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Richard Carrier: God is Silent 
1st Sep 2008, 10:35 pm
giles
In a conversation with a Christian (edited: who was actually robhu, as Rob's given me permission to say) recently, I asked my usual question on personal relationships with God: why do all these people who claim to have one end up disagreeing? How do we know who to believe? To paraphrase their arguments:

Some "Christians" aren't true Christians. Which is fair enough, I think, if my question is specifically why Christians disagree. There's a more general point though, of which more later.

God chooses to interact with humans in a human way, as exemplified by Jesus. He never promised to give people a way to tell who was right. A quick read of the Bible shows that God didn't always interact in this way. Even in the New Testament, we're promised there will be signs accompanying those who believe, some of which I'd find pretty convincing if I saw them: I'd certainly respect the religious claims of people doing that stuff more than people who don't, because they're showing they can do something inexplicable which is at least worth investigating. Any Christians volunteering to drink poison? ;-) Edited to add: robhu rightly points out that textual critics say this passage has doubtful provenance. Evangelicals generally say the Bible is inerrant "as originally given", which raises some other questions, since there's scholarly debate about what was in original manuscripts. Edited to further add: John 14:11-13 promises that whoever has faith in Jesus will do even greater miracles than him, so the odd amputee healing doesn't seem too much to ask of Christians.

What is noticeable is that God seems to do special effects less and less as we get closer to the present time. Edward Current argues that God's ability to hide shows how powerful God is, and that God is testing our faith, but, despite his obvious sincerity, I'm not convinced. I think there might be a simpler explanation.

God wants people to know him rather than treating him as an encyclopedia. I suppose the objection to treating God as an encyclopedia must be that it is impersonal, rather than an argument that having access to correct information actually impedes learning. So let's imagine a world in which God was not an encyclopedia but a teacher of Christians, a good sort of teacher who made the lessons interesting but didn't let fights break out in the classroom. Does that world look like this one?

Aren't you just asking why God doesn't announce his presence? I suppose I am. Annoyingly, someone has got to that question before me and made my arguments better than I can. The brilliant Richard Carrier's essay Why I am not a Christian (not to be confused with Bertrand Russell's essay of the same name) contains a section called God is Silent which points out the contradiction between what Christians say God is like and how he acts. Go read it.

My arguments about Christians and their relationship with God are, as my correspondent rightly says, a special case of the general argument that God is silent. Talking about Christians specifically negates one of the common defences against that argument, namely that if God were too obvious, it would do away with free will. But Carrier points out that such defences are ad hoc: who thought to mention that God values free will above almost everything else before people started debating the problems of silence and of evil? What is the evidence for this? If you're evangelical, where does the Bible say that God values free will so highly? Christians can't even agree that people have it, let alone that God values it.

God's silence, and his entrusting of what we're told is a very important rescue mission to a bunch of people who are pretty bad it, are pretty powerful arguments that he's not there. If I saw any amputees miraculously healed, though, I'd certainly reconsider.
Comments 
2nd Sep 2008, 01:02 am (UTC)
Aren't you just asking why God doesn't announce his presence? I suppose I am

JOOI, have you seen seasons 9 and 10 of Stargate SG1 (I may have asked this before)?

If not, they have a religion, Origin, that is a lot like some fundamentalist and evangelical strains of Christianity - "believe this and do as our book says and you get eternal life, don't and you are eternally doomed, and we can hurry that along - our guns, let us show you them". They even have a pope and bishop figures, and their messiah figure, the Orici arrives from a virgin birth (well, a sexless conception anyway).

There's a key difference though - Origin does not require faith in the existence of the deities, the Ori, though, because they are perfectly happy to announce themselves and demonstrate their power. They are also perfectly capable of granting the promise of eternal life; the kicker is that they just don't (because it's not in their interests to share power).

Their version of "atheism" is to realise that the Ori are not gods at all, just very powerful "ascended beings", and the reason they care about being worshipped at all is because (by a mechanism that isn't explained) the Ori feed on the belief of their worshippers and draw power from it. The willingness to announce themselves and perform miracles on demand, along with the (plausible as long as you don't assume they're lying) promise of eternal life, and the ever present threat of annihilation for refuseniks makes their missionaries extremely persuasive.

TBH, I'm surprised they had the guts to do it in the US. SG1 has always had an "anti false gods" theme, but up until the end of season 8 they were explicit in going after dead religions only. The similarities between Origin and Christianity are glaring, however.
2nd Sep 2008, 11:38 pm (UTC)
robhu was saying that SG has nicked a bunch of things from world religions (he knew roughly what a bodhisattva was from watching it). Perhaps I should watch it too.
2nd Sep 2008, 08:04 am (UTC) - God seems to do special effects less and less
Judging by the number of petty miracles Bede describes, he blew his budget in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Though Gibbon is pretty sarcastic about the tendency of miracles to show up in the written record only long after they were purported to happen...
2nd Sep 2008, 08:16 am (UTC)
Even in the New Testament, we're promised there will be signs accompanying those who believe, some of which I'd find pretty convincing if I saw them: I'd certainly respect the religious claims of people doing that stuff more than people who don't, because they're showing they can do something inexplicable which is at least worth investigating. Any Christians volunteering to drink poison? ;-)
Presumably you do know that if you look at the whole chapter it says "((The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.))"
2nd Sep 2008, 08:17 am (UTC)
So are you saying it shouldn't be in the Bible?
2nd Sep 2008, 08:18 am (UTC)
I'm saying it's misleading to say "in the New Testament, we're promised there will be signs accompanying those who believe" without including that bit of information, and I suspect you already knew about that.
2nd Sep 2008, 09:37 am (UTC)
I know the ending of Mark is suspect, because I read people like Ehrman. What I didn't know was that some evangelicals allow that it's suspect too. I suppose that makes sense if you're someone who accepts inerrancy of the Bible "as originally given", as the DB has it.

So, anyway, are you saying it shouldn't be in the Bible? I suppose that brings up the question of what should be in, as more about the text is discovered. For example, the woman caught in adultery in John is also textually suspect, and many scholars don't think Paul wrote the pastoral epistles, which might remove them from our expurgated canon if the criteria for admission include apostolic authorship. Which scholarly conclusions do you (evangelicals) accept?
2nd Sep 2008, 09:52 am (UTC)
I suppose that makes sense if you're someone who accepts inerrancy of the Bible "as originally given", as the DB has it.
Exactly.

I know the ending of Mark is suspect, because I read people like Ehrman. What I didn't know was that some evangelicals allow that it's suspect too. ... I suppose that brings up the question of what should be in, as more about the text is discovered. For example, the woman caught in adultery in John is also textually suspect
I don't know, but obviously the ending to Mark is considered far more suspect by mainstream Christians because there is a warning in every* Bible about it, while such warnings do not exist in Bibles for other passages.

I've only read bits and pieces of Ehrman. As I've mentioned before I found Craig far more persuasive in their debate 'Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? '. As I understand it the mainstream academic position on the reliability of the Bible is far more in line with someone like F. F. Bruce (see for example The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?) than with Ehrman.

many scholars don't think Paul wrote the pastoral epistles, which might remove them from our expurgated canon if the criteria for admission include apostolic authorship.
The criteria for inclusion in the canon does not require apostolic authorship (see Hebrews for example).

Which scholarly conclusions do you (evangelicals) accept?
I'd recommend reading something by Bruce to get an authoritative answer on that.

* That I've ever seen, but probably not all in fact
2nd Sep 2008, 09:43 pm (UTC)
ISTR some NIVs annotate the John passage. I suppose there's a difference between evidence we have from manuscript variants and more debatable things like stylistic and historical arguments, which is what the argument about the Pastorals rests on.

I think Ehrman dropped the ball in the Craig debate, as I said to Matt a while back. Craig blinded him with (dubious) science, he didn't come back with anything other than his assertion that historians should be methodological naturalists. (Having skimmed a bunch of Carrier's stuff on the Resurrection, I'd be interested to see Carrier vs Craig).

I'd be willing to bet a false claim of apostolic authorship would affect inclusion in the canon, although I have read stuff which says that attributing stuff to famous people was an accepted literary practice in the ancient world.

I've not read Bruce yet, it's on my list after The life of the Buddha.
4th Sep 2008, 09:43 am (UTC)
I'm not too keen on the "it's not terribly historically accurate, I think we can chuck it out of the canon" style of argument. Since we've ended up with all of it, I think the entire text is worth wrestling with. Questions of inerrancy are dull. Questions of authorship of the Pauline epistles aren't interesting either. It was quite common in the NT period to write in the name of somebody considered influential even if the author weren't that person. Again, not sure that "Paul didn't really write this" works well as a reason for not accepting it in the canon.

As you know, however, I'm not an Evangelical.
8th Sep 2008, 12:39 am (UTC)
As you know, however, I'm not an Evangelical.

Well, yes. Evangelicals say the NT canon what it is because the church recognised the authority of existing books, rather than, as I imagine you'd say, using its authority to establish a canon. To evangelicals, if the authority of the books becomes suspect, their canonicity is in trouble, ISTM.

After Rob's post, I read around a bit and discovered evangelicals saying "God didn't guarantee to preserve the integrity of the text" (which is fair enough, because he clearly hasn't). Alongside "as originally given" though, this poses a problem: on what basis do you conclude that you have what was originally given. I think you can get to a pretty high probability with textual criticism, but that hardly seems enough for inerrancy of modern Bibles.

Edited at 2008-09-08 12:40 am (UTC)
2nd Sep 2008, 10:22 am (UTC)
a good sort of teacher who made the lessons interesting but didn't let fights break out in the classroom.

If He knows how that's done, could He let me know, please?

Edited at 2008-09-02 10:22 am (UTC)
2nd Sep 2008, 04:57 pm (UTC)
Who is this Christian? A Christian I know?
2nd Sep 2008, 07:04 pm (UTC)
You might say that.
2nd Sep 2008, 09:55 pm (UTC)
*after MSN discussion*

It's me!

OK, I feel vaguely obligated to respond to all of this properly now. I'll add it to my list of things to write big long posts about.
2nd Sep 2008, 11:26 pm (UTC)
You're almost guilting me into not posting about religion because I somehow feel I'm setting you homework (perhaps I shouldn't have reminded you that this Christian was in fact you)! I'm pretty sure other theists could argue too, if they wanted...
3rd Sep 2008, 09:41 am (UTC)
It's bad, isn't it!
3rd Sep 2008, 10:17 am (UTC)
What's bad?
3rd Sep 2008, 10:22 am (UTC)
The guilt that if we write anything we're giving you more work to do saving the heathens and heratics!
3rd Sep 2008, 10:24 am (UTC)
You know I love it.
3rd Sep 2008, 10:18 am (UTC)
Yes it is a bit like you're setting me homework... but that's OK :-)

I wonder why other Christians are not commenting. You had a troupe of Christians posting here at one point.
3rd Sep 2008, 11:09 am (UTC)
I wonder why other Christians are not commenting. You had a troupe of Christians posting here at one point.

I think they de-converted. Victory is mine!

(Who was in the troupe?)
3rd Sep 2008, 11:09 am (UTC)
I think you picked up some people from Blogger because of Yellow's blog? Also nj21 (I think that's the name) pops up now and then.
3rd Sep 2008, 07:37 pm (UTC)
nlj21.
4th Sep 2008, 06:34 pm (UTC) - I think you're talking about me...
So I suppose I'd better say something.

I'm not saying this is going to answer all of everyone's questions, but one thing to bear in mind is that simply believing God exists is not quite what he's after. All the "special effects" during the Exodus didn't stop the Israelites from repeatedly spitting back in his face, after all. And something similar can be observed today: the world, and the internet, are chock full of people who say stuff like "the God of the Bible doesn't exist, but if he did he wouldn't be worthy of our worship but rather our opposition". Even the demons believe God exists (Jas 2:19).

Presumably, then, it wouldn't be enough for God to "announce his presence". He'd have to convince everybody, beyond what he's already done (like, y'know, the cross), that he's not worthy of opposition after all. It's at about this point that the idea of God having to justify himself to us like this gets, well, weird. We have the external witness of creation (Rom 1) and the internal witness of a conscience (Rom 2). Seek and you will find (Jer 29:13, Matt 7:7, Jas 4:8).

Oh, and I too would be interested to see Carrier and Craig in debate.
5th Sep 2008, 12:59 am (UTC) - Re: I think you're talking about me...
All the "special effects" during the Exodus didn't stop the Israelites from repeatedly spitting back in his face, after all.

They might do that, but I'd bet that more people would be Real Christians than are now. Also, if God did speak, nobody would be able to claim ignorance or disagree about what God had said to them. As Carrier puts it: Even if we rejected it, we would all at least admit to each other, "Yes, that's what this God fellow told me."

Pointing to Biblical examples of people who saw miracles but rejected God only works as an argument if I already think that miracles were actually more common in the Bible, whereas what I'm actually saying is that belief in them was, because people back then had a very different cosmology to the modern one (this isn't just Christians or Jews: I don't believe the Buddha really had the superpowers the Tripitaka claims for him either).

That's also why Paul's argument in Romans 1 doesn't hold water. Paul believes in the original Christian cosmos: in a cosmos like that, with the Earth at the centre, everything made for us, it's pretty clear humans are special, and the order in creation makes it clear there's a God. Unfortunately, that's not what the world we live in is like.
5th Sep 2008, 11:33 am (UTC) - Re: I think you're talking about me...
if God did speak, nobody would be able to claim ignorance or disagree about what God had said to them

You obviously haven't spent that long in the company of those who deny the capacity of language to refer to anything beyond itself. Be thankful ;)

Pointing to Biblical examples of people who saw miracles but rejected God only works as an argument if I already think that miracles were actually more common in the Bible

As you and gjm11 are on record as describing God as presented by orthodox Evangelicalism as "evil" and "unlikely to deserve worship" respectively, I think it's reasonable to conclude that God has no motivation for doing any special effects for you. Is that fair?

Oh, and the ideas that things are set up for our benefit, and that the order in the universe shows there's a God, aren't dead arguments (http://www.privilegedplanet.com/synopsis.php and http://fds.oup.com/www.oup.co.uk/pdf/0-19-927168-2.pdf respectively).
7th Sep 2008, 11:53 pm (UTC)
As you and gjm11 are on record as describing God as presented by orthodox Evangelicalism as "evil" and "unlikely to deserve worship" respectively, I think it's reasonable to conclude that God has no motivation for doing any special effects for you. Is that fair?

Orthodox evangelicalism portrays God as evil, but that doesn't mean evangelicals are correct (or that the evangelical God is "the God of the Bible", which assumes you're reading the Bible the evangelical way). Maybe I can trust my God-given moral sense, and it's just that God isn't as you guys portray him (see woodpijn's response to scribb1e's entry about God being nasty in the OT). Carrier's arguments start by assuming that Christians correctly say that God is good.

If God is actually good, he might care that people falsely think him evil. God can't possibly be threatened by people calling him evil (I'm reminded of the bit in Neal Stephenson's Baroque trilogy where Le Roi tells someone they don't have to be modest when talking to him: as if he could be made to feel inferior by their achievements), but may care about his "glory", and, if worshiping him is necessary to avoid something bad happening (if the doors of Hell are locked from the inside, as I think Lewis put it), may want people to follow him for that reason.

Crikey, a book written by someone from the Discovery Institute. I've always preferred the reDiscovery Institute: remember, macro-gravity is just a theory.

More seriously, modern arguments like that are God of the Gaps arguments, and suffer from the question begging I've mentioned. Perhaps the FSM touched the gravitational constant with his noodly appendage.

Apart from that objection, it's hard to say whether things could have been different when talking about the universe: theories with lots of arbitrary fudge factors you need to insert are seen as defective, and people are always looking for the more fundamental one (Greg Egan's book Distress has a fun take on this, if you're an SF fan). I don't think they're done yet.

At the point where Christians start arguing about this stuff, they're effectively doing very speculative cosmology, and there's no reason to prefer their explanation to any of the other speculative cosmologies that physicists come up with, most of which must turn out to be wrong. William Lane Craig appears to have bet the farm on the idea that singularity that appears in standard general relativity at time zero represents creation ex nihilo. As I said to Rob while back, I think that was a tactical error on his part.
9th Sep 2008, 11:30 pm (UTC)
I think we're talking past each other. Suppose, for sake of argument, that orthodox Evangelicalism is authentic Christianity, and Christianity is the Truth. God reveals as much to you unmistakeably clearly (you can fill in the gap as to just what this would involve - presumably more than a few materialistically inexplicable healings). My question is: then would you repent and believe the gospel? If not, then God, if he is like that, has no motivation to give you that kind of revelation, not because he would be threatened by your thinking him evil, but because it would accomplish nothing.

Of course, Evangelicals don't think the God we worship is evil - quite the reverse. To the extent that you think there's a fact of the matter here about which you're right and we're wrong, you're a moral objectivist, and that's a view which doesn't sit at all well within materialism. I maintain that whoever seeks, finds.

I probably wasn't sufficiently clear in linking to that synopsis (sorry), but my intention wasn't to give a vague wave in the direction of fine tuning and initial singularities* but rather to draw attention to the claim that the Earth itself is exceptionally well-placed within creation not only for supporting complex life but also for scientific observation. If that's true, then the idea that human beings are in a very privileged spot indeed (though not the centre... *shrug*) is alive and well. If to say that is to beg the question, then Paul was begging the question no less than I, and so your point about "the original Christian cosmos" is irrelevant. In fact, you know, it's tempting to apply the sarcasm you show for the DI to Carrier's essay. Just one example: what do you make of his constant refrain that "Christianity does not predict this... atheism does"? Does atheism predict anything at all?

*What I think about these subjects will have to wait for another day; this thread is attenuated enough as it is. And we've discussed cosmological arguments before.
13th Sep 2008, 10:59 pm (UTC)
I don't think morality is objective in the sense that it's something any intelligent creature in the universe should be able to find a way to agree on, so I don't think we're arguing about physics when we're arguing about morality. I've been reading Eliezer Yudkowsky's stuff on morality and trying to work out what he's saying: I'm interested in his argument that there's no universal morality which would could be discovered by a Pebblesorter, even a hyperintelligent Pebblesorter AI (Yudkowsky is interested in the problem of how you make Friendly AI, that is, AIs that are benevolent as humans consider benevolence). OTOH even though he's a materialist, he doesn't seem to think that morality is totally relative where humans are concerned. I get the impression that the root of that argument is the question of where you can get from here, but I've not worked out what he's saying yet.

Practically, the question is where you can get from here. There are kinds of moral argument that people find persuasive. The question isn't whether an atheist currently thinks that (non-existent) EvangelicalGod sounds evil, but whether an atheist can get from where he is now to evangelicalism without God making what Christians usually say are illegal moves, namely those that involve doing away with free will, such as re-arranging my mind by force. So, if EvangelicalGod exists and reveals himself to me, part of that revelation might be that I am mistaken about morality. That being so, EvangelicalGod does have a motivation for revealing that to me, I think, even if he currently seems evil to me.

There's a nastier problem if EvangelicalGod reveals himself and my opinions of morality don't change, because the path isn't there: then I've got the choice of being a collaborator or being tortured for all eternity. The right thing to do is clear, but I think I'd become a collaborator under those circumstances if I were sufficiently convinced that Hell was real and otherwise unavoidable. Of course, if God knows I think he might be immoral, that might be a problem, but perhaps I could convince myself that God's moral behaviour is just a mystery rather than a sign that he's evil, as that seems to be the approach taken by some Christians.

In my own case I'd be a little bit optimistic that the path exists, because I've already gone along it in one direction, but it may be that it's not generally reversible.
16th Sep 2008, 07:55 pm (UTC)
Apologies for further delay replies: I've been mildly ill. Hopefully getting better now.

Carrier's point (which I've stolen) about the original Christian cosmos is that in such a cosmos is much clearer that Earth and humans are special. As I'll argue below, modern arguments to that effect are much weaker than Paul's, if only Paul's cosmology had been right.

I suppose Paul is question begging too. It'd be interesting to see what he'd've said to someone belonging to another religion which also claimed their god was the creator.

Thinking about it some more, I'm puzzled by the DI book reference. Since you're advancing it as part of an argument for Christianity, I guess you're ignoring the DI's usual misdirection for the benefit of the US court system, where they claim that the Designer they talk about may be something other than the Christian God. So my question then is what evidence you have that the Christian God cares whether we can do science? I don't think there's much in the Bible about that (the Cavendish has Ps 111:2 over the door, but I think that's pious ret-conning, given that the "works" in context are God's deeds to Israel). The success of science seems to encourage the error of materialism, so one could even argue that he'd be against too much of it.

I think Carrier shouldn't use the phrase "atheism predicts". He initially uses "naturalist atheism predicts", which I think is better.
4th Sep 2008, 09:45 am (UTC)
I think I'm tired of debate. It never seems to go anywhere :)

I'm not convinced that people convert (or deconvert) purely on the basis of intellectual argument.
4th Sep 2008, 09:51 am (UTC)
I'm not convinced that people convert (or deconvert) purely on the basis of intellectual argument.
Not purely, but I'm living proof that it is part of the reason (for some).
2nd Sep 2008, 07:38 pm (UTC)
You seem to have a very specific idea of what standard of proof you would need to consider theism: Christians being able to drink poison without harm, and amputees' limbs growing back. That's sort of fair enough, but I suspect that if those things happened with any regularity, they would be included in a materialist explanation of the world, and would no longer seem like miracles. Essentially, you're setting up an impossible test; you're completely entitled to do that, of course, and unlike your Christian friend I have no investment at all in persuading you to believe in God. But logically, you should be aware that your conclusion is pre-determined whether God exists or not.
2nd Sep 2008, 11:08 pm (UTC)
Suppose it turned out that whenever a Christian consumed poison they were usually not severely harmed; that this applied to all poisons but didn't, e.g., stop them getting drunk if they wanted to; that simply saying "I am a Christian" or some variant thereof didn't suffice; that genuine adherence to religions broadly like Christianity but distinct from it also didn't suffice. Then indeed it might (might!) be appropriate to classify this peculiar ability of Christians as a physical law, along with conservation of momentum and whatnot, but it's hard to see that any remotely plausible godless model of the world would make sense of it. (If you decided to call "Christians are immune to poisoning" a physical law, you might also want to call God a physical object.)

So I don't see how Paul's conclusion is predetermined. Not unless you take the question at issue to be something like "Is there a god whose behaviour is entirely irregular?", but I don't see why one would do that.
2nd Sep 2008, 11:20 pm (UTC)
I think the lack of these things is a good argument against a specific kind of theism, namely the sort of Christianity where God is good and can only save us if we believe (the Mere Christianity which Carrier talks of at the start of his essay). Carrier's argument is charming because he starts with the Christian premise that God is the best person we can imagine, and sees what follows: it's almost like he wants God to do better. It's a bit nicer than Dawkins's "most unpleasant character in all fiction", anyway :-)

I don't agree that if such things happened regularly and were always associated with Christians, they'd've been explained materially. That assumes materialism is correct, so that anything that happens regularly is explained by material causes (I tend to do this myself and then find it annoys non-materialists). We currently regard miracles as rare and supernatural, but I don't see their rarity as an essential characteristic, merely a manifestation of the fact that there isn't a God who intervenes, and science is doing really well at explaining things, so stuff that even appears to be divine intervention is rare.

If healings of amputees regularly happened when Christians prayed (say) and nobody could find a physical explanation, that'd be pretty convincing evidence against materialism and in favour of Christianity (there are other possible explanations, like powerful aliens fooling around, but I think at that point it'd be a sign of bias towards atheism not to consider the Christian God as the preferred explanation). Similarly, if God was available to people who asked questions and answered them as one person to another, that'd be pretty convincing too (there are theologies where God speaking to humans would make their heads explode, but again, that can't apply to Christianity unless there were a lot of exploding heads in 1st Century Palestine).

The point of Carrier's argument is that none of this stuff is impossible for the God which Christians believe in, and, being the best person there is, he should do at least as well as other good, kind people at patiently convincing others of the truth which will save them, helping others where he can, and so on. The observable fact that he does not pretty much refutes Christianity (but not other theisms, I think: for example, deism, or theisms where God is less anthropomorphised than he is in Mere Christianity, or less motivated to communicate with humans).

Edited at 2008-09-02 11:22 pm (UTC)
4th Sep 2008, 11:41 pm (UTC)
If healings of amputees regularly happened when Christians prayed (say) and nobody could find a physical explanation, that'd be pretty convincing evidence against materialism and in favour of Christianity

Wouldn't that be a "God of the gaps" argument?
5th Sep 2008, 12:37 am (UTC)
I'd find it more convincing than other "we don't know how this happened, therefore God exists" arguments because of the specific link to Christianity: with most other "God of the gaps" arguments, my objection is question-begging, an objection which would seem churlish if Christians (and only Christians) were accompanied by miraculous signs. (As that the phrase was originally coined by Christians who were telling other Christians off for bad apologetics, your objection to most "God of the gaps" arguments should be that whatever thing Christians are claiming for God is probably going to get explained sooner or later, so a better tactic is to claim wave your hands and say that God is an "overarching" explanation rather than claiming he did anything specific, a tactic I think ++Rowan used on the recent Dawkins/Darwin TV programme).

Also, because my hypothetical example happens repeatably in the present day, rather than being an argument about one-off events in the past which are the typical gaps into which God is inserted (Big Bang or abiogenesis), I think it'd be a lot more convincing as a way of showing the error of materialism: scientists could look at it as much as they liked, they'd eventually have to throw up their hands.

Edited at 2008-09-05 12:38 am (UTC)
5th Sep 2008, 11:44 am (UTC)
scientists could look at it as much as they liked, they'd eventually have to throw up their hands

I don't think that's true. Just consider the following, from Richard Lewontin's review of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

I'm going away for the weekend but will be back to argue some more on Monday.
8th Sep 2008, 12:21 am (UTC)
He adds: To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

Suppose you're consistently seeing the aforementioned healings happen. Then, as gjm11 points out, they could be part of the regularities in nature you're trying to explain. It's hard to see how you'd do that without letting a Divine foot in the door.

Or, if we don't like this idea that theology becomes a branch of science (or vice versa), we might, as in my earlier reply, admit that miracles (by which we mean breakdowns in the regularity of nature) do happen when Christians are about. I'm not convinced that scientists wouldn't do this with so much readily-available evidence. They might not like it, but I hope they're not all religious believers in the idea that the universe always has to behave in a way which makes science possible. I disagree with Lewontin: all that is required of scientists is methodological naturalism. Otherwise, no scientists would be Christians, which we know is not true. Scientists follow this method because it has worked so far, by which I mean, not that it's cured cancer (I mean, what?) but that it successfully describes parts of the world and enables us to make predictions. After so much success, it would take something radical to break the methodology, but I think I've described a couple of circumstances which would do it for me, and I doubt I'm unique.
3rd Sep 2008, 04:25 am (UTC)
Christians have built orphanges.

Why?

When does a child ever run out of Fathers who love him, according to Christian beliefs?

But Christians realise that while the theory says that a child always has a Heavenly Father who loves and cares for him, in practice, there is only an earthly father.

And if the child loses its earthly parents, the Heavenly Father is no substiture.

Hence the Christian orphanges.

3rd Sep 2008, 10:32 pm (UTC)
If you are looking for good dialogue partners re: Christianity, and good foils for the really keen atheist thinkers like Carrier - and it certainly seems as though you do - I recommend Keller's The Reason for God. Lame title. Only thing lame. The book will give you something to really chew on - several things.
4th Sep 2008, 06:12 am (UTC)
Keller? New cover, same old rubbish inside.
4th Sep 2008, 08:04 pm (UTC)
What makes you say that? Have your read it/reviewed it anywhere?
4th Sep 2008, 09:28 pm (UTC)
Greetings all. michaeld from ukrc here.

"God doesn't make himself obvious so as not to deprive us of the chance to freely believe in him" is one of the sillier ideas held by some evangelicals[1], and that's saying something.

We're first supposed to believe that a loving parent would rather let his or her child step into a scorching fire than violate their free choice by stopping them. This is a stretch to put it mildly - though of course it's far less ridiculous than the loving Father who allows His children to sentence themselves to an eternity in Hell, because at least in the former scenario the child might survive and learn from it.

But in addition to that, we're now supposed to believe it's plausible that not only would the loving parent not stop the child from stepping in the fire but that the loving parent might not even make the existence of the fire obvious - because to do so would rid the child of the free choice of whether to step in it or not!

It truly is mind-boggling that there are intelligent people out there who actually believe in this rubbish!

[1] I'm really talking not exactly about evangelicals but about Christians who believe that anyone who dies without faith in Jesus will spend a conscious eternity in hell. The idea in question is much less silly when it's uttered by Christians with a liberal eschatology.
5th Sep 2008, 10:52 am (UTC)
Hello Michael. I stopped reading uk.r.c again a while ago, but I remember you. Welcome to LJ.
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