How Are Western Academics Prejudiced Against Miracle Claims?

Many western scholars take the position that miracles don’t occur because they’ve never experienced one and they don’t know anybody credible who has either (this was David Hume’s position as well). But there’s a serious problem with this assertion: they are discounting the testimonies of millions of people they don’t know and to whom they’ve never listened.

Craig Keener, in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, brings this point home with the following analysis:

If even a handful of miracle claims prove more probable than not, Hume’s argument fails, removing the initial default setting against miracles. Without a special burden of proof against miracle claims, they can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by normal laws of evidence like any other claims.

To reject all eyewitness claims in support of miracles (when we would accept in court eyewitness claims of similar quality for other events) simply presupposes against miracles from the start, rigging the debate so as to exclude in advance any supportive testimony as reflecting misunderstanding or deception. At present, however, the primary issue is whether witnesses can claim firsthand knowledge of what they believe are miracles, and here the evidence is overwhelming from the outset.

How is the evidence overwhelming? Surely western scholars would know about this overwhelming evidence. Keener continues:

Even if outside the experience of most Western scholars, today’s world is full of firsthand claims to have witnessed miracles, and there is no reason to suppose that the ancient world was any different. Western scholars may readily dispute the explanations for such phenomena, which may vary from one claim to another, but when some scholars deny that such phenomena ever belong to the eyewitness level of historical sources, they are not reckoning with the social reality of a sizable proportion of the world’s population.

Indeed, millions of intelligent but culturally different people will be compelled by what they believe to be their own experience or that of others close to them to dismiss such scholarship as an experientially narrow cultural imperialism. In the face of far less information about other cultures than is available today, in fact, Hume and the thinkers he followed unashamedly assumed cultural superiority over supernaturalist cultures . . . .

Bad news for western skeptics of miracles. It turns out you will actually have to get up off your couches and go look at the evidence for miracle claims. Your ignorance of the data is embarrassing and you need to so something about it, but that’s going to mean some work. You can get started by reading Keener’s book.