bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 4: Engage in Religious Activities

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a ride on the PHILOSOPHY BUS:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”. There are alternative ways of answering this question that involve engaging in religious activities:

4. Try praying to God, to see if God answers your prayers.

5. Try prayer, meditation, and worship, to see if you feel the presence of God or hear the voice of God.

6. Try reading the sacred texts of various religions, to see if you sense divine wisdom in any of them.

Part of the idea here is that skeptics and atheists don’t come across evidence for God because they don’t engage in religious activities, activities that would provide them with experiences and evidence that support the existence of God. Prayer to God, worship of God, and study of the (supposed) words of God are religious activities that many people think provide them with experiences of God and evidence for God.
 
APPROACH #4: ASK GOD TO DO SOMETHING FOR YOU
This appears to be a simple and straightforward test for the existence of God. God, by definition, is all-knowing, so if you pray to God and ask God to do something for you, say to heal an illness or injury that you have or that someone you care about has, then God, if God exists, KNOWS that you have asked God to do this. God, by definition, is all-powerful, so God can heal any disease or injury completely and instantaneously.

Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Depicted by Heinrich Hofmann.

 
Answering your prayer by doing what you asked God to do would be a very easy thing for God to do, and if God does instantly grant your request, then you would have some dramatic evidence for the existence of God.
 
 
If you pray asking God to do something for you, say to heal an illness or injury that you have or that someone you care about has, and nothing happens (i.e. the illness or injury gets worse or takes the usual amount of time to run its course or to heal up), then you have evidence that God does NOT exist.
 
PROBLEMS WITH ANSWERED PRAYER AS CONFIRMATION OF GOD’S EXISTENCE
However, as with the previously considered practical approaches, the use of prayer requests to determine whether God exists is not as simple and straightforward as it initially seems.
One problem is that confirmation of the existence of God by means of an answered prayer involves the POST HOC FALLACY:

First X happened, then Y happened so X must have caused Y.

First I prayed for John to get well, then John got well, so my prayer for John must have (through God’s response to my prayer) caused John to get well.
This is a very dubious way of reasoning about cause and effect. Perhaps John has a strong immune system which can fight off diseases rapidly, and your prayer had NOTHING to do with John’s recovery. Perhaps John took a prescribed medication (like an antibiotic), and that was what caused him to get well, not your prayer for John. Perhaps John was just lucky and got over this particular illness quickly, but not because of any supernatural intervention by God, not because of your prayer for John.
How can we know whether a particular instance of getting well quickly is the result of divine intervention as opposed to being a coincidence or as opposed to being caused by an ordinary means, such as the activity of a person’s immune system or the influence of a prescribed medication?
An “answered” prayer does not provide clear proof or confirmation of the existence of God. Other causes and explanations could account for the event in question. This approach is NOT as simple and as easy as it initially seems.
We should think of prayer as similar to a drug that is being tested for safety and effectiveness. It is unreasonable to infer that drug X is a safe and effective way to treat disease Y just because one person took a large dose of drug X for a week, and then their disease Y went away. No medical scientist would accept this as anything close to being confirmation that drug X is a safe and effective treatment for disease Y.
We expect there to be double-blind experiments where hundreds or thousands of people who have disease Y are randomly assigned to either take drug X or to take a placebo pill, and to carefully monitor and measure and record the results of this experiment. We expect that a careful mathematical analysis be performed on the results to confirm that, if the people who took drug X tended to get well more often or more quickly than the people who took the placebo pill, this result was very unlikely to be a chance coincidence. That is what reasonable intelligent people expect to be persuaded that drug X is an effective treatment for disease Y (and similar evidence is required to show that drug X is safe to take).
An “answered” prayer might well be the result of an ordinary physical cause, such as the activity of a person’s immune system. But if we are to allow for the possibility of a supernatural cause (such as God intervening and directly causing a person to be healed), then we must allow for all sorts of different possible supernatural causes:

  • psychic healing power of the person who prayed
  • psychic healing power of the person who was sick
  • a fairy healed the sick person
  • a witch or wizard healed the sick person
  • an angel or demon healed the sick person
  • a finite deity (Zeus, Venus, or Neptune) healed the person who was sick
  • astrological forces connected to the current position of the sun, moon, and stars caused the sick person to be healed

In ordinary scientific investigation of the efficacy of drug X to treat disease Y nobody is concerned with eliminating various supernatural causes or forces. The assumption is that the cause of people who have disease Y getting well is some sort of physical or biological cause. But in the case of investigating the existence of God by means of prayer, we have opened the door to a huge number of possible supernatural causes and forces.
This means that prayer works as confirmation of the existence of God only AFTER we have eliminated a large number of potential alternative SUPERNATURAL causes. It seems to me that there is no established scientific way of doing this. So, in order for prayer to provide confirmation of the existence of God, we must first engage in METAPHYSICS:

  • What sorts of supernatural beings and forces besides God exist or are likely to exist?
  • What sorts of knowledge and power do these beings have?
  • Could any of these other beings or forces be the cause of the healings in question?

In short, in order to use prayer as a means to confirm the existence of God one must FIRST take a ride on the PHILOSOPHY BUS and arrive at various conclusions about the likelihood of various supernatural beings and forces and the likelihood of those beings and forces causing observable effects in human lives.
The prayer test is clearly NOT a simple and straightforward way to confirm the existence of God, but requires a degree of intellectual sophistication and some philosophical investigation in order to have any chance of being successful.
 
PROBLEMS WITH UNANSWERED PRAYER AS DISCONFIRMATION OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
The same is true of using UNANSWERED prayer as a way to DISCONFIRM the existence of God. It seems unreasonable to expect that God would act like a magic Genie in a bottle and grant whatever request anyone asks. What about evil prayer requests? What if a Nazi asks God to annihilate the entire Jewish population of a city, or nation, or of the entire planet? Surely, a perfectly morally good creator would NOT grant such an evil request.
Also, there are common circumstances where it would be logically impossible for God to grant BOTH a prayer request by one person AND an opposing request by another person. For example, Tom is a player on his high school’s basketball team, and he prays for God to make his team win the game tonight against the team of another high school. Jack is a player on the basketball team of the other high school, and he prays for God to make them win the game tonight against the team that Tom is on. God cannot make both teams win. Only ONE TEAM can win the game, so God cannot grant these two opposing prayer requests.
Furthermore, if God were to grant every prayer request (at least those that were not evil, and not contrary to some other prayer request), then this would remove all incentive for people to work, to take care of their children, to take care of themselves, to take care of their possessions. If you lose your job, you could just ask God to pay all of your bills or to fill you bank accounts with thousands of dollars. If you don’t feel like feeding your children, you could just ask God to feed them, and to take them to school. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for ten years and then get lung cancer, you could ask God to heal your lungs and go right back to smoking a pack a day. If you don’t change the oil in you car and the engine breaks down, you could just ask God to fix the engine or make you a brand new car.
These are the sorts of considerations that arise when philosophers discuss the PROBLEM OF EVIL, a basic question in the philosophy of religion. Before the failure of God to answer a prayer by granting the prayer request can be viewed as DISCONFIRMATION of the existence of God, one must engage in some challenging philosophical investigation into the PROBLEM OF EVIL, and make some reasonable conclusions about what it would be reasonable to expect out of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good creator of the universe.
In short, in order for prayer to be used as a means to DISCONFIRM the existence of God, one must take a trip on the PHILOSOPHY BUS. Approach #4 is thus NOT as simple and straightforward as it seemed initially to be. For this approach to have any significant chance of success, one must FIRST engage in some serious philosophical investigation.
So, just as with the two practical approaches discussed in Part 3 of this series, this approach is NOT an alternative that will allow one to proceed without engaging in philosophical investigation, investigation that requires a degree of intellectual sophistication and skill in critical thinking.

bookmark_borderThe Resurrection of Dr. Sean George – Part 4: Evaluation of Premise (1c)

GEORGE’S ARGUMENT FOR HIS MIRACLE CLAIM
In his main web article, Dr. Sean George appears to put forward the following simple argument:

1. Dr. Sean George rose from the dead. (factual claim)

A. Only God can cause a person to rise from the dead. (metaphysical claim)

THEREFORE:

2. God raised Dr. Sean George from the dead. (miracle claim)

In Part 3 of this series of posts, I argued that various clarifications were needed in order for this argument to be subject to rational evaluation, and that some qualifications were needed in order for the argument to be a fair representation of Dr. Sean George’s reasoning.
Here is what I consider to be a fully clarified version of George’s argument, a version of his argument that is clear enough to be rationally evaluated:

1c. Dr. Sean George was clinically dead for 1 hour and 25 minutes and then he came back to life without any neurological problems. (factual claim)

A3. Only God can cause a person who was clinically dead for 1 hour and 25 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems. (metaphysical claim)

THEREFORE:

2c. Dr. Sean George was clinically dead for 1 hour and 25 minutes and then God caused him to come back to life without any neurological problems. (miracle claim)

The meaning of the premises and the conclusion seems to be clear, and the logic of the argument is correct, so the only question that remains is whether the premises of this argument are true.
 
IS PREMISE (1C) OF GEORGE’S ARGUMENT TRUE?
It is clear that Dr. Sean George is alive today.  It is also clear that he is not currently experiencing any major or obvious neurological impairment, so his claim that he recovered from cardiac arrest “without any neurological problems” seems very plausible.
The only question that I have about premise (1c) is whether Dr. Sean George was “clinically dead for 1 hour and 25 minutes”.  But this, by itself, is NOT an extraordinary claim, because, as I pointed out in Part 3 of this series, the use of CPR does in some cases result in a person coming back to life after being clinically dead for over an hour, and sometimes even after a person was clinically dead for over two hours.
Dr. Sean George appears to believe that it is an extraordinary claim that he BOTH was “clinically dead for 1 hour and 25 minutes” AND that he recovered “without any neurological problems”.  I am skeptical about this being an extraordinary claim, about this being a “medically impossible” event, so at this point, I’m not inclined to demand extraordinary evidence for premise (1c).  Ordinary evidence will suffice, assuming that this premise does NOT assert an extraordinary claim, but merely asserts the occurrence of a rare outcome of CPR.  I will examine this question about whether (1c) makes an extraordinary claim when I evaluate premise (A3).
Dr. Sean George claims that he went into a state of clinical death (i.e. cardiac arrest) at 13:42 (i.e. 1:42pm) on October 24, 2008.
EVIDENCE:



There is only a time stamp, and not a date, indicated on the print-out from the defibrillator.  But I am willing to take Dr. Sean George’s word that this defibrillator print-out is from the medical emergency that he experienced on October 24, 2008.
A heart attack is a common cause of cardiac arrest, and the defibrillator would be used shortly after it was determined that Dr. Sean George’s heart had stopped beating (no pulse detected), so the claim that he went into a state of clinical death (i.e. cardiac arrest) at 13:42 (i.e. 1:42 pm) is supported by the above evidence.
His heart was still beating as of 13:34, the time of the initial ECG print-out, and his heart was no longer beating as of 13:43, the time of the advised shocking on the defibrillator print-out.  So, his cardiac arrest began sometime between 13:34 and 13:43.  It makes sense that the defibrillator would be used ASAP once it was determined that he did not have a pulse, so it is very likely that his cardiac arrest began at 13:42 (i.e. 1:42 pm).
Assuming that premise (1c) is NOT an extraordinary claim, then this evidence is sufficient to show that his clinical death (i.e. cardiac arrest) began at 13:42 (1:42 pm).
It is less clear when Dr. Sean George’s heart began to beat again.  It appears that Dr. Sean George’s arithmetic is faulty.  The period of time when he was clinically dead (in a state of cardiac arrest) consists of three phases:

  1. Ventricular Fibrillation (when he received shocks and CPR)
  2. Flat Line or asystole prior to termination of CPR (when he received only CPR)
  3. Flat Line or asystole after termination of CPR but prior to Return Of Spontaneous Circulation (when he received neither shocks nor CPR)

According to the Timeline presented by Dr. Sean George, the phase 1 began at 13:42 (1:42 pm) and ended at 14:30 (2:30 pm), and thus lasted for 48 minutes.
According to the Timeline presented by Dr. Sean George, the phase 2 began at 14:30 (2:30 pm) and ended at 14:52 (2:52 pm), and thus lasted for 22 minutes.
The combination of phase 1 and phase 2 has a total duration of 70 minutes (48 minutes + 22 minutes = 70 minutes).  Dr. Sean George confirms that the period of attempted resuscitation lasted for 70 minutes:

Over the following 70 minutes the team in Kambalda worked with paramedics and emergency physicians from Kalgoorlie who fought bravely to save my life. … In 1 hour and 10 minutes having had 13 electrical shocks from a defibrillator, and over 4 000 cardiac compressions, they all agreed to stop CPR and all life support measures except oxygen to the lungs. (“The day God raised me from the Dead“)

The third phase began at 14:52 (2:52 pm), but the duration of the third phase, when no CPR was being provided prior to ROSC (Return of Spontaneous Circulation, i.e. return of his heartbeat), is uncertain:

They had stopped the CPR for about five to eleven minutes.  We are not really sure how long it was, whether it was five or eleven, or in between that. (Unbelievable podcast at 30:22-30:31 on the recording)

So, phase 3 had a duration of between five and eleven minutes.  If CPR was terminated at 14:52 (i.e. 2:52 pm) and there was a period of between five and eleven minutes that elapsed where no CPR was provided, and then Dr. Sean George’s heartbeat returned, then his heartbeat returned sometime between 14:57 (2:57 pm) and 15:03 (3:03 pm), and the total duration of clinical death (cardiac arrest) was at least 75 minutes and possibly as much as 81 minutes.
Because he does not know whether phase 3 lasted for five minutes or eleven minutes or something in between, the most that Dr. Sean George can claim with confidence is that he was in a state of clinical death (cardiac arrest) for at least 75 minutes, which is one hour and 15 minutes, NOT one hour and 25 minutes.
Based on this information, Dr. Sean George was NOT clinically dead for “1 hour and 25 minutes” but he was clinically dead for at least one hour and fifteen minutes (i.e. 75 minutes), although it is possible (but uncertain) that he was clinically dead for as much as one hour and twenty-one minutes (i.e. 81 minutes).  In any case, it appears that premise (1c) is FALSE.
However, premise (1c) is only off by a few minutes, so if we tweak George’s argument just a bit, the first premise would be true:

1d. Dr. Sean George was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes and then he came back to life without any neurological problems. (factual claim)

A4. Only God can cause a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems. (metaphysical claim)

THEREFORE:

2d. Dr. Sean George was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes and then God caused him to come back to life without any neurological problems. (miracle claim)

In this revised version of George’s argument, the only potential problem that I can see is with premise (A4).  If premise (A4) is TRUE, then this is a good argument, but if (A4) is FALSE, then George’s argument is UNSOUND.  In the next post, I will evaluate premise (A4).

bookmark_borderThe Resurrection of Dr. Sean George – Part 2: Littlewood’s Law

Dr. Sean George claims that God raised him from the dead.
I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation called “The Resurrection of Sean George” which contains lots of relevant information and skeptical points about Dr. Sean George’s miracle claim.  Here at The Secular Outpost,  I plan to present my main objections to his miracle claim.
The following is a summary of Dr. Sean George’s alleged resurrection:

 
One of my primary objections to this miracle claim is that there are millions of cardiac arrests in the world each year, so we should expect for there to be some very rare outcomes of cardiac arrests to occur each year.  A one-in-a-million outcome to a cardiac arrest should be expected to occur at least once or twice each year.  Therefore, if Dr. Sean George’s outcome was a one-in-a-million outcome, then it is unreasonable to conclude that it was a miracle, because we would reasonably expect such outcomes to occur somewhere in the world once or twice each year, even if there is no God and there are no miracles.

 
(This data is from: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2019 Update
A Report From the American Heart Association, Chapter 17, “Incidence”).
The population of the USA is about 4% of the world’s population.  Since about half a million cardiac arrests occur each year in the USA, there must be millions of cardiac arrests in the world each year.  If, for example, cardiac arrests in the USA constitute 10% of the cardiac arrests in the world, then there would be about five million cardiac arrests in the world each year.
An estimate from a 2007 medical journal (Journal of Electrocardiology) article shows that my back-of-the-envelope estimate is not far off the mark:
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of global mortality, accounting for almost 17 million deaths annually or 30% of all global mortality. In developing countries, it causes twice as many deaths as HIV, malaria and TB combined. It is estimated that about 40-50% of all cardiovascular deaths are sudden cardiac deaths (SCDs) and about 80% of these are caused by ventricular tachyarrhythmias. Therefore, about 6 million sudden cardiac deaths occur annually due to ventricular tachyarrhythmias. The survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest is less than 1% worldwide and close to 5% in the US.  (from an abstract for the article “Global public health problem of sudden cardiac death.”   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17993308 , emphasis added)


NOTE:  “Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a sudden, unexpected death caused by loss of heart function (sudden cardiac arrest).”


  • 40% of 17 million is: 6.8 million
  • 50% of 17 million is:  8.5 million

So, there are between 6.8 million and 8.5 million sudden cardiac deaths in the world each year.  If SCDs represent 99% of cardiac arrests (because 1% of people with a cardiac arrest survive), then there are between 6.9 million and 8.6 million cardiac arrests in the world each year, or 7.75 million cardiac arrests (plus or minus .85 million).
My skeptical objection here is basically an application of Littlewood’s Law:

 


“The law was framed by Cambridge University Professor John Edensor Littlewood, and published in a 1986 collection of his work, A Mathematician’s Miscellany. It seeks among other things to debunk one element of supposed supernatural phenomenology and is related to the more general law of truly large numbers, which states that with a sample size large enough, any outrageous (in terms of probability model of single sample) thing is likely to happen.”  (“Littlewood’s Law, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Littlewood%27s_law )


Given the above information, the only thing necessary to dismiss Dr. Sean George’s miracle claim, is to show that the outcome of his cardiac arrest had at least one chance in ten million of occurring.  Since, about 8 million cardiac arrests occur in the world each year, we should expect to see such a rare outcome about once every year or two, even if there is no God, and there are no miracles.
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderA Simple and Obvious Explanation

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Scandal: 7 Excerpts From the Grand Jury Report

A nearly 900-page report investigating abuse in six dioceses over a period of 70 years documents more than 300 abusive priests.

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How can God allow priests and bishops to sexually abuse thousands of children for decades, and allow them to work at covering up this abuse for decades? How can God allow so many corrupt and evil church leaders to exist, leaders who supposedly guide faithful Christians on matters of character, virtues, and morality?
There is a very simple and obvious answer to this question:

There is no God.

NOBODY is guiding the Catholic Church from heaven. The Catholic Church is a human institution governed by morally flawed human beings and by some evil human beings.
IF there is no God, then it is no surprise that the Catholic Church and other religious institutions are sometimes among the worst promoters of evil and immorality in the world. IF there is no God, then it is no surprise that thousands of children have been sexually abused by morally corrupt Catholic priests for decades, and that their horrible crimes have been covered up by morally corrupt bishops for decades.
There is no need to be puzzled or perplexed by these facts, they make perfect sense if you simply accept the assumption that there is no God, that there is no Father in heaven who is watching over us, protecting us. We are on our own. We must protect ourselves from morally corrupt and evil people.
The Catholic Church will not protect you or your children from harm, and God will not protect you or your children from the Catholic Church. If you want protection from harm and evil, then don’t turn to the Catholic Church, and don’t pray to God; that is just a waste of your limited time and energy. If you want protection from harm and from evil people, YOU have to protect yourself and your children, because there is no “heavenly Father” watching over you or those you love.

bookmark_borderGod is a Person

INTRODUCTION
Joe Hinman wants to debate the existence of God with me, but before we can have an intelligent debate on this issue, we need to come to some sort of mutual understanding about the meaning of the word “God”.
In my view God is a person.  In Hinman’s view God is NOT a person.  He can, I suppose, stipulate a definition of “God” that asserts or implies that God is NOT a person, but then I might not have any interst in debating the existence of such a being (we will see how that goes).
But before we resort to such a stipulated definition, I would like to discuss this very basic issue about the meaning of the word “God”.  My view is that God is a person who has certain unique characteristics, known as divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, etc.).  In this post I will briefly put forward five arguments for my understanding of the meaning of the word “God”.
Hinman and anyone else interested in this subject are welcome to ask questions about and raise objections against any of those five arguments.
AN INITIAL CLARIFICATION

(s) Superman has x-ray vision.

Someone might object to claim (s) this way:

There is no such thing as “Superman”, and NOBODY has x-ray vision, so claim (s) is false.

But this objection seems beside the point.  No sane adult believes that Superman exists.  So, if we follow the principle of charity, we will NOT interpret (s) as implying that Superman actually exists.  Rather, we will interpret (s) as making this claim:

Anyone who is Superman is someone who has x-ray vision.

The following claim, can also be given a similar interpretation:

(g) God is an all-powerful being.

Someone might object to (g) this way:

There is no such being as “God”, and NOTHING is an all-powerful being, so (g) is false.

Because the existence of God is controversial, we need not take (g) as implying that God actually exists.  Rather, it is reasonable to interpret (g) as making this claim:

Any being that is God, is an all-powerful being.

In other words, claim (s) and claim (g) can be taken as CONCEPTUAL claims rather than as FACTUAL claims.  The concept of “Superman” implies the concept of “has x-ray vision”.  The concept of “God” implies the concept “is an all-poweful being”.
I intend the following claim to be understood in a similar way:

(p) God is a person.

Claim (p) is not intended to assert or imply that God actually exists; rather, it is intended as a CONCEPTUAL claim, and can be understood as asserting this claim:

(p1) Any being that is God is a person.

FIVE ARGUMENTS FOR THE VIEW THAT “GOD IS A PERSON”
I. The Jesus Argument

1. Jesus is God.
2. Jesus is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

II. The Spirit Argument

4. God is a spirit.
5. A spirit is a person who has no body.

Therefore:

6. God is a person who has no body.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

 
III. The Prayer Argument

7. God answers prayers.
8. Any being that answers prayers, is a being that can understand and respond to complex abstract verbal requests.
9. Any being that can understand and respond to complex abstract verbal requests is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

IV. The Omniscience Argument

10. God is omniscient.
11. Any being that is omniscient, is a being that knows that “2 + 2 = 4” and that “Grass is green” and that “McDonald’s sells cheeseburgers” and that “Donald Trump is the president of the United States” and that “A standard deck of playing cards contains 52 cards”.
12. Any being that knows that “2 + 2 = 4” and that “Grass is green” and that “McDonald’s sells cheeseburgers” and that “Donald Trump is the president of the United States” and that “A standard deck of playing cards contains 52 cards” is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

V. The Love-and-Understanding Argument

13. God knows, loves, and understands each and every human being.
14. If God knows, loves, and understands each and every human being, then God knows, loves, and understands me.
15. If God knows, loves, and understands me, then God is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

NOTE ON AD HOMINEM ARGUMENTS
Arguments I, III, and V are ad hominem arguments.  By that I do NOT mean that those arguments commit the fallacy of ad hominem.  What I mean is that those arguments are based on Christian beliefs that I do not myself accept.  So, they are arguments that attempt to use a belief that is widely accepted by Christians, and use that belief as the basis for an argument to the conclusion that God is a person.
Arguments II and IV are NOT ad hominem arguments, because they are based on CONCEPTUAL claims, claims having to do with the meaning of the word “God”.  I take it that the word “God” in a Western or Christian context logically implies “an omniscient being” and “a being that is a spirit”, just like I take it that the word “Superman” logically implies “a person who has x-ray vision”.

bookmark_borderMcDowell’s Trilemma – Part 2: An Eternally Omnipotent Person

McDowell’s Trilemma Argument (hereafter: MTA), can be found in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (hereafter: NETDV) by Josh McDowell (see pages 158-163).
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…Jesus definitely claimed to be God (see below and in Chapter 6).  So every person must answer the question: Is His claim to deity true or false?   (NETDV, p.158)
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The first key premise of MTA is this:

  1. Jesus claimed to be God.

This first premise appears to be false.  Jesus did NOT claim to be God.  Or, to be more accurate, there is no good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be God.  That is to say, none of the canonical Gospels report Jesus as having asserted the claim “I am God” nor the claim “Jesus of Nazareth is God”. However, it is possible to IMPLY that a person is God without saying so directly, so it is possible that Jesus IMPLIED that he was God, but did so without saying so directly.
To determine whether Jesus IMPLIED this, we need to understand the meaning of the following sentence:
JIG: Jesus of Nazareth is God.
Based on my analysis of the sentence “God exists”, the meaning of (JIG) can be analyzed as follows:
Jesus of Nazareth is God IF AND ONLY IF:
(a) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally bodiless person, and
(b) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omnipotent person, and
(c) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omniscient person, and
(d) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally perfectly morally good person, and
(e) Jesus of Nazareth is the creator of the universe.
So, for Jesus to clearly IMPLY that he was God, Jesus would have to make the following claims:
I am an eternally bodiless person, and an eternally omnipotent person, and an eternally omniscient person, and an eternally perfectly morally good person, and I am the creator of the universe.
There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts that he has any of these basic divine attributes.  Thus, Jesus did NOT directly claim to be God, and Jesus also did NOT clearly IMPLY that he was God, nor does Jesus clearly INDICATE that he was God, based on the words and teachings of Jesus found in the canoncial Gospels.
Although Jesus does not use the terms “bodiless person” or “omnipotent” or “omniscient” or “perfectly morally good” or “the creator of the universe”, he does say things about the nature and characteristics of God that are very similar in meaning, and that strongly suggest these ideas.  So, it appears that the concept of “God” that is present in the words and teachings of Jesus (according to the canonical Gospels) corresponds closely with my analysis of the sentence “God exists”, even though Jesus does not use any of the key terms in my analysis of “God exists”.
But, since Jesus can suggest or indicate these various divine attributes without using the specific terms in my analysis (i.e. “bodiless person”, “omnipotent”, “omniscient” etc.), perhaps he claimed to possess one or more of these divine attributes without using the specific terms found in my analysis of “God exists”.
Jesus does not speak of God as a “bodiless person”, but he does speak of God as a “spirit”, which implies that God is a “bodiless person”.  Does Jesus ever claim to be a “spirit”?  There are no passages in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus claims to be a spirit.  There are, however, passages where Jesus implies that he is NOT a spirit (Mark 14:8, 14:22, 14:37-39, Luke 24:39, John 20:27).
Because Jesus NEVER claimed to be a “bodiless person”, and NEVER claimed to be a “spirit”, and because Jesus repeatedly asserted that he had a physical body made of “flesh and bones”, Jesus clearly implied that he was NOT a spirit and NOT a bodiless person.  Therefore, Jesus clearly implied that he was NOT God.
In this post, we will look at another of the divine attributes and determine whether Jesus used alternative terminology to imply that he possessed that attribute.
Eternal Omnipotence
Jesus never directly claimed to be “omnipotent”, and he never claimed to be “all-powerful” or “almighty”.  But did Jesus use other words or phrases to IMPLY that he was eternally omnipotent?
McDowell asserts that Jesus claimed to have “all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18)…”  (McDowell quoting John Walvoord in McDowell’s book, co-authored with Bart Larson, Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity, p.54), and he takes this to be a claim by Jesus to be omnipotent.
There are two problems with using this verse from Matthew as evidence that Jesus claimed to be eternally omnipotent.  First, most modern translations of Matthew 28:18 use the word “authority” rather than the word “power”:
ASV: And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.
NASB: And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
NET: Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
NIV: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
NLT: Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
NRSV: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
RSV: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
So, it is likely that Jesus was talking about AUTHORITY here, not POWER.
Here is some commentary on this verse by N.T. scholar M. Eugene Boring:
The basis for the words of commission is the claim of the risen Jesus that all authority has been given to him by God (cf. 11:27).  The risen Jesus is pictured as Lord of heaven and earth–the cosmic ruler in God’s stead (cf. Phil 2:5-11); Col 1:15-18; Heb 1:1-3), the king in the present-and-coming kingdom of God, the one who represents God’s cosmic rule.  The babe worshipped by Gentiles and mocked at his crucifixion as “king of the Jews” (2:1; 27:11, 29, 37) has assumed his throne and begun to reign.  The lowly Son of Man has been enthroned as the exalted Son of Man (cf. Dan 7:13-14); his resurrection was not only his vindication but also his enthronement.
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, p.503)
Boring uses the expression “all authority” and does not use the expression “all power”. He understands this passage to be talking about Jesus becoming a “king” and a “ruler” and that Jesus has “assumed his throne and begun to reign.” But all of this language speaks of AUTHORITY not of POWER. In this passage, Jesus claims to have been given great AUTHORITY, not unlimited POWER.
According to the book of Genesis, God put human beings in charge of the Earth:
Genesis 1:26 (NRSV)
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
When God put humans in charge of the Earth, he gave humans AUTHORITY over the Earth, according to Genesis.  But that does not mean that God gave humans unlimited POWER over the Earth.  Animals sometimes injure or  kill humans.   Fires, floods, storms, volcanoes, and earthquakes sometimes injure or kill humans.  Humans do not control the weather.  Humans do not control geological forces.  So, God giving authority over the Earth to humans does NOT imply that God made humans omnipotent or all-powerful, or even that God gave humans unlimited power over the forces of nature on the Earth.  AUTHORITY over X is not the same as unlimited POWER over X.  Thus, the claim that God gave Jesus AUTHORITY in “heaven and on earth” does NOT imply that God gave Jesus unlimited POWER over what happens in “heaven and on earth”.
Second, Jesus states that this power or authority “has been given to me” which implies that at some previous point in time he did NOT have “all authority in heaven and on earth”.  In order to be God one must be eternally omnipotent, not just omnipotent for one day or one month or one year or one century.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus only claims to have a great deal of authority (not power), which was (allegedly) given to him by God at some point in time.  So, in that verse Jesus does NOT claim to be an all-powerful person, and Jesus does NOT claim to have been all-powerful from eternity.   In fact, if one prefers the translation using the word “power”, then Jesus implied that he was for a period of time NOT all-powerful, and thus Jesus implied that he was NOT God, based on the translation of Matthew 28:18  that uses the word “power”.
Another passage from the Gospel of Matthew might be used as evidence for the view that Jesus implied his own omnipotence:
Matthew 11:27 (NRSV)
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
There are at least three problems with interpreting this verse as a claim to the divine attribute of eternal omnipotence.
First, whatever it is that Jesus is talking about, it had “beeen handed over to me by my Father”.  As with Matthew 28:18, this implies that there was a previous point in time when it was not yet the case that Jesus possessed this attribute.  Thus, if we interpret “all things” to mean “all power”, then Jesus is implying that he did not always have such power, and thus Jesus is implying that he was NOT eternally omnipotent, and thus that he was NOT God.
Second, this verse sounds rather similar to Matthew 28:18, which is probably about AUTHORITY rather than about POWER, so that gives us reason to doubt that Matthew 11:27 is about power.  The author of Matthew might have intended for verse 11:27 to be read and interpreted in relation to the similar sounding verse Matthew 28:18.
Third, the context of this statement is clearly focused on KNOWLEDGE rather than on POWER.  Immediately after the sentence speaking about “all things” having been “handed over to” Jesus by God, Jesus speaks about how only God “knows the Son” and how only the Son “knows the Father”.  Furthermore, if we look at the verses immediately preceding verse 27, we see that those verses also are focused on KNOWLEDGE rather than POWER:
Matthew 11:25-27 (NRSV)
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;
26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Note that in verse 25 Jesus refers to important bits of wisdom that God has revealed to some people as “these things”.  Thus, when Jesus speaks of “All things” in verse 27, this appears to be a reference back to the bits of wisdom that God has revealed to some people.  The most likely meaning of the expression “All things” is thus, “all of the important spiritual, theological, and moral truths and principles that God wants to reveal to (some) human beings”.  It is unlikely that this expression was intended to refer to “complete power and control over everything that exists”.
So, for these three reasons, it is unlikely that Jesus is implying in Matthew 11:27 that he was eternally omnipotent.
McDowell puts forward a few Gospel passages (by quoting John Walvoord who in turn cites some Gospel passages) as evidence for Jesus being omnipotent:
The evidence for the omnipotence of Christ is as decisive as proof for other attributes. Sometimes it takes the form of physical power, but more often it refers to authority over creation. Christ has the power to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6), all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18), power over nature (Luke 8:25), power over his own life (John 10:18), power to give eternal life to others (John 17:2), power to heal physically, as witnessed by his many miracles, as well as power to cast out demons (Mark 1:29-34)… (McDowell quoting Walvoord, Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity, p.54)
Keep in mind that the main question at issue in relation to MTA is not whether Jesus was in fact eternally omnipotent, nor is the issue whether Jesus’ disciples or the authors of the NT believed Jesus to be eternally omnipotent. The question at issue here is whether Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.
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1. The “Power” to Forgive Sins
Matthew 9:6 (NRSV)
6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.”
First of all, as this translation indicates, Jesus appears to be talking about AUTHORITY here, not about POWER.
Second of all, it is easy to forgive someone’s sins.  All you have to do is say “I forgive you” to the person who wronged you, and mean it.  No special supernatural power is required to perform this mundane human action.
Third, it is so easy to forgive that Jesus demanded that his followers forgive those who wrong them “seventy-seven times”:
Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
The real trick, of course, is to forgive someone for wrongs they have committed against another person, when you (who are doing the forgiving) are not the person who was wronged.  If a friend of mine steals money or something valuable from me, then I can forgive him or her for that selfish action.  But if a friend of mine steals money or something valuable from somebody else, someone who I don’t even know, then how can I forgive my friend for the wrong against that other person?
The obstacle here is not that I lack some magical “forgiveness power”; the problem is that I don’t have the RIGHT to forgive my friend for wronging somebody else.  The problem is one of AUTHORITY, not POWER.  Perhaps God, unlike mere mortals, can forgive my friend for wronging somebody else, but not because God has some supernatural “forgiveness power”.  God can perform such forgiving only if it is MORALLY RIGHT for God to do this, only if God has the MORAL AUTHORITY to hand out that sort of forgiveness.
Fourth, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus bestowed such forgiveness authority on his inner circle of disciples:
John 20:22-23 (NRSV)
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
If having the authority to forgive a person’s sins means that one is eternally omnipotent, then we would have to conclude that each one of the eleven remaining disciples from the inner-circle must also be eternally omnipotent. But that is absurd and is contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith, so this argument proves too much. The claim that someone has the authority to forgive sins does NOT imply that this person is eternally omnipotent.
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2. All “Power” in Heaven and in Earth
Matthew 28:18:   
I have already discussed this passage above.
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3. “Power” Over Nature
According to the Gospels, Jesus sometimes performed amazing nature miracles:
Luke 8:22-25 (NRSV)
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out,
23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger.
24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.
25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Remember, the question at issue is NOT whether Jesus was in fact eternally omnipotent, nor whether his disciples believed he was eternally omnipotent.  The issue is whether Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.
First, even if this event showed that Jesus was omnipotent, it at most only shows he was omnipotent for a brief span of time, not that he was eternally omnipotent.  This is one reason why the words and claims of Jesus are important for the issue of whether he was eternally omnipotent, because actions and demonstrations of power can only show that he had great power at that particular time.
Second, the power to stop a storm is, at best, only evidence of omnipotence, not proof of omnipotence.  One must also have power over floods, fires, earthquakes, gravity, inertia, electromagnetic forces, insects, predators, the sun, the moon, billions of stars, etc. This is one reason why the words and claims of Jesus are important for the issue of whether he was eternally omnipotent, because actions and demonstrations of power can only show that he had a particular sort of power at that particular time.
Third, even if this event showed that Jesus was eternally omnipotent, that does not mean that Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.  Actions are often even more ambiguous than words.  It is very difficult to clearly claim or imply some specific idea without uttering clear words and sentences expressing that idea.
Fourth, the words that Jesus uttered in this situation (according to the passage from the Gospel of Luke) cast serious doubt on the view that Jesus was claiming or implying himself to be eternally omnipotent.  Jesus asks his frightened disciples “Where is your faith?”  Given Jesus’s radical beliefs about faith, the implication appears to be that his disciples could have calmed the storm themselves, if they simply had strong FAITH in the power and mercy of God:
Mark 11:23 (NRSV)
23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.
Jesus taught his disciples that they could perform amazing nature miracles too, if they just had strong FAITH.  Making a mountain rise up into the sky and move a mile or more and then drop into the ocean would be an even more fantastic nature miracle than calming a storm.  But Jesus taught and believed that his disciples could perform such nature miracles if they developed a strong faith in God.
Note the phrase “it will be done for you” at the end of Mark 11:23.  Who is performing the action here? God.  God is answering a prayer request: “God, please move this mountain into the sea.”  So, it is not the person of faith who directly CAUSES the mountain to rise up and move to the ocean, but it is the eternally omnipotent God (to whom the person of great faith prayed) who moves the mountain into the sea.
In speaking of FAITH here, Jesus implies that he had strong faith in the power and mercy of God, and could request that God calm a storm, and as a result of his strong belief that this “will come to pass”, God would do this for him.  Jesus also implied that his disciples were just as capable of making such a request of God and having God do this for them, if they simply had strong faith.  Jesus IMPLIED only that he had strong faith in the mercy and power of God, not that he (Jesus) was omnipotent that day, nor that he (Jesus) was eternally omnipotent.
Jesus did NOT believe that his disciples were eternally omnipotent, and such a belief is clearly contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith. Thus, this argument (from the nature miracle of calming a storm) proves too much, because if performing such a miracle implies that one is eternally omnipotent, then it follows that the disciples of Jesus were eternally omnipotent, and that anyone who has strong faith in the power and mercy of God must also be eternally omnipotent, which is absurd.
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4. “Power” Over His Own Life
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus claimed to be able to choose when he would die and also to choose to come back to life:
John 10:17-18 (NRSV)
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
First, having power over life and death in the second half of the first century, does not mean that Jesus had this power for all eternity, so this is not proof that Jesus is eternally omnipotent.  The statements of Jesus about this matter are important for assessing the significance of this evidence.
Second, power over life and death is only one sort of supernatural power, so this is, at best, only evidence of omnipotence, not proof of omnipotence.  The statements of Jesus about this matter are important for assessing the significance of this evidence.
Third, Jesus concludes with the statement “I have received this command from my Father”.  This statement indicates that Jesus is talking about AUTHORITY here, rather than POWER.  God has commanded that Jesus suffer death by crucifixion, and God has commanded and thus authorized Jesus to come back to life after suffering and dying on the cross.  Thus, the point appears to be NOT about Jesus having POWER over his death, but about Jesus being given AUTHORITY over his death by God.
Fourth,  in general, the Christian faith asserts that “God raised Jesus from the dead” (Acts 2:24, 2:32, 3:15, 3:26, 4:10, 5:30, 10:40, 13:30, 13:37, Romans 10:9, 1 Cor. 6:14, 15:15, etc.), so the resurrection of Jesus can be seen as evidence of God’s omnipotence rather than as evidence of Jesus being omnipotent.
The case of the resurrection of Jesus is thus analogous to other nature miracles performed by Jesus: they are CAUSED by God in response to Jesus’s FAITH in God; they are not CAUSED by the exertion of supernatural powers possessed by Jesus.  If Jesus had the power to overcome his own death, then the resurrection would fail to establish that GOD was giving his seal of approval to Jesus by CAUSING Jesus to rise from the dead.  If Jesus was the cause of his own resurrection, then his resurrection would fail to show God’s approval of Jesus ministry and of Jesus teachings.  The resurrection would then provide no evidence that Jesus was a prophet of God or a savior of mankind who had been sent by God.
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5. “Power” to Give Eternal Life to Others
John 17:1-2 (NRSV)
1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
First, having the “power” to give people eternal life on judgment day does not imply that Jesus always had this “power”, thus this is, at best evidence of omnipotence, not proof of eternal omnipotence.  Thus, it is important to pay attention to Jesus’s words and statements about this matter.
Second, the “power” to give people eternal life is only one sort of power, so this is, at best, only evidence of omnipotence, not proof of omnipotence.  Thus, it is important to pay attention to Jesus’s words and statements about this matter.
Third, the above translation, and other modern translations (e.g. NIV and NASB), use the word “authority” here rather than the word “power”.  Jesus is claiming that God will give him the AUTHORITY to be the judge of all human beings; that Jesus will be the one to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.
But being the judge of mankind is NOT the same as being the executioner.  Although Jesus claims to be the one to make the decision on the eternal fate of each human being,  this is completely compatible with it being the case that GOD is the one who carries out the punishments and rewards, that it is GOD who will cause some people to have eternal life in heaven and others to have eternal misery in hell.  Having the AUTHORITY to make this decision is NOT the same as having the POWER to implement the decision. Jesus is only claiming to have been given the AUTHORITY to make this important decision.
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6. “Power” to Heal Various Diseases and to Cast Out Demons
According to the canonical Gospels, Jesus could heal various diseases and cast demons out of people:
Mark 1:32-34 (NRSV)
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.
34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
First, this event only shows that Jesus had influence over diseases and demons for a particular period of time, not that Jesus always had this “power”. So, this is, at best, evidence of Jesus being omnipotent, not proof that Jesus was eternally omnipotent.

Second, “power” over demons is only one sort of supernatural power, and power to cure diseases is only one sort of power, so this event is, at best, only evidence of Jesus being omnipotent, not proof of his omnipotence.
Third, as with nature miracles and granting eternal life to some people,  this event is best understood in terms of Jesus having AUTHORITY over diseases and demons, rather than Jesus having POWER over diseases and demons.  It is because Jesus had strong FAITH in the power and mercy of God, that Jesus could request God to cure a person’s disease or to remove a demon from a person, and God would then respond by doing what Jesus requested.
Fourth, Jesus taught that his disciples would themselves be able to “cast out many demons”:
Mark 3:14-15 (NRSV)
14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message,
15 and to have authority to cast out demons.
Note that Jesus gave his disciples AUTHORITY to cast out demons, not the POWER to cast out demons.
Furthermore, Jesus related his success in exorcism to his FAITH in God:
Matthew 17:18-20 (NRSV)
18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
The problem is NOT that his disciples were lacking in some supernatural powers; the problem was their lack of FAITH in the power and mercy of God.  With faith in God “nothing will be impossible” for an ordinary human being, because (according to Jesus) God will respond to the requests of a person who has FAITH in God, and God is eternally omnipotent, and thus able to do anything that a person of FAITH asks him to do.
Jesus also gave his disciples the AUTHORITY to heal the sick:
Matthew 10:1 (NRSV)
10 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
This argument, like others previously considered, proves too much.  If being able to “cure every disease” and “cast out many demons” means that a person is eternally omnipotent, then we must also conclude that each disciple in the inner-circle of Jesus’s disciples was also eternally omnipotent, but this is absurd and contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith.
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CONCLUSION
The question at issue here is NOT whether Jesus was in fact eternally omnipotent, nor whether his disciples or the authors of the NT believed that Jesus was eternally omnipotent.  The question at issue is whether Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.
In the canonical Gospels, Jesus never directly CLAIMED to be eternally omnipotent, nor omnipotent, nor all-powerful, nor almighty.
Furthermore, based on the Gospel passages that McDowell points to concerning Jesus’ alleged omnipotence, Jesus never IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent, nor that he was omnipotent.  The passages that McDowell puts forward in support of Jesus being omnipotent fail for the following reasons:

  1. Omnipotence for a day or a year is not the same as eternal omnipotence.
  2. Having one sort of supernatural power is not the same as having all possible power.
  3. Using a supernatural power is not the same as CLAIMING or IMPLYING that one has that supernatural power.
  4. A claim to have been given a supernatural power implies that one has not always possessed that power.
  5. A claim to have AUTHORITY over something is not the same as a claim to have unlimited POWER and CONTROL of that something.
  6. Jesus generally spoke of himself as having been given great AUTHORITY by God, not great POWER.
  7. Jesus taught his disciples that they too could have great AUTHORITY (to forgive sins, over natural phenomena, over diseases, over demons) by means of FAITH in the power and mercy of God and by prayer requests to God.

In general, the evidence provided by McDowell proves too much, because the same logic can be used to prove that Jesus’s disciples were also eternally omnipotent, which is absurd and contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith.

bookmark_borderA Catholic Blogger Offers a Very Thoughtful Reply to my Question about Prayer and Government

Dr. Gregory Popcak is a fellow Patheos blogger who blogs at “Faith on the Couch” in the Patheos Catholic Channel. He’s written a very thoughtful reply to my previous post, “Question for Theists: Why Is It Important to Begin Governmental Meetings with Prayer?” His reply is titled, “Prayer Works: A Psychological Case for Public Prayer and Graceful Governance.” What I like about his reply is that (a) he presents a secular case for prayer; and (b) he actually provides evidence for his position.
I’m still digesting his post. For now, I have two observations. First, I have a minor observation. He writes:

I suppose you could theoretically argue that you could get a similar benefit to civic deist prayer by simply asking the participants of a meeting to, “Please pause and reflect on how a benevolent third party who loved us all and wished the best for us would want us to behave”  but I’m not really sure how that would be different than what civic deist prayer already is and does

My observation is this. This paragraph instantly reminded me of the metaethical theory defended by atheist philosopher Michael Martin, namely, Ideal Observer Theory. I’m not sure what that means, but I thought it was interesting.

Second, I don’t speak for all atheists, but his post got me thinking about how such governmental prayers are commenced. As a thought experiment, imagine if all governmental prayers were replaced by moments of silence and all moments of silence were preceded by the following statement.

I [the person leading the prayer] know that our citizens have a variety of beliefs about God. I know that some of you don’t even believe in God. In light of that diversity, I’d like to briefly explain why I am about to lead a moment of silence at a government meeting. Please hear me out. I am not doing this to impose my views on you. Rather, my goal is that all of us work together to find mutually satisfying solutions to the topics we are about to discuss. Psychologists have studied what happens when people in conflict are asked to imagine what a third party, who loved all of them and wished the best for all of them, would advise them to do about their conflict. We have good, solid experimental evidence that when people are asked to do that, that causes people to be less concerned with their own agendas. Instead, it makes them more willing to seek mutually satisfying solutions. In that spirit, then, I want us to have a moment of silence. If you believe in a higher being, please think about how that higher being would want us to behave. If you don’t believe in a higher being, then please pause and reflect on how a benevolent third party who loved us all and wished the best for us would want us to behave.

With that said, let’s now please have a moment of silence…

I have no idea how that would affect the constitutionality of the moment of silence. What I do know is this. I, for one, couldn’t help but like a theist who said something like that, just for respectfully acknowledging the existence of nonbelievers in the room. I would also be grateful for the way the moment of silence is (hypothetically) framed.
Please check Pocat’s article out and, if you decide to comment on his site, please be respectful.

bookmark_borderEvidential Asymmetry, Scientific Confirmation of Prayer, and Horrific Evils

1. The General Case
One of the most important (and equally most often forgotten) lessons that Bayes’s Theorem can teach us about evidence is that the strength of evidence is a ratio. To be precise, let H1 and H2 be rival explanatory hypotheses, B be the relevant background information, and E be the evidence to be explained. Now consider the following ratio:

Pr(E | B & H1)
—————–
Pr(E | B & H2)

If Pr(E | B & H1) > Pr(E | B & H2), then this ratio is greater than one and the evidence favors H1 over H2. If Pr(E | B & H2) < Pr(E | B & H1), then this ratio is less than one and the evidence favors H2 over H1. And if Pr(E | B & H1) = Pr(E | B & H2), then this ratio is equal to one and the evidence favors neither H1 nor H2.
Paul Draper has taught me that this ratio has some interesting implications for topics that come up in debates between theists and naturalists. Suppose that Pr(E | B & H1) is really high and Pr(E | B & H2) is middling. In this case, there will be an evidential asymmetry: if E is true, E is not strong evidence for H1 over H2, but if E is false, then ~E is strong evidence for H2 over H1. This can be shown with a couple of examples.
First, suppose that E is true. If E is true, then E is not strong evidence for H1 over H2. This follows because the ratio of Pr(E | B & H1) to Pr(E | B & H2) is not high.
Second, suppose that E is false. This is where things get interesting. Because Pr(E | B & H1) is really high, the negation of E would strongly favor H2. Again, this follows from the ratio of the likelihoods: the ratio of Pr(~E | B & H1) to Pr(~E | B & H2) is high.
It is mathematically necessary that this evidential asymmetry will always be present when the evidence has a middling probability on one hypothesis and a very high (or very low) probability on the negation of that hypothesis. (The basic idea is that is the range of probabilities is zero to one, a high probability divided by a middle one must be relatively small while a middling probability divided by a low one must be relatively large.)
2. The Efficacy of Prayer and Scientific Confirmation
Let’s assume, as appears to be the case, that recent scientific studies have failed to confirm the efficacy of prayer. If facts about evil and divine hiddenness are included in our background knowledge, then those study results do not strongly favor naturalism over theism because the ratio of the likelihood of the evidence on naturalism to the likelihood of the evidence on theism is not really high. (This follows because the probability of such studies given theism and that background information is middling.) But now imagine the results had turned out differently and the studies had confirmed the efficacy of prayer. In that case, such results would strongly favor theism over naturalism.
This result shows that atheists are making a mistake when they accuse theists of using an unjustified double standard by dismissing the (negative) study results as evidentially insignifcant.  Rather, theists are correct that if the study results had confirmed prayer, then such positive results would have been strong evidence favoring theism over naturalism, but the absence of such results is only weak evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
3. Horrific Evils
The topic of horrific evils provides another example of evidential asymmetry. Horrific evils have a middling probability given naturalism but a very low probability given theism. So if horrific evils were absent, that fact wouldn’t strongly favor theism over naturalism, whereas the presence of horrific evils strongly favors naturalism over theism.
Acknowledgment
I owe the main point of this post, as well as both examples, to Paul Draper. Any errors in this post are, of course, mine.

bookmark_borderPlaying The Mystery Card (incl. McGrath vs Dawkins) from my book Believing Bullshit

 
PLAYING THE MYSTERY CARD

 

Suppose critics point out that not only do you have little in the way of argument to support your particular belief system, there also seems to be powerful evidence against it. If you want, nevertheless, to convince both yourself and others that your beliefs are not nearly as ridiculous as your critics suggest, what might you do?

 

Perhaps Play The Mystery Card. As we will see, this sort of strategy is particularly popular when it comes to defending beliefs in the supernatural – beliefs in ghosts, angels, psychic powers and gods, and so on. By far the most popular version of the strategy – the version on which I focus here – is to say, “Ah, but of course this is beyond the ability of science/reason to decide. We must acknowledge that science and reason have their limits. It is sheer arrogance to suppose they can explain everything.” Some things may indeed be beyond the ability of science and reason to decide. However, as we’ll see, those who say “But it’s beyond the ability of science/reason to decide” in order to try to immunize what they believe against rational criticism are often erecting little more than a smokescreen.

 

 “But it’s beyond science /reason to decide”

 

Scientism

The view that science can ultimately explain everything – can answer every legitimate question – is called scientism. Actually, even most scientists consider scientism a dubious doctrine. Many of them accept that there may be questions science cannot answer.

  Continue reading “Playing The Mystery Card (incl. McGrath vs Dawkins) from my book Believing Bullshit”

bookmark_borderOne Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 2

Here is another argument for God, based on answered prayers:
1. If God exists, then it is very likely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
2. If it is NOT the case that God exists, then it is very unlikely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
3. Prayers to God for healing from injury or disease are usually immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
Therefore:
4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.
This argument can be reformulated by asserting the negation of premise (3), thus turning the tables and making an argument against the existence of God:
1. If God exists, then it is very likely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
2. If it is NOT the case that God exists, then it is very unlikely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
5. It is NOT the case that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease are usually immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
Therefore:
6. Other things being equal, it is probable that God does NOT exist.