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Jan 24 2012

Dialogs with Eric, Part 2: Does God believe what men say?

In my post on salvation by faith, I mentioned the fact that God does not behave as though He believed all the things men say about Him, particularly as concerns His alleged love for us and His alleged desire to be part of a personal, loving and real relationship with each of us. Eric takes issue with this observation, and offers a number of standard Christian responses, but also expresses the wish that I would say more about what I mean. And I’m glad to do so.

Eric writes:

It’s to bad their are no reasons given or examples provided to back up this statement I don’t find this statement to be true in the slightest. God has given us many reasons to believe in Him (origin of the universe, existence of contingent beings, fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, Resurrection of Jesus, direct personal experience of God and so on). In addition, we know that God loves us because He sent His Son (who went willingly) to die for us.

So men say. The problem with these arguments is that they consist of the superstitions (origin of the universe, fine-tuning), rationalizations (contingent beings), stories (Resurrection) and subjective perceptions (direct personal experience) of fallible men. I don’t think I need to belabor the untrustworthiness of personal testimony, since Eric himself has pointed out that it testifies in favor of false doctrines more often than the truth, given the number of non-Christians who have their own Gods and Spirits personally affirming their own non-Christian beliefs. Meanwhile, on the other topics, I’ve already written extensively, so I’ve just provided the links if anyone is interested in following them.

To the heart of the matter, then: why do I say that God fails to behave as though He Himself believed what men say about Him? It’s fairly simple, and even obvious once you think of it. I’ve written about it frequently, but let’s see if I can explain it in a way that will be familiar and clear to Eric. We can start in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The book of Revelation is full of all kinds of symbols and cryptic language and bizarre stories, and people will caution you that it’s hard to understand and easy to misinterpret. One thing you never hear people say, though, is, “Wow, Rev. 21:1-4, it’s so confusing, God would never be willing to dwell with His people and be with them and be their God, so what could this passage possibly mean?” If someone came up to you with that argument, you’d say, “What, are you nuts? Of course God would be willing to dwell with His people and be their God! Didn’t He love them so much that He was willing to become a man Himself, and suffer for them, and die for them, and rise from the dead in order to make it possible for them to be with Him forever? He’s not going to go through all that, and then avoid them, is He?”

From a Gospel perspective, you’d be exactly right. It makes no sense to say that God would want to avoid us and hide from us and prevent us from being able to see Him after wanting and working so hard to eliminate everything that separates us from Him. Why, then, does it take the end of the world (literally) to make this happen? If what men say is true, God is willing and able to show up in real life right now. And notice, the Gospel teaches that it’s not man insisting that God show up in real life, it’s God Who wants to make Himself a part of our lives, and Who is willing and able to work miracles—literally miracles—in order eliminate the separation between us.

That makes it easy: if men are telling us a story about a God Who is that willing and able to show up in our lives, all we have to do is check out the real world and see if He really shows up there, outside of the stories and superstitions and subjective feelings of men. God, however, does not behave as if it were really true that He loved us that much, or that His work on the cross was really successful in eliminating the barriers that separate us from Himself. Even the story itself reflects a certain conflict with reality, since it not only banishes God’s appearance to the far ends of time, but also takes great pains to remove Jesus from the real world a mere few weeks after his alleged resurrection. Apparently, He’s in a big hurry to ditch us, and no great hurry to come back. This is the “love” that’s willing to die for us so we can be together forever?

If we look at the Gospel, there’s no good reason for God to avoid us and prevent us from being able to see Him in real life. From a practical perspective, though, there’s one irresistible reason: He’s only an imaginary friend, and He can’t show up outside the stories, superstitions, and subjective feelings of men. Men can imagine God however they like, but they can’t give Him the ability to show up in the real world, and so they have to adapt their stories, and insert inexplicable absences and delays on God’s part, despite His professed love for us and His declared desire to be with us, and His alleged miraculous elimination of any barrier separating us from Him. Men tell stories that credit God with the desire and ability to show up, but God’s real-world behavior doesn’t live up to what men say.

PS: Just as a quick preview, if anyone tries to argue that God does show up in the real world today, my first question will be to ask what it would mean for the Gospel if the apostles were reporting a Jesus who only “showed up” in the same way. The whole story would end up based on what Eric calls “false experiences” (at least when they happen to Muslims and Hindus)!

14 comments

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  1. 1
    davidct

    Most arguments using a scientific basis require a degree of ignorance about the science involved to be convincing. Once they are put forward, the god explanations provide no useful information as to how anything works other than an appeal to magic. People making god claims refuse to see the problem.

    Using biblical stories as evidence, assumes that the stories are true. The evidence strongly suggests that they are mythology. As such they are worthless as evidence for god. It is no more valid than using the “Odyssey” as proof of the Greek gods.

    The more we learn about the way the brain works, the less we can value “inner knowledge”. Personal experience may seem real the the individual and have nothing to do with the outside world. Using this sort of evidence become increasingly unsound every day.

    The weakness of the god arguments does not seem to decrease their popularity. We must continue to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

  2. 2
    mikespeir

    Just as a quick preview, if anyone tries to argue that God does show up in the real world today, my first question will be…

    Mine would be, Then why the special emphasis on believing without seeing? For instance, John 20:29: “…blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

    1 Peter 1:18-19:

    “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”

    Why would Jesus and “Peter” make it such a virtue to believe without seeing if they had any real expectation that people would see?

  3. 3
    davidct

    “Why would Jesus and “Peter” make it such a virtue to believe without seeing if they had any real expectation that people would see?”

    The most obvious answer would be that god values “faith”. A more cynical view would be that the appearances of god in the bible and the miracles of Jesus never actually happened. There is then nothing else to support belief. On the other hand, if the bible is true, god/Jesus have no problem providing evidence when they want to. God/Jesus is just not a consistent concept.

  4. 4
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    existence of contingent beings

    Nooooobody talks that way.

  5. 5
    a miasma of incandescent plasma

    I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,…

    Something like this would make sense, operating on the assumption that the earth “sits on pillars” and “does not move” as the bible says over and over again. With actual knowledge of what our universe is, and it isn’t us sitting on a table-top board game under a firmament being controlled by a master gamer, most of the claims of what people saw are seen for what they are, silly visions by uneducated people that were desperate to make sense of their surroundings.

  6. 6
    John

    God simply doesn’t have the power yet. Catechism 680 makes it clear:

    680 Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. The triumph of Christ’s kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil.

    1. 6.1
      Deacon Duncan

      At best that might explain why evil hasn’t yet disappeared, but it doesn’t explain why God fails to show up in church on Sunday mornings.

      1. John

        A little off-topic for this post, but as cradle (now lapsed) Catholic I find this catechism chilling:

        If “Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church”, than how can Christ the Lord be so incompetent or cruel as to ignore the rape of children in his domain ?

      2. Kevin

        Funny how Epicurus’ dilemma still is apt.

        Frankly, any god who sits idly by while his vicars rape children is no god I wish to be associated with. Even if someone could prove to me its existence, it would not be a benevolent god, would it? It would be an evil thing, to be opposed at all costs.

        Luckily for us, it’s merely a fictional character found in a book of myths.

    2. 6.2
      Janney

      God simply doesn’t have the power yet.

      And of course this would be a pretty severe abridgement of God’s power, if it were true.

      1. Aliasalpha

        Oh come now, everyone forgets their charger once in a while, its not like he’s supposed to be infallible

        Oh wait…

  7. 7
    Kevin

    Dear Eric:

    None of that is evidence of your god. Let’s review:

    1. Origins of the universe. At present, the answer to the question “what caused the Big Bang” is as follows: We’re not sure, and neither are you. Just because the scientists haven’t figured out whether a quantum fluctuation of negative gravity caused the universe to pop out from nothingness or something else happened, that does not give you the right to impose a primitive concept of an invisible fairy speaking magic words.

    For the “origins of the universe” to be considered an evidence of the presence of a deity, it would first have to be proved that natural forces could not possibly have done the trick. And the most recent knowledge from the cosmologists and particle physicists declares that notion to be bunkum. That’s what Stephen Hawking was saying when he declared that physics had determined there was no need for a god to create the universe. Note that he didn’t say “there is no god”, only that a supernatural being was not required in order for our universe to exist.

    2. Existence of contingent beings. That’s made-up shit used in a desperate effort to define your deity into existence. Please tell me what “contingent” beings there are other than the imaginary fairy you’re so on about? Ghouls and ghosts? Angels? Satan? The only reason you add “contingent” beings into the mix of causality is to avoid the infinite regress argument that asks, “if everything needs a cause, why doesn’t your god need a cause?” It’s a rhetorical trick, not evidence of anything.

    3. Fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life. A false assumption on many fronts. First, physicists will tell you that there are four fundamental forces of nature — one of them is completely unnecessary for our universe to work just fine the way it is. And there is no way to know whether the universal constants in place could be tweaked in various ways and still have a fully functioning universe. There’s also no way to know whether or not these forces aren’t obligate — they’re universal because they’re universal. They’re also natural forces. There is no supernatural floor holding them up. As the quantum physicists will tell you, there are no hidden variables.

    Second, look around you. Not only is the universe not “fine tuned”, it’s not amenable to intelligent life just about everywhere you look. We’re the speck of dust on the mote’s ass of a flea’s eyebrow — and everywhere else we have looked so far, intelligent life CANNOT exist. How this makes the universe “fine tuned” for life is beyond me.

    4. Resurrection of Jesus. Didn’t happen. It’s a myth. There’s no extra-biblical evidence (contemporaneous eyewitness corroboration) that such a person even existed. But if he did, and if he died in the manner prescribed, rest assured that he stayed good and dead.

    Have you ever noticed that all the miracles in the NT left no evidence of them? They’re “My Dog Ate My Homework” miracles.
    * Where’s the wine? Drank it.
    * Loaves and fishes? Eaten.
    * Healed sick? Dead.
    * Lazarus? Dead again.
    * The risen Jesus? Invisible in heaven.

    Right. No fourth grade teacher would accept that kind of rationalization — and neither will I. Until you can provide verifiable evidence of your NT miracles, what you are proposing is a load of codswallop.

    5. Experience of “Jesus”. You’ve already self-defeated this argument by claiming others’ experiences are false. Same thing.

    Really. Start using your brain for something other than defending your credulous belief in death-cult mythology.

    1. 7.1
      Aliasalpha

      Makes me wonder if the eric in question happens to have a surname starting with H and a dad in jail for tax evasion

      1. Deacon Duncan

        No, you’re thinking of a different Eric.

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