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Monday, April 2, 2018

"The Case for Miracles" (Lee Strobel)

TITLE: The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural
AUTHOR: Lee Strobel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018, (320 pages).

Is there such a thing as a miracle? If something cannot be proven by science, does that make it false? How do we make sense of miracles? Can we believe something that we cannot explain? After a successful foray into the publishing world with “The Case for Christ” where the author describes his journey from doubt to faith through investigative journalism, he has since written many books based on this investigative theme of “the case of.” Last year, his bestselling book was made into a movie which has been very well received. This book is important not only from a faith perspective but also from a skeptical outlook. While one could criticize the Christian faith for their beliefs in miracles and supernatural events, one needs to examine the reasons for rejecting any in the first place. More often than not, there are skeptics would would never believe regardless of the evidence presented. This book is thus written to Christians; to skeptics; and to everyone else in between.

Benjamin, who was utterly ill-prepared for his Chemistry exam, saw in his dreams the very chemistry problems the day before, which helped him aced the exam. He went on to become the first neurosurgeon to successfully operate on conjoint twins. Dr Roseveare, a visiting missionary in Africa, prayed for a water bottle in a life and death situation for a child and received an incredible answer to her prayer. Duane Miller lost his voice and resigned from his pastorate. As his life takes a turn for the worse, financially, physically, and emotionally, three years later, his “zero” chance of recovering his voice was abruptly overturned and his voice returned. Other stories include the miraculous survival from a brutal vehicle accident; healing in a British auditorium; conversion of a skeptic; a friend receiving an anonymous check; and many more. How can we explain all of these? Are they mere coincidences? These set the stage for Lee Strobel's project in investigative journalism on miracles. Written in five parts, the book is framed as follows:

  • Part 1 - The Case Against Miracles
  • Part 2 - The Case For Miracles
  • Part 3 - Science, Dreams, and Visions
  • Part 4 - The Most Spectacular Miracles
  • Part 5 - Difficulties with Miracles

In Part One, Strobel interviews Dr Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptic magazine and a staunch atheist. The author selected him because he is a credible skeptic who does not mock religion or other views. Plus, he is able to present the best possible case against the possibility of miracles. Shermer has also gone from Christianity to atheism. His faith starts to unravel during his graduate studies in experimental psychology. Seeing faith a something more culturally bound than anything, he becomes disillusioned with religion. When his high school sweetheart was paralyzed due to a car accident, he lost his faith in the midst of difficult unanswered questions about life. For Shermer, the purpose must be self-driven. When studying miracles, one also needs to account for miracles that happened as well as those that didn’t. Shermer quotes David Hume’s philosophy often, insisting that miracles don’t exist because either there was a mistake somewhere or people made things up. How do we prevent “confirmation bias?” Stobel counters the skeptic with the question of faith. Surely, the definition of faith is a belief without insisting on evidence. The most interesting discussion is probably the one on Jesus where Strobel peppers Shermer with questions about the existence of Jesus and finally the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, it took a miraculous recovery of a radio that limited Shermer in his skepticism. Personal experiences cannot be fully explained with science. The good news is, hoping that God is right is still preferred.

Part Two is about the case FOR miracles. Here, Strobel interviews Craig Keener who tells of his conversion from skepticism to faith. Beginning with the miracles in Acts, he was forced to address whether they are false claims or true events. This led to a meticulous research project that involves multiple sources from many sides; travels to Africa to check up on supernatural healings; studies on Scripture and ancient documents; and an eventual admission that the facts support the miracles for Acts. They actually occurred. Just because one cannot explain a miracle does not give one the license to deny its existence when it happened. This led to the publishing of two-volumes of "Miracles" which scholars Ben Witherington III, Craig Evans, and others remarked that it is still the best book to be written about miracles. Strobel shares his questions and doubts he had from Shermer and asks for a second opinion. This he got from the wise and knowledgeable Keener, who notes that many believers who claim to be Christians live as if they are not. Keener is convinced that it is important to reply to skeptics, doubters, and those who had honest questions about the miracles of the Bible. We should also discern the category of people who would remain a permanent skeptic regardless of the evidence or facts before them. Gradually, Keener's thinking shifts away from the doubts of David Hume to faith in Jesus Christ. As I think about it, it is way too common for anyone to be taken in by David Hume's questions without adequately comparing it with the testimonies of Jesus and the early disciples. From the gospels' thirty over miracles to Q documents recognized by many top scholars of many faith persuasions, Keener asserts the need to take historical facts as they are and not adopt the skeptics' circular reasoning just to avoid them. For example, for one to reject miracles on the basis of non-explanation is not reasonable, because the skeptics presumption is already "Miracles don't happen."  If that is the case, no amount of arguments will ever move their stance even an inch. Just because one never experienced a miracle does not mean there are no miracles in this world!

Part Three is about the scientific perspectives of dreams and visions. Challenged by Shermer's quip that "Things are not good on your side," Strobel interviews Dr Candy Gunther Brown, a researcher on alternative healing, to find out more about the impact of prayers, dreams and visions. Brown was selected because of her "nonsectarian approach to religious studies." She concludes that intercessory prayers are not forms of wishful thinking nor fraud. "Something is going on." Moreover, Tim Stafford makes an interesting observations about places where there are outbreaks of the supernatural. These places showcase God's power in high levels of illiteracy; where the spiritual is very real to the people; where there's limited medical care; and where people see miracle for what it is.

Part Four is about the miracle of creation where Strobel interviews Michael Strauss, a physicist who is passionate about the inter-relationship between Science, Creation, and Faith. On his explanation about the supernatural, he argues that just because we are used to seeing a "natural phenomena" does not mean there can't be exceptions. The discussions include a wide range of topics including creation, the big-bang theory, the theory of relativity, even Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Readers get to eavesdrop on the conversations and learn more about science and philosophy, and how they don't necessarily conflict with faith matters. Strobel also discusses the miracle of the resurrection with Detective J Warner Wallace.

Part Five examines some difficulties that Christians have with miracles. Here, Strobel writes to encourage believers that miracles are not things to shy away from but embraced unabashedly. Sometimes, what appeared real to us in our personal encounters in dreams or visions could be met by ridicule by others. We need not shy away from that. Moreover, just because there are frauds by some does not mean that all miracles are fraud! Roger Olsen also laments that many Christians have trickled down supernatural events. Even in prayer, they prefer to say: "Prayer doesn't change things; it changes me." Readers are re-assured that God does work through prayer, not just in us but outside too. Finally, there is an important section about cases where miracles that were expected to happen but did not. With Douglas Groothuis, Strobel discusses on how to make sense and give encouragement.

Three Thoughts
First, this book is addressed primarily to genuine seekers of truth. It is ok to be skeptical but be open to things that exceed our understanding. In our modern world, chances are, miracles tend to be dismissed as coincidences. The higher the education, the higher the income level, the greater the levels of scepticism. Even Christians themselves have a stark number who didn’t believe in miracles because they hadn’t experienced it in the first place. Concerned about the disconnect between one’s faith and one’s belief in miracles, Lee Strobel continues his quest to try to make sense of it all by asking a wide variety of people from different walks of life. He was open enough to even engage one of the top skeptics, Shermer, and is able to learn from him. Legitimate questions should not be avoided. There are good questions that Christians ought to learn humbly from.

Second, this book is useful for Christians who find it hard to reconcile miracles with their faith. I appreciate the discussions on science, dreams, and visions, which highlight some of the struggles believers face in the light of a hostile and skeptical climate of suspicion. Even believers would need to be re-assured about the tenets of faith. In an age where people tend to rationalize everything, it is increasingly likely that they would jettison things that do not come within the purview of their rationalizations. What would they do when they are stuck with some inexplicable phenomena? Do they ignore it? Do they pooh-pooh it away on the basis of some distant fraud they had seen or heard? What about times in which they had been disappointed? Reading through the ways Strobel and the interviewees engage these questions make this book a really profitable journey about the issue. For all we know, those of us who dismiss miracles outright may have unwittingly swallowed the pill of stubborn skepticism.

Finally, each of us need to come to terms at our personal level with regard to the existence of miracles. We may have different reasons for our stand, but it is important to deal with the authenticity of miracles. Faith deepens when we have personally experienced a miracle. It could be in the form of a testimony or a real life event. Perhaps, there are already miracles around us, but because of a lack of reflection or contemplation, we missed it. A busy lifestyle, a frantic hurry to get things done, and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the supernatural could very well blind us to the wonders that are happening around us every moment. Perhaps, this book could also be a case for faith, to fire us in the direction of exponential spiritual growth.

Lee Strobel is an American Christian author and a former journalist with the Chicago Tribune. His life story of skepticism to faith has been published in the bestselling book, "The Case for Christ" and a movie made with the same title.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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