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