Friday, March 26, 2010

Children of a Lesser God?

Mike, your God is too small.” I just heard that again a few weeks ago. It was in response to my statement that some of us don’t believe the universe is only 6 thousand years old. I was perplexed by the statement because I had assumed that a god who created a universe that was 14 billion light years across and did it over 14 billion years was a pretty, darn, big God.

But I hear this about once every six months and most of the time it comes in response to me questioning a miracle. But I’m not some kind of jerk who enjoys going around popping people’s “miracle bubble” with an Empiricist’s pin. I’m not the one to say to someone, who is praying for their dear grandma’s cancer to be cured, “Sorry . . . ain’t going to happen.” Actually, I only show my hand when I’m pressed into a corner and have no choice but to lie or show my skepticism.

One example of this figurative corner was when my Christian friend came over when I was looking for the buried electric cable that brings power to the house. I was digging a ditch and wanted to avoid it. He confidently told me that God had given him the gift of dowsing. After walking up the driveway with the copper wires in his hand, he said, “Dig here.”

Now if I dig into my cable, I could be killed. So I said I would go and get my metal detector instead. I think that this really offended him. I had to show my hand because I don’t believe in dowsing, certainly dowsing as a gift from God. The Great Randi has a million dollar award waiting for the first person to do dowsing that is more accurate than pure chance. No one has claimed the money thus far.

Another example is where I’m in a conversation at church and it usually goes like this, “That was certainly a miracle by God wasn’t it . . . wasn’t it . . . wasn’t it?” So I either stand there in silence with a smirk or disclose my doubts. I’m really not into lying as much as I use to be when I was a full-blown Evangelical.

Then the same comment usually comes, “Mike, you have a small God.”

These days I carry this perpetual feeling of guilt and spiritual-inferiority. It is most manifest when I’m with a group of Christians and I am the only one to question a miracle, like landing a plane on the Hudson.

But the other day I was reading something that David Hume (fellow skeptic and British empiricist) said. He, in my paraphrase, said, that the only rational basis for believing that something is a miracle is that all alternative explanations are even more improbable.

I don’t come at this skepticism from a philosophical or even a theological position.

An example of a theological reason happened when I was a sophomore in college. A charismatic wave swept through our campus Christian ministries. Weird things were happening left and right. Not only were we speaking in gibberish every time we prayed but people’s legs were growing right before our eyes, God was speaking to us with an audible voice from the flames in our fireplace and etc.

As this same movement swept through our Campus Crusade counterparts, it created an issue. Most of them attended a large Baptist church just off campus. The pastor of the Baptist church, in response, preached a series of sermons against the charismatic movement. I went to listen to it . . . partially thinking this man was trying to quench the spirit of God . . . and partially to see if there really was another way of thinking. He preached from strictly a theological position of being a cessationist.

In my humble opinion, you can argue from scripture until you are blue in the face, you can twist and manipulate passages (milking them for all they are worth) but you can not reach an absolute answer on either side, if miracles still do happen or stopped with Christ.

A philosophical reason would be the case if I were a Naturalist, thus not accepting that supernatural could happen. Well, that certainly is not my position.

My thinking is, like David Hume’s, based on my life experiences. I’ve lived over fifty years and I’ve witnessed hundreds if not thousands of weak miracles . . . things that can easily have other explanations. Some of them quite cheesy (like the pastor stretching legs to cure all aliments). However, I have never witnessed a Biblical-grade miracle.

For example I’ve never seen someone who had been dead for days, buried and stinking, suddenly come back to life. I’ve never seen a huge body of water split right down the middle. I work in medicine and I’ve never seen a healing that wasn’t logical . . . such as someone eaten up in cancer and the next day it is totally gone.

However, because we are all fallen (and the Christian is only a mouse’s eyebrow better than the most horrendous nonbeliever), we all lie, embellish and deceive. It is part of our nature. I really piss off some of my Christian friends when I suggest that a Christian, somewhere, has lied. I don’t mean to be judgmental as I am capable of the worse kind of deception.

So my position about miracles is that those in the Bible are true and certainly did happen. But, I haven’t seen any real ones in my life. The closes I’ve seen was in Pakistan 25 years ago. But even that story was subject to the person embellishing about what had happened to them.

So, when I hear about a super-natural event, I think that I should be skeptical. After all, according to Hume, what is most logical? That a Christian could lie or embellish (in the midst of intense social coercion to do so) or that the event really did violate all the laws of nature?

But does this make Christian skeptics like me the child of a lesser God? I often feel like it does. I know that am often viewed that way. I do sometimes envy those days when I was considered “godly” by so many and I would testify (falsely) about miracles left and right.

But I really don’t believe that we skeptics have an inferior deity. First of all, my God breathed and a 14 billion light year wide universe came into being right out of his nostrils. Along with matter, came energy, time and space. That’s a pretty darn big miracle in my book. I’m convinced that the same God is still there and He hasn’t aged and gotten weaker . . . like I have.

I also believe that this God is a God of truth and is so powerful and deserves so much respect that I tremble at the thought of promoting lying, especially lying for Him. So does this make us skeptics unspiritual? Are we really children of a lesser God?


NOTAL said...

Which is a greater God? A God who created things right the first time, or one who needs to constantly miraculously intervene to fix things or make them better?

I think a God who does not frequently break the laws of nature that he created is a more competent God. He was able to create a universe the way he wanted it at the beginning.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight.

Someone whose God can only handle a 6014-year-old, ending-tomorrow, Earth-and-some-lights-in-the-sky Cosmos (and has to be constantly working miracle after miracle just to keep it running) says YOUR God is Too Small?

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

A small god is one which needs his followers to embellish and lie for him. I'm sorry you are surrounded by people who are quick to judgment and slow to understand. Don't take on the spiritual inferiority - its not worth it.

Don said...

After 42 years as a believer and in and out of the desire to see charismatic miracles several times, I am with you on this. I attended the Pensacola Revival to see a miracle and I saw a bunch of psychological tricks and mass hysteria creating sub par silliness. I love our big Creator God and His quiet revolution.

Anonymous said...

Pensacola Revival? Is that related to Tatted Todd & Angel Emma's floor/freak show at Lakeland? Complete with guest star Shaking Stacy? Gold dust and chicken-angel feathers raining from Heaven? And mugus getting kicked in the nuts ("SHEEKA-BOOM-BAH! BAM!!!") so they'd go down Slain in the Spirit?

MJ said...

I'm glad that there are others you share this skepticism.

Budster said...

Great points. I really struggle with the dishonesty surrounding "miracles". I also found that many of my Christian friends are very skeptical when a Muslim claims a miracle, but will accept without question or debate any claim by a Christian. I don't know why the claims should be treated any differently.

NOTAL said...

"many of my Christian friends are very skeptical when a Muslim claims a miracle, but will accept without question or debate any claim by a Christian."

That is what you call confirmation bias: finding and accepting any evidence that supports your existing belief and disregarding any that supports alternative beliefs.

NOTAL said...
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