Let’s examine a miracle claim found in Keener’s “Miracles” on page 230:
One anthropologist recounts the experience of another anthropologist named Joseph Loewen, who was doing translation among the Choco people in Panama. The wife of his host, Aureliano, was dying from what was obviously pneumonia. Loewen sent to a nearby town for relevant medicine, only to discover that none was available. While Loewen had translated the promise of healing in James 5:14-15, he knew that he did not have faith to pray. Nevertheless, reading this passage, the local believers prayed with him for her healing, and she rallied slightly. By the next morning, she was dying again, so the local believers anointed her with oil, without inviting Loewen, and this time she rose from the bed completely well, returning immediately to her household labors. When Aureliano declared happily that God’s Spirit had chased away the fever spirits, Loewen noted that they had not invited him and his Western colleague to pray this time. Aureliano apologized but noted, “It doesn’t work when you and David are in the circle. You and David don’t really believe.”
Note that the story is not first hand information. Keener heard or read this story told by someone else who had received it from someone else. Keener did not witness this miracle; nor did the “anthropologist” Keener is quoting. Keener is asking us to believe a story that at best is third hand information.
The recipient of the alleged miracle in this case “was dying from what was obviously pneumonia.” Who made this diagnosis? A physician? Were Xrays taken? What exactly were the woman’s symptoms other than having a fever? Maybe she had the flu. Did anyone take her temperature with a thermometer or did they just feel her skin and guess that she had a fever? Maybe she had a slight fever and a bad case of the flu that would not have killed her. Bottom line: We don’t know because we are given no details other than that she was very sick and had a fever.
Notice the woman “rallied slightly” when the anthropologist prayed for her, but then fully recovered later when prayed for by the local believers. Is this a sign that she was in the recovery phase of a viral infection, and that the intense attention of local friends and church members “energized” her to get out of bed?
Could a miracle have happened in this case? Yes. But probability says that the woman was not dying, just very sick. She was already recovering but the intense attention of her fellow believers have her an emotional surge to get out of bed.
Did she jump out of bed and “immediately” return to her household labors? Well…so the third hand story says…
Notice too the claim that prayers to Jesus to “chase away fever spirits” don’t work if persons are present who do not have enough faith. Is this a concept found in the Gospels? Did Jesus refuse to heal people because someone in the crowd doubted? This story doesn’t even follow the pattern of Jesus’ own miracles!
Putting it all together, it is very probable that this woman did not have pneumonia and was not dying. She may have appeared very ill, but people can appear very ill without necessarily being in the process of dying. Isn’t it much more probable, readers, that this case is a case of misperception and ignorance regarding disease, and not a miracle?