What If Creationists and Atheists Are Both Wrong?

What if the way you’ve been thinking about God is all wrong?  If so, you’re in good company: according to Ric Machuga, both creationists and atheists also tend to think about God incorrectly, and both groups have been thinking about God incorrectly in the same way.

Dr. Machuga is professor of philosophy at Butte College in Northern California, and the author of Three Theological Mistakes: How to Correct Enlightenment Assumptions about God, Miracles, and Free Will.  In a recent article in Books and Culture, he argues that both creationists and atheists often make the same mistake when thinking about God.  (The article is behind a paywall; I subscribe to the print journal.)

Is God Like a Divine Watchmaker?

Does God exist?  Creationists say yes, and atheists say no.  However, we need to more specifically define what we mean by “exist:”

[Medieval philosphers] Moses Maimonides (Jewish), Thomas Aquinas (Christian), and Ibn Rushd (Muslim) all understood that ‘existence’ was not a simple Yes/No matter.  While God certainly ‘exists,’ they all insisted that God’s ‘existence’ was fundamentally unlike everything else’s ‘existence.'”

Creationists, Atheists, and Even Isaac Newtown….

In our scientific culture, we tend to think of God as a divine craftsman, a heavenly watchmaker who made the universe and set it ticking.  Creationists fight hard to defend the idea of God as divine craftsman (using Genesis 1-2), while atheists fight hard to discredit the idea of God as divine craftsman (using biology, cosmology, and paleontology).  But what if God isn’t like a watchmaker at all?

The watchmaker's bench

Professor Machuga points out that thinking about God as the ultimate craftsman is a logical mistake.

Watchmakers and watches both exist.  And though they are very different in many ways–watchmakers are conscious, intentional agents; watches are not–their ‘thingness’ is precisely the same.  Contrast this with the difference between Shakespeare and Hamlet.  While both the author and his character ‘exist,’ they certainly don’t exist in the same way.  Shakespeare existed as a human being.  Hamlet only ‘exists’ as the fictional character created by Shakespeare.  Yet, the difference between Shakespeare’s existence and Hamlet’s existence is far less than the difference between God’s existence and everything else” [emphasis mine].

Isaac Newton thought that the physical laws he uncovered were “not only consistent with the existence of a supernatural Craftsman, but that they required such a God.”  Unfortunately, Newton, for all his brilliance, made a mistake in thinking about God:

Of course, in one sense, Newton knew that God and his creation ‘existed’ in different ways.  Breadth, height, and weight are common to all material objects, whereas God is a pure spirit with neither breadth, height, nor weight.  Nevertheless, to speak of a ‘very skilled mechanic’ [Newton’s phrase] intervening to prevent planetary chaos presupposes that God and the planets exist in the same way and in the same universe” [italics in the original].

But, God and the universe do NOT exist in the same way.  God is not a just divine craftsman, and thinking of God in that way points us in the wrong direction.  A better direction is to think of God as a divine playwright, because God’s reality is utterly distinct from the reality of the universe he created.  If this distinction seems confusing, just think about Shakespeare:

Because Shakespeare is not contiguous with the world of his creature, he can have a reality, endurance, stability, and ‘otherness’ that far exceeds Hamlet’s.  Without Shakespeare, Hamlet is literally nothing.  But without Hamlet, Shakespeare is still something, even if his glory is slightly diminished.”

God Isn’t a Divine Watchmaker, but a Divine Playwright

God is not simply the largest, greatest, and strongest part of our reality; God is another reality, distinct from us.  God is not a divine watchmaker who sets the universe ticking; God is a divine playwright who wills us into existence from his imagination.

We Can’t Prove or Find God, Unless….

This means that the only evidence for God that can be found in our universe is evidence that God deliberately places here.  It means that we shouldn’t expect to be able to prove God’s existence any more than Hamlet could prove the existence of Shakespeare.  It means that unless God shows up, we can never ever find him.

And it means that the Incarnation changes everything.

Why I Blog

Leadership is about influence, and it’s primarily about the influence of ideas.  I started blogging because I believe that ideas matter, and I want to be engaged in the public wrestling over which are the true and which are the false ideas.  Ideas matter.  In fact, as John Maynard Keynes reminds us, history is driven by ideas.

 

F. Verhelst [http://goo.gl/jXjUOP]

[F. Verhelst http://www.gettyimages.no/detail/photo/old-fashioned-light-bulbs-royalty-free-image/121133961]

[Ideas], both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back…. Soon or late, it is ideas… which are dangerous for good or evil.”

John Maynard Keynes from the conclusion of his General Theory [1936]
(quoted in “Lessons in Statecraft,” by George Weigel, First Things, May 2015)

Are Miracles Possible? [Science & Faith, part 2 of 3]

Jefferson Bible

 

My fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson liked Jesus but wasn’t sold on all the miracles in the Gospels.  So, he cut them out, leaving his Bible full of holes.

Was he right?  Are miracles impossible?

Option 2

In answering the question, “Can Science and Faith Be Reconciled?,” some people take option #2 and reply, “No, because faith is based on the miraculous, and we know that miracles cannot happen.”

 

Circular Reasoning

The problem, if you’re not careful, in stating categorically that miracles cannot happen is that it can lead you into a circular argument.  When pressed, many of us would have to say that miracles cannot happen because we know that they don’t happen.  But, that’s not really much of an argument.

Before we can be certain that miracles cannot happen, we have to do the hard work of investigating claims of the miraculous.  For example, before we can be sure that the Resurrection–the most famous miracle in history–did not happen, we need to examine it.

What About David Hume?

Allan_Ramsay_-_David_Hume,_1711_-_1776._Historian_and_philosopher_-_Google_Art_Project

The great 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume made some very effective arguments against the possibility of the miraculous, and his critique effectively kept generations of free-thinking Westerners from accepting the miraculous.  But, although much of Hume’s work has held up well, his argument against miracles has been discredited by modern philosophers.  For example, the philosopher John Earman even wrote a book called Hume’s Abject Failure: the Argument Against Miracles.

There are many reasons not to believe in a particular miracle, or even in all miracles, but categorically declaring that the miraculous cannot happen goes too far.

 

Blind Faith

Many religious people have gone in another direction.  Admitting rationally that miracles don’t happen–accepting the Enlightenment bias against the miraculous–they have white-knuckled-forced themselves to believe.  Along this route, faith is what you are supposed to believe even though you know the things you are supposed to believe are impossible.  This version of blind faith is dangerous and is one reason many people raised in rigidly fundamentalist churches and homes often completely reject their faith when they leave home: they encounter intelligent arguments against what they previously held in blind faith, and, at a loss, everything they once believed unravels.

 

Summary

We can’t categorically reject miracles, and we also shouldn’t accept some version of faith that is completely irrational and unthinking.  When it comes to the question, “Can science and faith be reconciled,” we need another option….