“But how do you know they’re actual miracles? Wouldn’t they just be ordinary anomalies? Anomalies happen almost every day. I’m no cessationist but the whole miracle stories are usually 90% made up or fabricated just to gain attention and profit.”
Herrera’s question concerns two remarkable accounts of miracle evidence of which I have researched and reviewed on this site. One account is of an atheist who witnessed a man raised from the dead whereas the other concerns a team of western researchers who documented medical evidence for the healing of two dozen Mozambicans.
Herrera, I would contend, is correct in his rejection of cessationism. A cessationist is one who believes that supernatural gifts such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and especially miracles of healing, have ceased since the time of Jesus’ 12 apostles. Strong cessationists rule out any possibility of these things happening (1), whereas other cessationists don’t rule out all the supernatural gifts though they do rule out many of them. It is generally believed by contemporary cessationists that these supernatural gifts from God have been fulfilled and therefore are now defunct (2).
What I am is a continuationist. I believe, since having reviewed many accounts, that miracles and spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 28) are still happening today in a similar, if not same, way as they occurred when Jesus walked the Earth as well as within the times of the early church itself. The most comprehensive academic treatment of modern day miracles would be Craig Keener’s two volume tome, Miracles. However, beyond Keener’s work I’ve interacted with very persuasive evidence presented in interviews, academic journals, on video and so on. So, I believe it would be unwarranted to take the view of the cessationist in that these remarkable events do not occur today. However, I wish to include a fuller treatment of this question of which I haven’t yet provided.
But Herrera arks, “But how do you know they’re actual miracles? Wouldn’t they just be ordinary anomalies?”
Simply due to the scope and context of the given miracles. Let’s take one case from Heidi Baker’s ministry in which 24 people were healed of impairments as documented by a research team in the Southern Medical Journal. The researchers concluded that, “we measured significant improvements in auditory (P0.003) and visual (P0.02) function across both tested populations.” Each subject had either a visual or hearing impairment. The medical results show that each one of them recovered remarkably after Baker had placed her hands on them and prayed. The researchers identified this process as PIP, a term denoting proximal intercessory prayer as opposed to DIP which is distant intercessory prayer. Now, what are the chances of two dozen individuals being healed of these impairments at the same time without any medical treatments (treatments that are costly and of which require advanced medical procedures) whatsoever? Maybe if it was just one such case of a remarkable healing of one’s vision then we might (not guaranteed) be able to conclude that it was an anomaly; something extraordinarily remarkable that just happened out of the blue. But that is not what we have with Baker’s case. The healings, firstly, took place in the name of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who Baker had asked to heal these people, and it was Jesus who evidently did. Secondly, we are dealing with multiple cases presented by a credible research team within a peer reviewed medical journal. This is not a mere claim or an isolated case being sucked out of thin air. There are solid evidential reasons for accepting that this miracle occurred. Sure, even given the medical documentation skeptics will still dismiss it due to luck, chance, or, as I’ve so frequently encountered, someone lying and having an agenda. Or, alternatively, they will just ignore it and hope it goes away. But that, I contend, is not open to evidence and reason. It would also take a hefty dose of faith, coupled with cognitive dissonance, to sustain than simply believing what had taken placed, namely, the miraculous healing of two dozen impaired subjects.
So, to now answer the question directly. Sure, these two dozen healings could be “anomalies,” since that would technically never be impossible. It is also technically “possible” that what we perceive of being the external world is nothing more than subjective hallucinations that we think are real. That’s possible but hardly anyone would say it’s probable given human experience. Or maybe these healings were due to the climate change within the area, the food they ate or the water they drunk that morning, or maybe it’s the zombie apocalypse… these suggestions are possible but it would hardly be rational to accept them. Thus to hold that these healings were merely medical anomalies is just absurd in the extreme. It is far more likely they lied about it, or that Baker colluded with the research team, or that the researchers botched up their journal entry etc. than the healings being anomalies, let alone two dozen medical anomalies. I have no doubt that what we are dealing with is a legitimate, genuine miracle supported by scientific, medical evidence which is further supplemented by eyewitness testimonies.
Then Herrera contends, “but the whole miracle stories are usually 90% made up or fabricated just to gain attention and profit.”
This, I’ve come to realize, is a kind of smokescreen that skeptics hide behind. For example, when facing convincing evidence for a miracle, whether it’s documented in medical literature, widely witnessed, and filmed on video, the skeptic will accuse those involved of fabricating the story. Again, this is merely a blind dismissal. It is far easier to just blindly dismiss evidence to the contrary of one’s own presuppositions than actually have to grapple with it and subsequently explain it on one’s own worldview. Now, no-one is denying that fabrication takes place. In fact, in the process of my research on this topic, I witnessed an alleged “miracle healer” pastor of a megachurch calling up congregants to receive prayer for their pains. Sadly, this pastor had an attached ear piece through which he was being fed unknown information about certain congregants concerning their ailments. So, when an attendee’s name was called out, and the ailment prophetically declared, she was convinced that this amazing opportunity for prayer was actually from God. However, it actually wasn’t. It was a fraud and the pastor was exposed. So, sure, this happens today. However, it just does not follow that this must always be the case, and that every pastor, or ministerial leader, is out to make money and fame for themselves. Baker, for example, has a Phd from a western university, however, she gave up much of that life and moved to Mozambique, an African country that few care about on a global level, to minister and provide relief to orphans who have lost their parents or had run away from home. Her story is remarkable in how she has suffered due to her own lack of resources, as well as having lost her property on which she had her orphanage, and also having had to relocate and live in tents, and so on. This is a person committed to serving her saviour Jesus and those of whom she loves. This is not a person who is out looking for fame and money. In fact, what fame she does have comes from word spreading around concerning her supernatural healing ministry.
Subsequently, I think Herrera is employing hyperbole in saying that “usually 90% [of miracles] are made up…” Of course there exists no statistical evidence for this claim that would have taken into account a wide sample of miracle claims from different nations and continents. In fact, the most comprehensive treatment of worldwide miracles comes from Craig Keeners book and, as far as I can tell based on the presented testimonial evidence, most people are convinced of what they have seen. After all, I would also be convinced if I witnessed a blind man regaining his sight or a woman being raised from the dead (all of which have actually been testified to). Now, Keener having done his necessary research discovered that “about 200 million” people in “10 countries, also claimed to have witnessed or experienced divine healing” (3). Although Keener is, in my judgement rightly, skeptical of the exact number of witnesses he does, however, conclude that “we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who make these claims.”
Now, what Herrera’s proposal would have us suppose is that 180 million people (90%) are making up these claims so that they can become famous and thus make money. I think that would be quite unlikely. If that was the case then we’d hear far more about it, and millions of Christians would be rich. It is far more likely that a portion of these claimants are simply mistaken of which I would think many may well be. Alternatively, there is certainly a great number of claimants who are telling the truth due to having witnesed an authentic miracle.
So, in concluding, I wouldn’t hold that Baker’s miracle was merely an anomaly. That is far too improbable. Secondly, it doesn’t follow that because some pastors having lied about healing that this is necessarily always the case. In truth we have a legitimate miracle and I think the evidence speaks for itself.
1. Masters, P. 1988. Healing Epidemic. p. 227.
2. Masters, P. & Whitcomb, J. 1988. Charismatic Phenomenon. p. 113.
3. Apologetics315. 2012. Craig Keener Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.