Considering the Supernatural
The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.
An atheist and a Christian watching television
Fernando: This may be the stupidest show ever.
Garrett: Wait — pause it. What are you talking about?
Fernando: It doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Garrett: It makes sense to me. Want me to go over what’s happened?
Fernando: No. I’m following it, I just think it’s nonsensical. Look, that detective is supposed to be really religious, right?
Garrett: That’s kind of the point of the show, yeah.
Fernando: Well, he doesn’t act like it. Nobody can figure out how the guy got stabbed when there was no knife and he’d locked himself in his room, so shouldn’t the detective consider the possibility that there was a supernatural cause?
Garrett: You mean like he was murdered by a ghost?
Fernando: Do you believe in ghosts?
Fernando: Then the detective guy probably doesn’t, either. But you both believe in God and demons, right?
Fernando: Then he should, too. Maybe God struck the guy down because he was a sinner? Maybe a demon assaulted him? Or maybe he was killed by a human, but a demon locked the door afterward to confound everyone.
Garrett: God doesn’t stab people. I guess the demon thing is possible, but we don’t see demons doing things like that, so I wouldn’t really consider it.
Fernando: How do you know demons don’t do things like that? Maybe they mess things up all the time but make it look normal so we don’t notice.
Garrett: It just doesn’t seem very demonic.
Fernando: So what kinds of things do demons do?
Garrett: They tempt people. They sometimes pretend to be spirits of the dead. They might make works to deceive people and lead them away from Christ.
Fernando: Then why couldn’t they lock a door?
Garrett: They could, but what would be the point? That wouldn’t draw anyone away from God.
Fernando: It might help a murderer get away or make honest Christians question their own ability to reason.
Garrett: I don’t see how.
Fernando: Then how about if you are a parent and you hear something break in the other room. You go in, and there’s your child, who has never told a lie in her life, standing next to a broken lamp. She says a ghost knocked it over and broke it, but you know there’s no such thing as ghosts. What do you do?
Garrett: I’d have a talk with her about lying and probably punish her for breaking the lamp.
Fernando: But how do you know she broke the lamp? Isn’t it possible that a demon broke it to throw suspicion on your daughter, which would drive a wedge between you that the demon could later use to attack her faith?
Fernando: Yes, seriously. Couldn’t she be telling the truth?
Garrett: You’re acting like Christians are stupid. It’s vaguely possible that the things you are talking about are supernatural, but you have to use Occam’s razor.
Fernando: Can you think of an example where a supernatural explanation is the simplest one?
Garrett: There are lots of them. It’s a lot more reasonable to think the universe was created than that it just happened. Or what about UFOs? It’s highly unlikely that Earth is being visited by aliens, but we already know that demons exist so it’s more likely that UFOs are created by demons for one reason or another.
Fernando: You think that it’s more likely that UFOs are demons than that they’re just being misreported?
Garrett: In some cases, yeah.
Fernando: Wow. So getting back to the show, how inexplicable would the situation have to be before the detective started to suspect that demons were involved?
Garrett: He’d never suspect that. That kind of thing doesn’t happen.
Fernando: I agree, but not for the same reason you do. I don’t think supernatural stuff ever happens; you’re the one who does. How do you know when to consider supernatural explanations and when not to?
Garrett: You only need to worry about the supernatural when the supernatural makes sense.
Fernando: Like with UFOs.
Garrett: Right. They aren’t something we have explanations for, so the supernatural makes sense there. Stabbings happen all the time. There’s nothing supernatural about them.
Fernando: Even stabbings that occur in a room that was locked from the inside and doesn’t have a knife in it?
Garrett: The stabbing itself is a known type of thing. The rest is just details.
Fernando: Then why do religious people sometimes say it’s literally a miracle when someone is cured of cancer or survives a disaster?
Garrett: Because the odds of it happening are so small.
Fernando: Aren’t the odds of someone’s cancer going into remission much better than the odds of a seemingly impossible crime having occurred? And talk about things that aren’t unusual — didn’t Jesus miraculously make a fig tree die?* That kind of thing happens every day without divine intervention.
Garrett: I’m not saying that small miracles don’t happen, only that we don’t need to look for miracles when things are explainable otherwise.
Fernando: Then you’d agree that the Big Bang, the origin of life, human intelligence, and all of that aren’t miracles if we can find good non-supernatural explanations for them?
Garrett: No. Those are clearly miracles.
Fernando: So far as I can tell, you’re picking and choosing when to allow for the possibility of miracles based on what you’ve already concluded about the universe.
Garrett: I’m being completely consistent.
Fernando: You’re being consistently inconsistent, and I think the detective is doing the same. It’s bugging me. I’m going to my room to read.
*Matthew 21:19, “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.”
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