A Review of Craig Keener’s "Miracles", Part 14

More astonishing, in the Journal of Anthropological Research one anthropologist reported that during a shamanic funerary ritual in northwestern Ghana, he witnessed a corpse that had been dead for a few days dance and play drums for at least several minutes.  “I saw the corpse jolt and occasionally pulsate in reaction to the shaman’s movements; streams of light invaded the room, and “the corpse [of a drummer] picked up the drumsticks and began to play.”  Soon it was again a motionless corpse, propped against the wall.   —Craig Keener, “Miracles”, page 540, under the section in which he provides ‘evidence’ for the “Raising of the Dead”
 
 

 
Dear Christians, imagine if skeptics made the following claim:
 
“Many people around the world believe that Jesus of Nazareth never existed; he is a fictional character.  Therefore, the view that Jesus of Nazareth never existed should be taken seriously because so many people believe it.”
 
Skeptics then go on to list hundreds of statements by ordinary people who state that they are absolutely sure that Jesus never existed.
 
Christians would howl (and laugh) that skeptics are using poor logic.  They would accuse skeptics of using the logical fallacy of “Argumentum ad Populum”.  And Christians would be justified in making this criticism.  Just because a lot of people believe something to be true, does not make it true.
 
Yet, Christian apologists such as Nick Peters of the Christian podcast, Deeper Waters, use a similar argument to support their belief in the reality of miracles, which in turn they use to support a high probability for the greatest miracle of all, and the very foundation of their Faith:  the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  But what evidence does Mr. Peters give for the reality of miracles today?
 
Answer:  Christian scholar Craig Keener’s two volume work, “Miracles”.
 
But here is the problem:  Keener is very clear to state, multiple times throughout this book, that the purpose of his book is not to prove the reality of supernatural acts (miracles), but only to demonstrate the massive number of people on earth who claim to be eyewitnesses to such events, and, that some of these claims have such compelling testimony that scholars and experts should at a minimum entertain divine causation as a viable explanation for some health recoveries.
 
That’s it.
 
Keener may occasionally give statements from physicians who attribute a health recovery to a “miracle”, but just because a Christian (usually Pentecostal Christian) physician, or rarely, a non-Christian physician, states “it had to be a miracle”, how much weight should we give to this physician’s opinion?  Although I recommend we not discount the doctor’s opinion, neither should we assume that this doctor is correct; that he has carefully ruled out all other natural explanations.  We need to meet the standard of evidence for the field in question, and the field in question is Medicine.  And the standard of evidence for Medicine is an independent, unbiased panel of medical experts to review all the evidence, interview the patient, the doctors, the witnesses, and then, publish their findings in a journal of a nationally recognized and respected medical society.  So,  does Keener ever detail a miracle case which has been presented to such a panel of independent, unbiased medical experts to review?
 
As of page 599 (the end of the first volume), the answer is:  No.
 
Instead of meeting the standard of evidence for the field in question, Mr. Keener uses an appeal to the Argumentum ad Populum to convince his readers that miracle claims should be taken seriously.  Keener argues that since “hundreds of millions” of people (mostly in the impoverished and poorly educated areas of the Third World) claim to be witnesses to miracles, scientists and medical experts should take their claims seriously, and, include “divine causation/a miracle” as an acceptable explanation within Western medicine and science for any unexpected/unusual health recovery or resuscitation.
 
What Mr. Keener fails to recognize (or maybe admit) is that doing so would be a violation of the standards of evidence for these fields.  Just as no Christian would accept that Jesus is a fictional character just because a lot of non-experts believe this to be true, so too, scientists and medical experts are not going to accept divine causation as a potential cause of health recoveries just because a lot of non-experts believe in them.
 
The overwhelming majority of experts in the field in question (New Testament scholarship and history) believe that Jesus was an historical figure.  I suggest that we accept the expert opinion on this subject.  And similarly, the overwhelming majority of experts in the field in question (Medicine) do not believe that any miracle for healing has ever been proven to have occurred, and, do not believe that prayer is a proven, effective, treatment for cancer, gait disabilities (lameness), neurological disorders, blindness, infectious diseases, or death, as suggested by Mr. Keener.
 
I suggest that Christians stop the silliness; drop the conspiracy theories; and accept that miracles have not been proven to be a reality.  If Christians want to believe in modern miracles, or miracles in the ancient past, they should do so by faith, not by appeals to Argumentum ad Populum.
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