Show Me a Miracle Marvelous Rare

Many Christians or religious people of any faith tradition, argue that miracles are compelling evidence for the truth of their religion.  There are plenty of atheist rejoinders — the most obvious is that many religions claim the evidence of miracles.  Either miracles are the result of natural processes or delusions, which are plausible enough to fool a wide variety of people, or there is some kind of supernatural force, but good luck linking it to any single religion.

Telling the difference between the first and second outcome isn’t as easy as I would like.

Consider the video below:

[The magician's video got pulled several years later, but I don't feel like rewriting specific references in the rest of the post]

I ‘know’ that the impressive tricks are all illusions, but I definitely can’t debunk the video.  I have my suspicions about the construction of the fast-appearing candles, but I cannot prove them.  Despite my ignorance, and no matter what the magician claimed at the beginning of his act or how many times he showed me there was  nothing up his sleeves, most people would agree I was justified in assuming the whole thing was a trick.

Magic-faking is so pervasive and so professional that no lay-person (including me) could be expected to tell illusion from the supernatural.  This is a weak analogue to the impossibility of any god proving he/she/it was omnipotent.  Surely a sufficiently powerful, but limited being would be able to impersonate omnipotence well enough to fool me.

I run into the same trouble when I try to evaluate miracles or worse, second or third-hand accounts of miracles.  Their occurrence across religions and the large number of sham miracles make me reluctant to give credence to new claims, and I do not have the expertise to tell false from true.

I tend to treat claims about miracles the same way I do claims about magic or extraterrestrial life — with a high degree of skepticism.  I would be converted only if a large number of people with expertise investigated the claim and were convinced by the evidence.  (Think of Houdini investigating and debunking mediums).  Without that kind of data, I have trouble imagining changing my view.

Does this seem like a reasonable standard?

How do you judge supernatural claims outside of your faith traditions?

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04644525459910973391 Kevin

    In principle, I think that miracles are quite possible.But I almost always doubt miracle stories when I hear them, unless some extraordinary evidence can be adduced. The sun miracle at Fatima, seen by thousands of people including many non-believers, over a wide area, seems like a good candidate (of course not without skeptics, but to me it seems to be the skeptics who here are grasping at straws).But miracles, in a not-uncommon christian view, are signs that give us further information about the content of the faith, they're not intended as impressive credentials on which the faith is offered to potential believers. Christ himself, and many great saints, tried to keep their miraculous deeds under wraps, as if they were almost embarrassed of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Houdini is a different type of miracle- how he was able to do all that stuff is beyond me!To piggy back off Kevin's comment though, religious people were/are not embarassed by the miracles- but they did/do not want them to distract from their real message: that Jesus Christ is Savior and came to down to earth to redeem the world (us!) because he loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. Miracles are not exhibitions; they are not meant to convince or prove, because the unbeliever is going to be skeptic regardless of the proof in front of them.Religious people are skeptics too– Padre Pio was told not to openly serve Mass for years because he was attracting too much attention for his stigmatas and other miracles. The Vatican is very methodical before they confirm anything is a miracle.Miracles supplement the faith, they are not the reason we believe. I believe because Jesus Christ came to earth, lived, died, was buried, and rose again. It all happened. The incarnation historically happened. We proclaim that as the mystery of our faith at every Mass.In terms of judging supernatural claims outside my own faith, since I believe in the Incarnation, and since I believe God is the God of all, including those who do not believe in him, then technically, no miracles are outside his scope. They may have happened to a Hindu woman or a Buddhist man, but I would believe that, if it was a true miracle, that is came from God. Just because people are not in the Church does not mean they are outside God's sphere of influence.The thing is Leah- and I say this as an analytical person who is very bent of proving things by numbers and fact- that religion isn't just about the proof. GKC said let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair. Part of conversion isn't just the compelling proof that what you're encountering is Truth: it's feeling it in your heart as well as knowing it in your head. Miracles are just another aspect to the faith that are taken at face value as more tangibility because some people need to stick their fingers in the wounds, and God knows this.And since we "met" through Jen Fulwiler, here's what she has to say: http://www.conversiondiary.com/2008/04/finding-god-in-5-steps.html — good luck with these big mysteries and miracles of the world! I really admire your repsectful questioning and enjoy how much it makes me think and look deeper at my own faith. Thank you!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    "Miracles are not exhibitions; they are not meant to convince or prove, because the unbeliever is going to be skeptic regardless of the proof in front of them."The Bible disagrees with you, Julie. There are at least three thoroughly biblical stories of hardcore skeptics converted by witnessing miracles: the miracle contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), the conversion of Saul on the Damascus road (Acts 9), and, of course, Doubting Thomas ("Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe" – John 20:25). Is it unreasonable for modern skeptics to ask for proof at least as good as that?

  • Michael Haycock

    I feel that addressing miracles outside of one's faith tradition is an incredibly important wrestle that any person of faith must confront. I ran into it headfirst in Argentina, where on one hand I encountered Catholics who spoke of seeing the Virgin in water bottles or a painting of the Virgin across the Parana in Paraguay crying blood and on the other Evangelicals who deemed what seemed to be incoherent blabbering to be a heavenly sign and an essential part of one's conversion – and all over stories of incredible healings.Basically, I came to the conclusion that 1) I don't really understand how miracles work and 2) God is willing to work in various denominations according to the practitioners' faith and sincerity as well as, of course, His will. And while it is recognized that sometimes miracles play a large part in one's conversion, I would contest that they should not be seen in the light of proof or evidence that fosters faith. In my view, miracles are something that cause us to question our current understanding, that cause us to wonder: accepting that there are things we do not know and cannot explain based on our previous assumptions can drive one to be open to the blossoming of faith. Notice, this could explain the conversions that Ebonmuse mentions: the priests of Baal witnessed the apparent impotence of their idol; Saul was presented with a visionary denunciation of his belief system; Thomas was caused to doubt his doubting. I'd say that belief is neither dependent upon miracles, but miracles can inspire belief. Wonder is, after all, an integral part of God's relationship to mankind. When we encounter something that "passes all our understanding," our closed minds are forced to expand, and it's literally wonderful.

  • Michael Haycock

    An addendum: different denominations, understandably, have significant differences about what they call miracles, and which are important. For example, to Mormons, well-known Catholic miracles – visions, weeping statues, apparitions – seem peculiar, strange and esoteric. The practices surrounding them, like pilgrimages, have a similar feel to us.In contrast, what Mormons generally emphasize as miraculous are events that demonstrate God's care and concern for mankind: physical healings, answered prayers, spiritual messages that warn about oncoming danger, and so forth. A good example occurred in the midst of a devastating plague of locusts during one of the Latter-day Saints' first years in Utah. Without the harvest, thousands would perish; however, after fervent prayer, thousands of seagulls descended on the Salt Lake Valley and devoured the crickets, saving the crops. A monument in Salt Lake City's Temple Square commemorates the event, but it is not a focal point of special devotion: just a reminder of the mercies of the Lord unto His people.When considering miracles and their religious significance, make sure to try to contextualize them in a religious tradition; it makes things more complicated but also more nuanced and rich.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    I would posit that we have moved on technologically at such a pace that we now assume a naturalistic explanation as the default response.Some of us are now have a belief that a sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic to such a degree that even if I were shown a genuine miracle I would assume it wasn't.This would go so far as to assuming that if I met God then I wouldn't take It's word for what It was, and yet there'd be no proof for It to convince me It was supernatural and not of this universe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    @Ebonmuse- It is not that the Bible disagrees with me, because I agree with the Bible. The Bible is my authority, not me. I know there were miracles in the Bible! Jesus did them countless times! And I know people need proof, and God freely and happily gives it to them. That is a physical grace. I love what Michael Haycock said: "I'd say that belief is neither dependent upon miracles, but miracles can inspire belief. Wonder is, after all, an integral part of God's relationship to mankind. When we encounter something that "passes all our understanding," our closed minds are forced to expand, and it's literally wonderful." Well said! Isn't everyone looking for a little wonder; doesn't everyone stand to be astonished at some point?The full section of John 20 24:31 says:"Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." THEN"Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name."Also, one of the best prayers for disbelief (because everyone struggles with it! Just perhaps not to the level of complete unbelief, because there is an acknowledgement of a higher power, period) comes from the gospel of Mark 9:23-24: "Jesus said to him, " 'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith." Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!"But I also think March Hare nicely summarizes my point about proof: even if he met God, he wouldn't take God's word for it. Okay then! :)I believe it was St. Edith Stein who thought that God gave us too much proof for his existence… she believed that the Lord saw the proof of our love for him as further proof to show others the love he has for us. Ours is a mutual, symbiotic relationship, and no amount of proof will ever amount or be enough to express how much God loves us and we believers love him. Christians are unique because we are able, if we so choose, to have a deep and meaningful relationship with our Savior. He humbled himself and came to earth; then he calls out for us to follow him and we do, tripping and skipping, laughing and crying, in times of joy and sorrow. It is a miracle to me that he even wants to talk to and be with us!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    @Julie:"I know there were miracles in the Bible! Jesus did them countless times!"Yes, but you also said that a skeptic like myself wouldn't change his mind even if he was to witness a miracle (which, by the way, I consider a serious insult to my honesty and sincerity, whether you meant it as such or not).Well, the Bible does contain stories of skeptics converted by witnessing miracles. Do you agree that this is true? If so, is it unreasonable for modern skeptics to ask for proof at least as good as people in biblical times got?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    @Ebonmuse- I sincerely apologize! I intended no insult in the least. My point is more that reason alone cannot lead us to God, and no amount of proof will ever be enough for some.I do agree that people are converted by witnessing miracles. But we never know the time or place- you may witness a miracle yet! Perhaps not on the same scale, but a miracle nonetheless. Anything is possible! In terms of asking for proof, absolutely- Jesus said, ask and you shall recieve. I'll pray you do! :)

  • Michael Haycock

    Just to point this out – I don't think that there are "skeptics converted by witnessing miracles". Instead, the wonder of the miracle opened them to considering conversion, and conversion came through other processes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Here's a question… is everyone saying (e.g. M. Haycock: "I don't think there are 'skeptics converted by witnessing miracles.' Instead, the wonder of the miracle opened them to considering conversion, and the conversion came through other processes") that even without miracles, everyone who has been converted to Christianity would have done so anyway?Grant that all that happened was Jesus' preaching and resurrection. Are you saying this alone, combined with his ability to spiritually affect the human person, is alone what converts and that the miracle is simply an "added bonus" or "confirmation"?My reading of scripture suggests that Jesus performs miracles specifically to aid in increasing belief. Why? Well, because several times it states that he did x "so that they would believe." In fact, he states that he was glad he detoured on the way to Lazarus so that others would be able to witness a resurrection rather than just a mere healing. How to you read that in a way that suggests he was doing something other than increasing belief with amazing deeds?Also, even when others ask for signs and he chastises them… he always performs the work afterward anyway. These have just been my thoughts on this area.I think for me, there is quite a large block in my mind when trying to accept that a timeless, spaceless god is coherent with the expectation that my eternal life/death depends on a miracle that occurred 2000 years ago, and I will never be given the opportunity to verify where I place my trust in that historical debate.Lastly, Julie, you said that it's not reason alone that leads us to god. What is it, then? Since I've begun to doubt, I've not been able to discern what I thought I "felt, heard, sensed, etc." in the past from possibly being my own thoughts. As that is the case, it seems that reason and evidence are the only real way to sort things out. I'm curious as to the other avenues you suggest are integral in being led to god.

  • Iota

    May I join in?First I want to suggest some reading – three points from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM). Specifically: no. 347-348 (section: The Mysteries of Christ's Life) and 156 (The Characteristics of Faith)Now, the way I understand this (and I may be completely off target) is that a miracle is neither a certificate of authenticity nor an "added bonus" (Hendy's phrase).Treating it merely as a "certificate" seems wrong because:- it is clear that people may still choose to disbelieve after witnessing a miracle, so the miracle is not very "efficient"- in theory, if miracles were to be dispensed as a kind of proof, it might imply that God "has to" grant each and every request, like a miracle vending machine.- I believe Jesus himself warns his followers that miracles may be used for deceit ("False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect." Matthew 24:24). Now, I do not pretend to be a good exegete (so you may prefer to ask a knowledgeable Catholic priest), but my hunch would be that this means miracles can be "deficient" – to believe only because of a miracle would be risky, because you should also answer the question about the miracle's origin.On the other hand, miracles are not "added bonuses", because:- They are clearly meant as "signs",- They may be "tailored" to the specific person and they request or circumstances.What are they then, if they are neither 100% proof nor flukes of random goodwill? Possibly a mix of both…? I would suggest that it may be easier to wrap your mind around their non-binary nature if you treat God not as an a test subject you but as a fully independent Being.In an experiment with inanimate or primitive animate matter, the researcher and test subject are not in a relationship. You do not approach an experiment with a Petri dish with the assumption that "it may not work out" because the bacteria will not cooperate. The researcher is, technically, n control here.On the other hand, in complex experiment with humans (or even, to a lesser extent, with advanced animals), a few things change: your results are dependent on whether the other party WANTS to cooperate and if it doesn't you should at least entertain the thought that you may be doing something wrong (you may also not know what this "something" is). Basically, the researcher also has to become a test subject, and ask about his/her own methods, assumptions, biases.If you also leave the lab, even more things change. In an non-experimental setting you do not interpret things merely as proof/disproof. You would not, normally, say "My friend has smiled at me today, which indicates that she may indeed be friendly towards me". Most of the time you would also have to be open to the idea that this other person may or may not do what you are asking them to. And if they don't do it, there are a gazillion reasons besides "Because they can't". Of course you could argue that I am suggesting a non-scientific approach to an important question. But I would suggest that if you even entertain the idea that there is a God and it makes sense to discuss Him and what He does or does not do, it makes more sense to use the matrix you use for other humans than the one you use for bacteria in the Petri dish or even for humans in a mutually agreed upon experimental setting (it will still be a largely faulty matrix, because the omnipotent and omnipresent God is obviously a much stronger party in that relationship, one you can't even properly comprehend really).

  • Iota

    And to answer Leah’s question specifically (please bear in mind I am not a theologian or any other specialist):How do you judge supernatural claims outside of your faith traditions?I don’t. I cannot discount the possibility a miracle has happened because God willed it (if it doesn’t otherwise contradict my faith – I assume an a Muslim can experience say, a miraculous healing). I cannot, however, also discount the possibility that it was a fake, misunderstanding or a truly supernatural thing that doesn’t come from God. A miracle by itself is not an indicator of what I should or should not believe (even the Resurrection would, if I understand correctly, be “unimportant” is Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, which is essentially a thing you can't directly test by any miracle).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Hello Hendy! Really excellent question- I absolutely agree that reason and evidence are two cornerstones of faith and belief in God. But they are not the only way, surely. Part of knowing and believing in anyone– especially God– is having a relationship with him. As a Roman Catholic, we believe that one comes to know God through prayer, the sacraments, the liturgy of the Mass, charity/ almsgiving, fasting and holy Scripture.That being said, everyone comes to God in there own way. Pope Benedict XVI said there are as many ways to God as there are people. To truly seek God, one must humble him/herself in the pursuit of truth. One cannot keep reason on the pedestal, because reason comes from God, and therefore cannot be as great as God.Blessed Pope John Paul II's encylical on Faith and Reason is really wonderful in delving deeper into that: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.htmlBlessed Cardinal Newman said that conversion is nothing more than a deeper discovert of what we already truly desire. To seek God, by all means, use your intellect! God is accessible to the most brilliant minds as well as the simple. But one cannot love God in your head and not your heart; a personal relationship with him is needed, a deep, selfless love must be developed. This is not easy, but it is possible, and in process, people are tangibly changed for the better because of God and his love for us, as well as our love for him. I know I have been! I'll pray for your doubts; I know the haunting feeling of the perpetual question mark.@Iota (if I may), always! The more the merrier. :)

  • Michael Haycock

    Increasing or aiding belief doesn't mean conversion. Notice that observers of miracles can only testify to what they observed, for example, that a Galilean man named Jesus commanded Lazarus to "come forth" – and Lazarus, a man dead three days, did. They believe that Jesus raised a man from the dead – but conversion would imply much more than that, namely accepting Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, savior of mankind, and Son of God, and being willing to follow His directives. Of course, some could take the miracle as evidence of the rest of the theological assumptions, but that would rest on some contingent thinking beforehand: "Someone who works such impossible miracles must have supernatural powers; Jesus claims a supernatural, divine origin, and works miracles, so his claims must be true." Notice that there were many who believed his miracles and were not converted to his theology or teachings – the Pharisees even used His working miracles on the Sabbath as an accusation against Him, or attributed them to the devil's power. "Grant that all that happened was Jesus' preaching and resurrection. Are you saying this alone, combined with his ability to spiritually affect the human person, is alone what converts and that the miracle is simply an 'added bonus' or 'confirmation'?"Yes, I am! :)"Since I've begun to doubt, I've not been able to discern what I thought I 'felt, heard, sensed, etc.' in the past from possibly being my own thoughts."When you say this and posit reason as what you'd have to follow, I think you underestimate the power of "His ability to spiritually affect" someone. My confirmation of my beliefs come from exactly this – inimitable and indescribable feelings I've had in relation to doctrine or spiritual events. It's a personal, non-transferable experience by design: everyone needs to acquire his own knowledge of God.

  • Michael Haycock

    Of course, there are other elements to total conversion – integrating oneself successfully into a community of believers, stalwartly holding fast to one's convictions throughout the years – but without the spiritual conversion, all else is hollow.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Julie,Thanks for clarifying your earlier comments. If I can explain myself briefly – having been an atheist for many years, I've met many people proselytizing on behalf of some particular religion. In my experience, when they say, "Skeptics like you wouldn't change their minds even if they saw a miracle," what they usually mean (and often explicitly add) is, "You're just pretending to be an atheist. You secretly know that God exists, but you choose to deny it because you're an evil person who wants to continue sinning and doesn't want to be accountable to anyone or anything." As you can probably imagine, by now I sometimes get a little snappish when I hear this. If you meant no offense, I accept that, and I thank you for your gracious reply. As far as witnessing miracles – I can honestly say that I've never seen one. If that ever changes, I'll have to reconsider my position. Regarding this comment by Iota:"On the other hand, in complex experiment with humans (or even, to a lesser extent, with advanced animals), a few things change: your results are dependent on whether the other party WANTS to cooperate…"I agree with this, of course, but it just begs the question: doesn't God want people to be saved? Wouldn't he, therefore, have a strong reason to perform miracles in an obvious and objectively verifiable way? No single act would prove all the claims of Christianity at a stroke, but they would certainly prove his existence beyond reasonable doubt – and that would remove one huge hurdle to belief right there. It's not as if it costs him anything or takes time he could more productively use for something else.I'm also puzzled by the statement that deceptive miracles may be performed by other supernatural agents. Why would God (who surely has the power to forbid this if he desires) permit beings other than himself to do miracles that lead people away from the truth? Isn't this just muddying the waters, theologically speaking? Again, if God wants the most people to be saved, then he should want to remove every obstacle or false path that might prevent this from occurring.

  • Iota

    Ebonmuse, before I answer I want to warn you the answer may be rather long. And as usual it coes with the disclaimer that I am not a theologian (in fact I am not even a really good Catholic, sadly) and I most decidedly am not God's perfect spokesperson, so a lot of that will only be hypothesizing. Plus, I can't promise that all of this hasn't been covered elsewhere on the blog.You're sure you want to read that answer? :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Ebonmuse, I am glad that is all sorted out! And I am sorry people make uncharitable presumptions towards atheists. Too many people do not know the weight of the thought that goes into discussing God, and are oftentimes more interested in making their point rather than discussing truth. I must add, I'm confused by Iota's comment as well. Sounds like a nice paper topic, though… :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    I tend to treat claims about miracles the same way I do claims about magic or extraterrestrial life — with a high degree of skepticism. I would be converted only if a large number of people with expertise investigated the claim and were convinced by the evidence. (Think of Houdini investigating and debunking mediums). Without that kind of data, I have trouble imagining changing my view.Indeed.The skeptic is seldom confronted with an actual "miracle." Far more often, he or she is bombarded with unsubstantiated claims that a miracle has occurred. How does one explain how Jesus walked on water if he was not the son of God? Of course if Jesus did not actually walk on water, there is nothing to explain. The explanation for the miracle is that there was no miracle, and I would argue that on strictly methodological grounds such an explanation is the one that the vast majority of people accept "outside their own faith traditions."When it comes to stage magic, the vast majority of people assume that a clever illusion has occurred, not something supernatural. They also assume that, if the illusion were explained to them, they could understand it. With sufficient practice and resources, perhaps they could even perform the trick themselves, but there is certainly some understanding that there might be real skill involved. In that sense, the reality of a clever and baffling act of illusion is far more impressive than the dubious "it is written" claims of miracles.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    @Iota: That, of course, is entirely the decision of this blog's gracious host.

  • Iota

    EbonmuseWell, here goes – as brief as I can make it right now without making big logical leaps (although I bet you heard some of this before). Hope it's clearer than the previous one that confused both you and Julie. :-) 1.One of the more important facts in the Catholic understanding of human nature is that we have free will, granted by God.2.Free will implies consequences of actions (since that is what makes choices meaningful).3.Consequences may influence not just the person who does something, but other “innocent” people. 4.All such influences are part of who we are.5.God respects your free will and (presumably) your personality – He could break it, because He is omnipotent, but He won’t do that because He wants you to have free will. This means He “has to” work around it.6.A truly, absolutely, completely convincing miracle would invalidate free will – even a saint needs to have the constant chance to reject what he is given, because that is what free will is about. And that possibility of rejection has to be “reasonable” in some way. But couldn’t God just work 99% certainty miracles, then, still roughly along the lines you suggested?7.You say that miracles would help with believing in God’s existence, which is part of what it takes to be saved, and because God does want everyone to be saved, He should want very convicting miracles to happen. 8. But believing in God’s existence does not, in itself, mean people are saved.9. So should God also bring about miracles that convince people specifically that Christianity is true? Well, Catholics believe Christian denominations differ in terms of “equipment” in grace – should them God perform such very convincing miracles to point them towards Catholicism specifically? But even when you believe all the “right” things it’s still possible that you don’t live by that faith – should God then perform very convincing miracles to make you a better Catholic?10.If you consistently answer yes, we have a problem with free will. If at any point you answer no, then it looks like being “efficient” at saving people may not be the point.11. In fact, if the point were to “save” humans efficiently, the best way would be to just NOT give them free will – we wouldn’t have the Fall, we would all be sinless, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion :-)12. But that is clearly NOT what happened which suggests free will is more important than total efficiency 13. I would suggest that in Catholic understanding God’s efficiency is “limited” by His respect for our free will and for the mechanism of cause-and-effect. I can still ask Him to, for example, spare other people from suffering the consequences of my sin, but He may do that in a not straightforward way. It’s actually similar to the Fall and Resurrection problem. God let people Fall but then, eventually sent Christ. His Son did not bring humans back to Paradise (that would be ignoring the cause-and-effect of the Fall), but instead gave people the chance to become immortal saints in heaven, which is actually even more than Adam and Eve could have (the technical term for this is “felix culpa” – happy/blessed guilt).

  • Iota

    Continued…14. A miracle is – if I understand the Catholic position correctly – a special intervention. It does not have to be against the rules of nature. A struggling Catholic charity suddenly getting exactly the sum it needed may also be a miracle. Miracles can also be unverifiable by science (e.g. mystical visions are not verifiable), and so completely unconvincing in terms of materialist tests.15. Most people, however, think more about the Church-approved, public miracles. The ones with long approval processes and rather supernatural happenings. Lourdes, Fatima, Padre Pio’s stigmata. Keep in mind that even those are not things a Catholic HAS TO believe in – he just may.16. But that is not what we are talking about when you hypothesize about an atheist witnessing a miracle and converting. The kind of miracle witnessed could certainly NOT be approved by the Church at the time it happened.16. As regards deceptive miracles – if I understand correctly, the Catholic belief is that there are beings besides God who can do things we would consider “supernatural”- angels. Further, it is Catholic belief that some of those angels have rebelled. Their rebellion did not cause them to lose their powers in much the same way (if I understand correctly) as humans do not become unintelligent or weak when they sin. The fallen angels have limited powers, but they CAN do “miraculous” things, which are beyond human capacity.17. Generally, the difference between real and "fake" (not-from-God) miracles is in the long term results. A miracle form God will have a lasting positive impact and won’t contradict the faith. A “miracle” that is not form God will eventually contradict the faith or will have bad ultimate results.18. Is that “muddying the waters”? Probably yes. But that’s a bit like asking if Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in physics isn’t silly. The problem is that given certain premises, certain conclusions are unavoidable, no matter whether they are comfortable or not. Given the premise that the Bible really means what it says about the existence of fake miracles, there has to be someone who can make them.19. Why would God permit anyone but Himself to make miracles? Or even: why – according to Catholic doctrine – does Satan exist (the Catholic belief is that speaking of Satan we are talking about a real person, not a symbol)? Wouldn’t it be more effective if God just destroyed him? I guess you would have to ask theologians to get a full reply. I might offer some hypotheses, but that would make this post even longer. :-)20. Finally: shouldn’t God remove all obstacles to any individual being saved? I guess that would require a separate discussion and I really have talked enough already, but just as a quick thought: excessive focus on miracles, even real ones, can still be dangerous. So you could argue that God should actually NOT work miracles, because to some people they become obstacles on the path to being saved… Miracles may be a bit more dangerous as a basis of belief than they seem.There, I'm done. And sorry for being long-winded. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Julie/Michael: let's try this one more time… I've typed the same long comments twice now and had blogger eat them. Copying them this time before I submit (and cutting down on the length).In any case, thank you both for your comments. I think they were quasi-similar. For example, Julie wrote:,—| reason and evidence are two cornerstones of | faith and belief in God. But they are not the | only way, surely…a personal relationship with | him is needed, a deep, selfless love must be | developed.`—And Michael said:,—| When you say this and posit reason as what| you'd have to follow, I think you underestimate | the power of "His ability to spiritually | affect" someone.`—I've heard similar before and these types of responses bother me a bit. Mostly, I feel like the response to them could be:,—| How am I to have a relationship with | someone/something I don't know? If god can | affect me spiritually… am I "off the hook"? | Can I just wait until he does so?`—I'm sure this won't be met with agreement. My hunch is that the answer to the first (about relationship) is that I'm to do everything a believer does and just hope that at some point I realize I have a relationship with Jesus? Likewise, I'm positive the answer to the second won't be that I can "take 'er easy," but that I should be living the life of a believer in order to try and manifest belief if and when it should come?Julie, your dialog with Ebonmuse actually made me want to re-type this again. I was going to ask about your conclusion given that:- you believe god exists and is omnimax- god has as his prime directive to bring all souls to himself for everlasting life- I do not currently believe in himTo be consistent… what is your explanation for this set of facts? Many believers can't bring themselves to conclude that a non-believer can be justified. Most I've encountered think I just don't know enough evidence or know it well enough. Others may very well hold that I "hate" god or have hardened my heart against him, or (like in this discussion) would not be convinced even if Jesus appeared at my bedside.As Michael pointed out… I perhaps underestimate god's ability to "affect people spiritually." Perhaps I do, but I've read that Jesus can read minds and that god can harden hearts, so it's hypothetically possible. So… how do you explain the fact that atheists exist at all?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    @Iota: Hmm…"A truly, absolutely, completely convincing miracle would invalidate free will – even a saint needs to have the constant chance to reject what he is given, because that is what free will is about.""the Catholic belief is that speaking of Satan we are talking about a real person, not a symbol"I find these statements to be a strange juxtaposition. Satan is a fallen angel, is he not? Didn't he actually live in Heaven, in God's presence, before his rebellion? Didn't he witness the creation of the world? If what you say is true, how was his free will not "invalidated" by these experiences – how was he able to choose to rebel against God? If even all those experiences are only the equivalent of a "99% certainty" miracle, then it seems to me that God could be doing a lot more to make humans aware of his existence."So should God also bring about miracles that convince people specifically that Christianity is true? Well, Catholics believe Christian denominations differ in terms of "equipment" in grace – should them God perform such very convincing miracles to point them towards Catholicism specifically? But even when you believe all the "right" things it's still possible that you don't live by that faith – should God then perform very convincing miracles to make you a better Catholic?"I think, if there was a God such as the one you've described, his best course of action would be one that would make the facts clear to everyone, and then let people choose for themselves how to respond to those facts. That would be consistent with the usual definition of what free will means. And here's the important part: if that God was concerned with justice, he would ensure that those facts are equally clear to everyone. In Christian theology, there are people who, because of the time and place of their birth, had vastly more opportunity to witness miracles than other people (contemporaries of Jesus, for example, or of Moses – see my comment to Julie upthread). That hardly seems fair, doesn't it, to people who were deprived of convincing evidence through no fault of their own?"Why would God permit anyone but Himself to make miracles? Or even: why – according to Catholic doctrine – does Satan exist…? Wouldn't it be more effective if God just destroyed him?"Yes, that's what I asked originally. I was hoping you'd address it, since that's always one of the things about Christian theology I've found least credible. In Milton's Paradise Lost, for example, the only reason that Satan and the other fallen angels are able to leave their imprisonment in Hell is because God quite literally gives the keys to one of the prisoners. This is not something a perfectly good and benevolent being would do, which I've always found to be a fatal contradiction in Christian belief.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    @Iota6.A truly, absolutely, completely convincing miracle would invalidate free will – even a saint needs to have the constant chance to reject what he is given, because that is what free will is about.No, that's not what free will is about. You are misusing the term.The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it as follows: "“Free Will” is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives." Note particularly that it refers to choices among courses of action. It has nothing to do with choices among beliefs. Indeed, as I have argued in the "prayer" thread, we do not choose our beliefs. We believe, or don't believe, based on evidence and logic, but we don't choose a belief the way we choose a salad dressing in the buffet line.What you seem to be saying here is that any time someone presents us with sufficient evidence and logical argument to believe something without any reason to doubt, that person is inhibiting our free will. But that would mean, for example, that a prosecutor who meets his burden of proof in a criminal trial by proving the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt would be depriving the jurors of their free will. That is obviously nonsense. When it comes to a juror deciding whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty, free will simply does not enter into it. Judgment and free will are not the same thing. A juror's free will only comes into play when he or she chooses how to act by voting on the defendant's guilt or innocence, or by trying to persuade the other jurors how to vote. And here we must note that a juror could believe that a defendant is innocent, but vote to find him guilty, or vice versa.I find your argument that God could not give us sufficient evidence to believe beyond a reasonable doubt in his existence without depriving us of our free will to be completely unpersuasive, because it is based on a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the term "free will."

  • Iota

    "Didn't he actually live in Heaven [...]"Please see: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=165613http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=84204http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=133231(All three bits of info are short and to the point)."In Christian theology, there are people who [...] had vastly more opportunity [...]"And according to Catholic theology specifically people may be judged differently depending on all the kinds of opportunities they had. That's part of the distinction between "invincible" and "vincible" ignorance. Please read this, if you have time (big background reading): http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1999/9907chap.asp Incidentally, there are BIG doctrinal differences between various types of Christianity, so I don’t feel qualified to talk about “generic” Christian theology.You could, of course, ask why would God allow people to remain in invincible ignorance. I cannot say why God does certain things (disclaimer…), but here’s a hypothesis I’m thinking about: the salvation of humanity is a joint venture. God gives all the “cash” but humans participate (by evangelising, praying, honestly seeking answers, being righteous, etc.) so the process by which we arrive at our understanding of salvation should be compatible with human nature (epistemological capacities). A sudden outburst of experiences a'la St. Paul seems rather inhuman.In Milton's Paradise Lost [...]I like Paradise Lost (studied it while doing my English degree*), but it’s not really a good work of theology (since some of Milton’s choices seem to be based on his literary aims) and even worse from a Catholic POV. So, I’d rather not try to explain it on that level. As far the main question (some of this is my own hypothesizing and where it’s not, I’ve included a reference link – please check it out):1) According to Catholics, God loves all his creations (yes, that includes people who choose hell), so destroying Satan may have not been an option simply because of that (http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=8427)2) Hell is primarily not a place but a state, and Satan is immaterial anyhow, so even if there is also a “Hell-place” I would suggest it might be “impossible” to keep him there (http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=294311)3) I’m not sure if it would logically be possible for Satan to be deprived of his “powers” (which are the characteristics of being a smart immaterial being), without him ceasing to exist (see 1.)4) Satan is not “God in reverse” in the sense that – so far as I understand – he is not a prerequisite to sin (he could sin without there being any previous “Satan”). In fact, Satan can’t “make” anyone sin. He could “make” you do something bad/evil, but a sin is an act with at least partial acceptance and understanding by the person acting. (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P6C.HTM).5) In this context, initially believing a fake apparition (let’s say) is not necessarily a tragedy, I suspect (although I'd suggest consulting a priest to verify that opinion if you want to start believing currently-unapproved apparitions). It is, however, an “occasion” for some serious problems later (e.g. if you are already a Catholic, find out the Church disapproves but ignore that. Or if you are not a Catholic, but end up having to decide if doing something against you conscience and basic morality would be good because the apparition suggests this).6) It is not altogether unreasonable to assume God will take into account, when judging us after death, to what extent Satan is involved in the evil we accepted. Notice that, according to the book of Genesis, he WAS punished for tempting Adam and Eve. This does not, of course, free us form the responsibility of doing the best we can to be good (because of point 4). * Aside – I'm not a native speaker of English, so I'd appreciate input in cases when you find me hard to understand because of style or wrong word choice.

  • Iota

    @ P.CoyleI honestly may not have time to engage in long discussion within the next 2-3 days. Would you be willing to wait at least that long for an answer (at least, because I have to do some research)?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Iota, you'll have to forgive me, but I'm even more puzzled now. The three links that you posted said that what takes away free will to rebel against God is experiencing the "beatific vision", and that Satan and the other angels who fell, despite having been in Heaven, never received this.In that case, an important conclusion follows: Seeing a visible, tangible manifestation of God, or hearing an audible communication from God – despite being "proof" of God's existence in the ordinary meaning of that term – is not the same thing as witnessing the beatific vision, and does not remove one's free will. So why doesn't God do those things, in order to make his existence and desires known to all humanity? Do you seriously mean to tell me that not a single additional person would be saved if he did?Hell is primarily not a place but a state, and Satan is immaterial anyhow, so even if there is also a “Hell-place” I would suggest it might be “impossible” to keep him thereImpossible? For an omnipotent god? Surely you're not serious.I’m not sure if it would logically be possible for Satan to be deprived of his “powers” (which are the characteristics of being a smart immaterial being), without him ceasing to exist…This is just theological hair-splitting. Human beings, when imprisoned and deprived of all their powers to meaningfully affect the world, do not cease to exist. There's no reason why this wouldn't also be true of an immaterial being, assuming for the sake of argument that the phrase "immaterial being" is not a contradiction in terms.It is, however, an “occasion” for some serious problems later (e.g… if you are not a Catholic, but end up having to decide if doing something against you conscience and basic morality would be good because the apparition suggests this).Precisely my point. And even if God judges people more leniently for having been deceived by Satan, my question still stands: Is it good for God to allow Satan to tempt, beguile, and deceive human beings? Is turning Satan loose on the world, granting him the power to perform deceptive miracles and apparitions, the act you would expect from a loving, compassionate and benevolent being who desires that all humans are saved? If even one human being is damned because of Satan's interference, when that person might otherwise have been saved (and the usual Christian understanding of Satan's role virtually guarantees that this is so), then the answer to this question can only be a resounding no. A good person does not permit evil people to act freely when he has the power to stop them.

  • Iota

    @ P.Coyle – the answer for you. Took me "a bit" longer than I thought it wouldI’m not sure whether we should move this discussion to the newer threads on miracles, so I’ll just stay here. I should warn you that I may be a disappointing person to talk to, since I have next to no knowledge of philosophy.”You are misusing the term”When I first read this I half-panicked. Had I missed something REALLY important about the way Catholic doctrine defines free will? The problem is I can’t really give you a concise answer, from English-language sources I know, to settle the issue. However, based on all the various sources I’ve read, discussions and homilies I have listened to and even your post I have a strong suspicion I have not misunderstood what the Catholic position is but rather simplified it beyond levels acceptable to a philosophy major.I will proceed on that assumption, but encourage you to do research on your own. In general this post is not doctrine-heavy but rather my-hypothesis-heavy. On reasonable doubtShort definition – click herePoints 846-848 of CCCDigging the Ethical DitchCan Atheists be saved?Types of ignoranceDo suicide bombers go to heaven?The juror analogyFor simplicity let me assume we’ll talk only about one juror casting a guilty/not guilty vote.May the juror be convinced, “beyond reasonable doubt”, that the accused is guilty, because the juror does not know a certain forensic technique or, conversely, overestimates one? I would say yes, because the definition only demands that the proof be convincing and you can be convinced without being informed.May the juror be MORALLY GUILTY if he makes up his mind “beyond reasonable doubt” if this lack of doubt stems from lack of knowledge, experience or expertise that he should have? I say that sometimes he may be. If he had, e.g., the possibility of actually reading up on the forensic techniques without much effort but decided to surf Facebook instead.May the juror be NOT MORALLY GUILTY? Obviously, for example there may have been an easily accessible source on forensics that explains a problem, but of which the juror was unaware.A separate problem is the distortion of one’s standard of “reasonable doubt”. In theory, the juror should be so convinced that we would be just as willing to vote “guilty” even if his own child were the accused. But what if, just this once, he decides to vote “guilty” despite not being THAT convinced? Would this, or would this not, influence his standard of judgement in a lasting way? If it would, I say he may be responsible for that.I hold that a person is responsible both for being informed and for not intentionally “harming” their own standards. Consequently, the invocation of “beyond reasonable doubt” may be acceptable or it may not. Now please bear in mind that I do not suggest I can declare that particular individuals – Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones or Ms. Brown – are intellectually or ethically dishonest. But at least the general possibility is always there. And to the extent that one CAN deform one’s standards, trust authorities or reject them, and so on, one indirectly chooses beliefs by committing acts that are convergent or divergent with a belief. It is not, however, a five-minute process.

  • Iota

    Continued…Reasonable doubt, God, free willBut God does not have the limitations of a human prosecutor. He could update all the jurors on all new forensic techniques. He could also show people their biases and even very painfully show the morally corrupt juror what is he exactly doing by voting unjustly.However, while God is all-powerful, He (according to Catholic doctrine, AFAIK) respects OUR limitations. As an example, God could make me a much better person (a real saint), probably much to the profit of the people I interact with (right now I am quite often closer to being a nuisance). But I am who I am because of the good and bad actions I have taken earlier, because of the laws of nature (e.g. genetics), because of countless choices made by me and other people. It’s possible that turning me into a saint RIGHT now would involve simply wiping the board clean and cancelling everything that has happened in my life. Of course if I ask for His assistance, that changes the situation. Although again I should expect the change to be gradual and in need of continuous assertion that I DO want the process to continue.Bear in mind that I am saying this without a Catholic doctrinal source that back me up – that’s how I understand the answer based on my knowledge, but I have never actually met with the question “Could God ignore our choices and maintain our free will and individuality simultaneously”). There is a question I think is philosophically similar ("Can God make square circles?" (click)) but as I already admitted, I am not the sharpest philosopher around.A misunderstanding over wordsA separate problem, when we discuss whether an atheist could go to heaven is the way we use words like “atheist”(a similar problem applies to “agnostic”). I realized this when I read the following apologetics answer: Conversion after death?At first I felt Michelle is probably simplifying. While Catholic teaching holds that our choices and decisions become final the moment we die, I could imagine an atheist wanting to go to heaven and say, being given the grace to experience God a moment before death, effectively leading to them ending up in purgatory and later in heaven. What’s more other answers seem to also say that such hope is not heretical. But then I realized the key word in the question and the answer may be “deny” – denying something exists is a different position than merely saying that, according to your best judgement, X does not exist. According to the definition I cited, there is a difference between acting “beyond reasonable belief” (also called moral certainty in Catholic sources) and “absolute certainty”. I think this is actually important, because there seem to be atheists who do not believe “beyond reasonable doubt” and those who, it would seem, hold positions that look like “absolute certainty” (the clashes over this bus ad campaign (click) come to mind). Despite the fact the two positions are both called atheism, I think they are substantially different and whether one embraces one or the other variety might have important implications (such as willingness to EVER change one’s opinion). This is, I think also at the heart of some debates about whether “good” or “real” atheists can ever become theists (there are atheists who basically say “No” – their understanding of atheism seems to be that if you were open to conversion then you had to be an agnostic). So a question for atheists asking if atheists can go to heaven is “what EXACTLY do you mean by atheist?”@ EbonmuseThe posts for Coyle may clarify something (e.g. what God's omnipotence is and is not). I'll try to cover the other stuff later, if you still want to continue this exchange.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    @Iota: Thanks for the lengthy response, but I'm afraid it really doesn't get to the heart of my objection, which is that belief is not a matter of will.Suppose you are on a jury. You have been presented with evidence that has convinced you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty. Having been so convinced, could you, as an act of free will, "choose to believe" that the defendant is NOT guilty? My contention is that you could not. Yes, you could use your free will to vote to acquit the accused, even though you believe he is guilty, but you would be using your free will to choose how to act, not to choose what to believe. And yes, you could change your mind about the defendant's guilt if you are presented with additional evidence or after having thought about the existing evidence in a new way. However, I contend that believing one thing, and then changing your mind and believing the opposite, is not the same as believing one thing and then "choosing to believe" the opposite.Thus, I still remain completely unconvinced by your previous argument that God, if he existed, could not demonstrate his existence to us beyond a reasonable doubt without interfering with our free will. To reiterate, by analogy you seem to be saying that a prosecutor who presents a jury with sufficient evidence to demonstrate the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt is interfering with the jury's free will.

  • Iota

    Having been so convinced, could you, as an act of free will, "choose to believe" that the defendant is NOT guilty? At that particular moment in time, if I really satisfied the ideal criteria of being convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” (which is difficult) I could not chose to believe Mr. Smith is innocent. So I guess we agree on this part?What I could choose to do (at that point) would be to either say that because I find the evidence compelling I WON’T be convinced of any alternative (upgrading my “moral certainty” to “absolute certainty”) or to say “Of course, I COULD be wrong…” (even if I think that chance is 0,000001%).you seem to be saying that a prosecutor who presents a jury with sufficient evidence to demonstrate the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt is interfering with the jury's free will.I’ve got a feeling we are using some words differently. One of them is “proof”. For example, I wouldn’t say (if I was trying to be precise) that any scientific theory is ever “proven”. I would say that it is “made more probable” or “refined”. A prosecutor similarly could not “prove” that Mr. Smith is innocent of a crime. He could prove that, given there are no advances in forensics and no evidence was misinterpreted, Mr. Smith did not kill Ms. Newman in the way the prosecution states she had been killed.What the prosecution could not do (and here they significantly differ from God) is wipe away all those extra conditions above. And those extra conditions are important. If none of them remained, I could not make the choice I wrote of above (between upgrading my “moral certainty” to “absolute certainty” or not) – it simply would be upgraded, without any choice on my part. And that upgrade, I think, is the essence of "having faith" as I understand it.(Important notice: I don't have Catholic sources to back me up on this…)

  • Iota

    As an add on to our discussion, I’d like to ask three questions:1) Usually, even when we are convinced of something “beyond reasonable doubt”, we can still imagine a hypothetical scenario which, if it happened, would undermine our position. Can you imagine something that would qualify as an indicator that God exists?2) If yes, do you think it would be something that would require careful analysis (like evidence presented at a trial) or a sort of instant epiphany?3) If you believe that an epiphany was possible, how likely do you think you would be to accept it rather than decide that you’ve suffered from a delusion (as I see PZ Myers presumably would, as per Leah's post)?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Coming back to this a little late, but yes, I've written in detail about what would convince me of a different position. Can you say the same, Iota?To answer your other question, no, I don't think it would be an instant epiphany. Major life decisions rarely are. Any convincing evidence would require time for reflection and careful consideration.

  • Iota

    Let's start with the latest question. My answer would be similar to the one given by Leah’s boyfriend (see “Burden of proof” page). Essentially: if It could be proven Jesus is not the Son of God, Christianity would have to be false. But because I assume that would be impossible to do scientifically, if it could be proven the Passion/Resurrection never happened, I suppose Christianity would have to be false. Obviously, disproving the possibility of Resurrection is almost impossible after 2000 years, so disproving the Passion seems a more “promising” thing.I have no exact idea how this could be achieved (since I am not a specialist in ancient history despite some interest in it), but I assume that if historical proof could be provided that would flatly contradict the possibility of Christ’s Passion, I’d have a lot to think about. Although, given the fact our historical knowledge is rarely stable, there’d still the possibility that this historical data only seem to contradict the Passion. Furthermore, if it could be proven that the Apostolic Tradition is not preserved in the Catholic Church, Catholicism would have to be false, in my opinion. This seems the “easiest” thing to prove and would leave me with a serious problem concerning the nature of God and even his existence (seeing as it was the Church that worked out the Biblical canon and that the Christian vision of God seems to me the most reasonable one).But there is a catch. We all make judgements about a source’s trustworthiness (e.g. you do not consider other people’s accounts of conversion trustworthy). Similarly, a source would have to become more trustworthy to me than the whole of the Catholic Church, which is a HARD thing to do (and that trustworthiness would be necessary because I have other obligations than learning and reading ancient Hebrew, Latin and Greek so at some point I’d have to decide I trust the evidence without verifying it in much the same way I don’t do experiments to prove to myself that the Earth IS round). Finally, a thing that would not convince me of atheism but is potentially important if anyone wanted to “convert” me to atheism: I find the strictly atheist (“there decidedly is no God”) position quite unpalatable due to “the problem of probability”. In brief, if any scientists were to calculate the probability of the chain of events that led from the creation of this Universe to my existence, the probability would have to be minuscule. So minuscule, I think, that if a scientists were ever presented with a scenario where any event happens with this level of probability and told to investigate it, they would regard it as a waste of time and money. And yet I exist.One way of dealing with this problem is the theory of multiverses (if I understand correctly) but AFAIR it’s unverifiable so it’s actually a sort of belief.Another approach is to say that whatever happened happened and has 100% probability in retrospect. This is a valid response as far as probability as a logical tool is concerned. But when used by atheists (rather than agnostics) it has the unintentional effect of sounding funny to me. I see no reason to assume that unless the existence of God is proven beyond reasonable doubt, He “does not exist” (i.e. we act as if He didn’t and anybody who disagrees should be argued with) but I or you can exist despite all possible odds and it is just “normal” and requires no real explanation.Stating (as PZ Mayers did in one of the posts linked by Leah) that you are “ridiculously improbable” doesn’t help much because it doesn’t explain why, given first had experience that “ridiculously improbable” things happen, you’d be an atheist instead of an agnostic.I would probably be indebted to anyone who managed to either explain where am I missing something or, if I’m not missing anything, why would atheism be more reasonable than agnosticism or vague theism.

  • Iota

    Stuff I may have misinterpreted earlier:Miracle – definitionWhy do miracles ordinarily require faith?despite having been in HeavenThe Catholic idea of heaven, AFAIR, involves precisely the "beatific vision". So I suspect "being in Heaven" without a "beatific vision" is a contradiction in terms from a Catholic POV.despite being "proof" of God's existence [...]On you site you say you would accept a miracle if you were "sure that it was not a hallucination (for example, in the presence of multiple reliable witnesses, none of which are in a highly emotional or otherwise altered state)." This is significantly more than "a visible, tangible manifestation of God, or hearing an audible communication from God". Especially the part about the witnesses is interesting since even the New Testament recounts that people were divided about Jesus’ miracles. And as far as any current public miracle goes, I suspect you could always argue that people who observe it are already "in an otherwise altered state". Would you go and visit places renowned for miracles, merely to see if they happened in your presence and, if you were the only atheist in attendance, would an observed miracle convince you? From your set of criteria I’d suspect you wouldn’t expect it to.not a single additional person would be saved [...]?Perhaps. I am not God’s spokesperson (disclaimer again). My private and unsupported hypothesis would be that "a single additional person" may well be drawn to God by other means than a public miracle you are likely to hear about at the time it happens or approve of later. Of course you may actually be asking why God does not work a miracle to convince you specifically (or your friends) but that’s a slightly different question…Human beings, when imprisoned and deprived of all their powers to meaningfully affect the world [...]Those are conditions humans can suffer because they have bodies. You can be walled up alive because your body will not pass through bricks. You can be paralysed because your nervous system can be affected. I don’t know how it feels to be an angel but I’d suggest all analogies to embodied humans are probably not helpful.Is turning Satan loose on the world [...]"If even one" – God does not need to work according to probability. If you knew, without any doubt, that you’d win a lottery tomorrow, would you be bound to act according to your neighbours’ assessments of probability? The Catholic Church doesn’t declare who is, individually, in hell. Bearing in mind that a sin can be committed without any special Satanic interference, even one mortal sin distances you from God, AND, no matter how many sins you commit, you always have the option of appealing to God’s Mercy while you are alive, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible that the people who end up in hell would have ended up there even if Satan did not exist or did not act. I’m not aware of Catholic teaching that settles the issue.A good person does not permit evil people to act freely when he has the power to stop them.You realize that this is a declaration against Mercy in general? After all every serious sinner has, at some point or other, acted like an "evil person". If we demand that God destroy Satan then why not demand that He also destroy me or you? If either of us has ever hurt one person enough to endanger their salvation, we are just as seriously responsible…PS. I stumbled upon two alleged miracles in Hiroshima and Nagasaki involving Catholic monks. This may or may not classify as protective "glowing auras of holy light" you demand on your site. I don’t presently even know if the miracles have received approval. You may or may not be interested…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06233565410780178589 Roz

    I was going to comment on miracles, and then this wonderful, detailed discussion ensued. So please forgive this interruption of deep thought and exchange of ideas for a much less weighty observation.Perhaps the readers and commenters here come from a different perspective, but my conversations with atheists about miracles founder when it becomes clear that it is assumed by the atheist that any scientific support for a miracle must necessarily be (1) deliberately contrived and untrue, (2) determined by those with a vested interest in declaring the miracle true, and therefore unreliable and presumably false, or (3) insufficient because "we might not know now how this happened, but there's certainly a natural explanation that will be discovered later". That's why I'd be prone to say the thing that Ebonmuse (understandably) found insulting earlier in the discussion: Faced with a miracle, I believe that a certain large subset of atheists would choose to push it out of their minds or just assume the evidence was unconvincing in order to preserve a world view that is important to them. And the reason I say this is that I see the tendency in myself as well. It takes an inner openness to be willing to consider such a step, and if exploring something means putting a coherent structure of personal philosophy and meaning at risk, I'm not sure everyone is capable of doing that at the drop of a hat. There are miracles that have significant amounts of medical, scientific and academic substantiation, but the best argument in favor of the position that a miracle by itself is insufficient to bring about a heart conversion is simply that in most cases, it doesn't.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I assume that if historical proof could be provided that would flatly contradict the possibility of Christ’s Passion, I’d have a lot to think about…OK, fair enough. It does seem to me, though, that you're not applying your standard consistently – are we obliged to believe every miracle story which isn't conclusively disproved? If there's no historical evidence that flatly contradicts the possibility of Gabriel revealing the Qur'an to Mohammad, should I believe that as well? This thread has gone on long enough, though, so I won't belabor the point. Feel free to e-mail me (ebonmusings@gmail.com) if you'd like to discuss it further.In brief, if any scientists were to calculate the probability of the chain of events that led from the creation of this Universe to my existence, the probability would have to be minuscule. And yet I exist… it doesn't explain why, given first had experience that "ridiculously improbable" things happen, you'd be an atheist instead of an agnostic.The fact that ridiculously improbable things happen all the time doesn't increase the likelihood of any one ridiculously improbable thing in particular. The odds of my drawing a particular 7-card hand from a randomly shuffled 52-card deck are quite staggeringly small, but that doesn't make me more likely to believe in the existence of leprechauns.On you site you say you would accept a miracle if you were "sure that it was not a hallucination (for example, in the presence of multiple reliable witnesses, none of which are in a highly emotional or otherwise altered state)." This is significantly more than "a visible, tangible manifestation of God, or hearing an audible communication from God".No, those things are complementary. If the manifestation was an intangible shape of light or a voice coming from nowhere, then it would be very difficult to convince me it wasn't a hallucination or trick. Having multiple, reliable witnesses who see or hear the same thing without comparing stories beforehand would be one way to achieve that. Another way to convince me of the reality of a manifestation would be for it to be tangible and to interact with the world in physical ways.(continued)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Would you go and visit places renowned for miracles, merely to see if they happened in your presence…?No. There are thousands of those places all over the world, claimed by countless different religions. I could spend the rest of my life doing nothing but visiting them just to see if anything happens, but I wouldn't attempt that even if I had the time and the resources to do it.You can be paralysed because your nervous system can be affected. I don't know how it feels to be an angel but I'd suggest all analogies to embodied humans are probably not helpful.If you say so; it doesn't affect the point at hand. All I can say is, if you're arguing that God is impotent to restrain the actions of beings whom he has created, then you hold a very different view than what I've always read and understood the Christian conception of God to be.You realize that this is a declaration against Mercy in general? After all every serious sinner has, at some point or other, acted like an "evil person". If we demand that God destroy Satan then why not demand that He also destroy me or you?You see, Iota, how you've changed my words? Where did I ever say anything about "destroying" anyone? That was your invention, not mine.Let me suggest another option. If I were an omnipotent god, and I saw someone about to commit an evil act, I'd stop them. Not blast them out of existence; just prevent them from committing the act they had intended to commit, in a way that doesn't harm anyone and that makes it clear that future attempts will not succeed. (If, for example, a person was trying to kill or rape someone else, I would temporarily paralyze the aggressor.)Really, don't you think you're giving God too little credit? First you say he can't restrain Satan. Now you seem to think he has no options other than "do nothing in the face of evil" and "indiscriminately rain down wrath and destruction".If either of us has ever hurt one person enough to endanger their salvation, we are just as seriously responsible…Except, as you said above, this has never happened: you expressed the opinion that it's doubtful if even Satan has caused a person to wind up in hell who wouldn't have been there otherwise. If the Lord of Lies himself hasn't deceived anyone into eternal damnation, then I find it hard to believe that the comparatively petty slights I might commit against a fellow human being could have that effect. Conversely, if it is possible that Satan or you or I has put someone else's salvation in jeopardy, then my original question remains: Why doesn't God step in to stop this? Is it good of him to choose not to do so?

  • Iota

    Better late than never, I guess, so:are we obliged to believe every miracle story which isn't conclusively disproved?No, you aren’t. But the question you asked was not why I believe but what would make me disbelieve. you hold a very different view than what I've always read and understood the Christian conception of God to be.In essence, this goes back to something I had already mentioned here: the notion of God limiting His omnipotence by allowing limited creatures to exist as independent beings. HE could do everything that is logical and conforms with His nature, but some of those things wouldn’t be possible for US. For OUR sake, He does not do these things. There are loads of (horribly bad) analogies to this. Ms. Smith may be able to run but let’s say I can’t. If we go on a trip together, she has to adapt. It does not change her potential ability to run, but if you saw us, you could conclude she can’t run.Whether or not God’s self-limiting applies to the problem of Satan’s continued existence is something best discussed with a good theologian. I merely posited that it perhaps may be. I am also – again – not responsible for other Christians’ ideas.If I were an omnipotent god, and I saw someone about to commit an evil act, I'd stop them. I focused on destruction because I assumed we were still discussing Satan. Humans can be restricted, of course, but what you are asking for here is getting rid of free will, I think. The idea may be appealing and God could, of course, stop us from even committing evil, i.e. create “us” without free will. But, AFAIK, Catholics believe He DID irrevocably grant us free will. So making arguments based on that hypothetical scenario is similar to discussing what would happen if gravity didn’t work. Except, as you said above, this has never happened Not really, I said I think it’s possible that it didn’t happen (precision is key). Furthermore, it would not be so much due to the devil’s lack of power or sin being a minor thing, but due to God’s mercy (which a sinner must first acknowledge, in some way). Where applicable and I have sources, I mention the Catholic teaching as I understand it. On this point know of no conclusive teaching (I did recently find out, by researching the topic, it’s dogma that through Adam’s fall Satan has a limited power over humanity, but the implications of this aren’t clear to me, as of now) so I’m just hypothesizing, with the caveats that I may be wrong and I’m no specialist.The main point I wanted to highlight, though, stands – God is not obliged to fit into our system of predictions. Probability is, after all, just a tool for making predictions. One that even we, ourselves, I think, often consider useless for a given individual problem.I find it hard to believe that the comparatively petty slights I might commit against a fellow human being could have that effectYou seriously think you are capable only of "comparatively petty slights"? I wonder what would you do if you were one of the subject’s in the Milgram experiment (to be fair, I also wonder what I would do – this is not an "amoral atheist" argument). Additionally, there’s the nice Roman legal maxim: “Nemo iudex in causa sua”. Is it good of him to choose not to do so?I’d say, it is good of God to grant us freedom, good to keep His word on that and good to provide us with graces so that we DO have the choice of NOT murdering or otherwise seriously harming people. Your proposition would demand that at least two of the above should not have happened. That, perhaps, were it the state of affairs and not a hypothetical, would be good too. Just in a very different way.Reading:Original Sin and Satan’s power over Man

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