Almost two weeks ago we wrote about Steven Pinker’s Book on the Enlightenment, which appears to be a splendid book. Pinker said:
If there’s anything the Enlightenment thinkers had in common, it was an insistence that we energetically apply the standard of reason to understanding our world, and not fall back on generators of delusion like faith, dogma, revelation, authority, charisma, mysticism, divination, visions, gut feelings or the hermeneutic parsing of sacred texts.
We knew it was inevitable that we’d see creationist criticism springing up, and we found some at the website Christian Today, which describes itself as “an independent Christian media company,” located in London. Their headline is Answering atheist Steven Pinker on the Florida shooting: Where was the ‘benevolent shepherd’ God?, and they have no comments section. It was written by Mark Woods, described as “a Baptist minister and Managing Editor of Christian Today.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
Steven Pinker is a scientist and public intellectual, provocative, informed and informative. He is resolutely atheist, but not of the ‘religion poisons everything’ variety; he thinks institutional religion – while based on an entirely false premise – can evolve and be a force for good. Where he draws the line, however, is the believer’s conviction that there is a God who intervenes in the world. Like Scotty from Star Trek, he thinks you cannot change the laws of physics. Even if there were a God, there are no miracles: the world is as it is, and that’s that.
You know what’s coming. Rev Woods is going to explain that Pinker is wrong, because miracles really do occur. He says:
And in an interview with Hugh Hewitt for MSNBC, one of the arguments he puts forward to justify that is the Florida shooting, which he says casts doubt on ‘the idea that there is a benevolent shepherd who looks out for human welfare. What was the benevolent shepherd doing in Florida while the teenager was massacring his classmates?
It’s the old Problem of evil — described by Wikipedia as “the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God.” The rev tells us:
There’s a challenge here for Christians on two levels. One is his fundamental question about whether God intervenes at all – whether there are miracles. The other is whether the Florida massacre is a knock-down argument in his favour. Most Christians would answer the first with, ‘Of course he does.’ The Bible is full of miracles. We pray constantly for people and situations that trouble us, and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it ‘worked’. But Pinker’s line is that the more we find out about the world, the less we need to call on the miraculous to account for what’s going on. So is there room for an interventionist God in a scientifically sophisticated world?
How does the rev resolve this problem? He cites David Wilkinson.whom Wikipedia describes as “a British Methodist minister, theologian, astrophysicist and academic.” According to the rev, Wilkinson says:
[T]he problem with the idea that the physical world runs on rails and is in principle completely predictable is that it’s based on out of date science – a mechanistic, Newtonian view of the world in which cause and effect can be plotted exactly. But that’s not how the world works. Quantum theory tells us that the small-scale structure of the world is, as Polkinghorne puts it, ‘radically random’: ‘It is a world that is unpicturable, uncertain, and in which the cause of events cannot be fully specified,’ says Wilkinson. There’s room for God to act because the system isn’t closed; he can push electrons around and alter the course of events in the world without breaking any of the laws of nature. Quantum theory doesn’t answer all our questions, Wilkinson says cautiously, but it ‘may be one dimension of how God works in the world’.
Ooooooooooooh! Quantum mechanics! Well, the behavior of matter at the subatomic level is indeed unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean an office building downtown will suddenly vanish and then appear in your back yard. The world at the macroscopic level is entirely predictable by the laws of physics. But the rev disagrees:
This means that at the macro level as well as the micro, the idea that the world is fixed and predictable is just wrong, and that arguments against an interventionist God don’t work. So, Wilkinson says, chaos might give ‘space for God to work in unusual and specific ways within the scientific description of the world’.
Great argument! The rev continues:
It’s not outdated and foolish to believe in an interventionist God. But what about Florida? Why, if God can intervene, did he not do so last Wednesday … ?
We know why bad things happen: it’s because God gives human beings freedom to do them – and freedom to do good things, too. The Florida shooting doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, or that if he exists he can’t intervene. It means – and this is a hard thing to hear, but it’s the only thing a Christian can say – that he has chosen not to.
Egad — why? Rev Woods finishes his column with this:
Can the Florida massacre become a catalyst for changing US gun laws? Perhaps – and if, alongside costly personal ministry to survivors and their families, Christians can become lead voices in challenging a toxic firearms culture, that might be a better answer to Steven Pinker than reams of intellectual argument.
So there you are. Miracles really do happen, and the recent Florida school shootings were part of the divine plan to change gun laws in the US. Phooey on the Enlightenment!
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