Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Why doesn't God prevent evil?

I believe Rauser was raised in a conservative charismatic church, but he's been a "progressive Christian" for many years, so his testimony can't be dismissed as the confirmation bias by a "fundamentalist".

This example is interesting from a theodical standpoint. Why doesn't God prevent evil? Why didn't God simply prevent the accident in the first place? 

But if he did, the accident would be a nonevent. There'd be nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to remember. God's intervention would be indetectable.

By allowing the accident  to happen but miraculously mitigating the natural effects, this becomes a witness to God's existence and special providence. It became known to Rauser's family and church. And now he's talking about it in the public domain. That's edifying in a way that prevention is not. 

The same holds true for many cases where, rather than preventing evil, God defeats evil. Overrules it for good, as a witness to his providential presence. 

When I was about ten years old, I was riding my bike home from school when I crossed the street just up the hill from our house … except this time I didn’t do my usual shoulder check for oncoming traffic. A second later I suddenly heard a car horn blast followed by the sickening squeal of tires. Then, just as I turned to my left I saw the grill of a large Buick as if it were hovering but a few terrifying feet away from me. You know how people talk about time slowing down when their life is in danger? That describes my experience. Though it was a mere split second, even now I can still visualize the grill of that Buick, frozen in time, looming in space mere feet away from me.
The next moment I was sent sailing through the air and rolling on the asphalt as the car came to a lurching halt on the graveled shoulder of the road. Here’s where the miracle bit takes center stage. Incredibly, I never felt the impact of the car. At the moment when I should have been making contact with a chrome grill, all I felt was a cushion of air. Even more incredibly, though I had been sent flying off my bike and skidding on the asphalt with no helmet or pads, I got up with no injuries at all, save a single scrape on my elbow.
Shortly thereafter, as I was wheeling my bike up the driveway, our Christian babysitter, Mrs. White, burst out the front door. She said that she had been sitting on the couch watching TV when God told her that I was in trouble and she needed to pray for my safety. So pray she did until she sensed God telling her that the danger had passed.


  1. "When he noticed the proximity of the car to him, several changes would have swept through [Rauser’s] body. His adrenal glands, near his kidneys, would have released adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) into his bloodstream. The adrenaline would have directed blood to the powerful muscles of his arms and legs, where it would help him escape [danger] faster. The hormone would have raised his heart and breathing rates. It also would have stimulated his vagus nerve, which runs from his spine to his brain. Although adrenaline cannot cross the blood–brain barrier, the vagus can promote noradrenaline production in the brain. That hormone activates the amygdala, which helps form memories.

    Just the right amount of noradrenaline, researchers have found, can boost memory storage; too much can destroy it. Figuring out the balance could allow researchers to harness the hormone. Neuroscientist Christa McIntyre at the University of Texas at Dallas and colleagues have been studying how the chemical shapes memory-making in rats (her team is planning a human trial). When the team stimulated rats’ vagus nerves the animals’ memories improved. McIntyre has to keep the dose low, however, because other experiments have shown that too much noradrenaline appears to impede memory-making. Researchers are still trying to determine whether the excess noradrenaline directly causes the memory lapses or if the hormone is associated with high stress levels that cause some other chemical system to interfere. "That's the part we don't really understand: if there's too much [noradrenaline] or if there's another system that kicks in and puts a brake on it," McIntyre says.

    [Rauser's] memory lapses may be due to a noradrenaline overflow. But there may be other explanations for the gaps in his memory. His brain may have narrowed his attention at the time of the crash to only those things that matter for survival, such as [avoiding the car], leading him to ignore things that do not, such as [the sensation of actually being struck]. Researchers have shown that humans report selective hearing during stressful events and that stressed people pay attention to different things than do unstressed people"

    The above passage is from a Scientific American article ( To show how this applies to Rauser's experience, I changed the name and type of accident referenced.

    1. Sorry, I'm wondering, did you have a specific objection to something in Rauser's account that you think this would be relevant to? Or is it more for scientific interest's sake (which is cool if so)?

      I think most of this is correct if taken at a more popular level. I mean it's simplified, but more or less correct.

      I'd say what's true for rats may or may not be true for humans. At best, animal studies are a step in the right direction, but typically far from established application to humans.

    2. i) Yes, you can have a shock reaction where you don't feel anything at the time. But if you survive, that wears off.

      ii) That fails to explain the lack of actual damage.

      iii) Or the timing with the prayer.

  2. Thanks for reading and considering my post! To answer each point: yes, this was an attempt to provide a psychological and physiological explanation for what Mr Rauser considers to be the unexplained lack of memory. I agree, common sense tells me that rat testing is at best a source of further hypothesis but I'm not a scientist so I'm skeptical and open minded.

    Steve,I'm sure you're right that some memory loss due to trauma can be recovered, but I think it's an inaccurate sweeping generalization to say that "if you survive, that wears off." I'll look for some more in nfo on that to verify. As for the lack of actual damage and the timing of prayer... I think the significance of those are destined to be forever informed by each of our cognitive biases. Some see a miracle, others see fortunate coincidence.
    Personally, I don't feel uneasy when causation is unable to be determined. As a result, I'm cool with those things being unexplained. Be well!

    1. Thanks, Egon. I think I might better understand from where you're coming now. I'd say a few things if I may:

      1. I don't think the issue is Rauser's "lack of memory". In fact, what he wrote was quite specific and descriptive. He remembered a lot. In short, the issue isn't what he didn't remember, but what he did remember: what he remembers is what calls for an explanation.

      2. At the very least, what happened to Rauser in terms of the neurophysiological processes is consistent with either a naturalistic or a supernaturalistic interpretation. The scientific data is the same.

      3. Related, explaining how doesn't necessarily rule out explaining why. Scientific processes and divine agency aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. If a person smiles at me, and I can explain the smile in terms of the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) which innervates the buccal and zygomaticus major muscles, thereby causing them to contract, and so on, that does not rule out the fact that the reason this person smiled at me is because he's my friend. Personal agency isn't reducible to scientific explanation.

  3. I hear ya EoD. My worldview is that there isn't always an answer to "why," and that the only reason people need an answer is the instinct to reduce insecurity and feel safe. When something is unexplainable, people connect dots in whatever way helps them sleep at night, which is informed by a combination of our experiences and physiology.
    I'm still learning, though, and that's why I have these conversations. Cheers!

    1. Thanks again, Egon. I'd agree there are cases which may be ultimately "unexplainable". I'd agree in such cases there's nothing wrong with appealing to agnosticism or mystery or something along those lines (depending on the case).

      However, if I can gently push back a wee bit, it seems to me in Rauser's case you're not claiming the explanation is "unexplainable", but rather that it has a purely naturalistic (neurophysiological) explanation.

      In addition, as Steve pointed out in his above comment, Rauser's case has at least prima facie positive evidence for the intervention of an agent.

      And I'd demur from your contention that "the only reason people need an answer is the instinct to reduce insecurity and feel safe". Rather I'd say there are a lot of different reasons people want solid answers. It depends on the specific case in question. Some reasons could be good reasons, while other reasons could be bad reasons.

      Regardless, thanks for a civil chat!