Comment Promotion: Extraordinary claims and the evidence for GodJanuary 21, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
I want to get back to the second half of William Lane Craig’s “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” but first I’d like to take a moment to address some comments that have been recently added to my post on “Why Vox Day Fails.” A visitor named Tony posted his concerns about the way the word “extraordinary” is used in the dictum, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,” arguing that it’s more common to hear people claim that God exists, and therefore it’s not “extraordinary” to claim that He does.
My reply pointed out that the term “extraordinary” refers to the nature of the thing being claimed, not the frequency with which the claim is made. I then pointed out the sort of evidence we ought to see if there really did exist a good and almighty God Who loved us enough to die for us, e.g. He ought to show up in real life. Since He plainly does not do that, the story Christians tell about God is not consistent with the truth we actually observe in the real world.
Tony’s reply is below the fold.
I understand the context. However, if the word is used in a specialized way, and the context is a catch-phrase of any kind, it further damages the use of the language. as the meanings of words change, confusion arises. If a phrase resembles idiom, (in that the words are used repetitiously in a way that can be misunderstood, but is generally not because cultural contextual understanding) then the phrase is useless in logic since it has no absolute meaning and therefor conveys no concreteness in its own right. It becomes dogma since it has a flaw that can be pointed out, but the flaw is so minor to those who would defend it that it is dismissed as irrelevant.
Hi Tony, thanks for writing back. You needn’t worry about the language being damaged or misused here. The important point about the saying “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” is not some quirk of idiom or ambiguity, it’s a genuine and significant observation about discovering what the truth is. If the words themselves concern you, we can express the same idea in completely different terms, like this: whenever you tell a story, and claim that it is about the real world, we should be able to look at the real world and find that it is consistent with your story.
The problem with the Christian stories about God is that they not only fail to be consistent with the real world, they fail to be consistent with themselves. You yourself have been told some of these inconsistent and self-contradictory stories, as you share below.
So, on to answer the specific inconsistency of not appearing to every one. There really isn’t an inconsistency, merely a failure to find an explanation. The explanation comes from the old Testament. When Moses is on Sanai, he asks to see God. God tells him that he cannot show him his face since to do so would kill Moses, and of course, God still had use for him alive. So as a compromise, Moses is allowed to see the back of God. The result, as the story goes, is that Moses’s face shines so brightly afterward that the people cannot look on him and he must wear a veil. So, if God showed up in church on Sunday, believers would have to wear veils or die and become useless to God. Jesus also, in appearing to two individuals after ascension, glows brightly, blinding one of them. Again, not something everyone wants to have happen every Sunday.
Now, if you read other passages in the Bible, you will find stories going as far back as the Garden of Eden in which God shows up and speaks with men without killing or blinding them. Jacob supposedly even wrestled with God without being killed or blinded. Moses allegedly encountered God numerous times, and spoke with Him, before the “you can only see My back” incident. And Jesus, of course, was seen, heard, touched, arrested, crucified, and buried, without any of the people being killed or blinded by their interactions with him.
So you see the contradiction: on the one hand, the story claims that God cannot show up in real life without the undesirable side effect of killing and blinding those who see Him (which is a contradictory claim in itself, because how can you blind someone after you’ve killed them?). But at the same time, the stories also tell us that God can and does show up in real life without killing or blinding anyone.
We hear these stories, and we want to know whether or not they are true. Truth is consistent with itself, so what we see in real life ought to be consistent with what we hear in the stories. Since God does not show up in real life, we find that the real world is not consistent with the stories men tell about God. But how could it be, when the stories contradict each other! It cannot be true both that God can, and cannot, show up without undesirable side effects. If He can, then it is not true to claim that He cannot, and vice versa. Yet the stories present both alternatives as being equally true, and thus we know that, at the very least, we cannot trust the stories men tell us about God.
The other question is whether or not this is part of God’s ineffable plan. Chances are the answer is no, or it would be done. It is entirely consistent for God to not show up physically to almost everyone. However, he does speak to those who he feels need to hear from him directly. Just as we do not always answer demands according to our own choices, so does God. If you haven’t heard him, he doesn’t think you need to. You feelings that you deserve this to happen to you is consistent with hubris. His failure to listen or obey is entirely consistent. The first King of Israel, Saul, tried to force God to speak to, and favor him and he failed to make that happen. Just like the government has no obligation to change laws to suit you exactly, God has no need to inconsistently show up simply for your personal gratification.
You need to remember, though, that what we are dealing with here is not a God whose observed behavior is hard to understand. We’re only dealing with the stories that men tell us, and how to determine whether or not those stories are true. The stories men tell are about a God Who does show up, and Who is quite literally dying to be with us, in a personal, intimate, face-to-face relationship. Well, if those stories were true, the most fundamental and obvious consequence of their truth would be that God would show up in real life to participate in that relationship He was literally dying to establish. It’s not that human hubris is demanding that God do this or do that, we’re simply examining the claims of the story in light of the real world evidence.
Faith in the stories that men tell about God is different from faith in God. If God were to show up in real life, then we could put our faith in Him, because we would have an actual object for our faith. In His consistent and universal absence, however, the only things we have to put our faith in are the inconsistent and self-contradictory stories of men. But when you believe whatever men tell you, despite obvious internal and external contradictions in their stories, that’s not faith, it’s gullibility.
According to the Bible, there’s no such thing as a person who does not need to know that God exists, because knowing God is an essential part of salvation. Men tell us that God wants us to be saved, yet He does not give us any means of knowing Him other than to gullibly put our faith in whatever men tell us about Him. Doesn’t that sound just a bit fishy?
You’ve written more, but I’m out of time for today, so let’s pick this up again tomorrow.