Atheist Response to Catholic Miracles

How do you atheist respond to the Miracle of the sun which happened in Fatima in 1917. There were some 70,000 people at the site witnessing the miracle happen which contained not only Catholics but many secular pro-government (anti-Catholic free masons) at the site claiming to have seen the spectacular event.
How would an atheist answer these claims. Is it possible that this could be a super natural working of God?

Also, how do you explain the Incorruptible bodies of the saints at the Vatican which are not deteriorating? In order for a body to be considered fully incorruptible by the Catholic Church the body must not show any sign of decay and must not stiffen. The body must remain as if the person just died. A popular example of this is Fr. Pio who died in 1968.

I will start with these two. There are many others we can talk about.

First some quick background. I am a non-believer married to a Catholic. I frequently attend Mass with her.

To your question: Personally, I am very skeptical about both “the miracle of the sun” and “incorruptible” bodies of saints. But for the sake of this discussion, I will concede that they both occur. My response to your questions is that these things are not proof of the existence of a god. Maybe some strange things happened that we cannot explain, but it does not logically follow that they were caused by a supernatural being.

That’s my view anyway.

As an aside, in your view, what would be proof of God like?

First of all, in answer to your question “is it possible that this could be a supernatural working of God?“, I would say yes. And I say that a convinced naturalist. Convinced as I am, though, I’m not so certain in my views that I would deny even the possibility of being wrong. That said, I am very skeptical of the supernatural and assign it a very low probability at the outset, so it would take quite a bit of evidence for me to think that something supernatural has actually occurred. Neither of your examples do this for me.

With Fatima, you are correct that there were tens of thousands of people there to witness the event. However, we only have statements from a fraction of them, and they do not agree. Some people, Catholic and non-believers alike, say they saw nothing. Others, again both believers and non-believers, say they saw something, but there is a lot of variation in what they claim they saw. So it seems to me that instead of me reaching for some natural explanation about what was going on with the sun that day, instead I would be looking for psychological explanations about why some people thought they saw something.

When it comes to incorruptible corpses, we run into this situation where we already know of a variety of ways that decomposition can be delayed, slowed, or stopped, intentionally or unintentionally. To convince me that something supernatural is going on, I’d need to see the natural explanations ruled out, but I rarely see these cases presented in a way where that’s possible to do. At best, I’m left saying “I don’t know,“ which doesn’t really tip the scales one direction or the other.

This is where people would normally accuse me of being closed-minded and having a naturalistic bias that I won’t allow to be overcome. That’s not the case, though. The fact is that I am approaching this with all the accumulated knowledge and beliefs that I have built up so far. I already have good reasons for thinking that the supernatural is very unlikely, but that theism is less likely than that, and the Christianity is even more unlikely still. I can’t just cast all those reasons aside for supposed miracles like the ones mentioned here, but I do have to continually re-evaluate those reason in light of new evidence. Enough small changes could tip the balance, or it could happen in one fell swoop if it was something substantial enough. But so far I haven’t come across anything to warrant a major shift.

This just confirms my belief that we filter everything through our preconceptions. For a sea change of belief to take place, something else has to happen first.

As a Catholic I accept both Fatima and the preservation of saints as evidence of supernatural power. But when I was a Protestant I would have been somewhat sceptical, and when I was an atheist, I wouldn’t have given either the time of day.

As a Christ put it, “As a man thinks so he is.”

I’ve mentioned on the forum ad infinitum that the night my own father died he appeared in my bedroom. He materialised near the door, we argued and talked, and at the end he gave this almighty scream and then just disappeared.

I still remember it.

At the time I was an atheist. When my uncle turned up four days later to tell me he’d died, but his body hadn’t been found for four days, it took a few minutes for the penny to drop. But then I remember counting back four nights, and thinking “Then what the hell was that the other night!”

But my next thought was “Nah! It must have been a bad dream or something! I don’t believe in those sorts of things!” And so I tried to ignore it. Yet I sat up in a double bed with a sag in it, on a hot January night, talked to him, could see him and yet see through him, and witnessed his terrifying scream just before he disappeared. Yet I didn’t believe.

In other words, seeing is not believing.

Our pre-existing mindset will determine whether we believe in something or not.

Which means the revelation of judgement after death will come as a terrible reality fo many, who up to that time had given it no thought whatsoever.

Even if the witnesses saw nothing of the sun, it had been raining all day, the people were soaked and were in mud up to their ankles. Within minutes the ground and their cloths were dried, as if it were never raining. Scientist at the site said that an atomic bomb would have had to go off in order to dry everything out that quickly, killing everyone at the site.
Even anti-Catholic Freemasons admitted to the sun miracle in the newspapers. People far away that were herding animals also witnessed the miracle taking place. They went running for their lives. People in the crowd, as they witnessed the sun coming towards earth began kneeling and screaming out their sins thinking that they were about to die.

It is not possible for a body under any means of preservation that do not show at least some decay. A body will stiffen over time due to age or to the preservatives. Their skin does not remain soft for years to come.

Of course the greatest miracle was the resurrection of Jesus Christ…even atheists don’t dispute the historical figure that was Jesus Christ…only his resurrection…yet how does anyone…atheist or otherwise explain how his disciples not only claim they saw…talked to and touched him…but chose to die for him…did they all make up a story they had seen him and decide they would rather die than admit they had been fooled…deceived by a liar and a madman…really?..and in the 2,000 years since who and what has been researched and studied more than the resurrection of Jesus…yet not one ounce of evidence has been uncovered that shows that Jesus died and was buried…and remains buried…I’m not trying to be insulting to atheists…they are just seeking truth like we all are…but surely they would acknowledge that based on the evidence they would have to reason that it’s more than likely that the resurrection actually happened…it’s just they have a difficult time accepting that at this time in their lives…and many atheists have come to realize the truth of the resurrection.

If you have the names of these scientists and can point me to what they wrote about it, I’d be happy to read it. Meanwhile, most of the accounts I’ve read dont mention the ground or clothes drying, and the places where I do see that turn up don’t seem to be directly quoting anyone I know particular; they just say that it happened (or that some people said it happened).

Which ‘incorruptible’ bodies do not show any signs of decay. I’ve seen pictures of some that, while appearing preserved, have definitely seen better days. The best looking ones I’ve seen have turned out to be wax, at least the face and hands, to cover up blackened skin and such.
And is the flexibility test a requirement to be considered ‘incorruptible?’ Does someone go around testing that?

I’ve looked into the “who would die for a lie” argument quite a bit, and the first thing that must be said is that people are sometimes indeed willing to die for a lie. I’m not talking about suicide bombers and the like; that’s the standard response from atheists, and I’m aware of why it’s not analogous to the situation the disciples were in. But we can still think of reasons that a person might be willing to die for something they were in a position to know was a lie:
-they might be crazy or delusional
-they might think that spreading the lie will help a cause they value more than life
-they might think that it is preferable to die appearing honorable than to live exposed as a fraud
-they might have died for mundane reasons but then have stories told later that made it sound like they died for their belief

We can come up with more, and we can find examples of people dying for things they were in a position to know were not true (Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, the Heaven’s Gate leaders). All this to say that while it does lend some credibility to a claim that someone is willing to give their life for it, it’s not definitive.

And with the apostles we also have to deal with the fact that the accounts of their martyrdoms are often kind of dubious. The early ones don’t have enough detail to really say that they died for proclaiming the resurrection, and the later ones are often unevidenced and contradictory.

As far as not finding Jesus body goes, that isn’t necessarily something we should expect. The fact that his body remains undiscovered doesn’t really add credibility to the resurrection account, in my opinion.

With Fatima there are conflicting reports of what happened. And more than just a handful that said they saw nothing.

As far as incorruptible bodies not stiffening. UM… it’s well known that rigor mortis stops after 48-72 hours and the body becomes flacid again… when they’re dug up, they are flacid, just a normal process.

Many saints are only “partially” incorrupt. Padre Pio has a silicone mask. The doctor who examined St. Bernadette noted many parts of her body (such as her face and hands) that had blackened- she is covered with wax.
preservation of bodies happens all the time- to all cultures and beliefs. I.E. When they dug up Medgar Evers (civil rights leader who was murdered). his body was quite preserved.

Most other people don’t routinely dig up their dead to see if they have decomposed.

It is VERY important to note that not even the Vatican considers the incorruptible bodies of saints to be miracles, at least definitively. They absolutely admit that there could be natural causes for the preservation of some, and possibly all of them. They do, however, make note of the fact that the process could be a sign, and so they make people aware of it when it does occur.

Not an atheist here… If you observe the accounts of the resurrection in the various Gospels they do not seem to support one another and the earliest Gospel record that of Mark ends chapter 16:8. Verses were added later afterwards…

Jesus Himself said in Luke 23:46 in a loud voice:

“Father into your hands I commit my Spirit!”

And having said this He breathed His last.

The Quran in a complement to the Gospel verse cited above has

“Allah raised Him up unto Himself…”

Surih 4: verse 158

I read Bishop Spong’s position on the resurrection:

The first thing to note is that Matthew changes Mark’s story about the women at the tomb. First, the messenger in Mark becomes a supernatural angel in Matthew’s story. Next Matthew says the women do see Jesus in the garden. They grasp him by the feet and worship him. This is the first time in Christian history that the Resurrection is presented as physical resuscitation. It occurs in the 9th decade of the Christian era. It should be noted that it took more than 50 years to begin to interpret the Easter experience as the resuscitated body of the deceased Jesus. When Matthew presents the story of the risen Jesus to the disciples, it is on a mountaintop in Galilee where he appears out of the sky armed with heavenly power. Recall once again that when Matthew wrote this narrative the story of Jesus’ ascension had not yet entered the tradition.

johnshelbyspong.com/sample-essays/the-resurrection/

I recently read most of a book about incorruptibles. My take was amazement at how many as well as all the various environments each is (or was) in.

The randomness of (or various) environments with similar conclusions was a powerful witness to the miracles.

I wish I could remember the name of the book and author, but I’m sure it was called ‘incorruptibles’ or the sort.

  1. How many people witnessed the events of September 11, 2001? How many of those witnesses have given statements? I don’t understand why it would be important to have a statement from all of them.
  2. The atheist-communist government newspaper ran stories on this for 3 days. Reporters were present at the event - not in hopes to see something supernatural - but to make fun of those that did hope to see something. They ran cartoons in the newspaper leading up to the event poking fun at the whole thing.
  3. This was not a one-time-event. There were multiple monthly events. The first event was witnessed by the three kids only (May 13, 1917). The next event was witnessed by just a handful of people as most thought the kids were to be discounted (June 13, 1917). The 20 or so people confirmed that something supernatural was happening, and so there were a couple thousand witnesses on July 13, 1917. Enough interest was generated that the government sought to put the kibosh on the whole affair - and kidnapped the children. But, 70,000 are not going to show up during the middle of the day (while it is raining), during the middle of the work week because 3 poor children say so. Keep in mind that the military had soldiers there to stop people from getting to the field. They were understaffed to deal with the magnitude of people, and people actually did push their way past (and some received bayonet wounds for their trouble.)

and they do not agree. Some people, Catholic and non-believers alike, say they saw nothing. Others, again both believers and non-believers, say they saw something, but there is a lot of variation in what they claim they saw.

The drying of the land - they do agree. What they saw when looking at the sun - you are correct, there is a range of experiences. It seems natural to me that there would be differences. We know that the sun did not physically spin around, it didn’t “come down to earth.” What people saw was not physical - it was God interacting with them through their sense of sight. Just as everyone of us is different, I would expect God to interact with us in different ways. But, it was physically miraculous that people did not suffer eye damage when looking directly at the sun during mid-day for 15 minutes.

So it seems to me that instead of me reaching for some natural explanation about what was going on with the sun that day, instead I would be looking for psychological explanations about why some people thought they saw something.

Can you please provide me an example of “mass hallucination” when there are tens of thousands gathered in one place? If this really was a normal human thing, then I would expect that the occasional sporting event would have a mass hallucination event. These gatherings happen frequently today, but were rare in 1917. I guess I don’t understand why there would be repeated “mass hallucinations” (remember - we’re talking May 13, June 13, July 13, (not Aug 13 as the kids were kidnapped), Sept 13, and then finally Oct 13). If we could see so many “mass hallucinations” in this one place with people gathering, I’d expect to see it happening all the time these days.

The more statements we have, the better the evidence we have, especially since in the case of Fatima (unlike 9/11), the testimony of the witnesses is the only evidence we have. The number of statements we have for Fatima is not the main factor here; the inconsistency is a bigger issue as far as I’m concerned.

And it doesn’t make sense to me why they wouldn’t all have the same experience, or why there would be anyone at all who didn’t experience it.

I never said “mass hallucination.” I don’t even know if that’s a real thing. By “psychological explanations” I meant a whole gamut of things ranging from maybe hallucinations in a few people to confirmation bias in others to outright lying in other cases.
[/quote]

Today, it seems unthinkable to question the reality of 9/11. A few hundred years from now? Maybe not. Evidence? Well, we have video - of course we also have lots of faked out special effects in our movie theaters - who’s not to argue that the whole thing was just a gimmick?

Yes - everyone knows that 9/11 happened. I didn’t see it myself, but I saw the news reports. My point is that we didn’t seem to think it was important to run around and get statements from all witnesses of the 9/11 tragedy. Why not? Well, no one is questioning the reality of 9/11. Not today, anyway.

Well - okay - here is a first hand account for you. It is a verbatim transcript from a TV interview of Mr. Dominic Reis, of Holyoke, Massachusetts who was in Portugal in 1917.

Interviewer “But then, this matter of the rain and water to which so
many testify. What happened with the water?”

Mr. Dominic Reis:“As soon as the sun went back in the right place the wind
started to blow real hard, but the trees didn’t move at all. The
wind was blow, blow and in few minutes the ground was as dry
as this floor here.4 Even our clothes had dried. We were walking
here and there, and our clothes… we don’t feel at all. The
clothes were dry and looked as though they had just come from
the laundry. I believed. I thought: Either I’m out of my mind or
this was a miracle, a real miracle.”

The above text is taken from a book called “Meet the Witnesses.” The author’s stated objective was to put people into contact with those who were still alive to tell their story about Fatima. He names names and asks that those investigating the Fatima miracle go and ask the surviving witnesses. If you want a copy of the book free of charge, the PDF is here The above text that I quoted is on page 12 of that book.

This witness places the drying event AFTER the sun returned to normal. So, if one were to kneel, it would be consistent with your other observation - kneeling at the start of the miracle in the mud.

And it doesn’t make sense to me why they wouldn’t all have the same experience, or why there would be anyone at all who didn’t experience it.

Whenever I think about “supernatural” events, it is an interaction with a being - a person or persons. These miracles are a gift - not unlike the gifts that parents give their children at times. Does every sibling in a family receive the same gift? So, for me, it makes sense. For you, it doesn’t. It makes sense to me that we’d have different points of view on this topic - we’re different people with different experiences.

I never said “mass hallucination.” I don’t even know if that’s a real thing. By “psychological explanations” I meant a whole gamut of things ranging from maybe hallucinations in a few people to confirmation bias in others to outright lying in other cases.

Okay, you are correct. You never did say “mass hallucination”. That was the only thing I could imagine you’d be talking about when you said:

So it seems to me that instead of me reaching for some natural explanation about what was going on with the sun that day, instead I would be looking **for psychological explanations **about why some people thought they saw something.

So, in any event, we are talking about a lot of people acting in unison affirming that the crazy and unthinkable had just happened right before their eyes. Also, whatever “psychological explanation” you develop, it will need to consider that this was not a one time event - but multiple repeated events. I’m not aware of other examples of this. I mean - what about rock concerts? Or Burning Man? There’s a great deal of mind-altering drugs flowing around there. Why don’t we have a sun miracle every other weekend with all of that goes on?

If you could offer any kind of similar events where there was such a wild departure from grounded reality for such a large number of people, I would appreciate that greatly.

Miracles occur for a bigger reason than just for the sake of a miracle.

The miracle of the sun occurred as the children said it would. The apparition told the children that a sign would occur on October 13.

Coincidence? You could say that if you desire - there is always a way out when it comes to miracles. God’s never going to force someone to accept Him. There’s always a way out.

I have a personal theory when it comes to the incorrupt saints:
Death is essentially a result of sin, in the sense that God didn’t mean for humans to experience death and corruption (though they do naturally, for we are bodily creatures).

So it is reasonable to say that the extent of a saint’s incorrupt body could reflect the level of sanctity achieved by the individual. Look at Mary. She never sinned – and experienced no bodily corruption at all. Now no other human person was immaculately conceived, and remained sinless, so even the most holy of individuals still are somewhat marked by sin in this life. Therefore, they are not totally incorrupt.

That’s just one idea. Of course, it could just be that a complete incorrupt body would be so obviously of God (and miraculous) that it would shove the human will to accept him. But as already said, God’s use of miracles is not to force people to love him. So the imperfect incorrupt bodies leave room for doubt and refusal to believe.

This is my first post here. I was raised Catholic. As my “name” says, I’m culturally that (along with my eastern European heritage), much like Jews who are Atheist but enjoy the culture. Culture is fun! It gives an identity. It involves parties and food. It’s fun. I put out our ancient family creche not because I believe in that stuff, but because it’s part of my culture at Christmas and all the fun. That being said, let’s get to the “Fatima miracle.” Look at the photographs taken when “it happened.” Many, if not most, are not looking up. They see nothing. As a matter of fact, they look disgruntled.

Even as a small child, raised in a heart-felt eastern European Catholicism, I couldn’t accept it. I had questions, and when I asked the nuns in school they hit me. When it was reported to my parents, they hit me. The gist is: “You must believe! Don’t ask questions!” As a child, even at six and seven years old, I found all this stuff about a god questionable. When I asked it for something I got nothing. I was told by the “godly” nuns: “You’re not holy enough for what you want.” But when I asked Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, they all delivered. Maybe not everything I wanted (I never got that Lost In Space play set), but I got something (I did get that Lost In Space laser gun set). As for the god? Nothing. Guess I wasn’t holy enough.

Anyway, back to miracles and the sun and Fatima and all that (when photos show that most people saw nothing). When will a god (your god, the Protestant god, the Jewish god, the Muslim god, whatever god) actually deliver. As the very prominent website says, why does god hate amputees? It can make a sun spin (which hasn’t been proven), but it won’t heal someone who lost a limb? Not once? Just once? Now? (Don’t tell me about icon showing a third hand and, well, if you’re Catholic or Orthodox, you’ll know about that.)

I’ll always be culturally Catholic. I use an advent wreath (along with a menorah). I eat oplatki on Christmas Eve along with smoked fish I get ashes on Ash Wednesday. I eat only fish on Fridays. In many ways, I’m more culturally Catholic than most Catholics. But “miracles?” Where are they? Where is your god or any god?

I’ve always wanted to know why atheists put so much effort into fighting something they claim does not exist. If you don’t believe, why do you care? Why join a site like this? Would you do the same on a Muslim site? Probably not.

Actually, I do belong to a number of different religious discussion forums. Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, a couple different Christian ones. In most cases I joined a couple years ago after I left Christianity and was looking into other religions. I still stop by periodically to see what people are talking about. I mostly lurk though; I prefer face-to-face conversations these days.

As far as “fighting” something I claim doesn’t exist, the answer would depend on what you’re seeing as “fighting.”

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.