NPR, science, and God. (And magic.)

In a commentary posted on the NPR web site, Nancy Ellen Abrams writes:

“God” is a word. If we define it, even subconsciously, as something that cannot exist in our universe, we banish the idea of God from our reality and throw away all possibility of incorporating a potent spiritual metaphor into a truly coherent big picture. But if we take seriously the reliable — and, thus, invaluable — scientific and historical knowledge we now possess, we can redefine God in a radically new and empowering way that expands our thinking and could help motivate and unite us in the dangerous era humanity is entering.

I actually have had similar thoughts myself, once upon a time, and can still feel a bit of sympathy for this point of view. I think, however, that any comment I could make on this article would be best made by restating her arguments with one slight substitution. Instead of taking this as an argument for a “scientifically real God,” what if we view it instead as an argument for magic?

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Belief versus knowledge

Here’s a quick illustration of the difference between knowledge and belief: Christians believe that Jesus loved them so much he was willing to lay aside his divinity, descend from heaven, and spend 33 years growing up in poverty and preaching the Gospel and ultimately dying a horrible, painful death for them. But they know that if they drop their pencil on the floor, Jesus will never pick it up and hand it to them.

How to evolve a resurrection myth

Since a lot of people are celebrating Easter this weekend, I thought it might be a good time to review how easy it is to end up with a resurrection story in the absence of anything supernatural. This account is a bit different from some of the better-known explanations of the Gospel story, but I think it’s more plausible than at least some of them, and might be the most plausible explanation of all.

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Your memes are trying to tell you something

I saw a couple interesting memes on Facebook recently. One was a guy saying something to the effect of “Complaining that God is silent when you don’t read your Bible is like complaining you don’t get text messages when you turn off your phone.” The other was a story about some kid who got shot in the eye, and survived, to which a believer added a caption giving God credit for his survival. Both memes were similar, in that they were inspirational, superficial, and rich in implications that betray the fundamental fraud of the Gospel.

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An important distinction

I was thinking the other day about how we teach our kids to distinguish between fact and opinion. For example, consider the following statement:

Global warming is a fact.

Is this a statement of fact or a statement of opinion? Some might say, “Regardless of whether or not global warming is real, this statement is an opinion because the writer is only expressing his or her belief that global warming is a fact.” Is this a legitimate answer? How can we tell?

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Chart of the day

A propos of nothing in particular, here is the chart of the day:


Fool me once Shame on you
Fool me twice Shame on me
Fool me fairly often Hey, it’s a free country, I can believe what I like
Fool me repeatedly That’s just your interpretation
Fool me every day We report, you decide
Fool me all the time AND take my money on a weekly basis God said it, I believe it, that settles it.


Now I just need to think of a good name for it.

Everything we need to know about God

I was a conservative, Bible-believing Christian until I was in my early forties, and as a believer, the one thing I wanted more than anything else was to understand God. Ironically, it’s only now, after a decade and a half as an atheist, that I’ve finally reached an understanding that truly does explain everything that seems odd or mysterious about God.

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The agnostic creationist

I thought this was interesting. Here’s Ken Ham’s response to the question, “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?”

Well, the answer to that is, I’m a Christian, and as a Christian I can’t prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me very clearly through His Word, and He has shown Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, that the Bible is the Word of God…

No, no one is ever going to convince me that the Word of God is not true.

Or in other words, Ken Ham is never going to be able to genuinely know whether the Bible is true or not. He’s like a broken watch that says it’s 2:45 no matter what time it is. Nothing is ever going to be able to get him to say it’s not 2:45. Ask him what time it is, and after he answers, you still won’t know what the correct time is, because his answer is not tied to the current time. And likewise, there’s no point in asking him whether or not the Bible is really true, because his answer will be completely unrelated to the truth. Evidence, facts, reality itself, are all powerless to change what he says, and therefore his faith can never accurately reflect the state of the evidence, the facts, and reality itself.

Why revelation fails

One of the dogmas underlying Murk’s belief system is the idea that divine revelation is required in order for us to have any knowledge of the truth, as he himself has recently shared.

I have written that to know anything a person must either know everything or someone who does who is good and shares. I cannot make this any simpler.
You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.

This is a false statement, since I can and do know that I exist, and I cannot be mistaken in this knowledge—if I did not exist there would be no one to make the mistake. Every one of us possesses the ability to know at least some material truth, without any need for divine revelation. But more than this, there are at least three good reasons to conclude that divine revelation is not, in fact, a reliable means of knowing the truth about the real world.

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The agnostic believer

Those who sincerely attempt to reconcile Christianity with fact and reason eventually discover, if they persist, that the Gospel is not consistent with unbiased objective truth, as I can testify from personal experience. The unfortunate believer who encounters this problem has a couple of choices. One choice—the choice I made—would be to allow the true facts of reality to lead me out of the ignorant and superstitious traditions of Bible and Church. Call this the Truth Trumps Traditions choice.

The alternative would have been for me to turn my back on truth, closing my eyes to it and deciding that truth cannot (and should not) be known by man. My own search for truth led me only to the brink of apostasy, and what good is that, right? To stay faithful, I would have to decide that knowledge of the truth must be the enemy of faith, and would need to reject this knowledge as something that all faithful believers should oppose.

Believers who choose this latter path become the world’s most agnostic philosophers, denying that we can know even part of the truth. Faith turns into a kind of communal solipsism, where each believer has only his or her subjective beliefs to cling to, unsupported by any knowable truth, unverified and unverifiable. It’s a worldview founded on dogma, of which the cornerstone is the denial of the idea that real-world truth can be known by any mortal. It’s the ultimate in agnosticism.

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