Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Religion vs. logic vs. rhetoric

Right off the bat, you need to read this. Okay? I know most of you have a lot of spare time as it is. So, invest some of it in reading the linked web page, and understand that it will really help your understanding of this post. And, it's fucking hilarious, so it's worth your time anyway. Go, read. I'll be waiting right here. Talking about the Apple Lisa. Remember the Lisa? I bet you don't. Not a great product. Really expensive. None of you owned one, right? Because none of your parents were rich. Same problem here.

Okay, you back? Let's get this started. Brief recap, just to get everyone on the same page. The illustrious linked website makes the following argument. (1) God has promised that He will answer all of our prayers. (2) There is a long history of God supposedly answering the prayers of other people. (3) God has never answered the prayer of an amputee to have his/her amputated limbs spontaneously regenerated. (4) Therefore, God is either a liar (not likely) or God doesn't exist. QED, in the mind of the website author(s). Now, all of you are free to have your own religious beliefs. I happen to believe that some sort of higher power exists, although I believe that none of us has any ability to comprehend the designs and wishes of that power. That's why I try to live my life by some simple principles that appear to form the core of just about every significant religion on the planet: (1) be nice to people, (2) help people when you can, and (3) try to be happy. BUT my critique here has nothing to do with whether or not a Judeo-Christian God exists. Rather, my critique focuses on the huge, gaping holes in the logic and rhetoric of the website. Ready? Let's do this.

1. The entire argument proceeds from an overly literal interpretation of the Bible.

The foundation of the entire argument is that God has promised to answer all our prayers. Well, folks, if that was true, I'd have my own Porsche and that slut I was interested in back in High School would have slept with me, rather than just the entire show choir. But that didn't happen. So it's not just amputees who aren't having their prayers answered. I hate to go out on a limb here, but maybe (just maybe) God didn't promise to be a bottomless pit of wish fulfillment for every human on Earth. Indeed, the rules of logic suggest this must be true, because oftentimes the wishes of different humans will be in opposition. Thus, for example, if she had known she was in danger, the slut I was interested in during High School would surely have prayed for deliverance from a fate as horrible as having to sleep with me. So, how would God have sorted out these conflicting prayers? More intelligent Christian philosophers have concluded that God is bound by the rules of logic. That being the case, it's easy to see that often, God would be forced not to grant certain prayers, since they would be diametrically opposed to other prayers.

The better interpretation is that God envisioned prayers as a vehicle for internal, rather than external, intervention. Put more bluntly, prayer is a vehicle through which individuals commit themselves to the task of fulfilling the prayer, rather than asking God to do it for them. For example, when we pray to be better people, the power of the prayer (if you think it has any power at all) is in its implicit commitment to personal effort towards that goal, rather than in the hope of external assistance.

Lord Bling's world provides an excellent analogy here. Anyone who has ever played video games seriously knows that the Intarwebs offer a host of secret cheat codes which, if used, will allow the gamer to instantly deal total death to his or her opponents and crush the game with little effort. Anyone who has ever employed these cheat codes in order to beat a game has also come to the realization that it makes the game much less satisfying than if you had beat the game on your own. I differentiate here between true cheat codes and assistance like FAQs and walkthroughs, which provide advice, but still rely on your skill to reach the game's end. If life was nothing more than a game with an obvious cheat code (pray for whatever you want and you get it), it would be wholly unfulfilling for any of us. We would learn nothing from our lives. There would be no struggle, no defeat, no self-examination. Just an endless litany of prayer to overcome all obstacles in our way. Ultimately, an unrewarding life. If, instead, you see life as an endless opportunity to learn things about yourself and others, then it makes sense that prayer would not serve as an avenue for instant gratification, but rather as a vehicle through which you commit yourself to a goal. Which, ultimately, is a lot more satisfying.

2. The world is NOT full of examples of prayers being granted.

The second major fallacy of the argument is the contention that there appears to be ample evidence of prayers being granted all around us. Put simply, bullshit. Isaac Asimov once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. By corollary, anytime modern science is unable to account for a certain result, some people will attribute it to a miracle, or to prayer. But that doesn't make it so. Particularly in the field of medical "miracles," professionals are quick to admit that modern science does not begin to comprehend the full complexity of the functioning of the human body. On a daily basis across the world, cancers disappear, fevers go away, some people even apparently beat the AIDS virus (Magic Johnson ain't just a show in Tijuana). But the fact that we can't explain a certain medical phenomenon doesn't mean it's the hand of God at work. It may be God or it may be Man; lack of proof one way or another does not constitute proof of one way rather than the other.

3. God's failure to regenerate amputated limbs does not prove His nonexistence.

Finally, forget all of the above. We can disprove this point on one basis alone. Let's assume you believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God (and there are many reasons to have different beliefs). Let's assume you believe God has both the power and the inclination to become involved in the day-to-day minutiae of the lives of humans (and there are many reasons to have different beliefs). Let's assume you believe that God in fact grants the prayers of many of His subjects (and there are many reasons to have different beliefs). You could still believe that the plight of amputees is part of "God's Plan" (a phrase I hate so much it makes me itch, but let's continue) for that particular person. Perhaps God believes that that particular person needs to learn a lesson which only life as an amputee might teach. If God is indeed all-knowing (a necessary assumption for this model), who are we to argue with His plan? Each of us has room for personal and spiritual growth. There are a host of potentially enriching lessons to be learned as an amputee (patience, forgiveness, humility, and dignity come immediately to mind). Some of us might be able to learn those lessons easily. Others might need substantial assistance to learn these virtues. Perhaps God has identified these persons and intentionally planned for an amputation in other to assist them in acquiring these virtues. Jesus said "if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you: for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." Matthew 5:27-30. This clearly anticipates the need to sacrifice the functionality of a portion of your body, that you may learn an appropriate spiritual lesson.

4. Conclusion

Look, I don't pretend to have any answers here. At the end of the day, it is clear that God (if God exists) has chosen to leave us scant proof of his or her existence. The very nature of faith is the acceptance of and belief in that which cannot be proven. A cynic or skeptic can find ample evidence of the non-existence of God merely by surveying the world around us. Daily, thousands of people die in unnecessary and unjust wars around the globe, commenced by despicable despots, occasionally abetted by ill-informed and misled bodies public. Similarly, a believer finds proof of God's existence in the daily miracle which is life. One must be right, but neither can prove they are right. What bothers me is when True Believers from one side or the other pretend that the rules of logic prove their point for them. They don't. Anytime you believe you have established the existence or non-existence of God through the use of rhetoric, be assured all you have done is created a rhetoric full of holes. And such is the case here. The authors of this website may well be right---there may be no God---but they sure haven't proven it.


St. Peter said...

I'll be noting this blog post in my Book of Life, Cowboy. In the asset column. Seek and ye might find. Don't and ye won't.

Lord Bling said...

Religion: A skywizard created everything. Makes perfect sense!

The sooner people accept the fact that there is no higher power 'watching over us,' the sooner we can evolve. Seriously. Evolve, people.

Drew said...

a book worth reading...."the God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins.....equally good, and by the same guy....."the Blind Watchmaker"

Dawkins makes these arguments better than I can.