We earlier did Strobel’s press conference. I won’t repeat details of that here, which is concerned solely with the book.
Strobel sticks with the formula that brought him to the ball. He begins and ends each chapter as a breathless race against the clock. He runs to the car to hurry to the next interview—before it’s too late. He bursts out, pondering the clues, and jumps on an airplane to the next man in the chain. It’s a mystery whether miracles are real, and our hero is going to solve it.
Not unlike modern journalists, he’s always inserting himself into the story. He smiles, holds up his hand, feels “emotional punches”, and pads with things like “‘Good point’, I said”, and “I was about to ask a follow-up question when Strauss jumped in with an interesting theological observation.”
This makes for what book reviewers call a “breezy” read. There isn’t anything challenging, and it’s doubtful any atheist would be convinced by the material. But it does provide a useful starting point for Christians who have not thought deeply about the subject.
There are pleasant surprises. Such as the interview with arch-skeptic Michael Shermer, who is given three chapters, and who comes across as a sympathetic character. Shermer started as a protesting Christian but fell away after experiencing what seemed to him unanswered prayers. He then leaned too hard on Hume and became a skeptic.
But Shermer is not dogmatic. He ends with an eerie story of a radio coming to life at just the right moment, only to die again as the moment passed. (More about that here in his own words.) Strobel asked, “Did this incident crack open a door for you?” Shermer answered, “A little, yeah. Maybe a bit.”
I paused and considered this. I wondered at how I felt about it. But this book review had to be done by 7 AM, so I quickly turned the page to the next chapter. “What was this next chapter about?” I asked myself.
It’s about Craig Keener pointing up the absurdity of David Hume’s argument against miracles. “Hume defines miracle as a violation of natural law, and he defines natural law as being principles that cannot be violated.” Many were persuaded by that maneuver.
Strobel acknowledges the weaknesses of medical miracles. Spontaneous remissions, placebo effects, misdiagnoses, even scams account for many supposed miracles. A shortcoming Strobel did not flesh out is that as medical knowledge increases, what earlier seemed miraculous becomes mundane. That also shows his working definition of miracle is in need of fixing (which I will do elsewhere). Still, some cures, such as being raised from the dead, are surely miraculous.
He met with Candy Gunther Brown, a physician who explained what happened when scientists tried studying miracles. These earnest researchers must never have heard Thou shalt not tempt [test] the Lord thy God.
One peer-reviewed study was the “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer” study, a “prospective, randomized, double-blind, parallel group controlled trial”, published in American Heart Journal. One group prayed for, one group not. No wee p-values were found.
But then the prayer team in the study were not “genuinely Christian”. “Reading through Unity’s [the prayer group’s] beliefs, I detected a mixture of Hinduism, Spritism, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and Christian Science.” Not quite classical theological views.
Brown pointed to other statistical studies where prayer did produce wee ps, which was enough to convince her. It will not be convincing to those who understand the severe limitations of statistical models. Nor to those who question the theology of statistically testing the Lord’s powers.
An intriguing anecdote came from missionary Tom Doyle, whose milieu is the Muslim world.
[M]ore Muslims have become Christians in the last couple of decades than in the previous fourteen hundred years since Muhammad, and it’s estimated that a quarter to a third of them experienced a dream or vision of Jesus before their salvation experience.
The dream is (reportedly) the same: a vision of a man in a white robe bringing the feeling of intense love.
Strobel spends some time with physics: the Big Bang, multiverses, fine tuning of physics constants, and so on. This section is, as would be expected, hand-wavy. (See instead Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God, which requires advanced study in physics to follow.)
The last words on when miracles don’t happen is poignant, and even more unsolvable than eternal inflation theory.
What’s more fascinating, but not unexpected, is how many Christians are embarrassed about the subject, preferring to side with atheists on the impossibility of miracles (at least in our time). Once you allow miracles you are forced to acknowledge the supernatural—and all that that entails.
Categories: Book review