Here are two clips from a recent debate in Ireland on miracles, especially the so-called “miracle cures” that supposedly occur at Lourdes, France and similar shrines. On a panel of faitheists, priests, and advocates of the divine, Michael Nugent, head of Atheist Ireland, holds his own against the existence of miracles in an intellectually hostile but civil milieu. He’s the only one who even questions these superstitions.
I recommend watching the entire debate (the second clip), if for no other reason than to see the grasp that faith still holds on Ireland, even among doctors and t.v. presenters.
YouTube gives details of the debate:
Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland debates miracles on RTE’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.
The first short clip shows Nugent (who apparently has done his homework) taking down the efficacy of visiting Lourdes. The statistics on rates of spontaneous cancer remission (higher than the cure rate at Lourdes!) were new to me. If you don’t have 26 minutes to watch the second clip, at least watch this 1.3 minutes of takedown:
The second, longer clip (which includes the first) shows everybody but Nugent at least holding out the possibility that visiting Lourdes (or its equivalent in Ireland, Knock) really can cure you. Note that the priest says that cures “are not a matter of statistics,” which of course is bogus. How else can you show that visiting Lourdes will help your malady? But several of the faith-osculators say, “You really have to visit it for yourself.” They argue that you can’t suss out the true efficacy of this place until you go there and “encounter the divine.” Somehow the “atmosphere of calmness, energy, and spirutually” is a substitute for real evidence of God.
Doctor Moran is an annoying waffler. When Nugent asks him, “Do you believe that Muhammad split the Moon in two?”, the doctor, an apparent believer, replies, “I don’t really have much of a background in Islam, to be honest, so I don’t know.” And yet the doctor calls himself a scientist. The proper scientific answer would be “we have no evidence for Moon-splitting.” (One Muslim woman says that this claim isn’t part of the Qur’an, but it is (see the link above).
Here’s the full video (recommended by Professor Ceiling Cat):
Nugent gives another eloquent answer when the obviously biased presenter asks the panel at 20:23, “Would you knock Knock?” Nugent asserts that atheists can indeed have a sense of community and meaning, and that the notion that religion gives us morality is a “con,” as are miracles themselves. Father Gibbons does not look happy. Nugent goes on to ask a good question, “If you attribute the cures to God, why don’t you attribute the diseases to God?” None of the believers have an answer, of course.
Thank God (can I say that?) for people like Nugent, who provided a genial smackdown of the tawdry Catholic trade of miracles in a land where that trade is still big business. But at least the discussion is being had in public, on television, and they do include an atheist. I’m always in favor of atheists like Nugent—those who really make a difference in this world.