Monday, January 29, 2007

Invisible bunnies in my computer

I get up in the morning, bleary eyed and ready for another day of work. As I stumble into the shower I turn on the water. Suddenly, without any particular reason, I find myself wondering what I would do if one morning the water came out of the tap and, instead of spraying down into the plug, actually floated in mid-air and drifted around the bathroom. Can something so bizarre actually happen? From my own experience of how water acts, and from my knowledge of how gravity works, I conclude that such an occurrence might be possible, but it is highly improbable . . .

After eating breakfast I take the short walk through the morning air and stand at the bus stop. As with many mornings before this one, the sun starts to rise slowly from behind a tall building just east of where I’m standing. I look to the west towards the peaks of a mountain range and wonder: what if one day the sun suddenly rose from the west? Can I say with certainty that it won’t? From what we know about planetary motion, and from the consistency of our historical records, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. However, it is possible that there is a law of nature that we are not yet aware of, a law that suddenly changes the direction of earth’s rotation once every 4,5 billion years. So I conclude that the sun rising tomorrow from the west might be possible, but it is highly improbable . . .

I get to work and I’m asked by my boss to fix a computer that is not working. I examine the computer in question and start to hypothesise, in my mind, various possible causes of the problem. I then test each of these possible causes. If the computer isn’t working at all, it might be the power cable that isn’t plugged in. How do I test this? I plug in the cable and switch on the computer. If it still doesn’t work, I theorise that it could be the plug socket that is at fault. How do I test this? I try another plug socket. And so the process of eliminating possible causes of the problem continues, until I find the solution.

This is how I, and any rational human being, solve problems that we encounter every day. This kind of thinking is based on the premise that we live in a universe that is held together by predicable laws, and that effects have natural causes. At no point do I theorise that the computer’s problem is caused by the supernatural, at no point do I hypothesise that small, malicious, invisible bunnies are inside the computer, wreaking havoc with the hardware. It might be possible, but it is highly improbable . . .

At the end of the day I finish work and head out of the office into the street. I’m suddenly confronted by a man carrying a large book and wearing a golden cross around his neck. With kindness in his eyes, and with a soft, caring voice, he tells me an incredible story: a story about how a donkey once spoke; how the sun once stood still; how a woman turned into a pillar of salt; how a man from Galilee was born of a virgin, walked on water, died and rose again; how every human has an undetectable immaterial soul; how unseen creatures, called demons and angels, wage war around us; and how an invisible supernatural being, who created the universe in seven days, sent his only son to die for all of humankind.

Interested, I ask the man a few questions and find out that the only source for most of the story is the book he is holding, translated from manuscripts written thousands of years ago. I find out that the man from Galilee, who is supposed to be alive after two thousand years, can not physically visit us – the only way we can detect his presence is by experiencing him within our hearts.

Disappointed, I walk away, and suddenly realise that the claims of this story are so totally alien to my experience of the world, so totally against the faculty of reason that I use everyday to make decisions and solve problems, and so totally opposed to what we currently know about the universe, that I can only conclude that the story within that book might have possibly happened, but it is highly probable that it didn’t . . .

It is possible that water might float upwards when I jump into the shower next time, but I don’t believe this will happen. It is possible that the sun might rise from the west tomorrow morning when I wait for the bus, but I don’t believe it will. It is possible that invisible bunnies are the cause of computer hardware problems, but I don’t believe they are.

It is possible that Christianity is true, but I don’t believe it is.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Considering all the Biblical prophecies that are coming true right before our eyes (and if you "used to be a Christian", you know what I am speaking of), I wouldnt bet the farm (or living in eternal hell fire) that you are right and God is a myth. "It is a fool who says in his heart that there is no God" --dont be a fool.

Anonymous said...

This comment is directed to the comment left by another 'anononymous': I know many Christians believe that war, famine, floods and earthquakes are 'signs of the times'. However, these things have been with us for the last 2000 years, in other words, since the Bible was written. I don't believe there are exponentially more natural disasters now than 50 or 500 or 1000 years ago. Even Paul, living only a short time after the ascension, believed Jesus' coming to be just around the corner. Christians of every age have thought Jesus would come again in their lifetimes (hence all the prophesies about when that would be, which did obviously not come true).

Contemporary Christians should be a lot less sure of their ability to decipher Biblical metaphors and to decide what are surefire prophesies just waiting to be fulfilled. If you read a really comprehensive commentary on Revelations, you will see how preposterous half of the predictions that are supposedly based on it actually are. I read a very old but good one by William Hendrikson. It transformed Revelations for me from a book of vague imagery to a unbelievable metaphoric account of Christ and Christianity in the past, present and future.

Jason Hughes said...

I'm so sorry Kevin. You seem to have caught my anonymous bug. They've been going around, and the only complete thought most of them seem to be able to string together is "hellfire = you; heaven = me."

I wish you speedy recovery from those who claim to have freedom in christ, but not enough so to put their name on their words...

Anon #2--you seem to have a good head on your shoulders! Why the anonymity?

Megan said...

I wonder, Kevin, would it really make any real difference to you if there was water-tight evidence for each of the "improbable" events that you mention? How much proof would you really need? How much would be enough?

Kevin Cadman said...

The way I see it is at the end of the day you have to choose to believe in a fantastic fairy-tale or a realistic truth. It's possible that Islam is right, but I don't believe that either! ;)

Evidence. Evidence. Evidence.

Jason Hughes said...

Megan sounds like she has infrared scans of the invisible bunnies form the inside of a computer...

Do you, Megan, have incontrovertile proof of the invisible bunnies?

Kevin Parry said...

I agree with Anonymous # 2 - the 'prophecies' of Revelations are so vague that one can read almost anything into them. Appealing to the prophecies of the end times as a way to prove Christianity is an incredibly weak argument. If I were an apologist, and if I wanted to appeal to prophecy, I would start with the OT prophecies of Jesus – at least that will enable me to argue with a skeptic for a few rounds.

To respond to Megan: thank you for your comment. I don't need absolute air-tight evidence for the truth of Christianity; I just need very good evidence (as Kevin Cadman noted). What kind of evidence? If you found a consistent and sure way to detect demons and angels, that would be great. And at the same time, if you provided convincing evidence that a human soul exists outside the confines of the brain, that too will do. And what about Jesus visiting me in person - I can't see why he is unable. And so the list continues . . .

If Christianity is true, I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find convincing evidence of this sort.

FCSuper said...

Megan, imagine how followers of Ra in ancient Egypt would've reacted to an asteroid crashing into the earth and destroying half their nation. Nothing in their experience suggested it was remotely possible, or that asteroids even existed. But today we know of them and know that it is possible (however unlikely) a big one will strike the Earth at any minute. A lack of knowledge about something doesn't mean that it won't impact (or end) your life. Nothing is "water-tight" when observed at the quantum level. Our experience in our daily lives is a most likely predictor of future events, but doesn't rule out anything currently unknown that will interfere with the expected.

The Dunks said...

Hi,

I just happened to stumble across this page and while I claim to be a follower of Christ, or Christian as you say (that word came from a book you don't believe - so I don't know why you would call yourself an ex-christian, but that's besides the point) I can't help but think - maybe God wanted me to share one little fact with you. One little insignificant detail that you keep missing. Maybe that is why I am up so late and could not sleep. It just might be highly probable. You see, I question everything you think and feel when you call the last book in the Bible Revelations when it most clearly is called Revelation or the Revelation of John. No, its not some simple typo - its clear there is not a 'great' understanding of scripture but maybe only an understading of what someone else has taught you. I for one, did not grow up in the church and I questioned many things. It's good to question but in your wisdom, don't become a fool.

theologix said...

Hi Kevin,

I hope I'm not dragging this up from too far back, but I wanted to comment on your post.

I think your argument against miracles combines the arguments of both Hume and Spenoza into one fun and easy read anecdote. Unfortunately, the philosophy behind the read is no better than their original forms.

If you are relying on Spenoza's flawed argument that miracles are impossible because they break unbreakable natural laws, then you are begging the question. You can't show that (a) natural laws are immutable, or (b) that miracles actually break them.

If God exists, then miracles would be His addition to them.

If you are arguing closer to Hume's argument (that miracles should not be believed because the evidence for the regular is always greater than the evidence for the rarer), then you are still on sinking turf. Rare things happen all the time. You can't judge believability on how often something happens.

Your particular birth happened only once, yet you wrote this blog... As far as we can tell, the Universe popped into existence only once, yet you wrote this blog...

(As an aside, you would also be making a formal logical misstep, in that your argument would be:

Miracles are by definition rare events.

Rare events can't be trusted.

So miracles can't be trusted.

Which is the same argument that miracles can't be trusted because miracles can't be trusted-- begging the question again.)

So, you are left with nothing more than an argument from personal incredulity.

I think the heart of the discussion actually lies in the existence of God. If He exists, then miracles are absolutely possible. You seem to think that He doesn't.

Are you ready to claim "more-than" knowledge and say that He absolutely doesn't? (By this, I mean of course that you'll need more knowledge than you can actually have. I mean, what if God is playing cards at the flying-spaghetti-monster's house right now? :)) If so, I guess we can consider this one more question in the proverbial tin cup?

Take care. I enjoy your posts...

:)

Brian said...

To Theologix:
You've obviously studied a lot of philosophy and argument, which is great, keep up the studying! However, in your studying, you seem to be overly eager to spread the message of your learning, misapplying it here. That is, you're reading too much into Kevin's post. He didn't beg the question, because he didn't say that he didn't believe that miracles are impossible. What he said is that, to date, the evidence of gravity leads to the conclusion that gravity pulls water down; if he were to see other evidence, he would have to reconcile this at that point. What he did NOT say is that it is impossible that water would float upward, rather than being pulled toward the ground. In fact, he expressly reserved the possibility of that occurrence. Thus, while your analysis is interesting, and your understanding of question begging (the logical fallacy) is better than most (who believe it to mean "raising the question"), you missed the fundamental, baseline assertion of the original post.

theologix said...

Brian,

Unfortunately, I think you missed the "ifs" in my comment. If he was stating, X, then... If he was stating Y, then... If he wasn't, then the post was a non-argument and thus can be left at that.

I agree with you that he didn't come out and say X or Y, or Z. So I guess clarification would be good.

What he did do was somehow infer that Christians are irrational in their dissection of everyday life ("This is how I, and any rational human being, solve problems that we encounter every day.") without offering a rational opposition to the Christian way of doing so (or, for the record, an honest appraisal of how Christians actually think).

He can either make one of the two arguments I alluded to in my first comment. He may even argue that he'd believe in miracles if they happened more often (which, BTW, wouldn't happen, by definition).

So, perhaps you bring up a good point. Perhaps we can ask Kevin for a more specific treatment of the subject and we'll gnaw on an actual bone instead of some veiled half-hearted attempt at the illusion of a bone.

Thanks...

Anonymous said...

I honestly struggle with my trust in God every day, but this argument does not hold water (pun intended). Modern technology proves some impossible concepts. The TV broadcasts pictures around the world, the radio carries invisible voices through the air, magnets do amazing things & gravity loses it's logical hold once you fly into space. There are many matters too great for my human mind. But a REAL GOD should be able to perform the impossible. I can accept that. Now... Why He acts or does Not act, and his behavior is still a mystery to me. But I belive He is very capeable - but is He really accountable? Who can judge Him> Not me. But I sure would like Him to get more involved - wouldnt you?

BB said...

"Modern technology proves some impossible concepts." Those concepts were deciphered of minds that at least suspected they could be proven, and ultimately, they were! It is not impossible if it is actual.

The same cannot be said for god. The only way one can believe is to "have faith". Faith is belief without evidence. Therefore, "impossible" holds a different meaning to a believer than an unbeliever.