CNN uncritically covers a “miracle”

March 5, 2019 • 8:30 am

UPDATE: Now Seth Andrews has weighed in on the thread, and he has supporters! (Remember, Seth used to be a pious Christian.)


I suppose that if I weren’t an atheist, I wouldn’t notice things like this, nor pay attention to the media’s uncritical coverage of it. In this case the media is the liberal outlet CNN—so liberal that it swallows this story whole (click on the screenshot):

The entire story:

When firefighters arrived at Freedom Ministries Church in Grandview, West Virginia they were left stunned by what they saw.

A devastating fire — so hot that firefighters had to back out at one point — was ravaging through the building, the Coal City Fire Department said in a Facebook post.

But as they went through the charred wreckage, they noticed something extraordinary.

“In your mind, everything should be burned, ashes. Not a single bible was burned and not a single cross was harmed!!” the department wrote.

The Facebook post, which went viral, features compelling photos of a pile of about a dozen intact Bibles surrounded by the rubble.

“Though the odds were against us, God was not,” the firefighters added. No firefighters were injured in the operation. The cause of the fire is still unclear.

Here’s the announcement and pictures from the Facebook page of the Coal City Fire Department, which clearly sees God’s hand in this miraculous non-immolation of crosses and Bibles:


A few comments. First, if God saved the Bibles and crosses, why did he allow the rest of the church to be burned down? After all, he had the power to render things immune to flames! Second, CNN covers this without casting any doubt on the “miracle” explanation. Perhaps they could have asked a fire expert if there could have been a naturalistic explanation for this “miracle”. (I’m going with Hume here.)

Finally, why is a fire department, which is a branch of the government, thanking God so effusively on its webpage? Police departments aren’t supposed to do this, so why fire department?

The comments on this post are uniformly in praise of God’s mercy, without any irony. I could not resist leaving the following comment, which of course will be removed. But I hope it isn’t, as I’d be delighted to see the responses and the layperson’s take on the Problem of Evil:

There are over 3,000 comments, almost all of them praising the power of the Lord. (One other cynic said that Bibles might just ignite more slowly because they’re thick and paper is hard to burn.) While I didn’t peruse them all lest I get terminally depressed, read some of the comments to see how delusional America remains. Nobody questions why God would burn a church but save the Bibles and crosses.

134 thoughts on “CNN uncritically covers a “miracle”

  1. It is certainly interesting as a mystery. They’d have to test if they’d burn in the first place. Burn a Bible. Perhaps they were made of a particular pulp – was asbestos ever put in pulp for some reason? Or were these human-made books placed in a fire-resistant area? Resistance counts a lot. Or the air flowed from the books to the site combustion – creating a draft that protects the books.

    Whatever the parsimonious explanation- an explanation that itself would simply be hailed as a god’s action – I no longer view these news stories as dopey side shows, but center-ring spectacles of Fantasyland.

    1. When I first read the title I thought that the bibles were scattered in pews throughout the church rather than piled in one location. That would have been surprising, albeit not a miracle without some natural explanation. That they were in a pile knocks the stuffing right out of that miracle

      1. When they’re in a pile like that, they would be extremely hard to burn, especially sitting on that hard surface that looks like it wasn’t touched by the fire either. I’d be more surprised if they had burnt given where they were (though loose paper or pamphlets would have burnt in that location).

        Even when I was a believer I would have said, “Definitely. No. Miracle.”

        1. Closed books are remarkably hard to burn.

          If my library was on fire and I saw the brigade approaching with hoses, I’d fight them off. Water will destroy books much quicker and more throughly than flames will.

          I’m reminded of some of these ‘spontaneous human combustion’ stories wherein the body was allegedly completely consumed, the ‘intense’ heat had even melted the TV set on the wall, yet the rest of the bedclothes were undamaged. (Allegedly) uncanny.

          Not when you consider ‘wick effect’, fats from the body soaking into the covers and slowly (oxygen-deprived atmosphere) combusting, like a candle; and the fact that heat rises, and plastic like a TV case has quite a low melting point. Way way lower than the ignition temperature of bedclothes…


          1. I’ve seen tests using a pig carcass dressed in clothes and its body burned but most of the clothes didn’t.

              1. Some fabrics, like wool, are quite hard to burn even without any treatment. It’s like infiniteimprobabilit says – if a body has a lot of fat it can burn without the stuff around it burning. Falling asleep while smoking is one way that’s suggested it happens.

      2. It is a very odd coincidence is that as the church attendance drops the reported number of miracles always increases. Strange innit.

  2. Nobody questions why God would burn a church but save the Bibles and crosses

    I think we all know how subtly he reveals his existence to the faithful. The rest of us are happy to know that fires are tricky things and the bibles could just have been in a favourable position and were somewhat shaded from radiant heat damage.

      1. I lost a Facebook friend over a photo of said revelation. A liberal, meat-world, Unitarian friend, in fact. He couldn’t abide the disrespect shown by such a display.

        1. 🙂

          I’m sorry but thinking of that picture and an indignant believer’s reaction to it made me laugh out loud.

          I am sorry you lost a friend over it.

          1. A joke my father told me when I was a kid: What did the fireman say when the church caught on fire? Holy smoke!

            1. “When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised, the Lord doesn’t work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me … and I got it!”

              ” So I’m at the wailing wall, standing there like a moron, with my harpoon.”

              [Emo Philips]

              1. Am reminded of Hitch’s telling of the joke about a rabbi being asked how his prayers were going at the wailing wall. “It’s like talking to a wall.”

              2. That is funny. Surprisingly, since it’s from Hitch, I haven’t heard it before.

              3. I remember that picture, it made me laugh out loud at the time… sorry you lost a friend GBJames, I guess toast and mould stains on walls are OK but believers draw the line. Not sure how the presence of said image could be said to be disrepectful though, it is what it is, unless there was a suggestion that it was faked (I don’t remember it looking photoshopped).

                I miss Emo; he was a staple on UK Saturday night variety shows at one time and I guess his humour just chimed with me, though I had a number of friends who just couldn’t relate to him.

  3. It would be interesting to know what other objects survived the fire. Did books other than the bible make it? Perhaps God is just a general bibliophile.

    Also, this has happened before. This link also provides a mundane reason why the bibles would not tend to burn.

    Further, maybe God really loves trees as well.

    The upshot here kids is that, gasp, some things are harder to burn than others!

    It would be great if someone could conduct an experiment whereby they place a bunch of different books in a building similar to that of this church and set it on fire. See which books survive and which don’t.

    1. Closed books are remarkably hard to burn. Paper is not just woodpulp, it also contains considerable amounts of clay-like fillers (hence the ‘shininess’ of thin paper such as used in bibles). Lights easily in very thin sheets, like any other combustible substance, but when closed they form a solid block of dense and hard-to-ignite material.

      Also, of course, not subject to melting at moderate temperatures like e.g. most plastics.


      1. “considerable amounts of clay-like fillers (hence the ‘shininess’ of thin paper such as used in bibles).”

        Yes I know that paper! It’s not just bibles by the guy in a toga. Interesting! I didn’t know it was clay!

        1. China clay – kaolin – is used (among other materials) for coating paper, particularly glossy paper. Around St Austell in Cornwall there used to be huge white pyramids on the skyline – actually conical rather than square but they looked like pyramids – the spoil heaps from china clay mining.

          (They’ve been flattened off now, people are very sensitive to huge spoil heaps since the Aberfan disaster.)

          Apparently, since kaolin contains elevated levels of uranium and thorium, glossy magazines are more radioactive than ordinary paper. I didn’t know that.

          Admission: I may be wrong about the ingredients of Bible paper though.


          1. “China clay – kaolin”


            That’s the stuff in exhaust pipe sealant. It’s in other things too!


            1. “Apparently, since kaolin contains elevated levels of uranium and thorium”

              … the MSDS only mentions kaolin and low health hazards… last I looked… definitely not U or Th. …

              1. I think the levels are low enough not to be significant.

                Incidentally, the background radiation in Cornwall is 3 times the national average. Due to radon gas from uranium in granite.

                Kaolin is useful for all sorts of things – in porcelain and ceramics, cosmetics, paper (filler and/or glossy surfacing), settling upset stomachs, poison ivy lesions, also the relief of anorectal itching and diaper rash. A bit of a miracle substance, really 😎


              2. “A bit of a miracle substance, really”

                [ heart beat accelerates ]

                SO ITS TRUE!

                ITS A ->> M I R A C L E ! ! ! 1 1 ! ! <—

                [ beam of light through nice puffy clouds ]
                [ choir : C major chord ]

              3. I just learned about “claybord” (sic) – artists paint on it. It feels like clipboard material. Looks like another kaolin-containing product!

    1. I bet most of those who died in Alabama believed in God. Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me? To make a point?

      1. I’ve already seen several survivors on tv praising the Lawd for saving them. They never seem to ask why their Lawd Jebus chose to destroy their houses, cars, businesses, or kill 23 others. It’s sad and disturbing, but it gives us a reminder of how important the story of Job is to cementing religious beliefs. He more Gawd hurts you, the more you know he loves you.

        1. Now that you mention Job, that is one of the more despicable stories in the Bible. God has a bet with the Devil, and lets Job’s children perish because of a stupid bet?
          If God existed, he should be jailed for criminal negligence or, more to the point, criminal intent. A disgusting story. (Yes, there are many other ones, such as Lot’s)

          1. One I just stumbled on, when looking up rhabdomyolysis*, was that when the Jews demanded meat rather than manna in the desert, God sent ’em quail, which killed ’em rather nastily.
            Numbers 11


            (* Muscle breakdown leading to kidney failure).

            Oh God from whom all blessings flow…


          2. I bring it up with believers (or did when I did more debating) and many answer back that “god is right to do this, that’s the lesson”. And then I ask, in what I think is a legitimate appeal to pity – “so, you’d be ok with this happening to your family? This usually gets them to get quiet for a while.

    2. I was thinking the same thing – thanks God for being there for the bibles in a church but you just stand there watching while priests rape children.

  4. Why did the church burn but not the bibles?

    Maybe god’s kind of a “hate the movie, love the book” guy.

    1. Maybe he didn’t like how the church looked. He came home one day and just thought that everything had to go….except the bibles – those he liked.

    2. When gawd burns down a church but spares the Wonder Bible Audio Players (as seen on TV!) then I’ll be impressed.

  5. Sounds to me like God has an issue with their ministry, and wanted to tell them to go back to the bible. On the other hand, it doesn’t look like the fire demolished the building, so I am not sure what is miraculous about the bibles not being destroyed.

  6. I wanted to post the same comment, that God didn’t save the building, only his own books. What a selfish jerk. But I can’t post because I don’t use Facebook or want a Facebook account. Facebook is the work of the devil.

  7. They do look heat damaged and scorched. The cross in the picture is well scorched.
    And I bet one could track down any number of church fires where bibles and crosses are destroyed.

    1. One might even be able to track down a few destroyed Bibles and crosses in that particular church, too.

      Those wouldn’t be in the pictures because they wouldn’t count.

      1. Which kind of goes to the heart of the matter. Why on earth would anyone believe these claims? These people (Bible Belt Christians) lie with neither conscience nor consciousness.

            1. I think that’s right, and that it can work both ways. My parents became SDAdventists when I was about four years old, and I never fully lost my sense of identity as a non-SDA. Despite years of effort to be a good boy, I never quite internalized the thing, and up until the point that I reasoned my way out of feeling the need to try, I always felt apart from the church. Give me the child, etc..,

      2. They wouldn’t be in the pictures because they would have been destroyed, no? Ashes, they could not possibly count.

  8. Here are a line or two from a comment on the Facebook page regarding a photo of the burning Church: “Wow I just showed my mom this picture. We definately [sic] could see what we believe is Jesus in the smoke. You all are not alone through this.” I always thought it was the Other Guy who traveled within the fire and smoke. Praise the Lord, anyway?

  9. Yeah, I saw a similar item on one of the cable channels regarding the tornadoes that ravaged Alabama over the weekend. A news crew accompanied one of the survivors back to his home. The place was destroyed, but there, on a rafter where the guy and his wife had originally hung it when they moved in, was a crucifix. The guy saw it and broke down on camera, praising the Lord for sparing their lives.

    It was impossible not to be moved by the man’s emotion, and who am I to begrudge him his faith? But part of me couldn’t help but think, Jesus, dude, what about the 23 poor bastards who croaked in the storm — the Lord saw the twister heading their way and said “fuggit”?

    1. A cousin of mine said her deceased grandfather, in the form of a guardian angel, protected her from being in an accident when a mattress blew off a car on a highway. She described how the occupants of another car hit it and were involved in an accident. My response? “He must’ve really hated the people in that other car”. 😀

        1. “The people in the other car were atheists.”

          You don’t need to even anywhere that far, they could simply have been the wrong kind of Christians.

    2. “It was impossible not to be moved by the man’s emotion, and who am I to begrudge him his faith?”

      Just goes to show, Ken, that you’re a much nicer person than I am. I saw the same clip, and thought “Jesus, what a moron.”

  10. The reason for why God would allow a church to burn but save the Bibles is obvious: it increases the faith of those who are open to having their faith increased. Same reason He sent the tornadoes. If someone dies, their loved ones turn to God for comfort. If someone lives, then they and their loved ones turn to God in gratitude. Those who fail to respond properly have only themselves to blame.

    “Increasing faith” is an almost perfect apologetic response to the Problem of Evil. Oh, it’s a crap explanation — an explanation which explains everything by placing the onus on the listener’s “responsive” character isn’t a proper explanation. But apologetics invariably involve some sort of trickery somewhere. Shifting focus from the harmful act to the elaborately self-confirming virtue of faith is a great trick.

      1. Just remember that a mere 65 millions of years ago this jerk killed all non-avian dinosaurs, to the last one, didn’t spare even the eggs!

        Not to mention how 4 orders of South American ungulates were later wiped out after he decided to connect the continent to North America just for fun.

  11. The broader implication of this episode is how so many people (particularly in the most religious states of the U.S.) need religion or some other form of superstition to get through the day. In the poorer states in the country, which West Virginia is one, religion provides hope, albeit a false one, to a life crushed by grinding poverty and such phenomena as opioid addiction. It is no surprise that this state went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. Religion, demagogues and guns provide meaning to shattered lives. Higher incomes, better jobs, and better healthcare could turn many of these people around (or at least their children). Such conditions are unlikely to appear in the immediate future.

    1. In West Virginia everything happens 50 years later (they had a racist “Old South Democrat” governor or senator until quite recently). West Virginian bibles will only spontaneously combust in 50 years or so.
      If I have a cancer that will kill me eminently, I’ll go to West Virginia, so a can live 50 more years!

  12. If you have ever had a trash fire or have one frequently to get rid of old files, magazines and paper, you would see how hard it is to burn up magazines or books in an open fire. Usually it requires using a long stick or something to stir the fire many times to actually burn up the magazines or books.

    It is very common actually to see these items left whole if you do not continue to stir things up while you still have a fire. I would also consider the location of this miracle fire – West Virginia.

    Something that g*d and some fire fighters actually know. It takes oxygen to make a fire.

      1. Well, he should know. I would think that any fireman/woman who has been in the business for a few years would see this “miracle” in many fires. Maybe not so in W Virginia.

      2. Yes, 451 fahrenheit is about 233 °C, hot, but not that hot. Enough to make toast or to kill you. Not enough to make steel lose much strength. And apparently we’d need a bit more to get those Bibles reduced to ashes..

          1. Actually, googling says around 480F, so not so far off.

            However, it will depend strongly on other circumstances – like how long the paper is exposed, what grade of paper, and probably how dry it is.


    1. It is quite hard to ignite solid wood, and books are even denser and usually contain quite a lot of clay or similar (e.g. ‘size’) which decreases their inflammability further.

      Also, wood (and ash) is a very poor heat conductor. (Hence firewalking is possible).

      In Auckland, the Mandalay ballroom, which was circular and had a conical roof with massive laminated timber beams converging to a peak in the centre, burnt out completely. All the interior and roof shingles went.

      They sandblasted the surface layer of char off the beams and re-used them for the new roof.


  13. Clearly God burned down the church but not the bibles as a statement against the corruption of organized religion. He’s telling them to back away from monuments of might and telling them to get back to the hippie-dippy nice bits in the book. Also, this will allow them to demonstrate their great faith by meeting in God’s natural temple – the great outdoors. This way they can also be witness to the ravages of climate change. Right?

  14. Ah! A chance for a scientific experiment. In a large hall, scheduled for demolition, place a number of holy books, from different religions, on a number of tables in the centre of the hall. Set a fire going evenly around the edges hall.

    Which holy book, if any, will survive, and would that convince people of other religions to convert? If not, why not?

    1. There may have been back copies of Playboy in the preacher’s desk. Let’s see if they’re still there.

    2. In Kings 18: 17-40, the prophet Elijah is reported to have conducted an experiment something like this. It didn’t involves any copies of the bible, which at the time was still in what they call script development in Hollywood. Instead it involved a bull, duly consumed by God with fire, which the false god Baal couldn’t summon. The local Fire Department did not comment, and PETA might have looked more favorably on Baal, for sparing the bull, than on God.

        1. So you’re implying the Baal priests were RC priests avant la lettre, or am I reading you wrongly?

  15. I’d be more impressed if on the same bookshelf were the ashes of the Koran, Jerry’s Faith vs. Fact, Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Darwin’s Origin of Species. Now that would be a neat trick by god.

  16. “First, if God saved the Bibles and crosses, why did he allow the rest of the church to be burned down? ”

    It is pretty clear that God is telling us he wants us to burn churches down to the ground to demonstrate his awesome glory and love for us.

    In the same vein, God ends the majority of pregnancy with miscarriage in his repeated teachings that abortion is good and Holy.

    How more obvious does he need to get?

  17. It’s obviously a message from God to read Bibles but not go to church. I would take the message with a grain of salt since it was a message of fire because God is too stupid to talk to people though. Not exactly a rocket scientist.

  18. I think it might have been more accurate to have said “not a single bible, that was still recognizable as such, was burned”.

  19. Well then, if the church had burned down in Michigan or New York, I doubt the firemen would have mentioned what burned and what didn’t burn in the fire. When I lived in Arkansas, local newscasters always “thanked Jesus” before the start of the program😛

  20. Kind of looks like a hoax to me. Those books ought to be soaks by the firefighters water but they are not.

    1. I am not sure. Some are curved, which may have been caused by the heat but also by getting wet. Anyway, miracle or not, they don’t look like they are still readable.

  21. Someone should let God know that with modern printing technology Bibles are easily replaceable.

    There are so many comments about the unburnability of Bibles I’m thinking fire-fighters should get rid of those clunky suits and just cover themselves with Bibles. That would have the added benefit of preventing demonic possession and scaring away vampires.

    With my luck I’ll one day be lost in a harsh frigid landscape as the sun sets with only Bibles for kindling.

    I left my own comment in FB. I mentioned a housefire here in Stamford that killed children. These people must realize that by implication God could have saved them but didnt’

  22. Many xians try to have it both ways – God’s wrath when AIDS afflicts homosexuals, when earthquakes hit California, when Katrina hit New Orleans, and so on but do a 180 on events like this, proclaiming God’s power and mercy.

    1. According to the ‘burners’, as opposed to the ‘burned’, he approved of that, nay, mandated it.

  23. A few years ago a young woman fell off of a cliff in S. Ohio. On the news, she and her family so effusively thanked god and talked about the Miracle that I yelled at the tv, “Are you thanking him for shoving you off the cliff too?”

  24. I find it interesting, and annoying, that for CNN, a Facebook post is sufficient to form the basis of an entire report. I don’t believe they did any independent reporting, they just restated the Facebook post.

    “Someone Posted Something on Facebook” is not my idea of news.

      1. Did y’all see that “Momo” hoax going around? That was perpetuated by media taking stories from FB and not researching them. Really annoying as it just plays into the “fake news” narrative Trump is pushing and undermines the credibility of a really important democratic institution.

  25. [updated Tw33t ]: “… ultimately …”

    that word – it does not mean what I think the Tw3373r thinks it means.

    Is “ultimately” a USA thing?

    1. My error – “ultimately” means, as the Tw337er suggests, “in the end”. Sorry.

      Still, I think tacking “ultimate” on things is peculiar- but that’s another topic.

  26. This reminds me how in the past, before lightning rods, churges with their tall bell towers were regularly ignited during thunderstorms, while nearby brothels stayed intact, but nobody’s faith was shaken.

    And also the joke about how a man refused to contribute to the rebuilding of a church burned by a lightning: “I won’t give anything to an owner who sets his own home on fire.”

  27. Neither the church’s steeple nor the cross on top survived. Physics acts in strange and wonderful ways!

  28. Do we have to do all the figuring out for the faithful lot, the devil lit the fire, Her just saved the bibles! and only just whilst having a very bad day out in the field, nevermind, the WORD is saved and live for another day AND she is proven to be very humanlike, sometimes you just… FAIL

  29. I’m skeptical the claim is true unless the Church has some definitive proof there were only 14 bibles in the entire building.

    I think it’s far more likely that there were bibles in other places in the building that were burned to ash, and the oddity here is not the type of book but that the fire didn’t touch one location.

    1. You can’t blame the fire department. it’s probably all volunteer. Would be Rambos. They may not all have degrees in police science and forensic investigation. I’ll give them a break and blame the media.

  30. In August of 2015, we had a fire that severely burned up my bathroom and caused extensive smoke damage to my house. I’m linking to a photo of my bathroom after the fire. Note the almost untouched roll of toilet paper in the lower middle of the picture. This despite the fact that bottles and cosmetics were melted by the heat of the fire. Guess I should have kept it and called it my holy roller or something. God saved my roll of TP! It’s a miracle!


    I hope I did the html correctly.

    1. (Link didn’t work, Google Drive said I need permission.)

      I’m not surprised, though. Melting point of plastic << ignition temperature of paper.

      Low density polythene MP 221 – 239 deg F – only just above boiling point of water.
      HDPE (tough engineering plastic) – MP 248 – 356 deg F.

      Paper ignition temp – approx. 480 deg F.


        1. Yes it works now.

          Vitally important question (can’t see in the picture): Is the roll in the ‘Under’ or ‘Over’ orientation? Inquiring minds and Diana need to know. 😉


          1. The answer can easily be deduced using basic logic. God would not have spared an Over. Since it was indeed spared, then we simply eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. The TP was an Under.

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