In the combox, a number of atheists responded to David French's testimony of miraculous healing:
I'm going to briefly evaluate their responses:
i) Some resort to the circular argument that since there's no evidence for God, his healing can't be evidence for God. By that logic, nothing would ever count as evidence for God. It will be preemptively discounted.
ii) Some dismiss this as anecdotal evidence. But what's wrong with anecdotal evidence for particular events? It can be risky to generalize from anecdotal evidence, for the sample may be too small to underwrite a reliable induction, but in this case, anecdotal evidence is just a synonym for French's firsthand experience.
My high school German teacher was a native German and war bride. Certainly I can't extrapolate from that instance to high school German teachers in general. But my experience is reliable evidence for what was going on at my high school when I was there. Don't atheists rely on personal experience for most of what they believe about their past and present circumstances?
iii) Some dismiss French's interpretation as an example of confirmation bias. Christians are predisposed to believe in miracles.
a) Funny thing is how often people who cite confirmation bias illustrate their own confirmation bias in the process. They are blind to their own confirmation bias. They act as if confirmation bias invariably applies to some else–never to themselves.
The fact that atheists reflexively discount examples of miraculous healing–even in the teeth of medical verification–is a classic example of confirmation bias. They are predisposed to reject miracles out of hand.
b) Moreover, French didn't expect his classmate's assurance to be true.
iv) Some cite prayer studies to prove that prayer is statistically ineffective.
a) To begin with, there is evidence from prayer studies that prayer is statistically effective. For instance:
b) The operating assumption behind controlled studies is flawed:
c) More to the point, this objection is an exercise in misdirection. Prayer studies are irrelevant to any particular case with specific evidence.
v) Some appeal to spontaneous remission. But there are many problems with that objection:
a) That was French's choice of terms, speaking informally, as a layman. His doctors didn't attribute his recovery to spontaneous remission.
In fact, his doctors concluded that since ulcerative colitis is incurable, they must have misdiagnosed him–for his recovery was naturally or scientifically inexplicable given that condition.
b) Diseases range along a continuum. In some cases, the body has the ability to heal itself, with or without medical intervention. At best, medical intervention hastens the healing process.
But you can't make a facile appeal to the body's natural healing ability in more extreme cases. Likewise, atheists use this category for diseases in general. But is that customary in medical science?
c) To my knowledge, spontaneous remission is not a naturalistic alternative to miraculous healing. Spontaneous remission is not a medical explanation. It doesn't say how or why the patient went into remission. It doesn't identify a natural cause or natural mechanism. Rather, it's a superficial description of what happened. Really, an admission of ignorance.
d) Why assume that spontaneous remission is not miraculous? The fact that some people are healed in answer to prayer doesn't mean people are only healed in answer to prayer.
vi) Some appeal to unanswered prayer to counter answered prayer. Atheists act as though, if one person is healed, but another not, the fact that one person was healed cancels out the evidence that the other person was miraculously healed.
Take a comparison. Suppose I drive my friend to the airport. I park in the parking garage, making careful note of where I parked.
After I return to the garage, I see that my car is gone. I naturally conclude that my car was stolen. i call the police to report my stolen car. I have them come to fill out a report.
When they come they give me with a quizzical look. They ask me how I know my car was stolen? I reply that it didn't drive away all by itself. I wrote down the parking spot.
They admit that the space where my car was is empty. But they point to cars parked to the right and to the left of where my car was. Cars in front and cars in back. So many cars to choose from.
If my car was stolen, why did the thief steal my car rather than someone else's car? Likewise, if it's worth stealing one car, it's worth stealing many cars. It would be lucrative for a chop shop to hire several car thieves.
I have no idea why the thief stole my car when there were others he could take. I have no idea why he left the other cars alone. But so what? How does the fact that I don't know what the thief's selection-criterion was zero out the evidence that my car was stolen?
vii) Apropos (vi), In the nature of the case, we can rarely say why God healed one person but not another. We don't know the specific reason. We can only speculate in any given case. We can, however, suggest general reasons.
Just about every life has a ripple effect. Your life has an impact on other lives. God may heal one person but not another because of the long-term repercussiosn. God might heal one person because his life will have a significant beneficial impact on others. God might not heal another person because his life would have a significant deleterious impact had he lived longer.
Likewise, some people live too long for their own good. They'd be better off if they died sooner.
God doesn't heal some people because they're special; rather, they're special because God heals them.
David French is a lawyer for the ACLJ, in which capacity he defends the Constitutional freedom of Christian expression. So he's doing something with his life that benefits many other people.
viii) One atheist took the opposite tack an appeal to reported cases of miraculous non-Christian healing.
a) To begin with, the atheist didn't cite any evidence on the extent of reported cases of non-Christian miraculous healing.
b) But supposing it's true, where does that leave the original objection? Is French's example incredible because too few people are healed in answer to prayer, or incredible because too many people are healed answer to prayer? Hard to see how both objections are mutually consistent.
c) God can have reasons to heal unbelievers. Human beings are agents of historical causation. Who lives and who dies affects the future. God can heal an unbeliever in the past to benefit a believer in the future.
ix) Unsurprisingly, some atheists make a last-ditch appeal to coincidence. However, French's case is very specific. He was diagnosed with an incurable disease. He was rapidly deteriorating. A classmate from law school prayed for him, then phoned him to assure him that he was cured. The very next day his symptoms were gone. And that was 19 years ago.
Appealing to coincidence proves too much. When is something not a coincidence?
x) The existence of disease doesn't call God's existence into question, for disease is consistent with Biblical theism. The Bible contains many examples of the sick and dying.