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One meta-question has asked before if, in general, religious topics are on-topic.

The accepted answer from @MadScientist says:

I would personally consider pure religious question off-topic here. We can't extend our focus indefinitely, and many of those questions are more about faith than about science.

In this meta-question, I more narrowly ask whether questions about whether particular divine miracles occurred should be considered in the scope of Skeptics.SE.

For example, here is an old question: Did Pope John Paul II perform a miracle?

Given that a miracle is defined as an event which is not explicable by natural or scientific laws, do these types of questions belong on christianity.se, islam.se or judaism.se instead of skeptics.se?

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It depends on the question. I'm no expert but maybe miracles have two components:

  • Divine cause
  • Material effect

The former is off-topic and the latter isn't; for example:

  • "My cancer is in remission. Is that a miracle?" -- Off-topic because it's asking about divine cause.
  • "Is it true that people who go to Lourdes are cured?" -- On-topic because it's asking about material effect.

In summary:

  • Asking "did this happen" or "does this happen" is on-topic.
  • Asking "did this happen because of God" is off-topic.
  • Asking about statistics/probabilities may be on topic.
  • Asking "Is there a mundane explanation for this phenomenon" is on-topic, if the 'notable claim' was that there is no mundane explanation.
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  • I disagree that it's "on-topic because it's asking about material effect", it is still implicitly asking if there is a divine intervention, aka god; off-topic.
    – My Name
    Apr 28, 2015 at 9:02
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    Questions about 'miracle cures' are clearly on-topic on this site: for example, "Does snake-oil cure cancer?"
    – ChrisW
    Apr 28, 2015 at 9:04
  • Oh, sorry for the confusion. This question is only about divine miracles.
    – My Name
    Apr 28, 2015 at 9:05
  • It's the same question, is what I'm saying: it's on-topic to ask whether there was a (single instance of a) cure, and/or whether there are many instances of a cure and if so what the statistical significance is. And it is on-topic (if a miracle was claimed) to ask whether there's any mundane explanation.
    – ChrisW
    Apr 28, 2015 at 9:09
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Let's note that "miracle" does not necessarily mean "the work of God" but simply a very unlikely phenomenon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle):

There are many aspects or versions of a "miracle" question:

  1. The religious side: "Does the Catholic Church consider the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Fatima a miracle?" is on topic as long as the claim is about what the Church officially recognizes. More general questions such as "Are events like X considered miracles?" are probably better asked on a specific religious web site.

  2. The factual side: "Did Virgin Mary appear at Fatima?" is technically on topic, but probably very very hard to answer meaningfully unless it is a strictly factual claim. It seems hard to otherwise disprove, besides pointing out there's no believable evidence.

  3. The statistics side: "Does praying heal?" This can be answered and has been studied.

  4. The meaning side: "Is this miracle an act of God?" this should be probably nuked from orbit.

Therefore: if badly posed these questions should be put on hold until the author can rephrased them in a non leading/unanswerable way, in which case we're more than happy to have them.

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  • This question is narrowed down only to religious miracles, mainly those in this format: "Did X perform a miracle and cured Y though God?". To convince me that this question is on-topic, you need to give one example where we can prove that a saint or a pope performed a MIRACLE which defies our rational thought? On the other turn, you need to give me one example where we can disprove that god miraculously cured the disease of X?
    – My Name
    Apr 29, 2015 at 6:42
  • As I said "is x an act of God" is not ok
    – Sklivvz
    Apr 29, 2015 at 8:03
  • Oh, ok. Then shouldn't this question be closed as off-topic?
    – My Name
    Apr 29, 2015 at 8:08
  • @georgechalhoub it could maybe be worded better, but certainly not closed. The accepted answer is factual.
    – Sklivvz
    Apr 29, 2015 at 10:52
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I agree with ChrisW's division of "miracle" questions into two components, but would categorize them differently. Let's consider a possible claim:

[Famous faith healer] has healed hundreds of people of Stage 4 cancer by divine power.

This statement has two underlying claims that can be questioned in their own way:

  • A religious question - Does [Famous faith healer] actually possess or channel divine healing power?
  • A scientific (falsifiable) question - Do people with Stage 4 cancer who visit [Famous faith healer] show a statistically significant improvement on recovery versus a control group who did not visit a faith healer?

The first question is a question of religious belief rather than science. It is unfalsifiable and off-topic. If you believe in a religion, it is an appropriate question to bring to your clergy.

The second question is a scientific one that is independently falsifiable regardless of the existence of or belief in miracles, powers, or gods. James Randi has published research specifically debunking claims of this type that can be cited in an answer.

Similarly, the following questions would be on-topic if adequately sourced:

  • Does the Podunk Monastery actually have a lantern that glows day and night with no fuel source as claimed by the tour guide?
  • Is Pope Vance of the Church of the Divine Tomorrow actually able to levitate his body as he claims in his Letter to the Divine Tomorrow People?
  • A priest showed me an inscription in Latin and told me it was a fifth century prediction of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. Is the inscription [photo] actually from the fifth century and does it actually translate to "In the year of our lord 2020 the crowns of death and borders closed, do not go to China the coughing death takes your lungs"?

So, the fact that a notable, scientific claim derives from a greater claim involving a religious miracle is immaterial to the topicality of the underlying scientific claim.

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Miracle questions are based on pure faith and are nothing close to science.

There are hundreds of miracles reports which happen everyday, Brain explained in a post:

For example, at any Christian bookstore you can find hundreds of books about the power of prayer. On the Internet you can find thousands of testimonials to the many ways that God works in our lives today. Even large city newspapers and national magazines run stories about answered prayers. God seems to be interacting with our world and answering millions of prayers on planet Earth every day.

Marshall Brain goes on saying that the aspect of miracles has to do with ambiguity and coincidence:

Imagine that you pray for something -- It does not really matter what it is. Let's imagine that you have cancer, you pray to God to cure the cancer, and the cancer actually does go away. The interesting thing to recognize is that there is ambiguity in your cure:

  • God might have miraculously cured the disease, as many people believe.
  • God might also be imaginary, and the chemotherapy drugs and surgery are the things that cured your cancer.

He continues in another post saying:

The fact that 9,900 praying people died while only 100 survived should be plenty of evidence to indicate that prayer does not work. A 99% failure rate is significant. But for some reason, believers do not seem to think about the 9,900 who died. They instead celebrate the "answered prayers" of the 100. The 9,900 who died are swept under the carpet. It should be becoming obvious to you what actually happens on any battlefield. The survivors benefit from random luck and nothing more. Their "answered prayers" are simply coincidences. [...] Look for God's Ratio. In every case, the prayer's power can be explained by coincidence, luck, normal probabilities, the laws of physics, human design or some other normal, non-miraculous process.

Miracle questions should be off-topic. Many theologians who discuss miracles admit they are exceptional events. A miracle is defined as an event which is not explicable by natural or scientific laws.

Not only those questions are unfalsifiable, those type of questions:

  • retain proper skepticism
  • do not come with evidence
  • have no legitimate form of reasoning

I would personally quote Marshall Brain on each "miracle" question on skeptics.se but that would be not nice to believers or might offend them.

If anyone disagrees that we should close those questions as off-topic, how do you think a community like skeptics.se can answer such questions?

Is there a way we can prove that a priest, saint or a pope performed a MIRACLE which defies our rational thoughts, logic, common sense, science and the laws of physics?

On the other turn, is there a way we can disprove that god miraculously cured the cancer of X instead of surgery and the chemotherapy drugs?

Those questions belong on religious sites christianity.se, islam.se or judaism.se; religious sites gives them more value than we do.

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  • Read your answer again except instead of reading "miracle" read "vaccine": e.g. "Vaccine questions are based on pure faith and etc."
    – ChrisW
    Apr 29, 2015 at 2:26
  • The effectiveness of vaccination has been widely studied and verified; for example, the influenza vaccine, the HPV vaccine, and the chicken pox vaccine. You can't equate vaccines with religious miracles.
    – My Name
    Apr 29, 2015 at 5:41
  • Science is defined as "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." Vaccines are scientifically studied and verified and therefore any vaccination question is acceptable. On the side, miracles are questions of religion, pure superstition, faith, magic, fairies.
    – My Name
    Apr 29, 2015 at 5:44
  • I was equating what you say about miracles with what anti-vaxxers say about vaccines. And doesn't matter if the "intent of the question" is to prove that God performs miracles or to prove that vaccines are unnecessary: in either case, if the question asks for evidence then it's on-topic; and an answer can try to reply with facts, the whole facts, and nothing but the facts.
    – ChrisW
    Apr 29, 2015 at 5:45
  • Still you can't equate them, it's fallacious. If an anti-vaxxer claims that HPV vaccines aren't effective, I can link him this scientific study. On the other side, how can I answer a god miracle question? If you think the question is on-topic. Can you give me one case where I can prove that a saint or a pope performed a MIRACLE which defies our rational thought? On the other turn, can you give me one example where we can disprove that god miraculously cured the cancer of X instead of surgery and the chemotherapy drugs?
    – My Name
    Apr 29, 2015 at 5:55
  • One example, the title of this one isn't brilliant but the question at the end isn't bad: is there a 'scientific' explanation? What's the evidence that the event occurred?
    – ChrisW
    Apr 29, 2015 at 6:45
  • I linked the question in my question, I'm debating this one should be off-topic. This currently doesn't have any valuable answers. The first posted answer is theoretical and one flag could get it removed. The second posted doesn't really answer the question.
    – My Name
    Apr 29, 2015 at 7:06
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    I think both answer try to talk about evidence for whether the mundane event happened, as claimed: does the patient exist? was the patient cured? did the patient have the disease?
    – ChrisW
    Apr 29, 2015 at 8:50

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