The Chapman Tragedy and the Absence of God

Three months ago a five-year old girl was accidently killed by a car that was pulling into her driveway. The driver was her teenage brother. The father was Steven Curtis Chapman, a popular Christian musician and advocate for adoption.

Chapman and his family are going to be on Larry King tonight.  A blurb for the show says, “How a tragic accident led to a miracle — and reinforced their faith.”

I feel very sad for the Chapman family. I wish this accident had never happened. How horrible for the brother to live with that feeling of guilt! What a tragic time for their family.

But according to Larry King’s blurb, this tragedy “led to a miracle” and “reinforced their faith.” Of course this “miracle” isn’t a real one — just their family sticking together in tragedy or seeing the purpose of God or something similar. Nothing miraculous. Heart-warming, important, wonderful — but not supernatural.

Why do these events reinforce faith? God, if he exists, is responsible for the death of Chapman’s daughter. God either did it directly through predestination (which I think Chapman believes), or chose not to intervene even though he could have and knew about it before the foundations of the earth. Either way, he’s responsible.

If you were there and could have moved his daughter a couple feet to avoid the car — but didn’t — wouldn’t you be responsible? Even if you knew it would benefit the Chapman family by bringing them together and putting more trust in God? You would be despicable if you did such a thing.

But people believe God does this every single hour of every single day. I know I did.

Let’s say God exists and had a purpose for this killing: he wanted the Chapman family to have more faith in himself and love one another more. So he’s willing to kill children for that? That’s worth the sacrifice of a daughter? God is supposedly the most powerful being in the universe, yet he has to kill children to help people have more faith in him?

No, if God existed, he would not be so cruel. He would not be crueler than me. That is one of the reasons I am an atheist — this is just how the world works. If Chapman’s daughter was to be saved, it was up to a person. If I was there, I would have tried my hardest to save her life. And so would any decent person — or divine being.

Update: I read the transcript and there was no mention of a miracle at all. Maybe it was just a marketing gimmick.

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  • I saw that headline over on I think, and thought the same thing. No matter what happens, these robots for God will attribute it to his divine will and take some perverse comfort in that. Instead of dealing with the grief and the horror of it, they will swill it around and somehow make it into a “good thing”. It makes me ill. It’s like they’ve been lobotomized by God.

  • ugh…

    In moral philosophy we get questions like “If a train is barreling out of control down a track towards five people tied to the track, and you can switch it so that it runs down another track that’s got one person tied to it, and those are your only options, is it moral to throw that switch?”

    No one ever has to ask if we’d do it if that one person wasn’t there. It’s taken as a given. For everyone in the whole world, but god.

  • Roadguru

    yep, similar story in my own family. The death of a 2 yr old girl was totally attributed to the will of God, and the parents dedicated their lives (33 yrs now) to Christianity and Christian education. It effectually froze their personal development at that moment in time; compounding the tragedy.

    It just shows how creative the mind can be in dealing with cognitive dissonance and inventing meaningful patterns from chaos.

  • Everyone has their way of dealing with grief. I’m yet to find a better way outside of God.

  • David

    Hi, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I do not see this as God’s will. It was an accident. Nothing more, nothing less. No one is to blame. Why should God intervene in this incident? If there is a God and it is the one we can find an account of in Genesis then He is a God of free will. If He intervened in accidents then He would at the same time have to take the free will of people away. He can’t intervene and you have free will at the same time. It has to be either or.

    To say that this is God’s will is just bad theology.

  • gk

    To David, if that is the case, then how can you know that anything is God’s will? How do you know that everything isn’t just an accident? Maybe you’re an accident. Maybe the whole universe is an accident! Under the assumption that there is an omnipotent God out there, for you to say whether something is God’s will or an accident is pretty arrogant. Who are you to say?

  • Jesse

    Isn’t it just as arrogant to assume the death is God’s responsibility? Are you arguing that God is responsible for everyone that’s ever died ever in the history of people dying? Is God responsible for all the people Hitler killed or is Hitler? If a tree decays and the branches begin to fall off killing innocent people standing under them, did God murder them? Or do trees just rot away? And should we not stand under rotting tree branches? Does God strike people with lightning? Or is lightning a natural occurrence? Did terrorists choose to fly planes into our buildings or did God direct them to?

    People die all the time in ways that range from mundane to horrific. And yet there are many people who continue to believe in the all powerful, all merciful, God you describe and desire.

  • David, oddly I got an opposite answer when I brought up a similar subject last night:

    I was told that the lord was working in the background somehow.

    Is he there or is he not?

  • You can always get around the Problem Of Evil by asserting that God has some other, higher, longer-term purpose which only he can see, and in the end this will turn out to be the best of all logically possible worlds. It makes a kind of sense: after all, God can see all of space and time, know the consequences of every course of action, and act so as to optimize the whole affair. (Cue St. Julian of Norwich, Lebniz et al)

    Various versions of that idea kept me going in the faith for many years. Eventually though, I just got tired of making excuses for God. Given there’s no good evidence for God in the first place, it’s a lot simpler to assume that shit just happens and no one is in overall charge of it. But that’s a hard idea for people to swallow — we’d rather be able to wrap an explanatory narrative around it, and give it a happy ending.

  • Roadguru

    Omnipotence + Free Will = Paradox

    Why struggle so hard to justify this obvious paradox? Any logical person would have to at least consider the possibility that a better explanation for this conundrum is that the entire equation is built on a false pretense.

    And, yes, God did choose to let all those people die because supposedly it is within his power to stop it. Why would a perfectly beneficent God allow this kind of suffering? Paradox, again.

    Keep struggling if you wish, but it seems kind of silly to me.

    Here’s a great satire that lays it out in a humorous way, if you can stomach the “blasphemy”:

  • Jesse

    Roadguru –

    It sounds like your saying God is responsible for death in its entirety, in so far as death is a thing. Yet Christian tradition teaches otherwise. The scriptures teach that man helped bring death into the equation. The scriptures also teach that God did in fact “take action” against death once and for all time. Unfortunately this method we believe God employed is, by modern standards, not logical or scientific. But what makes this death abolishing method of God’s SO unattractive by, not just modern standards, but something mankind has struggled with forever, …why doesn’t he abolish specific deaths at the time of their occurrence? Why doesn’t the little Chapman girl live on in the moment only to die at the age of 95 surrounded by her loved ones? She would die eventually. Because that’s what we do. We die.

    Christianity’s answer to this paradox of dying is that of the resurrection. Which is based largely on faith. Which again, modern thought has a hard time with. And since this is a non-believers blog, I’ll end with that.

  • John

    Jesse –

    Okay, man helped bring death into the equation. But who brought man into the equation?


    God did! At least according the Christian doctrine. See, he brought everything into the equation, including the equation. So, yes, God is responsible for death, in its entirety.

    Is he not actually omniscient?

  • Roger

    “Isn’t it just as arrogant to assume the death is God’s responsibility?”

    No, it isn’t. If your imaginary sky friend gave humanity the capacity to ask questions, form theses and hypotheses, journey out into space, and invent ice cream, it makes perfect sense for human beings to be able to question the (unproven) existence of a supernatural deity–especially in light of tragedy. The Bible says poetic stuff like “all things work together for the good of them that love God”–well, what’s the good of allowing a child to be accidentally run over by a car? If a human being allowed such a thing to happen to another person, and claimed they were doing such a thing to “bring them closer to humanity” (or even closer to God), we’d nevertheless charge them with a crime.

    So, the believer in imaginary sky friend says, “Well, God isn’t like other human beings–He (always He) knows things better than we do. You just have to have faith that God knows what He’s doing”

    Your imaginary sky friend is not only cruel, he’s capricious. And sneaky. Kinda like Zeus, but with 90% fewer innocent virgin impregnations. If this were a human relationship, others would judge it to be an abusive one–you basically exist at the whim of a God who won’t even directly tell you why he’s fucking up your life, yet you go back to “worship” him and actually thank him for fucking your life up. It’s almost the very definition of absurd.

  • Roger

    “Everyone has their way of dealing with grief. I’m yet to find a better way outside of God.”

    I have one: life and death is part of the natural world and need not be attributed to a divine “purpose.” We grieve the loss of any person–especially if and when that death could have been avoided, or if it is of a particularly tragic nature.

  • God does whatever God wants and no one has the right to question or even analyze it because God knows what’s best for you. Questioning God is like questioning the government – if you do it, bad things will happen to you. And questioning God in the presence of God’s followers will almost certainly earn you a fight.

    Wait, which God are we talking about again?

  • First, what gives you the right to decide how another family — or person — reacts to a tragedy? What standard do you have that suggests you should get to tell the Chapmans how to respond to their grief?

    Second, you seem to believe that natural causes for events eliminate God? Just because there’s a natural reason for the Chapmans to stick together and work through a tragedy does not mean that there is no God. Why can’t God’s work be accomplished through natural means? I mean, are Christians supposed to be wizards or something? You know, I don’t believe in magic either. I do believe that a loving God would give us friends and family to support us through hard times.

    Third, God allowed for the possibility of evil, yes. That does not mean that he created evil. If God was going to remove any possibility for evil then he would have to remove free will from humanity. If one cannot make the choice to do wrong one cannot make a choice at all. Suffering and tragedy is the result of people having choices.

    If God is all-powerful and all-good then he could not have created a less than perfect world. Would it have been good if he had not given people the ability to choose between God and, well, not God? Why is he bad when he does not eliminate the consequences of our actions?

    You are supposing that because God created one thing (humanity) he created another (evil). These are two very different things. He created humans who are capable of evil and of making stupid, tragic mistakes.

  • John

    “Third, God allowed for the possibility of evil, yes. That does not mean that he created evil.”

    Who or what created evil, then, if not God?

  • Well, let’s see. If God is omniscient, and knows the outcome of everything ahead of time… I’m sorry, this confuses me… does this not indicate predestination, and a lack of free will anyway? If “evil” events (or tragedies, bad things, whatever you want to call them) occur, but for a higher purpose, then doesn’t that indicate we are all being manipulated to move in a certain direction? Where is the free will in that?

    If, as Esther says, we can choose between “God and, well, not God” (i.e., eternal damnation, burning eternally in the fires of hell)… ummm…. what kind of choice is that? Are those my only options?

    You really lost me here:
    Why can’t God’s work be accomplished through natural means? I mean, are Christians supposed to be wizards or something?

    How is letting a 5-yr-old girl be run over by a family member accomplishing God’s work? Where was her free will in this?

  • John: No one created evil. People chose to actualize evil.

  • Digital Dame: On the subject of hell I do not believe that it is a place with eternal fires burning and all that jazz. I believe it is simply a place without God. God allows those who choose not to believe in him to go to a place where he is not. Hell is what a person makes of it. The Bible does use references to fire and a “lake of fire” (the lake of fire being found in Revelations which is not a book to be taken literally as it has a lot of figurative language and cultural references). However, I contend that Jesus described hell as being a dark place. If hell is dark then it cannot have fire in it. Only one of those statements can be true. The fire would symbolize God’s judgment. It is not a literal fire. No one is going to burn in hell. I ask you, would it be loving or fair if God forced everyone to go to heaven when some people clearly choose to reject him? Wouldn’t that be manipulative and wrong? Especially if you take my interpretation of hell into account. And, yes, I realize I am arguing against a lot of years of Christian dogma when I say this.

    As for the comment about natural means that had nothing to do with the girl dying. It had everything to do with the family weathering the tragedy and becoming better people for their suffering. Daniel (and advertising) described the family’s response to the tragedy as a “miracle.” That was what I referred to in my statement.

    I am saddened by tragedy, suffering and violence. My belief in God does change my perspective of these terrible things, however. If God is who he says in the Bible that he is then he already suffered with me and died for me. Therefore, in my mind, death is not the greatest tragedy. The greatest tragedy is rejecting the one who suffered for me.

  • Digital Dame: P.S. Neither do I believe in predestination or determinism as you describe it. So, you’re not gonna get an argument from me on that one. :oP

  • I blogged about this show last night, too. My big issue was when Chapman pinned the blame on Satan, rather than making God accountable for the tragic accident. As an atheist, I could handle people espousing their faith to get them through a personal crisis, but when the finger pointing aimed at a supernatural boogeyman (below and not above), I couldn’t take it anymore.

  • Esther: Why can’t it be a dark fire? God’s omnipotent, right?

    And this family might have been brought together by the death of their little girl, but they would be even closer together if they still had all the members of their family.

    God could have intervened in such a way as to still allow free will. The teenage son could have been stopped by something else, then seen his sister run out from behind and realise how close things were…

    And god didn’t have to create anything. There’s no reason why he had to give us a choice between him and nothing. On the other hand, there are sound reasons why a natural universe started by accident and unfolding according to arbitrary laws with no supernatural intervention would look exactly like ours.

  • trj

    “Third, God allowed for the possibility of evil, yes. That does not mean that he created evil.”

    Perhaps, perhaps not. At least we shouldn’t pretend he isn’t capable of evil. Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

    This quote doesn’t say that God is the sole source of evil. However, he is capable of creating evil by his own admission. I’d say that many of his actions in OT (and the prospect of Hell in NT) are indeed evil by their very nature, no matter how one attempts to rationalize some divine plan behind it all. God even delights personally in much of his OT smiting.

  • Roadguru


    I feel like I’m hijacking the thread a little here, but your idea on hell caught my interest.

    Your take on it is that its a place without God; I’ve heard that modern, more reasonable, twist on hell from other sources as well.

    When I was still a believer I did a biblical study on hell. What I found was that, thru the bible and thru time (i.e. from Moses to Patmos) that even in the bible the concept of hell changed dramatically. In the old testament it started as a place everybody went, and it was conceived as literally under the earth, like a hole in the ground (Sheol (sp?)). Later it got split into areas for believers (paradise?) and unbelievers. Then afterlife considerations split even further in the new testament into heaven and hell. Finally, in revelation you get the Lake of Fire and burning sulfur and all that.

    It was a lightbulb that went off for me where I could totally see where the story had to develop thru time to create better motivation for believers to follow the dictates since the original hole in the ground provided little incentive (it gave a better carrot and bigger stick). It changed my perspective on the biblical story from one of immutable and perfect word-of-God to “wow, this is the historic myth of the Jews that got usurped by gentiles!” Your God-absence idea of hell seems to be the modern continuation of this mutable dogma in that eternal burning is incompatible with modern sensibilities.

    I did this study over a decade ago, and I’m recalling it from memory, so I hope you’ll forgive the lack of details. however, I hope you get the idea.

  • coddida

    First time reader here. Very interesting discussion.

    I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My perspective on faith is pretty simple. It is that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he has promised to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    God does not promise to spare us from difficult, painful and even tragic circumstances (John 16:33 says that “In this world you will have trouble.”). But he does promise us mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.)

    Can’t speak for others but my faith is not based on the circumstances of my life, neither the good nor the bad; it is based on the person of Jesus Christ.

  • Coddida: The problem is that God says contradictory things about who he is, and does things that contradict what he says about himself. So what is God?

  • coddida

    @wazza. What does God say about himself that is contradictory?

  • um… saying he’s loving, then saying he’s wrothful, saying he will never forsake the jews and then letting them get screwed over because he’s in a bit of a tizzy…

    The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is a project to collect all the contradictions and oddities in the bible, they can tell you more detail.

  • coddida

    @wazza. Identify someone you love. Now ask yourself, have you ever been angry with that person?

  • Roger

    As predictable as rain in Spring, these so-called “defenders” of God. Unfortunately, they come in with the same old, tiresome cliches. If the imaginary sky friend shows mercy in time of need–what mercy did he show the girl who got run over by the car?

    “First, what gives you the right to decide how another family — or person — reacts to a tragedy? What standard do you have that suggests you should get to tell the Chapmans how to respond to their grief?”

    It’s Daniel’s blog–he gets to say what he wants to say. The “back” button the browser gives you the right to go elsewhere, so your indignation here makes no sense. Further, you’re missing the point of the blog post (which was helpfully put in bold print), which is not to evaluate the level of grief on the Chapman’s part, but how the rhetoric of “God” is utterly unhelpful and illogical, especially in the face of tragedy.

    “Second, you seem to believe that natural causes for events eliminate God? Just because there’s a natural reason for the Chapmans to stick together and work through a tragedy does not mean that there is no God. Why can’t God’s work be accomplished through natural means? I mean, are Christians supposed to be wizards or something? You know, I don’t believe in magic either.”

    If you believe that God created the universe out of nothing, then you do sort of believe in magic. But that’s beside the point. Pointing to natural causes as proof of “God” is illogical; evidence for God’s existence has to be provided independent of “natural causes”–in other words, tornadoes, earthquakes, and people accidentally running over others with cars and the family claiming a faith in a supernatural deity is NOT proof of that deity’s existence.

    “If God is all-powerful and all-good then he could not have created a less than perfect world.”

    And if that entity is all-good, then it still doesn’t explain why that entity allows for evil (natural AND moral) to exist. However, the presupposition there is that there IS some supernatural entity who is responsible for creating and maintaining everything–an argument for which there is absolutely NO proof.

  • VorJack

    @coddida – “Identify someone you love. Now ask yourself, have you ever been angry with that person?”

    Alright, let’s think this through. I love my wife dearly. I’ve occasionally been angry with her. There have been times when a voice has been raised. But does this metaphor work?

    I have never – and would never – stand by as someone did something harmful to her. Especially not for some smarmy, condescending reason like “for her own good.”

    God allowed Israel to be destroyed. By Assyrian, by Babylon.

    I’m perfectly happy to say that analogies like this don’t work – the distance between my marital relationship and the deistic relationship are to great to cross with simple analogies. But I think that if we accept a God that is so transcendent that we cannot discuss it in common analogies, then we have to accept that this God is also beyond human concepts like “good,” “evil,” “just,” and “loving.”

  • coddida

    @VorJack. My response was specifically re: wazza’s comment, “… saying he’s loving, then saying he’s wrothful” (indicating that these two are contradictory statements about God). I should have used quotes to be more clear.

    I agree with you that God is beyond any analogy that we can conceive or comprehend. However, in this particular case, I don’t think my analogy is inappropriate. God can be both loving and wrothful at the same time in a similar way that you can both love your wife and be angry with her at the same time.

  • Jonboy

    @ Roger

    “Pointing to natural causes as proof of “God” is illogical; evidence for God’s existence has to be provided independent of “natural causes””.

    I’m a little confused… What, then, would you take to be sufficient proof of the existence of an omnipotent God? Surely not arguments from biblical texts, or pure theology. Will evidence collected from the world around us not be considered either?

  • VorJack

    @coddida – “I agree with you that God is beyond any analogy that we can conceive or comprehend. However, in this particular case, I don’t think my analogy is inappropriate. God can be both loving and wrothful at the same time in a similar way that you can both love your wife and be angry with her at the same time.”

    Your pardon, but it seems like you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. God is beyond analogy, yet we can still speak of it using human terms like “love,” and “wrath.” How is that possible?

    When I use the word “love,” I’m referring to love as humans experience it. What else could I mean, after all? But human love is a thing bound up in chemical impulses, biological imperatives, social instincts and cultural upbringing. God, as an immaterial and transcendent being, must be beyond those things.

    So if God experiences anything that it would call love, then God’s love and our love must be completely different. Different enough that to use the word “love” in both cases is really equivocation. To say, “God love you” is either meaningless or dishonest, because God’s love and what we call love are so different as to be beyond analogy.

    That’s the only was I see out of this problem of evil: to accept that God does not love us as we can understand love. But then, if we are to be honest, we must stop using phrases like “God loves us.” Because love is a human concept and it cannot be applied to God. And while we’re at it, we have to give up on phrases like “God is good,” “God wants …,” or “This is God’s will.” Because all these concepts – goodness, desire and will, are also human concepts that cannot be applied to God.

  • Roger

    “I’m a little confused… What, then, would you take to be sufficient proof of the existence of an omnipotent God?”

    Um, said omnipotent God speaking for itself, making itself plainly visible/tangible to its alleged “children” without all the smoke and mirrors of a bunch of deluded folk claiming that the entity is “speaking” through them. The claim that a supernatural entity (who is also responsible for the creation of the universe) is an extraordinary claim, which requires extraordinary proof.

  • Coddida… the wrath of god isn’t like being angry because your husband always leaves his socks scattered around your room… it’s more like beating the crap out of her because she doesn’t cook your eggs right. Don’t tell me that’s real, true, high, merciful, archetypal love of the kind you ascribe to your deity.

    And you haven’t even answered my other examples, pulled by people more patient than me from the word of god itself.

  • “God can be both loving and wrothful at the same time in a similar way that you can both love your wife and be angry with her at the same time.”

    Except that if a man claimed to love his wife, but proceeded to kill her, you’d probably question his use of the word “love”.

    That’s the sort of thing we’re talking about here. God says he’s loving, but he also wipes out a few cities here and there. The analogy sort of falls apart at that point.

  • phil brown

    @ Proud Kikuyu Woman

    “shit happens.”

  • John

    Esther – Sorry for the delay responding.

    “No one created evil. People chose to actualize evil.”

    I’m not sure I understand. God created the people who chose to create evil. He knew full well that they would do so.

    So, while maybe he didn’t directly manufacture evil, He did set things up in such a way that evil was actualized, no? I think that ultimately makes him responsible for its existence.

    As a contrast, look at how we view parents. If a child commits an evil act without direction or consent from the parent (as we all have done at some point), we can’t hold that parent directly responsible. This is because humans are not omniscient and cannot predict their children’s actions. God, however, does not have this alibi.

  • Jonboy

    @ roger:

    So what would constitute proof for you? I don’t mean generally. I mean what, specifically, could God do right now that would make you believe in his existence?

    Mystical being coming out of the sky and talking to you? Or would you call it a hallucination? Intelligent people who firmly believe in their own experiences of God? Or would you call them sadly deluded? Some sort of miraculous occurrence, completely outside the boundaries of known science? Or would you bend science to fit, ignoring the repercussions and the faulty methodology?

    What I mean to ask is this: Is there any argument I or anyone else on this site could make that would convince you of the existence of God?

    ‘Cause if there isn’t… I’ll go hang out somewhere else, and try to convince them. Just saying…

  • Roger

    “What I mean to ask is this: Is there any argument I or anyone else on this site could make that would convince you of the existence of God?”


  • Yes, there is, jonboy… but it would have to explain why god is needed to explain some fact about the world. Not wishful thinking, but actually needed.

    That’s the standard for all other hypotheses, by the way. Including evolution.

  • Jonboy

    @ roger:

    well okay then.

    @ wazza:

    That’s a very good standard. I approve of it in principle, and am having trouble coming up with any gaping flaws in it.

    I am curious though, whether it gives you any trouble in your acceptance of scientific facts. It might not, which is fair enough, but there are scientific problems which remain unexplained.

    Does the currently understood origin of the cosmos bother you at all? We can track the universe back to its ultimate beginning. I’m talking picoseconds, here. But there doesn’t seem to be any way to come up with an ultimate cause, something before the universe.

    The only evidence we can gather about the origin of the universe is from the universe itself. Since it didn’t exist before its beginning, however, it seems possible that no evidence may ever be found for the spontaneous explosion that gave birth to matter, energy, and their respective properties and distributions that we now observe.

    If, in fact, there are problems that science cannot explain (and I definitely believe that there are) then according to this standard, something else proposed as an explanation might be okay with you?

    Thanks, by the way, for a thoughtful answer!

  • Kimberly

    How sad!!! I saw him perform at a concert (the experience of the whole Px festival was enough to make me start critically thinking about religion). He didn’t deserve to lose his daughter anymore than any other family, rich or poor, faithful or not. The loss of any mind is a terrible waste. Saying, “God has a plan” is such a weak safety net, and I would bet money that the brother has guilt issues for years. How sad!

  • EKM

    16 Esther

    First, what gives you the right to decide how another family — or person — reacts to a tragedy? What standard do you have that suggests you should get to tell the Chapmans how to respond to their grief?

    What gives Christians the right to force their religion on people? What gives you the right to challenge the writer of this blog? What gives you the right to tell me how to live my life? What gives you the right to waste my time with your religious fairy tales?

    See, lady, it works against you, too.

  • EKM

    There are a few commenters on this thread saying that you cannot blame God for bad things, since God did not do those bad things directly. (Besides, their religion and faith would look bad if he did.) Yet they have stated in prior threads that they know God exists because he has acted in their lives and answered prayers.

    So it looks like God is active in people’s lives when it is convenient for them, and absent when it is convenient.

  • Jonboy: The problem with the singularity at the start of the universe is that the laws we use to predict what happened, suddenly stop working. That’s what a singularity is… and that means that the point right at the start of the universe is essentially unknowable to us. But that, in itself, is a scientific discovery. And the nature of singularities is such that from them, anything can be created, and according to this hypothesis, everything was. It’s both necessary and sufficient, unlike the god hypothesis.

    I can’t, off the top of my head, think of an area that science truly does not touch. I mean, there are places where it’s claimed science has nothing to say, but ignoring what science says is not the same as science saying nothing.

  • Jonboy

    I didn’t know that about singularities…
    I figured, since there are some in the universe (black holes) which are at least indirectly observable, we might have noticed them producing baby universes.

    Is assigning that property to a singularity (that from one, anything can be created) okay with you? To me it seems like a logical leap similar to that which might posit God as the source of the universe. Because I can just as sweepingly ascribe to God a startlingly similar property: through God all things were created which have been created.

    The current scientific model ‘needing’ for something to happen (‘needing’ singularities to have the capacity to generate universes, for example) is fundamentally no different from a model requiring an omnipotent God to create the universe.

    I found an issue with your previously stated standard of evidence, but that might be a little off topic… We can stick to one thing at a time.

  • trj

    I don’t think it is fair to ascribe such quasi-magical attributes to singularities.

    True, we know almost nothing about the inner workings of singularities, but this is not because the physics “breaks down”, since clearly the universe allows singularities to exist, in the form of black holes. It is only our understanding of the physics that breaks down.

    A fundamental problem in understanding the cause of the Big Bang is that we don’t know the initial pre-universal conditions. We don’t know if the laws were identical to our universe’s. Perhaps it was possible to have effect without cause? (Actually this is also possible, indeed unavoidable, in our own universe at the quantum level. Particles pop into and out of existence all the time, and truly independent random behavior appears to happen as well).

    For now, all pre-BB explanations are merely hypotheses, though some of them seem somewhat plausible at an intellectual level. Victor Stenger makes a good attempt, I think, talking about symmetry breakdown.

    The first step to find the answer is to gain a deeper knowledge of our own universe. Fortunately, we may be on the threshold of gaining a lot of this knowledge in the near future (5-10 years). A lot of experimental physics is scheduled to begin soon (eg. LHC and GLAST), hopefully providing some profound answers to ares such as dark matter, dark energy, string theory, loop quantum gravity, supersymmetry, and other areas we probably don’t even know exist.

    At some point invoking the God of the Gaps may become unnecessary when explaining how everything came to be, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s wait a few years and see. Fascinating times lie ahead for anyone interested in cosmology and quantum physics.

  • @Jonboy

    So what would constitute proof for you? I don’t mean generally. I mean what, specifically, could God do right now that would make you believe in his existence?

    Presumably He knows, eh?

    It’s simple: Any scientific theory, to be proven valid, must be testable, falsifiable, and repeatable.

    All we’re asking of God is that he follow those simple rules. But he doesn’t.

    Testable: He says it himself–“Where wast thou when I made the world?” and similar. How can one test god? I suppose one could pray for things, but even if your prayer to win the lottery is answered, it’s not logical to assume some outside agent.

    (Winning the lottery even though you demonstrably never bought a ticket? Now that might be convincing. He can prove himself to me that way anytime. In fact, I hereby declare that if I can win the lottery without a ticket, I will revert to some form of believerism and give all the money to the church of my choice–I’m thinking Baal might like to help me out with that … Or possibly the shortly-to-be-established Metrochurch)

    Falsifiable: The trouble with this is that whether we start with the assumption that God exists or not, the outward signs, expressed in our world, look exactly the same.

    Repeatable: Actually, I think I have an idea for this one: Try praying for rain in the Gobi desert every day for a year. You don’t even need to go to the Gobi desert–once it’s rained for two weeks or so it’ll become newsworthy.

    Or pray that global warming ends tomorrow. Keep doing that until it does.

    Let me know how it turns out.

    Sure, he can come talk to me too. Ideally I’d like him to materialize in corporeal form in front of an audience of a hundred people or so, and a few video cameras. It would help if he was carrying a working cold-fusion reactor. I’d find that pretty convincing.

    And why should he not? He that much for Thomas.

    So there are a couple of ideas about how god could prove Him/Her/It- self to me.

    (Notwithstanding all that though: God could, so his followers tell me, “change my heart” if he willed it. So far he seems, instead, to have deliberately weakened my faith.

    “Wherefore, O God, didst thou make me an atheist?”)

    But Occam’s Razor says to start from the logical position, which is that there is no god.

    Because your beyond-the-origin-of-the-universe argument is flawed: If nothing subsequent to those first few picoseconds required a god to be present, then why would you assume that prior events did?

  • I was just pointing out that if the physics we know is no longer valid, maybe e=mc2 isn’t valid… and so energy and mass could be created.


  • Jonboy

    @ Metro and trj

    Occam’s razor is a bit dicey to be arguing from. It cuts both ways, so to speak. I could argue all day that positing the existence of God is actually simpler than positing his non-existence. Not to mention all the dodgy business I could pull by claiming that the razor is nothing more than a rule of thumb.

    I don’t particularly see that we don’t need the existence of God to explain those first few picoseconds, either. If the conditions of the big bang were changed even minutely, the universe could not exist. (Yes this might be a lead-up to the anthropic principle.)

    At any rate, if at some point in the next ten years the large hadron collider digs up new info that leads to advancements in string theory or what have you, and those advancements suddenly make clear what went down before the universe existed, then cool, I’ll admit that you don’t need God to explain the beginning of the universe. (Or at least I’ll admit that it isn’t entirely outside the grasp of science.) Unfortunately, right now, there does not appear to be any science that can even begin to deal with what happened before the universe existed. You may just be up a creek without an explanation for the universe’s existence.

  • jonboy, first off, there’s no “before the universe existed”, because time (which is what lets us use words like “before” and “after”) is a property of the universe, and so there’s no “before the universe existed”. Also, there are some theories of what might have happened to make the universe the way it is (quantum tunneling ftw!)

    Second, Occam’s razor argues against god as a hypothesis for filling gaps, because we just have to posit the universe and something small we don’t know yet, whereas adding god in makes it the universe, something small we don’t know yet, and the most complex thing imaginable, ie god, making the god hypothesis more complex than any other.

  • cozygirl

    The tragic death of this little girl is heartbreaking. However, your statement that “God is responsible for this child’s death” is false. Of course, you have to believe in the existence of evil to understand that. Now, I believe that nothing happens in this world unless allowed by God. However, there is a WORLD of difference between ‘allowing’ and ‘causing’.
    When my children were learning to walk they fell quite a few times. Did I cause them to fall? Of course not. Did I allow them to fall sometimes? Yes. That is how they learned to balance and walk on their own.
    God did NOT cause that precious child’s death but he did allow it, not in the sense that He just turned His back as her brother drove into the driveway and hit her without seeing her but in the sense that he has made us creatures of free will. Everyday things happen that break God’s heart. He has the power to stop it all. He could heal everyone that is sick, he could stop every accident from happening, he could feed all the hungry, he could fix every problem on the planet. But if he did that what would be the point of us being here. He has given us, those that follow Him, the task of finding needs and filling them. But because some people are evil, bad things happen and because evil is present in the world bad things happen to good people. I am sure that makes no sense to you but we will never understand the mind of God.

  • Cozy: there are changes that god could make without affecting our free will. The example I’ve heard is that of a drought coupled with bad political systems to cause a famine. The political systems can be fixed by us, the drought can only be fixed by god, and both need to be fixed to prevent these people from going hungry. Why doesn’t god fix the drought? It won’t remove our need to act, but it is the merciful action and therefore the one a merciful god would take.

  • Jonboy

    @ Wazza

    Time is apparently a property of the universe, yes. But outside of philosophical thought experiments, there does not appear to be a way to determine for sure whether or not time exists independently of the universe. It may have existed before space. Or even better, space may have existed before the universe. We can’t even determine whether time exists as its own entity, or if it is nothing more than a function of our own perception. Lots of sketchy stuff down that road, and minds better than mine have grappled with it for centuries.

    Additionally, I’m not sure about your assertion that ‘the merciful action’ is necessarily ‘the one a merciful god would take.’ Can you explain that a bit further? There are clear theological answers to this point, but I’d rather not involve them if I don’t have to. They’re pretty damn complicated. Rather address on a logic/philosophy level if I can, but rest assured that from a theological perspective it makes perfect sense for God not to stop a drought. (Or at the very least it could be explained away.)

  • of course it can be explained: THERE IS NO GOD

    random fluctuations in the weather patterns cause droughts, and people get hurt because the universe doesn’t care.

    But if there is a god, and he’s truly merciful and loving, he won’t let people die in a drought he could stop without any recourse to changing the way people behave, right?

    God could make the world better without curtailing our free will. The fact that the world isn’t better is a pretty good argument against god.

  • Jabster

    @wazza: This has always been the elephant in the room that all faiths who believe in an all powerful, all loving god don’t like to talk about. If this is the characteristic of you god how can the world be as it is today? We see some fairly weak explanations from time to time with recent posts suggesting it’s much like allowing a child to fall when learning to walk – well two points if you where an all powerfully being would you allow it to happen and it’s not exactly the same as leaving a child to starve is it?; sometimes I wonder why religious parents don’t just leave the children to fend for themselves as they’ve got to learn haven’t they? Then we have the there is an answer but it’s far to complicated to explain here – I mean what sort of answer is that, can you imagine science trotting this out as an excuse? Finally we get to the reply that’s designed to finish the argument – we can’t understand how god thinks, well if this is true stop saying that god is all loving, all merciful etc. as you can’t possible know that.

    If never ceases to amaze me how so many people can believe in this type of god when the evidence is so positively against it. What makes it even worse is the explanations that people put forward to try and convince themselves that’s true.

  • they want to believe that the universe is merciful. That can overcome any amount of evidence.

  • Jonboy

    You know, the theological explanations won’t sound nice to you. You don’t accept their premise, so you won’t accept the arguments. No matter what anyone says to you, if you continue to reject the initial statement ‘God exists’, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble finding an acceptable justification for the way God acts.

    So here’s an idea. And if this doesn’t work, there isn’t much more that’s going to be worth pursuing. Imagine for a moment that there is an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God of the universe. He exists. And you know it.

    Okay, so if you can hold that in your mind, I can explain to you the thought processes that go into justifying his lack of involvement with the world. If you can’t, then the explanation I make is going to sound like gibberish, drivel, or some horrible combination of everything you ever hated about religious people. Really. It will. I will sound stupid.

    But if you could just bite your tongue and pretend your very hardest, I might be able to explain, and you might learn something that can help you understand those crazy religious people. Here goes nothing…

    God allows bad things to happen for a very specific reason. Bad things happen to people because people rejected God. God allows the innocent to die. It’s true. He allows famine, drought, disease, death, war, murder, tragic accidents, hate, rape, traffic, suicide, depression, anarchy, all the worlds ills. Literally all of them. God directly allows them to happen. He does not (usually) actively cause these things to happen, but he does stand by and watch them.

    Why? I’ll give you the answer, but you have to keep on holding on to the idea that God does actually exist, that he is actually all-powerful, and that he is good.

    God allows these things to happen because humanity has gone off on its own and rejected God. Yup, you’ve heard all this before. The world gone wrong is our fault. But really, God would like us to not suck. He would like us to live up to our potential. And the only way for that to happen is for humanity to hit rock bottom. This is like every prodigal son analogy you’ve ever heard of. God will take lives and make them whole again, but no one will let him if they think that things are pretty much okay.

    Okay, you can stop pretending you believe in God now.

    You need to realize that the earth is a horrible place. Horrible, unforgivable things happen to people here.
    Human nature is so much worse than you think it is. Other people are possibly the worst thing that could ever happen to you. People are hateful, vengeful, spiteful, and morally bankrupt. And you know what? God isn’t helping matters by allowing things like climate change, catastrophic weather patterns, atrocities in war, atrocities outside of war, disease, and children dying of disease.

    What he is doing, is trying to get across to us just how bad things really are. Because if we don’t accept that things are hopelessly fouled up, we will not admit that we should have listened to God, that we should have lived the way he said.

    So there you go. This is why bad things happen to ‘good’ people. So that we realize, finally, how awful we are and how much we need God.

  • Jonboy

    @ jabster

    I hope I addressed most of your points. Sorry for not explaining before, but these posts are somewhat exhausting to write properly. And like I said, you won’t like the theological answer.

    Also, for time and content restraints, scientists or teachers will very often restrict their answers to a given format. There are things that are simply very complicated. Furthermore, this is not my blog, I am not a theologian, and this blog is not directly about theology. I do think I was within my rights to beg off a full explanation. What I just posted is immensely simplified. All I intended was to inform you that there are in fact theological explanations for almost every objection I have ever seen raised against Christianity or the existence of God.

    @ wazza

    I hope I explained why God would allow drought. You might not agree that this is a merciful thing to do, which is fair enough I suppose, but it’s the answer I can give you.

    Also, I really am not convinced the universe is merciful. The universe is a cold, thoughtless jumble of infinitely cruel matter that seems designed to make life for humanity very difficult.

    The other theological explanation for drought, which hasn’t been mentioned, IIRC, is that it is part of the big lead up to the end times. The ‘birth pains’ from Revelations. I find that explanation less satisfying than the one I went into here, but they’re both true.

  • @jonboy: You’re missing the entire point. If God could demonstrably be proven, by scientific means, to exist, we’d probably all get on board with him. But if he does exist, and he’s pulled a vanishing act for the last several thousand years, it doesn’t do much for his believability.

    And I think you made the atheists’ arguments for us with
    “Also, I really am not convinced the universe is merciful. The universe is a cold, thoughtless jumble of infinitely cruel matter that seems designed to make life for humanity very difficult.”

    The Universe. That’s all there is. It is not good, it is not evil. It simply is. It was not “designed” for human life.

  • EKM

    To Jonboy:

    Why would God care if people reject him? Why would an infinite, perfect being care? Or want? Or need?

    Or is god finite and/or imperfect?

    Demanding love from beings who could never understand you seems kinda dumb.

    Theology just sounds like making excuses for clinging to a concept that people would be better off without.

  • @Jonboy:
    “By their deeds ye shall know them.” What argument is there for a merciful god again? Merciful is as merciful does.

    Your entire argument at number 63, as you yourself point out, requires suspension of disbelief. That is, in order to swallow the gnat, we must first swallow the camel.

    But in this I feel you’re coming at convincing us the wrong way. We spat the camel out some time ago, most of us.

    Q: How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg?

    A: Four. Calling its tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

    “God allows these things because humanity has gone off on its own and relected God.”

    –So your kid blows his top and screams “I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HAAAATE YOU!” He storms off into a rainy night, slamming the door so hard that it rebounds open.

    Then you hear the gunshots.

    Do you turn and go out into the pouring rain to make sure the kid’s all right? Or do you close the door saying “Well, he rejected me. He deserves whatever’s coming to him.”? Maybe you just stand there with the door open: “He’ll come inside when he gets hungry”?

    If you look outside and he’s sitting on the curb bleeding from a chest wound, do you call the ambulance, go check it out, or gently close the door?

    If he says “Dad, help me,” do you nevertheless turn your back because he’s got to learn his lesson about rejectijng you?

    What sort of moral, just, loving being is capable of that sort of (in)action? You seem to be following Dante: Credo in Dio crudel–“I believe in a cruel god.”

    Which is all very well, but returns us to the idea that god is at the very least passivley malevolent.

    “Human nature is so much worse than you think it is. Other people are possibly the worst thing that could ever happen to you. People are hateful, vengeful, spiteful, and morally bankrupt.”

    –I hope this is not that “joyful, hopeful Christian worldview” I keep hearing about!

    I believe that most people are decent and just within certain boundaries, often cultural in nature. Venial and petty to be sure, but capable of dazzling greatness at moments.

  • Jonboy

    @ Metro

    What it actually requires is belief, not suspension of disbelief, but I figured suspension of disbelief might get close enough. Perhaps it was unreasonable to ask that you visit or revisit the place that Christians come from when they deal with tragedy, but it was what I attempted. If you can’t or don’t care to, that’s completely fair and I understand. I only wrote it so that if anyone was really really interested in making an attempt at understanding the thought process, they could at least give it a shot.

    I believe humanity is capable of simply staggering achievements. We have so much potential it actually brings tears to my eyes. It’s also pretty much wasted on us.

    The joyful, hopeful Christianity you hear about doesn’t come from our view of the universe. Some would say it doesn’t come from anyone but God. I’m of the opinion that I can lead a joyful and happy life principally because I have hope in redemption both for me and for this potentially beautiful wreck of a world.

    @ your analogy–

    There’s this parable about a son and a father (which I’m sure you know). The son rejects the father and goes away. Spends his dad’s money, destroys his entire life. Son finally crawls back in rags and his father…

    a) Ignores him
    b) Sends him away destitute
    c) Welcomes him back with open arms and throws a ridiculously huge party

    If you know the answer, let me ask you a question. How is any of the above passively or otherwise malevolent?

  • I realize I am late in responding. I went on vacation. To everyone who responded by piecing bits of my arguments together and not seeing my thoughts as a whole (which they were, frankly) I have only this to say:

    We are different, you and I. Bottom line is, I believe because I want to believe. You do not believe because you do not want to believe. Don’t throw your tired, old arguments at me and tell me that they prove anything because they don’t prove anymore than my own arguments. Descartes and Kant were both intelligent, rational men and neither one of them could prove the existence or nonexistence of God through reason. Your arguments are nowhere near as good as theirs were.

    *shrug* Again, no offense meant.

    Oh yes, one more thing. To the one who said there was much evidence for an accidental universe to lead to what we have now, I’d like to see some specific examples of that evidence. Like, cite some studies or something.

  • Esther: it’s the scientific consensus. There’s no one study that says “the universe is accidental”, but if you study science, that’s the picture that’s built up; at no point was a supernatural intervention observed or required.

    And saying that you believe because you want to believe, therefore your belief is rational is a major fallacy. The world all around us can be observed and the truth discovered from it, and the truth is that the world doesn’t look designed. At all. And if there were an all-powerful being who cared about us, it would look designed.

  • EKM

    Esther said:
    You do not believe because you do not want to believe.
    Umm, no, that’s not true. I don’t believe because I just don’t think it’s true.

    As far was wanting or not wanting to believe, I really do not have a desire either way.

  • Jennifer

    I didn’t watch the interview, although I read some material on ABCNews about the incident. Chapman was one of the few Christian musicians I did respect in my life, and as an adoptive parent of a Chinese girl, the incident hit for too close to home for me.

    Using tragedy to somehow justify God or trying to make sense of a tragic occurrence — as if it can be legitimized — seems so inane to me. Tragedy is exactly what it is, tragic… and there’s no justification that can make it “okay.” Part of facing life with eyes wide open is accepting that both good and bad happens, and that it’s not really about “making sense” of it but determining how we will respond to it.

    If God exists anywhere, it’s in the choices we make in regards to how we face death… and life.

    I remember recognizing love in how the parent Chapmans responded to their son who inadvertently hit and killed his sister. So many conflicting emotions there, but they carried their own grief while trying to spare him the guilt he likely would inflict on himself for his mistake.

    Such actions do not prove or disprove the existence of God… but they do reveal the existence of love in a world far too easily torn by hate and bitterness.

  • Shannon

    In the Larry King interview, Chapman blamed the enemy, Satan, for the loss of Maria. Satan, the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
    Chapman talked of God being sovereign and perfectly capable of preventing the accident, but…God chose not to. He allowed this evil to happen. Chapman cited the book of Job as an example of God allowing Satan to inflict harm.

    As someone else commented, God can see through all space and time, and He does have a bigger plan than any of us can see or understand. “His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts.” (Isaiah)

    As for the commenter who said he believed this for awhile, but then grew weary of having to make excuses for God…you don’t have to make excuses for Him. After all, He is God. We are mere humans. He owes no explanation to anyone. He is who gave you life, and He can allow it to be taken away – or take it away Himself – however you want to look at it.

    He has given us a chance at eternal life through making the biggest sacrifice of all – sending HIS OWN child to die so that we could escape eternity in hell. I don’t know of any humans, including myself, who would be willing to kill their own child in order to save a world full of undeserving sinners. Only an all-knowing, all-loving God could do something that extravagantly unselfish. As I said before, He is God – we are not.

    You can choose to believe in Him or not to – that’s the free will He has given you.
    I choose to believe in God. If I’m understanding your blog correctly, you don’t.
    If I’m wrong, then I have nothing to lose. If you’re wrong, you have everything to lose.
    I pray that you’ll choose to believe in Him. He exists, and He loves you.

  • judith collier

    Ah, faith in one’s self, faith in one’s mind, absolute faith in science, and the fruit of all this smells so sweet! My Daniel, you have an abundant faith.