Bright Gets F for Reading Comprehension

The other day I linked a little story about a brain dead guy who stopped being brain dead (according to his parents) after they prayed for him. I riffed on the old Harvard Law of Animal Behavior (“Animals, under carefully controlled laboratory condiitions, will do whatever they feel like”) by saying “God, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, can do whatever the heck he feels like.” Some atheist blogger here at Patheos, who seems a bit obsessed with me, managed to translate that as “god showed up in laboratory conditions.”

For those who are not humor-impaired, my point was not “this occurred under laboratory conditions”, but “God is weird and does whatever he feels like.”

Now you’d think that at least one of the Highly Evolved Intellects reading JT would point out to him that his reading of my words was, if not absolutely illiterate, at least remarkably clueless. But online atheism generally tends to worship rather than use the intellect and speech in those circles is usually exercised in order to say, “That’s it! Keep it up, Chief! You’re tellin ’em!” and not to question the Mastermind when he addresses the theistic inferiors. This explains why a herd of independent minds all showed up in my comboxes generally sneering and trying to shout down the story, just as the Patheos dude needed so badly to do. They have, after a rigid and dogmatic faith to protect, so they have to–absolutely have to–insist that God could not possibly have answered the parents’ prayer. Brights react with offense, anger, sneering, and something that looks a lot like fear when you note that–because their dogmas require that God not be there and answer prayer. So they shout down such stories because they are not afraid to follow the facts where they lead and Christians are obscurantists who allow dogma to get in the way of the Pursuit of Truth, doncha know.

Me: I don’t need anything from the story. I merely note that people who sound pretty much like honest and intelligent people reported that their son was brain dead, they prayed, and he stopped being brain dead. I see no reason to assume the parents are liars or stupid, nor to doubt that the guy was brain dead and woke up.

Was it a miracle? Beats me. There might well be a natural process that was very highly coincidentally–one might even say “providentially”–timed that accounts for the wake up call while the parents were praying. I generally assume that God works through nature anyway and that answered prayers are typically wrought through natural means. Indeed, even if they can’t find some natural cause for the wake up call, that just means “We don’t how the guy woke up”. It doesn’t mean we know that God by some direct exercise of supernatural power, bypassed the ordinary course of nature (which is typically what we mean by a “miracle”). But so what? My faith in God is not predicated on this particular healing. Rather, this healing comports with what I generally know of God: namely, that sometimes he does weird and extraordinary things like wake up brain dead people in response to prayer. I certainly don’t think the parents are crazy or stupid for being grateful to him for providentially arranging this in response to their prayer (since providentially arrange it he most certainly did as the God for whom all the hairs of our head our numbered. Nothing in the universe occurs apart from his governance, so this did too. I think that’s cause for gratitude. Brights think it cause for telling grateful parents that they are either liars or stupid. This is one of the many reasons that Brights strike so many people as people with some kind of major defect in their ability to pick up on the normal social and affective cues that normal people readily perceive.

Such defective perception of normal social and affective cues is also why Brights don’t get jokes about “God doing whatever the heck he wants” and instead assume people are making claims of laboratory precision.

Dear Brights: Your fellow atheist Phil Plait has an important message for you. So does fellow atheist Brenden Neill who, being a person capable of normal social and affective perception and interaction, describes you as “the most colossally smug and annoying people” on planet earth. Moral: if your sole boast is the superiority of your intellect, you should consider actually using, rather than merely worshipping that intellect if you wish to be take seriously by us inferiors.

In addition, you might want to bone up on the basic tenets of your deep religious faith in materialist dogmatism–a fundamentalism far *far* more dogmatic than the Catholic faith.

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  • DJ Wambeke

    Your criticism of your fellow blogger is spot on, Mark. And I get the point you are trying to make with the “God does whatever he feels like” witticism. But there’s something about that formula that rubs me the wrong way (did the first time too, but I didn’t have time to post)… it cozies up a bit too close to Voluntarism, I think. (I don’t for a minute think you’re a voluntarist; it’s just that the wording is a little dangerous!)

    • missing

      Pardon me, but this is the first time I have heard of Voluntarism. I looked it up and I don’t see why this is something that should be avoided (“too close to V-ism”), or why it is a negative adjective (“i don’t think for a minute you were one”), or why it is dangerous. Can you please enlighten me?

      • DJ Wambeke

        Well, it all depends upon what kind of nuance one puts on it, but Voluntarism is more or less the point of view which stresses God’s Will as being so primary that it eclipses God’s Intellect. The logical fruit of such a view of God (& why its a bit dangerous) is that it leads to the view that God doesn’t have to obey Reason; He can contradict Himself willy-nilly and throw His weight around arbitrarily. Fundamentalists (both Christian and Islamic!) tend to be voluntarists.

        The Church has never (that I’m aware of) formally condemned Voluntarism, but she nevertheless has avoided voluntarist ideas put forth (i.e. by Duns Scotus) and embraced the nuanced view as set forth by Aquinas. See for example p271 of the Catechism, citing the Summa: “God’s almighty power is in no way arbitrary: ‘In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice are all identical. Nothing therefore can be in God’s power which could not be in his just will or his wise intellect'”

  • Heh. Your description of the atheist blogger and his legion of fans reminded me of Kevin and the Jellyspotters from Spongebob.

    • Tom


    • D.T. McCameron

      In it for the fashion, eh?

  • JM1001

    I’m watching the Phil Plait talk for the first time, and can’t help but feel bad for the guy.

    The modern age gave up on rationality a long time ago, even though we still pay lip service to it. That’s why it’s so much easier to just hurl insults. Because, without rationality — without the *real* use of the intellect, as you say — then the opinion that ultimately wins among a multitude of opinions, at the end of the day, can only be the result of whoever is most overpowering.

    Atheist fundamentalists have (either implicitly or explicitly) given up on using reason against the irrationalities of religious fundamentalists. And religious fundamentalists have (either implicitly or explicitly) given up on using reason against the irrationalities of atheist fundamentalists. It then becomes a matter of overpowering and subduing the other, not a matter of reason.

    At that point, whoever is right is simply reduced to the “will of the stronger,” as Thrasymachus said in Plato’s Republic.

  • Atheism is a political, not rational, phenomenon.

  • Obpoet

    You cannot outsmart a Cretin.

  • I think that’s the same d-nozzle that wrote thousands of words calling me all kinds of names once. It was the first attack on me that I never finished reading because it went on and on and he’s Just. So. Damn. Stupid. It’s good for comic relief, since the man has an intellect about as formidable as Chairy from Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but not much else.

  • Melody

    Re: the self-description of atheists as Brights; when I was a kid, calling someone a “bright boy” (or girl) wasn’t necessarily a complement. There was a hint of sarcasm, sort of, “way to go, bright boy!” When someone calls themselves Bright, I hear it with a bit of irony. Even though it wasn’t intended.

  • jenny

    I know for sure that prayers helped me to wake up my “semi-dead” brain – yes, prayers and naturals means ( medication, massage). God is good, we have to do our best to believe in Him.