“Some have suggested that Charismatic Christian healing should be accepted as an alternative [medical] therapy in contexts where access to conventional treatment is limited.” —Craig Keener, p. 64
—I can see it now. The Donald Trump Administration will give grants to rural communities who lack hospitals and doctors to establish Pentecostal Healing Centers. For a small donation, local citizens will have access to faith healing cures for cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, and herpes. Illegal immigrants not covered under this government funded program, of course.—
A few years ago Theology Web’s Christian apologist Nick Peters challenged me to read Craig Keener’s two volume book, “Miracles”. Peter’s challenge came after I had said that the “miracle” of Jesus’ resurrection was highly improbable; there are just too many much more probable natural explanations for this belief before jumping to the very improbable Christian supernatural explanation. Peters said that this is a false assumption. Peters asserted that Keener’s book demonstrates that miracles actually happen very frequently.
In his book, Keener asserts that hundreds of thousands of miracle claims have been documented all over the world just within the last few decades. However, this fact is not recognized or publicized by western academics. Peters suggested that if I would read Keener’s book with an open mind, I would see that the probability of a miracle is actually very high, and therefore the probability of Jesus’ resurrection was not as improbable as we skeptics assume it to have been.
So I read Volume I of Keener’s Miracles and reviewed it here on this blog. I was not impressed. Keener admits that he did not spend ONE single dollar on research. Not one. He simply collected anecdotal claims of miracles. That’s it. Anecdotal claims can sound very impressive, whether they are claims of healing after prayer to Jesus or claims of cancer cures after eating crushed apricot pits. Anecdotal claims are not used by medical experts to validate the efficacy of life-saving treatments. Would you really want your mother’s cancer specialist to use a folk remedy to treat your mother’s cancer with this explanation, “Well, one thousand people over in Africa said that this really worked for them, so we are going to try it on your mom for her cancer.”
Now, if every time someone with end-stage pancreatic cancer prays to Jesus for healing and is then completely cured on their CT scans, even doctors are going to be believers in the power of prayer to Jesus. But that isn’t what Christians who believe in miracle healings claim, is it? Jesus doesn’t heal everyone who prays for healing. Jesus doesn’t even heal most people who pray for healing. And when it comes to end stage pancreatic cancer, Jesus rarely ever heals these people…if at all. So anecdotal claims just don’t cut it. I am willing to accept the possibility of miracle cures. However, here are some things I ask Christians to consider:
If I am willing to entertain the possibility of miracle cures, will Christians please entertain the possibility that a “miracle” may just be a coincidence? Again, if every time that Christians pray for healing, a healing occurs, we could be certain we are not dealing with coincidence. But even Christians admit that most prayers for healing are not answered. And think about this: If Christians ALWAYS pray when they are sick, and there are 2,000,000,000 Christians on earth, we should not be surprised that some Christians do get better after they pray for healing! That is just the odds!
So what we really need are recoveries after prayer to Jesus from illnesses or conditions from which there are no known natural recoveries, such as amputations of an arm or a leg, decapitations, or the reconstitution of bodies that have been blown into thousands of pieces by a bomb…
but, Jesus never seems interested in healing those poor people, does he?
So, Volume II of Miracles has been sitting on my book shelf for two years collecting dust. If I remember correctly, some of the Christians at Theology Web criticized me at the time for not reading both volumes of Keneer’s work. I wasn’t being fair, they said. So, I’m going to finish reading it now. Christian apologists often refer to Keneer’s work so I think it is important that I am familiar with it. It’s a thick book, so I had better get started.