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Stranger in a Strange Land: Ric Machuga


Thinking Slowly About God

This is a guest column by Ric Machuga, professor of philosophy at Butte College in Northern California. His most recent book is Three Theological Mistakes: How to Correct Enlightenment Assumptions about God, Miracles, and Free Will, just published by Cascade Books/Wipf & Stock.

Today's creationists and their atheistic critics both share the same assumption—if God exists, then his existence must make a real, "scientifically" detectable difference. But until we begin to think more slowly about God, we will never understand the problematic nature of this assumption.

What's wrong with fast thinking? It depends on what you're thinking about. Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman can help us here. Kahneman has a love/hate relationship with fast thinking. On the one hand, humans have an uncanny ability to sense anger or frustration in the first words of a phone conversation. We do this and much else with intuitive ease and alacrity. But our abilities to think quickly about other matters are strictly limited.

Kahneman asked university students to evaluate a simple syllogism: All roses are flowers, and some flowers fade quickly; therefore, some roses fade quickly. A large majority (even from Ivy League universities) missed the error in logic because they associate a true conclusion with good reasoning. But, logically speaking, it is quite possible that roses are not one of the species of flowers that fade quickly. Distinguishing valid reasoning from true conclusions is hard! We must slow down and make sure we understand what the question is before asking whether an answer is true or false.

Putting effort into what-questions is something humans do reluctantly, especially when arguing about God. In the contemporary culture wars, both sides assume that "God" refers to some sort of divine Craftsman. One side argues for, the other side argues against, the existence of such a being. But neither ...

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