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Tim Tebow, the Problem of Evil and Divinely Bestowed Touchdowns

Is God Giving Tim Tebow Touchdowns?

If you are unaware, Tim Tebow is the quarterback for the Denver Broncos who has led his team on a winning streak, mostly due to fourth-quarter comebacks. This wouldn't be unusual, except for the fact that Tebow credits God for his and his team's success. The quarterback regularly bows down in petitionary prayer during crucial moments, or right after touchdowns, often pointing up to heaven as he stands up, mouthing the words "thank you." (This is now known as "Tebowing.")

Does Tebow really think his wins are the result of divine intervention? Absolutely. "I believe in a big God and special things can happen," Tebow said in reference to the Bronco's overtime win against Chicago. He may even believe that a Super Bowl win is preordained by God. "It's not necessarily prophesying, but sometimes you can feel God has a big plan." He has his teammates believing too. This includes linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who recounted (to the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla) Tebow's message to him. "Tebow came to me and said, 'Don't worry about a thing,' because God has spoken to him."  After Woodyard ripped the ball from Chicago's Marion Barber's hand to prevent him from winning the game, Woodyard became a believer. "I gave him a big hug," said Woodyard, "and told him thank you. God speaks to people to reach other people." Colorado pastor Wayne Hanson (who has some connections to Tebow's family) agrees. "It's not luck. Luck isn't winning 6 games in a row. It's favor. God's favor."

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But the idea that God intervenes in NFL games is absurd. If God exists, he's not responding to Tebow's prayers by helping him win games. God is, by definition, perfect-all knowing, all powerful, and all good. This means that God always will do all and only the right and best things. If he failed to do so, he would not be God. But either helping the Broncos win is the best thing to do, or it isn't. If it is the best thing to do, then God will do it. That is what God does: the best thing. But if God was going to do it anyway, we can't say that he did it "because Tebow prayed." Even if he didn't pray, God would still do it. If it isn't the best thing to do, then God wouldn't do it. If he did, he would no longer be perfect. And it wouldn't matter how much Tebow prayed. Tebow can't convince God to do something that he knows he shouldn't do.

If God is intervening in Bronco games, then he is doing so by interfering with physical reality in small, subtle ways-pushing the ball towards the uprights by a few inches, or steadying the ball so it is catchable for a Broncos receiver in the end zone. But if God is willing to intervene in such ways for the sake of an NFL win, surely he should do so to save lives and relieve suffering. But how many car accidents could have been avoided if only the driver had been a few more inches to the right? How many fatal shootings could have been avoided if the gun simply misfired? I'm not saying that God doesn't care about such things, but if God won't interfere with physical reality to save someone's life, then he can't turn around and do it for an NFL win, and be a perfect worship-worthy deity.

Of course, you may think that God's reasoning is beyond us. We can't know whether the deaths that God didn't prevent were really a bad thing, so we can't question whether God should have prevented them. Perhaps. But then we can't really know whether Tebow's wins are a good thing, so we can't praise or credit God for them, either. The knife of theological skepticism cuts both ways.

Perhaps God helps Tebow win by interfering with the performance of players-making opposing players drop coverage, miss tackles, or drop the ball. Perhaps he puts Broncos in just the right place at just the right time. (Maybe it's all part of God's grand scheme to win converts to Christianity.) But such a suggestion is wildly incompatible with the responses of philosophers and theologians to the problem of moral evil. The problem of moral evil suggests that God doesn't exist because a perfectly good God would not allow evil like the Holocaust to occur. Since such evil does occur, God must not exist. Christian philosophers have replied to this argument with the "free will response"-which is thought by many to be definitive. God hates evil, but not as much as he loves free will and needs us to have it. God could have stopped Hitler, and in fact even wanted to, but since preserving free will is more important, he had to let Hitler do what he did. God, if he is to be perfect, has to refrain from interfering in the free will decisions of human beings.

If so, then how could God make someone drop their coverage? How could God make someone miss a tackle or drop a ball? Ultimately, everything that happens on a football field is solely up to the free will decisions of the players and the coaches-they choose what plays to run, how to throw and kick the ball, and where to be on the field. If God is willing to interfere with the free will of a football player to let Tebow win, one is left wondering, "Why didn't God interfere with the free will of Hitler to prevent the Holocaust?"

Lastly, the Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that explaining mundane and chance occurrences with divine intervention not only reflects childish thinking (involving a logically fallacious appeal to ignorance), but it cheapens God, making him a "domestic servant... a mere name for the stupidest sort of chance." Perhaps Tebow should think twice the next time he considers thanking God for his latest touchdown. After all, when the Patriots broke the Broncos' six game winning streak, it was the Patriots' sixth win in a row. If six wins in a row can't be luck, but must be "God's favor"-doesn't that mean that God loves Tom Brady more?

 

William Irwin, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at King’s College in Pennsylvania.

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