Friday, August 22, 2014

Expect a miracle!

A village atheist who goes by the moniker of porphyryredux tried to leave some belated comments on some old posts of mine. After a post has been up for five days, comments are automatically routed to moderation, where they usually die of benign neglect. I'll respond to some of his comments (including some related statements he made on his blog). 
The critic’s basic argument is that, assuming god is the omni-everything that the bible says he is, the lack of medically verified regrowing of limbs among those who claim documentation of miracle-healing, is suspicious, given that the regrowing of a missing limb, clearly beyond the abilities of current science, would be the acid test of the miracle-healing claim. 
Since God never promised to heal amputees, there's nothing suspicious about God not doing what God never said he was going to do. 
I think my fellow skeptics are unwise to pursue this particular argument, since, as proven from the article at Triablogue, this particular criticism emboldens apologists to lure us into areas of pure speculation.
So even though he admits that it's unwise for atheists to pursue this particular argument, he persists in doing so anyway. Go figure. 
I argue in another post that the minimum expenses and and time lost from work/family necessary for skeptics to track down important evidence and otherwise do a seriously thorough investigation on miracle claims, make it absurd for apologists to saddle skeptics with the obligation to “go check out the claims”.  If the apologists at Triabolgue [sic] are serious, they would obligate a skeptic living in America to expend whatever resources necessary to get to southern Africa (‘Gahna), properly interview all witnesses and get back home.  Absolute nonsense.  
i) A classic strawman. I never suggested that evaluating a miracle claim requires you to reinterview the witnesses. If, however, an atheist is so irrational that he refuses to believe testimonial evidence unless he personally conducts the interview, then that's his self-imposed burden of proof.   
ii) I'd add that his complaint is very quaint, as if he were living in the 18C, and had to interview witnesses face-to-face. Has he never heard of email or telephones? In fact, even before the advent of airplanes, people wrote letters to solicit information. 
No Christian is going to travel half way around the world to investigate a claim that the ultimate miracle debunking has happened, so they have no business expecting skeptics to go halfway around the world in effort to properly conduct an independent investigation of a miracle-claim.
There's no parity between these two positions. Atheism posits a universal negative with respect to miracles. An atheist must reject every single reported miracle. By contrast, it only takes one miracle to falsify atheism. Therefore, the atheist and the Christian apologist do not share the same burden of proof. Not even close. 
Would it be too much to ask apologists to do something more with their claim of miracle healing, than simply provide references?

i) Actually, that would be asking too much. Just as we accept documentation for other historical events, we ought to accept documentation for miracles. Miracles are just a subset of historical events in general. 

ii) His complaint only makes sense if there's a standing presumption against the occurrence of miracles, so that miracles must meet a higher standard of evidence. But as I've often argued, that begs the question. 

iii) I'd also note in passing that if God exists, then it would be extraordinary if miracles didn't happen. If God exists, then miracles are to be expected

iv) I'd add that belief in miracles doesn't require prior belief in God. Evidence for miracles is, itself, evidence for God. 

If you seriously believe you have evidence of a modern day healing that cannot be explained by current medical science, set forth your case. 

Testimonial evidence is setting forth a case. 

All this stuff about what Keener said, what he didn't say, how critics misquoted him…

Where did I say critics misquote him?

...God having the sovereign right to avoid doing monster miracles, accomplishes nothing more than helping distract the less educated Christian readers from the simple fact that you have ZERO medically documented medically inexplicable healings.

That's just an empty denial in the face of explicit documentation to the contrary. 

Steve says Craig Keener has cited documented cases of body-part regeneration. Cf. Miracles The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. So there’s prima facie evidence that God heals some amputees (or the equivalent). Does Steve know of anybody who has attempted to obtain the medical documentation and/or witness statements that Keener has cited?

Do atheists make the same demand for cures in general? If a patient recovers from stage-1 cancer, do they refuse to believe it unless they can read the medical records for themselves and interview the patient? Notice the unexamined bias.  

It would be helpful for apologists to provide the one case of body part regeneration they feel is the most compelling, and lets get the ball rolling on the subject of just how good the medical documentation, diagnosis and witness statements really are.

Demanding evidence of body-part regeneration is an artificial litmus test for miracles. I never took that demand seriously in the first place. I'm just calling their bluff.

Atheists who refuse to consider evidence for miracles in general, and instead resort to this decoy, betray their insincerity. Logically, the case for miracles is hardly confined to one artificial class of miracles. 

Apologists think they score big on the objectivity scale by insisting that skeptics and atheists do their own research into the claims for miracles that appear in Christian books.  A large list of miracle-claim references may be found in Craig Keener’s two volume set “Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)”.
But if we are realistic about the time and money required to be expended in the effort to properly investigate a single modern-day miracle claim, it becomes immediately clear that the apologist advice that skeptics should check out those claims, is irrational for all except super-wealthy super-single super-unemployed super-bored skeptics.
That's ironic, considering the obvious fact that Keener isn't "super-wealthy, super-single, or super-unemployed." Indeed, as Keener said in the introduction, "I have no research team, no research assistants, and no research funds; nor have I had sabbaticals to pursue this research" (1:12). What hinders an atheist from doing what Keener did?  
Apologists, desperate to cut the skeptic’s costs as much as possible so as to leave them “without excuse”, will suggest ways to cut the costs as described above...
Another strawman. Atheists are already without excuse. 
What bright ideas do you have for the married miracle skeptic whose wife homeschools their children, who has only one job?
Since when did atheists join the Christian homeschooling movement? 
If skeptics need to stay open to the possibility of miracles merely because they cannot rationally go around investigating each and every miracle claim, then must you, the Christian apologist, stay open to the possibility that miracles don’t happen, on the grounds that you don’t have the time or money to investigate every single naturalistic argument skeptics have ever come up with?
Once again, these are asymmetrical positions. It only takes on miracle to exclude atheism, whereas atheism must exclude every miracle. 
And the bad news is that it doesn’t matter if we investigate a single claim and come up with good reasons to remain skeptical of it….there are thousands of other miracle claims complete with identifiable eyewitnesses and alleged medical documentation that we haven’t investigated.
i) That's the dilemma for atheism. A position with an insurmountable burden of proof. Good luck with that. Not my problem. 
ii) Atheists are like paranoid cancer patients who refuse treatment until they can verify the treatment for themselves. They make irrational, time-consuming demands on the oncologist to prove the efficacy of cancer therapy.
But the oncologist is under no obligation to accede to their unreasonable demands. He's not the one with the life-threatening disease. He has nothing to prove to the paranoid patient. It's the patient whose life is on the line. It's the patient who has everything to lose. 
If the patient is diagnosed with stage-1 cancer, but refuses treatment for 8 months while he conducts his own "independent" investigation–by interviewing other patients–then even if he succeeds in satisfying his personal curiosity, and is now amendable to therapy, by that time he will have stage-4 cancer–at which point therapy is futile. 
If the apologists here saw video footage of a dog flying around a room using biological wings sprouting out of its back, would they insist on making sure all other alternative explanations were definitively refuted before they would be open to considering that this was a real dog with real natural flying ability? Then skeptics, likewise, when confronted with evidence for a miracle healing, would insist on making sure all other alternative possible explanations were definitively refuted before they would start considering that the claimed miracle was genuinely supernatural in origin. 

i) That's an argument from analogy minus the argument. Where's the supporting argument to show that miracles are analogous to flying dogs?

ii) Instead of dealing with the actual evidence for actual miracles, atheists deflect attention away from the evidence by floating hypothetical examples. But that's a diversionary tactic.

iii) Moreover, it's self-defeating. If an atheist concocts the most ridiculous hypothetical he can think of, then, yes, the example strains credulity. But that's because he went out of his way to concoct an artificially ridiculous example. That's a circular exercise. Unbelievable because he made it unbelievable. 


  1. In addition to Steve's excellent response:

    1. Edward Goljan is basically a celebrity in modern medical education. He's quite well-known. He's a board certified pathologist, and a former professor in an Oklahoma medical school. Presumably porphyryredux can contact him via email.

    I believe Goljan has been in medical education for approximately 30-40 years. He's taught a couple of generations of physicians.

    He also used to write national medical exams. And many if not most US med students today use his famous Rapid Review Pathology to help study for the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).

    In the past, Goljan was apparently diagnosed with ALS aka Lou Gehrig's disease. But then he was healed by a minister's prayer:

    "Edward Goljan is a Christian and states that he was healed from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis after a minister prayed with him at the City of Faith Medical and Research Center.

    'I had fasiculations all over my body. I was diagnosed with lower motor neuron disease. I was at the City of Faith where prayer and medicine was put together and one of the people that was there, that was one of the ministers, prayed for me and I was healed. I am probably one of the few people that has survived ALS. I had documented EMG evidence of it.'"


    2. Does porphyryredux raise the "body part regeneration" objection because he objects to miracles in general and uses "body part regeneration" miracles to show miracles aren't possible, or because he's assuming human "body part regeneration" is preposterous in and of itself?

    If the former, then as Steve has alluded to, there are other classes of miracles. So even if (ad arguendo) "body part regeneration" miracles are shown to be false, it hardly disproves the possibility for the miraculous in general.

    If the latter, then it seems it's not the miraculous with which porphyryredux takes issue but rather the idea of human "body part regeneration" itself. As such, we don't really need to say anything more.

    3. However, just for fun:

    a. There are some "body parts" which can regenerate (e.g. skin, liver). Likewise, there are stories of kids regenerating their fingertips. See here for example. Or for a more scholarly take, check this out.

    b. Not to mention our bodies are constantly re-building themselves at the molecular and cellular levels.

    Indeed, in utero, and in theory ex utero, pluripotent stem cells can build human body parts. I've read, for instance, salamanders keep many of their pluripotent stem cells and thus can regenerate their lost limbs (e.g. see here).

    Now, what if future medicine could somehow harness or re-activate this "ability" in humans without it leading to deleterious effects like cancer? That's one of the things the field of regenerative medicine attempts to do.

    So in principle, what's so absurd about "body part regeneration"?

    c. Of course, if it's not absurd, if it's possible future scientists and doctors could regenerate body parts for amputees or others, then doubtless future atheists would raise the objection that what previous generations thought miraculous must've been due to some then-unknown natural process. I imagine some things will never change.

    1. Good point. It's interesting that modern claims and documentation of miraculous restoration of sight isn't awe inspiring and seemingly miraculous to atheists. That's probably due to the fact that modern doctors can restore certain forms of blindness. But before doctors were able to do that atheists back then probably would have claimed the restoration of eye sight as nearly impossible and therefore the Biblical accounts of miracles (and their accompanying theology) are unbelievable.

      This reminds me of a Biblical passage:

      Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.- John 9:32

      What was impossible then, modern doctors can do now in some instances.

      BTW, the healing of the blind man from Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26 has the marks of authenticity because it appears to describe a modern phenomenon called post-blind syndrome. When modern doctors heal some people of blindness, they can sometimes experience post-blind syndrome, where their brains can't interpret the messages their (now working) eyes are sending them. Here's a Breakpoint article on it.

  2. In a previous Triablogue combox comment I mentioned that William Lane Craig believed that there were three kinds of providence but I couldn't document it. I found documentation HERE.

    What all this implies is that in between events brought about by God’s extraordinary providence (miraculous interventions) and events brought about by His ordinary providence (events which regularly occur as products of purely natural causes) there is a third category, which we may call God’s special providence, namely, events which are the result of purely natural causes but which are unusual in terms of their special timing and context. For example, if just as George Muller is giving thanks for God’s provision of daily bread for his orphanage, knowing all the while they have no food, and at that moment a bakery truck breaks down outside in the street and gives all its provisions to the orphanage, then we may regard this as an answer to prayer, even if there are wholly natural causes of the truck’s breakdown at just that place and time. It’s a special providence of God, prearranged in answer to Muller’s prayer.
    End quote

    In my blog HERE I explain why I disagree with Craig's apparent view that special providence is never miraculous. Contrary to my past view that it is always miraculous, I now believe that special providence sometimes is and sometimes isn't miraculous. For example, the parting of the Red Sea may have been an instance of special providence rather than extraordinary providence, yet I would definitely call it miraculous. On the other hand, having food on the table can also be an instance of special providence without it being miraculous.

    I also have changed my view that special providence is form of ordinary providence. They both have in common effects being the results of purely natural causes, but they differ in that in the case of special providence God has a special purpose or intention in the effects (e.g. an answer to prayer) unlike the case of the effects of ordinary providence. It seems that to call special providence a form of ordinary providence would negate or neutralize the very issue that distinguishes the two kinds of providence, viz. God's special purpose/intention in the effect(s).

  3. Here are a collection of Triablogue links I've collected that deal with the issues of miracles in light of Keener's book on the subject and atheistic attacks on the subject.

    Links on the Subject of Miracles in the Context of Craig Keener's Recent Book