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Mar 28 2012

The skeptic’s role

Mighty Timbo appears to be upset with me for failing to follow whatever script he had in mind for my part in his proposed “debate” (which, as he may recall, I declined to participate in). I’ve been examining his post entitled “Why Doesn’t God Show Himself To Us and Prove He Exists?” and showing how (a) it fails to give the full scope of the apologetic difficulties inherent in God’s failure to show up, and (b) it fails to give an adequate answer even to the question as he proposes it. Apparently I’m not supposed to do that. Skeptics, it would seem, are only allowed to raise carefully-framed softball objections that can be easily dismissed by facile and disingenuous sermonizing.

Well I’m sorry, but that’s not really my role as a skeptic. The role of skepticism is to examine both the claims and the evidence, to expose any internal or external inconsistencies, and to prefer those conclusions that are more consistent with real-world facts than competing claims, rejecting any that are manifestly inconsistent with themselves and with the truth.  Thus, when Timbo points out that Bible accounts of God’s appearances are followed soon after by accounts of people rebelling and falling away, there’s an underlying inconsistency there, in that this is a remarkably poor outcome for Someone as great as God is supposed to be. As a skeptic, it’s my role to point out that Timbo is glossing over this problem when he tries to use the disobedience of men as a mere excuse for why God doesn’t show up. I’m not supposed to just blindly follow his script and say, “Ok it must be all man’s fault then.” My job is to cross-examine his evidence and give it a more comprehensive context.

Timbo objects that I’m misrepresenting his argument.

At no point did I ever argue that God “Can’t show up”. I didn’t even argue that he shouldn’t. The crux of my reply to the question was that despite evidence presented to the contrary (and you were presented with actual evidence)many people like yourself simply rationalize God away.

This is precisely the argument I addressed in my reply, however, when I pointed out that there is nothing about such blame shifting that really accounts for God’s failure to show up. Nor did I ever state that Timbo was trying to argue that God can’t show up. I merely pointed out that, whether his argument is true or not, it would not prevent God from showing up if He wanted to. And according to the Gospels, He does want to be with us forever, participating in a personal, loving, two-way relationship and interaction. So where is He?

Sadly, I’m out of time for today—the day job beckons and there’s plenty to do, so I’ll have to pick up tomorrow with the rest of Timbo’s testimony.

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Tyrant of Skepsis

    Well, actually, as a scientist, I thought it is not only the skeptic’s job but first and foremost the persons’ who is making the argument, who should anticipate the best criticism that can be brought against the claims and then address them as thoroughly as possible. But then, that’s probably the crucial difference between good science and philosophy on the one hand, and apologetics on the other.

  2. 2
    DR

    If God doesn’t show up because Man disobeys him, isn’t he acting like a 5 year old throwing a temper tantrum?

    Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that whole Old Testament thing, where God acts *exactly* like a 5 year old throwing a temper tantrum, the entire time.

  3. 3
    Tony Hoffman

    It’s often pointed out that the Bible contains no information that a bronze age man would not have thought to be true. It also seems that a contemporary apologist is unable to imagine a God who does not behave as he would. Both of these facts make the claim less credible.

    I’m thinking that if modern apologists really cared about what it is they’re trying to do, they’d talk way less.

  4. 4
    Kevin

    Tim’s god both lacks power and imagination.

    If god chooses not to show up because every time he does, man rebels, that means that man is more powerful than god.

    Funny that. A purely impotent god in the face of man’s rebellion.

    Of course, Tim is wrong on the facts, biblically speaking. God appears to Moses and Moses doesn’t rebel. God appears to Abraham and Abraham doesn’t rebel. And on and on.

    And to Tim’s point that one would reject god’s presence even in if he knocked on the door and sat on the couch next to you, I call foul. First, show me an incontrovertible instance where god has “sat on the couch” and we can talk.

    I can think of thousands of ways that a god could display itself and demonstrate both its existence and the claimed attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. That Tim’s god can’t seem to figure it out beyond the delusional “appearance” in people who are in emotionally fragile states is telling.

    Argument from personal experience is all Tim has left, and it’s the biggest loser of all. Because again, this presupposes a god who wants us all to know him but cannot appear “in the hearts” of the unwilling or unknowing. That’s a severe limitation of his god’s power. And, in fact, I’ve done the “open your heart” experiment many times. I’ve honestly done exactly what the evangelists say is required to “allow” their god(s) to enter my “heart” — to absolutely zero effect.

    It’s all nonsense. The only god that acts in the way Tim’s god does is one that is a) absent or b) imaginary. My money’s on the latter. But even if not, the former suffices, because an absent god doesn’t require our worship, or command that we behave in certain ways. It most certainly doesn’t condemn us for not believing in it.

    1. 4.1
      kagekiri

      Yeah, if we’re going to keep using personal evidence and anecdotes, I’d also like to enter the evidence of thousands, millions of Christians and Jewish people who cried out to this God for help, for his presence, for his power, for his healing, and his rather constant silence to the vast majority of such prayers. The Bible itself says God basically let 400 years pass between the Old and New Testaments without showing up; abandoning dozens of generations doesn’t seem like a very good Father-like thing to do.

      Same with verses saying that God punishes children for the sins of their parents, cursing hundreds of millions of people, and in fact, all human life ever based on the sins of the first pair (according to the Bible’s stories, anyway). If a person tortured and killed someone’s kids and grandkids and great-grandkids for something their ancestor did wrong, you’d know they were evil. That’s why we can tell that God is damn near infinitely evil as a character in the Bible stories.

      As for my own testimony, I was personally swept up in the euphoria of worship, and felt God’s convictions to the point that I wept uncontrollably for hours, and I assumed that it was the Holy Spirit (and not horrible emotional manipulation leading to depression, self-hatred, and nihilism).

      Yet when push came to shove, God never showed up, never sent the Bible-promised visions and prophecies, never sent the power of the Holy Spirit in any non-personally tangible way, never provided guidance in his “still-small whisper”, never healed anything but pain (which is easily affected by the placebo effect, and the healing didn’t last), no matter my desperation or my absolute faith.

  5. 5
    R Johnston

    Apologists uniformly fail to understand the difference between arguing that the universe is consistent with their conception of god and arguing that the universe provides evidence of their conception of god. One hundred percent of the time they argue consistency but make claims of evidence. They also do a piss-poor job of arguing consistency, as is to be expected given the poorly formed and anti-scientific conceptions of god that dominate in theist communities, but that’s another issue.

    That “god” does not prove himself is not evidence for god, full stop. It’s not even evidence that your conception of god is consistent with the universe unless your conception of god involves incompetent impotence.

  6. 6
    ash

    ” Skeptics, it would seem, are only allowed to raise carefully-framed softball objections that can be easily dismissed by facile and disingenuous sermonizing.”

    Just wanted to say, that’s a mighty pretty sentence there…

    1. 6.1
      Tony Hoffman

      Agreed. He’s like a great jazz musician. You can’t coach that kind of thing.

      1. Cafeeine

        You see a sentence? I see a portrait of Lee Strobel. It’s a miracle, MIRACLE!

  7. 7
    Stevarious

    I find his argument exactly as convincing as if he had said, ‘Well, every time Zeus DID show up, some poor innocent virgin found herself pregnant. Zeus doesn’t want anymore pregnant virgins, so…”

  8. 8
    Jon H

    The point of an all knowing and all powerful God is that he knows what kind of evidence a skeptic can’t simply rationalize away and he can provide that kind of evidence.

    Besides, I haven’t seen any kind of evidence for Christianity that other religions and strange beliefs might offer but which Christians would rationalize away. I had a pastor tell me that the God would reveal himself if I prayed every day and really meant it. I sort of stared at him, he wanted me to believe in God before being given evidence about God. Anyone can claim that!

    If you meet a man on the street with an offer that’s too good to be true I think we all know what it means when he ends his pitch with “just trust me.”

  9. 9
    N. Nescio

    As of now (0500 GMT), http://www.christian-apologetics.tk resolves to a domain parking website, and WHOIS queries report that

    “Your selected domain name is a domain name that has been cancelled, suspended, refused or reserved at the Dot TK Registry”

    I wonder what happened?

    1. 9.1
      N. Nescio

      He’s really going to hate where it points to now.

      1. Cosmic Teapot, not the Antichrist.

        Tee hee.

  10. 10
    Jon H

    The internet always plays for keeps.

  11. 11
    Randomfactor

    My antivirus has the redirected site flagged as a malware source.

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