Someone recently wrote me and said: "I believe that Jesus existed, but I don't believe Jesus healed people or did miracles." How would I respond to someone who said this?
- Are they an atheist or a theist, or something else? Explain that atheism as philosophical materialism/naturalism necessarily rules out divine activity. So if they are an atheist, it follows that they are a philosophical naturalist or materialist. (The two ideas of "naturalism" and "materialism" can be understood as not referring to the same thing. See The Waning of Materialism, eds. Robert C. Koons and George Bealer). By definition (by logical extension) divine healings and miracles are impossible. As Bertrand Russell famously said, "All that exists is matter and its various collocations." I would ask them if they understand this? On philosophical naturalism (aka philosophical materialism) "nature" is all there is. All possible events are 100% natural; the super-natural (beyond nature) does not exist. But if the questioner is not an atheist, then they should be able to acknowledge, at least in principle, things such as divine healings and miracles.
- If they are an atheist, are they a philosophical materialist? I would present current arguments against materialism, such as Lawrence Bonjour's "Against Materialism." (In Ib.) In this essay Bonjour argues that the most popular materialist explanation of consciousness ("functionalism") does an inadequate job of explaining the qualitative content of consciousness ("qualia"). Philosophical materialism (all that exists is matter) is in deep, troubled waters when it comes to explaining consciousness. If such materialism cannot explain consciousness we are left with the conclusion that there exist non-material realities. In my opinion this opens a door for super-natural (non-natural) realities.
- In studying historical texts one will do well to put aside biases caused by one's worldview. I would want to discuss the Jesus story historically. To do this one does not have to accede to the theological claim that the Bible is God's Word. If, historically, the best explanation of a certain event in the Jesus story such as the resurrection is best explained by a divine miracle, then it is rational to believe such a miracle happened.
- Present examples of divine healing. See, e.g., the current and ongoing research of Candy Gunther Brown. In my church context we have several examples, and have confirmed some of them with medical documentation. But note this: documentation is one thing; interpretation is another thing. The materialist worldview will strive to reduce the documentation to pure natural explanations. The theistic worldview (esp. if charismatic or pentecostal) will tend to see divine intervention in nearly everything.