We all like testimonies. I like my friend’s testimony when I ask him what he’s been up to since we last met. Historians like historical testimony via archaeology and/or text based sources. Homicide detectives and our courts of law tend to like the testimonies of eyewitnesses and even use such testimony to play off against the testimony of the interrogated suspect. Even scientists depend on the testimonies of peers so that they can advance their own work. Therefore, testimony is an undeniably important facet to learning and gaining knowledge about the world in which we live; but how does testimony stand when it comes to supernatural cases of healing? In answer it actually has quite a bit to say. Nonetheless, the argument in this article is simply that we should be open to the possibility of miracles as opposed to being dogmatically closed minded against them, as some surely are. Hopefully the following testimonial evidence is convincing enough to persuade readers in that direction. Also note that I do not include most of the testimonies, some more credible than others, that I have looked at and thus this article does not intend to be exhaustive in any way.
Craig Keener, the Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, is widely known for his commentaries on the New Testament as well as his academic work on the subject of miracles; especially miracles of supernatural healing. His latest work is his two volume tome Miracles in which he combs through stacks of miracle accounts as found on all the Earth’s continents (here are a few dozen of them I compiled from just a few chapters). It is a lengthy academic treatment looking at the testimonial evidence for both historical and contemporary miracles, common challenges proposed by present-day skeptics as well as from the 18th century philosopher David Hume (more on Hume in a moment), and a diverse number of academic studies and surveys on the subject. His work has also been lauded by other academics, for example, prominent philosopher J.P. Moreland refers to Keener’s book as “the best available book on the subject” (1). Philosopher Randal Rauser dubs it “a tour de force,” and says it is arguably the most comprehensive defense of miracles in the English language (2).
According to Keener belief in miracles is not only found in, or isolated to, the ancient world whom, in accordance with a good dose of chronological snobbery (a term coined by C.S. Lewis for those who believe ancient people were generally as dumb as rocks), some skeptics view as overly superstitious to the extent that they saw a miracle in everything. However, that argument being problematic in of itself, what we find is that an incredible number of people today both believe in them while also have claimed to have witnessed them. Miracle healing, both Keener and studies have found, are likewise attested to by some of the most well educated people in the western world; Keener explains that “it is not just people in the first century who have believed in miracles. Various polls peg U.S. belief in miracles at roughly 80 percent. One survey suggested that 73 percent of U.S. physicians believe in miracles, and 55 percent claim to have personally witnessed treatment results they consider miraculous.” The survey Keener is referring to I’ve summarized at my site and I have also used as one line of evidence in one debate in favour of God and the supernatural (I also include my own doctor who had to cancel a surgery after prayer healed a patient’s dislodged spinal disk). Moreover, Keener says that those who he personally knows, and that are close to him, who have claimed to witness a miracle are trustworthy and their testimonies credible, “Most stunning to me on a personal level were sincere eyewitness claims from people that I or my wife have long known and trusted, including everything from cures of blindness to restoration from apparent death. Sometimes the witnesses include doctors.” Elsewhere Keener explains that of those he has interviewed for his reach, “Many were respected, highly educated friends whose integrity I trusted, and often multiple independent witnesses verified their accounts. None of those I trusted had anything to gain—and some had much to lose—by sharing their stories with me.”
However, miracles aren’t located to a handful of geographical areas but tend to rather be spread all over the world as one survey has discovered (3). For example, Keener explains that a survey done in 2006 suggests that many millions of people, perhaps even hundreds of millions, claim to have witnessed or experienced divine healing (4). And in some cases there is strong evidence. Keener, for example, points to Heidi Baker’s ministry in Mozambique, “We even have cases with medical documentation—an incident in Mozambique, for example—there was a team that went there and tested some of the people, and found that, during prayer they went from being deaf or blind to a great degree, to being able to hear and see, and this was published in Southern Medical Journal.” Having personally looked into Baker’s case I can thus understand why Keener finds it so remarkable; Baker will also be featured in an up and coming documentary focusing on empirical evidence for miracle healing; I had a recent chat with the documentary producer Stephen Elijah if readers wish for a brief engagement with the documentary. One can also access my summary of Baker’s prayer healing as chronicled by researcher Candy Brown in the Southern Medical Journal, as well as a look at the 69 empirically and medically verified miracles at Lourdes.
Moreover, this survey that Keener cites excluded certain regions, for example, it “did not include China, where one report from the China Christian Council over a decade ago attributed roughly half of all new Christian conversions to “faith healing experiences.” Another report from a different source in China suggested an even higher figure. Clearly many people around the world experience what they consider miracles, sometimes in life-changing ways.” Leo Bawa, a PhD student at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, affirms that these things are happening in many non-western countries; he explains that he has personally witnessed “healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses” including healing from “malaria, pains and aches, cancer, depression, bones; and the dead brought back to life” (5). Via personal correspondence with Dr. Nicole Matthews, Keener discovered that she had witnessed a paralyzed woman on a mat who, immediately after prayer, “then got up and began to dance!” (6). Dr. Julie Ma, a Korean missiologist also from Oxford Center for Mission Studies, witnessed how an “old man who had such a critical spinal problem that he could only crawl on his hands and knees like an animal was instantly healed and he stood up and walked away” (7). She also witnessed another “old man who had been deaf in both ears since he was a young man [being] instantly healed.”
There have also been interesting cases where entire populations of villages have converted after having witnessed a miracle. This includes the inhabitants of the village of Dere in Ogoniland, Nigeria, who were converted after a blind boy was healed thanks to prayer from Geoffrey Numbere (8). A chronically ill boy who was instantly healed in Thailand saw many villagers convert to following Jesus (9). A further dramatic healing of a child in Laos brought a village to believe in Yesu (Jesus) (10). Further cases stem from villages in Nepal (10), China (11), the Ivory Coast (12), and Bolivia (13). There are cases where villagers who were healed were predominantly Muslims (14).
But we shouldn’t somehow assume that the most ardent skeptics over miracles, such as atheist naturalists, are not involved either. They are. In one case Keener interviewed several pastors who knew a prominent atheist family. The elderly mother was diagnosed in three hospitals as having inoperable brain stem cancer and her walking soon became impossible. Within a month after prayer, however, the tumor had shrunk from two centimeters to the size of a grain of rice, and she soon began walking and carrying on normally, to the astonishment of her physicians. The entire family are now believers, and the elderly mother has testified widely of her recovery (15). In a taped interview Keener discovered that an atheist whose daughter had heart disease became a believer since her daughter, after prayer, “could leave the hospital because she was much better” (16). An atheist by the name of Mohan Philip had a heart attack since there was a 95% blockage of three major arteries. However, after his daughter prayed for his recovery he was healed and had less than 50% blockage, and thus no longer needed surgery. Mohan subsequently donated 15 000 000 rupees to church work and left his business for ministry (17). In a further investigation by Dr. Claudia Währisch-Oblau a non-Christian was fully healed from an inability to walk after prayer from his brother (18). An Ethiopian atheist attended a church with a severely painful leg was healed, and to this atheist’s surprise the pastor announced that God wanted to heal a painful leg after which he was healed, and became a believer (19). In Ecuador an atheist professor of educational research at Quito’s Central University of Ecuador, Dr. Luis Flores, witnessed the healing of a number of chronic conditions, including “deviation of the fifth lumbar vertebra, chronic pharyngitis,” allergies “and a duodenal ulcer” (20). Flores converted and is now a pastor. Moreover, an atheist from El Paso, Texas, not only witnessed healings but was himself healed from a serious organic illness (21). However, Keener notes that although some cases might very well “stem from fraud or misdiagnosis,” it still remains that a “vast numbers of cases cannot be explained this way.”
A further striking case I’ve researched and commented on concerns the late anthropologist scholar Bruce Grindal. Though not technically a miracle of healing done in Jesus’ name, Grindal witnessed a man, who was dead for four days, being raised from the dead at a funeral he was attending while doing anthropological research in Northern Ghana. Grindal since renounced his atheism as a result and refused to talk about what he had seen for most of his life.
Many times, explains Keener, when people convert to following Jesus because of a miracle done in his name they have a lot to lose, “Whatever the precise figures, we are likely speaking of millions of people who abandoned centuries of ancestral beliefs to accept a new faith because they were convinced that something dramatically outside their ordinary experiences had occurred. Such radical shifts based on healing experiences are reported in many other parts of the world, from the Nishi tribal people in northeast India to Nickerie, Suriname” (22). This would suggest that these people are pretty sure what they saw was a miracle. It would be a stretch to believe that they’re just making these claims up. Some of them might be mistaken but we shouldn’t doubt their sincerity.
So, when it comes to miracles of healing, and independent of what one might think of them, they are undeniably widespread across the globe. In other words, miracles aren’t exactly happening in a corner. They often involve ordinary church going people on every continent, sometimes atheists and other skeptics, unbelievers, village populations, as well as scholars and academics.
However, bringing this into the realm of academic skepticism, what this testimonial evidence strongly invites us to do is to question David Hume’s argument that uniform human experience requires us to doubt any miracle claim. In fact, it is diverse and numerous human experience itself that actually invites us to look into these claims. Perhaps Hume’s immediate circle of acquaintances lacked this access to the miraculous and this probably influenced his work, however, that hardly comments on the hundreds of millions of people who claim otherwise. One could also point out that Hume’s argument against miracles begs the question since he a priori excluded the possibility that they could even occur. This prejudged the conclusion of his investigation. Keener concludes that “If one’s bar of evidence at least allows the possibility of miracles, however, probability appears to support some cases. And if any cases are probable, one does have good reason to believe that miracles sometimes occur.”
For further reading one should also interact with Chesnut (23), Hwa (24), Pothen (25), Martin (26), David (27), and Kwon (28) for examinations of miracle evidence from different nations and continents.
1. Moreland, J. 2012. On Craig Keener’s Magisterial “Miracles.” Available.
2. Rauser, R. 2013. Craig Keener on miracles. Available.
3. Pew Research Center. Spirit and Power – A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals. Available.
4. Apologetics315. Craig Keener Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.
5. Leo Bawa, personal correspondence with Craig Keener, August 10, 2009.
6. Dr. Nicole Matthews, personal correspondence with Craig Keener, April 1, 2009.
7. Ma, J. 2010. Mission in the Spirit. p. 62-62.
8. McGavran, D. Divine Healing and Church Growth. p. 73–74.
9. Bush, L. & Pegues, B. 1999. The Move of the Holy Spirit in the 10/40 Window. p. 63-64; also see Hopsack, J. 2001. The Arrival of Pentecostals and Charismatics in Thailand. p. 113.
10. Udaya Sharma, personal correspondence with Craig Keener, March 29 and 31, 2009.
11. Mooneyham, S. Demonism on the Mission Field: Problems of Communicating a Difficult Phenomenon. p. 85–86.
12. Wagner, P. 2004. Out of Africa: How the Spiritual Explosion Among Nigerians Is Impacting the World. p. 98-100; also see De Wet, C. Biblical Basis of Signs and Wonders. p. 93-94; McGavran, D. 1979. “Healing and the Evangelization of the World” in Brasilia Church Growth Seminar. p. 294–296
13. McGavran, D. Ibid.
14. Wagner, P. 2004. Ibid
15. Keener, C. 2011. Ibid. p. 472.
16. Keener, K. 2011. Ibid. p. 446-447.
17. Keener, K. 2011. Ibid. p. 447.
18. Währisch-Oblau, C. Healing in Migrant Churches. p. 89.
19. Hege, N. 1998. Beyond Our Prayers: Anabaptist Church Growth in Ethiopia, 1948–1998. p. 170.
20. Castleberry, J. 1999. It’s Not Just for Ignorant People Anymore: The Future Impact of University Graduates on the Development of the Ecuadorian Assemblies of God. p. 112–13.
21. Laurentin, R. 1982. Miracles in El Paso? p. 59–64.
22. Keener, C. The Ubiquity of the Miraculous. Available.
23. Chesnut, A. 2011. “Exorcising the Demons of Deprivation: Divine Healing and Conversion in Brazilian Pentecostalism” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing. p. 169–85.
24. Hwa, Y. 1997. Mangoes Or Bananas?: The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology. p. 230.
25. Pothen, A. 1990. Indigenous Cross-cultural Missions in India and Their Contribution to Church Growth: With Special Emphasis on Pentecostal-charismatic Missions. p. 189.
26. Martin, D. Evangelical Expansion in Global Society. p. 288.
27. David, A. 2012. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power. p. 76.
28. Kwon, T. 1985. The Theoretical Foundations of Healing Ministry and the Applications to Church Growth. p. 187.