Does dedication to not believing in miracles still mean being sort of racist?

Michael J. Kruger (Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA) has continued the positive reviewing of Craig Keener 1248 page, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, previously addressed on this blog. Like those who have gone before him, Kruger likes the bit on Hume, scepticism and ethnocentrism:

This is a most fascinating section of the book and stunningly rich in detail and documentation. Keener offers accounts from all over the world, but focuses mainly on the “majority world,” including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Not only does this survey effectively refute Hume’s appeal to the uniformity of human experience against miracles, but it also effectively challenges traditional Western assumptions about religion in the developing world. Anti-supernaturalists will often dismiss miracle claims from these parts of the world due to the fact that they view the inhabitants as primitive, uneducated, and, to some extent, gullible. But Keener points out that such an approach is blatantly “ethnocentric” and “derogatory” (p. 222). Thus, the academic elite in America and Europe find themselves in an ironic dilemma. While they are often quick to critique others for being ethnocentric, they find themselves guilty of these very charges when they reject the miracle claims of the non-Western world on the basis of its so-called “primitive” culture.

I’m starting to wonder if the following is true: evangelical biblical scholars are the new bleeding heart liberal elite. Note language like ‘“majority world,” including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean’, ‘effectively challenges traditional Western assumptions about religion in the developing world’, ‘Anti-supernaturalists will often dismiss miracle claims from these parts of the world due to the fact that they view the inhabitants as primitive, uneducated, and, to some extent, gullible’, ‘Keener points out that such an approach is blatantly “ethnocentric” and “derogatory”’ etc etc. But I think the final two sentences in particular – those about ‘the academic elite in America and Europe’ – are worth developing further. I had a think if I knew a couple of liberal academic elites with a presence in America and thought of Craig Keener and Michael Licona who (especially Licona) may have found themselves in an ‘ironic dilemma’. They had this to say in an interview which I repeat:

CK: He (Hume) dismisses other cultures, calling them ignorant and barbarous nations. Ultimately, when he speaks of uniform human experience, it comes down to his own circle’s experience…

ML: I guess the thing I’m trying to say with the Allison thing [Dale Allison having some sort of visionary experiences] when Hume says these really only happen with barbarous people, here we think of third world people running around naked down in the Amazon or, in, y’know, it’s not just barbarians [very brief nervous laugh] or the uneducated who are claiming that there are miracles that are happening in the world, there are very highly educated people like yourself [CK: yes] who can testify to miracles…I can tell you of an experience I had…

ML: …these are modern day examples, they’re intelligent people. I mean, you’ve got your PhD from Duke. They’re from intelligent people who are aware of these things. So how [can] Hume assume that his experience was comprehensive enough to rule out other people’s claims of experience? …

ML: You had mentioned earlier that Hume dismissed other cultures as being ignorant and barbarous; why was he so strong against [inaudible]?

CK: [Sigh] Keep in mind…I’m about to quote something that Hume said. If this sounds offensive to you, it really sounds offensive to me. My wife is from Congo in Africa. I don’t take kindly to language like this. But anyway

ML: You’re definitely white?

CK: Yes

ML: She’s definitely black?

CK: Yes. Hume says, quote, “I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all of the other species of men, for there are four or five different kinds to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white.” He also said that none of the slaves, out of all the slaves, none of them ever achieved learning…Hume’s arguments in favour of slavery and his arguments in favour of racism made it harder for the abolitionists; they had to contend against him. And he cast a long shadow, there were a lot of people who appealed to Hume’s prestige in support of racism as well, so when he dismisses the views of other nations as those of ignorant and barbarous peoples, that comes out of a very ethnocentric perspective and that should simply be, not permitted today, that should simply be dismissed today from any credibility.

ML: …What happens if we take into account the testimonies from other countries? So, Hume, because he was a racist, was unwilling to do that. You had to be white. You had to be Caucasian, in order for your testimony even to count…What happens today if we take into account testimonies from other cultures?

CK: [talks about how many non-Western Christians and ‘hundreds of millions of claims’ about miracles etc]…Hume’s appeal to uniform human experience at this point is simply irrational, it’s simply not uniform.


6 responses to “Does dedication to not believing in miracles still mean being sort of racist?

  1. Hume’s racism is of course, deplorable.

    However, he could have stated his thesis a little less offensively. He could have expressed pride in the relatively-advanced state of science and knowledge in Britain, without being racist. Without referring to race at all, he could simply have said that less rationally- or technologically-advanced countries believed in miracles, more than scientists believed in them.

  2. The irony is that Hume’s thought does not in itself disprove miracles at all. in fact, his argument for the problematic nature of induction seems to me to open the door to the miraculous, and to create huge problems for those empiricists who wish to argue for the regularity of physical processes and thus the necessary exclusion of the supernatural. If you can’t even prove definitvely that the sun will come up tomorrow, you have real problems in disproving the miraculous, it seems to me. Kind of sidesteps the issue of race really…

  3. Steven Richard Scott

    While Kruger is right that there is often a hangover of racism in the culturism of the educated, from the perspective of the scientific method one is justified in being sceptical: miracles are hard to reproduce, and there is usually a possible natural explanation for a cure. It is slanderous to throw accusations of ethnocentrism based solely on scepticism towards miracles. It also does nothing to further the debate. By the way, I myself am agnostic on the issue, and am open to the possibility partly based on reports by people who seem to be sane. I also find the theory on miracles found in Hollenback’s Mysticism intriguing.

  4. Tyrone Slothrop

    Quite right, W. John, quite right!

    (And so for all Hume’s racism, I can’t see Hume describing Mr Keener as “definitely” white or Mrs Keener as “definitely” black. The uncomfortable uncertainty for the racist is not, as Mr Jackson said, that it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, but that we don’t – empirically, inductively – know for certain if we are black or white. Did such an uncertainty prompt Kant to set himself and his race apart, to develop the nonsense which is the synthetic a priori? I doubt it, but it is an intriguing possibility, isn’t it?)

  5. Keener thinks Hume’s racist statements were the reason abolitionism was not adopted sooner? I’d say there were plenty of CHRISTIANS promoting slavery on the basis of the Bible’s everlasting curse of a son of Noah, and based on other biblical passages as well. Hume was never considered to have been the author of the only book on earth inspired by God.

  6. And Keener is also wrong if he considers there to be no modern day variants of Hume’s argument that pose problems. There are cell phones and cameras galore today. And it seems that every smudge on a camera lens or unidentified object in the sky is published on the web as either evidence of ghosts or UFOs. If God was working miracles today that would shut up doubters then why doesn’t God also arrange for them to be videoed since everything else seems to be videoed these days?

    And SO-CALLED EXPERIENCES OF “MIRACLES” VARY A LOT. I don’t know anyone who was healed from anything more than say, an overnight cold, or who survived breast cancer after standard medical therapy. Maybe I’m not in the right place at the right time, but today there are over seven billion people on earth, with more people living near other people than ever before, and more cell phone cameras and other cameras out there than ever before. If limbs were regrowing or big convincing miracles occurring, hopefully God would at least grace us all with a peek. Keener’s book mentioned a lot of anecdotes and a lesser number of rigorous studies people made of the power of prayer on the sick. But the most rigorous studies feature the least convincing tales and smallest improvements. Even the study that Keener sites of how prayer affects improvements in vision in people in a village in Africa did not take into account that people’s scores on vision tests naturally improve after they grow familiar with such tests. Other large scale prayer tests concerning prayers for heart patients featured results such as slight improvement, no improvement, or even a statistical average in which the patients who were prayed for grew a little worse than average. And the Vatican’s own team of scientific investigators who examined claims of people cured at one of the most visited healing sites on earth revealed a smaller number of extraordinary healings than take place in the population at random via spontaneous cancer remissions, etc.

    We might also discuss the fact that the THE BIGGEST FULL SCALE CINEMATIC-TYPE MIRACLE STORIES LAY IN THE DISTANT PAST, or in some imaginary future in which REVELATION-type curses, modeled somewhat on the ancient “curses of Egypt,” are supposed to take place and be recognized as God’s hand. While most of humanity lives in the in between time, the time when even Jesus’ ascension into heaven (without a jet pack) was said to only have been witnessed by a handful of apostles per Acts. Or when only a handful of apostles are led out of Jerusalem by the raised Jesus at the end of Luke, no Hosannas, no crowds, just a quiet walk through town, per Luke. The silence is deafening, as is the silence at the end of the NT story about some disciples asking Jesus if they should rain down fire on the towns that rejected their preaching. Sorry, no fire from heaven in the NT. No cinematic-type miracle stories like those found in the OT. Even Jesus’ ascension into heaven isn’t on a fiery chariot like Elijah’s. And neither were Jesus’ miracles very astounding or convincing to the folks in Behsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum, the towns he spent the most time living in and preaching in, and performing miracles in (Jesus said Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented,in they had as many miracles performed for them). Even in Nazareth he could only do a few miracles, and was not with honor in his own home town. Moses’ miracles seemed totally over the top compared with Jesus’, crowd-wise and cinematically speaking. I guess Jesus was just part of the decline in miracles.

    And heck, the NT is now over a thousand years older than the OT was when the NT was written. And still no more miraculously inspired words from God.

    You don’t need to read Hume to have doubts and ask obvious questions. Neither do NDEs point to the truth of a particular religion.

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