Sunday, June 07, 2015

A Few Thoughts About the "Amputee Argument" Against the Existence of a God Who Answers Prayers

Warren Dunes State Park in Southeast Michigan
(I'm re-posting this from 2009)

I recently had someone add to my web-post on The Best Arguments Against God's Existence. The addition, for this person, was The Amputee Argument Against the Existence of God. Here are a few thoughts I have re. this argument, not necessarily in order.

1) I have clinical evidence where cancer has completely gone away (therefore it's not "in remission"). The order has been this: 1) Person A has cancer and is being treated for cancer. 2) Person A receives prayer. 3)Tests show that Person A no longer has cancer. Using abductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation), I conclude that probably God answered prayer and healed Person A. NOTE: I've been in touch with two scholars who are writing forthcoming books on divine healing, where these kind of healings following prayers will be documented. (Candy Brown, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing; Craig Keener, Miracles)

2) Of course "cancer going away" is not a "definitive" (= deductive) answer, since all such examples are only either inductively or abductively probable. The same holds for the amputee argument. While it may seem more obvious in the amputee example, it's still only a probableistic argument, and not a deductive (logically necessary) argument.

3) I do not know that there has never been a healing of an amputee. I don't think it's true that if an amputee was healed, somewhere and sometime in the world, it would thereby be "major news." Perhaps a secular press would not report it, perhaps a religious press might. (I say "might" since there are Christians who do not think God heals people.) The fact that I don't know of an amputee being healed offers no proof that no amputee somewhere in the world, sometime in the past 2000 years, received prayer and was healed. I simply don't have epistemic access to the truth value of the statement: No amputee has ever received prayer and was healed. How could a person know that? (Here the absence of evidence does not entail the evidence of absence.) Because I do have epistemic access to a number of healings in response to prayer (as I see it) I resist affirming such a claim, much as, I think, an atheist resists saying that something super-natural happened. But that, then, has to do with noetic frameworks (see below).

4) Surely it's not true that the only instances "where the hand of God could be truly verified" are like healings of amputees. Precisely because all such "verification" will only be probable and not necessary.

5) I think the amputee argument is only convincing to those who already believe there is no God. Note that if that's true, then the argument begs the question. Probably that's why someone like myself who studies, in-depth, philosophy of religion issues such as the problem of evil, remains essentially undeterred by this argument. And, this is probably why some remain unconvinced in the face of my Person A example above. And one is able to remain unconvinced precisely because it's only probably, more or less, that Person A was healed. One's noetic framework comes into play. Mine is theism, and I still find theism more coherent than atheism.

6) Which leads to my last thought: atheism (philosophical naturalism) is fraught with more conceptual problems than theism. I find atheism contains incoherencies that surpass the amputee example such as, e.g., the issues philosopher J.P. Moreland raises re. philosophical naturalism in his Consciousness and the Existence of God. Note that my noetic framework holds even in the face of putative counter-evidence, just as a philosophical naturalist's noetic framework holds in the face of putative counter-evidence. The discussion then becomes over adjudicating between noetic frameworks, which is the kind of work Moreland does in Consciousness, and Stu Goetz does, e.g., in Naturalism. For myself, and I think for others, these are the only meaningful alternatives. (I'm not open, e.g., to Hindu pantheism or Buddhist monism.)