How many stars are not the sun?February 11, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
I’ve managed to work my way up to some of Jayman’s comments on the “Healing of Bernadette McKenzie” post. Whew! I know it’s old news by now, and I’ve already addressed a lot of what he has to say, but there are still a few points I think are worth making.
In responding to Deacon Duncan I will try to focus on the logical contradictions he holds since that was my point all along.
(1) While some other alleged miracles have similar traits to Bernadette’s story many other alleged miracles do not. It is not logical to assume that if you can explain one story you can explain all stories. Rather, to confidently assert that God never acts in history, which you do regularly, you would have to be omniscient. Therefore, it is an extraordinary claim to assert that you know God never acts. The extraordinary evidence for such knowledge is never offered.
Let’s suppose that you and I are outdoors on a dark, cloudless night, looking at the stars. “Look at all those stars,” I say. “Countless billions, and yet not a one of them is our sun.”
“Wait a minute,” you object. “How do you know none of those stars is our sun? You can’t possibly have examined each and every one of them. Most of them aren’t even visible to the naked eye. You would have to be omniscient to know that none of them is our sun!”
You’d never say that, of course, because you agree with me: none of them is our sun. This is not a conclusion we reach by a brute force enumeration of each and every star in the cosmos, followed by detailed analysis of each. Rather, we know this because of one very fundamental and obvious fact: if any of the stars in the sky above us were the sun, it would be day, not night.
This is how I know that none of these so-called miracles, and rumors of miracles, is actually a genuine instance of God showing up, tangibly and in person, in real life. The unexplainable phenomena we have now are all alike in some ways, like the stars in the night sky. They have their differences when you examine them up close, though they tend to fall into a relatively small number of broad categories. But surveying them from a distance, they’re like stars in the night sky: some brighter and some dimmer and some grouped into patterns that seem to suggest things to our human perceptions, but all just stars and not our sun.
This is true for more than just alleged Christian miracles: the same characteristics describe all “unexplained” phenomena, like UFO’s and Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle and (my personal favorite) chupacabra. Such “appearances” are all relatively obscure, share many of the characteristics of ordinary misperception or deliberate hoax, and tend to excite the superstitions of the credulous. The “Christian” phenomena have their own particular constellations, but they’re not categorically different from the pagan phenomena.
If the Almighty Creator of the universe decided that He wanted to show up, tangibly and in person, He would do so. These lesser curiosities would fade like stars at the dawning of the day by comparison. It wouldn’t be some half-hearted, obscure, and ambiguous sideshow like Zeitoun. If He wanted us to know He was showing up, we’d know, just like we know the difference between our sun and the other stars. And conversely, if He wanted to hide Himself, and prevent us from being able to know that He existed, then He wouldn’t show up at all.
Thus, I can and do know that God does not show up in real life, just like I can and do know that none of the stars in the night sky is our sun. The consequences and impact of God genuinely deciding to make Himself tangibly known would be categorically different from the lesser “marvels” that so easily befuddle the uncritical mind. We know that the earth is real; if the Creator of the earth set out to make Himself known, He would be no less real to us than our planet.
That’s how I can know that, for instance, Jayman has no photos of God showing up at his church, no phone messages from God on his answering machine, no video of God passing by in the street (or above the street—He is God, after all). I’ve never met Jayman, I know no details about his life at all, and yet I know, without fear of contradiction, that he does not possess any of these tangible evidences of God showing up in the real world. And not just for Jayman, but for any living person. And I’ll always turn out to be right. How can I do that? The same way I can know, without personally examining each and every nighttime star, that none of them is our real sun.
No doubt Jayman has evidences, but I know even before I hear them what they are. They’re FISH. No, not the swimmy thingies. It’s an acronym for the four sources of knowledge concerning God: Fantasy, Intuition, Superstition and Hearsay. We can make up things about God (fantasy), and even endow them with sophisticated philosophical rationalizations. But they’re ultimately stories that we’ve just made up to sound plausible. They’re not real-world observations of God actually showing up.
Likewise, we can have various mystical and subjective experiences, through autosuggestion, peer influence, or just plain wishful thinking. You know, “God spoke to my heart” and “God is leading me to [fill in the blank]” sort of thing. And true, God could show up through speaking directly and mystically to people’s hearts and minds. But He doesn’t. God can “speak” to you, but He won’t ever tell you anything you can’t imagine on your own, without His help. He can’t, for example, tell you what’s written on the piece of paper in my back pocket, nor can He relay a message from one Christian to another with results better than random chance.
Superstition we’ve already covered: some coincidence happens in your life and you attribute it to God, even though you can’t really show any verifiable connection between God personally and the phenomenon you’re giving Him credit for. That’s not God showing up, and it’s not even God taking credit for something. You have to give God the credit, because He doesn’t even show up, tangibly and in person, to take it for Himself.
Hearsay is the last source we have for “knowledge” about God. Stories that improve with the retelling, in other words. Stories you can’t actually verify. Did you hear that God cured someone’s cancer, or that God miraculously spoke to someone and warned them of a mugger waiting in the dark, or someone cast out a demon in Jesus name and bystanders actually saw the demon? Can you get the specific details so that we can check it out? Strangely, the answer is always either “No,” or it’s “Yes” and then the facts fail to back up the claims (like in Zeitoun).
I’ve left out deliberate fraud as a possible source of “knowledge” about God, since I think we all can admit that such things are lies. But what else is there? God does not show up in real life, and all our beliefs in Him turn out to be FISHy faith in the things of fallible men. This isn’t just me being unreasonable and demanding more than is really necessary, this is me pointing out that, if God does not actually show up in real life, if He does not behave as though He believed what the Gospels say about Him, then we have no basis for faith in Him. Gullible trust in man, and in the things of men, are our only available options (if we insist on believing, anyway).
I’m willing to be open minded (though not gullible, if I can help it). I’ll look at the evidence, if it’s available. But there’s no hiding the fact that, if you’re looking at all the stars in the night sky, you’re not seeing the sun. Show me your stars if you like, but I know before you even pick one that it’s not what we ought to see in our real sun. The difference between the sham and the genuine would be unmistakable.