One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It's a Miracle... What Some People Will Call Proof

The other day I sent the following letter to the Public Record, whose publisher recently visited his ancestral home of Lebanon. Unless it was his son, the doctor, who made the trip. They both have the same name.

Jim Tayoun claims that Nohaid Al-Shamy is "monthly proof miracles do happen." She is nothing of the sort.

What are the facts?

She came out of a coma, apparently on her own. This happens all the time.

She had an experience while comatose, which she characterizes as a saintly visitation. It is not uncommon for people to dream while comatose. For that matter, it's not uncommon for someone in a coma have some awareness of their environment, even though they can't show it. So, even if she hadn't known she had a medical problem before becoming comatose, she could have become aware of it from hearing people talk about her condition.

Given that she's a religious believer, it's not surprising that this would have led her to thinking of supernatural entities in whom she believes (saints) in the hope of getting assistance from them.

If the physiological event that caused the painful sensation in her throat and the "wound" (of which we're given no description) occurred while she was dreaming, she would have incorporated that into her dream, by imagining that one of the saints was touching her throat. This sort of thing happens to me all the time: someone is being interviewed on the radio, and in my dream that becomes someone talking to me.

Finally, we're told that her "wound" becomes visible at the time of month that she visits the saint's shrine. We're not told that this has been documented but, even if it has, there could well be a naturalistic explanation. At this time of month she would be thinking more about her throat, resulting in a change of muscle tone in that area. This could make a scar more visible by stretching or compressing it, by increasing blood flow to the area, or a combination of these.

Jim Tayoun can think Nohaid Al-Shamy recovered because of a miracle if he wants to. But he might do well to acknowledge that this is just something he's chosen to believe on faith, and withdraw the baseless claim that there's any proof that it's true.

You might wonder why I bother writing such a letter. After all it doesn't seem likely that it will be published, nor that it will change Tayoun's thinking (though perhaps it might influence the letters editor). I guess I just can't let people think that their sensibilities will protect religious claims from being challenged in the same way that others would be.

You can read the original article at It's on page 4.

Eric Hamell

1 comment:

stripey7 said...

Jim Tayoun sent me a letter in response, which I posted 19 September.