Not So Polite Dinner Conversation: signs from gods, prayer and decoupage

a sign? photo source unknown

a sign? photo source unknown

Theists often claim that they see a “sign” from their god. These claims usually revolve around pareidolia, but occasionally there is a claim of a relic or divinely-touched item. One of these claims is about bible pages on a piece of wreckage from the WTC terrorist disaster (unsurprisingly, the provenance of the item is very questionable). I found a blog where a pastor claimed that this item was evidence for the Christian god. Such claims about an item does help me pose the question: if this god can decoupage pages on a piece of wreckage, why didn’t it use its supposedly omnipotence and omniscience out of its supposed omnibenevolence to help the people who were hurt and died in the disaster? This question can be a part of the “problem of evil” but in this scenario there are definite claims of divine action, not just a philosophical argument. These claims by a theist add some meat to the thought problem of “Why is there evil in the world?” as the pastor says, when it also adds why does this god do nothing about it, except, perhaps, an item that is little different from what I made in bible school. If a figurative message in a bottle is all this god is capable of, that is one thing; gods are not always omni-max. The problem is that a god like this isn’t the god that most, if not all, Christians worship.

In his post, this pastor is quite sure that his god directly applied these pages to the wreckage and that he knows that his god intends the pages as a message to humanity and that this could not be a coincidence or a hoax at all. I asked why this god couldn’t help the people who risked and lost their lives to rescue people or help those who chose to jump rather than burn. The resultant discussion was civil and interesting. It seems that it may be ended, and ended abruptly, but I am hopeful that Pastor Ashcraft might continue.

When someone claims divine action in this world, there is always the problem of showing that the event cannot be simply coincidence, or in the instance of relics or divinely touched objects, not a fraud. There is also the problem of explaining why this divine action happens in one occasion and not another, if one assumes that the deity involved is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-concerned about the happiness and well-being, e.g. “love”, of the human race as many theists, especially Christians, claim. As above, it is much easier to claim a “sign” rather than showing that this god actually does anything. The pastor asked that I not lump his claims of a message from his god in with the claims of “the guys who see Jesus in toast” but there is little reason not to do so. He sees agency in the pages on possible wreckage; “the guys” see agency in an image of a god, or his mom, on food, trees, stains, rust, reflections, etc.

Pastor Ashcraft has said that this is how the world is “God created man and everything was good. Man rejected God’s plan, and evil entered his heart. Man does evil things against man. God has a better plan.” This doesn’t fit what the bible says, nor what we observe. This “better plan” of the Christian god is undefined as are the terms “good” and in our discussion, “love”.  It does not explain why this god sits on its thumb and does nothing, but, according to many Christians, make “signs” that may be improbable but no more than any other curious coincidence.

One place that our discussion widened to is the idea of prayer and its effect. It is worth noting that Pastor Ashcraft has claimed that prayer will help one achieve financial success for one’s ministry. He claimed that it was more complicated than that but with quotes like these: “What fueled the rocket launch[his supposed success]? Prayer. But not just regular old customary prayer. Prayer that was energized by scripture. Prayer that was powered by faith. Prayer that was inspired by revelation from the Word of God. These prayers were so successful, that I wanted to share them with you. Mustard Seed Budget is a ministry dedicated to helping you arrive at success. May your labors never be held back by lack of finances!” And this “As your knees hit the ground, may your prayers hit the heavens. Let these pearls of wisdom become pearls in your pockets.”

And this “Stop letting your shortcomings deplete your faith. Pray for finances with full confidence. If even sinners can get miracles, why not you? You may have foibles but it’s folly to lose faith.”

It doesn’t appear to be that complicated at all.  I think one can be pretty sure that there were a lot of prayers going up on 9/11 (and from many different theists).   If this god will get you cash in your pocket, then why can’t it save someone who is praying desperately to live as the towers collapse around them, as the fires race down the halls of the Pentagon, as the plane plummets to a field in Pennsylvania?

If you wish to read what our discussion was, you can find it at the link in the third sentence. The discussion stays fairly on topic, though it does widen into the usual baseless claims about morality that Christians make about atheism and the common ignorance of Christians about evolutionary theory, etc. Those things are always disappointing, especially when counter information is simply ignored. Many questions are also ignored but that is expected. Pastor Mike also made a post claiming that Peter Hitchens (Christopher Hitchens’ conservative Christian brother) explains his position from another perspective. You may read it here. It is a reminiscence of how he fought with his brother, and ends with Pascal’s wager for no discernible reason. How it was supposed to answer my question about why the Christian god can do arts and crafts rather than actually helping people is beyond me.

If you would care to read it, the discussion as of this date is in the pdf below as well as at the blog link above.

date ordered comments

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33 responses to “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation: signs from gods, prayer and decoupage

  1. Hey there. I’m sorry I ran out of gas. Answering all these questions required more typing that ultimately I wanted to do. But thank you for your friendship and for the lively interchange. You definitely outlasted me. Please don’t think that I didn’t answer all of your questions because I — or other Christians — don’t have an answer. God bless you.

    • That’s quite okay, Mike. I am sorry if you had to type too much, I often run out of gas since I type all day at work. I know that typing isn’t what is keeping you from answering my questions. Trying to make it seem like I wanted to “win” again sounds very passive aggressive, for again I am not out to win. You also seem to be trying to imply that my posts are not worth anything but for their volume, when your own posts are not terribly dissimilar.

      You, and other Christians, don’t have any answers. There is no reason to believe that you do when you have yet to provide any at all even in all of the words you did type. You had plenty of time to offer answers and you didn’t. Trying to claim you really do have answers is rather pointless when you refuse to present them, and does make you seem as you have nothing at all, you only hope your baseless claims is believed and not questioned. I will point out that I believe you did say that you didn’t have any answers and that was one of my earlier points.

      EDIT: I would like to see some of these answers. You are always welcome to show them here. You can even guest post if you want.

  2. May I ask why a devout believer and an equally devout non-believer are having this debate? Neither one of you will ever convince the other because we atheists base all our arguments on logic and verifiable fact while at core, theists base everything on faith. Starting from such diametrically opposed positions, no resolution is possible.

    Or am I missing the point completely?

    • Resolution is possible. It can be unusual and tedious, although I generally enjoy it. Tedium and the lack of guarantee of succeeding are no reasons not to try, at least not for me.

      If false claims aren’t contested, then they just are spread more and more, and such nonsense as prayer will “save” you will hurt people. I find that to be the point.

      • Hmm…at one level I agree, letting untruths remain unchallenged feels morally wrong, but I guess /my/ core belief is that people are born with a certain bent that can’t be changed. Some have a psychological need to believe in something, others have a psychological need to have everything proved. As such, I can’t see how outliers, such as ourselves and devout Christians, can ever be persuaded to see the world the same way. -shrug-

      • If that is your core belief, that is fine. But it seems to be a belief that doesn’t have much support. I would posit that the need for belief in something is more culturally based than anything else e.g. it is “good” to want to believe and “bad” to want evidence.

      • Isn’t everything ultimately a balance between nature and nurture? Here in Australia we seem to be mostly secular these days, and a lack of faith does not seem to accrue the same value judgements as say 50 years ago, so that probably colours my worldview. Nevertheless, I’ve argued with enough Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons over the years to recognize that we are incapable of meeting in the middle. Hence my curiosity.

      • Culture and human biology may be a balance to an extent. However, humans can learn and change. There is no need to meet people “in the middle” considering religion, just as there is no need to meet people in the middle over fairies, reptiloid aliens disguised as Queen Elizabeth, etc.

        You present an argument from personal incredulity, while you ignore that there are quite a few theists who have become atheists and for many different reasons. I became an atheist for various reasons, mainly because the claims of theists were simply wrong and there was plenty of evidence against them. I have debated a Christian, and he kindly attributed his deconversion to me. It is not impossible, it just requires work and one won’t succeed everytime. That is no reason not to try.

        I am curious also. Why are you trying to dissuade me from debating with theists?

      • “There is no need to meet people “in the middle” considering religion,”
        Perhaps this is why the argument fills me with unease. God is an abstract concept, like truth or love. It can be neither proved nor disproved. All we can disprove is the add-on clutter of religion. Thus even for us, not believing in an abstract concept is…a belief. Beliefs are personal, subjective things, unverifiable. So at that core level, a Christian’s belief in ‘God’ is just as valid as my belief that there is no god. Therefore I have to tolerate and respect another’s belief or contradict my own argument.
        -shrug- that’s as close to an answer as I can get.

      • AC, the idea of God isn’t an abstract concept for most, if not all theists. the gods that theists worship are quite concrete with lots of details on what they do, don’t do, approve of, etc. Those gods can be easily disproved. Your vague “god” concept of course can’t be disproven but it’s is meaningless.

        You seem to want a god but don’t like the idea of religion because its been shat all over by humans. But god and religion cannot be separated. Beliefs can be verifiable.

        A Christian’s belief in their god is not as valid as the conclusion that there is no god as they claim. One has evidence for it, one does not. I have no more need to tolerate someone belief if it has no evidence to support it. This is why I happily do not tolerate the claims of Christians, the claims of bigots, etc for none of them have evidence for their claims.

      • lol – “You seem to want a god but don’t like the idea of religion because its been shat all over by humans. ”

        No, that’s where you’re wrong. People who want a god are usually people frightened of the randomness of life and the knowledge of their own complete lack of importance in the grand scheme of things. Thus god becomes a crutch to add meaning and purpose to life.

        I, on the other hand, am okay with randomness. The meaning of my life is more like the Greek idea of eudaimonia – roughly, the living of the good/virtuous life.

        I translate good/virtuous as being the best person I am capable of being. To do that I have to use the talents I was born with, and I have to make every decision conform to the moral/ethical philosophy that I have worked out for myself.

        Part of that moral philosophy is the need for tolerance. Of course that assumes those beliefs do no harm. Where they do, you and I are in agreement. You won’t find me tolerating gay bashing or the abuse of children. But I don’t particularly want to convert anyone to my way of thinking. That’s where you and I do not agree.

      • I think you are right, that a god is a crutch. You want to claim this “God” is a vague thing, which is not what most, if not all, theists claim.

        I wonder, AC, how far does your tolerance extend? The idea of a god is a belief that does harm and does it demonstrably and repeatedly. The belief in gods is the basis of gay bashing and the abuse of children. I do find it necessary to confront those who make claims that their god approves of such things. I’m sorry that you have decided that you don’t particularly want to change the minds of others when their beliefs lead directly to that which you claim to not tolerate. It does seem that you want to claim how wonderfully tolerant you are but it appears that you are no more tolerant than anyone else, drawing a line in that which you don’t approve of. I’m happy to stand for something.

        Again, why are you here, AC? Why did you decide to comment? Why do you insist that I shouldn’t be debating with theists?

        And truth and love aren’t abstract at all. Love is definable as is truth. You seem to be making baseless claims and I’m not sure why.

      • I’m a friend of Pinky’s so I dropped in to have a look at your site. It just so happens I read that one particular post. No conspiracy and no hidden motivations. Just simple curiosity because most of the atheists I know don’t proselytise.

        I guess atheists come in all shapes and sizes, just like theists. Apologies if you found my questions inappropriate. I was trained as a philosopher and old habits die hard.:)

      • “May I ask why a devout believer and an equally devout non-believer are having this debate? Neither one of you will ever convince the other because we atheists base all our arguments on logic and verifiable fact while at core, theists base everything on faith. Starting from such diametrically opposed positions, no resolution is possible.”

      • I believe my question and statement amount to – Neither one of you can ‘win’ so why do you bother? Last time I checked that is not the same as telling someone not to do something.

      • so, you claim you have not tried to dissuade me from debating theists? I would disagree but if that is what you honestly intended, so be it.

        I have pointed out that one can succeed in changing minds or “win” as you have put it. to claim that one can’t and one shouldn’t bother is rather curious in the face of facts.

  3. A great post, thanks.

    I think it is case of confirmation bias driven to extreme. Perhaps the faithful see it as God saying something like, ‘although I could not stop the terrorists without overriding freewill, don’t worry I am still here and it will all be sorted out in the next life’.

    It reminds me of an elderly lady who carried around a charred Bible. Her house had burnt down, but the Bible had been retrieved largely in tact. She saw this as evidence of God’s blessing. A greater blessing would have been to have stopped the house burning down, but when tragedy strikes we are desperate to find some positive aspect to cling to.

    When the Asian Tsunami struck Aceh in Indonesia around a decade ago, in may places the Mosque was the only building left standing. The faithful say this as a divine sign, the engineers noted that the Mosques tended to be built on higher ground and were the most solidly constructed buildings.

  4. What gets me about the whole “freewill would be negated if God showed himself” argument, the number of people who met God in the Bible, yet disobeyed him. Adam and Eve, Cain, Moses, Satan, amongst more. Your own mythology says people met God, yet disobeyed him….so why the hide and go seek?

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