Do Miracles Happen Today?

In the comments section of a post I made some months ago, I was recently asked if I believe that a severely damaged eye could be restored immediately following a Christian prayer meeting.

Here’s my reply, made more accessible with a separate and exclusive post.

I believe that, yes, miracles continue to be possible, and that a badly damaged human eye could be instantaneously and inexplicably restored during a Christian prayer meeting. I also think this could happen under other circumstances, as well.

As for the evidential value of claims to this effect, I’m less confident. Suppose this is precisely what has happened on some occasion, and suppose that God did indeed miraculously heal the person’s eyes. It wouldn’t follow that the event constitutes, without qualification, good evidence that a miracle has happened. God could have reasons for healing that have little to do with providing evidence for non-believers (or believers for that matter). It would be neither here not there whether people concluded that a miracle had occurred.

The evidence that’s been presented to me for events of this kind has never seemed strong enough to convince me that a particular contemporary miracle claim is true. I’ve heard reports of this happening. I know many people who believe it has happened on a large scale and with some regularity in certain parts of the world. I know some people who believe this simply because some figure they respect believes it. Many of these figures report what they’ve heard from someone else. I’ve heard their arguments. And so on. But I think that adequate evidence for this must be greater than is generally presented, if those of us who are not first-hand witnesses are to believe.

Of course, if a miracle has occurred, there may be people close to the situation who are positioned epistemically to have adequate evidence. But I do not have the evidence they have, nor, I suspect do many who believe typical reports of contemporary miracles.

My theology is unquestionably orthodox, but it does not require belief that particular contemporary miracle claims are true. My belief in the supernatural hardly depends on such evidence, and the evidence I have would, I think, still be more dependable than evidence for a contemporary miracle in most cases. I doubt that I’ve been in the vicinity of a miracle that could be called that with real conviction by me.

Suggested Reading:

Doug’s other posts on the subject of miracles:

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

14 Responses to Do Miracles Happen Today?

  1. Tom says:

    If we posit a God of miracles, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, then we must conclude that He is still doing miracles today. No other conclusion is possible under these condition.

    The question of authenticating miracles is another matter. It is the purview of the doubter, the atheist and the humanist to require authentication, since these people hold themselves to be superior to a “nonexistent” God.

    Have there been false claims of miracles? Of course. Nobody would deny it. But to claim a miracle-working God has “dried up” and is no longer in the miracle business seems the height of arrogance.

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  2. Warrick Walker says:

    Tom: let’s first define our terms. A miracle is generally recognized as an event or effect unexplainable in terms of the laws of nature, Creation itself being the first miracle. While this may suffice conceptually, there are other criteria that need to be met before pronouncing a miracle has occurred. The only place you find these criteria is the Bible: a miracle should be immediate, complete, enduring, witnessed, glorifying to God, and by definition rare. There may well be others. Simply put, we need some objective standard by which to adjudicate.

    It seems reasonable that the burden of proof is on the person claiming the miracle. Unlike Biblical times, we now have the tools to make an accurate determination of what really happened. Almost universally, none of the so called modern “miracles” meet either my criteria or scientific scrutiny. Benny Hinn has been claiming miracles for years, yet, when challenged is unable to provide credible evidence.
    With regard to your alleged “millions of apparent miracles” worldwide, we have only hearsay. One would think that with so many miraculous things happening, the media would be full of reports covering these strange events. Each person claiming a miracle has a minimum of 15-20 people they regularly associate with (conservatively). By your own estimate that would be 15-20 million witnesses who for some reason are strangely silent. The press and the Internet should be positively buzzing with testimonies of eyewitnesses ready to convert! All we really have is your ASSERTION that these miracles are in fact happening.

    As to why we DO believe the miracles of the Bible it is because they are intrinsically tied to the nature of the Bible itself. Creation testifies to the existence of a miracle working God. The Bible is the inspired and infallible word of God as the manuscript, archaeological, prophetic and statistical evidence bear witness to. Disbelieving Biblical miracles also assumes some of the largest conspiracies ever devised. Surely, SOMEONE who lived during the parting of the Red Sea (or any other recorded miracle) would have let the cat out of the bag! Luke, in particular, is quick to point out he carefully investigated so as to know the truth of things. The accuracy of the Bible has always prevailed when questioned by skeptics. We have no GOOD reason (unless you know of one) to now doubt miracles did in fact happen unless it is a PHILOSOPHICAL objection. We also have the testimony of the martyrs who died defending their conviction that they had personally witnessed miracles (the resurrection etc.)While we can never be 100% sure of anything, the veracity of the Bible is as trustworthy as anything can be.

    Modern “miracles’” lack most if not all of the foregoing criteria. The point is that while we acknowledge the POSSIBILITY of miracles happening today, we are better served to adopt a position of neutrality until such evidence is forthcoming. Put another way, surely YOU don’t believe Every reported miracle do you? We must retain some means of separating the real from the ridiculous, if only to prevent the Lord’s name being dragged through the mud! By the way, we believe St. Paul because of his rather impressive resume, something most modern miracle claimants fall far short of. God bless.

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  3. Tom Wanchick says:

    Dr. Geivett,

    FYI, that wasn’t me who left that last comment. It was a different ‘Tom.’ I made the original comments about Corrie Ten Boom, but the latest comments weren’t mine.

    I realize you are busy and I was not expecting a response to my comments! Thanks for taking the time to look at what I said!

    –Tom Wanchick

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  4. Doug Geivett says:

    Sorry, Tom, but not hard at all. I wrote a reply to your interesting earlier comment and was about to publish it when my browser quit on me and I lost what I wrote. Since then I’ve just been too busy to keep up with comments on various posts I’ve made recently. I do hope to get back to you on this before long, though.

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  5. Tom says:

    Two weeks and no reply to the most cogent argument against the stated position? A measured and intelligent response must be difficult to compose.

    In truth, the “Lord, Lunatic or Liar” proof of Jesus’ claims to His role as Messiah can also be applied to contemporary claims of miracles.

    Corrie ten Boom claimed that the tiny bottle of vitamins with which she sustained her ailing sister lasted throughout their confinement. If this claim is a lie, why would she lie? And how comfortable are we calling her a liar? Because that is the implication of denying that her experience was miraculous. Perhaps she was not a liar, but insane, you might suggest. Her numerous public appearances and writings do not permit that conclusion.

    If the bottle (intended for a few weeks of use) lasted for years, as she claimed, this is clearly a supernatural event, similar to the cruse of oil in scripture, which kept pouring out oil long after it would have been completely empty in natural terms.

    The question is really this: is our theology bigger than our God? Is it more important to keep the “house of cards” of our belief system propped up or to pursue truth where it may be found?

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  6. Tom Wanchick says:

    Dr. Geivett,
    Thanks for your post. I admit, I find it difficult to agree with your stance on these grounds:

    1. Certain modern miracle claims seem exceedingly hard to disbelieve or withhold judgement upon. I think of cases like that of Corrie Ten Boom and, more recently, Brother Yun (author of THE HEAVENLY MAN). It seems far more plausible to me that their stories are true than that they are mistaken or fraudulent. Not all miracle claims are well-supported, but some have solid evidential support, indeed.

    2. There appear to be thousands, if not millions, of apparent miracles occurring throughout the globe today. Not one of them truly has a supernatural source? Again, believing that at least some of these are legitimate at least initially seems more believable than that they are all false.

    3. If we can’t believe the stories of Corrie Ten Boom or others like her, it’s unclear to me why we should accept the testimony of someone like St. Paul and his witness to the risen Christ. Why is Paul’s testimony privileged in some way?

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  7. Pingback: Rational Bytes #4 « Rational Thoughts

  8. Doug Geivett says:

    Thank you, Steve. I guess we need to get the word out about this.

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  9. Steve Cowan says:

    Bravo, Doug! You’ve put some muscle on thoughts I’ve had for some time about contemporary miracle claims. It’s especially helpful that you point out that withholding judgment is a legitimate option. My own experience dealing with this and other tough issues suggests that most Christians never consider this third epistimic stance, nor the fact that evidence is (often) person relative.

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  10. Bill Gilbert says:

    Do I believe in miracles? Yes I do. The example of the severely damaged eye would surely be a miracle, However if I was driving my car approaching a bridge had a flat tire and pulled over to fix it and the bridge collapsed would that be a miracle that I was not on the bridge? Some would call it luck. I would call the flat tire the work of God, Not a miracle. Sorry for being so simple in my writing. God bless you all. Bill Gilbert.

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  11. Doug Geivett says:

    HI James,

    You have to consider whether the testimony of others counts as adequate evidence for yourself. There are countless testimonies to the occurrence of contemporary miracles. Statistics are cited about places where this is happening on a remarkable scale. Again, if one is in a situation where this seems to be going on, it may be well and good to conclude that miracles are occurring in those cases. Even then, however, there are potential defeaters. But one can’t expect others to believe the same thing you do if they do not have evidence sufficient to justify that belief.

    The choice is not limited either to believing that a specific miracle claim is true or to denying that it is false. In the absence of sufficient evidence, it may be most reasonable to withhold judgment. That is my stand on such claims for the time being. Of course, I have no special burden of (or interest in) showing that specific claims are false.

    I would caution others about accepting reports without adequate evidence available to themselves.

    In addition to claiming to have witnessed miracles, or to be satisfied by mountains of evidence that certain contemporary miracle claims are true, there are some (JP Moreland, for example) who argue from Scripture that this is all to be expected. On this point I feel I’m on safe ground in disagreeing.

    Further, I’ve learned that the term “miracle” is often applied pretty loosely in the context of claiming that miracles clearly are happening now.

    Naturally, the idea that miracles are happening all around us is very attractive. But the attraction of the idea must be distinguished from the epistemic justification for believing that this is happening. Our natural interest in miracles should be disciplined by careful judgment, including the collection and assessment of suitable evidence.

    This is a legitimate topic for discussion, James, and one we should be able to discuss openly. I believe we’re doing that here. So you needn’t worry that your question is out of bounds. Actually, I appreciate it and will be happy to continue discussion here.

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  12. James says:

    Dr Geivett,

    Thank you for your brief but thoughtful response to this question. As I am grateful for the work that both you and JP Moreland have done, I do not wish to put you two at odds on any particular issue. However, he has been quite adamant and public about advancing just the opposite claim(s) as you do here. He has suggested that he has witnessed / experienced the miraculous directly and also that testimony to such events can constitute legitimate evidence (I have seen Habermas and DeWeese make similar claims to Moreland). You however, suggest that you have never been presented with adequate evidence that an actual contemporary miracle has happened. This posed a sort of ‘cognitive dissonance’ for me.

    I understand if you have personal misgivings about posting a response or replying. Again, I am deeply grateful for what both of you have done to advance the kingdom of God.

    With regards,

    James

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  13. Doug Geivett says:

    Yes, Sirrahc, John Collins’s book The God of Miracles should be included on this list. Thank you for the reminder. You’ll see that I’ve added the title to my list now.

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  14. sirrahc says:

    A thoughtful and eminently reasonable response. Thanks, Doug.

    Sirrahc
    AViewFromTheRight.wordpress.com

    P.S. Good set of books in the Suggested Reading. How about John Collins’ The God of Miracles? (I have it but haven’t read it, yet.)

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