Is watching an amputated limb regrow proof of the supernatural?



A typical challenge skeptics present when confronted with claims of alleged miracles is "why won't God Heal amputees?". But, would that do the job? Consider the following thought experiment: Let's suppose that God grants the miracle and multiple individuals experience a spontaneous regrowth of amputated limbs. To make the case more extreme, imagine that Nick Vujicic is among the healed ones, recovering both his legs and arms. There are multiple eye witnesses to the miracles, everyone who got healed was recorded live by multiple cameras, we have access to the medical records of each individual, we have the testimonies from the families, we have everything. If we grant all this, would that prove that the supernatural is real? If so, why? If it doesn't, then why do websites such as why won't God Heal amputees? demand miracles that will be disregarded anyway?

Spirit Realm Investigator

Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 331

5How would that prove the supernatural? Just because a change is drastic doesn't make it supernatural. Stars explode for natural reasons. Are we saying the regrowth defies entropy? As long as there's energy input, that's not so. – Kristian Berry – 2020-09-22T05:20:05.417

I mean all we'd see is regrowth of limbs, maybe after a vocal prayer, but that is by no means the same thing as seeing an infinitely massive transdimensional entity warp the fabric of spacetime to alter physical facts from within by pure willpower. – Kristian Berry – 2020-09-22T05:22:37.270

@KristianBerry what would be a natural explanation for someone lacking both legs and arms regrowing them in a few seconds? – Spirit Realm Investigator – 2020-09-22T05:44:02.290

1Nanobots. We're talking about physical matter and energy rearranged. Could even be a Boltzmann incident coupled with extreme quantum tunneling, maybe. At no point will we be able to point at a nonspacetime cause. We can't even clearly define how that is supposed to work, much less repeat the experiment, so to say. – Kristian Berry – 2020-09-22T05:57:52.607

@KristianBerry sounds very speculative, in an answer you would need to provide citations for that. Do we even have that level of technology? – Spirit Realm Investigator – 2020-09-22T06:09:37.050

2How are those explanations more speculative than "a divine being did it from beyond spacetime, but only because we publicly prayed for it"? This divine being is trying to prove its existence by answering this prayer? Why not heal people for their own sake? – Kristian Berry – 2020-09-22T06:26:13.157

Some people will still be committed to believe in a natural explanation... – christo183 – 2020-09-22T06:28:56.157

1All empirical confirmations of metaphysical claims are defeasible. It once looked like classical mechanics proved determinism, and for all practical purposes it did. Until it was revised. To decide in your case, what your scenario is not telling is just as important as what it is telling. Is there a plausible alternative explanation, such as the aforementioned nanobots and/or manipulative aliens? If there are no reasons to suspect foul play, if God further grants some other requested miracles on a grand scale, then yes, it would prove it for all practical purposes until further notice. – Conifold – 2020-09-22T06:33:57.387

8If miracles are "things that only God can do", it is circular to claim that a purported miracle is a proof of the existence of God without a prior proof that God has caused it. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2020-09-22T06:54:01.080

I agree with Mauro. The condition would have to be that it is done upon command i.e. prayer. Not as a random occurrence. This also necessitates that it is done more than once of course. – Cell – 2020-09-22T11:30:44.210

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– J D – 2020-09-22T15:26:49.590

Humans can "regrow broken skin", does that prove God? If not, why not? – user253751 – 2020-09-22T17:26:28.917

I think your logic is a bit off. In order for "why won't God heal amputees?" to be a valid challenge to religion, we need to think that, if God existed, he would heal amputees. It is not at all required that, if amputees were healed, it would constitute a proof of God's existence.

Suppose, for example, that I claim that my parents are billionaires. My friend observes that I live in a delapidated shack, and rightly asks: "Why won't your billionaire parents buy you a nicer house?". On the other hand, if my parents buy me a nice house, it doesn't prove they are billionaires. – Jakub Konieczny – 2020-09-22T23:40:54.040

1“The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist,'" says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing." "But," says Man, "The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED." "Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. "Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.” – Strawberry – 2020-09-23T12:38:52.780

1God must really love starfish. – Jon Custer – 2020-09-23T13:02:19.430

Nick Vujicic is not an amputee. He cannot "recover" limbs (as he never had them), in the most supernatural case he could grow some. Not much difference if you look at it as supernatural act, a lot of difference between regeneration of limbs and reversal of congenital genetic diseases from the scientific POV. – Eike Pierstorff – 2020-09-23T13:02:32.153

@EikePierstorff good observation, but yeah, it was just to get the point across that you would be witnessing legs and arms being spontaneously generated all over the place – Spirit Realm Investigator – 2020-09-23T15:42:03.537

I don't know if that level of regeneration is possible (agnostic on that topic, myself). Ask Aubrey De Grey, or something. Also:-- “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” ~ Bruce Lee. I'll add the relevant Wikipedia link, as is tradition. – Tautological Revelations – 2020-09-23T15:58:26.360

Your question appears to misunderstand the debate. Person X is asserting that this person’s medical improvement is proof of God. Person Y is attempting to demonstrate that is a fallacious argument by using an extreme example. Person Y is not claiming the example proves anything more than Person X’s argument is illogical. Person X may be objectively correct or wrong, that is not being debated, only the coherence of the argument being used. – jwpfox – 2020-09-24T20:05:09.957



Short Answer

As an athiest who advocates for philosophy, I would suggest there would be many rational bases for attacking your attribution of the regrowth to the supernatural which by definition places the agents outside of the known laws of the universe. The claim that gods and magical beings are real is essentially the assertion that it is possible to fit outside the patterns of observable and explanatory causality, whatever its nature. Some rely on divine revelation and others like theologians a blend it with philosophical discourse. However, the naturalized epistemology which wields an empirical edge is clearly the better method. Science (whatever it may be) is practiced in such a way that one has to jump over a clear set of skeptical philosophical objections to rule out illusion, hallucination, bias, fallacy, and deception.

Long Answer

Human thought functions through a defeasible thinking process would essentially proceed as such:

  • Evidence of lack of explanation does not in itself constitute evidence of the supernatural. Clearly history has shown the pattern that when an unexplained phenomenon occurs, the most reliably factual method to explanation has been science.
  • What is the nature of the evidence that might be considered evidence of the supernatural? Regrowing limbs in a human would truly be extraordinary, however, the claim an animal regrew a limb is not. The regrowth of animal limbs has been well documented, and this fact rules out the claim that the supernatural is the only explanation for an instance of regrowth. Using Occam's razor, it's better to presume that genetic technology is related to the event rather than a magical being.
  • What does psychology say about the behavior of the claimants? To pretend that people aren't often motivated in various ways to deceive themselves and others would be a grave mistake. In fact, self-deception is often by claimed evolutionary psychologists to be wired into the brain in order to conceal the detection of deception for survival's sake. To wit from WP:

Evolutionary psychology approaches self-deception as an adaptation that can improve one's results in social exchanges.[69]

  • What is the structure of the argument itself that affirms the supernatural? Does the argument observe onus probandi? Does it utilize good philosophical razors? Does it abuse forms of reasoning? Does it blur the use of the deductive, inductive, and abductive? Are counter-arguments to the denial ad hoc in nature? For instance, even your question is constructed in such a way that to make the situation tenable, you engage in a series of highly improbable claims that aren't impossible, but taken together are extraordinary.

  • What is the nature of the empirical evidence? Did you perceive it with your own senses? Are you currently witness it or is the thought a memory open to confabulation? Is it reliable testimony from many others who are trained in the scientific method? What do scientists of different fields believe? Have geneticists, physicists, and medical doctors conferred and agree?

All in all, if one were to presume all of your highly improbable claims as fact, there's still room to rule out supernatural explanations including experimental genetic research and extraterrestrial technology. At best, one might be able to muster some plausible god-of-the-gaps-style claims, but even plausible scientific hypotheses and theories can be brought down by additional research and experimentation. I'll end with a quotation by a master of science fiction:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - Arthur C. Clarke.

If these sorts of questions fascinate you, I'd recommend buying and reading The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan who is a master of explaining science without a hint of condescension or militancy.


Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 5 708

1This is a good answer. – Tautological Revelations – 2020-09-23T16:07:51.160

@TautologicalRevelations Thanks! Keep up the Covid struggle. Too many people think viruses are an opinion. :D – J D – 2020-09-23T16:36:55.690

1Thank you. Good thoughts, good words, good deeds! :) ^^ :D – Tautological Revelations – 2020-09-23T16:41:19.760

1@TautologicalRevelations Ha! I always go with one race, one planet, one chance! – J D – 2020-09-23T17:05:10.287


Logically, if we could prove that God healed amputees then it would as a corollary prove the existence of God. (it is simply the argument that; "if X is specifically observed to do Y, then X must exist"). But in practice that has two problems:

Either, if science demonstrates God's existence, in what sense is He then "super"natural and not a part of the natural world, whose business it is for science to observe and describe?

Or, if science discovered that human amputees can heal in the same way that some other simpler creatures can, not to mention plants, what reason could there be for invoking God over some yet-to-be-discovered biological mechanism?

The site you refer to is positing the existence of the Biblical God (i.e. not just any deity) and discussing whether that makes sense. The amputee issue is just a convenient vehicle for that discussion.

Guy Inchbald

Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 1 851

6...human amputees can heal in the same way that some other simpler creatures can... They can! At least up to a certain age. There have been cases of very young children losing fingers in an accident and regrowing fully functioning fingers on their own. Obviously this is the kind of thing that can't be ethically experimented on, but it's a documented phenomenon. Making it happen in a full-grown adult isn't currently within the realm of modern science, but at least we know there is such a mechanism in nature even within our own species. – Darrel Hoffman – 2020-09-22T20:01:56.553

3Logically, if we could prove that God healed amputees... And that is where the premise is already "packed" with the thing that needs to be proven, i.e. it begs the question. In the scenario described by OP, we only observe a spontaneous regrowing of limbs. We don't observe that God is the cause of the regrowing. Imputing God as the cause is purely speculative, and not better than imputing any other reason. – henning -- reinstate Monica – 2020-09-23T09:40:30.373

@henning--reinstateMonica In science it is not necessary to observe something directly in order to confirm its existence; for example we confirm the existence of the Earth's core by observing seismic waves and not the core itself. How does "Let's suppose that God grants the miracle" confine itself to the regrowth? The loading is right there in the hypothetical "let's suppose" question, so the answer begins by clarifying the logic of that hypothesis, before going on to offer criticism. – Guy Inchbald – 2020-09-23T09:59:04.180

3@DarrelHoffman fingerTIPS not fingers. Big difference. – Tim B – 2020-09-23T10:28:20.800

I hate nitpicking but There is never proof. There's only evidence! :) Evidence of supernatural, sure.

– GettnDer – 2020-09-29T01:20:43.813


The term 'supernatural' is generally used by modern skeptics in the sense: "That which cannot be explained by natural processes using the natural sciences." However, any event that can be observed systematically is ipso facto subject to the natural sciences, so the definition itself precludes the existence of miracles. It's a neat little Catch-22 argument, though people often mistake it for reductio ad absurdum.

So no: skeptics will not accept any observation as evidence of a miracle, merely because framing anything as observable evidence immediately places it in the context of the natural sciences. The natural sciences posit a world of systematic, unthinking processes; faiths posit a world of intentional actions by unseen being(s). So long as both sides remain closed-minded on the issue, these debates are little better than trench warfare.

I'm not advocating either side of this dispute, mind you — I'm philosophically agnostic — I'm simply pointing out that arguments in this topic area are largely matters of rhetoric, not reason.

Ted Wrigley

Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 9 139

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Philip Klöcking – 2020-09-23T19:25:15.867


TL;DR: Concluding from "if amputations are permanent then there is no Christian God" that "if amputations are not permanent then there is a Christian God" is the simple logical fallacy of the inverse. We don't need to reason about the metaphysical here — basic logic suffices.

The fallacy is to inverse the "sign" of a conditional statement: Carelessly concluding that "if A, then B" implies the inverse, namely "if not A, then not B". It doesn't.

Our everyday experience is a bit deceiving here because things correlate: They happen together, like warm weather and being in the tropics. But while there is a statistical correlation, it is certainly wrong in many cases (if I'm in the tropics it is hot, but if I'm not in the tropics it can very well be hot anyway).

In this case, the website argues (and in my opinion very convincingly) that if amputations don't heal then there cannot be a Christian God. Note that it goes without saying that the condition "amputations don't heal" implies a host of other consequences, e.g. (in order of declining sanity): no biological mechanism in higher mammals allows this, our medical technology is underwhelming, there are no advanced extraterrestrial aliens helping us, there are no compassionate sorcerers or witches with advanced magic, and so on.

We can say with confidence that the permanent nature of amputations implies the absence of all these things. This argument is logically sound.

But it should be obvious that the inverse is not: occurrence of an amputation healing would not imply helpful aliens or sorcerers. Nor does it logically imply a Christian God. (I'd opt for biology or medicine.) Even if the enumeration of possible reasons were complete we would only know that one or more of them must be true, but we wouldn't know prima facie which one.

Peter - Reinstate Monica

Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 617

The only way the absence of healed amputations can be used to prove the inexistence of the Christian God (or any other entity for that matter) is by first proving that amputees getting healed is part of the definition of Christian God or a logical implication of its definition. Since when is "we should be hearing about amputees getting healed" a requirement for the Christian God (or any other supernatural entity for that matter)? – Spirit Realm Investigator – 2020-09-23T16:11:30.397

@SpiritRealmInvestigator Have a look at the site and read their arguments. That prayer is effective is a very fundamental Christian tenet. It's hard to imagine how the Christian God could exist and yet prayer not be effective. The lack of a single case of a healed amputee is strong evidence that prayer is not effective -- unless you think amputees are some kind of theological special case. – David Schwartz – 2020-09-23T16:21:10.597

@SpiritRealmInvestigator David is right, the website is pretty good. The more general idea is that we only hear of wide-spread (Christian or other) miracles which can easily be explained in "natural" ways. It's a bit as if a great magician had trouble producing anything bigger out of thin air than a pin needle; that makes us pretty confident that he is not doing anything fancier than a sleeve trick. (But if he did produce an elephant we would probably still not believe in true magic! And that is only superficially a paradox.) – Peter - Reinstate Monica – 2020-09-23T17:25:40.047

@DavidSchwartz According to Christian theology: 1) faith must accompany prayer for it to be effective, and 2) not every believer has the gift of healing the sick. Thus, the absence of amputees getting healed may be attributed to: 1) insufficient faith on the part of the individuals praying; and 2) the individuals lacking the gift of healing. Having said that, I actually know of at least one case of a person claiming to have prayed for a person with an amputated leg that God allegedly healed on the spot (it's a Hispanic evangelist, I can share the testimony if you want, it's in Spanish though) – Spirit Realm Investigator – 2020-09-23T17:33:56.767

@SpiritRealmInvestigator As I said, read the site. You can always explain away evidence that contradicts a theory. But you have an awful lot of evidence to explain away. With all the claimed cases of prayer healing cancer, there's only one of an amputee being healed? What contortions will explain that? – David Schwartz – 2020-09-23T17:39:14.223

@DavidSchwartz there are cases of people reporting to be healed from visual impairments, addictions, decades of paralysis and [continue next comment]

– Spirit Realm Investigator – 2020-09-23T17:55:59.040

even to have received spontaneous gold dental prostheses. And there are also reports of amputees getting healed actually (note: it's a Hispanic evangelist, the report is in Spanish).

– Spirit Realm Investigator – 2020-09-23T17:56:34.280

Luckily, we have tons of reports, filtered and refined, corroborated by lots of video evidence from lots of angles and at lots of magnifications, of actual medicine and surgery being effective in lots of ways. Now if actual medicine and surgery don't work and a person wants to resist a disease or injury, and all they have is prayer, very well, that's for them to decide, though perhaps objectively coping could be suggested as an option. – Kristian Berry – 2020-09-25T07:53:09.073


If you want to prove to me that an omnipotent and sentient being (god) exists then you want to demonstrate omnipotence and sentience of this being to me. An isolated case of people regrowing limbs doesn't show either of these traits. If we assume that regrowing limbs is "impossible" then perhaps it is the result of omnipotence, or maybe we just didn't know the world as well as we thought we did.

Regardless, the literal interpretation of amputees being healed has nothing to do with the argument. The question "Why won't God heal amputees?" is a rebuttal to the belief of some people that god directly intervenes in their life to save or protect them. For example surviving car crashes, operations, hurricanes and other natural disasters. All of those things have uncertain and unpredictable live or die outcomes. Now consider amputees; these may be innocent god-worshipping people so there is a reason for intent to heal them, but humans regrowing limbs has never been documented so we have reason to be certain of the outcome that one does not regrow limbs. Therefore, it follows that if god supposedly saves people from natural disasters, but won't heal amputees then god does not intervene to protect or heal us and anyone who thanks god for their success is merely attributing the outcomes of random events to a deity.


Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 1 103


Your question really doesn't make any sense.

Say there's a box and someone is claiming there's a ton of gold in it. And say my position is that there is no ton of gold in the box.

So I try to pick up the box and I succeed. I pick the box up. This proves there isn't a ton of gold in the box because I can't pick up a box that weighs a ton and a ton of gold weighs at least a ton.

My argument would be, "Why can I pick up the box?"

Now, you're coming along and saying, in effect, "But if I could pick up the box, that wouldn't prove that there is a ton of gold in it. So why am I making such a big deal about being able to pick the box up?"

Do you see why that makes no sense? I'm not the one trying to prove there is a ton of gold in the box, I'm the one trying to prove that there isn't. And once I've found such a proof, why the heck would I, or anyone else, care what might or might not prove there is a ton of gold in the box? We already know there isn't because we can pick the box up.

If it doesn't, then why do websites such as why won't God Heal amputees? exist?

Because those who claim there is a god have to explain why god has never healed an amputee. If they can't do that, it's an argument against their claim.

What would or wouldn't be the consequences of your counterfactual world were amputees regrow limbs has no relevance because we don't live in that world. But yes, you're right, in that world, that amputees regrow limbs would not be evidence of god or the supernatural.

This is because terms like "god" and "supernatural" are only used for things we know are impossible. We literally call something "god-like" when it does things we know are impossible. We call something "supernatural" when it displays abilities or properties that contradict our understanding of the laws of physics or our notion of cause and effect.

Those kinds of claims will never be provable and sane, rational people will admit that they know that they require things they know are impossible and so are themselves impossible.

David Schwartz

Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 1 010


I believe it was David Hume who suggested that if we witnessed a miracle we would do better to disbelieve our own senses, rather than believe that something could occur that was contrary to the laws of nature.

However, having witnessed the seemingly miraculous phenomenon of ki projection, up close and very personal during an Aikido class, I would have to say that from a philosophical view it makes more sense to rewrite what you consider the laws of nature to be, given the evidence of experience. That, after all, is what science does, once a phenomenon becomes well enough understood to be explained.

If someone just tells you that arms regrew, it would be wise to follow Hume's advice and disregard that. But if you witnessed it for yourself, in a manner that precluded conjuring tricks, then you'd have to adjust what you thought could be accommodated by the description "natural".

Supernatural simply means something unexplainable happened, that is, unexplainable by the current state of science. There are many such things, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and what the question really asks is what level of Dark Arts is sufficient to cause a rewrite of the science books. For that one would need to see repeatable cause and effect, and have some theory as to what was going on.

Still, there would be no need to invoke God, or gods, unless they were central to the explanatory theory, and there was some evidence for their existence. If the only evidence for supernatural beings were to be the regrown arms, then we'd have a circular argument of arms because of gods and gods because of arms, and that shows nothing by way of explanation.

So on the whole, like my Aikido experience, regrown arms would be interesting but unless part of a bigger picture, not proof of anything specific.

Jeremy C

Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 63

You'll understand why I'm sceptical about the Ki (in fact, you outlined such reasons in your answer), but the philosophy here is sound. +1. – wizzwizz4 – 2020-09-22T19:18:52.073

You may not have seen the successful efforts of Chinese MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong to debunk much if not most of current Chinese traditional martial arts. Here's just one video. - He became very unpopular with the Chinese government. Here's more

– chasly - supports Monica – 2020-09-22T21:00:35.323

Seems like passive aggressive trolling for a user to down vote an answer without leaving any reason. Same when moderators delete answers without comment as has happened on both MSE and PSE. Surely a reason is not too much to ask for, even a short one such as "doesn't answer the question" or "too disrespectful of established orthodoxies". – Jeremy C – 2020-09-23T22:17:08.280


Would watching God explode disprove the claim that God is indestructible? Would watching God sin prove God imperfect? Would watching God fail to lift a rock prove that God is not omnipotent?

But "God is defined as..." However, the same goes for explanation and nature, here: asking whether some physical event is a miracle would be like asking if some divine event was the result of the laws of physics, maybe.

Kristian Berry

Posted 2020-09-22T05:08:14.187

Reputation: 1 032

1Are you suggesting God would fake lifting a rock to lie to us? :D – J D – 2020-09-23T16:37:50.960

I just feel like the question is superstitious/a category mistake, peddled as an obverse "gotcha!" against atheism. "See, atheists will never accept evidence of God!" The possibility that such evidence is itself impossible, is not considered; and on top of that, the real wonders and mysteries of physics are set aside for wishful thinking and potential charlatanry ("I'll keep an open mind and pay every new faith healer who comes along..." even though magical thinking is inefficient). Idk maybe dealing with QAnon's shenanigans is burning me out – Kristian Berry – 2020-09-23T17:22:27.023

LOL I don't even watch the videos. My head might explode from so much fallacy at one time. Your categorization is dead on. – J D – 2020-09-23T19:49:56.433