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The Good News is the Bad News is the Good News is…Whatever

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I am sitting at this computer this morning  feeling more addled that I can say.  I’ve only been up since eleven, which is something I never do.  In this case, however, it’s not that I decided to sleep in and now feel sluggish because of it.

What happened was that our power went out last night around half past twelve, and I got up at one forty five to find that my two sons were sitting up in the living room together, waiting for it to go back on again.

My younger son has been having vision problems lately, and he didn’t want to go upstairs in the dark.  My older son was keeping him company until there was light to see with.

I ended up downstairs, too, and we called the power company to see what was going on.  The automated system cheerfully informed us that our power would go back on by “seven fifteen a.m.”

I managed to stay downstairs and awake until seven fifteen came and went without any sign of the power.  Then I went back to sleep while Matt stayed down until the sunlight was absolutely blazing.   I woke up again around ten to find that the power was still not on.  I turned over and was finally awoken by the sound of the water in the heating pipes suddenly circulating.

That’s how I got here.

I’m going through all this just to make sure that you understand I might not be all that coherent.    Also, the typos might be worse than usual.

But to answer John–Augustine had the same answer for the problem of evil every Christian writer I’ve ever read has had–God is too big for you to understand, just trust that this all makes sense in the end, and you’ll know eventually.

It’s the kind of thing that, in general, just makes me crazy.  Too much of the discussion about religion with religious people depends on arguments that rely on the nonbeliever having an artificially restricted set of options.

Either think the universe is full of chance and circumstance and radically meaningless, or take this on faith and believe that there is a God who will make sense of it in the end.

This would be a weak argument even if the only two alternatives were atheism or Christianity.  It’s something worse than that when you start to take into consideration all the other religions that require you to take on faith whatever it is they have to offer.

If I stick to a very strick rule of no double standards–once I’ve set a standard of belief, I have to apply it evenly to all comers–I find myself in a position where I am unable to choose between any of them.

If I decide that it is legitimate to take the word of believers for what they have seen and experienced, absent any other evidence, then I have to take the testimony not only of Mark and John and Luke and Matthew and Paul, but of the prophets of Islam and the seers of Hindusim as well.

Many people from many traditions claim to have witnessed miracles and talked to God.  

Robert said, last time I discussed this here, that you have to determine which of the witnesses you’re listening to is the most credible. 

But I see no way of proving that the witness of Paul is more credible than the witness of Mohammed, or vice versa. 

All I can judge, at this late stage of the game, is what has resulted from the fact that other people have believed them.

And the witness of history–which is what that is–is not negligible. 

The problem is, it’s also not decisive in determining the credibility of the witnesses to the Resurrection.

I am certainly more attracted to where Christianity got us than I am to where Islam got the other people over there,  but that does not prove that Christ actually rose from the dead or that when He died the graves opened and the dead walked.

And although the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, it bothers me that there is no third party, non-faith-connected witnesses to any of these things.  Surely if these things had really happened, somebody, somewhere would have taken notice of them, if only to say “Gee, the other day in Jerusalem, the oddest stuff happened.”

But in the end the simple nature of the world, the way in which truly terrible things happen to anybody at all at random, and good ones do too, convinced me, more and more, that if we ever do find a way to prove that God exists, the God that does exist will not be the one described in Christian doctrine. 

I think this universe is possessed of a lot of things, but a benevolent creator is not one of them.

I’m going to go watch something cheerful, like a slasher movie.

This morning, with my schedule all turned around, I drank tea and listend to Beethoven’s Eroica.

That, from the same culture that gave us the three H trio of totalitarianism–Hegel, Heidigger and Hitler–and then threw in Marx for good measure.

Written by janeh

February 6th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'The Good News is the Bad News is the Good News is…Whatever'

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  1. Maybe. First-hand “I was there” accounts of miracles can be a little thin, and you need someone who saw the Crucifixion and the risen Christ, but still didn’t believe. Those might be even trickier to find.

    I would also keep in mind Jefferson’s Bible–a New Testament carefuly edited to omit anything which offended against reason, meaning basically no miracles. Since these things can’t have happened, obviously the witnesses were unreliable.
    And I would keep in mind that when he received an account of a meteorite strike carefuly recorded by some staff of Harvard (or Yale?) he called the “Yankee professors” liars–since obviously rocks couldn’t fall from the sky. You can’t fault him for one call and praise him for the other. He was consistent throughout.

    Myself, I’d agree that a suspension of natural law is VERY rare–but you don’t always need it. If a man has a dream to go to Pharoah and demand the release of his people, this is explicable by natural causes. Leading his people out of Egypt is not contrary to natural law. If the Red Sea opens for them for purely natural reasons–earthquake, storm, freak tidal combination–and closes on their pursuers, at no point has natural law been violated, but as far as I can see you have a miracle nonetheless.

    (I would place the persistence of the Jews in that category, by the way: nothing left of Egypt, Babylon and Assyria but DNA, but in Jerusalem and the hills around are still the descendants of the old childless man who was promised them–still speaking Hebrew, worshipping the One God and still pretending not to eat pork.)

    I agree that an unsupported claim of divine inspiration isn’t worth much. Anyone can claim to be a prophet. When he observes that within a generation a major public building will be flattened, and tells people to flee to the hills when they start heaping up earth outside the walls, then within a generation Roman armies come by build a dirt siege wall outside the city and flatten said public building, you take the claim to prophecy a bit more seriously. (I know there was some confusion. As a man who spent too much of his life in classrooms, I don’t think anyone started writing down the Gospels until after the Resurection, when it suddenly hit the disciples that This Will Be On The Final.)

    And, like the traditional fig tree, religions should be measured by their fruits. Not always what they should be, but nothing human is. What is the logical fruit of a belief that all we do–all human endeavor–is no more than building sand castles at the low tide line?

    As for the nature of the Deity, if I hear a report of my son doing something unKurtlike, I feel since I know him, that either the report is garbled or he has a reason I don’t know. I don’t know everything he knows, and I can’t examine his motivation. The same courtesy, I trust, is extended to your children?

    Which brings us back to those good things happening to bad people. Remember we’re not supposed to judge people anyway. Someone else gets to decide the whole good person/bad person business. But I’d keep in mind that those things may be to the long-term benefit of the souls–not the bodies–of the good people. And here Augustine is on my side, I think.

    You can refuse to believe in God–though He might believe in you. But if you want to establish that God as understood by Christians can’t exist, you’re going to have to do a lot better.


    6 Feb 11 at 7:23 pm

  2. Jane wrote: But to answer John–Augustine had the same answer for the problem of evil every Christian writer I’ve ever read has had–God is too big for you to understand, just trust that this all makes sense in the end, and you’ll know eventually.

    That is frustrating but I can understand it. By hypothesis, God had the power to create the universe and set up the laws of nature. Also, by hypothesis, God is still around after 14 billion years.

    There really is no way in which I can expect to understand the intentions or motives or actions of such a being.

    Does God exist? I don’t know but if there is a God, I don’t expect to understand God’s purpose.


    6 Feb 11 at 10:37 pm

  3. “First-hand “I was there” accounts of miracles can be a little thin”

    Yeah . . . Hume said something to say about that. Pretty much along the lines of there can be no reliable accounts of miracles. Period.

    His reasoning has stood the test of time quite well and I certainly see no reason to re-argue the case when it’s easily available on line should anyone wish to make their philosophical bones by attempting to refute what he wrote.

    “. . .he called the “Yankee professors” liars–since obviously rocks couldn’t fall from the sky.”

    Well, I at least don’t fault him for that conclusion, given the relative paucity of both physical evidence and a solid basis for believing that there were rocks flying around anywhere TO fall.


    While the evidential basis for meteors continued to grow, the evidential basis for miracle stories remains nothing more than the exact same ancient anonymous hearsay accounts of events that defy all rational experience and expectation, with the additional kicker we have even less reason to suppose that any such things are possible in any possible world.

    “I would place the persistence of the Jews in that category”

    Why? Unimportant populations in economically and otherwise unimportant parts of the world persist for many thousands of years all over the world.

    Just a few years ago there were reports of yet one more tribe in the Amazon of a people which had theretofore never had any contact with modern civilization at all. That they have been culturally stagnant then for probably tens of thousands of years hardly argues for any divine intervention.

    The history of Palestine has been that of conquerors passing through on the way to somewhere else, possibly leaving a token governor or some cities behind. No one has ever “moved in” and really tried to take over — there’s really nothing there that anyone would want.

    Egypt, on the other had, was for thousands of years a very wealthy civilization, and even in its decline around the time of Rome, was a valuable agricultural resource, and hence a prize worth taking possession of.

    That nobody cared what a bunch of semi-nomadic sheepherders got up to and hence left them alone hardly proves any divine intervention.

    And there was no exodus. Period. There’s less evidence for the Exodus than there is for Christ’s resurrection. The whole story sounds like a garbled mess of the Hyksos getting DRIVEN out of Egypt mixed with an even older memory of disasters following the eruption of Santorini mixed in with some kind of Semitic hero tale – taking form centuries after the fact centuries old at the time the tale of the Exodus was written down.

    The God of the Old Testament is impossible, none of the events he is credited with having ever happened, the God of the New, incoherent.


    7 Feb 11 at 12:35 am

  4. Jefferson’s reasoning was consistent. “I don’t see how this could have happened, therefore it CAN’T have happened.” What he demonstrates is precisely the limits of such reasoning.

    The Jews. “enlightened” 18th and 19th Century critics denied denied the existence of Israel and Judea. They’re part of the historical record now. 20th Century critics called David and Solomon myths, but we now have references only two generations later. Jericho falls right on schedule for the Middle Bronze Age crisis, following which we have accounts of pesky ‘apiru or habiru nomads, bandits and mercenaries in the area. It’s the hyksos connection which appear to be the red herring–and the belief that the Hebrews in the time of Judges must have been important to anyone but themselves. Remnant populations fall in backwaters–Amazon tributaries and the Basques in the mountains. Survivals in the world’s major traffic arteries are about as common as modern-day Caananites.

    Except these stiff-necked people, who believed their God would never abandon them. In judging beliefs, ask whether observed events are consonant with the beliefs.


    7 Feb 11 at 5:47 am

  5. “Jefferson’s reasoning was consistent. “I don’t see how this could have happened, therefore it CAN’T have happened.” What he demonstrates is precisely the limits of such reasoning. ”

    A bit of research finds:

    Weston Meteorite and Thomas Jefferson

    To: Meteorite List
    Subject: Weston Meteorite and Thomas Jefferson
    From: Bernd Pauli HD
    Date: Tue, 07 Dec 1999 18:05:39 +0100
    Resent-Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 12:31:40 -0500 (EST)
    Resent-From: meteorite-list@meteoritecentral.com
    Resent-Sender: meteorite-list-request@meteoritecentral.com
    ASTRONOMY NOW, Dec 99, p. 74:

    Key Moments in Astronomy

    Talking boldes – An astronomical controversy explodes in December 1807.

    Thomas Jefferson, third wisest President of the United States, is doomed
    to appear in astronomy books as an awful warning to us all. Author after
    author claims that Jefferson sneered at meteors. When one exploded over
    Weston, Connecticut, on December 14, 1807, he is said to have declared
    “I should sooner believe that Yankee professors should lie than that
    stones should fall from heaven”.
    The presence of “Yankee” and the triple “should” instantly suggests that
    the quote is apocryphal. Jefferson’s speech was unfailingly elegant and,
    as so often, the truth is more entertaining than the legend.
    At 7am on December 14, Mrs. Gardener of Wenham, Massachusetts, chanced
    to look out of the window. She was startled to notice a bright object
    whizzing across the sky and exclaimed “where is the Moon going to?”
    Recovering her composure she watched as a brilliant fireball soared
    overhead. A few moments later Judge Wheeler of Weston was taking an
    early morning stroll. “The attention of Judge Wheeler was first drawn by
    a sudden flash of light, which illuminated every object. Looking up he
    discovered in the north a globe of fire, just then passing behind a
    cloud … Its apparent diameter was about one half or two thirds the
    apparent diameter of the full moon. Its progress was not so rapid as
    that of common meteors or shooting stars”.
    No common meteor would have dared appear before the Judge, who
    admiringly noted its “brisk scintillation… It did not vanish
    instantaneously, but grew, pretty rapidly, fainter and fainter, as a red
    hot cannon ball would do, if cooling in the dark, only with much more
    rapidity… [followed by] three loud and distinct reports… [and] a
    rapid succession of reports less loud”.
    150 kg of stony fragments were eagerly collected. One of the collectors
    wrote to President Jefferson, with a rather unusual proposal. The
    statesman replied on February 15, 1808, with a characteristic
    combination of politeness and sly wit. “Sir,” he wrote. “I have duly
    received your letter of the 8th instant, on the subject of the stone in
    your possession, supposed meteoric. Its descent from the atmosphere
    presents so much difficulty as to require careful examination. But I do
    not know that the most effectual examination could be made by the
    members of the National Legislature, to whom you have thought of
    exhibiting it … I should think that an enquiry by some one of our
    scientific societies … would most likely to be directed with such
    caution and knowledge of the subject, as would inspire a general
    This elegant evasion is the origin of the myth of Jefferson as
    meteor-hater. In reality the President was sceptical of the ability of
    contemporary science to do much more than guess at the nature of the
    Weston meteor. And he was right. When Nathaniel Bowditch, America’s
    leading astronomer, investigated the fall he concluded that the object
    weighted 6,000,000 tons and was a previously unnoticed earth satellite!
    Doubtless the President allowed himself a smile. (by lan Seymour)

    Best wishes,


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    7 Feb 11 at 9:48 am

  6. My recollection of what Jefferson said was that he “would sooner believe that Yankee professors would lie than that stones would fall from the sky.” A reasonable first statement, if you ask me. As long as you change your mind when you get more evidence, there’s nothing wrong with that.



    7 Feb 11 at 8:16 pm

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