Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why is Belief in Modern Miracles Fair Game, When Belief in Miracles is Not?

A lot has been said on this subject over the last couple of months. There are good folks on both sides of the issue of modern miracles. To be specific, the issue about which I speak has to do with the claim that the gifts of miracle workers and healings are continuing in the Christian church. As a cessationist, I have my own particular way of dealing with that argument and have blogged about it a few times. It is clear that the cessationist and continuationist argument will continue for years to come, provided the Lord tarries. In this blog, I am going to attempt to point out the fallacious reasoning for the continuationist argument employed specifically by Stave Hays over at Triablogue.

Repeatedly, Hays refuses to draw any line of demarcation between the special revelation of Scripture and the general affairs of everyday life. Steve has continually argued what is good for Moses is good for us. If Paul could heal the sick, then we should be able to as well. He has gone so far as to adopt the causative-faith argument of charismatics, asserting that James 5 teaches that any prayer of faith ought to be able to produce healing. To my knowledge, he has not qualified God’s will in the process and seems to be drifting more and more toward the Charismatic camp on the issue.

In addition to this, Hays has consistently accused cessationists of employing the argument’s of atheist merely on the ground that we contend that such claims ought to be subjected to rigorous examination and proof. I have said on more than one occasion that these people are publicly claiming to represent Christ, to represent the Church, and therefore they must be subjected to the highest scrutiny. Hays doesn’t seem to think much of it. In fact, he seems far more concerned with argumentation than he does with the transforming nature of truth and the detriment done to the gospel by these false teachers and money-grabbing charlatans. That is most regrettable.

What most people do not realize is that Hays’ argument has a very basic flaw embedded in it. It is one of those flaws that is so obvious that it can slip right past you without notice. Fred Butler, in a nice analogy on UFOs hit on it the other day here.

I want to point you to three common methods of arguing in order to show that Steve Hays has employed a method in this case that is highly questionable. The following statements preclude properly basic beliefs. Hence, every belief or truth claim I reference is one that is not properly basic.

My underlying presupposition: self-justifying truth claims exist. My first premise goes like this: Every truth claim that is not self-justifying is subject to justification. My second premise: truth claims that are not self-justifying and that cannot be justified should be abandoned. My third premise: not all truth claims are justified in the same way.

Three common ways that Christians justify beliefs. The first one I want to discuss is induction. Here we are more consistent than the non-Christian, because we acknowledge the unity of the particular with the general, a unity that only makes sense in the Christian worldview. “Empirical truths – about the consequences of smoking, of the causes of cancer, and all others of that sort – cannot satisfy the standard of deductive certainty.” [Copi, Logic, 444-5] Copi tells us that the most common type of inductive argument is that of analogy. And it seems clear to me that Hays and other continuationists have called on argument by analogy often. “To draw an analogy between two or more entities is to indicate one or more respects in which they are similar. Hays has done this in terms of comparing biblical miracles with modern miracles as well as in his accusations that cessationists are really skeptics. Steve has reasoned that Jesus and the apostles performed miracles. Scripture does not say that miracles will cease after the apostles, therefore we should expect miracle workers to continue. Hays has also made the uncharitable argument that atheists deny miracles, and cessationist denies miracles, therefore cessationists argue like atheists. Inductive arguments never achieve certainty in their conclusions. Induction is a scientific way, the empiricist’s way for justifying beliefs. Not all truth claims can be justified by the inductive approach. For example, belief in the laws of logic cannot be justified using induction.

A second common form of argument is called deduction. “A deductive argument is one whose premises are claimed to provide conclusive grounds for the truth of its conclusion.” [Ibid, 164] In other words, a valid deductive argument is necessarily true if its premises are true. Deduction seeks certainty in its conclusion. Deduction is a rationalistic way for justifying one’s beliefs. However, not all truth claims can be justified using deductive reasoning. For example, you cannot justify empirical claims with deductive reasoning. In fact, the belief in the laws of logic cannot itself be justified using deductive reasoning.

You will recall a few paragraphs ago that I said that some beliefs are properly basic. I also refer to this type of belief as self-justifying. In other words, we do not need to, and in same cases we dare not, subject certain beliefs to the tests of justification. Perhaps belief in other minds would qualify as properly basic. You do not need to concern yourself with proving there are other minds because such a belief is self-evident (unless you are a highly educated philosopher who has learned how to be stupid in ways that the rest of us could never fathom). Every worldview has a chain of beliefs that is eventually anchored to something or perhaps nothing, depending on the worldview. A worldview anchored to air is one that, at bottom, provides no justification for it beliefs.

What kind of claim then is the claim that miracle workers are still present? What kind of claim is it to say that God is performing miracles today? Steve Hays and other continuationists seem to think it is an exegetical claim. They are wrong. It is not an exegetical claim. There is nothing in Scripture that provides the clear teaching that miracles will continue right up into the Parousia. Hence, this claim cannot be justified on purely exegetical grounds. However, on the flip side, the exegetical argument that God is not performing miracles today is about as weak. We cannot deny that God is performing miracles today on a purely exegetical basis. Belief in that claim cannot be justified on solely exegetical grounds. The claim is not an exegetical claim. It is an empirical claim.
How do we investigate empirical claims? Do we open our bibles to see if an empirical claim is true? First of all, we have to examine the source for the claim to determine if it meets the criteria of justification.

What are we observing? Are we actually observing miracles? We hear some reports, but what we need is something we can actually verify. Jesus healed in such a way that His miracles were self-verifying. He didn’t sneak off to someplace else, claim to perform a bunch of miracles and then come back with fancy stories about it all.
What is the difference between modern claims to miracles and biblical claims? It is simply this: the source. And the source makes all the difference in the world. Who is the source for the miracle claims of Scripture? Who is the source for the miracle claims in modern times? In the former case, the source is God Himself. In the latter case, it is fallen man.

Belief in modern claims of miracles is not self-justifying. All beliefs that are not self-justifying should be subjected to justification. All beliefs are not justified in the same way. Belief in modern miracles is empirical in nature. Empirical beliefs are subject to inductive justification. Hence, belief that a miracle has occurred should be empirically justified. Belief in the Bible as God’s word is neither, wholly empirical or entirely rationalistic. A basic Christian belief is that the Bible and all it contains is the self-justifying word of God. Hence, belief that all the contents of the word of God are true is a self-justifying belief. All biblical miracles are infallible records contained in the Bible and given by God Himself. Therefore, belief in Biblical claims of miracles is a self-justifying belief. Self-justifying beliefs are not subject to empirical or rational justification.

In summary then, it is easy to see the difference between cessationist beliefs concerning modern claims of the miraculous and the continuationists. The continuationist argument is guilty of applying the wrong criteria for justification of belief in modern claims of miracles. Such beliefs are empirical in nature and ethically speaking, must be subjected to inductive scrutiny. Not only is justification not unethical, as Hays seems to contend, it is morally necessary. On the other hand, the miracle claims of Scripture have a very different source and therefore are of a very different nature. These claims are made by a source that we dare not question. Scripture is self-justifying. Therefore, belief in the miracle claims of Scripture is a self-justifying belief. Plantinga tells us that any proposition is properly basic for an individual if and only if such proposition is incorrigible for the individual or self-evidence. For the Christian, Scripture is just that! Its testimony is elevated high above Hays’ fallacious argument by analogy, not to mention his sources for modern claims of the miraculous.

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