Miracles, the Enlightenment, & School Shootings

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!

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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21 responses to “Miracles, the Enlightenment, & School Shootings

  1. For entertainment: Breitbart and Pinker
    Breitbart commenters on Steven Pinker

  2. “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.”
    Either god plays dice and hence is unchristian or god doesn’t and makes sure his actions are not “radically random”.
    Btw a physicist like Polkinghorne should realize that Modern Physics does not say that our natural reality is “radically random”, not even on a small scale. Even humans can influence probabilities by changing the circumstances.
    Plus of course this is no answer to the Problem of Evil at all.

    “The Florida shooting doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, or that if he exists he can’t intervene.”
    No. But the question remains why said god didn’t influence the probabilities so that there were no victims. At the other hand, if such mass shootings never made any victim at all, I’m sure christians like MW immediately would point to their god as the initiator of such miracles with the argument “what is the probability that that would ever happen?”
    Creacrappers are not the only ones who enjoy their double standards.

  3. He should have shown his ahole gawd in the correct light…there was a miracle!! Gawd only wanted those few dead, he had the killing stop when its appetite for death was satisfied. Such a good gawd! (yes, god should be a 4letter word!!!!)

  4. Michael Fugate

    If we only knew what the gods were thinking or even if they were thinking – that would help.

  5. Our Curmudgeon succinctly summarises the conclusion of the Christian Today article:

    the recent Florida school shootings were part of the divine plan to change gun laws in the US

    Replace the word “divine” in the above quote with any of the following:

    &c &c

    and you will have, verbatim, the claims being made on a host of hard-right blogs and forums in the USA at the moment.

    And there are still crazies on the internet claiming that Sandy Hook was either an elaborate hoax or a ‘false flag’ operation for that same purpose.

  6. Michael Fugate ponders

    If we only knew what the gods were thinking or even if they were thinking – that would help.

    Gods don’t need think, they already know.

    Or at least, that’s the case for The One True God–and I refer, of course, to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    In His Infinite Noodly Wisdom, he knows whom to reward with eternal life in the pastafarian paradise of stripper factories and beer volcanos.

  7. Megalonyx, is pastafarian hell where you only get Budweiser?

  8. Puck Mendelssohn

    Bud Light Lime, I should think.

  9. Michael Fugate

    If the gods know, then they can’t make choices, can they?

  10. Michael Fugate says: “If the gods know, then they can’t make choices, can they?”

    They knew, even when the Second Amendment was ratified. For more than two centuries they’ve been waiting for us to change the law.

  11. The true miracle here is that there seems to be an American christian who wants to change the gun laws. Methinks most conservative christians in the US are all for more guns and fewer regulations.

  12. The argument for theodicy applies equally to falsehoods in the Bible.

  13. So this guy’s favorite god knew all about the massacre but didn’t even bother to call 911. Doesn’t that border on criminal negligence?

  14. The God of the Quantum Gaps. Huge progress in theological fields.

  15. Meanwhile, about 25,000 infants and children die every single day of the week due to disease, injury or outright starvation. The “god has a plan” people are absolutely psychotic when it comes to critical reasoning and evidence.

  16. Look, this is straight down the standard Christian theological highway. God might, for His inscrutable purposes, rarely perform a miracle, but He created the Universe according to His Will, and of that Will, allows the free will of human beings, and therefore does not intervene – generally – to prevent them from doing as they will. So He allows them to do evil. If they could not do evil, how could they choose to do good?

    One might surmise that the miracles of Jesus were exceptional, for the purpose, under God’s Will, of announcing and verifying Jesus as the Saviour, the Messiah, the Godhead itself, but still, God is not to be questioned, anyway. That He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, but allows millions of other parents to suffer bitter grief, is no reason to doubt Him; that He called Lazarus from his tomb only so that he could die again is no contradiction. All things are resolved in Him. Even where God allows, or even actually does what we perceive as evil, He is God. There is no Euthyphro dilemma. Epicurus’s paradox is an irrelevance. God does, and allows, as He does, and our task is to be still and know that He is God.

    Thus Christianity. This is the only theodicy that works, pretty much, comfortless as it is. Being scientifically minded, we should know that whether an explanation comforts us or not is immaterial.

    A more effective attack, perhaps, is that it is only Ouroboros in a party frock: “God can do anything He wants, and equally not do anything He does not want. Therefore nothing that happens, or does not happen, is inconsistent with God.” To which must be added, “Therefore, also, nothing that happens or does not happen is dependent on God’s existence; hence, nothing that happens or does not happen is evidence for it. Including miracles”. The two cancel out. The only conclusion from any argument involving the question of good and evil is “no decision”.

    But that does not shift the burden of demonstration, which lies on the positive. “No decision” is not good enough for the pastor. I wish it were good enough for me, so that I could stop questioning it, and be still and know that I don’t know. I can’t get any further forward. I don’t know, and therefore can’t believe. Atheism, agnostic flavour, is as far as I can go. I am not required to like it, however, and I don’t. The pastor, were he to know that, must take whatever comfort he can from that mislike. Somebody might as well, for I don’t.

  17. Christine Janis

    Hey, Guys, don’t forget the Bowling Green Massacre

  18. Reminds me of Bartleby the Scrivener: I could intervene but I would prefer not to.

  19. Focussing on God misses the point. If most Repubs in Congress are pro-life, why don’t they prove it by banning A) assault rifles and B) large capacity magazines for any kind of weapon – rifle or hand gun? The only purpose served by these magazines is to facilitate the killing of large numbers of people in a short period of time and allowing quick reload.

    And why have they totally ignored the “well-regulated militia” part of the Second Amendment? Tying gun ownership and the ability to purchase ammunition to enrollment in militias organized by the states should go a long way to solving the problem, and do it constitutionally.

  20. Regarding why a creator god would allow pain and grief in the world, what if he is constructing not an engineering marvel for its own sake, but for esthetic purposes? Art depends for its effect on tension and resolution. A poet friend of mine says the artist must arouse expectations and then either satisfy them or resoundingly thwart them. Some of our most memorable works of literary art kill off characters the audience has been invited to love: Bambi; Willy Loman; Romeo and Juliet. We hold these stories in high esteem. We urge them on our young and keep coming back to them ourselves.

    So maybe the universe is a giant arcade, with stories of various magnitudes playing simultaneously. If the intended audience is not confined to three dimensions, viewers can zoom in and out in both time and space to follow stories of interest. They can choose stories that make them chuckle or roar with laughter. They can watch a feud play out, or a mass shooting. They can tremble at the catastrophic power of a tsunami or an atomic attack.

    Perhaps Shakespeare said more than he knew when he gave Gloucester the line in *King Lear* Act 4, scene 1, 36–37:

    As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,
    They kill us for their sport.

  21. retiredsciguy asks:

    And why have they totally ignored the “well-regulated militia” part of the Second Amendment?

    Wikipedia has a section on it — see Meaning of “well regulated militia” — and it’s far from being a complete treatment of the subject.