I need to make this its own post so that it won't get overlooked.
Hi everyone! Thank you for this wonderful discussion, and especially to cl for showing such patience. Please keep in mind that my recent post is a response to Carrier's criticism of my chapter in Miracles, ed. by Habermas and Geivett. I've provided links to Carrier's text, but unfortunately could not provide one to the chapter. Still, in the end, unless you've read the chapter as well as Carrier's critique, you can't possibly understand all of the nuances. If someone doesn't want to spend the $20 on the book, that's fine, and you're still entitled to your opinion, but your opinion may be utterly wrong-headed.
The technical distinction between magic and a miracle should not be as fuzzy as you make it sound. It it is new to you, you should learn it and apply it. In magic, the outcome ultimately depends on the performer. He or she must use the proper technique. Theoretically, if you do so properly, the outcome is guaranteed. Conversely, if you don't achieve the desired outcome, you did not follow proper procedure. A miracle, on the other hand, is a free act of God, which cannot be manipulated by our actions. He may respond with a miracle if he so wishes; he may not. If my prayers are not answered, it is likely not that I didn't follow the correct form of prayer, but that God has other plans for me.
Obviously this distinction makes sense only in a theistic world views. But look at it this way: If I want to learn about a distinction within a Buddhism, such as between Honen's and Shinran's view of the Pure Land, I need to posit the reality of the Pure Land heuristically. Similarly, the critic of miracles, which fall into the provenance of theism, must stipulate the theistic world view as a heuristic, or he is addressing a straw man. Win