Thursday, May 9, 2013

Litany of Excuses

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” -Mathew 7:7
When pushed to produce evidence for God or explain the lack of such evidence or evidence suggesting that there isn't any God, we often get many excuses for why that is indeed the case. These are often compelling excuses, until you take the time to think about it. The excuses often contradict each other as well, as you will see.

Here are some often cited ad-hoc explanations for the God theory.

1. You cannot test the Almighty!

This is usually in response to requests or demands that the Almighty make his presence felt. If there is an Almighty God, let that God show himself. This is often met with a retort that you simply cannot test God. This is fair enough except for the claim that the Almighty really wants you to believe in him.

2. There is a plan for you; you just don't know what it is.

When life seems to be going from bad to worse, from the frying pan into the fire, we often wonder if a loving caretaker God is really around. To that, believers of say that God has a plan. It is just not obvious to you or known to you.

Isn't that convenient? Well, do tell that to earthquake victims or genocide victims. When plans can not be explained, just say that we are too stupid to know it or that the plan is so divine that we can't be expected to understand it. This is a classic excuse.

3. God works in mysterious ways.

This is a variation of the previous excuse. It in other words means we are clueless as to what is happening. This excuse is a favorite when a calamity that can't be explained away needs explaining.

4. You can't judge God by human standards!

If we can't use human standards, what exactly does the phrase 'loving God' mean to humans? Would it then be fair then to say that this God is a dreadful one, by human standards?

5. Prayers are answered only when what you ask is good for you.

This is an often heard excuse when prayers are not answered. You might think what you are asking for is good for you. But there might be bad consequences for what you ask for, that you are unaware of! So, the good all-knowing God doesn't answer your prayer and it is all in your very own interest!

We are like little children. We do not know what we want and what we ask for. So, not everything that we ask for can be granted to us! Would a father give a knife to an infant that asks for it? Of course not!
You might think a million dollars and a month long cruise would be good for you. But God might be privy to the future possibility that the cruise that you end up taking would hit an iceberg or you'd catch a disease while cruising, or hookup with someone who breaks your marriage. Or the money might make you greedy for more. And so on. The possibilities are infinite.

Well, perhaps the almighty could also fix the future so that the cruise would be a safe and fun filled one? Well, now that would be too good to ask for!

This excuse is a good one. If you get what you ask for, then God is so loving. If you don't, then God just thinks that what you asked is not good for you just yet. Isn't that a win-win situation no matter what the outcome is?

6. Prayers are answered when the time is right

This is a variant of the earlier excuse. Instead of claiming that what you asked for was not good, this one suggests that you'll indeed receive, but not just yet. Again, do tell that to the earthquake victim.

7. Prayers are answered, but only in the after life.

This is yet another variant of the previous excuse. The blessings you ask for will be showered on you only after you die and go to heaven!

Well, one would have thought that I would not have much use for my million dollars once I am in heaven. With an eternity long vacation in the company of angels playing the harp, who gives a dime for a silly month long cruise or a million dollars?

This is as good as saying that God does not interfere in this life. Well, if only we could know that for sure, we could stop praying for God's intercession in this life.

8. It does not matter if prayers are answered; you should keep asking as you would with your own parents.

This is another variant. Just ask but do not demand results! Just keep asking and take things the way they come. The problem with this is, one might as well not ask! Unless unanswered prayers make you feel good.

9. The more hardships you face in this life the easier your path to salvation

This one is supposed to make you feel good about the hardships you face. Don't worry, you'll get a proportional amount of blessings in the after life to make up for it.

10. It could have been worse!

Given any bad scenario, you can always think of a worse one.
Did you get hurt? You might have been killed!
Did you get killed? You might have been tortured and killed. All your loved ones could have been killed too!
Did you get raped, tortured and killed? Hey, it could have been worse; praise the Lord!

11. You will see all the evidence if you would just believe in God.

If you already believe that there are pink unicorns on the moon, then you can actually come to the realization that there are these, you guessed it, wonderful pink unicorns! And would you like to guess where you'd find these unicorns? The Moon!

12. If you read the Bible with faith, you will believe.

This excuse uses the same inverted argument as the earlier one. The problem with reading the Bible is that it tends to relieve you of your faith. It happened to me. During a time of confusion, I decided that I wanted to read the bible cover to cover. I did not get past a couple of chapters. I ended up deciding that it was all nonsense.

If you have already made up your mind that it is indeed the word of God and it is your duty to somehow harmonize it and make sense of it, and tell yourself that it is your own failing when you can't, you will indeed be able to perceive the 'perfection' of the Bible.

13. If you have faith, you will believe.

This is simply circular reasoning and a variant of the above one.

14. The Old Testament is allegory.

How convenient?! Perhaps you'd consider that it is pious fiction written by the ancient people, to be read for the insights it provides about their world and not as a moral guide in this age and time.

15. Scripture is largely metaphorical. Except for the core dogmas like sin, salvation, the holy trinity etc.

Absolutely everything that you can disprove is allegory. Every evil and disgusting event described in the Bible is allegory. Everything you can't completely disprove is absolutely true. Every unfalsifiable dogma (throw in resurrection, assumption of Mary, belief in an afterlife) that cannot be completely disproved is absolutely true!

Probability, you may stand down!

It does not matter if you can show that the resurrection was very very very very unlikely. If you can not completely disprove something, it is, you guessed it, true. And in case you manage to disprove it, then it is all allegory.

16. Free will

This is the classic excuse for the problem of evil. Why is there evil in a world designed by a do-gooder God? Because God does not force us to do no evil. God has given us all Free Will, people! It is our choice to do evil and hence it is all our own responsibility!

Perhaps tectonic plates and volcanoes have free will too.

It is also interesting that God does not force us to do right or wrong but still manages to perform miracles and resurrect himself to give just a few lucky ones some vague guidelines. There is also the carrots and sticks strategy of heaven and hell. But hey, no pressure. Really, no pressure. Really.

17. God is testing you!

This is a retort when you whine that your prayers are not being answered. It is also an explanation when things go wrong in life.

You should have the same faith that Job had when he lost all his wealth and his family! Well, do tell that to Job's first wife and ten kids. Am I reading the parable too literally now??

How about our own lives? Are the troubles that we face just metaphorical troubles? Maybe not.
That God is just testing them would certainly console the victims of the Tsunami in Japan and the earthquake at Haiti.

18. God is testing you and it is for your own good

Hardships make you better equipped to deal with even more hardships. It's all good.

19. Satan is testing you!

This is a variation of the earlier excuse. This one frees God from the burden of being a tyrant. God is goodness personified, see? It is Satan that is evil!

20. It is a test of your faith!

Do you find inconsistencies in scripture, find religious claims difficult to believe? Well, it is all a test of your faith!

21. Your misfortune is punishment for your sins

This is an explanation for why a misfortune befell you. It is divine punishment. Almost every one of us is ashamed of something or the other that we did. Well, guess what, God did not like it either. And it is now time to face the music.

For instance, some preachers in the United States actually attributed the 9/11 attacks to God's punishment for the sins of the nation.

22. God will only give you what you can handle.

Well, I certainly see the uplifting message in this. But do people seriously think misfortune is dished out based on one's ability to handle it? A child who has lost both its parents in an earthquake would, I am sure, be happy to know that God believes in its capacity to handle misfortune! Or a rape victim. Or victims of torture. Or Savita Halappanavar. Or Nirbhaya...

23. God is good but God cannot let sin go unpunished.

Actually, God can. It is the almighty you are talking about here! In fact, it apparently is God who defined sin as sin. It is God who apparently created us with the tendency to sin. Should God punish himself, then?

24. Human mind cannot understand God

Our difficulty in making sense of all the discrepancies of the God theory is just a facet of the very limited human mind! It is all our fault. Of course, if God had been a better communicator, we might have understood. If God had made us smarter, we might have understood better. Or just dumber and we would have unquestioningly accepted.

More importantly, as I have said before, believers do seem to know a lot about God, including the fact that God can not be understood by us.

Yet, as lacking in understanding as we are, we are still expected to believe! Why are we, so lacking in our ability to understand, mandated to believe?

25. Science can not be used to explain God

The claim is that science and religion are two methods for understanding the natural and supernatural respectively. This assertion is very useful when we find that science indeed strongly suggests that there is no God at all. It is convenient indeed to declare rigorous observation and inference to be invalid methods when it comes to God. Instead we'll just use rigorous fantasy.

26. I just know in my heart that my God is the one.

Well Morpheus, a warm fuzzy feeling in the heart is very far from what is commonly called 'hard evidence'.

27. What if you are somehow wrong?

Yeah, yeah, all your arguments seem to make sense. But what if you are wrong? You puny human, what if you are wrong, in spite of all the evidence?

This is the trump card after using up everything else. Any reasonable person has to agree that we could all be wrong.

What if the weight of evidence tilts the probability against the loving heavenly father? You could still be wrong! We could be living in The Matrix too.

Fallacy fallacy

Let me emphasize here that just because some or all of these excuses are fallacies does not disprove the existence of God. (That would be a fallacy fallacy.) It just means that these excuses are to be recognized for what they are – mere excuses.

That believers often have to resort to these excuses on the is evidence that their belief system is flawed, though not necessarily disproved.

The explanations do not add to the explanatory power to the God hypothesis. They are often untestable arguments. How does one prove that prayers are answered only when what you ask for is really good? It is untestable as the definition of 'good' in reality depends on whether the prayer is answered or not and hence will always be true. That God works in mysterious ways is calling on theology to hold God's actions above investigation. How does one predict the outcome of the actions of a God who is by definition mysterious?

Cognitive Dissonance

These excuses are a mix of different logical fallacies. And the believers seem to always know exactly what God would do and why! The believers seem to be quite capable of reading God's mind!

The reason for coming up with these excuses can be explained with the theory of Cognitive Dissonance. When we have conflicting thoughts, we tend to reduce the conflict by a) changing the cognitions b) adding cognitions or c) altering the importance of cognitions. When believers see a conflict between the idea of a God that has infinite love and a natural calamity, they rationalize it perhaps as God's “mysterious plan”. When prayers are not answered, they rationalize that perhaps the wish was after all not good for them, a classic case of sour grapes. Aesop knew!

8 comments:

  1. Brilliant post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. I'ma make my mom read this for sure too.. haha. She'll probably be pissed off. But this should put things a lot more in perspective.
    Be it good or bad, I think God gets too much credit these days, if not all of it. I'd simply replace the term God with 'conscience' which makes a lot more sense to me.

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    1. Thank you MaddoX! Aunty's reaction would be "interesting" I am sure! ;)

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  2. I call it lack of common sense. As they say common sense is not so common. And many people are weak and in constant need of support, such poor souls fall for this GOD business.
    Anyways! To each one his/her own lessons..

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    1. Also, I think the tendency to tow the party line and not change the status quo is too strong in us. Thinking outside one's comfort zone is often not too easy.

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  3. A response to this post was posted by Johnny Bevington. You can find it here and here.

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    1. Here are my responses to JB.

      MJ: 1. You cannot test the Almighty!
      JB: I cant...do what you want.

      MJ: Like I said in my post, this is fair enough except for the claim that the Almighty really wants you to believe in him.


      MJ: 2. There is a plan for you; you just don't know what it is.
      JB: My job isn't to read God's mind, or invoke his name like a spell...

      MJ: Shouldn't you wonder if there is a plan?


      MJ: 3. God works in mysterious ways.
      JB: See #2


      MJ: 4. You can't judge God by human standards!
      JB: God's standards are in the bible.

      MJ: There is nothing divine about the Bible. I say more here.


      MJ: 5. Prayers are answered only when what you ask is good for you.
      JB: This is phrased like junk. You're an atheist - this is like critiquing a 300 level Philosophy course when you flunked intro (not to mention the fact that I don't really care.) I think there's a more fundamental reason why you have a problem with Prayer

      MJ: You completely ignored the argument, in case you didn't notice.


      MJ: 6. Prayers are answered when the time is right
      JB: see #5


      MJ: 7. Prayers are answered, but only in the after life.
      JB: #5


      MJ: 8. It does not matter if prayers are answered; you should keep asking as you would with your own parents.
      JB: #5



      MJ: 9. The more hardships you face in this life the easier your path to salvation
      JB: This is junk reasoning. Many of the Christians throughout history started off with a pretty wretched life, but that doesnt mean that a wretched life leads to being a Christian - I'd like to take you to an AA/NA meeting, the west side of the town I live in, or the battered womens shelter...Having a hard life can lead to bitterness and rage too. Its a choice...the choice is yours

      MJ: I was explaining an agrument used by many Christians. If you do not subscribe to it, that is fine. But I have seen many Christians use it.

      MJ: 10. It could have been worse!
      JB: Not for a nihilist...

      MJ: You ignored the argument. You also seem to be a Christian who thinks atheists are about to face God's wrath. Aint't that sweet! :)


      MJ: 12. If you read the Bible with faith, you will believe.
      JB: This is the first statement that is close to true, but still flawed. Youre ONLY HOPE of believing if you currently dont is to prayerfully ask for the faith and read the bible. If this doesn't make sense, why do you refer books? I do...

      MJ: People refer to books, not blindly believer everything every book has to say!
      The Bible is no exception.

      MJ: 13. If you have faith, you will believe.
      JB: See #12

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    2. Continuing my responses to JB.


      MJ: 14. The Old Testament is allegory.
      JB: Strawman or ignorance - The overarching message of the entire bible is that the old testament is the Moral basis for the New Testament, and tells the true penalty for each sin that MUST be paid. Those penalties are PAID once and for all time by the propitiation of Christ dying on the cross...for those who repent and believe. Romans explains all of this in great detail.

      MJ: It is neither a strawman nor ignorance on my part. This is an argument used by many Christians.
      Many Christians will have nothing to do with much of the Old Testament. They see what is wrong with it.

      MJ: 15. Scripture is largely metaphorical. Except for the core dogmas like sin, salvation, the holy trinity etc.
      JB: Nope - actually its literal, metaphorical, poetic...its literal about metaphorical things...metaphorical about literal things...poetically literal...literally metaphoric...

      MJ: That is literally a lot of nonsense. :)

      JB: The bible isnt A BOOK...its a collection of writings over millinea that encompass the faith, history, moral code, civil law, prophecy, music, poetry, oppression, freedom, promises, and hope of the Jewish people - And the hope for the rest of the world through Old Testament Law, and New Testament promise.

      MJ: We'll just disagree on this one.

      MJ: 16. Free will
      JB: You have it - people debate it - so what?

      So, reread the argument!

      MJ: 17. God is testing you!
      JB: I doubt it, he actually already knows...the analogies the bible use for "testing" are geared toward strengthening through trial and building character, not some "Ohhhh...will he make it????" this shows no insight at all

      MJ: Well, you just disagreed with an argument many Christians make.


      MJ: 18. God is testing you and it is for your own good
      JB: #17


      MJ: 19. Satan is testing you!
      JB: Satan tempts...not tests

      MJ: Ok, tempts. Still an excuse. I also see you believe in a literal Satan. It is by the way going out of fashion. :)

      MJ: 20. It is a test of your faith!
      JB: #17



      MJ: 21. Your misfortune is punishment for your sins
      JB: It can be...go have sex, no condom - see what happens.

      MJ: You seem to have missed the point.

      MJ: 22. God will only give you what you can handle.
      JB: Yeah - no...

      "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 cor 10:13 (Translation - all sin is reject-able, nothing is too difficult to walk away from)

      MJ: Again, you disagreed with an argument some Christians make. :)

      MJ: 23. God is good but God cannot let sin go unpunished.
      JB: God can do whatever he wants, but he's made it quite clear what he wants...B-I-B-L-E

      MJ: Yeah, the B-I-B-L-E is quite clear. NOT! :)
      Assuming for arguments sake, the Christian God, you can't claim that God is a loving Father and that he doesn't let sin go unpunished. You just missed the contradiction.

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    3. Continuing my responses to JB.

      MJ: 24. Human mind cannot understand God
      JB: Hey, according you atheism and Darwin, this brain has been evolving for how long??? I can point out dozens of cognitive defects, diseases, logical fallacies, and to be quite honest - you can argue logic until the cows come home, but your brain...its not rational. Its in a constant war between your frontal lobe and limbic system, your sight, hearing, touch all give your brain clues, but cognition is an estimate of reality...and its easily fooled.

      Sure. The evolution of the brain is something Science claims. It is not something only atheists assert as you seem to be implying.
      I agree with the rest of what you said. But you still missed my original the argument. Cognitive dissonance? :)

      MJ: 25. Science can not be used to explain God
      JB: Science has been invested in Materialism. God is not material, and has hidden himself - it cant be used to "Find" God. Explain God - I think same problem.

      MJ: Too bad God has hidden himself. But, didn't he incarnate on this earth? Didn't he send his angels here? Didn't he actually have a wrestling match with Jacob or appear to Moses? Don't Christians routinely claim to get revelations and claim miracles? All of these suggest a God who interacts with us. All these interactions can be studied, understood and (gasp) explained. That is what Science is all about.

      MJ: 26. I just know in my heart that my God is the one.
      JB: #25 - read your bible and ask God for insight.

      MJ: Do you really not see the problem here?

      MJ: 27. What if you are somehow wrong?
      JB: Something to think about

      MJ: Atheists have it coming, don't they?? LOL


      JB: Cognitive Dissonance...(*sigh*)

      I would imagine you have some of that going on yourself right now...feel free to address it privately.

      MJ: Feel free to do so yourself! :)

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