On Sunday I debated miracles on RTE television’s Spirit level with host Joe Duffy; Fr Richard Gibbons, parish priest at Knock; Louise Hall, author of a book on Medjegorje; and Dr Michael Moran, a member of the Lourdes medical miracle assessment committee.
Extract 1 – Better chance of dying than being cured at Lourdes
Extract 2 – Are the Medjugorje miracles a con?
Some of the key points that I made during the debate were:
The cure rate at Lourdes is about 1 cure for every 3 million pilgrims, far less than the statistics for spontaneous remission of cancer.
The last official cure was in 1989, so in the past 25 years you have a better chance of dying than being cured at Lourdes.
In 2008 the Pope offered a plenary indulgence to anyone who went to Lourdes, that would get you out of purgatory quicker and into heaven quicker.
Coincidentally, that was just after the Vatican had launched Vatican Airlines, that was bringing people on pilgrimages to Lourdes.
In 2012, the University of Vienna found that 86% of holy water has bacteria consistent with fecal matter, and that holy water from Lourdes has caused hospital patients to be infected.
People who attribute cures to God typically don’t attribute getting the illness to God in the first place. They only attribute to God outcomes that they like, not outcomes they dislike.
Whatever happened in Medjugorge when people thought they saw the sun dancing, it happened in their minds. If the sun had actually danced, everyone in the world would have seen it happening.
Catholics who believe that the sun danced over Medjugorje typically don’t believe that the moon was split in two over Mecca. Religious people are typically good at noticing the flaws in other religions’ miracles.
At best we can say that things happen that we don’t understand. We should be happy to say that. Adding in an explanation (that it is God) turns it from a mystery to a con.
Two issues arose in the debate that I didn’t have an opportunity to respond to, which I will clarify here.
Firstly, after I said that the Vatican had launched Vatican Airlines shortly before Pope Benedict announced free plenary indulgences for pilgrims who travelled to Lourdes during 2008, Dr. Michael Moran said that there isn’t an airline that he is aware of called Vatican Airlines.
Here is a Reuters article from 2007 about the launch of Vatican Airlines. It reads:
While some passengers only turn to prayer when jolted by turbulence, the Vatican made it standard on Monday by launching the world’s first airline for Catholic pilgrims.
Complete with Vatican logos on headrests and air hostesses’ uniforms, the inaugural flight traveled from Rome’s Fiumicino airport for the shrine of Lourdes in France.
The charter flight’s slogan spoke volumes about what its clients are doing above the clouds: “I’m Searching for Your Face, Lord”.
“It is a spiritual journey,” explained Francesco Gherra, one of the pilgrims who boarded Monday’s inaugural flight hosted by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the former head of Italy’s bishops.
The Vatican aims to serve 150,000 pilgrims a year on its chartered Boeing 737, run by Italy’s Mistral Air.
Destinations range from the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to Mount Sinai in Egypt, where Moses is said to have received the 10 Commandments from God.
In-flight entertainment on the way to the world’s holy sites will, somewhat predictably, be religious in nature, the Vatican said.
Splitting the Moon
Secondly, after I asked the Catholics on the panel whether they believed that Mohammad split the moon in two, Elisabeth in the audience said:
“Our friend Michael Nugent said earlier that Islam says that Mohammad supposedly split the moon. There is no such thing in Islam. It is mentioned to us that the moon was split, and it is God Almighty Allah who mentioned it to us. We don’t pray or worship Mohammad.”
Here is my understanding of the issue, and I am open to correction. There is no single authoritative interpretation of the Quran and Hadith. The Quran does not attribute any miracles directly to Muhammad. Some sources including Hadith say Muhammad in Mecca was requested to show disbelievers a miracle, and he showed them the splitting of the moon. The As-Sunnah Foundation of America attributes various miracles to Muhammad.
I’m happy with any Islamic theological interpretation of the event, because I don’t believe that the event actually happened. I highlighted the supposed splitting of the moon over Mecca, to contrast with the supposed dancing of the Sun over Medjugorje. The point that I was making was that people of one religion can easily see the flaws in the supposed miracles of other religions, and vice versa.
Here is what NobleQuran.com says about Surah 54:
1. The Hour has drawn near, and the moon has been cleft asunder (the people of Makkah requested Prophet Muhammad to show them a miracle, so he showed them the splitting of the moon).
Here is what WorldOfIslam.info says about Surah 54:
In this Surah the disbelievers of Makkah have been warned for their stubbornness which they had adopted against the invitation of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The amazing and wonderful phenomenon of the splitting of the Moon was a manifest sign of the truth that the Resurrection, of which the Holy Prophet was giving them the news, could take place and that it had approached near at hand. The great sphere of the Moon had split into two distinct parts in front of their very eyes. The two parts had separated and receded so much apart from each other that to the on-lookers one part had appeared on one side of the mountain and the other on the other side of it. Then, in an instant the two had rejoined.
The As-Sunnah Foundation of America was founded by a group of concerned Muslims from many backgrounds and specialties who are striving to promote the unity of Muslims and understanding and awareness through education.
Here is what it says about miracles attributed to Muhammad:
A number of miracles were bestowed upon and performed by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to establish the proof of his prophethood. The greatest miracle bestowed upon him was the revelation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is miraculous in a number of aspects: Its linguistic perfection and inimitability, its validation by recent historical, archaeological, and scientific discoveries, its prophecies and so on. Unlike the miracles of other prophets before him, the miracle of the Qur’an is eternal. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) also provided us with a number of true prophecies.
Below are accounts of the some of the other miracles of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) . Before reading these, it helps to know something about the Science of Traditions (Arabic: Ahadith), an exacting and comprehensive system developed by early Muslim scholars to verify the chain of transmission of these accounts, as well as investigating the trustworthiness and capability of every narrator at every level of the chain. This thorough authentication process ensures that these accounts are real, validated narrations of the sayings, actions, and tacit approvals of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
The Traditions mentioned below are all from Sahih al-Bukhari, the most authentic collection of ahadith.
Splitting of the Moon
Supplication for Rain
Lights to guide Companions
Crying of the stem of the Date-palm Tree
Glorification of Allah by the Prophet’s meals
The explusion of a liar’s corpse by the Earth
The Speech of the Wolf
The Prophet’s Night Journey to Jerusalem and Ascent to the Heavens
As I said, I’m happy with any Islamic theological interpretation of these supposed miracles, because I don’t believe that any miracles actually happened.