Miracles


Eric Metaxas is an engaging writer, and the first half of this book is a sound logical reason why you should believe that (at least some) miracles really happened.

Unfortunately, his argument is marred by a smidgen of hypocrisy: he is unwilling to follow his own logic to its reasonable conclusion, and stops short of believing all the Biblical miracles really happened. If God could create a vast universe so finely tuned that the evolution of life out of nothing is essentially impossible -- so improbable that the odds against it overwhelm any other imaginable calculation -- if God could do that, why couldn't He also do it in 144 hours? There are good apologetic reasons for not arguing for a 144-hour Creation story when trying to convince people that Creation itself is a God-given miracle, but it's not necessary to say (as he does on page 79) that he doesn't believe God's version of the story. He doesn't use those words, but he does put up a straw man of recent creation being an intentional deception, then say it "is inconsistent with the God of the Bible," nevermind that it is what the Bible said happened.

The premise is false. When Jesus made water into wine, it did not taste like it was only water a few minutes ago, it tasted like the "best" (properly aged) wine. The purpose in making it so was not to deceive, but if you choose to ignore more compelling data (like the report of an eyewitness, which is essentially the basis for Metaxas believing that miracles happen), you could be deceived. We have an eyewitness report of the Creation account, so there is no deception. The apparently deceptive data consists of (in the memorable words of Ken Ham) "billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth." Millions of years is not the only to get that result, a global Flood could do it in a few months, and we have the eyewitness report from the guy who experienced the event, no deception needed. The alleged distance of stars is another argument against a recent creation, which I answered elsewhere.

We do not know that the universe is billions of years old. The atheist scientists assume that their calculations prove it, but they don't tell you what assumptions they have to make to get there. The undisputed data can be interpreted as reflecting a very old universe, but only by making a lot of assumptions that turn out to be less credible than a miracle-working God doing everything less than 10,000 years ago.

But Metaxas is an author, not a scientist. He cites scientific data, but he gets it from other people. He doesn't even treat the Bible accurately (page 86 mentions Elisha and cites "1 Kings 4-17" but there is no Elisha there, probably only a typo that should read "2 Kings 4:1-17", but he totally mishandles the Creation account), why should we trust his math and science? Page 97 mentions "voila, we will square the circle... Their circle is still as circular as it ever was." Squaring the circle is not about changing the shape of a circle, it's about the impossibility of calculating the area of a circle by constructing (with a compass and straight-edge) a square of equal area. That's because pi, a necessary part of that calculation, cannot be known precisely. That's math. Page 44 gives the probability against an earth-like planet as "one in ten to the fiftieth power." About the same time I read that, I also read an article in WIRED mentioning "hundreds" of earth-like planets discovered just last year. Of course WIRED is written and edited by atheists who want to fudge their data in the opposite direction that Metaxas wants to.

Moral of the story: check it out. Don't believe everything you read -- especially if it has a religious agenda (as is true of both of these sources). After reading this book, I am strongly motivated to go dig up some of his source material -- still by Christians, but at least they are scientists and/or mathematicians.

The second half of the book is a sequence of miracle stories. The first chapter contains several conversion accounts, including the author's own. Technically, if you believe the Bible, conversion is a miracle: God alone can do it. However, people can conjure up the goofiest ideas in their heads, and there's no way to verify what happened. I know, I did it myself, once or twice. If you are a Relationshipist (as most American Christians are, and Metaxas apparently is), then these are nice warm fuzzy affirming stories, which all Relationshipists everywhere like to hear and tell. If you are in the other half of the population like me, you are more likely to just roll your eyes and move on.

The second chapter of actual modern miracles is about healing. I would have hoped for something better than another bunch of inside stories, and maybe one of them is -- or maybe not. With the possible exception of the last one, all of these are about illnesses that the doctors couldn't explain, let alone cure. The person just felt bad, or had a bad allergic reaction (which is mostly again about feelings). I know a little about allergies: I once knew a woman who had no obvious allergies until she decided that she didn't like her marriage; then she developed a bad wheat allergy. The human mind has an astonishing ability to control other parts of the body in ways that science still does not understand. Cure the spiritual problem, and maybe the physical consequences also get fixed. Maybe the sore on the guy's foot was one of those, maybe not, I don't know. But there are no miraculous regeneration of lost limbs or organs in this chapter. In one story a guy was lame, then he could walk and leap and praise God -- indeed, God be praised -- but it wasn't any physical problem the docs could identify. I was disappointed again.

The third chapter title -- "Miracles of Inner Healing" -- disclosed (truthfully) that it was more of the same, and I almost just skipped over it. Not that bad attitudes don't require an Act of God to get past the problem -- the human condition is one of wretched sinfulness which God alone can cure -- but the atheists can (and the NewAgers do) argue (and we would be hard put to disprove) that mental conditions can be cured by mental effort.

The fourth chapter was different. Some, maybe half (depending on how you count them) of the stories were non-mental events, actual things that happened and put people in a different place than where they started out, with nobody nearby afterwards to have done it, and other people who saw the effect if not the angel proper. Other people have written about angels with similar outcomes, things that happened to people which could not be imagined, usually somebody does something to rescue a person from life-threatening danger or difficulty, then disappears.

In a couple more chapters he mentions some amazing coincidences (the word literally means "happen at the same time" but we usually take it to mean "by chance at the same time" as does Metaxas) and some more internal stuff. As merely mental effects, the coincidences are exceedingly improbable and probably qualify as miracles, but we don't see in this book the kinds of miracles that people saw around Jesus twenty centuries ago. That was disappointing about this book.

This book has something for everybody. If you are a Thinker like me and care more about truth than affirmation, read the first half of this book and skim the rest. If you are a Feeler, caring more for "relationships" (affirmation), then skim the first half and enjoy the back in detail.

Tom Pittman

2015 March 9