An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Chapter 8: Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility?
- The apologist argument for miracles, which you’ll be familiar with if you ever read or saw my videos on The Case for Christ or Reasonable Faith, is that you can’t rule them out. Miracles could happen, you can’t just assume that they don’t! That’s what those materialist, naturalist scientists do, and that’s why they refuse to accept the existence of God!
- We haven’t actually gotten into the chapter yet, but I’m guessing that’s generally how it’s going to go. So, let’s see:
Who Made the Cut?
- Geisler and Turek open the chapter with a review of what’s been covered so far, of what we have “learned” from the Cosmological, Teleological, and Moral arguments about God. Then they declare that, given the attributes of God established so far, that theism is the only category in which this God fits.
- “Now here is the amazing truth about these findings: the theistic God we have discovered is consistent with the God of the Bible, but we have discovered him without use of the Bible. . . . Theologians call this revelation of God natural or general revelation (that which is clearly seen independent of any type of scripture). The revelation of Scripture is called special revelation.” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, p. 198)
- Special and general revelation. So it’s like relativity, only not useful at all.
- I can’t help but notice the dishonesty of what Geisler and Turek are doing here. They’re claiming that we have “discovered” a God consistent with the Bible using only non-Biblical sources, but they’re skipping the thing that told them God was there to discover in the first place: the Bible.
- “We have shown that through good reason, science, and philosophy much can be known about the God of the Bible. In fact, this is what the Bible itself says (e.g., Psalm 19; Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-15).” (p. 198)
- How can you seriously argue that you’ve discovered the God of the Bible without using the Bible, when you are admitting that it was the Bible that told you to go look? That’s why every argument Geisler and Turek make in this book is fatally flawed — their investigation was corrupted by bias from the very start. Instead of starting freshly, objectively, and following evidence to the best, most likely explanation, they kept the goal of the Biblical God in sight the entire time and adjusted their course accordingly. That’s the difference between science and theology, and that’s why the former has given us the modern world and the latter has given us nothing but rationalizations for believing in made-up shit.
- Anyway, since their general revelation has shown them a theistic God, Geisler and Turek can conclude that only Judaism, Christianity, or Islam could be the true religion, since every other religion in the world is either polytheistic, pantheistic, or atheistic.
- There are more than three monotheistic religions in the world — Sikhism and the Baha’I Faith are two more fairly prominent examples — but fuck it, let’s just go with it.
- So how do we tell which, if any, of the three Abrahamic religions is the true faith? According to Geisler and Turek, God himself has told us.
How Does God Communicate?
- We’ve already seen how God supposedly communicates with us by revealing himself through nature and through our consciences, but if he really wants us to believe in him, why not just appear to us in person and convince us of his existence himself?
- “He could, but that might interfere with our free will.” (p. 200)
- And then they quote C.S. Lewis from The Screwtape Letters, describing the overwhelming presence of God, and how his appearance would make the fact of his existence irresistible and indisputable, which would override the human will. I don’t see how this is supposed to work, though. Any time you accept the truth of anything that you aren’t predisposed to accept, in a sense you’re allowing your will to be overridden. If a loved one dies, your will might be that they would still be alive, you might not want to accept it. But if and when you do, you still have just as much free will after that acceptance as you had before. I don’t see how accepting the existence of God as a fact on the basis of indisputable evidence is any different.
- The free-will argument is a rationalization of one of the lowest, most evil aspects of the character of the Biblical God. (And that’s saying something.) The God of Christianity insists that you believe in him and affirm that the crucifixion of Jesus was done in your name, or you will spend eternity in Hell. But he refuses to provide compelling evidence for his existence or for the truth and rightness of that crucifixion. He wants people to believe in him, without good reasons for believing in him. It’s even worse than that — he wants people to believe in him, when he’s created a universe filled with compelling reasons to not believe in him, a universe that countless thoughtful, honest, educated people have examined and concluded that God doesn’t exist. The Christian God rewards blind faith and ignorance, and punishes skepticism and intellectual honesty. He is one of the most contemptible characters we have ever dreamed up.
- The free-will argument is bogus for another reason, as well. If you take the Bible as your source (which I’m told by the likes of Geisler and Turek would be a good idea), it seems that the steady, infinite, unchanging God has only come to appreciate belief in the absence of solid evidence in the last, oh, 2,000 years or so. In the New Testament, Jesus provides his disciples with multiple proofs that he is who he says he is, performing all sorts of miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, even returning from the dead himself. Going back even further, in the Old Testament God himself appears physically before many people. He relates personally to Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Job, to Abraham, to Moses, he even wrestles Jacob. Reading those stories, he doesn’t seem concerned about overriding their free will at all. And God’s presence doesn’t turn them into mindlessly devoted slaves, either. Adam and Eve still defy God’s directive about eating the forbidden fruit, Moses still gives him shit from time to time. Where do these free-will concerns come from? And isn’t it interesting that God’s silence and absence from human affairs — and thus also the need to explain that silence and absence — becomes more and more apparent, the more intellectually and scientifically advanced people become? It’s almost as if, the less likely people are to believe that God showed up someplace, the less often God shows up places. I wonder if there’s a correlation there . . .
The King’s Seal
- So God chooses to communicate with people through special revelation, as well as general revelation. Christians call their special revelation the Bible. But Judaism and Islam have their own scriptures. How do we tell which one is true? Geisler and Turek claim that God uses miracles as his “King’s seal,” to authenticate that the messages written down in a given holy book are really from him.
- “What is a miracle? A miracle is a special act of God that interrupts the normal course of events. . . . So we might say that natural laws describe what happens regularly, by natural causes; miracles, if they occur at all, describe what happens rarely, by supernatural causes.” (p. 201)
- Fair enough. But are miracles even possible?
Is the Box Open or Closed?
- Geisler and Turek continue their proud tradition of sharing other people’s anecdotes by relating the story of Ronald Nash traveling to Russia to talk to a group of educators. To illustrate how his theistic worldview differed from their (he assumed) atheistic worldview, Nash showed them two boxes — an open box and a closed box. The atheistic view was represented by the closed box, since atheists believe that the physical universe is all that there is. The theistic view was represented by the open box, since theists believe that the physical universe exists, but that outside that universe there is God, who made the box and can reach in it to manipulate the things inside it.
- “For some reason, this was a profound illustration to the Russians.” (p. 202)
- It’s a mystery to me, too, guys.
- Since they’ve already demonstrated, in their minds anyway, that a theistic God exists, Geisler and Turek reason that there’s no reason to deny the possibility that that God chooses to intervene in human affairs.
- “So why do so many people today say that miracles are not possible or should not be believed? How can skeptics disbelieve in miracles when the whole universe appears to be one amazing miracle?” (p. 203)
- Maybe because there’s never, ever, ever been a documented, confirmed miracle? Maybe because we don’t need to assume the occurrence of miracles to explain anything that’s ever happened? Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Or, themselves.
Objections to Miracles
- Geisler and Turek examine two major objections to miracles, one from Spinoza and one from Hume. (pp. 203-210) First, the objection from Spinoza:
- Natural Laws Are Immutable. According to Spinoza, miracles are events that violate natural laws, but since natural laws, by definition, are immutable, no events can violate them, which means miracles cannot occur.
- Geisler and Turek rightly point out that natural laws are descriptions of what does happen, and not rules for what can happen:
- “Natural laws don’t really cause anything, they only describe what regularly happens in nature. They describe the effects of the four known natural forces — gravitation, magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Once you introduce intelligent beings into the picture, natural forces can be overpowered. We know that those forces can be overpowered because we do so ourselves every day. For example, when a baseball player catches a falling baseball, he is overpowering the force of gravity.” (p. 204)
- Yes, but he isn’t breaking the laws of physics. This is such a disingenuous argument for miracles — catching a falling object is possible, therefore miracles are possible? Catching a baseball is not a defiance of natural laws. The movements of the baseball — and the baseball player — are still limited by the laws of physics — or, more precisely, by the conditions of the universe described by the laws of physics.
- And that’s another point Geisler and Turek miss. They are correct to point out that the laws of physics are descriptive. But they are descriptive of conditions that are constant and universal. The reason we can use the laws of physics to describe the motion of objects and to make predictions about what those objects will do in the future is because the conditions described by the laws of physics never change. Now, when we say they never change, we are making an induction — we don’t know for certain what will happen, we can only make assumptions based on what has happened. Nonetheless, going by what has happened, we have no reason to expect the conditions described by the laws of physics to ever change. We can rely on them staying the same. And that means we should not expect to see miracles.
- Miracles Are Not Credible. This is the objection of Hume, and it really gets under Geisler and Turek’s skin because they spend most of the rest of the chapter on it. They consider it a very important argument.
- “In fact, Hume’s argument against miracles is one of the pillars of the so-called Enlightenment (that’s where we supposedly became enlightened enough to abandon our superstitious belief in miracles and put our faith in reason and the empirical truths found by the scientific method). Hume’s argument helped advance the naturalistic worldview, which later metastasized with Darwin’s theory of evolution.” (p. 205)
- The gloves are coming off now, aren’t they? Naturalism “metastasized”. And do you detect the sneer when they refer to the “so-called Enlightenment”? I don’t wonder why they have such a negative attitude toward the Enlightenment — afterall, in the few centuries since the Enlightenment, we’ve seen advancements in education and science and medicine, improved quality of life, progress in social equality, and the emancipation of countless people all over the world from slavery, an institution that thrived unchallenged under religious authority for millennia. If the Enlightenment had rendered my worldview absurd and irrelevant, I might have an ax to grind, too.
- Hume’s argument is essentially this: since natural events happen regularly, and miracles are assumed to be rare occurrences, and the evidence for the regular is always greater than the evidence for the rare, it doesn’t make sense to believe that a given event is a miracle, because it’s always far more likely to be a natural occurrence.
- Geisler and Turek present four counterexamples to the premise that the evidence for the regular is always greater than the evidence for the rare.
- The origin of the universe happened only once.
- The origin of life happened only once.
- The origin of new life forms also happened only once.
- The entire history of the world is comprised of rare, unrepeatable events. (p. 206)
- Again, Geisler and Turek miss the point. Hume’s argument isn’t against rare events. It’s against miracles, which are not merely rare, but supernatural. Yes, there are always rare, unrepeatable events occurring. But every single one of those rare, unrepeatable events has a natural explanation. The occurrence of rare natural events is not evidence for the occurrence of supernatural events in any way whatsoever.
- Hume isn’t just arguing that miracles aren’t credible because they are rare; he’s arguing that miracles aren’t credible because, given past experience, a natural explanation is far more likely than a supernatural one. If you witness something apparently miraculous, what is more likely: that a miracle actually just occurred, or that your assessment of this event as a miracle is somehow mistaken? If someone tells you about a miracle they or someone else saw, what is more likely: that this miracle actually occurred, or that the people reporting it are either honestly mistaken or lying? This is Hume’s argument. Given that the probability of a supernatural explanation being better than a natural explanation for a given occurrence is so incredibly low, it just isn’t reasonable to assume that miracles occur.
- “So the issue is not whether an event is regular or rare — the issue is whether we have good evidence for the event.” (p. 207)
- Yes! That’s it! Thank you.
- “The bottom line is that Hume, without justification, simply declares that the only believable events are regular events, and since a miracle is not a regular event, it fails to meet this artificial criteria.” (p. 208)
- Not without justification. As I said, our experience does not include miracles, and there is no event I have ever heard of that could not be explained as a natural occurrence. We have no evidence that miracles have happened, or are happening. So what is the justification for assuming that they do happen?
All That Glitters Is Not God — What Is and Isn’t a Miracle?
- Not all unusual events are miracles. In fact, according to Geisler and Turek there are six categories of unusual events. (pp. 210-215)
- Miracle. For an occurrence to be identified unmistakably as an act of God, it must meet certain criteria: it must begin instantaneously, it must have an intelligent purpose, and it must promote good or right behavior. Events that meet these criteria could not have occurred naturally, and are consistent with God’s true moral nature. (p. 211)
- Geisler and Turek are careful to note that their criteria are based on general revelation, not the special revelation of the Bible. They promptly undermine this point by citing the resurrection of Jesus as an example of such a miracle.
Why Don’t We See Biblical Miracles Today?
- Providence. Providential events are distinct from miracles because they are caused by God indirectly, not directly.
- “For example, the fog at Normandy was providential because it helped conceal the Allied attack against the evil Nazi regime. It wasn’t a miracle, because it could be explained by natural laws, but God may have been behind it.” (p. 212)
- What I get from this is that providence is an even more meaningless and useless concept that miracles, existing only to allow believers to attach divine significance to events that happen to work to their benefit.
- Satanic Signs. Geisler and Turek remind us that since God exists, it’s possible other spiritual beings exist, also. These beings would be limited in their power, since by definition only God can be infinite. But in order to know anything else about them, we must rely on special revelation.
- The whole “we’re just reasonable people who have come to our faith through honest scientific and philosophical inquiry” shtick is really wearing thin now — we’re about to talk about Satan and demons.
- “Satan can perform tricks better than the best magicians — and there are many examples of these in the Bible — but those tricks fail to meet the characteristics of a true miracle. . . . In short, only God performs true miracles; Satan does counterfeit miracles.” (p. 213)
- We started this book talking about the First Cause and how the Bible wasn’t necessary to believe in God. Now here we are. Satan and his counterfeit miracles. There is no such thing as credible, respectable apologetics. Apologetics and evangelism are different tents in the same circus.
- I apologize for denigrating the circus just now.
- Psychosomatic. Psychosomatic illnesses can sometimes be cured suddenly, but these cures aren’t miracles.
- I’m glad they cleared that up.
- Magic. Magic tricks are the results of sleight-of-hand or other deceptions. Magicians are able to create the illusion they do impossible things, but everything they do is completely natural and explainable without appealing to God.
- I’m glad they cleared that up.
- Anomalies. Anomalies are events that are natural, but which lack good explanations.
- “The skeptic might ask, ‘So why couldn’t the resurrection of Jesus Christ be considered an anomaly?’ Because the Resurrection was predicted. It had intelligent design behind it — God’s fingerprints were all over it.” (p. 215)
- As opposed to Mary’s bedroom following the conception of Jesus — God made sure that scene was wiped down but good.
- Also: a smarter skeptic might ask, “So why should I believe the resurrection of Jesus happened at all?”
- Geisler and Turek argue that miracles were never all that common, and that there were long gaps, sometimes lasting centuries, between miracles during the eras depicted in the Bible. The only reason the reverse seems true is because the Bible groups all these miraculous events together, and creates the impression that the characters of the Bible were living in an age of miracles.
- A clever rationalization, actually.
- “So why don’t we see biblical miracles today? Because if the Bible is true and complete, God is not confirming any new revelation and thus does not have this main purpose for performing miracles today.” (p. 216)
- I guess the people in the Bible were lucky they were around when God had all these revelations to confirm. They actually had evidence on which to base their beliefs about God. The rest of the people alive in those days, and everyone who has ever lived in the thousands of years since, have been expected to accept preposterous claims delivered to them through dubious and unreliable means on the basis of absolutely nothing. No first-hand, or even second-hand evidence whatsoever.
- Which doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you look at the world today, with more literate, educated people than ever before, and global communications tying everyone together into an international community, now would seem like the perfect time for God to re-confirm these revelations of his. I wonder why he doesn’t . . .
Next: Chapter 9: Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus?