The Coyness of God

Over at Bad Catholic (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2012/11/an-imperfect-god.html) One of Mr Barnes’ readers there asks the plaintive question:

If God tailors his interactions to suit his audience, then why are atheists wrong to ask for definitive evidence of his existence? Thomas got it. Why can’t I?

While it sounds like a complaint, it is actually an honest question, and merits an honest answer. Here, to the best of my admittedly limited abilities, is mine:

First, you are asking the wrong question, and second, the answer is right in front of you.

First, you ask for a proof of God’s existence, but even the devils in hell know He exists. Merely knowing He exists is not what He wants, and, ultimately, not what you want either. God is love and want to share that love, and wants your love in return. Now, your current ignorance of His existence protects you from the realization that an omnipotent omniscience stalker is surrounding you at all times and also forms the basis of your being. If you were aware of God and were not in love with Him, you would go mad or go to hell in the vain attempt to escape Him. Rather than confront you with this painful choice, God leaves the question of your belief in Him in your hands. If you love Him, then you will see abundant evidence He exists, an embarrassment of evidence. But not before.

Second point, suppose you were God and you wanted to make your existence clear to people. What would you do? Write the Ten Commandments in the sky in letters as bright as the sun? Men would call it a natural phenomenon. Appear in the flesh? Men would call it a mass hallucination, and say that the witnesses were lying or deceived or dreaming. Perform miracles, grant prayers, heal the sick? God and His saints have done all these things and continue to do them, and men ignore it, or write it off as crackpottery. So what could God do to prove His existence in a fashion so certain and so clear that it could not possibly be denied?

He could bypass the entire complex apparatus of belief and disbelief and create mankind with an innate longing for God, a longing so obvious and so prevalent that no culture lacking religion appears his history. He would then place a Holy Spirit in the heart of any believer and simply grant the believer belief. It is a certainty that is prior to any sense impression and does not depend on sense impressions. For me to doubt God would be akin to doubting my own existence: I can imagine it as an entertaining philosophical word-game, but it is not a question that has any real meaning.

The certainty of which I speak, God would then simply make available for the asking. He would grant the gift of innate, intuitive, unquestionable knowledge of His existence to anyone who asks, and this grant is available to anyone, smart or foolish, mad or sane, virtuous or vicious, young or old. Anyone.

Just ask. You will be answered. Knock. The door will be opened.

Ah, but you might object at this point that this method of intuitive certainty is not open to scientific verification. It is not certain enough. Such an objection is frivolous on two grounds: first, scientific reasoning is less certain, not more certain, than intuitive certainty. Look at the history of science, and look at the question of solipsism. You know that solipsism is nonsense, but it cannot be proved by science; you know that self-deception is morally wrong, but it cannot be proved by science. You do not know the origin of the universe, as the scientific debate over the question has changed several times since Newton’s day to this.

Second, to say that an omnipotent and supernatural being is defective because he does not abide by the arbitrary regulations the scientific endeavor imposes on itself for reasons of procedural clarity is risible.

God, if He does exist, does not do things as we will, but as He wills. A god that could only be discovered, like the moons of Jupiter, by peering through a spyglass, is not worth worshiping.

 

41 Comments

  1. Comment by Curubethion:

    “Now, your current ignorance of His existence protects you from the realization that an omnipotent omniscience stalker is surrounding you at all times and also forms the basis of your being. If you were aware of God and were not in love with Him, you would go mad or go to hell in the vain attempt to escape Him. Rather than confront you with this painful choice, God leaves the question of your belief in Him in your hands. If you love Him, then you will see abundant evidence He exists, an embarrassment of evidence. But not before.”

    Lands alive! I never thought of it like that. But it makes sense.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Keep in mind that this is merely speculation on my part. I do not know why God does things any more than my infant child knows why I do things. But I know He acts out of love in the same way my infant child knows that I act out of love.

  2. Comment by Stephen J.:

    “The certainty of which I speak, God would then simply make available for the asking. He would grant the gift of innate, intuitive, unquestionable knowledge of His existence to anyone who asks, and this grant is available to anyone, smart or foolish, mad or sane, virtuous or vicious, young or old. Anyone.”

    I am perhaps not the right person to ask this question, as I was raised Catholic from birth, and while I do have terrifying moments of doubt, I like to believe that it is at least a consistent doubt — if there is no God and no Salvation via the Christ I am worse than “wrong”, I am nothing, at least nothing of any meaning or significance. But what can we say to someone who claims to have asked for precisely that certainty and still not experienced it?

    The only answer I can think of is to say, “Are you sure you have really asked for something you really want?”, but I would be reluctant to say such a thing to anyone I didn’t already know well, whom I could trust to take it in the right way — it smacks too much of Bulveristically impugning someone’s inner motives, or of putting them in the same No True Scotsman logic trap materialists unfairly use against Christians to dismiss their distinctions between sin and sinner.

    On the other hand — it occurs to me quite literally as I type this — I suppose one could say, “Suppose the fact you even want to ask that question is proof of its answer? Think about it.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      But what can we say to someone who claims to have asked for precisely that certainty and still not experienced it?

      I have no answer to that. It is a difficult question, perhaps the most difficult question of theodicy. I have heard that even Mother Theresa of Calcutta had ‘dry periods’ where she felt her prayers were not being answered, or even heard.

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        In regards to someone that believes already, 1 Peter 1 discusses this subject:

        That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
        8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
        9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

        Job also deals with the topic. It appears that once one has any sort of faith that the faith will and must be tested.

        Of course there are other options; if someone is not doing what they know to be right then they are promised that the heaven’s will be as brass over their heads. If someone doesn’t actually want an answer (as in they are trying to prove the claim that God answers prayers wrong, for instance) then God not answering is giving them what they desire regardless of what their words are/were.

  3. Comment by vanderleun:

    “Write the Ten Commandments in the sky in letters as bright as the sun? Men would call it a natural phenomenon. ”

    Actually, I think not. This one might actually do it. Especially at night and in a lot of different languages.

    • Comment by Mme Scherzo:

      Legally, the sky might be the only place left, Gerard, for the 10 Commandments. At least above Mississippi. In California, they would be a violation of some “Open Spaces” law.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      What about putting the sun and moon and stars up there? Why would the Ten Commandments convince you but not the order and majesty and beauty of the universe?

      The whole of modern thought, and I mean an utter overwhelming effort, has been placed at the disposal of trying to convince men that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every modern artist is wedded to this principle, which is why they hang up toilets in art museums.

      But if beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, that leads to the uncomfortable question of why the heavens seem beautiful to us? There is no evolutionary advance, it does not aid in the production of the young, or finding food, or fending off predators to admire the cool beauty of the sublime stars in their slow and solemn rising and setting.

      It is understandable to say that natural processes, without any deliberate design, can produce repeating patterns and symmetries, or that evolution can drive animals via natural selection toward greater fitness for their particular niche in the environment. That is reasonable, and a degree of evidence seems to support it. But to say the beauty is merely symmetry and efficiency is not just wrong, it is laughably wrong.

      If the beauty of the heavens were a mere preference of taste, like I prefer pie to cake, there would be just as many people as think the stars ungainly or ugly as prefer cake to pie. But there are not that many people repelled by the sight of stars, or who think the moon unlovely or unromantic.

      I rather doubt that anyone not convinced by the argument from design would be convinced by the miracle of letters written in the constellations. The moral order of the universe is already written in your own conscience and mine, but the atheist calls this a natural phenomenon as well.

      So God writing the Ten Commandments in the sky would convince you? What about a man coming back from the dead, and then ascending into the sky? Would that convince you, or would you just say it never happened? What about a lifelong atheist converting to Christianity? Would that convince you, or would you just say that man suffers from some mental or moral weakness making him unable or unwilling to tell the difference between reality and dreaming?

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        What I think is interesting about the analogy of “subjective preference” is what it reveals about the difference between ranking preferences vs. defining preferences. When it comes to cake and pie, almost everybody has some preference towards one over the other, but I can think of no one I know (and can imagine someone only with difficulty) who would insist that only one or the other is to be considered an edible dessert at all. Likewise, many people may be able to cite things they consider more beautiful than a “mere” night sky — their beloved’s face or body, their child’s smile, a fantastic mountain view at sunset, the mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, etc. — but I know of nobody who would claim that any of these things is actively un-beautiful, repugnantly ugly, or even “merely” devoid of any meaningful impact. (I have known an agoraphobe who found open skies terrifying in either day or night, but even she knew it was a neurotic, non-natural response.)

        I wonder if perhaps “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” was a phrase coined to explain how people could disagree over what was more beautiful than what within a generally accepted spectrum of what made beauty, and it was only stretched with difficulty to include the question of what was and wasn’t beautiful at all in order to find a way to neutralize conflict over aesthetic taste.

        • Comment by masdiq:

          I tend to think of beauty as an experience, an emotional reaction that is part awe, part desire, part satisfaction. Its very existence, like any experience, is objective.

          From this, the idea that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is true in two ways. First, beauty does not exist (naturally or supernaturally) in the beautiful object itself, but is created by the interaction of the object and the being experiencing it. That is, the interaction is what creates the experience, the experience is called beauty. Second, just as our physical experiences of the world are based on where we physically are, how good our senses are, etc., so too are our beauty experiences based on our past experiences, memories, desires, fears, etc. (Hence the differences of aesthetic tastes.)

          I never thought of the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” to be support for some sort of beauty-solipsism, or for the idea that beauty is merely some sort of emotional hallucination.

      • Comment by vanderleun:

        “What about putting the sun and moon and stars up there?”

        Actually, I am myself perfectly convinced by this and by all the other elements that make His presence manifest in all creation. I was just thinking of the groundlings.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      I imagine that with a sufficiently powerful enough telescope one could easily find groups of stars that would appear to have the ten commandments in every possible language.

      If someone started the cult of “W” off of Cassiopeia would you convert due to the name of the divine being spelled out in the stars?

    • Comment by gray mouser:

      “Write the Ten Commandments in the sky in letters as bright as the sun? Men would call it a natural phenomenon. ”

      Actually, I think not. This one might actually do it. Especially at night and in a lot of different languages.

      No chance. If people were willing to dismiss the miracle of the sun in Fatima I see absolutely no reason to believe they would face the proposed “Miracle of God Writing the Ten Commandment in the Heavens” with anything but incredulity. It doesn’t matter what God does, man is free to reject his advances if he wants to (and will come up with explanations which strain credulity much more than simply accepting a miracle ever would).

      • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

        Well, I’d be thinking “aliens” or “time-traveling evangelist team”, myself. Or maybe Antichrist. Just a tad flashy to be convincing. :)

        But we are assured that right before the Judgment, everybody will know and see some kind of visual sign. So yeah, I guess it could happen.

        • Comment by gray mouser:

          Well, since that will occur at the Parousia and the end of history it will not be a matter of faith, really. There will be no reason to believe since we will know. And even miracles necessitate that a person makes an assent of the will in an act of faith. (This is quite apart from a rational argument for God.)

  4. Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

    Here’s the thing: it’s perfectly possible to have a perfectly clear miracle occur right in front of your face, and still reject God. The case of Zola is infamous in this regard. So, if your hope is for a miracle that will *make* you believe, rather than a miracle where, despite belief being the only route open that is true to your intellect and heart, can still be disbelieved – you’re out of luck. The miracle of overriding your will is one God will not do, as He loves you too much to destroy you.

    From the other side, once you’ve admitted to one miracle, and admitted that, yes, not only is there a God, but he’s a Living God as Scripture so often tells us, then miracles are everywhere. I say this from personal experience, and Mr. Wright will back this up: miracles large and small are going one pretty much all the time, the only question is if you are going to notice and acknowledge them or not.

    Remember, that when Isaiah told the king to ask for a sign, the king refused – a theoretical God was much preferable to him than a Living God who might just be, as living things tend to be, not entirely predictable. CS Lewis captures this phenomenon nicely in several places in the Last Battle.

  5. Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

    Second point, suppose you were God and you wanted to make your existence clear to people. What would you do? Write the Ten Commandments in the sky in letters as bright as the sun? Men would call it a natural phenomenon. Appear in the flesh? Men would call it a mass hallucination, and say that the witnesses were lying or deceived or dreaming.

    Some men would, but it seems highly likely that many of the witnesses would be convinced by this. And if everyone saw this, only a small minority would remain unconvinced.

    Perform miracles, grant prayers, heal the sick? God and His saints have done all these things and continue to do them, and men ignore it, or write it off as crackpottery.

    Some men would, but in fact many people seem to be convinced of God’s existence by what they take to be miracles. It seems plausible that, if God did many more of these with more witnesses, many more people would be convinced.

    It’s fair to point out that some people would remain unconvinced no matter what. But surely there is still a lot of “low-fruit”, i.e. people who would be a lot more open to belief in God if they saw a lot more miracles. It appears that the amount of miracle-evidence is way below what one would expect there to be if a God where optimizing the amount of evidence to open hearts and minds.

    • Comment by Andrew Brew:

      Really? What makes you think so? Acceptance of miracles has dropped off in recent times not because the evidence has been erased, or because fresh evidence has ceased to appear, but because post-modern epistemology rejects out of hand any evidence that does not support its preferred conclusions. This is so even if it must resort to the most absurd ad-hoc devices to rationalise the rejection – presumption of mass hallucination and the like.

      In the face of such determined aversion of the eyes, and the already- established rejection of the great matters that Mr. Wright has referred to above, would it really help for God to turn up the heat a little in small matters?

      • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

        Acceptance of miracles has dropped off in recent times not because the evidence has been erased, or because fresh evidence has ceased to appear, but because post-modern epistemology rejects out of hand any evidence that does not support its preferred conclusions.

        (Emphasis added.) The relevant comparison condition is not the pre-post-modern past. After all, God is not choosing between (1) having miracles in the past and (2) having miracles in the present. He can have both, neither, or either.

        Rather, he is choosing between, for example, (1) having a Fatima-type miracle today at noon local-time at every location around the globe and (2) not having a Fatima-type miracle today at noon local-time at every location around the globe.

        Therefore, when God decides whether to have more or fewer miracles now, the relevant comparison conditions are the counter-factual ceteris paribus scenarios in which there are more or fewer miracles now.

        To me it seems clear that many hearts and minds would be opened by directly witnessing Fatima-type miracles. Not all, but many. Consider the reversal test. Take a given historical event that you take to be a Fatima-type miracle (e.g., Fatima itself, or the Resurrection). Ask yourself, “Had this event not happened, would there be more or fewer people genuinely open to God’s existence?” If your answer is “fewer”, then that strongly suggests that, had more Fatima-type miracles occurred than actually did, then even more people would have been open to God’s existence. Otherwise, you are under a heavy burden of proof to demonstrate that the actual amount of miracles in history happens to be exactly optimal with respect to the number of hearts open to God’s existence.

        Whether post-modern epistemology would harden many hearts to a Fatima-type miracle today is besides the point. Even if you condition on the pervasiveness of this epistemology, it still seems that many more people would be open to God’s existence if they witnessed a Fatima-type miracle.

        To come at this from another direction, suppose that you are told of two people, A and B. You are told nothing else about A and B other than that (1) they live in the post-modern present; (2) A has witnessed a Fatima-type miracle; (3) B has not; and (4) exactly one of A or B is open to the existence of God, while the other is not. You then must guess whether A or B is the one whose heart is open to God.

        Isn’t it clear that your rational guess is A? Even if this world is saturated by post-modern relativism, still, witnessing a miracle should have, on average, a tendency, however weak, to open one’s heart to God’s existence.

        Of course, your guess would be far from certain. Of course we are not saying that you know which heart is open to God. One can easily imagine many scenarios under which B is the believer while A is the inveterate atheist. Still, if you had to guess, knowing nothing other than what is given above, you would guess that A is the one who is open to God, wouldn’t you?

        If you agree, then you agree that, on average, more Fatima-type miracles would mean more people open to God. Whether our world is beholden to post-modernism would not change this conclusion.

        If this reasoning is right, then you are left with the question of why God doesn’t choose to perform more Fatima-type miracles. Blaming post-modernism doesn’t free you from this question.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          To me it seems clear that many hearts and minds would be opened by directly witnessing Fatima-type miracles

          You run with a different crowd of atheist than I did back in my day. Most atheist reject the evidence a priori on metaphysical grounds, and this would include the evidences of their own senses and experience. If they saw a miracle that happened regularly, such as childbirth, they would regard it as a natural phenomenon. If it did not happen regularly, they would call it a coincidence.

        • Comment by Andrew Brew:

          Evidently God’s judgement is bad, at least in matters of marketing. He should hire you. Perhaps He needs to take out more ads before you will apply for the job?

          Seriously, no. I reject your assumption that openness of the heart to the prompting of the Holy Spirit is proportional (on any ratio whatever) to the number or scale of miraculous events witnessed.

          Seriously. The universe, stars, mathematics, music, rationality, incarnation, resurrection… If you won’t believe that, you won’t believe anything, especially daily shows of son et lumiere.

        • Comment by Andrew Brew:

          Oh, and one more thing…you are under a heavy burden of proof to demonstrate that the actual amount of miracles in history happens to be exactly optimal with respect to the number of hearts open to God’s existence.
          I am under a burden of proof if I assert that God’s providence is wise and good.

          Really??!
          : )

          • Comment by Andrew Brew:

            Sorry about formatting. iPad apparently doesn’t do blockquoting, and doesn’t allow me to edit afterward.
            A

            • Comment by Darrell:

              Mr. Brew

              Blockquoting should work on the iPad but you have to be careful that it doesn’t autocorrect “blockquote” into two words.

              To edit a post you have to click the little grey box (might not be grey as I am blue-green colorblind) with a diagonal arrow pointing to the upper right and the lower left above the post once you select edit. This will make the combox larger and permit you to modify your post. Once you have completed he editing just select “save” at the bottom of the combox.

    • Comment by masdiq:

      I don’t think the hearts of men work on belief-per-miracle ratios, with belief in God being the reward for passing a certain belief level. It makes no sense to say, “Well, I accept this miracle, but it’s not enough to believe in God. I will need a few more.” A closed heart is a closed heart. I’m not sure there’s a spectrum of doubt, for which one level could be compared to “low-fruit.”

      • Comment by Mary:

        Alas, there are those who do. I have read the account of a diabetic who was hospitalized and miraculously heard the Mass where they prayed for her in the prayer of the faithful. She thinks if God really loved her, he would miraculously heal her.

    • Comment by Stephen J.:

      Too, the problem with the kind of faith that would only be engendered by an obviously supernatural miraculous experience is that it almost certainly couldn’t be sustained without a steady diet of such miracles, if there wasn’t already a serious grounding in what the faith meant and how it was to be understood — the kind of grounding that would require a certain level of faith-born discipline to begin with. Even our host Mr. Wright, who did undergo a genuinely miraculous conversion experience, didn’t receive it until he had gotten himself by ruthless logic and life experience to the point where he was ready to accept it, and where it could permanently change him rather than just bowl him over in a temporary emotional storm.

      Human beings are designed to adapt, acclimatize and habituate to their experiences, it’s an inevitable part of our existence, and the problem with a miracle-fueled faith is the same problem as a drug-fueled creative inspiration: you build up a tolerance. Heck, you can see it in the Apostles themselves: Peter talked back to Jesus all the time, Thomas demanded proof that what he was seeing was more than a mere ghost (because ghosts he could handle, but a real living flesh-and-blood man really back from being really dead?), Judas had seen Jesus work miracles enough to prove Himself a supernatural force and he still betrayed Him, for (my own impression has always been) nothing more than political frustration that Jesus was never going to get around to leading the kind of anti-Roman revolutionary insurrection Judas wanted. If Judas could get used enough to miracles not to freak out at the prospect of handing Jesus over to die, it seems to me we could very easily get used enough to them not to find them particularly moving any more.

      • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

        Too, the problem with the kind of faith that would only be engendered by an obviously supernatural miraculous experience is that it almost certainly couldn’t be sustained without a steady diet of such miracles

        As in this comment, I would suggest an application of the reversal test. If the miracles witnessed by Peter and Judas had not happened, would more or fewer people have faith today? (And, by “faith”, I mean the sort that is not addicted to a steady diet of miracles.)

        If the answer is “fewer”, then wouldn’t still more miracles than actually occurred mean still more faithful people today? If not, why not? Why should one believe that the amount of miracles that actually occurred just happened to be exactly optimal, and that either more or less would be mean fewer faithful? (Again, by “faith”, I mean the sort that is sustained without a steady diet of miracles.)

        One might answer, “One should believe that because one knows that God would choose the exactly optimal amount. Since the actual amount is the amount that he chose, one therefore knows that this amount was optimal.” But that would clearly be begging the question.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “If the miracles witnessed by Peter and Judas had not happened, would more or fewer people have faith today?”

          You do realize, do you not, that your reversal “test” does not test anything at all, since the parallel timeline where God acted differently is not open to human inspection, and there is no rational basis for speculation as to what that timeline might contain?

          In other words, your “test” is not a test at all, merely a roundabout way of saying “I think more people would believe in God if there were more miracles” but using what sounds like (and is not) reference to an objective or rigorous testing process to say it.

          In fact, the parallel timeline is imaginary, and only exists in your speech for the purpose of making this point. If you wish to say that God has performed too many miracles, you can people the alternate timeline with a larger number of skeptics; if you wish to say He has performed too few, you people the alternate timeline with a larger number of believers.

          So, in effect, you are arguing in a circle: because you imagine that God would create more believers through more obvious or frequent miracles, you also imagine that fewer or subtler miracles would produce fewer believers, and you use the second imaginary statement as support for the first.

          On the other hand, if my speculation is correct, that everyone instinctively and intuitively believes in the supernatural, and that everyone who has heard the good news of the Gospel may, at any time, available himself of a degree of certainty of belief sufficient to sustain him through any doubt or persecution, and that this availability is ubiquitous, and is had for the asking, then the premise that miracles produce belief is not void as much as irrelevant.

          I came to my belief because of a miracle. It does not make it any easier. I speak from personal experience: your assumption that faith comes through witnessing miracles is s a gross misunderstanding both of human nature and the nature of faith in God.

          As of this era, the Christian message has penetrated to every corner of the globe. Think of the shepherds visited by the choir of angels announcing the birth of Christ, and then think of their cousins, the next little band of shepherds one valley over, who did not see that miracle. No one knows why the one group was visited and not the other. But if the other group had visited, what difference would it have made by now? What prevented that second group from talking with their cousins, hearing the good news, and, upon hearing, believing and rejoicing?

          The universe where God directly appears in the flesh in front of every man is one where the glory is robbed from all witnesses, martyrs, and evangelists. Nor is God beholden to overcome an artificial skepticism of men: if you do not not believe me, a man you know to be sane and rational and more honest than most, when I say God cured me by a miracle, I suggest you would not believe you if it happened to you.

          • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

            You do realize, do you not, that your reversal “test” does not test anything at all, since the parallel timeline where God acted differently is not open to human inspection, and there is no rational basis for speculation as to what that timeline might contain?

            The reversal test is a test of coherence in one’s own beliefs, not of parallel timelines. As you know, people sometimes hold mutually inconsistent beliefs about what would have happened under various counterfactual alternatives. The reversal test (which isn’t “mine”) can sometimes reveal these inconsistencies.

            Alternatively, one could try to have no subjunctive beliefs whatsoever. (This is what I take you to suggest when you write “there is no rational basis for speculation as to what that timeline might contain”.) But this seems to me to be a bizarre and unnatural way to think.

            One’s mental model of the world contains parameters, and one can adjust those parameters to generate counterfactual scenarios. As long as the original mental model was constructed according to good epistemology based on what actually exists, looking at counterfactual scenarios this way is a legitimate and valuable exercise.

        • Comment by Stephen J.:

          The image that comes to mind thinking about your question, oddly enough, is the classic conservative economists’ Laffer Curve: the reflection of the fact that after a certain point further raising of taxation levels actually decreases revenue rather than increasing it, because after proportional taxation passes a certain point, wealth-generating activity in the populace drops off, and absolute taxation revenue declines even as proportional taxation gets higher.

          We could call our version the Cana Curve, perhaps, after the wedding where Jesus performed His first miracle; its top is the point of miraculous saturation after which faith (in the sense of being the choice to act as if one feels no doubt even if one does, as courage is the choice to act as if one felt no fear even when one does) declines rather than increases. (Most women know the corresponding “Creepy Nice Guy” curve, the point after which a guy’s attempts to win a girl’s affections by doing “nice stuff” for her becomes repugnant rather than endearing as the guy’s desperate devotion increases.)

          To a certain extent, though, yes; the question cannot help but be begged here because we are discussing a hypothesis not amenable to empirical verification and control. As Aslan notes, we can never know what would have happened, in either hypothesis (more miracles/fewer miracles). But one should also take care not to beg the question in the opposite direction, by assuming that currently observed (and presumably sub-maximal) levels of faith are due solely to insufficient miracles, and then contending that those sub-maximal levels of faith constitute evidence to dismiss claims of miracles — which is rather like me saying to my wife, “You don’t love me enough because you’re too slow with the laundry, and you’ve gotten too slow with the laundry because you don’t love me enough,” i.e. a tautological assertion rather than a probative argument.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Some men would, but it seems highly likely that many of the witnesses would be convinced by this.

      Well, that in fact is exactly what he did. It was by this means that St Paul was convinced, not to mention myself. Go into any Christian Science reading room, pick up a copy of the journal at random, and you can read accounts and reports of miracles, each one attested to by two or three witnesses, including doctors, in the hundreds for a hundred years, until your eyes wither from weariness.

      Or, if you are of a more scientific bent, read the accounts by medical men of the healings at Lourdes. Ironically, there are far more cases of recoveries which doctors say “cannot be accounted for by modern science” than there are cases the Catholic Church has officially pronounced to have been miracles.

      My experience is that most people believe in the supernatural. It is the default belief of mankind. What they do not want to believe is in a monotheistic God who makes moral demands on them. They want the easy parts of the supernatural, such as miracle healings, life after death, and friendly angels to aid and comfort you, but they do not want the hard part, a God who commands you to love your enemies. Kept that basic rebellion against moral goodness in mind as the central key of human nature before you make a judgment on how many people would be convinced of what.

      If you, personally, are not convinced by such means, miracles or magic tricks, then what does it matter for the sake of your soul whether other men are or are not convinced?

      What would it take to convince you? I mean you personally, in real life, not in the abstract?

      • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

        What would it take to convince you? I mean you personally, in real life, not in the abstract?

        I don’t know, but my imagination is limited. Nonetheless, I am certain that an omnipotent and omniscient God, unburdened by my limits, could think of something :).

        If there is a God, then I want to believe that there is a God. I sincerely hope, and strongly believe, that, if there is a God, then it would be possible for some evidence to convince me.

        I confess that my limited imagination cannot picture in detail what that evidence would be. But that doesn’t worry me too much, because I can’t currently imagine a lot of things that actually exist or will actually happen. That is obvious. I can see that what I can now imagine is too paltry an image to possibly be a perfectly accurate and complete picture of reality.

        That my paltry imagination doesn’t contain something is only very weak evidence that that “something” doesn’t exist. (Here, the “something” is evidence that would convince me of God’s existence.) In this case, this weak evidence is overwhelmed by the fact that it is even harder for me to imagine what could possibly stop God, if he existed, from finding a way to convince me.

        The arguments that you and your commenters make above about post-modern epistemology and peoples’ obstinate immunity to all evidence doesn’t help me to see how God could be unable to convince me. I am not a post-modernist, and I don’t believe that I am immune to all possible evidence. Therefore, were God unable to convince me, it seems to me unlikely that it would be for the reasons that you have given.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Interesting response. My comment on this is here: http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/12/how-to-find-god/

          I will make a short reply here. The litany of Tarski is utterly primitive, and I mean that in the original sense of the word. All he is saying is that one prefers to know the truth than to deceive oneself with hopes either pleasant or unpleasant. Among grown men, this goes without saying. No philosopher worthy of the name adheres to a falsehood, howsoever fascinating or pleasing, but instead seeks the truth and cleaves to it as a man to a bride no matter where that pursuit might lead.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      Tyrrell McAllister,

      Jesus in pronouncing woes on the cities that he performed miracles in while stating that Sodom, Sidon, and Tyre would not have been destroyed had similar miracles been performed in those cities answers your comments on reversal; If God performed more miracles then more people would follow God because they were convinced. However, as also stated in those passages, if more miracles were performed by God then those that continued to sin despite knowing of God and/or those that didn’t believe in God despite the evidence would be in a much worse position then the current state of affairs.

      Basically you are assuming that God is optimizing knowledge of Him or belief of Him. This is self evidently false in that God being all powerful could very easily show Himself to everyone, part the heavens and all that, which would then condemn the majority of everyone believer and non alike as we would still be fallen and fairly certain to continue to sin, which would place us in a similar position to Lucifer who knew the will of God and refused to follow it. Since optimizing knowledge of God would clearly condemn the world instead of saving it then that can’t be what God wishes (John 3:16-17 and so forth). As it has in James the devils also believe and tremble.

      As discussed by Paul in Romans 2 the pagans that didn’t have a knowledge of God or a knowledge of the Law or Gospel but that acted as though they had the law, as in living virtuous lives, are judged by God to be better then one that knows the Law or the Gospel and doesn’t follow what they know.

      • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

        If God performed more miracles then more people would follow God because they were convinced. However, as also stated in those passages, if more miracles were performed by God then those that continued to sin despite knowing of God and/or those that didn’t believe in God despite the evidence would be in a much worse position then the current state of affairs.

        This is the flip side of the problem that I posed. Now the problem is to explain why performing fewer miracles than actually occurred wouldn’t have been better.

        In general, the problem is to explain how the actual amount is optimal (in terms of number of people open to being saved), without begging the question.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          First, it would be better if more miracles were performed assuming that people had more faith and righteousness so that the miracles would be beneficial for those observing them. Basically God wants to bless us and want miracles to happen and it is our own actions that keep us from blessings and miracles.

          Second, Romans 1 makes clear that what God has revealed is sufficient such that man is left without excuse for not having faith; though that is also dependent on those that do have belief or knowledge acting according to their beliefs (Romans 2) and sharing their beliefs (Romans 10). So given that God intends men to live by faith, and not knowledge, and that men are left without excuse for not having faith as creation clearly shows the hand of God as does our nature then the optimal state is achieved of Men not having complete knowledge until after the trial of their faith but being left without excuse in regards to faith.

  6. Comment by Bobby Trosclair:

    Most atheists, if they are honest, will admit that there is no proof that can be offered that will satisfy them, and even if faced with God after death, they will (or so they claim, from the comfort of their computer station) rebelliously refuse to submit to His authority. So what would be the point of offering additional proofs?

    Don’t believe me? Google the phrase “what would you do if there really was a God” and examine the responses from atheists.

    We have a moon that exactly eclipses our sun at regular intervals in the movement of three celestial bodies. Were our moon a little nearer or closer, or a little smaller or larger, or the sun were a little larger or smaller, we would not have the perfect view of the corona with which viewers are favored during a total solar eclipse. No other planet or planetoid in our solar system offers such an amazing perfect eclipse from any of its satellites. Just the inhabited one.

    Because of this, scientists were able to discover Helium in the composition of the sun and confirm Einstein’s General Law of Relativity, among other gifts and graces.

    Plus, it just looks wicked cool.

    Yet atheists demand the far less interesting and revealing proof of some kind of celestial firework display.

    Of course, many of us have, in our weaknesses, wished for some positive proof that there is a God, and that our faith is the correct one.

    The problem, of course, is not that we don’t know what we should do, as if a simple lack of education is the problem. It is that we know and do not do, as St. Paul pointed out.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      So, in other words, you are saying that the brothers of Dives (the rich man in the parable of Lazarus) would not believe in the Law and the Prophets though one rose from the dead?

      And yet, I know of at least one atheist who was convinced by a philosophical argument, merely pure and unalloyed reasoning, about the nature of man, the universe and speech, which convinced him of the truth of the Christian claim. So honest atheists do indeed exist. But they are very rare.

      And usually they become Christians.

  7. Comment by Montague:

    I remember you (Mr. Wright) saying something about reading Aquinas and thinking, there’s got to be some other way for people to find God, or else only philosophers could be saved.

    Then, I see this in Chesterton’s biography of Aquinas:

    “Or again, his argument for Revelation is quite rationalistic;
    and on the other side, decidedly democratic and popular. His argument
    for Revelation is not in the least an argument against Reason.
    On the contrary, he seems inclined to admit that truth could be
    reached by a rational process, if only it were rational enough;
    and also long enough. Indeed, something in his character,
    which I have called elsewhere optimism, and for which I know
    no other approximate term, led him rather to exaggerate
    the extent to which all men would ultimately listen to reason.
    In his controversies, he always assumes that they will listen
    to reason. That is, he does emphatically believe that men can
    be convinced by argument; when they reach the end of the argument.
    Only his common sense also told him that the argument never ends.
    I might convince a man that matter as the origin of Mind is
    quite meaningless, if he and I were very fond of each other and fought
    each other every night for forty years. But long before he was
    convinced on his deathbed, a thousand other materialists could
    have been born, and nobody can explain everything to everybody.
    St. Thomas takes the view that the souls of all the ordinary hard-working
    and simple-minded people are quite as important as the souls
    of thinkers and truth-seekers; and he asks how all these people
    are possibly to find time for the amount of reasoning that is needed
    to find truth. The whole tone of the passage shows both a respect
    for scientific enquiry and a strong sympathy with the average man.
    His argument for Revelation is not an argument against Reason;
    but it is an argument for Revelation. The conclusion he draws
    from it is that men must receive the highest moral truths in a
    miraculous manner; or most men would not receive them at all.
    His arguments are rational and natural; but his own deduction is all
    for the supernatural; and, as is common in the case of his argument,
    it is not easy to find any deduction except his own deduction.
    And when we come to that, we find it is something as simple as
    St. Francis himself could desire; the message from heaven; the story
    that is told out of the sky; the fairytale that is really true.”

    I post this here because I couldn’t remember where/if that comment of yours is on this blog – I know I heard it on one of the interviews floating about on youtube. Anyway, thought you might enjoy this, if you haven’t been shown it already.

    -Christian Boyd

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