Friday, July 17, 2009


I think it would be valuable if a good philosopher of religion were to carefully look at some of the most carefully checked contemporary miracle reports—namely those involved in Catholic beatification and canonization proceedings. I think it would lend some reality to a largely theoretical discussion. These reports are very well documented, I understand.

Here is a story that I was recently sent that is currently under investigation—it is a story of a man dying from flesh-eating bacteria, healed allegedly by the prayers of Blessed Columba Marmion.


Doug said...

That would certainly be a fresh topic for philosophers to debate. We often read about the resurrection of Jesus, which of course is the very foundation of our faith. But it would still add some support to the claim that miracles weren't just the product of ancient "superstitious" minds.

Gary Habermas has done quite a bit of work on near death experiences.

There's also some interest in cases of stigmata, but from what I understand they aren't taken into consideration during canonization.

Matthew Bellisario said...

This is an interesting story. I am Catholic and I do believe in miracles. I however always question whether or not the person is fully healed. When Jesus heals someone does he not always heal the person completely? This guy still has to use a cane and so forth. Would Jesus just give him a partial recovery or would he heal the person completely?

Glenn said...

Because I'm a Christian, I committed to the claim that God can do marvelous things that cannot be exhaustively explained in naturalistic terms.

That a miracle has occurred (in the sense just defined) is something that could be investigated. That a miracle occurred because of the prayers of Columba Marmion - or another specific person - would be much more difficult (if possible at all) to investigate.

PS - I think it would be great to allow people to add comments and simply use name/URL identity, rather than Google or OpenID.

Anonymous said...

I think an evidential argument from documented miracles may be an idea worth pursuing - most contemporary philosophers focus on the resurrection.

Mike L said...


I think you and others might be interested in this sort of argument:

Sam Calvin said...

The most impressive evidence of (relatively) contemporary miracles is the instantaneous cure of a compound complex fracture of many years' standing, namely, the remarkable cure of Pierre de Rudder. This miracle caused a sensation in Europe at the time and motivated many conversions to the faith. I recommend CONSUMING VISIONS by Suzanne K. Kaufman for a fascinating account of both the miracle and the subsequent controversy it spawned.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...


Tim McGrew is the most competent man (both methodologically and wrt his reading of much historical material) I can think of. Unfortunately, he does not believe there is much good evidence for Catholic miracles.

I'd LOVE to see you, Tim, Trent Dougherty, Richard Swinburne and/or James Franklin discussing the evidence.

Of course, there have been many apologetical debates between non-Catholics and Catholics about the sort of evidences you mention. But I know of no rigorous modern philosophical discussion of that, using the modern logical tools.

In June I attended the Formal Methods in the Epistemology of Religion conference (KU Leuven, Belgium). Swinburne, Michael Tooley, the McGrews, and Graham Oppy were, among some others, the keynote speakers. The papers were very formal, the discussions following then were, naturally, less technical, and so no much beyond my ken. I remember Tooley said in the discussion after the McGrews' paper that he studied the reports on the alleged contemporary miracles and found the evidence wanting. No one seemed to disagree. I wondered what would you, Trent or Franklin say.

I guess most Protestant apologists take the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus as the strongest evidence for a miracle. Many also think of the evidence for some other BIBLICAL miracles as quite strong, though weaker. But that's all, the rest (extra Bible) is a poor chaff.

Here two questions arise. 1. Is the remaining (say, extra-biblical and specifically Catholic) evidence IN ITSELF, without further supporting assumptions, really so poor? 2. Even if it is, could we have some independent strong evidence that the Roman Catholic Church is relevantly guided by God in certain circumstances, this independent evidence at the same time lowering the bar of epistemic standards which specifically the Catholic evidence would have to pass? (My understanding it that you challenge here to inquire rather into the first issue than to the second.)

Anyway, I say a big YES and AY to your proposal. What about a meaty discussion at the Prosblogion, or in Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, Philo, European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, The Thomist, Modern Schoolman. I see The Monist hasn't had an issue on Miracles, :-) What about some great and pompous public or at least written disputation a la Plantinga's and Tooley's recent book Knowledge of God?

I remember you once wrote you don't think the actual strenght of the evidence for miracles is an area that has been explored philosophically as much as it should be for it requires a rare blend of historical acumen with philosophical skill. The Protestants already have their Tim who has been progressively interested in this field of study. The Catholics are still waiting.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Consider the claim:

(*) The evidence for Christ's resurrection is stronger than that for any other miracle.

I think (*) is probably true, because of the vast amount of non-historical evidence for Christ's resurrection. evidence of Christ's divinity. For instance note that many of the post-Biblical miracles (such as the Lourdes ones) provide evidence for Christianity, and hence evidence for Christ's resurrection. But I wouldn't call that historical evidence for Christ's resurrection, even though it is based on historical evidence for other miracles, since it relies on a non-historical claim, namely that God is unlikely to work miracles that are testimony to a false religion. Likewise, when we take the Lord/Liar/Lunatic argument as providing evidence that Christ was God, and combine this with historical evidence that Christ (a) predicted his resurrection on the third day, and (b) died more than two nights ago, we have evidence fot he claim that he rose from the dead. But this is not a historical argument, for it relies on the non-historical claim that Christ was God.

But what if we confine ourselves to strictly historical evidence? Then I am not sure (*) is any longer true. For instance, the de Rudder case seems pretty compelling (thanks, Sam, for drawing my attention to it). Likewise, the case of the restoration of Giovanni Savino's missing eye, attributed to St. Pio, is very compelling, if the verifiable (but not verified by me) parts of the accounts I've read are correct: three witnesses apparently confirm that Mr. Savino was admitted to the hospital with an empty right eye socket after a construction injury; a couple days later, after an alleged miraculous visitation by St. Pio, Mr. Savino had an eye in his right socket, which resulted in the ophthalmologist ceasing to be an atheist.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The question of whether cures need to be complete--whether the use of a cane is to be ruled out--is an interesting one. Jesus after the resurrection still had the marks of the nails.

I could also see how a miracle could remove flesh-eating bacteria, while at the same time leaving it to nature to repair the damage already done by the bacteria and by surgery. A miracle might be targeted at the center of the condition, while leaving the beneficiary with a reminder.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...


One very simple question. If the modern evidence were so strong, one would expect much more publicity in the media. How to explain it?

We're discussing at W4 (in the thread Evidential Ammo...) the question how to interpret the claim of the Catholic Enc. 1911 that one can have knowledge of the truth of Christianity without the grace of faith: "... much misunderstanding exists regarding the meaning and office of the motives of credibility. In the first place, they afford us definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation; but this knowledge precedes faith ..."

M. Liccione, a Catholic philosopher and priest, suggests that once "one has the requisite faith, one could see such things as "definite proof" without having been able to see them as such before..."

That was my hypothesis few years ago. Now I don't know. Maybe the straightforward interpretation of the CE passage is right. My fundamental theology professor, one of the most orthodox people in the Roman theological faculty stuff at the Czech university in my town, suggested in his lectures something like that: people, in principle and at least for some time, can know, and some of them in fact do know, that (Roman Catholic) Christianity is true even without having the supernatural gift of faith. What do you think?

Just another mad Catholic said...

Is Linconne a priest? I thought he was just a Catholic Philosopher,

RE Your post Professor Pruss, It certainly looks like a good topic for discussion, might the Eucharistic Miracles at Lanciano, Sienna and Douai be included? Of the assumption here is that our Epistemology is correct and to this end are there any good books on Thomistic Epistemology you could reccomend?

Anonymous said...

I agree that specific miracle accounts make for enriching discussion in Philosophy of Religion. By miracles, I take it to be things like healings, levitations, incorruptibility, etc. However, I think just as important is looking into specific accounts of diabolic or occultic phenomena. There is a famous exorcist, Fr. Amorth (there is a book of his published by Ignatius Press) who cooly describes certainly supernatural events that he has encountered in a very matter-of-fact way. See this interview with him--especially the latter section (e.g., levitation of possessed; or--this is in the book--the possessed child who would sit "Indian-style" on the ground and no number of grown men could pick him up").

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Hey, I was wrong in this: Mike Liccione is not a priest.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

This is funny. Of course, I want to say I was wrong in believing that he is a priest; for, in fact, he is not a priest. Sorry. :-)