An atheist's request for a miracle to prove God's existence requires a careful answer. Brett offers that response.
“Why won’t God heal amputees?” The question caught me by surprise.
I had just finished my “Why I Am a Christian” talk at Calvary Chapel Chino Valley’s youth conference in April. After talking with a few students and leaders, a young man approached. He challenged me with this question, explaining his atheist friend had asked it earlier in the week. And he had no answer for his friend.
Apparently, it’s a question atheists make a big deal about. There is even an entire website dedicated to it (www.whywontgodhealamputees.com). The website claims “this is one of the most important questions we can ask about God.” Sometime, somewhere I had heard the objection but had never given it much attention. Now it was staring me right in the face. Immediate attention was required.
I proceeded in usual fashion—by asking clarifying questions. “What conclusion does your atheist friend draw from this question?” I inquired. He responded, “Well, if God doesn’t heal amputees when we pray for them, then He doesn’t exist.” I followed with a few more questions, gathering the gist of the atheist’s argument.
The atheist claims that alleged healings, like the disappearance of a cancerous tumor or diagnosed disease, seem to be ambiguous. Did God supernaturally heal the person or is modern medicine responsible? Both causes could be offered and both could be disputed. But according to the atheist, if an amputee grew back a missing limb after intercessory prayer was offered on his behalf, this would be a clear case of the miraculous and thus proof for God’s existence. On the other hand, no new limb means no God. A fail-proof test, right? Wrong.
First, I pointed out this atheist’s argument is guilty of a logical fallacy called a non sequitur. The fallacy is committed when a conclusion or statement does not logically follow from a previous argument or statement. If amputees do not grow back limbs when we pray for them, does it follow God does not exist? Of course not. His existence is independent of what actions He would or would not take.
But why limit myself to amputee miracles? Any miracle will do. A million dollars in my bank account today. World peace starting tomorrow. And if these miracles don’t occur, then God doesn’t exist. Well, I think you can see the irrationality of such claims. God’s failure to perform a miracle at my request says nothing about His existence. In fact, even if we granted the atheist his assumption that amputees are not healed, at the very most we could only conclude God does not heal amputees. Not a profound conclusion.
Second, I pointed out his atheist friend simply assumed no amputees have been healed. But just because an atheist says there’s never been an amputee healing in thousands of years of human history doesn’t mean it’s true. Now, I’ve never researched this question but I wanted this young Christian to catch a healthy bit of skepticism, particularly when it comes to anti-Christian claims. Research is now in order but my point was you cannot simply assume what needs to be proven.
But we also have to test the intellectual honesty of the atheist asking this question. If we can produce a credible report of an amputee’s missing limb being healed and replaced, is the atheist willing to accept that evidence? There are credible reports of miraculous healings in our own time and in the Bible, but he dismisses these wanting further evidence of a particular kind of miracle. So is this an honest question or an insincere request for evidence when no evidence will suffice?
Third, even personally witnessing a miracle is no guarantee that someone will believe. This was the case with the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They witnessed His miracles, but their response was to conspire to crucify Him. Greg Koukl calls this “unbelievable unbelief.” Jesus told them, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). You see, our essential problem is moral, rebellion against God. Asking for evidence is legitimate, but evidence doesn’t guarantee belief because sinners don’t want to bend their knee to the Lord. So the question actually arises from a wrong understanding of the atheist’s fundamental problem. It’s not lack of evidence, it’s sin and rebellion to the Truth.
Fourth, even if God never performs a miracle it doesn’t negate all of the positive evidence we already have that He exists. This challenge – even if you can’t answer it satisfactorally - doesn’t sweep away the rational basis we already have for believing in God, the Bible, and that Christianity is true.
Fifth, I reminded this young Christian that God does not promise He will answer every request with a “yes.” Many times he says “no” or “later.” And it could be there are some requests He says “no” to all the time. Might God have a morally sufficient reason for doing so? Absolutely, even if He never reveals those reasons to us in this lifetime. As a dad, there are things I do for the good of my kids—taking them to the doctor for shots, punishing them for wrong behavior, or forcing them to eat their vegetables—which they don’t understand right now. The same is true between God and us.
And this last response requires a bit of maturity to understand. Frankly, many atheistic arguments are childish. “If God doesn’t do what I ask right now, I don’t have to believe in him.” Well, I don’t think God is really interested in becoming a magic genie. He’s interested in something much deeper and more profound. He’s interested in the kind of human being you become. Indeed, Jesus suggests voluntary “amputeeism” for the sake of character development: “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). Better to lose a hand than have your moral choices drag you away from God, forever.
After our conversation, the young man thanked me and walked away with a look of relief. An atheist’s challenge was turned into a teachable moment. And a teachable moment strengthened this student’s trust in God’s existence and character.