Is the Idea of God Just Magical Nonsense?

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Magic is an indispensable component of Christian doctrine. God had to create everything somehow, it must have been through magic, the same silly kind of magic that we find in children’s books and legends. Whenever a Christian proposes God as an explanation for something, then they are proposing nothing more than mere magic which is, obviously, not the most reasonable or scientific approach. We do not know everything. Scientific knowledge is far from complete and, more likely than not, it never will be. However, to propose God as an explanation for something that has not yet been explained is not better than appealing to magic as a cheap cop out to avoid the rigor and difficulty of scientific discovery.

Only centuries ago, mankind was very much convinced that a deity or deities were responsible for most phenomena which we now attribute to entirely natural causes thanks to science. Religion is simply the remnant of the futile attempts of primitive peoples to explain natural occurrences via supernatural actions. To appeal to God is to appeal to magic. Jehovah is no better an explanation for the world in which we live than is Zeus, Odin, or Houdini. All divine beings were contrived after centuries of legend and myth, so why should the Hebrew “God” be so special? Christians commit the fallacy of special pleading when they claim their deity is somehow less silly than all of the other mythical beings in which no sane person now believes.

At least, that is what skeptics would have you believe. The question is then whether “magic” should be dismissed quite so quickly. What prompted me to write this article is a debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox.

In response to Lennox’s arguments which demonstrated the shortcomings of science, Dawkins replied by accusing Lennox of appealing to magic. Lennox did not take much time to deal with Dawkins’ accusation because it is a fallacy ridden accusation more than it is an argument worth considering, but to some Christians such a charge would be absolutely devastating.

Imagine making an eloquent and well supported case for intelligent design in nature only to have your skeptical friend look you in the eye and tell you that you’re invoking magic. If the reader is anything like the author, such an accusation might leave a person stunned and speechless since it carries so many negative connotations regarding belief in a deity of any kind. After all, magic is seen as a childish and silly thing to believe in. Eventually we all realize that magicians have their tricks, fairy tales are just fiction, and Santa Claus doesn’t actually have reign deer that make his sleigh fly… they needed help from a jet engine mounted on the bottom of his sleigh. All of a sudden, the simple accusation from the skeptic implies that if you believe in God, then you believe in all kinds of things which are fictional.

Let’s step back and analyze Dawkins’ accusation and all of its implications to see if it really does demonstrate absurdity in the Christian worldview.

To begin with, it is a circular argument. The implication is that theism is silly and just as obviously false as any other fairy tale. The tacit implication is that Christianity is false since it is equating Christianity with stories that we know to be false. The problem is that Dawkins first needs to show that Christianity is indeed a fairy tale, not merely accuse it of being one. For example, we know that the story of Rapunzel came from the Grimm brothers who wrote it as a fictional piece with other fictional pieces. As far as the author knows, nobody takes the story of Rapunzel seriously since we know it was intended to be fictitious, there is no evidence that it actually happened, and there is a lack of experience of such a circumstance as that of the story of Rapunzel. If Dawkins really wanted to equate Christianity with such a fairy tale and the magic thereof, then he would need to make a historical argument showing that the origins of Christianity discredits the historicity of its doctrines and he would need to discredit the alleged evidence for the historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps calling Lennox’s appeal to the God of Christianity an appeal to magic does not settle the matter as decisively as Dawkins had hoped it would since he is assuming the very ideas that he needs to argue for, that Christianity is indeed fictitious.

But perhaps Dawkins is not yet finished since he may yet accuse Christianity of being no better than any other religion. The question is then whether it can be reasonable to believe in Christianity while rejecting other religions. Let’s compare Christianity and Norse Mythology since the author is a marvel fan and I like Thor. Why should a person believe in Yahweh and Jesus but not Odin and Thor? Isn’t the “magic” of Jesus just as fictitious and silly as the magic of Thor? Perhaps, but perhaps not. You would likely be hard pressed to find a person who still worships Odin, and if you did you would most likely not take him seriously. The Norse myths have no evidence surrounding the full validity of their stories. There are no historical arguments for a man named Thor who had a magical hammer. Therefore, we throw the Norse myths in with any other fairy tale as an entertaining fictitious story. However, Christianity is an entirely different animal with a vast arsenal of historical arguments supporting its validity. Dawkins is in no position to simply imply that Christianity is a myth just like the myths of the Greeks or any other ancient civilization without first dealing with all of its arguments.

At the root of the question is whether we may reasonably believe in the “magic” of God if that is where the evidence currently points. First, we must realize that this magic is not hocus pocus silliness, but the power of God which we do not understand. When a person sees a magician make a certain card magically appear in their shirt pocket, the person may not necessarily believe that the magician had some mystical power which allowed him to make the card disappear into nothingness then manifest itself in reality in that person’s shirt pocket.  Yet, the card had some sort of a cause for ending up in the person’s shirt pocket even if the spectator does not understand the process, and the most likely cause is an unknown process of the magician. We may say that the magician has a power which the spectator does not understand. Now we would think it foolish if the person took the card out of their pocket and said, “The magician did not do this since I would have to believe in magic to accept that a magician put the card in my pocket, and magic is not real.” Instead, the person would think something more like, “This magician used a process that I do not know of or understand to put this card in my pocket.”

The same reasoning may be applied to God and His methods. Science alone cannot account for the start of the universe or for it’s appearance of design (by Dawkins’ own admission). Theists tend to use this as an argument for the necessity of a designer (aka God). Dawkins tries to make these theists look silly by saying that they just believe in magic rather than letting science do its work and account for the things which we do not currently understand. However, this is the same logic that would lead a person to believe that a card “appearing” in their shirt pocket at a magic show cannot possibly come from a magician since that too would require magic. Just like the magician uses some process that the spectator does not understand rather than some mystical process that should be impossible, in the theist’s worldview God simply used processes that we do not understand to accomplish all of His “magical” miracles. Of course, Dawkins does not like this idea. Being the naturalist that he is, he thinks that eventually science will catch up and we won’t even need a divine being to explain things. That is a possibility (in the sense that a flying spaghetti monster is a possibility) but it seems silly as soon as we return to our friend at the magic show. If they were thinking like Dawkins, they would have discovered the card in their pocket that was not there before, and refusing to attribute it to the magician, they would have believed that eventually science would provide an explanation for the card’s appearance in their pocket. Perhaps a certain chemical caused a reaction with the lint in the bottom of their pocket and an electromagnetic charge made the material come together in just the right way to form just the right card in the skeptic’s pocket. Even if there is no current scientific explanation, there is bound to be one someday involving processes that we do not know about which are capable of creating cards in shirt pockets… at least in the mind of someone like Dawkins.

Mr. Dawkins may deny the magician and His abilities all he wants, and Dawkins may call his work some silly sort of “magic” since he does not understand it. However, such an attitude is circular and poses no threat to Christians. We may never understand the processes which God uses for some things, but such a lack of understanding does not necessarily mean we should throw God and His miracles on the scrap heap of “impossible magical myths.” Instead, it should inspire an awe in the abilities of God which are far greater than man can possibly understand just as we are often amazed by the work of magicians who also use processes we might not understand.

 

Kyle Huitt
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Kyle Huitt

Part of the multitude that has lost their faith, but part of the few that has returned to it. This blog is my attempt to describe why I returned to the faith, and to maybe prevent somebody else from leaving it in the first place. Studying philosophy and history at Hillsdale College. Member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Kyle Huitt
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