A quick clarification

I’m a bit under the weather today, so I’ll just toss out a quick clarification. In his reply to my post on “How many stars are not the sun?”, commenter cl writes:

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.

Wow, really? Surely you’ve heard of Russell’s Teapot, right? If the above is your argument, then count me in with those who think Jayman has you on the ropes. Your analogy entails an irrecoverable category error. You contrast claims for which no empirical evidence exists with claims for which conclusive empirical evidence exists. The existence of a bona fide miracle is still in question, correct? That our sun is not our sun is not in question. Not very persuasive, IMO.

The point I’m making has nothing to do with Russell’s Teapot, which has to do with unfalsifiable claims. My point, by contrast, is that the preconditions that would give us a miracle-working Christian God entail other consequences so obvious as to make (unfalsifiable) miracles moot as a source of evidence for God’s existence. When our sun is in the sky, its glory so overwhelms the lesser glory of the stars as to leave them virtually invisible. There’s no debate over which star is our genuine sun, because no other contenders can even show up.

In the same way, when we read Biblical stories about God showing up, one thing we never read is any debate over whether that was really God or not. If God really were willing and able to show up in real life, it would be like the sun coming out. It would produce empirical evidence, and it wouldn’t be a category error to compare God’s presence to the sun’s presence.

That’s my point.

 
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The theology of God’s absence, part 2

I once read a quote, which might have been from Mark Twain, that went something like this: “The Bible is the most genial book ever written. It never disagrees with the person reading it.” And it’s true. You never hear a believer say, “I believe such and such, even though it’s flatly contradicted by what the Bible means to say, when properly interpreted.” Everyone has whatever interpretation seems right in his or her own eyes.

This is also a consequence of God’s failure to show up in real life. Because God does not show up to give us an objective standard against which to measure which interpretations are correct (and which are incorrect), the question of “what the Bible really means” boils down to one man’s word against another’s. There are some who will appeal to grammar and linguistic principles, and others who will appeal to Tradition, but the final determination, the final standard, inevitably boils down to a question of “Does this seem right in my own eyes?”

It’s no coincidence that when Martin Luther promoted the concept of sola Scriptura, the number of doctrinal divisions within the Church skyrocketed. When every man is free to follow whatever interpretation seems right in his own eyes, you end up with as many differences in interpretation as there are differences in the interpreters. (Not, of course, that the Church was exactly free of divisions even before the Reformation.) That is, paradoxically, one of the things that makes Christianity so popular: it is easily adaptable to being whatever you believe it ought to be, due to the lack of objectively-real standards against which to measure right or wrong doctrine.

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