Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Thursday, April 12, 2007

    "Why Won’t God Heal Amputees? Challenge” Response

    Over the past several weeks, I’ve continued to come across the challenge (or ultimately the argument) from Atheists asking the question “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?” Sam Harris proposed this question in his debate with Rick Warren. There’s an entire website dedicated to this subject called Why Won’t God Heal Amputees? Gil Gaudia includes this challenge in his post and proposal on the Secular Web. It’s been discussed in a New York Times piece by N.D. Kristof. It’s also been picked up and littered throughout the web on sites like My Case Against God, the Blog for WWGHA, etc.

    The popularity of this challenge and the significance of this question (in the minds of some), while on one level is understandable, on another level is mindboggling. It’s been described as “one of the most important questions that we can ask about God”. It is claimed to end ambiguity and coincidence when it comes to intercessory prayer. One has even stated “it could provide us with the definitive proof of the power of prayer.” So for some, this challenge seems to be the “be all and end all” when it comes to disproving the existence of God. In their minds, there’s quite a bit (and I suggest even more than they realize) riding on this challenge. So this challenge, at least as far as it concerns the the lack of experimental documentation of a healed amputee, if not just the seeming unwillingness of believers to take up the challenge, goes so far (in their minds) as to prove God is imaginary. In effect, it goes even beyond the challenge to the point they are willing and have chosen to entrust their eternal destiny upon the outcome. (Or so it seems, …I imagine it’s more likely the challenge itself has been established and propagated by those whose persuasions were already formed and who simply use this, not so much as proof though they present it as that, but moreso as expression and propaganda of their present unbelief and opposition to the truth.)

    Well, what should the Christian response be? Is there a response?
    (Or, have we been shamed and silenced by the ultimate ultimatum?)

    I’ll respond on several levels.

    First, there’s the False Presupposition Concerning the the Knowledge of Man Embedded in the Challenge Itself. The argument suggests for example that if amputees were brought and identified (with DNA, etc.), and then believers were to pray for one year, then at the end of the year, one could prove or disprove the existence of God. Here’s the question: How can you assume that if there is a God, that (1) It is God’s purpose and plan for individuals to be healed in this manner, (2) It is God’s purpose and plan for this individual to be healed, (3) It is God’s purpose and plan for the person to be healed in the time period described, (4) God does not have a different plan he might be working through the exercise, including the hardening of the unbeliever’s heart in keeping with his presumptive confidence of his own knowledge and position as judge. The point being that those who not only present this challenge but suggest this challenge provides definitive proof not only overestimate their extent of knowledge and sovereignty (/ability) to carry out the experiment in a controlled fashion so as to arrive at conclusive results, but they also err in setting themselves up as being in such control as to either determine or to box God in as to how and when God must act in addition to stipulating the timeframe in which he must carry out their challenge (or thereby have his non-existence definitively proved.) Also, presenters of the challenge err in reversing the order and setting themselves up as ones in a position to judge God and make definitive claims concerning his will, power, purpose, and timing in addition to his existence.

    Second, there’s the False Assumption that Unbelievers Could and Would Ascribe to God the Power For the Healing If It Took Place. For example, let’s say that a physical limb begin to grow slowly overtime. Would not man try to explain it away by some other phenomenon, or physical explanation, even if it had to be studied to find out the cause. Or perhaps, for example, let’s say that a physical limb grew quickly. Would man believe it, even if he saw it with his own eyes? Did not Christ himself not only give sight to those known to be blind, enable the lame to walk, and even beyond this raise the dead to life (something by the way far beyond just healing an amputee), and what was man’s response? To deny the truth, to explain it away, to try to slander him, to malign his reputation, and to try to rid the world of him and his followers. The point being, not only would metaphysical cause, origin and involvement be denied by those who presuppose that everything that happens in the physical must have an explanation in the physical (as is so often held and argued), but hearts that are opposed to God will not submit to and give credit to God even if the evidence lies before them.

    Third, there’s a False Assertion that God is Interested and Intends to Prove Himself to Unbelievers Today Through Miracles of This Nature. It’s as if unbelievers take a position that says “Oh yeah, if God is true, then he should/must prove himself to me in this specific way.” That’s like a arrogant and rebellious child who in trying to prove his greatness to his friends defies his parents and makes stipulations that his parents must do certain things like buy him a car, or provide a cell phone, etc., to prove their love, or otherwise their love does not exist, all the while the parents are holding out their open arms to the child and doing things consistent with love. The truth is God has revealed that while there is sufficient evidence in general revelation to hold unbelievers accountable and leave them without excuse, at the same time, God has no intention of submitting to or being drawn into the demands or challenges of unbelievers that propose things such as this, to revealing himself to them by means other than his word (found in Scripture), or to continuing to perform miracles for the primary purpose of convincing unbelievers of his existence, power and grace. In this, the presenters of the challenge err in thinking God owes them something, when in fact, the opposite is true.

    Fourth, there’s the Errant Understanding and Proposition Concerning Intercessory Prayer. While the Bible does state in several places that God hears and grants the prayers of his people, the Bible also states that the prayers he grants are those which are in keeping with his will. It’s a false assumption that this doctrine suggests anything of the sort... that man, by just praying and asking anything (i.e., that which is not in keeping with God’s will) thereby impositions, coerces, necessitates or compels God in such a way that he must comply with man’s request. The challenge errs in failing to recognize that intercessory prayer, rather than forming the origin of, actually flows from and is in agreement with the grace of God. Here again, subtle differences in doctrine can be and are often shown to result in colossal errors in thought and practice. At the same time, the fact that God does not do all things that man might want him to, request him to do, or even challenge him to do, does not negate the fact that God does act and intervene in other ways congruent with his will, even in ways like through the wind, or waves, or even the sea, which while man be able to come up with reasons for, such as gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, etc., and yet cannot explain the origin or what's behind such laws and/or occurences.

    Fifth, there’s the False Assumption that God’s Plan for Salvation is to come about through miracles in the physical realm. While God may use extraordinary means in the lives of some people to draw them to himself, not only are miracles not the means by which God intends to salvifically open the eyes of the blind today, but salvation in the greater and broader sense comes by way of things like sickness, suffering and other consequences associated with the curse, but used by God as a means of grace. Presenters of the challenge while looking to the condition of amputees as proof of God’s non-existence fail to recognize that at the same time the very experiences amputees can be the very means through which God reveals himself and draws men to himself.

    Sixth, there’s the False Assumption that God’s Plan Includes Salvifically Proving Himself to Unbelievers by Miracles of This Sort in the Present Age.
    Such an assumption fails to exegete Scripture correctly by discerning the differences in the dispensations and intended means of God’s revelation and workings. The point is that while Jesus, in authenticating himself and revealing his glory, performed miracles of this nature, that is not the same as to suggest that God’s plan today is to open the eyes of the blind and to win men unto himself by these means. Man looks for miracles, but God speaks through his Son.

    Seventh, there’s the False Assertion that because God does not heal amputees that he does not exist or care for men, but the truth is that not only does God do the far greater for man in providing salvation for his soul, but God has revealed that a day is coming for the consummation and transformation and healing of all the imperfections associated with the flesh. The point being that unbelievers fail to understand and embrace what Scripture teaches when it says that the kingdom of God is of a different nature than what men often look for. Man so often is seeking a physical and earthly kingdom (comfort, ease, earthly prosperity, earthly healing, live forever in earthly existence), when Christ proclaims that the kingdom of heaven is of a different nature. (Matthew 13) It is spiritual in nature, and while it ultimately will provide for the renewal and transformation of the body, these things are not to be looked for and set as the object of one’s hope, though at times God does provide for man’s physical well being and improvement through his grace.

    Eighth, there’s the Silent Absence of a Legitimate Control Group offered in the Challenge As Well As Any Alternate Offered and Tested Which Proves the Opposite.
    While one might say the burden of proof lies with believers, for unbelievers to make the claim that this challenge offers definitive proof, given my first argument, more positive proof is needed representing the other side. If God is non-existent, then is “FATE” the one in control? Can “FATE” be shown to produce a new limb for an amputee in the same year? I know the argument will be that man is working on these things and if ultimately man figures out how to solve it, then “FATE” (even if it’s MAN’s fate) will prove itself able. But to argue this, is to fail to be able to answer the question of how one knows that it is not God but fate which has accomplished this. Such arguments not only fail to provide definitive proof, but are uneducated in their approach.

    Conclusion: There’s not as much smoke in the Challenge’s smoking gun as many might think. In fact, there’s more error and eisegesis in the Challenge than most understand. And while there's much less resting on the challenge that is often implied, and much more eternally revealed and at stake than many realize, there also plenty of reasons informed Christians have not shown greater interest in or concern over the challenge, reasons resulting from better reason and reasoning when it comes to the existence of God and the exposition of his word.



    August said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    August said...

    I've also come across this argument a few times before. My response is not as detailed as yours, good job pointing out the misconceptions underlying the "challenge".

    My response is simply that they don't know if God heals amputees or not. They rely on an inductive process to arrive at a general truth which is fallacious to begin with.

    Have they spoken to or seen all amputees, across all times, and everywhere? Unless they have specific verifiable proof that they have done so, they cannot assert that God does not heal amputess. All it takes is one healing, sometime in the past or present, somewhere, and their whole argument is bunk. Since they are issuing the challenge, the burden of proof is on them to show that it has never happened, as they assert.

    emodude1971 said...

    I'd love to address each of your 'answers', but I'm not sure how much space this comment section allows. Therefore, I invite you to stop by the forum at WhyWontGodHealAmputees and please present your arguments in a General Discussion post. Myself (emodude) or another member will be happy to discuss these points with you. Hope to see you there.