It’s not a miracle!

By Phil Plait | May 12, 2007 12:33 pm

Update 2: an article in the news said a fund has been set up for Ms. Malloy by Wells Fargo bank. As I write this it’s evening and they are closed, but I’ll check tomorrow to see if there is a way to donate to this fund online. I didn’t see anything at their website.

Update (Monday, May 14): This blog entry has incited quite a reaction. I expected some, given that I am poking at what is essentially a religious viewpoint about miracles, and a superstitious viewpoint on luck. However, somewhere along the line while writing it I lost track of my ultimate goal which was to simply point out how we tend to ascribe causes to random events, and how this leads to uncritical thinking. Where I blew it was jumping right into this discussion before acknowledging where it comes from: a real human who has suffered a horrible accident. I know it’s hard to tell tone from words, but I am being very honest when I say I wish nothing but good for Ms. Malloy on her road to recovery, and I apologize for any grief she’s had about this. While I disagree with many (if not most) of the negative comments about the meat of my claim, what I cannot disagree with is that the tone of this entry is more snarky than it should have been. I let my irritation get the better of me stylistically, and again I apologize. I hope that my extended comment on this entry clears that up. Given the number of comments and the back-and-forth of them, I will leave this entry intact as I wrote it (except for the insertion about the chiropractor); but it can also serve as a reminder to any of us who blog, comment, or just plain discuss topics, that many times there is a reality behind the discussion, and people who are affected. Some of the comments below cross well over the line as well, so I hope that everyone involved here has learned a lesson.

Man, I get tired of this kind of stuff:

A car crash in Nebraska on Jan. 25 threw Malloy up against the vehicle’s dashboard. In the process, her skull became separated from her spine. The clinical term for her condition is called internal decapitation.

That’s the gist of the article: a woman survives a bad injury that in most cases would kill the victim. But the amount of bad thinking that continues from there is astonishing. Let’s look:

Miracles do happen. That’s what doctors said about 30-year-old Shannon Malloy.

Ah yes, a miracle. It has nothing to do with pure statistics and probability. Or the fact that medical science has advanced enough to save someone’s life.

Dr. Gary Ghiselli, a chiropractor an orthopedic spine surgeon at the Denver Spine Center, said Malloy’s will to survive is what saved her.

A chiropractor said it was her will. Right. I suppose someone involved with what is at the very best a borderline quack field would say it was her will, and not, say, probability and medical science. Note added Monday, May 14: The original news article said that Dr. Ghiselli was a chiropractor, but that has been amended in that article to indicate that Dr. Ghiselli is an orthopedic spine surgeon — a profession that I can say with some confidence and personal experience is a lot more trustworthy, reliable, and scientific than chiropractic.

“I had a fractured skull, swollen brain stem, bleeding in my brain, GI tube in my stomach, can’t swallow, and nerve damage in my eyes (because they cross),” said Malloy.

Doctors are working on that but she has been lucky enough to get the halo removed.

I know I shouldn’t get upset when people talk about luck, but it still irks me. Luck is probability taken personally, as the saying goes. She wasn’t lucky to get the halo removed, it’s just the way things worked out. I have actually specially worked on not using the word "luck" anymore. It’s just another accepted notion that’s incorrect, and I don’t want to promote it, even colloquially.

“Oh my God, it’s a miracle,” said Malloy.

I guess then it was also a miracle that God made the terrible, horrifying accident to happen in the first place, too. You can’t pick and choose which random events to ascribe to God, folks. If He throws the dice for one, He throws the dice for all.

“It’s a miracle that she was able to survive from the actual accident. It’s a miracle that she’s made the progress that she’s made,” said Ghiselli [the chiropractor].

See above. I suppose then it’s a miracle her skull was severed from her spine, she sustained nerve damage, and she cannot see well or swallow properly.

That’s some miracle. Tell you what: I’ll take my chances on probability.

Comments (136)

  1. Christian Burnham

    I don’t completely agree.

    The quotes don’t appear to be claiming that literal divine intervention was at work.

    It’s more the case that given the severity of the injury there was only a small chance that the patient would survive. That the patient did survive is a good thing.

    Lucky can mean imbued with luck- which clearly does not make any scientific sense. But, it can also mean that someone has experienced a low-probability event which was to their benefit. That does make sense.

    Is there any other word you can use to express happiness and surprise at a low probability event in your favor?

  2. Navneeth

    I agree with Christian; they just took luck personally, that’s all. You can’t expect everyone in every situation to use scientific terms.

    I’ll take my chances on probability.

    Good luck with that! :P

  3. Navneeth

    I’m sorry…I meant to say “they just took probability personally.”

  4. Douglas McDonald

    I can agree that from an objective perspective lucky could very well imply what you describe. From personal experience, however, I can believe that each and every person involved could have been literally attributing the victims survival to divine intervention.

    In my part of the country, (Mississippi) it is not unusual to have physicians and nurses offer literal praise to god when medical treatment produces substantial benefits. I have even had family members report that the physician encouraged them to go to church and offer prayers of thanks for god’s intervention. Of course, I always want to ask if prayer can be substituted for payment since the physician seems to believe that god had much more to do with it than she did.

  5. Ruth

    Good point Christian, luck doesn’t have to imply anything mystical. It’s just a short, simple, easy to spell word attaching some human preference to an event which on the surface appears random.

    But other than that I totally agree with BA. Miracle my butt, wearing a seatbelt is not very mystical and would probably have saved this woman a whole lot of pain.

  6. This reminds me of the time when someone recommended a general to Napoleon, citing his skills, only for Napoleon to ask, but is he lucky.

    Moving swiftly on, from the faith world this just highlights how the word miracle is abused and is not understood.

    From the scriptures, a miracle was the suspension of natural law, not a low probability event which theoretically can happen according to known science, e.g two bullets colliding in mid air (a la Mythbusters). Also Miracles are not events that are just part of the way life propergates. (Please do not say Miracle of new birth)

    A child being born is not a miracle
    Someone surviving an accident, such as this one is not a miracle, it is the result of medical science as Phil says.

    If my mobile next to me suddenly fell upwards to the ceiling against the natural law of gravity, and stayed there, would be a miracle.

    Raising from the dead, as recorded in the scripture is a record of a miracle. The giving of sight to someone born blind, as recorded is a miracle etc. The miracles recorded in the Old and New Testaments were things which happened because natural law was suspended.

    Do miracles happen today?

    Not from how I read the scriptures, but then the reason why i conclude that is beyond the scope of this board. So since the close of the New Testament, the world of natural law and science is given its head, and there is just as much wonderment in that with out trying to appeal to miracles, or some woolly notion of them.

  7. I was watching a TV show yesterday (Henry Rollins, fun) and Janeane Garafalo was on. She said that people call childbirth a miracle, but it isn’t because it happens all the time.

    And of course, most people use the phrase “Thank God” or “It’s a miracle” and don’t mean it literally. But words have a way of eating their way into your brain, and making something sound right when it isn’t.

    I have seen many people get actually irritated with me when I don’t say “Bless you!” after they sneeze. Seriously. They don’t really think they are expelling demons, but they are so used to people recognizing sneezes that it upsets them when I don’t.

    If you sneeze around me, don’t expect to hear me calling on superstitious nonsense t make you feel better.

  8. Xenu

    Well, for some miracle means sth not very just probable happened :) Someone was lucky (yea yea, i know theres no such thing as luck lol) one could experience a miracle (win on a lottery) or find a planet with alien life on it.

  9. Kullat Nunu

    This illustrates how human mind works. We tend to personalize things. At an early age humans cannot distinguish alive and inanimate objects (if a small child hurts himself, he blames the object he hit for causing the pain). As we mature, we begin to understand the differences. However, the original way of thinking doesn’t disappear entirely. Instead, we praise or blame luck, magic or supernatural beings for what happened.

    Thinking rationally is not natural to us, rational thought must be learned. It is sad — indeed dangerous — if that doesn’t happen when it is given a chance.

  10. Saganfan

    Summed it up well – “Is there any other [commonly used set of] words you can use to express happiness and surprise at a low probability event in your favor?”

    People survive tragedies and people say stuff about god. Expect it. It’s a high percentage of religious population; it’s a commonly-used phrase and it’s particularly odd to see atheist-enraged rants about it. I personally lost all respect for a blogger who ranted abuse at a Virginia Tech survivor just because they trotted out ‘I guess god looked out for me’ when an interview was made on the scene of the massacre. Sorry, Phil, but please don’t go down that path just for the sake of a few reported words – it isn’t cool.

    Someone lived. Isn’t that a good thing in general? It risks starting to come across as more callous in return to pick on them for their choice of language when they just _survived_. ANYONE can run the risk of surviving, as you said. For all we know, they also said *@&$*&#$)(*&#$ but that doesn’t get printed. I sure as hell did when I broke my collarbone in five places falling off a horse. After the morphine kicked in, I could have done a worshipful rain dance to Zuul – I didn’t care as long as I was alive.

    People may get irritated at not getting a ‘bless you’ for a sneeze – but again, what else _do_ you say? I know that Penn advocates saying ‘hey, that’s funny’ about a sneeze. Can I politely suggest that instead of criticising people’s choice of words after they just crawled out of wreakage and possibly polarising opinion between believers who may be sympathetic towards how atheists are treated -that people start suggesting new ‘memes’ to use instead?

    Drawing upon ‘Stick’s comment about miracles – if miracle is misused as a term, then perhaps it’s high time we start leading with new suggested examples that’ll draw attention away from religion and more about celebrating still being able to say _anything_ at all.

  11. I agree with Phil – miracle does not just imply divine intervention, but it is the very definition of the word. This is not a miracle, it’s just unlikely.

    And, quite frankly, too many “miracles” are keeping certain people in the gene pool well past their usefullness. I don’t know what caused the accident (funny how the article doesn’t mention any of that) – but based on the spin, I’m going to assume it was her fault. If it wasn’t, they probably would have mentioned the “evil” person or conditions that caused it.

  12. Justin

    Bad Astronomer, Please.

    I think you are taking this way personal. Yes, it is a probability that she had an accident, that she actually survived, that she did wake up that morning. In fact, ALL life is a probability, from the sperm fertilizing the egg, I mean, how many don’t make it? Life is based on probability, yes, but it is instants like this, that ONE out of millions, that make a difference in many peoples lives and that society chooses to call Miracles. Why not? What is so wrong with that? Nothing! This isn’t anti-science. This is just an easier way to percieve what really happen. Luck, luck is just a word to describe something that was very improbable to happen in the first place, but adding it the human element to it. It was lucky for her that the outcome of this situation actually favored her in the sence that she is still alive! You don’t have to make this so evil-like. Bad badastronomer, way bad.

  13. tacitus

    I always remember a 9/11 survivor who said he saw one of the planes coming directly toward him, only to miraculously veer off to the right at the very last second, saving his life.

    Even ignoring questions as to whether someone that high up was able to survive that day, this man believes he was saved by a miracle that killed all the people who were unlucky enough to be a few yards to the right of him.

    The randomness of life is hard for people to get to grips with. Why do some people die while others survive? What if I had decided not to go to that bar the night I met my wife, and stayed home instead? What if I had started crossing the street half-a-second sooner and had been hit by that car?

    There is something comforting and reassuring about the idea that there is someone or something in control, watching over you. As with all religious questions, in my opinion, it doesn’t pay to dig too deeply because you soon come up with all sorts of contradictions and even tougher questions. So people most do content themselves with platitudes and superficial explanations–they don’t care to know the dirty details.

  14. It was fortunate, it wasn’t a miracle. Supernatural forces had nothing to do with her survival.

  15. Saganfan said: “Someone lived. Isn’t that a good thing in general?”

    Not necessarily… depending on what caused the accident. If it was her own stupidity, then perhaps she *shouldn’t* have survived.

    And what’s wrong with saying, “wow – how amazing is it that she beat the odds and survived!” rather than attributing that survival to mythical causes?

    As for the sneezing, BA is annoyed when people EXPECT HIM to bless them when they sneeze. I generally say “salud” (Spanish for “health”) or nothing. And I don’t expect anybody to acknowledge when I sneeze.

    It’s kind of a gross thing, actually – I’d rather nobody noticed that I just spewed phlegm on myself, thanks.

  16. tonyx#

    HAhaha, i dont say “bless you either”, although my mom says she educated me better… :P

    “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” – Seneca, Roman Dramatist

    “Bad luck is what happens when we have been unable to anticipate [things, events]“… dont know who said it… sorry for the lame translation, english is not my first language….

    and my favorite:

    “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

  17. Sam

    Expelling demons, eh?

    Dang. I must have a whole lot of demons.

    *sneeze*

    there goes another one.
    :P

  18. DenverAstro

    Hey Phil,
    If you saw a photo of me next to a photo of my last girlfriend, the words Luck and Miracle would take on a whole new meaning. Lets face it, Richard Gere Im NOT and she was really quite lovely. You can PooPoo all you want but I considered our relationship a genuine miracle! LOL

    Just tossing a little humor in here…

  19. Saganfan

    I should change my name to ‘HumanisticFan’, shouldn’t I? ;)

    Amanda – yes, ‘stupid is as stupid does’. Wear your seatbelt, sure. No problem with that.

    But I’d rather have one ‘stupid’ Christian alive than an atheist running the risk of looking like they’re saying ‘I’d rather you be dead than going around saying you believe in god’. Because that’s what it’s starting to look like!

    Evelyn Beatrice Hall, talking about Voltaire’s attitude, wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. I might disaprove of someone’s statement but at least they’re still alive to say it. Let’s make it that in the future, they have a chance to learn something more sensible, catchy and happy that they’re alive to say… and less polarising the gap between those with a particular religion and those without.

    And that last point counts for _all_ of us.

  20. Saganfan

    “There is something comforting and reassuring about the idea that there is someone or something in control, watching over you.” – yeah, it’s just one of the things about being human, I guess. Maybe the statement shouldn’t be ‘stupid is as stupid does’ but ‘human is as human does’. People believe weird things!
    And yeah, the contradiction of my saying ‘I defend your right to say what you like’ _whilst_ commenting less favorably about this thread is not lost on me! ;)

    What I guess I’d like to leave on is “sure, you can indeed criticize someone for reflecting their religious beliefs after a horrific tragedy, we can comment on it – but can’t we lead with some examples and possibly teach with more dignity some insight on how they can express themselves in an inadvertantly less polarizing manner towards others? Otherwise we’re just becoming part of the problem?”

    Thank Sol for that! :D

  21. Rick

    BA has it right, while it seems innocent enough to say “It’s a miracle” or “god bless you” people take those things seriously. As was pointed out, there is a majority of people in the world that still hold to their religions, so when these phrases are uttered they are taken as quite serious by very many people. It’s a majority that science and reason is often coming into conflict with. High level American politicians denying the reality of evolution? Denying people rights based on their sexuality? Interfering in the research of stem cell research with claims of “right to life” while at the same time fighting a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

    Frankly there has been too much acceptance and tolerance towards subjects like this. When it comes to religious belief people’s rationality diminish when their belief system comes into question. NOT challenging people when they make ridiculous claims such as “It’s a miracle” only suggests a wider acceptance that those claims are right.

    Surviving a crash is not a miracle. Recovering from illness or injury is not a miracle, . Giving birth is not a miracle. Patterns in water stains and cheese sandwiches are not miracles. To believe such demands that you accept the negative results as well. Should we be exclaiming “Praise be to god that he got killed in that accident!”

    And while some people are comfortable in attributing EVERYTHING to the hand of god, such divine involvement begins to throw free will and responsibility into question. You can’t have it both ways. People constantly cherry pick their reality for ways to continue believing in their gods – its time they are called on their claims when it so obviously flies in the face of reason.

    If someone claims “It’s a miracle that person survived” in a horrible accident or crime, then its just as fair to claim “God sure wanted those other people dead”.

  22. Uh, am I the only one who says “Gesundheit!” when someone sneezes? It means health. Allergies or a cold, wishing someone better health seems perfectly reasonable.

  23. gopher65

    The BA said:
    “I have seen many people get actually irritated with me when I don’t say “Bless you!” after they sneeze. Seriously. They don’t really think they are expelling demons, but they are so used to people recognizing sneezes that it upsets them when I don’t. ”

    I HATE it when people say bless you to me. I am… shall we say, not at all religious (atheist. Not even agnostic). From my perspective, when someone says bless you to me, it reads as if they are trying to press their religion onto me. I know they don’t mean it that way, but I can’t help thinking about what that phrase really means.

    So when other people sneeze, I say “curse you”. People think it is a joke and laugh. But it isn’t a joke. I’m not trying to make them feel bad or anything (or curse them, heh), I just want people to remember what I said, and pause the next time they are about to callously bellow out some religious incantation/charm at me in hopes that my “soul” won’t get blasted out of my body:P.

  24. andyo

    The Bad Astronomer Says:
    May 12th, 2007 at 2:02 pm I have seen many people get actually irritated with me when I don’t say “Bless you!” after they sneeze. Seriously. They don’t really think they are expelling demons, but they are so used to people recognizing sneezes that it upsets them when I don’t.

    But I don’t think anyone really means bless you, do they? And anyone who is knowledgeable about the Seinfeld manual for etiquette will know that not saying “bless you” will only end in trouble (though in the Seinfeld universe -which is pretty much like ours-, saying it will also put you in trouble). So maybe we should just stick with “you’re sooo good-lookin’” if we really wanna make the sneezer feel better.

    In Spanish, the word is “salud” which means “health” or “good health” depending on the context. That is probably better. But if I’m gonna get rid of all the pointless words and idioms that have some lost-in-time religious genesis, then I’d have to be too careful for me to care anymore.

    And about luck, I also thought about the superstitious links to it, but it’s really how you mean it. If you say “I was lucky” is rather rational, but if you say “I am lucky” and then you actually believe that, then I am in the same position as you.

  25. Elf Eye

    Qalmlea,

    I, too, say ‘Gesundheit’, and I choose that word over ‘God bless you’ because it lacks religious connotation and instead expresses a sensible sentiment, basically, the hope that the sneeze is not a symptom of something untoward.

  26. Over the last few months of following this blog, I’ve grown steadily more irritated by arrogant and philosophically bigoted tone that’s become a fixture of nearly every post. Not just because I find it personally insulting in and of itself, but also because it makes it increasingly clear that I was pandered to in the past. This post, however, has the special distinction of being the first one to make me angry.

    Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, from the post “Mecca lecca hi,” dated 16 January 2007:
    “Some people have accused me of being anti-religious, anti-christian, whatever. The truth is, I am anti-irrational.”

    Well, now that we’ve learned that “irrational” includes saying “good luck,” “God bless you,” and, I fully expect, “bye,” I think I can safely conclude the above statement was an equivocation, at best. It would be impolite of me to say what it was at worse.

    When you’ve gotten to the point where you refuse to engage in accepted social expressions of sympathy for minor suffering because of a superannuated religious origin that, you yourself admit, has become obsolete, it makes me wonder if your philosophical conviction and evangelical zeal is any less than that of an Inquisitor from the bad old days.

    Consider that you would have other people believe you don’t care about them in even the most simple, basic human way, rather than perpetuate any sort of religion-based cultural artifact, even one that has lost all its religious meaning. How far does that go? Will you stop saying “bye” and “goodbye” because it’s a contraction of “God be with you”? Are you going to protest a soup kitchen run by an order of nuns? Or intentionally slip pork into the meals of muslim or jewish house guests to show them that they won’t be struck down by “God” for eating it?

    Put simply, how much more do you hate the idea of religion than you care about other people?

    A grievously injured woman is happy that she is alive and you condemn and mock her for it. You nitpick and insult people who disagree with you, even when those disagreements have no practical effect. She’s not pushing for evolution to be outlawed as heresy, or the geocentric theory of the universe to be presented in schools as fact. She is happy to not be dead, and that meets with your disapproval.

    Speaking on behalf of all reasonable, science-accepting, egalitarian people with a personal philosophy that extends even the tiniest bit beyond the strictly material, what do you want from us? I’d thought, and hoped, it was our support against the people who ignore the evidence right in front of them and spread lies and hatred, often perverting the beliefs of others to further their own ends, but it seems that’s not the case. It seems you want a lot more from people like me than you need to achieve your ends.

    If you have a problem with a religious person who would never impose his beliefs on others by any means, then you’re going to have a problem with a lot of people who would otherwise be on your side.

    And, a final thought on the subject that if you say “It’s a miracle” when someone lives, you must also say “God killed him” when someone dies… many people do. A religious constitution is not all sunshine and rainbows, and for every “Praise be!” there’s a “It was her time,” and “It’s part of God’s plan. Trust in Him.” Likewise, as tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I hope anyone that made the above point is sure to include in their messages to their mothers not just praise and thanks for their upbringing and life, but also an appropriate amount of complaining and criticism. It would be irresponsible to just cherry pick the good times when telling her how you feel.

  27. baryogenesis

    Apparent good luck or bad luck can be probability as applied to a group of humans, eg, a 3-time serious lottery winner, drivers as a group, etc. Preparation (Seneca) can increase apparent “luck” as well as increase the chances of disaster through cavalier or thoughtless behaviour. We can learn to get better at what life has to offer on a daily basis, often instinctively. Nothing is ever so “controllable”, but one can get quite proficient at anticipating.

  28. Jackson

    “Put simply, how much more do you hate the idea of religion than you care about other people?… She is happy to not be dead, and that meets with your disapproval… If you have a problem with a religious person who would never impose his beliefs on others by any means, then you’re going to have a problem with a lot of people who would otherwise be on your side.”

    David – beautifully put. That’s all I have to say. Let’s focus on things that actually matter, rather than make enemies over things which are being taken to hyperbolic extremes.

  29. Years ago I suggested that our company’s next reduction in force be determined by pairing off all the employees and having them engage in duels. We would keep the survivors. That way the workforce would be made up of people who were either better shots or just luckier than the losers.

    I once proposed, half-jokingly, that the appendix and the spleen are “luck organs”: in pre-modern times, only individuals careful enough – or lucky enough – not to damage their fragile spleens or have their appendices rupture before they can reproduce will get to reproduce. Silly and stupid, but I blame Larry Niven’s Ringworld for putting the thought in my head.

  30. Kristophe

    I’m with the BA on this one. Luck implies superstition. I don’t want my doctor being superstitious about things like medicine, or really anything at all. I [i]especially[/i] want my doctor to have a little more confidence in their abilities than believing every successful procedure is the result of divine intervention.

    That is what these doctors are saying. They’re saying “saving this woman was beyond my capabilities”. You may as well hop on a plane and have the pilot announce “everybody pray that the plane faeries won’t drop us into the ocean today”. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting off of that plane before the engines start.

    It has nothing to do with believing in a deity, or having religious faith or not, and everything to do with [i]understanding what the heck it is that you’re doing[/i]. I question the credentials of anybody who has my life in their hands, but believes a supernatural force is working through them. I’m sure you’d be equally unnerved if your surgeon started chanting prayers to Asclepius before picking up the scalpel.

  31. David Gian-Cursio:

    I am not mocking her for being happy! That’s a weird conclusion. Heck, I’m glad she’s OK. I’m complaining about the language. In situations like hers, it’s easy to slip into irrational thinking. I’ve been in similar situations, and the need is powerful. But we shouldn’t yield to it.

    I suppose my tone in the post does sound mocking. I don’t mean to mock her personally. I’m mocking that perspective. I also suppose it was impolitic to do even that when talking about someone who has been through so much, and for that, I apologize. But it doesn’t change my point. A lot of people think uncritically, and that tends be sharply focused by tragedy (or in this case, near tragedy).

    As far as accusing me of equivocating, read again what I wrote. I am not anti-religious per se. I am anti-irrationalism, and many (perhaps even most) religions would fall into that category for many of their beliefs. But not everything a religion does is bad, so I can’t say I am anti-religion. I am certainly, and without hesitation or equivocation, against any irrational thinking promoted by religion.

    And I wasn’t even mocking religion in this post: I was mocking the cherry-picking done by people when it comes to religion. I wish I could find the picture of a church sign I saw after 9/11 that said “Dear God– thank you for holding up the towers as long as you did.” That is precisely the kind of thinking against which I fight.

    About the other things… saying “goodbye” may have meant something else once upon a time, but now it’s just a politeness. I don’t have any issues with it. If someone were to say “God be with you” then that’s different. I don’t believe in the Norse gods, but I have no worries using the names of the days of the week! And when someone tells me to have a safe flight or to drive safely, I usually reply with “No, I’ll drive as carelessly and crazily as I can.” I say it lightly, not to mock them, but to point out that it really is a silly thing to say.

    There’s a scene in Star Trek TNG where it’s explained that an alien species hates polite phrases because they are just excuses. I remember laughing a lot when i saw that; it’s really true. Well, at least in many cases they are also holdovers of old styles of thinking, and said without thinking now.

    And finally– yes, I do to refuse to engage in accepted social expressions of sympathy, in fact, if they are just meaningless platitudes. When I’m in situations where something needs to be said, I say something heartfelt and with meaning. Why would I say something as useless as “It’s a miracle” or “It was meant to be”? Those phrases might — might — make someone feel better in the short term, but I think they hurt us all in the long run. If and when I find myself on the receiving end of tragedy — and I have been — I prefer something meaningful over something spun out of fairy dust and emptiness. If someone does say something like that, I accept it with politeness and with the feelings with which it was offered. It would be rude to do otherwise. But in my case, I’ll let it be known now that I’d prefer something with content.

  32. bad Jim

    Why is luck so often credited in circumstances in which it’s conspicuous by its absence? Malloy was “lucky” to survive her accident, but if she’d been luckier she wouldn’t have been in an accident at all.

    It reminds me of the line “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

    “Bless you!” and “Gesundheit!” both sound like sneezes. Perhaps they’re uttered as sympathetic magic to keep ourselves from sneezing!

  33. tacitus

    I do think that a lot of people use “luck” and “miracle” as shorthand for describing the length of the odds against them. If someone says they’re lucky to be alive after a bout of lung cancer, they’re usually correct, given the poor odds of beating the disease. Sure there is a rational explanation — the aggressiveness of the tumor, early detection (often through coincidence, like being X-rayed for some other health issue, selecting the right doctor who maybe had read about an innovative treatment the week before, etc. etc. Added together, I see nothing wrong as all that being collectively regarded as being lucky to be alive.

    Same with the miraculous, only we tend to reserve that term for much longer odds (say, one in a million vs one in a thousand).

    It’s only when we ascribe that luck or miracle to some external force or deity that things become a little sticky. If you are clear that you are not invoking such supernatural intervention, I see nothing wrong with using the terms.

  34. Scott G.

    I also have been avoiding using “lucky” lately and have not been a fan of “bless you” for some time now. I specifically have asked my family not to use it around me and ignore it when others say it when I sneeze (all too often in this season). If anything, I think that the sneezer should be saying “excuse me,” not awaiting recognition for the sneeze. After all, they’re the ones potentially blowing germs all over the place.

  35. I understand your conviction against irrational thinking, but I still think that you’re going a little far in this case. I’m with you when you condemn people inserting their own religious beliefs into government or science for no good reason, or not applying their thinking skills in practical matters. Once we’ve reached the point where we’re condemning people for inserting their own religious beliefs into their self-expression, especially in strongly emotional situations, I think we’re getting a little past ourselves.

    I don’t see the problem in hoping that luck (probability, statistics, what have you) is on your side, nor with prayer, affirmations or the power of positive thinking. (In moderation, of course. I see a world of difference between someone knocking on wood and the old joke about the Christian Science CPR class.) A lot of people can do either without also being the sort of people that are setting fire to witches.

    I say, pick your battles.

  36. Christian Burnham

    I suspect that luck is a hard notion to shake off. I think it’s part of what makes us human to find some events ‘fortunate’ and others ‘unfortunate’ (used strictly in the non-religious sense).

    I find it ‘unfortunate’ that D.G.-C. (above) takes this discussion to be an attack on his beliefs. I found myself thinking it’s ‘lucky’ that D.G.-C. doesn’t (as far as I know) read the Pharyngula blog. etc. etc.

    I just finished reading Douglas Hofstadter’s new book ‘I am a Strange Loop’, which discusses consciousness. (Read it!) He describes consciousness as the hallucination of a hallucination- but he also acknowledges that it’s quite impossible, to subjectively(!) get past that illusion.

    I think there’s a class of concepts that aren’t strictly pseudo-science, but are just part of our psychological make-up, even though we know that they aren’t strictly true. ‘Luck’ might not be strictly true, but it’s a really hard concept to do without. Maybe it’s just a very coarse grained analysis of trillions of variables that is kind-of true at some level, but disappears when we look at it closely.

  37. I suspect that the idea of luck will outlast any other superstitious thinking. It’s an incredibly powerful idea, and it tends to do very well with confirmation bias.

  38. nate

    BA wrote: “You can’t pick and choose which random events to ascribe to God, folks. If He throws the dice for one, He throws the dice for all.”

    I’m surprised you stooped to begging the question on that one.

    My guess is that for your next trick, if someone comes along with a theological challenge to the statement I quote then you’ll claim that you’re doing skeptical thinking or logic or anything but theology, all the while ignoring the fact that you’re making some bold implications here about the nature of God.

  39. I realize that a lot of people say “It’s a miracle” without meaning it literally. But there are a lot of people who do, too. It’s like Einstein or Hawking using “God” as a metaphor. It gets misinterpreted all too often. Instead of crediting some imaginary djinni, people should give credit where it actually belongs.

  40. I was really really lucky the other night. Driving home from work, I wasn’t in an accident, and my skull wasn’t severed from my spine.

    It’s a miracle!

  41. DavidHW

    As current research in the evolutionary (biological and psychological) development of religious behavior in human beings shows, religious attitudes are here to stay in the majority of the species. No matter how much we might wish to eradicate the irrational from our gene pool, it’s not going to happen. And I say this as an atheist who wishes we could remove religion from our cognitive hardwiring. Examine the work of Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran, Justin Barrett, and Jesse Bering.

    Best to tolerate the private silliness and save your energy for the violations of public trust when the separation of religion and state is undermined.

  42. Joshua Zucker

    I’m surprised in this discussion of luck that nobody has mentioned Richard Wiseman’s scientific investigations into what makes people perceive themselves as lucky. I think his book has a lot to teach us, and even more to teach the nonscientific thinkers who attribute their good fortune to ‘luck’ or ‘miracles’ — you are lucky if you tend to look on the bright side (that bank robber shot me, but I lived, vs. I can’t believe I was so unlucky to be in the bank at the same time as the robber), and also that lucky coincidences happen to you a lot more if you vary your daily routine, so you notice the unusual more easily and open yourself to new opportunities, and so on. Reading his stuff makes you actually “be lucky” — but of course you’re just producing circumstances that lead to more positive perceptions and more opportunities for probability to work in your favor in the long run.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Luck-Factor-Scientific-Study-Lucky/dp/product-description/0099443244

  43. Saganfan

    Christian Burnham: “I find it ‘unfortunate’ that D.G.-C. (above) takes this discussion to be an attack on his beliefs. I found myself thinking it’s ‘lucky’ that D.G.-C. doesn’t (as far as I know) read the Pharyngula blog. etc. etc.”

    Yes, but Pharyngula isn’t known as an authority or leader in regards to developing interpersonal relations with those with faith. Biology, yes, sure. Guess that’s lucky too, if there is a growing polemic attitude (as you seem to indicate with ‘other blogs, etc.) that could possibly alienate those who could otherwise support removal of ID from schools.

    Another great quote: “Best to tolerate the private silliness and save your energy for the violations of public trust when the separation of religion and state is undermined” – nice one, DavidHW! :D

  44. Christian Burnham

    Saganfan:

    I think PZ is (slightly) better on religious issues than the BA. It’s clear that the #1 source of antiscience in this country is religion. The BA isn’t against religion per se, and I think that he should be!

    On a matter of principle, I’m against all religions. I’m also against trying not to offend religious people. Anyone religious is anti-science by default.

    There’s only one religious authority on this planet who I would defer to: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who seems to speak nothing but wise words. Everyone else is fair game as far as I’m concerned!

  45. Just Al

    DavidHW said: As current research in the evolutionary (biological and psychological) development of religious behavior in human beings shows, religious attitudes are here to stay in the majority of the species. No matter how much we might wish to eradicate the irrational from our gene pool, it’s not going to happen. And I say this as an atheist who wishes we could remove religion from our cognitive hardwiring. Examine the work of Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran, Justin Barrett, and Jesse Bering.

    I can’t say that I’ve read anything from the named researchers other than very brief synopses of their work (not having heard of them before you mentioned them), but from that exposure, I can’t come to the same conclusion that you do.

    The people you cite, as well as many others, advance the idea that humans have a predisposition towards religion, but ‘predisposition’ should not be interpreted as ‘inescapable behavior.’ We also have a predisposition towards sex, violence, and insecurity, but we have conscious thought as well, and conscious thought, especially the rational kind, serves to channel and/or supress predispositions so that we are not creatures of immediate impulse. It is a safe bet that rational thought was one of the keys that placed us where we are in the food chain right now.

    Moreover, language and mannerisms are more social than genetic, as a brief visit to any high school will demonstrate.

    And finally, casual social usage can bring about deeper beliefs, through the idea that “everyone does it so it must be correct.” A great example is the very common misunderstanding of the word, “theory,” but there are plenty of others, including the fact that while the concept of religion is pretty global, individual denominations tend to be regional.

    So no, I don’t believe it’s a lost cause. If it’s silly, feel free to speak up about it, and you may find that one simple comment can change some item of behavior from reflex to, “Why am I saying that?”

    DavidHW: Best to tolerate the private silliness and save your energy for the violations of public trust when the separation of religion and state is undermined.

    Why would anyone have to choose between those options? And besides, when you do, that just opens it up to those posters who like to triumphantly dig out inconsistencies ;-)

  46. RexKillHappy

    People get mad at me when I don’t say “Thank you” when they bless me, after I sneeze and blow germs all over them.

    I don’t think I agree with you on the ‘luck’ thing. If I have the ‘good fortune’ to win 50 million in the lottery, I’ll be well aware that a serendipitous event happened to me because of an astonishing coincidence of high improbability, but it just seems so much easier to say “I got lucky.”

    Can’t we just gently guide the word away from being used as a creepy alternative to ‘Miracle’?

    And…If I found myself breathing through a tube, and facing the prospect of drooling my way through life as a physical wreck…the word ‘lucky’ just doesn’t spring to mind.

    Oh, I forgot, I’m such a damn special life form that the mere fact that I exist is why the universe was created.

    Love your website! Science Rules!

  47. Gary Ansorge

    Chrisitan: I really like the Dalai Lama. One of the most rational people around,,,

    There’s an old Sufi parable about a king who lost everything and went to a neighboring kingdom for aid. That king(a Sufi) put the ex-king in charge of a herd of 100 sheep(something about which he, the ex-king,knew nothing). When(call him Bob) lost the entire herd, the King gave him 50 sheep to care for. When those also went belly up, he was given 25 more. Now they bagan to prosper. After the herd had expanded to several hundred fat, healthy sheep, the King gave Bob a province to rule over. When Bob asked why the King hadn’t done that before, the King said,”Circumstances were not in your favor. Had I given you a province before your time had run, it would be in ruins by now. ” The implication being that there are runs of probability over which we have no control. To swim against the tide when it’s running out, means being swept out to sea. If we are able to know when the tide (of probability) is running in our favor, THEN we can accomplish,,,a lot,,,(bet you thought I was gonna say miracles).

    Smart people, those Sufiis,,,

    As Jerry Garcia was fond of saying, “Sometimes, S**T happens,,,” and when it does, run with it. It ain’t no miracle. It’s just the way things are,,,

    GAry 7

  48. MKR

    You’ll see people claiming that any advanced field does “miracles”.

    I’ve actually seen people call the internet a miracle, even though I could explain how it works to anyone if given enough time. I think people just use the term out of habit to refer to anything they don’t understand, without necessarily implying divine intervention.

  49. RAF

    Why no “bless you” when someone passes gas??

    Physically it’s “almost” the same as a sneeze (expulsion of air), except it comes from the other end.

    Seems like a double standard.

  50. nate: I am not making conjectures on the nature of God. I’m talking about how people make conjectures on the nature of God! The point is, in many cases (I daresay most) of a tragic nature, people thank God for the little good points, but don’t condemn Him for the bad parts. How many times have I heard “He works in mysterious ways”? My point is, people pick and choose what they attribute to God. And it is that characteristic I am pointing out.

  51. RexKillHappy

    Gary Ansorge: I don’t agree with your conlusion that the moral of the parable is “The implication being that there are runs of probability over which we have no control.”

    It makes it sound like the reason for the man losing so many sheep in the beginning was just inexplicable fate. It wasn’t inexplicable. there was a very good reason for the staggeringly bad return on sheep stock–bad management due to inexperience. That’s BA’s point. there are real, logical reason’s for things that happen. If we don’t apply ourselves to figure out what those reasons are then we end up with a president who thinks creationism makes sense.

  52. BA, (or Phil, if you prefer) this is what irritates me about your otherwise fine blog. While you claim not to be belittling the lady or anyone else, it is clear that you are.

    Not everyone who believes in God is stupid, and not everyone who is stupid believes in God. Stupid people believe, stupid people do not believe. And some of the finest scientists I have ever known are also some of the best Christians I know, including a wonderful Physics professor whom I had the privilege to know, study under, and go to church (and sing in the choir) with.

    When you mock these people with a broad brush, you mock me. And I am offended.

    Uri Geller is a fraud, Sylvia Browne is a fraud and a thief, Pat Robertson is an idiot. Thank you for helping expose the facts about these charlatans. But to mock believers in God is to mock me, and many people I know, love and respect. I do not think you would want me to judge astronomy by the worst practitioners of it. Yet by judging everyone by those who cling to an idea simply to make a buck, is doing that very thing.

  53. Christian Burnham

    Shawn,

    Not everyone who believes in God is stupid…

    but belief in God is an inherently stupid idea!

    Devoting your life to a deity without any evidence whatsoever isn’t that smart. It certainly doesn’t deserve any respect.

    Religious belief is at its lowest amongst scientists. Besides, it isn’t much of an argument to claim that you know some otherwise smart people who believe in crazy ideas.

    There are also lots of smart physicists who can’t spell good. Is this evidence that the dictionary needs to be amended?

  54. Shawn, I cannot be any clearer than this: I am not mocking all people who believe. I am mocking a subset who that picks and chooses what things to attribute to God and what they attribute to chance.

    As I wrote in the comments above, I was not trying to mock her situation or the fact that she is happy to survive. I am pointing out that her attitude, the attitude of her doctors, and of the chiropractor, is logically inconsistent and indicative of a bigger problem.

    Nowhere did I say all religious people do this (though I would bet that a vast majority does), or that people who believe in God are stupid, or that smart people don’t believe in God.

    I can’t believe I have to say this every time I write a post about religion, but I should really make a FAQ of it. But here goes:

    Don’t read in something I didn’t write.

    I find it very interesting that whenever I write a post about religion, I get people who accuse me of mocking all of religion. I am very careful not to do so, and in fact I am not so sure you will ever be able to find anyplace where I talk about religion in general. I avoid writing about it, specifically to avoid being accused of painting everyone with one brush. That’s why I attack certain aspects of it: fundamentalism, creationism, willfull ignorance of science and reality.

    People will be offended no matter what I write, and I accept that. But I won’t accept being accused of offense from something I didn’t write.

  55. Christian Burnham

    Gary,
    I agree. The Dalai Lama is also a very wise person.

    One thing that the Dalai Lama and Tutu have in common is that most of their speeches are not concerned with religious niceties. It seems almost incidental that they are also religious leaders.

  56. Christian Burnham

    BA: All religious people believe in ‘luck’ through divine intervention. Religion would be pretty much a pointless endeavor if you couldn’t curry favor with the almighty.

    You’re coming under a lot of criticism on this page- but that’s in part that your observation cuts to the heart of all religious belief.

    I don’t think it’s possible to criticize anti-science and not offend those with religious views- because religion is fundamentally an antiscientific belief.

  57. james

    BA:
    I guess then it was also a miracle that God made the terrible, horrifying accident to happen in the first place, too. You can’t pick and choose which random events to ascribe to God, folks. If He throws the dice for one, He throws the dice for all.
    ******

    I have said for years ‘ I believe in god so I have so I can have someone to blame.’

    In the UK a chiropractor is a respected member of the reality based medical community, so I was very confused at first.

    The origin of ‘bless you’ as I was taught it was that an indicator of pneumonic plague was sneezing, therefore ‘bless you’ would be shorthand for ‘God bless you and preserve you from the plague! Now get the hell away from my family!!!!’

  58. james

    Christian Burnham: On a matter of principle, I’m against all religions. I’m also against trying not to offend religious people. Anyone religious is anti-science by default.
    ******

    I’m guessing you have a lot of converts with that attitude. Nothing like having vitriol spouted at your worldview to open you up to reasoned debate. And Newsflash! most modarate religious people ARE open to debate; just not with elitest intellectual snobs.

    BA- I love your blog, and I agree almost all the time with what you say, but I’m the choir. I’m an agnostic from a modarate religious background. The more extreme slant you have been taking in recent posts will just alienate potential reality recruits.

  59. Christian Burnham

    James: Unlike religionists- I don’t go looking for converts. I don’t get any special dispensation from a supernatural deity for proselytization.

    Atheism isn’t a naturally self-propagating virus (like religion). It requires thought and reasoned argument to spread.

    It’s quite nice to be called an ‘elitist intellectual snob’. It makes me feel like I’ve just been attacked by Bill O’Reilly.

  60. Scott

    I believe Dr. Ghiselli is a neurosurgeon, not a chiropractor. I have only checked a few sources (phone book, internet, etc.), but I believe this is likely the case.

    The definition of the word miracle in this instance would seem to be related more to extremely low mathematical probability than to divine intervention.

    It is interesting that on most science blogs I happen upon, atheism has evolved into something more. There is an almost cultlike hatred of the established cults of religion. There is even a symbol used by the “antireligious scientific cult”–the “Darwin Fish”–on the back of cars everywhere. I only mentioned the chiropractor/neurosurgeon replacement, as it smells of propagandistic misinformation. Scientists check facts, cults propagandize.

  61. Christian Burnham

    Scott: So that’s the best you can do to give credence to the tired old argument that atheism is a cult? Some of us put parodies of the Christian fish symbol on our cars.

    Someone inform the FBI!

  62. james

    My point of view is so obviously right and true that anyone that disagrees with me is a fool, therefore I will not engage with them (beyond informing them that they are fools)

    It is comforting to wrap oneself in the warm glow of being right, I agree. As a fully fleged elitist intellectual snob myself, I can heartily recomend it.

    Atheism *is* a religious position, as it is a stated non-belief in any divinity, and it only occurs in the context of contrast with those that do have divinity based belief system.

    Science is a belief system in that its basic assumptions are: the evidence of my senses are true to the nature of my environment, and; my environment is stable enough that I may form valid theories based on the evidence of said senses. All religions can be considered ‘failed sciences’ as they eventualy resort to the sky-fairies.

    Science does not exist in a vacuum and is propagated by the same methods as any meme, primarily indoctrination from an early age.

    The warm glow of being right is a bit wane if your *position* is not under attack by crazy fringe person, but instead by a devil’s advocate ;-)

  63. james

    To put it another way, I have a good friend whose brother has drifted into the ‘happy-clappy’ branch of his family.
    This man is an intelligent, reasonable person who has been seduced by the arguments of the reasonable, intelligent people who believe in the sky-fairies.
    Now I would like to help my friend help his brother because one day he may make very bad decisions because his morality is ultimatly based on the sky-fairies.

    I want to do this because in the words of Pooh: ‘That would be a very good sort of thing to do.’

    In the same vein, I would like to think that sites like this might help other people in a similar position.

  64. Christian Burnham

    James: Am I right in assuming that the first couple of sentences of your last but one post are meant as a further criticism of me? It’s hard to tell, but you do seem to be going on about intellectual snobs again, which is the charge you initially leveled at me.

    Maybe you should team up with Scott. He believes atheism is a cult, and you consider science to be a belief system.

    What response do you expect to get? Yes, you’re wrong! Science is the very opposite of a ‘belief system’. It is based on testable hypotheses. People actually go out and do the experiments and check up on the old theories to see if they can be proven false. Science is a ‘disbelief’ system. It’s a ‘believe it when I see it’ system.

    I seem to be wasting my time here, but feel free to keep on insulting me. I rather enjoy it.

  65. csrster

    On the Daily Llama: I’ve read interviews with him where he speaks very inclusively about bringing believers and non-believers together, and of course he is a figurehead in the fight against Chinese tyranny. However, I understand that Hitchens has a go at him in his new book, and I’ll be interested to read what he has to say.

  66. Scott

    My degrees are in the sciences, as was my early career. I am an atheist, though I would not say it is “who I am” (it is not a defining characteristic, in other words).

    I never said atheism was a cult–check the facts. I said that the hatred of religion on science blogs seemed almost cultlike.

    One of your pet peeves seems to be when supernaturally charged words such as miracle are used as hyperbole. One of mine is those damned “Darwin fish”. I chuckled the first time I saw one; years later, I find them insulting.

    Twisting of statements (see your “atheism is a cult” line), misinformation, and symbols (even parodied ones) ARE traits of a cult (is Christmas not a parodied symbol?). That is why I despise those fish–they, not I, give credence to the tired old argument that atheism is a cult.

  67. Christian Burnham

    Scott:

    I never said atheism was a cult–check the facts.

    OK

    That is why I despise those fish–they, not I, give credence to the tired old argument that atheism is a cult.

    Ummm. Help me here.

  68. james

    wikipedia defines a belief system as either: ‘a religion’ or ‘a worldview’. ‘Worldview’ is further defined as, in the west;
    The Monotheistic family of worldviews which hold that the Universe is created by God.
    The Materialist/Naturalistic family of worldviews which hold that nothing exists beyond physical matter and energy.

    Would you prefer me to use ‘worldview’?

    ”It’s a ‘believe it when I see it’ system.” which I would say constituted a worldview, indeed the best possible worldview, as it will produce the most successful results, and therefore the best chance of survival.

  69. Scott

    Though I did not think it vague, I will explain my comment on the fish. I will then team up with James (though he is more eloquent, and I am an uninvited teammate).

    I have had trouble understanding the “Darwin Fish”. Perhaps it is just a sign saying “Evolutionary Biologist on Board”. Sheer numbers argue against this (there just aren’t that many evolutionary biologists driving around, and some of them ride bicycles).

    The more I see them, the more they seem, in my mind, to equate biology to religion. Why does one need to borrow a religious symbol, bastardize it, and display it for the world to see? To display belonging to one group and disdain for another. Do none cults really need symbols? If they are solely a parody, they are about as an intelligent a parody as the drivers of X brand of trucks driving around with the window decal showing Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) urinating on the symbol to Y brand trucks.

    From a philosphical point of view, of course science is a belief system. Reality is a belief system from a philosophical point of view. Philosophers are interesting, even though they are a pain in the ass.

  70. Scott

    As I said, James is much more eloquent.

  71. james

    >[That is why I despise those fish–they, not I, give credence to the tired old argument that atheism is a cult.]

    >Ummm. Help me here.

    the people who put jesus fish on their cars are making a personal statment about their religion. By putting Darwin fish on their cars, seculars are sending the message that they believe in evolution the same way the jesus fish people believe in God. That may not be the message they mean to send but that is how it is read by the 90% that have NO fish on their cars, and have no real understanding of the science/religion debate.

  72. james
  73. james

    sorry, but irrisitable…. approching 26 hours without sleep

  74. Christian Burnham

    Scott/James

    Again, if your biggest gripe about atheists is that some of them put parody fish on cars, then I would suggest that you have bigger *ahem* fish to fry.

    Maybe you could try writing to the manufacturers of said fish to explain why they’re not to your personal taste.

    As for me, I’ve got an Apple sticker on my car. (Cult of Mac you see?)

    Anyway, it’s a bit rich to be complaining about some parody fish symbols and not mention that every city is plastered with religious iconography showing some guy being crucified to death.

    That’s what puzzles me about attacks on ‘uppity’ atheists. We’ve had a couple of millennia of religious nuts who have made life miserable for billions of women and advocated all sorts of punishments for those who don’t sufficiently believe in their precise sect. Finally we get a couple of atheist bestsellers on the NYT list and suddenly the atheists get accused of being fanatics.

    The BA can criticize just about any nutty belief system on his blog, but when it comes to religious inspired lunacy it turns out that half his readers think he’s a foaming at the mouth spewer of bigotry and hatred. It seems that some people would prefer that he puts a little fence up when it comes to religion. Suddenly, it becomes ‘offensive’ to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

  75. james

    the story of the emperor with no clothes

    the story of the little boy who got a smack around the ear for being rude to royalty.

    the story of an entire crowd that got rounded up and told ‘this didn’t happen right?’

  76. Christian Burnham

    James: Well if you’re talking about religion, it’s really the story of the clothes without an emperor.

  77. james

    do you remember the furore over Patrick Moore, and how BA vowed not to go on his show?

    When I first read that I thought he was being extreme, however when I read the comments from women, women in science, I realised how hard it was to go into a culture that is hostile to you, and that Sir Patrick’s remarks had probably discouraged a good few school girls from pursuing the sciences.

    Imagine you come from a background where nobody knows a scientist, where some members of your family consider science to be the work of the devil. Now assume you love and respect this family because apart from being weird about science they are a good family. Now dispite all this you develop some interest in science. You are concerned because you feel like you are betraying your family.

    Now which teacher should they encounter?

    One that thinks there is no compromise between science and superstition?

    Or one that can nurture the inquisitive side, while reassuring the indoctrination that there is nothing wrong?

    (lets leave aside the most likely option, that they meet a teacher that tells them science is the work of the devil and to finish their caecticisms?

  78. james

    >it’s a bit rich to be complaining about some parody fish symbols and not mention that every city is plastered with religious iconography showing some guy being crucified to death.

    All we have been saying is: Don’t sink to their level

  79. Scott

    >That’s what puzzles me about attacks on ‘uppity’ atheists. We’ve had a couple of millennia of religious nuts who have made life miserable for billions of women and advocated all sorts of punishments for those who don’t sufficiently believe in their precise sect. Finally we get a couple of atheist bestsellers on the NYT list and suddenly the atheists get accused of being fanatics.

    Stalinist Russia was “purged” by antireligious nuts. Sociopaths will use the most convenient tool available to control their subjects.

    That, unfortunately, is the common perception of atheists–sociopaths who have no god and no fear of eternal damnation, and; therefore, have no moral compass. The common perception, from what I have seen, is that an atheist is an agent of the devil (at least in the US).

    >Atheism isn’t a naturally self-propagating virus (like religion).

    I’m not sure that statements like the one above really help to dispel the myth. As children, most of us played the “free association” game–you say a word, then your friend says the first thing that comes to mind. My initial “free association” response to this statement would have been “Mein Kampf”.

  80. Twyla

    I was searching sites for the name “Shannon Malloy” and came across this article. Shannon & I became friends after losing someone that was very close to both of us. Although I agree with the point of your article I have to admit I am shocked you are disecting her story, her life. Why would you take quotes from her & start a discussion on what she said? So what if she used the words “Miracle” or “Lucky”. No, they are not meant literally, but even if they were what do you care? I understand you are proving a point, but have you forgotten this is a real person? Did you ever stop to think that google would bring you to Shannons monitor? To quote you…
    “That’s the gist of the article: a woman survives a bad injury that in most cases would kill the victim. But the amount of bad thinking that continues from there is astonishing. Let’s look:”
    Bad thinking??? Who do you think you are? You are a complete idiot! Next time, make up a story.

  81. Christian Burnham

    Scott: OK, so finally you get around to equating me with Hitler! I guess this rational debate thing doesn’t work too well for you.

  82. Yeah, the idea of a miracle is pretty silly.

    I do disagree about the idea that chiropractic should be grouped with the pseudosciences… Explain to me why, after a rather nasty ski accident, I had such incapacitating pains in my lower back to the point where I had to go down on one knee during road hockey games (in my teens), due to the post-accident pain, and after a year of bi-monthly visits to the chiropractor, the pain was pretty much gone? I don’t know how it is in the States, but in Canada (and I guess in the UK as well, as it was stated above), it’s a respected practice. I also have a chiropractor to thank for being the first to discover my wisdom teeth were coming in all wrong (based on an x-ray to figure out why my neck pains were getting worse). Of course a dentist later confirmed it, and after that surgery, the pain went away. I think chiropractors are far more clever than some people give them credit for.

    The way I see it, whoever this bonehead chiropractor/neurosurgeon is who said it was a person’s will to get over it, that was the remark of one individual, not the general concensus of all chiropractors….

  83. Twyla

    Amanda…

    In response to your comment. You imply because the news reporter made no mention on the cause of accident it must have been Shannons fault. Shannon was NOT driving, drugs & alcohol were not involved, and there was not another car involved. It happened to be poor visibility due to weather. The car Shannon was riding in slid of the road & hit a tree. Shannon is very little & short, her neck hit the dashboard. Why would you be so quick to judge?

  84. Scott

    Christian,

    The argument that my gut response to your statement equates you to Hitler is illogical. “Your statement reminds me of “Mein Kampf”; Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” therefore, you must be the equal of Hitler” does not follow a logical flow of reasoning.

    I said that your statement that religion is like a self-propagating virus did nothing to dispel the negative images that many people have of atheists. Words elicit emotional responses. When G.W. Bush referred to the war in Iraq as a “crusade”, it created an emotional response that was, we hope, unintended. What is the intent of the comparison of religion to a virus? This is not you, it is standard rhetoric on many of these blogs. Certainly the comparison is intended to elicit a response. Why the need for such charged words?

  85. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> And of course, most people use the phrase “Thank God” or
    >>> “It’s a miracle” and don’t mean it literally. But words have a way of
    >>> eating their way into your brain, and making something sound right
    >>> when it isn’t.

    I dunno. I think we’re bordering on thought police level analysis here. You can’t analyze every word everyone says for correctness. That way lies madness. You become one of those activists who find hidden bigotry in every word someone says. Or you start seeing canals on Mars.

    There was an activist here in California a few year back who claimed you could detect racism in the pauses between certain words. Personally, I thought that person might want to get treated for OCD.

    >>> and that Sir Patrick’s remarks had probably discouraged a good few
    >>> school girls from pursuing the sciences.

    Not to be snarky… well, OK, to be as snarky as I wanna be, if they were discouraged by the stupid comment of an old fart, maybe they *should* pursue other interests.

    >>> intelligent people who believe in the sky-fairies.

    Wow. Which religion is that? Do they fairies look like Pibgorn? I could get into that one. :)

  86. Irishman

    Hmmm. On the one hand, I tend to get annoyed by the constant inundation of religious metaphors in phrasings, turns of speech, etc. It’s sort of a cultural exclusion tool. The assumption of Christianity is so embedded in the culture that even non-religious topics get described by religious metaphors. E.g. the frequent description of beautiful women as “angels”, descriptions of intense pleasure as “being in heaven”, etc. While a lot of the time, the metaphor is used merely as an expression without an intention of actual religous connection behind it, there are still people who think of angels literally.

    The flipside of that argument is that by encouraging the metaphoric use of the words, and stretching the contexts to apply to mundane situations (such as being in love for heaven, or beauty for angelic), we are in effect fueling the cultural mindset to shift use from the religious only context to the meaningless cultural referrent. In that sense, it can be argued it is better to encourage such usages as they strip the words of the original context.

    I’m not sure I’m convinced, but it does merit consideration. I think luck and perhaps miracles are words that fall in this category for consideration.

    The blog post said:

    Dr. Gary Ghiselli, a chiropractor at the Denver Spine Center, said Malloy’s will to survive is what saved her.

    >A chiropractor said it was her will. Right.

    Interestingly, Phil, that’s not what the article currently says.

    Dr. Gary Ghiselli, an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at the Denver Spine Center,…

    Perhaps you read an early version that has been corrected to accurately describe Dr. Ghiselli’s credentials?

    As for “Bless You”, I’ve had a few people irritated with me for not saying it as well. Then there’s the lady at work who says “Blesh”. Took me a bit to figure that one out. I don’t know if it’s intentional or just habitual dropping of the last syllable, but it does sound odd.

    “Gesundheit” is an interesting choice. It is German for “good health”, an appropriately rational thing to say when someone sneezes, if one is moved by the irrational need to say something. However, many Americans mistakenly think it actually means God bless you – I know I had that misapprehension for a long time (until college). I have toyed with the thought of dropping the foreign language (to my country) and just resort to “good health”, but it sounds a bit awkward. And I still have to wonder why it matters to say something for sneezing, but for coughing, or yawning, or farting. Well, one typically says “Excuse you” for the latter. ;-) Or maybe it’s “Oh my god, that’s disgusting!”

  87. Christian Burnham

    Scott- I’m tired of parsing your words. You compared my words to Mein Kampf, then you claim that you’re not comparing me to Hitler. You say that use of the Darwin fish gives credence to the idea of atheism being cult-like, whilst simultaneously denying that you’re calling atheism a cult.

    In other words, you’re a troll and I’m not going to reply to any more of your trolling.

  88. Irishman

    I meant to say,
    I’m thinking of taking up saying “I bless you” after sneezes, so it’s clear I’m not calling upon some alternate power to do the blessing, but am doing it myself. Sure, I don’t have the power to make any difference, but if it’s the thought that counts, then at least I’m thinking about making an improvement.

  89. Scott

    Jest,

    In the US, many chiropractors have a deserved reputation as snake oil salesmen. They set up “free screenings” at shopping malls where they will tell you that your spinal imbalances will lead to catastrophic failures if left untreated. A shoulder misalignment will ultimately cause kidney failure, etc. (I speak from personal experience).

    Most, I’m sure, are more as you described.

    Although “will” had nothing to do with Shannon’s surviving the accident, her “will” can certainly aid in her recovery and quality of life. It sounds as if Shannon is the type of person who will take a proactive role in her recovery. Patients that are determined usually take a more active role in their recovery–they are more aggressive in pursuing therapy and less likely to let prolonged bouts of depression hamper their efforts. It also sounds like Shannon has some good friends to assist her with her efforts.

  90. Irishman

    David Gian-Cursio said:
    > And, a final thought on the subject that if you say “It’s a miracle” when someone lives, you must also say “God killed him” when someone dies… many people do. A religious constitution is not all sunshine and rainbows, and for every “Praise be!” there’s a “It was her time,” and “It’s part of God’s plan. Trust in Him.”

    Except that’s not exactly the same thing. God is supposedly all good, no evil. Yet he allows and perhaps even causes these bad things to happen. Chalking it up to some mysterious, unexplicable plan is evasive and disengenuous. The point is that if God miraculously intervened to keep this woman alive despite her head severing from her spine, then why didn’t he miraculously intervene and keep her from smashing her skull into the dashboard? Why didn’t he miraculously intervene and keep the car on the road? God’s choice of “miracles” is incredibly haphazard for someone supposedly so concerned for our welfare. Saying “God works in mysterious ways” is a pathetic attempt to avoid the issue. If we’re supposed to understand right and wrong, if the point of being here is to learn moral judgement, then we must be able to practice moral judgement, and for us to practice it, we must be able to comprehend God’s moral decisions. Otherwise how do we learn the judgement he seeks for us to have? And if God does something that violates our sense of moral judgement, how can we simultaneously say that God is “all good”, by definition? It does not add up.

    Oh wait, that’s where the Faith comes in. You know, that part about believing in something because that’s the way you want it to be, regardless of how it is.

  91. Scott

    Christian,

    You don’t parse, you spin. You use the spin to conveniently avoid a more thoughtful analysis of what is being said. James clearly understood what I was saying, and I have a sneaking suspicion that you do, as well

    The question is, why the charged rhetoric? The comparison of religion to a virus is an intentionally loaded simile. This is not atheism, it is the hatred of religion.

    If this statement makes me a troll, so be it.

  92. Irishman

    David Gian-Cursio said:
    > I’m with you when you condemn people inserting their own religious beliefs into government or science for no good reason, or not applying their thinking skills in practical matters. Once we’ve reached the point where we’re condemning people for inserting their own religious beliefs into their self-expression, especially in strongly emotional situations, I think we’re getting a little past ourselves.

    But what if they’re not asserting their own religious beliefs into their self-expression, but merely conveying those ideas through rote response and cultural expectation? Can’t we examine the messages we’re sending be aware of what they really mean, perhaps even change them if they don’t convey what we intend?

    Gary Ansorge said:
    > There’s an old Sufi parable about a king who lost everything and went to a neighboring kingdom for aid. That king(a Sufi) put the ex-king in charge of a herd of 100 sheep(something about which he, the ex-king,knew nothing)…. [T]he King said,”Circumstances were not in your favor. Had I given you a province before your time had run, it would be in ruins by now. ” The implication being that there are runs of probability over which we have no control. To swim against the tide when it’s running out, means being swept out to sea. If we are able to know when the tide (of probability) is running in our favor, THEN we can accomplish,,,

    Gary, I don’t take that as a smart lesson, I take that as the very superstitiousness that the B.A. is arguing against. A king is placed in charge of a herd of sheep, something he knows nothing about (as stated in the parable). Is it any wonder that he has trouble raising them at first? Of course he had to learn how to do it. It’s not that he was having a string of bad luck or a course of probability against him, he was given something to do that he had never done and never studied, and he had to learn the hard way (trial and error, with plenty of error). Now maybe there are some lessons from herding sheep that can be applied to ruling a province, but it certainly isn’t straightforward that the best way to learn how to rule a province is to be a shepherd first.

    james said:
    > In the UK a chiropractor is a respected member of the reality based medical community, so I was very confused at first.

    Chiropractic is a misleading practice. In the U.S., they try to convey the implication that they are “back doctors”, the way a podiatrist is a foot doctor, an opthamologist is an eye doctor, a dermatologist is a skin doctor, etc. This is not true in any sense. Chiropractors are not medical doctors. (Some chiropractors may also be medical doctors, but it is a separate credential earned independently by going to medical school, just like someone can be a patent attorney and an engineer by having gone through both college degrees and accreditation programs, but the two are unrelated.) Chiropractic is founded upon unscientific principles that are not in agreement with medical study of anatomy and physiology. The methodology of spinal manipulation is similar to medical spinal manipulation techniques, and there is some scientific validation of the manipulation with regards to skeletal-muscular pain, especially the lower back. But many chiropractors step beyond this and apply it to things like diabetes.

    http://www.chirobase.org/01General/controversy.html
    http://www.chirobase.org/

    Jest said:
    > I do disagree about the idea that chiropractic should be grouped with the pseudosciences…

    The foundations of Chiropractic are unscientific. They rely upon “subluxions”, misalignments of the spine impinging upon nerves. Except the subluxions that chiropractors discuss are often not medically detectable and diagnosable. Furthermore, many chiropractors extend the use of chiropractic beyond musculo-skeletal and related nerve issues to overall health, declaring that all medical problems are due to spinal subluxions rather than any other form of disease, and all can be treated by spinal manipulation.

    > Explain to me why, after a rather nasty ski accident, I had such incapacitating pains in my lower back to the point where I had to go down on one knee during road hockey games (in my teens), due to the post-accident pain, and after a year of bi-monthly visits to the chiropractor, the pain was pretty much gone?

    Some chiropractors are better than others. Some integrate more medical understanding than others. Also, spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) is not an exclusive practice of chiropractors. There are doctors of physical medicine (physiatrists) and several other medical specialists who use it. There are legitimate uses of SMT, and it is probable that your chiropractor was correct to use SMT to address your post-accident back pains with SMT. That does not validate the underlying principles of Chiropractic, nor does it extend beyond musculo-skeletal disorders (which your injury clearly was).

    > I don’t know how it is in the States, but in Canada (and I guess in the UK as well, as it was stated above), it’s a respected practice.

    They certainly wish to be a respected practice, and fight to be treated as medical equivalents.

    > I also have a chiropractor to thank for being the first to discover my wisdom teeth were coming in all wrong (based on an x-ray to figure out why my neck pains were getting worse).

    Yes, a chiropractor can take X-rays, and I imagine some of them can even read X-rays. It’s fortunate your chiropractor looked at your teeth, considering your pain was in your neck. Granted, that does not preclude that a doctor or dentist would not have discovered the problem as quickly if you had chosen to go to them first. Though perhaps your chiropractor was slightly more likely to use an X-ray than a typical physician on an HMO.

    > Of course a dentist later confirmed it, and after that surgery, the pain went away. I think chiropractors are far more clever than some people give them credit for.

    It has nothing to do with how clever or intelligent they are and everything to do with the underlying basis – the philosophy – of their treatment.

  93. Twyla

    Scott,
    Thank you for acknowledging the fact I wrote a message.

    Irishman,
    Shannon did not say “Miracle” literally. I think when a person is overwhelmed with a situation they use words they normally wouldn’t use. To see this long discussion over 2 words taken out of a 1/2 hour conversation is ridiculous. Maybe you didn’t read my previous message where I said “Shannon’s monitor”. Your words sound so harsh, I’m glad Shannon is a positive person about this whole situation. Otherwise your last post could push a person over the edge. To quote you:

    “The point is that if God miraculously intervened to keep this woman alive despite her head severing from her spine, then why didn’t he miraculously intervene and keep her from smashing her skull into the dashboard? Why didn’t he miraculously intervene and keep the car on the road”?

    TO EVERYONE ON HERE…

    “Shannon… the person you are talking about, the one you so harshly are detailing…. can read this”. What is wrong with you? Religion set aside, she is alive and you are picking apart something she said & acting as though she is stupid. A lot of you on this site may have a lot of book smarts, but you are lacking even more common sense. Is this what you do in your spare time? You let someone post an article about an individual & you tear the individual apart? You make fun of their usage of a word, You blame a victim, talk trash about the doctor, don’t care if family or friends read it, & all for what? To prove who can use the biggest word or post the wittiest come back? Why don’t you watch the video that is linked on here, listen to Shannons voice as she says the word “Miracle”. Then remember she can read everything you are posting!

    Keith:
    You said…”I was really really lucky the other night. Driving home from work, I wasn’t in an accident, and my skull wasn’t severed from my spine.

    It’s a miracle”!

    Have you always been a bastard???

    I wonder if all of you would be commenting on this topic & being so cold about it if it were your mother, sister, friend, aunt, or Grandma instead of Shannon.
    Why did you pick Shannons story to comment on?

  94. Christian Burnham

    Twyla,

    I think you’re wrong if you think that anyone is making fun of Shannon here. We were clearly discussing the way the incident was reported as a miracle-story.

    If you have deep concerns over this blog entry, then I suggest mailing Dr. Phil Plait who wrote the article. (Click on Phil’s name underneath his photo at the top right).

    You may have a point that this page would be upsetting for Shannon to read. I can’t speak for Phil, but I think he will listen to your concerns.

  95. Twyla

    I did not say making fun of. I said disregarding the fact Shannon is a person who is reading this. I said implying that she is ignorant or rushing to judge her. Insinuating that she is at fault. For example:

    Ruth said:
    But other than that I totally agree with BA. Miracle my butt, wearing a seatbelt is not very mystical and would probably have saved this woman a whole lot of pain.

    ~How do you know she was not wearing one? Have you ever forgotten yours? Do you know for a fact seatbelts save lives 100%? Have you ever heard of seat belts failing to stay latched? Don’t you know that 49% of American women ride/drive with their seats pulled to close to the dashboard?

    Amanda said:
    I don’t know what caused the accident (funny how the article doesn’t mention any of that) – but based on the spin, I’m going to assume it was her fault.

    ~You are going to assume? It wasn’t her fault, she wasn’t even driving! The accident was not bad, Shannons injuries were. Thanks for the benefit of the doubt.

    Amanda also said:
    Not necessarily… depending on what caused the accident. If it was her own stupidity, then perhaps she *shouldn’t* have survived.

    ~I don’t even need to say anything to that quote.

    Keith wrote:
    I was really really lucky the other night. Driving home from work, I wasn’t in an accident, and my skull wasn’t severed from my spine.

    It’s a miracle!

    ~ Is that funny?

    “may be” upsetting to Shannon? too late.
    Did you really type DR. in front of his name? That is the first funny thing I have read on here!!! Dr. PHIL? That is a riot!
    Why should I voice a concern or gripe in Private. Everyone on here is so public with their opinions, why shouldn’t I be? I would like to hear the reason Shannons story was picked to mock. One doctor out of a number that saw Shannon used the word Miracle. Shannon used the word Miracle & Lucky, but then Shannon is also on Oxycontin & Morphine. There are a few of you on here that are cruel, I hope to God (not in the literal or religious sense, you can mock me in a moment) that you are never in an “ACCIDENT”. I’d hate to see someone blame you or worse yet write all about you on the interenet. Did I mention this site is in the top 3 when you type Shannons name in google. We were looking for a news article & found this instead!

  96. Irishman

    Twyla, I have no animosity towards Shannon. I am saddened by her accident, and wish her well. I hope she has a speedy and full recovery. I do not begrudge her an emotional response to the harrowing experience, and am not trying to ruin her positive attitude.

    Since you quote me, look closely at what I said. At no point have I made any disparaging remarks about Shannon. As a matter of fact, you have already posted inside details about the crash in response to remarks made by another poster. If you had not done so, I was considering a remark of my own about unfounded speculation. But since you did mention it before I could get to it, I felt your response was far more chastising and appropriate than what I could add, and I let it pass.

    The remark you quote of mine is to address the attitude of people who attribute all good events to God and excuse him from all bad events. From that perspective, Shannon’s horrible accident is an example of the mindset people take. In just the same way people attribute 9/11 survival stories to God but then do not hold him accountable for the ones who perished. It is that attitude that is frustrating to me.

    Let me repeat, my criticism is not aimed at Shannon, and I do not think the BA’s comments are, either. Rather, they are aimed at the doctor for his remarks, and at the reporter and news channel for playing up the religious angle and pandering to the religious for ratings. Admittedly, this is difficult territory, because this is particular incident is a serious situation and is, therefore, very important to the people involved and their loved ones. That makes it difficult to address the situation without potentially looking callous. It is far easier to limit criticisms to issues such as faces on tortillas and stains on freeway underpass walls. But by the very nature of them being less serious situations makes the arguments against the claims more frivolous. A silly stain is just a silly stain, and the people who take rebutting them seriously are as guilty in most people’s eyes of overreaction as the people who set up shrines to weirdly-shaped food. The seriousness of the situation is what makes the topic more compelling.

    Shannon, if you are reading this, you have my deepest sympathies.

  97. Irishman

    Twyla, I think the reason Christian Burnham suggested email is that email is more likely to get Phil’s attention quickly than waiting for him to review the blog roll again.

  98. RexKillHappy

    Twyla: two things:
    1. you are way exaggerating the vitriol of the comments on this page. We are dealing with concepts here, (about which many of us feel quite strongly), not the personal details of Shannon’s struggle to survive.

    2. I admit you have a point; there were some assumptions leapt at in a very unscientific manner in some of the comments posted. And, after all, guys, we are talking about a real live person who might very well be reading these comments. If so, I think I can safely speak for all when I say –“Please don’t take all this personally.” We wish you all the best in dealing with you’re situation and hope you beat the odds and inspire us all with you’re ‘will’ to live –and hope that you will continue to do what is necessary to accomplish a fine long life. We also hope the doctors patch you up ‘good as new’ with all their scientific knowledge– knowledge that intelligent and energetic people, over the years, worked hard to acquire.

  99. RexKillHappy

    And, of course, I meant ‘your’, both times ;)

  100. Shannon Malloy

    I just wanted to say to those of you defending me, thanks. To those of you “making fun” of me, thanks for the f**king support. It WAS a miracle I survived, they only usually see this injury in autopsies and it was missed for at least a day and a half. I should have died seven times, inclucding the two times they intubated me before knowing my skull was detatched…there is NO medical reason for me to to be alive — my skull slipped five times while placing the halo (which I was awake for by the way). What a great topic today, thanks b***tard. Thank you Twyla, my favorite friend, for your posts!

  101. Christian Burnham

    Twyla,
    I agree that Amanda’s comments went too far.

    I also think that you’re generally being insulting. My previous post was an attempt to help, but you seemed to take offense to it anyway.

    I don’t think you’re going to achieve much by offending everyone on this page. I still think that the best course of action would be to email Phil Plait rather than start an argument, which seems like it would only add to your concerns.

  102. Shannon Malloy

    PS. The doctor isn’t a chiropractor, he’s a spine doctor, MD, get your facts straight before you start defacing people, dumb***.

  103. Christian Burnham

    Shannon- I’d also advise you to email Phil Plait with your concerns about this page. He’s a very responsible person and will listen.

  104. james

    Shannon; I am very sorry that some of the comments posted here have been offensive. However I do not think you can ask the posters on a critical thinking blog to apologise for not believing in miracles and luck.
    It has also been noted earlier in the comments that the news story has been amended re chiropractic subsequent to BA lifting his quotes.

  105. james

    I fully agree with Christian , in that if you had contacted BA in confidance, he may have removed this entry in light of the fact that it is so high up the google listing and has already caused offence to friends/family.

  106. Twyla, Shannon– I certainly hope you read this (and I hope you really are who you say you are; it’s easy to be spoofed on a blog’s comments).

    I agree wholeheartedly with what Irishman said above. I never meant any animosity toward you, and of course I wish you a speedy and complete recovery.

    When I read the article about you, I was overcome with what you had to go through. Seriously. I have had too many people I know in recent memory go through catastrophic illnesses not to feel sympathy and hope for you.

    When I wrote the entry, I got focused on the aspects of the phrasing, and neglected to talk about the human side of all this. That was foolish on my part, as it makes me look callous, and I’m not. It’s very easy to sit down and write a quick blog entry, and realize later it comes across as cold. I mentioned this obliquely in a comment above. I apologized there, and I do it again here. I am honestly glad and amazed that you were able to pull through as you have!

    Now, what I am basing the blog post on was what I read in the news article. I assumed it was accurate… which is ironic, given how much grief I give the press all the time on inaccuracy in reporting science. But they called the one man a chiropractor, and something that basic I would assume they got right, If they didn’t, then again I apologize.

    The point I was trying to make, perhaps ham-fistedly, is how words and phrases work their way into our language and how they get accepted, and then they take on meaning. Luck literally has no meaning; it doesn’t exist. And for miracles… I think people use the term all the time, and it gets to the point where it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it’s a miracle you survived. I think it’s wonderful, but it’s statistics. If I buy a lottery ticket, I probably won’t win, but someone has to win. That person will feel lucky, but that’s ignoring the millions of people who lost! This type of thing reinforces itself; the person who won and everyone they know will now think this person is lucky.

    Again, to be clear– I want nothing but the best for you. I focused the article too narrowly on the words and attitudes, forgetting that a real, breathing human was behind this all. For that I apologize. If there were parts of my blog entry based on an article that took things out of context, then again I apologize, and in the future I will endeavor to be more careful when forming opinions based on newspaper articles!

    And finally, I think the basic premise I was going for is still true: we have too much magical thinking in society, and I worry that we may start to rely on it. You are the outcome of a statistical toss of the dice, which is wonderful. But from here on out, it’ll be the power of science, medical science, that gets you better. And sure, a positive attitude does help, but that has been shown to have positive effects scientifically (the effect of happiness versus sadness on the body isn’t too hard to figure out!), so it still falls under that category.

    I hope you understand, and I hope you are well on your way to recovery!

  107. Oh, yikes. I didn’t read every comment, so I missed this one by Amanda.

    Amanda, if you read this: I cannot say strongly enough how much I disagree with your statement. Even if it were true, sometimes people make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes are catastrophic, but to say that they deserve to die because of them is beyond the pale. We have all made mistakes — I can think of several I’ve made in my life (especially while driving) that could easily have caused me or others harm, but didn’t. I’ve tried to learn from them and not repeat them, and also to extrapolate to other situations to avoid making new mistakes as well. That’s one thing that makes us human.

    The news article does not say what caused the accident, and no matter how you interpret the rest of the article, to assume cause is totally unjustified here.

  108. Quiet_Desperation

    Luck takes two to tango.

    For example, when playing blackjack, if a pretty Asian woman comes up to deal, I start losing consistently. Q.E.D. :) Some sort of fung shuii thing, perhaps.

    Of course, it could have to do with the fact that I love me some pretty Asian ladies, and they distract me from my card count…

    Hey, just trying to lighten things up.

  109. Grand Lunar

    Sticks post at the top of the page (sixth one down, actually) reminded me of a similar situation.

    While on ship, a steel door has slammed on my hand. Nothing was broken, though.
    Now, I myself knew that it was because of two factors that no bones were broken: one, my hand was not on the hinge side of the door, where the leverage would’ve been greater. And two, I had a good intake of calcium. So, two factors were in my favor. I believe a third factor is that the bones in the hand are one of the stronger bones in the body.

    When I related the story to a relative of mine, citing the factors in my favor, he refuted with “No, it was god!”, or something to that effect.
    I said nothing in reply, but inside, I felt annoyed. I knew the real reason I wasn’t injured, and I didn’t need someone telling me a deity was responsible.

  110. Larzluv

    Twyla: You can be forgiven for being too close to the trees to see the forest. (NOTE: I don’t speak for BA, merely myself.)

    There’s a basic principal in driver’s training, especially in CA vehicular law – the Basic Speed Law:

    “No person shall drive a vehicle [...] at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, [...] and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.” (For example: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22350.htm)

    This is a logical method of driving safely. I currently live in Southwest MO. Oh how the rest of the country laughs and jokes about how Cali drivers can’t drive in the rain. Not only can MO (and KS, OK, and AR) drivers -also- not drive in the rain, but this season there’s been numerous ice/snow storms of -some- magnitude…

    It’s a wonder what people will -insist- on driving in… with their ill-equipped vehicles… poor driving habits (like too fast for conditions, if nothing else)… disregard for the -thinking- of driving in inclement weather.

    Thoughts -can- kill. Lack of thinking doubly-so!

    I understand Ms. Malloy is a good friend of yours. But, by your own words, it’s reasonable to say whomever -was- driving was driving unsafe for the conditions at hand. (As you phrased it “poor visibility due to weather”, it’s not unreasonable to put forth that neither she nor the driver should have even been out in said weather, in a vehicle, -attempting- to drive for just such reason this “accident” reveals.) Also, you indicate indirectly that the “reason” your friend was not wearing a seat belt was due to her being “very little & short”. There are seats, adjusters, etc., to accommodate such persons. Her being short is a correctable problem. Her not wearing a seat belt was a choice. A bad one. It would have been one thing if the belt she -was- wearing malfunctioned… but since you indicate that’s not the case…

    Perhaps, again because this is so personal and to-the-quick for you, you misspoke when you wrote: “Why would you be so quick to judge?” Please be aware: Amanda wasn’t judging your friend, but the reporter(s)/news-agency relaying the story. (The assumption was that They, in order to spin the story for all the feel-good emotionalism – “inspiration”, glossed over the cause of the accident by not reporting it, to avoid her potential culpability. A reasonable, and after you filled in the details, correct assumption.)

    She sustained injury in the first place due to poor judgment. (And/or a lack thereof.) (Most PROBABLY) Worse injuries due to lack of using (what should have been) readily available safety restraints. Further bad judgment.

    You quoted Amanda again: “If it was her own stupidity, then perhaps she *shouldn’t* have survived.” You’re too offended to write your rebuttal. Fine, but when you find calm and peace again, re-read what you quoted… she said ****IF**** it was her own stupidity… if your friend is worth your defense here, she can’t be so “stupid”, so the comment doesn’t apply to her. (So, please don’t take offense at that which doesn’t apply.)

    You wrote: “How do you know she was not wearing one? Have you ever forgotten yours? Do you know for a fact seatbelts save lives 100%? Have you ever heard of seat belts failing to stay latched? Don’t you know that 49% of American women ride/drive with their seats pulled to close to the dashboard?”

    You’re taking this personal when it’s not, because Shannon was -your- friend. Understandable, but please don’t be so. It does nobody (include Shannon) any good. The points you bring up: 1, you previously gave the -excuse- she wasn’t wearing one as her being tiny; 2, Rarely, but we’ve ALL, I’m rather sure, have forgotten to at one time or another, HOWEVER, for those of us who HABITUALLY wear them, we don’t go for “drives” without them; 3, nobody claims seatbelts are 100% effective, but a PROPERLY WORN seatbelt WOULD have saved Shannon from slamming into the dash; 4, Most people probably NEVER have heard of seat belts failing to stay latched because it’s EXTREMELY RARE; 5, I tried finding a stat like the one you mention, but could only come up with http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/rulings/dpwr.d16.html (“B. Circumstances of Air Bag Fatalities.”) – still, regardless, and I understand this is rude to type out, but excuses are only excuses, not “reasons” for being unsafe…

    The color green is the color green whether I say it is or not.

    It may be “impolite” to write it in so many words. You may not appreciate it being written. But neither of us can change reality. Am I being “judgmental”? Absolutely. But why not? MOST “accidents”, while not “intentional”, are, indeed, the “fault” of one or more drivers involved. It wasn’t “the weather”. Nor her being “too short”. Nor god. Nor luck.

    It was poor judgment.

    I have no idea who she is, so of course I don’t wish her ill. Nor could I imagine Dr. Plait would either. While I know I’m assuming here, I don’t think he intended to disparage Ms. Malloy personally, but rather her belief system – that of attributing good fortune to a god as if it would be impossible otherwise. “Improbable”, perhaps, but (obviously) not “impossible”.

    If your friend didn’t want to face public scrutiny, she could have not spoken to a reporter. But she did. (I’d guess “happily”.) She didn’t think her words would matter. This -is- rather presumptive of me, but I find it disingenuous for you to insist she didn’t mean to say “miracle” in the sense being here-discussed: that, without a god’s help, she would have died, been paralyzed, or otherwise more injured. She, like everybody else I’ve ever heard, read, and/or seen utter “it’s a miracle” means it as such. She was quoted as saying the double-whammy of, “Oh my God, it’s a miracle!” Perhaps she was misquoted…? But, the video would say otherwise. Since you insist she didn’t mean “miracle” as such, tell us: are you saying she’s an athiest who simply said what “most people say”? (If she -is- a person of faith, I feel your argument would lose some points.)

    Mr. Plait has pointed -her- words out, and the err of them. Why would she be bothered now… didn’t she believe them when she said them? Doesn’t she still -believe- them? (If so, why should -you- be offended?)

    The issue was NOT that she nearly died. It’s that she, and professional caregivers – who are _supposed_ to be “scientific” – do, really subscribe to a faulty illogic: “Oh my **God**, it’s a **miracle**!” [EMPHASIS MINE.]

    May she make a full recovery. But if she doesn’t care to see this ever (in order to be as offended as you are for her), she only need not follow the link she may find one day. That choice is also hers… The ‘web is not “intrusive”, she’d have to look for it. As you did. Sure you were merely curious. Aren’t you happy now?

    Again: NOBODY I know of here wishes her bad personally. Nor have any of us “[torn her] apart”. We all know she’s a “real person”. But she acted; she spoke to a reporter. This is the consequence. It’s not “good”, it’s not “bad”, it just “is”. You said “Your words sound so harsh”. Honestly, would you care so much if this subject wasn’t brought up about -your- friend? Would she?

    As for being -offended- at those being -offensive-, I’d think comments like at http://vnboards.ign.com/ac_friends/b5258/102826183/p1/ I found would be more so. (I won’t copy them here. THESE are what *I* think about with regards “any moron with a keyboard can say stupid things on the internets…”)

    =====

    I may be wrong, but the woman in the video doesn’t seem the same one in the post by “Shannon Malloy”. Then, again, I of course could be wrong…

    “To those of you ‘making fun’ of me, thanks for the f**king support.” So far, *I* haven’t read where anybody’s making fun of -you-, let alone your condition.

    “It WAS a miracle I survived… [LOTS OF EXAMPLES OF REALLY BAD STUFF]… there is NO medical reason for me to to be alive … [MORE EXAMPLES OF REALLY BAD STUFF]” **THAT** is precisely the sort of “reasoning” that we’re all reading and writing about! You -are- mistaken (as are “scientists” who agree) with the notion that your survival was “impossible”. It was “improbable”, to be sure, but -obviously- NOT “impossible”.

    (Thank you, though, for negating what your “favorite friend” wrote above, assuming “she” really -is-, and “you” are -you-… It’s nice to know what BA originally posted was – again, assuming you -are- Shannon – correct about you: that you believe you the were subject of a “miracle”…)

    “What a great topic today, thanks b***tard.” This part, especially, makes me dubious as to your true identity. Granted, even jerks can seem sincere on local news warm-and-fuzzy pieces. But the Shannon Malloy in the video piece sure -seemed- to lack the rudeness of this.

    If you really -are- Shannon: since none of what has been written before was intended to offend you, let alone aimed at you personally, as far as your pain or injury is concerned, and other than your belief in superstition, please tell us all just -why- you should be “offended”?

    “Thank you Twyla, my favorite friend, for your posts!” This makes me doubly-suspicious… if “Twyla” is, indeed, Shannon Malloy’s “favorite friend”, how come “Twyla” had to generically search online for detailed info about someone she (?) herself describes as more of a past friendship…?

    “PS. The doctor isn’t a chiropractor, he’s a spine doctor, MD, get your facts straight before you start defacing people, dumb***.” Yeah, since **Dr.** Plait obviously copy/pasted the QUOTES from the posted article, the dumbasses in question would be the newspaper, not BA.

    But I waste my breath.

    I don’t believe “Shannon Malloy” is genuine. I call “B.S.” that “she” is a troll!

    I’m pretty sure “Twyla” is, too. But that is much less certain…

    Hmmm…

    =====

    Amanda’s commends did NOT go “too far”. They were simply too honest and callous. They weren’t “wrong”, nor invalid.

    Just “impolite”.

    Not “politically correct”.

    But I’d back up what she said any day of the week. Truth is truth, even if we don’t -like- it…

    =====

    More generically to the thread at hand…

    Why is it taboo to speak frankly about the majority’s beliefs? Why is it somehow instantly “offensive” and/or “hostile”?

    Sure, in a heated argument/debate, things can reach such a point (probably on both sides ;) ), but at first? Merely the MENTION of it is so?

    Puh-leeze!

    It’s called hypersensitivity. Either -you- suffer from it, or, through your assumptive presumption (putting yourself in your figurative person’s head) you surrogate yourself. Either way, relax! It’s only offensive if you want it to be.

    Should -I- take immediate offense because a Fundamentalist things _I_ will burn in eternal hellfire??

    S/he thinks I’m wrong. I think they are. Obviously.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m not so overly sensitive for my un-belief system… maybe I’m not worried it can’t hold up to scrutiny…?

    Hmmm…

    RE: Darwin Fish…

    I have a hard time taking that complaint seriously. Sure, Christians may read them as me saying (when I finally get one! see: http://evolvefish.com – there’s even a flying spaghetti monster one now… am **I** the only one who’s just not found this out?? ;) , “I *believe* in Darwin like you *believe* in Jesus.” But otherwise…

    Puh-leeze^2!

    They -are- witty! *AND* proclaim that “Your fish is less than mine!” Or, more directly with the EVOLVE fish: “EVOLVE already, you superstitious fool!”

    While I’m sure there (probably) ARE atheists who are rabid, cultish freaks, I’ve yet to see/hear/read any… certainly not in the “popular-press/-culture”. Could anybody provide a link (or more!) to enlighten me…? PLEASE!?!?

    RE: Religion being equated to a virus…

    It’s an apt description, especially when one views it as insipid.

    But it -is- only a simile! (I’d prefer “socially enforced mind terrorism”.)

    So, bell the cat – or are you just attempting to rouse the rabble?

    How would YOU describe religion “non offensively” as a “loaded simile”?

    Teaching that is enforced from birth… that is enforced in a vacuum… without question… without contrast… from those whom you should trust the most… encouraged to ostracize those not infected… to encourage – sometimes require – you to infect others…

    It’s something that doesn’t self-replicate, but requires _using_ a host to do so. It’s infectious. It can be hazardous to your health. It -can- kill you. Lack of science causes it to spread unchecked.

    Except that it won’t make your head -literally- explode (I don’t -think-), “virus” seems the perfect term.

    Again, what would you suggest otherwise, killjoy? :P

    [REMOVES TONGUE FROM CHEEK...]

    Maybe religion’s like this for most people?:

    Irregardless of whether or not my mom’s actually “fat”, if you call her so, I’ll take offense!

    Is *that* it?

    Still, seems petty and low-brow to me. Especially when most (*Christians*, and here in the U.S., at least) religious followers seem to have no problem saying just how wrong their -neighbor- is with his faith… even when it’s 99.98% the same as his own…

    =====

    Dr. BA:

    I understand you may feel bad/guilty for this post. To a point, yes, you needed that mea culpa. But overall, your ‘blog is your thoughts. You tend to write to/for others similar to yourself, like a group of friends (or at least we readers ;) ). There’s nothing wrong with that. And this post specifically: it was valid, and *I* thought you disclaimed enough (even in the first version).

    But, yeah, as you later said, you -should- write out a basic “I’m -not- a callous jerk, nor am I trying to give personal offense, just quoting one specific example of what I’m writing about…” and have it be a “Standard Disclaimer applies…” link on similar posts.

    (Though *I* think you shouldn’t have to do that much. BUT, since everybody seems to think the ‘net is one big post for -them- to read/take offense at…)

    Cheers, and chin up!

    -Larz

  111. Twyla

    Phil,

    Yes we are who we say we are. I would be willing to give you contact information in an email. Thank you for your recent post. When I started writing on here I had kept my composure & did understand the basis of the blog. As I read more comments I became very angry. It is not just this blog, but other websites as well. The snide remarks & judgements are hard to read, especially knowing that Shannon is reading them too. Shannon is the strongest person I know & it is amazing how positive she is through all of this. I would go to the ends of the earth to protect her feelings. If I have to be on the computer all day defending her I will do just that. Thank you for writing “Robin”, Shannons mom! I do want to say this: People on here kept saying to write in an email, my point was… If you are posting in public & making your opinions heard, why would you tell someone else that their views need to be made privately? I apologize for getting angry & being rude. I realize my point would be heard better if I wasn’t being sarcastic, but there were posts on here that were beyond cruel. Thank you for posting Shannons information for the fund! That was the best thing you could have done to rectify the situation, Thank you again!
    ~Twyla Velasquez (Denver, CO)

  112. Irishman

    Twyla, thank you for contributing here. I am not being snarky, I think it is important that someone connected with the people behind the situation help make clear the human connection. Yes, there were some rude remarks, and I can certainly understand your frustration and aggravation with them.

    As far as emailing goes, I can see why you could feel the remarks as intended to silence you, make you respond differently than other people. I don’t believe that was the case at all. Rather, I think the suggestion of email was given because it would more rapidly catch the attention of Phil. I do not know how the blogroll software works, but I doubt he gets any particular announcements or alerts that comments are pending. I think he has to log in and check the entries manually, review the moderated comments, and generally read responses. So he might not see remarks very quickly. Email will typically ping the user as long as they are on the computer, so it can elicit a faster response. I think response time was the reason for the suggestion of email.

  113. Twyla

    No problem Irishman, I do understand. Just a difficult situation & sensitive feelings. Thank you!

  114. Twyla

    Larzluv,

    I did NOT say Shannon was not wearing a seatbelt, please reread! Why would you continue the conversation when obviously it is over? I’m sorry you missed the heat of the moment, but I’m done. Don’t be so quick to find fault in the accident, it was just that…an accident. Shannon is the same woman in the video & the one who posted on here.
    ~Twyla

  115. Twyla

    phil, could you please contact me or shannon via our emails so we can give you phone numbers?

  116. Twyla, I’m convinced it’s you. :-) I exchanged wonderful and very friendly emails with Shannon’s mom, and we’ve worked things out — in fact, I have a big post I’ll be making tonight about all this. I don’t have your email addresses, but you can send me an email at thebadastronomer “at” gmail “dot” com and we can chat. And yes, the reason folks were saying to email me is because it’s hard to keep up with all the comments, but an email will catch my attention right away.

    And as far as you and Shannon being angry, I don’t think anyone here would blame you one bit. I saw what other websites were saying as well, and I imagine I’d be pretty testy too. But I really appreciate you coming here and posting– it gave me the jolt I needed to put me back on track.

  117. Christian Burnham

    Twyla: I was the one asking you to email Phil. I did so because I knew from experience that he’d act in a responsible manner and help clear up any problems.

    I also thought it wasn’t going to help any by arguing with other people on this page, even if you were right. This is the internet, and context and meaning is often lost in the heat of post/respond/post.

    I also apologize for accusing you of being ‘insulting’. I was a little exasperated that I was trying to help and felt like you were criticizing me for a genuine effort. Still- I went too far. If I could take it back then I would.

  118. For anyone reading this far, I have written a followup post that I think is important. Please give it a read.

  119. Lindsey

    Shannon, As I know you are reading the comments on this page… I wanted to wish you the best of luck with your recovery. I read your story this afternoon on MSN and was amazed to say the least. Absolutely heart breaking. I belief some people take the word “miracle” to literally. I understand when things happen that are not common.. I too use the word “miracle”. I do believe that given everything you went thru that this was a miracle… A very unusual event with an outcome that no one would ever believe could happen. My friend says you should play the lottery :) Someone is definitely on your side :) What happened to the day and age when people read a story and felt compassion for the victim? Instead they are now automatically ASSUMING, placing blame, and dissecting their every word. Again, I wish you the best of luck with your recovery. It takes someone with a very positive attitude to get thru this the way you have.

    Tywla, You seem to be an amazing friend. I appreciate your posting on this site and have to say I have learned more about the accident thru your postings then from any article on the news sites. Thank You!

  120. Agnostic

    You know, I read the news article and wanted to find out more because… it sounded like a miracle to me (uh oh! I said it. I guess this must mean I’m stupid). For a blog whose audience claims to be critical thinkers, it sure sounds like there is a tremendous lack of compassion. I imagine many here, based on the responses, think God and religion to be a work of fiction. I’m working out my own beliefs, but when I see the utter lack of decency and compassion. Worse yet, the audacity to feel the need to comment so harshly in the midst of another’s pain and anguish, I can’t help but feel two things. Just because people have a “right” to voice their opinion definitely doesn’t mean they always should. And secondly, if being an atheist means lacking the basic compassion and sympathy that someone, regardless of their beliefs, deserves in a situation like this; Then I’m heavily leaning towards being stupid. I think I’d rather be a fool and have a heart for people than be intelligent and wear the stoic garb of selfishness.

  121. Katherine

    I’m not going to scroll through all the other comments left, so if I’m being redundant, I apologize. Firstly, I’m stoked that Shannon survived her accident. Good to know you’ll be around a while, babe. Secondly, why would anyone want to worship a God that causes such horrible things to happen, and then thank him for the “miracle” that it wasn’t worse? And why exactly is Shannon in God’s good favor (or bad depending on how you look at it), to be “saved” from this calamity when thousands of other people (be they good, bad, or ugly) die from accidents, floods, crime, cancer, etc. etc. etc. everyday. What makes her so damn special, and why don’t these other people get “miracles”? And why does God let douches like Jerry Falwell live to be 73 years old but rubs out someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. at age 39? Sorry, but not only is there no good reason to believe in God or miracles, even if I did, I wouldn’t want to give God any props for being such a dick.

  122. Bryce Rasmussen

    I respect your right, Mr. Plait, to have your preferred version of reality, or consensual reality, or whatever one wishes to call the information that our brains seem o isist on interpreting as ‘real’. However, I do not respect this illogical insistence on trying to compell others to hold to your views. This smacks of evangelicism, Mr. Plait. Said zealotry tends toward the irrational-as you have demonstrated. If you defend the right to believe what you please, then repsect the right of others to do so. at best, you can state with certainty, that brains of people percieve the information, or, literally, the activity of their neurons, as reality. You may decide that the materialistic ideal functions best, perhaps more ideal, whatever, than any of the others. But trying to force them to recant, or even just rant about their ‘irritating’ and of course wrong, because you know better, statements, merely demonstrates a need to control, which has little to do with science, or logic. Wether from stupidity, or probability, the woman survived a trauma that statistically kills many, and here you sit, quibbling about the accuracy, or ‘rightness’ of her statements! Shame, Mr. Plait. By the way, as a non-athiest, non-agnostic, non religious and non scientist, I used to read your blog, as I am interested in any and all views, ideas and such, about this fascinating existance of ours, because I like differing views. well, sadly, no more, upon seeing this pettiness. So much for the blazing sword of logic.

  123. Ev

    Katherine: I have prayed for you and those like you and will keep doing so. God Bless your grey souls.

    First everyone is entitled to their opinion, like it or not, agree or disagree. Second: To those who beilieve or are questioning, please do not take Katherine’s comments to heart and others like hers. It will only bring anger and confussion. How can anyone call The all loving, all knowing, all caring God a dick…..the ones who refuse to believe and don’t understand the ‘contract’ we made with God before we came to life. Crime is done by evil–not the devil, evil—not God, evil. As far natural dissasters, accidents and medical related deaths God knows. He’s not standing by to sit and watch us go through the trials and turbulations of life for kicks, he’s there when we cross over to help overcome the trauma we endured here on earth. He’s there to help us through hard times to include the ones and the families of those who survived cancer, escaped the floods and the ones who fought off the attackers. I would love to give more detail on this, but I have a feeling all I am getting is a “whatever”. At the end of our sometimes horrific lifes here on earth, we who believe and receive God even in our death bed or subconsciously even, will finally go to our happy, peacefull, wonderful home. To the ones who don’t believe…hey if they finished their ‘contract’ to the best of their ability without causing harm to anyone, I firmly believe they will also join us.

    God Bless you Shannon Malloy, your loved ones and to your supporters be it believers in miracles or not, and to the Medical staff. You are as Katherine put it “so damn special”. I will be sharing your story with my friends and family to send prayers and money your way.

  124. Ev

    I probably should have spelled checked before I submitted my last reply – my apologies for the misspelled words. I get a little worked up when talking about my beliefs. Still try to keep a level head though, hope I achieved at least that. I’ll go back now and read all 120+ entries…phew only 120!

  125. dirty_g

    holy cow. That got heated. Sorry to hear about the accident though. Terrible business. Yes it was very fortunate she survived indeed. I do not belive you have to start being highly scientific with every little thing in life. It is not required at all. The world would be a cold place if it was all fully termed with science language all the time. It’s a short step from well educated man to “Comic Book store man” from the simpsons being anal about everything. No offence but it did seem like that.

  126. james

    Thank you Ev, for your hilarious post! I was feeling quite down as I came to the end of a very emotional sequence of commenting. The ridiculous suggestion of the existence of a caring god really brightened the end of my day :-) :-) :-)

    Katherine – in the words of Waugh, after reading the bible cover to cover for a bet ‘Isn’t God a rotter?’

  127. Klay Williams

    Shannon and Twyla, hopefully you will understand that none of the following rant is in any way directed at you. Shannon, I hope you make a speedy recovery.

    Now–

    Ev: “I have prayed for you and those like you and will keep doing so. God Bless your grey souls.”

    Really? There’s nothing in the Bible (as far as I know) that says you have to go to a non-believer’s message board and tell them that you spent some of your god-minutes on their behalf. Do you want a cookie? I suspect that you said that more out of a desire to be annoying than out of a need to be…what? Pious? Loving? Kind? It doesn’t really fit any of the virtues I know of. It sounds more like you’re tattling on your little brother. Either you read the preceding posts and decided to say the most irritating possible thing you could have said, or you heard that somebody might be bad-mouthin your god and decided to grace us with a sermon. Either way, YOUR PRAYERS ARE NOT APPRECIATED.

    What does praying *do*, anyway? Are you hoping to nudge your god’s mercy-meter a tick to the right so that he will spare the person’s immortal (albeit grey) soul? Does praying just make you feel powerful, like you have some influence over the fate of us heathens? And what good is power if no one knows you have it, right?

    “…and don’t understand the ‘contract’ we made with God before we came to life.”

    You apparently don’t understand what a contract is. Or is that why you put it in scare quotes? It’s sort of like a contract, but not really a contract? A contract (or covenant) is something that you enter into *willingly*. Oh, and I think you have to exist, too. Which brings up another question: where in the Bible does it talk about the big holding tank for unborn souls? Is that in Heaven?

  128. Steve

    It’s a shame the original message was lost in the vitriol that was posted. Many of the statements were way overboard.

    However, Phil’s original intent was to point out that it wasn’t a ”miracle” in the supernatural sense. Her skull was disconnected from her vertebrae, but the spinal cord is intact. If her spinal cord had been severed at the neck, and she survived, *that* would have been a miracle.
    But “unlikelihood” or “slight chance” of survival cannot equate to “miracle” in the supernatural sense. Miracle means “no chance”, but it happened anyway, and that wasn’t the case here.

  129. Lindsey

    Ok Kids… lets go back to school…. According to websters… MIRACLE can ALSO mean…. an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

    And for my favorite… Wikipedia… A miracle, derived from the old Latin word miraculum meaning “something wonderful”…. Shannon surviving this accident was truely something wonderful…

    AND… People in different faiths have substantially different definitions of the word “miracle”. Even within a specific religion there is often more than one usage of the term.

    AND… In casual usage, “miracle” may also refer to any statistically unlikely but beneficial event, (such as the survival of a natural disaster) or even to anything which is regarded as “wonderful” regardless of its likelihood, such as birth.

    Maybe you should contact wikipedia and webster next to let them know that they are STUPID for telling people that a miracle is ANYTHING BUT divine intervention… which is also mentioned BUT not the only thing. Everyone has different a usage for some words.

    To some an “ass” is a donkey… to me… its alot of the people on this page.

  130. Steve

    >

    I agree that the definition you list is listed 2nd at most sites. And I would have no problem with it IF that was the intended usage.
    However, that’s not how it’s being used in most cases – not when they attribute the miracle to ‘divine intervention’, ‘God’, etc.
    In that case, they’re invoking a supernatural cause for which there is no evidence, when simple statistics can explain it satisfactorily.

  131. Irrelevant

    “I have seen many people get actually irritated with me when I don’t say “Bless you!” after they sneeze. Seriously. They don’t really think they are expelling demons, but they are so used to people recognizing sneezes that it upsets them when I don’t.”

    No, they don’t really think they’re expelling demons.

    Do YOU really think that you or your friends are keeping your soul inside you when you cover your mouth while yawning?

    Do YOU really think that your acquaintances, boss (if any) etc. – and yourself – need to be stealth-searched for a dagger when you shake hands with them…?

    Those people (and I am not one of them) think that you’re ignoring a well-established, time-honoured social convention – and that by doing that WITHIN a social frame which relies entirely on conventions, you may be slighting them. (And it makes sense.)

    If you sneeze around me, don’t expect to hear me calling on superstitious nonsense t make you feel better.”

    How about calling on *good manners* (and good humour), to make everyone feel better – which is actually what they want?

    Or, to be consistent, eliminate the “kiss it better” routine, if you have (or will have) children.

    Better yet, tell all the people whose hands you need to to shake that you won’t be pampering their antiquated fears of daggers.

    And, by all means, feel free to yawn as widely as you can, preferably with the appropriate noises. Let others worry about the whereabouts of your soul.

    I haven’t checked your profile (I never do that, so it’s not personal :) , but you do sound like a thirteen-year old Rousseau-wannabee (and trust me, that ain’t a good combination).

    If that is so, then there’s hope you’ll grow up some day.
    But for God’s sake, keep your mouth well covered! ;)

  132. You have utterly missed the point. It’s a silly social norm with absolutely no redeeming qualities, and in fact is a holdover from a belief in fantasy. So why continue doing it? I am quite supportive of politeness and manners, when it makes sense to have them. Otherwise, why practice them?

    Customs come and go, and are forgotten when they are no longer needed. Blessing someone after they sneeze is ripe for the culling.

    And I never, not once, told The Little Astronomer that kissing something would make it better. Why would I? Kissing a wound is likely to infect it. Instead, I told her to keep her cuts clean, put a bandage over them to help make sure germs don’t get in, and watch them for redness or irritation. Otherwise, don’t sweat it, go outside, and keep playing.

    That way, she grows up with a practical knowledge that might benefit her, and doesn’t grow up already practiced in believing in fantasy, another custom that really needs to go extinct as well.

  133. Brandon

    I totally agree with you, all this superstitious nonsense makes my blood boil. I was reading a MSN article about a womans choice to give up her baby, which was conceived through a rape, for adoption. She knew that god protected the children and loved them and it would be against god to abort the baby she couldn’t raise or keep. Apparently god wanted the baby at whatever cost, and his benevolence blanket didn’t cover her rape, but did the child that was borne out of the experience. It makes me crazy how willfully ignorant some people are.

  134. This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title s not a miracle!. Thanks for informative article

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