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Does God show up through miracles?

Today I’d like to look at Mighty Timbo’s claim that he has evidence of God, in the form of a miracle that allegedly happened to his wife. It follows the traditional outline for miracle stories, so we can reasonably call this a typical case. And that’s a good thing because it also gives us at least the beginnings of an approach to understanding “miracles” in general. I’m going to go over a few of the general alternatives, and then (unlike Timbo) I’m going to suggest a way that we can objectively evaluate the evidence to find out which alternative is most consistent with real-world truth.

Let’s let Timbo tell his own version of the story first.

In her early 20′s my wife’s car was hit by a tractor trailer and she suffered a couple spinal breaks. For several years after she was unable to walk without a great deal of pain and the aid of two cains (and not for long at that). She suffered with a great deal of pain. The doctors had no better long term diagnosis for her, and certainly none that wouldn’t require a great deal of rehabilitation.

She went to a church service and someone prayed for her back to be healed. She was instantly (and I mean instantly) able to walk, run, jump, you name it. Since that time there is no trace of injury – no pain. That’s a thoroughly, otherwise unexplainable instance, with a direct connection to God. Medical science has been unable to explain it to her.

Now you can call that what you like, and I’m sure you think you can find your own way to rationalize that away, but at some point, so called “free thought” becomes a blind faith in and of itself – skepticism just for the sake of dis-belief.

Notice, Timbo is aware, at some level, that we’re going to be able to find alternative explanations for his wife’s experiences. His explanation is not the only possible explanation, it’s merely the only explanation he’s willing to consider. And he even admits it, almost, except he puts his own little spin on it: the reason we’re able to look at multiple possible explanations is because we’re too narrow-minded to just take his word for it that God Did It.

I’m not a medical specialist, so I’m not going to delve into the biological specifics. We can, however, explore three broad categories of explanations, which is about the best we can do given the stereotypical lack of information in Timbo’s story—he implies that medical doctors were involved in some way, but their only recorded role was to make gloomy predictions. Did his wife actually receive any care and/or rehabilitation during the “several years” she was unable to walk normally? We may never know.

What we can know is that there are at least three possibilities to consider. (1) It could have been a random fluke. Her body had had several years in which to heal, and perhaps it was just a coincidence that her symptoms disappeared when they did. (2) It could have been psychosomatic/emotional in some way, for example if her body had actually recovered earlier but she continued to experience symptoms due to the emotional stress of her chronic suffering and pessimistic prognosis. And (3) of course is the possibility that God could have healed her.

How can we tell which of those alternatives is most likely to be true? We can use the principle that truth is consistent with itself. Let’s look at each of the three possibilities. If it was a random fluke, then we would expect that such events would be rare and unpredictable, as is the case with random coincidences. One of the other pieces of missing information is whether or not Timbo’s wife went to any other church services and/or healing ministries during the several years she was suffering. If she was, and none of those experiences produced the healing she was after, then that would be consistent with the “random fluke” explanation.

If the emotional/psychosomatic explanation were correct, we would find that “miraculous” healings would be more likely in conditions where people’s emotions had been greatly stirred up e.g. by singing and exhortations and other practices commonly found in religious gatherings. Cures that happen primarily in your mind depend on creating the right mental state, so if we see “healings” that require extensive stimulation of people’s emotions and suggestibility, that would be consistent with the emotional/psychosomatic possibility.

Finally, if healings depended on God, then none of the above constraints would apply. Nor does any specific human need to be involved, since it’s God, and not the minister, who is actually doing the healing. Timbo himself ought to be able to walk into the emergency room at any hospital and, by calling on the power of God, empty it out. Any Christian should. And it shouldn’t take “several years” for the miracle to take effect.

Thus, even with the limited amount of information Timbo is willing to share with us, we can still see that his preferred explanation is actually the least consistent with what we see in the real world. Most likely his wife recovered naturally, after several years of healing, and her remaining symptoms were mostly in her mind up until her “miracle.” (I had my arm run over by a truck once, and it, too, took a very long time to heal, and was painful for a lot longer than I would have liked.) That would be consistent not only with Timbo’s story, bue also with how we see God behave (or rather, fail to behave) every day in the real world.

There’s another huge, huge problem with Timbo’s explanation, but I’m out of time for today, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.