Thursday, July 27, 2006

Does God Hate Amputees?

I stumbled upon an online book a few month ago after finding a link to it in a discussion on Slashdot. The commenter who linked to the book attributed it to Marshall Brain, the founder of the site HowStuffWorks.com. The actual book itself contained no attribution of authorship. The title of the book is "Why Won't God Heal Amputees?" The original title of the work was "Why Does God Hate Amputees?" but that was apparently deemed too insulting to amputees.

I started reading through the book and noted several large holes in the arguments being made. At the time I considered writing a post or two rebutting some of the major flaws in the arguments in the book, but laziness won the day and I never did it.

Recently I decided to do another search on iTunes for "mormon" podcasts. I found one called "Mormon Musings" and the most recent episode was about Brain's book. Apparently, Marshall Brain is a neighbor to the "disaffected Mormon" in Mormon Musings, Steve Zimmerman. So the podcast is a discussion between Marshall Brain, Zimmerman, and another atheist friend, Bruce.

In this post I want to address some of the things that were said in the podcast. If time and inclination permit, I will address some other points from the book in a future post.

The most common flaw is the false dichotomy. To paraphrase Brain's argument: "If God could heal amputees, he would. If he doesn't, then he must not exist. I don't know about any amuputees that have been healed, so God is fake." This assumes that we know the mind of God and why he would or would not do something. As a pure logical argument, this is empty. And the main premise of the book hinges on this assertion. By analogy, we might say, "If Bill Gates could afford to single-handedly finance PBS, he would surely do so. If he doesn't, he must not really exist. PBS is doing another fund drive which proves that Bill Gates is imaginary." The logic is identical. In both cases a third option is available. God/Bill Gates is able to do the thing but, for whatever reason, doesn't do it. Brain's argument is vacuous even if we don't know what God's other reason might be.

The next argument that comes up is the multiplicity of religions. Since there are so many religions, the argument goes, then we can be sure none of them are true or else presumably they would have coalesced around the truth by now. Pointing out that there is disagreement is hardly an argument. Just because all people don't properly recognize truths doesn't mean those truths don't exist.

Next comes Brain's attack on the Bible. His argument is essentially that because there are parts of the Bible that don't match our culture then it must be rejected in its entirety. He cites rules about slavery in the Old Testament. If God says slavery is okay in any context, then he must not really exist. How can an atheist make that argument? If there is no external controlling moral authority (like God) then how could they claim anything is wrong or right? If survival (and comfort) of the fittest if the only value, as I imagine it must be in a Godless universe, then why would you believe that others must be bound by your version of morality? Brain doesn't like the morality in the Bible, so there can't be a God that would advocate it. What hubris! Again, we don't even need to explain the slavery passages in the Bible (troubling as those might be) to discount Brain's argument.

Bruce then makes the argument that feeling the Spirit or having a religious experience is purely a brain-chemical event. I guess he is making this argument to show that spiritual experiences are just inside your head. If you believe, as Mormons do, that humans are a combination of spirit and physical body, then it seems logical that there must be some communication interface between the two. The spirit must have some physiological effect for the body to become aware of it. Indeed, noting that spiritual experiences include a component of brain chemistry doesn't say anything pro or con about the origin of that experience. If a brain surgeon can stimulate a patient's brain in such a way that they artificially feel joy or fear, it doesn't imply that those emotions don't have legitimate causes in some cases.

Health insurance is the next whipping boy of the rationalists. They can't understand why any Christian would have health insurance. If God wants you healed, he can do it without doctors, goes the argument. If he doesn't want you healed, then what is the point of bothering to see a doctor? Steve, our disaffected Mormon, points out the commonly held religious belief that we are expected to help ourselves as much as possible before we ask God to step in and intervene. Marshall and Bruce just laugh and point out that this is just another way of saying that there is no God. I don't even know how to respond to that flow of "logic" it is so lame. They again insist on the bogus false dichotomy.

To be fair, in the book these men are discussing, Brain does bring up some difficult challenges for people of faith. There are some really tricky issues about God and about mortality that we don't have good answers to. But the main issues they choose to highlight in their online conversation are so absurd that they certainly cast doubt on the strength of any other points they might have waiting in the wings.

In short, our failure to understand a thing isn't evidence of the absense of the thing. See my previous post for the testimony of a living prophet.


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  • Funny that you go through and point out 'logical' flaws (I'm not saying I disagree with you there), but then say, 'by the way, here's my testimony' (which i can only assume is not based on logic at all either).

    Also, saying that God won't do something and that Bill Gates won't do another thing are not similar and doesn't disprove their claim. Bill Gates has never claimed to be all-powerful or all-knowing.

    In fact, the disaffected Mormon is quite correct if, by God, he means a supreme being who will do everything in His power to bring physical happiness to people on earth. Disaffected Mormon's problem is, of course, that that God is not the one Mormons, or most religious people, worship.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/27/2006 7:09 PM  

  • APJ, While your point has some teeth, there is a fundamental difference in the type of argument I would make for the existence of God and the argument that Brain and company make against God. They claim to disprove him with logic. Fair enough. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    On the other hand, I'm not so sure I can make a purely logical case for God. Instead, my case for God rests on the testimony of witnesses. This is the same basis of fact finding we use in a court of law. Understandably, many people find that to be a weaker sort of evidence. Ultimately, however, whether you live by logic or testimony there must of necessity be a leap of faith.

    For the atheist, they say there are things that cannot be explained by current theories of God. Fair enough. Then they make the leap of faith to say that those things will never be understood and that there is no God. However, to really and definitively state that there is no God, you'd have to be omniscient and omnipresent. In other words, you'd have to be a god to prove there is no god.

    For me, I also have to make a leap of faith. I have to recognize that I don't have all the answers and I find that a theory of God fills many of the holes I see but not all. I make the leap of faith to believe in God. Both the atheist and the believer are exercising faith. It is only a matter of direction, not degree.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 7/27/2006 10:12 PM  

  • Good points...I agree with your follow-up comment.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/28/2006 5:52 PM  

  • Made me think of the conference talk about the young man who had his hip shot out and who regrew the joint being ministered to by his mother.

    Interesting, in that context.

    By Blogger Stephen, at 7/29/2006 11:22 AM  

  • I didn't think about that story. Though, as I recall, it wasn't a joint like the original joint but more of a ball of gristle that served almost as well. Thanks for reminding me of it. Here is a link to the story as told by President Faust in April 2000.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 7/29/2006 1:16 PM  

  • This Marshall Brain guy wouldn't happen to be "the Brain", would he? Probably not. His arguments seem inferior to those of the genetically altered rodent.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 7/31/2006 10:06 AM  

  • Hi Bradley, I'm responding to these comments that you've made in reply to APJ

    //Starts Quote
    On the other hand, I'm not so sure I can make a purely logical case for God. Instead, my case for God rests on the testimony of witnesses. This is the same basis of fact finding we use in a court of law. Understandably, many people find that to be a weaker sort of evidence. Ultimately, however, whether you live by logic or testimony there must of necessity be a leap of faith.

    However, to really and definitively state that there is no God, you'd have to be omniscient and omnipresent. In other words, you'd have to be a god to prove there is no god. //End Quote

    First of all I should clarify my position as a Deist, so I hope my comment is being seen as from a neutral point of view.

    To the part regarding "Witness & Testimony", the WDGHA website did address this portion. To quote the site, if 10 people contracted a certain type of cancer. Medical statistic in the past indicates that there is 1 out of every 10 person who survives this cancer. Christians gather an pray for these 10 unfortunate cancer patient. Eventually, 9 of them died, and one survive as suggested by past statistic. Now, surviving person will exclaim "Helleujah! I'm saved by prayer!". However, you will not hear from the rest because they are already dead. They will be able to go around and say "Prayers for me failed."

    If you repeat this experiement, this time, instead of 10 random patients, you get 5 atheist and 5 devoted Christians. By grace, Christians gathered and pray to God for mercy on all the 10 patients. Presuming that the survival rate remains unchange, will you have conviction to say that the Christian stand a higher chance of survival than the Atheist?

    Regarding the part on disproving God, you have commited a logical fallacy: You cannot prove a negative. Simply, you cannot prove that something do not exist. Instead, the burden is on Christians to prove to the world that God exists. If I'm telling you right now I saw Jesus is sitting beside me right now, you will expect me to show you some evidence of it; not me expecting you to prove that Jesus isn't sitting beside me.

    Please note that saying that Bible is a prove that God exists is as good as saying that Qur'an is a prove that Allah exist.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/12/2006 9:58 AM  

  • The dichotomy you are talking about, the one regarding "If God could heal amputees, he would." is a strawman arguement . You did a poor job of summarising what Marshall Brain said on his website and proceed to attack his arguement based on your poor understanding. Then comparing it to Bill Gates is a completely misleading and wrong metaphor.

    The main issue with using amputees is not to demostrate "If God could do it He would" . The main issue of using it is to show that prayers do not work in situations that is unambiguous.

    For example, we know that we cannot regenerate lost limbs like the lizards regenerate their tails.

    No matter how hard or how many people you gather to pray for amputees, they will not be able to regenerate their limbs. *If you want to counter that I'm using a leap of logic/faith in my statement, show me evidence that limbs are regenerated through prayers*

    The fact is that prayer only seems to work for situations where it is medically possible to recover from.
    For example, it is possible to recover from cancer, as stated in the example given by WKS earlier. The problem is that Christians attribute this healing to God, not to the good work by the doctors who help patients to recover.

    This isn't even a "God is not a gumball machine" arguement. Hence your counter arguement using Bill Gates is entirely inappropriate in this context.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/12/2006 6:13 PM  

  • WKS and ML, thanks for commenting. I'm surprised to see two comments in one day on a post already a few months old.

    First, on God's healing percentage as evidence for existence. If no person was ever healed from any disease, would that prove that there is no God? No. As you say, you can't prove a negative (unless you are a god yourself.) My point was that Brain and company seemed to be claiming that they could prove there was no god. Understandably, their arguments fall short. The argument about answers to prayers is a tough one for Christians to answer. In my post, I alluded to several points in the book that were good challenges for people of faith. Interestingly, these points weren't really the ones that I remember Brain bringing up in the podcast. (It has been a while since I listened.)

    WKS, if you claimed that Jesus was sitting beside you, I would probably be doubtful. But what if I knew you to be a person of good character? What if I further believed you to be impeccably honest? What if I had always found you to be a reliable witness in the past? Some witnesses are harder to discount than others.

    Your point about the Bible is well taken. That point deserves a post of its own.

    ML, I hope I didn't misrepresent Brain's position. I meant to boil his argument down to its logical premise. He is working on the assumption that if god could heal an amputee (in response to prayer), he would. That is the assumption that undergirds his subsequent arguments that you believe are the "main issue." But we can't get to that main issue unless you accept the premise. I reject the premise. I don't know why god doesn't heal amputees. But that doesn't mean that he can't. This was the point of my Bill Gates analogy. Gates doesn't provide all the funding for PBS. We don't know why he doesn't. But we still believe he could do it if he wanted to.

    Does that prove there is a God? No. I only hope to demonstrate that there is still room for belief.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 10/12/2006 7:59 PM  

  • The blog really just skims over the whole main argument about amputees by saying "we can't know the mind of god." In reality, the question of why god won't heal amputees should make everyone wonder a bit about their faith.

    Do you believe that god can cure cancer? Do you believe that god has healed those with heart conditions? Do you believe that god heals those with emotional disorders, learning disabilities, diabetes, or high blood pressure? If you believe in those things, then do you believe the god would heal an amputee?

    Let's put it more in terms of actions. If a cancer patient came to you looking for guidance, would you suggest that they ask god to heal their cancer? Now how about if an amputee comes to you for guidance, would you suggest that they ask god to grow them a new limb? If you wouldn't, why the difference?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/09/2006 11:12 PM  

  • Thanks for dropping by, anonymous. I wish I were a more gifted writer so that I could make my points more clearly. :)

    You say that when God doesn't act as we would expect, it "should make everyone wonder a bit about their faith."

    I agree. Too many people are content to believe in a God of their own making rather than accepting God as he has revealed himself to us. I think it is easier to make arguments against god when people make contradictory statements about god--and they do!

    Perhaps my view isn't clear until you understand my belief in the purpose of this mortal life. I believe we lived with God before our birth (as spirits) and that we may live with him again in the future. I believe that our mortal life is a period of learning and probation where God purposefully limits his influence in our lives. We are permitted to prove ourselves and grow in ways that aren't always possible in the presence of protective parents.

    Your question about amputees isn't entirely theoretical to me anymore. In less than two weeks, my baby boy will be born with a spinal cord injury caused by spina bifida. I fully believe that God COULD heal my little boy immediately after he is born. I believe that God WILL ultimately heal my boy, but probably not until after this mortal life. I'm okay with that, because I see this life as a small part of a larger picture.

    I believe in a God that usually doesn't heal us immediately and yet still loves us deeply and that will eventually heal us in every way.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 12/10/2006 2:54 PM  

  • I saw a video on YouTube called "10 Questions that every intelligent Christian must answer" and the first question was "why won't God heal amputees?" I also saw the extreme lack of logic that this guy made, and made 6 videos going through each of the 10 questions he posed and showed how they were either full of holes or just used false or twisted information. I posted them on my page, www.youtube.com/godisneeded if anyone wants to see what else that guy says, and how it's just wrong.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/07/2007 10:03 AM  

  • God won't heal: amputees, retards, or dead people.
    God answers your prayers in one of three ways. Yes. No. Wait.
    You cannot lose if your proof of god is his magical ability to answer every question like that.
    I prayed to my cat. I asked for a million dollars. So far the answer appears to be, wait.
    Your child may be healed in the following life, that's not what Jesus said would happen when you asked something in his name.
    I may get my million dollars in the next life, that's not what I asked for.
    Bill Gates never promised to fund PBS. Jesus promised to deliver in this life. My cat said, meow. The Magic Eight Ball said, ask again.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/28/2008 2:18 PM  

  • "Why won't God heal amputees" is straw targeting. Really an excuse for hard line athiest materialism - nothing new but the preachy fundamentalist style.

    Problem is understanding how athiests justify using their brains to figure all things out? If life began as a blind, automatic process, with no purpose in mind, obviously our brains were never INTENDED to draw intellegent conclusions!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/27/2008 7:02 AM  

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