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REPLY #7 TO
"PSEUDOSCIENCE AND THE PARANORMAL"



Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

It sounds like you've been reading a book about Catholic miracles. The three specific cases you mentioned (St. Lydwine, the Virgin Mary sighting at Fatima, and the Eucharistic Miracle) are all rather famous Catholic myths/ghost stories/propaganda (take your pick).
(R) Sorry, I can't make my choice from the list offered. I did not present these stories as "died in the wool" facts, but as stories that had been investigated by both religious and non-religious sources, and since they are so high-profile, they have also been exposed to greater scrutiny than usual.
(MB) So, if they're not facts, myths, ghost stories, or propaganda, then what are they? There's not much room left to classify them. These cases may have been "examined", but have you noticed that it always seems to be done by people nobody's ever heard of or people who have vested interests in perpetuating belief in the stories? When legitimate investigations are done by qualified professionals, the stories tend to lose their credibility rather quickly. Of course, credulous individuals or those who just want to believe will tend to ignore any contradictory evidence.

Needless to say, when told from the Catholic perspective, they are "mysteries". When held up to critical examination, however, they are "bunk".
(R) Really? Did you find information that conclusively proves these things did not happen?
(MB) There is plenty of evidence with which to cast serious doubt upon these stories. Does it constitute conclusive proof? No, but the burden of proof is on those who allege that the stories are true. Simply saying that something happened is not sufficient.

(R) Even if you chose not to believe in supernatural sources for their occurrence, they did, nontheless, occur. The newspapers reported the incident in Fatima, the doctors documented their findings for Lydwine, and the flesh and blood still exist in Lanciano. Are you saying these things are figments of people's imaginations?
(MB) The best that can be said is that the stories were reported. It can not be taken for granted that they actually occurred -- at least not in the manner ascribed to them. For example, I have no doubt that the people gathered at Fatima experienced something which they claimed to be a visit by the Virgin Mary. But, let's consider the story. It began when a shepherd and two young children claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary on 13 May 1917. They said that she would return every month and would soon present them with a sign. To be completely accurate, only one of the children actually claimed to have spoken with the apparition -- ten-year-old Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, whose own mother described as a fantasy-prone personality and as "nothing but a fake who is leading half the world astray." Of course, the chroniclers of Catholic miracles don't report this part of the story.
Five months later, the story had spread and thousands of people gathered at Fatima on 13 Oct 1917 to witness the sign. Now, consider that all these people already knew what they wanted to see and were staring up into the sun (at Lucia's direction) waiting to see it. Stare into the sun (or any other bright light) for about 30 minutes and see what happens. You'll experience exactly what these people reported. The light will appear to change colors and spin around and do other strange things due to the overexcitement of the optic nerve. Combine this effect with their previous expectations and you have a classic "miracle". It was reported in the newspapers, as would be any good story, but the reporters didn't witness the actual event itself. They only reported what the believers told them.
As for the story of Lydwine, I think that the author of the book you read is either pulling a fast one or is guilty of some gross exaggerations. St. Lydwine is the Catholic patroness of sickness (whose feast day is April 14) who was beatified for her acceptance of the numerous injuries and ailments that she suffered as the "will of God" and her willingness to offer up her sufferings as some sort of assumption of the sins of humanity. I consulted the Catholic Online registry of saints to verify the details of the story and found that they say absolutely nothing about any mysterious or miraculous restoration of Lydwine's body after her death, any case of smallpox, any putrefaction of her body during her life from the Black Death or from any other cause, or any inordinate loss of blood. They do report the initial accident that broke her rib and the resulting burst abscess. Outside of that, the list of her sufferings includes only common ailments such as headaches, vomiting, fever, muscle spasms and blindness. It would appear that there's little reason to believe the exaggerated account that you read. After all, if the Catholics don't know the stories behind their own saints, who does?


For example, the proponents of the Eucharistic Miracle claim that the so-called Flesh and Blood are "Type AB blood, the same blood type as found on the Shroud of Turin". Unfortunately for the storytellers, there is no blood on the Shroud of Turin. It is a known and proven forgery from the 1300's and the "blood" is actually artist's paint.
(R) What relevance does the Shroud of Turin have to this discussion?
(MB) The relevance is that the quote I referenced (quoted verbatim from another Catholic web site) attempts to support the Eucharistic Miracle by drawing a parallel between it and the Shroud of Turin. Since we know the Shroud is a fake, it is likely that anything else that purports to have a similar quality is also fake.

(R) Whether the Shroud is proven authentic or not has no bearing on whether the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano actually exists or how it could be preserved for so many years with no artificial components. If we are looking for the truth, let's not get sidetracked from the task at hand by bringing in a debatable artifact.
(MB) I'm not getting sidetracked at all. I'm merely reporting what the believers themselves are saying and subjecting it to critical analysis. There's also another consideration here. Even if the purported flesh and blood is real, that is no evidence that it is the end result of any miraculous transformation of bread and wine. That proposition cannot be verified since the only evidence for it is the say-so of a monk some twelve centuries ago. It is certainly possible that he supplied the flesh and blood himself and presented it to the congregation as a "miracle". Who among the congregation would doubt him?
As to the "investigations" of the purported flesh and blood, it's instructive to refer back to the history of similar investigations of the Shroud of Turin. Prior to the very recent permission granted to professional researchers to examine the Shroud, the only examinations had been performed by the Church itself. Needless to say, they reported that there was real blood in the image. Now, after competent examination has proven otherwise, the position of the Church is that the Shroud is still a holy relic and is an article of faith for Catholics. Old habits die hard.


(R) Now, before you dismiss everyone else's research as "bunk", I invite you to check out these stories from a scientific viewpoint.
(MB) I have, and I never do otherwise. If you are really interested in a bit of hard science on this matter and other similar "miracles", here it is: First, the reported color of the "blood" doesn't match real blood. Real blood blackens with age -- it doesn't turn ochre nor does it appear rose-colored when backlit. Second, this area of Italy has produced other such blood "miracles" that have been exposed as hoaxes. There are at least two known methods of faking the stuff which is claimed to be "flesh and blood". One uses a thixatropic gel (made by mixing chalk and hydrated iron chloride with a small amount of salt water) and the other uses an oil-wax-pigment mixture that liquefies at even a slight increase in temperature. The apparent reddening comes from light being more readily transmitted through the liquefied substance. It's rather obvious why outside investigators are rarely, if ever, permitted to examine the "miraculous" substances.
The people who are in dire need of acquiring a scientific viewpoint are those who blindly believe in these "miracles". The emotional appeal of a good story is no indication whatsoever that it is true. To this day, there has never been a single "miracle" which has been subject to professional and objective examination that has been shown to be anything other than a natural event, an exaggeration, or an outright hoax. Given the number of claimed miracles, this abysmal track record casts extreme doubt on the veracity of any purported miracle which may still remain unexplained.


(R) I fully realize that not every story of a miraculous happening is worthy of belief, but these are incredibly well documented and have never, so far, been proven to be caused by anything found in nature. (Ex. body parts reappearing, 70,000 people having the same hallucination at the same time, saturated ground instantly drying up, etc.)
(MB) See above... In addition, claims are not documentation of the claimed events. Proper documentation includes solid evidence and no claimed miracle has ever provided any. Now, our knowledge of human anatomy and physiology is not perfect today and was certainly shaky in centuries past. It must be acknowledged that a report of some miraculous healing or other event many centuries ago is likely to be a result more of human ignorance than of the supernatural.
I should hit one more point about Fatima. In the original reports, the rainstorm happened during the previous night while the faithful were gathering. There were actually several hours that passed between the rain and the "miracle" of the Sun. The attentiveness of the crowd watching the Sun and eagerly anticipating the predicted appearance of the Virgin Mary would certainly make it seem as though time had passed quickly. Also, this area of the Iberian peninsula is rather warm and arid (I've been there). This would accelerate the drying of wet clothing and ground -- especially considering the probable winds that were likely still blowing in the aftermath of the rainstorm.


(R) I'm curious -- did you already know of the events I wrote about, or did you have to find out what I was referring to?
(MB) I already knew of them. As I said, they are all rather famous. I checked out some Catholic Church web sites to get their spins on the stories and found the discrepancies between them and the stories you related that I've already noted. I'm sure I could find much more -- including plenty of additional debunking material -- if I would invest the time to do so.

(R) The books that I got the stories from are called Eucharistic Miracles and The Incorruptibles, both by Joan Carroll Cruz; Apparitions, Mystic Phenomena and What They Mean, by Kevin Orlin Johnson, Ph.D. ; and The Final Hour by Michael H. Brown.
(MB) Do you accept these stories at face value? Which scientific references have you consulted in order to verify the accounts? Have you read any books by James Randi, Joe Nickell or others who specialize in debunking the paranormal? Do you ever check out skeptical websites (several of which are listed on my Exit/Links page)? If not, you're only getting one side of the story and have no reason to tell anybody else that they aren't fully examining those accounts.

(R) Mr. Brown, I will mention, was the journalist who first exposed the Love Canal toxic waste crises.
(MB) Brown makes his literary living as a Catholic apologist and has many titles to his credit.


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