I was trying to explain to someone recently about the "Why Won't God Heal Amputees" argument. For privacy's sake, I won't talk about what she said, but I did end up with the following questions and arguments of my own.
This is one of those topics where atheists and believers are never going to be in the same book, never mind on the same page. Here is what I think about it.
God answers prayers every day for football players catching touchdown passes, for people finding their keys, for people being miraculously healed of cancer, for people spontaneously being cured of diseases who go to Lourdes. Mary and Jesus show themselves in toast, stains on walls, in bird poop, in window glass streaks. Every day, miracles happen.
But they are only ever events that could happen statistically. They never break the laws of physics, they never break the natural laws of the universe. Sure, it's very rare for someone to have a spontaneous remission in their cancer. But it does happen. It's improbable, not impossible. So it will happen in time.
But God never performs a miracle that is impossible. It's impossible for a limb to regrow on a human. But lizards do it all the time. Why would God let lizards regrow a tail and not some poor girl who had her leg cut off in a tribal war? Or because she was called a witch in Ghana? Or why can't a war hero, if he and his whole family pray hard enough, let him grow his arm back that he lost defending his country?
God is omnipotent, omniscient and all loving. But I've heard from christians many times that God follows his own rules. But why? He's God. Why doesn't he ever answer any really tough prayers? Why only the easy ones and the ones that are statistically improbable but not impossible? Why doesn't he ever cure someone who has prayed fervently to be cured of something like AIDs or cerebral palsy? Because that's impossible.
Let's get the definition of a miracle.
Miracle: an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause. 2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of god.
Why don't we see miracles that really do surpass all known human or natural powers? It's never happened. Limbs don't regrow with prayer.
Also why bother praying at all? I watch people pray before every play in football, and thank God whenever they're successful. My sister in law's boyfriend lost his dog. They prayed for a week for the safe return of the dog. In the meantime they put signs up and drove around looking for him. Does that mean they didn't trust in their prayers? Or maybe God only helps those who help themselves (and amputees and AIDS victims don't, I guess). A week later someone called to say they found the dog. They called because of the posters that were up. Mundanely put up by people. But my sister in law thanked St. Francis and God for returning the dog to them. Why did God make it take a week to get the dog back? If he was truly loving, why didn't he take better care of the dog for that week?
And personally I think it's a very weak argument to say that God works in mysterious ways and we can't understand him. That's a copout. For the religious it ends the issue. They just give up and stop thinking.
Why bother to ask God for help at all? First, he already knows everything so you don't really need to bring his attention to the fact that you can't pay your heating bill this month. God knows. And does nothing. You'd better collect aluminum cans or something to scrape together enough to pay that bill yourself. That's not answering the prayer. That's you making something happen in your life.
People give God all the credit when something good happens, even if they have worked very hard to get that result. But they never blame God when something bad happens. He's got the perfect deal going.
Of course this reminds me of Epicurus who said,
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Why is there suffering at all? Everything was created by God. Even his first two humans screwed up. And the son of the first two humans killed his brother because he was jealous. Why did God make us so flawed? Why did he create birth defects? Why did he create mosquitoes with deadly malaria? Why did he create tsunamis that kill thousands of innocent people? Why does he care so much about birth control when the world is over-populated and millions of innocent children starve to death every day all over the world?
Even if God exists, he's not all loving, he's not omniscient, or omnipotent, and he's not perfect. He did a terrible job making this world. He tried to start over from scratch once with a flood (no evidence of this), killing everyone (even innocent children), and all the animals except two of each. But he picked Noah, a drunk, to carry humanity on. Why not pick a really wonderful person who wasn't a falling down drunk? Why not someone noble?
I know, the religious will just say those stories are stories, whereas Jesus being born of a virgin is fact. (when in fact critical scholars agree that the interpretation is wrong and alma means "young woman"... not very miraculous!) But that's cherry picking. Christians choose what they want out of the Bible and then make excuses for the rest.
And another thing, where do they get the idea that God is all loving? I've read the old testament. It's horrific. God is a monster. And if I recall, Jesus is the first person in the bible to really hammer the idea that if you don't follow him you'll burn in hell. Hell isn't even really mentioned in the old testament. Jesus is the one who really gets that ball rolling. That's not very loving at all! If Jesus and God were truly loving, there wouldn't even be a hell.
You have to ignore about 65% of the old testament and about 30% of what Jesus said to cherry pick out that God and Jesus are all loving and perfect. And I'm being very generous.
But people do that every day. Where on earth do they get that idea? Where is the evidence that God is all loving, perfect, omniscient and omnipotent? Why did Jesus tell people to hate their families or they couldn't follow him? Why would he ever say that if he were truly loving? Why did he tell people to mutilate themselves to get into heaven? Why would God make it so that people have to pluck out their eyes or cut off their hands to not burn in hell?
Of course the answer for all of these questions is very simple. There is no god. The bible is a book of stories. Some are historically accurate, some are exaggerated, some are complete fabrication. Critical scholars are able to parse out what is what so if we look at the bible critically, we can make sense of it for what it is and what it's not. It's most definitely not the inerrant word of a god.
And stories of prayers being answered are not miraculous. They are just statistically improbable events that are bound to happen. In fact, thousands of extremely rare events happen every day all around the world. People call them miracles but by the very definition of miracle, they are simply mistaken. They just don't understand the statistics of large numbers.
For even more see the site, Why Won't God Heal Amputees.