Today at church, the sermon was given by a Lutheran German pastor whom I occasionally see visiting my church. In his sermon, he was telling a comedic story of a devout old woman who always praised God despite her circumstances. The old woman had a neighbor who was an atheist who was rather fond of mocking the old woman of her spirituality. The old woman went into financial difficulties one day. As she was praying in her house for God to come to her aid, the atheist thought of a plan to mock the old lady for her belief. He bought groceries, and left them outside the door of the old woman’s house. Then, he knocked a few times on the door, and quickly went to hide behind a bush and observe what happen. The old lady opened the door, and upon seeing the groceries, gave praise verbally to God for what she thought was an act of divine providence. The atheist neighbor sprang up to his feet, and remarked, “Aha! You silly woman, it was me who placed the food there and not God.” The old lady was undeterred and sang even more praise, saying “Praise God for providing, and even making an atheist pay for it!”
I am not too sure what I should be taking away from the story. Is it trying to say that the old lady was virtuous for being so pious in the way she sees all things as an act of God, despite the difficult circumstance and supposed “persecution” of her faith by the atheist neighbor? Is it trying to say that God can work through mediums that we might not perceive to be coming from him? Or perhaps, the story might be trying to say that there are different ways of perceiving the same thing, and where one sees that there is no God, another can interpret that there is God quite conversely.
I suppose different people can have different paradigms in viewing a similar situation. And it is possible that different paradigms might be equally good in interpreting or explaining an observation. I think that when people disagree with each other sometimes, they might perhaps be evaluating a set of observation according to their paradigm and fail to see that other paradigms may just be as effective or coherent. For example, where the atheist sees only natural processes, the believer sees God working through these processes. Where the atheist sees unfortunate circumstances as the absence of God, the believer sees these circumstances as possibly God’s will.
Is there a way to determine whose paradigm is right? One possible principle is Occam’s Razor, which states that amongst competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. A common critique that I hear from the atheist side is that the attempt by believers’ to explain things with God is artificial or assumes too much. One parody that is used is that of the flying spaghetti monster, which satires a believer’s use of God as an explanation as being no different from another person use of a fictitious flying spaghetti monster to explain the thing as well.