Imagine you meet an extremely powerful wizard who claims to be able to perform amazing miracles. Imagine he promises to take care of you if you accept him as a true wizard. You do. Now imagine becoming extremely sick. The doctors give you less than a 1% chance of survival. Yet you survive! The doctors have absolutely no explanation for your survival. You go to your wizard friend and thank him for his magical intervention. The days pass, and wizard seems to be magically healing others on the verge of death in your hospital. But you note a curious fact. Whenever there is an amputation at the hospital, the wizard is nowhere to be found. You politely ask him about this. He tells you that he could, of course, heal amputations just as easily as life-threatening diseases, but he simply chooses not to in his wizardly wisdom. You don’t want to doubt his magic, but something seems off, especially when you hear stories of others who have inexplicably survived life-threatening diseases in other hospitals, and who claim that a different wizard healed them. Your own wizard assures you he is the only real wizard. You note something else. The statistical distribution of survivors is identical for those who claim to have a personal relationship with the wizard, and those who don’t. At this point, is it wise to suspect that your friend may not actually be a wizard? What if the magic works only if you believe it works?
The following are miracle claims that are seldom made, and if made, are safely insulated from scientific scrutiny:
- A human rising from the dead after a year in the ground.
- An animal speaking in coherent dialogue with humans.
- A human spontaneously growing a new limb.
- An astronomical object inexplicably stopping or changing directions.
An actual Creator of the universe could do any of these, yet we find the biblical Creator clumping his current miracles around the suspiciously less impressive fringes of physical possibility and statistical probabilities.
You could claim the God of the Bible has an unknown reason for making his miracles clump suspiciously around what is physically and probabilistically probable. However, without introducing a coherent reason, you have a God performing miracles in a way suspiciously similar to those who would mendaciously reframe mere physical improbabilities as miracles.
One worthwhile exercise is to take your list of miracle claims, plus the standards of evidence you have used to filter out false miracle claims, and to examine the miracle claims of another religion. If your standards of evidence remain constant in that comparison, you are likely to discover either that 1) the miracle claims of other religions are just as credible as your own, or that 2) your standards of evidence are less than adequate.
When zooming in on those standards of evidence through which you filter miracle claims, you might consider the following questions:
- What is the general likelihood that humans might lie about what they say they saw?
- What is the general likelihood that the desire for a miracle is so intense among those of deep faith that they can no longer distinguish between what is real and what they have imagined?
- Does your filter include an educated understanding of probabilities? Accurately assessing complex probabilities is quite difficult.
- To what degree are human accounts of events distorted by peer pressure and other psychological motivations?
- What tools of science are necessary to adequately assess the miracle claim?
- Are the sources of the claims granted unearned credibility that exceeds what would be given other sources?
- Have you overlooked any other relevant cognitive biases and logical fallacies?