Friday, July 27, 2012

Psychosomatic Miracles?

Critics of the supernatural often speculate that alleged miraculous healings are instead naturalistic healings of a psychosomatic nature. But many types of healing and recipients of healing are poor candidates for that hypothesis. Craig Keener gives many examples in his book, Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011).

Infants presumably wouldn't be expecting to be miraculously healed. Yet, Keener provides many examples of healings among infants (294-295, n. 116 on 729-730).

In an earlier post, I addressed modern cases of raising the dead. How many skeptics of the miraculous would argue that dead people can be healed psychosomatically?

I've also discussed reports of the healing of amputees. Again, would skeptics argue that such healing can occur psychosomatically?

And it's not just an issue of what can happen anyway. The issue is what's the best explanation.

What about miracles among atheists, agnostics, deists, or Christians who aren't expecting a miracle to occur, for example? I gave some examples in an earlier post on hostile corroboration of modern miracles. Keener provides many other cases in his book: atheists and agnostics converted through the experience of one or more miracles (n. 171 on 677, n. 202 on 681), miracles that were sought, but occurred differently than expected (596), etc.

Keener writes:

"Since he [a critic of miracles] attributes nearly anything to psychological factors, an approach that attributes to supernatural factors only what one cannot attempt to explain otherwise will have few cases to work with. Despite his argument for psychosomatic cures, many who have been cured were not expecting it; some [at Lourdes] were not Catholic; and some had no faith in any religion at the time of their cure. Nor do the vast majority of doctors expect suggestibility to instantly cure organic lesions, as in some reported cases….Some skeptics about healing argue (beyond the evidence) that almost anything can be psychosomatic, whereas clearly organic restorations of limbs are never reported. Certainly there are not many such reports (including in the Bible), but they do appear occasionally…Those committed to disbelief that such miracles can happen will, of course, dismiss such claims; but while the rareness of such claims (hence limited possible analogies) does invite caution, one might also get the impression that some skeptics' demands for particular kinds of evidence become stricter whenever evidence of the demanded sort appears." (677, 746-747)


  1. Thanks for the post. One nagging problem I have with modern miracles claims is the fact that they tend to be done in a popular format. Not that there's anything wrong about that, but the people who document them tend to be people not necessarily interested in thoroughly investigating their claims the way a real scholar or academic would. I think Craig Keener's work is a start, but are there any other scholarly works like his available?

  2. rolo,

    Many people and organizations have made the effort to conduct a high level of research and offer a large amount of documentation. I've cited a lot of examples throughout this series, including in my post above. It's highly unusual for somebody to gather together as many accounts as Keener has or to publish a book so lengthy on the subject and one that approaches the subject from so many angles. But that sort of effort isn't required in order to sufficiently address one miracle, fifty of them, or some other lesser amount.

    However, Keener does make the following reference to an earlier work by A.J. Gordon, one I'm not familiar with:

    "Gordon in fact produced a much more extensive collection of healing testimonies through history than I have here." (394)

    I don't know how Gordon's work would compare to Keener's in other contexts, but Keener at least thinks it surpasses his effort in the context he mentions above.

    Aside from the sources Keener cites in his book, see the posts in our archives about modern paranormal research, near-death experiences, prayer, and other related topics. Here's an index with some representative examples. In those posts, we cite many books and other resources that offer a lot of evidence for modern miracles, and we cite many examples of individuals and organizations that have been researching this field and publishing on it for a long time.

    1. Cool thanks,I hope I'm able to find what I'm looking for. Beyond arguments and evidence for theism I think miracles have profound theological significance as well.

  3. Keener might be referring to this work...

    The Ministry of Healing by A. J. Gordon ministry of healing&f=false




    Another similar work

    The Suppressed Evidence by Thomas Boys of the Miraculous Faith and Experience&f=false


    Keener cites pages 156-203 in the book here and says that the section of that book is "from" the first book, by Gordon, that you cited.

  5. All three books are in public domain. I've read each book multiple times. I highly recommend them since I'm also a continuationist/charismatic (and not just a Calvinist). The other two books are:

    Divine Healing by Andrew Murray
    Here or Here or Here

    The Gospel of Healing by A.B. Simpson
    Here or
    Here or Here

    There are other books on healing and miracles that I would recommend but in good conscience I would have to give qualifications on the good and not so good things in them.

    One book that I can recommend with little qualification is Charles S. Price's book "The Real Faith" which is freely available Here or Here These versions seem to be worded the same. I prefer these versions than the following two that are worded differently.

    Here or Here.

    Demos Shakarian, founder of the Full Business Men's Fellowship International, gave a testimony of the healing of his sister who got into a serious car accident through the ministry of Charles S. Price. An excerpt can be read Here.

    1. Opps, I forgot to place the proper punctuation. Obviously she didn't get into an accident BECAUSE of Price's ministry. heh

  6. Another area of research that would support the reality of the supernatural or preternatural or paranormal is the topic of angels and angelic visitation/assistance. It's ripe for it. Yes, there can be demonic counterfeits and deceptions involved, but not all of them need to be of demonic origin. I say that even of those testimonies which come from non-Christians, since there's nothing in Christian theology that implies God doesn't assist those who are non-Christians. Presumably God sometimes uses the agency of angels when He does help them. Even John Calvin taught that God occasionally answers the prayers of non-Christians (for various reasons including out of sheer mercy).

    Hebrews 1:14 in no way implies that God's angels only minister to believers. Only that that's their main duty when they do watch over human beings.

    As we all know, a decade (or so) ago there was a huge interest in angels in popular culture. That's because so many people have testified to angelic encounters. Many non-Christian (even anti-Christian) books and websites are dedicated to the promotion of the reality of angels. What makes the testimony of angelic encounters especially interesting is that many of them aren't just claims of angelic sightings [think Elvis sightings], but of angelic assistance and help during crises.

    Two books I'm aware of that have collected *Christian* testimonies of angelic encounters from a specifically Christian perspective are "A Rustle of Angels" by Marilynn Carlson Webber and William D. Webber; and "When Angels Appear" by Hope MacDonald. Both of which I HIGHLY recommend.

    According to the Webber book, in 1943 the Encyclopaedia Britannica decided to publish The Great Books of the Western World. The now famous Mortimer J. Adler was selected by the editorial board to edit the work. It was decided that Adler should write essays about the great ideas that ran through the great books. Slightly over 100 ideas were identified. Despite initial resistance, Adler was able to convince his associates that the topic of angels should be included. As the Webber book notes, "...Mortimer Adler was adamant. He pointed out that the subject of angels ran through the great books because their authors obviously considered angels of major importance."

    I believe they did because angels have repeatedly visited and helped human beings in all cultures and at all times. That's how they appear in the myths, legends, and writings of so many cultures. Adler eventually wrote his own book on the topic, titled "The Angels and Us".

  7. Finally, I want to mention a charismatic Christian website that's dedicated to sharing testimonies (in video and audio format) of the supernatural that includes healings, miracles, visions, dreams, angelic encounters (et cetera).

    I hesitate to recommend it only because I would normally have many qualifications to make about the teachings taught in these testimonies. Nevertheless, I think that in general many of them are genuinely from the Christian God despite the problematic theologies. God is more gracious to us believers despite the errors and deficiencies in our beliefs and doctrines.

    The website is

    The people of this ministry are closely associated with Dr. Michael L. Brown (the well known author of the 5 volume book "Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus"). He's a frequent guest on the TV and radio show.

    I frequently enjoy watching the testimonies making sure to "chew the meat, and spit out the bones".

  8. I know I already said "finally", but I want to mention one more thing that's ripe for research. It's the relatively recent phenomena that has been occurring throughout the Muslim world where many Muslims are allegedly having dreams, or visions, or even encounters with angels or with Jesus Himself that immediately or eventually lead to their converting to Christianity. Many major Christian ministries (some of which are cessationist) are recording and acknowledging this phenomenon.

    Here are just two examples:

    Afshin Javid's Testimony of Encountering Jesus (1 of 2)

    Afshin Javid's Testimony of Encountering Jesus (2 of 2)

    Afshin Javid's longer testimony given more recently in 2010

    Kamal Saleem a former Jihadist becomes a Christian

  9. Annoyed Pinoy: "I'm also a continuationist/charismatic (and not just a Calvinist)."

    Curious, Jason Engwer, are you also a continuationist/charismatic?

  10. Truth Unites… and Divides,

    I haven't studied the subject much. On some of the issues involved, I'm undecided or don't have much confidence in my conclusion. There's a lot of ambiguous terminology involved in these disputes, so a lot depends on how terms are being defined. I don't know which issues you're most interested in, but earlier in this series I addressed some of the topics people often bring up, like here.

    I think there's some continuity and some discontinuity with the apostolic era. Divine miracles still occur, but to a lesser extent than during the Biblical era in some ways.

    Some of the miracles that people often think of as the more significant ones, like the raising of the dead, still occur. So, it's not just a matter of lesser miracles still happening. Some of the more significant ones still happen as well.

    Speaking in tongues often comes up in the context of disputes over cessationism. My view is that not every Christian should expect to speak in tongues, but I don't deny that some do speak in tongues.

    Whether God still gives people spiritual gifts that involve miracles depends on how we define the terms involved. What's a spiritual gift? I see no reason to deny that God may still empower some people to perform miracles more than once, perhaps even to perform the same type of miracle many times. But whether that qualifies as a spiritual gift in the relevant sense will depend on how that term is being defined.

    I could say more, but some of my conclusions on these subjects are ones that I hold loosely. I've done some significant research on some of the relevant issues, but this is largely an area I don't know much about.