Unlikely occurrences are not miracles, OK?

I've been meaning to post this for a few days, but today's collossal media fail on the Hudson River's newest boat has prompted me to step up and do the rant thing

Stop throwing the word "miracle" around to describe things that are not miracles.

Here is what a miracle is, according to dictionary.com

an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

A highly-skilled pilot ditching a plane in a river without loss of life is NOT A FUCKING MIRACLE.

A baby surviving against long odds is NOT A FUCKING MIRACLE

Being rescued by a search team who have been looking for you is NOT A FUCKING MIRACLE.

A miracle is a very specific thing: It's a suspension of normal natural order producing an outcome considered impossible. To call an unlikely event a miracle is to fail spectacularly at probability and language. Let me take you for a short journey into probabability land. It's not a long trek, and you may learn something.

First of all, some terminology.

  • We have events, which is basically 'stuff happening'
  • We have outcomes, which is basically 'the results of stuff happening'.
  • And we have odds, which is a way of determining how often a particular outcome will occur in a particular series of events

So, if you have an outcome, A, which is described as being "million to one odds", and you have a series of one million events, you would expect one outcome of those million events to match outcome A.

Are you following me?

So, let's look at a real-world example

Survival rate for Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia, a subject close to my own heart, according to the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society:

 Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL): 66.1 percent overall; 91.2 percent for children under 5

So, out of 1000 cases of ALL, you would expect 661 patients to survive

Surviving Leukaemia is NOT A FUCKING MIRACLE. It's great, but it's not a miracle.

But even if the odds of survival were 0.1 percent, you'd still expect at least one survivor and that would NOT BE A FUCKING MIRACLE.

It only takes two miracles to become a saint in the cult of the Catholic Church. Every leukaemia doctor on the planet should be canonized by the catholic church because they engineer these survival events every day of their lives.

Fuck Mary MacKillop, she's dead and can't help anyone. Laud the people who really do the job. Stop thanking god and jesus for saving your ass when it was really the ambulance crew, the doctors, the rescue teams, the pilot, the driver, the first-responder, the random stranger who admistered CPR, the fucking important human being who actually did something to avert disaster. GOD HAD FUCK ALL TO DO WITH IT.

aaaaah..... [breathes deeply]

Now, I'm fully aware that a colloquial use of the word 'miracle' has crept in, taken to mean a highly unlikely occurence, but to use such a term is to bastardise it, cheapen the language and give our religious brethren more fuel for their fires of utter crazy. If you use the word miracle to describe a merely unlikely event, you're doing it wrong. You fail at probability, and you fail at language. You're pissing in the fountain of truth and you're really winding me up. Just say it was a long shot, or an unlikely outcome. Don't say it was  a miracle.

Stop doing it. Stop using the word miracle for things that aren't fucking miracles. I do not give a flying fuck if I sound like I'm somehow persecuting the sick and endangered: Miracles do not happen. Statistical odds happen. Medical Science happens. Heroic human effort happens. Miracles do not. Do you hear me? MIRACLES DO NOT FUCKING HAPPEN.

 So shut the fuck up.


More coverage: glad I'm not the only one ranting on this, reddit, State Of Protest

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