Apologists think they score big on the objectivity scale by insisting that skeptics and atheists do their own research into the claims for miracles that appear in Christian books. A large list of miracle-claim references may be found in Craig Keener’s two volume set “Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)”.
But if we are realistic about the time and money required to be expended in the effort to properly investigate a single modern-day miracle claim, it becomes immediately clear that the apologist advice that skeptics should check out those claims, is irrational for all except super-wealthy super-single super-unemployed super-bored skeptics.
A proper investigation is the kind that guards as much as possible against fraud. For that reason, the investigation should attempt to authenticate as much of the evidence as possible. There is a very good reason why courts, for example, require evidence to be authenticated before it becomes admissible: authentication reduces the chances of fraud, even if imperfectly, and so authentication makes sense. Will any apologist seriously suggest that a good investigator will not worry about authenticating evidence? What’s next? Bigfoot is a real animal, because of all the videos and pictures of it on the internet?
What would authenticating evidence consist of? Easy: What sort of evidence is the miracle-claimant providing?
Her own testimony? Find her and interview her. Find people who have personal knowledge of her credibility and interview them too.
Pictures or video? Find and interview the photographer.
People who claim to be eyewitnesses? find them and interview them. Find people who have personal knowledge of these witnesses’ credibility and interview them too.
Medical documentation? Get a signed release of information permission form from the healed person, give it to the doctor who signed the alleged medical document, and get all of the medical history on the miracle-claimant you can, to make sure the document released to the public is authentic, and there is no “more to the story” that might challenge the assertion of miracle.
Some other author or investigator who has already written books or articles favorable to the miracle claim? Ask her for a copy of all her evidence. Ask them to explain if they failed to pursue a particular lead that might have produced a credibility problem.
Here is a reasonable hypothetical scenario that would likely occur in the event a skeptic chose to do a serious investigation into a single alleged miracle:
You read a Christian book that provides references on people who claimed miracles. You Google the name of one such person, and you find a webpage purporting to document the healing. There are links to medical documents and statements and emails of eyewitnesses.
Concerning the medical documents, just because you found it on the internet doesn’t mean it is authentic, right? So a good investigator will want to authenticate medical records, and that involves getting permission from the claimant for the doctor to release their medical file, a major hurdle, it involves getting permission from the claimant for other physicians to release their other medical files to you so there is nothing about their medical condition that might falsify the claimed healing, and that is usually an unassailable hurdle (nobody typically allows release of their entire medical files to strangers outside of the legal context).
Like any insurance adjuster or criminal investigator, you will want a second medical opinion where the current documentation only gives a single medical report. Two problems: First, for the average American, they cannot afford to pay a physician to independently examine somebody. We all have medical insurance because we cannot afford regular medical costs. Second, supposing you were rich and could afford this, and you found a physician near where the miracle-claimant lives, you need to convince the claimant to consent to such secondary examination. Apologists cannot rationally argue that, for the skeptic who gets as lucky as this, surely the claimant would consent. Therefore, it may turn out that all the time the skeptic spends on getting the money to pay this other doctor, and all the time he spent locating that doctor and setting up the examination, were for nothing due to the miracle-claimant’s refusal to submit to a secondary examination.
Most of us do not have the amount of time or money that would be required to get us to the point of asking the miracle-claimant to submit to a secondary medical examination. Many investigations would cease at that point.
How about the eyewitnesses? Here’s how investigating them would likely play out:
That webpage containing the alleged medical file also provides links to witness statements and their email addresses. You email them. As is usually the case, some email addresses remain current, others no longer work. As might be expected, you email 5 witnesses and only 3 respond. So you spend more money using people locater services to locate the missing eyewitnesses. As usually happens, those two either don’t respond despite your sending email to their last known email address, or they respond and say they will not discuss the matter. How would it impact the investigation if only 3 of the 5 alleged witnesses can be found? Sure, disregarding the importance of the other two is convenient for apologetics and evangelism purposes, but how do we evaluate just how significant or insignificant interviews with the missing witnesses would have been? Isn’t it true that where a witness can testify to something, their failure to testify reduces the objectivity of the verdict?
Those who respond assure you in their email response that their witness statement quoted on the website accurately reflects what they said. How do you know the person responding by email really is an eyewitness, or is who they say they are? Surely people never lie on the internet, right? Surely people never lie to make a miracle-claim look more believable, do they? A proper investigation would require you to authenticate those witness statements, and that means convincing the alleged eyewitness to provide you with their full legal name, address and phone number, for the same reasons that any criminal investigator would want the same three items from anybody who says they saw the crime happen. If you were the victim of a crime and the investigator told you they located an eyewitness who provides an alibi for the suspect, would you want the investigator to get this eyewitness’s full legal name, address and phone number?
As is usually the case, not everybody that you request such information from, will give it out, even if they can correctly identify you, since for all they know, maybe you are just a scam artist pretending to be interested in a miracle claim solely to get their personal information. So among the three responding witnesses, 2 of them give you their full legal name, address and phone number, the third chooses to cease communication with you.
There is a very good reason why civil and criminal courts require that the witness who authored a document take the witness stand. Attempting to discern whether somebody is lying involves more than just what they are willing to write down and sign their name to. The fact-finder is allowed to present evidence impeaching their credibility.
Suppose the two eywitnesses left in this hypothetical are willing to grant you a personal interview so you can obtain the equal of a confession on the witness stand.
But as a good investigator, you want to make sure your interview time is better spent than in simply listening to the eyewitness repeat exactly what they said in the statements attributed to them on the website. So you wish to obtain evidence enabling you to probe their general credibility. That means getting names and phone numbers of other people who know the eyewitness, such as neighbors, co-employees, family or friends. Apologists cannot provide any guarantee that people who are willing to be interviewed concerning facts in their personal knowledge, would likely give out contract information on other people, so this is another point at which the investigation might be halted, and the money and time spent getting to that point, wasted. Why interview a witness if you have no information allowing you to probe their general credibility?
But suppose both witnesses provide you this personal information anyway (!?). You are a good investigator, you prefer the method of interview that guards against possible fraud more so than interview by phone or email, you prefer a face-to-face interview for the same reason courts of law require witnesses to testify in the physical presence of the jury. Here is what it would cost on average to conduct witness interviews, assuming you don’t live in the same state as they:
- Plane Ticket – $1000 (you can’t take the bus because you have work and family responsibilities requiring quick return)
- Motel – $140 for two days/two nights to complete interview (cheaper motels are likely unsanitary).
- Food – since investigator is traveling by plane, she likely wont be hauling along enough groceries to last the two days it would take to complete this interview, so to avoid restaurants she must buy groceries that are ready to eat and can be kept in a motel room not necessarily equipped with a refrigerator. Two days worth of such food – $10
- Camera and Video – If you doesn’t already have a digital cam with video capability, $100
- Rental car for two days – $100 (if you have to get home within two days, you are ill-advised to just hop on a city bus in a town you never lived in and find your witness this cheaper way).
- Rental car gas for two days – $60
And here’s the bad news: that’s more than a thousand dollars just for one single claimed miracle. When the California-based skeptic has to spend $1000 investigating a single miracle claim originating in Maine, there will be more miracle-claims for her to investigate down in Texas. Who would seriously argue that the skeptic is obligated by reasons of objectivity and fairness to keep shelling out $1000 a pop for every single miracle claim apologists cite to?
And here’s even worse news. It could easily be that the witnesses live in different states, in which case you’ll be purchasing at minimum at least one more plane ticket, one more motel for at least two more nights, and one more two-day rental car.
The more witnesses available to be interviewed, the higher go the expenses of the good investigator who doesn’t want to leave any stone unturned.
In short, if skeptics got lucky and managed to find the needle in the haystack, and came across a website documenting a miracle, and found witnesses willing to be interviewed, the minimal expenses for investigating this one claim would run from $1000 to $3000 just for a single claim.
Apologists, desperate to cut the skeptic’s costs as much as possible so as to leave them “without excuse”, will suggest ways to cut the costs as described above, but even if we assume such interview could be completed in one day for $100, how many times do apologists think skeptics would be obliged to pay $100 to investigate a miracle claim? If you believe at least 10 miracle claims are true, does rationality require that the skeptic spend $1000 just to investigate those? What if the skeptic doesn’t have that kind of money? Do you suggest he move his family to cheaper housing, sell the car and take the bus, sell their expensive possessions at a garage sale or pawn them, save the grocery money by eating only at the local bum shelter, take a second job, etc, ? Objectively investigating miracle claims becomes kind of stupid at that point, wouldn’t you say?
What bright ideas do you have for the married miracle skeptic whose wife homeschools their children, who has only one job? Maybe he should be willing to place his fiances in jeopardy just to go investigate a miracle claim? Maybe he should put his kids in public school so the wife has free time to take a job thus generating more funding?
What about the skeptic who thinks spending her limited time and money on her family is far more important than financing miracle investigations? Is she irrational for that reason?
If skeptics need to stay open to the possibility of miracles merely because they cannot rationally go around investigating each and every miracle claim, then must you, the Christian apologist, stay open to the possibility that miracles don’t happen, on the grounds that you don’t have the time or money to investigate every single naturalistic argument skeptics have ever come up with?
If you can rationally presume the best evidence of naturalism is already known and doesn’t prove the case, then skeptics can rationally presume the best evidence of miracles is already known and doesn’t prove the case. If you don’t have to answer every last naturalistic argument, skeptics don’t have to answer every last miracle claim.
When apologists say skeptics and unbelievers have a responsibility to examine the evidence in support of miracle-claims, they do not seriously appreciate how much time and money would need to be expended to do professional level investigation (i.e., the type of evidence-gathering that guards against possible fraud as much as civil and criminal investigations try to, i.e., personal interviews, plane tickets, locating the witnesses, locating and interviewing the character witnesses, etc.).
Us skeptics have lives and families, and for those of us who have good paying jobs, we already invest the money in our families, so we still cannot afford to spend a minimum of $100 and the loss of two days away from family and jobs, each and every time a miracle claim with identifiable witness is alleged somewhere by some Christian.
And if apologists are consistent, they will insist that skeptics have a burden to investigate documented miracle claims, and since those can be found all over the world, the cost in time and money to the skeptic to properly investigate miracles occuring halfway around the world from her skyrocket far beyond $100 or $1000.
And the bad news is that it doesn’t matter if we investigate a single claim and come up with good reasons to remain skeptical of it….there are thousands of other miracle claims complete with identifiable eyewitnesses and alleged medical documentation that we haven’t investigated.
If the apologist does not want the skeptic to be irrational and stupid, then the apologist does not want the skeptic to conduct the type of thorough investigation of any modern-day miracle claim that has the best chance of exposing fraud. They just want us to see a picture on the internet of the outline of Jesus in a taco shell, then suddenly discover on that basis alone which version of Christianity is the “right” one. LOL