Monday, August 19, 2013

"Acts 4:16-level miracles"

I'm going to comment on this post:
Steve Hays and his boys continue with this befuddling defense of modern day claims of the miraculous among charismatics and Pentecostals.
i) I by no means assume that miracles are confined to charismatics and Pentecostals. 
ii) Moreover, it should be unnecessary to correct Fred's misstatement of my position. I haven't been defending the Pentecostal/charismatic position. I take a mediating position on this issue. 
This is one of the persistent problems with the MacArthurites. They are so conditioned to debate the issue in binary terms that even if you present a third alternative, they automatically reassign you to the usual suspects. This reflects a lack of critical detachment on their part, which is ironic given how they attack the lack of critical judgment on the part of Pentecostals and charismatics.
Jason Engwer left similar sentiments in the combox under my previous post
Well, I can't speak for Jason.
They both seem to be bothered about my insistence that miracles, in order to even be considered genuine, have to be in the category of undeniable by such debunkers like James Randi.  We could also add other similar men like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.
And in my response to Fred, I will hold him to that self-imposed standard.
To insist that any claims of the miraculous must be in that category demonstrates a profound ignorance of atheist debunkers on my part, or at least according the Steve and his friends.
As we shall see.
I had initially cited Acts 4:16 in reference to my claim about atheist debunkers. That verse says,  What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.A few important observations about that verse are in order.First, the statement is being made by the religious leaders. In fact, Acts 4:1 says it is the liberal religious leaders, the Sadducees. You know them. They’re the guys who consistently denied any supernatural workings by God, and yet they were among the ones who could “not deny” the miracle. 
Several problems. Just for starters:
i) Not all members of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees. Remember Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee. Likewise, remember how Paul played both sides off against the middle (Acts 23:6)?
ii) The Sadducees were liberal in denying the existence of discarnate spirits and the resurrection of the body. But they were conservative in denying the oral Torah.
iii) What is Fred's evidence that the Sadducees "consistently denied any supernatural workings by God"? Doesn't that go considerably beyond the extant record? 
Keep in mind that these aren't just my objections. It's not as if secular debunks are going to cut Fred any slack.
iv) For them to say it's "undeniable" is ambiguous. "Undeniable" to whom? In context, this is a PR issue. Damage control. They can't publicly deny the miracle without loss of face. To discredit the miracle would discredit them in the eyes of their constituency.
So there's no reason to assume it was undeniable to them. Rather, it's undeniable vis-a-vis public opinion. In context, that's the frame of reference. 
And even if Fred doesn't think that's the best interpretation of the statement, it doesn't matter what he thinks–since he's not the standard of comparison. Rather, he's made secular debunkers the standard of comparison. When in doubt, they are not going to give his interpretation the benefit of the doubt.
Second, the miracle was evident, meaning that is was undeniable. In other words, it was just clear that a seriously crippled individual was made whole. 
Up until now I withheld the biggest problem with Fred's appeal. The biggest problem is that secular debunkers won't grant his source of information. As Fred himself has framed the terms of the debate, that evidence (Acts 4:16) is inadmissible. That's not public information. Secular debunkers won't grant that Luke was privy to the closed-door deliberations of the Sanhedrin. The only information that Fred can appeal to within the confines of his own challenge is information in the public domain. What a debunker could see and hear with his own eyes and ears if he were living in Jerusalem when that happened. By contrast, a debunker would say that Acts 4:16 is, at best, hearsay. After all, the narrator (Luke?) wasn't a member of the Sanhedrin.
And third, it was made evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, so everyone was talking about it. The miracle wasn’t confined to a small number of witnesses, or a small congregation of people, or to the subjective evaluation of two sets of X-rays.
I find Fred's argument odd. Supposedly he's responding to me, yet as I already pointed out in the post he's responding to, that appeal violates Fred's own rules of evidence. For Fred is skeptical of "hearsay" evidence (to use his own term). "Everyone" in Jerusalem was talking about it due to word-of-mouth dissemination. Yet Fred dismisses "hearsay" evidence of modern miracles.
Moreover, it doesn't even matter what Fred thinks, since, by his own admission, his judgment is not the standard of comparison. A secular debunker would say this is a prime example of how quickly rumors become legendary. 
First, we see that this guy was a regular outside the gate leading into the temple. Thus, all the religious leaders would have been familiar with the man and his physical situation. They would have seen him there day in and day out, probably one among many crippled people, and perhaps even given him alms every once in a while.
So Fred is already shifting away from those who saw the miracle take place. Rather, he's appealing to the before and after condition of the man. 
Secondly, this man was born without the use of his legs, “from his mother’s womb.” Hence, he was seriously malformed and had never walked in his life… Acts 4:22 says this man was over 40 years in age, so he had been in that condition for over 40 years.
Notice how Fred treats the details of the account as unquestionably accurate. Problem is, that reflects his viewpoint, not the viewpoint of a secular debunker. 
Once again, Fred is appealing to inadmissible evidence. A secular debunker will ask, How do we know that the cripple was congenitally disabled? You can't appeal to the narrator's claim. How is the narrator in a position to know that? Did he interview the parents? Even if he did, a debunker will say, What's more likely: that parents lie or that miracles happen? 
As Fred has framed the issue, the only admissible evidence would be what a debunker could observe for himself, had he been on the scene at the time. Not Luke's record of the event, but the event itself. 
When the religious leaders passed him by every day, they would have seen his atrophied legs and his otherwise frail body because of his physical condition. 
i) Why assume that his body was generally frail? What if he developed his upper body musculature as compensation?
ii) But that's not the main thing. Notice how Fred tacitly assumes a Southern Californian dress code, as if the cripple was wearing shorts. But isn't it more likely that Palestinian Jew was wearing an ankle-length tunic? And it's not as if debunkers are going to give Fred the benefit of the doubt on how the cripple was dressed. 
Third, it is clear from the text that he was completely made whole. Luke wants his readers to know this guy was utterly incurable by human means and in an instant, his ankle bones were strengthened and he jumped up and began walking about.
Once again, Fred isn't even beginning to project himself into the mindset of a secular debunker. Yes, that's what "Luke wants his readers to know." And therein lies the problem, a debunker would say. Religious propaganda. Fred has implicit faith in the minute accuracy of Luke's account. By contrast, a debunker is prepared to relegate the entire story to pious fiction. 
Additionally, since the man had been living in that condition for over 40 years, the muscle tissue to his atrophied legs had to have been restored and he knew how to walk immediately apart from any physical therapy. That is an undeniable miracle and one that James Randi could “not deny.”
i) First of all, this piggybacks on a string of assumptions which, as I just noted, a secular debunker would never concede. 
ii) Secondly, Fred apparently has no inkling of how creative debunkers can be. In principle, a debunker could stipulated to just about everything Fred has claimed thus far, and still have an out. 
He could say, Yes, the man they saw everyday at the gate was congenitally crippled. But the "miraculously healed" man wasn't the same individual. Rather, that was his able-bodied identical twin! 
Think I'm making that up? Think again. That is Robert Greg Cavin's fallback position for the apparent resurrection of Christ. The man who died on the cross wasn't the man who reappeared on Easter. Jesus had a twin brother!
A secular debunker will say the existence of a twin brother is infinitely more likely than a healing miracle.
Consider the following fantasy scenario in the context of modern day miracles and what I am talking about…That’s a miracle that cannot be denied. Obviously something happened to this guy that is not explainable by the means of normal medical procedure.
I don't see how floating a hypothetically undeniable miracle is supposed to prove anything.
My point with recounting that little make-believe scenario is to say if people with the gift of healing are exercising that gift with regularity in churches as continuationists claim they are, then I wouldn’t have to research medical records and the like. The reality of the miracles would testify of themselves. A person with significant deformities or other serious medical issues would testify about his healing. His friends would testify to me about his healing.  Neighbors and townsfolk who knew the guy before he was healed would tell me of his healing. And most importantly, those who reject miracles, but would refuse to believe God’s healing in spite of him being healed, would testify about his healing, because it is “undeniable.”
i) Notice how Fred is conceding that secondhand evidence can be compelling evidence. But in that case, why did he previously say:
I too have read many accounts of modern miracles. I find them to be mostly hearsay and apocryphal.

ii) Notice how Fred rigs the answer: "If people with the gift of healing are exercising that gift with regularity in churches as continuationists claim they are…"
I haven't make that claim. To my knowledge, Jason Engwer hasn't make that claim. I haven't make any claim about the frequency of healers. 
iii) Why do MacArthurites chronically repeat the same fallacy? To say that "Acts 4:16-level miracles" aren't happening all the time doesn't imply that "Acts 4:16-level miracles" never happen. Why do MacArthurites keep making the illogical leap from "unless it happens all the time, it doesn't happen any  time"?
iv) Apropos (iii), for the umpteenth time, we have a MacArthurite reject an empirical claim a priori.  


  1. Fred Butler said:

    to the subjective evaluation of two sets of X-rays

    I'm assuming Fred is talking about before and after X-rays on the same parts of the same person's body?

    If so, let's take the case of the lame beggar's "feet and ankles" per Acts 3:7. Say we don't know if it is a bona fide miracle. Say we have sound and reliable X-rays showing the lame beggar's feet and ankles were totally misaligned or dislocated or otherwise highly abnormal immediately prior to meeting Peter and John, and sound and reliable X-rays showing the lame beggar's feet and ankles were perfectly normal immediately following Acts 3:7. Maybe something like this.

    Say we also have several trained medical professionals like radiologists at the ready to evaluate the X-rays. Some may be religious, others may be irreligious, others may be agnostic, some conservative, some liberal, etc. Just an average slice of the population of radiologists in the US.

    Should we automatically presume their evaluation of the X-rays will be "subjective" before they evaluate the X-rays? If so, why? Wouldn't it be better to take a neutral stance toward how they'll do their jobs prior to them doing their jobs?

    1. Fred Butler said:

      Obviously something happened to this guy that is not explainable by the means of normal medical procedure.

      But it's not so "obvious" to a secular debunker. Maybe the secular debunker will say he had congenital talipes equinovarus (aka club foot). Maybe Peter and John had been regularly but quietly repositioning, stretching, binding, and otherwise reshaping the man's foot or feet for a long, long while. In exchange, Peter and John had colluded with the man (among others) to make it all look like a miracle. Sure, it's highly implausible to consider this. But to a secular debunker this would more plausible than a bona fide miracle.

      Or maybe the secular debunker will say these ignorant ancients thought the man had a congenital abnormality whereas in truth whatever he had was more benign. Perhaps it was some sort of joint hypermobility. Perhaps it was triggered now and again, but likewise relapsed now and again. In any case, even if this is highly implausible, it's more plausible than a bona fide miracle to the secularist.

    2. Fred Butler said:

      The miracle wasn’t confined to...the subjective evaluation of two sets of X-rays.

      Of course, if we had such X-rays, a secular debunker could very well explain away the miracle by agreeing with Fred that there was a "subjective evaluation of two sets of X-rays."

    3. Patrick, you're a doctor. Luke says that the man had never walked and was over 40 years of age. He had atrophied legs. Meaning he had no muscle tissue. Furthermore, when he walked - for the first time mind you - he didn't have to have physical therapy to be trained to walk. This goes beyond comparing X-rays. His entire physical body would have changed in an instant.

    4. Hi Fred,

      Of course, if we look at it from a Christian perspective, I'm obviously quite sympathetic to what you've said.

      However, problems arise if we look at it from the secularist's perspective (e.g. James Randi). The secularist wouldn't necessarily grant all you've said. For example, a secularist could cast doubt as follows. Luke says the man was "lame from birth" which isn't necessarily equivalent to "never walked." Atrophied legs would be a possible inference, but not necessarily the case. Also, atrophied legs doesn't mean there's "no muscle tissue" at all, but rather diminished muscle mass. How do we know this was the first time the man walked? That may be the perspective of a first century person, but again not necessarily the case. Likewise, if x-rays aren't sufficient, the secularist could easily cite full body CT scans, whole body MRIs, PET scans, and many other investigations. A secular skeptic could easily go on and on.

  2. Steve wrote:

    "To my knowledge, Jason Engwer hasn't make that claim. I haven't make any claim about the frequency of healers."

    Neither have I.

    Acts 4:16 is telling us what some opponents of Christianity thought they could deny in Jerusalem (not throughout the world), under the circumstances explained in the surrounding context. How does somebody get from that passage to the conclusion that somebody like James Randi couldn't deny a modern miracle? Different people think they can deny different things, and a lot depends on the surrounding context. Scripture refers to God's existence and his creation of the universe as evident, yet many modern people, like Randi, deny both. But Fred seems to have added a qualifier to his initial claim. Now he's saying that Randi could deny a modern miracle in one sense, but not in another sense. Is he just saying that Randi shouldn't deny a modern miracle, even if he would choose to do so anyway? Is he saying that Randi would know in his heart that a miracle occurred, even if he denied it outwardly? If so, how is that relevant? And what about miracles that occur in a context that isn't much like the one in Acts 4:16? Why shouldn't we accept a miracle that seems to have occurred, but with less supporting evidence than we see in Acts 4? It's not as though circumstances like those in Acts 4 would have to be repeated each time. Not all Biblical miracles are the same as the one in Acts 4, and not all modern miracles would have to be the same.

    1. Jason, you get from that passage to James Randi by the very fact that a miracle on the level of what happened in Acts 3 and 4 is by its very nature undeniable. Believe me, if Stephen Hawking went to some Calvary Chapel meeting and was healed and was walking around speaking normally tomorrow, James Randi wouldn't be able to deny it. Doesn't mean, however, that he would believe in Jesus. Two separate things.

    2. Fred Butler said:

      Believe me, if Stephen Hawking went to some Calvary Chapel meeting and was healed and was walking around speaking normally tomorrow, James Randi wouldn't be able to deny it.

      But, Fred, that seems to miss the point. We're not debating whether a secular skeptic like Randi may not be able to deny Hawking "was healed and was walking around speaking normally." Rather, the secular skeptic could still deny it was a bona fide miracle. The secular skeptic could still attribute Hawking's condition to the non-miraculous. If this happened to Hawking, the secular skeptic would probably cite the highly implausible over a bona fide miracle. (Not unlike a secular skeptic citing panspermia for the origin of life.)

      For instance, the skeptic could cite spontaneous remission (e.g. here). The skeptic could cite misdiagnosis: "Hawking never had Lou Gehrig's disease, but a disease which mimicked Lou Gehrig's." The skeptic could even say there's a cure for Lou Gehrig's that modern medicine doesn't understand. That's a common fallback position for the skeptic.

    3. Fred,

      In addition to what Patrick has said, keep in mind how unusual Hawking is. He's unusually famous, and he lives relatively close to Randi, is frequently in the news, etc. What if such a miracle occurred with a less famous person in a more distant region of the world, a person with whom Randi is much less familiar? That would be easier for Randi to deny. Again, Acts 4 doesn't represent all Biblical miracles, let alone all extrabiblical miracles. You can't logically get from Acts 4 to the conclusion you're drawing from it.

  3. A Reformation Discussion of Extraordinary Predictive Prophecy Subsequent to the Closing of the Canon of Scripture by the Session of the PRCE