Four Debunked Religious "Miracles"

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For thousands of years, people have been chalking up mysterious phenomena to religious "miracles," assuming these events to be the work of deities. Closer scrutiny invariably turns up a rational explanation, however. Here are four notable examples:

1. The "Weeping" Virgin Mary of Sicily. In 1953, a statue of the Virgin Mary in a couple's house in Syracuse, Sicily apparently started shedding human tears. The Roman Catholic Church later recognized the weeping as a genuine miracle, swiftly endowing the statue with celebrity status. Thousands flocked to see it. This fame persisted relatively unquestioned until 1995, when  Dr. Luigi Garlaschelli, a chemistry researcher at the University of Pavia, debunked the miracle. He found that the plaster statue readily absorbs water and can leak it out through scratches in the outer glazing. The Church later rescinded the miracle. Weeping or bleeding statues are very common "miracles," with dozens having been reported around the world.

Sundogs in Fargo, North Dakota. Taken February 18th, 2009.

2. The Sun Miracle of Fatima. In May 1917 in Fatima, Portugal, three children claimed to have encountered the Virgin Mary out in the countryside, who told them she would return on the thirteenth day over the next few months. Their tale grew in popularity, culminating with an estimated 70,000 people showing up at the site on October 13th, waiting for a miracle. On that day, the Virgin Mary "appeared", but only to the children – very suspicious. However, the other onlookers witnessed what has been called a "sun miracle". As investigator Joe Nickell recounted:

"Not everyone reported the same thing; some present claimed they saw the sun dance around the heavens; others said the sun zoomed toward Earth in a zigzag motion that caused them to fear that it might collide with our planet (or, more likely, burn it up). Some people reported seeing brilliant colors spin out of the sun in a psychedelic, pinwheel pattern, and thousands of others present didn't see anything unusual at all."

If anything did happen, it was likely an atmospheric event called a "sundog," in which light refracts off ice crystals, creating a wondrous halo of light.


3. The Hindu Milk Miracle. On September 21st, 1995, a viral miracle of sorts occurred. A worshipper in a temple in New Delhi proffered a spoonful of milk near the mouth of a statue of Ganesha, a prominent Hindu god, and soon enough, the milk was gone, apparently slurped down by the inanimate statue! News quickly spread, and soon faithful Hindus around the world were feeding milk to Ganesha statues and witnessing the same effect. But when scientists investigated, they quickly realized that no miracle was taking place, only physics. When the milk came into contact with the statues, its surface tension slowly pulled the liquid onto the statue. Capillary action may have also played a role. Furthermore, they noticed the milk dribbling down and pooling on the ground. No actual "drinking" was taking place.

4. The Feet of  a Jesus Statue Drips Water. In March 2011 in Mumbai, India, a woman cleaning a 12-foot statue of Jesus noticed water seeping from its feet. Excited, she spread the word that a miracle was unfolding, which enthralled throngs of people and garnered widespread media attention. Sanal Edamauku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association came in to investigate, and on national television he proclaimed his findings to millions of Indians: the wall behind the statue was leaking and growing algae. The likeliest source for the water emanating from the statue's feet was a broken sewer line behind the wall. He went on to accuse the Catholic church of being anti-science and mocked the Pope for condoning exorcism, angering Indian Catholics. Edamaruku was subsequently charged with blasphemy. He moved to Finland to avoid arrest and persecution.

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