Thursday, January 28, 2016


Victor Reppert kindly plugged my "Skywriting" post over at his blog, which generated some feedback. I'm reposting my comments here:

steve said...
i) The question of why God intervenes in some situations rather than others is a separate issue from the question of whether a particular event is naturally explicable.

ii) I'd add that if God intervenes, that will have a ripple effect, and if God refrains from intervention, that will have a ripple effect, so there can certainly be a reason why God intervenes in some situations, but not more often.

Consider time-travel stories where someone goes back into the past to change the future in order to avert some catastrophe. But his intervention has other consequences. It may prevent one evil, but cause other evils (down the line). It may prevent other goods which are contingent on the catastrophe.

steve said...
i) Whether you personally think skywriting would be miraculous is beside the point. The post was about a class of atheists who say a miracle like that would convince them that God exists. I'm running with a premise that they themselves supply.

ii) Your counterexample about the Gita is a diversionary tactic. That changes the subject. The question at issue was whether the example that some atheists give of a convincing miracle (skywriting) is consistent with their customary definition of a miracle (i.e. "violation of natural laws").

iii) I'd also add that the issue wasn't a particular religion, but the existence of a God.

steve said...
Cal Metzger said...

"What would Christians here accept as evidence that Odin exists and is the one supreme god?"

i) That has precisely nothing to do with the topic of my post. So either Cal fails to grasp the issue or he is changing the subject because he can't cope with the actual question at issue.

ii) Let's recap:

In my experience, many atheists don't think an event would qualify as a miracle unless it breaks a natural law. They may tweak the definition a bit, but that's their basic operating framework.

Conversely, it's become an atheist trope to say skywriting would be a convincing miracle. Not all atheists say that, but some prominent atheists use that example.

To the extent that atheists use a Humean definition of miracles, if some of them also use skywriting as an example of a convincing miracle, then their example contradicts their definition. I've described how skywriting can be consistent with the laws of physics.

Skywriting is an example of a coincidence miracle. That's an alternative to Hume's definition. A coincidence miracle involves an opportune convergence of causally independent chains of events.

What makes it miraculous is not that it contravenes a law of nature, but that it's not something nature would do on its own. A coincidence miracle is too discriminating. It requires personal agency. Intelligent manipulation of the circumstances to yield that outcome.

iii) I'm not saying that I think these are mutually exclusive definitions. I think they are complementary. But from the viewpoint of an atheist, if an atheist defines a miracle as a violation of natural laws, and if, conversely, he says skywriting would be a convincing miracle, then he's riding two different horses.

iv) An atheist could relieve the tension by broadening his definition of miracles to include coincidence miracles. However, he pays a price for a more expansive definition. For that greatly deepens the potential pool of miracles, as well as the potential evidence for said miracles. Hence, the atheist now has more kinds of miracles to disprove. For instance, many miraculous answers to prayer would be classified as coincidence miracles.

v) Atheists use skywriting as a throwaway concession. They don't think that will ever happen, so they don't think admitting that will cost them anything. It allows them to pay lip-service to rationality and evidence without having to grant an actual miracle. Or so they suppose.

But although skywriting is hypothetical, it belongs to the class of coincidence miracles, and that is not hypothetical. There are ever so many miracles that fit that category. So this becomes a dilemma for atheists.

That's the argument. Odin is a decoy. We could chase down that rabbit trail, but that should not be allowed to distract from the actual topic of the post.

steve said...
That's Cal's modus operandi. Because he refuses to study, much less engage, actual evidence for actual miracles–despite the fact that I, for one, have directed him to some excellent resources–he diverts attention away from his manifest failure and intellectual frivolity by "asking questions" about unicorns or Odin.

Moreover, my post is not about the credibility of miracles or evidence for miracles, but about a simple point of consistency. Mind you, resolving the inconsistency has problematic consequences for the atheists in view.

Cal is free to make a speech in front of the mirror. In the meantime, the real issue remains.

steve said...
It's amusing to see Cal writhe and twist to change the subject. Keep in mind that this is not how I, as a Christian, framed the issue. Rather, this is how atheists framed the issue. Skywriting is an atheist trope. I'm just responding to atheists on their own grounds. It's hardly "caviling" for me to hold them to the implications of their chosen example.

Atheists want to seem reasonable. They want to be able to say that their beliefs are based on evidence, and subject to factual correction. So they use the skywriting example because that's a safe example. It's an artificial example. They have no fear that it will ever happen. Their bluff won't be called.

However, using that example unwittingly backs them into a corner. By using the skywriting example, they concede that it would be irrational for them to disbelieve in God if confronted with a miracle of that kind.

Problem is, that's a particular kind of miracle: a coincidence miracle. And even though the skywriting example is artificial, there are many reported miracles of the same kind. That forces them to admit it would be irrational for them to disbelieve God's existence in the face of coincidence miracles. But in that event they must explain away countless coincidence miracles.

Incidentally, a problem with Cal's Odin example is his tendentious comparison between Odin and Yahweh. He posits an analogy, then demands that we disprove the analogy. But the onus is on him to show that Odin and Yahweh are the same kind of being. He hasn't provided any supporting argument for his parallel. It's not incumbent on me to disprove an unproven contention.

Cal has a habit of taking intellectual shortcuts.

steve said...
Atheists like Cal have stock objections to Christianity which they dutifully cribbed from leaders of the New Atheist movement. They didn't originate these objections. They don't think for themselves. They can't think on their feet.

When a Christian presents an argument for which they have no prepared answers, they try to change the subject as fast as they can. Because Cal's deck of cue cards has no prepared answer for the question at issue, he's at a loss to respond. So his solution is to threadjack the post by changing the subject.

steve said...
I've given Cal multiple opportunities to engage the actual topic of the post. Now that he's demonstrated his inability to disprove my point, we might briefly dispatch his attempted comparison between Yahweh and Odin. There are two considerations:

1. Sources of information

i) According to Scripture, Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate. In the NT, we have a set of 1C documents about a figure who appeared in the 1C. Contemporaneous reports.

Traditionally, these documents are ascribed to people who knew Jesus or people who knew people who knew Jesus. Either firsthand accounts or accounts based on firsthand informants.

The traditional attributions have been defended in scholarly articles, commentaries, monographs, and NT introductions. Likewise, there are various lines of internal and external evidence for the historicity of these documents.

These accounts describe Jesus as God Incarnate, performing miracles.

In addition, reported miracles aren't confined to the Gospels. There's credible evidence for Christian miracles throughout church history, right up to the present. Likewise, answered prayers in the name of Jesus.

We also have corroboration from some church fathers. Either early church fathers or somewhat later fathers with an antiquarian interest who made a point of gathering information from early sources.

In addition, there are messianic types and prophecies that foreshadow or predict the advent of a person just like Jesus.

ii) By contrast, what evidence is there that legends about Odin were written by anyone who actually encountered Odin? Is the genre even ostensibly historical?

What are the dates of the sources in relation to the first reports?

What evidence is there that Odin answers prayer? What evidence is there for continued miracles in the name of Odin?

2. Nature of the deity

i) According to Scripture, Yahweh/Jesus is the preexistent Creator of the world. According to the OT, Yahweh is essentially incorporeal.

ii) According to Nordic/Teutonic mythology, Odin is a physical, humanoid "god". A mortal being. Finite in knowledge and power. He didn't create the world. He is the son of Bor and Bestla. He has two brothers. He has affairs with human women, female giants, &c.

So the concept of Odin isn't comparable to the concept of Yahweh. Odin is a different kind of being than Yahweh. What theistic proofs would even apply to a being like Odin?

"Odin's a person, he's immortal, he has supernatural powers, he is the most powerful supernatural being, etc. If you can't see how Odin could be analogous (which doesn't mean "identical") to Yahweh then I don't know what else to say."

i) Odin is not immortal. 

ii) Moreover, even if he were immortal, it wouldn't be in the same sense that Yahweh is immortal. Physical immortality is hardly equivalent to the timeless eternality of an incorporeal being.   

iii) And what makes him a "supernatural" being in the worldview of Nordic/Teutonic mythology? 

"steve's response talked brought up the standard apologist talking points but didn't answer my hypothetical question about miracles and Odin -- steve's response basically says "Yawheh is different than Odin in these ways." Um, I know they're not identical -- why should that prohibit responding to my hypothetical?" 

Either Cal is intellectually dishonest or intellectually challenged: 

i) Yahweh and Odin are categorically different kinds of beings. Therefore, Cal's attempted analogy is vitiated by fundamental disanalogies.

ii) I also pointed out the difference in sources. Cal ignores that.

iii) I further pointed out evidence for Yahweh's existence that's wholly absent in the case of Odin.

Cal is either unable or unwilling to argue in good faith. 

iv) And keep in mind that his question had nothing to do with the actual topic of the post. 

steve said...

BTW, consider the irrationality of Cal's agenda, which he belatedly fessed up to:

"My purpose in commenting here is to point out those instances where I see hypocrisy, inconsistency, and sanctimony…"

i) This exposes his utter inability to know what's important. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that some Christians are hypocritical or sanctimonious.

Notice the misguided focus on Christians rather than Christianity. Whether or not some Christians are hypocritical, sanctimonious, &c. has absolutely no bearing on the truth-claims of Christianity. It has no bearing on whether God called Abraham, or delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage; no bearing on whether God became Incarnate in the person of Jesus, performed miracles, died to make atonement, and rose from the dead; no bearing on what happens to us after we die.

Instead, Cal has cast himself in the role of moral policeman, to see if he can catch any Christians sneaking 16 items through the 15 item or less express check stand.

ii) Moreover, his fixation is ridiculous on secular grounds. If atheism is true, then humans are just another temporary animal species in natural history. We will become extinct, just like every other species. When we die, it's as if we never existed.

So, from that standpoint, who cares whether some hominids are sanctimonious and hypocritical. Does the graveyard care? Does the universe care?


  1. This was a really good read. Thanks for re-posting here. Poor Cal seems to have bitten off more than he could chew.

  2. It should also be noted that rather than evidence for God, skywriting could be consistently interpreted by atheists as evidence that we live in a simulated universe and that the message is from our finite creator(s). Atheists could reason in such a way as to conclude that that's a more likely possibility because it doesn't involve the supernatural in the sense of "spiritual" even if it involves the "super"natural in the sense that there is or are (finite) creators outside of our universe "above" our realm or ontological level (or scale or chain of being). It doesn't involve a Creator/creature distinction where the Creator is the Supreme Being to whom we're accountable. That's more acceptable/palatable to fallen humanity who have a "built-in" aversion to the Holiness of God.

    Secondly, atheists could argue our living in a simulation is more likely since (their fallen, unregenerate, sinful) Reason, as they conceive of it (unaided and uninformed by Scripture), sees a silent or anonymous Deity of Deism more worthy of and consistent with an absolutely Transcendent God than a personal interacting and intervening God like that found in the Abrahamic religions. It's not uncommon for popular spirituality to see Christianity's conception of God as too anthropomorphic/anthropopathic. How many times have we heard non-Christians say something like "The universe is so big, complex and mysterious that if a God does exist, we're too small and insignificant for He/She/IT to take notice of us or concern Itself with us."?

    But that's precisely part of the wonder and the glory of the Christian message. As Madame Guyon wrote (often translated thus):

    Oh! then repeat the charming truth that never tires;

    No God is like the God my soul desires;

    He at whose voice heaven trembles, even he,

    Great as he is, knows how to stoop to me.

    Or as Scripture puts it:

    3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
    4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

    5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
    - Ps. 8:3-5 ESV

    17 What is man, that you make so much of him,
    and that you set your heart on him
    18 visit him every morning
    and test him every moment?- Job 7:17-18 ESV

    1. Oh, and for those who don't know, non-Christians are seriously considering the possibility of our living in a simulation.

      See for example Nick Bostrom's (now famous) Simulation Argument which he summarizes in this YouTube video HERE:

      Or the Wikipedia article on the Simulation Hypothesis

      Here's a Christian spin on the simulation hypothesis which argues for theism

      See also my blogpost Here:

    2. typo correction:

      Here's the link to the Wikipedia article:

    3. For the theist, theism is a more parsimonious and elegant explanation of our experience, and the complexity and fine-tuning of the world. Similarly, for the naturalist, options like the multiverse or the simulation hypothesis are more parsimonious and elegant explanations of our experience, and the complexity and fine-tuning of the world. Human Total Depravity bends non-regenerate perceptions and desires so that non-Christians see the world incorrectly and sinfully. It takes the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see through created reality to God, the Tri-personal Ultimate Reality and ground of all being and ultimate explanation and infallible explainer/expositor of all reality.