Miracles are dead and we murdered them with rationality says professor

In his presentation “The Miracle Myth,” Lawrence Shapiro, a professor of philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argued that believing in miracles is irrational and unjustified.

“My claim is that no one has ever been justified in believing in miracles,” said Shapiro.

According to Shapiro, he was not trying to prove that miracles never happen but that believing in miracles, given current scientific knowledge, is neither rational nor justified.

In the introduction to his lecture, Shapiro took the time to both define what constitutes justified beliefs.

To Shapiro, justified beliefs may be true or false but the important thing is that there is well sourced evidence to justify them. Shapiro listed several things that might not constitute good evidence such as fortune cookies and certain newspapers, like the National Enquirer.

“Since my sister in-law is not in the audience, I can say that astrologers are not a good source of evidence,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro also took the time to explain what he meant by miracles, first by defining what they are not.

”So I don’t mean events that are merely awe inspiring or majestic or fortunate or surprising,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro described several events that have been popularly described as miracles but which he did not consider miracles. One of these was the “Miracle on Ice” victory when the United States defeated the Russian hockey team at the 1980 Olympics.

What miracles are, according to Shapiro, are events that lack rational or observable causes.

“They are things for which we don’t have any explanations, given the way we understand the world to work,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro used statistical arguments to claim that eyewitness testimony on its own should not be used as a source of evidence for miracles. Shapiro also relied upon the philosopher David Hume to make his points.

During the presentation, Shapiro frequently connected belief in miracles with belief in God. Wanting to argue that belief in God is unjustified was in fact a motivating factor behind Shapiro wanting to give this presentation in the first place. This was because, in his opinion, many problematic laws are being created by politicians using religion to justify their positions.

“So much legislation in this country now, which creates the laws that dictate how I’m allowed to live my life, is coming from people who think that their legislation should reflect God and Christianity,” said Shapiro.

“These people are telling us how to live our lives based on their belief in events like miracles, that they’re not justified in believing.” 

At the end of the presentation, several members of the audience debated and discussed Shapiro’s arguments with him at length.

“The Miracle Myth” was given by Shapiro Thursday and was the second presentation in the Nadine B. Andreas Lectures in Philosophy given by him this semester. The first lecture was on Embodied Cognition and focused on how embodied cognition differed from more traditional approaches to cognitive science and the potential future of embodied cognition as a discipline.

Header photo: Lawrence Shapiro, a philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argued that believing in miracles is irrational and unjustified at his presentation. (Davis Jensen/The Reporter)

Write to Jeremy Redlien at

One thought on “Miracles are dead and we murdered them with rationality says professor

  • danielsebold

    There are a lot of irrational secular beliefs for you in the land of magical realism and thirty-trillion dollar debt endless wars investment capitalism. You don’t have health care? Just have faith in genocide Joe .


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