God’s evil addiction

There’s an old joke about a woman who keeps hitting herself in the head with a hammer. When they asked, “Why are you doing that?” she replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop!”

Yesterday we looked at Mighty Timbo’s story about how God allegedly healed his wife years after a serious car accident left her disabled and in pain. It’s a great story because it points out a huge flaw in the Christian theology of healing. Think about it. God supposedly could have healed her any time he wanted. He could have healed her a year earlier than He did, or within a few weeks of the crash. Heck, He could have prevented the crash in the first place. Instead, He chose to allow her to be seriously injured and to go through several years of pain and disability, just so that He could take the credit where her suffering finally stopped.

At least in the old joke, the woman was wielding her own hammer, and could stop whenever she liked. But this business of God putting us though sin and suffering and evil just so that it will seem so good when He stops—yikes!

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Does God show up through miracles?

Today I’d like to look at Mighty Timbo’s claim that he has evidence of God, in the form of a miracle that allegedly happened to his wife. It follows the traditional outline for miracle stories, so we can reasonably call this a typical case. And that’s a good thing because it also gives us at least the beginnings of an approach to understanding “miracles” in general. I’m going to go over a few of the general alternatives, and then (unlike Timbo) I’m going to suggest a way that we can objectively evaluate the evidence to find out which alternative is most consistent with real-world truth.

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I am Peter Ingersoll

When Mighty Timbo undertook his disproof of Mormonism, the first point he offered was eyewitness testimony by one Peter Ingersoll (or Ingersol, or Ingersall, not sure why there are so many different spellings), to the effect that Smith’s “Golden Bible” wasn’t really there. When I invited Timbo to submit that article, I told him that I would look for parallels between the weaknesses of Mormonism and the weaknesses of Christianity, and this is one of them. Just as Joseph Smith had eyewitnesses who could see for himself that the Book wasn’t really there, you and I and even Timbo himself are all eyewitnesses to the fact that Christianity’s God isn’t really there. In effect, we are all Peter Ingersolls, because we are eyewitnesses to God’s manifest absence from the real world.

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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.

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An inadequate apologia

Mighty Timbo says he has now “fixed” the wording in his attempt at excusing God’s failure to show up. It no longer explicitly declares that “It doesn’t seem like knowing him personally did a whole lot of good,” but instead now only implies it. Semantics aside, though, the thrust of his argument remains the same: in the Bible stories, God’s presence among men was typically followed very shortly by disobedience and rebellion, sometimes while God was still there. It does indeed seem like this allegedly mighty, loving, and wise deity was singularly incapable of doing much good, whether the apologetic comes right out and admits it or not.

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Excusing God’s absence

A few days ago I published a piece by a Christian apologist who goes by the handle “Mighty Timbo,” on the topic of why Mormonism is false. He has a web site devoted to Christian apologetics, so I thought I’d stop by and see what kind of defense he has to offer to the kind of disproofs he levels at the Mormon church. And I found this.

One of the more common questions we get from Atheists is “If God is actually real, why doesn’t he prove it? Why doesn’t God show himself and eliminate the faith?”

That’s certainly a valid question and if you’re a Christian you may have asked it yourself at weak spiritual moments.

I’ll get to his answer shortly, but first I want to point out that he has the question really, really wrong. First of all, if God were to show up, it would not eliminate the faith, it would eliminate the doubt. There are all kinds of people who show up all the time, and yet I have no faith in them whatsoever (and a bunch of them want to be President of the USA, apparently). True faith is a confidence that is built up by repeated real-world experience, and God’s being here would only help that. Mighty Timbo is confusing faith with gullibility—the willingness to believe what men tell you in the absence of real-world confirmation and/or presence of real-world contradictions of the things they say.

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The case against Mormonism

I’m going to try something a little different and see how people like it. A little while ago I was approached by a self-described Christian apologist with a request that I write my best case against Christianity, up to 2,000 words, for presentation on his blog, so that he could respond to it. I declined, but I made him a counter offer: write a similar rebuttal of Mormonism, written in terms that would be convincing to a skeptic, and I would publish it on my blog, and make a similar argument against Christianity. I frankly told him that I would use his material to illustrate the extent to which a priori beliefs influence the believer’s perception of an argument’s validity and impact, but he’s still game, and sent me his arguments against Mormonism.

I’ve included his article below, unedited (though slightly reformatted to fit the blog format better). Does he convince you? Would he convince a Mormon apologist? Do his arguments apply equally well to Christianity if you make the appropriate substitutions?

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Resistance is… persecution?

This is really not going to end well for the ID creationist community…

“David Coppedge alienated his co-workers by the way he acted with them, and blamed anyone who complained about those interactions,” according to JPL in their response. “He accuses his former project supervisor and line manager of making discriminatory and retaliatory employment decision, when they had in fact protected him for years.”

via CNN.com Blogs.

One of the problems with being reality-averse is that you also corrupt your ability to assess your own circumstances. I’m sure Coppedge went into this suit convinced that he was going to show the world how prejudiced and unfair everyone else was for resisting his attempts to convert them to his own beliefs. He should have learned his lesson from Bill Buckingham.

Protecting religions

Ed Brayton writes:

But there is an inherent danger in having the government decide which religions deserve protection and which do not, which are “legitimate” and which are not, especially since all religions are ultimately illegitimate. On the other hand, it seems absolutely clear to me that Scientology was created for the sole purpose of being a swindle, a con, a way to make money. I don’t think that’s true of other religions, even if they all do have adherents who find a way to get rich from it. It’s a very tough issue for me.

He’s right, it’s a tough issue. I suggest making a distinction: a free society should protect religious belief and religious speech, but religious institutions should not receive any more protection than any other organization. In other words, it should not be legal to discriminate against individuals for having or promoting religious beliefs, but religious institutions should not receive any additional benefits not available to other institutions or organizations.

In particular, religious institutions should not be exempt from accountability with respect to their constituents. If they make promises to their adherents that involve being paid or otherwise compensated for things, then they should be just as accountable as any other institution for delivering what they promised. And in cases where it’s disputable whether or not they kept their end of the bargain, the consumer should have the benefit of the doubt. The religious institution received tangible benefit from the consumer, and should therefore be obligated to prove that it provided tangible benefit to the consumer, or face appropriate breach-of-contract penalties.

Yeah, I know, I should also wish for a pony while I’m at it. But the first step in fixing a broken system is determining what a working system would look like.


13 words

In Ecclesiastes 6:11, we read, “For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man?” I’ve spent a number of years of my life studying the Bible, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this verse pretty much sums up the whole thing. You look at most religions, and they all have these elaborate Scriptures, and what are they all really? “Many words.” Solomon (or whoever) had it exactly right.

Good religion does not need many words. In fact, here’s a good religion that takes precisely 13 words to express: “Our purpose is to make life better for ourselves and those around us.” We could elaborate on these 13 words, of course. We take care of ourself first (so that other people don’t have to do it for us), then we make life better for our family, our neighbors, our friends and co-workers, our community, our country and our world. And we focus our efforts where the circles are smallest, since that’s most efficient. But still, 13 words sums it up.