Overview

This argument seeks to show that healing miracle claims are actually evidence against God's existence, not for it

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I recently debated apologist Jonathan McLatchie about miracles and, during it, I brought up an argument I have been mulling over: the “argument against God from sporadic miracles.”

This is also a position I discussed a little in my great conversation with Emerson Green, who subsequently sent me a quote from Jordan Sobel’s book Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God (p. 309):

However, though attributing sporadic occurrences of miraculous healings and such to other invisible agents does not occasion “unsatisfying formulae about the Lord’s preference for moving in mysterious ways”*, it does, assuming the Lord exists, leave mysterious what would be the Lord’s quiescence and tolerance of the parsimony of other miracle-workers. A loving God would presumably want more good miracles. A fair God would presumably want miracles not to be ‘sporadic’ and distributed arbitrarily to only some of otherwise similar potential beneficiaries. In this somewhat attenuated way, evidence for miracles of sorts can be evidence not only that God did not do them, but that God does not exist.

*Sobel quotes from Christopher Hitchens (1995), The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, London: Verso, pp. 13-14.

Okay, so it is almost impossible to have original ideas in philosophy these days. But let me expand and explain this point.

The conclusions to my argument will be that either God does not exist (if defined as being omnibenevolent), or God is unfair, or, I guess, that miracles don’t happen. Personally, I believe both that God does not exist and that miracles do not happen.

The simple fact of the matter is that, even if you are a miracle-believing Christian, miracles are rare. Very rare.

Let’s look at miracles of healing (forgetting that they never include the healing of an amputee or other non-naturalistically explicable healings). God appears to choose only certain people to be miraculously healed, which is to say that the vast amount of people who have ailments are unhealed, many dying after years of agony and suffering (including the suffering of family members).

And for many of the people “healed,” they are only somewhat healed, and not brought totally back to their most healthy former selves.

Take Bill Kent, the 15-year quadriplegic who was miraculously healed. Let’s put aside all the many criticisms of the claims we can easily make as skeptics and assume a miracle actually took place for the sake of this argument.

Bill Kent could suddenly walk a bit after a miraculous church faith healing. God cherry-picked this person, one disadvantaged person out of perhaps millions or billions, and sort of healed them. Let’s make up some numbers. This is to say that God chose Bill Kent out of 500,000 grossly physically disadvantaged people and healed him (sort of).

This leaves 499,999 other people unhealed. God is showing preference to this one person and allowing him access to healing that he is not allowing to all of these others, many of whom will have attended (in vain) similar faith-healing ceremonies themselves. This appears arbitrary (especially given his ability to heal any or all of them).

Thus, it appears that God is being unfair, especially given a lack of clear rationale for such a cherry-pick. The distribution of luck across time and space is already a sound argument against God. Why do some people get born in times and places without access to God’s true revelation? Why do some people get born with cancer or disease or disabilities? Why do… the list is long. The world is tremendously unfair and this doesn’t depend on human agency.

And this argument is another one to add to that list of unfairnesses. Why does God heal Bill Kent (sort of) and not others?

These are abductive arguments—inferences to the best explanation. What does this data best support, an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God, or atheism? For me, the answer is rather clear.

If we assumed OmniGod, then I think we would assume a fair distribution of healing miracles (or the lack of need for healing miracles in the first place) or at least a good explanation of the reasons as to why miracles healings are so rare and sporadic. If God could heal everyone, then why doesn’t he? And we, as ever, come to the Problem of Evil argument.

Did Bill Kent deserve to be healed? Was he that much of an awesome believer to warrant special treatment? That much more than each and every other physically disadvantaged person who doesn’t receive such treatment. And goodness knows what this says about people receiving faith-healing in other religions!

So when a Christian comes at you with an argument that X or Y healing miracle proves miracles and thus God’s existence, hit them in return with the notion that their own claim is evidence of God being unfair and thus not existing.

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...