A recent comment to one of my blog posts included an interesting analogy. The writer compared discussions between theists and atheists to Wile E Coyote cartoons, with the theists getting to play the Roadrunner:
As he explained:
You see, in the cartoon, the central gag is that the laws of physics apply to the coyote, but not to the Roadrunner. The Roadrunner can step off a cliff, stand in midair, taunt the coyote, and then race across to the other side. If the coyote tries it, the laws of physics kick in and he’s met with a long whistling fall and a dramatic splat at the bottom of the canyon.
So it is with theists and atheists. Theists live in their imaginations and have no respect of logic or the laws of the physical laws of the universe. The laws of physics are more like conveniences to them. When it servers their purpose they will quote them, but the minute they contradict what they believe, they happily toss logic and reason out the window. If the atheist raises a logical contradiction, or points out an impossibility according to the laws of physics, the theists shrugs their shoulders and says, “it’s a miracle, God can do anything”. They are not bound by the laws of physics within their own minds and imaginations and they’ve taken that to believe that neither is the rest of the universe.
There’s no arguing with that. You can’t have a logical debate with someone who has no respect for logic. Just when you think you have them pinned down and there’s no logical way out of it, much like the Roadrunner, they toss logic and the laws of physics to the wind and ignore everything you said.
You can’t have a debate if both sides can’t agree to the ground rules. Theists imagine anything is possible simply because they have an imagination that can dream up anything they want. Atheists realize that isn’t the case. But in most cases atheists haven’t realized this fundamental flaw. They keep thinking that if they only try hard enough, if they only go back to the drawing board one more time, that they can design the perfect logical argument which the Roadrunner… I mean, theists… cannot escape.
This is a clever comparison, one that many atheists may believe is true. But does it stand up to scrutiny? The kind of scrutiny that the challenger claims to believe in?
1. Do Christians live in their imaginations? Some may, of course, but Christian positions are not imaginary ones. Christian doctrine is not that Jesus was a cartoon, some Casper the Ghost figure who can move through buildings and has other super powers. In fact, Christians don’t attempt to explain how God altered the observable laws of nature – they just conclude that he did, because dead men don’t return to life. It is not a resort to imagination to conclude that there are things we cannot explain; it is the reflection of a proper sense of humility, especially as we realize the immense power and intelligence of the being who “thought” into existence a universe of this size and complexity.
2. Do Christians lack respect for logic or the physical laws of the universe? “Logic” is simply the method of reasoning that governs correct or reliable inferences. It encompasses certain rules, such as if A= B and B= C, then A= C. The “physical laws of the universe” are descriptions about the way things in nature work. They don’t command rocks to fall or fire to burn; they simply describe patterns that are discerned from repeated observations. For example, a gravitational constant is a mathematical expression of the way gravity operates; similarly, electrical conductivity describes how well certain materials can conduct electricity. In what way do Christian beliefs “disrespect” either? The belief in the resurrection, or in any of Jesus’ miracles, does not run afoul of a proper respect for either logic or the physical world. There is no rule of logic that dictates that supernatural events are impossible. Nor is there a conflict, logical or otherwise, between believing in physical laws and in accepting the possibility that whatever set the laws in motion has the power to alter them, if he so chooses. The way that Christian beliefs can be challenged, along these lines, is if Christians are forced to agree that supernatural events are not possible. This in essence is what the atheist demands. But what proof, logical or otherwise, does he provide for this presupposition?
3. What does it mean for something to be “impossible according to the laws of physics?” It means that as long as those laws are operating, the impossible event cannot occur. But upon what principle does the atheist rest his case that these apparent “laws” are inviolable? A computer programmer can create a simulation in which certain laws operate for the characters in the simulation. The programmer is not bound by those laws; quite the opposite is true, as he is the one that created them. Having exercised that power, altering the laws, whether temporarily or permanently, is not a particularly difficult task. It may seem so to the character in the simulation that is bound by the programming, but that is simply a failure of knowledge or awareness on his part, and not an actual limitation upon the programmer. So too here: if the atheist wishes to start with the presupposition that the laws of nature are some type of mindless, self-generated and eternally existing rules that cannot be violated, then of course he will conclude that any apparent violation of those laws is impossible. But this is not logical thinking; it is the fallacy of circular reasoning.
4. I have no idea what “logical argument” the atheist can muster that will “pin” the Christian. The only way to “pin” a Christian is to begin with the presupposition that informs the atheist worldview – this universe is all there is, was or ever will be. It somehow created itself and despite the fact that we cannot know more than a sliver of what is knowable about a universe that is, for all practical purposes, beyond comprehension, “logic” somehow dictates that the one thing that can be known for sure is that it created itself. Perhaps in this the challenger is correct: the atheist position is utterly lacking in imagination. To believe that a human being with a limited capacity for knowledge can establish with certainty that the universe has no creator is noteworthy mainly for the self-delusion that must underlie it.
On further thought, perhaps the analogy is accurate in one respect: the atheist’s circular argument faces a fate similar to Wile E. Coyote’s, as it, and he – perched as they are in midair – have very little besides empty air to support them.
Posted by Al Serrato