Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On the righteousness of winning football games

Tim Tebow prays before each game that Jesus will help him win. He apparently believes this is a righteous request because Tim, after all, believes in Jesus, and because Tim is a high-profile believer, his own belief will presumably lead others also to believe. Tim goes on to win football games because he is a feakishly good athlete and a uniquely determined competitor. But because Tim prayed to win, he attributes the victory to Jesus rather than his own remarkable result in the DNA lottery. Because Tim believes Jesus helped him win the last time, he prays again that Jesus will help him win the next game. When he wins again, his belief that it's Jesus helping him and that his request that Jesus will help him is indeed a righteous request is reinforced.

This pattern of belief is an example of the logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

To be clear, I am not claiming, nor is it even necessary to prove, that Jesus is not helping Tim Tebow win football games. This is a logical fallacy even in the absence of contrary evidence. (As an aside, in no way do I believe Jesus helps anyone win football games.) The logical fallacy exists when a claim is made that because one event occurred after another, it's because of the preceding event that the subsequent event occurred. If there is no control, there is no way to prove causality one way or another, therefore a logical conclusion cannot be reached.

Tangent: When Tim Tebow is interviewed after the game and gushes about his lord and savior before answering a question, there's nothing a journalist can do about it. When journalists take non-stories that are examples of the same thing and put them on the front page, however, especially when there's no alternative plausible explanation offered, that's simply irresponsible. The irony here is that most people in the United States don't trust the media, but I somehow doubt it's these sorts of supernatural stories that sow the seeds of mistrust.

Of course you can't ignore the placebo effect. If believing that Jesus is helping him causes Tim Tebow to perform better, it doesn't matter whether Jesus (however you like to imagine him) is actually helping or not. And that's good enough for me. Because when the division standings are calculated at playoff time, Jesus-assisted wins count the same as non-Jesus-assisted wins. Go Broncos!


  1. I personally believe that Jesus is bored with football. (He's my brother you know, and if I'm bored with football, then surely He is too. Of course my real brother -- real because he is living in the flesh as opposed to "Jesus Lives!" -- LOVES football, so maybe there's a slight flaw in that logic.)

    Now, I might get into some trouble for saying this, but I'm gonna anyway: If Jesus really cared about football, then perhaps the Cougars would be doing better... especially since there's a lotta folks around here praying for 'em. Just sayin'.

    Incidentally, I'm always entertained by what's currently getting your goat. That is, if this is what you would consider "getting your goat."

  2. I love this topic. I used to have a super-"Christian" sales rep working for me who would pray that Jesus would help her win deals. Praying for a sale or a football win or somesuch just amazes me because there are so many more awful/critical/pressing things going on in the world- war, genocide, cancer, famine, natural disasters, etc., etc., and here are these people bugging Jesus with these phenomenally trivial self-centered requests. Did they even read the new testament?

    It's like if one day, all at the same time, your house was fire, your wife said she was leaving you and started throwing all your crap out on the lawn and just then your boss calls you to tell you you're fired, and then your kid comes up and starts crying and demanding your help because he/she got in an argument with a sibling, or can't get a video game to download. You'd be like, "Not now!", right? I always imagine that's how Jesus feels when people bug him for football wins.

  3. Good post and comments.

    I think Christians like Tebow are mimicking what they've been taught, usually from childhood. And they haven't analyzed these practices to see if they make sense. I can see a kid hearing prayers where people express gratitude and concluding that God made it happen.

    I consider a more reasonable prayer of this nature to be: an expression of thanks and joy for having experienced something positive. And I don't believe God needs to be thanked, but He wants us to be humble and tame our egos; to be better people.

    Somewhat related, I saw this on a bumper sticker: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."* Why is it that so many Christians are intolerant, self-righteous, jerks? How do you get that from Christ's teachings and life? I think a lot of it is how and where you were raised, but that can't be all of it. Strange.

    * This quote is often attributed to Gandhi, but that is disputed.

  4. Whatever Tebow is doing...he's doing it right! The guy may not be a great quarterback, but he is one hell of an athlete who knows how to win.

  5. One other thing, I feel strongly that logic and critical thinking should be taught in High School. These tools, developed over the ages, are one of the greatest achievements of humanity. It raises us out of animal, reactionary thinking.

  6. SNL had to wade into the pool.


  7. Blackdog, that may be the best SNL skit ever.

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