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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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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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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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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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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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.

Gospel Disproof #15: Liar, Lunatic, or Leafy Green Fruit Plant

[Originally published July 23, 2007]

Apologetics is, by its very nature, an inherently bandwagon-y enterprise, so it’s not too surprising that David Limbaugh, in his foreward to I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST , can’t resist the temptation to toss in his own two denarius’ worth:

As C. S. Lewis observed, if Christ is not God, then he could not have been an exemplary prophet or a great moral teacher, because he claimed to be God. If he was not who he said he was, then he was either a liar or a lunatic, hardly a great moral teacher or prophet.

This is a classic piece of Christian apologetics, and quite widely circulated among Christians. It’s so popular, you’d think there was some substance to it. But is there?

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Gospel Disproof #14: Sinning for a better tomorrow

Following up on yesterday’s post, have you ever noticed the weird co-dependency between God and evil? As I’ve said previously, if a good God were to exist, the consequences of His existence ought to be good rather than evil. Yet evil does exist, and is widespread. The Christian answer to this contradiction is to suggest that evil is somehow necessary in order to accomplish a greater good. But we don’t even need to look at the specific excuse of “free will” to see that there is something very fishy about this proposed explanation.

Think about it. God is supposedly the only self-existent being. That means the only constraints and necessities are those which are either inherent in His own nature, or else created by God Himself. If sin and evil are going to be necessary in order to do good, that’s a constraint that is either present in God’s nature—i.e. God’s nature is such that it makes sin and evil necessary!—or else God deliberately commanded that good cannot be achieved in the absence of evil. Either way, if evil is necessary, it’s because God makes it necessary.

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Gospel Disproof #13: Knowing Pi

The distinguishing characteristic of rationalization is that it attempts to obscure the difference between truth and falsehood so that we can no longer reliably distinguish between the two. For example, a common Christian apologetic claims that we can never know whether, say, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were inconsistent with the idea of a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient Heavenly Father. God is (supposedly) so much wiser than we are, and knows so much more than we do, that we can never question His wisdom in allowing evil things to happen. Even though it might seem obvious that a good Person would have acted to prevent it, we can never know that God was wrong/negligent to fail to intervene, because God might know something we don’t.

The argument, in other words, is that because of human limitations, we can never know what the right answer is, and therefore we can never say that anyone else’s answer is the wrong one. But that’s a false argument, as we can see by looking at the number pi.

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