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Trial by Fire: Modernity’s Response to Miracles

TrialByFire

Perhaps no single image captures the popular conception of the “Dark Ages” than the idea of trials by ordeal. These infamous trials are the reason we refer to a difficult situation as an “ordeal,” or perhaps a “trial by fire.” One of the most famous depictions of a trial by ordeal is in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A woman is accused of witchcraft, and rather than gathering evidence or taking any but the most cursory of testimony, an elaborate test is designed to “objectively” determine if she’s a witch:

While the scene is exaggerated for comic effect, it’s not far off the mark. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explain:

"During the Middle Ages, if a court couldn’t determine whether a defendant was guilty, it often turned the case over to a priest who would administer an 'ordeal' using boiling water or a smoking-hot iron bar. The idea was that God, who knew the truth, would miraculously deliver from harm any suspect who had been wrongly accused."

As Levitt and Dubner note, “as a means of establishing guilt, the medieval ordeal sounds barbaric and nonsensical.” This assessment seems half-correct. As a judicial process, they were an oft-bloody one, which is why canon 18 of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) put an end to ordeals as part of a broader effort to disassociate clerics from bloodshed (a canon which, interestingly, banned priests from participating in everything from leading mercenaries to performing surgery).

But while the ordeals could be barbaric at times, they were perfectly sensible. The defendant is put into a position in which, barring a miracle, he’ll both be badly hurt and found guilty. God alone can save him. The logic — and the justice — of the process is rooted in the fact that both the judicial authorities and the accused believed in God (significantly, ordeals were only ever done to believers). According to George Mason’s Peter Leeson, this is rooted in “a medieval superstition called iudicium Dei (judgments of God). According to that superstition, God condemned the guilty and exonerated the innocent through clergy-conducted physical tests.”

How does this “superstition” hold up? You might be surprised. Levitt and Dubner, summarizing Leeson’s findings:

"Dr. Leeson analyzed a set of church records from 13th-century Hungary; it included 308 cases that entered the trial-by-ordeal phase. Of these, 100 were aborted before producing a final result. That left 208 cases in which the defendant was summoned by a priest to the church, climbed the altar, and was forced to grab hold of a red-hot iron bar.
 
How many of those 208 people do you think were badly burned? All 208? We’re talking about red-hot iron here. Maybe 207 or 206?
 
The actual number was 78. Which means that the remaining 130—nearly two-thirds of the defendants—were miraculously unharmed and thereby exonerated."

The “plea rolls” kept by English courts likewise reveal 19 cases of trial by ordeals, in which 17 of those accused were exonerated.  This is what Leeson refers to as “the peculiar puzzle of ordeals: trials of fire and water that should have condemned most persons who underwent them did the reverse. They exonerated these persons instead. Boiling water rarely boiled persons who plunged their arms in it. Burning iron rarely burned persons who carried it.”

And here we come to a fascinating point.

Leeson’s just uncovered records in two different countries revealing what certainly appears to be objective evidence of miracles. We’re not talking about a case or two in which somehow held a red-hot iron and walked away unharmed somehow. We’re talking about well over a hundred such incidents, just in the limited records that we know of. Yet Leeson can’t accept even the possibility that the ordeals might be what they claimed to be (miraculous). Instead, he offers this by way of explanation:

"Examining the outcomes of the 208 cases in which defendants underwent ordeals is more instructive. The data are telling: probands failed their ordeals in only 78 cases, or 37.5 percent of the time. Probands passed their ordeals in 130 cases, or 62.5 percent of the time. Unless nearly two-thirds of ordeal-officiating priests did not understand how to heat iron, these data suggest priestly rigging intended to exculpate probands. Ordeals exonerated the overwhelming majority of probands tried in the basilica of Nagyva´rad."

Leeson, then, contemplates only two possibilities: either that “nearly two-thirds of ordeal-officiating priests did not understand how to heat iron,” or that priests were falsifying miracles in nearly two-thirds of these cases. Each of these options are ridiculous. Levitt and Dubner inadvertently show this, by describing what Leeson’s theory might actually look like:

"Unless these 130 miracles were miracles, how can they be explained? Dr. Leeson thinks he knows the answer: 'priestly rigging'—that is, the priest somehow tinkered with the setup to make the ordeal look legitimate while ensuring that the defendant wouldn’t be disfigured. Maybe the priest swapped out the hot iron bar for a cooler one, or—if using the boiling-water ordeal—dumped a pail of cold water into the caldron before the congregants entered the church."

Think of some of the elements involved in priestly rigging:

  • First, you need the witnesses to be stupid enough to believe that a piece of iron is smoldering hot when it isn’t. Also, it helps if they can’t tell the difference between boiling water and mildly warm water.
  • Second, you need a massive conspiracy of priests to fake miracles. We’re not talking about a bad priest here or there, but apparently the entire Catholic clergy cooperating to perpetuate this. And not just in Hungary, but in England, and everywhere else that trials were conducted by ordeals. Levitt and Dubner point out that this theory only works if we assume that virtually all Medieval priests were atheists: “If medieval priests did manipulate the ordeals, that might make them the only parties who thought an all-knowing God didn’t exist—or if He did, that He had enough faith in his priestly deputies to see their tampering as part of a divine quest for justice.”
  • Third, you need Catholic congregations docile (and gullible) enough that they’ll accept anything that these conniving priests tell them, no matter how ridiculous.
  • Fourth, you need a steady supply of seminarians who can immediately switch from being pious, stupid laypeople to evil, conniving priests. Remember: none of the laity are in on this conspiracy, but apparently all of the priests are. Leeson’s best explanation for this global conspiracy of blasphemous miracle-doctoring is that “According to the developing doctrine of in persona Christi, priests may have believed that they were acting in the person of Christ—that is, that God was guiding them—when they manipulated ordeals.” So apparently, you also need priests and seminarians who don’t understand what the doctrine of in persona Christi means.
  • Fifth, you’re left positing a global conspiracy that left no paper trail, and apparently raised no eyebrows. That is, we have plenty of matter-of-fact court and church records relating to ordeals, and plenty of documents even describing the precise conditions in which to perform them, but none of these documents (even the ones written by and for priests!) tell the priest when and how to doctor the miracle.
  • Sixth, you’ve got the problem of the exonerated guilty. Peter is tried by ordeal, “miraculously” found innocent, and set free. Subsequent evidence emerges showing that he was really guilty. Even if this evidence were never brought to court, Peter and everyone who knew him to be guilty would now recognize the miracle as a sham.
  • Seventh, you’ve got the problem of the condemned innocent.  This is particularly true if further evidence reveals his innocence… or someone else’s guilt.
  • Eighth, you’ve got the defendant’s own experience. That is, even a genuinely-innocent man would realize that the reason he was found innocent was that the ordeal was rigged: that the iron wasn’t particularly hot, etc.

That’s just a start. This, by the way, is a 12th century image depicting trial by fire, the ordeal that Leeson apparently thinks can be easily and repeatedly faked:

Ordeal of Fire

Given all of this, Leeson hasn’t really given us much reason to think that there wasn’t something miraculous at work here. Of course, that doesn’t prove that it is. The Fourth Lateran Council’s willingness to put the kibosh on this judicial method reveals the Church’s own discomfort with ordeals, and there seem to have been cases of wrongly-condemned defendants when God didn’t perform miracles on demand. But we’re free to believe that, of the 147 exonerations Leeson analyzed, some or all of those results were miraculous.

Leeson, Levitt, and Dubner don’t have that same freedom. Because they view miracles as absurd (Leeson writes it off as “superstition” some 30 times in his article, while Dubner and Levitt list it as a method to “trick the guilty and gullible”), they can’t even consider the possibility of miracles, regardless of the evidence staring them squarely in the face. It’s not a matter of rejecting miracles because the evidence for them isn’t strong enough. It’s a matter of refusing to accept the evidence, no matter how strong, because of a prior commitment to rejecting miracles. I’m reminded of something I wrote about the USA Today demonic possession story:

Christians are free to disbelieve that this case was demonic, of course. Believing that demons exist doesn't mean that everything blamed on demons is really demonic, as opposed to delusions, lies, mental illness, etc. There's no prior commitment to this being demonic or non-demonic: Christians are free to simply evaluate the evidence as it is presented.
 
But for atheist materialists who deny the existence of the spiritual realm, stories like this one are a bit of a red six of clubs. There's no way to easily harmonize the facts presented with the belief that that matter is all that there is. This worldview prejudges the case: the answer must be that there was no demonic activity.

Which brings us to a final irony: we moderns think of trial by ordeal as proof positive of the irrational dogmatism of our religious ancestors’ culture. In fact, the story seems to reveal a great deal more about the irrational dogmatism of our own irreligious culture.
 
 
(Image credit: Dieric Bouts the Elder, Ordeal by Fire, 1460)

Joe Heschmeyer

Written by

Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • David Nickol

    While I am open to the possibility of miracles, I think there are many circumstances in which it is perfectly reasonable to consider miracles the least likely explanation for whatever phenomena are under investigation. To put it most simply, what kind of God would have cooperated with such a bizarre scheme as trial-by-ordeal in 13th-century Hungary, working miracles right and left to prop up an entirely unjust system? And where is this God today, when we could use a God who would work miracles on demand?

    • David Nickol

      Now, here is a more credible miracle.

    • "To put it most simply, what kind of God would have cooperated with such a bizarre scheme as trial-by-ordeal in 13th-century Hungary, working miracles right and left to prop up an entirely unjust system? And where is this God today, when we could use a God who would work miracles on demand?"

      This is not a serious argument against the miracles surrounding the ordeals--it's simply a rhetorical question. Wondering why God doesn't work other miracles does nothing to explain away the cases Joe highlighted in his article.

      I'm genuinely curious to hear your answer to the questions Joe has posed, which you've avoided despite multiple comments. Presuming these records are accurate:

      1. How was this conspiracy organized?

      2. How was this conspiracy executed?

      3. What possible motive was there to do this?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        1. How was this conspiracy organized?

        2. How was this conspiracy executed?

        3. What possible motive was there to do this?

        Leeson explains all of this. For instance, in the case of the English ordeals he finds:

        Recall that because of differences in body fat, men are likely to sink in water and thus to be exonerated at cold-water
        ordeals, while women are likely to float and thus to be
        convicted. If, then, as my theory suggests, medieval justice
        systems sought to exonerate persons who were willing to undergo
        ordeals, they should have sent only men to cold ordeals and sent
        women only to hot ones.The data support this prediction.

        He also offers mechanism for the ordeals that took place in a single basilica in Hungary. I would not call 19 cases in England and 300 odd cases at a single basilica a global conspiracy.

        http://www.peterleeson.com/Ordeals.pdf

    • To put it most simply, what kind of God would have cooperated with such a bizarre scheme as trial-by-ordeal in 13th-century Hungary, working miracles right and left to prop up an entirely unjust system?

      Perhaps your error is to think that the system was "entirely unjust". Importantly, do you have any idea whether the system, at the time, was becoming more or less unjust? (I don't 'same' obtains for very long.) It seems to me that we ought to expect God to be active during the 'more' phases, helping things along. But if people don't want him around, and if God eschews the principle "Might makes right.", then perhaps he takes a hike when during 'less' phases, along the lines of:

      God came from Teman,    and the Holy One from Mount Paran. SelahHis splendor covered the heavens,    and the earth was full of his praise.His brightness was like the light;    rays flashed from his hand;    and there he veiled his power.Before him went pestilence,    and plague followed at his heels.(Habakkuk 3:3–5)

      In terms of God taking a hike, you can see what God said would happen during captivity to the Israelites, as well as check out passages like 2 Thess 2:1–12. If we're happy to let the Holocaust happen, and then a short fifty years later let Rwandan Genocide § United States happen, perhaps there's not much God can do that wouldn't result in him coercing us—something he seems generally quite reticent to do, throughout the entire Bible.

      • David Nickol

        I am satisfied with the most probable explanation of how trial by ordeal actually worked, which was for the accused to be burned in one way or another and for a judgment to be made three days later based on how the wound was healing. It fits with the facts if you do a bit of research on google. So I think this whole thread has largely been based on the false assumption that miraculous healing played a part in trial by ordeal.

        The original sources Joe cited did not adequately understand trial by ordeal. They did certainly conclude, based on the little evidence they collected, that the results of a number of trials either required miracles or fraud, and they assumed fraud. However, Joe and Brandon argued strongly in favor of miracles, based only on evidence as presented by sources they were trying to discredit for not being willing to dig deeper!

        There was never sufficient evidence to assume miraculous occurrences in 13th-century Hungary. It is just my personal opinion, but I think those who argued in favor of miracles were more credulous than those who argued against them were skeptical.

        • That's an odd response to my challenge of your predication on "entirely unjust system". There, you seemed to be [implicitly] challenging the Christian to come up with a proper prior probability that justifies (i) God miraculously acting in trial-by-ordeal hundreds of years ago; (ii) God not miraculously acting in trial-by-ordeal now. I argued for a more general reason why God would be happy to act miraculously during some periods of time and not others. Your response veers completely off this course.

          • David Nickol

            That's an odd response to my challenge of your predication on "entirely unjust system".

            The point I was intending to make in my response was that we had all made false assumptions about trial by ordeal, so there is little profit in continuing the discussion based on the old, incorrect understanding of what trial by ordeal actually was.

            I argued for a more general reason why God would be happy to act miraculously during some periods of time and not others.

            I would have to go back and reread everything I wrote to be sure of this, but I don't believe it was ever part of my argument that it would be wrong to assume God to have miraculously intervened in trial by ordeal in 13th-century Hungary when we would not expect him to do the same today. My argument was based on my conclusion that God did not miraculously intervene in 13th-century Hungary, and he would not do so today, either.

          • Ok. I guess I just totally misunderstood the following:

            DN: To put it most simply, what kind of God would have cooperated with such a bizarre scheme as trial-by-ordeal in 13th-century Hungary, working miracles right and left to prop up an entirely unjust system? And where is this God today, when we could use a God who would work miracles on demand?

            I saw this as expressing theological beliefs, beliefs which ought to be open to investigation regardless of whether said trial-by-ordeals were miraculous or not. The instant you can make certain theological beliefs taken-for-granted, the debate is over.

        • Michael Murray

          So the picture leading the article is totally misleading.

      • David Nickol

        It seems to me that we ought to expect God to be active during the 'more' phases, helping things along.

        Very strong arguments are made by Catholics that it is a violation of human free will for God to step in and help out when humans are making a muddle of things. It is a personal belief of mine, which would probably take a book-length treatise to make the case properly, that if God intervenes at all, it is very, very rarely. Put briefly, the more he is said to intervene to cause good things to happen, the weaker the argument becomes that he does not intervene to prevent bad things out of respect for our free will.

        • God is under no obligation to respect our free will. It is merely the case that to the extent abridging freedom of the will also abridges moral culpability.

          As to God 'intervening', I think a major error is supposing that all divine action must be considered 'intervention' in the first place. Past our epistemological horizon, anything could be going on. For example, quantum theory is entirely instrumental at this point of view; it is predictive, not descriptive (On Physics and Philosophy, 148). I'm sure there are a plethora of possible ontologies for it, and God could, with complete consistency, pick which one obtains anytime before we discover which one is superior to all others. For more along these lines, see the beginning of Robert Nozick's Invariances.

          The Bible is pretty obvious about God wanting to be in relationship with us. That doesn't entail that he will only ever rescue us. Instead, it can be something analogous to the kind of relationships humans experience, where there is give and take. I suppose one of those directions is objected to on immutability/​impassibility grounds, but I'll just say "give and take with Jesus" in response. There might even be an argument having to do with Fitch's Paradox of Knowability that if God does not exist, any knowledge that is knowable is already known, which would be quite weird. Clearly, one way for God to build into us is to guide us toward new knowledge. Catholic theologian Josef Pieper plays with this idea in Leisure: The Basis of Culture and "Divine Madness": Plato's Case Against Secular Humanism.

  • Lazarus

    At first reading I am absolutely astounded that the author could even try to defend the ordeal process as "perfectly sensible ". Even if I should grant, as I am perfectly willing to do, that some of these events led to miracles, that would show nothing but God's involvement in trying to ameliorate a very human process that was at best cruel and barbaric. I can view that process in a historical context, and it certainly does not affect my faith at all, but to firstly defend it and then actually commend it ... that is quite outrageous. The ordeals do the Catholic cause no honor, and efforts to whitewash it are misguided.

    • Mike

      maybe it's just me but i think he was using it to demonstrate that miracles must've happened given the evidence not that the practice was just or reasonable or not insane...but maybe i missed something.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      You're misreading me there. I'm not commending it - I thought I'd made it clear that the Church had good reasons for outlawing the system. In calling it "sensible," I meant that the internal logic of the ordeal system makes sense... which it does. "Shame on you" isn't a refutation of that point, and acknowledging the system as logic doesn't mean I'm endorsing it (which, again, I'm not).

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        William,

        My guess is that there was a sense that God would have to intervene in these cases, precisely because these are things that (barring a miracle) would result in serious physical harm. This shows both the logic and the immorality of the system.

      • Lazarus

        Thank you for the reply. I still read it exactly the way I read it the first time though. The general sense of the article, right up to the conclusion as to our modern times and it's potential deficiencies, just sounds unduly supportive of the system. But I will give it another read in the light of your explanation.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          "Thank you for the reply. I still read it exactly the way I read it the first time though."

          I don't understand. It's one thing to misunderstand what I originally wrote (regardless of fault), but it seems bizarre to insist on reading me as saying what I'm explicitly not saying.

          As for my criticisms of modernity, I'm not attacking trial by jury (obviously?), but the secular dogmatism that denies that miracles are possible, and waves away all evidence to the contrary.

          • Lazarus

            If you write an article and several people "misread" you, the problem may be yours, not theirs.
            I have explained how I understand your article, and what I found rather unappealing in the article. My understanding, clearly shared by other commenters, is now called "bizarre".

            Given that impasse, I do not see any further point in taking part in the discussion. I have made my point, and i have nothing to add to it.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Lazarus,

            As I said, I’m more than happy to take the blame for your misunderstanding my meaning. I may well have expressed myself obliquely or ambiguously. To see what I thought was bizarre, consider it this way:

            1- I wrote something that could be understood as meaning A or B.

            2- Your objection makes it clear you take me to mean A.

            3- I then clarify, no, I meant to say B.

            4- You then say, thanks, but that doesn’t change my interpretation.

            It’s #4 that I find bizarre. I can easily understand taking my meaning to be A or B if I’ve written badly. But once I clarify, it strikes me as supremely odd to ignore that clarification and hold to what’s now patently clear as a misunderstanding.

          • Lazarus

            I do not see your interpretation in the words that you used. I have tried to read your interpretation into your article, and my first impression stands. My impression of what you wrote has now been termed "bizarre" and "supremely odd". I'm glad to see we are making such progress.

            Read the other comments here. Do you really believe that you wrote what you wanted to say? Your clarification is still dependent on an acceptance of that clarification, you no doubt remember that from your legal days. If you get caught with bad drafting there are consequences, and insisting on a clarification is still subjected to that clarification in fact doing just that : clarifying. I do not, as my personal view, believe that your clarification has done any clarifying. I do see what you wanted to say, and I take issue with that also, but what you said and what you wanted to say, even accepting your explanation in toto, are simply not the same.

            You are clearly unhappy about my interpretation of what you wrote. I did not mean to offend you, simply to comment and submit my frank opinion of your article. I could point out the obvious places where your article and your explanation contradict each other, but maybe that is best left by the wayside.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Lazarus,

            Again, I don't have any problem taking the blame if my initial writing was unclear. And I'm certainly not "unhappy" with you for misreading it. After all, it wasn't your initial impression that I found bizarre (other people shared it, and I can see how you could misunderstand the piece that way). What I found bizarre was your unwillingness to accept my clarification of my own meaning.

            This piece wasn't intended as a defense of the trial-by-ordeal system. I noted in the piece that the ordeal system was barbaric, and that it was outlawed by the Fourth Lateran Council. Nor was it a critique of trial-by-jury, of which (as a former attorney) I am only too fond.

            Instead, the piece is about a certain “irrational dogmatism” of modern secularism, a willful blindness to the miraculous. You can’t say, “I don’t believe in miracle because there’s no evidence for them” and then reject all evidence for miracles on the grounds that you don’t believe in miracles.

            At this point, you don't seem to be arguing my thesis, so much as defending why you were justified in misunderstanding my thesis. That's fine, but I'm more than ready to move on to actually debating the thesis itself.

          • Lazarus

            Your thesis, as is becoming more defined as we move along, is covered by my original surprise. Your thesis then seeks to critique this "willful blindness" by using a grotesque and barbaric torture system to illustrate your point, a system that most of us would reject and oppose outright. I see no miracles in such cruelty, I refuse to implicate God in such criminal behavior. I understood your thesis the first time you wrote about it. I still believe that it is a completely unfounded argument.

          • Mike

            i think you're really missing the point here.

          • Lazarus

            Please remember that not agreeing with a point does not mean that you did not understand the point. It's patronizing to suggest otherwise.

          • Mike

            so you disagree with his using the records from these trials to make a point about naturalism? are you saying that these things were so horrific that they shouldn't be used in ANY way to defend the possibility of miracles?

          • Lazarus

            Yes, as I have indicated before - I believe that these "trials" were acts of church sanctioned barbarism, and to imply that God would in any manner condone it or participate in it is unfounded, and poor apologetics. It has more theological gaps and problems in it than may be redeemed by the highly dubious and flawed argument that this process would now somehow either be indicative of miracles, or score some point against materialism. The entire exercise is ill-considered.

            Apologetics is a difficult skill - it can work well, but when it is cast against the backdrop of something like this, it can be hugely damaging. I say this as a Catholic and someone who assesses arguments for a living.

            As a Catholic I believe that we have several miracles that I would be happy to argue for, several that I accept on a preponderance of probabilities. These are not on that list, and I believe that the argument that is advanced, and the subsequent efforts at justifying it, is simply damaging.

          • Mike

            ok i agree completely with you but i still maintain that his purpose was much more narrow but again yes it can come off as wrong headed.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It was perfectly clear to me; but then I did not read it tendentiously. It seemed to me that what was shown was that in the context of the times and in light of the empirical facts (i.e., the two-thirds acquittal rate) it was quite reasonable for people at the time to conclude that the old Germanic pagan ritual actually "worked."

            Our Modern beliefs do not permit this, and so we have to make up a mythic story about priests cheating on the trial, a story that has no evidentiary or empirical support.

            (There are problems with the adequacy of the research, of course, as always when amateurs do statistics. Were the two samples representative of the whole? Perhaps records from France, Germany, and elsewhere or at other times (what time span do the cases embrace?) might yield a different acquittal rate. What remains remarkable is that two thirds of those who grasped the heated bar (or whatever) were not reportedly harmed. If these were all conducted by the same people at the same time, we might expect a wink-wink-nudge-nudge. But there were several hundred case records in two widely separated jurisdictions (England and Hungary). To suppose that it was all spontaneous collusion is as astonishing as the collusion necessary to "fake the moon landings." Too many people would have to be in on it for it to remain a secret for long.)

            In any event, I did not receive the impression that the OP in any way approved or recommended the trials.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            (There are problems with the adequacy of the research, of course, as always when amateurs do statistics. Were the two samples representative
            of the whole? Perhaps records from France, Germany, and elsewhere or at other times (what time span do the cases embrace?) might yield a different acquittal rate. What remains remarkable is that two thirds of those who grasped the heated bar (or whatever) were not reportedly harmed. If these were all conducted by the same people at the same time, we might expect a wink-wink-nudge-nudge. But there were several hundred case records in two widely separated jurisdictions (England and Hungary). To suppose that it was all spontaneous collusion is as
            astonishing as the collusion necessary to "fake the moon landings." Too many people would have to be in on it for it to remain a secret for long.)

            If you read the paper you will find that there are only two places that Leeson draws his sample from. First he takes a the records from a basilica in Hungary, which had 308 cases. He also takes records from the plea roles in England, which have another 19 cases. In both cases he explains how priests could have rigged the ordeals.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The ordeal was a Germanic tribal ritual that was eventually extinguished by the Church. It was also exemplified in Trial by Combat, such as WWII.

  • Joe, would you trust your life to an ordeal for a crime you know you didn't commit?

    • Jaffe C. Cole

      He'd better if he's a good Catholic! The Lord will intervene. Let's put that faith to the test.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        It's hard to imagine a bigger straw man than claiming that a "good Catholic" must participate in a judicial system that the Catholic Church rejects, and *must* put the Lord to the test (which the Church condemns as sinful).

        • George

          Would that mean Yahweh condemns the system? Being timeless, he'd have been ahead of the earthly church of the 13th century.

          What is the model I should consider as a possible explanation for those records?

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Nope. See above. I'm not endorsing the ordeal system as a judicial system (and the Church has been pretty clear in rejecting it).

  • Mike

    fascinating. if there are no miracles then they would have gotten guilty verdicts every time and how long would that last before the priests themselves or the people would have started wondering if the ordeal wasn't working?

    • David Nickol

      If it worked back then, why wouldn't it work today? Is God any less willing to defend the innocent than he was in the 13th century? If this method of justice works, why shouldn't it be used today?

      • Mike

        i am not saying it worked i am just saying that if it didn't then they would've only gotten guilty verdicts or fraud by priests. btw i wonder if this was a general practice all over europe or a local bishop thing.

        btw can you imagine such a practice? ghastly and idiotic!.

        • David Nickol

          And the conclusion of the paper Joe Heschmeyer cites was that there was fraud by priests, perhaps justifiable by the fact that the guilty refused to undergo the trial because they "knew" they would fail. His use of the paper, though, is to say, "Look how these modernists deny what were obviously miracles!"

          By the way, how do we know that those who "passed" the trial by ordeal were innocent and those who failed were guilty?

          As I said above, there are cases when it seems reasonable to me, even if you believe miracles are possible, to rule them out as the last acceptable explanation. I think this is one of those cases. It is far more likely that there is so much we don't know about what happened in these 13th-century occurrences that we can deem non-miraculous explanations (including fraud by priests) to be more credible. Let us not assume that the average priest in 13th-century Hungary was a model of probity. Also, we might imagine that priests who actually were models of probity might find it a lesser evil to fake the outcome of a trial by ordeal rather than to allow someone they believed to be innocent to be harmed.

          It is interesting that the Catholic Church itself (today, at least) is extremely cautious before confirming something to be a miracle. If I recall correctly, only about 70 miracles are claimed by the Church to have taken place at Lourdes. And yet Joe Heschmeyer seems certain that 130 miracles took place in 13th-century Hungary on the basis of a magazine article arguing that they did not!

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            I wouldn't describe myself as "certain that 130 miracles took place in 13th-century Hungary" so much as "certain that Leeson, et al, are dogmatically precluded from even considering the miraculous as a serious option worth investigating."

          • David Nickol

            I think the authors were correct to dismiss out of hand the possibility of miracles in these cases, and I think that were I more of a believer than I can claim to be, I would feel even more strongly that the authors were correct.

            Every alleged trivial intervention by God makes it all the more difficult to explain why he does not intervene when the need is dire.

          • "I think the authors were correct to dismiss out of hand the possibility of miracles in these cases."

            I've read several of your comments on this piece, and I've yet to see a single reason you've put forward to support this assertion. If I've missed it, please tell me. But it seems to me that, like the committed naturalists Joe describes, you're dismissing the possibility of miracles in these cases not for rational reasons, but simply because you presuppose they're impossible in these cases.

          • Jaffe C. Cole

            No, it's because major claims require major evidence. 700 year old documents don't cut it. Unless you're willing to apply your own standards to other religion's alleged miracles. Do some research into Hinduism, you'll find thousands of alleged miracles!

          • "No, it's because major claims require major evidence."

            It's unclear what you mean by "major" or what, to you, counts as "evidence." Regardless, I doubt I would agree with this. Far better simply to say, "Claims require evidence."

            The article Joe cited includes much evidence. It's independent, multiply attested, eyewitness evidence. You could hardly ask for better evidence concerning a historical event!

            "700 year old documents don't cut it."

            Why not? Are you rejecting the documents simply because of their age? If so, you would be guilty of chronological snobbery, rejecting something simply because it is old.

            Also, do you doubt all historical events before 1315 which are only recorded through documentary evidence? If 700 year old documents "don't cut it" in this case, why do they count in other historical cases?

            "Unless you're willing to apply your own standards to other religion's alleged miracles."

            Indeed, I am.

            "Do some research into Hinduism, you'll find thousands of alleged miracles!"

            Simply waving your hand and saying, "Look at the Hindus!" does nothing to refute these particular miracle claims. This is a textbook case of the red herring fallacy.

            Instead, perhaps you can answer the three questions Joe has posed in the comment box. Assuming you think the evidence mentioned in the article is the result of a conspiracy:

            1. How was this conspiracy organized?

            2. How was this conspiracy executed?

            3. What possible motive was there to do this?

          • ben

            700 year old documents don't cut it

            And yet, the Darwinists use multi-thousand year old fossilized bone fragments arranged to suit their theory to insist on the "fact" of evolution.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            No, it's because major claims require major evidence. 700 year old documents don't cut it.

            I hear some variation of this claim frequently, but I’ve never heard it logically defended. If you think about it carefully, it doesn’t actually make sense. Let’s say that I decide that a minor claim just takes a 51% probability, but “major” claim (whatever that is) requires 90% probability. This would leave me in a situation in which I would have to say “there’s an 85% chance that major event X occurred, and so therefore I don’t believe it did.” That statement is logically incoherent. If any claim, big or small, is over 50% probable, it’s more likely than not. Otherwise, you’re literally creating a double standard.

            But besides that, wouldn't saying that there was a global conspiracy also be a "major claim"? And isn't that statement being derived from these exact same 700 year old documents?

          • Mike

            i don't think he thinks it proof positive but it is very interesting nevertheless i think.

          • ClayJames

            And yet Joe Heschmeyer seems certain that 130 miracles took place in 13th-century Hungary on the basis of a magazine article arguing that they did not!

            You are either being disingenuous or you misread the article because this is not what Joe said and he specifically addressed this attack in his post. Taking into account your history on this website I am leaning toward the latter.

          • David Nickol

            .

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Eloquently argued! (G)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            the conclusion of the paper Joe Heschmeyer cites was that there was fraud by priests

            How did they reach this conclusion when there is no empirical or evidentiary support for it? Simply because they "knew" it must be true? That was Joe's point: The authors' a priori belief system dictated their results, which are now accepted on blind faith.

            The medievals otoh had the evidence that most of the accused grasped the heated bar and were found innocent. Their trust in the system was sensible in that they had the evidence of their senses to support it.

            BTW, there are people even today who can walk across a bed of red-hot coals without getting burned. How long did someone have to grip the bar? Did he wash his hands beforehand? Was it any more than a brief touch? There are so many other possible explanations.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            How did they reach this conclusion when there is no empirical or evidentiary support for it? Simply because they "knew" it must be true? That was Joe's point: The authors' a priori belief system dictated their results, which are now accepted on blind faith.

            Exactly. I'm not declaring that there are literally no other explanations (such a negative would be impossible to prove), but that naturalists immediately reject the possibility of the miraculous on non-logical grounds, and even if it entails clinging to a lazy and fanciful conspiracy theory.

      • "If it worked back then, why wouldn't it work today? Is God any less willing to defend the innocent than he was in the 13th century? If this method of justice works, why shouldn't it be used today?"

        This is avoiding the main question in Joe's article: how does a naturalist explain the records of these ordeals?

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    But while the ordeals could be barbaric at times, they were perfectly sensible.

    Maybe so. Maybe for the people and for the time they made sense.

    But now? Now, trial by fire would only make sense to the senseless.

    Anyone who disagrees, I have an experiment to propose. You and a few of your friends can get together. We can heat some metal, and you can try to touch it. We can find out if God performs miracles.

    Don't give me any "thou shalt not test the Lord..." nonsense. That's exactly what the trial by fire is.

    • Mike

      maybe ISIS is practicing trial by ordeal!

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Comparing ISIS to the Catholic Church... for one thing, it's probably not so safe in these forums. For another, it wouldn't be fair. I might think it's pretty rediculous for Joe Heschmeyer to say anything positive about people doing trial by fire in the 12th century. At least he's not trying to bring back the crusades.

        ISIS is trying to resurrect the caliphate. Dark age beliefs with modern weapons is terrifying! Many people, Yazidis, Christians, Muslims, are suffering the consequences of this "experiment".

        • Mike

          i wasn't comparing them in the least; was just a flippant remark!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Oh, ok. Good. Sorry, it was a long day at work.

        • VicqRuiz

          I don't think that Joe endorses trial by fire. But it is hard for me to avoid concluding from his argument that God endorses it.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            That somehow seems even worse.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No. What you can conclude is that medievals believed it worked and actually had at least some empirical (sensible) evidence that it did.

            Recall Joe's reminder that the 4th Lateran Council forbade the practice.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          At least he's not trying to bring back the crusades.

          Even now, when we really need them!

  • GCBill

    Suppose that sometimes people were spared during ordeals, and sometimes they suffered horrifically. Even granting that, it's hard to see what's so "miraculous" about them. Catholics assume that the innocent were the ones who went unharmed, but innocence was determined by...whether or not the defendants were harmed during the ordeal. Plus, we also know that there may have been miscarriages of justice on days when God just didn't feel up to honoring the "logic" of the procedure.

    Is it any wonder why the clergy felt so "uncomfortable" with this arrangement that they abolished its practice? To their credit, they exhibited a lot more sense on this issue than their modern-day defenders. I can't blame someone who refuses to attribute such fickle outcomes to the existence of a good God.

    EDIT: fixed 4th sentence.

    • Mike

      so the records were forged?

      • GCBill

        I'm not sure. It wouldn't surprise me, but I don't know how the clergy would have gone about it. So I grant for the sake of argument that people really went unharmed during the ordeals, and instead take issue with the notion that this reflects some sort of divine justice.

        • Mike

          NOT divine justice! No. To "test" God like that as lazarus has pointed out is blasphemous and immoral.

          i don't know what to think of it myself.

  • David Nickol

    As one who teeters between belief and unbelief, I find the kind of credulousness exhibited in the above piece by by Joe Heschmeyer—as well as many like it by Christian apologists—to have a tendency to tip me toward unbelief. Christian apologetics is a dubious undertaking to begin with, but bad apologetics can make religious faith look foolish.

    • Rob Abney

      I hope you'll base your understanding on the truths about the faith not about the followers. If you want to base it on the followers consider the Saints' examples rather than the sinners' behaviors.

      • VicqRuiz

        That would, of course, also require us to judge atheism by the personal lives/achievements of Paine, Hume, and Ingersoll rather than bringing up Stalin, Mao, Hitler, &c, &c.

        • ben

          Stalin, Mao, Hitler,etc. were in a position to carry out policies and actions based on their (rabid) anti-theism. Look, for example, at the devastation inflicted on their own populations and the world.

        • Rob Abney

          Vicq, In Catholicism the Saints are those individuals who's actions and deeds represent a total commitment to be friends and servants of God. The difference between the Saints and other believers is that many of us find it very hard to have that total commitment and that is why many of us are not the best example of the truth of the religion.

          What do you find that differentiates Paine, Hume, and Ingersoll from the other atheists you listed?

      • ben

        In order to consider the Saints, he would have to consider the miracles which accompany their lives/deaths; and that's something he is a priori wroth to do.

        • David Nickol

          In order to consider the Saints, he would have to consider the miracles which accompany their lives/deaths; and that's something he is a priori wroth to do.

          Point out to me any statement I have made declaring miracles impossible. As I type this, the message of mine directly below from a day ago begins, "While I am open to the possibility of miracles . . . . "

          P.S. Wroth to do??? I am wroth to ask you what you meant.

    • "As one who teeters between belief and unbelief, I find the kind of credulousness exhibited in the above piece by by Joe Heschmeyer—as well as many like it by Christian apologists—to have a tendency to tip me toward unbelief. Christian apologetics is a dubious undertaking to begin with, but bad apologetics can make religious faith look foolish."

      David, instead of making an unsupported claim like this--you give no actual reasons why this piece "tips [you] toward unbelief"--it would be far more helpful if you explained why the piece added to your doubt concerning God.

      In fact, Joe never claimed this piece serves as evidence for belief in God. He simply suggested it causes serious problems for those who presuppose naturalism (which I imagine includes you.) Thus, at worst, it would have a neutral effect on your belief, if you thought the problems were completely surmountable. But at best--best from the Catholic perspective--these points would cause you to seriously question your commitment to naturalism.

      The one thing this article never intended to do was serve as "Christian apologetics," as you accuse it of, much less "bad apologetics."

      • Doug Shaver

        Brandon, the falsity of naturalism is certainly a Christian belief. That being the case, any article attacking naturalism, presented in a Christian venue, really does look like Christian apologetics. But, maybe you're trying to make the point that Christians aren't the only people who disbelieve in naturalism?

        • "Brandon, the falsity of naturalism is certainly a Christian belief."

          It's not a distinctively Christian belief. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and many pagans agree that naturalism is false. Proposing that "naturalism is false" is neither a Christian nor apologetical assertion--which means it's *certainly* not an example of "Christian apologetics."

          "That being the case, any article attacking naturalism, presented in a Christian venue, really does look like Christian apologetics."

          I don't think so, however I can't control how you see things. Yet similar to what Joe said to another commenter, it's frankly bizarre when someone holds to that view even when it's been clearly shown to be false.

          "But, maybe you're trying to make the point that Christians aren't the only people who disbelieve in naturalism?"

          That wasn't my main point, but it's indeed true. The overwhelming majority of the world today, and an even higher percentage of people throughout history, have rejected naturalism.

          It should go without saying that only a proportion of these people were Christian.

          • Doug Shaver

            which means it's *certainly* not an example of "Christian apologetics."

            Then what is it doing here? Is the purpose of this site not to defend Catholicism against its detractors while maintaining a "serious and respectful dialogue"?

          • "Is the purpose of this site not to defend Catholicism against its detractors while maintaining a "serious and respectful dialogue"?"

            That's neither the stated nor intended purpose of this site. First because "defense" is only part of serious dialogue--you must also actively propose and support your own ideas (i.e., "offense"), not just defend them when they come under attack. Second, because we also allow atheists to put forward their best support for atheism, hence the several guest posts and interviews we've shared from non-believers.

          • David

            Second, because we also allow atheists to put forward their best support for atheism, hence the several guest posts and interviews we've shared from non-believers.

            LOL you can't be serious. All of the best atheist arguments have been put forth in the comments most of which have been deleted and most of the authors have been banned.

          • Mike

            Brain David Green posted on the evidential problem of evil. Are you saying his arguments were weak?

            Then by all means show us the best ones and brandon will post them.

          • All of the best atheist arguments have been put forth in the comments most of which have been deleted and most of the authors have been banned.

            I request evidence of this. Doing so for the first few deleted comments would indeed be difficult. However, you clearly know there is a pattern, and thus could take countermeasures, such as taking screenshots or saving the generated HTML (due to Disqus, it's a bit tricky but doable) after the probably-will-be-deleted comment is made. Indeed, I have deployed such countermeasures on an atheist site (Debunking Christianity) and a Christian site (Wintery Knight).

            If you fail to produce evidence, what you say will be indistinguishable from lies. If you really care about this, surely you could set up a quick little blog which mirrors probably-will-be-deleted comments, even if it has to be done manually. If you're right, you could easily destroy the reputation of Strange Notions for folks like me. For others who wouldn't care, I suggest that you don't care about them.

          • Doug Shaver

            That's neither the stated nor intended purpose of this site.

            Very well. In that case, I withdraw my objection.

      • David Nickol

        David, instead of making an unsupported claim like this--you give no actual reasons why this piece "tips [you] toward unbelief"--it would be far more helpful if you explained why the piece added to your doubt concerning God.

        How can my report of my own reaction to a certain class of argument be an "unsupported claim"? I am simply reporting my own feelings, about which I consider myself somewhat of an expert.

        As to the question of why, the answer is quite simple. Not being an atheist, I take the question of God's existence and the possibility of miracles to be legitimate. But when those who present themselves as people of faith offer as evidence "proofs" that I consider foolish, they undermine their credibility as people whom I otherwise might have taken seriously as bearing witness to something I was hesitant to accept.

        I would point out that some of the most vehement objections to Joe's article are coming from believers. I don't think this is so much an argument about whether miracles are possible as about credulousness. As I pointed out somewhere else, in over 150 years, the Church has validated only about 70 miracles at Lourdes. And yet we are to seriously entertain, on the basis of 13th-century Hungarian documents, that 130 miracles took place 800 years ago because God, on a day-to-day basis, worked in cooperation with a senseless, superstitious, barbaric practice that had nothing to do with justice?

      • VicqRuiz

        Of course, Brandon, there is another non-naturalist explanation that Christians ought to consider.

        Perhaps the Hungary 130 were allowed to grasp the red-hot iron without injury because Satan desired the barbaric practice of trial by ordeal to appear valid, and thus keep it operational.

        • ClayJames

          This would only validate Joe's thesis that a supernatural event is a valid explanation of the evidence available.

        • "Perhaps the Hungary 130 were allowed to grasp the red-hot iron without injury because Satan desired the barbaric practice of trial by ordeal to appear valid, and thus keep it operational."

          Are you open to that possibility? If so, I struggle to see how you could remain atheist.

          Also, if so, do you think given the context, it's more plausible than the God of Christianity performing the miracle?

          • VicqRuiz

            If I were to be convinced that the events reported in Hungary happened just as stated, I would conclude that they had a non-natural cause, and that the cause agent was (taking the long view) malicious.

          • Mike

            you don't see that the branch that you are sawing is the one that you are sitting on?

          • VicqRuiz

            By all means, enlighten me.

          • Mike

            no just echoing brandon's point about being open to theism.

            but as you are on here you are already responding to the holy spirit.

          • VicqRuiz

            It's not inconceivable to me that we live in a universe controlled by a being who is indifferent to our fate, or perhaps curious about it in the sense that a child is curious about flies with their wings pulled off.

            Articles like this one help to grease the path, in a way.

          • Mike

            we'd say he/she or 'it' doesn't control it but sustain it and intervenes sometimes via miracles and always via 'his' grace via the holy spirit, the idea of grace being something gratuitous something not deserved in the strict sense as in what happened during the fall when God 'took away' the graces that we were not by our nature entitled to.

            i used to think of God as someone really lonely who wanted company.

    • Jaffe C. Cole

      [DELETED by Moderator]

      • Jaffe, no need for snide accusations like that. They're completely unhelpful and go against the charitable forum we're all trying to cultivate. Consider this a warning; I've deleted your comment above and will remove similar ones in the future.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      the kind of credulousness exhibited in the above piece

      The point of his essay was that the authors of the studies were unable to consider even the possibility that the trial results evidenced miraculous outcomes. Instead, they resorted to a major claim without major proof, as someone upthread required.

      Of course, there are theological grounds for rejecting the miraculous in these instances, but it ill behooves the anti-theological crowd to rely upon them. We are still left with the factual evidence that two thirds of those who underwent ordeals were exonerated by them. On the face of it, they seem like miracles. But the Latin word in question is mirabilium, and it means something "marvelous" (that at which one marvels).

  • Joseph Heschmeyer

    Since a few people read my comment about the ordeal system being barbaric-but-sensible as endorsing the system, let me clarify: I'm not. There were good reasons that the Church rejected ordeals. Not only were they violent, but the whole notion is a hair's-width away from trying to force God to perform a miracle or else the innocent guy gets it.

    I was responding to Levitt and Dubner's description of the ordeal system as “barbaric and nonsensical,” by agreeing with only the first half. You can disagree with an idea without considering it "nonsensical." Likewise, you can recognize that an idea is coherent and sensible (according to its own internal logic) without endorsing it.

    So my argument isn't "hey, let's bring back the ordeal system!" but "here is documentary evidence of well over a hundred cases in which something apparently contrary to the natural order happened."

    Those of you comfortable positing a global conspiracy to account for this evidence aren't really doing any leg work to account for it. For example,

    How was this conspiracy organized? We have a total lack of any evidence for a conspiracy. Leeson actually quotes from internal documents explaining how to properly run an ordeal, and not even these give a hint that it's all a bit set-up.

    How was this conspiracy executed? That is, even if every priest was rotten to the core, and everyone was on board with the idea, how in the world to pull it off? How do you go about convincing people that you've got a red hot iron... including the persons holding said iron and the assembled crowd?

    What possible motive was there to do this? The assumption seems to be that ordeals were critical for preserving the social order. In fact, they were a sort of last resort for difficult cases, and they were never applied to non-believers. After they were banned, societies continued to function just fine. So we're to believe that countless priests betrayed their own religious principles for such a nebulous short-term social gain?

    • ClayJames

      I too am at a loss at the emotional responses you have received attacking the morality of the ordeals when this is not at all the main point of your piece and especially since you have called these acts barbaric.

      I am still waiting to see someone respond to the idea that, that based on the evidence, one cant even have the miraculous within the realm of possibility.

      • David Nickol

        I am still waiting to see someone respond to the idea that, that based on the evidence, one cant even have the miraculous within the realm of possibility.

        The authors of the two papers under discussion are economists. Economists do not uncover and verify miracles. If Peter T. Leeson had suspected he might actually be dealing with miraculous phenomena, he wouldn't have written anything at all about "ordeals" for an economics journal. And if he had, no economics journal would have published it—not because all economists are atheists who believe miracles are impossible, but because economics has nothing to say about miraculous events.

        • ClayJames

          I am not talking about the writers but rather how to approach this example. What kind of evidence would be required for someone to conclude that a certain event was a miracle?

          • Doug Shaver

            What kind of evidence would be required for someone to conclude that a certain event was a miracle?

            It depends on who that someone is. Most people believe if they just hear about it from someone they usually trust.

          • ClayJames

            I am going to assume that simply hearing about it from someone you trust would not be enough justification for you. What would you require in order to conclude that it was a miracle?

          • Doug Shaver

            I am going to assume that simply hearing about it from someone you trust would not be enough justification for you.

            That's a safe assumption. I am like all other people in this respect: There are some things I won't believe just on someone's say-so, no matter who that someone is. That is as true of you as it is of me. You and I differ only in what kinds of things we place in that category.

            What would you require in order to conclude that it was a miracle?

            I cannot answer that in complete detail. There are some situations we cannot recognize until we're confronted with them.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          David,

          This doesn't strike me as a particular defense of their disregard of the possibility of the miraculous: it amounts to saying that if they'd investigated that line of causality, and turned out to be accurate, they wouldn't be able to publish. In no other context would we sanction that kind of behavior (e.g., scientists ignoring a particular data set because it might hurt their conclusions, and therefore, their success in getting published).

          But even if we were to agree (at least for the sake of argument) that they had to close their eyes because of the artificial constraints of the discipline of economics, it doesn't even remotely begin to account for the evidence itself.

          • ben

            it amounts to saying that if they'd investigated that line of causality, and turned out to be accurate, they wouldn't be able to publish. In no other context would we sanction that kind of behavior (e.g., scientists ignoring a particular data set because it might hurt their conclusions, and therefore, their success in getting published).

            Unfortunately, there are current examples:
            - Darwinian evolution vs. intelligent design ( not creationism): try to mention ID in a biology class and loose your job
            - human caused global warming: There are those who advocate the arrest and prosecution of anyone who dares to challenge or deny the so-called scientific consensus.

          • David Nickol

            Ben? Ben Carson?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          economists. Economists do not uncover and verify miracles.

          Except for Keynesians.

          Actually, I was unaware that economists researched medieval legal practices!

    • Lazarus

      I note that you insist on blaming your readers for their perception of what you wrote. That certainly does not assist much in improving a situation that started off on the wrong foot.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        Lazarus,

        I'm not blaming anybody. I'm saying you're misreading me. That may well be due to my own failures as a writer. My goal wasn't to assign blame but to clarify my intended meaning.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Those of you comfortable positing a global conspiracy to account for
      this evidence aren't really doing any leg work to account for it.

      Only it is not a global conspiracy. Leeson took data from one basilica in Hungary and he took 19 data points from the English plea roles. It does not take a conspiracy to believe that at a single basilica they deliberately rigged the ordeals.

      We have a total lack of any evidence for a conspiracy. Leeson actually quotes from internal documents explaining how to properly run an ordeal,and not even these give a hint that it's all a bit set-up.

      Actually, Leeson tells us possible mechanisms for rigging the ordeals at the Basilica. Leeson also gives evidence that the English ordeals were fixed:

      Recall that because of differences in body fat, men are likely to sink in water and thus to be exonerated at cold-water ordeals, while women are likely to float and thus to be convicted. If, then, as my theory suggests, medieval justice systems sought to exonerate persons who were willing to undergo ordeals, they should have sent only men to cold ordeals and sent women only to hot ones.The data support this prediction.

      That is, even if every priest was rotten to the core, and everyone was on board with the idea, how in the world to pull it off? How do you go about convincing people that you've got a red hot iron... including the persons holding said iron and the assembled crowd?

      Interesting that you characterize priests who save innocent people being convicted of a crime as rotten to the core. If you read Leeson's piece, you would find that the crowd was far enough away from the priest that they would not know how hot the iron was.

      What possible motive was there to do this?

      Umm...prevent the innocent from being executed and integrate them back into society.

  • David Hardy

    Leeson, then, contemplates only two possibilities: either that “nearly
    two-thirds of ordeal-officiating priests did not understand how to heat
    iron,” or that priests were falsifying miracles in nearly two-thirds of
    these cases. Each of these options are ridiculous.

    Are they? The first, perhaps, but I look to the following parts of this piece when evaluating the second:

    The Fourth Lateran Council’s willingness to put the kibosh on this
    judicial method reveals the Church’s own discomfort with ordeals, and
    there seem to have been cases of wrongly-condemned defendants when God
    didn’t perform miracles on demand.

    Rather than say this was a conspiracy of priests and witnesses who were dupes, suppose that those involved did not accept that ordeals were a just way to evaluate the guilt of the accused. To me, discomfort with subjecting people to burning iron or boiling water as a means to assess innocence or guilt would be to the credit of those involved, and there is no reason to believe that people at the time were more immune to the direct psychological effects of inflicting pain on helpless people or less able to experience compassion and mercy. An alternative that seems plausible is that in some cases, the ordeal was recorded as happening as required by the legal system, but those involved, believing the person innocent, or at least not deserving of the ordeal, chose not to actually apply it. In some cases, perhaps this was "priestly rigging", but more likely done out of mercy and compassion than some malicious motive. It is, of course, not certain that this happened, but it seems more plausible to me than innocent people suddenly being immune to harm, since this does not seem to hold true today, while people choosing to not enforce a law they believe to be unjust without openly rebelling against it certainly does.

  • Doug Shaver

    In fact, the story seems to reveal a great deal more about the irrational dogmatism of our own irreligious culture.

    Are you talking about American culture? It doesn't look all that irreligious to me. A substantial part of it is obviously irreligious, but it's a minority part, and the majority is not exactly free of its own irrational dogmatism.

    Yes, irrational dogmatism is prevalent within both irreligious and religious cultures, because it is part of human nature. We are all sometimes irrational and sometimes dogmatic because we are all human, and neither religion nor irreligion, as such and by themselves, makes any of us less susceptible to those failings.

    Leeson, Levitt, and Dubner . . . can’t even consider the possibility of miracles, regardless of the evidence staring them squarely in the face.

    I have no idea what they consider possible. I haven't read their work. I have not examined the medieval records on which Leeson based his study. I cannot judge the cogency of his arguments.

    But let's assume that the content of those reports has been more or less accurately represented here. Then never mind Leeson. Am I being unreasonable if I don't regard them as sufficient evidence for some miracles having occurred? Is it, in my case, "a matter of refusing to accept the evidence, no matter how strong, because of a prior commitment to rejecting miracles"?

    No. To begin with, I have no such prior commitment. I do not believe that miracles cannot happen. I do believe that they don't happen, because I assume the truth of naturalism, but I do the best I can to consider it possible that that assumption is a mistake.

    Dr. Leeson thinks he knows the answer: 'priestly rigging'—that is, the priest somehow tinkered with the setup to make the ordeal look legitimate while ensuring that the defendant wouldn’t be disfigured. Maybe the priest swapped out the hot iron bar for a cooler one, or—if using the boiling-water ordeal—dumped a pail of cold water into the caldron before the congregants entered the church."

    I don't think the specific details of how the ordeals might have been rigged need to distract us here. Stage magicians are practitioners of one the world's oldest professions, and a trick of the sort we're talking about would have required nothing like the skill of a trained professional.

    And so, to perhaps oversimplify a bit, we have some evidence in the form of ecclesiastical trial records, and we have two hypotheses to explain that evidence: (1) Some miracles really occurred, or (2) Some priests were dishonest. Now, to us naturalists, the prima facie probabilities (prior probabilities, for us Bayesians) of those hypotheses are clear enough, but I can understand why Christians would judge them a bit differently. But I have stipulated that the prior probability of a miracle is nonzero, and I expect Christians to stipulate that the prior probability of priestly dishonesty is also nonzero. For the moment, let's go with that.

    Now, we are told that the dishonest-priest hypothesis requires us to presuppose the following:

    First, you need the witnesses to be stupid enough to believe that a piece of iron is smoldering hot when it isn’t. Also, it helps if they can’t tell the difference between boiling water and mildly warm water.

    • Second, you need a massive conspiracy of priests to fake miracles. We’re not talking about a bad priest here or there, but apparently the entire Catholic clergy cooperating to perpetuate this. And not just in Hungary, but in England, and everywhere else that trials were conducted by ordeals. Levitt and Dubner point out that this theory only works if we assume that virtually all Medieval priests were atheists: “If medieval priests did manipulate the ordeals, that might make them the only parties who thought an all-knowing God didn’t exist—or if He did, that He had enough faith in his priestly deputies to see their tampering as part of a divine quest for justice.”

    • Third, you need Catholic congregations docile (and gullible) enough that they’ll accept anything that these conniving priests tell them, no matter how ridiculous.

    • Fourth, you need a steady supply of seminarians who can immediately switch from being pious, stupid laypeople to evil, conniving priests. Remember: none of the laity are in on this conspiracy, but apparently all of the priests are. Leeson’s best explanation for this global conspiracy of blasphemous miracle-doctoring is that “According to the developing doctrine of in persona Christi, priests may have believed that they were acting in the person of Christ—that is, that God was guiding them—when they manipulated ordeals.” So apparently, you also need priests and seminarians who don’t understand what the doctrine of in persona Christi means.

    • Fifth, you’re left positing a global conspiracy that left no paper trail, and apparently raised no eyebrows. That is, we have plenty of matter-of-fact court and church records relating to ordeals, and plenty of documents even describing the precise conditions in which to perform them, but none of these documents (even the ones written by and for priests!) tell the priest when and how to doctor the miracle.

    • Sixth, you’ve got the problem of the exonerated guilty. Peter is tried by ordeal, “miraculously” found innocent, and set free. Subsequent evidence emerges showing that he was really guilty. Even if this evidence were never brought to court, Peter and everyone who knew him to be guilty would now recognize the miracle as a sham.

    • Seventh, you’ve got the problem of the condemned innocent.  This is particularly true if further evidence reveals his innocence… or someone else’s guilt.

    • Eighth, you’ve got the defendant’s own experience. That is, even a genuinely-innocent man would realize that the reason he was found innocent was that the ordeal was rigged: that the iron wasn’t particularly hot, etc.

    But no item on this list is necessary, not even probably necessary. Let's take them in order.

    1. Nobody has to be stupid to be fooled by a good trick.

    2. No conspiracy was necessary. What was necessary was that in each case, the officiating priest (a) was capable of ordinary compassion, (b) thought there was reasonable doubt about the guilt of the accused, and (b) was not entirely confident that God would intervene to prevent the suffering of an innocent person.

    3. The congregations were not expected to believe just anything. What the "conniving priests" were telling them, when the accused was unhurt by the ordeal, was that God had protected an innocent person. How ridiculous was that supposed to be? The only thing the congregation had to believe was that what they thought they had seen happen had actually happened.

    4. I have no idea what the average medieval priest or seminarian understood about the doctrine of in persona Christi. But I have seen, among 21st-century Christians at all levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, an unbounded variety of interpretations of every single doctrine ever promulgated orthodox Christianity. We have no reason to suppose that medieval clergy were any less capable of rationalizing a subterfuge that they would have regarded as an act of basic human decency.

    5. There was no record of a conspiracy because there was no conspiracy.

    6. The hypothesis does not assume that any guilty person was exonerated, and if the crime in question was witchcraft, naturalists don't believe anyone was ever guilty.

    7. They hypothesis makes no claim about all innocent people of the time. The claim is limited to what probably happened in those cases where the accused was unhurt by the ordeal.

    8. Is there supposed to be some obvious difference between a real miracle and a fake miracle? We have no idea what any defendant must have been aware of or must have deduced from his experience, but we are told that only believers were subjected to trial by ordeal. That means they were told, and were expected to believe, that if they were innocent, then they would not suffer. If they actually did believe this, then their faith would only have been confirmed by the experience.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Doug,

      First of all, thank you! More than anyone, you've actually engaged the thesis, rather than just trying to guess at (or tell me) my personal feelings about the ordeal system.

      I agree with you about humans being prone to periodic irrationality, and this not being exclusively the confine or religious or irreligious humans. My specific point is that an adamant refusal to seriously entertain the possibility of the miraculous evidences an irrational bias rather than a rational conclusion from the evidence. That doesn't mean it's irrational to conclude that these cases weren't miraculous: it's just unfounded to assume that they weren't.

      I'm curious as to what you mean about "the truth of naturalism," and how that assumption impacts your weighing. That is, there's a big difference between not assuming miracles, and assuming no miracles. Which camp would you describe yourself as in?

      You say, "I don't think the specific details of how the ordeals might have been rigged need to distract us here." This is the most important point of divergence for us, because I think that the specific details are exactly where this theory falls apart. It's easy enough to say that some priests were rotten, that some priests would fake a miracle "for a good cause" or to avoid an evil, etc.

      But motive's the easy part. We can dream up a hundred reasons why someone might want a miracle faked, or why they might fake the moon landing, or why they might steal the Hope Diamond. But if you're going to claim that the moon landing was faked, or that the Hope Diamond has been stolen, or that 130 miracles were faked, you've got a huge evidentiary gap. To the extent that you're filling that gap at all, it's with a magic trick: "Stage magicians are practitioners of one the world's oldest professions, and a trick of the sort we're talking about would have required nothing like the skill of a trained professional."

      Without leaping from "priest X was motivated to fake this miracle" to "priest X successfully faked this miracle," the rest of your analysis (particularly the Bayesian weighing) doesn't really hold.

      #1-4 seem to assume that all of these priests were pulling off trick miracles, while #5 seems to deny this. Here, let me reiterate: Leeson shares the details of the internal documents describing how ordeals were to be conducted... and unless the internal documents are part of the cover-up, there was no magic trick.

      Regarding #6-8, this is why the concreteness of the faked miracle matters. If you're using a not-particularly-hot iron, that's something that the defendant would immediately realize, right? And not just the defendant, but also all of the townspeople witnessing the ordeal. (This is also why you can't just have them record that an ordeal took place when none did: people watched these happen).

      • Doug Shaver

        My specific point is that an adamant refusal to seriously entertain the possibility of the miraculous evidences an irrational bias rather than a rational conclusion from the evidence.

        So stated, I can't disagree with that. What I have some problem with is the notion that if two people look at some body of evidence and reach contrary conclusions, then one of them must be adamantly refusing to entertain some possibility.

        That doesn't mean it's irrational to conclude that these cases weren't miraculous: it's just unfounded to assume that they weren't.

        We all have our assumptions. Rational thinking is impossible without them. That doesn't mean that we cannot or should not abandon them when we're confronted with sufficient reason to conclude that they were mistaken.

        I am an atheist. I don't believe God exists, and therefore I will assume that miracles don't happen, because I wouldn't be an atheist if I thought they did happen. So the question before me is: Do these documents, which record certain medieval trials by ordeal, constitute sufficient reason for me to conclude, "Oops, I was wrong. Miracles do happen"? My argument is that they don't, that there is a plausible explanation for their existence that does not compel me to drastically revise my worldview.

        I'm curious as to what you mean about "the truth of naturalism," and how that assumption impacts your weighing. That is, there's a big difference between not assuming miracles, and assuming no miracles. Which camp would you describe yourself as in?

        I believe that if naturalism is true, then miracles don't happen, and so proof that they do happen would falsify naturalism. In my worldview, naturalism is a pretty basic assumption: It lets me make sense of just about everything else I believe, and so it's not going to be easy for me to conclude that it's wrong. But that's a problem we all have to contend with whenever anyone approaches us with the claim, "Here is some good evidence your worldview is wrong."

        You say, "I don't think the specific details of how the ordeals might have been rigged need to distract us here." This is the most important point of divergence for us, because I think that the specific details are exactly where this theory falls apart. It's easy enough to say that some priests were rotten, that some priests would fake a miracle "for a good cause" or to avoid an evil, etc.

        I'm not about to call a priest rotten just because he faked a miracle in order to avoid torturing a person he believed to be innocent.

        It seems to me that theory falls apart only if there is no plausible way that such a miracle could have been faked. I don't happen to be anything like an expert in stage magic, but I have seen several magicians discuss, in general terms, some of the methods they use to create their illusions. And from those interviews, I infer that this particular kind of trick would not have challenged the ingenuity of a few medieval priests.

        Without leaping from "priest X was motivated to fake this miracle" to "priest X successfully faked this miracle," the rest of your analysis (particularly the Bayesian weighing) doesn't really hold.

        My claim is that a Bayesian analysis would justify the leap, not vice versa. But a Bayesian analysis, even one as simple as this, takes a lot of work, and I'm getting seriously behind on my postings to this forum. I'll see if I can work it in, but in the meantime, I'll just have to leave it with you and me disagreeing on this particular issue.

        #1-4 seem to assume that all of these priests were pulling off trick miracles, while #5 seems to deny this. Here, let me reiterate: Leeson shares the details of the internal documents describing how ordeals were to be conducted... and unless the internal documents are part of the cover-up, there was no magic trick.

        When I made my original post, I failed to notice your link to Leeson's original paper. I have since discovered it and found the paper, and I see that it is quite long a very detailed. When time permits, I will scrutinize it for evidence that supports your conclusion.

        If you're using a not-particularly-hot iron, that's something that the defendant would immediately realize, right?

        Yeah, right. So what? He's supposed to believe that if he's innocent, (a) he won't get hurt because (b) a miracle will happen. So, he is shown an iron that just came out of a fire, and when he touches it, it doesn't burn him. Exactly why will he conclude, "This can't be a miracle, so it must be a trick"?

        This is also why you can't just have them record that an ordeal took place when none did

        I have not offered that particular hypothesis. It seems less parsimonious than the one I am offering.

        • Doug Shaver

          There are various formulas available for Bayesian calculations, but some not-very-advanced algebra shows them to be all mathematically equivalent. My preferred formula is bit more complicated than the others, but it has the advantage that all relevant assumptions must be explicitly accounted for. When used properly, it doesn’t allow any hidden assumptions to slip in. Here it is:

          P(H|E) = P(H)*P(E|H) / [P(H)*P(E|H) + P(~H)*P(E|~H)].

          Even this is a slightly abbreviated version. Every term is assumed to terminate with a “|B” or “.B”, meaning “on background knowledge.” Thus the numerator, written in full, would be

          P(H|B)*P(E|H.B).

          In other words, we’re not supposed to ignore, or to treat as irrelevant, everything else we think we know about how the world operates. Our prior probability is to be estimated, and evidence evaluated, according to everything we knew or thought we knew before we had a look at this evidence.

          P(H|E), which I will call the consequent probability, is the probability that the hypothesis is true given the evidence. This is what we’re trying to calculate. The formula presents it as a function of four variables, but really only three because one of them is determined by another. P(H), the prior probability, is the probability we should have assigned to the hypothesis before discovering the evidence. P(~H) is the prior probability that the hypothesis is false, and this has to be 1 – P(H). This leaves just two more variables to estimate. P(E|H) is the probability of the evidence obtaining given a true hypothesis, and P(E|~H) is the probability of the evidence obtaining given a false hypothesis.

          We can schematize this a bit to get a better idea of the relationships among the three estimated variables. Changing some letters and eliminating several keystrokes, we get

          P = AB / (AB + CD).

          But then we recall that C = 1 – A, and now we have

          P = AB / [AB + (1 - A)D].

          A mathematical consequence of this is that if B = D, then P = A. In other words, whenever the evidence is just as likely whether the hypothesis is true or false, then the consequent probability equals the prior probability: P(H|E) = P(H). In this case, the evidence is epistemically irrelevant. Whatever justification we had for believing or rejecting the hypothesis before seeing the evidence, we have neither more nor less justification afterward.

          Whether the consequent probability is more or less than the prior depends strictly on the difference between B and D, i.e. the value of P(E|H) – P(E|~H). A positive value produces P(H|E) > P(H), a negative value yields P(H|E) < P(H), and larger values produce a larger difference between prior and consequent. (A negative value just means the evidence is against the hypothesis: It increases whatever justification we might have had for doubting it.)

          It is also helps to consider some extreme cases. If we assign a prior probability of zero, then by mathematical necessity, the consequent probability will be zero. If our minds are made up that the hypothesis is impossible, then no evidence will convince us, and according to Bayes, it should not convince us. With a prior of zero, evidence is irrelevant. This means that Bayes forces us, if we claim that good enough evidence will change our minds, to admit that the hypothesis is not an impossibility: Its prior probability can’t be zero. Likewise, if the prior probability is 1, then the consequent probability is also 1, regardless of the evidence, because then P(~H) = 0, meaning the hypothesis cannot possibly be false.

          With that background, let’s consider some numbers for the current problem. Our evidence, E, is certain documents reporting that some innocent people underwent trial by ordeal conducted by certain priests and, on subsequent examination, were found to be uninjured, resulting in their acquittal of the charges against them. The hypothesis, H, is that they were protected from injury by divine intervention, i.e. a miracle occurred. The contrary hypothesis, ~H, is that some natural occurrence prevented the defendants from being detectably injured. A thorough analysis would have to separately evaluate all possible naturalistic alternatives to divine intervention, but for simplicity we’ll assume only one is worth considering: priestly complicity in a sham ordeal, i.e. the trials were faked by those responsible for conducting them, presumably because those priests were antecedently convinced that those accused were innocent. We need estimates for: P(H), the prior probability that a miracle occurred; P(E|H), the probability that if the miracle had occurred, we would have this evidence; and P(E|~H), the probability that we would have the same evidence if something other than a miracle had occurred.

          An atheist is going to think that P(H) is, if not zero, so close as to make no difference, but let’s try to really hard to avoid begging the question. Fairness might suggest that we ask a theist what he thinks the prior probability is, but it might be hard to find a theist who will give us a straight answer. For starters, though, let’s suppose we don’t have any better reason to doubt the report than to believe it. Almost by definition, then, this gives us a prior probability of 0.5. This is not realistic to any atheist, but bear with me.

          What is the probability that we would have this evidence if the miracle had really occurred? We need first the probability that a record would have been produced. We can assume for the present discussion that they almost always were, and so let’s go with 0.99. But those records didn’t always survive, and the probability we’re looking for is the probability that we would have those records now, 700 years later. What percentage of church records from 13th century Hungary are still extant? I have no idea, but let’s guess half of them. As it turns out in this case, any guess will do, but when you’re doing Bayes, you have to ask these questions. The probabilities multiply, so we get P(E|H) = 0.5, rounding to one significant figure.

          And what if there was no real miracle? Would that have made a difference in the probability that the records would have been produced, and would have survived into modern times so that we’d know about them? The authenticity of the ordeal, i.e. whether or not a miracle really happened, should have made no difference to the survival of the documents. Once they were produced, subsequent custodians would have had no reason to treat them differently from records of authentic ordeals. And ex hypothesi, the trial was to be conducted the same as any authentic trial, and so the record-producing process would have been identical for the sake of appearances. Thus we get P(E|~H) = P(E|H), and so we are just as likely to have this evidence whether the ordeal was authentic or faked.

          This means, as noted above, that regardless of our estimate for P(H), we get the same value for P(H|E). Whatever antecedent reason we had for believing that a miracle happened on this occasion, we have no better reason for believing that it happened just because we have these documents saying that it happened.

          Thus, to whatever extent I am justified in thinking that a miracle is more likely to be faked than to have actually occurred, to that extent I am justified in believing that this particular miracle was faked. Maybe I’m not justified at all. Maybe I should believe that most of the time, when someone says a miracle happened, it really did happen. But that is a separate issue and must be supported by its own argument. In this particular case, the evidence is just as likely to have existed whether or not the miracle really happened, and so it does nothing to enhance the credibility of this particular miracle, not matter what antecedent credibility I’m entitled to give it.

          The OP argued that the probability of a fake was extremely low, but we’re considering only two hypotheses, H and ~H, and the sum their assigned probabilities must be 1.0. In that case, an argument for P(~H) = 0.1, let us say, must entail P(H) = 0.9. Such a high value cannot be defended with the claim that in this particular case, P(~H) must be very low. The value assigned to P(H) must be determined before the evidence is examined, or at least on the pretense that the evidence has never been examined, and only that value can determine P(~H).

      • Doug Shaver

        Leeson shares the details of the internal documents describing how ordeals were to be conducted... and unless the internal documents are part of the cover-up, there was no magic trick.

        I don't see how that follows. Those instructions for conducting the ordeals came from the priests' superiors, who were who-know-how-far removed in both place and time from the events in question. For all that the documents tell us, the priests could easily have faked compliance with those instructions without any permission, encouragement, or even knowledge of those who produced the instructions.

  • Peter

    If you believe from what you can see that the universe is the handiwork of a great mind, then even things that you cannot prove become possible. If a great mind authored the laws of nature, it is not contradictory to conclude that the same mind is capable of suspending them.

    All miracles then become possible and it is no surprise that they should occur. Nevertheless, the great mind behind creation is truly revealed not by occasional miracles but by the sublime order of the cosmos. That is why the current absence of miracles in no way militates against the existence of God.

  • VicqRuiz

    Joe -

    (1) Do you, personally, believe that God intervened to rescue those 130 condemned innocents?

    (2) Do you agree that in many cases throughout history, God has permitted the innocent to be executed?

    (3) If both (1) and (2) are answered in the affirmative, is it reasonable to conclude that God approves of trial by ordeal and acted in such a way as to reinforce the correctness of that process?

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Vicq,

      (1) I lean towards yes (at least in some of the cases), because I view it as the best explanation of the evidence.

      (2) Yes.

      (3) No. Not at all. If I held a gun to your head and said, "If I don't receive a sign from God, I'm going to shoot you!" and then a plank of wood fell from the ceiling and knocked me unconscious, would you conclude that this intervention was an endorsement of what I was doing?

      Underlying this is the question of why God performs miracles at all. St. Augustine gives the best explanation I've ever read in Tractate 17 on the Gospel of John.

      • VicqRuiz

        and then a plank of wood fell from the ceiling and knocked me
        unconscious, would you conclude that this intervention was an
        endorsement of what I was doing?

        If it happened one hundred and thirty times, I sure would.

    • ben

      Again! It's not about a choice between trial by ordeal or trial by jury: it is about evidence for miracles and the denial of that evidence a priori.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Given some of the comments and responses here, I again have to wonder.

    Do Catholic apologists really think that trial by fire resulted in a significant number of miracles?

    If so, shouldn't the same thing happen now? If it wouldn't happen now, why not?

    Why not run the test today, with volunteers, to see what happens? If enough Catholic apologists find the historical record convincing in this case, that should provide all the volunteers needed.

    • "Do Catholic apologists really think that trial by fire resulted in miracles?"

      First, this article has nothing to do with Catholicism or apologetics. Joe sought to prove no claims unique to Catholicism, and apologetics is a defensive activity. Instead, this article is a challenge to naturalism.

      Second, any question which takes the form, "Does anyone really think [blank]?" is not a serious challenge to any argument. It's just a rhetorical attempt to cast doubt on the argument by making it look silly.

      Third, if you did intend this as a serious question, I answer, "Yes."

      "If so, shouldn't the same thing happen now?"

      Why should it? What law or pattern constrains God to perform certain miracles, at certain times, with a certain regularity? I'm not aware of any. It's up to the skeptic to prove that there is some definite conflict with God performing some miracles but not others. The Catholic is happy to admit ignorance on why God does or doesn't commit miracles. Which is why Joe rightfully says these apparent miracles only present a problem for naturalist skeptics--not for Catholics.

      "If it wouldn't happen now, why not?"

      See the answer above. The honest answer is, "We don't know." But that's irrelevant to the cases in question. Joe invited skeptics to explain, on naturalism, how 130 people grabbed a red-hot iron bar and emerged unharmed. Asking, "Well, why don't more people grab hot bars and remained unharmed?" is to avoid the question at hand. It's a red herring.

      "Why not run the test today, with volunteers, to see what happens?"

      What do you think this would accomplish? Is God obligated to perform miracles under carefully designed conditions? If no miracles were witnessed, would this somehow cast doubt on the other miracle cases? This would only be the case if God was obligated to perform miracles in both cases or neither....but God is not. He is free to perform miracles wherever, whenever, and however often he wills.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I'm not saying it has to happen the same today as yesterday. I'm asking why it shouldn't. Well, why shouldn't it? Wouldn't such a modern day test test be sensible?

        If it's not sensible for us to expect the experiment to work out now, I see no reason to think it sensible to expect it to have worked out in the past.

        Is there any reason to expect that it wouldn't work now? If there's no reason, and there was a 60 something percent change of a miracle then, why not go for it? Imagine the witness this would provide for skeptics like me. :)

        God wouldn't be obligated to work with trial by fire now, or then. There's some historical evidence God worked with trial by fire then (not convincing at all to me, but apparently to some Catholic apologists it's convincing). In fact, it seems he worked with trial by fire in a statistically significant fraction of cases. Why not find out if the same happens now?

        Was this article an utter waste of time and energy on Joe's part? Wouldn't it have been better if he had just gone for some drinks with friends, or played some golf, or gone to some extra Eucharistic adoration, than bothered writing this article? If you think it was a good thing for him to have written this article, then wouldn't it be because it might conceivably be convincing to some of the skeptical readership? This may lead some skeptics to investigate the historical record and consider the possibility of miracles more seriously.

        Imagine how much more effective a present day demonstration of trial by fire would be. Speaking personally, I'd only have to witness success twice under controlled circumstances, and I'd tentatively accept that miracles happen. I suspect many others would be at least as easy to convince (I'm stubborn!). Would that be worth the effort?

        I'll add that, given my present belief that physics works, I can weigh the historical evidence that trial by fire didn't burn people to the physical probability that trial by fire wouldn't burn people, like I did here for the resurrection. The evidence could be convincing, but there would have to be a significant number of well documented past cases. I'd estimate around 100,000. Just a handful of present-day examples under controlled circumstances would be more than enough to tip the scales.

        • "I'm not saying it has to happen the same today as yesterday. I'm asking why it shouldn't."

          It's a good question but the honest answer, as I've reiterated, is simply, "We don't know." We're not in the metaphysical position to know why God causes miracles in some cases but not others.

          "Wouldn't such a modern day test test be sensible?"

          I don't think so. I challenged this assumption in your previous comment, and you've provided no reason in this next comment to think it is sensible to be able to predict when, where, and how God will perform a miracle. God is not constrained to perform miracles the way, say, a free-falling ball is constrained by gravity to always fall toward earth with constant acceleration.

          "If it's not sensible for us to expect the experiment to work out now, I see no reason to think it sensible to expect it to have worked out in the past."

          Let's remove the predictability factor for moment. Neither Joe nor I are necessarily arguing that the ordeal *did* accurately predict a miracle. Perhaps it was a coincidence that some people miraculously emerged from the ordeal unharmed, whether or not they were truly innocent.

          In either case, it seems several hundred miracles *have* occurred. Wouldn't you agree? Whether or not the miraculous experiences were meant to vindicate innocence, or whether they were arbitrary, something supernatural occurred.

          This, to me, is the real issue for naturalists: pulling the "ordeal" connection out of the equation, how, on naturalism, can you explain 130 people holding a hot-iron and emerging unharmed?

          "Was this article an utter waste of time and energy on Joe's part?"

          Only if readers miss his main point, either willfully or out of ignorance, despite repeated clarifications in the comment box, and refuse to answer his three simple questions. It wasn't a waste of time for Joe to write it, but I can see how readers, such as those described above, may find it wasteful. But that would be their fault, not Joe's.

          "If you think it was a good thing for him to have written this article, then wouldn't it be because it might conceivably be convincing to some of the skeptical readership?"

          Why do you think it isn't? Less then 5% of SN readers comment on the site. And from my experience, that 5% is generally entrenched in skepticism and unwilling to budge, even when they have no reason to reject the evidence (see Doug Shaver's comment in this very thread.)

          Also, just because an argument fails to convince someone, it doesn't mean the argument was pointless or untrue. Dr. Michael Augros addressed this common objection here: "Is a Proof Bad If It Fails to Convince Everyone?". Hopefully, after reading that, we can put that objection to rest.

          "Just a handful of present-day examples under controlled circumstances would be more than enough to tip the scales."

          As in your previous comments, you continue to avoid the issue. Instead of examining the evidence surrounding the 130 cases under question, you simply demand more miracles!

          Why not just answer the three simple questions Joe and I have posed throughout this comment box instead of trying to shift attention elsewhere?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I challenged this assumption in your previous comment, and you've provided no reason in this next comment to think it is sensible to be able to predict when, where, and how God will perform a miracle.

            Then you would dispute Joe's claim that it was sensible for people at that time to practice trial by fire, since evidence that miracles happened in the past does not count as evidence that they will happen in the future? Wouldn't this suggest that the practice of trial by fire is not only barbaric but highly irrational?

            As in your previous comments, you continue to avoid the issue. Instead of examining the evidence surrounding the 130 cases under question, you simply demand more miracles!

            I demand more miracles than zero. Currently, you have provided me 130 cases of miracle claims. A bunch of bad miracle claims added together still equals zero miracles.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            To answer the questions:

            Presuming the records are accurate...

            I don't presume the records are accurate. I'm not an historian, so I don't know one way or the other. I don't know how historians would be able to determine whether the records accurately recorded the events. But let's say that there are 130 claims, and the priests in each case can be identified, are all different priests (or at least a good number of them are) and all witnessed carefully the trial (hopefully along with others).

            Let's say that there are only two possible explanations for the existence of these records: a clerical conspiracy or a miracle.

            I set the prior probability of a clerical conspiracy pretty low. The value I set this is fairly arbitrary, but if I cared more about the issue could be more accurately estimated by figuring out past conspiracies and average sizes throughout the middle ages, in order to set a loose estimate. Since I don't care that much, I'll set the probability very low. The prior probability that this is a conspiracy is set to one in a billion. The problem is a thermal fluctuation (the value I set the prior probability of a miracle) is far below that, so I'd favor the conspiracy answer over the miracle answer at present. If this is something God would tend to repeat (or at least would have repeated during the middle ages), about 10000 well reported cases would be enough to make me think the miracle answer is more likely than the conspiracy answer, given my prior probabilities.

            So, now that I'm committed to the conspiracy theory (for the sake of argument those are the only two options), here's how I'd answer these questions:

            1. How was this conspiracy organized?

            2. How was this conspiracy executed?

            3. What possible motive was there to do this?

            1. I don't know. 2. I don't know. 3. I don't know.

            You may not be in the position to speculate on why God performs miracles in some cases and not others. I'm not in the position to speculate on why priests conspire.

          • ClayJames

            You may not be in the position to speculate on why God performs miracles
            in some cases and not others. I'm not in the position to speculate on
            why priests conspire.

            But you are. This ties in to the debate of the problem of evil and the difference between a limited being and an omniscient one. Every single day, people are judged by a jury of their peers, who are put in the position to speculate why that person commited said crime. We can do this because, like the priest, we are on equal epistemic footing as the person in question. This is not at all the case with God based on his fundamental properties and our own limitations.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'm not an historian. I know precious little about the middle ages or about the life of a priest then or now. So I must insist that I am not in the position to speculate on why or how medieval priests conspire. I wish I were. It sounds like it could make an interesting novel.

          • George

            "God based on his fundamental properties"

            the claimed fundamental properties. which we argue over all the time.

          • ClayJames

            And therefore, what?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I always get itchy when laymen start in on "probabilities," esp. when they seem to employ subjective Bayes. There is no such thing as a probability absent a model and prior assumptions. Thus, your assigned "probabilities" simply amount to asserting your conclusions.

            When the data become uncomfortable, declare the data to be unreliable.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I always get itchy when laymen start in on "probabilities," esp. when
            they seem to employ subjective Bayes. There is no such thing as a
            probability absent a model and prior assumptions. Thus, your assigned
            "probabilities" simply amount to asserting your conclusions.

            Then you should deny that you can know any miracle claim. After all, it is said that we are not in epistemic position to know whether or not or why God preforms a miracle. We have not model or prior assumptions there either.

          • ClayJames

            This line of reasoning would also negate the claim that this is probably not a miracle, because if you are even open to the supernatural explanation, it would be impossible to define a model in order to determine what is probable or not.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This line of reasoning would also negate the claim that this is probably
            not a miracle, because if you are even open to the supernatural
            explanation, it would be impossible to define a model in order to
            determine what is probable or not.

            No, because nearly every event that we witness has a natural explanation. Adding another type of explanation (supernatural one) demands that we provide guidelines as to when and why this supernatural explanation will operate.

          • ClayJames

            We attribute a natural explanation to nearly every event that we witness. You could attribute a natural explanation to someone´s ¨miraculous¨ recovery even if science has yet to determine the natural cause. That does not mean that the recovery was of a natural origin.

            But most importantly, my point has to do with what probability requires and what the supernatural implies. In order to determine a probability, you need a set outcome of possible results. You definetly have this for a natural explanation but you cannot have this for a supernatural one. Therefore, out of the possible subset of both natural and supernatraul explanation, you cannot hava a defined set of possible results in order to determine a probability. The only way to do this (and how it is most often done) is to determine a probability assuming the explanation is not supernatural, but then you are not open to a supernatural explanation like I said above.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            We attribute a natural explanation to nearly every event that we witness. You could attribute a natural explanation to someone´s ¨miraculous¨ recovery even if science has yet to determine the natural cause. That does not mean that the recovery was of a natural origin.

            However, you would not have epistemic justification for saying that the recovery was of non-natural origin. Honestly, unless you define what the supernatural is, it might be a nonsensical question to ask if something is natural or non-natural. Like asking if the number 2 is red.

            But most importantly, my point has to do with what probability requires and what the supernatural implies. In order to determine a probability, you need a set outcome of possible results. You definetly have this for a natural explanation but you cannot have this for a supernatural one.

            Emphasis mine. You are arguing my point here. There is absolutely no valid reason for thinking that the probability space is divided into natural and supernatural events, at least from observing the events themselves. There may be some other reason of allowing supernatural events. But arguing from supposed miracles to the supernatural does not work.

            The only way to do this (and how it is most often done) is to determine a probability assuming the explanation is not supernatural, but then you are not open to a supernatural explanation like I said above.

            I am not open to a supernatural explanation, until the parameters for accepting a supernatural explanation is laid out. It is not open-minded to believe that strange events are the cause of some undefined and inscrutable supernatural force. Atheists have very good reasons for rejecting supernatural explanations. Many of us would consider the idea of supernatural forces, if the idea was properly defined so we could investigate it. On the other hand, theists who deal in these argument via miracles are basically positing an undefined force as an explanation. This is god of the gaps at its finest.

          • ClayJames

            We are talking past each other.

            My first response stated that, if you are open to a supernatural explanation, then you cannot determine a model by which you can state a certain event´s probability. You responded by saying that yes we can determine a probability because most causes are natural. Now, you are saying that you are not open to a supernatural explanation, which says nothing about my initial response assuming that a supernatural explanation is possible.

            To say that you are not open to the possibility of the supernatural unless it is well designed says nothing about my point because given these conditions it is impossible to conclude what is a miracle and what is unexplained. Ironically, I am the one that is attacking the god of the gaps argument.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If I randomly select 100 events, how many of them will have a natural explanation?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Absolutely. I have asserted no miracle claim.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            your assigned probabilities simply amount to asserting your conclusions.

            I think they do quite a bit more than that. They reveal how I get to my conclusions. I use physics to estimate my priors for miracle claims, so this reveals my commitment to naturalism from which my conclusions about miracles follow. And they also provide a loose estimate for what it would take to convince me that my conclusions are mistaken. In this case, about 10,000 reliable historical reports, or about two or three well documented present day observations of a successful trial by fire under controlled circumstances.

            The probabilities do not reveal whether my commitment to naturalism is reasonable or not. It just shows how my commitment to naturalism leads me to conclude that miracles don't happen, and how strong that commitment is. My commitment to naturalism arises from my belief in the God of Spinoza, and from my commitment to the strong principle of sufficient reason. But my commitment to naturalism is not as strong as my commitment to following the evidence where it leads. If there's enough evidence that the laws of physics are sometimes preferentially different for people who believe that God will protect them from fire, then I will change my beliefs accordingly.

            "Enough evidence" it turns out, for me, is quite a bit.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            your assigned probabilities simply amount to asserting your conclusions.

            I think they do quite a bit more than that. They reveal how I get to my conclusions.

            Right. You got your conclusions by building them into your assumptions. IOW, they are not "conclusions." Grosseteste required centuries ago that the predictions of a model had to be on data that were not those used to build the model in the first place. You wrote:
            The prior probability that this is a conspiracy is set to one in a
            billion. The problem is a thermal fluctuation (the value I set the prior
            probability of a miracle) is far below that, so I'd favor the
            conspiracy answer over the miracle answer

            But your "probabilities" of "one in a billion" and "far below that" are simply translated as "I don't think these are likely" and you conclude that miracles are unlikely.

            Me, I don't know how rare or common conspiracies or miracles are. They may be a dime a dozen. I only asked whether there were any empirical evidences of a conspiracy from a strictly material viewpoint. Extraordinary claims (whatever those are) require, we are told, extraordinary evidence.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            But your "probabilities" of "one in a billion" and "far below that" are simply translated as "I don't think these are likely"

            Actually, the probability of a thermal fluctuation that would keep an iron bar from burning flesh is relatively straight-forward to estimate; I chose not to show my work. The prior probability of a clerical conspiracy is admittedly completely drawn out of thin air. Under the assumption that it's either a miracle or conspiracy, another prior could be chosen, but I suspect that the posterior probability of a miracle will be more sensitive to the number and quality of the trial by fire records and less on the prior probability of a conspiracy. I could be wrong. This isn't my field.

            and you conclude that miracles are unlikely.

            And what evidence it would take for me to change my mind.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm not trying to change your mind. I'm simply pointing out that you cannot conclude miracles are unlikely if one of your assumptions is that miracles are unlikely. That's "begging the question." You're simply dressing it up in pseudo-statistical mumbo jumbo.

            From what I have seen, the accused was always burned. It was a question of whether the burns healed or festered.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I hope you are trying to change my mind, but I need to be clear what you are trying to change my mind about.

            I am a pretty committed naturalist, and want some way to meaningfully express the strength of my commitment and what would be necessary to change my mind. One way I think I can do this is to set my prior probabilities, the chances I think something will work out before I look at the evidence, in a way that reflects how convinced I am of certain of my philosophical principles. I am convinced that this in itself does not build my assumptions into my conclusion, unless I were to set my prior equal to one or zero. This is a way of taking my beliefs into account when looking at the evidence.

            My concern is that if I choose a way of determining these priors that is overly biased I may end up with very strange results for my ordinary beliefs, if I applied this method consistently. Presently, I recognize that almost all miracles are possible under the known laws of physics. They are just very unlikely. So, in the spirit of wanting to find a good way to take my beliefs into account when considering miracle claims, what do you think is wrong about setting my priors in this way? What do you think I may be over biasing, or what historical cases would I end up rejecting, if I applied this method consistently?

            What part of my method are you criticizing? Is it:

            1. That I account for my core beliefs about the world when I set my prior probabilities? If so, what should I use instead and why?

            2. That I am underestimating the prior probability for miracles, and am over-accounting for my beliefs? If so, would you recommend an alternative method, and/or show me the problems with my approach in a noncontroversial case?

            3. Is there something fundamentally wrong with the way I am applying these probabilities? If so, what is it?

            4. Do you think that this is a case where meaningful probabilities simply cannot be assigned? If so, I would recommend listening to this podcast, and I would be interested in your thoughts on the subject. Additionally, what would you recommend as a better way for me to express my naturalism and what it would take to change my mind?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not trying to change your mind; only pointing out that your prior beliefs are informing your pseudo-scientific way of assigning "probabilities." It is well known that probabilities cannot be assigned in this way. They are expressions of uncertainty, given prior assumptions, not objective facts of nature. For example, the probability that the nitrogen content of a heat of recycled steel exceeds 90 ppm will depend on what model you apply: if a normal model, you get one probability; if an extreme value model, you get a different one. And that is an example where one's amour propre is not at stake. Logically, you cannot conclude that "the probability of a miracle is less than the probability of a priestly conspiracy" when you have assigned those probabilities to begin with. It's simply not a conclusion.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'm still very confused about what you are critiquing, and also about your understanding of prior probabilities.

            Concerning prior probabilities: I never said that my priors are objective features of nature. I do think that they are about my present understanding at the time before examining new information. They are, in other words, expressions of my ignorance; certain philosophical truths inform my knowledge about the probability of miracles, prior to examining the data*. Is this still a misuse of prior probabilities?

            Concerning the critique: My conclusion isn't that miracles are improbable. My starting point is that miracles are improbable. My conclusion is that the available data is not sufficient to overcome the low probability of a miracle occurring, but that certain new data would be sufficient to overcome this low probability.

            So I still don't understand. What's the problem?

            *edit to add: as I said above, the prior probability I assigned for a priestly conspiracy is just a number I made up and has no real basis in anything, even my own beliefs.

          • Lazarus

            The excellent manner in which you have framed your question reminds me of how I eventually made some headway with those priors. I was stuck at an airport, and I only had a friend's copy of John Henry Newman's "Grammar of Assent" to help me get through that. Long story short, it managed to help me understand a lot about the way that we set our priors. It's an easy read, and not too long. Maybe there are some fresh ideas in there.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thanks for the suggested reading. I'll look it up.

        • ben

          given my present belief that physics works
          Yea, to calculate the tension in a stretched wire or how high a lead ball bounces when dropped on concrete.

          But how do you calculate the difference between a liar and an honest man?

          Physics says nothing about the things that matter. What are the measurable physical properties of, say, love?

      • Doug Shaver

        Joe invited skeptics to explain, on naturalism, how 130 people grabbed a red-hot iron bar and emerged unharmed.

        I don't have to explain how that happened until I have a good reason to believe it really happened.

        • "Until I have a good reason to believe it really happened, I don't have to explain a thing."

          The article presents a large amount of independent, multiply-attested, eyewitness documentary support. The common sense approach is to accept the documentation.

          You must either accept it or provide some reason to doubt it. Those are the only two intellectually responsible choices.

          Merely shrugging your shoulders and claiming, "I don't have to explain a thing" is to admit you have no good reason to deny the evidence.

          Which to me is telling.

          • Doug Shaver

            Merely shrugging your shoulders and claiming, "I don't have to explain a thing" is to admit you have no good reason to deny the evidence.

            I am not denying any evidence. I am denying the conclusion that you think the evidence supports.

          • "I am not denying any evidence. I am denying the conclusion that you think the evidence supports."

            There are only two possible explanations of the evidence: something supernatural occured (i.e., a miracle) or the evidence has a natural explanation.

            If there is no plausible natural explanation, as Joe and I have argued, then a rational person would accept the supernatural explanation.

            You've given no reason to suppose the evidence points to a natural explanation. And you've given no response to the arguments against a natural explanation. You've simply shrugged your proverbial shoulders and refused to engage the evidence.

            Again, to me, that's quite telling.

          • Doug Shaver

            And you've given no response to the arguments against a natural explanation.

            Yes, I have. As I type this, it is the fifth post after this one [added in edit: https://strangenotions.com/trial-by-fire-modernitys-response-to-miracles/#comment-2316382332%5D. I don't expect you to agree with the response, but I gave a response.

          • Raymond

            A third possibility is that the evidence is bogus.

          • Doug Shaver

            The article presents a large amount of independent, multiply-attested, eyewitness documentary support.

            Support for what? Can you identify, either by name or by other pertinent characteristic, one of those witnesses who saw anything that they would not have seen if the ordeal had been faked?

            The common sense approach is to accept the documentation.

            I am accepting that the documents record events that actually occurred.

            You must either accept it or provide some reason to doubt it.

            I have a reason to doubt it, and you know what that reason is. It contradicts a fundamental assumption I make about the real world. You don't share that assumption, just as I don't share some assumptions that you make.

            In my worldview, miracles don't happen. In yours, they do. But isn't it true that in your worldview, priests are occasionally dishonest? And if so, then I don't see how I am being less reasonable than you, and I am not claiming to be more reasonable. I don't deny that you're epistemically entitled to your assumptions.

      • Raymond

        "The Catholic is happy to admit ignorance on why God does or doesn't commit miracles. Which is why Joe rightfully says these apparent miracles only present a problem for naturalist skeptics--not for Catholics."

        This is probably why the person above stated that the article deepened his unbelief. When apologetics play the "it all boils down to faith" card, the debate ends and the naturalist wins.

        • ClayJames

          No one is saying that ¨it all boils down to faith¨. Paul said that for these events to be valid, God must commit similar miracles today. The burden of proof is on him to show this inconcsistency and he makes this claim with no justification at all. This has nothing to do with faith.

          • Raymond

            "ignorance on why God does or doesn't commit miracles" is an appeal to faith because when he professes ignorance but states that these events don't cause problems for Catholics he is implying that Catholics have faith that these events are miracles and that they were for the good.

          • ClayJames

            No, you are misreading it. These events don´t cause problems for Catholics because they are open to both natural and supernatural causes even while admiting ignorance as to why God does or doesn´t commit miracles. He is not implying what you attribute to him in the quote.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Paul said that for these events to be valid, God must commit similar miracles today.

            I never said that. I simply asked why we'd expect the trial by fire to work in the middle ages and not today, out of curiosity. Brandon gave a good answer to that question.

            I don't think I ever commented on whether the events were in fact miracles. I did comment on whether the miracle claims would be convincing to me, and I gave one specific example that would convince me that trials by fire were miracles that God performed in the middle ages and doesn't perform today. It amounts to a whole bunch of well documented historical accounts.

            Maybe these trials by fire really were a bunch of miracles. My beliefs don't affect what really happened. If it's a miracle, it's a miracle whether I believe it or not. If it's not a miracle, it's not a miracle whether I believe it or not. Given the sparse accounts, and my general lack of interest in trials by fire, I'll probably never know.

  • Zeus Thunderbolt

    "Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that man should tell a lie"? - Tommy Paine

    • Mike

      what keeps nature in her course? and does she actually have a course or does it just seem that way to us.

      • Zeus Thunderbolt

        You avoided the question. Again, is it more probable that nature goes out of her course or that man should tell a lie?

        • Mike

          well a man telling a lie IS nature going out of her course so...;) just kidding of course ppl lie more WAY more often indeed some ppl believe that nature can never "go outside its course".

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      That was exactly what Jefferson said when two Yankee professors claimed to have found a stone that fell out of the sky. He found it more likely that two Yankee professors would lie.

      • Zeus Thunderbolt

        So since Jefferson didn't know about meteors, we should assume that the falsely accused can handle hot iron pokers without injury? Got it.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Nope. You missed the point.

  • Jaffe C. Cole

    First let me preface this by saying that as a former Catholic, every time I come here my atheism is 100% reinforced, much like when I open the Bible. So, thank you for that. This article is so preposterous. There are so many explanations for these alleged phenomena. First of all, we have no evidence at all that the bars were hot enough to burn flesh upon grabbing them. (Did somebody take the temperature of the bars?) Second, there is a well known physical explanation which also explains why people can walk over hot coals and not burn their feet. Third, as s/b else mentioned, perhaps the priests actually had brains and hearts and didn't fire the bars hot enough. Finally, what makes the author so certain that these reports are rock solid?! I can guarantee you that Joe would certainly question these reports had they come from Islamic sources. Isn't that right, Joe? Again, it's a matter of privileging your own religious "miracle" sources over those of other religious miracle stories, of which the other religions are also rife.

    • Jaffe, you say, "This article is so preposterous", but it's not clear you actually read it. You attempt to refute the miracle claims by essentially parroting each of the objections that Joe anticipated (and answered) in his original article.

      If you think the objections are substantial, at the very least you need to respond to Joe's refutations (which are noted in his bullet points near the end.)

      "First of all, we have no evidence at all that the bars were hot enough to burn flesh upon grabbing them. (Did somebody take the temperature of the bars?)"

      They were submerged in boiling water, as was multiply and independently attested. Do you think people in the 13th-century were too dumb to recognize boiling water or a hot bar? If so, you must provide evidence, not insulting speculation.

      As Joe said, "you need the witnesses to be stupid enough to believe that a piece of iron is smoldering hot when it isn’t. Also, it helps if they can’t tell the difference between boiling water and mildly warm water."

      "Second, there is a well known physical explanation which also explains why people can walk over hot coals and not burn their feet."

      First, please note which specific "physical explanation" you're referring to. Second, please demonstrate how that "physical explanation" accounts for the evidence in these 130 cases.

      "Third, as s/b else mentioned, perhaps the priests actually had brains and hearts and didn't fire the bars hot enough."

      This is wholly implausible for the reasons Joe gave in his bullet points, which you've yet to engage.

      "Finally, what makes the author so certain that these reports are rock solid?!"

      The documentary reports are multiple, independent, eyewitness accounts. By any historical measure, this counts as strong evidence. If you think they are forged, you need to provide reasons why--a rhetorical question isn't enough to discount their reliability.

      "I can guarantee you that Joe would certainly question these reports had they come from Islamic sources. Isn't that right, Joe?"

      You can guarantee that? You can know something that would require both the inner-workings of Joe's mind and his future state? Miraculous! ;)

      "Again, it's a matter of privileging your own religious "miracle" sources over those of other religious miracle stories, of which the other religions are also rife."

      This is the second time you've made the assertion, and the second time you've failed to defend it. First, it's a red herring. The miracle claims of other religions are independent and thus, for our purposes, irrelevant, to the question of whether these miracle claims are authentic.

      Second, who is privileging one religion's claims over others? I haven't seen anyone in the comment box do that. Thus, this is merely a straw man.

      • Raymond

        But the author is assuming the inner workings of the humanist mind when he says that we reject the idea of miracles in this case out of hand.

        • Mike

          no he just knows what your philosophy is.

          • Raymond

            It's certainly pretty to think so.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Reading the comm box also helps.

    • Mike

      "I can guarantee you that Joe would certainly question these reports had they come from Islamic sources"

      I'd question but do you suppose that catholisc think that God only performs miracles for catholics? if that's your impression it's wrong.

      • ClayJames

        This is a result of the very literal, almost fundamentalist view of religion, that many (mainly the New Atheists) like to attack. Surely, if the Christian god exists, he would have nothing to do with Muslims, after all, Christians are atheists when it comes to the god of Islam.

  • David Nickol

    Here's my analysis of the whole mess. Joe Heschmeyer wrote a piece intending to illustrate that "naturalists" will dismiss claims of miracles out of hand. "Naturalists" say miracles are impossible, so any claimed miracle must be explained away. So far, so good.

    However, he picked a poor example of alleged miracles. Even many of the commenters here who are believers reject the idea that God would have cooperated in a barbaric practice like trials by ordeal. But instead of concentrating on the point—naturalists deny miracles in spite of all evidence—Joe and Brandon and some others are arguing that the evidence available supports miracles in 13th-century Hungary. They are even challenging both believers and naturalists to explain why the alleged evidence of miracles doesn't constitute proof.

    So instead of making a point that virtually everyone can agree on—naturalists reject miracles, and reject evidence of miracles—Joe and Brandon have turned this into one of the most contentious debates I can remember on Strange Notions.

    • ClayJames

      It is only contentious because people have failed to address the problem at hand and instead have thrown their hands up in disgust while claiming that God wouldn´t partake in something like this. The Catholic God partaking in this barbaric practice has nothing to do with the naturalistic dilema. This line of reasoning would still apply if God was burning the innocent and saving the guilty. This would of course make us question our concept of God, but the supernatural conclusion would still be a valid one based on the evidence.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Actually, what they have done is present a startling body of data for which a natural explanation is not evident. Whether the explanation is natural or supernatural (or something else), the data are pretty clearly mirabilia. The root meaning of "miracle" is "marvel." And as St. Thomas noted:

      "We marvel at something when, seeing an effect, we do not know the cause. And since one and the same cause is at times known to certain people and not to others, it happens that some marvel and some do not."
      -- Contra gentiles

      Now, more than a hundred people remaining unhurt after sticking their arms into boiling water and gripping a red hot bar is nothing if not a marvel. The Catholic is free to look at the facts and suppose the reason to be either natural or supernatural. (Or both: even a supernatural miracle will leave some sort of footprint in nature.) The naturalist is not free, and this will force him at times into tortured and belabored just-so stories not so much to explain the data as to explain it away. But keep in mind what St. Albert wrote:

      "In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass."
      -- De vegetabilibus et plantis

      While naturalistic just-so stories can be easily concocted, finding empirical support for them is more difficult. So we have in this thread the remarkable sight of theists arguing from the evidence and naturalists arguing from faith. Or in one case, purporting to assign "probabilities," actually arguing in a circle! Oy!

      • George

        Why would the Catholic be free to suppose a supernatural cause, if it is believed Yahweh condemns the practice under scrutiny?

        Are we talking about Catholics having the option of saying the devil intervened, or ghosts gave certain people their temporary superman-skin, or that it was due to angels acting outside of gods blessing?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          It's just that a Catholic may entertain a natural explanation as a live option, while the naturalist cannot entertain a preternatural or supernatural explanation without ceasing to be a naturalist. That does not mean that there cannot be a satisfactory resolution in the end in favor of one option or another.

          • George

            "cannot entertain a preternatural or supernatural explanation without ceasing to be a naturalist."

            so what's the problem again?

            "just that a Catholic may entertain a natural explanation"

            if I were catholic and believed the universe was supernaturally created, why should I not say everything that follows is supernatural? why would I want to take my model of reality and split it into two flavors? what is the point?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            so what's the problem again?

            Just the constraint on reason.

            if I were catholic and believed the universe was supernaturally created, why should I not say everything that follows is supernatural?

            Because God→natures→natural causes.

            That is, God created things with "natures" and these natures possess the ability to act directly. Of course, God is supposed to be First Cause ("primary causation") but the world is full of Second Causes ("secondary causation"). The opposite belief, that God causes everything directly, called occasionalism, is what led al-Ghazali and Hume down the primrose path.

          • George

            "and these natures possess the ability to act directly"

            would you say independently as well?

          • George

            If someone has entertained a supernatural possibility, are they unable to be a naturalist again?

  • David Nickol

    I think it is important to note that when the Catholic Church seeks to verify a miracle (almost always medical in nature), a panel of doctors looks at the evidence and rules on whether what happened has a medical explanation or not. If they decide something has happened that medicine can't account for, that is the end of their role. The case then goes to a group of theologians, who make a judgment as to whether the unexplained phenomenon is a miracle or not. A judgment as to whether a miracle has occurred is a theological judgment. Clearly one of the questions they must consider is whether the alleged miracle is consistent with what the Catholic Church understands to be the part God plays in history: "Is this the kind of action we can be certain God, as we understand him, would play?"

    So I think for me, and for a number of others who have taken an exception to the OP, it is a theological question as to whether God would work miracles as an active participant in (and in some sense a sustainer and supporter of) a barbaric 13th-century "criminal justice system." What many of us are saying, I think, is that we reject the miracle claims because we don't believe God would involve himself in such a wrongheaded scheme.

    • VicqRuiz

      Exactly. Time after time we have seen Catholic authors here reject some of Yahweh's barbarous actions in the OT because "in the light of what Jesus says in the NT, these actions are not consistent with God's nature." Precisely the same test should be applied in the case of trial by ordeal.

      • David Nickol

        Excellent point.

    • David Nickol

      A new book that may be of interest: The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and Miracles in the Modern Age by John Thavis.

      Blurb

      “The process by which these supernatural events are authenticated is expertly told by John Thavis, one of the world’s leading Vaticanologists. In fact, that a book on so secretive and complex a topic is so deeply researched, beautifully written, and artfully told is something of a small miracle itself.”—James Martin, S.J., author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

      • Lazarus

        A wonderful little book, that I would suggest be enjoyed by most contributors here.

      • Mike

        ordering it today.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Quite so, and well said. But the OP pointed out that the bare facts of the case, as set out in the academic papers they wrote, are difficult to account for on the naturalist program. They may or may not be miracles, even if they supervene nature, as you have so ably pointed out.

  • Neihan

    Fascinating article. Very interesting to read both about the data relating to the ordeals and the dogmatic naturalism of Leeson, Levitt, and Dubner. Thank you.

    • Doug Shaver

      and the dogmatic naturalism of Leeson, Levitt, and Dubner.

      The dogmatism of some naturalists tells us nothing more about the validity of naturalism than the dogmatism of some theists tells us about the validity of believing in God.

      • Neihan

        Agreed.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    I'm going to focus on what Joe says is the point of his articles, namely whether or not naturalists are forced to deny all miracle claims and whether that is a dogmatic and close minded position. First though, I would note that Joe is basically giving ammunition to a new atheist polemic. After all, it is clear that only a theist would think that it is sensible to use an ordeal as way of assessing guilt.

    Joe writes:

    Leeson, Levitt, and Dubner don’t have that same freedom. Because they
    view miracles as absurd (Leeson writes it off as “superstition” some 30
    times in his article, while Dubner and Levitt list it as a method to
    “trick the guilty and gullible”), they can’t even consider the possibility
    of miracles, regardless of the evidence staring them squarely in the
    face. It’s not a matter of rejecting miracles because the evidence for
    them isn’t strong enough. It’s a matter of refusing to accept the
    evidence, no matter how strong, because of a prior commitment to
    rejecting miracles.

    ....

    Which brings us to a final irony: we moderns think of trial by ordeal as
    proof positive of the irrational dogmatism of our religious ancestors’
    culture. In fact, the story seems to reveal a great deal more about the
    irrational dogmatism of our own irreligious culture.

    This sums up the main point of the article. As it stands, I do not think Joe did good job of substantiating this claim (too many words wasted on ordeals). However, I will argue why I think atheists are not being dogmatic and irrational when we reject miraculous occurrences.

    In order to have evidence for a miracle, you first must describe the type of being or supernatural force that is responsible for the miracle. Otherwise, we have no clear way of knowing whether or not a miracle is actually a miracle, whether it is the type of thing that we should ascribe to the supernatural whether than the natural, or who is responsible for it. It does not suffice to argue that a miracle is something that we do not have a natural explanation for, because there are all sorts of things that we do not have natural explanations for and yet, we do not consider them to be miraculous. Indeed, without giving the when and why a God or supernatural force would intervene, all miracle claims are simply things that we do not have a natural explanation for or things that the observers misunderstood.

    Under Catholicism, miracles are performed by a being who is good, intervenes in human affairs, cares deeply about human affairs, and can intervene in any possible way. If this God intervenes, and in some kind or rational way, we need to be able to discern the cases that he is likely to intervene. Otherwise, we are simply naming as miracles events that we are not satisfied with any of the natural explanations that are proffered.

    Perhaps we tend to think strange events associated with a holy site or with Church are more likely to be miraculous, however we cannot claim it as such without offering some sort of guide for the when and why God intervenes. Otherwise, we are simply falling prey to confirmation bias.

    I reject miraculous claims, not because I think it is impossible for them to occur (I think it is very unlikely), but because I fail to see evidence of a Divine rational agent, who performs miracles in order to further some end. And because those who claim that their are miracles do not tell us why God does miracles. For instance, if we are to suppose that God performs miracles so that we will all know the truth of Catholicism (he says as much in the bible), why do we see miracle claims by other religions? Are they all false? One could say that they are all false, if we say that miracles are performed by a God who want to show the truth of the Christian faith. Furthermore, why is their such a dip in the amount of miracles performed? The apostle's worked great wonders to show many the truth of Christianity, but modern Christian miracles are often shams and trickery. Indeed, even if the gospels are inaccurate about the amount of miracles attributed the apostles, we don't see miraculous wonders in the lives of wavering believers, many of which could have their faith in God restored by a miracle.

    Claiming a miracle occurred before discussing the type of being who performs miracles is premature at best. At worst it is an impossible discussion, because of the undefined and unexplained element.

    • ClayJames

      In order to have evidence for a miracle, you first must describe the type of being or supernatural force that is responsible for the miracle. Otherwise, we have no clear way of knowing whether or not a miracle is actually a miracle, whether it is the type of thing that we should ascribe to the supernatural whether than the natural, or who is responsible for it.

      This doesnt follow. A supernatural event is one that is not caused by something natural, thats it. A miracle is by definition supernatural and if a miracle can be ascribed to the natural, then it is not a miracle. Your requirement here makes no sense. Also, if an elephant were to appear out of thin air, you would be justified in calling this a miracle without being able to answer how, why and who.

      I reject miraculous claims, not because I think it is impossible for them to occur (I think it is very unlikely), but because I fail to see evidence of a Divine rational agent, who performs miracles in order to further some end. And because those who claim that their are miracles do not tell us why God does miracles.

      When people witness surprising events they can be justified to trust the evidence with regards to who did it while at the same time asking the why question, but the why is not at all a prerequisite for the who, especially when there is substancial evidence pointing to the who.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        This doesnt follow. A supernatural event is one that is not caused by something natural, thats it.

        I think it does follow. Suppose we have an event X that we believe is supernatural. If we do not have background information as to why our supernatural agent Y performs miracles, then the only reason we have for believing that event X is supernatural is that we cannot extrapolate a natural cause or we think it violates known natural laws (which include the possibility of an observer lying or being confused). This amounts to us saying that X is supernatural, because we cannot discern a natural cause or because it is highly unlikely that this event was natural. However, since we do not have any background information on Y, we are no place to judge the probability of agent Y performing the miracle. Therefore, we have no basis to claim that a miracle occurred. Logically, we would accept that the miracle was just a low probability event (low probability events happen all the time), there is an error in one of our natural laws, or the event is not unusual within our natural framework (perhaps because someone lied).

        A miracle is by definition supernatural and if a miracle can be ascribed to the natural, then it is not a miracle.

        All miracles can be ascribed to the natural rather easily. People lie and are mislead. The question is what to do with events that do not have easy natural explanations. One is not warranted in making the jump to the supernatural for reasons given above.

        Your requirement here makes no sense.

        You have this tendency to label arguments as nonsense. It would be more interesting if you provided a counterexample to my claims or showed where I am mistaken.

        Also, if an elephant were to appear out of thin air, you would be
        justified in calling this a miracle without being able to answer how,
        why and who

        No. First I would want to know why a supernatural agent made an elephant appear out of thin air. Maybe I am imagining the elephant.

        When people witness surprising events they can be justified to trust the
        evidence with regards to who did it while at the same time asking the
        why question, but the why is not at all a prerequisite for the who,
        especially when there is substancial evidence pointing to the who.

        The why is prerequisite for the who, if we do not see the who do it. Especially in the case of a supremely rational being. The why should be imbedded in the who.

        In what way is there substantial evidence?

        • GCBill

          "This amounts to us saying that X is supernatural, because we cannot discern a natural cause or because it is highly unlikely that this event was natural. However, since we do not have any background information on Y, we are no place to judge the probability of agent Y performing the miracle. Therefore, we have no basis to claim that a miracle occurred."

          This.

          An inference to the best explanation needn't require "probabilities" in the mathematical sense, but it does require a way of judging the relative likelihoods of an observation given the theories which purport to explain it. And if we lack the cognitive capacities to make such judgments about divine intervention, the most we can say about so-called miracles is "wow, how weird and surprising!" ¯_(ツ)_/¯

        • ClayJames

          This amounts to us saying that X is supernatural, because we cannot
          discern a natural cause or because it is highly unlikely that this event
          was natural.

          This is all you have to go by. To then try to bring in a supposed concept of the divine cause in order to validate the event is begging the question. One of the biggest attacks on theists is that they do not focus on the evidence and instead see events through the lens of their concept of god. You are saying that we should see events through this lense and ignore having no natural explanation simply because it doesn´t fit our concept of god.

          All miracles can be ascribed to the natural rather easily. People lie
          and are mislead. The question is what to do with events that do not have
          easy natural explanations. One is not warranted in making the jump to
          the supernatural for reasons given above.

          I actually have no problem in not making a jump to the supernatural. My problem is not making a jump to the supernatural unless this is something we already believe our god would do. I also have a problem with discarding the supernatural all together as an explanation.

          It would be more interesting if you provided a counterexample to my claims or showed where I am mistaken.

          I did exactly this and you responded to my rebuttal in your very next post.

          The why is prerequisite for the who, if we do not see the who do it.
          Especially in the case of a supremely rational being. The why should be
          imbedded in the who.

          Not at all. There have been many discoveries that have been attributed to certain civilizations where we simply do not know why they were made, but we are still justified in attributing a source. The idea that this should be ignored especially if the source in question is supernatural is nothing more than special pleading.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This is all you have to go by. To then try to bring in a supposed concept of the divine cause in order to validate the event is begging the question. One of the biggest attacks on theists is that they do not focus on the evidence and instead see events through the lens of their concept of god. You are saying that we should see events through this lense and ignore having no natural explanation simply because it doesn´t fit our concept of god.

            Not at all. I am saying that without an idea of the supernatural agent that is causing these non-natural events, you are not justified in positing that these events are not natural.

            In some cases we do have natural explanations. In other cases, we do not have natural explanations, usually because we are not in possession of all of the facts or because we just haven't figured it out yet. At one time we did not have a natural explanation for lightning. Now we do. Noting that we do not have a natural explanation does not mean that we could not find one if we were able to investigate the event. You are not justified in claiming these events as having a supernatural cause.

            Noting that the event is extremely rare does not matter either. Unusual things happen all the time (naturally). It is not a miracle that someone wins the lottery.

            I actually have no problem in not making a jump to the supernatural. My problem is not making a jump to the supernatural unless this is something we already believe our god would do. I also have a problem with discarding the supernatural all together as an explanation.

            If you want the supernatural to be considered a viable explanation, you have to posit a way to know if something is supernatural or not. As it stands, it seems the theists on this board are calling anything that seems to defy natural explanation as supernatural. This does not cut it.

            There have been many discoveries that have been attributed to certain civilizations where we simply do not know why they were made, but we are still justified in attributing a source. The idea that this should be ignored especially if the source in question is supernatural is nothing more than special pleading

            Sure, there are cases that we do not have answers to all of the why questions, but in all cases we have some kind of evidence that the discovery originated with a certain civilization. It is not special pleading. I am saying that you have not given us any kind of rubric to decide if an event is supernatural or not. Defining an event as supernatural, if we cannot conceive of a natural explanation does not work, as I have outlined above.

          • ClayJames

            You are attacking a strawman.

            Noting that we do not have a natural explanation does not mean that we
            could not find one if we were able to investigate the event. You are not
            justified in claiming these events as having a supernatural cause.

            Where did I say this? In this response and in your other response you keep attacking this god of the gaps idea as if it was something I said. I have never said this.

            In this thread, my problem with your initial statement has to do with your claim that an explanation is only valid if we can determine the motive behind that explanation.

            In the other thread, my problem with your initial response had to do with the idea that assuming that a cause can be natural or supernatural, you can still find the probability that a certain even is not supernatural. The only way to talk about probabilities in a way that makes sense is to assume that the cause is not supernatural.

            But I have never claimed that if we do not have a natural explanation, therefore, we can conclude a supernatural one.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Where did I say this? In this response and in your other response you keep attacking this god of the gaps idea as if it was something I said. I have never said this.

            You are arguing with me. What you quoted was the essence of my argument. So why are we arguing at all if you agree with my argument?

            In this thread, my problem with your initial statement has to do with your claim that an explanation is only valid if we can determine the motive behind that explanation.

            We don't necessarily need the motive, but we need to have a guideline as to under what circumstances we would expect to have a supernatural intervention.

          • ClayJames

            You are arguing with me. What you quoted was the essence of my argument.
            So why are we arguing at all if you agree with my argument?

            I am not attacking the essence of your argument, I am attacking the preconditions that you have established in order to believe that an event has a supernatural cause. But no where have I said that you can conclude the supernatural if you have no natural explanation.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am attacking the preconditions that you have established in order to believe that an event has a supernatural cause.

            If you don't have some sort of preconditions, then all you are doing is labeling as supernatural that which you cannot elicit natural explanations for.

      • David Nickol

        Also, if an elephant were to appear out of thin air, you would be justified in calling this a miracle without being able to answer how, why and who.

        I think the word miracle is reserved for the supernatural acts of God and God only. Many Catholics believe that Satan can exercise supernatural powers in this world, and I don't think they would be called miracles. Also, other alleged supernatural occurrences, such as those associated with something like Voodoo, would not be called miracles.

        So I would say that calling something a miracle (in the United States and elsewhere in the West) is calling it an act of God, and if you don't believe in God, you can't believe in miracles.

        I think it is possible to believe in the "supernatural," in at least some sense of the word, without believing in the God of Jews and Christians.

  • VicqRuiz

    Joe:

    One thing I meant to do earlier, but did not, was to commend you for so actively participating in the discussion. Few of the authors here seem willing or able to do that. Thank you!

    It's clear now that your choice of subject matter has caused the discussion to shift from the intended "why do naturalists deny miracles out of hand?" to "can something be a miracle of God which appears so clearly out of harmony with God's supposed nature?"

    Cases in which God appears to be giving validity to a primitive and entirely reason-free method of guessing at guilt or innocence, a method with pagan origins and one (as you correctly note) later rejected by the church, don't lend themselves well to making the case for Christian miracles.

    Now suppose, for example, there had been several hundred attested cases in which, just as the accused was about to grasp the hot iron, a supernatural force had wrenched the iron from the tongs and hurled it into the nearest body of water. That would be (a) clearly defensible as a possible miracle and (b) entirely in keeping with God's nature as it has been explained here on SN. Thus focusing the discussion on the point I think you originally had in mind.

  • David Nickol

    Based on research done by Ye Olde Statistician, we now have the basis for a reasonable view of what actually happened during trial by ordeal. Everyone who grasped a red hot poker, or dipped a hand into boiling water, got burned. The sign of innocence or guilt was how well or badly the burn was healing after three days. If you google "trial by ordeal three days healing" you will find many descriptions of the trial by ordeal that give the same description as Ye Olde Statistician found. (Granted, this is not the most objective way of researching trial by ordeal, but I think it will do for our purposes.) So no divine intervention need be assumed in the case of those found innocent.

    I think we can say that Peter Leeson gives an inadequate explanation of the trial by ordeal on page 694 of his paper, but he does mention inspection of the wound after three days.

    So while Joe Heschmeyer may be right that many people are too quick to dismiss the evidence for miracles out of hand, in this case, he and Brandon Vogt were too quick to assume miracles, and apparently based their belief solely on the inadequate information in Peter Leeson's paper.

  • Lazarus

    The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us -

    "A great evil among the Germanic nations was the trial by ordeals, or judgments of God. The Church was unable for some time to suppress them, but at least she tried to control them, placed them under the direction of the priests, and gave to them a Christian appearance by prescribing special blessings and ceremonies for such occasions. The popes, however were always opposed to the ordeals as implying a tempting of God; decrees to that effect were enacted by Nicholas I (858–67), Stephen V (885–91), Alexander II (1061–73), Celestine III (1191–98), Innocent III (1198–1216), and Honorius III (1216–27) (cc. 22, 20, 7, C. II, q. 5; cc. 1, 3, X, lib. V, tit. 35; c. 9, X, lib. III, tit. 50)."

    It would seem as if the differing opinions expressed here as far as the ordeals are concerned have been around in the Church for a while.

  • You seem to be assuming no demons are material. How do you know that? This all reminds me of G. K. Chesterton lamenting that Joseph McCabe couldn't believe in even the tiniest imp because he was a materialist (according to Chesterton). I thought at once: "Why think imps aren't material?" So if materialists are assuming things, it seems the Christians are too here. Of course, atheists need not be materialists either, but even those who were can imagine other possibilities like this.

  • Aishling Wray

    What people seem to be forgetting here is the simple facts. The people were usually accused of witchcraft. The reason why the rod not burning most of the people was seen as miraculous is because the rod was blessed and made holy. The people who had done evil things, wouldn't be saved by the boiling heat, but often the more holy you are, the more you can touch holy things. So the people who had never practiced witchcraft and who were religious were saved from the burning heat because they could touch something holy/ they had performed no evil or weren't in cahoots with evil spirits. Is this clear now?

  • Darren

    Well, I for one would favor changing the laws to allow American Catholics to choose trial by ordeal instead of trial by jury for certain non-capital crimes or civil suits.

    Joe and Brandon seem to think if worked in 13th c Hungary so I am sure they would support it as well.