More on the evidence regarding GodFebruary 3, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
I’m going to skim through some of the discussion with Jayman about the evidence relating to God. There’s more there than will fit in a single post, naturally, so I’m just going to hit the points I want to hilite. The first comes in this comment:
I accept that everyone (not just 48%) can be mistaken from time to time. What I find extraordinary is the claim that each and every one of these millions of individuals just so happened to be mistaken at the time they thought they were experiencing or witnessing a miracle and, moreover, that other witnesses of the same event were mistaken in the exact same way…
My point is that many atheists make an extraordinary claim (that they can explain every alleged miracle without resorting to the supernatural) in order to deny another extraordinary claim (that God intervenes in history) and that they accept their claim without extraordinary evidence.
First of all, this is not quite true: neither atheists nor anyone else claims that we already possess explanations for every instance where we do not understand how something happened. Obviously, the reason we don’t understand them is precisely because we do not currently have the answers. It’s hardly extraordinary, though, for humans to encounter phenomena they don’t fully understand.
Jayman’s argument is an appeal to ignorance, a hope that, somewhere in the answers we don’t have, might lie some actual evidence that God exists and intervenes in the affairs of men. He overlooks the extraordinary fact that, of all the answers we actually do possess, every single one has proven to be consistent with the way things work in the real world, i.e. with what we call “the laws of nature” because they proven to be so infallibly true. 100% consistency, with literally zero exceptions, is pretty extraordinary, though you could also call it pretty ordinary, since that’s the way things always turn out.
I do not claim that I can explain every strange thing that happens in life, I merely claim that truth is consistent with itself, and therefore I am confident that any future answers we may find will turn out to be consistent with the truth we already possess. But this is rather irrelevant to the particular issue under discussion here, since the question is not whether men are omniscient, but whether God shows up in real life. Man’s failure to know a particular answer does not constitute God showing up in real life. Ignorance is not knowledge. It’s as simple as that.
Appealing to ignorance is also a flawed approach when you consider the fact that the term “God,” as typically used, refers to a being about whom men claim to possess knowledge. We’re not postulating some being about which no one knows anything, whose existence might indeed be manifest only among the large body of answers we do not currently possess. A God who only “shows up” in the things we are ignorant of is a God who has not shown up. Showing up means we do know we’ve encountered Him; if we don’t know, then He hasn’t done it, and if He hasn’t shown up, then we’re back to the Undeniable Fact and its Inescapable Consequence. In God’s absence, the closest we can come to faith is to gullibly put our trust in whatever men tell us about God, despite the contradictions and inconsistencies.
Besides, we don’t need to appeal to ignorance, because we can use the evidence we do have to evaluate the different claims. I claim that God does not show up in real life. Test me. See for yourself, by real world observation, whether or not God does show up. I do not know you. I’ve never met you. I know nothing about your life. How is it, then, that I can know God has never literally, materially, personally shown up in your life? How can I be right 100% of the time? Easy: the truth is consistent with itself. If God showed up in real life, for anyone, there would be consequences that would be observable even to those who were not present at the event itself.
Suppose you were a believer who would be glad to see God show up in real life. If you had a genuine, materially-real encounter with God Himself in person, would you appeal to mere superstitious ignorance (as in the case of Bernadette McKenzie) as being the best available instance of God “showing up” in real life? Only if you wanted to deliberately weaken your argument!
So we can be reasonably certain that God does not show up for Christians either, otherwise they would have better arguments to show in favor of God’s existence. We can be pretty sure, for instance, that God does not show up for Jayman either, otherwise he wouldn’t need to resort to the argument that there might be some evidence for God out there in the answers that we don’t currently possess. An appeal to ignorance only proves that we are ignorant, it does not constitute a case of God (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Spontaneous Magical Entropy Reversal Fields) showing up in real life.
So we’re not really asking anyone to accept an extraordinary claim in the absence of extraordinary evidence. The claim is merely the ordinary claim that truth is consistent with itself even when we don’t know all the answers, and this claim is backed up by the ordinary (or extraordinary) evidence of the universal 100% accuracy with which new answers have turned out to be natural whenever we have finally discovered them.
I’ve got just a bit more room in this post, so let’s take a quick look at Jayman’s claims about Bernadette McKenzie’s “miracle.”
Nearly all claims ultimately rest on some form of testimony, but this one rests on the testimony of multiple people (Bernaddette, her family, the nuns, the doctor, and anyone else who knew her condition and its cure) and is medically inexplicable. Undoubtedly an extraordinary event took place (extraordinary in the sense that it is unusual or abnormal). If you believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence you only have a few options when presented with stories like this if you want to remain consistent:
(1) You can attempt to provide an explanation that is not extraordinary (unusual, abnormal). However, this route fails to explain many alleged miracles because what happens to people like Bernadette is extraordinary.
(2) You can investigate the story and find that the evidence is extraordinary (exceptional in quality or quantity). An atheist has presumably not found such extraordinary evidence or he would no longer be an atheist. A theist may have found extraordinary evidence.
(3) You can remain neutral on the matter. You realize that both a natural and a supernatural explanation are extraordinary and that you do not have extraordinary evidence for either explanation. At the same time you believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Neutrality is the only way you can stay consistent. The atheist cannot choose this option without becoming an agnostic.
(4) You can discard the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and choose between your options based on some other criteria.
How can you be a consistent atheist and believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? It seems to only be a belief that can logically be held by theists and agnostics.
First of all, there’s really nothing extraordinary about certain circumstances being “medically inexplicable.” Biology is a complicated subject, and there are countless variables that change from individual to individual, and even from one moment to the next. “Medically inexplicable” does not mean that no natural cause exists, but merely that our limited human intellect cannot trace all of the complex interactions that led to a particular situation. “We don’t know” is a perfectly natural and accurate assessment of many situations.
In the specific case of Bernadette, the claims we can support are indeed consistent with the evidence. The medical records and the testimony of the witnesses is sufficient to establish that she did indeed experience a change in condition whose timing is poorly understood. Had the improvement coincided with the conclusion of her last surgery, of course, it would have been less remarkable, but since it was delayed somewhat, people assume it had some special significance.
Ultimately, however, Bernadette’s case does not constitute God showing up, it merely constitutes people being ignorant of the specific causes involved, and superstitiously ascribing her relief to an agency whose role is not only unconfirmed but undescribed: even if you claim God healed her, you can’t tell us what, exactly, He would have done beyond magically poofing her into good health. Merely having men give God credit for something real, however, does not mean God actually showed up. If he had, we wouldn’t be quibbling about whether extraordinary evidence was really necessary, because we would have the extraordinary evidence!
As for the perfectly ordinary claim that Bernadette’s improvement was due to natural causes, this needs, and has, the ordinary proof of consistency with every other case where something happened which we did not understand, and only later discovered the reasons for. If there were any, and I mean literally even one, documented and verifiable exception to the principle that natural events have natural causes, then Jayman might have some grounds for proposing a non-natural cause in this case. But even then, the ordinary case would be that natural events have natural causes, because natural causes happen most often (as in “always,” as far as we know). If supernatural causes happened more often, science would simply regard supernatural causes as being normal and natural. It’s very pragmatic in that regard.
In summary, then, Jayman has an interesting argument that tries to turn the tables on skeptics. It fails, however, because I’m not making an extraordinary claim, I’m merely pointing out a fact that every one of us, including Jayman, can easily verify by real-world inspection: God does not show up in real life, and that leaves Christian apologists with no choice but to turn to superstitious ignorance as the “evidence” for God.
(My apologies to Jayman: I know the above sounds terribly insulting, but things are what they are. I really don’t mean it personally, I’m just making a critique of the argument itself.)