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The catholic church has very recently beatified late Pope John Paul II. As one of the requirements for this, the church required at least one miracle attributed to the candidate. In this case, a nun is claimed to have been cured from Parkinson's disease after praying to the late pope.

Since in general I know of no evidence suggesting that praying to dead people can cure you of diseases, my question would be: Is there a known scientific explanation for this alleged miracle? Did this event happen in the first place?

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    The easiest way to answer this is basically to say that "miracles" cannot be (by definition) explained. If they could be explained, they are not miracles.
    – picakhu
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 20:47
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    Yes and no. I agree that any claim of a miracle is, in essence, an argumentum ad ignorantiam. If there is no natural explanation, a supernatural is still not valid. However, I am already skeptical about the claim that there is no natural explanation. I wonder if in this specific example, we even have a natural answer that is just ignored.
    – Lagerbaer
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 20:53
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    I'm sorry, I can't answer your question, but I have an extension: If praying to someone heals somebody, how can the healing be attributed to the person to which the prayer was addressed? If the pope was already dead, how should he heal her? Shouldn't we say, the nun triggered the miracle? How do we know it wasn't a holy waterfall, a star at the firmament or a healing wondercat which crossed the roof of her house? Commented May 5, 2011 at 0:50
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    As a side note, it's a pity that the prayer of a billion Catholics for several years didn't miraculously cure Pope John Paul II of Parkinsons, though.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 20:03
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    @Sklivvz - Pope John Paul was able to best carry out god's will by demonstrating how to die with dignity and piety. I detest the catholic church but fully respect the leadership he was able to show in this regard. Sometimes god's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers - Garth Brooks
    – Chad
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 13:39

2 Answers 2

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Did this event happen?

According to the Vatican it did:

Pope Benedict XVI has formally approved a miracle attributed to his late predecessor, paving the way to John Paul II's beatification on 1 May.

The Vatican credits him with the miraculous cure of a nun said to have had Parkinson's Disease.

So an actual event did happen, with a real person.

Is there a known scientific explanation for this alleged miracle?

The sister herself claims that she was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2001.

There is currently no known cure for Parkinson's disease source 1, source 2.

So there are only a few possibilities:

  • She was misdiagnosed
  • She has become one of the first people in history to have beaten Parkinson's
  • It's all a hoax

For the second option we don't have enough evidence, we only have her anecdotal story. There is no lab test that can be done to confirm Parkinson's source 1, source 2.

Based on the information presented, unless the Vatican has access to technology the rest of the world doesn't, the Vatican would have to decide based on testimony of those around the Sister.

So you are left with three choices: believe that she was cured based on testimony (because there is no other way of finding out post-event), assume that it was a misunderstanding or decide that it is all a lie.

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    Even if it was option 2, we don't know if it was because she prayed in a certain way or even if she did...
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 5:14
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    @Oddthinking - And the point being... we never will. As mentioned, you can either take her word for it or not, there is no way of proving this. Also want to point out that she said she prayed to him (read link 2).
    – going
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 5:25
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    True. I was agreeing with your conclusion that we only have her anecdotal story that she beat Parkinson's, and was further emphasizing that, also, we only have her anecdotal story that she prayed to John Paul II. And even if she is right about the disease and telling the truth about the prayers, we only have the 'post hoc ergo prompter hoc' fallacy to support the idea that the prayer made a difference. As you suggest, with this evidence, we will never be able to conclude it was a "miracle", except to take it on faith.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 6:18
  • I supoose one could find out which doctor Diagnosed her with Parkinsons, and from doctors who may have treated her whilst she was supposedly suffering, and see if there is any testimony there. Would probably not be conclusive proof either way, but would produce extra info.
    – NotJarvis
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 13:40
  • I.e., basically proving or disproving it is a matter of faith. Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 11:36
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The Catholic Church approved the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II after a Catholic nun, Marie Simon-Pierre, reported being cured of Parkinson's disease after praying to John Paul II. Wikipedia reports that the validity of the beatification has been criticised on a number of grounds, including a suggestion that the unusual rapidity with which it proceeded might be intended to deflect criticism of John Paul's failure to respond effectively to the scandal of sexual abuse.

To be certain a miracle cure occurred, we would have to be certain Sister Marie Simon-Pierre ever really suffered from Parkinson's disease, but this has yet to be proven. The disease usually affects people much older than Simon-Pierre and can not be demonstrated with certainty other than by an autopsy. There is no lab test that will clearly identify the disease, but brain scans are sometimes used to rule out other disorders that could give rise to similar symptoms. The progress of the illness over time may reveal it is not Parkinson's disease, and some authorities recommend that the diagnosis be periodically reviewed. People diagnosed with Parkinson's may be given levodopa and resulting relief of motor impairment tends to confirm diagnosis. It would seem that either Simon-Pierre was not given this treatment, or that it was ineffective, since she says, "From April 2, 2005, I began to worsen week by week, I grew worse day by day." This does not necessarily prove that she did not have Parkinson's disease, but is one ground for doubt.

Diagnosis of Parkinson's disease can at best be established from the presence of a number of indicators, two of which are response to levodopa for at least five years and clinical course of at least ten years. Sister Simon-Pierre reports a period of around four years from initial diagnosis to cure, but does not mention levodopa treatment, so this does not tell us whether this test was considered. Again, since she only had symptoms for four years from the time of diagnosis, the second text fails. It is possible, particularly given the early onset (Most individuals with Parkinson's disease are diagnosed when they are 60 years old or older, but early-onset Parkinson's disease also occurs), that Sister Simon-Pierre suffered from another neurological disease which has similar symptoms as Parkinson's but which can be cured.

Sister Simon-Pierre insisted that her cure was complete and instantaneous, but has never publicly explained who first diagnosed her with Parkinson's disease and how that diagnosis was confirmed. After the miracle, we of course have investigations that show her free of the disease, although there are unconfirmed reports that she subsequently had a relapse. What is really important is not whether she is free of Parkinson's disease now, but whether she ever suffered from the disease in the first place.

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    Please provide some references to support your claims.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 0:49
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    Even with references, would this add anything to the existing answer? Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 2:25
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    @dmckee I hope in the last couple of hours I have improved the answer, as well as adding references, sufficiently to answer your question. Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 2:36
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    Let me just say that there are more than half a million catholic nuns. Almost all of them would have prayed, believe in the power of miracles and will tend to be attended my catholic doctors. This is the perfect cocktail of "I want to believe". One has an improvement of her illness even if it relapsed later.
    – borjab
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 9:01

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