Book Review: The Science of Miracles by Joe Nickell.

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn


I’m more or less a nice person. I try not to hurt people’s feelings. But, it is nearly impossible not to channel my inner Lewis Black when I encounter people who believe maniacal lunacies. How can seemingly sane people, unsupervised adults capable of dressing themselves, communicating with others, using the bathroom and even safely crossing busy intersections take any of the following things seriously?

  • That Benny Hinn and/or other faith healers perform miracles.
  • That the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus, produced by a miraculous burst of radiant energy at the moment of the Resurrection.
  • That a home, forest, mountain, lake or other special place harbors certain spirits, phantoms or even beasts found in no zoos, museums or history books.
  • That there are weeping icons, magical relics (e.g., the Holy Grail), miracle healing places (e.g., Lourdes), visionary experiences by humans who died briefly and then came back to life with stories about the “after-life” (occasionally with vivid details provided in best-seller-tell-all books about how real heaven is), saintly powers (e.g., the stigmata business) and machinations of The Devil (e.g., demonic possessions).

An Investigator Extraordinaire

Joe Nickell, author of The Science of Miracles, has long been known and respected as a fair-minded expert at sniffing out facts and unraveling secrets. His latest book casts a scientific eye on all of the beliefs noted above and many more. It is a valuable source for all who hold faith-based beliefs. It should be read by anyone who gives so much as a microscopic glimmer of credulity to one or more of the miracle claims described in The Science of Miracles.

Joe Nickell makes a case that it is advantageous to apply doubt, skepticism and a fact-based reality perspective to all remarkable and other claims. It is not wise, he demonstrates, to embrace beliefs simply because you want certain things to be true or because everyone else around you takes them seriously. As Mark Twain often observed, faith is believen what you know ain’t so. I wish that Joe Nickell would investigate fewer incredible beliefs, the adjective in the book subtitle (absurd would be more applicable) in favor of a more ambitious agenda. The incredible or absurd claims investigated in this book are embraced by relatively few people. Why not investigate and report on scientific findings about incredible or absurd beliefs embraced by the majority of Americans?

Sure, it’s good fun to mock the lunatic beliefs of those who take seriously nonsense like holy dirt, miracle statues/photos/oils and paintings, holy tears, the Madonna on a grilled-cheese sandwich, relics, angels and saints with supernatural powers, footprints made by The Devil and so on and so forth.

There really are no boundaries capable of delimiting human foolishness. (Joe – did you really put a stethoscope on a statue of the Virgin Mary in order to determine if it exhibited heartbeats as some pilgrims claim concerning an apparition site in Conyers, GA? See page 63.)

What I’d Like to See Joe Investigate Next

How about an investigation of the efficacy of prayer and the evidence for a heaven or hell, the resurrection, the trinity, transubstantiation or, the biggest miracle of all, the validity from a science perspective of the existence of God – any god? I dunno. Maybe Joe is at work on such a book. I hope so. If so and if he finds any science that supports any of these religious claims embraced by billions of Christians, Islamics, Jews and others all over the world, that will truly be a miracle.

If you come across a claim that is preposterous but sacred, don’t call ghostbusters – Joe Nickell is the real-life go-to-guy who is number one at shining the light of science on the darkness of superstition.


Joe Nickell.

One thought on “Book Review: The Science of Miracles by Joe Nickell.

  1. Pingback: A Book Review of Joe Nickell’s The Science of Miracles | Shroud of Turin Blog

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