Rex, reader and commenter on this blog, has argued that I did not respond to answer the famous amputee question. He has a spin on it, the idea that scientists may invent a way to replaced lost limbs, thus science does better than God or some such:
Next time you rail about someone avoiding the issues that you bring up, I am going to refer you to this comment string.
I brought up the concept of amputees potentially being healed by technology in ways that you say that gawd is unwilling or unable to do because it would disrupt his "reality" and you totally ignored the point of the comment.
I know that I did it with condescension and sarcasm, as is our norm, and those were the only things you commented on.'tsamatter, no response for the scientists beating gawd to the punch on the amputee issue? Or are you busy reading 200 studies about it?
Atheists will go to so many great lengths to justify their laziness in reading those studies.
Just arguing that science can do something and God can't is ridiculous. Science is not beating God to the punch if God has chosen not to do something that humans figure out to do on their own. Obviously God left it for us to do. My over all answer to the amputee thing (why doesn't God hate amputees becuase he wont heal them) answers the question at the top, so the question of humans "beating God to the punch" is just a side effect of God leaving it for us today anyway. Thus if my original answer answers the problem as a whole then the argument Rex interjects here is irrelevant.
I will now demonstrate why my answer works.
fist the answer comes in two stages:
I. Hypothetical argument about Ground of Being vs big man in the sky.
This hypothetical argument is designed to demonstrate that the atheist's argument is based upon the old Atheist straw man that Christians believe in God who is a big man in the sky. Why wont the big man in the sky help us? this is basically what they are saying. The basis for this argument is the fact that theism has as a foundational principle the notion that God is beyond our understanding. We are either second guessing to explain anything about God or we are trying to vocalize experiences of God that can't be put into words. But conclusions atheist draw form the surface appearance of things are just as invalid and anything theists say.
Given that understanding, the hypothetical would argue "what if God is so far above human understand that his way of thinking about such things is just off scale and we can't understand it. In other words we can't say what God's reasons are so why try?
At this point the atheist will say "you are just appareling to the old no one knows the mind of God bromide." That would be a good rejoinder if, and only if, I then came back and tried to say that I understand God's motives. There's no logical problem with positing the notion of a 'force' or an 'entity' or even a 'mind' above our understanding. The problem is when we try to then claim that we understand it. The fact of the matter is that as an adherent of mystical theology I always argue that we understand anything. But what we know we know without understanding. Just as a baby knows it's mother's love, it does not have to know where they live, why the mother chose to live there, how she's regarded in society or what she did for a living before the birth, all the baby needs to know is that it is loved. It can know and know it for a positive fact without understanding much about that.
The problem is atheists don't really believe in love. They tend to be more cynical than skeptical. Thus they will no doubt balk at the idea that infants can experience being loved and can know that they are loved. Be that as it may, it's just an analogy. The argument is we can know certain things as certainties without understanding everything about them and we can know them experimentally without proving them empirically or them scientifically. Thus the fact that God is beyond our understanding might give us reason to assume that God's thought processes are very different than ours and we can't second guess his reasons or lack of reasons in dealing with people they way he does or does not do.
Now this becomes a useless doge when it's used as a smokescreen to cover human rationalizations for temporal power. Such situations are easy to spot and the "no one knows the mind of God" theory is easy to discord when we see clearly that temporal power is at steak. No dictatorial regime is hiding behind the amputee thing.
Let's not forget this is a hypothetical answer. There's another hypothetical answer which makes a different assumption. Rather than assume we can't know any of God's plans this other answer assumes that we can figure some of them out becasue they are the only thing that makes sense given the perimeters of belief.
That leads to the second hypothetical answer:
II. Soteriological Drama
This is my approach to the free will defense. As I said this approach assumes we figure out some of God's desires and plans based upon a combination of experience, special revelation and logic.
There are three basic assumptions that are hidden, or perhaps not so obivioius, but nevertheless must be dealt with here.
(1) The assumption that God wants a "moral universe" and that this value outweighs all others.
The idea that God wants a moral universe I take from my basic view of God and morality. Following in the footsteps of Joseph Fletcher (Situation Ethics) I assume that love is the background of the moral universe (this is also an Augustinian view). I also assume that there is a deeply ontological connection between love and Being. Axiomatically, in my view point, love is the basic impitus of Being itself. Thus, it seems reasonable to me that, if morality is an upshot of love, or if love motivates moral behavior, then the creation of a moral universe is essential.
(2) that internal "seeking" leads to greater internalization of values than forced compliance or complaisance that would be the result of intimidation.
That's a pretty fair assumption. We all know that people will a lot more to achieve a goal they truly beileve in than one they merely feel forced or obligated to follow but couldn't care less about.
(3)the the drama or the big mystery is the only way to accomplish that end.
The pursuit of the value system becomes a search of the heart for ultimate meaning,that ensures that people continue to seek it until it has been fully internalized.
The argument would look like this:
(1)God's purpose in creation: to create a Moral Universe, that is one in which free moral agents willingly choose the Good.
(2) Moral choice requires absolutely that choice be free (thus free will is necessitated).
(3) Allowance of free choices requires the risk that the chooser will make evil choices
(4)The possibility of evil choices is a risk God must run, thus the value of free outweighs all other considerations, since without there would be no moral universe and the purpose of creation would be thwarted.
This leaves the atheist in the position of demanding to know why God doesn't just tell everyone that he's there, and that he requires moral behavior, and what that entails. Thus there would be no mystery and people would be much less inclined to sin.
This is the point where Soteriological Drama figures into it. Argument on Soteriological Drama:
(5) Life is a "Drama" not for the sake of entertainment, but in the sense that a dramatic tension exists between our ordinary observations of life on a daily basis, and the ultiamte goals, ends and purposes for which we are on this earth.
(6) Clearly God wants us to seek on a level other than the obvious, daily, demonstrative level or he would have made the situation more plain to us
(7) We can assume that the reason for the "big mystery" is the internalization of choices. If God appeared to the world in open objective fashion and laid down the rules, we would probably all try to follow them, but we would not want to follow them. Thus our obedience would be lip service and not from the heart.
(8) therefore, God wants a heart felt response which is internationalized value system that comes through the search for existential answers; that search is phenomenological; introspective, internal, not amenable to ordinary demonstrative evidence.
In other words, we are part of a great drama and our actions and our dilemmas and our choices are all part of the way we respond to the situation as characters in a drama.
This theory also explains why God doesn't often regenerate limbs in healing the sick. That would be a dead giveaway. God creates criteria under which healing takes place, that criteria can't negate the overall plan of a search.
One might object that this couldn't outweigh babies dying or the horrors of war or the all the countless injustices and outrages that must be allowed and that permeate human history. It may seem at first glance that free will is petty compared to human suffering. But I am advocating free will for the sake any sort of pleasure or imagined moral victory that accrues from having free will, it's a totally pragmatic issue; that internalizing the value of the good requires that one choose to do so, and free will is essential if choice is required. Thus it is not a capricious or selfish defense of free will, not a matter of choosing our advantage or our pleasure over that of dying babies, but of choosing the key to saving the babies in the long run,and to understanding why we want to save them, and to care about saving them, and to actually choosing their saving over our own good.
In deciding what values outweigh other values we have to be clear about our decision making paradigm. From a utilitarian standpoint the determinate of lexically ordered values would be utility, what is the greatest good for the greatest number? This would be determined by means of outcome, what is the final tally sheet in terms of pleasure over pain to the greatest aggregate? But why that be the value system we decide by? It's just one value system and much has been written about the bankruptcy of consequentialist ethics. If one uses a deontological standard it might be a different thing to consider the lexically ordered values. Free will predominates because it allows internalization of the good. The good is the key to any moral value system. This could be justified on both deontolgoical and teleological premises.
My own moral decision making paradigm is deontological, because I believe that teleological ethics reduces morality to the decision making of a ledger sheet and forces the individual to do immoral things in the name of "the greatest good for the greatest number." I find most atheists are utilitarians so this will make no sense to them. They can't help but think of the greatest good/greatest number as the ultaimte adage, and deontology as empty duty with no logic to it. But that is not the case. Deontology is not just rule keeping, it is also duty oriented ethics. The duty that we must internalize is that ultimate duty that love demands of any action. Robots don't love. One must freely choose to give up self and make a selfless act in order to act from Love. Thus we cannot have a loved oriented ethics, or we cannot have love as the background of the moral universe without free will, because love involves the will.
The choice of free will at the expense of countless lives and untold suffering cannot be an easy thing, but it is essential and can be justified from either deontolgoical or teleological perspective. Although I think the deontologcial makes more sense. From the teleological stand point, free will ultimately leads to the greatest good for the greatest number because in the long run it assumes us that one is willing to die for the other, or sacrifice for the other, or live for the other. That is essential to promoting a good beyond ourselves. The individual sacrifices for the good of the whole, very utilitarian. It is also deontolgocially justifiable since duty would tell us that we must give of ourselves for the good of the other.
Thus anyway you slice it free will outweighs all other concerns because it makes available the values of the good and of love. Free will is the key to ultimately saving the babies, and saving them because we care about them, a triumph of the heart, not just action from wrote. It's internalization of a value system without which other and greater injustices could be foisted upon an unsuspecting humanity that has not been tought to choose to lay down one's own life for the other.
Put the two hypothetical answers together:
It's more acute to combine these two then it seems at first. The reason is because there has to be a core of mystery preserved for the answer on two to make full sense vis-a-vi the amputee question.
The core of mystery allows for God to be bigger than our understanding. It allows for ultimate reasons we can't know. That's not an excuse to get off the hook because it can't be tied to shielding temporal power, it has to be motivated by noetic qualities (learning) derived from experience of the divine.
So the ream in which we can speculate tells us that God can't be so obvious about working in the world as to remove all doubt, because that would destroy the point of creating free moral agents who care capable of feeling choosing the good. No one has to search for truth that is self evident. No one has to seek to find that something hold us to the surface of the earth, we may not understand what it is, but we know ti's there we call it "gravity" (which is in itself a secular version of "no one knows the mind of..."). Science falls back its own mysteries when it is convient to do so.
Thus God works through zones of faith. Why? Because if the faithful believe already and are seeking the good then having their doubt removed will not destroy the project, because they are seeking the good anyway. But it can't be so obvious that no one will doubt. If the world were that way, no one would doubt God exists because anytime anything bad happened it would be fixed supernaturally just with the first hint of a prayer, then everyone would be believe but no one would be happy. Humans do not enjoy being told what to do. If we feel we have no alternative we will resent having to do it, If everyone believed God existed and there was no question, people would still sin, but they would resent God for not allowing them to do so. No one would seek in their heart.
Another missing piece of the puzzle is that God make structures that run autonomously through the laws of physics. The universe is made to work this way. The human structure has evolved to a point where we are not flat worms and we don't grow limbs back then they are cut off. That humans can figure out ways to cross thread the gadgetry of nature and perhaps grow back limbs (they haven't done it yet) doesn't change the facts above becuase since God isn't' doing it it doesn't violate the principle of the search for the values of the good.
Put it all together and this is my answer on the amputee thing
(1) The rarity of God's use of SN healing is due to the need to respect the integrity of the search for truth that all people are required to engage in (which is for the purpose of gaining the values of the good as a result of the search).
(2) As a result of this need for "hidden God" God works SN healing only in certain "zones" or parameters (faith for example).
(3) God's ultimate reasons are beyond our understanding and the callused used to know the ultimate viability of the plan is also beyond us,or even the possibly that there is no plan other than evolution is also beyond us.
(4) We have structures such that nature runs on its autonomously but in harmony with divine will. That harmony can bend toward God's SN effects when the time is right, but it can also resist such effects and going beyond the stricture is not within the parameters.
(5) That humans can figure out an answer to the problem themselves doe snot jeopardize the search, thus God allows this as a result of human evolution, which God put in place, using the brains God gave us so in a sense it's the way God wants to do it, with us doing for ourselves.