Defeating Religion in One Easy Step, part 1

Part 1 – Laying the Groundwork

Luke Muehlhauser, the proprietor of Common Sense Atheism, has proposed that we can defeat religions in one easy step.  To do so, he takes a broad look at different arguments for God and notices what they all have in common: They all posit God as the best explanation for something.

The problem?

How does saying “God did it” explain any of these things? How does “God did it” offer a solution to any of the problems that philosophers and scientists are working on? When you’re confronted with a difficult problem, you can’t just say “Well, I guess it was magic.” That doesn’t solve anything!

“Poof! Magic” is not an explanation.

How is he going to argue that God isn’t the best explanation?  He begins by listing reasons that an explanation would be good:

  1. It’s testable and it passes the tests we give it.
  2. It’s consistent with our background knowledge and experience.  (What philosopher Tom Morris called The Principle of Belief Conservation).
  3. It’s simpler than the alternatives.
  4. It has good explanatory scope — in other words, it explains a wide variety of data.

Luke argues that “God did it” fails all four of these criteria:

For example, is the God hypothesis testable? No. Saying “God did it” renders no specific predictions for us to test, because God is all powerful and he could be responsible for anything. And theologians are very insistent on this because if they started to make the God hypothesis more specific and he would render specific predictions, it usually turns out that he fails the test. So they’ve been very careful to make God this mysterious, all-powerful thing and we don’t understand his purposes and he could be doing just about anything and we wouldn’t understand why. So there are no specific predictions that come out of the God hypothesis; there’s no way to test it. And it doesn’t make sense to say God is the best hypothesis if there’s no way to test whether or not that hypothesis is true.

This seems to work prima facie.  In fact, this summarizes two websites (Why Won’t God Heal Amputees? and God is Imaginary) in one paragraph — without the red herrings, arrogant sense of superiority, and overbearing rhetoric.

Unfortunately, it isn’t without the same bad theology.  This reply doesn’t work because it argues against a straw man while misunderstanding some basic points about the nature of God.

First, God’s motives aren’t mysterious.  God makes all things work out for the sake of those that love him (Rom 8:1).  God makes himself plain to the fools and obscures himself from the self-professed “wise” (1 Cor 1:18-31).

Second, the New Atheist mindset makes God a thing and tries to point to experiments that “prove” prayer doesn’t work as evidence that God doesn’t exist.  The problem with that is that God isn’t a thing or a force; but a living, acting intelligence with a will of his own.  For that reason, tests of the efficacy of prayer are difficult since God is free to not honor the prayer (by nature, a prayer is a request, not a demand; and despite atheistic contentions to the contrary it is not promised by Jesus that God will answer every prayer affirmatively).

Some may argue that I’ve proven Luke’s point for him.  But what I’ve done is created a testable prediction.

  1. God answers prayer.
  2. God obscures himself from the intellectual elite.

There is one additional thing Luke has overlooked.  God has warned us that we shouldn’t test him.  Jesus reiterates this to Satan in Matthew 4.  Putting (1) & (2) together with this new point, I propose that we would expect direct tests or experiments to fail every single time.  I would further propose that genuine appeals have a much higher likelihood of an affirmative reply.

Why Won’t God Heal Amputees? cites the case of Jeanna Giese, in which it appears heartfelt prayers actually saved a little girl from dying of rabies.  However, the same site points out that all of the “test” or experimental trials don’t seem to work.  Score one for a testable prediction!

Tomorrow, I’ll answer whether God fails the second criterion.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian who prays that this blog will be used solely for furthering God's plan of salvation and for His glory. See my "About Us" page for further information about me and about my wife.

Posted on January 30, 2014, in Apologetics. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I wonder about the “failed prayer” test as well. One thing that I’ve pointed out in the past is that the notion that there is “no difference” between people being prayed for and those who aren’t is that there is literally no way to do a control on that kind of experiment. For example, in one that I recall (I could be wrong here), the testers had a group where some people prayed for a group of cancer patients, while the other group of patients were not being prayed for.

    Well, every night when I pray part of my petition is something to the effect of: “Lord, be with those who are ill…” Thus, I just ruined that test group. I would envision there are people out there who cover all kinds of other prayer topics that could be “tested” for.

    What do you think of that?

    • I’ve never liked the prayer experiments. The scientific method is designed to isolate variables and that’s inherently difficult to do in the social sciences because you can’t control people. For example, in a prayer study, they wouldn’t account for people in the control group being prayed for by people that aren’t a part of the study.

      In all, I don’t think prayer IS something we can test effectively in a scientific experiment.

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