[Continuing my earlier post in response to The God Fearin' Fiddler]
Having offered what he considers “substantial evidence” that Santa does not exist, The Fiddler abruptly changes course and asserts that Santa cannot be disproven after all.
Now the very proposition of God’s existence is not a ‘scientific’ one as you know – it cannot be disproven. But it cannot be disproven for a valid reason due to the very nature of God. The same could be said of Santa Claus – no one can disprove him but only in the same way that we can’t prove that we’re not living in “The Matrix” and we just think we are experiencing life but really our bodies are somewhere else.
If you argue with a thoughtful and intelligent Christian, sooner or later they will appeal to the idea of Universal Agnosticism: it’s not really possible to know anything, “truth” is whatever you happen to believe it to be, and there is no such thing as a knowable, objective reality, etc. Reality is hard on believers. It never allows their God to show up where anyone else can see Him too, and keeps Him from behaving as though He believed what Christians were saying about Him. Makes for a very unrewarding experience of reality, so it’s small wonder that some of them feel a certain attraction to the idea of just chucking the whole thing in favor of a pietized version of solipsism.
The Fiddler, of course, is merely flirting with Universal Agnosticism at this point, but I wanted to mention it in passing. I’m sure we’ll see it again, if not from The Fiddler then from some other believer.
Like many believers, The Fiddler tries to insulate God from too close examination by claiming a “supernatural” exemption. God is “off limits” to science because God, by nature, is supernatural. The only trouble is, that defense won’t really work. It’s true that if God limits Himself to some realm entirely outside of human experience and knowledge, then He’s out of science’s reach. But a God that isolated and irrelevant would be equally inaccessible to believers, which would mean that believers could not have any evidence of God. The Fiddler, however, says, “I disagree that there isn’t evidence.”
Notice the contradiction: he says that God’s existence is not a scientific question, yet he claims to have “evidence” of God’s existence. Evidence is what science is all about, so if the evidence exists, why is it off-limits to science? This is more than just a question of God’s existence. Christians don’t limit themselves to claiming that God merely exists somewhere out where nobody can know anything about Him. They assert that God is objectively real, and interacts with the physical universe in objectively real ways. That’s a claim that ought to produce the kind of verifiable evidence that science is looking for, but in fact there is none.
While we’re on the topic, science has no a priori objection to dealing with the supernatural (contrary to popular opinion). If a thing is verifiably real, science is ready and willing to study it. The difficulty is that “supernatural” isn’t really so much a realm as it is an excuse: people see things in the real world, and they want to claim that X is responsible for causing them, but when science tries to find X, there’s no sign of it. “Of course not,” the people reply. “It’s supernatural.” In other words, people don’t label things as “supernatural” until after they’ve turned out to be scientifically unverifiable.
So yes, there is a problem between science and the supernatural, but that’s only because people reserve the label “supernatural” for things that have already proven to be unscientific. It’s hardly fair fair to blame science for that. Science has studied quite a few things (lightning, earthquakes, diseases, etc.) that were previously identified as “supernatural.” Likewise with God, heaven, angels, and so on: science is more than happy to look into any verifiable real-world phenomenon, and things like string theory have no problem proposing the existence of invisible forces and additional dimensions and so on. There is one thing, and one thing only, that prevents science from looking into the God question, and that is the lack of any verifiable interactions between God and objective reality.
The Fiddler presses on…
Plus to say God doesn’t show up outside of stories and feelings is a bit ridiculous. I’ve had not one or two but many experiences myself of God’s intervention in my life (sure I could be delusional about it) but any atheist would, upon seeing what they considered an actual intervention of God – burning bush, witness the risen Lord on the road, seeing a dead person raised etc, reject their own cosmology instantly and succumb to theism without assuming themselves delusional. In short – we trust our senses. My senses (like most other people’s) have told me that He is real. Either yours’ haven’t or you’re delusional yourself. The question is, who is more likely delusional the majority or the minority?
I can say, without fear of demonstrable contradiction, that it is universally and consistently true that God does not show up outside the stories, superstitions, and subjective feelings of men. The Fiddler may not understand how I can arrive at this conclusion with such confidence (and how I can be so frustratingly right about it all the time!), but the fact remains that what I have said is true. Without even hearing what The Fiddler’s stories are, I can boldly and accurately predict that they are either his own subjective and auto-suggestive inner perceptions, or ordinary superstitions (i.e. attributing real-world events to God even though he can’t document any significant or meaningful connection between God and the events). I can make this prediction because I know that the truth is consistent with itself, and if God were willing and able to actually show up in the real world for The Fiddler, then to be consistent with the Gospel, He would also need to be willing and able to show up in the real world for the rest of us. And He doesn’t.
This is true for everybody: believers, non-believers, seekers, the needy, the rich, the poor–everybody. If The Fiddler wants to ask whether it’s the majority or the minority that’s delusional, I’ll confidently answer that it is the minority that is delusional, because it is universally true that God does not show up in real life for anyone. There is no common, majority experience of what it’s like for God to “show up” for you, the way we all share a common experience of, say, breathing the air or feeling the wind blow. The Fiddler claims that his senses have told him that God is real, but I know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that his eyes have not actually seen a visible, photograph-able deity, his ears have not heard the audible, audio-recordable voice of Jesus, his hands have not touched the physical, footprint-making body of God, and as for tasting and smelling–let’s not go there.
I know that God has not literally shown up before The Fiddler’s senses because if God were willing and able to do that, He’d be willing and able to show up, visibly, audibly, and tangibly, for everyone else as well. Truth is consistent with the truth. There’s a problem with consistency in The Fiddler’s story: if he were telling the truth, none of us should even need his testimony to tell us about God’s existence. It would be obvious to all of us–God would be showing up on TV and YouTube, and in our homes, and on Capitol Hill (or at least Jerusalem). But what The Fiddler claims, and what we find in the real world, are two very different things (which is why he must also make the contradictory claim that God’s nature prevents Him from being subject to scientific inquiry).
Incidentally, did you notice that The Fiddler’s closing remarks are an appeal to the Emperor’s New Clothes argument? “All the rest of us can see them, so what’s wrong with you?”
Having made his vague protestations of unspecified evidence, The Fiddler turns from the real world to the realm of philosophy.
Like CS Lewis asked, if the universe is designed, why aren’t the planets in ascending order of size? Why does God have to die anyway? Why didn’t He just stop Adam & Eve from eating the apple? Or wait, why didn’t He just … not create the apple in the first place? In short, why did/does God do all these unexpected things?…
This is when philosophy has to come in and trump our practical sensibilities a bit… Philosophy can answer these questions with minimal effort.
If there were a God like the Christian God, would He do everything exactly as we had expected? A child says “if my parent loved me he/she would do this” but the child is mistaken. Try as he may, the child cannot grasp what reasoning the parent has. And yet again, if the Christian God is real, the gap between our intellect/reasoning and His is incomparably larger than that between a child and his mother or father. So we have no logical reason to assume that God would do things in precisely the way that we expected.
The thing is, God does not show up to give us any of these philosophical answers. It’s not that we see God doing things we don’t understand, and He’s showing up to reassure us that He knows what He’s doing. These “philosophical” answers aren’t coming from God. Men are telling us stories, stories about a God who, in the stories, behaves one way, but who in real life is not acting like that at all. And when we point out these inconsistencies, men are inventing “philosophical” answers in exactly the same way as theologians invent theological answers and in the same way as novelists invent good fiction: they speculate and imagine until they think up a plausible sounding scenario, and then they add that to the story.
The problem is twofold: one, such fictions inevitably end up conflicting with each other and/or with some other aspect of the real world. And two, when we intentionally put our trust in the stories men tell us, in God’s absence, knowing full well that these stories are full of inconsistencies and self-contradictions, we are not being faithful, we are merely being gullible. The reason why there are glaring inconsistencies between the Gospel and the real world is not because we are too stupid to understand, it’s because the Gospel is inconsistent with the truth. You don’t need infinite knowledge or infinite wisdom to know that when someone says something that is contrary to what we see in the real world, they’re lying or mistaken or delusional or whatever other reason might lead people to say things that aren’t true.
Just a couple more points to wrap up here.
Our question is not – [out of all people who claim to believe in God, is it likely by the law of averages that at least one of them is correct?] but rather [does a huge number of people claiming to believe in God speak in favor of or against the proposition that God exists?] In which type of world is this more likely to occur, one in which God exists or one in which He does not?
The piece of the puzzle that’s missing here is the fact that there is no huge number of people agreeing on the truth about God. Quite the contrary, in fact. I’d challenge The Fiddler to suggest even one topic about which there is more disagreement than there is on the topic of God. And remember, these are all disagreements which would instantly vanish if God would simply show up, in the real world, so that we could obtain accurate and verifiable information about Him.
As stated, the original Catholic Church stands far above the branches of Christianity which have strayed in terms of doctrine. I find many atheists base their apologetics on Protestant Christianity which only imitates the fullness of Christian doctrine and unity.
Another direct and predictable consequence of God’s failure to show up in the real world. The whole reason the Christian church even has branches is because, in God’s absence, people have had to turn to the speculations and philosophies of men, and different groups have each had their different preferences in terms of which speculative philosophies they find most appealing.
If God really were leading, filling, and illuminating a select few believers, would we be left with nothing but the law of averages as our basis for guessing that they might exist somewhere?
That is a question for a Protestant to answer, not me. Catholics are no “small group” but are as large as all other Christian communities combined and is the oldest group of Christians. We still believe and teach the same thing we did 2000 years ago.
Except, of course, where they have found it necessary to modify what the Church believes and teaches (e.g. the Trinity, the Filioque, etc). But they deal with that by making whatever they’re teaching at the moment official retroactive to 33AD.
The question still stands, however. If the Catholic Church were the group that was in genuine contact with the true and living God, why would they not have such a powerful resource at their disposal that the Protestant Reformation would have been neither possible nor necessary? Why is it not blatantly obvious to everybody which branch has the genuine power of God and which ones don’t?
It’s a moot point, of course. God does not show up in the real world, and His consistent and universal absence is what makes a disagreement between Catholics and Protestants possible. Given the glaring inconsistency between the real world and the Gospel, is it even meaningful to speak of any branch of Christianity being “right”?