Friday, April 10, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 10: The Tawdriness of the Miraculous

Chapter 10 as the name implies discusses miracles and their decreasing effect on the views of people over time. Overall, this is really nothing that any of us don't already know as rational modern people, so I expect it won't be a terribly long review this time.

Thankfully Hitchens early on defines what would be viewed as a miracle calling it "a disturbance or interruption in the expected and established course of things." This is about as fair of a definition of a miracle as one could probably come up with.

To explain his title regarding miracles being "tawdry" he discusses the typeds of people who have debunked miracle workers and magicians using laboratory conditions such as James Randi. This serves for Hitchens as a segway into criticising the sources reporting miracles, particularly the New Testament wherein he explains the problems in the miracle narratives, as well as demonstrating via Bart Ehrman's work there is significant evidence of the greatest miracles (i.e resurrection) being added well after the initial writing. All in all, once again, things all skeptics and atheists are fairly familiar with, and among the many things that make us non-believers to begin with.

Once again the part that is most interesting comes from Hitchens' personal reports and experiences. His anecdotes this time come from his experiences regarding Mother Teresa. He opens the section with an old miracle associated with her which was shown to just be a matter of film choice, and not deific preference, and then he goes on to discuss when he took position of Devil's Advocate against Mother Teresa's beatification.

This I found personally fascinating as he showed how willing people are to believe in miracles despite all evidence that something was natural; the film incident, or even more stark the recovery of a patient from tuburculosis and an uteran growth which had greater claim to the doctor's skill than divine intercession via Mother Teresa. Despite this, the subject swore up and down that it was a miracle, not medicine that had saved her.

Overall, this chapter was a bit of a reality check for the faithful, but just an amusing read for the skeptic.


  1. I saw this in action when that plane was landed in the river, through the skill, experience and level-headedness of the pilot, and everyone started praising god.

    Later, I saw an interview with the pilot, and he was asked if he was praying during the event, to which he replied, "No, I was too busy landing the plane."

    Uh, yeah.

  2. Yeah. PZ Myers made an interesting comparison between the death toll of a pilot who did pray and the Hudson Eiver crash guy. It didn't prove anything, but it certainly gave a good contrast.

    Keep praying. I'll keep living.

  3. LOL Thanks for that PF I had to read it to the BF cause it's funny as hell.

    I remember hearing about the guy who decided to give up actually 'flying' the plane and started praying. Perfect example of how religion can be dangerous.