The number of fatal accidents to and from Lourdes in France is higher than the 67 so-called miracles, which in 2005 are only recognized by the Vatican.

Etienne Vermeersch



The skeptical interpretation of The Lourdes Effect concept was first elaborated upon by the Belgian philosopher of science and skeptic Etienne Vermeersch (1934-2019). Vermeersch uses the term in an ironic way to refer - apparently paradoxically - to a non-existent effect, namely the paranormal or miraculous as a supposed supernatural effect for which there is in fact just as much a naturalistic explanation (see also Ockham's razor). There are no clear concepts, verifiable observations and conclusive evidence in stories that suffer from what Vermeersch calls The Lourdes Effect. With the term he points to the problem of verification and falsification of so-called miracles of Lourdes, as well as the tendency of the believer to immunize himself by making vague or ambiguous and thus unverifiable claims before objective researchers: the existing testimonies about alleged miracles are often accompanied by vague observations or unverifiable personal anecdotes that are not based on scientific evidence.

Since the late 1960s, Vermeersch has profiled himself as a skeptic, both in the media and at the universities, where he lectures or debates the subject. He describes this as follows: 'Finally, it is worth noting that one can question strange stories characterized by what I like to call The Lourdes Effect...No one has ever gone to Lourdes without an arm and returned with an arm. The Lourdes Effect is that some 'forces' seem to have a kind of reluctance to manifest themselves in a completely unambiguous way. If the miraculous power of Lourdes really exists, there is no reason to think that it would be more difficult for Mary or for God to mend a severed arm than to heal a (hysterical?) paralysis or blindness. Also the observations and photos of eg. the "Loch Ness Monster", the "Abominable Snowman" (Yeti), and UFOs seem to lose fidelity and sharpness to a similar effect.'

Skeptics also link the concept to the selective critical thinking of some believers, better known as cherry picking : the 'hits' are remembered the 'misses' are ignored. Vermeersch noted, for example, that the number of fatal accidents to and from Lourdes in France is higher than the 67 so-called miracles, which in 2005 are only recognized by the Vatican. The criticism of the (alleged) miracles of Lourdes is probably as old as the pilgrimages themselves, but the critical angle has never been brought forward in such a systematic way as by Vermeersch.

A very early example of what Etienne Vermeersch will later define and elaborate can be found in Le Jardin d'Epicure by the French writer and Nobel laureate Anatole France (1894), albeit not yet under the term Lourdes Effect: All those canes, braces and crutches, and not a single glass eye, wooden leg, or toupee! A critical elaboration of the Lourdes argument can be found in the work 'Soul Searching' (US edition: 'Leaps of Faith') by the renowned psychologist Nicholas Humphrey from 1995. Humphrey calls it the Argument from Unwarranted Design and applies it mainly to the vague claims from parapsychology and Intelligent Design. The world-renowned skeptic and magician James Randi uses the term Lourdes Effect in the wake of and in the same sense as Etienne Vermeersch, as does Belgian columnist Hugo Camps.