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Thursday, June 14, 2012

God and the Titanoboa: You Must Believe It to See It.

Okay, okay, but you probably don't look exactly like your  Facebook photo. Cut him some slack.
Titanboa, all 48 feet of her / him / it.

"You have to believe it to see it," New Agers like to say.

The quote expresses the opposite of the hardcore materialist worldview.

New Atheists like the guy I write about in "Save Send Delete" insist that the only phenomena worthy of belief is that which we can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. And, "You have to see it to believe it."

Believers like me insist that there is another, transcendent reality.

New Atheists insist that their refusal to believe in anything they can't see, touch, smell, taste, and hear makes them really smart, and the rest of us really stupid. That is why some choose to call themselves "Brights," as opposed to the rest of us living in the dark. That's why, on the National Day of Prayer, they declared a "National Day of Reason." To them, prayer is not reasonable. It is idiocy.

Is this always true? Is it always true that refusing to see something that you don't believe makes you smarter?

No. Not always.


Often it seems to me that atheists, insisting so firmly that God does not exist, that nothing transcendent exists, refuse to acknowledge data that strikes me as big as a house.

Jeanette's father had just died when she received a phone call from him.


"It was just a glitch with the phone," Jeanette insisted. "An electronic malfunction. Somehow it managed to make the phone ring. When I picked it up, I heard my dad's voice. It was a loving message, one he'd left a while back. Somehow, through this electronic glitch, that happened just after he died."

I stared. "Had this ever happened before?"


"And this happened just after your dad died?"

"Yeah. Isn't that odd?"

"And you're telling me that that wasn't a message from your dad?"

"Of course not. There is no afterlife. Dad is gone, forever. It was just an electronic malfunction."


I don't fully buy in to "You have to believe it to see it." I'm selective. Trolls, for example.

New Atheists like to talk about how rational and cool (cool as in hip rather than cool as in below 65 degrees) and atheist Scandinavia is. Look, look, these new atheists say. Scandinavians don't believe in God and the chicks are hot and their trains run on time.

On the other hand, my Scandinavian folklore professor, John Lindow, introduced me to the alleged statistic that 54 percent of Scandinavians believe in trolls. He said that one of his Norwegian students reported being harassed by a troll while waiting for a tram on a city street at night.

I wanted more data before I could use this anecdote to become convinced of the existence of trolls.

She saw some big, dark shadows, Lindow told me, and she interpreted those shadows as trolls.

Big, dark shadows = trolls. Not conclusive for me.


Sometimes, though, "You have to believe it to see it" is manifestly true. It is the smart thing, the scientific stance. Not believing in something has fooled scientists into not seeing it.

I came across a perfect example of "You have to believe it see it" the other day while reading about titanoboa, a recently discovered, prehistoric snake. Up to fifty feet in length, weighing over a ton, reaching up to three feet in height, crushing its prey with four hundred pounds per square inch of pressure – the weight of three Eiffel Towers – the titanoboa is the largest snake ever discovered. It lived during the Paleocene, sixty million years ago. Though they were non contemporaries, there is a cool youtube video, linked below, that depicts combat between a titanoboa and a T-Rex. Now that's what I call mixed martial arts!

The scientist who first discovered titanoboa refused to believe what he was seeing and touching. It was impossible, he, as a scientist knew, for a snake to get that big. So he refused to believe the very fossils he held in his hand.

Jonathan Bloch, University of Florida paleontologist, had been handling titanoboa fossils "for years." And he just didn't get it. "My only excuse for not recognizing them is that I've picked up snake vertebrae before. And I said, 'These can't be snake vertebrae.' It's like somebody handed me a mouse skull the size of a rhinoceros and told me, 'That's a mouse.' It's just not possible."

God is also not possible. Do you have to believe him to see him? You tell me.

Titanoboa v. T-Rex video here.


  1. I like the post!
    Seeing is not believing. The Pharisees saw, and believed they were seeing Beelzebub. Believing doesn't mean you're going to see, either, unless you are pure in heart, as the beatitude says.

    God is not possible. The incarnation is even more impossible.
    Reminds me of something G.K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man.
    He noted those who disbelieved the Bethlehem story because it was "highly improbable" . If I may paste:

    "[The scientific critic] laboriously explains the difficulty which we have always defiantly and almost derisively exaggerated; and mildly condemns as improbable something that we have almost madly exalted as incredible; as something that would be much too good to be true, except that it is true.

    "When that contrast between the cosmic creation and the little local infancy has been repeated, reiterated, underlined, emphasised, exulted in, sung, shouted, roared, not to say howled, in a hundred thousand hymns, carols, rhymes, rituals, pictures, poems, and popular sermons, it may be suggested that we hardly need a higher critic to draw our attention to something a little odd about it."

  2. Mark, thanks so much for reading and posting.

    Agree about seeing not = believing.

    In fact, in Save Send Delete, I talk about believing not even always = believing (pages 100-05).

    Thank you for the Chesterton quote. :-)