Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Miracles and Study methodology

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One of the standard opporating procedures I use in my apologetics on boards, is the use of Lourdes evidence for miracles. I think it's hard for atheists to get their minds around what that means. Lourdes is a town in France, and there is a major Catholic Shrine to Mary there. The town does not own or run the shrine, but it clealry benifits from the Shrine, or whatever that means. The purpose of the shrine is to mark the appearing to three frnech chrilden, one girl in particular (Bernadette Subarou) of the Virgin Mary who said to her "I am the immaculate conception." The thing is people are healed of diseases when they partake of the water and pray. Millions of peopel have been through the shrine. Estimages of healings run as high as 20 million, although documented cases are not nearly that high. Of all these the Catholic chruch has only taken 65 cases as official miracles, but there are 4000 "remarkable" cases that just barely missed because they could not meet all the strengent rules required by the committee.

The rules the committee has set have grown over the years. They are strict, they are oreitned around a scientific understanding of medicine, and they are callculted to promote a scientific outcome. For example, they don't take Lukemia cases unless they have been free of the symptoms for 10 years, that's because they know the remission rates and want to avoid the prospect of just getting someone in remission. They require complete medical documentation for the prognosis and diagosis. All x-raya snd results of other texts, and the full course of treatment must be known to the committee before they will even consider a case.

The atheist I was arguing with on CARM,and several others and different times, have demanded that I show a double blind experiment with control group and experimental group. They argue that unless I can show that the percentage of miracles is higher than the rate of natural unexplained cures then there's no way to say that something was a miracle. I say they don't understand the nature of medical research. First of all, it would nice sure, if we had an ideal double blind experiment with good controls. But we dont' have that nor can we if we are talking about Lourdes. There's no way Luourdes can do this since it has to be expost facto. The people have already had the illness, treatment failed completely, and sought and recieved healing from the shrine at Lourdes. It would be impossible to set up a control group to run an experiment that's already over before you know of the partcipants in it.

Even so, the evidence form Lourdes doesn't need to be proven in double blind experimcment to be effective evidence of a miracle. First we must understand what we are talking about. We are not talking not talking about proving a statistical average, nor are we field testing a drug. If we thought that God woreked automatically as a force of nature we would hve to seek an incidence rate, that would helpt have a control group. But God is a will, God has "his" own ideas about things, and one is suggesting that we can automatcially compell God to action by prayer. So it would be foolish to even think about a control group. Moreover, control group and double blind would be important if we thought the outcome could be affected by knowledge of the participants. But these participants of course know they have prayed adn sought healing at Lourdes so the whole concept is just idiotic. From whom would the double bilnd be hidden? In what way can the people effect their healings by knowing they prayed?

The whole concetp of a miralce is predicated upon the idea that there is 0 probalbity of this happening. Its' not that its something that is just very very rare, but could happen. It has to have a 0% probalbity. Medical science knows this for many diseases, and the Lourdes rules are dsigned to screen out cases that remitt or that don't fall within that 0% range. That's why they don't take Lukimea cases for 10 years. But the incidence rates and cure rates, death rates, remission rates, are well estabished and well known to most of medical scinece.

The point of investigating Lourdes miralces for the chruch is to give glory to Mary, not to establish a scientific law or a statitsitcal incidcnece rate on miralces. But the comparision of a 0% probalghity veres this did happen, the impossbile happened is enoguh to know a miracle happened. There will always be some epistemic gap between what we think has happened and what could have happened. One coudl stand before God in judgment and argue that it's not happening, how do I know this isn't a delustion. The first couple of million years in hell can be used to sort that one out. When a patient comes in with total black lung and prognosis gives him just weeks or days to live, and the next day after prayer his lungs are like knew, with no trace of the diesease, we know something happeened that was not suppossed to have happened. We don't need a control group of Minors with black lung and an experincmental group that we pray for to know that something amazing and beyond explianation has occurred.

One athiest arguing on CARM has stated that unless the cure rate for miracles is stiatistically higher than the rate of unexplained cures then we have to assume that it is a naturalistic phenomenon that we will someday come to understand. This is nothing more than sheer garbabe. It assumes that God is an automatic force and is bound to work x% of miracles in all cases of disease. God doenst' have to do anyting. God can't be pinned down to a statistically cure rate, that's why its' a miralce, it's contextually impossible.

form a memeber of the Lourdes commitee (quoted on Doxa):

Balzaretti with same members of Lourdes International Medical Committee (LIMC)

Italy is represented by three members; in addition to the undersigned, LIMC members include Prof. Fausto Santeusanio, Director of the Chair of Endocrinology at Perugia University, and Prof.Graziano Pretto, Director of the Otolaryngology Department of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza Hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo. Each complete medical file, accurately drawn up by the medical practitioner in charge of the competent Medical Service, after having been checked and accepted by the Bureau Médical, currently chaired by Dott. Patrick Theiller, is submitted to the LIMC, which meets in Paris or Lourdes once a year.

Just like a court of appeal, the LIMC confirma or invalidates the position taken by the Bureau Médical in the “first instance”, after having carefully examined and evaluated the various files and, should this be required, it can request the advice or opinion of highly qualified external experts. The LIMC is currently analysing two very interesting cases, which may lead to major developments. In order to take into account the acknowledgement of a recovery, the premises of the following two fundamental aspects (which however need to be carefully distinguished) need to exist: 1. The abnormal fact: the phenomenon of recovery itself, which is characterised by its being absolutely unexpected and unexplainable, compared to ordinary medical predictions and to scientific literature data, and which will be subject to an in-depth medical analysis; 2. The sign: which leads to the belief of a special intervention by God, by intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes; this intervention has to be acknowledged by the Church, based on the report of the cured person. But at this stage, we also need to point out: a) The definition of miracle: this is an extraordinary and exceptional event, which cannot be explained through today’s scientific knowledge; b) The features of a miracle: this is a sudden or exceptionally rapid event, with permanent effects and no relapses, which can be assessed through a scientific and interdisciplinary methodology involving biology, forensic medicine, theology, etc. c) The context in which the miracle occurs: historic age, documentation and iconography, taking place within catholic religion and not other religious beliefs and/or cultures, etc.; d) The authority proclaiming the miracle: after the favourable judgement passed by the CMIL (Comité Médical International de Lourdes), this is the ecclesiastic ordinary of the diocese of origin or another authoritative representative of the Church.

After 1977, following the proposal put forward by Mgr. Donze (who has recently died) to reword the rules laid down by Benedict XIV in the light of nowadays’ scientific and technological innovations, a 16 query scheme prepared by the LIMC was laid down; among other things, this introduced the need to rule out any psychopathic component, as well as any other subjective pathologic statea or manifestationa (which are therefore not verifiable), hence only taking into account the recovery acknowledgements relating to serious and provable affections, the only ones that could be deemed as “scientifically inexplicable”. And therefore, in this case it will be possible to close the medical report supporting a “certain and medically unexplainable” recovery, only when:

1) The diagnostics and authenticity of the disease has been preliminarily and perfectly assessed;

2) The prognosis provides for an impending or short-term fatal outcome;

3) The recovery is sudden, without convalesce, and absolutely complete and final;

4) The prescribed treatment cannot be deemed to have resulted in a recovery or in any case could have been propitiatory for the purposes of recovery itself. These criteria are still in use nowadays, in view of their highly logical, accurate and pertinent nature.

They undoubtedly and straightforwardly set out the standard features of an unexpected recovery and have actually made it impossible to put forward any objection to any form of lack of scientific exactitude on the part of the medical practitioners belonging to the Bureau and to the LIMC. The rigour of the Lourdes medical practitioners, whose scrupulousness throughout the years has been centering on the suddenness of recoveries, on the relative effectiveness of the therapies administered, on the objective evidence of the disease found, or on the shorter or longer length of the monitoring period (depending on the disease), has always been exemplary and appreciated by all the Diocesan Canonical Committees that have been called to express their opinion.

Compliance to such criteria has corroborated the seriousness and objectivity of the former Bureau des Constatations and, today, it continues to guide the Comité Médical International de Lourdes, whose conclusions have always represented an indispensable expert’s piece of evidence generating and motivating any further canonical judgements required to acknowledge the real Miracles amongst the thousands of recoveries ascribed to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes

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