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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Miracles May Be More Common Than You Think

"Why aren't there more miracles today?"

That's a question I hear quite often from atheists, skeptics, or even Christians questioning the accounts they read in the Bible with what they experience in their own lives. Reading through the Old and New Testaments, one can get the idea that miracles were a fairly common occurrence. Jesus would go from town to town healing people of their diseases and giving sight to the blind. Peter and John heal a lame man1 in the book of Acts while later Paul even raises a man who died after falling out a window when listening to him speak!2



With so many miraculous events recorded in the Bible, why do we never hear of miracles happening today? The question is actually more and cursory; it formed one of the objections offered by David Hume, the famous British skeptic philosopher, who held that it was illogical to believe in miracles at all. Hume writes:
A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds with more caution: he weighs the opposite experiments: he considers which side is supported by the greater number of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and when at last he fixes his judgement, the evidence exceeds not what we properly call probability. All probability, then, supposes an opposition of experiments and observations, where the one side is found to overbalance the other, and to produce a degree of evidence, proportioned to the superiority. A hundred instances or experiments on one side, and fifty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance.



A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.3
To summarize, one of the ways Hume argues against miracle claims is that they cannot be believed simply because they occur so infrequently. (There are other arguments Hume offers, some of which I have dealt with elsewhere.)

As miracle accounts grow, what's considered unique?

However, miracle accounts may be reported and doctors may observe the results of miraculous healing more frequently than most people realize. Dr. Craig Keener, whose two volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts reports on hundreds of documented cases of miracle accounts around the world made an interesting point. In a Huffington Post article on miracles he writes "Today, however, when hundreds of millions of people from diverse cultures claim to have experienced miracles, it seems hardly courteous to presuppose a 'uniform' human experience on the subject. If any of these experiences constituted a genuine miracle, Hume's argument against miracles, which in some circles has hardened into an uncontested consensus, would fail."4

Some may say that Keener is uncritical or biased. Keener humbly understands that his capability in defining what counts as miraculous is limited. However, he doesn't rest solely on the accounts he has uncovered. He cites a fascinating 2004 survey of physicians conducted by HCD Research, a secular research company located in New Jersey. Keener states:
That some doctors would testify to miracles is not as surprising as one might suppose if one assumed that all intellectuals accepted Hume's view on miracles. In one 2004 national study of 1,100 physicians, 74 percent responded that they believed "that miracles have occurred in the past," while almost the same number, 73 percent, affirm that they "can occur today." The majority of physicians (59 percent) pray for their patients, and roughly 46 percent encourage patients to pray at least partly for God to answer their prayers. What might be the largest surprise in the survey, however, is that 55 percent of physicians claimed to "have seen treatment results in their patients that they would consider miraculous (emphasis added).5
The actual HCD Research press release with those findings may be found here. However, Keener's point is made. With the majority of physicians believing that they have seen a miraculous healing during their time of practicing medicine, I think Hume's argument is undermined. And those are only the miraculous interventions that physicians saw; it doesn't take into consideration all the miracles claims by people who didn't have the ability or didn't yet seek medical attention. Miracles may indeed be more common than you think!

References

1. See Acts 4:1-10.
2. Acts 20:9-10.
3. Hume, David. "On Miracles." In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. 30, 33. Print.
4. Keener, Craig S. "Are Miracles Real?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-s-keener/miracles-in-the-bible-and-today_b_1274775.html.
5. Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Print. 721.

2 comments:

  1. The HCD press release link was dead, found it this way though:

    http://204.12.61.19/News/MediacurvesRelease.cfm?M=228

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. The link has been updated.

      Delete

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