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May 11, 2011


Miracles – Part 1

by juju2112

This next sermon is over Miracles. It’s by Pastor Spencer Beach of Keypoint Church (Jesus is the key, people are the point!). I’m excited for this topic. Finally, actual testable claims! So, I’ll just jump right in.

Pastor Beach defines “Miracle” thusly:

“An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.”

He’s telling you right here: “If you don’t understand something, it’s magic.” I’m here to tell you, just because you observe something that surpasses human knowledge, that doesn’t make it a miracle! It just means we don’t understand it yet. Really, sometimes it’s okay to just say, “I don’t know what that is.” Go ahead! Practice saying it in the mirror a few times. You might get more comfortable with the idea.

If you ever ask a religious person for proof of the existence God, one of the things they’re likely to tell you is that “God exists outside of time and space”. This is a nice dodge, and is actually a logical fallacy called special pleading. Briefly, special pleading is where you make up some lame excuse as to why you shouldn’t have to prove something. In formal logic, you always need evidence to back up a claim. Coming up with a weird excuse to get out of it isn’t okay.

What’s even funnier is that this excuse makes very little sense in the light of miracles. If God changes something in the natural world in order to perform a miracle, that’s not “outside the realm of time and space”. If he’s changing the laws of physics, scientists are going to notice. That becomes a testable claim. You can build an experiment around it. Think your last prayer for rain worked? Great! Now do it 10 times in a row under scientific conditions.

What’s that? “God doesn’t work that way”? “God refuses to be tested”? Oh my! It’s our old friend special pleading again. If “God refuses to be tested” makes sense to you as an explanation for why miracles can’t be tested, you really need to ask yourself: “Do I care whether my beliefs are true? Or do I just want to believe them because they make me feel good?”

“We want you to understand that not only does Christ give us an understanding of miracles, and we not only want you to gain an understanding of miracles. We want that God would expand your faith to believe him for things that others would say are absolutely impossible. So those things in your life that people say are impossible or that you think, “How could this ever happen?”, we want to encourage you to really believe God for those things.”

Translation: You should actively look for strange things you can attribute to God. No one can say that you’re wrong, and it makes your god look really good.

Most of my friends already know this story, but I’m going to tell it again. When I was younger, I used to think I could control the traffic lights with my mind. Whenever I was in my car and came upon a red light, I would concentrate on making it change. Most of the time, it would! Occasionally, wouldn’t do the trick correctly and the light wouldn’t change. I always resolved to do better next time.

Of course, it’s obvious now that the lights are timed and would have changed regardless of what I did. But there’s this thing about memory in the human brain where we remember something much better if it’s associated with a strong emotion. When I thought my trick was working, I would get overjoyed. I changed the light with my mind! Those times I always remembered. When it didn’t work, no problem. I just tried again, and the mistakes were quickly forgotten. This is actually a very common problem the brain has called confirmation bias, and it can be used to make yourself believe almost anything. In fact, a great majority of the weird beliefs people have are caused by this phenomenon. The scientific method, by the way, is specifically designed to get around it.

So, suffice to say, when Pastor Beach actively encourages people to look for opportunities to expand their faith by attributing God to things that seem impossible, it makes me a little sick inside. I have nothing against the pastor personally. He seems like a great guy, and he’s a terrific speaker to listen to. But I remember all the bizarre things that I used to believe because of confirmation bias, and I feel ashamed. And it makes me sick to see someone encouraging people to actively seek it out. This is not the way to the truth, people. As weird as it sounds, you can not depend on your own brain to accurately assess reality. There are bugs in the software.

Even though I’ve only covered about half the sermon so far, I think I’ve said quite enough for today. So, check back tomorrow for Part 2 – Water Into Wine!

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kassi
    May 12 2011

    I love this take on things – especially the mention of the confirmation bias which I call the Skinner box effect. It’s interesting to note that a lot of facebook games (farmville is a really good example) are based on this sort of reward system which is why they’re so addictive.

    • juju2112
      May 12 2011

      Thanks! I’ve had fun writing this stuff out. I can see why you liked blogging so much. I like being able to format stuff nicely. It’s a lot more freedom than I’m used to, since I mostly wrote comments to things before. Also, it’s nice to have. a sort of permanence to what I write. Knowing it won’t be deleted by someone who disagrees with me is comforting.

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  1. Miracles – Part 2, Water Into Wine | Donald Morton's Blog

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