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Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 4

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

Question #4 is interesting:

Why is it whenever I try your suggestion to “find God” (i.e., go to nature, read the Bible, pray), God never shows up? Worse, why am I arrogant to expect him to, when I followed your instructions where you told me to expect him to?

I have no idea what DGS means by “shows up.” If he expects God to make a personal appearance, that’s not going to happen. Paul is literally the only unbeliever I know of to convert based on an apparition appearing to him; everyone else that God personally appeared to already believed.

So, as most of these questions seem to, it really comes down to a question about wordview. I’ve discussed previously how quantum mechanics, under the many worlds hypothesis, predicts that “supernatural” forces can affect events on this plane of existence (though “natural” and “supernatural” are arbitrary distinctions based on the observer’s point of view and have no meaning as such).

So if God isn’t making a personal appearance, we need to figure out if there’s any evidence of his interaction within the universe. In other words, has he left a visible footprint?

Here’s where the worldview issues come into play. To steal an example I’ve already used, if I pray for financial provisions because I’m low on cash, then a sick relative dies and leaves me the sum I need with a little extra, I would call that an answer to prayer. The atheist scoffs, saying,  “That was a remarkable coincidence.”

If I pray that my wife makes it home safely during the recent snow emergency, and she does, I call that an answer to prayer. The atheist scoffs again and says, “She’s just a careful driver who knows how to handle snow.”

Let’s use a real-word example: my wedding. First, a little background. My wife and I were living together but not married (which is a no-no in Christian circles). We were confronted by her dad, who said that, whatever we decide, we must stop lying to everyone about our living situation. And unless we’re married, we shouldn’t live together. He said that God laid that message on his heart to give us, admonished my wife for knowing better, and offered to walk through the Scriptures with me support this position, if I wanted to. I say that was God speaking through my father-in-law. The atheist says, “Nope, no God necessary: your father-in-law just told you how he felt, then tried to impress his morality on you. Tyrant. Live for yourself!”

My wife and I decided to move apart, and get married ASAP to make this right before God. After some deliberation, we set a date that was less than a month away. Despite the short notice:

  • We found a minister willing to marry us in that narrow space of time.
  • We weren’t members of his church, but the pastor told us we could pay as though we were (members receive a discount on use of church facilities for weddings, funerals, etc.) because he considered us part of the church family.
  • My in-laws had only a set amount they could pay, and my mom fronted the considerable remaining balance without a second thought (my mom is tight with money).
  • The church was free on that day.
  • Our first choice for a hall was free that day.
  • My wife found a wedding dress that was pretty close to her dream dress, and it fit off the rack.
  • We had family or close friends all willing to cater, take pictures, bake the cake, and DJ the reception for free, in lieu of a wedding gift.
  • Most of our invited guests showed up despite the short notice.
  • At the end of the wedding, one of the guests remarked that it was so well put-together and executed so beautifully that we must have been planning it for years.

In the interest of full disclosure, we got married on Memorial Day 2005, which isn’t a big day to book churches, reception halls, or travel to see family. We also had a serious snag with bridesmaid dresses–my wife couldn’t find any she liked that fit with the theme colors. With those things in mind, it’s easy for the atheist to say, “Well, since it was a minor holiday that no one really does stuff on, that’s why all that stuff came together so quickly and for such discounts. Coincidences, all of it!”

It’s also easy for the atheist to say, “All of it came together just fine, but if it was truly the will of your God, then he would have seen to it that the bridesmaid dresses came out just fine, too. Guess God’s not so omnipotent after all.”

With regard to the bridesmaid dress dodge (which is what I might call this typical ploy from now on because I like the sound of it), why does the atheist presume to know what God would, or would not, do? What the atheist is really saying is, “If I were God, I would have done it this way.” When God doesn’t do it this way, the atheist concludes there is no God. That’s really weak.

We don’t expect God to do things to make our lives easier. There was a trial in all of that (the bridesmaid dresses), and it’s easy to fall apart under duress and curse God. A lot more went wrong for Job, but he never once cursed God. James tells us to count our trials joy, for our resolve is made stronger through them (Jms 1:2-4). So, was the bridesmaid dress incident really out of character for God? Not really, because God intersperses tests of faith, even when things are going really right. They are designed to make us stronger. All too often, they have the opposite effect and generate another anti-testimony on ex-Christian.net.

Life ain’t always going to be easy. For some reason, many ex-Christians on ex-Christian.net and most atheistic critics of Christianity keep pointing to the fact that life ain’t perfect or easy as “evidence” that God doesn’t exist. But it isn’t evidence, especially when Jesus warns us that bad times are coming, and to expect these tests of faith.

The weakest among us–those without the Spirit abiding in them–will break away, as the apostle John tells us (1 Jn 2:19). That this happens isn’t extraordinary, nor is it evidence against God. The Bible plainly anticipates apostasy, and the warning is right there for all to read. When a prophecy comes true, that’s evidence in favor of God, not against him!

What about the quick wave off, saying that everything that happened in that month was mere coincidence? In the James Bond novel Goldfinger, after meeting up with Bond several times, the antagonist tells Bond, “We have a saying in Chicago, Mr. Bond. The first time is happenstance. The second time is coincidence. The third time is enemy action.” What that means is that the atheist can only yell “Coincidence!” so many times regarding answers to prayer requests. At some point, even the most skeptical has to ask, “Is there a divine hand guiding all of this?”

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s most likely a duck! We may not see God directly, but I submit that the evidence is all around us, waiting for us to realize that a divine hand is guiding life on earth toward an ultimate goal of his design.

I normally hate using personal stories of answered prayers for apologetics (see Mt 7:6 for why; also this article series from J.P. Holding), but it is fitting this time because theory just doesn’t cut it for my goal. God leaves divine footprints all over; it is up to us to follow them and seek him (none do, Rom 3:10-20; nonetheless the call is going out to all men, Jn 12:32). This is evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and to deny his working is to commit the Unforgivable Sin.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 13, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Given that you are proposing answered prayers as evidence for the existence of yahweh, do you also count non-answered prayers as evidence against Yahweh?

    • There is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. A prayer is a request that we are laying before God. Last I checked, “No” is a valid answer to any request. All prayers are answered. We just may not like the answer we get.

      What’s funny about your question is that I learned the rebuttal in my second grade basic religion class!

      All the philosophy I have learned in the last six years of apologetics ministry, and I reached back to a second grade religion class to answer your question. I’m sorry if this is coming off as mean or condescending, but really, this is a childish and immature objection. Do you actually read any apologetics on subjects that you critique, from Christians headier and more accomplished than me (like Paul Copan or William Lane Craig or James White, or Catholics like Dave Armstrong), or do you just find the latest atheist arguments on Wikipedia or some such similar site and parrot them on Christian sites without really thinking them through?

      The latter answer is more respectable. If you actually widely read Christian apologetics and admitted it at this point, you would just appear sad and unworthy of further attention.

      • “I’m sorry if this is coming off as mean or condescending…”

        It does indeed come off as not only mean and condescending, but childish and immature as well. And this doesn’t at all sound like a sincere apology. I have a rule: Whenever I find myself needing to apologize in advance for what I’m about to say, I either change what I have to say to something that needs no apology, or I just shut up. As one relatively wise Christian once told me, “If you shouldn’t, then don’t.”

      • I knew someone was going to say this.

        I used to be worse than that, but it’s been pointed out to me repeatedly that I shouldn’t do that. Sometimes I get that way when I hang out at TheologyWeb too much, as most of the Christians over there are really, really mean to skeptics. This time, I have no excuse because I haven’t been to TWeb in a long time. It’s just that this objection has been handled many times by me (and others) and I get tired of it, plus it really does come off as childish.

        “God didn’t give me the pony I prayed for.” Stomps foot, crosses arms, sticks out lower lip. “I’m not going to believe in him anymore! He doesn’t answer prayers!”

        That’s how my daughter reacts when told she can’t do something. Instead of “not believing in me,” she wants her mom or she insists that she doesn’t love me anymore. My daughter’s three. See the connection?

      • I’m not (necessarily) *condemning* you for being mean or condescending; I’m just observing that you’re doing something you’ve just apologized for doing. My preference regarding my own behavior is to cowboy up and not apologize (i.e. take full responsibility for doing what I do). Otherwise, I don’t do it in the first place.

  2. I should have been clearer with my definitions. I wrongly assumed that it was implicit, given the content of the article. My question should be restated as:

    Given that you are proposing answered prayers(definition:granted requests) as evidence for the existence of yahweh, do you also count non-answered prayers(non-granted requests) as evidence against Yahweh?

    If not, then every single petitionary prayer provides evidence for the deity to which it is directed towards. Which is epistemically suspicious. I could make the existence of a particular deity more likely by paying millions of people to pray!

    Also. If, in response to a prayer, every possible set of future events counts as an answered prayer(Definition, any response, including Yes, Maybe Later, No) then praying to Yahweh is no more effective than praying to an inanimate carbon rod.

    I read what other apologists write.

  3. “So if God isn’t making a personal appearance, we need to figure out if there’s any evidence of his interaction within the universe. In other words, has he left a visible footprint?

    Here’s where the worldview issues come into play.”

    Dagood’s point, though, regards evidence according to a naturalistic worldview. If you already believe in God, then whatever happens happens according to God’s will. Every event, regardless of its content, becomes “confirmation” of God’s existence. But this isn’t a particularly interesting apologetic. We can make any old worldview hang together logically, especially if that “worldview” encompasses all logically possible events, not just the particular events that actually happen.

    A deeper question then becomes: Who are the targets of your apologetics? If your target is the non-believer, then just redefining “evidence” to suit your metaphysics is unproductive. If your target is the believer, why bother answering an unbeliever’s questions?

  4. Cory Tucholski,

    What method do we use to determine the difference between:

    a) A prayer not heard (God was busy);
    b) A prayer heard, but not responded to;
    c) A prayer heard, but God responds silently; or
    d) There is no God to hear the prayer.

    See, the problem with the second-grade basic religion answer, “Sometimes God answers, ‘No,’”–is that God doesn’t answer aloud! Once one figures that out (perhaps in the third-grade *wink*), one sees the answer to a child does not suffice to an adult.

    Secondly, while I appreciate your stories regarding God providing (believe it or not, I have similar stories myself!), the problem I see in this process is the lack of method. The Person remembers the “hits” (when corresponding events occur) and forgets the “misses” (when corresponding events don’t occur.) I wrote briefly on hits and misses when discussing another topic. If a fellow says, “God answers prayer by giving me a job!” they forget the 100’s of times they have prayed for a job over the past year and heard…nothing. 100’s of misses to 1 hit. And they remember the hit.

    Finally, in the spirit of my original question…what do YOU propose a non-theist should do to discover there is a God?

    • Presuppositions get in the way here.

      The atheist presumes that there is no God, and therefore premise (d) is your default. However, I presume there is a God, and he is the God that the Bible describes, which means that (d) isn’t an option. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hears all prayers, so (a) is dead in the water.

      Since the Bible affirms that God responds to all prayers, (b) is similarly out. You are only left with (c) as a valid choice, and the way to know what answer was given (without hearing a booming voice from heaven) is to continue exploring this crazy thing called life. You then discover the answer, which might be a direct answer, or an indirect answer you weren’t expecting.

      I admit that the general human bias toward remembering the hits and forgetting the misses is a problem for my position, but I think the answer to that lies with understanding that answers to prayer are in always in accordance with and reveal God’s will.

      That means if I pray, “God, please let me get this job” for 100 job interviews and I don’t get hired at a single one; then I pray for one more job which I do get, I have just learned that God’s will was for me to get that job, and he didn’t want me to have any of the other 100.

      He could have any number of reasons for not wanting me to have those other jobs. Maybe I’m not going to be a good plumber, and God knows that I won’t enjoy the job. Or maybe if I had gotten the job at that one office I would have ended up having an affair with the hot secretary in the IT department and broke my marriage up (in an upcoming post, I discuss God’s perfect foreknowledge and how it might be used for preventative maintenance in regard to the genocides ordered in the OT).

      In philosophical terms, God is an intelligent agent. Therefore, testing for his intervention is difficult to do because he moves unseen and has his own agenda with regard to how he moves. He’s not some static, immovable, inviolate natural law. He is a dynamic, intelligent being and interacts with his creation. Since he’s capable of applying (or not applying) his influence on a case-by-case basis, his presence isn’t something that you can test for and determine “Yeah, that was God,” or “Nope, that wasn’t God.”

      “Faith” isn’t a dirty expletive. Sometimes, it comes down to faith (that’s trust, not “believing what you know ain’t true”).

      I can probably do better than that on a day where I have not just popped two percocets for my back pain, but I think that is a start.

    • “Presuppositions get in the way here. The atheist presumes that there is no God, and therefore premise (d) is your default.”

      This might be true of *some* atheists (we’re notoriously lax about our standards), but it is most definitely *false* of many atheists, myself included, and — if Dagood will forgive me for speaking for him — Dagood as well. Or, if it’s not actually false, your meaning is ambiguous, especially your use of “presume” and “default”. In the context of “presuppositions”, you might be saying that atheists such as myself hold the nonexistence of a god as a metaphysical presupposition, a statement always held true “come what may”, a statement we use or rely on to interpret the evidence. I will easily admit that skeptics and naturalists do have some presuppositions, but the non-existence of god is not one of them. Indeed we don’t so much deny existence of a *supernatural* god (with supernatural taken here to mean unavailable to reason or evidence) as hold the definition of “supernatural” incoherent.

      “You are only left with (c) as a valid choice, and the way to know what answer was given (without hearing a booming voice from heaven) is to continue exploring this crazy thing called life.”

      It should be noted that we skeptics and naturalists also use the method of “exploring this crazy thing called life.” In what way does your methodology of exploration differ from our own? When we differ, how do we know who is correct and who is mistaken?

      “In philosophical terms, God is an intelligent agent. Therefore, testing for his intervention is difficult to do because he moves unseen and has his own agenda with regard to how he moves.”

      I will repeat my objection: We have all sorts of scientific procedures for testing for agency, if you define “agency” in terms of human agency. Agency is actually pretty *easy* to detect. It’s also hard to understand your use of the conjunction “therefore” above: I’m not sure how you move deductively from “intelligent agent” to “moving unseen”; I myself consider myself an intelligent agent (at least on good days), and I tend to move with all the stealth of a dyspeptic elephant.

  5. Cory Tucholski,

    We have no god. I was simply listing possibilities. Option (d) was certainly not my default premise—it is the premise eventually determined by data points.

    If I pray to Vishnu for a sandwich, and a friend drops off a sandwich, this is just one of many data points. I would need to keep praying, keeping track of who I am praying to, for what, when, how, etc. I may learn praying to any god starting in the letter “V” works. Or paying at 12:04 p.m. works. Or praying for a sandwich works.

    Or I may learn praying, regardless of time, date, how or who, doesn’t make a difference as compared to not praying at all.

    By accumulating enough data points, what we see is the most plausible answer to this question is “There is no God” or “If there is a God, prayer does not affect it.”

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