Anatomy of a “miracle”November 23, 2007 — Deacon Duncan
An article at breakingchristiannews.com gives us a case study in how “miracles” manifest in the absence of God. The story concerns a kidnapped 6-year-old boy and his “miraculous” rescue, unharmed, only hours later. It’s a textbook case of giving God the credit for the accomplishments of men, of “tweaking” the details to create a more striking story, and of plain old superstition.
According to the Calgary Herald report, the boy and his 8-year-old brother were walking with two other boys, at about 3:20pm on Wed. Nov. 14th, when a man suddenly drove up next to them.
The man reportedly grabbed one boy by the backpack, who “wriggled free,” but the driver was able to pull the 6-year-old into his car, at knife point, and speed away. Although, extremely shaken, the abducted boy’s brother ran for help, and was able to give police a description of the man and his car, including identifying the type of vehicle, which helped authorities to narrow the search.
An Amber Alert was issued, however, reports state that the alert took three hours to set in motion. But it was during that time, before the Amber Alert was given, that God was already at work sounding His own alarm.
At this point, the author stops quoting journalistic sources, and gives a hearsay version of the rest of the story, as reported by Brenda Epp, who heard about the kidnapping through a church prayer chain.
What follows is the account given by Brenda Epp, of Canada, in her own words…
Right away I phoned my friend in Ontario. We prayed that angels would keep the boy safe, and that satan would be bound. [We prayed] that there would be a quick recovery of the child, and that something would happen to the vehicle.
Then I phoned the Wintering Hills Hutterite Colony [and asked] would they pray for a six year old boy that had just been abducted at knife point in Drumheller…
Another Hutterite, named Scotty, was traveling home from another colony nearby. He saw the [kidnapper's] vehicle parked on the side of a gravel road.
Scotty stopped and asked if the driver needed help. The kidnapper asked for directions to the Trans-Canada Highway. While they were talking, the boy tried to talk to Scotty, but the kidnapper told him to “shut up” four different times. Unaware of the kidnapping, Scotty gave him directions, and headed to the colony.
After Church, which was when Scotty had arrived home, some one mentioned the kidnapping. [Before long] when he sat down to pray, Scotty realized that he had just spoken with the kidnapper.
This was when he called the police. A police chopper, as well as several police cars that were already searching, [were] now [able to] concentrate all [their] efforts in one area [and soon the kidnapper was apprehended]. At approximately 7:50p.m., George called back saying the boy had been found.
At the time he was arrested, the man’s vehicle had run out of gas. The police would not have found him way out in the country back roads if the prayer chain hadn’t phoned me, and God hadn’t given me an urge to phone the Hutterites. This was definitely a miracle, not a coincidence!
Let’s begin by taking this story at face value. A boy is kidnapped. His brother immediately alerts the appropriate people and provides a specific an accurate description of the kidnapper’s car. Word of the kidnapping spreads very quickly, via both official channels and unofficial channels (such as the prayer chain). Though it does take a certain amount of time for the word to spread, it spreads very quickly. As it happens, one of those who eventually heard about the kidnapping had had some contact with the kidnapper, and contributed information that led to a swift(er) arrest. Oh, and the car had run out of gas.
What does this tell us? Obviously, that the more people you notify, the better your odds of getting a good lead. But what does it tell us about God?
Truth is consistent with itself, so if this story were a story about God intervening to rescue a kidnapped child, then it would be telling us that God is willing and able to provide us with the information we need to rescue abducted children. At the very least, it tells us that there is nothing to prevent God from lending a hand and from saving the young victims before any harm comes to them. Apparently, God is even supposed to be able to cause vehicles to malfunction so that the kidnappers are easier to apprehend.
So how often do abductions have miraculously happy endings? Sadly, not often. This story purports to show that there is nothing preventing God from helping to thwart attempted kidnappings, yet real life shows us that in most cases He does not do so. If it’s good to help catch a kidnapper, and bad to deliberately let the abduction succeed, then statistically we’d have to say that God’s actions are bad more often than they are good. It is certainly fantastic to hear that the boy in Drumheller was recovered safely, the Christians at breakingchristiannews.com are really damning God by asserting that He played some role in the process.
Then again, what is there to suggest that God actually did do anything? There is nothing supernatural about the actual chain of events. When you hear about a kidnapping, it’s only natural to mention it to others. When you’re in a prayer chain, it’s only natural to spread the alarm to other prayer chains and prayer groups you’re aware of. When you hear about a kidnapping, and realize that the kidnapper’s car matches one you saw earlier in the day, it’s only natural to report it to the authorities. And when you steal a car (as the kidnapper did), you naturally run the risk that it’s not going to have a full tank of gas. And it’s only natural to overlook minor details like the gas gauge when you’re in the middle of committing a felony and are expecting flashing lights behind you at any moment.
So even taking this story at face value, what we have here is an example of living superstition in action. Men act, and then Christians give God credit for the things men accomplish, even though God’s role in the affair is hazy at best, and puts God in a culpable and wicked position in the case of successful abductions. But can we even take this story at face value?
Putting the terms “Drumheller” and “kidnapper” into Google, we can easily locate news reports of the kidnapping. The story they tell, however, is somewhat different regarding certain key details.
Just hours after stealing a car in central Alberta, an 18-year-old man on the run from police called his mom from his cellphone to say he’d just abducted a boy near a Drumheller school.
What he didn’t know was that after he’d taken a white Pontiac sedan belonging to his mother’s boyfriend at around 1 p.m. Wednesday, she called the nearby Bashaw RCMP.
A police officer was sitting with her, gathering details of the theft, when the teen called.
Roughly 125 kilometres south, another mother had just learned her six-year-old son had been kidnapped at knifepoint near his school by a man driving a white Pontiac.
RCMP from across central and southern Alberta had already been notified of a possible abduction, and patrol cars were being dispatched toward highways to block as many roads out of Drumheller as possible.
The officer in Bashaw heard the kidnapping call and put the two together.
That’s rather a significant detail that’s missing from Brenda Epp’s version of the story. Not only do the police know who the kidnapper is, but they’re listening in as he calls his mom and tells her what’s happening.
Over the next critical moments in this stranger abduction, the Bashaw officer becomes privy to conversations between the 18-year-old and his mother, Hopkins said.
“He was phoning his mom, so we’re getting tidbits of what’s going on. From these conversations, we were able to narrow in on him.”
About three hours after someone tried to kidnap three boys on Wednesday afternoon just after the school bell rang — and successfully abducted one — the accused stepped out of the stolen car near Gleichen.
So the rescue happened not “way out in the country back roads,” but near Gleichen, less than a mile away from the Trans-Canada Highway. And while the “Christian” version of the story attempts to play down the official role of the authorities in putting out the alarm, the newspapers present a markedly different picture.
[After the kidnapping, the] young boy’s eight-year-old brother ran to his stepfather’s home for help. Police were called and arrived within minutes to interview the children, who police say were traumatized.
At 3:45 p.m. — nine minutes after the 911 call — information was already being dispatched to rural detachments in case the kidnapper was headed out of town, Hopkins said, adding that roughly 97 per cent of abductions are by a parent, family member or someone known to the victim.
“But 20 minutes after the call, we determined there was a stranger involved, and immediately activated every detachment within a 60-mile radius,” he said. “It became an immense search very quickly.”
At the same time, volunteers came forward to help.
While some family friends put together a missing person’s flyer with the young boy’s picture on it, others in the community jumped in their cars and scoured the streets. Firefighters hit the streets, and ATCO service drivers kept their eyes peeled for a white Pontiac G6. Drumheller’s emergency response team was mobilized.
The response was swift.
“This detachment has 13 members,” said Hopkins. “I had more policemen than patrol cars, so some officers were driving their own vehicles so they could be part of the search.
“It’s one of the biggest operations I’ve been involved with.”
Nor did the car run out of gas. The kidnapper was being followed by a police helicopter with a spotlight, aimed at his car, when he pulled over and surrendered.
Police won’t say exactly what time the accused kidnapper left Drumheller, but he drove southeast to Gleichen and eventually stopped on a dark rural road near highways 1 and 56, about 90 kilometres east of Calgary.
A Calgary police helicopter used its spotlight to flood the highway, so officers on the ground could close in.
No mention of the kidnapper asking a stranger for directions, or of police being tipped off by someone calling in after a prayer meeting. In fact, the kidnapper surrendered at 6:44pm, over an hour before “Scotty” reported hearing that the boy was safe. The “Christian” version of the story isn’t too clear on details like when the prayer meeting started, but it does mention that the prayer meeting which tipped Scotty off was “after church.” We know it was a weekday, because the kidnapped boy was on his way home from school, and it seems unlikely that a weekday church service would start much earlier than 6:00pm, or last less than an hour, so in all probability the ordeal was over before Scotty even called in his report.
It’s also rather probable that the driver Scotty helped was not even the kidnapper. According to a Nova Scotia newspaper, the kidnapper grew up in Drumheller and lived most of his life there, so it’s not too plausible that he’d need directions to the Trans-Canada Highway, which is pretty much a straight shot south from Drumheller.
So here we have all the elements of a classic Christian miracle story. We have details being omitted, extraneous information being added, non-supernatural events occurring, ordinary people accomplishing remarkable results, and God superstitiously being given credit for the whole thing, regardless of what this implies with regards to other abductions. The Brenda Epp version takes a hearsay story of a Christian with some connection to the kidnapping, and exaggerates it until it becomes the key that cracks the case, when in fact it’s not entirely certain that Scotty’s tip was even related. It’s a case study in inaccuracy, gullibility, and inconsistent thinking, and it’s a typical example of the kind of thing Christians regard as being genuine miracles. We have no reason to believe the “miracles” in the Bible are any different.