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Bike Crashes, Divine Intervention, and the Nature of Evil:
An Open Letter to Larry Taunton

On my cycling training ride today, which is when I do most of my deepest thinking (unless I’m riding with the Young Turks who like to go fast, in which case there’s no blood in my brain and I’m doing no thinking at all), I had an idea for a debate we could do on theodicy, the nature of good and evil, why bad things happen to good people, and why things happen at all (chance, law, or design), starting with your near-fatal bike crash, recovery, and the credit for it. As your friend and occasional debate partner, and especially as a fellow serious cyclist who has had a few run-ins with cars in my days on the open roads of America, this got my attention and got me thinking…

In your twitter feed following your bike crash and recovery, you thanked God for the “miraculous” nature of your return to health and acknowledged those who prayed for you. Of course you are grateful for being alive given the alternative (although in your case, given your Christian beliefs about the soul and the afterlife, the alternative isn’t such a bad thing, right?). But how do you know it was God and prayer that enabled your recovery? Assuming your tweets were not of the generic gratitude for being alive sort, along the lines of what anyone might mean when they say “thank god for such a beautiful day” or “thank heavens our company didn’t go under this year,” your gratitudinal gestures indicate that you believe divine intervention is what saved you. To wit:

My physicians say that I am a walking miracle. If this is so, it is due to the many prayers offered on my behalf to a mighty God.

And from your office twitter feed:

Update: Oct 10 Larry was hit head-on by a car while cycling. He’s at home now recovering. He’s grateful for your prayers & glad to be alive.

Good news: Larry’s condition has been downgraded. He’s been moved from ICU to Trauma. He values your prayers as he recovers.

Larry‘s body is broken, but not his spirit. He trusts in God’s sovereign plan and is humbled by your many prayers on his behalf.

Pray for Larry. He was hit by car cycling and is in intensive care in serious but stable condition.

And from your friends:

@LarryTaunton May God comfort and fully restore you, our General in the faith. I agree your greatest days are ahead, hence the attack.

Again, I do not doubt your appreciativeness to your friends and well-wishers for saying nice things—we all like that, of course—but if you also attribute your recovery, at least in part, to divine intervention, then a few questions come to mind.

  1. If God can intervene in the natural world in general and in our lives in particular, to the point of apparently being able to reach inside your body to repair broken bones and damaged organs and tissues, then why didn’t God intervene to steer the car to miss colliding with your bike, or steer your bicycle to avoid the automobile in your path? That is, why would God allow the crash but not allow the fatal consequences of it?
  2. You thanked many people for their prayers in your recovery. If they had not prayed would God have not intervened because these prayers were the only way he could have known about your injuries? Or, since God is omniscient, he surely knew you collided with the car, but did he then wait to intervene until enough prayers came in to reach a tipping point for divine action for your recovery? And does it matter who prays? For example, do spouses and family members have more prayerful influence than, say, co-workers and friends? What about the clergy? Surely clerics have more bandwidth for celestial communication than parishioners, or the proverbial stranger on the street, no?
  3. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, from 1975 to 2012 a total of 29,711 cyclists were killed in collisions with automobiles, for an average of 782 per year. According to a 2014 Pew poll 70.6 percent of Americans describe themselves as Christians. Unless cyclists are inordinately atheistic in nature (and I know of no data to so indicate), this translates to 552 Christian cyclists who die each year in automobile collisions. Why doesn’t the Christian God intervene on their behalf as he did in your case? How does God choose who lives and who dies?
  4. Despite this staggering number, many cyclists, in fact, do recover from crashes, especially if they are wearing a helmet. You are a case in point. As is my friend Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist who is also an avid cyclist. In late 2015 he too was in a serious bike crash caused by loose sand and gravel in the road. Although he was wearing a helmet he nevertheless incurred a concussion serious enough to cause amnesia of both the accident itself and for the rest of the day. He only knows what happened from eye witnesses who described it. Although Steve is Jewish by cultural heritage, he is an outspoken atheist. He has fully recovered from his bike crash. Why? What’s the difference between Pinker’s bike crash revitalization and yours? You attribute yours to divine intervention. How do you explain Pinker’s recovery?
  5. This leads to a more general question: what’s the difference between events (e.g., bike crash recoveries) that happen by divine intervention and those that happen by chance or natural law? Given the body’s remarkable ability to heal itself, how do you know your recovery wasn’t due to its natural healing capacities, instead of the deific providence to which you ascribe it? Alternatively, what’s the difference between divine events that turn out well (e.g., recovery from a bike crash after prayer) and those that do not turn out so well (e.g., the death of 552 Christian cyclists per year who presumably are prayed for by their loved ones)? You know first hand how concerned your family and friends were about your life, and you can easily imagine how they would have felt had you died. Now, project those feelings into the heads of all the family and friends of the 552 dead Christian cyclists every year. This is a figure we can estimate to be about 82,800 people, given that each of us knows around 150 people fairly well (according to anthropologists, sociologists, and Facebook), multiplied by 552. Think about that: 82,800 people, every year, suffering and agonizing in almost unbearable pain over the loss of dead Christian cyclists in the U.S. Extrapolate these calculations to the 33,000 people who die in automobiles each year (and their 4,950,000 family and friends), or to the 589,430 people who died of cancer in 2015 (and their 88,414,500 family and friends), and so forth. It soon becomes clear that nearly all of us will be touched by the death of a loved one, sooner if not later. How do you explain this, beyond the generic “well, God works in mysterious ways”? END
Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. His book The Moral Arc is now out in paperback. Follow him on Twitter @michaelshermer.

This article was published on April 5, 2016.


81 responses to “Bike Crashes, Divine Intervention, and the Nature of Evil:
An Open Letter to Larry Taunton

  1. George says:

    Too bad all of the gods hate amputees. Nobody has every regrown a missing limb – and it’s a pretty good bet that nobody ever will.

    This is as good a proof of the uselessness of prayer as there is. But trying to convince people of faith to be rational is a senseless pursuit doomed to failure.

  2. teddy rodosovich says:

    prey pray

  3. Mike Cakllahan says:

    Unfortunately the title of the book is kind of offensive to many atheists. Faith is the last word I would use when writing about Hitchens. Faith is believing without evidence which was an anathema to Hitchens. I can’t get past the repugnant cover enough to want to read the book.

  4. Wade says:

    As this long list of comments illustrates, the faith vs reason debate has no end. Both sides have different bases for determining truth. One side believes either that God talks to them or they accept the revelations of others who said God talked to them as recorded in “Holy” texts. The other side accepts that the enlightenment actually happened.

  5. Bryan says:

    As there is no supernatural deity, the prayers offered for Larry were objectively useless, but they may have had a psychological effect.

    If your friends visit you in hospital, say they hope you will get better, and that they will pray for you, what does this signify?

    Decoding ‘pray for you’, I suggest this means that the friends really do care about you. So you will understand this message, and will be determined to get better, not just for yourself, but for your friends as well. Whether they actually pray or not is irrelevant.

    However, if you then recover, attributing this to God is an insult to the medical team which saved your life. Larry should give thanks to modern medicine – and luck – not to God.

  6. Brian No 1 says:

    Firstly, there seem to be a few “Brian’s” around – all with differentl viewpoints and, dare I say beliefs – so I’m adding a “No 1” to my moniker simply to link myself to the earliest comments about God helping Andy Murray with his tennis (or not) and the Big G’s inability to be in two places at the one time (as if!).
    A few points. All believers believe in their “Belief”. Why? In school the priest told us Belief was the greatest gift. Although I didn’t realise it, I had been told the same thing by another priest when I was only one week old and he was pouring water over my head to wash away all the sins I had already committed in my first week on Earth as he initiated me into life-long membership of a superstitious cult while my family held lighted candles and recited – on my behalf (I hadn’t been consulted) – “I renounce Satan with all his works and pomps”. And so began my Belief (at one week) in invisible beings who loved me – at a price – and equally invisible beings who wanted to burn me for eternity, if approved by the former loving (if I was willing to grovel and adore him) being whom we shall call “God”. The process of indoctrination, the programming, had begun and oh how my family celebrated. I cried.
    As I grew, I was pumped full of faith, in religios songs (“We will be true to Thee till death…”), poems “Out of the depths I beseech you…” and grovelling prayers “Give us this day our daily bread…lead us not into temptation”).
    The doubt began even before my teens – in my day rebel behaviour was a sin :-) I asked the priest if God was our father why did we have to beg him for bread? The hearing in my left ear has never been the same since. Being a glutton for punishment, as well as a budding skeptic, I asked on another occasion why a loving father would lead me into temptation? And that took care of my right ear. Luckily I never brought up Abraham being told to cut his son’s throat (to which he agreed out of Faith) and perish the thought of Lot agreeing to throw his two teenage daughters to the rapacious mob who wanted to sodomise God’s two angels in the guise of pretty young men.
    As a teenager I told the priest – in the safety of the confessional – of my misgivings. His advice? “Pray to God to strengthen your Faith” – which is surely akin to telling a drying-out alcoholic experiencing the DTs “Have a swig of this whiskey, it’ll steady your hand”!
    So why would anyone think Faith is sacrosanct, the great untouchable? If you are buying a house or a car do you not demand every last ounce of proof, every legal document to prove ownership of the seller? Will you not hand over your hard-earned money in “good faith”? Of course not. Yet Believers will draft outrageous and unfair laws, go to war and – in the most extreme cases – bomb and behead their fellow human beings because their Faith tells them they will be rewarded in some kind of everlasting Paradise with their invisible friend, aka “God”. And why we’re the ten thousand-plus gods who were being worshipped before the current model replaced by such a vain and vengeful character? Because his creators wrote a watertight contract – “There’s only one god and that’s me. Believe everything my representatives say and I’ll look after you. If you don’t I’ll burn you in hell for eternity and when your flesh is all burned off I’ll grow it again so you can burn some more. But I’ll still love you, tough love, so grovel some more. And my gift to you is Faith, just believe without question and you’ll be my friend. But if you question, w-e-l-l, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Does anyone smell burning..? Just my little joke, now, off you go and – remember – K-E-E-P B-E-L-I-E-V-I-N-G” And so it continues and will do until people of “Faith” ask themselves why do they trot out the mantra of “The Gift” when other people – and we were all there at one time – invite them to examine the evidence and ask the questions. Why do God’s books contradict themselves, how could the eye-witness accounts of Christ’s life have been written decades after his death by people who did not know him, what sort of an all-knowing god send an angel down with his sacred book to a man who could not read, how could an all-loving god who created all things introduce a maggot which would eat a child’s eyes from the inside out..? The questions are there to be answered and “I believe because I am told” is just not good enough.
    Brian No 1

  7. BillG says:

    “No atheists in foxholes” may be true that when in state of desperation, we all look for hope.
    I’m inclined to think all the sane and functional have some degree of hope.
    Is faith hope? Hope that you will recover, your loved one will recover, not suffer or perhaps even an afterlife??
    And/or does faith also mean doubt?
    “No true believers in foxholes” may also be true as you are pleading/praying for relief of your misery.
    If your faith is so cocksure, wouldn’t your begging or prayer(s) be unnecessary?

  8. mjones78 says:

    MBM- `Claims no responsibility? uh, He died for us!’ Before you pat your god on the back too much… he was god – he knew he would be immediately resurrected. Hoorah. What a tremendous sacrifice…

    • MBM says:

      MBM- `Claims no responsibility? uh, He died for us!’ Before you pat your god on the back too much… he was god – he knew he would be immediately resurrected. Hoorah. What a tremendous sacrifice…

      God sent his only son to live on this earth as a human being. He was ridiculed, scourged, a crown of thorns was placed upon his head, and he carried his cross to the place where he was crucified. Before this all happened, he asked God to “take this chalice from me”. Quite a human prayer, no? And right before he succumbed, he asked God to forgive them, for they know not what they do. This is not sacrifice? And on top of that all, believers and those who do God’s will, those who love one another, etc., will be redeemed and saved. We, Christians, believe in the resurrection of the dead just as he did! I’ll be on my deathbed with that belief. I go through suffering knowing that my suffering has meaning. I have to carry my cross just as Jesus did. Death does not have the last word.

      • steve says:

        So, basically, what you believe goes something like this; your god got so angry at his own creation (us), so that so he had to sacrifice himself to himself, to save us from…himself (him punishing us with hell)…
        Hmmm….Sorry…I rather stay with my disbelief…

  9. aspasia says:

    Why did Shermer waste time and electrons writing this tedious piece. It’s all been said and said countless times.

    Maybe to give the faithful a chance to waste more time and electrons commenting on the obvious.

  10. jimbo for reason says:

    God loves me! He healed me! Screw the millions who die prematurely around the world every year! It was their time but not mine! It’s all about me! The End

    What is so corrupt about faith is the “Savior” gets all the credit for the good shit and claims no responsibility, nor is held accountable for, the bad shit. Sounds like a broken world-view to me. The con continues.

    • MBM says:

      ”What is so corrupt about faith is the “Savior” gets all the credit for the good shit and claims no responsibility, nor is held accountable for, the bad shit. Sounds like a broken world-view to me. The con continues.”

      pretty funny. Claims no responsibility? uh, He died for us!

  11. Rita Ihly says:

    We all have our ‘truths’ that will serve our ability to survive. Two of mine are:

    God (?) does not judge
    Living or dying is luck of the draw.

    There is a mystery here that I hope in my deepest heart of hearts will never be revealed. Each of us according to our ability to accept and survive will cling to hope and trust. Yet, in the end, we are not in control.

    • MBM says:

      There can only be one “truth” or it wouldn’t be the Truth.

      • Rita Ihly says:

        Would you care to explain that to this Pilgrim? Thanks.

        • MBM says:

          ***We all have our ‘truths’ that will serve our ability to survive. Two of mine are:

          God (?) does not judge
          Living or dying is luck of the draw.

          There is a mystery here that I hope in my deepest heart of hearts will never be revealed. Each of us according to our ability to accept and survive will cling to hope and trust. Yet, in the end, we are not in control.***

          If you asked a person a question, “Did you, or did you not, go to the store yesterday?”, would the answer yes and no be the same thing? There can only be one answer, and the correct answer would be the truthful answer. Would both answers suffice? Is raping a 10 year old girl right or wrong? Yes or no? Is there only one answer to that question? If so, why is it so? Is there such a thing as absolute truth?

  12. MBDK says:

    Free will. That is what makes us believers, unbelievers, and in-betweeners. Anything that tipped the scale one way or the other would have a profound effect on our existence. The fact that a god or gods have been an aspect of civilization throughout history and that even devout (pun intended) atheists feel the urge to debate the existence of a higher power when under the most stressful of conditions indicates there is something fundamental in our psych that promotes such feelings. To have the ability to freely reason what that ultimately means is what makes each of us an individual. I can’t see how it could, or should be any other way.

  13. Brian says:

    We wouldn’t have nearly as many atheists would we if the Christian life all came down to a neat little package of formulas that worked every time to bring long life, health and happiness. “Accept Christ, you’ll never die until you hit 100.” “Pray using this special formula and that prayer will be answered as you need it to be, 100% guaranteed.” God might as well have created a world of robots if that’s what He wanted. But it’s about faith, and faith comes from trusting even when we don’t know all the answers to why. You can reject God because you don’t like it this way, but personally, I’m happy I’m not a robot, or a human with set in stone life formulas – that’s not a world I want to live in, and I’m glad God seeks our faith.

  14. JW says:

    There is a similar bicycle accident story as told in Max Tegmark’s book The Mathematical Universe…except it has a multiple universe ending where he both dies and he lives.

  15. Trish says:

    Dimo says “l think in one way or another most of us believe in some form of higher power, but perhaps today in our material earthly-focused world we are less incluned to turn to the Lord for guidance.”

    I run into people now & then who assume it’s a given that to be human is to believe, and sometimes even try to convince me that l really don’t not believe. I guess they don’t realize how patronizing it feels to be on the receiving end. Or that they’re skewing the numbers by trying to count me as a believer.

    I would ask people who assume that most people believe to consider the possibility that there are people you know who don’t believe but don’t want to tell you to avoid friction in their relationship with you.

    Holding an assumption that most people believe seems to me a really good way to justify inserting religion into our secular government functions – if most people believe “on some level” mixing beliefs and secular functions could only ever be a problem to a small minority who are unlike “most people”, right?

    On the topic of facing misfortune/danger: l find my nonbelief comforting in distressing situations (such as serious health problems) because if there is no conscious mind orchestrating the events of my life then my misfortunes are just a bad roll of unloaded dice in a random universe. So l don’t have to figure out what “lesson” a birth defect in my pancreas is supposed to teach me- l can just get medical care and go on using my limited time on earth to do the things l find important and/or enjoyable.

    • MBM says:

      “On the topic of facing misfortune/danger: l find my nonbelief comforting in distressing situations (such as serious health problems) because if there is no conscious mind orchestrating the events of my life then my misfortunes are just a bad roll of unloaded dice in a random universe. So l don’t have to figure out what “lesson” a birth defect in my pancreas is supposed to teach me- l can just get medical care and go on using my limited time on earth to do the things l find important and/or enjoyable.”

      God gave us free will, so you can do whatever you want! And, what “lesson” could a birth defect teach you under any circumstance, believer or not? If I knew lung cancer was caused by smoking, I wouldn’t smoke, but if I had a birth defect, I would be born with it and unanswerable to it. No? What you seem to be implying however, is that you find comfort in not being answerable to negative conditions in your life that you may have cause or contributed to. And that seems to make life a bit harder in that it requires us to be responsible to ourselves and to others. That could be perceived as a burden. I can understand that reason for not wanting to believe. At least you’re being honest. But if you believe in God, and believe in his love and and mercy, it becomes much easier.

      • Bryan says:

        That’s all very well, MBM, but you don’t explain why it’s easier. I would have thought that believing six impossible things before breakfast was quite difficult – think of the cognitive dissonance involved!

  16. MoHusker says:

    The stadium is packed to its 100,000-fan capacity. The game is down to the wire. One second left on the clock. The home team has the ball on the visitors 20 yard line. A 37-yard field goal wins the championship. The prayers are flowing. The snap is back…the ball is down…the kick is on the way! More prayers. 30,000…40,000…48,000…49,000, 49,500…49,900…49,984.
    Wide Left.

  17. Dave says:

    When I was 22 I fell off a cliff, backwards! It was a 60-foot free fall and I walked away unhurt. Well I guess it “hurt”, I was in a lot of pain for several days, but I was uninjured! I was taken to the ER and the docs there, and later my friends, said it was a miracle that I wasn’t injured or killed. It was tempting to take on that interpretation. However I figured that if 100 (or 1000) people fall off that same cliff a few are likely to survive, and a few of the survivors are likely to be uninjured. I reasoned that the most likely explanation is that I was just lucky. And if God had indeed saved me, then why? And why didn’t s/he prevent me from falling off the cliff in the first place? That experience certainly didn’t teach me anything or hasn’t made my life any better, in fact it led to years of PTSD!

    • MBM says:

      Dave: God gave us free will. He gave you the free will to go on that hike that day and the free will to stand too close to the edge of that cliff. What if God prevented you for going on that hike that day? You’d be rebelling that God wouldn’t let you have any fun.

  18. Bob Pease says:

    “The gnurrs come from the voodvark out” …
    A SF Classic from the ‘ 50’s


    I quit discussing or applying Logical Positivism to people because it pisses folks off to hear that you think that they are wasting their time on stuff that CANNOT make sense.. aka “bullshit”

    the thing to do is say
    ” HMMM , tell me more about THAT!!”

    This is a magical question because it changes you form a cynical skeptic to a nice philosopher

    Dr. Sidethink Hp.D

  19. Allena Hansen says:

    The better question is “Why would you be THANKING some “God” who sent an idiot in a car to hit you head on?”

  20. Robert Richert says:

    My following letter to the editor was published unedited in the Long Beach Press-Telegram March 21, 2004

    Dear Editor

    I am sure that most of your readers are uplifted by the stories of American soldiers whose spirituality has been strengthened by their experiences in Iraq (“Five who found Faith”, USA Weekend, March 12-14). I strongly disagree with the prevailing view of the group, summarized by corporal Luten’s statements; “God healed my leg” and “has been with me every step of the way”. The following true story is a graphic illustration of my objection.
    In 1969, I served as an infantry soldier for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. One day my squad was on patrol near a small hamlet, when suddenly we came under heavy machine gun fire. Fortunately, the barrage did not last long and no one was injured. The enemy hit us and fled. One of my squad members, visibly shaken, related that during the firefight he was literally dodging bullets, just like John Wayne in one of his old war movies. Like some of the soldiers in your article, he was adamant that God must have intervened to save his life. He thought he was the recipient of a miracle.
    Several months after the above incident, our unit was working with a South Vietnamese Army Company. We bivouacked at their base camp; a crude assembly of buildings and hooches perched atop a small hill. The South Vietnamese soldiers lived there along with their families. One day, while most of our platoon went out on light patrol, a medic and I stayed behind to guard our gear. At midday I was relaxing in the shade at the side of a building when suddenly, I heard a loud explosion. I jumped up and as I rounded the corner, I witnessed a scene of horror that I will never forget.
    A young Vietnamese woman came running carrying her infant boy, about two years old, in her arms. Both were drenched in blood. The shiny wet blood soaking into her black shirt turned it a nauseating deep maroon color. Unfortunately, it was her child’s blood. Our medic came, placed the infant on a blanket on the ground, and attempted a frenzied resuscitation. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, her face twisted in agony, screamed hysterically. Near the center of the child’s chest, just above his tiny heart, was a hole the size of a nickel. I watched helplessly as the last of his blood oozed out of the hole, his lips turned blue, his eyes glazed over, and his life ebbed away.
    So, what caused this terrible tragedy? Apparently, two South Vietnamese soldiers had a fight. One threw a hand grenade at the other and the explosion killed him instantly. In a terrible quirk of irony, a piece of shrapnel from the grenade struck the child in the center of his chest and pierced his heart.
    My bullet-dodging comrade left for home before this incident occurred. I would like to ask him and the soldiers in your article, “Where was that poor child’s miracle? Why are you deserving of god’s divine intervention, and not this helpless, innocent child? What kind of God acts in so capricious and cruel a manner?”
    Only the survivors of wars and other tragedies are around to tell tales of their miraculous experiences. However, this atheist in a foxhole will always speak up for one dead child of war who never had a chance…or a “Miracle”.

    Robert A. Richert

    • Trish says:

      Thank you, Robert Richert

      I think the ability to suffer the sadness of this child’s death, and the deaths, maiming and suffering of other fellow humans we didn’t know is the capacity that truly makes us human.

  21. Mark W. McCreary says:

    “Could Have”
    by Wislawa Szymborska

    It could have happened.
    It had to happen.
    It happened earlier, Later.
    Nearer, Farther off.
    I happened, but not to you.
    You were saved because you were the first.
    Your were saved because you were the last.
    Alone. With others.
    On the right. The left.
    Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
    Because the day was sunny.
    You were in luck — there was a forest.
    You were in luck — there were no trees.
    You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake, a jamb, a turn, a quarter inch, an instant.
    You were in luck — just then a straw went floating by.
    As a result, because, although, despite.
    What would have happened if a hand, a foot, within an inch, a hairsbreadth from an unfortunate coincidence.
    So your’re here? Still dizzy from another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
    One hole in the net and you slipped through?
    I couldn’t be more shocked or speechless.
    how your heart pounds inside me.

  22. Jay Wilson says:

    Of course, any divine intervention is dependent on praying to the right god. And, of the multiple present day gods, the Christian god is but one.

    Maybe Larry’s “accident” was a message from the real god, or gods, to convert…or the next accident might not go so well.

    God only knows…

  23. Julie says:

    So it’s good if God takes you to a better place, and it’s good if He leaves you here on Earth. Either way you can’t lose! I guess God really is good all the time!

  24. Abdul Basit Khakwany says:

    What irks Atheists as to why God’s name is taken by the believers in calamities if befall on them. God says In Quran: “Naught of disaster befalleth in the earth or in yourselves but it is in a Book before We bring it into being – Lo! that is easy for Allah – That ye grieve not over matters that pass you by, nor yet exult over favors bestowed upon you, for God loveth not any vainglorious boaster.” This worldly life is a test from God. God wants His slave should remain ever grateful to Him even in adversity because he still has so many endowments from God and the greatest prize in store for him is Paradise. God says in another verse that if a man has faith in God and is grateful to Him why He would punish him in the hereafter? Unfortunately Atheists don’t perceive the blessings of Faith and instead rely on brain which is never perfect.

  25. Robert Moskowitz says:

    Skeptics seem to enjoy applying rational thought to irrational realms. I imagine this gives them as much comfort at the faithful get from applying irrational thought to rational realms.

    As long as neither team tries to impose their world view on the other by force, I suppose it’s all OK, particularly since the whole thing is probably illusion anyway.

  26. Robin Reardon says:

    A fundamentalist Christian’s answer (not mine!*) to the questions:
    1. If God allowed Larry to crash and to survive, it was because there was a lesson Larry (or perhaps one of those who prayed for him) was supposed to learn. There’s a lesson from God in every event. Everything happens for a reason.
    2. The lesson here is much like when Yahweh allowed generations of Jews to suffer in Egypt. It wasn’t until He was satisfied that they had completely submitted to His Will and had despaired of having the power to save themselves that He finally Let His People Go.
    3. Farther along we’ll know all about it. Farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up, my brother! Live in the sunshine! We’ll understand it all, by and by. Meanwhile, take comfort in knowing that everything happens for a reason.
    4. God was trying to get Pinker to reach out to Him. Pinker should be looking for God’s help in everything, so he should be careful; God will strike again.
    5. There are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason. (I’m not repeating myself…) So if someone dies apparently ahead of their time, it’s because God’s plan includes those who are not the main character of any event. And God is merciful; it could be that He takes even an atheist into His arms if the death of that atheist served to bring others to God.
    *[Personally, although I’m not Jewish, I’m with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: You want plan? Then tell me about plan. But if you’re going to tell me about how the plan saved you, you’d better also be able to explain how the plan killed them. And the test of that has nothing to do with saying it in your synagogue or your church. The test of that has to do with going and saying it to the person who just buried someone and look in their eyes and tell them, “God’s plan was to blow your loved one apart.” Look at them and tell them that God’s plan was that their children should go to bed every night for the rest of their lives without a parent. If you can say that, well, at least you’re honest.]

    • Doug Dean says:

      It boils down to Mark 8:36 “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Arms, legs and health are secondary compared to everlasting life free from pain. That’s why bullshit needs to be called out as snake oil.

  27. James Allen says:

    Your accident victim should also thank God for the care he received. I would depend more on the skills of the doctor than the capricious nature of the “almighty”.

  28. Jim says:

    Last week, I filled and inside straight and won $200. Did God intervene in my life and send me the right cards? Does God intervene in such trivial matters?
    Suppose a plane crashes and half the people aboard are killed. Many of those who did not die say they prayed that they would be saved. Are we to suppose that many of those who died did not also pray? Some say that God in its wisdom “called them home” at that particular moment. If those who died in the crash were not on that flight, would god have still called them home? I doubt it.

  29. Leo says:

    The really point is: Why do people die anyway (traffic, cancer or some consequence of stupidity). God, supposedly almighty, would not need to let that happen to an average of 100% of his followers. However, it is alredy written in the Bible (Thora, etc.) – it’s a diet mistake! The primary couple ate the wrong fruit – instead of the “fruit of eternal live” they chose ” awareness of good and evil”. So people die – even if smoking is forbidden (and alcohol, guns, extramarital relations, running near the pool area, … whatever). Hard to swallow, but people die – prayers or not. For shure! (And thus make room for the enlightened generations that will follow after us – I hope).

    • Lallie Hayes says:

      Or we could consider god the Ultimate Recyclist (no pun intended) who knows that if there were no death that Earth would be a bigger mess than what we’ve made of it. We’re all just potential compost.

  30. Tzindaro says:

    Once, while climbing a sheer rock face and hanging by my fingertips over a 1,000 ft. drop from a ledge that was crumbling away under my grip, I admit I was tempted to pray. I resisted the temptation and managed to survive anyway. But I can understand why sometimes people in such situations might give in to it, so I am rather proud that I did not.

    But there is a logical fallacy in the argument posed by the article: Of the 552 Christians who died, how many received no prayers because they were killed instantly and their friends had no warning that their prayers were needed until after it was too late?

  31. Violet W. says:

    Come on you people…….what’s the matter with you? You know particles and atoms can be in two places at once……all you have to do is look at them…..they can be in an infinite number of places at once. So you think God doesn’t know about Quantum Mechanics?? So it’s easy to see how it happens. You pray (which is a way of looking at God) and he is right there beside you. I am so disappointed in all of you!

    • BT says:

      Actually there are no particles just fields if you buy into the Quantum field theory. Many Scientists do but, many still revert back to particles. I think they revert because it is hard to visualize fields. I also believe if you subscribe to particle theory they aren’t in more than one place at the same time it’s that you can only know their velocity or there position but not both. (But I’m just a curious dabbler in this stuff – maybe someone else could explain it better.)

    • MBM says:

      Apparently everyone on here is a philosopher! Scientism’s claim that everything can be answered scientifically is not a scientific statement.

      • Chuck says:


        “Apparently everyone on here is a philosopher! Scientism’s claim that everything can be answered scientifically is not a scientific statement.”

        Science doesn’t make that claim. But science’s inability to discover/explain “everything” is not evidence of nor require a deity.

        • MBM says:

          Scientism makes the following claim:….. to describe (for example) the dogmatic endorsement of scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to only that which is measurable.[9] Philosophers such as Alexander Rosenberg have also appropriated “scientism” as a name for the view that science is the only reliable source of knowledge.

        • MBM says:

          “But science’s inability to discover/explain “everything” is not evidence of nor require a deity.”

          How can knowing there was a definite beginning of time and space not require a non-contingent cause? It would take an amazing amount of blind faith to believe that our universe was created from nothing.

    • Chuck says:

      God doesn’t need to know about quantum mechanics, he created the particle behavior it describes, right?

  32. michael says:

    Dimo’s approach is a nice and respectful way to treat other people’s views which are different to ours.
    As long as one’s beliefs do not adversley effect others then why worry about them.
    If someone gains from their beliefs then those beliefs are valid for that person, whether they appear sensible or ridiculious to us.
    Fairies at the bottom of the garden have warmed many a heart.
    Whatever floats your boat basically.
    For us skeptical people , our skepticism floats our boat, good luck to us.

  33. Ray Hall says:

    I think there is a difference between what some one says to a distressed person in anguishing situation and what one says in a debate.
    I do not believe in a god or an afterlife as I see no reason to do so and that is my position in rational discussion.
    If a dying person wants my ” confirmation ” that he or she will go to heaven , paradise , nirvana etc , then I would give it. It would seem cruel to deny a person momentary comfort.

  34. Dimo says:

    Many people need something to believe in when despairing, and having been indoctrinated in Christian thinking and God, it’s not surprising they turn to a spiritual realm for help and guidance. Therein lies hope, the kind of hope and/or faith that may contain a source of miracles (according to the bible). It means having a belief system to cling to, partly alleviating the stress and worry of the present and conferring it upon a wish for divine intervention.

    I think in one way or another most of us believe in some form of higher power, but perhaps today in our material, earthly-focused world we are less inclined to turn to the Lord for guidance. It’s as likely to be a help group or analyst!

    Personally I’m careful about questioning people’s religious and spiritual faiths. Opening a barrage of queries and then countering their beliefs can come across as authoritative, even intolerant and aggressive. I happen to have a partner who is into spiritual and New Age ideas, and while I’ve occasionally questioned some aspects, I tend to adopt the live and let live philosophy. Besides, she has a long-term health issue and if she gets comfort from a source then who am I to pour scorn on it? It would be callous and uncaring.

    In summary I read the main article wondering where it was leading, i.e. if it were going to stamp on faith and belief and put it down to a lot of stuff and nonsense. I don’t think you can use logic and reason against faith because the subscribers won’t listen, and you persist long enough with argument they will dig their heels in thinking you are merely setting out to change or ridicule them.

    • deglen says:


    • Doug Dean says:

      DIMO: Evangelical Christianity doesn’t remain in that peaceful private place you are so gracious protecting from the truth. New agers might be bonkers but they fail to turn their woo-woo into evangelical booty or legislative missions. Treat it like the superstition it is and tell them to keep their rabbit feet to themselves or expect challenges. This accident was just that; an evangelical tool where the self-centered are forced to face a christ-centered life before it’s too late. Sir, I call this bullshit and I wish you would also.

    • Leo says:

      Ramen, Ramen – may the FSM give you meatballs and pasta in abundance. May the devotees of imaginary frieds never turn against someone you hold dear. Does respect for other peoples feelings supersede reality? That’s a very dangerous concept.

    • MBM says:

      Are you really wondering?

      ” I don’t think you can use logic and reason against faith because the subscribers won’t listen, and you persist long enough with argument they will dig their heels in thinking you are merely setting out to change or ridicule them.”

      You are correct in that you cannot use logic and reason against faith, not because we won’t listen or dig in our heels bur rather because our faith IS based on Reason. My Roman Catholicism is not a Blind faith. I believe that atheists who believe that Something came from Nothing, have much more Faith than I’ll ever have.

      • Chuck says:

        MBM, “faith based on reason” seems a bit oxymoronic to me. Isn’t the point of faith that it does not require reason?

        • MBM says:

          Chuck, Not at all! Just as I had to use my reasoning and observations before I placed my trust in my husband or believed in a friend I have to do the same with God. If you have an interest in someone, you might check out his/her FB page, ask people who know her for more details, observe how she interacts with people, observe how she carries herself , to get to know About her. But then, to get to know her in a more intimate way, you would meet her and then speak to her. When you do, do you believe what she says to you? Do you believe in her more over time? You may conclude Yes, by an act of faith and trust built upon everything you know about her (the rational and otherwise) That is faith, no? If a stranger were to walk up to me and ask me for $5 for bus fare, would I believe him? Absolutely not. I have nothing to base it on. He may use it to go by alcohol or drugs. If I gave him the money, it would be on faith alone, blind faith. It would be on a wishful hope that he would use it as he says he would. I’d like to trust him but it’s baseless.

      • steve says:

        Atheist means only lack of belief in gods….and …that is all… Some of us care to have logical, scientific explanations for some things, while others couldn’t care less… And when it comes to some questions that there is no answer for, most of us are brave enough to say “I do not know.” It is you, theists, who say “We have all the answers.” We, the atheists, are very happy just with our lack of belief…

      • Doug Dean says:

        MBM: Catholic’s do reason from faith in the intermediation of the church for salvation, giving the church reasonably authority to excommunicate heretics to hell. Protestants do the same with their literal reading of the Bible they considering ‘the living word.’ It’s these various presuppositions of faith that are without rationality – not in how one utilizes reasoning in defending these faith positions.

        Moreover, the Catholic church encourages sacramental obedience even when, no, especially when, doubts of personal faith occur. Would you find this obedience to an organization reasonable if not for the fear of the hell your church teaches?

        What I find plausible is the overwhelming reason the vast majority of Catholic’s happen to be Catholic is due to being born Catholic, and it’s completely reasonably to believe if you where born elsewhere your faith would most likely be in Allah, Deva or Buddha and not Christ. Either you must consider yourself ultimately fortunate to have be born into the one, and only, true faith or you’re bordering on the Catholic heresy that it is not.

  35. Brian says:

    P.S. The moral to the above post is, cut God some slack, he can’t be in two places at the one time.

    • ACW says:

      I assume you’re being sarcastic, Brian, since theologically speaking God is omniscient and omnipresent. That is, he IS in more than one place at once; in fact, there is noplace he is not (with the possible exception of Hell, which Aquinas defined as the absence of God). In fact, one of the core ‘miracles’ of the Resurrection was Jesus’s appearing to his disciples in multiple places. The so-called mystery of the Trinity reverses the issue: that is, that more than one person – three entities, in fact – can be in the same place at the same time.
      [pause to uncross eyes]
      Of course, the question that really begs to be asked is, as the Firesign Theatre puts it, ‘how can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?’

      • Mary Goetsch says:

        I love it! This reminds me of Kurt Goedel and his “consistency” theorem about something seemingly good explanation is NOT provable. No matter how much you think and write about it.

    • Peggy Baker says:

      Ah, but believers will tell you he IS omnipresent and apparently listens to all prayers no matter how selfish, trivial or dire. He does so despite economic advantages, racial advantages, physics, our immune systems, and years and years of study and experience by medical professionals!

      • George Hahn says:

        There was an episode of the TV show M*A*S*H in which an injured soldier believed himself to be Jesus Christ. Radar asked him if God hears all our prayers. The answer was: Yes, but sometimes the answer is no. C.S. Lewis, in the book The Screwtape Letters, had another take on why God might allow someone to die and save someone else.

    • Craig W Crosby says:

      I thought it was in all places and omnipotent. Thanks for the update. One place at a time. Can only handle one small, personal miracle at a time. Only answers of christans on their knees. Got it.

  36. Brian says:

    I think we’re missing the point here. God has a lot to answer for – prayers, that is. Remember that building which collapsed burying 224 people and only one was found alive? He explained that he prayed to God and knew he would be saved – and he was. Now, in a Catholic country, the other 223 should have been praying instead of scrabbling around trying to escape. A little bit of research – and you’re quite good at that Mr Sherman – would show that a number of world events are happening while some accidents are occurring. For instance, at the moment of an earthquake which took the lives of quite a few (who may not have been on their knees to our Lord and Saviour at the time) the finals of London’s Lawn Tennis Championsip were being played. A dour Scot and devout Christian named Andy Murray was battling it out for the title – as he had done many times before – and his prayers soared on high and were heard. He needed a miracle, but one of such enormity that God needed all of his powers to deliver…! It was Andy’s last chance. There would always be another earthquake, another tsunami for God to perform his party tricks. And so it came to pass. Andy looked heavenward and Godd looked back. Two Love :-)

    • a moron says:

      Jesus explained the criticisms addressed here:

      1) God’s grace falls on the wicked and the upright alike. Christians are not to be bothered by this because the wicked get their due in the next world.
      2) God does not listen to the prayers of those who do not ask, ask with the wrong motives, or have unrepentant sin.
      3) A blessing from God does not mean health and wealth any longer. A blessing is to become gentler, kinder, more resilient, more faithful, more peaceable, more loving, and more joyful. Psychology studies on Atheism vs spiritualism will show you the validity of this claim.

      • MBM says:

        a moron says:
        April 6, 2016 at 6:32 am
        Jesus explained the criticisms addressed here:

        1) God’s grace falls on the wicked and the upright alike. Christians are not to be bothered by this because the wicked get their due in the next world.
        2) God does not listen to the prayers of those who do not ask, ask with the wrong motives, or have unrepentant sin.
        3) A blessing from God does not mean health and wealth any longer. A blessing is to become gentler, kinder, more resilient, more faithful, more peaceable, more loving, and more joyful. Psychology studies on Atheism vs spiritualism will show you the validity of this claim

        Reply to #1: Partly true. God’s grace is for all. However, Christians’s do not wish, or pray, for the wicked to get their due in the next world. We pray for their conversion in this life and for their salvation afterwards. Jesus told us to love (will good for them) our enemies.
        #2) Doesn’t make sense. How could God answer a prayer that is not asked? It certainly would not be God’s will to answer a prayer that was not for “good” or according to his will. Not one of us is without sin, including the people who received miraculous healings from Jesus and his apostles. I myself, a sinner, have experienced what I believe to be miracles.
        #3) the implication from this being that God’s blessings have changed over time? When you say blessing do you mean miraculous blessing? A “blessing”, “miracle”, “answer” from God can come in many forms. Science, psychology, what have you will not prove God’s blessings. My faith is built on the foundation of Reason. Faith and Reason won’t be found in any lab on this earth, however, science is showing more pointers to the existence of God everyday.

        • a moron says:


          1) is totally true as it is stated.
          2) is a poorly worded reference to James 1
          3) Man’s relationship with God changes, not God.

          Are you a Christian in attack mode? If so, be weary of evil spirits.

        • MBM says:

          How do you determine #1 to be true, that Christians are not bothered? And #3, re: man’s relationship with God. You feel “attacked” by my response? Really?

    • Richard says:

      Brilliant writing Brian.

  37. 123elle says:

    We run into this irrational thinking all the time: Survivors of 9/11 thanking god for their personal survival, although just as worthy other people died in their thousands. Or thanking god when one narrowly misses having a traffic accident. I can imagine that the powerful emotions of fear and relief call forth those declarations at the moment, but hopefully we think better of it and realize that we were not really singled out by god to survive while god capriciously decided to deal death to countless others on roads all over the world.

    People with cancer are finally being relieved of the imposed necessity of trying to have a “positive attitude” else they might not do well because of perceived negativity or depression. Or to pray especially hard and convince others, including strangers, to pray for them, with the payoff of better health. Now that we know (and are communicating and publicizing) that those actions or feelings have no influence whatsoever on the cancer and its progression or remission, people with cancer can relax and focus on different choices than constant prayer; and not have to paste on a “positive attitude” but rather experience their emotions honestly and without guilt that their feelings will make them sicker or threaten their lives.

    • Mary Goetsch says:

      I like your lengthy analysis of why prayer works for believers. It is fun trying to figure it out. All the endorphins generated might have something to do with healing. Who generates more endorphins, Christians, or Atheists? I bet there are more atheist/agnostic cyclists because we LIKE to ponder things and cycling helps this.

  38. Samphire says:

    Is it not also the case that the survivability of cyclists hit by cars seems to bear a relationship to the speed of the collision? Is God’s ability to save cyclists’ lives limited by Newton’s laws? If so, why?

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