Thinking Christian

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Five Things You Have Wrong About Christianity

Posted on Mar 18, 2013 by Tom Gilson

Which of these do you believe are true about Christianity in today’s world?

1. Christianity in our age is primarily a North American/European religion.

2. The typical Christian in today’s world is a Bible-belt American.

3. Missionaries are usually Europeans or Americans going out to upset other cultures.

4. Christianity is under siege and being squeezed out by science, modernism, relativism, and/or some other contemporary “ism.”

5. Miracles are rare: few people today have seen a genuine miracle in answer to prayer.

Here’s the truth about these five items. The first four go together to start with.

North American/Bible Belt/Under Siege?

Jenkins The Next Christendom

Phillip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State, describes the situation this way:

The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning.

The fact of change is itself undeniable: it has happened, and will continue to happen.

Jenkins projects that Christians in Africa and Asia will increase by about 50%, from about 733 million in 2005, to 1.1 billion twenty years later. (His count includes nominal and cultural Christians, including many—especially in Europe—who would deny any belief in God.)

It is of course believing Christians who comprise the great global growth in the faith. Nominal/cultural Christianity is on the wane. Perhaps most jarring to Western awareness of the world is that the 20th century’s most successful social movement wasn’t Marxism, feminism, or environmentalism, but Pentecostalism, which grew from a mere handful in the early 1900s to hundreds of millions a century later.

J.P. Moreland reports further numbers in Kingdom Triangle (written in 2007, and one of the more important books of the last decade, in my view ):

Moreland Kingdom TriangleSome estimate that in 1970, there were around 71,000,000 born-again Christians with a vision to reach out to the entire world for Christ. By 2000, there were 707,000,000, roughly 11 percent of the world’s population! Up until 1960, Western Evangelicals outnumbered non-Western Evangelicals by two to one, but by 2000 non-Westerners (mostly Latinos, Africans, and Asians) lead by four to one, and the figure will be seven to one by 2010. Today more missionaries are sent from non-Western than Western nations.

Christianity is in excellent condition overall. God is clearly at work around the world.

Miracles

In his academically-oriented work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, Craig Keener soberly reports that

For these countries alone [ten countries with sizable Pentecostal movements], and for Pentecostals and charismatics in these countries alone, the estimated total of people claiming to have “witnessed divine hearings” comes out to [over 202,000,000]. Among Pentecostals, an average of 73.6% claim to have witnessed or experienced divine healing, and among charismatics the proportion is 52 percent. … We might be looking at claims of closer to three hundred million among them alone. … All such figures are merely estimates, but they give us the best current ballpark figure to work from. Even if for some reason we estimated only one-third of these figures, (a much greater margin of error than seems likely) the numbers are already enormous even before we add … the non charismatic claims. … More than one-third of Christians worldwide who do not identify themselves as Pentecostal or charismatic claim to have “witnessed divine hearings.”

Keener, MiraclesThroughout this massive book, Keener repeatedly emphasizes his doubts that all of these claims are genuine. His point, he tells us, “is simply to invite attention to what this survey indicates about the vast numbers of people worldwide who claim to have witnessed supernaturally effected hearings.”

He had a historical purpose in writing this book: to show that miracle claims do not by themselves reduce the New Testament’s credibility. In the course of his research, though, he dove deep into the philosophical questions. He goes on later to add,

Of course many of these claims would not withstand critical scrutiny, and presumably an even higher percentage would fail to persuade others predisposed not to believe. But those who would simply reject all healing claims today because Hume argued that such claims are too rare to be believed should keep in mind that they are dismissing, almost without argument, the claimed experiences of at least a few hundred million people. … In contrast to starting assumptions on which Hume built his case, it is no longer feasible to consider such claims rare.

And he was also unexpectedly into global research on miracle claims. Now, are any of these claims credible? First I would ask whether it’s credible to insist that every one of them is false! Surely someone among those hundreds of millions is capable of telling the truth and distinguishing between a psychosomatic recovery and a genuine healing!

I could introduce you to Connie in Hampton, Virginia, who was healed from severe epilepsy through prayer. Epilepsy does not go away through psychological manipulation. Or I could tell you about my own instantaneous healing from chronic bronchitis years ago. Or I could invite you to read the hundreds of pages of accounts Keener has compiled from all over the world: healings from blindness, cancer, lameness, epilepsy, heart disease, injury, and more.

The global growth of Christianity described above is in fact being driven by signs, wonders, and visions. Since I first heard about this six or seven years ago, every time I’ve had the chance I’ve been asking missionaries whether this was true where they worked. Every one of them has been able to report church growth through miracles.

It seems to happen more on the edge of global evangelization than in the West where the the faith is more established, but it’s hardly rare here. Keener’s examples from the Western world run to almost seventy pages, not including the documentation in the endnotes—which by the way comprises fully half of the 2,000 or so pages in this work.

I have witnessed fakes. I was at a rally in Anaheim where an all-too-famous and all-too-wealthy televangelist brought a man up on stage who proclaimed, “I’ve been healed of AIDS, but the devil is holding up the test results!” I just about choked. My friends and I left that meeting long before it was over.

All the phonies in the world, however, cannot negate the reality of God’s work when he does it for real.

Summary

Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. I know not all my readers are in the West, but most are, and for most of us, Christianity’s explosive global growth is invisible. We don’t see its shift to the south and the east, but it’s real. We don’t often see miracles, but for believers in many parts of the world, hearings and other signs are common.

God is more active than many of us realize. The world is not the way we thought it was.

108 Responses to “ Five Things You Have Wrong About Christianity ”

  1. JAD says:

    Christianity is in excellent condition overall. God is clearly at work around the world.

    What about the U.S. and western Europe?

  2. Larry Tanner says:

    On miracles:

    I once attended an event where the preaching folks promised that “Holy Spirit” would come and visit us.

    It was an exciting event. A long period of preaching/sermonizing, soulful music, dimmed lights, the incantation of the main prayer leader, the touching of people as they prayed together, the more emotional people who unabashedly showed how they were moved….

    From my POV it was clear there was no “Holy Spirit,” just people working themselves into a lather after an extended and taxing period of expecting the big moment to come. It was carefully and nicely choreographed, but hardly the work of supernatural spirits.

    Although I have no intention of verifying peoples’ miracle claims, I would not be surprised if most of them amounted to this adrenaline-enhanced mind over matter, or to happy accidents, or to attribution errors.

    I can already hear the charge from the gallery that I’m spiritually blind–a charge that, by the way, had been leveled for centuries against Jews because there needed to be an explanation on why/how Jews so badly misunderstood God’s criteria for true and false messiahs. Nevertheless, I happen to think I have as much spiritual discernment as anyone writing/commenting here.

    Of course, I am happy to reconsider my position. Just trot out the names of some amputees who have miraculously had their limbs return recently. (I know of one medieval/early modern story in this–ahem–vein.) What about a lost eye growing back?

  3. BillT says:

    Gee. Four paragraphs of anecdotal evidence followed by a preemptive “Hey, don’t criticize me ‘cuz I’m just as spiritual as you are” and an “I want God to do exactly what I say.” Larry just never disappoints does he?

  4. Victoria says:

    @Larry

    I can already hear the charge from the gallery that I’m spiritually blind–…Nevertheless, I happen to think I have as much spiritual discernment as anyone writing/commenting here.

    For your own definition of ‘spiritual’, I suppose ;)

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Spiritually blind?

    How about incorrigibly biased concerning empirical reality?

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    Would you settle for the dead being raised, Larry? Or is that too easy? See Chapter 12 of Keener’s book.

    You’ll also find that a person regained sight after destruction of the optic nerve, another after having the pupils (pardon me) eaten away by abscesses, a WWII soldier healed after losing his eye in combat. Reports of healing of blindness are currently common in Mozambique. A girl in Nigeria born without eyes gained sigh at age five. (Blindness is rarely if ever psychosomatic.) Keener reports multiple similar cases in the United States.

    He also tells of his wife’s sister being raised to life through prayer after a snakebite. She was about two years old at the time. Her breathing had stopped for three hours. Today she is fine.

    In Pasadena, CA, in 1982 (I was living there at the time) John Eric Cadenhead came back to life after forty or more minutes with no vital signs. He had no brain damage.

    In 2006, in West Palm Beach, FL, a heart attack patient so obviously dead that his face, toes, and fingers were turning black, and who had been declared dead by Dr. Chauncey Crandall, came back to life. “In my more than twenty years as a cardiologist,” he said, “I have never seen a heartbeat restored [after any cardiac arrest] so completely and suddenly.” There was no brain damage, and the patient’s extremities returned to normal.

    But hey, that wasn’t an amputee or a person with no eyes, so it’s not even unusual enough to bear a moment’s second thought. Or is it, Larry? I don’t want to force you into a corner defending your position here. I want to encourage you to re-think it on less biased terms.

  7. Holopupenko says:

    I am happy to reconsider my position. Just trot out the names of some amputees who have miraculously had their limbs return recently.

    Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Matthew 27:42)?

    Memo to Larry: it’s not about you or your self-serving tests. Direct your tests to God Himself, not to us: we’ll fail.

    The real miracle would be for someone who is “incorrigibly biased concerning empirical reality” to put 1 + 1 together. You want to see healing for its own sake; He wants to heal you for your own sake. You’re looking for little things from God; He wants to give big things to you. You want Him to release Himself from His own Cross; He wants you to join Him—through the Cross, yet on the other side of the Cross.

    Job means nothing to you?

  8. Alex Dawson says:

    In the same way that genuine miracles should not be dismissed out of hand, the possibility of unexpected recoveries being genuine unusual/unknown physiological ones should not be dismissed out of hand.

    In simple terms I think present day miracles should be regarded as possibly true, and a reasonable position to hold for a believer, but there is nothing like the evidence necessary to persuade others of their veracity in and of itself (as far as I’m aware).

  9. zim says:

    Why no healed amputations?

  10. BillT says:

    Why no healed amputations?”

    Specifically for you zim. Specifically for you.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    zim,

    It’s simple. God exists. He raises the dead. He heals the lame, the blind, even the dead. He cures epilepsy and cancer. But he knows that if he healed just one amputee, then you would be forced against your will to accept that he exists, and he doesn’t want to do that to you. I mean, supposing all he ever did was raise the dead and give sight to the blind, and everything else I’ve reported here. You still have an out!

    (I don’t know what that out actually is for you, but apparently you do.)

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    Before anyone trots out that hideous phrase, “God must hate amputees,” let me inform you that my amputee sister is very much aware of God’s love for her. There is more than one way a person can be loved.

  13. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    Those examples are pretty good. Perhaps they are miracles. I am open to that. You can understand that I could not decide the issue at this moment given the little information available to me. I would have to buy the book.

    Let me ask you how you determine for yourself what constitutes a genuine miracle. What sort of things meet the test for you and why?

    I don’t mean to say that my specific criteria for miracles need to be met. But you can certainly understand how the overnight re-appearance of a lost limb would be as clear a sign as possible, and one must wonder why the god doesn’t just make things easier on everyone. Otherwise, why do miracles at all? Don’t hold back, dude!

  14. SteveK says:

    Don’t hold back, dude!

    Funny you should say that. This is God’s position too – except he’s saying it of you. You’ve got the evidence you need for belief – whatever that may be for you – yet you keep demanding more and more. Don’t hold back, Larry, act on the evidence you’ve been given.

  15. BillB says:

    Tom, in my experience I’ve found that miracle claims are completely inaccessible, invisible and unverifiable to me. And that’s despite several years spent in a Charismatic church setting — miracle claims right left and centre!

    It’s a certainty that these people are often deluded about miracles; therefore it’s at least plausible that they are always deluded about miracles.

    If I’m wrong, I’d expect large scale hospital prayer experiments to bear out miracle claims. Without verification via the scientific method, all I have left to work with is anecdotes. At the end of the day, I am a product of my own experience and no one else’s.

    But he knows that if he healed just one amputee, then you would be forced against your will to accept that he exists, and he doesn’t want to do that to you.

    I don’t believe this for a second. I do not lose my freedom to choose something merely because the choice is obvious. Nor, on the other hand, does clouding the choice or withholding evidence somehow bring about freedom where none existed previously.

  16. zim says:

    zim,

    It’s simple. God exists. He raises the dead. He heals the lame, the blind, even the dead. He cures epilepsy and cancer. But he knows that if he healed just one amputee, then you would be forced against your will to accept that he exists, and he doesn’t want to do that to you.

    I’m curious how you know this knowledge about God’s motivations about which medical miracles to perform. Did he tell you this? Because it looks a lot like an ad hoc excuse to dismiss data that is inconvenient to the healing-miracles-are-real hypothesis.

    Also, how does providing evidence contradict free will? I accept that the Earth goes around the sun, because the evidence is overwhelming, but I don’t feel imposed on at all by doing this. If anything, being forced or guilted or scared into believing something *without* sufficient evidence would be a far greater violation of free will.

    I mean, supposing all he ever did was raise the dead and give sight to the blind,

    In ancient stories that could well have numerous legendary elements.

    and everything else I’ve reported here. You still have an out!

    That’s the great thing about contemporary miracles, and why they are so loved by certain apologists — you don’t have to rely on dubious claims about ancient, sometimes self-contradictory stories. Of course, you still have to deal with the issue of human gullibility, suggestibility, the possibility that doctors or alleged doctors will make mistaken diagnoses at some rate, the fact that a fair number of things (back pain, bronchitis) often get better on their own eventually anyway, placebo effect, etc.

    The interesting thing about amputations is that there is a lot less room for all of the above, since the injury is so obvious and unambiguous, and the natural healing abilities are so limited. And in this situation — poof, no miracles.

    I’m not arguing that miracles are impossible and absolutely certain to never have happened, just that skepticism is the most reasonable, rational position, especially when the above alternative hypotheses are being ignored.

  17. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    Although I have no intention of verifying peoples’ miracle claims, I would not be surprised if most of them amounted to this adrenaline-enhanced mind over matter, or to happy accidents, or to attribution errors.

    Does the fact that a mind has a certain amount of power over matter say anything about the possibility of miracles occurring? Hypothetically, if a person’s mind, in part, contributed to curing them of cancer, would that be a miracle or just more evidence that naturalism was true?

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    zim, the problem with your thesis is that “the above hypotheses” are not being ignored.

    If it’s evidence you insist upon, then I call your bluff. First, quit telling us that we’re ignoring hypotheses without having evidence that we are. You are quite blatantly speculating. Second, read Keener’s book and find out whether you can rationally support your hypothesis about our ignoring hypotheses.

    I am quite sure you’ll find out you’ve been jumping to conclusions, in the same irresponsible manner you have accused us of doing.

  19. Tom Gilson says:

    BillB,

    The problem with intercessory prayer studies is that it’s impossible in principle to design one. You could beg the question and assume there’s no God, on the one hand, but that’s obviously no good. Or you could hypothesize that God might be involved in the experiment, in which case it’s impossible not to have the experiment tainted by subject knowledge of what’s going on. Every psychology student knows that if the subject can knowingly manipulate the outcome for reasons or by methods unrelated to the effect being measured, you have no experiment.

    You can’t design a prayer experiment. Simple as that.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    The other thing, zim, is that I forgot to put sarcasm tags around my paragraph beginning, “it’s simple.”

    There’s actually substance behind what I wrote, which I can track down later when I’m not on my mobile. But I don’t really claim to know the mind of God the way I was pretending there.

  21. JAD says:

    Are the purpose of miracles to convince skeptics or reassure believers? (or both?)
    What’s the meaning of John 4:48?

  22. bigbird says:

    It’s a certainty that these people are often deluded about miracles; therefore it’s at least plausible that they are always deluded about miracles.

    Yes, no doubt people are sometimes deluded and it is possible they are always deluded. But I don’t believe the latter to be the case based on what I’ve seen.

    A few years ago my daughter (< 2 years old at the time) experienced total reversal of a bad eczema condition almost overnight. Medical opinion was that she might grow out of in it 4 years or so. After prayer for her at a church meeting in London, she was completely healed within a day or so. It's easy to be skeptical if you weren't present. But I was there (as were two other close friends), and I know what I saw.

    Another example – I'm not sure how big the Alpha course is in the US, but it is extremely popular in the UK and widely supported in Australia. In the course, it has a section on miracles, and features the story of a man healed of a crippling back injury. I know the man it features. There are plenty of people willing to testify to his healing.

  23. the Old Adam says:

    I don’t agree with #’s 4 or 5.

    But…I could be wrong.

  24. Keith says:

    Tom @19:

    Actually, you can do a prayer experiment. We’re doing a huge prayer experiment right now, with 100’s of millions of participants around the world.

    I think it’s reasonable to say that everybody who prays, prays about health, and those that pray about health, likely pray for healing for themselves or others.

    If God answers prayers for healing, a group of people should die at a different rate than others, or suffer disease at a different rate than others. And they don’t: everybody pretty much dies and suffers at the same rate, and where there is an anomaly, it’s because they share an environment, not a religion.

    For an example, see Japan, arguably the most healthy and the least Christian of any nation.

    Good grief, we know which car colors are more likely to be involved in accidents, at what time of day, and we factor that information into your insurance costs. Do you really believe no actuary would notice the Pentecostals living longer and healthier lives than everyone else? Or a change in national life expectance as more people convert?

    Either God doesn’t answer prayers for healing, answers them so infrequently we can’t statistically detect His interference, or additionally interferes supernaturally to prevent us from detecting his interference. I don’t see a fourth choice.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith,

    There are many studies showing that religious believers live longer and healthier than non-believers. I’m part of a mission organization whose health insurance premiums are much lower than the national average because we are healthier on average.

    There are many variables enterering into this, including levels of usage of tobacco and alcohol, for example. What you are describing is a correlational study, not an experiment. Social scientists are careful to keep the two methodologies distinct from one another, mostly because we know correlational studies in multiple-variable environments can’t identify which variable is responsible for which effect.

    So yes, there is correlational information that supports the theory that believers have better health than non-believers, and no, it is nowhere near being a prayer experiment. Sorry.

  26. Keith says:

    Tom @19:

    When you say you can’t design a prayer experiment because the subject can manipulate the outcome, I think you’re saying God can manipulate the experiment to remain hidden.

    Sure, agreed, but that argument leads to madness.

    If you assume God manipulates experimental outcomes, we owe Ken Ham an apology: the Genesis story is literal, the world is 6,000 years old, God created light in transit from other galaxies and dinosaurs never existed (the world was simply created with already-buried dinosaur fossils).

  27. Keith says:

    Tom @25: I see what you did there. Yes, there are studies showing religious believers live longer/healthier lives than non-believers in the same environment, but in those studies, the religion doesn’t matter. Believe in something (anything!) and the effect kicks in.

    Show me a study that Pentecostals live longer/healthier lives than other Christians, or other religious adherents in the same environment, and we’ll talk.

    Unless you’re arguing all religions are equal, and it doesn’t matter to which god you pray? :-)

  28. Holopupenko says:

    The “madness” is your own, Keith: because you’re imposing a disordered form of reality upon “real” reality that assumes ALL things are subject to experimental MES verification. That’s your underlying assertion. Please then apply your own rule back upon itself: please conduct an MES experiment that validates the underlying assertion that MES experiments validate all knowledge. Hint: if you don’t see the circularity embedded in your own worldview, then there’s really not much anyone can do for you.

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith,

    First of all, Holopupenko is right.

    Second, the assumption of which you accuse me in #26 is irrelevant. Because of what I wrote in #25, there is no possibility of designing a valid prayer experiment.

    Third, the correlational study you propose in #27 is a correlational study. It is subject to all the flaws of correlational studies. Here are two very salient and critical pitfalls in your suggestion: Pentecostals are not the only Christians who pray for the sick and believers are not the only persons who are prayed for.

    Fifth, I don’t agree that it doesn’t matter to which God I pray, and I have multiple reasons besides the one we’re discussing now. This is just one dimension among very many, measured in a most unreliable manner.

  30. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    Christian’s pray for the unsaved and for people of other faiths too. This kind of ruins your ‘experiment’.

  31. Billy says:

    BillB,

    Following on from Tom’s response, can you explain to me how you would create a control group that under no circumstance received prayer? For example, how would you propose we determine that great aunt Betsy or a neighbour has not prayed for healing? Additionally, you would have to explain why God would be bound to the methodology of a prayer trial. The claim isn’t that God is a slot machine and prayers are coins. The claim is that God is sovereign and his plans are his own. Prayer trails don’t change either.

    If I submitted the results of a drug trial in which there was no confidence that some or all members of control group had not, during the course of the trial, received the drug then any results would be invalid. Prayer trials are fundamentally flawed whatever their results.

    @Tom Gilson

    I was going to send you a personal message about an aspect of miracles that I’ve recently been challenged on in hopes that you would consider doing a post on the topic. However, what I was going to ask you ties nicely into what is being discussed here.
    The claim that I’ve encountered is that one can not appeal to miracles because:

    a) miracles are inherently unlikely (which makes me wonder if we could ever define what “unlikely” is should we then deny any and all unlikely occurrences)
    b) using miracles as evidence for God is circular reasoning. Miracles are events caused by God and you can’t appeal to a miracle without first accepting that God exists. Of course, if one is a hyper-sceptic it means that in principle, and under no circumstance, can anything ever be said to be miracle.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    Billy, it’s true that hyper-sceptics can discount the reality of miracles, but it’s also true that in the Bible, miracles were intended partly (as “signs”) to convince the doubtful. If nothing else, the unbeliever may well be persuaded to think, The world is not the way I thought it was.

  33. Ray Ingles says:

    Establishing that many people claim miracles happen, while devastating to Hume’s argument, is not the same thing as establishing that miracles happen.

    First I would ask whether it’s credible to insist that every one of them is false! Surely someone among those hundreds of millions is capable of telling the truth and distinguishing between a psychosomatic recovery and a genuine healing!

    Even establishing that something strikingly out of the ordinary happened is not the same thing as establishing that a miracle occurred. After all, these days a one-in-a-billion chance happens six times a day on average.

    It’s certainly possible – probable – that there are phenomena out there we don’t understand yet. But Keener mentions ‘miracles’ that don’t seem to fit the Judeo-Christian paradigm, so it’s not clear that’s the answer either. And Keener’s focus – reiterated many times – was to establish that there are lot of miracle claims. The work of verifying such claims has, even as the book itself states, just begun.

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    It matters whether Hume’s argument gets devastated, as many people still call on it as if it were valid. But of course! multiple miracle claims are not proof that miracles happen. In this case, they only amount to proof that either some miracle(s) has/have happened, or of 300,000,000 people claiming miracles, not one of them has been both trustworthy and able to distinguish a miracle from some other unusual incident.

    Otherwise I generally agree with what you’re saying. Thanks.

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, and as for 1 in 1 billion happening six times a day: it matters whether it happens randomly or whether it’s associated with prayer.

  36. Keith says:

    Holopupenko @28, Tom @29:

    You’re mischaracterizing my position: I did not say all things are necessarily subject to experimental verification. While I believe that, I obviously cannot prove it. And yes, there are underlying assumptions in the argument, I never claimed there weren’t. I note that’s true for the Christian view as well, as someone once said, “We’re all tugging at the same bootstraps.”

    If you want to argue God suspends the physical laws of the Universe in order to hide his existence, that’s fine by me, but then you have no argument against Ken Ham: God could have created light in transition, and it just looks to us like the Universe is old, or, more simply, God interferes with every single radioactive decay experiment we run to make the earth look older than it is.

    If you don’t want to argue that God is constantly suspending the physical laws of the Universe in order to hide his existence, the lack of any statistical correlation between prayer and real-world effects should be a troubling fact for anyone believing in intercessory prayer.

  37. Keith says:

    Tom @29, SteveK @30:

    If you want to argue Christians pray for the health of random strangers in other countries just as often as they pray for their own health, and that somehow blows the correlation, well, I have attended more prayer services than I can count, and not one of them focused on the health of random strangers in other countries.

    Maybe God heals a random person from every faith every time he heals in response to a Christian prayer for health, and that’s why we cannot detect his interference?

  38. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    it matters whether it happens randomly or whether it’s associated with prayer.

    Given how much prayer goes on anyway – much of it not answered ‘yes – how would you establish such an association? Keith in #37 seems to argue that no such association could be demonstrated…

  39. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    In this case, they only amount to proof that either some miracle(s) has/have happened, or of 300,000,000 people claiming miracles, not one of them has been both trustworthy and able to distinguish a miracle from some other unusual incident.

    There haven’t been quite so many UFO sightings, but there have still been plenty. Do you think they all failed to recognize swamp gas instead of an actual alien spacecraft?

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, what I want to argue is what I have argued. This is not the kind of question for which a valid experimental design can be developed, and a correlational design is subject to far too many confounding variables to be of any use.

    I know what I’m talking about here. I’ve studied research methods at the grad level. I’ve had PhD level statistics training as part of my research- and quantitative-oriented MS in a branch of social psychology. I’m not making this stuff up; it’s standard research protocol I’m talking about here.

    I don’t usually resort to answers that go, “I know you’re wrong because I’m trained in this field.” Usually I present the actual argument. I don’t prefer to make an appeal to authority, where I am the authority I’m appealing to.

    But this time, having presented the argument (above) as fully as I can without inviting you to take a class in research methods, I think it’s appropriate for me to say that I’m sure you are wrong based on my professional training in a relevant discipline.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    The disanalogies in your attempted analogy are too obvious and numerous for me to bother specifying them. You should know better.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Re: #38, you’re right. That’s what I’ve been arguing. I only brought this up as a sort of hypothetical answer to a hypothetical point.

  43. Keith says:

    BillT @10:

    You say “specifically for Zim”, but why not specifically for Zim?

    God loves Zim, God doesn’t want Zim to “perish”.

    I point to Gideon in Judges, where God repeatedly demonstrates his will, on demand, using a fleece. What is it about Zim that God refuses to explicitly reveal himself?

    Tom follows @11 with the argument that God refuses to do anything that would force us to accept Him.

    That implies God limits Himself to healing only diseases we don’t fully understand, within groups of people who already believe in Him. Or, each miracle could be precisely categorized based on the non-believers present, ensuring it’s not sufficiently explicit to force anybody to convert. (“Zim would be forcibly converted by an amputee growing a new limb, so that’s out, but he won’t be converted by a cancer remission or two, so that’s OK.”)

    I note Tom’s view is not widely held in evangelical circles: the books documenting miracle upon miracle invariably include a laundry list of non-believers who converted as a direct result of the supernatural event. It’s a fundamental piece of the genre, where the story is told as a Damascus Road experience.

  44. BillB says:

    @Tom,

    I don’t understand why it is impossible to design a large scale healing prayer experiment. Here is one such double blind experiment:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0021968165900408

    Sure, these suffer from the limitations of all correlational studies. No, we couldn’t guarantee that control group subjects were never prayed for. Naturally, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions from poorly designed or preliminary studies. Any result would have to be reproduced in subsequent studies (the more the better). And of course, there are probably lots of variables that we need to control for.

    Regardless, it seems to me we should be able to statistically detect God’s interaction with the world — in an empirical, replicable way.

    Indeed, when I was a Christian I couldn’t understand why believers themselves weren’t commissioning such studies all over the place! If you’re already making numerous miracle claims, how can it possibly hurt to have them independently verified?

    @Billy,

    I agree that God cannot be treated like a slot machine. But I don’t see any reason why His actions in the world could not be studied statistically, on a large scale.

    Otherwise, you would have to believe that God withholds healings that He otherwise might grant (were it not for the experiment) from potentially thousands of people, just to confound the results and remain “hidden”.

    I don’t see how this should be remotely necessary or “loving”. A much simpler conclusion — should experimental results turn out to be verifiably negative — is that the prayed-to god does not exist.

  45. SteveK says:

    I point to Gideon in Judges, where God repeatedly demonstrates his will, on demand, using a fleece.

    God acted because someone demanded he act and God was obligated – you’re kidding, right?

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    BillB, they called this a double-blind clinical trial. Did they put a blindfold on God, too?

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    Verifying miracle claims is another matter, though. I think that’s possible, and it’s been done.

    As for God’s actions being studied statistically, on a large scale, I would suggest that it would be hard to tease out God’s actions from God’s actions. Speaking on a large scale, he created and sustains everything. That’s a lot to have to control for statistically. I suppose the best way to do it would be to compare this reality to another entire reality that he doesn’t influence. (I’m speaking only partly tongue in cheek there.)

  48. Keith says:

    Tom @40:

    I disagree (and no, I’m not going to whip mine out in public, but yes, I believe I know something about this stuff).

    The existing prayer studies are relatively solid within their limitations (God may, in fact, choose not to be measured).

    Based on those studies, I see no alternative to one of the following:

    1: Prayer is somehow more complex and nuanced than Matthew 18:19-20 would lead us to believe (and more complex and nuanced than how it’s practiced by the majority of Christians, for example, the Prosperity Gospel isn’t exactly subtle),

    2: God doesn’t supernaturally answer intercessory prayer, or,

    3: God supernaturally answers intercessory prayer, but explicitly conceals that fact (either through His selection of prayers to answer and/or additional supernatural intervention).

    What other possibility is there?

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    4. The people who “weren’t prayed for” had friends praying for them.

    5. Your option 3 is partly true: God conceals his action specifically when he’s being asked to perform like a slot machine or a trained monkey, since if he complied with the experiment he would be telling the world something false about himself.

  50. Keith says:

    Steve K @45:

    I never said God was “obligated”. (Not to criticize: I said “on demand”, so I understand how you got from there to “obligated”. To clarify, I should have said “on request” instead of “on demand”.)

    Here’s the story from Judges 6: Gideon didn’t believe what God told him, so he made a request for physical evidence, had his request granted, made a second request for physical evidence, and had his request granted again. All without the slightest push-back from God, apparently God had no problem with Gideon’s obvious disbelief.

    If that’s not treating God “like a slot machine”, then I simply don’t understand how you’d distinguish between the two.

    I’m asking for a single amputee to be unambiguously healed. What’s the big deal?

  51. SteveK says:

    6. The people who “weren’t prayed for” had God working in their lives despite nobody praying for them because God had something good that he wanted to accomplish.

  52. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you, Steve.

    Keith, you won’t accept someone being raised from death, will you?

    Here’s the thing: suppose God did every brand of miracle for you except for the healing of amputees. Would his refusal to heal amputees prove that there is no miracle-working God?

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    I got to thinking about how ironic this discussion has been — but no….

  54. Keith says:

    SteveK @51:

    What I hear you saying is that people praying, resulting in God’s supernatural intercession in people’s lives, and additionally and separately, God supernaturally intervening in people’s lives in order to accomplish His will, just happens to result in statistical behavior that looks like nobody is intervening supernaturally in any way at all.

    Maybe I’m ridiculously simplifying or misstating your argument, but that’s where I see you going.

  55. JAD says:

    The problem with “an argument from modern day miracles” that my fellow Christians are making here, is that the argument is highly inductive and therefore suffers from all the problems that arguments based on inductive logic suffer. For example, the skeptic can always find an out because based on the presuppositions of his world view miracles are just not possible, so there has to be some other “rational” explanation.

  56. BillT says:

    Keith,

    From zim’s comment he identifies himself as someone who wants a God who he can tell what to do. He wants a God that jumps through his hoops on command. He is someone who is challenging God to prove himself.

    On the other hand Gideon, who believes in God and is God’s appointed, is asking for God to confirm to him a great task set before him. zim is as I described above. That there is absolutely no parallel between zim and Gideon should be reasonably apparent to most anyone.

  57. Keith says:

    Tom @53:

    I will absolutely accept someone being raised from death. You show that, and I’m in line.

    I’ve said this before: it is an act of will for me to be atheist. I wasn’t raised that way, I think the human brain is wired to believe in supernatural beings, and it would simply be a lot nicer if there was a god in heaven and things can be trusted to turn out for the best in Leibniz’s “the best of all possible worlds”.

    Show me evidence and I’m there. (But I mean evidence, not “Thousands of people rose from the dead with Jesus, and we know that because it says so in the Bible which is infallible because the Bible says so!”)

    Of course, evidence implies God forcing me to convert against my will, which you say He won’t do (millions of “miracles” and converts as testified to by other Christians to the contrary), no matter how much I might desire it.

    Here’s a question: when Jesus did miracles for the crowds, was that different? Why did God do miracles for non-believers then, but now He’s got to hide Himself? God “forces people against their will” for centuries, but now the rules have changed?

    In summary, if the teacup on my desk turns into a live mouse in the next 30 seconds, I’m going to sincerely and honestly confess my belief in under a minute, posting to follow. That seems much less intrusive into the natural order than raising the dead.

    Here’s betting it doesn’t happen: God apparently raises people from the dead, miraculously heals millions, dampens or dries fleece on request… but I’m not going to get my teacup-to-mouse transition.

  58. Holopupenko says:

    I’m sorry, but this really is just plain stupid, and likely also contributed to Tom’s post on atheists having either little clue about science or how to apply it:

    @ 38 Given how much prayer goes on anyway…

    Well, let’s see some science to back up your claim, Ray: where are the numbers… or are your personal anecdotal accounts supposed to be good enough? Even if you could provide the numbers, what’s the base line against which “how much” is “enough” to qualify against your personal, subjective arbitration of what counts?

    You want some fairly good empirical evidence? Try me: I pray WAY too little… so, I can assure you that your “God jump through Ray’s hoop” game will fail with me. “… how much prayer…?!?” If only that were the case!

    Are you REALLY so foolish as to think “prayers in = effects out” is how science–let alone the topic at hand–works? You think this is all going to fold neatly into your sophomoric accounting game? Your own web site is chuck full of junk interpretations of science and bad science… and no I’m not going to get baited in to playing your game: anyone with half a brain tied behind their backs can see how atrociously unfamiliary you are with science per your website.

    You, like Keith and the other atheists here are LIARS like the Pharisees were liars: NO amount of miracles will work for you–none. You’re liars because you claim openness to be convinced otherwise, but you do everything possible to shut your minds as tight as possible. Why? Precisely because you a priori shut out any possibility by subjecting all evidence and reasoning to MES validation.

    That’s you’re a priori commitment–no demonstration of your worldview is necessary, no questioning is permitted: Ray asserts it, he believes it, that settles it. There are no miracles because science-challenged Ray says so.

    So, go ahead and prove me wrong: where are your prayer numbers? Where’s your baseline? Why don’t you attempt, for perhaps the first time in your life, to go beyond your presuppositions and actually do the science? Why? Because you’re committed to the biggest, most jealous, and most bloodthirsty lie there is: atheism.

  59. Holopupenko says:

    @ 58 I’ve said this before: it is an act of will for me to be atheist.

    Exactly… too bad that will wasn’t informed by reason. Will to power: atheism… as if “Divine hiddeness” was a topic discovered by atheists.

    They walk among us, folks.

  60. SteveK says:

    What I hear you saying is that people praying, resulting in God’s supernatural intercession in people’s lives, and additionally and separately, God supernaturally intervening in people’s lives in order to accomplish His will, just happens to result in statistical behavior that looks like nobody is intervening supernaturally in any way at all.

    What you ought to hear me saying is that experiments that cannot control the one variable that it wishes to control are not considered scientific experiments.

  61. BillT says:

    “Why did God do miracles for non-believers then, but now He’s got to hide Himself? God “forces people against their will” for centuries, but now the rules have changed?”

    Aren’t you ignoring something. Lots of people who saw and knew of His miracles back then didn’t become believers. Probably more than did. God has never broached anyone’s free will. As far as evidence, there is lots of that available as well. It remains your choice whether to accept it or not.

  62. Keith says:

    BillT @56:

    God revealed His will to Gideon. Gideon wasn’t confident in his understanding of God’s revelation, and he asked for, and was given, unambiguous physical evidence.

    Christians say God has revealed Himself to me, and based on that revelation I should accept His gift of salvation.

    How am I different, other than Gideon already believed?

    Is there a Bible verse that says “no physical evidence, unless you already believe”?

    I guess that explains the whole “no miracles in front of the non-believers, because it violates free will” (except for the miracles of Jesus and the claimed millions of supernatural interventions since then).

  63. BillT says:

    Keith,

    Please tell me this isn’t the first time you have realized that God treats His people differently than those who deny Him. This also should be reasonably apparent to most anyone. But do remember that I used to someone who denied Him. You aren’t being denied anything that prevents you from making any choice you want.

  64. JAD says:

    (per my comment @ #55) Let me give you an example of what I mean from my personal life.

    About ten years ago I was attending a non-Pentecostal church which had “the world’s friendliest usher”, a middle aged man named Joe. Joe had a way of making anyone he showed to their seat feel very welcome. He was always friendly and happy but not in an overbearing way. Joe was definitely a “people person.”

    However, one Sunday Joe wasn’t there. The pastor announced from the pulpit that Joe had been involved in a serious accident, while out riding his snowmobile that weekend. He had suffered severe brain trauma and was in a coma. The first concern of the doctors is whether or not he would survive. But then if he did survive, what kind of life would he have? The prognosis, the pastor told us, was not good. Of course, we prayed that Joe would have a full recovery.

    Two weeks later guess who was back in church. Guess who was back in his role as the worlds friendliest usher. You guessed it, Joe! It was like nothing had happened.

    I would describe Joe’s recovery as miraculous. I am sure the doctors described it that way, as did the reporter from the local newspaper. Of course, the term miraculous means different things to different people.

    Okay atheists, how do you explain that one? I know you have explanations. I know you have yours “outs”. I am just curious as to what they are.

  65. SteveK says:

    How am I different, other than Gideon already believed?

    That’s like saying how is my neighbor different, other than not being a part of my family? Well, the part about not being a part of your family has real implications (duh). You do things for your family that you don’t do for your neighbor – and it isn’t a moral failure on your part to treat them differently because they are different relationally.

    Your neighbor is still very valuable and you should love them, but the relationship is not the same. Those that are saved by God’s grace have a different relationship with him than do those who are not and they can expect to be treated differently – except when God’s grace is extended.

  66. SteveK says:

    Okay atheists, how do you explain that one?

    Obviously this was a case where punctuated evolution was at work. ;)

  67. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    That’s what I’ve been arguing. I only brought this up as a sort of hypothetical answer to a hypothetical point.

    I guess I’m still unclear. We both agree that unlikely things happen. Apparently we also agree that we would expect a certain number of unlikely things to happen, just by sheer chances. (Do we agree on that latter one?)

    Now, you said in #35 “it matters whether [something really unlikely] happens randomly or whether it’s associated with prayer.”

    In #38, I’m basically asking how the association could be established. You’re saying that statistical studies of prayer are impossible (#49 if I’m following you – which seems to say ‘there’s no way to prove someone wasn’t prayed for’). So how is the association to be established?

    If you’re saying that association can’t be established, I guess I don’t understand what the point of comment #35 is.

  68. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – My understanding (and I am not a doctor) is that in cases of brain trauma – severe concussion and the like – it puts metabolic stress on the brain cells, which leaves them very sensitive to any other stress, even normally-unimportant changes in blood pressure.

    If there’s swelling of the brain, inflammation and the like, you can therefore be in real danger of severe brain damage. A coma can actually reduce the metabolic rate in the brain, and prevent cells from dying during the swelling – that’s why comas are sometimes medically induced.

    So Joe’s coma may actually have helped save his brain from greater injury! No denying that, as described, he was very lucky, though. Note: he should avoid any further concussions, as people who’ve had TBI can be more sensitive to re-injury.

  69. Ray Ingles says:

    Holopupenko – If you don’t want to have a conversation with me, I don’t see why I should bother responding to you. I will point out one specific mischaracterization, though, for grins:

    Are you REALLY so foolish as to think “prayers in = effects out” is how science–let alone the topic at hand–works?

    I’m asking for followup from someone specifically claiming that “it matters whether” the effects are “associated with prayer”. I didn’t ask about causation, just correlation.

  70. Keith says:

    JAD @64:

    More generally: there are “miraculous” recoveries we can’t explain scientifically, and they don’t statistically happen for the adherents of one religion more than any other religion.

    In other words, Joe recovered “miraculously”, but so did Bob, Ted and Alice, in the same way, and they weren’t Christian.

    If more Christians recovered “miraculously” than atheists, we’d have something to discuss, but that’s not the case.

    Of course, maybe God gives the same number of “miraculous” recoveries to all faiths, or randomly provides “miraculous” recoveries, but either of those choices devalue prayer.

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray @#67, I wasn’t suggesting that this was easily measurable. It’s purely hypothetical.

    @#68: Don’t you suppose this person’s neurologist had ever heard of that possibility?

  72. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    You say this:

    More generally: there are “miraculous” recoveries we can’t explain scientifically…

    All this time you’ve been saying God isn’t explained scientifically, therefore (insert false conclusion).

    Do you see the irony here?

    (edited for clarity)

  73. Holopupenko says:

    @38 Ray: [Trying to sound scientific] “Given how much prayer goes on…”

    @58 Holo: “Where are the numbers… or are your personal anecdotal accounts supposed to be good enough? Even if you could provide the numbers, what’s the base line against which “how much” is “enough” to qualify against your personal, subjective arbitration of what counts?

    @69 Ray: [utterly failing to be scientific by not supporting @38 assertion, but instead deflecting to something else… and that incorrect as well] “… mischaracterization…”

    Atheism: FAIL – scientifically, philosophically, logically, humanly.

    Got those numbers for us yet, Ray… or may we expect another deflection? Got any sound arguments to support your scientistic worldview?

  74. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK, comment 65:

    Okay atheists, how do you explain that one?

    We explain it exactly the same way you do: we don’t know. We don’t know the person or his history. We weren’t actually there. We really cannot speak intelligently about that case because there’s too much we simply do not know.

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, would you consider God’s intervention to be one of the explanatory options?

  76. SteveK says:

    That was JAD’s question, not mine.

  77. Keith says:

    BillB @44:

    Your post got somewhat ignored, but I’d like to give it a +1.

    There’s no reason we wouldn’t statistically detect God’s interaction with the physical world, other than the Christian assertion that God refuses to reveal Himself explicitly.

    That assertion is made without evidence and explicitly contradicts the many, many historically claimed and Biblical examples of God explicitly revealing Himself to thousands at a time.

    I note that people used to see the Virgin Mary all that time. Seriously, it was like a right of passage for teen-age girls to be visited by the Virgin Mary, there are places with literally thousands of reported sightings.

    Until the invention of the camera.

    In the same way the invention of the camera “prevents” the Virgin Mary from appearing to people today, I believe the invention of medicine and statistics “prevents” God from supernaturally interceding in the physical world nearly as much as previously.

  78. Keith says:

    SteveK @72:

    I’m not following; I don’t think God exists, so I’m not sure where I’d have said “God isn’t explained scientifically”?

  79. Keith says:

    Tom, @OT:

    Tom, when you say “I would ask whether it’s credible to insist that every one of them is false!”, what about the miracles of Islam, or the miracles of Buddhism, or the miracles of Hinduism?

    Is it credible to insist that every one of them is false?

  80. Ray Ingles says:

    Holopupenko – I am (a) not making an assertion, but asking a question, and (b) the question itself is about a different topic than what you’re getting all worked up over. So your accusation fails twice over.

    It’s odd that you didn’t tackle Billy back in #31 where he’s effectively claiming that there’s enough ‘background prayer’ to hopelessly contaminate any ‘control group’. Now, him you can hit up for numbers.

  81. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I wasn’t suggesting that this was easily measurable.

    If I understand you correctly, you’re actually suggesting it’s not measurable at all. Is that correct?

    Don’t you suppose this person’s neurologist had ever heard of that possibility?

    JAD also noted that “Of course, the term miraculous means different things to different people.” As I said, given the description Joe was certainly really lucky – which may be what the doctors meant when they “described it that way”.

  82. JAD says:

    Ray re: #68, Keith re: #70

    Of course, a lot of the information I have about Joe is second hand. However, I did learn from Joe first hand that he believed his recovery was miraculous. Is his belief mistaken? If it is, how, on the basis on your world view, do you know that? Do you know that he is mistaken with absolute certainty?

    If you had a chance to meet Joe at a Starbucks and he told you the story of his miraculous recovery, would you try to talk him out of his fallacious beliefs? Why, or why not?

  83. Tom Gilson says:

    Not measurable by any reasonable means, Ray.

  84. Tom Gilson says:

    The miracle reports in other religions are way fewer than those of Christianity, Keith. If there are any genuine acts of supernatural power, that could be consistent with, say, the encounter Moses had with Pharaoh’s magicians.

    But the “miracles of Islam” are a sham. You cannot believe the Qu’ran is miraculous unless you believe it’s something other than what it is.

    And when miracles are few in number as for example your Buddhist and Hindu miracle links, it does become quite feasible to think that the claimants are deceived and/or deceivers.

  85. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Not measurable by any reasonable means, Ray.

    Okay. As I asked again in #67, “So how is the association to be established?” Could you expand on, or clarify, what you meant in comment #35?

    JAD – If I met Joe, I’d first ask what he meant by ‘miraculous’. “Really unlikely” or “impossible”? As I’ve already said, I’d agree that he was really lucky.

    Do you know that he is mistaken with absolute certainty?

    I don’t know anything with “absolute” certainty – as I’ve said before, I haven’t received any divine revelations. Varying degrees of uncertainty are all humans get so far as I can see. As described, I don’t see how natural law was violated in this case.

  86. Tom Gilson says:

    What I meant in #35 was what I wrote.

  87. Keith says:

    JAD @82:

    Is his belief mistaken? Almost certainly.

    Why? If a million coin-flips result in “heads”, you don’t have to actually see the millionth-and-first coin flip to be confident of the result.

    I cannot know he is mistaken with absolute certainty.

    Nor can I know with absolute certainty you are mistaken in your belief that invisible unicorns frolic on your lawn. All I can say is that it’s very, very improbable.

    Would I try to talk Joe out of his beliefs? No, Joe’s beliefs on this specific topic bring little or no harm to anyone.

  88. Tom Gilson says:

    Wow.

    Analogous analogy, anyone?

  89. Tom Gilson says:

    I was referring to the invisible unicorns.

    As to the coin-flip thing, what on earth does a rigged coin have to do with natural events and/or exceptional occurrences?

  90. Keith says:

    Tom @89:

    Let me get out in front of that post — I wasn’t trying to be nasty.

    I’m saying miracles are like coin flips with a rigged coin: if the first million miraculous claims don’t demonstrate a supernatural occurrence, why would the millionth-and-first be different? Without details, you can still be relatively confident the claim won’t demonstrate a supernatural occurrence.

    JAD asked if I was “absolutely certain”. I’m not “absolutely certain” about anything, including miracles and unicorns.

    (I did not mean to imply Christian beliefs are equivalent to believing in unicorns, or that JAD actually believes in unicorns, and I can see how any analogy including the word “unicorn” might tend to set a Christian’s teeth on edge. Apologies all around.) :-)

  91. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    What I meant in #35 was what I wrote.

    I’m not a hostile inquisitor, I’m not laying some kind of rhetorical trap for you, and I’m not making fun of you.

    I don’t understand what you wrote in #35, so I’m asking for clarification. In other words, I’m having trouble deriving what you meant from what you wrote. So I’m asking. Nicely, or at least so I intend.

  92. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks, Ray.

    I don’t sense you’re being malicious or anything. I just don’t know what to add to what I wrote.

    Rare occurrences are what they are. If they happen, they happen. If they happen more often where there is prayer, then that means something. Measuring that on a grand scale is impossible. It’s not impossible, on the other hand, to assess miracle claims and find out whether they are (a) real, and (b) associated with Christian prayer. That’s what Keener’s book does, in a sense.

    If conditions (a) and (b) are met more often than (a) without (b), then quite arguably you have something else, a set of mere apparent miracles. But if (a) and (b) occur together, then it’s indicative that God is involved.

    Does that help?

  93. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    The miracle reports in other religions are way fewer than those of Christianity,

    There are multiple ways to account for that, though. Religions that emphasize miracles are likely to give rise to more miracle claims. As you note, “It seems to happen more on the edge of global evangelization than in the West where the the faith is more established”. The variants of Christianity that emphasize miracles (like Pentecostalism) also claim more miracles than less miracle-centered variants.

    Some people claim that wind farms cause illness. Lately, research has indicated that ‘wind farm sickness’ is far more associated with people talking about ‘wind farm sickness’ than to wind farms themselves.

    That doesn’t mean that unusual things don’t ever happen, any more than many of the people with ‘wind farm sickness’ aren’t suffering real symptoms. But the rate of miracle reports could be elevated by expectation. Xref the UFO craze in the 1950’s.

  94. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    I grant all of that. None of it changes the logical effect of my answer, however. You asked whether other religions’ miracle claims can be accounted for if Christianity is true, and they can.

  95. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – Actually, Keith asked that, in #79, I believe.

  96. zim says:

    [cutting most of the tirade]

    That’s you’re a priori commitment–no demonstration of your worldview is necessary, no questioning is permitted: Ray asserts it, he believes it, that settles it. There are no miracles because science-challenged Ray says so.

    So, go ahead and prove me wrong: where are your prayer numbers? Where’s your baseline? Why don’t you attempt, for perhaps the first time in your life, to go beyond your presuppositions and actually do the science? Why? Because you’re committed to the biggest, most jealous, and most bloodthirsty lie there is: atheism.

    Wow, that’s quite an explosion in response to little more than requests for some solid evidence for, and non-self-contradictory explanations of, miracles.

    Everyone seems to admit that there are a great many miracle claims (and other remarkable claims, e.g. alien abductions) that are false (although often sincerely believed rather than deliberate lies).

    Given that’s true, isn’t skepticism about the idea that miracles happen a reasonable, even respectable thing? Or are we just supposed to believe any astonishing claim tossed our way, like the tabloids do?

  97. Billy says:

    BillB,

    You have failed to answer my initial question. How do you suggest that research into the efficacy of prayer can guarantee that the a control group has not received prayer? And if this can’t be done then why should we take any findings seriously? Incidentally, you are aware that there are trials that have found a positive correlation between prayer and health? As much as I would like to trot them out as evidence for God the too suffer from the same weakness.

    Additionally, I’ve not mentioned anything about God being experiment shy, you have. God clearly does withhold healing and this belief has long been a feature of Judaic and Christian theology. God might not exist, he might be evil, he might be limited, he might have morally sufficient reasons for not answering every prayer. Who knows which? But all this is an aside to the purpose of a prayer trial.

    Show me how you can *with confidence* create a control group? How do you propose we stop great aunt Betsy from praying for her sickly niece? And how, as Tom has asked, do we pull the blindfold over God’s eyes and factor out his autonomy?

  98. JAD says:

    Please notice that @ #55 I wrote:

    The problem with “an argument from modern day miracles” that my fellow Christians are making here, is that the argument is highly inductive and therefore suffers from all the problems that arguments based on inductive logic suffer. For example, the skeptic can always find an out because based on the presuppositions of his world view miracles are just not possible, so there has to be some other “rational” explanation .

    My purpose in sharing the story of Joe’s miraculous recovery (@ #64) was then not apologetic (actually I’m being critical of that kind of apologetic) but an invitation for skeptics to honestly share their thinking with us.

    So what have we learned so far from our skeptics? Let me just summarize a couple of things.

    At #68 Ray, who admits “(and I am not a doctor)”, gives us a medical explanation as to why Joe’s recovery was not really miraculous, at least in the supernatural sense. “Dr. Ray” even gives Joe some some medical advice: “he should avoid any further concussions, as people who’ve had TBI can be more sensitive to re-injury.” (Nice touch there Ray.)

    Then at #87 Keith writes (about Joe): “Is his belief mistaken? Almost certainly.”

    Larry Tanner at #74 writes: We explain it exactly the same way you do: we don’t know. We don’t know the person or his history. We weren’t actually there. We really cannot speak intelligently about that case because there’s too much we simply do not know.”

    However, apparently Ray and Keith think they know enough to make an informed judgement that Joe’s recovery was no how, no way supernatural. But how do they know this? Did they talk to Joe? Nope. Did they interview Joe’s doctor? Nope. Did they examine Joe’s medical records? Nope? Did they examine his MRI? Nope. So their judgement is completely non-empirical. Isn’t that both presumptuous and pretentious?

    As I said earlier @ #55: “the skeptic can always find an out because based on the presuppositions of his world view miracles are just not possible, so there has to be some other ‘rational’ explanation.

    Ray and Keith it appears have proven my point. But they have also proven there is no scientific basis for their “scientistic” world view. It’s something they, ironically, believe by faith.

  99. Keith says:

    JAD @98:

    Someone reports they dropped a hammer and it didn’t fall, it floated away on the breeze.

    We should reserve judgement: has anyone talked to them? Nope. Did we interview witnesses? Nope. Did we examine the hammer? Nope. So our judgement the hammer probably didn’t actually float away on the breeze is completely non-empirical, both presumptuous and pretentious.

    Our “scientistic” world view with respect to hammers and gravity has no scientific basis, apparently, it’s something we believe by faith.

    JAD, we’ve done an awful lot of coin-flips in studying this particular area, and they’ve all come up the same way. Maybe Joe is different, but I’d be delighted to bet you a lot of money on it.

  100. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    Ray, who admits “(and I am not a doctor)”, gives us a medical explanation

    You asked about a medical case, so… yeah, I offered a potential medical explanation based on the limited details you provided. And I qualified it explicitly because I’m not a doctor. I fail to see how this is in any way, shape, or form dishonest or unfair.

    However, apparently Ray and Keith think they know enough to make an informed judgement that Joe’s recovery was no how, no way supernatural.

    You asked for an explanation of a case you admitted you’d mostly heard about “second hand”. What I said was, “Joe’s coma may actually have helped save his brain from greater injury”, and “As described, I don’t see how natural law was violated in this case.”

    In other words, given the (as you yourself admit, limited) information presented, there’s not enough data to conclude that anything supernatural happened – though I explicitly conceded that “as described, he was very lucky”.

    I don’t understand how you read that as “Joe’s recovery was no how, no way supernatural”. Don’t you think maybe you’re being a leetle unfair there?

  101. JAD says:

    Ray and Keith,

    If God existed, would miracles be possible? Would we expect there to be miracles?

  102. Keith says:

    JAD @101:

    To the first question, as phrased, I’d pose the question to Tom or Holopupenko: it requires agreed-upon definitions of God, miracle and “the natural order”, at least. Aquinas (Summa Theologica, 6th & 7th Articles) talks about parts of this, might be worth a look. Tom and Holopupenko know roughly infinitely more about that than I do.

    Using colloquial definitions for the terms, I’d say if God existed, miracles would be possible.

    The Bible is unclear on whether or not we should expect miracles today.

    1 Corinthians 13:8-13 teaches specific miracles will cease, and if only faith, hope and love remain, it seems all miracles will cease.

    Matthew 12:38-39, when it says that “[no sign] will be given” could be read to agree.

  103. Chris says:

    Honestly, if miracles have occurred, in the last, say, 100 years, don’t you think we would have had a least some decent independent evidence of them occurring?

  104. Tom Gilson says:

    We do! Unless you’re insisting on a completely narrow and ethnocentric “we.”

  105. Art Dunham says:

    As a lightning strike survivor, cardiac arrest survivor, and too many extremely close “accidents” survivor, I am inclined to at least look at the evidence for miracles before I rule them out as fakes.

  106. JAD says:

    Hi Art,

    What do you believe? Do you think your surviving a lightening strike, cardiac arrest etc. was miraculous? (Miraculous in the supernatural sense?) I think someone like Ray would tell you that you are just very lucky… Well, maybe very, very, very lucky.:)

  107. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    I think someone like Ray would tell you that you are just very lucky… Well, maybe very, very, very lucky.

    Sure. Possibly even one-in-seven-billion lucky…

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