Friday, February 22, 2008

Belief And Proof

I liked this:

Before diving into all that is wrong with this addition to the general form, I must note that the argument is no longer about whether there could have been one resurrection in the past, or whether God could have worked miracles in the past. And Carrier has not engineered anything to make this flawed formulation stand with any more integrity. The argument is now about the evidence for a miracle-working God. This is an enormous question—perhaps it’s the question as it is simply another way to ask, “How do I know that an all-powerful God exists?” In the remainder of my essay, I do not intend to offer any positive answer to this question, only a defense that explicates why Carrier’s specific objection is not effective.

Carrier writes, “All that is needed is the demonstration that God, like the laws of nature, is a regular, functioning part of what exists today, and that he actually has powers sufficient to work a resurrection.”

So. . .Carrier’s standard of evidence is that miracles—which are by definition exceptions to natural law—be as “regular and functioning” as natural law? How would he then define “miracle”? This is the first big problem with his standard of evidence.

The second is that, though an obviously confident man in his own thinking and writing, Carrier does not give enough credit to his fellow skeptics’ intellectual capacity. That is, specifically, their capacity for doubt. What would max-out Carrier’s own capacity? What would push him from doubt to belief? If God were to go about “turning all guns in the world into flowers, rendering the innocent impervious to harm, protecting churches with mysterious energy fields” then Carrier’s standard of evidence would be met. Let him speak for himself, though. This evidence would not convince all.

My guess is that other skeptics would suffer from Indiana Jones Syndrome. This is a malady so named for the famed action hero who opens his eyes at the end of the first movie to find throngs of nazis lying dead with cannon ball sized holes shot through them. Even though he did not actually see the power of the Old Testament God melt a man’s flesh from body and face, we would still expect him to chalk up the events of his rescue to the supernatural. Yet, in movie two, Indie is not a Christian. He’s not even a convert to Judaism who’s traded in his felt fedora for a yarmulke. It’s clear from the beginning of movie three that he’s not a theist at all.

If God were to turn all of the world’s guns into flowers, Indiana Jones Syndrome manifested in skeptics would lead them to question the historicity of the event. Some would doubt that the guns themselves morphed into flowers, and would consider themselves more reasonable to conclude that the gun-owners of the world were either part of an Operation Flower conspiracy or were themselves deceived. Other skeptics would grant that the guns did turn into flowers, but would postulate that it was more likely the handiwork of aliens than an as-of-yet unproven God. Still others would grant that it was God who turned the guns into flowers, and that it is unethical to worship such a God who would so callously leave millions and millions of soldiers around the world unemployed as their militaries were suddenly out of business. And, two thousand years into the future, skeptics would point to the “Story of the Rifled Roses” as a legend circulated by a superstitious people—a majority of the present world’s population (depending the source, 60-80%) is, after all, theistic.

And if God were to turn all new guns into flowers, making it a repeated event, and not just one of history, then scientists would investigate the matter with the scientific method, searching for the new or previously-un-discovered natural law that was causing the phenomenon. They certainly would not allow a supernatural explanation to suit the events while the scientific investigation was so young.

Meanwhile, other sufferers of Indiana Jones Syndrome would be working on the “Un-Harmed Challenge to Atheism,” arguing for why the sudden protection of the innocent does not constitute proof of a loving, powerful, good God. “I’m innocent!” they’d be yelling, “And this so-called God didn’t protect me from getting mugged last night.” If the Christian pointed out that God’s Un-Harmed umbrella of protection does not extend to people who don’t worship Him, the skeptic would throw up his hands and ask, “How could you worship such an ego-maniac???”

Just like Indiana Jones, these skeptics, in the face of what others consider adequate evidence, would sally forth to their next adventure, un-changed by the revelation given to them.

One might charge that I’ve been silly. But the point of this silliness is to demonstrate that if miracles were as common as natural law, skeptics would search for a natural explanation for them. If God performed a huge one-time-only miracle, it would become part of history, and therefore subject to some degree of doubt. If God performed a huge, one-time-miracle that created a permanent result, such as the carving of “Jesus Lives” into the moon, the result might be indisputable, but the cause of it could still be questioned. God could give us overwhelming evidence of His existence—and there are some of us who believe He has—but He cannot force people to reach a conclusion. Or, if He can, He refuses to, as doing so would revoke a significant chunk of our free will.

Maybe Richard Carrier, or another, would claim that any such skeptical objection made in response to evidence like this would be dogmatic, or unreasonable, or both. But this is just another way to declare how much evidence is enough for him personally. And, once convinced, the skeptics he’s broken company with would be wrong, and demanding of too much.

Then the converted-Carrier would be faced with a choice: either address these skeptics’ objections in person, in print, on-line, and in debates, or ignore them and go about living as the Christian he’s still surprised to find he’s become. With the line of evidence so far behind him, he will wonder how it could still lie in front of others.

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