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Old 10-12-2004, 12:01 AM   #1
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do you believe in miracles?

this article sums it all up.


Quote:
Considering the odds, miracles are strictly ho-hum stuff

By MICHAEL SHERMER

SPECIAL TO THE LOS ANGELES TIMES


As the publisher of Skeptic magazine and the "Skeptic" columnist for Scientific American, my job is to seek natural explanations for apparently supernatural phenomena, for which there is no shortage of belief.

A 1996 Gallup poll of American adults found that 96 percent believed in God, 90 percent believed in heaven and 79 percent believed in miracles.

A 2002 National Science Foundation survey reported that 60 percent of adult Americans believed in ESP, 40 percent thought that astrology was scientific and 30 percent believed in UFOs. One explanation for such high rates of belief may be that 70 percent of Americans still do not understand probability.

Although explanations vary greatly across the supernatural landscape, one especially effective tool is a principle of probability called the Law of Large Numbers, which states that an event with a low probability of occurrence in a small number of trials has a higher probability of occurrence in a large number of trials.

We begin by defining a miracle as an event so improbable that the odds against it occurring are a million to one. Let's then say that on any given 10-hour day in which we are alert and out in the world, we perceive things at a rate of about one per second, or 36,000 a day, or about a million a month. The vast majority of these percepts, of course, are completely unremarkable - people walking by, cars driving past, conversations and the like. But one in a million may stand out as spectacularly unusual, perhaps extraordinary enough to call it a miracle, but it has a natural explanation.

For example, you are thinking about calling a friend when the phone rings and lo and behold, it's your friend on the line. But how unusual, really, was that event. How many calls do you make a day, a week, a month? How many times did you think about calling that friend and he or she did not call you? How many times did the friend call you and you were not thinking about him or her? Multiply enough of these probabilities together and unusual things are bound to happen.

Death premonitions are in this same category of explanation. People report having a dream about the death of a loved one, for example, and shortly thereafter the dreamed-of person dies. What are the chances of that? Rare for any individual, common in a large population.

On any given night, psychologists say, each of us has five dreams; that's 1,825 dreams a year, most of which we forget. If we remember one dream in 10, we have 182.5 remembered dreams a year. In an American population of 295 million, this results in a staggering total of 53.8 billion remembered dreams a year. Scientists tell us that we each know about 150 people fairly well, resulting in a network grid of 44.3 billion personal relationships. The annual U.S. death rate for all ages and causes is .008, or 2.6 million a year. It is inevitable that some of those 53.8 billion remembered dreams will be about some of these 2.6 million deaths among the 295 million Americans and their 44.3 billion relationships.

It would be a miracle, in fact, if some death premonition dreams did not come true.

The effect is enhanced by what is called the confirmation bias, in which we notice the hits and ignore the misses in support of our favorite beliefs (this accounts for the apparent success of psychics, astrologers, palm readers, conspiracy theorists and the like). If just a couple of people recount their miraculous dreams in a public forum, the supernatural seems validated. But it is nothing more than the laws of probability writ large.

Before we say something is supernatural, let's first make sure it is not natural.

Science is the best tool we have for generating natural explanations. Let us apply it to all miracles and mysteries, great and small.
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Old 10-12-2004, 12:31 AM   #2
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Exactly, rationality trumps superstition any day of the week.
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Old 10-12-2004, 06:28 AM   #3
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90% people believe in heaven...

wow... how intelligent !!
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Old 10-12-2004, 07:18 AM   #4
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not to discount this, but the guy is publisher of Skeptic magazine. first, I can't believe anyone would subscribe to a magazine like that. weird. Second, so be it. People believe what they want and that's ok. There are always skeptics and there are always believers and until there is definite proof that I'm wrong and someone else is right, I'll keep on believing in a Heaven.
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Old 10-12-2004, 07:31 AM   #5
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sharky,

i wont go into details

but i will tell you about myself..

if something is proved, then it should be believed...

if something is not proved..then i would have "cant say" or a negative answer to its existence
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Old 10-12-2004, 07:48 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by AcrobatMan
90% people believe in heaven...

wow... how intelligent !!
So . . . if you believe in heaven, your unintelligent?
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Old 10-12-2004, 07:55 AM   #7
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Interesting rally point for the "rational thinkers" out there. There is no correlation between the statistics sited and the premise argued.

Humans have an ability to draw connections between different acts. In many cases, it helps us understand things. In other cases, we fool ourselves into believing there is a connection (like horoscopes).

This in no way, however, refutes the existence of miracles. The article, and the statistics it relies on, is just another sad attempt to put God in a box.
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:03 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by sharky
not to discount this, but the guy is publisher of Skeptic magazine. first, I can't believe anyone would subscribe to a magazine like that. weird. Second, so be it. People believe what they want and that's ok. There are always skeptics and there are always believers and until there is definite proof that I'm wrong and someone else is right, I'll keep on believing in a Heaven.
I don't see him refuting belief in Heaven in this article at all. I see him refuting belief in miracles.
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:05 AM   #9
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Define "miracle" and then explain how he refutes it.
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:09 AM   #10
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Miracle: "We begin by defining a miracle as an event so improbable that the odds against it occurring are a million to one." (from the article)

How he refutes it: "Let's then say that on any given 10-hour day in which we are alert and out in the world, we perceive things at a rate of about one per second, or 36,000 a day, or about a million a month. The vast majority of these percepts, of course, are completely unremarkable - people walking by, cars driving past, conversations and the like. But one in a million may stand out as spectacularly unusual, perhaps extraordinary enough to call it a miracle, but it has a natural explanation.

For example, you are thinking about calling a friend when the phone rings and lo and behold, it's your friend on the line. But how unusual, really, was that event. How many calls do you make a day, a week, a month? How many times did you think about calling that friend and he or she did not call you? How many times did the friend call you and you were not thinking about him or her? Multiply enough of these probabilities together and unusual things are bound to happen.

Death premonitions are in this same category of explanation. People report having a dream about the death of a loved one, for example, and shortly thereafter the dreamed-of person dies. What are the chances of that? Rare for any individual, common in a large population.

On any given night, psychologists say, each of us has five dreams; that's 1,825 dreams a year, most of which we forget. If we remember one dream in 10, we have 182.5 remembered dreams a year. In an American population of 295 million, this results in a staggering total of 53.8 billion remembered dreams a year. Scientists tell us that we each know about 150 people fairly well, resulting in a network grid of 44.3 billion personal relationships. The annual U.S. death rate for all ages and causes is .008, or 2.6 million a year. It is inevitable that some of those 53.8 billion remembered dreams will be about some of these 2.6 million deaths among the 295 million Americans and their 44.3 billion relationships.

It would be a miracle, in fact, if some death premonition dreams did not come true.

The effect is enhanced by what is called the confirmation bias, in which we notice the hits and ignore the misses in support of our favorite beliefs (this accounts for the apparent success of psychics, astrologers, palm readers, conspiracy theorists and the like). If just a couple of people recount their miraculous dreams in a public forum, the supernatural seems validated. But it is nothing more than the laws of probability writ large.

Before we say something is supernatural, let's first make sure it is not natural.

Science is the best tool we have for generating natural explanations. Let us apply it to all miracles and mysteries, great and small."

I thought that was blatantly obvious if you read the article that he's refuting (or attempting to refute) miracles.
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:12 AM   #11
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If dreams and phone calls count as "miracles," then I don't believe in them either.
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:13 AM   #12
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Sorry, I was looking for your definintion of miracle.

By reducing the concept of a miracle to a statistical number, it would be easy to "demonstrate" how that statistical number occurs naturally.



PS Your signature block is looking better
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:19 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by nbcrusader
PS Your signature block is looking better
I know, NBC. I can't believe how often it makes dramatic changes. I can't believe how close this race is.

**back to topic**
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:21 AM   #14
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For someone whose "job is to seek natural explanations for apparently supernatural phenomena," this is a poor attempt. Explaining occurences such as phone calls and dreams down to statistical data hardly grapples with issues of miralces. I was hoping for something more.
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Old 10-12-2004, 08:40 AM   #15
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i think the author of the article is of a miserable lot.

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