A philosophical perspective on miracles – part 4

This is the final in a series of 4 articles on miracles, based upon a podcast I listened to, and was inspired by, by Tim McGrew. The articles are really handy for defending the faith and they take a look at miracles from a philosophical perspective.

Links to all 4 articles are given below:


Listen to the interview here: http://crossexamined.org/podcast/

Following is the final article:

Frank Turek:
Tim, quite frequently you hear this objection: “Well, if God does miracles, why doesn’t He heal amputees?” How would you respond to that?

Tim McGrew:
There’s a couple of different ways to respond to that. The first one is, didn’t He do that in the New Testament? Right? Didn’t Peter cut somebody’s ear off and Jesus healed it with a touch, in Luke 22:51? So we’ve got one record of that but I think the question is not usually brought forward to say, “Why doesn’t He do that in the New Testament?” But I think it’s brought forward to insinuate that things that are called miracles today are really just not the sorts of things where we could be sure they were a miracle at all, right? It’s oh, I think my toothache feels somewhat better…was it a miracle?

Frank Turek:

Tim McGrew:
And who knows? You can’t really tell from something like that. So I think that’s the insinuation. And if that’s the insinuation I would say, first of all, let’s have a look at Craig Keener’s books because he talks about people who were certified as dead and he’s close up to some of these. In one case I heard him talk on a conference at Oxford and he said, “And I know a lot about this case because the person who is dead is my sister-in-law.”

Frank Turek:
Mmm hmm…

Tim McGrew:
That is pretty close up to the facts. So I think we should look at stuff like that. But the other thing that I want to say is, suppose that in our time no miracles ever happened. What does that tell us about the adequacy of the evidence that we do have for the resurrection of Jesus? Because that’s the central event, right? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that this is the thing without which our faith is in vain. This is the hinge of Christianity. If it doesn’t turn, we’re done for. So what if it turned out there are no contemporary miracles, what would that mean about the resurrection? And the answer is, not much. It’s an attempt to distract us from looking at the evidence we do have by talking about the kind of evidence some people wish we had, which maybe we do and maybe we don’t, and I’m not going to try to pass judgement on that…I’m going to refer people to Craig Keener or Robert Larmer, who’s a Canadian philosopher who does work on these things. There are people out there who are prepared to talk very specifically about contemporary miracle claims.

Frank Turek:
Yeah I’m not sure amputees aren’t healed because I’m not everywhere so there may be instances. I can’t recall if Craig had any in his book…he may have had certain physical deformities healed…instantaneously…like a club foot. In fact Gary Habermas talks about a club foot spontaneously healing, not over a period of time but over seconds…but I can’t recall if a person had a finger grow back or an arm grow back, something like that.

But even if that doesn’t occur, as you said, that doesn’t affect the testimony we do have about the greatest miracle after the first verse of the Bible and that is the resurrection of Christ. We’ve got good evidence for that…so, it’s just an interesting question because you always hear atheists bringing it up. I’ve never seen a miracle – like you, Tim – but there’s a lot of things I haven’t seen that I believe in. I believe in George Washington…I’ve never seen him. I believe in my mind…I’ve never seen that. I believe in gravity…I’ve never seen gravity though I’ve seen the effects…There’s a lot of things I believe in that I haven’t seen.

Tim McGrew:
Reminds me of a line from an old Woody Allen movie, if only God would give me a clear sign like making a large deposit in a Swiss bank account…sorry, God’s not in it for the parlour tricks! Let’s talk about more important things than that.

Frank Turek:
I recall Lawrence Krauss saying, “If you were to write in the stars, I am here, then it would be worth thinking about” yet He’s written a genome that’s 3.5 billion letters long, a unique genome in Lawrence Krauss’s cells that only he has and somehow that’s not enough for Krauss. He needs “I am here” in the stars but a 3.5 billion letter message you know of DNA just doesn’t quite do it for Krauss. So ok, I think it goes back partially to what you said earlier Tim and that is, some people just don’t want to believe.

You know it’s interesting too that scientists believe in many singular non-repeatable events, Tim. They believe in the origin of the universe…that’s not a repeatable event. They believe in the origin of first life…not a repeatable event. They believe in the origin of new life forms, they believe in archaeological discoveries which are not repeatable. They believe in say a famous murder, the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. You can’t go back and recreate those OJ Simpson murders…and yeah, he did it. You can’t go back and recreate those, they’re not repeatable events, they’re singular events just like miracles are singular events. Yet they’ll believe these singular events, the scientists will, but they won’t believe a singular event like a miracle so I think it’s kind of special pleading, they’re ruling out what they don’t want to believe and they’re only believing what they do want to believe.

Tim McGrew:
I’m afraid with many people that’s the case. On the other hand, there are some people who would say I’ve never seen a good argument for any miracle, what kind of evidence do you have? And when I run into those people I don’t assume that they’re all dishonest and unwilling to look at the evidence…let’s see, let’s give them the evidence. And here’s somewhere where Christians could do better. If we were more proactive in putting forward the evidential case that we have there would be fewer people out there who have heard very little about what Christians believe. And so in part we have to take some of the responsibility if our contemporaries aren’t hearing it. Maybe it’s because not enough of us are saying it clearly.

Frank Turek:
Well that’s for sure and that’s why I love having you on the program because you say it clearly. And you’re clearly well qualified in this area. In fact tell our listeners about the websites. One of them you already have up that they can access right nowTim, and then there’s one that’s coming down the road…that’s going to be a tour de force around this issue of David Hume and miracles.

Tim McGrew:
The site that’s available now is called the Library of Historical Apologetics (historicalapologetics.org). There are dozens of works you can download in pdf form, all these are public domain works, there’s no copyright infringement. There’s also links to various talks I’ve given where I make use of some of these works.

If you’re interested in seeing this on a wider stage, if you want to see not dozens but thousands of works put together, cross-indexed and searchable (with graphic displays on who was provoked by this work, who was inspired by that work), then keep an eye out for the Special Divine Action Database that we have, that is coming out. I think we’re at fifteen hundred, seventeen hundred works, cross-indexing these, they’re all in English and we’re showing you who the influences were and you can trace those conversations and surf through them graphically. It should be live this November. This is a really good scholarly tool, you can use it to write papers. It’s open to anybody whatsoever. Churches could even use it to form study groups as it shows the influences between authors.

Frank Turek:
Outstanding Tim, thanks for being on the show, great stuff today.

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