Cross-examining Bernadette’s healingFebruary 4, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Still digging my way through the comment backlog. I’ve worked my way up to Jayman’s response to the post on the healing of Bernadette McKenzie, and I think it’s worth discussion. [EDIT: sorry, that's the wrong citation. Jayman was responding to an earlier post, not the one on Bernadette's healing.]
Your calculation for the number of miracles that happen each day in the U.S. makes two unwarranted assumptions. First, it assumes that each miracle is experienced or witnessed by only one person. Second, it assumes that Americans who have experienced or witnessed a miracle did so on U.S. soil. Both your assumptions are false and therefore your number is wrong. You cannot accurately calculate the number of miracles that happen each day in the U.S. solely from the statistic I offered.
Your calculations from the Gospels are just as bad. First, the Gospels do not claim to recount every miracle Jesus worked nor the exact length of his ministry, making it impossible to calculate the number of miracles Jesus worked per day. Second, you compare the (wrong) number of miracles per day in the entire U.S. with the number of miracles performed per day by Jesus (apples to oranges).
First let me commend Jayman on his rigorous skepticism. I’m glad to see he’s not just taking my word for things, and that he’s carefully considering what I have to say. That’s an attitude that would make a difference if more people applied it to more situations.
I’ll stand by my calculations, though, at least as a rough estimate. If 48% of 300,000,000 people have seen a miracle in the past century or so, that’s still roughly 2,500 instances, on average, of some American witnessing a miracle each day. If you want to propose that some of these miracles happen outside the US, that’s fine, but you still have 2,500 miracle-witnessing events per day, on average, even if some of those instances involve the same witnesses. So neither of Jayman’s objections materially reduce the rate at which we ought to be seeing miracles, if the original statistic is correct.
Jayman next tries to explain why we still have no verifiable evidence of miracles, despite the remarkably high frequency with which people claim they are observed. He makes three arguments.
(1) Disagreements are the norm for humans. This would not be the only case where people can look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions.
(2) There are skeptics who will not believe in the supernatural regardless of the evidence provided and admit as much.
(3) The vast majority of miracles appear to be historical occurrences that cannot be anticipated beforehand. This rules out scientific investigation, at least in the sense of repeating the same thing over and over again.
Disagreements are a problem under two conditions: when we don’t have enough information to draw a reliable conclusion, and when the subject concerns matters of subjective opinion, belief, values, etc. If miracles are indeed being observed at the rate of 2,500 or so per day, there ought to be plenty of information on which to base a conclusion, and on the other hand, if miracles are purely a matter of subjective beliefs rather than objective reality, well, that rather settles that.
Blaming skeptics for the lack of evidence is a red herring, since one man’s refusal to look at the evidence is no reason why that evidence can’t be made available to the rest of us. Nor is lack of repeatability a serious obstacle, since science studies non-repeatable phenomena (the Big Bang, Mt. St. Helens, etc.) all the time.
Jayman then makes a claim that, by his own standards, is rather extraordinary.
I admit that people can be mistaken or careless when examining miracles and may believe a miracle happened when, in fact, none did (or the term “miracle” can be used in a non-supernatural sense). However, I also know there are many stories that have no natural explanation. Your attempted explanations for miracles do not adequately explain all miracles (which is the very thing you need to do in order to confidently assert God does not show up in real life).
He knows that many stories have no natural explanation. Not just that we currently don’t know what the explanation is, but that no natural explanation is even possible. This, I have to say, looks like a double standard to me: if I cannot prove that a natural explanation exists for each and every claimed miracle, then I’m not allowed to say God has not shown up in real life, but Jayman does not need to prove that each and every possible natural explanation is wrong before he can claim that no natural explanation exists. No fair!
But seriously, the problem here is not that I lack an adequate explanation for all reported cases of presumend miracles. I do have an explanation: people are not omniscient, and frequently fail to understand the causes of what they see, and often substitute superstitious attributions in place of explanations that are consistent with the real-world truth we do understand. Just because we do not currently understand what those causes are, does not mean that they do not exist. We are not God: we don’t cause things to exist by thinking them, and they don’t need our understanding in order to be real.
And in any case, as I mentioned before, if the miracle consists merely of our ignorance of the actual cause, then God still has not shown up, because if He had shown up we would no longer be in ignorance of what the cause was. The act of showing up in real life would be the extraordinary evidence which would suffice to demonstrate, not just the miracle, but the existence of God which the miracle is supposed to prove.
Oops, I skipped a paragraph. Jayman writes:
You and Tony were discussing whether our present day observations are consistent with what the Bible says and I hope he has further comments. You claim that the Gospels say God wants to spend time with us in person. Where? I can think of passages where he says he will send his Spirit, but I assume that is not “in person” in your mind. More importantly, the “us” given the Spirit is his followers, not just anybody.
Where in the Bible? John 3:16, for one, assuming that “love” is not some strange variation in which the One who loves has no desire to interact or associate, in any personal or tangible way, with those He allegedly “loves.” And note that the distinction between “His followers” and “just anybody” is irrelevant: God does not show up for believers, either, otherwise they would not be forced to resort to using appeals to ignorance and superstition as though these things were genuine miracles.
Well, I’m out of time for this morning, so we’ll pick up here tomorrow. Cheers.