Thursday, 13 February 2014

RATIONALISM AND MIRACLE CURES By REV. R. O'DONOHOE, O.P. pt 1

Since we have already exposed the irrationalism of Rationalism in logic and history, we lourdesshall now examine its attitude towards miracle cures. Here we reach the rationalists' last line of defence. Most of the miracles attributed to Christ and almost all modern miracles are concerned with the cure of various diseases and maladies. The rationalists claim that many of those alleged miracles have been shown to be natural cures. If some "miracle" cures have not yet been explained as natural, it is but reasonable to refer them to unknown laws which science of the future will reveal. At any rate, the. Catholic apologist cannot prove that any cure is beyond the power of nature, and for this reason: medical science is continually discovering new laws, and there will ever remain a multitude of unknown laws and forces which could explain cures which Catholics regard as miraculous.
Even a rudimentary knowledge of the principles of biology and pathology will enable us to meet this objection. (Catholic medical men of established reputation have answered this difficulty over and over again. They speak with authority on medical matters, and their books contain a detailed technical solution of the difficulty. Of the many books on miracle cures the following are especially recommended :—Medical Proof of the Miraculous by Dr. le Bec (Eng. transl., P. J. Kennedy & Son.) Twenty Cures at Lourdes by Dr. de Grandmaison (Eng trans'. Sands.) The facts of Lourdes by Dr. R. Marchand (Washbourne's Shilling Library); The Cure de Pierre de Rudder by Rev. A. Deschamps, S.J., M.D., Sc. D. (Eng, transl., C.T.S., Scotland); On Miracles;and Other Matters (Second Chapter) by Sir Bertram Windle, M.A., M.D., Sc., D., Ph. D., etc, (Washbourne). On the miracle cures of Christ, Christ and the Critics by H. Felder, O.M. Cap. (vol. 2, part 2, chap 2.) and Jesus Christ by L. de Grandmaison, S.J. (vol. 2 bk. 5, chap. 3).)
But before we lay down those principles and apply them to the present difficulty let us see what truth there is in the objection. It is true that medical science is continually lourdesadvancing. Our knowledge of disease, its causes and remedies, has increased marvellously within the past hundred years. It is impossible to foretell what wonderful triumphs medical science may achieve in the future. It is also true that there are unknown laws in nature by which very extraordinary cures are obtained, and that there are some laws which we shall never fully understand. Yet, notwithstanding all this, we maintain that there are certain cures which neither nature nor medical science can possibly bring about; and those cures we claim to be miraculous.
MARKS OF MIRACLE-CURE
In order to appreciate the peculiar characteristics which place a miraculous cure beyond natural explanation we must first grasp the essential characteristics of a natural cure. Every cure which is not supernatural may be called natural ; for, whatever means a physician may use to obtain a cure, it is really nature that makes the cure possible. The physician helps nature in various ways—by removing obstacles from her way, by aiding or accelerating her processes and so on—but he cannot dispense with nature's help if she wishes to cure a malady. Now, nature--whether working alone or aided by medical skill—necessarily follows a fixed course in getting rid of malady. Without for the moment offering any biological explanation of the fact, we know from experience that the course of nature in curing a malady is slow in proportion to the seriousness of the malady. We also know from experience that when a patient has recovered from a serious malady he is very weak and needs a period of convalescence. Those are the chief characteristics of a natural cure; there are others less important which may be grouped under those two heads.
Many miraculous cures have contrary characteristics : first. the cure itself is instantaneous; second, convalescence is unnecessary. When a serious malady is cured instantaneously and so perfectly that no convalescence is needed, ordinary common sense will attribute the cure to God. (Some cures considered miraculous cannot be strictly called instantaneous : a brief space of time elapsed before the cure was complete. But the time occupied was so abnormally short (sometimes a day in the case of a most serious disease the cure of which if at all possible, would have demanded many months of skilled medical attention) that the cure was justly regarded as miraculous. In some cases, also, convalescence may have been needed to build up the organism wasted by disease after the disease itself had been miraculously cured.)
SCIENCE AND MIRACLE-CURES
Thus far we have appealed to common-sense experience as proof of the supernaturalness of miraculous cures; we must now consider the matter more closely in order to meet the objection of our opponents. We shall invoke the assistance of science scienceto vindicate the conviction of common-sense. The crux of the matter is this: Can nature cure a malady instantaneously? If we can prove that the instantaneous cure of certain maladies is completely beyond the power of nature, then it is proved that such cures are due to the miraculous intervention of God.
Maladies are of two kinds, organic and functional. An organic malady is caused by the destruction of part of the living tissue from which the human body is built up. Tuberculosis, cancer and leprosy are organic maladies; fractures and wounds, though they cannot be strictly called maladies, may for present purposes be included in this category. A functional malady affects the action of an organ or system of organs but leaves the organ or system of organs structurally intact. A pure functional malady does not destroy any of the vital tissue of which the human organism is constructed. In this it differs essentially from an organic malady. Disorders of the nervous system are functional maladies : paralysis, hysteria and neurasthenia are examples.
At times it may be difficult to decide whether a particular malady is really organic or merely functional, but there can be no doubt that certain maladies are organic. At present we are considering only those maladies which are certainly organic. Our contention is this, that nature cannot cure an organic disorder instantaneously.
SCIENCE AND ORGANIC MALADIES
The proof of our thesis involves some rudimentary knowledge of the fundamental principles of physiology, but such knowledge is now so widespread that most moderately well-informed persons already possess it. We know that our physical organism is built up of a vast multitude of living cells, and that those cells are supported, renewed and multiplied by means of the nourishment we assimilate from our food. When a group of cells forming living tissue has been destroyed by an organic disorder, nature, to repair the destruction, must restore the missing cells. This work of restoration demands time, longer or shorter seconding as the number of cells to be restored is greater or less. Even when the lesion in the vital issue is slight, its repair necessarily occupies a certain period of time, since the building material for the cell must first be extracted from the food and' then conveyed by the blood to the particular place where it is needed. The actual building of the required cells also takes time, for the healthy cells that surround the lesion must first assimilate the ailment from the blood and then multiply to span the lesion with new cells. Obviously this process demands time; and if the lesion is extensive—as in advanced consumption or cancer—a long period of time will be necessary for the restoration of the lost cells.cancer
There is another element to be reckoned with in the cure of some organic diseases, such as cancer or other malignant tumour. In those diseases not alone are healthy cells missing but there are present in the affected part certain toxins or poisons which can only gradually be eliminated from the system. If those toxins were suddenly discharged into the blood, they would poison the whole system and bring death to the sufferer.
Another point to be noted in the cure of a diseased or fractured bone is that not only are living cells necessary for its restoration but also a quantity of inorganic matter called phosphate of lime. This phosphate circulates in small quantities in the blood and is supplied to the diseased or broken bone at a certain rate by the capillaries or minute blood vessels. Owing to the slow process by which the phosphate is supplied, forty or fifty days are required for the complete consolidation of a fractured bone; a much longer period is necessary in the case of a tubercular bone or spine. Moreover, it has been proved that in some miraculous cures the quantity of phosphate supplied to mend the broken or diseased bone exceeds the total amount of phosphate normally present in a free state in any human organism. The question arises, how can the human organism furnish instantaneously a quantity of phosphate which it does not contain? Certainly, not naturally.(In the famous miraculous cure of Pierre de Rudder it has been established that at least five grammes of phosphate of lime were required to unite the broken bone so IMG_8282that there might be no shortening of the leg. Chemists have calculated that there is in the blood about one and a half grammes of this phosphate. De Rudder's cure, therefore, required more than three times the amount of phosphate that is to be found at any one time in a free state in the human organism. The cure (of compound fracture of the left leg) also involved the instantaneous multiplication of living cells—together with the phosphate—to build up the bone, and the sudden
elimination of poisonous matter accumulated by eight years' suppuration. Besides, the muscles of de Rudder's leg, which had lain useless and almost atrophied for the space of eight years, were restored instantly to perfect condition so that he could run and dance for joy at his recovery. Those astounding facts place de Rudder's cure beyond the natural events. Cf.,Deschamps, and Windle, 1.c.)
UNKNOWN LAW—AN EXPLANATION?
The laws of physiology brought forward to prove the supernaturalness of some miracle cures are no mere medical theories but universally recognised facts about the human organism which are established beyond the shadow of doubt. Those laws are so closely connected with our organism, so much part and parcel of it, that they must remain true and necessary as long as man remains the same physical type. It is futile, then, to appeal to some hidden process in nature by which an organic disorder can be cured instantaneously, for no such process is possible or conceivable in our present human organism. As long as man is man an organic disorder can be cured naturally only by an elaborate and tedious process. Hence we claim that when an organic malady is cured instantaneously the cure cannot be regarded as natural.hand
God, by His omnipotent Power, effects miraculous cures in a way we cannot hope to fathom. In an instant He can multiply living cells, eliminate poisonous elements from the human system, and supply the material necessary for any cure. How He accomplishes all this we cannot explain. If we could, the cure would cease to be a miracle.
Many refuse to admit miracles because they involve mystery. Mystery is distasteful to the "Modern Mind." But everything in its ultimate analysis leads to mystery. Who can explain the mystery of life, sensation, light or gravity? The last verdict of philosophy and science on anything is, and will ever be, mystery, unfathomable mystery.
When cures of the kind we have described take place—and that they have taken place has been scientifically proved again and again—the only rational course is to attribute them to the omnipotent Power of God, and to bow down in adoration of that Omnipotence we cannot hope to understand. The unbeliever either denies that those cures occurred or attempts to explain them naturally. Both ways out of the difficulty are equally irrational. Miracle cures have occurred; and no natural law, known or unknown, can ever explain them.
THE LAST SUBTERFUGE
Within the past few decades many disbelievers in miracles have changed considerably their attitude towards miraculous cures. Unlike the earlier rationalists they no longer deny that very extraordinary cures take place within the Catholic Church. Those cures are too well established to be denied. Rationalists themselves have investigated them. They also admit that the physical theories advanced by their predecessors and by some contemporaries cannot account for those extraordinary occurrences. Must we, then, return to the Catholic solution and attribute them to God? By no means, answer our opponents, for a natural explanation has been discovered. There is a force in man far surpassing nature, a psychic force which may be given the comprehensive name of "Suggestion." Suggestion in its various manifestations explains those cures which Catholics fondly attribute to God. Here is the eureka of modern medical science. taquin(Aristotle, St. Thomas and many of the Scholastics were well acquainted with the psychic force now called Suggestion. The moderns might learn much about its nature and limitations from the works of those great philosophers.)
This mysterious psychic force, then, whether it assumes the form of Magnetism (Mesmer) or Faith-healing (Charcot) or Auto-suggestion (Coué) is the explanation of miracle cures. Let us see if it is.
SUGGESTION
The pioneers of the Suggestion movement, like most pioneers, were thorough-going optimists. "Suggestion can cure every malady," was their slogan. Today the greatest authorities on Suggestion-cure are more moderate in their claims. Janet, Bernheim and Babinsky, while defending the immense curative value of Suggestion in most cases of functional disorders, confess that it cannot directly cure disease that is really Organic.( Dr. Bernheim, the celebrated founder of the psychological school of Nancy, writes : "Suggestion is not able to set right again a dislocated limb, nor to reduce a joint swollen by rheumatism, nor to replace brain-tissues which are destroyed. Let us not exaggerate. The direct influence of psycho-therapy on organic wounds is limited. One cannot remove an inflammation by means of it or check the development of a tumour, or a sclerosis of the veins. Suggestion cannot destroy microbes, or cure a wound in the stomach, or remove tubercles." Hypnotism? Suggestion, Psychotherapy, 2nd edit., pp. 3221, 325)
The reason for this admission is not difficult to understand. A functional or nervous disorder does not arise from the lesion of any organ or system of organs but from the suspension of nervous energy and consequent helplessness of the parts affected. When the patient can be persuaded to release his nervous energy into the required channel a cure is effected. The cure of an organic disorder is quite different. Here the organ or system is no longer intact, a part of its vital tissue has been destroyed by the disease, and this must be restored by the multiplication of living cells in the ordinary tedious way described. No amount of Suggestion, be it ever so intense and varied, can restore those cells instantaneously.
Suggestion, of course, can hasten the cure of an organic disorder. This it does by improving the general condition of the patient, restoring his vital functions to the normal activity, improving his appetite and digestion, aiding his blood-circulation and so on. The beneficial influence of mind and will on the body both in health and sickness was too obvious to be overlooked by thinkers during the long age that preceded the "discovery" of suggestion.
The essential point is this. Suggestion only indirectly promotes the cure of an organic disease by removing obstacles from the way, and by aiding the vital processes that actually affect the cure. Only by the multiplication of living cells can an organic disorder be removed; and that process demands time.
We can conclude, then, that Suggestion cannot cure an organic disorder instantaneously.
SUGGESTION AND MIRACLE CURES
Our opponents return to the attack : But all the cures regarded by Catholics as miraculous are merely cures of nervous disorders. Suggestion can explain those cures.
Those who speak in this way can escape the charge of deliberate misrepresentation only by, admitting a gross ignorance of Catholic miracles, and of the severe criticism to which the Church subjects them. As far back as 1747 Pope Benedict XIV in his classical work on the Beatification of the Servants of God insists that cures which could in any way be associated with the nervous system are not to be relied on in the process of miracleCanonisation. Thus, ecclesiastical procedure long before anticipated the objection raised by the discoverers of Suggestion.
Again, to take the annals of Lourdes: It has been proved that less than ten per cent. of the maladies cured at this famous shrine could possibly have been of nervous origin. (Cf. Bertrin Historie Critique de Lourdes, p. 444. seq.)
Will the champions of Suggestion rank as nervous disorders the remaining ninety per cent., those thousands of cases of tuberculosis, cancer, rheumatism, fracture, caries, etc..; and will they undertake to cure those ailments instantaneously by means of Suggestion? No, we will not set the Suggestionists so utterly impossible a task, but we ask them candidly, how many of the nervous disorders cured at Lourdes could Suggestion have cured instantaneously? Possibly a few. The more serious nervous disorders cured at Lourdes (and only those are duly certified as miraculous) are almost as far beyond the reach of Suggestion-cure as organic maladies.
SUGGESTION AND NERVOUS DISORDERS
Suggestion-cure has its limitations even in cases of nervous disorders. Firstly, instantaneous cures by means of Suggestion are very rare. The Suggestionists submit the patient to a course of treatment; and they themselves admit that cures obtained after a short course of three or four experiments are usually unsatisfactory and unreliable. Instantaneousness and permanency are essential characteristics of a Lourdes cure; no cure is recorded as a miracle until a year has elapsed to guarantee its Stability.
Again, experts in the science and art of Suggestion confess that certain kinds of nervous disorders cannot be cured by Suggestion. Of those, hereditary and chronic disorders are most unyielding. Now, both hereditary and chronic disorders have been cured at Lourdes; and it is precisely because they were such that their cure is regarded as miraculous.
Lastly, Suggestion---whatever form it may assume--consists in a fixed persuasion, or conviction, that cure is certain; only when Suggestion reaches this pitch of obsession is it efficacious. No one who is incapable of a fixed idea
can benefit by Suggestion. A young child, for instance, cannot convince himself or be convinced by others that his cure is inevitable; he is, therefore, beyond the reach of Suggestion. Yet, in the records of Lourdes we find that young children—some mere infants, many less than three years of age—have been cured of various disorders. (Cf. Bertrin, op. cit., p. 205 seq.)
Frequently, too, in the ease of adults the entire absence of a fixed persuasion rules out the possibility of attributing their recovery to the powers of Suggestion. Not a few sufferers have gone to Lourdes thoroughly sceptical of miracles in general and of the miracles of in particular; they have gone there in obedience to superiors or just to please those dear to them, firmly convinced of the futility of their pilgrimage, and without faith or hope. And such sceptics have been cured at Lourdes! (Bertrin, op. cit., p. 206 seq., p. 276 seq. )
Attribute their recovery to what we will, we cannot attribute it to Faith-Healing or any other sort of Suggestion. Invalids in every frame of mind have gone to Lourdes; and invalids in every frame of mind have been cured there. Those are facts which the Suggestion theory cannot explain.