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God Did It

One of the most common tricks that religious people use to escape the fact that their beliefs have been refuted by scientific knowledge is to try to assimilate the new ideas into their own, but add the element of divine intervention.

Here’s an example: Traditionally Christians have believed that life was created by God in a few days and that nothing much has changed since then. But since the Theory of Evolution was developed and since the extraordinary amount of evidence supporting it has been discovered that original myth is no longer viable. So now a common response (apart from just denying the facts as many fundamentalists do) is to say “Sure, evolution is true. That’s how God works with life”.

Another example might be the origin of the Universe. The Bible gives an account of this in Genesis and that’s exactly what people believed until science uncovered the real facts regarding the Big Bang event about 13.7 billion years ago. So the Christians (again, those who don’t simply deny the overwhelming evidence) now say “But who started the Big Bang? Of course, it was God”.

In reality, this brand of believer (it’s not just Christians) could summarise their ideas in three simple words: “God did it”.

I recently heard an interesting analogy. When I walk into a room and turn on the light most people would accept that closing the light switch simply allows the electricity to flow to the bulb which then emits light. But using the “God did it” gambit I could say instead that the “Light Fairy” did it. Flicking the switch is simply a signal for the fairy to do her magical work and provide me with light.

What I’m saying is that God and the fairy aren’t necessary. Adding that extra element provides no extra level of knowledge we didn’t already have. It just makes things unnecessarily complex.

In addition to this it is entirely arbitrary. If we were going to add an extra layer of control to evolution (or any other phenomenon) why should it be God? Why not advanced aliens? Or psychic powers? And if it is a god, then which one? What’s so special about the Christian God? Could it be Thor or Zeus instead?

Some people say there are particular aspects of these processes which indicate a supernatural power must be involved. After all, how could a “blind” process like the naturalistic form of evolution lead to advanced life? Wouldn’t a “guided” form be more likely?

Well no. Let’s look at how evolution has worked. Over 99% of species which have existed in the past have gone extinct. Does that sound like how a god would operate? It seems very inefficient to me. But let’s just say that is a viable process for a god to use. What would have happened if we found the exact opposite: that every species was successful? That would have sounded even more like a god, wouldn’t it? And, no doubt, the religious people would be pointing out how their god was responsible.

So it doesn’t matter what the facts are, the “God did it” hypothesis can be invoked and it can never be proved wrong. It can’t be wrong, because it isn’t something that can be tested. But because of that, it can’t be right either. It’s actually worse than something that is wrong.

If we test evolution instead we can find many ways it might be wrong. If every species was successful evolution would immediately be disproved because elimination of some species while others survive is its main mechanism. If one type of life didn’t lead to another through gradual change evolution would also be disproved because small mutations being selected and eventually dominating is an evolutionary mechanism.

And what about the Big Bang? Well for it to be true there has to be some precise observations which agree with theory. The universe has to be expanding, there has to be certain abundances of elements, there has to be background radiation left over from the initial expansion, and several other more minor points. So what do we find? Well all of those requirements are satisfied, including a cosmic microwave background exactly as expected if the Big Bang is true.

But God could still be involved, right? Maybe the cosmic microwave background is just a remnant of the process he used. Sure, maybe. And if there was none then God could still be involved. And if the temperature had been 1 or 5 or 100 or 500 instead of 2.72548 then maybe that was the sign of God. Again, anything is possible because “God did it” is just not a theory.

Not only is it not a theory, but it is nothing. It’s a childish, meaningless inanity which isn’t even worthy of discussion – yes, I understand the irony in the fact that I have just used a blog post to do just that!

If anyone wants to use this in a serious discussion then we need a few details. You know, the sort of details which science gives us, like when, how, or where God did it. Then we can do some serious testing and see whether there really is any merit in the idea. Until then, these religious types should just keep the silly fairy tales where they belong and let the adults get on with the real discussions of reality.

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  1. October 20, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    1) “And what about the Big Bang? Well for it to be true…”
    2) “…there has to be some precise observations which agree with theory. The universe has to be expanding, there has to be certain abundances of elements, there has to be background radiation left over from the initial expansion, and several other more minor points.
    3) “Well all of those requirements are satisfied, including a cosmic microwave background”
    4) “exactly as expected if the Big Bang is true.”

    Your argument is circular reasoning.

  2. October 21, 2016 at 2:13 am

    When the light switch is flipped, Zeus, the God of Electricity, causes the light to turn on (or the laws of electricity). Zeus and various other gods, elementals, spirits, and so forth are all of the type “god of the gap”. Their very origin and purpose is an explanation for or interaction with natural phenomena. This is a fundamental property. These types of gods have been replaced by science.

    The laws of electricity explain why the light turns on, but it is not the only type of explanation available. It is just as valid to say the light turned on when the switch was thrown because the electrician built it that way. This is forever independent of any scientific law.

    Had you instead claimed “The fairy installed the circuit”, I would have asked “show me the fairy’s work order and building permit”, *not* “science has disproven the existence of fairies” or “science has disproven the need for rooms to be built to exist”. It’s just as falacious to respond to “God created the universe” with “science has disproven the existence of God”. It’s begging the question. If you want to know if the fairy is real, you have to examine the evidence.* Unlike Zeus, the installer ‘fairy’ is required and provides an extra level of knowledge.

    You have equivocated two types (or classes) of gods. The creator God (of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is not a “god of the gaps”. The creator God is completely compatible with scientific breakthroughs. Pushing the electrician analogy to its logical conclusion, science can say nothing about God, but God can say something about science. A Christian is justified in saying “God created the universe and life” without contradicting science. But science is not justified in saying that “God did not create the universe”.

    “God did it” provides additional information over “science did it”. Might I suggest that the “additional information” is of the type you are unwilling to accept? If “God did it” that would be revolutionary, wouldn’t it?

    That you’ve found non-intellectual fundamentalists who make stupid statements about God and science is not a terribly interesting rebuttal of God’s existence.

    * If you want to make the metaphysical assumption that science is the only path to knowledge and that God, by circular definition, cannot exist, then at least be honest about this. Richard Dawkins, for example, is not willing to do this.

  3. OJB
    October 21, 2016 at 2:22 am

    The reasoning isn’t circular. Let me put it this way…

    1. We formulate an hypothesis on how the universe might have originated. Let’s call it the Big Bang hypothesis.

    2. If it is true then we should see some particular phenomena in the real world. We look for those and find them, at the exact level the hypothesis predicts. In fact, it is even better than that because at least one of the phenomena was observed before the hypothesis was created, completely independently and without the knowledge of the creators.

    3. This supports the idea so it becomes a theory. Further support occurs because alternative theories do not agree with new observations.

    4. Some observations don’t quite fit with the simplistic original hypothesis so a few modifications are required. These go through further testing and fit, so they are assimilated into the theory.

    5. We keep looking for alternatives and none have any credibility at this point. The theory is at least a good model of reality although there might be more precise models which replace it in future.

    • October 22, 2016 at 3:51 am

      I’ve expanded your original argument to include the next paragraph:
      1) If ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ are true, then ‘A’ is true
      2) ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ are true. ‘Z’ is extra importantly true.
      3) Assuming ‘A’ is true, then ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ would be true.
      4) Therefore, because ‘X’,’Y’, and ‘Z’ are true, ‘A’ is true.
      5) Because ‘A’ is true, God is not required.

      Where ‘A’ is ‘Big Bang Theory’, ‘X’ is ‘expanding universe’, ‘Y’ is ‘abundance of elements’, and ‘Z’ is ‘CMB’

      #3 is circular with #1. However, #3 isn’t even required in the argument. You can go straight from #2 to #4 and the rest of the argument is deductively valid.

      Your reply to me exposes an additional problem.

      You’ve described basic hypothesis and theory formation, something every young student learns in science class. The theory is derived from observations and observations are predicted by the theory. They are not independent, but circular: a feedback loop. #1 is not a deductively valid statement.

      No set of observations proves a theory. A set of observations can potentially be explained by any number of competing theories. We use a theory to predict additional observations to lend increased *weight* to our theory. But it can never completely rule out competing theories that explain the observations.

      You’ve attempted to mix inductive reasoning with deductive reasoning.

      Instead you must say “If ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ are true, then ‘A’ is probably true”, and change your conclusion to “Because ‘A’ is probably true, God is probably not required”.

      I agree with you that there is no reason for a “god of the gaps” in the Big Bang Theory (with the exception of the initial singularity). But you overstate the strength of your argument and use it to derive fallacious conclusions. The only reason I’m wasting so much time arguing over something I agree with you on is because it does nobody any good to use bad arguments. The bad arguments distract from the real points I was trying to make.

      If you had instead said, “God could intervene in creation whenever he wanted, but the evidence shows that the vast majority of the time he keeps his hands out of it”, then I would agree that this is a logically and scientifically valid stance. It would be a more nuanced explanation that would get you farther with fundamentalists (among others). But for you to claim that it is impossible? Then I would ask you to show me what the measured uncertainty is for the Big Bang Theory.

  4. OJB
    October 21, 2016 at 2:28 am

    Regarding your second comment… I think most people’s idea of god is *not* compatible with science because scientific concepts require falsifiability. Either the creator god created the universe but that can never be detected, or it can be detected and we don’t see any sign of it. So either the god is some abstract concept which is unscientific, or he/she/it just doesn’t exist. I guess a third option is that here is evidence but we haven’t seen it yet. In that case we are justified in saying the god don’t exist as an interim conclusion (and all conclusions are interim, I guess).

  5. OJB
    October 22, 2016 at 4:24 am

    OK, let’s forget the general theoretical approach and the X, Y, and Z, and I will describe the actual facts of what happened…

    At the time the Big Bang theory was being formulated some engineers were doing completely independent radio research and found an unusual signal they couldn’t explain. The people working on the Big Bang theorised that a signal should be visible which was a remnant of the original expansion.

    News of the signal reached the Big Bang theorists and the spectrum matched very closely what they expected through theory. Plus there was no other theory which predicted that signal.

    This is very strong support for the theory (just one of many forms of support) and I really cannot see any way you can call this circular!

    • October 22, 2016 at 8:54 pm

      To which scientific philosophical school do you subscribe? Inductivism (David Hume), Falsificationism (Karl Popper), or Bayesianism?

      You described theory formation as (1) Observe (2) Hypothesize/Theorize (3) Predict (4) Repeat. This is a circular *process*, not circular reasoning. The formation of the Big Bang Theory (as you stated it) follows this. It requires the use of inductive reasoning.

      Your anecdote just shows that the theory was formed from other observations which were used to predict the radio observations. These were then used to refine and expand the theory. The lack of independence is obvious: If there is undetected flaw (either in observation or induction) at any stage of the process, it potentially affects every step in every later iteration.

      It becomes circular reasoning when you use deduction to show that the observation proves the theory or the theory proves the observation. Instead you can say that the two agree (Unsurprisingly! That’s the point of the process and it hasn’t be falsified yet) and we have a certain level of confidence in its value. That’s all you are justified in saying.

      It becomes circular reasoning if you use the scientific method to prove the scientific method. This is what happens when you claim God is not required because the scientific method is adequate to explain everything. See Hume’s problem of induction.

      You want badly to use science to make God obsolete, but you are not logically justified. This post is an elaborate way of using science to state an opinion.

  6. OJB
    October 22, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    I don’t ascribe to any particular school although I admire the work of philosophers such as Hume and Russell. My entire philosophical perspective is one of practicality. I know we can never know any absolute truth, but we need to believe reality exists and that we can get arbitrarily close to certainty based on repeated and carefully controlled experimentation and observation.

    The fact that the completely independent observation supported the theoretical prediction gives strong support to the theory. Does it prove it? No. Can we prove anything? Outside of logic and maths, no. I’m sure you are aware that science is primarily based on inductive reasoning so this should be no surprise.

    Sorry if I misinterpreted your idea as circular logic. I’m not totally sure what the circularity you refer to actually is then, except that all the threads of evidence are based on the same basic philosophy of empiricism.

  7. OJB
    October 22, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    I just read your comment again and it seems to be the scientific method itself which you object to. You seem to think the scientific method is used to justify itself. I’m not sure if that is entirely accurate. I would say that the scientific method can be justified on two counts: 1, unlike every other method humanity has used it gets consistent results; and 2, it makes logical sense in a deeper way.

    If I was asked to create a technique to establish the truth I would come up with something like: hypothesise, test, confirm, repeat, modify, etc. I would recommend double-blinding and independent testing. In other words, the scientific method.

    I realise the theory and practice of science don’t always match but I challenge anyone to come up with something better.

    • October 22, 2016 at 10:44 pm

      “it seems to be the scientific method itself which you object to”.

      I’m a cross between an Inductivist and a Bayesian. I have a fair level of hostility towards frequentistism because of how horribly it is misapplied. It is probably most accurate to say I object to how some people define the scientific method or the philosophy behind it.

      “I realise the theory and practice of science don’t always match but I challenge anyone to come up with something better.”

      I’m going to try! In all seriousness though, I think it’s more a problem of being incomplete than being wrong.

      • OJB
        October 22, 2016 at 10:58 pm

        No one really seems to know what the scientific method is. Popper emphasised falsifiability and that is important, but as you said, induction is key obviously, and Bayesian analysis (prior probabilities, etc) is important, amongst other things. I love philosophy but I don’t let it get on the way of reality or practicality.

        Yes, science is often accused of being incomplete. There is good reason for this. It is dangerous to pursue ideas with poor support or you can be easily lead into fantasy. So science doesn’t study the supernatural world because first, there is no reason to think it even exits; and second, there are no tools to reliably test it if it did exist.

      • OJB
        October 22, 2016 at 11:06 pm

        Let me modify that comment slightly. Science *can* study the supernatural world where it overlaps the “real” world. For example, science has studied prayer, and tested creation stories. Again, all that is required is that the claim is sufficient precise that it can be tested and falsified or confirmed.

  8. October 22, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    “I think most people’s idea of god is *not* compatible with science”

    Most scientists and religious people have framed the debate as an ‘either-or’. The highest percentage of fundamentalism in my experience is with the scientists, but it is frustratingly high with the religious. I broadly agree with your statement.

    “…we need a few details…like when, how, or where God did it.”

    First, a creator God is not constrained by his creation.

    Second, if God used natural processes, this is way more impressive than magic hand-waving.

    Third, the creator God has the *ability* to intervene, but we would not expect large-scale violations (See the second point). Certainly none that would violate free-will. We’d expect any scientific evidence of God to be at the level of events, rather than the level of natural laws.

    Fourth, the Big Bang Theory is the first real ‘scientific evidence’ of God that I’ve seen. That science could postulate a non-scientific event (the beginning) is a facinating discovery in light of the Bible always saying that the universe had a beginning, even when the steady state theory was commonly held.

    “It can be detected and we don’t see any sign of it.”

    Let’s get back to my original post where I lay out a difference in types of gods. A god of the gaps can only, by definition, contradict science. I reject these as much as you do. But a creator God is not constrained by his creation. Why can’t he choose to interact with his creation? How would one see signs of this kind of God? I can think of quite a few, each will require a lot of discussion to enunciate:

    1) Meaning
    2) Miracles (non-scientific events)
    3) Instances where highly improbable, but still scientific events turn out to be true.
    4) Absolute/Objective/Universal morality and intuition (and its cousin revelation)
    5) Messengers and messages from God
    6) Sentience
    7) Supernatural

    Let me ask the question that gets asked every atheist everywhere: what would it take to convince you that God exists?

  9. OJB
    October 22, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    I think you’re letting your religious bias interfere with a logical analysis of this question. I haven’t mentioned your religious background before (I have tried to treat your points on merit instead) but it’s becoming increasingly obvious, and to the detriment of a fair an unbiased appraisal of science.

    You still haven’t provided any details (which could be tested) about any creation theory you might be supporting. Many religious people make such vague statements that was soon as I disprove one aspect they just say something like “no, that’s not what I meant” and move the goal posts. Scientific theories make specific predictions, what about religious theories?

    You use a “G” for god, so I assume you mean a specific god. Which one? Which interpretation of which one? (see my comments above). Do you mean what would I need to believe in the supernatural in general?

    • October 22, 2016 at 11:20 pm

      “I think you’re letting your religious bias interfere with a logical analysis of this question.”

      No I don’t think so (although it depends what “this question” is). I’m separating what science can say about God from what you are saying about God. Again, it’s a methodological problem: your conclusion that God is a childish notion is simply not supported by your scientific arguments. Whenever I talk with atheists I attempt to get them to admit that this is ultimately their best highly-educated *opinion*. Gives a good foundation to discuss other topics. I think you’ve stated a fair and appropriately nuanced viewpoint. It’s not a terrible starting point.

      I am trying to lead the discussion into a “proof” that God is compatible with science. That is my thesis (bias) and I don’t mind stating that up front. But I have yet to give any meaningful defense. I’ve only introduced the primary points.

      “god” = “god of the gaps”, “God” = “creator God”. Any of the the Abrahamic religions’ “God” will do for now. I am a heretical Christian, but unless you find it interesting, I won’t focus on it. You will not get traditional religious arguments out of me.

      Well I’ve already stated most of my beliefs in the last post. I do believe God created the universe. I don’t require any particular divine intervention in science. I’m quite satisfied letting “nature run its course”. I find it way more impressive and likely that God created the scientific laws than that he had to violate them in some way. But this is not his only valid way of interacting with his creation. Is there something more specific you want to know?

      I don’t move goal posts unless you convince me I’m wrong.

      Yes, what would you need to believe in the supernatural? I’d like to focus my responses on that. Too many bullet points otherwise.

  10. OJB
    October 22, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    Well, as I said above, there should be areas where the supernatural world intersects with the “real” world. Those areas should be able to be studied using conventional scientific techniques. Yet when this is done the conclusions in general reject the need for a supernatural interpretation. For example, efficacy of prayer studies vary a bit but in general the results of the best studies are negative. This is a similar result for other highly unlikely phenomena like ESP, etc.

    • October 23, 2016 at 12:11 am

      Let’s try a case study and examine Ravi Zacharias. I’ve included a link to the mp3 on “Chariots of Fire, Part 3 of 3” where he discusses a miracle. You can hear it from 2:15 to 6:08.

      There is a message from God and a healing miracle. The supernatural event was separate from the miracle itself. While the healing could be attributed to a natural cause, this is unlikely due the high improbability (after 27 years) and the supernatural cause (the delivered message). It is true that even if the healing can be medically (scientifically) verified and explained, there is no scientific way to confirm that the message was genuine.

      If you hang out with Christians enough, you’ll run into these stories often. It either indicates mass fraud by persons you wouldn’t normally consider fraudulent, evidence of the supernatural, or coincidence.

      Regardless, it’s not fair to say that there is *no* evidence of the supernatural. Naturalistic explanations are insufficient to disprove the supernatural in these cases. If you make up your mind that *any* highly improbable event is coincidence by definition, then you can’t believe in the supernatural. But that’s only because you’ve decided ahead of time that this is your belief.

      Reference: http://rzimmedia.rzim.org/LMPT/LMP20130803.mp3

  11. OJB
    October 23, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Oh, come on! I expected better from you. Some Christian nut job thinks he has been cured so that’s evidence? Really? I mean, people think they have been cured because they appealed to any god you care to name, or used any ridiculous remedy on offer, including placebos. You need to do better than this. If prayer works we should see that through systematic studies, not anecdotes for people who already believe that particular form of superstition. Sorry to be so direct but I’m actually quite horrified you would even offer such nonsense!

    • October 23, 2016 at 12:41 am

      I’m not asking you to believe it. I have no need to believe it. Belief in it is completely irrelevant.

      I’m just asking for your explanation. If your answer is “it didn’t happen, he made it up, the two people in the story colluded to debunk gullible followers for money”, then fine. But I want to know your opinion. There is no reason to get upset because I chose this as a hypothetical.

      I picked something that you would find outrageous and be sure to reject. I’ve obviously accomplished that goal. Almost every time I discuss the scientific possibility of miracles, I get a naturalistic explanation. This one does not have a naturalistic explanation (as far as I can tell), so it should avoid that leg of the discussion. It’s supposed to save us time.

      • OJB
        October 23, 2016 at 2:35 am

        There’s nothing to explain. People get these things wrong all the time. If someone investigated the claim more thoroughly an explanation might be found. I wonder, for example, how often during those 27 years this person asked for help and didn’t get it. How often do people get better spontaneously? How much is imagination? We don’t know any of this, which is why we use proper experimental design to investigate these claims instead of taking anecdotes seriously.

    • October 23, 2016 at 12:49 am

      “If prayer works we should see that through systematic studies, not anecdotes for people who already believe that particular form of superstition.”

      I’ll admit I’m trying to challenge assumptions. But on what basis do you make this claim? Why should God be a vending machine? I don’t see any metaphysical necessity for this claim. In fact, the case study I cited actually notes that faith healings and the things you mention don’t work.

      • OJB
        October 23, 2016 at 2:36 am

        Every other topic we study doesn’t magically stop working just because it is being studied. If this does happen regarding the investigation of faith-based phenomena then that is just special pleading.

    • October 23, 2016 at 1:07 am

      As an aside, I think you’ve overreacted significantly here. I’ll admit I was taken aback by your emotional outburst, so I wrote my other responses quickly. I usually don’t like to bang out quick responses. But if we are going to have an intellectual discussion about the supernatural, we should be able to examine some claims, whether they are dubious or not, and discuss them. You seem under the false impression that I didn’t think you would find it to be nonsense. I counted on that!

      • OJB
        October 23, 2016 at 2:37 am

        Yeah fair enough. For a religious person you had been quite rational up until then. Then that nonsense! I should have known it was a trap! :)

      • October 24, 2016 at 1:34 am

        We don’t know each other’s standards of evidence. Anecdotal evidence is a part of science. I ‘conclude’ that there is insufficient evidence to reject the supernatural. Anecdotal evidence is part of that. There are too many factors you just gloss over. Things like fraud, misinterpretation, and coincidence are not enough to explain them. You obviously disagree strongly, so we can just move on. It’s a complex topic I’ve not spent enough time looking at because for me the supernatural is not important for belief in God. That’s clearly not the case for everyone.

        I’m not saying that supernatural effects would stop simply because they are studied. I’m saying the negative results of the things studied are unsurprising. Is anyone surprised that mass faith healings are not effective? The anecdotal evidence supports this. I would expect a creator God to be driving the show, not the other way around. Prayers are going in the wrong direction.

        What I want to see is studies (either formal or informal) that focus on sudden unexplained healings and see if there is a correlation to various kinds of religious belief: are some religions better than others or is the effect general? Does the specific set of beliefs or practices matter? Is there any reason to believe that instances of miracles are frequent enough to rise above the noise?

        How would one distinguish a real faith healing from the placebo effect? Requiring it to be blind would eliminate a lot of potential legitimate healings from consideration. Any effect that might be discovered could plausibly be denied as supernatural. So it’s probably a research dead-end, but I hope they keep studying it.

  12. OJB
    October 24, 2016 at 2:47 am

    You make it seem like my dismissal of the paranormal is just a whim, a matter of opinion, a situation where one opinion is as good as any other. Yet it’s not really like that at all. The vast majority of scientists agree with me that there is no good reason to believe that paranormal events exist, whether they are religious or something else.

    If your standard of evidence is so low for faith-based phenomena can I ask whether you extend that generosity to ESP, homeopathy, alien visitors, bigfoot? Because I think there is just as good evidence (maybe better) for all of those, plus they have greater prior probability – well, maybe not homeopathy! :)

    I agree that studying sudden, unexplained healing is a reasonable thing to do, but until there is good evidence supporting a supernatural cause our interim conclusion should be that supernatural healing isn’t real.

  13. October 25, 2016 at 1:32 am

    Not a whim. Yes, a matter of opinion. Yes, I believe that you are biased in your evaluation. Scientists agree that science is better to explain miracles than the supernatural? Next you’ll tell me that the choir agrees with the preacher!

    Many modern medical miracles have the following in common:
    1) An illness documented by medical examinations.
    2) A subsequent religious act.
    3) Multiple attestation of unexpected healing (including medical examinations).
    4) The healing is highly improbable.

    Denying that this ever happens is dishonest. Claiming only natural forces requires that natural laws are prescriptive rather than descriptive. This is an issue with Hume’s argument against miracles. Taking a hard, ahem, dogmatic position leads to problems. There is no reason anecdotal evidence has to be weak. All we need it to do is confirm the above events, not conclude that a miracle happened.

    Even if we could distinguish between the probability of a healing and the probability of a miracle, both are very small. We should be able to measure the number of healings that do and don’t involve #2, but let’s be honest, neither a postive or negative result would be conclusive. Miracles are unlikely to directly affect your life anyway, so it’s dumb to attempt to convince a skeptic to believe in miracles. It is logical deadlock: both belief and non-belief are rational. The biggest problem with rejection of the supernatural is overconfidence (Dunning-Kruger Effect?).

    “our interim conclusion should be that supernatural healing isn’t real.”

    Skeptics set the threshold for belief so high as to be impossible to attain, then use this lack of evidence as a reason for not believing. It’s self-fulfilling. We all hold beliefs that are not based on scientific reality. This is especially true in politics, homeopathy, and marriage. I’ve seen enough in my life to conclude that rejecting supernatural healings is premature, and I’ve not found extreme skepticism satisfying. Miracles wouldn’t be a major factor in my belief unless I experienced a major miracle firsthand. Perhaps that makes my faith weak. I even accept that our skepticism, rationality, and lack of spiritual sensitivity might exclude us from being the recipients of miracles.

    “…can I ask whether you extend that generosity to ESP, homeopathy, alien visitors, bigfoot?”

    The more I research the paranormal, the more it appears to have some level of merit. This was a surprising result for me, because, like you, I always thought it was complete nonsense. But I’ve never rejected viewpoints I didn’t like just out of pure skepticism. I continually search for compatibility between rationality and intuition, something very few people attempt.

    Anecdotal evidence comes in significantly varying quality, and I have yet to see anything suggesting alien visitations and bigfoot are real. Also I’m willing to use pure opinion on things that don’t have serious scientific or religious significance.

  14. OJB
    October 25, 2016 at 2:59 am

    Can you give me a source for some of the more compelling cases of miracles. Those I have seen have been very unconvincing, but maybe I’m just looking at the worst examples.

  15. OJB
    October 25, 2016 at 8:22 am

    And here’s another thing to think about. Google “why doesnt god cure amputees”, including the incredibly lame excuses at https://gotquestions.org/God-heal-amputees.html. It’s a good question, isn’t it? Why can all these miracles you claim to exist be explained by poor diagnosis, spontaneous remission, etc. If God cures people why not re-grow a lost limb or do something else which couldn’t possibly be misinterpreted?

    • October 25, 2016 at 4:46 pm

      “why doesn’t god cure amputees”

      This doesn’t present much of a logical challenge. It’s just a restatement of the “all swans are white” problem with induction.

      Yet the anecdotal evidence is very clear on this point: healings like this do not happen. And let me take a point farther: not only does God not heal amputees (like my daughter), but he usually does not prevent amputations [of congenital cause] from happening in the first place (again, like my daughter). Your objection is a good one, and makes me wonder if you tried to ‘score points’ off my personal situation.

      My opinion: miracles (almost?) always have an improbable, but never impossible, natural explanation. I don’t think God is omnipotent within his creation: he cannot under *any* circumstances violate free will and he (nearly?) always works within the natural restrictions, tweaking probabilities. This is especially true in the scientific age. It does feel a bit like “moving the goal posts” or begging the question, although I’ve held this view consistently for years.

      The stories that ring truer to me are the ones that coincidentally combine multiple low-probability events, so that not only is the healing improbable, but so is the second (or third) factor (a prophetic message, a stranger inexplicably performing the religious act, an unexplained supernatural phenomenon, a random mundane event, etc.). Ideally there is independence between the events. The more improbabilities the better, to eliminate the possibility of random chance. Finding a quantity of these cases is not very hard. Verifying them is.

      “Can you give me a source for some of the more compelling cases of miracles.”

      I’ve been waiting for this question. I don’t think we should try. Why waste time researching only to endlessly debate the merits of each case? I’ve had personal examples that I would count as evidence, but would be wholly inappropriate to use in this setting. It has to be something public. Sure there are lots of books on the topic, but neither of us would be able to personally verify them to the extent we would prefer. It’s a bit of a catch-22.

      For sake of argument, let’s assume that at least some validated cases exists somewhere and base the argument on that assumption. We can do our own future research to question that assumption. Or wait for more sudden-healing research and discuss it then. There is no rush.

  16. OJB
    October 25, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    OK, sorry if this is personal. I didn’t know about that or I would have chosen a different example. I do score points in various ways but not by making use of an unfortunate situation with a person’s family. It’s just that the “why doesn’t god cure amputees” thing has been a bit of an internet meme for a while now. That’s why I chose it.

    So do you not think that the only types of miracles that god does can also be explained by other means is a bit suspicious? Especially when “real” miracles are described in the Bible? I know this doesn’t prove anything but it should lead us to be skeptical, surely.

    And your failure to list any seems to suggest that are basically admitting there are no compelling cases. I researched this a bit recently and there really is no consistent and objective evidence that these spontaneous recoveries mean anything.

    I will assume that there are some cases where the experts involved have no complete explanation of why the person recovered. But there are many reasons that might happen apart from a miracle. Often it is found the original condition was misdiagnosed, or that the expert involved wasn’t very competent, or the church involved just made a lot of it up, or (quite likely) there is just no good explanation available. Weird things happen in complex biological systems. Still no reason to assume a supernatural miracle was involved.

  17. October 26, 2016 at 12:18 am

    No need to apologize. No offense was intended, and it was a good question. I was unaware of the meme.

    Surely, we should be skeptical. A healthy bit of skepticism is good for most any belief. But suspicious? No, it fits with my metaphysical view of the world and my personal experiences. A discussion about “real” miracles in the Bible and whether they are literal, metaphorical, narrative, literary, and so forth might be interesting, but probably not really profitable given your view that the Bible is very low quality firewood.

    How can I take your word that “there really is no consistent and objective evidence that these spontaneous recoveries mean anything.” Maybe you arrived at that conclusion honestly and correctly, but how would I ever know, especially given your biases against firewood?

    This is why miracles are absolutely useless for anyone but the targeted recipients (the people being healed and the witnesses). If miracles were so important to base belief upon, I would become an investigative reporter, fly around the world examining the claims for myself. But even if published a book of my findings it would still be unlikely to convince even a single person.

    This was a long discussion on a single topic. There are plenty of other interesting topics to discuss. Thank you for being gracious. It can be very difficult to find civil conversations between atheists and theists. And I have a better notion now for at least one more perspective that isn’t mine. Hopefully I have not embarrassed myself.

  18. OJB
    October 26, 2016 at 12:26 am

    I guess it just comes down to the standard of evidence required to support a view. I don’t want to sound insulting but I think a lot of religious people give events which support their view a much lower “passing grade” than anything else. I guess that’s just human nature. I try (succeed? – who knows) to be most suspicious of the things I want to be true.

    I have spent a short time looking for actual research on unexplained recovery from disease and injury and my conclusion so far is that odd things happen but nothing beyond the normal expectations of a complex and not fully understood biological system like a human body.

    I appreciate your comments here for two reasons: first, I know a lot of people read my blog but not many comment and I would like more discussion; and 2, you have been far more rational and reasonable than anyone else I have discussed religious matters with.

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