Friday, July 06, 2012

The hand is quicker than the eye

Unbelievers often say there’s no evidence for God’s existence. Among other things, that turns on what counts as evidence. Let’s take a few examples:

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov 16:33).

12  “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13  But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee (Exod 21:12-13).

19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”

29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” 32 And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out. 33 And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34 But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” 35 And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot (1 Kings 22:19-23,29-35).

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home (Lk 1:8-23).

These are what are called coincidence miracles. Outwardly, they may seem indistinguishable from chance events. But they’re too “lucky” to be random.

These examples remind me of some lines from The Cincinnati Kid:

                         "Could" isn't good enough for a man
                         who hates to lose money as much as I
                         do. He's going to need help -- from
                         the best man with a pack of cards
                         between Omaha and New Orleans.

                         Not a chance, Bill. You ought to
                         know I never ever use what I got
                         with the cards for nothing but tricks
                         and dressing up a game.

                         I made up my mind to this. I ain't
                         going to give him any help till he
                         needs it.

                         THE KID
                         Now, just what the hell are you trying
                         to pull?

                         Nothing -- what are you talking about?

                                     THE KID
                         You, Shooter Man -- you been feeding
                         me cards for an hour.

                         Even if I was you couldn't spot it
                         -- I'm too good a mechanic
                         for anybody to spot it.

                                     THE KID
                         But I was looking for it, Shooter --
                         four times you give me the cards I

                         You seen it before often enough. One
                         player draws four good ones.

                                     THE KID
                         Never in a game when I been told
                         ahead the dealer has a stake in my
                         coming out on top.

                         Kid, you got to understand. It wasn't
                         my idea --

                                     THE KID
                         Well who the hell's was it then --
                         Schlaegel? --

                         He's got the squeeze on me Kid and
                         he's meaner than hell. He'll cut me
                         up if I don't come through.
                         You think I wanted to deal a phony
                         game? You think it don't mean
                         something to me? I never done a
                         crooked thing before in my life.

                                     THE KID
                         Now you get straight on this. No fix.
 You come along straight or I blow it wide

Shooter is a cardsharp. Because he’s such a deft “mechanic,” you can’t spot him stacking the deck. The hand is quicker than the eye.

But even if you can’t detect the process by which he stacks the detect, you can detect the effect of his shuffling. And you can reason back from the effect to the mind behind the nonrandom process that’s invisibly guiding the outcome.

Likewise, even if there were no direct evidence for God’s existence, it would still be possible to infer his existence from events that are too coincidental to be random. Events which may appear to be natural events, chance events, which carry private significance to the parties concerned.

Cf. Arthur Koestler, “Anecdotal Cases,” Alister Hardy, Robert Harvie, & Arthur Koestler, The Challenge of Chance (Random House 1974), 167-224.

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