The Case Against Miracles Chapter 2

What do I think of Matthew McCormick’s article? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The only work of Matthew McCormick I had ever previously reviewed here was his work “Atheism and the Case Against Christ.” The great delight of that was getting to catch him in a major gaffe. This one was about the fake god Jar’Edo Wens.

Now after reading this chapter, I am even more sure of the kind of researcher McCormick is. His whole chapter is about God would not perform miracles. Nowhere in this chapter did I see interaction with people like Alvin Plantinga or Craig Keener or anyone like that. Plantinga would have been an important one since McCormick’s whole article is really the problem from evil and saying “Well, if God wanted to do a miracle of healing, He would heal everyone wouldn’t He?”

It’s really amazing that McCormick’s whole argument is all about what an omniscient and omnipotent and omnibenevolent being would do, because, you know, McCormick certainly has a lot of experience with beings like that to make proper judgments. I went through this whole chapter wondering “How do you know that?” It certainly doesn’t make any sense to me to say, “If I was this being, I would do that.” It’s like it’s never considered that maybe if you were omniscient you would know some things that you don’t know now.

McCormick says

Even if a full-blown violation of the laws of nature occurs, we have compelling reasons to reject the hypothesis that the all-powerful, omniscient creator of the universe was responsible for it. A being of infinite power and knowledge wouldn’t act by means of miracles.

Well, this is quite a claim. Let’s see how good he does at backing it. At least on one level, McCormick puts forward the appearance of being open. As he says later in his essay:

It would be a mistake, I believe, to rule such a claim out a priori or virtually so with Hume’s global standards. Surely the all-powerful creator of all of reality would have sufficient power at its disposal to generate evidence that would be compelling; and I’d rather be prepared to revise all of my beliefs and the convictions I attach to them proportionally to the evidence.

As we go through, McCormick says

The Christian God is, by all accounts, an omni-god. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, singular, personal and infinitely good creator of the universe. Jesus is alleged to have been his son, who was divine, but he was also a man, by Christian doctrine. The extent to which he was a man and lacked the status of a fully omni-being is a point of some controversy, even between believers.

Not among believers. Maybe between believers and heretics, but believers have always included in our creedal statements that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This is yet another point that makes me doubt McCormick really understands the Christianity he criticizes.

He also says that walking on water would require less power than stopping fusion reactions in stars. Sure, but also pointless. After all, God has infinite power so it’s not like He has a storehouse He has to reach into and then recharge. I wonder why McCormick keeps bringing up things like this.

He also says some statements about what a being who is omnipotent could do. One is reverse time, but even this one is debated. Aquinas said that God could not change the past and yet Aquinas never once questioned that God is omnipotent.

McCormick argues that for some miracles, a being would not have to be omnipotent. This is true, but I don’t know of academic philosophers arguing that God is omnipotent on purely miraculous grounds alone. There is always some metaphysics involved.

This is part of the problem for McCormick. He never looks at arguments for theism. If theism is true, and this can be demonstrated by the Thomistic arguments I believe that are inductive, and then we have evidence of miracles taking place, such as from Keener, then it’s reasonable to conclude miracles are the work of the omnibeing that has been shown to exist. McCormick wants to go after miracles still more so he says later that

The problem is that at any given moment on the planet, now and when these miracles are alleged to have happened, there are millions or even billions of other people who are not being cured, healed, or benefitted by a miracle. A miracle that we attribute to an infinitely good God is problematic because of what it omits; it is alleged that it indicates that God is there, and under some circumstances, he will intervene in the course of nature to achieve some good end. But there are all of these other cases, many of which appear to be perfectly parallel, or even more desperately in need of divine intervention, yet none occurs. While Jesus turns water into wine at one party, thousands or millions of other parties go dry. Even worse, millions of people suffer horribly from disease, famine, cruelty, torture, genocide, and death. The occurrence of a finite miracle, in the midst of so many instances of unabated suffering, suggests that the being who is responsible doesn’t know about, doesn’t care about, or doesn’t have the power to address the others. If a doctor travels to a village with enough polio vaccine to inoculate 1,000 children, but only gives it to ten of them, and withholds it from the rest, and then watches the rest get sick, be crippled, or die, we would conclude that doctor was a monster, not a saint. That doctor had the power, the knowledge, the wherewithal to alleviate more suffering, but did not. That doctor must be lacking in some regard.

The problem is McCormick is making this argument so he has to back it. His argument is there is no good reason for God to not heal everyone else if He heals one. Okay. Maybe there isn’t, but He needs to convince me of it. It’s not just enough to assert it.

Let’s go with the doctor example he gives of the doctor with a polio vaccine. Let’s suppose he knew that one child he would give the vaccine to somehow would grow up and become a dictator in that country and murder most of the population. He chooses to withhold the vaccine. We could debate if that was right or wrong, but we can all understand why he did it.

He goes on to cite Christine Overall asking why Jesus is turning water into wine at a party when He could have been healing lepers. McCormick also says if God can heal everyone, why hasn’t He done so already? Why not yesterday?

The water into wine was done because Jesus was invited to the party and He wasn’t trying to make the party go longer, but rather to help the host of the party avoid shame. It was a good act to do to help out. As for why not heal, McCormick wants God to be a Johnny on the Spot fixing all of our problems. Is that really God’s goal? What if God has something far greater and nobler in mind than making sure we all have perfect lives here on Earth?

McCormick also cites William Rowe about situations in the inductive problem of evil. Note that I am sure Rowe would reject the argument McCormick puts forward as McCormick seems to be going with just the logical problem of evil. Now saying evil exists is no longer enough to refute theism as the majority of atheist philosophers on the subject concede. So what does Rowe say about certain instances of evil?

William Rowe has called these, “instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”

So again I have the same question. How does he know? How does he know that this evil could have been stopped without losing a greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse? How could this possibly be established? Note that the atheist has the burden of proof. They are making the claim that needs to be backed.

McCormick later says:

If God has the goal of instilling belief, inspiring faith, fortifying resolve, discouraging misbehavior, or enforcing commandments, it takes very little imagination to conceive of more direct, effective, and sustained means of achieving those ends.

Notice it’s “If God has the goal.” We wait to hear how McCormick has discovered the goals of the Almighty, but that is not coming. He goes on to cite Ted Drange saying:

if these were God’s goals, then it would have been a simple matter to directly implant belief into all people’s minds, or perform more spectacular miracles that would convince more people. What would be more personal than if Jesus had reappeared to everyone, not just a handful of easily discredited zealots? Millions of angels, disguised as humans, could have spread out and preach the word behind the scenes. Or God could have protected the Bible from defects in writing, copying, and translation.

If those were the goals. What if they’re not? After all, Biblically, it’s been when miracles have been at a high that faith has often been at a low. Jesus was doing miracles and got crucified. The Israelites in the wilderness got several miracles and still rebelled. Maybe God’s goal is not just getting people to know He exists. Maybe He wants people to really seek Him on their own and want Him on their own. Maybe He doesn’t want to compel, but simply to woo. Of course, McCormick’s essay would not be complete without a version of Ancient People Were Stupid:

Consider the problem this way. For all of the alleged miracles in history, facsimiles that are undetectable to anyone but an expert can be performed naturally by even mediocre magicians and illusionists. David Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear on television. Penn and Teller catch bullets in their teeth. A Las Vegas magician appears to walk on water in a swimming pool and float in the air over the Luxor hotel. Imagine the social and religious impact these ingenious illusionists could have had amongst the superstitious, poor, and uneducated masses of New Testament Palestine. Religious leaders such as Billy Graham, Peter Popoff, Robert Tilton, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell use cruder and more transparent trickery and deception to win the hearts of millions of people and acquire vast wealth from more educated, modern people.

To begin with, I don’t know anyone who would think that Billy Graham was out there trying to get vast wealth from people. However, does McCormick not realize ancient people knew some basic facts? They built ships because they knew people don’t walk on water. They made wine because they knew it didn’t just happen. They grew food because they knew food doesn’t multiply. They knew blind eyes don’t suddenly open and paralytics don’t get up and walk and dead people stay dead. This was not news to them. If we want to talk about things modern people fall for that is unbelievable, it’s that they still fall for this line of reasoning McCormick gives.

In conclusion, I am once again seeing why it is that McCormick could fall for something like Jar’Edo Wens. He really just thinks he’s asking astute questions, but he’s not. There is no interaction with any number of Christian experts on the problem of evil whatsoever. There are just blanket assertions. Anyone can raise questions. It’s a shame he doesn’t try to find answers.

In Christ,
Nick Peters