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How Do We Assess the Miracle Claims of Other Religions?

How Do We Assess the Miracle Claims of Other Religions
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Common to many religious faiths are claims of the miraculous. From resurrection claims of Jesus, to the claims of supernatural revelation given to Muhammad, a multitude of religions use the miraculous to bolster faith in their religious systems. On the basis of these varied miracle stories philosopher David Hume, in his work “Of Miracles,” proclaimed:

“All the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other.”[1]

Is Hume correct in this assessment? Can a Christian rely on the miracle claims of the Bible, or are their beliefs canceled out by equal and opposite miracle claims from competing religions? A measured assessment of the evidence indicates Hume was hasty in so quickly disregarding religious miracle claims.

To begin, it is important to recognize that competing claims do not necessarily nullify one another. Consider the following hypothetical court case regarding a defendant on trial for a gas station robbery. The victim, the gas station attendant, appears in court and identifies the defendant as the person who robbed her. In order to rebut this claim, the defense calls a witness who then testifies that the defendant was with them during the time of the robbery, providing an alibi. While it is impossible for both witnesses to be right (as their statements conflict with one another), it does not logically follow that they are both wrong. Given the facts of the case, the jury will need to weigh all the evidence and ultimately draw a conclusion, that one or the other witnesses were right (with the other wrong), that both witnesses were wrong, or some other option, such as that each witness was telling the truth but simply mistaken in their interpretation of their experiences.

However, Hume’s approach works contrary to the example outlined above; David K Clark, commenting on Hume, summarizes Hume’s argument as follows:

“If one uses a miracle to confirm a religion, the many miracles reported in other religions act as rebutting defeaters that override any warrant the miracle of the one tradition could provide.”[2]

If a similar approach were used in a court case, few defendants could be convicted as all one would need to do was provide some kind of alternate testimony in one’s defense. Surely it cannot be that the truth is determined only on the basis of testimony alone, but on the consideration of other facts, such as the reliability of the person providing testimony and other circumstantial evidence relevant to any question.

Accordingly, any claim of the miraculous should be taken on its own merits and judged on the strength of available evidence. And, like with any claim, evidence for the miraculous can come in any form of evidence. Take for example, the Christian claim of the resurrection of Jesus. In making the case for the resurrection, one is not limited simply to testimonial claims (such as those given by eyewitness accounts in the New Testament). Christian scholars Gary Habermas and Michael Licona offer a collection of circumstantial evidence when making the case for the resurrection, which they term the “minimal facts approach” (Including the “minimal facts” that Jesus died of crucifixion, Jesus disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them, Paul was suddenly changed, etc).[3] This sort of circumstantial evidence should be considered just as evidentiary as direct testimony.[4]

Habermas and Liconas’ argument either stands or falls on the strength of its own evidence. Other miracle claims, such as the supernatural production of the Qu’ran in Islam,[5] must also be evaluated according to its own evidence. The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus may not have any bearing on other miracle claims, and vice versa. Luckily for the Christian, many of the miracles described in the Bible, such as the resurrection of Jesus, are strongly evidenced, especially in comparison to competing religious claims (unfortunately space prohibits expanding on that topic here).

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Additionally, it is important for Christian believers to keep in mind that Christian scripture does not limit miracle occurrences to those involving Christian believers.[6] 2 Kings chapter 5 tells the story of Naaman, a foreign leader and unbeliever, who is healed by God of leprosy. If a miracle claim related to believers of another religion were proven, the occurrence of the miracle would not necessarily conflict with Christian beliefs. Again, the specifics of the claim and the evidence supporting it would need to be evaluated. Miracle claims should be supported by evidence and argumentation just like any other truth claim Click To Tweet

Miracle claims in various world religions are worth considering and addressing. However, they cannot simply be handwaved away solely on the basis that they conflict with one another. Miracle claims should be supported by evidence and argumentation just like any other truth claim. The Christian faith has a distinct advantage in that from its outset Christianity has offered a wide range of evidence to show the truth of its claims of the miraculous and supernatural.

[1] David Hume, “Of Miracles,” in In Defense of Miracles, ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997), 38.
[2] David K. Clark, “Miracles in the World Religions,” in In Defense of Miracles, ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997), 199-202.|
[3] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004), 48-77.
[4] Judicial Council of California, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (New York: LexisNexus, 2021), 123.
[5] Siraj Islam Mufti, “The Qu’ran- A Unique Miracle,” IslamiCity, last modified April 17, 2021. https://www.islamicity.org/6500/the-quran-a-unique-miracle/.
[6] For some further discussion, see Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 143.

 

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Written By

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Liam

    February 4, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    Excellent article brother.

  2. William

    March 14, 2022 at 6:54 pm

    Please consider editing ‘Luckily for christians’. It is no small matter of coincidence that things work out for the good of God.

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