A Question I Never Tire of Answering

A reader I hope is young and not being serious asks:

Let me get this straight: you, a presumably rational individual who writes science fiction stories for a living, sincerely believes that the creator of our 13.7 billion year-old universe of 70 sextillion stars magically impregnated a human female about 2000 years ago – a woman who then gave birth to a son named Jesus who performed miracles, rose from the dead and served as the creator’s messenger to humanity?

This might make for a mildly interesting, if outlandish, science fiction story, but the source of your belief system? If you’re going to base your life philosophy on absurd myths, why not choose something a bit more interesting? Why not master the Dark Side of the Force or the Golden Path, becoming a Sith Lord or a God-Emperor and strive to rule a Galaxy? Why choose something as ridiculous and wretched as Christianity? I must admit I am rather perplexed…

My answer:

I am more than a presumably rational individual, I am a champion of atheism who gave arguments in favor of atheism so convincing that three of my friends gave up their religious belief due to my persuasive reasoning powers, and my father stopped going to church.

Upon concluding through a torturous and decades-long and remorseless process of logic that all my fellow atheists were horribly comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics and logic, and my hated enemies the Christians were right, I wondered how this could be. The data did not match the model.

Being a philosopher and not a poseur, I put the matter to an empirical test.

For the first time in my life, I prayed, and said. “Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.” — and then my mind was at rest. I had done all I needed to do honestly to maintain my stature as someone, not who claimed to be logical, objective and openminded, but who was logical, objective, and openminded.

Three days later, with no warning, I had a heart attack, and was lying on the floor, screaming and dying.

-Then I was saved from certain death by faith-healing, after which–

-I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body, after which–

-became immediately aware of my soul, a part of myself which, until that time, I reasoned and thought did not exist-

-I was visited by the Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father-

-not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days–

-including periods of divine ecstasy, and an awareness of the mystical oneness of the universe-

-And a week or so after that I had a religious experience where I entered the mind of God and saw the indescribable simplicity and complexity, love, humor and majesty of His thought, and I understood the joy beyond understanding and comprehended the underlying unity of all things, and the paradox of determinism and free will was made clear to me, as was the symphonic nature of prophecy. I was shown the structure of time and space.

-And then Christ in a vision told me that He would be my judge, and that God judges no man. I mentioned this event to my wife. Then about a month later, when I was reading the Bible for the first time beyond the unavoidable minimum assigned in school, I came across the passage in the book of John, a passage I had never seen before, and to which no Christian in my hearing had ever made reference, which said the same thing in the same words.

-And then I have had perhaps a dozen or two dozen prayers miraculously answered, so much so that I now regard it as a normal routine rather than some extraordinary act of faith.

So I would say my snide little prayer was answered with much more than I had asked, and I was given not just evidence, and not just overwhelming evidence, but joy unspeakable and life eternal.

(I also regard this overwhelming deluge of evidence to be shameful before my fellow Christian, since the saying told to Doubting Thomas, blessing those who believe without seeing, is a blessing denied me. In hindsight, if only I had not been so arrogant,  I could have glanced around at the earth and sky, and seen the intricacy, wonder, and beauty of nature, regarded the unanswerable authority of the conscience within me, and known that I was a created being inside a created cosmos, not  a random sandheap blown for a season into a meaningless shape by blind winds. Any child can see it, and all children do.)

To me, the universe was death row, and I was a condemned prisoner who believed everything outside death row was delusion and wishful nonsense — and then I got a call from the governor of the universe, commuting my sentence. I will live forever. As will we all. This was my repayment for a life spent in blasphemy and hatred and slander against God. Instead of smiting me as I damned well deserved, He spared me, and exulted me, and showered me with grace.

I was converted.

So I was prepared to say adieu to logic and reason and just take things on faith, when I then found out that the only people who think you have to say adieu to logic and reason in order to take things on faith are crackpots both Christian and atheistic.

Every non-crackpot thinks faith is that on which you rely when unreasonable fears tempt you to disbelieve that to which your reason has consented. If your father says you can dive off the high dive with no risk of death, and he has never lied in the past, and your reason tells you to trust him, it is rational to take his word on faith and jump, and it is irrational to let your eyes overestimate the danger poised by the height.

I then discovered that the Christian world view makes sense of much that the atheistic or agnostic worldview cannot make sense of, and even on its own philosophical terms, is a more robust explanation of the cosmos and man’s place in it, answering many questions successfully that atheists both claim cannot be answered, and then, without admitting it, act in their lives as if the question were answered, such as how to account for the rational faculties of man, the universality of moral principles, the order of the cosmos, how best to live, etc.

Turning to my atheist friends, I then discovered none of them, not one, could give me even so reasonable an argument as I was expert in giving in favor of atheism.

They reasoned as follows: “God cannot possibly exist. Therefore any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd. Since any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd, therefore none of your evidence proves God exists.”

I found their perfect, childlike faith touching.

No matter what they saw, no matter what they heard, no matter how the world was against them, they would go to the lions rather than look at the evidence, lest their faith in their faithlessness be shaken.

When I pointed out that this was circular reasoning, they called me bad names.

One skeptic, in a bit of a lapse of his vaunted presumably rational character, told me solemnly that I could not possibly have had Jesus tell me something from a book in the Bible I had never read before. He said that I had read it afterward, and developed the previously undiscovered ability to edit and rewrite my memories, which I then used on myself, so that I only thought I remembered Jesus telling me about the nonjudgmentalism of God. The memory was created after I read the passage, and then back-dated. Then I used this power again to make myself forget that I had the power to make myself forget things.

I asked him if I also had the power to rewrite my wife’s memory, since she remembers me telling her about the passage before I read it. He then tried to cut the conversation off, while accusing me of being irrational.

Another atheist told me I induced a heart attack in myself with my previously undiscovered heart-attack inducing power. And then cured the heart pain with my previously undiscovered heart-attack-curing power. I did both things in order to convince myself falsely of a doctrine I did not believe and had no interest in believing, but, unbeknownst to myself, my secret desire to believe was so great that it overwhelmed my sanity and seized control of my subconscious biological and cardiovascular processes. When I questioned him about such things as whether he was familiar with my medical record, or when I asked to see the evidence supporting this theory, he called me names.

I did not get the opportunity to ask him by what means he discovered the hidden workings of my secret unspoken desires, since he had never spoken to me, and he was not with normal mind-reading range. I did not get a chance to ask him whether this strange ability to harm and heal myself at will was something all people had, or whether he thought I had a superpower due to being bitten by a radioactive spider or something of the sort.

Another atheist told me that that heart failure was a coincidence, not a direct result of my prayer tempting God Almighty, and if that had not happened, something else like a car accident would have happened, and since I am irrational, I would have drawn an improper post hoc ergo propter hoc conclusion no matter what happened, on the grounds that God cannot exist no matter what the evidence says nor how obvious it is, and so anyone who draws the obvious conclusions from the evidence MUST be irrational.

He, at least, did not call me names, aside from making the claim that I would have made an irrational lapse in judgment no matter what had happened after praying my one experimental prayer to a God in which I had no particle of belief, in order to sustain and support my (nonexistent, at that time) belief.

He continues to suffer the false to facts belief that he can read my mind back through time and see the internal workings of my psychology during events where he was not present. For a skeptic, he is really, really gullible.

I tried gently to point out the logical error in trying to use reason to persuade me that he, a stranger to me, knew that I suffered from a mental illness that prevented me from reasoning, whereas I, who have access to things like my past history and my medical records and the contents of my thinking, have more authority to speak to the issue than does he, until and unless I am impeached as a witness.

In general, the argument that I am impeached as a witness on the grounds that my testimony did not confirm the prejudices and assumptions of a third party is not one likely to prevail in a court of law, or as a debate among sober philosophers, scientists, nor anyone trained in rigorous reasoning.

And so far not one atheist has approached me with a legitimate argument, such as the Problem of Pain, or the Paradox of Determinism, or any apparent inconsistencies in the Bible. The only feeble effort in this last direction was from someone who insisted that the Gospels were written in the late Third Century, but could give no argument to support this extraordinary revolution in the standard model of history, nor quote an authority in the field in support.

None have even erected a child’s argument, such as asking whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift.

I used to be one of you, my dear atheists, and I was good at my job, and you all embarrass me with the feebleness and silliness of your attempts to do what I once upon a time did so well. You are a disgrace to the powers of evil.

But enough about me!

My question for you is this: if science discovered tomorrow that the universe was half its apparent age, and estimated the stars as half their current number, would the belief in God somehow be twice as credible in your eyes?

If so, why so?

If not, then, logically, the age of the universe and the number of stars has no bearing on the credibility of belief in God or in the Incarnation.

Again, if you are attempting to persuade me that I should not believe in unusual events or unheard-of or hard-to-believe on the grounds that no unusual nor unheard-of nor hard-to-believe events never happen, simple logic shows that this cannot be the case:

Logically, every ordinary event is unheard-of before we hear of it; and the first example of even repeated events is unusual until the second example occurs; and events are hard-to-believe when and only when our expectations and our experience does not match: therefore every novelty is as incredible as the platypus when first encountered. Therefore not only do incredible events happen, they must happen, for if they did not, the concept of credibility could not exist.

If, on the other hand, you are arguing that I ought not believe reports of miracles on that grounds that miracles do not exist, and that we know miracles do not exist on the grounds that no believable reports of them are heard, you are arguing in a circle.

You are also implying that the human race, all of whom believe in gods, ghosts, magic and miracles of one sort or another, except for that exquisitely tiny minority of persons who are consistent atheists, just so happened to have all made the same lapse of judgment in the matter of paramount and foundational importance in their lives, and continue to do so, some of whom would go to the lions rather than reexamine the aforesaid lapse of judgment. While it is possible that everyone during the parade is out of step except the fond mother’s son in the old joke, this would seem to be as unusual, unheard-of and hard-to-believe as a Virgin birth, if not more so.

The argument that miracles are unbelievable because they are unbelievable, even if it were not circular, is less persuasive than may at first appear, when proffered to a juror who is himself a skeptical eyewitness to several miracles, answered prayers, visions, religious experiences, knowledge of events before they happened, et cetera.

Obviously, I who have seen miracles ex postiori, cannot adopt the a priori assumption that miracles cannot exist and retain my integrity as a philosopher, or my honor as a man.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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297 Responses to A Question I Never Tire of Answering

  1. KFJ says:

    “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

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  3. BobMcGovern says:

    I accept that near death experiences can be divine or hellish, that powerful changes to bodily chemistry and functionality are always a factor, and that the experience should be carefully evaluated.

    The first step in finding God, like the first step in walking, is bound to fall short of perfection, as are all future steps. I question why religions, based on revelation, suppress revelation. In effect, you assert that your revelation validates quite a number of doctrines.

    The Bible describes how God’s revelation was received by people over 2,000 years ago. Reading the entire book, with an open mind, gave me a foundation for religious freedom. My religion is free of doctrine and denomination, while being open to how God’s revelation is unfolding in today’s world. My God has no limits whatsoever. None.

    Evaluation of my baptism as an infant leads me to uphold the efficacy of that baptism. My soul rose to meet the Holy Spirit and was filled with the light of the Holy Spirit. The role of the priest in terminating that process was not so efficacious. As for birth, my soul arrived on time and the birth of my physical body occurred. My memory recorded that my soul was outside my body at the time. Birth has an eerie resemblance to near death experience. There are significant changes to body chemistry and functionality. Not so with Baptism.

    The apostles performed Baptism for initiation. Whether or not all early Christians abstained from all drugs is an open question. We do know that today’s churches are short on prophets, healers and works of power.

    • We do know that today’s churches are short on prophets, healers and works of power.

      This is an odd thing to say to a man whose reason for his conversion is that he was healed by a work of power, and received a prophetic vision.

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  5. ktcat says:

    God bless you, John! I’m so happy to read your conversion story and sent it on to all kinds of different folks.

    Welcome to the team, my friend! You are loved.

  6. martin17773 says:

    John, the blessed virgin Mary and the choirs of angels – did you have this vision or was it someone else I’m trying to recall?

    • Among others. I indeed had a vision like that, which came as quite a surprise to me, since I was neither raised Catholic nor was friends with any. I would have much preferred a visit from the god Thor.

      Other people have had visions of Mary, so I may or may not be the one you are trying to recall.

      • martin17773 says:

        I’m fairly sure you’ve described it in here. Wanted to share it with others, I’ve searched but haven’t found it yet. It was for the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and linked to the Creation of Arda in the Silmarillion.

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  9. pgrachan says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and opinions. I am grateful for having been pointed to your page. I apologize for the length of this response, I’m sure most will check out 1 paragraph in.

    I also acknowledge that there will be flaws and mistakes in my response, but I am grateful for the opportunity to learn through discussion. These are simply my thoughts having been on both sides of many fences.

    First, I do not discount your experience or thoughts. They are valid for you, thus they are valid. It would seem that with each shift in your beliefs throughout your life, you are most assured and confident and that is great. I would simply like to present some thoughts for general consideration.

    It seems to me that each of us sees the world through glasses which we have put on or have had put upon us. You put on glasses that challenged a being that you know of having specifically asked for proof.

    By doing this, psychologically you had prepared your mind to accept possibility and I would contend that you already were a believer illustrated by your specific act of active faith (prayer) vs your asserted position of simple observation. You then had a life-altering event which was unexpected and then you connected your experiences with a belief system which is dominant in your society. I do not believe it was caused by anything, it need not be. I think it just was. Heart attacks are quite common.

    An interesting discussion about the importance we place on our own personal “coincidences” can be heard in one of the episodes of This American Life that I was on. Your event was eventful to you because it happened to you, not because it was out of the ordinary in a statistical sense.

    This connection seems directly parallel to the ones people make who discuss this matter with you while differing in their opinions. They too have had visions and experiences which back their view. So would you discount their experiences as invalid? I would hope not.

    Humans naturally find patterns (connections) as part of our survival mechanism. It can be reasonably argued that you attributed events to this particular story line because of the glasses you had put on. Perhaps there were times before when you had challenged this god for proof and nothing happened that you found satisfactory, backing your previous belief system, and using the unmet challenge as proof? It seems a common action for atheists to take.

    As part of this pattern recognition, humans also seek to assign reason. In days past it was something like “lightning wrecks things, thunder comes with lightning, things are usually wrecked when there is anger, thus lightning is controlled by something who is angry and the thunder is the sign of this anger. Be afraid when there is thunder.” or something similar. Once we figured out what thunder and lightning were, we moved away from assigning it to the divine, like we have many things, yet there are billions of things we still cannot explain.

    This desire for reason and pattern isn’t magic or belief, it’s just how our brains operate.

    To see this in action within your own current belief system, take a look at “bad” things. In general, Christianity assigns temptation and bad to an evil being, and even discusses a place called hell, though the bible itself makes very little mention of either one of these specifically and a historical study clearly shows the modern origins of the assumed personality of the devil and the place he supposedly resides outside of the words of the bible (this “knowledge” is akin to people believing Eve ate an apple).

    Christians assign reason for bad to the devil because it is too difficult to talk about the actual conclusion based on a purely christian belief system, which would be that every evil is God’s will. Certainly we know that God is willing to commit all manners of action that we would find evil, even admittedly breaking almost all 10 commandments within the covers of the bible, so why not all actions of “evil” in our times?

    The truth according to the bible: Everything is God’s will. If it is not, which parts are we to believe, how do we tell? If the devil can work outside of god’s will then what if he has instituted false scripture! Or false churches! Or what about all the different interpretations of the same words and the wars and deaths that have resulted from this! Which ones are real? Or how about the assembly of the bible that we read today! What if something was left out by the devil! What about the parts that only applied culturally to the people of the day? Do we still follow those? How do we know what to keep and what to ignore? If it’s just the basic principle of Jesus as Savior, then how do we get to know Jesus, or do we even have to? Once we explore outside of the simple God is everything, God sent Jesus to save you, it becomes a can of worms.

    Even the creation of a being designed specifically to be sent to hell seems a bit puzzling to an outside observer. Like blaming a car designed without brakes for crashing.

    This is a difficult thing to admit, so we create other stories to explain the story we think must be true at that time. The possibilities are literally endless so we must limit them in order to move forward, as religions have throughout history.

    Its far easier to and perhaps necessary to say “Satan does bad things, God does good things” and leave the decision of what is good or bad up to ourselves on a case by case basis.

    I do know one thing. None of us know anything for sure. We all have faith on one level or another. I believe it is not the end object of faith that is the most important, but the journey of this faith.

    Just somethings to consider. I’m sure this is nothing new for someone like you who is surely far smarter than I. I hope you continue to be well and strong in your journey.

    • Welcome to Philo 101. Back to the elementary lesson on how to think rationally.

      It seems to me that each of us sees the world through glasses which we have put on or have had put upon us.

      If that applies to your beliefs as well as mine, you have impeached your own beliefs as well as mine, including your belief that each of us sees the world subjectively. So, logically, no, it is not possible that each of us sees the world through glasses which we have put on or have had put upon us.

      The comment is doubly nonsensical because we are discussing the change of my beliefs in a radical and fundamental way.

      …By doing this, psychologically you had prepared your mind to accept possibility and I would contend that you already were a believer….

      Having read my article where I specifically point out the logical fallacy (not to mention the arrogant rudeness) of having a stranger to me telling me what my own secret thoughts are, you do so nonetheless, despite the warning.

      Talk to my wife. She will tell you exactly how open I was to accepting the possibility. It was zero.

      What, you mean you did not talk to my wife and friends before coming to your conclusion? You did not seek out any evidence? You did not go through a logical process of reasoning? Aha. Then on what grounds do you dismiss my eyewitness testimony of my own state of mind as less reliable than your airy speculations about my state of mind?

      On what is your belief based, if neither on evidence nor on logic? On faith? In whom?

      What if your own logic were turned on you? Could not everything you say, all your questions, be dismissed as you having secretly prepared your mind not to accept the reality of God, and so you erect feeble arguments against it? Does that sound like a persuasive argument to you?

      If not, why do you use such an argument on me?

      As I said, my motive for the experiment was a sense of philosophical honor, nothing more. It is that sense of honor which you lack, sir.

    • DaveSomething says:

      pgrachan, would you like to discuss the flaws in your objections to Christianity? You raise a number of objections, many of which simply don’t apply to Catholicism in particular. I’m just not sure what your level of interest is in the discussion, though. If you would like to, please let me know which of your objections you consider to have the most force, and we can start there.

      Thanks!

  10. momofthree says:

    You said, “This desire for reason and pattern isn’t magic or belief, it’s just how our brains operate. ”

    Have you ever stopped to wonder why their are patterns in the material world in the first place? Why is it intelligible at all? Why are there laws of physics? Why is it not haphazard and devoid of pattern?

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  12. Indagare says:

    Is it logical to wonder if the punishment in Hell eternal?

    • Logic tests the internal consistency of statements one with the other. It is certainly a valid question, and a very poignant one, to wonder whether a statement calling God benevolent can be reconciled with a statement that eternal punishment is the just reward of those who refuse His benevolence. It is indeed one of the most pointed questions a skeptic can ask.

      • Indagare says:

        I have often thought of it in terms of an analogy with God as a kindly teacher and humanity as His class. Naturally there will be assignments (the laws given such as Do Not Steal, Do Not Bear False Witness, Love Your Neighbor, Love Your Enemy), and the students must do the assignments or suffer the consequences.

        Being a kind teacher, God gives all the help that He can when it is asked of Him. He even grades on a curve (after all, Jesus died to make redemption much easier). But He cannot force students to do their assignments or to even do their best on the assignments. He can only help, teach well, and hope for the best.

        And, come end of term, the assignments are all due and the students will pass or fail. Inevitably, there will be some students who did not do their assignments or who did very poorly. These students might not believe that the kind teacher will actually fail them, or that He might give them some sort of extension. Of course, it’s the end of the semester and no extension is possible and, kind as He is, to simply pass everyone regardless of effort is not fair to those who did put in the work.

        Now, of course, this is where the analogy breaks down. For a student, it’s possible to retake the class or even to drop out and become a successful rock star. For the afterlife, there’s no escape and no second chance.

        Some might say this is only fair, after all people are aware of the various human and divine laws and it is only just that they be punished for not obeying them. To that I agree without hesitation. But to be truly just, would not the punishment also have to match the crime? If we, as flawed mortals, are to take Matthew 5:44 seriously and literally, it must also apply to God. Indeed, how much more must God love those who hate Him since He is all-good.

        But, God cannot force people to love Him nor obey Him. Yet it seems anathema to God’s very nature to have created or maintain an eternal punishment for the wicked. However, it is always Heaven and Hell not Heaven and Purgatory.

        What are your thoughts on eternal punishment?

        • My thought is this: I met the Virgin Mary. I would do anything to see her again, be with her again. Never have I known such kindness, such sadness, such gladness in any woman. To be deprived of that is hell. God can do anything, but he cannot do what is logically self-contradictory. It would be self-contradictory for an unrepentant evil man to enter into a spiritual unity with God, a union more intimate than man and wife, without the evil in him causing him pain: I do not see how it is logically possible, even in theory. Hence the only thing God can do in His mercy is to hide Himself from man until such time as Man consents to have the evil removed. There are only two options: one is reincarnation, where a man gets a second chance and a third and an infinite number, whereupon the choice is not final and therefore not a choice. The other option is that the choice is final.

          The atheists I know, including myself, would prefer hell, no matter how painful, to a heaven where they would have to admit they were wrong. They would rather face eternal damnation than bend their pride. If so, there is no injustice in God granting their wish.

          We humans think of these things in analogies. We talk about it like a judge sending a wrongdoer to prison. But human judges do not have the authority to decide ultimate issues of good and evil, and do not have the purpose of deciding who gets to join the godhead and who gets expelled into the outer nothingness. It is not the same decision and does not have the same consequences.

          There is no doctrine of the Christian religion I would rather not believe, if I had a vote on what to believe and what not to believe, than this one. And yet I see no other way an eternal human soul could be dealt with. Either the eternity is spent with the source of goodness, life, and joy, which is heaven; or the lack of goodness, life and joy, which is evil, death, and pain, which is hell.

          • Really it is the only answer to “What if someone doesn’t want to be with God?” In that question, Hell is a mercy.

            Though I’m working on a thought that it won’t be explicitly torturous, but that without the Grand Source of Order, we (and any angels, aliens etc that share the domain) will turn it hellful on our own.

          • StrangeFey says:

            Have you posted more detailed descriptions of these visitation experience somewhere else?

            I would really love to read more about the mystical experience you had. Including the ones with Our Lady!

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  15. DaveSomething says:

    John,

    I hope you don’t mind my dropping in on an old post, but your conversion is relevant to a notion I’ve been kicking around. That being – how can we rationally discern the difference between a miracle performed by God (omnipotent, omniscient, etc), and a miracle performed or simulated by a finite but super-powerful trickster (say, Loki)?

    Loki could give you a heart attack. Loki could relieve the pain when your wife’s friend prayed. Loki could provide you with a vision of Mary and Jesus and take you on a tour of the cosmos. Indeed, for any imaginable miracle (short of creation ex nihilo), a superpowerful small-g god could either perform it or convincingly fake it, without requiring omnipotence.

    So why is big-g God the better explanation?

    Many thanks,
    Dave

    • So why is big-g God the better explanation?

      Because Occam’s razor tells us not to unnecessarily multiply entities. Loki could do all those things, but if while doing so, Loki fills me with joy and life and light, gets me to give money to the poor, gets me to pray for my enemies, and takes away from fear of death, we have to assume not just the one extra entity of Loki but the second entity of some plan where such obviously counterproductive things (counterproductive from Loki’s point of view) would make sense. At that point, it is an act of faith: in order to create my model of the universe, I have to have faith that Loki is tricking me even where there is no evidence of a trick, and he is using some sort of plan that actually is directed toward evil despite having or appearing to have nothing but good effects.

      So, as a matter of logic, if I am going to take something on faith anyway, why should I not take my experience on faith and assume that I saw what I thought I saw, rather than take my non-experience on faith, and assume that everything I saw was actually the opposite of what I thought? The second act of faith has less evidence than the first: in fact, by definition, it has none.

      Also, just again as a matter of logic, if Loki is so deceptive that he can deceive my thoughts and conclusions without my being aware of it, that is no more hard to assume than assuming that Loki is deceptive enough to get me to follow a line of reasoning that tells me all my lines of reasoning are deceptive, and all my experiences are dreams, and I am not who I think I am.

      That way leads madness.

      For the model to work, the Loki explanation would have to explain not just what happened to me, but to Saint Paul, and every other event in Western History, or the history of the universe, which my current model more clearly and concisely explains. Was Saint Paul’s epiphany true but not mine?

  16. DaveSomething says:

    Thank you for the reply. I’m not entirely sure Occam’s razor favors an infinite god over a finite god, though. Nor that getting you to do “good” things is counterproductive for Loki. We don’t know the hypothetical trickster’s motivations. Maybe he’s happy with you doing good, so long as you’re religious beliefs are incorrect.

    Let me put it another way. A common argument for Christianity is the historical case for the resurrection. The lives of the apostles are best explained by their having been convinced that Jesus really lived, died, came back, and delivered the great commission. The failure of authorities to produce Jesus’s body corroborates this position.

    But even if we grant all that, how do we connect the dots to determine what entity is responsible for the apparent resurrection? There are any number of hypothetical entities who could arrange such a thing, from Loki to Satan to Martian Vampires From The Future. So how does the empty tomb prove any particular metaphysical model?

    Many thanks, sir.

    • Again, you are not addressing the argument I proposed. I am not saying it is not logically possible as a matter of speculation to suppose that Loki, or aliens, or time travelers, armed with the intent to deceive me did not in fact arrange my heart attack, miraculous recovery, arrange something I thought was the direct and unfalsifiable spiritual perception of the Holy Spirit, answer questions to books I had not yet read, show me the nature of reality, force me to improve my life, and so on and so on.

      You know even before you asked the question that the only logically impossible speculation is one that contradicts itself conceptually. I know I not deceived by a four sided triangle because there logically can be no such thing as a four sided triangle.

      Instead of defining your concept, all you did was propose that there was an entity of which NOTHING WHATSOEVER is known, and for the sake of argument we called him Loki. You then asked, can we know that the entity of which NOTHING WHATSOEVER is known, did or did not perform this act or that act or another act, using a means we do not know for a purpose we do not know at a time we do not know under conditions we do not know?

      Obviously, the answer is we cannot. You have defined a certain thing as unknown as asked if we can know it is not the cause of certain events. By definition, an entity that is not defined is not involved in a logical self contradiction when we speculate that it may have been responsible for my conversion, or the resurrection, or the moonshot, or economic depressions, or sunspots, or the Law of Gravity, and therefore we cannot rule that to be impossible in the strict sense of the word impossible.

      My argument, which you ignored, was that the standard used for all non-insane reasoning when assigning causes to events seeks to weigh the evidence in favor and against the candidates which present themselves as possible explanations. One factor which adds weight to an argument is Occam’s Razor, namely, the principle that one’s explanation ought not unnecessarily to multiply entities.

      A theory that does not contain an ad hoc entity, created only for the sake of argument and abandoned immediately thereafter, is weightier than one that does.

      To be sure, this is not the only factor present, but it is the only one you addressed.

      I put it to you that if you speculate that you were replaced by a robot last night whose robot brain only THINKS that he is you, this speculation also supposes an undefined entity and involves no obvious logical self contradiction.

      But you, I assume, will not take the argument that you have been killed and replaced by a robot likealike unless I produce some evidence to bring this from the realm of pure speculation to the realm of a theory, that is, a speculation which explains particular facts.

      Consider: Your attempts to prove you are not a robot might involve the fact that you are self aware, but then we can suppose you are a self aware robot; or that you can bleed when you cut yourself, but then we can suppose you are a bleeding robot. We can suppose as many assumptions as need be to render the process of reasoning futile. No matter what you say, you are a robot.

      So, here. You have presupposed a situation where no matter what I say, there is no God. That is not reasoning, it is fleeing from reasoning.

      What is your standard of proof? Are you grasping at any imaginable straw to avoid the unpleasant conclusion that the things might be exactly as the overwhelming majority of men for the past 2000 years in the West have thought it to be?

      Yours is an unworkable standard. By that logic, any conclusion of any form whatsoever in any field of study whatsoever can be discarded as unconvincing, because you have the power to imagine an all powerful deceiver. But, then, how do we know you are not deceived about that?

      • DaveSomething says:

        Thanks again, John.

        Let me start out by mentioning that I am a faithful Catholic. I believe in the empty tomb, and I accept that your revelation was the genuine article. I just can’t shake the sense that there is a flaw in the argument “An apparently supernatural event occurred (whether resurrection or revelation), therefore the event was the work of God.”

        So, to be clear, I am largely coming from a Devil’s Advocate position here. I don’t actually believe the Resurrection was the work of Martian Vampires. I am trying to understand why an omnipotent god is a logically superior explanation to a potent god.

        It doesn’t seem to me that my argument applies in general circumstances like you describe (me-as-robot, or discarding any conclusions in any field), because the hypothetical trickster that I’m talking about is definitely an inferior explanation, IF a non-supernatural alternative exists. In other words, I’m not saying that magical tricksters provide a superior explanation to general observations, I’m saying that they might provide a superior explanation to the existence of an omnipotent God.

        A theory that does not contain an ad hoc entity, created only for the sake of argument and abandoned immediately thereafter, is weightier than one that does.

        But don’t both theories contain an ad hoc entity? The difference is that yours is infinite and mine is finite. Further, your theory includes the existence of supernatural, superintelligent entities who are hellbent on spreading deceit.

        Also, please don’t feel any obligation to indulge this thread any further. I know you’ve got more important things to do with your time.

        • No, I do not have anything more important to do with my time. I am not a novelist who philosophizes, I am a philosopher who writes novels. You are asking me a philosophical question about a matter of the deepest possible seriousness on the loftiest imaginable topic. I am delighted to write to you. I hope only I do not bore or offend you with my enthusiasm for philosophy.

          Let us deal with your points in order:

          I just can’t shake the sense that there is a flaw in the argument “An apparently supernatural event occurred (whether resurrection or revelation), therefore the event was the work of God.”

          But that is not the argument being made, at least not by me. My argument is that we have a set of facts, and that (1) the theory that God, meaning the entity as described in Christian writings and tradition, produced a true miracle explains the facts with a more coherent hence more rational explanation than (2) the theory that an unknown hypothetical entity of whom nothing is known produced a miracle for an unknown yet deceptive purpose. By coherent, I mean a theory whose parts hang together with greater harmony. By rational, I mean an explanation that appeals to the reason.

          Now, if you are attempting to make an argument to show that theory (2) is stronger than theory (1) I am required as gently as I can to point out that you have not yet make any argument at all of any kind. You have introduced no evidence, called no witnesses, and offered no chain of reasoning from assumption to conclusion to give anyone any reason to believe theory (2). In fact, it is not a theory at the moment, merely as speculation.

          Let me be completely clear on this point, since you seem not to grasp it. Theory (1) explains certain facts that are otherwise not explained. This does not necessarily mean Theory (1) is true, but it does lend persuasive weight to Theory (1). On the other hand, you have offered no fact, no, not one, which is explained by Theory (1) which is not explained by Theory (2).

          In science, or in any disciplined form of thinking, such as theology or philosophy or mathematics, the effort is to discover an underlying simple rule or general explanation that explains the large number of particular cases encountered in life. Hence, when Newton, for example, discovers that the rules governing the motion of the planets and the ruled governing the motion of apples falling to the earth is the same rule, he has found a simple and robust explanation. In philosophy, to use another example, when Aristotle discovers the law of non-contradiction in logic he discovers a rule that applies to all philosophical argument whatsoever, so that instead of a lot of little rules to memorize, there is just the one. In geometry, Euclid reduces all geometry to less than twenty rules and definitions.

          All of these disciplines reject the notion of inventing a different ad hoc explanation to explain the class of phenomenon what we are attempting to explain. That rule is called Occam’s Razor, or the principle of parsimony.
          In this case, the fact to be explained is: why did I, after being healed of a heart attack in progress by a prayer, have a vision of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ who told me something I was later to read in the Bible but which I had not then read? Now, the possible explanations are

          (1) God Theory: that there is a God, in which case prayers could heal the sick since this is one of the things conventionally attributed to God by other people who met or say they met Him; and in which case the vision could be a true vision because God can send such visions for the purpose of saving souls; and in which case the man who wrote the book said the same thing to me as He said to Saint John, and there is no coincidence that He expressed the same thought in the same way.

          (2) Dream Theory: It is all a coincidence. The prayer had no effect whatever, I just so happened to be healed in that exact moment. That fact that I had a vision later was unrelated to this event, or was a dream or hallucination caused by stress or fear of death, or was caused by some chemical reaction in the bloodstream, or by some inadvertent material cause. That fact that I had foreknowledge of something I was to read in a book a month later is either also a coincidence, or I had read the passage and forgot I read it, but subconsciously remembered it, and the passage appeared in a dream, which I just by coincidence happened to have at this time.

          All the facts fit the God Theory without any need for to invent any ad hoc explanations to force them to fit in. The reason why God answered the prayer and sent the vision and told me about the future was because He can, and His motive is to save my soul by winning my love and loyalty to Him, which is what all accounts of Him say is His prime motivation. There is nothing left unexplained and nothing that fits only awkwardly into place.

          But, alas, the problem with the Dream Theory is that it does not fit the facts. It is an ad hoc explanation. It rests on assuming everything which in the God Theory forms a simple and coherent pattern is a coincidence. There is no history of hallucination in my family. There is no explanation as to why the hallucination struck at that particular time and with that particular content. It just kind of happened. So we have to make a second ad hoc explanation to explain that this happened to be a hallucination concerning Jesus rather than Thor, whom I frankly would have far preferred to have seen. There is no explanation as to why the hallucination was not random like a dream, but instead told me a month ahead of time something I would later read in a book. We have to assume a third ad hoc explanation, a trick memory that forgets and remembers things just when convenient for the theory that it do so, or a time-travel form of psychics allowing me to see the future, which power just so happens to vanish except when needed for this theory.

          From that time to this, I have had no additional foreknowledge of things not yet known, no additional random coincidences of prayers not being answered, no additional hallucinations. This vision did also did not fit the pattern of hallucinations, which can be determined by studying real hallucinations: I have a brother in law who suffers hallucinations. They do not have the coherence of what I experienced. They are random, nonsensical, dreamlike. His hallucinations do not answer philosophical questions about the dilemma of free will versus foreknowledge. Mine did.

          You see the problem? Dream Theory also has no predictive power. Occam’s razor cuts it out. If God Theory were true, then additional prayers to God on additional occasions would also heal the sick. And in my case, in my life since, they have.

          Now, your theory, that Loki, or the Vampire Cyborg of Mars, or something else called Monster X arranged all these events and reached into my mind and heart and traveled through time to tell me about something in a book I had not yet read, all deliberately done so as to deceive me. This theory has all the defects of Dream Theory but with the added problem that while the ad hoc things used in Dream Theory are known to exist, the entity postulated in this theory has no properties and no definition aside from the fact that nothing whatsoever is known about it. So, I can argue that hallucinations cannot accurately tell me the wording of a phrase in a book I will not read until a month from now, on the grounds that we all know that hallucinations cannot travel forward in time to see what books I might read, and then backward through time and tell me one of the lines out of chapter five; but Monster X we do not know whether he can travel through time or not, since by definition we know nothing about him.

          Dream Theory appeals to the reason because we know hallucinations exist. We know coincidences exist. We know that slips of the memory exist, when an honest man thinks he recalls something but he actually met it earlier and forgot it.

          Monster X Theory does not appeal to the reason because we do not know Monster X exists. We have no body of phenomena which cannot be explained without positing Monster X.

          Monster X Theory is something you made up just now only to argue this point: and then, as I said, you did not argue it. You only asked what would happen, hypothetically, if you did argue it. I answered that you would have to meet the burden of proof. You would have to produce evidence. You would have to call on witnesses. You would have to offer a chain of reasoning from some agreed upon assumption you share with the skeptic you are trying to convince.

          But you have done none of these things because you can do none of these things. You cannot produce evidence to prove that Monster X exists because Monster X is defined by definition as that about which we know nothing, not even whether or not he exists. Hence, by definition, the Monster X Theory will never be a theory, and there will never be a good reason for you or for I or for any man to believe that theory.

          You will never, not once, not ever, never use the Monster X Theory for any purpose other than philosophical conversations like this. You will never sit down in an automobile, assume that Monster X has the ability to switch on which side of the street you should drive, but is deceiving you, and therefore you act on that assumption and drive on what looks to you is the wrong side of the road, knowing you have been deceived and now you are actually driving on the correct side.

          In science, or in any disciplined form of thinking, such as theology or philosophy or mathematics, the effort is to discover an underlying simple rule or general explanation that explains the large number of particular cases encountered in life. Hence, when Newton, for example, discovers that the rules governing the motion of the planets and the ruled governing the motion of apples falling to the earth is the same rule, he has found a simple and robust explanation. In philosophy, to use another example, when Aristotle discovers the law of non-contradiction in logic he discovers a rule that applies to all philosophical argument whatsoever, so that instead of a lot of little rules to memorize, there is just the one. In geometry, Euclid reduces all geometry to less than twenty rules and definitions.

          All of these disciplines reject the notion of inventing a different ad hoc explanation to explain the class of phenomenon what we are attempting to explain. That rule is called Occam’s Razor, or the principle of parsimony.

          In short, if you theory required that you make up random stuff out of your own imagination each and every time some new event happens, then it is not a bad theory, it is not a theory at all. The Monster X Theory is not a theory at all.

          I am trying to understand why an omnipotent god is a logically superior explanation to a potent god.

          You will forgive me if a note of asperity enters my tone, but that is not the question you asked. I do not believe that God is omnipotent because I saw His omnipotence. I believe God is omnipotent because of Christian tradition and teaching, and because of certain philosophical arguments you have not bother to inquire from me.

          It doesn’t seem to me that my argument applies in general circumstances like you describe (me-as-robot, or discarding any conclusions in any field), because the hypothetical trickster that I’m talking about is definitely an inferior explanation, IF a non-supernatural alternative exists.

          I am afraid I cannot make heads or tails of this sentence. Of course the Robot Brain Theory is just as good or just as bad as the Monster X Theory because it is the same theory. All I did was fill in a different value for X. If your all powerful deceiver can deceive me into thinking I am filled with the love and ecstasy of God Almighty, and cure my hear while I was dying, then, by the same logic, he can replace your brain with a robot brain without you being aware of it, because you have defined him as an entity that can do whatever is necessary, without regard to probability or logic, to fit any set of circumstances whatsoever, natural or supernatural.

          I also simply don’t follow you when you assert that all non-supernatural explanations are superior to natural explanations. Your theory does not say X is supernatural. You specifically posited that X could also be time travelers or martians or some other natural by unknown entity.

          In other words, I’m not saying that magical tricksters provide a superior explanation to general observations, I’m saying that they might provide a superior explanation to the existence of an omnipotent God.

          With all due respect, no. That is not what you said and that is not the argument you made. You are free to make that argument now, if you wish. What reason do you have that would convince a skeptic to prove that a magical trickster explanation is a superior explanation than an omnipotent God explanation for why people like me?

          I have defined what, in science and math and logic and philosophy and theology constitutes a ‘superior’ theory: (1) it is not ad hoc (2) it posits the fewest number of entities needed to explain the facts (3) it explains the facts (4) it explains the facts in a coherent, that is, self-harmonious fashion (5) It can be used to predict other facts (6) it reduces complex phenomena to a few simple rules.

          So far, you have made an unsupported statement that the theory that all reports of miracles are better explained by positing a supernatural deceiver as opposed to a supernatural truth-teller.

          Make your case, please. Give your argument.

          I have given you an argument as to why this is not a better theory, indeed not even a weaker theory, but not even a theory at all. Please give me a rebuttal and a counter argument.

          But don’t both theories contain an ad hoc entity? The difference is that yours is infinite and mine is finite.

          With all due respect, this question betrays that you do not know what the phrase ‘ad hoc’ means. Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning “for this”. It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes.

          In this case, the theory that God sent my vision and my cure and information about a book I would not read until a month had passed is coherent with the axiom that God exists. But also the theory that the universe is created not eternal, is deliberate and not the result of blind natural processes, and so on, coheres with this theory, but is independent of it. In other words, I did not invent God just for the sake of explaining away one and only one set of facts. It is a robust explanation that explains a great many facts, including such things as the coherence of moral reasoning and the harmony between human logic and the laws of nature, and so on. The reports of strange events in 33 AD in Jerusalem are also explained by the simplest and clearest possible explanation: the reports are true and the man who said he was God was telling the truth. Things are as they seem.

          Whenever you propose that things are not as they seem, the burden of proof is on your to provide the explanation as to why an openminded skeptic like myself should believe that things are not what they seem?

          On the other hand, the Deceiver is something you invented for this discussion which has no application outside this discussion. Suppose I were to believe the Deceiver theory? What comes of it? How should I change my life? Should I stop giving to charity, stop trying to love my enemies, stop answering amateurish philosophical questions asked me by perfect strangers? Should I be rude? To you? If nothing else, your theory has the disadvantage of being against you own self interest to promote it.

          Further, your theory includes the existence of supernatural, superintelligent entities who are hellbent on spreading deceit.

          This is an argument against your theory, not in favor of it. If the deceivers of Christian theology exist, then the supernatural exists. The natural world is that which proceeds by blind and unintentional laws of nature.

          The supernatural world, if it exists, must proceed by something other than blind and unintentional laws of nature: the only alternative is that it is governed by an intention. Intention implies a will and a deliberation, an alternative between courses of action, and a hierarchy of abstractions. This is because you cannot have intention without will, cannot have will without deliberate thought, cannot have thought without categories of thought, cannot have categories without broader categories. In short, the supernatural world is deliberate rather than blind. It was willed. It was created.

          This means that those things which have no natural explanation in our world, things like virtue and truth and beauty, are supernatural. If virtue and truth and beauty are supernatural they are deliberate, that is, created. This implies a creator supreme in truth and beauty but also in virtue, by which is also meant power: this implies a supreme sovereign power, sovereign both by merit and by fact. But the deceivers of Christian revelation are inferior and subordinate to the one supreme and sovereign power from which they rebelled and away from which they fell.

          Hence, logically, the deceivers cannot exist without that superior power whose power they oppose by their inferior power of deception. If fallen angels exist, then angels exist; and if angels, then the creator of angels.

          There is no such thing as a counterfeit banknote for the country of Ruritania, because Ruritania does not exist. There is also no counterfeiter who is making banknotes of the Confederate States of America. Only counterfeits of real banknotes exist. Likewise, here. No deceiver can deceive unless he misrepresents truth. No supernatural deceiver can be omnipotent, because if he were omnipotent his lies would become truth with no effort on his part. This is because an omnipotent being by definition has reality as nothing but a side effect of the fact of his existence, the way light is a side effect of flame.

          Hence, if even one supernatural deceiver were proved to exist, then the principle or sovereign or source of which that supernatural deceiver were a copy or monkey or false impersonation by definition would have to exist. If the shadow of a unicorn exists, then the unicorn exists. If a lying devil pretending to be God exists, then God exists.

          I already dealt with this objection earlier. Your silly Monster X might indeed have some motive for going to such great lengths to convert a confirmed atheist to a zealous Christian, because you have defined Monster X to be something that might do anything for no reason. But Satan and his minions are not undefined or unknown. We know their motives. Satan cannot perform a miracle to convert a damned atheist certain to go to hell to a zealous Christian panting for heaven. The theory makes no sense. It does not even pass the giggle test.

          • DaveSomething says:

            What in tarnation? Days ago, I saw a post from you on this thread indicating that I should wait for a separately posted reply entitled “On Martian Vampires”, to be expected on Monday or thereabouts. Now I happen to wander back here and find this reply! The vampires are among us, rewriting web history!

            Ahem.

            As before, I think you for your detailed and patient reply. I’ll think about it.

            Regards,
            Dave

            • I thought (at first) that my answer would make a good essay for other readers, and so I scheduled it for publication; but on second thought, I realized it consisted of very little other than saying the Devil’s Advocate here had not make his case, which does not make for interesting reading, so I junked it. (I sent out an email to you separately, though)

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