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God Did It
Entry 1797, on 2016-06-17 at 23:31:14 (Rating 4, Religion)
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.
Comment 33 (4587) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 09:02:08: (view earlier comments)
We donít know each otherís standards of evidence. Anecdotal evidence is a part of science. I Ďconcludeí 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. Itís a complex topic Iíve not spent enough time looking at because for me the supernatural is not important for belief in God. Thatís clearly not the case for everyone.
Iím not saying that supernatural effects would stop simply because they are studied. Iím 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 itís probably a research dead-end, but I hope they keep studying it.
Comment 34 (4588) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 09:02:28:
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 itís 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 Ė 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 isnít real.
Comment 35 (4589) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 16:02:02:
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 youíll 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 Humeís 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 donít involve #2, but letís be honest, neither a postive or negative result would be conclusive. Miracles are unlikely to directly affect your life anyway, so itís 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?).
ďour interim conclusion should be that supernatural healing isnít real.Ē
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. Itís self-fulfilling. We all hold beliefs that are not based on scientific reality. This is especially true in politics, homeopathy, and marriage. Iíve seen enough in my life to conclude that rejecting supernatural healings is premature, and Iíve not found extreme skepticism satisfying. Miracles wouldnít 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.
ďÖcan I ask whether you extend that generosity to ESP, homeopathy, alien visitors, bigfoot?Ē
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 Iíve never rejected viewpoints I didnít 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 Iím willing to use pure opinion on things that donít have serious scientific or religious significance.
Comment 36 (4590) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 16:02:32:
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 Iím just looking at the worst examples.
Comment 37 (4591) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 21:23:31:
And here's another thing to think about. Google "why doesnt god cure amputees", including the incredibly lame excuses here. 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?
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