Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?

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That’s what thus guy asks. My guess is that the big problem is one of the hiddenness of God. The healing of an amputee would be hard to answer from atheism/naturalism. This would be clear evidence for God’s existence; much better than the usual healings and ancient miracle stories that could just as easily be explained by fraud, fluke, myth, or some unknown natural process. If this would be so convincing, then why doesn’t God do this?

Or put it this way, if God is good and loving, wouldn’t He want everyone to believe in Him? Then why not produce evidence that would convince everybody? The fact that there isn’t such evidence is evidence against God.

How should a Christian answer? Consider the following reconstruction of the argument:

(1) If God exists and is good, then He would want as many people to believe in Him as possible.
(2) Undeniable and obvious evidence would convince many people that wouldn’t be convinced otherwise.
(3) Therefore, if God exists and is good, then there should be undeniable and obvious evidence of His existence.
(4) The healing of amputees would be such evidence.
(5) Therefore, if God exists and is good, then there should be the healing of amputees.
(6) There are no healings of amputees.
(7) Therefore, it is false that God exists and is good.

The argument is actually fallacious in terms of its structure: for the move from (3-4) to (5) is invalid. Other obvious miracles could also be such evidence, so there is no reason to believe that because the healing of amputees provides such evidence that this is what we would see: All the previous argument demands is obvious evidence of some form or other be provided, not that it take the specific form of healing amputees.

So already the argument’s in trouble. But what about the move from (1-2) to (3)? Again, I don’t think (3) follows. For it does seem that (1) is true, but there might also be competing goals that are just as important as (1). Preserving human freedom to deny God’s existence might be one of them. The great philosopher Descartes was right when he explained the malfunctioning of our God-given cognitive abilities when he claimed that God gives us the ability to overstep the evidence. I submit that He also has given us the ability to ignore or reject evidence as well. God gives us freedom, and it might just be that one way to preserve this is to refrain from healing amputees.

I also doubt (2). I wrote in a comment on this site:

But I wonder, couldn’t a clever enough naturalist find reason to doubt even a healed amputee, say, by finding some sort of alternative explanation (fraud/conspiracy, some unknown natural regenerative process that was triggered by some rare and unknown event)? Starfish regenerate limbs. Maybe humans can too. We got the DNA with the plans for our whole body in each cell! Legs can conceivably be grown from stem cells. How could someone rule out the possibility of an alternative natural explanation? Once these hypotheses were offered (and they certainly would be), my bet is that many atheists would adopt them instead. Many atheists are even explicit about this extreme preference for natural explanations.

Back in biblical times people didn’t have such a massive preference for natural explanation, but these days this preference among scientists and other skeptics would cause many to dismiss even this. If I were God I’d say, “Well, then, why bother? My main audience for these purely evidential miracles has the intellectual ‘sophistication’ to reject even a healed amputee!”

My feeling is that God only provides partial evidence for Himself these days. Why I cannot say. But the fact that that evidence is there isn’t mitigated by His not attempting to provide obvious Hollywood-ish sorts of displays. Evidence is evidence.

Or put it this way: I’m willing to wager $10 that if there really were a healed amputee, the scientific community would not accept it as a miracle, but would set to work at how to explain this rather unusual and extraordinary event in natural terms. And very few atheists wouldn’t be convinced; they would opt for fraud or some sort of unusual natural explanation. God’s miracle would then be pointless if it was intended to convince atheists.

Still, there is a form of this argument that might be stronger — an inductive form. Consider two competing hypotheses, naturalism and theism. If naturalism is true, we would not expect healings from amputees, but on theism we might. Thus the absence of healings of this sort is evidence in favor of naturalism more than theism. Is this a good argument?

I take issue, again, with the expectation of healings on theism. This expectation again depends on crucial premises of the earlier argument being true, the premises that I disputed. Unless these doubts are answered, I don’t think this inductive version of the argument fares any better.

So I conclude (at this point, anyway, barring some good objections) that the amputee argument fails. Sure, it’s very vivid and rhetorically powerful, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Is Richard Dawkins Passé with Atheists?

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According to the Spectator he is. Checkout this article. Or look at this article from the Guardian. It seems that at least in Britain Richard Dawkins is seen as crude; a more nuanced view of religion is required, one that sees the complexity in religion, that many people in religion are good, and that it has a special insight into the fragility of the human condition.

Sounds like the old modernist-postmodernist shift. Theism dies in the Enlightenment, killed by Reason. Reason reigns triumphant for a century, then gives birth to the Modern period of confidence in human abilities to march forward. Then WWI and WWII happen, making Reason depressed. Reason commits suicide, giving rise to the Postmodern period, one where inevitable progress is rejected, along with the idea of one story (science) that will explain everything. Reality itself is rejected. Everything becomes a matter of perspective. Then the political correctness movement arrives demanding diversity and acceptance for pretty much everything (other than modernism). The new new atheism is like post-modernism: “let’s not be so cocky about ourselves and science; let’s try to see the good in religion.” But this is hyperbole, surely. The new new atheists aren’t pushing some form of relativism. They just ask for more nuance.

This new turn in atheism, if it is indeed real, will definitely be a relief to Christians, or I should say some Christians. Liberal Christians will like it; liberals in general like the idea of nuances, sophistication, and the appreciation of gray areas. Conservatives won’t draw much comfort, because they do see things in the stark black-and-white way Dawkins does. They actually have more in common with Dawkins in this regard than the new softer atheism. Still, the toning down of atheism is easier on the ears of believers, even if it still leaves us anxious.

As for me, I’m wondering if I spend too much time writing about Dawkins and the like; maybe I should focus on the new new atheism. For I am still interested in knowing whether God exists or Christianity is true, and the new new atheists are still atheists. They still represent a “no” to the answer, though the “no” is said more politely, with a qualification that some good has come out of religion.

How Could Faith and Hope be Better than Solid, Incontrovertible Evidence?

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One of the charges anti-theists make toward belief in God is that there is no evidence for this belief. “No evidence” is a bit extreme, but maybe what anti-theists mean is “no evidence that is uncontroversial and couldn’t be explained some other way.” In other words, there is no obvious evidence for God, no evidence that would easily convince any sane person. The case for God leaves room for skepticism.

I agree; even the best case for theism allows for doubt. There always is the possibility of a natural explanation for any piece of evidence brought up for God, in principle. No one could rule out all possible natural explanations for any set of data used to support God’s existence. Naturalism, considered as a hypothesis, is unfalsifiable. In fact, as physicist Pierre Duhem showed over a century ago, all hypotheses are, strictly speaking, unfalsifiable, as one could always, when faced with contrary evidence, modify one’s other beliefs so that one may keep one’s favored theory even in the face of contrary evidence. Naturalism is no exception. It’s impossible to rule out the proposition that God doesn’t exist.

Apart from theoretical difficulties in proving with certainty that God exists, it still seems that God could have done better. He could, for example, do the miracles we read about in the Old Testament for us: He could part a sea, give us a booming voice. He could heal amputees! Barring this, He could at least give everybody an undeniable inner sense of His existence. He doesn’t. In this sense God hides. God wants us to believe in Him on less than conclusive evidence.

I think the Bible supports this. Consider these passages:

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John ch. 20)

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Rom ch. 8)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews ch. 11)

What I get from the above is that faith, hope, and belief in God are good things, in spite of, or even because of, the lack of evidence for them.

This is where skeptics, atheists, and the like become hostile. To them, belief only on sufficient evidence is what is important. How could God, if He is so good, demand that we believe something when there is little evidence for it?

What’s more, if we believe something without evidence, what’s to keep us from believing anything without evidence? Why not join a cult? Or give our life’s savings away to a scoundrel?

On the other hand, consider the Bible’s greatest commandments:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
(Mark 12)

The thing that Jesus wants most is love. But what does love include? It would take a long time to really get to the heart of this, for sure, but I’m fairy certain that love includes trust. If God wants us to love Him, this implies that He wants us to trust Him.

Consider this: are you married? I am. What if I demanded evidence from my spouse of her faithfulness? What if I decided not to trust her unless I had sufficient evidence for her faithfulness? What do you think would happen? Try it with your own spouse and see: it would definitely bring harm to your marriage. There is something about trusting others that builds and sustains relationships.

The point is this: God isn’t a natural object, a specimen to study. God is a person, and above all things He desires a relationship with people (often compared to a marriage in the Bible). Relationships involve trust.

Science, for God, isn’t a priority. As I wrote in the last post, all science does is tell us how to implement the important stuff, stuff about values, morality, etc. Add to that list relationship, love. How God implements our minds or the medium by which we can relate to others is trivial in comparison. Again, science is, for the most part, good. And it is part of how we can help and relate to others, and to God. But it’s only a tool. It’s a screwdriver, that’s it; it’s not the ultimate end.

So my reply is that faith, hope, trust, etc. are good things, in spite of, and perhaps because of, lack of evidence.

But there still are problems. What about cults and swindlers? And what about abusive spouses. People could take advantage of us if we are too open. And trusting an abusive spouse isn’t a good thing either.

My reply here is that faith can only go so far. But it still is a good thing, all things considered. What is needed is some sort of safety mechanism for the really bad cases, the cases where the harm outweighs the benefit. Here I go with Alvin Plantinga: according to him, God designed us to believe in Him, so belief in God will be warranted even on no evidence. Belief in God is in this way properly basic, rational even without evidence. But Plantinga also allows for defeaters; when evidence comes against a belief, we need to examine it to see if we should reject the belief.

So, if Plantinga is right, then the question regarding the God of Christianity becomes one of whether there are sufficient defeaters. It goes beyond the scope of this post to really address them, but I think that with sufficient care, and some flexibility about how to interpret the Bible, that there aren’t really any defeaters that would render the good of faith not good enough.

The Naturalist’s Dream: What if it Came True?

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The dream I’m speaking of is a complete naturalistic explanation of everything in the natural world. We unify quantum mechanics with relativity theory. We have a satisfying explanation for the fine-tuning of physical constants, and for the big bang as well. Turning to neurobiology, we can predict human behavior; everything from what we choose for lunch to why we go to church to why Russia invaded Crimea. Add to this that we can predict any of the mental states humans will report, given information from the brain and from the environment. We will know how and why we do everything we do. What’s more, computer scientists will have solved the problem of artificial intelligence. Machines will be able to pass the Turing Test. They will be able to do everything we do. In short, everything in the physical world, including our existence, the behavior of our bodies, and feelings we have, will be explainable completely in terms of physical causes. What would this mean for religion? Will religion become completely untenable for any educated person?

Well, what about consciousness? I’m not talking about consciousness in the sense of reacting to stimuli, or second-order awareness of one’s behavior. I’m talking about the wonderful inner movie discussed by David Chalmers. The “what’s it like” to be conscious. The experience of red, or a banana, or of Mozart. It still seems that even with an explanation of why we do what we do in place there won’t be an explanation of consciousness itself. We might be able to correlate experiences with brain states; in fact, let’s suppose that we do. We correlate the taste of banana with some neuro-event. We know exactly when you will have that sensation. Also, let’s suppose that we can show that our personalities (memories, knowledge, choices) depend completely on our brains. But still, how a physical object can have such an experience in the first place remains rather mysterious.

In fact, the mystery of consciousness has driven materialists to rather bizarre extremes. Paul and Patricia Churchland deny its existence. Daniel Dennett pretty much does the same. On the other extreme, Galen Strawson takes it to imply panpsychism: the view that all matter is inherently conscious in some way, for how else could consciousness arise from just matter?

“But what about our personalities, memories, etc., depending on the brain?” replies the naturalist. Well, I can imagine myself with different memories: I might have had a different life. I can also imagine changing my personality. I can even imagine myself with impaired reasoning. So I could, hypothetically, imagine myself with a different brain, or at least with different whatever the brain is linked to or correlated with. But I can’t imagine myself without myself; without my single point of view of experience. Without that I cease to exist.

So it seems that some mystery just might remain even after the completion of the naturalist project. Still, this is a far cry from religion. Could more be said?

One thing that comes to my mind is that the naturalist project will never completely be fulfilled. But didn’t I just grant that it does? What I meant with that is that naturalists somehow come up with satisfying (to them at least) natural explanations of everything we now observe. But these explanations will inevitably be given in terms of regularities: events of type A followed by events of type B. These are the scientific laws. But why the laws? Why the regularities? Here there will be no other recourse for the naturalist than to either try to find further regularities that are somehow more basic than the regularities we are discussing that can serve as explanations, or she can say that regularities are just brute facts, primitives. And the first horn in the dilemma of course leads to an infinite regress; eventually there will have to be a brute fact about the laws. And this brute fact will be the mystery.

I guess a naturalist could reply that this sort of brute fact mystery given in terms of further laws is far more satisfying than any sort of religious brute fact aimed at explaining the laws. It will be testable, for one thing (at least in principle, if not in practice). Saying God is an explanation will never be testable.

I am skeptical of this, for as the laws become more and more abstract and brute fact-ish, they will approach the status of metaphysics. Metaphysics, as is well known, isn’t really a part of any empirical science, and isn’t really subject to empirical confirmation/disconfirmation. And there still is the question of why.

I submit that a personal brute fact is better. Granted, there is the risk of unfalsifiability (But aren’t all theories unfalsifiable, strictly speaking?). But a personal brute fact has advantages too. For one, it allows for an ultimate meaning in the universe. Two, it allows for an authority to ground ethics. I think that an explanation that captures the real weight of ethical claims (instead of reducing them to either evolutionary survival behaviors or neural structures) is desirable.

For me, the deciding factor is this: there is the sense that I have of a greater world than mere matter. This is a personal thing, for sure, but a lot of people share it (C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory is an excellent introduction to /exploration of this intuition). I think of it this way; which is greater, the paper on which the Declaration of Independence (I’m an American) is written, and the ink in which it is written, or the ideas? I get the sense that the whole physical world is really rather worthless: it gets its meaning from being, using a computer science term, an implementation of something far weightier. You write code for a program, say a calculator, in a high level programming language (e.g., Java). Then it gets compiled into Java bytecode, which is read by a Java Virtual Machine. This machine is itself a virtual computer than in turn translates this information into machine language that the computer can execute, and the computer executes it. When all’s said and done all that’s physically really going on is a bunch of electrons going back and forth. But that’s not the meaning of the calculator. It’s the mathematics that it does for us (and maybe the look and feel of the GUI: Graphical User Interface).

I get the sense that the whole of the cosmos is an implementation of the moral, personal, and the ethical. How it is implemented is a technical detail: a triviality. The real import is in the morals, the values, the people. It is this that naturalism leaves out. It somehow thinks that the implementation is what’s important, the science.

I don’t mean to deny that science has import; it does. But not ultimate import. Understanding machine language is interesting, but using the word processor is more important to us; the first is only a means to the second.

This is, of course, just my own view given my values. Perhaps uber-geeks think the implementation is not only important in its own right, but more important than anything else. Or better, the understanding of the implementation. But understanding itself is also a higher order thing that is itself implemented, which makes it yet one more example of the implementation being less important than what is implemented.

To conclude, even if the naturalist dream comes true, all you will have is a set of instructions about how to implement some important stuff like conscious experience, morality, value, beauty, authority, truth (truth isn’t a physical property; it’s a semantic one). It doesn’t really explain the important stuff. It just tells you about a way to implement it. The real nature of the important stuff will still be the realm of religion, of God and souls.

How I Would Debate William Lane Craig: An Outline

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Anti-theists seem frustrated with Craig. They “know” that his views are irrational, but they are unable to really nail him for it in a debate. What’s going on?

Some might say that Craig uses tactics that deliberately obscure (I guess it must be those rather dense arguments he offers at the beginning). Others might say that the whole format of debate is unfair to atheists. The idea is that the case for anti-theism isn’t one of a knockdown, drag-out argument that shows that God doesn’t exist. It’s more of a case of a death of a thousand cuts for theism. Over hundreds of years more and more of what was part of, or mingled with, or attached to religion has become less and less reasonable to believe. Combine this with the fact that virtually all believers do not believe because of a carefully investigated case for theism, it seems obvious that a more enlightened person wouldn’t believe. But how do you make this intuition attractive in the space of two hours? It takes years of constantly seeing the religious way being defeated by, say, the secular way, or the scientific way. On the other hand, the classic reasons for theism are pretty succinct: they can be presented in two hours.

I’ve seen most of Craig’s debates (on YouTube). I don’t see the anti-theist gaining the upper-hand in any of them. But I also find myself not quite satisfied with Craig’s case either. So as an exercise to clarify in my own mind what I think the issues are, I’ll try to quickly spell out how I would oppose him.

To start, I don’t think any of the above is the reason for the defeats. I think it’s due to not seeing where the real dispute is: it’s in the ground rules. This will be clear when I describe how I’d debate Craig.

Before I go further, I should add that as a former Talbot philosophy student, I don’t really want to win; I’d rather lose, in fact. But I find myself in the place of Glaucon in Plato’s Republic: he thought that if anyone can prove that justice has value in itself, Socrates can. So Glaucon opposed Socrates, in hopes of gaining the proof he desired. I will oppose Craig with the same hope. Anyway, here’s what I’d do.

Craig typically has five arguments for God’s existence: The first two are versions of the cosmological argument, the third is a fine-tuning version of the teleological argument, the fourth is an argument from morality, the fifth is an argument from the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. He offers the arguments, then challenges the atheist to refute all of them, and establish a positive case for God’s non-existence. He also sets a pretty low bar for himself regarding his deductive arguments: If he can present a deductively valid argument with premises that are both true and more plausible than their negations, then his arguments should be accepted as sound, and his conclusions should be accepted.

Since Craig speaks first, it appears he gets to set the terms of the debate in the above fashion. Of course, the anti-theist need not accept the terms. But here’s where anti-theists fail: they don’t really clearly address and convincingly challenge the terms. Most often they go into some sort of tangent about how people who believe in God arrive at the belief in an irrational way, or how great science is, or . . . If I were one of those guys, disputing this would be the first thing I’d do. I’d do this by setting my own terms for the debate.

How would this go? First, clarity regarding who has the burden of proof needs to be achieved. Burden of proof does come up occasionally in the debates, but never in a clear and organized way. I’d first distinguish the types of atheism that could be defended, and argue that the version I would be defending definitely does not have the burden of proof. Here the distinction between positive and negative atheism needs to be made. What I’d say is that negative atheism, the view that refuses to make a commitment regarding God’s existence, does not have a burden of proof. Positive atheism, the view that God doesn’t exist, does. To win the debate in favor of negative atheism, all I’d have to do is cast doubt on Craig’s arguments. Only if I wish to gain positive atheism would I have to do more.

Second, I’d say that regarding his deductive arguments, we can’t know for certain if their premises are true or not: thus truth of the premises isn’t something we can use to evaluate his arguments. All we have to work with, in our epistemic situation, is their plausibility. And here’s where Craig is definitely mistaken: mere balance of the probability isn’t enough. Consider an argument with two premises “A” and “B,” each having a probability of .51; the conclusion will follow only if they are both true, that is, if “A & B” is true. But the probability of that is .51 x .51 (if they are independent), which is .2601. Thus the probability of all the premises being true, which is what is needed, is low, even when both premises are on the balance probable. And the more premises you have in the argument, the worse it gets. You need more than just 51% chance of truth for each premise to overcome this.

Third, Craig also uses inductive arguments where God’s actions are supposedly the best explanation for some set of data (e.g., the fine-tuning of the constants in physics, facts associated with the resurrection of Jesus). He then argues that God’s action does a good job of explaining them. But he’s assuming here that God and the resurrection are just like any other ordinary explanation, and all he has to do is argue that God explains the facts better. But God’s actions aren’t ordinary explanations; they are extraordinary explanations. That is, God is a lot like aliens: if we want to explain some observation, say of crop-circles, we’d have to have extremely powerful evidence if we want to use aliens. We wouldn’t need as much if we were to explain it as a prank perpetrated by bored Nebraskans. The same goes with God. This argument is based on the idea that the God hypothesis suffers from a low prior probability, the initial probability of the hypothesis on our background information, before any specific evidence is considered. Natural explanations are never as bad off in this regard as God.

My replacement terms would thus be: First, I only need to raise doubt about Craig’s arguments to justify atheism. Second, to win with his deductive arguments, Craig has to establish the premises with a pretty high probability, and not with just mere balance of probability. Third, to win with his inductive arguments, he can’t just show that God explains the data best, he has to show that God as an explanation is so vastly superior to not only the available explanations, but any possible explanation that could in theory be discovered. That is, he has a dual burden of proof: he has to provide evidence for God, and he has to show that God as an explanation is so vastly superior to any possible natural explanation that we can safely rule them out.

I think that atheist debaters agree with my rules, mentioning parts of them at various times. But never do they systematically lay them out in a convincing way. If they are able to do so, they would gain a tremendous advantage.

Then the rest of my case would consist in showing that the premises in Craig’s deductive arguments at best enjoy a marginal probability advantage over their competitors: not enough for Craig to win. I’d also argue that though one could invoke God to explain the fine-tuning of the universe and facts connected with Jesus, the fine-tuning or the resurrection hypothesis is never so vastly superior to any possible natural explanation to win the day.

The Bible Says Doubting is Bad

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Consider this passage from James, Ch. 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (emphasis mine)

This passage pretty much defeats the point of my blog, as far as doubting is concerned. I don’t like the passage, quite frankly. I don’t like to be told to simply believe and not doubt. Criminals, swindlers, manipulative spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends, cult leaders, scam artists, etc. also say this. You are a sucker if you are taken in. I don’t want to be taken in. Give me good evidence, and give me space to think about it before I commit.

Some think that one does need evidence to be rational in holding a belief. Philosophers can find counterexamples, but, for the most part, in the corrupt world we are in, it’s not bad advice. Why is simply believing such a virtue in the Bible? Why is it a command?

A skeptic might reply, “Because it’s all balderdash. It’s the only way to win converts to this ridiculous set of beliefs.” And there is some plausibility in it. The Bible does ask us to believe some rather hard to believe stuff. And when others make similar requests about their balderdash, invariably, whenever investigated, it’s shown to be either false or so vague as to be untestable. People are swines much of the time: can’t trust ‘em.

What can I say in faith’s defense? The best I can do is say that God is a person, and that persons like to be trusted. In fact, mistrust is a relationship destroyer. God desires relationships with people. The nature of this relationship is Savior/Creator to creature who needs saving. God desires this trust as our superior and our friend. Also, it might be that much that is behind the things God does is beyond our ken, and the best God can do (even as an omnipotent being) is either give us a metaphor or tell us to just trust Him.

Still, the possibility of chicanery hasn’t been ruled out: How do we know God has said all this, as opposed to some set of unscrupulous evangelists, well-meaning buffoons, or ordinary naive peasants?

My best answer at this point is to say that there is some evidence for Christianity, but it isn’t conclusive. There is also a faith gap. You do have to have some faith. You do have to take a risk, just as you do when you get married or even form a friendship. You can get duped, for sure. But, as William James said, there are worse fates than that of being a dupe.

Why Dawkins’ Main Argument May Actually Help Theists

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In an earlier post I refuted Richard Dawkins’ Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit (Actually, I cannot really take credit for it, for the main ideas are pretty much straight from Alvin Plantinga.). Is there something an atheist can do to respond?

Recall that Dawkins’ argument amounts to saying that God is improbable because He’s complex (Any being smart enough to create us has to be complex.). The response is that the complexity Dawkins needs is physical complexity, the complexity of having physical parts. But God is not a physical object, therefore, God cannot be complex in the sense Dawkins needs.

If I were an atheist I’d reply that the whole idea of a mind that is not physical (or not based in/caused by the physical) is implausible. All the confirmable examples of minds seem based in or caused by physical brains. The most plausible examples of the immaterial: numbers, mathematical proofs, formulas, etc. are not capable of thinking, designing, creating, etc.

So the real argument is about the whole idea of an immaterial mind; it’s the argument for materialism. Of course, if Dawkins were to repair his argument by adding a bit that established that the mind of God would have to be physical because all minds are physical, then he’s already won (as far as the immaterial God of classic theism is concerned, he’s ruled it out); he wouldn’t need the rest of the gambit!

On the other hand, the rest of the gambit might come in handy in refuting physical gods, gods like Thor or Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But I and most of the rest of the world’s theists don’t care about them; as far as I and other Christians/Jews/Muslims are concerned, the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit would still be superfluous.

However, the interesting point for theists is this: if Dawkins is unable to show that all minds are physically based (and physically complex), then his argument would, in effect, refute all non-theistic gods like Thor, Zeus, etc., but leave untouched the immaterial Almighty God. This could be very useful to apologists of theistic religions: they now have an argument against most of the world’s pantheon! They have an argument that refutes the stupid Flying Spaghetti Monster while leaving God Himself untouched!