probable explanations, would you weight these probablities, that is be rational, and end up saying the religious claim is rational?

    Not all beliefs are explanans. That aside, I note that your question is carefully qualified, which indicates that you’re not supporting the universal nature of your original contention.

    I suspect you’re also using a particular sense of ‘rational’ — endeavouring to hold ideas with best concordance to one’s perception of reality and to best inference — rather than to hold ideas with best outcomes.

    As an example, it may be that a professing Catholic beset with depression is dissuaded from suicide only by the belief that such a death entails hellish consequences in the afterlife.

    I entirely support your heuristic, BTW, but though pithy claims are good, universal propositions are tricky.

  9. Brian English says

    That aside, I note that your question is carefully qualified, which indicates that you’re not supporting the universal nature of your original contention.

    Can you point out this universal? The blog post is quite clearly about religious faith. It was never about faith in toto, so my comment, was never a universal claim, but about religious faith. Am I missing something?

    As an example, it may be that a professing Catholic beset with depression is dissuaded from suicide only by the belief that such a death entails hellish consequences in the afterlife.

    I’m struggling to see how that is anything but an argumentum ad consequentum. That a false belief lead to a good consequence doesn’t support the belief.

  10. Brian English says

    sorry, on rereading

    I suspect you’re also using a particular sense of ‘rational’ — endeavouring to hold ideas with best concordance to one’s perception of reality and to best inference — rather than to hold ideas with best outcomes.

    It’s the only sense I know of. I guess if a Catholic holds that “there is a hell, and suicide leads to hell, then the conclusion is suicide means hell, and that’s bad, so live”, leads to a good outcome and it rational (given the beliefs of the person), but good outcome is irrelevant to rationality. To quote the great one:

    it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger

    It’s just a matter of drawing a sound conclusion using valid logic and what your starting propositions are.

  11. Brian English says

    At the risk of outstaying my welcome. the ‘and that’s bad’ is itself an argumentum ad consequentum but the only reason (not rational reason, but causal reason) we do things is because we want something, usually something good or desirable (for ourselves), and so to quote the great one again:

    Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

    . I think that sums it up.

  12. John Morales says

    Brian @10:

    I’m struggling to see how that is anything but an argumentum ad consequentum*. That a false belief lead to a good consequence doesn’t support the belief.

    It is indeed. In terms of logic, it’s an informal fallacy (i.e. it makes no inferential link from the premises to the conclusion), but consider your #12.

    * ad consequentiam

  13. John Morales says

    PS

    That aside, I note that your question is carefully qualified, which indicates that you’re not supporting the universal nature of your original contention.

    Can you point out this universal?

    “Faith is the rejection of rationality.”

    (You did intend to mean all faith, not just some faith, right?)

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