Santa Claus, Nessie, and GodFebruary 10, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
The main thrust of Jayman’s complaint against me is that he does not think it is possible for me to know that God does not show up in real life. I’m being inconsistent, he thinks, when I hold that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, because I can’t possibly have the extraordinary evidence required to support the extraordinary claim that I know God does not show up.
He doesn’t have a leg to stand on if he cannot provide a naturalistic explanation for all miracle stories. Atheists create an impossible task for themselves…
He claims to believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. He’s made the extraordinary claim that he knows God never acts in life so he should back it up with extraordinary evidence.
Of course I know he won’t be able to back it up. Only agnosticism and theism are logically compatible with the belief that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The agnostic can honestly say he has not seen evidence for God. The theist can honestly say he has seen evidence for God. But the atheist cannot honestly say he has done the necessary leg work and determined no God exists. Is honesty to much to ask for?
Honesty is what we’re all about here! Jayman’s mistake lies in assuming that the brute force approach is the only way to acquire and evaluate the evidence. And he’s right about one thing: the brute force approach is an impossible task, which is why it’s so safe for apologists to appeal to. But thanks to the principle that truth is consistent with itself, it’s not the only approach available to us. We don’t need to look in each and every place where a tiny and well-camouflaged deity might have hidden Himself. All we need to do is check the places where He should show up if the Gospels are true.
Let’s take the Loch Ness monster as an example. Does Nessie really exist? To answer that question, we need only look in Loch Ness. If Loch Ness is empty of monsters, then the Loch Ness monster does not exist. It does no good to object that we haven’t searched all the bodies of water in the world, or to point out that there are too many rills and puddles for any one man to have personally checked each and every one of them. Even if you found a “monster” living in one of them, it wouldn’t be Nessie, because according to the stories, Nessie is supposed to live in Loch Ness. If she’s not there, she’s not anywhere.
Or take the story of Santa Claus. I think most kids, on waking up in the middle of the night to find mom and dad laying out the presents, is going to get a clue that Santa is not a real character. Or they could look up the various expeditions to the North Pole, and see if anyone has really found Santa’s workshop up there. You don’t need to personally stand guard over each and every chimney in the world on Christmas Eve to check whether the Santa story is true. According to the story, he’s supposed to come down all the chimneys of all the good little girls and boys, so you don’t need to watch very many, and have him fail to show up with the goodies, to know that the story isn’t describing the real world.
According to the Gospel story, God is “not willing that any should perish,” but rather desires “that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Many other passages we could cite, like John 3:16, or any of the passages where Jesus talks about God being a loving Heavenly Father, will tell us much the same thing. According to the story, God loves us and wants us to be saved through faith in Him. Which of course requires believing that He exists, which in turn implies that we need a valid reason to believe that He exists.
To see whether or not God exists, therefore, we do not need to examine each and every place where He might be hiding, we only need to look for Him in the places He ought to be if He really did desire all men to know that He exists, so that they might not perish, but might come to repentance and faith in Him. If He’s not in those places, then any story or claim about Him showing up in some unlikely spot only highlights His remarkable absence from the places where He really should be if the Gospel story is true.
The late Rev. Father Boutros Gayed, of the Zeitoun church, describes why (in his opinion) the Virgin Mary would choose to appear over his church.
In my belief, the apparition has two missions, one of which has been accomplished, and the other will be accomplished in due time.
The one that has been accomplished is the consolidation of faith at a time when heresy spread and when materialistic beliefs, i.e. communism and dissipation, deny resurrection, immortality, the existence of the soul and of God and of the Metaphysical.
The apparition of the Virgin, then, was a strong urge that has strengthened the faith of the believers and disproved the claims of the sceptics.
This sounds reasonable. It’s what a God should be doing if He is not willing that any should perish. Only trouble is, most of the time He’s not doing it. Mary isn’t even God (yet). If showing up in real life does indeed “consolidate the faith” and combat heresy, if it does indeed strengthen the faith of believers and disprove the claims of skeptics, then we ought to see God doing this sort of thing all the time, in all sorts of places. It would suck to go to hell just because you couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Zeitoun, eh?
The Gospel story doesn’t get any farther than the first chapter of Acts before God shows up missing from the places where He ought to be. If Gayed is accurate in his claim that divine apparitions help the faith and confound the skeptics and heretics, then there should have been no “Ascension,” because that’s contrary both to the Son’s alleged love for mankind and to the successful accomplishment of God’s alleged goals and wishes.
This goes back to the silly rationalization about obvious icons being projected above the church in Zeitoun. Sure, it makes sense for God to appear in forms that are familiar to us, so that we could recognize Him, but then again, if He weren’t so freakin’ absent all the time, we wouldn’t need somebody to draw us a freakin’ picture! All the Son needs to do is hang around and continue teaching from Jerusalem, in His resurrected body, and He’ll be familiar, without the icons! Heck, bring Mary and the Apostles too! That would give people a valid reason to believe, and it would consolidate the faith and confound the unfaithful, just like Rev. Father Gayed said.
And let’s not forget Baby Jesus. Don’t tell me that Jesus can’t appear on earth until the Second Coming, and then tell me that he did appear with his mother in Zeitoun. Either he can and did, or he can’t and didn’t. But if he can and did, then he ought also to be showing up in the places where he should be giving every man a reason to believe and be saved, so that no man should perish unnecessarily and contrary to God’s will that none should perish at all.
Miracle stories only make things worse for the apologists, because there are a number of fundamental and obvious consequences that would result from the Gospel being right about what God wants and the means He possesses to attain them—consequences that would show up in real life, and manifestly do not. Rumors and stories (and yes, even grainy, suspicious photographs) only emphasize the point that there is no good reason for the necessary consequences to fail to be there. Either the stories are all false, in which case they fail to support the Gospel claims, or else they create an impossible 3-way contradiction between what the Gospels tell us, what the miracle stories tell us, and what we see in real life.
Truth is consistent with itself, and therefore I do know that God, in the sense of the divine Character in the Gospel stories, does not show up in real life. The stories contradict themselves and the real world, and are therefore not true. There may be some other God (and I myself am quite sure there is), but God, in the Christian sense, is not Her.