60 Minutes goes to Lourdes to investigate medical miracles

December 21, 2022 • 11:15 am

Everybody knows about Lourdes, the town in southern France where Bernadette Soubirous (now a saint) said she had eighteen visions of the Virgin Mary beginning in 1858. The Grotto in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes has become a place of worldwide pilgrimage for Catholics (and, I suppose, other Christians) seeking relief from ailments and afflictions. The facility gets over three million visitors a year and as Wikipedia notes,

Yearly from March to October the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a place of mass pilgrimage from Europe and other parts of the world. The spring water from the grotto is believed by some Catholics to possess healing properties.

An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860, and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognized 69 healings considered miraculous. Cures are examined using Church criteria for authenticity and authentic miracle healing with no physical or psychological basis other than the healing power of the water.

Tours from all over the world are organized to visit the Sanctuary. Connected with this pilgrimage is often the consumption of or bathing in the Lourdes water which wells out of the Grotto.

Of course nobody has, as a reader notes below, been cured of lost eyes or limbs, and I’d prefer a panel of skeptical doctors as opposed to “Church criteria”. Well, so be it.

I was told in an email from a reader one of my favorite shows, CBS’s “60 Minutes”, did a segment on Lourdes and its cures. Here’s the email I got from a reader:

Please ignore this email if you have commented on the 60 Minutes segment on Lourdes, I thought you might say something since I believe you watch 60 Minutes.  This Sunday’s show has a segment on Lourdes, emphasizing how medical experts for the church extensively research every claim of a miracle and find very few that are “medically unexplainable” and therefore a bond fide miracle.  Correspondent Bill Whitaker is amazed, and fails to ask the tough questions.  For example, he never asks about a control group of sick people that don’t go to Lourdes for a cure.  Do they have a greater or less number of unexplained cures or recoveries?  He doesn’t ask about amputees, does anybody get their limbs back or is that considered impossible for even God?

Here’s the 13½-minute segment that was broadcast. Listen for yourself.

Here are the seven criteria given by the head of the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations for a miracle cure: “Diagnosis of a severe disease with a severe prognosis, person cured suddenly and completely, with no recurrence, and there must be no possible explanation for the cure.” Apparently 1 out of 100 claims of cures qualifies as a “miracle” according to the head medical examiner.

The highlight of the show is a nun (curiously named “Sister Bernadette”) who was diagnosed with cauda equina, an acute medical condition often caused by a herniated disc. She was completely better three days after visiting Lourdes and having heard the voice of either God or Mary within her. The committee of “skeptical” doctors who investigated her case apparently took eight years to decide that her condition was “medically unexplained.”  She thus became the “Seventieth Miracle of Lourdes.”

I asked my own doctor, Alex Lickerman—a crack diagnostician—about this, and he watched the whole segment. He said that cauda equina syndrome is a sudden condition that needs immediate medical intervention (it usually causes urinary retention and can lead to permanent paralysis if not recognized and surgically corrected), and he couldn’t understand how the Sister could have had cauda equina syndrome for half her life. He offered two other explanations, neither of which (nor the initial cauda equina syndrome diagnosis) could be diagnosed before her visit to Lourdes without a careful examination of the clinical symptoms, and, critically, an MRI. These alternatives are chronic low back pain and spinal stenosis, which can also be chronic and cause the symptoms experienced by Sister Bernadette.

I quote Alex:

Based on what she said, I couldn’t begin to figure out what she really had. It wasn’t cauda equina syndrome, though, I tell you that.

The lead doctor said, “We’re looking for a diagnosis.” The reporting didn’t support a diagnosis of anything other than chronic low back pain. He said they “repeated twice her imagery.” I’d want to see those images. That’s crucial. I’m highly, highly skeptical.

Of course I don’t buy this as a miracle either, for, absent evidence for a supernatural being, a naturalistic explanation has higher priors. Further, if Mary or God wanted to, they could regrow missing limbs or eyes, yet that has never happened. Why is it that diseases that we know never show spontaneous remission are also the ones that divine intervention can’t cure?

But I leave the readers to examine this segment and Sister Bernadette’s case, and to comment below.

60 thoughts on “60 Minutes goes to Lourdes to investigate medical miracles

  1. When that segment started, I turned off the TV, guessing (correctly, it appears) that there wouldn’t be an appropriate level of skeptical inquiry. Thanks for saving me some time…much better spent reading your columns.

    1. Me too…I also hoped Jerry would post about it, and wasn’t disappointed. 🙂 And why didn’t they send any of those Ukrainian kids from the first segment to Lourdes? Because it’s BS.

  2. Hemant Mehta will be moaning at you for belittling the “lived experience” of those that claim to have been cured at Lourdes. After all, being all “skeptical” and “sciency” , are tools of oppression according to him, these days.

      1. I’m guessing that the above is a reference to this Tweet which contained:

        “Suggesting that “lived experiences” are outweighed by data is heartless”

        … in reply to a Tweet by Dawkins saying: “Do you think that personal feelings or “lived experiences” matter more than objective evidence?”. [There’s more in both of the Tweets.]

      2. Remember some months back when he tweeted the demonstrably false claim that WEIT consists of nothing but amplification (he might have said “re-blogging”) of anti-woke substacks? You mentioned it here and he was largely pilloried on social media. He also called Dawkins a fucking embarrassment who should retire already. Paraphrasing here, but accurate.

        Hemant went somewhat around the bend and off the rails years ago and much like P-Zed, seems incapable of metabolizing new information or admitting he is wrong, and I hope he reads this comment. (Myers will, since I mention 3 varieties of his name. Hi PZ!) They both still do a lot of valuable work for secular humanism and against Xian incursion into gov’t, etc. Just maybe not quite so friendly anymore.

  3. Yes, that episode was painful, and 60 Minutes should be ashamed of themselves. A complete lack of critical thinking or questioning. It occurres to none of these mind-addled Catholics that 99.9% of the time, their loving god says “No” to eliminating unnecessary suffering.
    And yes, “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees”?


  4. My question is, do people with missing limbs even go to Lourdes? Is it possible that there is some sort of self-selection by pilgrims by which those likely to be “cured” go and others don’t? Is there a variant of Munchhausen syndrome for the attention people get when they are miraculously healed?

  5. Not only a “lived experience.” Just like Spain, Belgium has also its version of Lourdes, Banneux. I was sent to a Catholic high school, and one day we all went to Banneux. We were all standing in front of the cave, admiring the scene. I was standing next to the French teacher, who was quite famous for his books on Catholicism. Suddenly he screamed, and fell backwards, stiff as a plank, and was dead. The black-frocked priests that accompanied us were quite embarrassed.

  6. Twenty five years ago, I went hiking in the Pyrenees with two friends. On the final day’s hike, I had a headache, felt extremely nauseous and weak; however, we drove out of the Pyrenees, camped just outside Lourdes and within half an hour of arriving, I was feeling much better. Of course, I had got out of the sun, drunk some more water and had a cool breeze on me in the back of the car during the drive, but my friend likes to tell how I was miraculously cured!

  7. I watched the episode, and somehow knew you would watch it too! The explanation from your doctor was very illuminating, and it makes that part of the episode seem especially silly.
    60 Minutes should be scourged a bit for broadcasting such credulous drivel. But if they handled it like they should have, they would of course be scourged quite a lot more. But finding the truth and damn the consequences is what they should be doing!

  8. I got a puncture just outside of Lourdes when I was touring the Pyrenees on my motorcycle a few years back. Maybe it was a miracle I didn’t crash?

  9. “If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say.” –C.S.Lewis, Miracles

    When naturalists say “There’s no evidence for miracles,” it’s implied that they might believe in miracles if there were evidence. But I’m thinking that this isn’t the case. I would respectfully submit that naturalists don’t reject the miraculous because there’s no evidence; they reject the miraculous because their worldview a priori rules it out. If you’re a naturalist, you can’t believe in miracles–not and remain a naturalist. This isn’t a dig, just a fact: if naturalism is true, miracles are impossible.

    Hence, if naturalists come across a miracle, they most likely won’t see it. Or if they do see it, they’ll immediately look for a naturalistic explanation–as indeed they should. Not finding one, however, they’ll conclude that there must be a naturalistic explanation that hasn’t yet been discovered. It would be as if Paul, thrown from his horse on the road to Damascus, should shake his fist at the sky and shout: “Is that all you got?” 😊

    1. I would suggest that you read the section of Faith versus Fact that describes what KIND of miracle would convince me.

      Here’s one: a double amputee goes to Lourdes and prays for his legs to grow back. They do. That would PROVISIONALLY convince me that it was a miracle, but my book gives another scenario.

      And I’m sorry, but naturalism is not decreed a priori to be true, it is an assumption that works. Assuming that God exists has never helped us understand anything. Plus, of course, there is no evidence for God even though there COULD be (see above) As Victor Stenger used to say, “Absence of evidence (he meant God) is indeed evidence of absence IF THAT EVIDENCE SHOULD BE THERE.

      And there isn’t evidence for any God who could cure people’s ailments. You don’t seem to realize that we don’t swear to naturalism as scientists; we use it because IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT HAS HELPED US UNDERSTAND THE WORLD.

      I could quote Laplace, but everybody already knows the quote.

      1. We know the world is here, and so naturalistic/materialistic explanations are looked for.
        If we do NOT find a naturalistic explanation, then we just ‘don’t know (yet)’.
        Do we think we have exhausted all knowledge, or just what we know yet?
        So one says ‘I can think of no known naturalistic explanation’ (ignorance fallacy), so now the supernatural is on the table.
        BUT: fallacy aside, the ‘supernatural’ is NOT an explanation, it is yet another CLAIM!
        We would still need to prove the superatural is a candidate explanation, that the supernatural even exists, and how it operates…and THEN we could posit it as a possible explanation.

      2. Even though he’s gone off the rails a bit recently, I still think Matt Dillahunty’s answer to this is the best. It’s something along the lines of: What would it take to convince me of a miracle? I don’t know. I’m a magician so I’d be wary of anything. But God SHOULD know EXACTLY what would convince me.

        1. “Even though he’s gone off the rails a bit recently,”

          I’m curious: in your view how has Matt gone off the rails a bit?

          I still think Matt Dillahunty’s answer to this is the best. It’s something along the lines of: What would it take to convince me of a miracle? I don’t know. I’m a magician so I’d be wary of anything. But God SHOULD know EXACTLY what would convince me.

          I disagree and find that to be a cop out. I think it is a perfectly legitimate argument to posit that God should know what would convince me, and hence if He hasn’t done so it implies God doesn’t care for me to be convinced (which brings forth all sorts of problems for the theist).

          However as an ANSWER to the question “what evidence would convince you, for instance, the Christian God exists?” it’s a misdirection. It’s similar to when Theists, when confronted by an atheist making a case against God from the problem of suffering/evil, switches to “But as an atheist you don’t have any objective morality on which to make these judgements!” Which misses the point: it is certainly reasonable to ask if an Atheist has ground for morality, but in most cases the Atheist doesn’t need to provide any such thing; the typical argument from evil/suffering is generally one that identifies internal inconsistency in the Christian claims!
          The Christian cannot avoid his inconsistency by changing the subject to atheistic morality.

          Matt is pulling a similar misdirection. I think the Theist has a very good case against Matt using this response. After all, atheists like Matt have been consistently arguing against the evidential claims made by Christians, saying “sorry, THAT is not GOOD EVIDENCE for your God.”

          Well, if atheists are so much about seeking Good Evidence for things, and you are taking that stance, then you must have some criteria that judges “good” from “bad” evidence, otherwise why should anyone listen to what the atheist says when dismissing Christian evidence?

          So when the theist rightly asks “ok if I’m giving bad evidence, what would good evidence look like?” it’s just a misdirection to then say “Well, I don’t know…” and switch to the “but God would know” argument.

          I saw Matt with Richard Dawkins at a Toronto show. I was very disappointed to see that both Dawkins and Matt took this stance. Dawkins who had been (rightly) demanding better evidence for God had recently began to question what even could be evidence for God and that “even if a giant face peered through the clouds and declared I Am God” it could always be some sort of psychic break down on Richard’s part, or some delusion, or even aliens.

          This is pure special pleading. That could be the case for literally every observation we make, scientific or otherwise, not just a God. The question Dawkins and Matt should be asking themselves is ‘Ok, but we DO actually distinguish between reality and dreams and delusions. So, what type of criteria do we tend to use when deciding THIS IS REAL?” The answer is to apply the same criteria to evidence for a God! Dawkins was actually more on the right track in his God Delusion days.

          1. In Faith versus Fact I outline a scenario that I would consider evidence for the Christian Go–provisional evidence, of course, as all scientific truths are provisional. So you can’t say that nobody has ever considered that question. Also, multiple restorations of amputated arms at people who visit Lourdes (but not other religions’ holy sites) would come pretty close.

          2. I’m definitely wasn’t meaning to imply no one has considered the question. Even Dawkins started out saying the question of God’s existence should be one for science, and one of evidence. I’m just lamenting that some high profile atheists, even Dawkins, began to go down this route of “I can’t tell you what kind of evidence I’d need” or “there couldn’t really be evidence for a God (because we can always come up with alternative explanations).”

          3. To gather evidence to convince ourselves that something exists, we need a sufficiently rigorous description of what it is and how it affects what we observe. That is what determines the evidence for existence. Otherwise, all we are doing is establishing ignorance.

            Without that characterization we can’t demonstrate anything. We can show that there is a thing that sets wood on fire and that there is a strong correlation with the chanting of a bearded man. But it could be the Twenty-Seventh Force, a perfectly natural phenomenon 🙂

            We may choose to call whatever it is that we can’t explain, God. Then God becomes a synonym for ‘clueless’.

            The problem with religious discussions of the supernatural and the miraculous is that they are vague.

            So we need a theory of God, which is the subject of theology. Given the advances that theologians have made over the past few centuries, I am absolutely sure that we now have a rigorous description of God. All we need to do now is to find it and test it.

    2. We have quotes, too:

      We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course. But we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.

      ― Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

    3. I reject the concept of the supernatural and miracles entirely. Things (or phenomena) either exist, or they do not. If they exist, then they are natural – why would they fall into some other category? What could “not natural” even mean? If an eternal creator god existed, wouldn’t that be the very *definition* of natural? All that a “miracle” would tell us is that there are hitherto undiscovered properties of reality under the control of a naturally omnipotent entity. Like electricity would have seemed to be to people in Biblical times. It wouldn’t mean that the phenomenon or entity needed a different category. The identifying characteristic of miracles to this point seems to be that there just isn’t good evidence for them. IOW, *miracle* is short-hand for BS.

      C.S. Lewis, in his normal numb-nutted fashion, is projecting his own faith based philosophy onto others. As a religious college student a looong time ago, reading Lewis was one of the first steps in my deconversion. I was taking an intro semantics course at the time, and his writing was like field trip into fallacious reasoning.

      “…they’ll conclude that there must be a naturalistic explanation that hasn’t yet been discovered.” I can’t imagine not seeing that as a virtue. What is your alternative? I have observed an inverse square rule for miracles: their magnificence is inversely proportional with both time and distance from where I am.

      1. That was mirandaga’s point. You reject the supernatural ‘on principle’.
        Which moves me to think that the rejection ‘in toto’ of the supernatural is also an argumant from ignorance.
        The supernatral is not a candidate explanation until it has been shown to actually exist (and thus have properties that we can use).
        I think we are on the same page…in no avenue of life do we ever need to appeal to the supernatural for an explanation of anything…but an a priori rejection of the concept (however loosley it is defined!) is a positive claim that would need defending.
        I know…semantics. But making definitive statements about what we can or can’t know, about what definitely does or does not exist, flies in the face of enquiry, open-mindedness, and science (‘miracles CANNOT exist, so no need to investigate’).
        BTW…I am am a methodological naturalist (only the natural laws operate).
        And miracles do not exist.
        And the supernatural has not been demonstarted to even be a thing.
        But ‘can’t’..?
        (ps: typed this before my morning coffee…feeling more mellow now, so excuse if abrupt…)

    4. The foundation of science is itself empirically verified, for it is what supports the theories of science.

      What does ‘supernatural’ mean? Do you impose bounds on what you consider to be natural? If so, why? And on what are those bounds based? If you are identifying something that’s beyond the natural, how do you know what’s natural and what’s not?

      Also, what exactly do you mean by ‘miracle’?

      Upon witnessing a bizarre phenomenon, we need not always conclude that we’ve been the victims of an illusion. We need not conclude anything.

    5. A very minor quibble to mirandaga. The New Testament never refers to the Apostle Paul riding a horse, nor does Paul himself in his epistles. Of course, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been riding one, but I think it’s generally accepted that Paul traveled by foot and by boat or ship.

      Now I’ll sleep better tonight for sure.

      1. “The New Testament never refers to the Apostle Paul riding a horse, nor does Paul himself in his epistles.”

        That’s true, Keith, but you have to admit that in the epistles Paul likes to get up on his high horse. 😊

  10. I watched the entire segment with a bad case of second-hand cringe. Everyone involved in this travesty should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, particularly the doctors and journalists/producers (I just feel sorry for the poor folks getting scammed).

    I assume your doc watched it and that he took notice of 12:05-12:20.

  11. “…if naturalism is true [it is], miracles are impossible [they are].”

    I don’t know what evidence would convince me god exists (fossil rabbits in the Precambrian would suggest shenanigans; spontaneous regeneration of mammal limbs would point to either some amazing new stem cell therapy, or the latest Derren Brown special), but S/HE/IT certainly knows, and refuses to provide it. Why is that?

  12. More thoughts & quotes on miracles:

    Once miracles are admitted, every scientific explanation is out of the question. (Johannes Kepler)

    None of the miracles with which ancient histories are filled, occurred under scientific conditions. Observation, never once contradicted, teaches us that miracles occur only in periods and countries in which they are believed in, and before persons disposed to believe in them. (Ernest Renan)

    All the tales of miracles with which the old and new testament are filled, are fit only for imposters to preach and fools to believe. (Thomas Paine)

    It seems to me that Christians worship the incredible shrinking god. I mean at one time it was supposedly capable of flinging thousands of billions of galaxies into existence with a mere thought. By the time of Noah, it was reduced to flooding an insignificant speck in the cosmos. By the time of Moses, its best trick was moving a tiny portion of a minor sea aside for a short while. By the time of Jesus, it has to send a delegate on its behalf who leaves behind only rumors that he was able to turn water into another beverage, or render himself extra buoyant. Now it counts as a miracle if a water stain grows mold that kind of looks like a bearded face which could be claimed to resemble this supposed delegate. How much more pathetic can this god get? How do Christians manage to sing praises of its glory and greatness without feeling like fools, or at best, like new parents gushing over their toddler’s ability to make a pee.

    Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie. (Thomas Paine)

    In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue. (Ethan Allen)

    Ignorance is the soil in which belief in miracles grows. (Robert G. Ingersoll)

    For ages, a deadly conflict has been waged between a few brave men and women of thought and genius upon the one side, and the great ignorant religious mass on the other. This is the war between Science and Faith. The few have appealed to reason, to honor, to law, to freedom, to the known, and to happiness here in this world. The many have appealed to prejudice, to fear, to miracle, to slavery, to the unknown, and to misery hereafter. The few have said, “think!” The many have said, “believe!” The first doubt was the womb and cradle of progress, and from the first doubt, man has continued to advance. (Robert G. Ingersoll)

    Funny how miracles have gone downhill over the last 2000 years. It used to be all about healing the sick, raising the dead and impregnating virgins. Now it’s vague shapes on food, window smudges, mildew stains and bird poop. (Jim Craig)

    If there was a God, his miracles wouldn’t only have been done when people weren’t looking for evidence.

    Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years, relieved of them. (Hypatia of Alexandria)

    Miracle: def: The thing that has multiple possible explanations but I choose to believe it was magic.

    1. And as Hume said of miracles, “there is not to be found in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure us against all delusion”.

  13. Ever since it got started, the Lourdes scam has been good business not just for the RCC, but for all its hangers-on. The novelist Emile Zola, who was a prominent anti-clerical, wrote a trilogy of novels laying into the Church, of which the first was “Lourdes”, published in 1894.

    By then, the Lourdes business model was already well under way. Zola describes the special trains, the hotels, the professional stretcher-bearers, the ubiquitous priests and nuns and acolytes. As usual in his novels, his handling of crowd scenes is superb. Unfortunately, on the whole it is not one of his best, and the other two in the trilogy (“Rome” and “Paris”) are in my view even worse.

    Still, an interesting account based on personal experience. Might be worth a scan for Zola fans, and for anyone interested in the historical Lourdes.

    1. I wonder how much of its success Lourdes owes to clerical politics. At the very least, it affirmed the Church’s latest dogma and provided an outlet for mass piety in an increasingly skeptical world. I am reminded of the Fatima apparitions which were useful for the fight against anti-clerical socialists in Portugal and later Communism worldwide. As for the girls involved, I’m not sure whether to consider them lucky.

  14. I look forward to a 60 Minutes segment examining the biological basis of mammalian sex. (Perhaps there has been one; I haven’t watched in the longest time.)

    1. The biological basis I would guess is rubbing. Rub it! Could be a sport’s team, somewhere. The Rub…? Do pheromones actually work on humans? As in Ocean’s 12?

  15. A paraplegic went to Lourdes but came away unhappy and no better, but to his surprise when he got back home he discovered his wheelchair had a brand new pair of Pirelli tyres.

    1. Wheelchairs are amazing things. During a papal visit to Toronto several years ago now, His Holiness was to speak to a crowd of the faithful in a large auditorium. A local doctor had volunteered to be part of the medical liaison in case the pope should need urgent hospital care. He was to sit in the front row of the audience. Unfortunately the doctor’s official duties required him to take his seat only shortly before the pontiff spoke and there were no empty seats. A kindly usher unfurled one of the courtesy wheelchairs for him to sit in at the aisle end of the front row. As the proceedings proceeded, there eventually came a point where the audience was to stand. The doctor stood up….to gasps and murmurs which rapidly spread through the multitude, who thought the Pope’s presence had cured him of whatever affliction had been confining him to the wheelchair.

      In the writeup, the doctor observed, “No one will ever notice when you sit down in a wheelchair. But they sure as heck will notice if you stand up out of one!”

  16. I seem to recall that in The Demon Haunted World Carl Sagan points out, given the number of ‘true’ miracles attributed to Lourdes, that you’re statistically far more likely to go into spontaneous remission than be ‘cured’ there.

    1. I imagine that given the millions per year who go to Lourdes, that there are a fair few that get in car accidents, etc, etc… on the trip.

      Lourdes might cause as many injuries, ailments, and even death as it ‘cures’?

      1. A friend of mine got some sort of herpes infection after kissing the Blarney stone, which strikes me as being a bit o’ bad luck.

        And but so to your point though, yes. Yes it does.

  17. I just watched this. It was as AGRESSIVELY stupid as I’ve come to expect of 60 Minutes for the last, say 35 years. Like… punch in the face dumb.

  18. It is so incredibly sad that it never occurs to the [Catholic] believer camp the fact that spontaneous remissions and regressions happen all the time, all over the planet with believers, non-believers, and people of other religions, and yet when droves of Catholics make a trip to one particular location, and .00000001% “claim” a miracle, they all lose their sh*t and see it as obvious that it is god – their god – the Abrahamic tribal war god of the desert who is behind said “claimed” miracle. I mean FFS! Can so many people be so colossally stupid?

    Let’s just change one little detail in the exercise: Millions of people who believe in a different god make the same sort of pilgrimage to some “special” place, and the same fantastically small percentage of them “claim” a healing by their god, which is the exact same amount of remissions/regressions that we see naturally occur. The Catholic would clearly see that belief/claim of those believers in the other god as madness, yet they cannot see the same ludicrous belief/claim of their own as fallacy.

    This is what I detest about religion/faith; it turns the mind to stone.

    1. Having escaped a fundamentalist mormon cult at a young age… I agree, and would love to do an AMA here, or on reddit or some such thing. Unfortunately I came to the internet late and am in hiding [all this in a melania accent, obvs] so forth and so on. Above all i hope my mind is not turned to stone, for crying out loud.

    2. For credulous Catholics who view faith as a virtue, no miracle is too ridiculous to be believed. They seem to lack the concept of naturalistic explanations.

      Had the girl from Lourdes failed to convince other believers, her visions would much more likely have been blamed on the devil rather than any natural cause. This worldview makes it easy for fraudsters to take advantage of them, since there are few risks. Indeed, most reported miracles are unimpressive. No person with a weak constitution ever gets strong and healthy due to a pilgrimage, but believers insist there is prejudice against miracle cures. And for all their claims about knowing the truth, they seem strangely indifferent to the fact that much of what they believe in has been shamelessly invented.

  19. A deep dive into the youtube comments reveals a whole lot of nothing, indeed to make a long story short: wtf

  20. The miracle video wouldn’t open here in Canada but I finally found it on CBS.
    The evidence presented doesn’t stand up to medical scrutiny. The interviewer doesn’t know the right questions to ask, of the patient or of self-identified skeptical doctors playing devil’s advocate. He is severely credulous himself. To do this kind of story you need to think dirty.

    Sister Bernadette II is reported to have “cauda equina”. This is not a diagnosis. It is an anatomic structure, like “left lung”. Cauda equina syndrome is a provisional diagnosis, which as Dr. Lickerman says requires emergency imaging and treatment of whatever’s causing it to prevent paraplegia. But the TV show does not say that Sr. Bernadette had this (for “half her life”). Everyone who has had low back pain with sciatica has symptoms related to one of the nerves in the cauda equina, but they don’t have cauda equina syndrome. Indeed most episodes of sciatica get better by themselves in 6 weeks. So what Sr. Bernadette actually has remains a question mark, completely unanswered by CBS.

    Sr. Bernadette is shown being rolled around Lourdes in a wheelchair. It appears that even prior to her cure she was able to walk, though. She wore a back brace and a leg brace of a type used to manage what doctors call foot drop…but the English interpretation of her remarks does not suggest foot drop was actually present. So while she presumably does have some kind of painful mechanical back trouble–I won’t guess further at a diagnosis–, she was not severely disabled with a fatal condition. I shouldn’t be catty but these braces have uncertain benefit. They are sometimes worn to court by plaintiffs to impress juries in personal injury cases, or by people on disability when they think the insurance company might have them under surveillance. Braces, trusses, slings, and crutches can even be harmful by reinforcing one’s sense of dis-ability. They are exactly the kind of aids and appliances that pilgrims leave behind at Lourdes to celebrate their cures.

    (As many have said, there are no artificial limbs left there, which the Church says would be contrary to nature. But neither are there abandoned motorized wheelchairs used by severely handicapped people like the man with cerebral palsy who had made 18 visits from Minnesota, nor the communication aids used by nonverbal people even more severely afflicted. Nerve and brain tissue doesn’t “grow back” any more than an amputated limb does. They could save all those people with CP the expense of the trip.)

    Most unsatisfying is the sketchiness of the documentation shared with us. Sr. Bernadette consented to the story but told us almost nothing. They showed us a thick file of documents said to be her case notes and a doctor waved a page of MRI images at the camera which could have been anything. There was much insistence that numerous diagnostic tests and review (of the patient or just the notes?) by multiple physicians supported the miraculous nature. But they don’t tell us what any of these reports and tests actually said. And we have only her recalled memory of the pace and timing of her recovery/cure 8 years ago. Once she got the idea that it was a miracle, she would be incented to recall the stereotyped pattern reported by others. (As a nun, she would be familiar with the stories.)

    You would think that a cure of some intractable back problem might have stimulated at least one doctor (out of 300) to write up her case for a respectable medical journal with full details. That would allow us doctors not worried about protecting their consulting gigs with the bishop to decide for ourselves what we were seeing here, without having to make a trek to Lourdes to read their non-secret files. Thing is, chronic pain is notoriously difficult to pin down. We aren’t good at treating it without doing more harm than good. Spontaneous remissions in pain disorders do happen, and sometimes getting off narcotics actually improves chronic pain, as it seems to have for Sr. Bernadette. (Regulators are telling us we have to do this anyway after the opiate fiasco.) Finally, this could be an example of the adage, “Sometimes a placebo is not a placebo.” These miracles occur only in the devout, and capriciously at that. ‘Nuff said.

    I think this claim of a miracle is bunk. As Hitchens said, “Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” My goal here is simply to show that neither the Church nor CBS adduced any evidence and to peer through the stagecraft they used to make us think they did.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *