Herein lies the ancient roots of many atheological arguments, especially pop arguments by amateur internet atheologians. Just because a woodchuck could chuck would, doesn’t mean he would. Perhaps it would be different for each woodchuck. Maybe Bob the woodchuck would chuck 1 pound of wood because Bob doesn’t happen to like chucking wood. But, Jim the woodchuck likes the idea of chucking wood and so he would chuck 100 pounds of wood. Maybe, though, the question just means, if a woodchuck could indeed chuck wood, how much could he chuck. But, then, “would” is used as a synonym for “could.” Thus the twister would read: “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” “Would” usually connotes a disposition or willingness to do something, i.e, “Would you pick up eggs for me while you’re at the store?” So, just because Bob could chuck wood doesn’t mean he would chuck as much as Jim. That a woodchuck could chuck wood doesn’t entail that he would. This is a modal fallacy. Now, before you go getting all upset and say that I’m taking this children’s game too far, remember that I’m just saying that the roots of many amateur atheological arguments have their roots in children’s games. The difference is that the game doesn’t pretend to be making any serious point, and so we can go easy on any in depth analysis.
I’m of course granting the atheist the gratuitous assumption that claims like this:
“At a larger level, if Jesus were God, he could have performed so many real miracles. He could have, for example, eliminated smallpox and a host of other diseases that science is busy eliminating today.”
The argument is basically claiming that Jesus must not have been God because if He was he could have done certain things, and, being supposedly “all-loving,” he would have done those things.
Or, take these myriad claims by John Loftus,
God could reveal himself in every generation in a myriad of ways since he is supposedly an omniscient being.
He could become incarnate in every generation and do miracles for all to see. If people wanted to kill him again and he didn't need to die again, he could simply vanish before their eyes.
He could spontaneously appear and heal people, or end a famine, or stop a war.
He could raise up John F. Kennedy from the dead.
He could provide a blazing cross in the sky.
He could restore an amputated limb in full sight of an crowd of people which would include all of the best magicians along with the Mythbusters and James Randi, who would all find fault if fault could be found.
He could do any and all of the miracles he did in the Bible from time to time, including miraculously feeding 5000 men with their families. The list of things God could do in each generation is endless.
We can find these argumentum ad tongue twistums all over the place, though. One more should suffice.
God could have appeared to Herod in a dream and told him not to kill these children.
God could have killed Herod.
God could have guided the wise men so that Herod would not have felt mocked by them.
God could have protected the babies.
God could have spoken to the murdering soldiers and turned them away from the task.
God could have sent all of these families to Egypt when he sent Jesus and his family there.
God could have made it so that no male children besides Jesus were born during that time.
God could have changed history so that Herod was not king.
So, like we agreed above, just because a woodchuck could chuck wood, doesn’t mean that it would. “Would” implies desire or willingness. I know you “could” pick up eggs at the store for me -- after all, you are going there, and have the money, but I want to know if you will (or, “would”) pick them up for me.
Indeed, we apply this type of reasoning all the time. If a person S gets murdered, then S1 - Sn are not considered suspects just because they could kill S. Now, if S* was willing to or desired to murder S, then we would have a suspect. Just because someone S could do some action A does not imply that S would A.
Now, if S* could not murder S, say, he was a quadriplegic and was 1,000 miles away at the time, attending a dinner with President Bush, then it wouldn’t matter if he desired to. But, we must all agree that just because someone could doesn’t imply that they would. To blame someone for an action, they must have at least been able to do it, but that’s not sufficient to charge someone with a crime.
Thus the atheological arguments must not simply make the rather obvious point that an omnipotent being could do X, Y, and Z, and then enthymematically conclude that God would have done X, Y, and Z if He were really God.
Since could doesn’t imply would, the atheological argumentum ad tongue twistums tendentiously smuggle in anthropocentric notions of what God would or would not do. That is, since could does not entail would, it is tendentious to tell us what God is willing to, or desires to, do; especially if He has not revealed that He is so willing, and you're importing humanistic desires on to God. The atheologian has not taken any of these supposed Divine desires out of Scripture. And, if I may be so bold, I don’t think God told the atheologian what He desired. So, upon inspection, all these (fairly frequent) atheological arguments tell us is simply a autobiographical report of what the atheist thinks God should, or should not, be like if He existed.
They atheist supposes that God is like Jim, our wood-loving woodchuck. And since the atheist knows God’s dispositions, he can then say that God “would” do X, and since He’s omnipotent, nothing should stop Him.
So, take Loftus’ “arguments” (yes, those were intended to be scare quotes). Given the assumption that God wants to reveal himself to everyone in a way that the person would think is acceptable enough to believe -- like God is some puppy clamoring for anyone and everyone’s affection and attention -- then maybe God “would” have reincarnated Himself every subsequent generation, vanishing before their eyes if they tried to kill him. (One must wonder, though, why they would try and “kill him” if Loftus thinks this is such a good way to reveal yourself. I mean, who would want to kill God. Humans would love God if only they had the opportunity to believe in Him, says Loftus. Despite Loftus’ slip, I digress in continuing on…)
Basically, the argument goes like this: “But, but, but, God could save every single person on earth.” We can reply, “Why would you think God would do a thing like that?” Surely the “But, but, but, that would make God a big meany” argument isn’t the comeback here, is it?
The atheist would laugh if police knocked on his door and said that since he merely “could have” murdered his neighbor, they were going to arrest him. The atheist must admit that the mere fact that God “could” X, does not imply that He “would” X. The atheist must show that God is disposed, or willing to, do X. This latter requirement is simply lacking.
Frequently the atheist will say, “Well if I could have stopped 9/11, I would have.” Why? “Well, because then all those people wouldn’t have died.” But here the “willingness” to stop 9/11 is that man, his life, and avoidance of human suffering is the highest good. So we see that the atheist views God as having the same desires as him. God is simply a more powerful humanist. Jehovah is a crypto-humanist! And the atheists say that Christians have made God into their image (yes, that was meant to be sarcastic).
The “God could do X” argument is simply an argument from certain unbiblical assumptions of what God would be disposed or willing to do given that He’s the kind of being the atheist thinks He is, or should be. Since God doesn’t do what the atheist (says) he’d do if he (the atheist) were running the universe, then God must not exist. The atheist is jealous that s/he isn’t running the show. The atheist looks at divinity in a modern, Burger King way; he wants it his way. And since things aren’t done his way, he’ll take to undermining the one in charge. This is Monday morning quarterback atheology. “Oh, he shouldn’t have thrown it to him on that one play.” “Boy, if I were coaching I would’ve went for it on 4th down.” Or, like those clawing for a promotion at a large company: “Smith totally botched that deal, if I had his job I would have handled the Yakazawa’s differently.”
It’s actually sad to see atheists acting like this. Kind of pathetic.
Bottom line, God owns the company. He’s running the show. He has shown that He will judge the world by raising His Son from the dead. This Easter Sunday you should reflect on the fact that Jesus has shown that death isn’t the end of us. Each and everyone of us will stand before God on judgment day. Jesus rose from the dead some two thousand years ago. You don’t have to like it, but it happened. You can trust in Christ as your only hope, or, like a dog returns to his vomit, you can come back on Monday and shop these types of pathetic arguments around some more. Cross your arms, stiffen your upper lip, and throw a big hissy fit because God didn’t give you wings so you could fly or neuter you like Loftus dog. Pout because Jesus doesn’t come back every generation and disappear before people kill him. “Harrumph(!), I won’t believe in God because He won’t ‘provide a blazing cross in the sky.’” Seriously, jokes over guys. Grow up.