Serious treatment of the last post

The pic in my previous post, to me, seems like the kind of thing you'd see on Christian Nightmares. It's just amusing all by itself... at least, to non-believers. To us, the absurdity of it is readily apparent. But obviously to that believer, and many like her, it's not absurd at all – in fact, it's a completely normal part of their lives.

Basically, this friend of mine goes to the doctor worried she might have kidney stones. It turns out to be a few cysts, one of which ruptured. She immediately praises the Lord. I'm going to be charitable here and assume she's praising God not for giving her a ruptured cyst, but for preventing her from having more serious (or at least more painful) health complications.

So here's the problem: where, exactly does God play his role? Why not prevent her from having any health complications in the first place? Since when is a ruptured cyst something to be enthused about? No matter how serious the problem, though, the believer could always thank God that it wasn't worse. Kidney stones? Damn. At least it's not cancer, so praise the Lord! It's cancer? Well at least the prognosis is good, so praise the Lord! The prognosis is bad? Praise the Lord for allowing me the time I have left.

Even the death of another can simply be rationalized as 'God's will'. It's here we get to the problem George Carlin so incisively lampooned many moons ago: if God has this perfect divine plan, and he's going to do his will in the end anyway, what's the point of prayer? If God sits around dishing out who gets sick and who gets well, why thank him for anything when he's just doing 'his will' without any regard to you?

But here's the most important part: how do you tell the difference between 'God's will' and something that would have happened anyway? You pretty much have to make the a priori assumption that God is the prime mover here, and then backwards-rationalize the evidence to fit. There's a name for that, of course: confirmation bias.

I'm gonna go back, again, to some of those quotes from Lisa Randall I love so much (emphasis mine):
"Clearly people who want to believe that God can intervene to help them or alter the world at some point have to invoke nonscientific thinking. Even if science doesn't necessarily tell us why things happen, we do know how things move and interact. If God has no physical influence, things won't move. Even our thoughts, which ultimately rely on electrical signals moving in our brains, won't be affected....

"If such external influences are intrinsic to religion, then logic and scientific thought dictate that there must be a mechanism by which this influence is transmitted. A religious or spiritual belief that involves an invisible undetectable force that nonetheless influences human actions and behavior or that of the world itself produces a situation in which a believer has no choice but to have faith and abandon logic--or simply not care."
In other words, we live in a material world. Even if you believe in the supernatural, ultimately everything here has to be transmitted through physical processes. Theists want it both ways: to say that God has an observable effect on the material world, but yet eludes empirical detection. In the case of God affecting various levels of illness, you have to make assumptions first and fill in the blanks later because there is no rational way to distinguish between God's will and random events.


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