Denying the Undeniable—and failing

A few people have questioned what I call “the Undeniable Fact” (i.e. that God consistently fails to show up in real life), on the grounds that believers will surely just insist that He does show up, to them at least. My argument, however, is that believers cannot deny the Undeniable Fact without inevitably demonstrating the truth of what I say. Luckily for me, O ye of little faith, a commenter named Nathan has taken issue with my claims, thus giving me a chance to document my contention. He writes:

What evidence do you have that God does not show up? According to the Bible, Jesus was God, in which case God most definitely has shown up. Obviously this can be discounted if you believe that the Bible is wrong on that account, but it is no less substantiated than your own claim.

Notice, his first challenge is to demand evidence of God’s failure to show up, and yet by that very question he provides evidence that what I say is true. If I said, “You faith in the existence of carrots is questionable because carrots do not show up in real life,” you wouldn’t refute me by asking for evidence that carrots do not show up, you’d easily demonstrate my error by directing me to the produce section of the nearest grocery.

God does not show up in real life. He shows up in the stories men tell, like the story of Jesus in the Bible, but He does not show up in real life, even for Nathan. Nathan can challenge my source of knowledge, and question whether I have any actual evidence, but for him, at least, his very question provides the evidence. God does not make any real-world, in-person, face-to-face appearances in Nathan’s life, which means that, for Nathan at least, what I said is entirely true: the Undeniable Fact is indeed undeniable, with the Inescapable Consequence that his faith is necessarily faith in men. God has not personally showed up in his life to give him an opportunity to develop a faith in God, so faith in man is his only option.

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Archbishop: “Pray for marriage”

Headline: “Catholic archbishop calls for prayer in defense of marriage.”

In a recent letter to his flock, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis wrote of the duty incumbent upon Christians to defend the proper definition of marriage. The Archbishop also included a prayer in his letter, asking for God’s help in promoting the passage of a “marriage amendment” to Minnesota’s constitution, which would safeguard the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

In the interests of truth in advertising, let me suggest a suitable text for such a prayer.

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Gospel Disproof #22: The unfortunate alternatives

A couple days ago I posted about the Undeniable Fact and its Inescapable Consequence. As some of the commenters have pointed out, this is not a complete disproof of the Gospel, because believers can simply insist that yes, God does so show up in real life. In other words, they can simply deny the Undeniable Fact. That, however, is a reply that has its own unfortunate consequences for the believer.

The first consequence is that before you can say that God shows up in real life, you have to admit that He has no good and compelling reason not to show up. After all, if there were such a reason, then obviously He must not show up after all, because He can’t. But by claiming that God does show up in real life, the believer is admitting that apologists everywhere are not telling the truth when they suggest that, say, God cannot show in real life because doing so would “ravish” man’s free will (to use C. S. Lewis’ excuse).

Now then, if there’s nothing preventing God from showing up in real life, then we have a very easy means of determining whether or not men are telling the truth about Him. According to the Gospel, God wants to be with us, badly enough to die for it Himself, so if men are telling the truth about Him, all we have to do is ask Him to show up, and He will, because it’s what HE wants. And if He does not show up, then we know that Christians are not telling the truth about Him.

That’s an unfortunate consequence for the Christians, because even they themselves know God is either unwilling or unable to show up in real life—that’s why they work so hard inventing good and compelling reasons why He can’t and/or shouldn’t do it. And that in turn proves that the Undeniable Fact is indeed undeniable. But that’s not the most unfortunate consequence.

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The emotional rationalization of suffering

Over at the other blog, it’s time for this week’s installment of our chapter-by-chapter look at William Lane Craig’s apologetics manual, On Guard.

Craig deals with the problem of suffering by assuming that it’s not really an intellectual problem, since he can imagine the possibility that God might be working under some set of unknown constraints. He may not have any grounds (other than wishful thinking) for supposing this to be true, but as long as he can claim that atheists are unable to prove the contrary, he considers the intellectual argument a non-problem for God.

That leaves what he calls “the emotional problem of suffering.” It’s a bit misnamed, because the problem isn’t our response to suffering. Suffering is evil, and people should have a negative reaction to it. When you see one person suffering, and you know that someone else can help them and simply refuses to do so, without any justification for their refusal, then moral outrage is an entirely appropriate. When Craig tells us that God has the power to relieve suffering, and deliberately chooses not to help, and when he defends this behavior by the excuse that we can’t know for certain that God does not have some secret justification, then that’s Craig’s problem, not ours.

Craig doesn’t really offer a good response to that. Instead, he presents us with a choice selection of emotional rationalizations for suffering. And to be fair, these are not uniquely Christian rationalizations, except to the extent that they apply Christian labels to the higher power or powers that are supposed to be punishing us and/or preparing us for some higher calling. What’s interesting is that Craig declares that “the emotional problem” of suffering is more significant than “the intellectual problem,” and needs a correspondingly more significant answer. But if that’s the case, why does he give it such poor ones?

Continue reading at Evangelical Realism.


Gospel Disproofs #20 and #21: The undeniable fact and its inescapable consequence

[Originally posted, in slightly different form, on July 27, 2007]

Debating apologetics can be a tricky matter: Christians have 2,000 years of experience in rationalizing their beliefs, and generally know better than to allow themselves to be pinned down to anything that would settle the matter fairly and objectively. There is, however, one undeniable fact, with one inescapable consequence, which can be used to force Christians to face reality no matter how much they would like to twist away from it.

The undeniable fact is this: God does not show up in the real world, not visibly, not audibly, not tangibly, not for you, not for me, not for saint or for sinner or for seeker. Many people, of course, have already pointed out this fact, and tried to use it against Christianity, with little or no effect. For 2,000 years, believers have been rationalizing their way around that one. That’s why, for maximum effectiveness, we need to combine the undeniable fact with the inescapable consequence.

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Jesus vs Santa

The other day I mentioned the fact that, if you’re just looking for something to believe in, one belief works just as well as any other. And if you are looking for something to believe in, why not believe in something nice, like Santa? With that in mind, here is my list of the Top Ten Reasons Santa Is Better Than Jesus.

10. Santa does not endorse any political candidates or parties.

9. If you’re bad, Santa gives you a lump of coal, he doesn’t try to turn you into one.

8. Santa comes to town riding a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer; Jesus comes to town riding someone else’s ass (which seems to have become a tradition among some of his followers, by the way).

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A Mormon story

Back in my evangelical Christian days, I took an interest in what my fellow believers and I called “the cults”—chiefly Mormonism, Christian Science, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, Moonies, and so on. My favorite radio show was “The Bible Answer Man,” with Walter Martin, and I devoured his book, The Kingdom of the Cults. But even then I was a big fan of gathering my own information and not just taking someone else’s word for it. So I decided to contact the Mormons and find out for myself who they were, what they believed, and why they believed it.

My pastor was against the idea, not the least because of my youth. I assured him, however, that I was not at risk (and as it turns out, I wasn’t the one in danger). I started attending a local Mormon church, and was somewhat surprised to find how little difference there was between Sunday morning at the Mormons, and Sunday morning at my usual church. There was a bit more emphasis on doing good works, and a bit less emphasis on just trusting in God to save you, but other than that I felt right at home. Hmmm.

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Gospel Disproof #19: Lying for Santa

When our kids were little, my wife and I faced the usual young parents’ dilemma: do we lie to our kids about Santa, or do we take away all the fun by telling them the truth? We decided not to do either one: we told them from the very beginning that we were playing “The Santa Game,” and then we told them all the fun stuff about Santa in the context of explaining the rules of the game.

You know kids: they loved it and got every bit as much fun out of it as the deceived kids. Literally. Years later, I was talking with my daughter about how disappointed some kids were when they found out their parents weren’t telling them the truth. “Hey, that’s right!” she said. “You guys lied to us.” “No we didn’t,” I said. “We told you from the very beginning it was a game.” Her righteous anger deflated in mid-flare, and she said, “Oh, yeaaahhhh…” And that’s when I knew that, even as a game, the experience was just as real to them as if we had duped them into thinking it was actually true.

Since then I’ve left the Christian faith, and have noticed something even more interesting: what works for Santa works for Jesus just as well. Or any other god, or spirit, or chakra or what have you. All the fun is in the believing, whether it’s actually true or not. The magic of faith happens in the worldview, not the real world, so the question of truth is actually irrelevant. After decades of experience as a believer, I can still “cast off my burdens” by praying, and be thankful for “answers” to my prayers, even when I know that God, in the traditional sense, isn’t really there.

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The meaning of life

In a comment on my latest post at Evangelical Realism, advenioadveritas writes,

It also appears that in your zeal to dismantle Craig’s argument you fail to provide any meaning to life in place of the Christian one he is arguing for. The Dostoevsky quote is especially apt for Craig’s argument because it recognizes the ultimate end point of life without some reason for it. Contrary to your strong belief you cannot arrive at any other logic conclusion to the meaning or life morality other than meaningless nihilism without some truth that is never changing. Which I’m guessing doesn’t fit in your worldview, I could wrong about this though.

I’ll admit I’m not entirely clear on what this person is trying to say, but it sounds like he’s saying that our only two choices are faith in God or meaningless nihilism. And that’s clearly wrong.

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Stray thoughts

This just popped into my head and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, so I decided to just post it as-is.

Q: Why does time only flow forwards and not backwards?

A: Some time does flow backwards, but since its point of origin is also the big bang, we can’t see it because it’s headed the other direction.

(I have no reason to believe this is true. Or false.)