Last night I watched a program on the new Oprah Winfrey channel, OWN, called "Miracle Detectives," and I must say, this is one program that disappoints on every page. First I should say that I don't watch Oprah's program (although as a boy I did, on rare occasions), but I had just finished three solid hours of research into the history of psychiatry and needed to relax so I turned on the seed (a term that has been used to refer to the television in my family for years) and was met with a rather anemic selection. I came across something called "Miracle Detectives" and read the synopsis. A man was cut in half by a train and survived (actually, he just had his legs cut off, but it was still a very serious injury), and a house drips holy oil. I decided to watch it and had to write notes out of disappointment.
The program features a man, Randall Sullivan, who owns exactly one outfit, and a woman, Indre Viskontas, who changes her clothes at least ten times an episode. Randy, if I can call him that, was in a war or something and he saw purple lightning and now he believes everything is a miracle and testing God is a sin. Indre claims to be some sort of doctor, I guess, and she believes nothing is a miracle and will latch on to any explanation no matter how unlikely or asinine it may be.
They go around investigating miracles to see, well, if they really are miracles, or at least that's the premise of the show. The truth is anything but.
On tonight's show, they go to investigate a woman who went to Lourdes in France (loading the page will resize your browser) and got some of the water. She brought it back and put it in a font in her house. When she woke up she discovered the water had turned into perfumed oil. Some time later she turned her house into a shrine, filled to capacity with icons, each of which exudes holy oil, along with the walls of the room as well. Now, I have a shrine in my house, millions of people do, but this is bordering on psychotic. There are more icons in her house, which is really tiny too, than in any church I've ever been to, even those huge old ones in the big cities that they turned into museums.
The oil has been associated with many healings. People have been healed of cancer and blindness, among other illnesses not mentioned in the program. The team goes to investigate. They visit one woman who was losing her vision due to a macular hole. Her friend gave her a cotton ball dipped in the oil, and she rubbed it on her eye every day for a week and when she went to the doctor he said the hole was gone. Randy was totally convinced. He threw his hands in the air and said "It's a miracle!" Indre said that the woman is very sad and she is using her faith as a crutch. Randy takes some of the oil to the world's leading expert on holy oil in Utah or somewhere and he smells it and says if it's real it can't contain any synthetic chemicals. Indre goes to some random eye doctor and asks about the woman's condition. He said that in 20 years of practice he has only seen two "spontaneous" healings in which a macular hole sealed up. Indre takes this to mean that the woman's case is the result of the atheist's supreme god of chance, not questioning about the two other "spontaneous" cases, which themselves might have been miracles, or, if not, were at least fantastically unlikely events and may have nothing at all to do with this woman and the oil. There might have been any number of other factors involved in those other cases, but she's not skeptical of her own skepticism, so it doesn't matter. She doesn't have to disprove the miracle, she just has to come up with any cock and balls story that might in some distant planet explain it away, and she did and was satisfied.
She brings in a building contractor who gives a very quick lookie loo of the room and says that because of the way the plaster on the walls is he can tell the room has not been tampered with, no hoses have been put in the walls to pour the oil out. He says it looks like someone splattered the oil on the walls, then he leaves.
She then calls in Joe Nickell, the skep-dick who found no evidence of anything paranormal, ever, so we know he's biased. She has an orgasm or two describing how he "debunks" things, meaning she's not interested in objectivity or science, since "debunking" is not part of the scientific method and no scientist ever has debunked anything. Science is open ended. Despite being a smug bastard he is the only one in the team with any sense and he sets up two tests. He has a camera watching a few statues for 24 hours, to see if oil spontaneously appears or someone puts it on it when no one is looking, and he takes a sample of oil to get a chemical analysis. The results are in. After one day no new oil appeared. Well, not exactly. A little oil did appear in the font, but he said it was just residue, so it didn't count, not surprisingly. He declaired it a fake and left after smelling his own farts. Randy interjected, the owner of the house says the oil comes out mostly on feast days, and only very little appears at other times in the year, and since the test was not on a feast day then it's not surprising only a little oil appeared. He just leaves. Joe just leaves. Now, if it was me I would have run a six month study on the house, not content to make pronouncements after only one night, but hey, we're not interested in science here.
The results of the chemical analysis? The oil is mostly vegetable oil with a glycol in it, most likely* propylene glycol, a synthetic chemical used in perfumes (and has it's own website, not many chemicals I know of can say that!). Randy is willing to admit he is very disappointed but falls short of saying it's not a miracle, even though according to that guy he visited when he went skiing in Utah, God doesn't use synthetic chemicals because synthetic chemicals don't know how your body works and natural chemicals do, somehow. The show ends with them looking at each other, him sad she indifferent. The camera holds on them for forth seconds with no audio.
Now Oprah is always talking about miracles. She believes President Zero is a miracle, and Deepak Chopra said on her show he was a product of "the all knowing quantum field," the kind that comes around once every thousand years. I was surprised that the Oprah channel had a show that seemed openly antagonistic to the idea of miracles. The chick on the show is a stereotypical skep-dick debunker, and the guy is extremely gullible and antagonistic to science. This is exactly how NOT to perform science and how NOT to investigate miracles. I won't be watching this program again.
*I forgot, so this is just a guess.
P.S. At 1,252 words this is officially the new longest post on The Urban Mystic!