Mar 2, 2013

The Batman Shootings--Mystery and Selective Evidence

When the Batman shooting happened, there was one particular survivor--a girl shot in the face who lived thanks to a birth defect that deflected the bullet away from more vital areas of her brain.  Of course, humans like to look for agency in improbability, and being as how the girl was a Christian, it sparked remarks such as:  "It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises."

I was working on this blog entry at the time, but decided not to post it as the event as too raw.  With the benefit of the calmer perspective of the present, however, I would like to take another look.
This first thing to say is that I'm happy that this girl lived.  Really.  That's great.  I'm happy that the marvelous coincidence of birth defect and gun angle saved her life.  But God?  It's a classic Argument from Incomplete Devastation.

Here's the deal: if God planned the paths of the bullets through the brain of the one who lived, then he also planned the paths of the bullets through the bodies of the twelve who died--and where does that leave him?  "Good things happen, therefore God is good," as Christians are wont to say--and it annoyed me even when I was one.  If the universe is run by a supreme being whose character can be deduced by human reactions to events within it, then complete the following sentence: "Bad things happen, therefore God is ____"

Mysterious.  Very, very mysterious.  This 'every good thing, God takes credit for--every bad thing, that's a mystery' line?  Try that on your boss and see how far it gets you.  If there is a god who is responsible for the way that the universe turns out, then he's responsible for the way that the universe turns out: for the twelve who died every inch as much as the one who, improbably, lived.  You're claiming--in so many words--to believe in a being that knew this massacre was coming for twenty years, knew that thirteen people were going to die, and in his infinite goodness mysteriousness decided: "This won't do at all!  Instead of thirteen people killed, we'll have twelve people killed, and the thirteenth can get off with a gunshot wound to the face and brain damage."

Praise Jesus.

Don't get me wrong--I'm glad this girl is alive.  I understand the overpowering gratitude that her friends and family are feeling, and I know that they have been trained to direct it to God.  But if we step back from that emotion and examine it critically, we'll find that a being that could have saved her any injury at all and didn't; that could have saved all the others from injury but didn't; that could have saved the twelve who actually died but didn't--such a being isn't very deserving of gratitude.  Such a being would be capricious, indifferent, cruel--the gaping wound over which theology slaps the bandaid of 'mystery'.

The truth is that the universe shows every sign of being indifferent to us.  Sometimes that works out in our favor, as with those who made it out of the theater without a scratch.  Sometimes that means we get screwed, as with those who died.  And sometimes that means we have a close shave, and one improbability--being in the theater in the first place--meets another--having the life-saving birth defect--and things don't work out nearly as bad as they normally might have.  If we want to know a player's batting average, we have to count the misses and not just the hits.   If we want to know whether or not a proposition is true, we have to examine the evidence against, rather than contenting ourselves that a misapplication of probability counts as irrefutable evidence for.

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