Gospel Disproof #17: The iFriend Contingency

In Matt. 4:7, Jesus quotes a verse from Deuteronomy that has become beloved by apologists everywhere. “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test,” says the text, which in practice means that God reserves the right not to answer your prayers if He thinks you’re testing Him. It’s a good way to excuse God whenever He might otherwise seem to have failed to answer, but there’s a catch: how do you know which prayers are going to constitute “testing”? After all, there’s no point in wasting your time and His on prayers that are the wrong kind. But how to know which ones are wrong?

It turns out there’s a very easy way to find out. I call it “The iFriend Contingency.” As you might guess, the “i” stands for “imaginary,” and here’s how it works. Imagine you have a magical friend who is really a great person, and who has unlimited power and knowledge and goodness—but is not actually divine. Adopt this magical friend as your iFriend, and then start asking this iFriend for things. In your imagination, this iFriend has unlimited power and knowledge, so you can ask whatever you want.

God’s ability to grant what you ask for will never exceed your iFriend’s apparent ability to grant what you ask for. That is to say, there are some things you can ask for that have a non-zero chance of happening whether your iFriend exists or not. If you ask for such things, you’ll receive them a certain percentage of the time, thus appearing to be a case where your iFriend granted your request. Other requests however—like “Will you please show up at my house tonight at 7:00 and play the guitar at a party I’m having”—will never happen, because your iFriend isn’t real. These are the “testing” requests, and God will never answer them either.

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Freudian slip?

Call me an optimist, but I can’t help suspecting that William Lane Craig secretly knows that his arguments for God are deficient, and is just not admitting it to himself. As evidence, let me cite this little slip up from Chapter 7 of On Guard.

First, we’re not in a position to say that it’s improbable that God lacks good reasons for permitting the suffering in the world.

He’s trying to make the argument from ignorance, that humans have limited knowledge of time and space, and we don’t know all the circumstances, and yadda yadda, and therefore God might have a good reason for allowing suffering. But read it again: he’s not saying our human limitations prevent us from saying God is unlikely to have a good reason. He said we can’t call it improbable that God lacks a good reason. Or to cancel out the double negative, he actually wrote that we’re not in a position to say that God probably has a good reason for allowing suffering.

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Jamming with Dr. Craig

Over at the other blog, we’re in Chapter 7 of William Lane Craig’s On Guard. Here’s an excerpt.

Craig loves to turn the tables and use the atheist’s own arguments against him, and I think this time it really backfires on him.

Although at a superficial level suffering calls into question God’s existence, at a deeper level suffering actually proves God’s existence. For apart from God, suffering is not really bad. If the atheist believes that suffering is bad or ought not to be, then he’s making moral judgments that are possible only if God exists. [Emph. added—DD]

I had to push back from my desk and stare at that one for a while. So in other words, God’s existence makes the world a worse place than it would be without Him. Without God’s existence, nothing would be bad. “Whoa, Jim, that pit bull just chewed your foot off!” “Yeah, I know, I’m in extreme pain, but that’s ok because God doesn’t exist.” “Sally, is it true that your dad went insane and killed all your kids?” “Yeah, I’m suffering terribly, but it’s ok, because there’s no God.” WTF?

I can see where this is something Craig has no choice but to affirm. It’s the logical extension of his arguments about morality. But seriously, it shows both the flaw in his definition of “good” vs “bad,” and the downright silliness of the whole argument. Yes, it’s literally true that by Craig’s own arguments, the world is a worse place if God exists than it would be without God. God’s existence is what makes suffering bad. If it weren’t for God, suffering would be perfectly ok, at least according to a Christian worldview. And folks, that is one seriously screwed up worldview.

I’m just saying.

The ID Zombie

It’s the 20-year anniversary of Darwin on Trial, the book that started the Intelligent Design movement, and here, via PZ Myers, is a link to Jason Rosenhouse’s blog post, “ID is Dead.” It’s a good review of what ID has failed to accomplish in the past 20 years, but at first I thought, “Gosh, I hope he’s wrong. It would really be terrible if ID were dead.” Then I remembered: Hey, these are fundamentalist Christians we’re talking about. Keeping dead things alive in their hearts and dreams is like second nature to them. And sure enough, here’s a post by David Klinghoffer doing what ID’ers do best: pouting, patronizing, and bragging about what might be called peer-reviewed ID papers if you aren’t too picky about details. I’m confidently optimistic that the ID zombie is alive-ish and shambling, and we’ll continue to see him lurching about for many years to come.

Why is that a good thing? Because Intelligent Design—or perhaps we should call it Not Intelligent Enough Design—is a great way to show that Yahweh is a man-made God.

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Secondary terrorism

This has been bugging me for a while, so let me just put it down in a post. We all know who the terrorists are: Al Qaeda, right? But are they the only terrorists? No, I’m not talking about other underground movements, or right-wing militias, though there are terrorists there as well. I’m talking about primary terrorism vs. secondary terrorism.

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A riddle

Here’s a riddle for you. What do you call a father who never shows up any more to spend any time with his children, who stays away so much that they wouldn’t even recognize his face or his voice, and never shows up to help when they really need him?

A) A deadbeat dad.
B) God.

Tough one, ain’t it?

 

Morality

“I’ll never understand atheism. I mean, there’s tons of evidence for God.”

“Like what?”

“Like morality, for instance.”

“Morality.”

“Exactly. Everybody knows that there’s a real right and a real wrong. You can’t just make it up and call it morality. It has to come from God.”

“So in other words, you’re telling me that all moral values come from an unmarried Father, and illegitimate Son, and a guy that got someone else’s fiancée pregnant.”

“Yes, that’s—wait, what?”

 

Gospel Disproof #16: Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush

One of the differences between fantasy and reality shows up when you have lots of people involved. To demonstrate this, I like to use the illustration of Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush, from the story of Moses.

Suppose you are looking for the summit of Mt. Sinai, high up in the clouds. And let’s say there are several of you, all starting from different places around the base of the mountain. As each of you gets closer to the summit, what happens? You all draw closer to each other as well. Because the summit actually exists in the real world, you all have a common point of reference, and as each one gets closer to the truth, the group as a whole gets closer to each other, until you all finally arrive at the same point. Mt. Sinai illustrates the way scientists gradually converge on the same truth about the real world, by studying a common reality.

The pursuit of fantasy, by contrast, produces quite a different effect. Because the goal you are pursuing does not exist in the real world, there is no common goal towards which all seekers can progress. Fantasy tends to flow along lines drawn by personal bias, cultural influences, political agendas, and other psychological phenomena that push different people in different directions at different times. The result is that pursuing fantasies tends to lead people away from each other, even if they all start from the same point. To the degree that we all share common psychological traits, we may find common branches in our fantasies, with certain types preferring one form, and other types preferring others. But the overall pattern is that of a bush, that branches and re-branches over time as each new seeker adds his or her own unique and subjective perspective.

Thus, the pursuit of truth, when it is really truth, produces a pattern of discovery like Mt. Sinai, where you can start at different places, and draw closer together over time until you all arrive at the same summit. The pursuit of fantasy, as though it were the truth, produces instead the pattern of the Burning Bush, where believers form branches and diverge from one another, even when starting from a common root.

So what is theology? Is it Mt. Sinai, or is it he Burning Bush? The answer will tell us a lot about the truth of the goal being pursued—if we have ears to hear.

William Lane Craig and free will

Over at the other blog, we’re still working our way through chapter 7 of William Lane Craig’s On Guard. This week, Craig tries to make it sound like the Almighty was forced to impose suffering on mankind, due to circumstances beyond His control. You can read the whole thing if you’re interested, but for this blog I wanted to take a look at just a snippet of his reasoning. According to Craig, the atheist believes human suffering is inconsistent with the existence of God, which necessarily assumes that God could have created any world He wanted, and that a loving God would not have created suffering.

If God is all-powerful, He can create any world that He wants. Is that necessarily true? Well, not if it’s possible that people have free will! It’s logically impossible to make someone do something freely.

How much can Craig get wrong in just four sentences? How many problems do you see?

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