Hitchens vs. Miracles

This is a summary of another great argument made by Christopher Hitchens in God is Not Great.

“If one must have faith in order to believe something, or believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished. The harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration is infinitely more rewarding, and has confronted us with findings far more “miraculous” and “transcendent” than any theology.” (p.71, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens)

“Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.” (p.143, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens talks about one example when some coal miners were stuck in a collapsed mine in West Virginia. When it was discovered that a number of them were still alive, the news announced it was “a miracle.” Then the survivors tragically suffocated before they could be removed from the mine (p.76, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens). What was it then? A curse? Hitchens continues by talking about incidences where entire towns were wiped out in natural disasters and one person, or one church remains, untouched, and then people say it is a “miracle” that that person or church survived. Hundreds or thousands of people die and yet it is a miracle? Hitchens argues that humans tend to attribute good fortune to God, then give God a pass when bad things happen to them. I think this argument can extend beyond just laws-of-nature-are-suspended miracles to things like answers to prayers. You loose your keys and pray to find them, and do. Did God answer your prayer? What about the times you prayed to find something and never found it? You feel like you shouldn’t drive down a certain road, then you find out later there was a fatal accident on that road. It might seem like a miracle to you, but what is it for the people who died in the accident? For every prayer that is answered, how many prayers do you pray that are not answered? Have you ever gotten in a car accident after praying for safety before you left on that trip? You spontaneously and suddenly get better after a priesthood blessing or praying to Saint. A limited number of people both suddenly get sick and suddenly get better every day. Is it more likely that God is blessing all of these positive events and just ignoring the negative ones, or that things, both positive and negative, are just happening?

“Any hospital supervisor in any country will tell you that patients sometimes make astonishing recoveries (just as apparently healthy people often fall inexplicably and gravely ill). Those who desire to certify miracles may wish to say that such recoveries have no ‘natural’ explanation. But this does not at all mean that there is therefore a ‘supernatural’ one.” (pp.147-148, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens)

In addition to this, Hitchen’s talks about how lots of the laws-of-nature-are-suspended type miracles are debunked. He talks about someone who claimed she was healed by Mother Theresa, and yet interviews with the woman’s doctors say she never had the disease she was claiming to be healed from.

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8 Responses to Hitchens vs. Miracles

  1. Jennifer says:

    I guess you and I have had this conversation before, about how people can over interpret God’s works. In general I believe he does work in our lives but generally in very subtle ways so that his purposes for mortality can be fulfilled. We think that he’s punishing us or others or giving us a miracle etc. The human mind is powerful, the placebo affect is real etc. I believe in science and scientific thinking. I love Francis Collins’ ideas because he’s a believer and embraces science as well.

    Maybe a lack of belief will not let God work in you, but a lack of doubt could let too much in. I believe that faith serves a valuable purpose for God. When I imagine a world where we know God exists and he interacts with us in predictable ways, where belief was compelling I ask what would be worse: knowing God and not wanting him/taking him for granted, or not knowing and wanting him, appreciating the next life etc.? Sometimes I think life is such a great desire builder, and the harder we’ve tried to solve our problems here the more we’ll appreciate the next life. I do think he leaves us enough clues of his reality that we don’t know for sure, but can have well put faith, which to me is not wishful thinking but a calculated risk. Even if you never believe you might miss out on the relationship with him in this life, but the goals of mortality will still be well served. My belief gives me great hope, whether that’s unfounded hope is debatable. But I like it.

    • crooks14 says:

      I think I am still trying to wrap my head around your idea here. We have had multiple, great conversations about this but I still struggle with the idea of a God that only works in subtle ways and just lets the big stuff happen however it will. So, am I understanding right that God would leave us little clues that he is there, but vague enough that some people would discount them–and do that intentionally. I guess that leaves me with a lot of questions. What would the purpose of life be then? If he gives us really vague hints of his existence, and some people would logically come to the conclusion he doesn’t exist because these clues are so vague, then does God really not care if we believe in him at all or not? Is believing in him not the important thing then? If experience, pain, and growth through struggle is the primary goal, is God needed in that picture since that would all happen without God being involved at all? I’m not trying to criticize your view as much as I am trying to understand if it really could make sense. So, I would love more clarification.

  2. Jennifer says:

    oops. just saw this. I guess I’d better check the email me with follow up comments. I’ll think about this more, but in my opinion a God for does compel belief is ironically wise. Jesus Christ himself was such a subtle influence, even asking people to not publicize his miracles. Even when peter, james and john saw Christ transfigured and really did know, Jesus forbad Peter’s idea of even making what was it altars or something for each of them. For one thing if you know know then you can still have free agency but the consequences for rebellion are greater whereas here we can flounder around and there may come a time you intensely desire God which is something he/they can work with IMO. Secondly, I guess I think God is about jour growth and character development more than he is about having everyone believe him. I wrote this down that Hitchens said:“imagine that you can perform a feat of which I am incapable. Imagine, in other words, that you can picture an infinitely benign and all powerful creator, who conceived of you, then made and shaped you, brought you into the world he had made for you, and now supervises and cares for you even while you sleep. Imagine, further, that if you obey the rules and commandments that he has lovingly prescribed, you will qualify for an eternity of bliss and repose. I do not say that I envy you this belief (because to me it seems like the wish for a horrible form of benevolent and unalterable dictatorship)”. I think Hitchens may be on to something. Might this life become more about earning favors and blessings from this all powerful God, and over interpreting everything in our life (he’s punishing me, blessing me etc. Did I not do enough to get the prize etc.?) then virtue for its own sake? I’m not saying I don’t think we can do it without him because if I believe in life after death and restoration then I most definitely do. I believe he wants to be a part of it and will not work in us without our permission. I’m just saying he’s about our growth, not his own glorification. Instead of a dictatorship he would rather we rule. I suppose God’s glory in and of itself could be another reason. God to me is a glorified personage which means as a mortal I literally cannot be in his presence. I could have a vision and I’m sure he could show his power so that it’s obvious, but I think that’s why Jesus Christ was so important. So I guess instead of an immediate favor/punishment grantor/cosmic policeman, or all-provider, I think of him as the wisest and most loving Father who for our own good has cut the apron strings, but has a plan in my opinion. What do you think? (I checked the box this time :-))

  3. Jennifer says:

    oh, one more thought. This leaves us in a strange place. I know for me as I got more skeptical and untrusting of my own thoughts and experiences, which really isn’t a bad thing because many of them probably are only me, I was always caught trying to figure out where God was and where he wasn’t. But I also wanted to believe in God and had experienced enough things I didn’t think I could have come up with, or heard enough from others, that belief was desirable as well. It leaves this narrow little valley that is kind of crazy at times. But gradually I let my guard down a little and asked for God to be there even if I was often doubting it was really him. It’s an interesting little crevice, squishy but IMO seems to lead to a lovely place. I’ve never felt God was hurt by my questions about him. Kind of the opposite. So, I believe that one can indeed find God there. that’s just me.

  4. jennifer says:

    I think of it like how can God be all-powerful and not overpowering? How can God be all-knowing and yet let us find out own knowledge? Could a temporary climate of faith be an answer???

  5. silvia stubbs says:

    One of the beauties of getting old is the ability to look at my own life and see the work that Heavenly Father has done in my life. This is neither to the convincing nor, to the persuading of anybody, just some thoughts I had as I read your blog. So this is more like an acknowledgement of His work on my life.
    First I have many answered prayers and many unanswered ones, for which I am grateful. How do prayers work? I do not know just like I do not know how many things that I use every day work.
    I have had so some many questions and pondering during the almost 50 years in the church. It has been a wonderful journey as I lean from the spirit. I wonder many of the things that you talk about and wonder about. Time has giving me the answers I needed. I think more than questioning I just wanted to know about certain things.

    I only speak from my own experiences. Some of my answered prayers had to do with the birth of my children. Other were very simple desires of my heart. I think many of them could it be called coincidences by some. I will give examples of a simple desires:
    The first was when we were going to the U, we were very poor students with 3 children, and I wanted a set of Encyclopedia, in those days the cost was more than we could afford. I said a prayer and loaded my kids on the car and headed for the nearest Deseret Industries. When I got there I searched in every shelf. There were not a set to be found. I was disappointed for I felt so sure that there would be one. I decided to ask. I was told that it was a rare item for those days. As we were climbing the stairs the same person came drugging a shopping cart looking for me. “Look what just came in” Coincidence I do not think so.
    Another time was a car. Our family was in much need of a van. We did not have much money. I pray that we could find one for $3,000, which was ridiculous low. I got some newspaper to look for one on the SLC area. I found an ad for a custom minivan for $3.500. I called and called for days and no answer. I thought that maybe the ad was too old and the van was gone. One morning very early just before 6:00 am I was strongly impress to call. Do to the early hour I try to talk myself from calling. But the suggested urge was so strong that I did call. Quickly somebody answer. I ask about the van. She told me that her husband had just died and her children had put the van for sale. She did not wanted to sell it, so she was staying at her sister house until the add run out and that morning she was there for five minutes to pick up her temple clothing. Also she told me that she prayed that if she was to sale the van that Heavenly Father will help her find the right person. When we went to SLC to pick up the van, she told us that $3,000 would be enough.
    Besides these two simple desires of my heart I had many, many others given to me. Many prayers were not answer, which time has shown me to be a good thing.
    I feel that many, many other prayers have been answered in my behalf and in the lives of love ones. Many were answered before I was member of the church also. Every day in my life I look and see the little and big miracles that comes to me by the way of prayer.
    What I love about prayer that it is equal to everybody. The same for the poor and the rich, the educated and the so not educated and the members and nonmembers. It is a fair system.
    Love you Alicia with more than words can tell you. Wish the best for you and your little family. Uncle Brian wrote some respond for you and he will email it to me and will post it.

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