Monday, May 28, 2007

Mouth's of Babes Department

I regret that I cannot link the source on this quote, but it is reported third hand to me that a book of letters written by kids around ten included this idea: "God why do kill things just so you can make more of them."

Could the question of evil be put any more succinctly. Sure, we humans have divided up killing into all kinds of levels of acceptability and cruelty. But a death is a death. Pain is pain. I've been told by countless women that childbirth is like pulling your bottom lip over your head (that might actually have been Bill Cosby.) So God allows evil, torture, lots of pain, horrific bad things happening to children and cute little animals. But the child above may have whittled the issue down to its essential. What say you?


Hey Skipper said...

Well, for one thing, God doesn't make more of them, which sort of vitiates the assertion.

The problem of human evil is way overhyped. Just as violent earthquakes are a concomitant of an Earth capable of sustaining life, human evil is the ever present companion of human free-will.

Unfortunately, evil is amplified all the way to 11 by the absolute, universal claims of the various particularly revealed religions.

Why an aware God would allow that is as good a contradiction of the existence of such a thing as could be imagined.

The more important question is why God completely failed to deal with easily avoidable suffering and death.

All the dietary restrictions in Leviticus completely fail to direct strictly separating food and human waste, or regularly washing hands, or boiling water before providing it to children.

Its so easy that, given the germ theory of disease, astonishingly absent from any divinely revealed text, even humans could do it.

What say you?

bernardo said...

Oh no, more excessive "apostrophe's"...

(Sorry, couldn't help it).

Why is there death? Because life - especially conscious life - is fragile and impermanent. Life is a fairly stable pattern, but one which must be supported by certain mechanisms in order to function, and despite the evolution of error-correcting processes, those mechanisms just wear out with age as errors and minor damage build up.

Could the chemistry we have available to us sustain immortal life and immortal consciousness (given proper nutrition and shelter)? Maybe not, but I would guess it probably could. But this would require mechanisms that right now are not found in most living things.

Why would a creator design things this way? Well, whenever anyone asks a hard "Why would God do X", the usual reply is "God works in mysterious ways" or "It is not for us to know God's desires" or some such evasive non-answer. But assuming that such a reply would not be satisfactory, and that you are inviting us to speculate about this question despite the impossibility of doing so rationally... My guess would be the following: We know that evolution is probably what allowed intelligence to arise. If you believe in God, and if your God created the universe in order for God-like beings to arise and to learn how to be good, then you should believe that evolution was the tool used by God to accomplish the appearance of those beings. But if living things were immortal, it would be much harder for BETTER living things to take their place once they came along. So I'm guessing that there is a certain incompatibility between evolution and immortality. And if your God needs evolution to accomplish what he wants (say, the rise of intelligent beings capable of thinking about how to be good), then immortality has got to go, as painful as that may be.

This should not be too surprising, or even very hard to reconcile with the idea of a "good" God. One, if God is omnipotent and omniscient, then we are all just pawns in his plan anyways, just steps along the way to a certain outcome, not necessarily the final desired outcome already as we are. Two, if you believe in a divine afterlife, then death is not the end of the world, and suffering is rewarded in the end.

Of course, I think it's much simpler to not believe in God in the first place, so that I don't have to go through all those rationalizations. But I recognize that good rationalizations (probably better than the ones I just came up with above) exist for those who prefer to believe in God.

Randy Kirk said...

Hey Skipper,

God could have revealed, and could today reveal all kinds of things. I can make a case that human waste was removed and hand cleansing was known, but I think that would be irrelevant. Folks today know all kinds of things they can do to prevent disease and go on doing the opposite.

And Bernardo, how come the cleverly evolved humans still do so many utterly stupid things. Why would the most advance civilizations in history engage in wars that make all previous wars look like family disputes. Evolution of man - seems like we are on the way to evolving ourselves into extinction: Over fishing, destruction of land, depletion of natural resources, global warming, sex, drugs, and especially rock and roll.

Taking my tongue of of my cheek, I don't think God was waiting for man to evolve. The plan was to establish the means of redemption.

You often say that one system is simpler than another. Newtonian physics is simpler than quantum physics, and we can't see quantum parts, so I suggest we stay with the simpler approach.

P.S. About the apostrophe. I out thought myself on that one. I didn't have it, then I decided it surely needed one. Have you read "blink." Should have gone with my first impression.

Hey Skipper said...


You missed my point entirely.

The question your post raises is that of theodicy: why does a benevolent God allow evil to exist?

IIRC, theodicy first became a problem for religion with the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

The earthquake shook much more than cities and buildings. Lisbon was the capital of a devout Catholic country, with a history of investments in the church and evangelism in the colonies. Moreover, the catastrophe struck on [All Saints Day] and destroyed almost every important church. For eighteenth-century theology and philosophy, this manifestation of the anger of God was difficult to explain.

Of course, the advent of seismology revealed there was absolutely nothing at all, with regard to God's apparent anger at such a devout population, that needed explaining. Volcanoes and earthquakes are part and parcel of a seismically active planet, which, as it so happens, is an absolute prerequisite for ongoing terrestrial life. A cold Earth is a dead Earth. (This obvious fact should have, but did not, stop many theologians from speculating about God's anger following the 2004 Tsunami)

Just so with the question of why evil exists: humans have some measure of free will. The attendant contest between self interest and group interest ensures the concomitant existence of evil.

Which, just as with earthquakes, makes the associated theodicy questions much ado about absolutely nothing, while simultaneously overlooking the question that matters.

Why is God evil?

Which is why I raised the issue of divine dietary restrictions, silly and pointless, that, inexplicably, omit those measures that really would make a difference: separating human waste from drinking water, boiling drinking water, especially for infants, and rigorously washing hands before eating.

So easy, even a mere human can figure it out, once tumbling on to the germ theory of disease.

Of course, this really isn't at all inexplicable. The comes in one of two forms.

God is evil -- for there is no other way of explaining why God would allow so much random, easily avoidable, suffering and death -- although the why is unknowable.

Alternatively, religion is a completely human construct, and, as such, reflects the knowledge humans had of the time.

Which, most certainly, did not include the fact that micro organisms had, and to a great extent still have, dominion over man.

Randy Kirk said...

If God is evil, is he also good. Christians argue that God is purely good, and only allows evil to suit his ultimate purposes. I'm not sure that Christianity would die a sudden death if this aspect of God's nature were to be changed to God is good, but he created evil to provide ways to achieve his ultimate purposes.

Then again, can evil exist as a concept if godless, therefore purposeless, evolution is the rule? It would seem that whether I torture you before I kill you would be of no real concern, especially if by torturing you, I send a message to your tribe that you should stay away from my women.

Hey Skipper said...

If God is evil, is he also good. Christians argue that God is purely good ... but he created evil to provide ways to achieve his ultimate purposes.

You have moved directly from supposition to conclusion, and demonstrated the theistic necessity to derive certainty from mystery.

Absent depriving the word "evil" of any meaning whatsoever, there is simply no other term to apply to an entity that could have easily, but chose not to, avoid the immense toll of human, and especially innocent human, suffering that attended ignorance of simply hygenic measures.

Then again, can evil exist as a concept if godless, therefore purposeless, evolution is the rule?

This assertion, posed as a question, does not stand up particularly well under even glancing inspection.

First of all, evil exists as a concept solely because humans are capable of making that distinction; if we weren't, then any discussion of the topic in the Bible would be no more meaningful to us than describing logarithms to a dog.

Secondly, that sterotypical theist assertion derives how directly from what. Evil does in fact exist has a human concept, but that concept doesn't change whether one concludes the how is Jesus, Mohammed, evolution, or dunno.

Finally, and most graphically, that assertion runs head on into reality itself.

Either altruism needs nothing from religion, or Cape Buffaloes have a lot more going on upstairs than we thought.