If Christianity is true, how do we approach miracle claims in other religions? Is this an impossible hurdle to jump or have the critics gone a step too far?
Truth is exclusive. No two contradictory truth claims can be true at the same time. By the law of the excluded middle, one must be true and the other false. With this in mind, how, then, do we address the claims of miracles from those in different religions? I’ll let an atheist himself voice the argument from a comment I received about a year back (I’ve seen this argument put in similar terms by many others in various forums and comment sections, which is why I believe it is appropriate).
If you talk to Christians long enough you realize that for most of them their belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Creator and Master of the universe is not primarily based on scholarship or historical evidence but on their own personal experiences involving this belief.
“Jesus has performed amazing miracles for me. There is no way they could have been coincidences.”
“Jesus dramatically changed my life. I could never have become the person I am today without Him.”
“I was very sick. I prayed to Jesus and shortly thereafter I was healed. There is no explanation for my healing other than: Jesus healed me!”
The problem with this “evidence” is that people from every other religion, sect, and cult (Heaven’s Gate, for example) on the planet say the very same things! Can they all be right? Either Jesus is answering prayers, changing lives, and performing miracles for millions of people who don’t believe in him, or, all these religious people are delusional: their personal experiences and changed lives have nothing to do with an invisible superhero in the sky!
Aside from the weirdly blatant straw-manning (I know many Christians who came to Christianity after examining the evidence from historians, scholars, and fellow apologists), there are legitimate concerns with this argument from both sides. The first concern, from our side, is that modern Christianity, or more accurately modern evangelism, is very “experience” based. I put the word experience in quotations because we often tend to confuse emotional experiences with spiritual ones. I’ve been just as careless with my interpretation of personal experiences in the past so I am in no way pointing fingers. Arguments like these should encourage us to put further emphasis on discernment and ask ourselves what we’re basing the truth of our faith on. If it’s an emotional response you felt at a worship service it might be time to reevaluate whether your faith is set on the rock or on the sand.
The second concern with this argument lies in an assumption the critic has failed to justify or support. To the critic, it appears that each religion exists in its own sphere of influence. If someone in the sphere of Islam says that they had a supernatural experience, someone present in another sphere cannot say the same. The critic may respond to this by noting that both claims cannot be true. We would agree, but note how he words it,
….”their own personal experiences involving this belief.”
A truth claim is a direct statement that aims to describe the objective reality of something (such as “the earth is round”). However, the critic, in this instance, has not defined the experiences as claims of truth relating to objective reality. He has defined them as subjectively supernatural (or hallucinatory) experiences in relation to a particular worldview. Notice how he concludes his argument.
Either Jesus is answering prayers, changing lives, and performing miracles for millions of people who don’t believe in him, or, all these religious people are delusional. (bold mine)
The argument relies on the nature of truth we described above and argues that no two contradictory statements can be true at the same time (no two spheres can possess the objective truth, it has to be limited to one or none), but then the argument immediately calls all of them “personal experiences” and “products of delusion.” See the problem? If they were, indeed, objective truth claims (as the argument implies they are), the last thing we would want to do is immediately dismiss them all out of hand when someone claims the contrary (it’s important to note that, in this instance, we’re approaching these claims as a completely neutral bystander. In other words, we have no further position than a lack of belief in their claims). This is an awful way to search for the actual truth. If the critic believes that this is a good way to reach the truth then he is foolish. If he doesn’t, then he has not thought his argument through, or, at the very least, has worded it poorly.
Let’s use the examples of the argument as they are. Can subjective psychological experiences in two or more spheres be legitimate? Absolutely. However, for the Christian, this is hardly a problem. If we assume the Christian faith is true, then we also assume the existence of both light and dark forces. Truthful beings and deceptive beings. It is entirely possible that these deceptive forces could have a hand in the personal psychological or even miraculous experiences in other religions. If Christianity is true, we should not picture a sphere, rather, we should picture the landscape as one that allows the influence of one to flood into the other, regardless of personal belief. Truth, as we’ve established, is unapologetically exclusive and cannot be ignored.
What about miracles that appear to validate the truth claims of other religions? The problem, once again, is that these claims cannot be summed up in a supernatural, delusional, or hallucinatory experience because we would have no way of finding out if they are really true (this is why I believe personal encounters by themselves don’t count as good evidence because they have no real objective basis). They have to validate something that can be examined and proven by anyone. This could be, for example, a historical event that’s been written about in multiple sources.
Finally, it is also worth asking how the critic explains the people who have moved from one religion to another because of personal, miraculous experiences. In Tom Doyle’s Dreams and Visions, this is exactly what is happening. People by the droves are abandoning Islam and investigating Christianity because of personal experiences where they claim to see Christ. Contrary to the critic’s argument, Christ can “answer prayers, change lives, and perform miracles for millions of people who don’t believe in him.” In fact, Scripture itself states that,
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
How do we approach the miracles in other religions? If it’s a miracle that appears to validate an objective truth claim made by the worldview then we look into the evidence of the claim, not the miracle. One of the most profound things I’ve learnt since starting my journey into apologetics is that God loves to be tested. Test Him at His Word, hold the Bible under scrutiny, and just see where it leads. You may be surprised.