Theodicy III: Primo Levi versus Francis Collins

I’ve scheduled posts on several topics, but theodicy keeps getting in the way.  Today’s will be the last of three successive posts on the topic.

I’ve been reading two of Primo Levi’s books on Auschwitz (Survival in Auschwitz and The Drowned and the Saved), as well as Francis Collins’s The Language of God.  You know who Francis Collins is, and if you don’t know Primo Levi, you should.  He was an Italian Jew, a chemist, and a writer on the side.  His on-the-side writings, however, are fantastic, especially those describing and analyzing his incarceration at Auschwitz during WWII.  Survival in Auschwitz is simply the best existing book on what it was like to be in the camps. One scene — in which Levi describes a “selection” for the gas chambers, during which each inmate must run through two doors in front of an SS man, with each man trying to make himself look as healthy as possible — is as moving and tragic as anything I’ve ever read.  And Levi was also a novelist (If Not Now, When?) and a writer about science and life (The Periodic Table is a must-read).  Had Levi lived, he would surely have won a Nobel Prize for Literature.  But he died in questionable circumstances, falling from an upper floor of his apartment in 1987.  At the time everyone thought it was suicide; now biographers are not so sure.

That is a digression (but do read Levi!).  But reading Levi and Collins simultaneously is guaranteed to inspire thoughts about theodicy.  The Holocaust, along with the Nazis’ murder of millions of others, including Russian prisoners of war, Poles, and the handicapped, represents the most severe test of faith.  Why would a just and merciful God allow so many people to be wantonly slaughtered?  When I was in Amsterdam, I visited the Anne Frank house, and I defy anyone to come away from that place without a crushing feeling of sadness and loss.  Anne Frank was one Jewish girl.  Now multiply her story by six million, and add in another four or five million for the non-Jews also exterminated by the Reich.  That would seem to defy explanation via faith, unless one conceives of God as an anti-Semitic sadist.  The alternative explanation, of course, is that the Holocaust needs no divine rationalization, for there isn’t any god, beneficent or otherwise.

Levi was an atheist, and Auschwitz strengthened his unbelief.  In one gripping passage from Survival in Auschwitz (a passage, incidentally, chosen by Christopher Hitchens to open The Portable Atheist), the selection has just taken place in the barracks: those who didn’t seem fit enough during the SS inspection have learned that they’ve failed, and will shortly be going to the gas chambers.  But one Jew, Kuhn, has passed — he’ll not be killed, at least for a while.  Kuhn thanks God for sparing him:

Silence slowly prevails and then, from my bunk on the top row, I see and hear old Kuhn praying aloud, with his beret on his head, swaying backwards and forwards violently.  Kuhn is thanking God because he has not been chosen.

Kuhn is out of his senses. Does he not see Beppo the Greek in the bunk next to him, Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas-chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking anymore? Can Kuhn fail to realize that next time it will be his turn? Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again?

If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.

This gives you a sense of the power of Levi’s prose — and his outrage at the monstrosity of those who rationalize the Holocaust as God’s will.

Immediately after I read this (and I couldn’t keep on reading after that passage), I picked up The Language of God.  And, coincidentally, I came upon the chapter where Collins explains why God allows evil.  After Levi’s mighty prose, Collin’s theodicy seems thin and ludicrous, the lame rationalizations of a man for whom no evidence, no observation, could ever weaken his faith.  In a section called “Why would a loving God allow suffering in the world?”, Collins explains away all evil and suffering.

His first argument is familiar.  Regarding those evils done by humans to others (like the Holocaust, although Collins wisely ignores that event), he explains them as the necessary byproducts of God’s having given humans free will:

The tragedy of the young child killed by a drunk driver, of the innocent man dying on the battlefield, or of the young girl cut down by a stray bullet in a crime-ridden section of a modern city can hardly be blamed on God. After all, we have somehow been given free will, the ability to do as well please. We use this ability frequently to disobey the Moral Law [note: Collins believes that the “Moral Law,” the group of moral views that we all share, was instilled in us by God.]  And when we do so, we shouldn’t then blame God for the consequences.

Think about that.  What Collins is implying is that the Holocaust was necessary so that Nazis could use their free will.  Can there be anything more monstrous than this — or any explanation more ludicrous? This would be simply silly if it weren’t so pathetic.  Millions of innocent people died so that a small group of anti-Semites could work out their hatred on helpless victims?  What kind of God has a plan like that? And couldn’t God have staved off the Holocaust without interfering with people’s “free will”? Couldn’t He just have prevented the conjunction of the particular sperm and egg that yielded the zygotic Hitler? Or must sperm have free will, too?

Collins recounts one incomprehensible tragedy in his own life: the rape of his daughter.  Here’s his take on it:

Never was pure evil more apparent to me than that night, and never did I more passionately wish that God would have intervened somehow to stop this terrible crime. Why didn’t He cause the perpetrator to be struck with a bolt of lightning, or at least a pang of conscience? Why didn’t He put an invisible shield around my daughter to protect her?

Perhaps on rare occasions God does perform miracles [note: there’s no “perhaps” about it, since later Collins accepts Jesus’s divine birth and resurrection as miracles].  But for the most part, the existence of free will and of order in the physical universe are inexorable facts. While we might wish for such miraculous deliverance to occur more frequently, the consequence of interrupting these two sets of forces would be utter chaos.

I deeply sympathize with this tragedy in Collins’s life.  And of course he has the right to rationalize it any way he wishes to comport with his faith.  But that doesn’t render his explanations free from criticism. There are many ways that God could have allowed people to behave freely and nevertheless ensure that no innocent suffers.  And how does Collins know that free will, rather than the mitigation of suffering, is what God really wants?  He’s a scientist: isn’t the alternative explanation — that there isn’t any god, and that’s why bad things happen to good people — more parsimonious?  Hasn’t it crossed his mind that what he’s doing is simply making a virtue of necessity?

And this brings up the real sticking point for Collins’s brand of theodicy: what he calls “physical evil” as opposed to “moral evil.”

What about the occurrence of natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, great floods and famines? On a smaller but no less poignant scale, what about the occurrence of disease in an innocent victim, such as cancer in a child?

Collins doesn’t even have the decency to say that he doesn’t understand these things. Nor does he entertain the possibility that God might — as he did in the Old Testament — have a malicious streak, which of course is a perfectly plausible hypothesis if you want to retain faith in a divine being. Instead, Collins offers two explanations:

Science reveals that the universe, our own planet, and life itself are engaged in an evolutionary process. The consequences of that can include the unpredictability of the weather, the slippage of a tectonic plate, or the misspelling of a cancer gene in the normal process of cell division.  If at the beginning of time God chose to use these forces to create human beings, then the inevitability of these other painful consequences was also assured.  Frequent miraculous interventions would be at least as chaotic in the physical realm as they would be in interfering with human acts of free will.

It looks as if Collins’s God has OCD: his main interest is preventing chaos!  But God didn’t have to set up the world so that preventing horrible events would yield that chaos.  All He had to do was ensure, for example, that cancer genes didn’t mutate — or at least didn’t mutate in good people. It’s entirely feasible for God to have designed an evolutionary process that didn’t produce so much suffering.  Would preventing tsumanis, for example, have produced chaos?  Hell, no. We wouldn’t even know about it — those big waves just wouldn’t happen!

Does any thinking person accept these reationalizations as reasonable?  If so, then it’s incumbent on them, as Eric MacDonald noted yesterday, to tell us what kind of world, what kind of evils, would attest to the absence of a god.  If they can’t, then they don’t bear listening to.  (I’m betting that if the Holocaust hadn’t happened, that’s the kind of thing they’d adduce as evidence against God.)

Collins’s last explanation is this:  horrible tragedies that happen to innocent people are part of God’s plan because they give us the chance to acquire and demonstrate strength of character:

As much as we would like to avoid those experiences, without them would we not be shallow, self-centered creatures who would ultimately lose all sense of nobility or striving for the betterment of others?

.  . . In my case, I can see, albeit dimly, that my daughter’s rape was a challenge for me to try to learn the real meaning of forgiveness in a terribly wrenching circumstance. In complete honesty, I am still working on that.

The notion that God can work through adversity is not an easy concept, and can find firm anchor only in a worldview that embrances a spiritual perspective. The principle of growth through suffering is, in fact, nearly universal in the world’s great faiths.

Recognizing the depth of Collins’s pain here, I still find his reasoning shameful.  Does he really believe that God allowed his daughter to be raped so that, as part of the cosmic scheme, Collins could learn forgiveness? Is such an outcome at all commensurate with the suffering of his daughter?  Did millions of Jews, Poles, gays, and handicapped die so that we could grow spiritually and learn to forgive Hitler and his minions?  Ask a parent whose child has died of leukemia whether, given a choice, they prefer their salutary suffering over a healthy child.  And what about those innocent people who die after terrible suffering?  They certainly don’t learn anything.  Well, maybe their relatives did, and that justifies all the agony.

I can’t help but feel that, in their hearts, reasonable people aren’t duped by this kind of theodicy.  Are we really such a weak and cowardly race that we must concoct these silly rationalizations to avoid admitting the obvious:  there doesn’t seem to be a God, or at least one who is loving and powerful?  Can’t we admit that bad things are simply bad things and not some manifestation of a tortured and incomprehensible divine calculus?  When will our species grow up?

If I was God, I would spit at Collins’s theodicy.  And I’m sure there will be accusations that my understanding of theodicy is not sufficiently sophisticated — that religious explanations of evil are, after all, quite convincing.  I spit on that, too.

169 Comments

  1. Invigilator
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    But it’s so rude to spit!

    • Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps we can [python] fart in their general direction?[/python]

  2. Bryan
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Collins’s daughter has ever commented publicly on whether or not she thinks that her father’s emotional growth (if you can call it that) justifies her suffering? If she could change history, would she? Or would she choose to live the experience all over again, so as not to deny her father the beneficial experience of confronting her ordeal? Does she hope that she will be raped again, so as to provide her father with additional opportunities to “learn the real meaning forgiveness”? Does Collins hope that she will be raped again? If not, why not?

    • Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Precisely. Saying virtually anything to protect one’s blunted psyche and perpetuate anesthetized denial *is* theodicy.

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      It is my opinion that Collins has clearly prostituted his daughter’s tragedy for his own pathetic ends.
      That makes him even more of a nasty piece of work than I had first assumed.

    • Posted December 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      Not only that, Im sure he did not report the crime, and/or forbade his daughter from doing so, as the individual who raped her did no wrong. The rapist was just doing Gods Will to Teach Collins A Lesson(TM).

      Convenient that God raped Collins daughter to teach this lesson, and not Collins himself.

      What a pathetic loser. I hate this guy even more now.

      • Michelle B
        Posted December 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        I admire how Jerry can keep his cool when it is clear from his analysis that Collins is a miserable freak, cowardly and selfish. Spitting at Collins would be a compliment.

        Jerry, thanks for emphasizing Levi’s great literary talent.

  3. Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Several months ago I picked up Collins’s book at the airport, read a few pages and thought, “He’s anthropomorphizing the elements.” I flipped forward toward the end of the book, read a few pages and thought, “He’s anthropomorphizing the elements.”

    The “language” was clear.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Hope you only flipped thru it at the bookstore and didn’t buy it. I’ve looked recently for WEIT at JFK, LaG and Newark, but didn’t find it – a sad commentary.

      At Newark there were two copies of something by Dinesh D’S alongside a comic-book version of Origin. Didn’t have time to figure out whether it was a serious attempt at an illustrated Cliff’s Notes sort of thing or another Ray Comfort scheme.

      • MadScientist
        Posted December 13, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Ah, so it’s not only Australia which is bereft of books worth reading? I’ve always whined about how I’ve imported $600-3000 of books every year since I’ve moved to the other side of the planet. The bookstores in the nation’s capital hardly have any intellectual material and mediocre mythology such as S. Meyers’ unmentionable book are in the “Science” or “Non-Fiction” section. Still no WEIT, but I got my GSOE.

      • Posted December 13, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        Hempenstein, if the comic book version of the Origin you saw is the new Robert Crumb adaptation of Genesis, I’d recommend it thoroughly as it shows the story warts and all and is most certainly not the work of an apologist.

  4. Sili
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I’ve only read The Periodic Table (a gift from my B.Sc. supervisor), but I keep wanting to read more Levi. Interesting to hear that suicide is being discredited – why? However sad, it seemed to make sense.

    Can’t say that anything I’ve heard has made me want to pick up Collins.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Here’s one article on Levi’s death that questions whether it was suicide.

      • NMcC
        Posted December 13, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Levi’s suicide never made sense to me, after all he’d been through. I was astonished, after reading his If This is a Man (the British title of Survival in Auschwitz) when I found out that he was a claimed suicide, though, confessedly, I can’t say exactly WHY I was astonished when I think about it.

        On the wider subject of theodicy, I simply accept that religion is nonsense and that, consequently, its adherents talk nonsense, and that’s all there is to it. The kinds of observations and questions Jerry makes and asks above can be made and asked ad nauseam about any aspect of religious claims. It’s pointless trying to make sense of it. There is none to be made.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 13, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Of course it is pointless to try to make sense of theodicy, but it is NOT pointless to analyze it and point out what disgusting, inhuman, irrational rubbish it is. Bringing this dementia to light may, in the future, stop more people from going down this cancerous pathway to fuzzy, self serving bad thinking.

      • Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Yes, quite. It’s futile trying to make sense of it, but it’s far from futile to point out what appalling things people say and apparently believe just in order to reconcile a benevolent God with the shit that happens.

  5. Tyro
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    (I’m betting that if the Holocaust hadn’t happened, that’s the kind of thing they’d adduce as evidence against God.)

    Possibly, which just makes me wonder why, prior to 1939, theologians didn’t conclude that God didn’t exist. If no one thought it was strange that there wasn’t a Holocaust before then, surely we wouldn’t notice its lack today.

    I was thinking about the question of tsunamis and for a moment I had a vision of a new field of Statistical Theology which attempts to quantify the number of tragedies which we should expect to occur and then analyses the number which actually did occur. Perhaps we could discover the rates at which miracles occur over time even if we can’t identify specific miracles. Is God more active now than 200 years ago?

    Productive research for a young theologian!

    • articulett
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      You can count tragedies against believers of various flavors and atheists to see who god seems to prefer, I suppose.

      But I guess it would be hard to interpret the results. For example, in Collins’ case, would you expect more rapes or less rapes in the children of evangelical Christians than in the general population. If it’s more, then god is giving “lessons” via “trials”… and if it’s less, then god is showing favoritism based on a mental quality that humans seem to have little control over (what they believe).

      • Ben
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        > But I guess it would be hard to interpret the results. For example, in Collins’ case, would you expect more rapes or less rapes in the children of evangelical Christians than in the general population.

        Well, of course I would expect to see whatever is happening, so it is consistent with my beliefs.

  6. Posted December 13, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    In my case, I can see, albeit dimly, that my daughter’s rape was a challenge for me to try to learn the real meaning of forgiveness in a terribly wrenching circumstance.

    Wow. Even his daughter’s rape is all about him.

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, talk about ego. I know some people like that and it’s hard to resist the temptation to give them a good whipping.

    • Todd
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      While I haven’t read his writings, and maybe he is as egoistic and brutish as many people on here claim, the fairly standard response given here simply assumes the worst reading that one can give.

      In fact, sometimes horrible tragedies occur to us or those who we love and these awful events force us reevaluate things we take for granted and truths habits that have become second nature. Admitting that these sorts of events force us to reevaluate such things in a serious way does not have to be seen as a reducing the tragedy to being all about him. It simply demonstrates how interconnected we are with each other and our surroundings, such that what affects those we love will have a demonstrable affect on ourselves. I might go so far as to argue that if the rape of his daughter did not personally affect him in such an intense way, there might be something wrong with him. Not the other way around.

    • Todd
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      In regard to the author’s statement “What Collins is implying is that the Holocaust was necessary so that Nazis could use their free will. Can there be anything more monstrous than this — or any explanation more ludicrous?”

      Based on your quoting of Collins, I think you have actually reversed his point. He is not saying that the holocaust was necessary to that the Nazis could use their free will but rather that to explain evil, free will is necessary and so therefore the Holocaust became a possibility. The evil that humans do to others are not necessary byproducts of their free will but merely possible byproducts.

      Your reading of him, when you claim he argues that the “holocaust was necessary” seems to undermine free will by asserting historical determinism

  7. Occam
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Jerry.
    Thank you for bringing up Primo Levi.
    It was his death that finally jolted my father into opening up about his experience in the concentration camps, forty-three years after he had escaped.

    The experience of the concentration camps and the pogroms weaned him from the thin thread of religiosity, familial piety and “going through the motions” more than anything else, that he otherwise might have carried on. As he told me, “When I paid the ransom to get the corpse of my grandfather off the meathook, that was the moment when it struck me: how obscene, how abhorrent, the idea of any god allowing this to happen. Any god overseeing pogroms and lagers is inconceivable — unless divine nature were pure dreck.”
    (As an aside to those who blame Nazi crimes on atheism, those fascist kooks who butchered my great-grandfather were Christians, Orthodox fanatics, styling themselves the “Legion of the Archangel Michael”.)

    After escaping from the concentration camp in 1944, my father was caught, luckily under a false military identity, and condemned to dig out unexploded bombs. Out of a squadron of 82 men, less than a dozen survived. (I met three of the survivors: none of them felt able to harbor any religious sentiment for the divine mercy of being spared…)
    He fled again, was caught again, sentenced to death, and made good a final escape when the military prison where he was held received a direct hit from an American bomb, on the eve of his scheduled execution.
    Many soldiers, guards, and inmates died from the blast. My father survived. He thought it an unspeakably foul insult to the dead, friend or foe alike, to even consider that they may have died so that he might be spared, thus ordained by some divine psychopath.

    • Bryan
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Holy sh*t, man. Has anyone bought the movie rights yet?

    • Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Jeezis.

    • JD
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for sharing your families story.

    • Wes
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      That’s an incredible (and heart wrenching) story. I hope the experience of opening up about it has at least given your father some catharsis.

    • Kyle
      Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      “Legion of the Archangel Michael”…Romanian? Romanian Fascism was very Christian-centred. Funny how none of the Christians ever bring them up huh.

      • Occam
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Clever of you to recognize it. And it never quite ceased, and it’s raising its ugly mug again.

  8. Posted December 13, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Your entry reminded me of a film in which a bunch of Jews in a concentration camp put God on trial: http://berto-meister.blogspot.com/2008/11/god-on-trial.html

  9. Posted December 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    The principle of growth through suffering is, in fact, nearly universal in the world’s great faiths.

    I can see how one might use this as a way of making the best out of a bad situation.

    However, the idea that God would create suffering with the explicit intent of letting people grow is abhorrent. Is living a shallow life really so horrible in God’s eyes that people should be punished for it? Or worse, that their loved ones should be punished for it?

    And if that is all part of why God is good, doesn’t that mean that we should follow his example? Shouldn’t we make people with shallow lives suffer through horrible tragedies, just so that they may grow from the experience? Or hurt their loved ones for that purpose? If not, why does God get to do this, and still be regarded good, while if a human did this, they’d be called a monster?

    Sometimes I wonder if people really think through these rationalizations. It makes God sound like a loan shark who will hurt your children, just to teach you the virtue of paying your debts on time.

    • Michelle B
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      They don’t think, they have faith. Faith is applied as a fuzzy film on reality so they don’t have to grow up and develop real coping skills. They are lazy, simplistic, stuck on themselves, and revoltingly lacking in courage. They don’t care about what is good or what is truly ethical. All they want is to feel good at the cost of everything that is noble about humanity.

      • T
        Posted December 14, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        How do you know what is truly ethical. Are you God?

      • Michelle B
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Yup, I am god. Come and worship me.

        Religiots think morality came from an unproven, uncaused deity. If you can fall for that merde, why not fall for that I am god? Same insane inanity.

        Religots are cowards who are unable to embrace their own humanity and recognize that ethics stem from our empathy, our relating to each other, and from learning from our mistakes.

        I spit on your imagined cause of ‘true and absolute’ morality.

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        @T:

        How do you know what is truly ethical.

        While often it is hard to figure out what the most ethical thing to do is, it’s often quite easy to figure out what is unethical. Closing your eyes to suffering of others and closing your eyes to reality are two of them.

  10. Tacroy
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I just don’t understand the “free will, therefore evil” argument. My will is necessarily constrained by reality; no matter how much I will it, I can’t fly around this room. If God cares about evil, I should be just as capable of killing an innocent puppy as I am of doing unaided aerial acrobatics.

    What we should take away from this is that, based on how the universe is designed, God really, really cares about how fast you go, but not so much who you kill.

    • Posted December 13, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      I’ll have to remember that one 🙂

    • homostoicus
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Tacroy, if you haven’t already, you would probably enjoy reading Dennett’s Freedom Evolves.

      Also, my inability to fly is exactly the same example I use when arguing about whether evil is a necessary consequence of free will. Interesting.

  11. homostoicus
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Nice analysis, but I’m always a little disappointed when I read arguments using speculations about how God might really be expected to behave… arguments that use phrases like “if I were God,” or “if God really is a loving God, wouldn’t God do such and so.” We can see from a Collins-style of rationalization that where God is concerned we can make up anything we want. Maybe it’s a reasonable philosophical exercise, but I’ve never seen anything meaningful result.

  12. Terry
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I can’t remember the exact words or the article, but somewhere Steven Weinberg asks Christian apologists whether they think it unfair that some of his relatives had to die in the gas chambers so that they could practice free will. In my experience when you put this to sincere ordinary believers, they are discomforted and can’t find a justification.

  13. Gingerbaker
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    “Frequent miraculous interventions would be at least as chaotic in the physical realm as they would be in interfering with human acts of free will.”

    – Francis Collins

    And this same Collins shamelessly argues that God has fine-tuned the Universe, manufacturing, out of complete chaos, a Perfect Order of every molecule and every physical law in order to produce Mankind.

    His God can shuffle galaxies at ease but is powerless to prevent cancer in children. And he worships this sh**head because he can make a frozen waterfall pretty.

    • articulett
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      He froze it in 3 strands as a special and personal “sign” that Christianity is true and delivered this sacred sign to the “humble” Collins himself. (Surely such signs take god’s time from the excision of cancerous cells in children.)

  14. Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but the holocaust (and WWII, and the mass murders by Pol Pot) is entirely consistent with the deity of the Bible; that deity killed people by the truckload (e. g. the entire book of Joshua).

  15. Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again?

    Exactly. The trouble with Kuhn’s approach is that it is complicit with every horror that comes along. It justifies everything – which just means accepting evil as (always, necessarily, no exceptions) good. We shouldn’t be doing that.

    To put it more locally and specifically, Kuhn is a moral idiot for thanking God for his rescue when other people were not rescued.

    • Chayanov
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Don’t we see that all the time? A survivor of some tragedy “thanks God” for being spared, ignoring all those who perished. Then it’s “God’s will” or “God works in mysterious ways”.

      • Posted December 13, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        We do indeed. I saw a documentary on the Bombay massacre on CNN last night. At one point three top police inspectors and several other police officers drove down an alley in an attempt to block the exit of two (or four?) gunmen who’d been shooting up a hospital. The gunmen shot up the car, killed the three top guys in front, and some of the others in the back. A survivor said one cop was killed and fell on top of him, and he was wounded but not killed. ‘God worked his magic,’ he said.

        Sigh.

      • Chayanov
        Posted December 13, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        How nice. “God killed one of my colleagues to spare my life.” Suddenly I understand the appeal of Calvinism. You just have to be completely self-absorbed and utterly lacking in compassion and empathy for others. Thus Kuhn can be glad he didn’t die that day (screw Beppo), and Collins can use his daughter’s rape as a lesson for him from God. After all, he’s not the one who was raped — he’s God’s special pet who gets to see frozen waterfalls.

  16. Chayanov
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Apologists go on about how much comfort people get from religion and belief in God. I would guess that after the Holocaust, it would be much more comforting to not believe in God because the alternative — God wanted the Holocaust to happen or just let it happen — would be nightmarish.

  17. MadScientist
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the “Free Will” argument – that’s so 400AD. I think it was Augustine of Hippo who essentially claimed that humans were responsible for evil because they abuse their free will and that has been the case since “the fall”, the advent of “original sin”. I don’t see anything special at all about Calvin; he was simply aping Augustine ~1200 years later and, like Augustine, he had any number of excuses to murder people for his god.

  18. Stephen
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    The free will excuse.
    Isn’t it remarkable that only the perpetrators seem to be allowed free will, never the victims. If they did have it, I bet they would all choose not to be victims.

  19. Tyro
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    If Collins is right and God really is allowing rapes, tsunamis, droughts and other human and natural evils in order to make us better, what can we inter from the distribution of these problems?

    First, God is a misogynist as rapes are overwhelmingly directed at women. God is also a racist as droughts and famines are most prevalent in Africa and other developing countries where white Europeans largely escape.

    Going further, murder and rapes are also much higher in Africa than in the West, so do Africans have more to learn?

    And if we assume that natural disasters really are necessary, does that mean that their damage is necessary as well? Millions of children die from starvation every year. What happened if 100 of those were to live, would the world be chaos? What about 10,000? I’d bet a million children that currently starve to death every year could live and far from creating chaos, the world would be a better place. So how many children die needlessly? And if God really is killing (or letting die) the minimum necessary then what should we make of UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders – are these going against God’s plan?

    At some point, apologists just throw up their hands and say they don’t know God’s plan. They don’t retract any of their claims that the disasters are necessary of course, nor do they retract claims that the world would be chaos if our daughters weren’t raped – that’s incontrovertible and obvious.

    Disgusting.

    • Posted December 13, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      At some point, apologists just throw up their hands and say they don’t know God’s plan.

      Yet they claim to be following it nonetheless.

      • Tulse
        Posted December 13, 2009 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

        More to the point, they claim that their god is somehow good while at the same time saying they don’t understand him. My question is how do they know he is good, if they don’t know why he does the things he does? Why isn’t it possible that their god is actually a lying, tricking psychopath? Why does the ability to create the universe make one moral?

  20. Jason
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Great article and some thoughtful comments. I just realized…40 comments in and not ONE concern troll defending Collins. New record?

    • articulett
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking the same thing.

      It’s nice not to have an intelligent discussion marred by a self-important faitheist. There was so much interesting commentary here.

      • Posted December 14, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        On the other hand, since we hear so much about the ‘sophisticated’ theology that we naughtily ignore, it would be really interesting to see a ‘sophisticated’ defense of what Collins says.

    • Bryan
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      I think this may be because of the emotional power of the argument. Although there are many arguments to be made, on both sides, regarding “traditional” theism, the problem of evil packs an emotional punch that takes the argument to theists on their own turf. It’s not only logically valid, it’s emotionally devastating. Theists never have a logically convincing response to atheist arguments – in this case, they can’t even muster an emotionally adequate response.

  21. Bob Carlson
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    There are folks like Einstein that argued that free will is illusory, and there are books devoted to that thesis, but most people, possibly including Francis Collins, are unaware of them and do not wish to be aware of them.

  22. Divalent
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    The big escape clause is that theists can (and do) claim that this life is unimportant, and that anyone suffering in this life will be amply rewarded in the next. And HEY! there’s NO evidence that that is *not* true.

    As long as that argument can be made, the problem of evil will not be too much of a problem for the religious. And I see no reason why, if this argument works now, that it will cease to work in the future.

    • Posted December 13, 2009 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      The big escape clause is that theists can (and do) claim that this life is unimportant, and that anyone suffering in this life will be amply rewarded in the next

      Only if they get “saved” and then only if they do so in the Right Way. Those that suffer and die with the wrong faith suffered for nothing.

    • articulett
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Yep, people aren’t really dying– they are going to an everlasting party in the sky…

      If Christians really believed this, you’d think they’d stop wearing seat-belts, take up sky-diving, and show glee at the funerals of loved ones.

    • Occam
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      The argument is self-defeating because, carried to its own conclusion, it takes the bottom out of any behaviour we humans would regard as moral.

      If suffering were rewarded in the hereafter, the perpetrators must be god’s agents.
      The more suffering they’d cause, the more they’d further god’s design.
      Clearly this goes against the grain of any sustainable human society, and against the grain of the thin veneer of common morality ostentatiously brandished by major religions.
      A disturbing line of thought, hence one which most theologians and religious teachers carefully, and profitably, avoid being consistent about.

      One writer cut through, though, and with characteristic brevity: Jorge Luis Borges.
      Read the few short pages of his Deutsches Requiem and Three Versions of Judas. As Douglas Adams wrote about another of Borges’ pieces, “It’s only six pages long, and you’ll be wanting to drop me a postcard to thank me for pointing it out to you.”
      (Plus, it will spare you the tedium of plodding through Jonathan Littell’s “The Kindly Ones”. There. I’ve given my due to Christian charity, I’ve performed my mitzvah.)

    • Tulse
      Posted December 13, 2009 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

      anyone suffering in this life will be amply rewarded in the next

      But that’s simply not true by most Christian theology — only believers get rewarded, and all believers get the same reward, regardless of their level of suffering.

      The most abjectly poor person who suffers from horrific diseases until they are tortured to death by a psychopath will still burn in hell if they reject god. Suffering adds nothing to their outcome.

      And even if that person accepts god, the reward they get, of eternal bliss in heaven, is exactly the same one that a fabulously wealthy and healthy and happy person gets when they die.

      I suppose that one could argue that temporal suffering is literally infinitesimal compared to an eternity in heaven, and so mathematically is as close to irrelevant as one can get. But that argument only serves to highlight how massively injust such as system is, if the decision of whether one will endure eternal torment or experience eternal bliss is decided on behaviour during an infinitesimally short amount of time.

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 3:36 am | Permalink

      I always saw that notion of “eschatological justice” as just another tool of oppression: don’t fight, let god sort out all those evil people in the afterlife – in the meantime, donate more to the church or I’ll have you whipped or else burned as a witch. Sensible people will not be content to suffer needlessly.

  23. CTC
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Holy Goats on Fire.

    If I were Collins’ daughter, I’d be holding auditions for a new parent.

    What’s the tone of the rest of the book like? Does he concern himself largely with theodicy, or does he play up the God of the Gaps just as much, because it would seem (to someone who hasn’t read it) that books where ‘scientists find God’ invite people to be satisfied with non-answers, which rather goes against the whole point of being a scientist in the first place.

  24. sincerity77
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Antony Sher did a one-man show, “Primo” based on Levi’s experiences in Auschwitz, which included the passage quoted in this post. It is available on DVD and it is very intense and moving.

    Here is it’s page on IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1006938/

  25. Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    This is my absolute favorite part from Collins’ book.

    As much as we would like to avoid those experiences, without them would we not be shallow, self-centered creatures who would ultimately lose all sense of nobility or striving for the betterment of others?

    Doesn’t Christianity (and indeed most religions) describe Heaven as a place without suffering, without evil, without a need for these apologetics? Isn’t it the premise of Christianity that we’re all simply building up to this grand Place where we can be done with all these torments and dramatics and experiences which are particular to humanity?

    • Posted December 15, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes, free will clearly must not exist in Heaven. Clearly, then, a state without free will is superior to a state with free will.

      • Chris
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        It doesn’t exist on earth either

  26. Posted December 13, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Collins is one of those who worships a god that is morally monstrous. And you have to worry about Collins himself, given that he can’t see this. The same applies to a lot of other theodicists.

  27. Drosera
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    So, God let his daughter be raped to make Francis Collins a better person? What’s in it for his daughter then?

    It’s absolutely incredible to me that a sane person could come up with such an argument. It’s despicable.

  28. Posted December 14, 2009 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    If I was Collins’ daughter I would spit on it, too. How dare he take HER indescribably awful experience and make it about his faith in an invisible intangible God who let it happen?

  29. Eric MacDonald
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    As Jerry says, Collins’ theodicy is open to criticism. I believe that it should be criticised for its plain lack of moral awarenes. It’s way past time to tell people like Collins that their arguments why God allows evil are in themselves morally evil, and that that reflects badly on them as moral persons as well.

    I recall D.Z. Phillips warning that theodicy should be undertaken “in fear: fear that in our philosphizings we will betray the evils that people have suffered, and, in that way, sin against them again.”

    I think that Collins sins against his daughter, and against all women who are raped and tortured, as well as others who suffer from natural disasters. Just because he can turn it into a source of spiritual renewal for himself — not that that has done him any good (he’s still working on it) — is not enough to resolve the problem of evil. In fact it exacerbates it, for it explains it all away.

    That’s why God should spit on Kuhn’s prayer, because it does not account for the young man who knows that he has been selected to die. It’s simply an expression of a nasty, cribbed, insensitive egoism. And Collins is not above criticism on this score himself. Indeed, I find Collins’ theodicy morally odious, and his religion shallow and self-serving. He may have a right to interpret his suffering in any way that comports with his faith, but he shouldn’t expect any rewards for his shallowness and inhumanity. Nor should we forbear telling him that his silly ideas just make suffering worse for others.

    I have been slogging through books on theodicy; right now I am reading Marilyn McCord Adams’ Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.So far it is uncompelling. In the end she invokes Jesus and how, in him, God empties himself and suffers like one of us. I still have to get there, and I am dreading wading through arguments which, to my mind, make God look much worse. I still wonder what she gets out of justifying horrors which lead some justly condemning the day that they were born. Job certainly did, and Ecclesiastes thought of himself of little more signficance than a flower. But both of them achieved a dignity, as Levi did, which is so much more profound and dignified in the presence of evil than the petty logic chopping of Collins ever will.

    Religion, as Levi shows, trivialises our sufferings. That is probably why people like the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury continue, on no grounds whatever, to disapprove of the pratice of assisted dying. Since the most horrendous evils can be parts of God’s plan, intolerable suffering at the end of life is a mere irrelevance? I spit on this man and his theodicy.

    So far as I can tell, it would be deeply wrong of Collins to forgive his daughter’s rapist. Only she can do that. And until she does that, her father has no right to forgiveness. I don’t know what her views are, because we were not told. Telling this story is just another way theodicists have of trying to tell us that they really do believe, and accept the unacceptable consequences of their beliefs. No doubt he thinks it gives him street cred. To my mind, it just increases the monstrosity of his belief. He should be told this.

    • Michelle B
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Religion, as Levi shows, trivialises our sufferings.
      _______

      What does it not trivialize? It trivialize all emotions, life, all the really important questions, the ability to learn from mistakes, and on and on and on.

      Simply brilliant comment, Eric.

  30. Seminatrix
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    So, I’m starting to realize that Jerry’s approach to arguing about religion follows the thought map below:

    1.) Build a flimsy, wooden stickman of what you feel god would be if it existed. (i.e. if a god existed, there wouldn’t possibly be evil; if god existed, people wouldn’t be raped; etc.)

    2.) Pretend that this small list of qualifying statements adequately and comprehensively characterizes every religious belief system on Earth.

    3.) Because evil exists, people get raped, etc., loudly proclaim that there is no god. This is most laughable because you have purposely built your list of qualifying statements in #1 so as to fit a preconceived notion of reality.

    4.) If anyone presents an argument that does not fit into your flimsy god made of balsa wood in #1, declare them an apologist by default.

    How I love armchair philosophy! You’re taking it one step further, though. You’ve become the fat, lazy armchair philosopher stuffing himself with Cheetos.

    (For the record, I think Collins is being a fool, too. But Jerry’s beginning to sound an awful lot like a Christian, what with his pigeonholing of what god could/could not do if it existed. I’m starting to think that if he were a believer, Jerry would be a fundie. Maybe he was once….)

    • Posted December 14, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      We anxiously await your superior statement of and solution to the Problem of Evil.

    • Divalent
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Seminatrix: “1.) Build a flimsy, wooden stickman of what you feel god would be if it existed. (i.e. if a god existed, there wouldn’t possibly be evil; if god existed, people wouldn’t be raped; etc.)”

      “1.) Take what the majority of religious believers claim their god is like.”

      There. Fixed it for ‘ya! (no charge!)

    • Posted December 14, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      This will not be the first time I linked to this blog post in the comments of WEIT.

      In a nutshell: If you want to come up with some clever definition of the word “God” that happens to define something that actually exists, hey, knock yourself out, buddy. But that doesn’t undermine the atheist position at all. It’s a semantic bait-and-switch, not an argument in favor of what-most-people-mean-when-they-say-God.

    • Michelle B
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Hey, Seminatrix, a little advice, next time you draw up a road map, lay off the booze and appoint an designated road map maker.

    • Wes
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      How I love armchair philosophy! …

      … I’m starting to think that if he were a believer, Jerry would be a fundie. Maybe he was once….)

      Nothing epitomizes armchair philosophy more than this hackneyed “atheists are the real fundamentalists” bullshit that people keep throwing around.

    • Drosera
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Are there any religions that worship a god who doesn’t care what people do? Of course not. There would be no point in worshipping such a deity. Religions that posit the existence of a god therefore can’t refrain from inventing attributes of their god. To begin with, ‘he’ is omnipotent, all-knowing, eternal, and infallible. But that’s not enough. All gods are like that.

      To be a suitable subject for worship, he should above all care about you. Right? But if he cares about you, and is also omnipotent, all-knowing and infallible, then he is responsible for whatever happens to you. Your free will does not excuse him, because the fact that you contract a horrible disease, die in a fire, or get tortured in a prison cell, is obviously not something you choose. Therefore the presence of evil in this world at least rules out the existence of the type of god that inspires most people to be religious. If god exists then either he doesn’t care about you, or he is impotent, or he is such a horrible monster that you might as well call him the devil.

      Now, you might say that the afterlife compensates for everything. But if that is the case, then why should there be a life before the afterlife in the first place?

      Is it a kind of test?

      God lets your daughter get raped to check if you, her father, still continues to believe. If not, then you fail the test. If you pass the test, then god will try again by inflicting cancer on you. Is it like that? But then we are again faced with the inevitable conclusion that god is a monster.

      In short, belief in a benevolent deity is silly. Fortunately, there is no evidence that any kind of god exists, otherwise you should be afraid, very afraid.

  31. Posted December 14, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    In my case, I can see…that my daughter’s rape was a challenge for me

    Did he really write that??? Holy shit. I feel physically ill. “God had my daughter raped so I could learn a lesson from it.” That’s fucking sick. That’s the most disgusting self-centered thing I’ve heard in a long time.

    • Posted December 14, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Well if you want a companion piece seek out Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s statement that he was glad his mortally ill father did not have the option of early exit, because his death struggles gave Jonathan Sacks the opportunity to care for him. He mentioned his father’s wishes only to dismiss them in favor of his own. It’s dumbfounding.

    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      But, of course, religion is all about me. Who else could it be about? That’s one thing that Carl Sagan never tired of pointing out.

      • Occam
        Posted December 14, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Again, a most perceptive comment, Eric.
        And what else is all about me?
        At what stage in life is everything about me?
        Of course: childhood, especially infancy.
        A nicely stomach-tumbling demonstration of the infantile and infantilising character of religions (at least of those religions where Big Daddy in caelis is running the show; Good Mother optional).

  32. Michelle B
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Collins’ shallowness obviously is being increased by his faith and certainly not decreased as he hopes.

    For me, Collins has totally jumped the shark. His book has been out for some time, but it seems many atheist bloggers have not read it or they would have been on this disgraceful revelation regarding Collins’ attitude toward his daughter’s rape.

    And I am hoping that their silence will end soon regarding this aspect of Collins’ horrendous faith.

    • Posted December 14, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t read it, for one. I guess I’d better do that little thing.

    • Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Admittedly, quotes like these don’t exactly tempt me to reallocate some of my limited budget for books towards Collins.

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Blimey, I’m not going to buy it! Library.

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        @Ophelia: Point. But they don’t tempt me much to reallocate my limited time either.

  33. Posted December 14, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone fluent in Italian check the original and verify which of the translations is more accurate:

    1. (English) If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.
    2. (Polish) If I was God, I would spit out Kuhn’s prayer on Earth.

    • Occam
      Posted December 14, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      The Italian original:
      Se io fossi Dio, sputerei a terra la preghiera di Kuhn.

      The English translation quoted by Jerry is, I believe, by Stuart Woolf (I don’t have it at my fingertips right now).

      A more precise translation would be:
      “If I were God, I would spit out Kuhn’s prayer on the ground.”

      The French translation: “Si j’étais Dieu, je cracherais la prière de Kuhn.”
      Again, spit out rather than spit at.

      Levi’s language is harsh, deliberately inspired by the Old Testament.
      If I were to translate it, I’d go whole hog:
      If I were God, I would vomit Kuhn’s prayer.

      • Eric MacDonald
        Posted December 14, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Oh, marvellous! Much better than the English version. Very harsh indeed. And so it should be. We should be just as harsh about Collins’ vomitous and very offensive story about his daughter’s rape. It is supposed to disarm us, as most religious language is intended to do. Don’t fall for it. Vomit back.

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        OK, I’m not “fluent” in Italian, but I’d go with the conditional as Occam does: “If I were God, I would spit out Kuhn’s prayer to [the] ground.”

        Prepositions don’t always translate exactly, so using “on” the ground instead of “to” is probably better, as Occam does.

        “Do zmiei” in Polish, I would guess.

  34. aratina cage
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    It should be called “theidiocy”. What I take from theists is that a loving “parent” (god) would plop baby (humankind) down next to a raging bonfire on a beach during an incoming tide, hike up the bluff face leaving baby alone, and then watch baby travail from on high, offering only to whisper into the wind as a form of support.

  35. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    It is really hard to fathom how a man can write down what Collins wrote about the suffering of his daughter. Think of it: he types up the manuscript, he looks back over what he’s written, to see if he’s said it just the way he wants it to read. He sends it to the publisher. He gets the galley proof and checks it again. After all that, he leaves it that way – what a cold son of a bitch! I was reminded of Peter Atkins exclamation (described in the “God Delusion”) when Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne tried to explain the Holocaust as a God’s way of giving Jews the opportunity for spiritual growth, Atkins muttered, “May you rot in hell”.

  36. Posted December 14, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Ok, I’ll take a shot at this one:

    1. Professor Coyne is arguing about evil in “this world”; Christians believe in eternal life.

    That is: imagine living 100 earth years with, say, the pain of treatment for severe burns each and every day. That sounds horrific to humans. But that is nothing compared to the billions and billions of years of eternal bliss that is beyond the imagination of humans.

    Ergo: suffering in this life is really no big deal if we think in “eternal terms”.

    2. God as the justice giver: in the atheist model, what happens to Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Ghengis Kahn (sp) when they die? Answer: nothing; they physically rot just like the rest of us, period.

    If we have a God, our God is going to get ’em! Think of all of the unfairness that will be settled in the life to come!

    Anyway, I think that it works something like that.

    • articulett
      Posted December 15, 2009 at 12:58 am | Permalink

      So it was good that Andrea Yates killed her kids before they could reach an age when they were eligible for hell, right? She just started their “happily ever after” a little early–at her own expense.

      And why weren’t the passengers on the planes on 9-11 eager to meet their maker like the hijackers? All recordings of events on those planes show people very eager for their god to help land the plane safely. He didn’t.

      And why are believers more likely to ask for artificial life extending procedures than non believers? http://www.emaxhealth.com/1020/9/29924/religious-cancer-patients-tend-seek-life-prolonging-care.html Aren’t they eager to begin their “happily ever after”?

      The idea that life is a test for ETERNITY never made sense to me. Besides an omniscient god would know where everyone is going to end up anyhow, right? Why go through the process?

      Just because an idea is comforting doesn’t make it true. Let’s face it, heaven and hell are very childish concepts.

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        I am not arguing with your points. 🙂

    • Posted December 15, 2009 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      Yeah, when I was a Christian, this idea of “justice in the hereafter” was very attractive to me. Eventually I realised that like most religious doctrines it is supported by no evidence whatsoever and is just wishful thinking.

      Also, I eventually realised that the doctrine of hell as everlasting punishment (its most common form) is anything but “just” — it’s monstrous. Even the average moral person can come up with better solutions than that.

    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted December 15, 2009 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      Actually, it was only quite late that eternal life entered the picture. The Jewish scriptures, for instance, do not mention eternal life, unless a cryptic passage in Daniel qualifies.

      Another point is that eternal life cannot really make up for the sufferings endured in this one. It may provides some sort of retributive justice for those who caused harm; but nothing can really repay those who have suffered grievously in this life.

      And then there is a further consideration. If a god couldn’t create this life so that there was no excess of suffering, as there seems to be, why should anyone think that the world to come will be any better? There is no reason. In his little book about his grief at his wife’s death, CS Lewis, when told by believers that he should take courage; after all, his wife is now with god, whom we can rely on to treat her with love and compassion. Lewis answer was basically this: She was in god’s hands here, and I saw what happened to her here. Why should we have any confidence that things will be better hereafter?

      Lewis, contradictorily, leaps past this reservation before the end of the book, but, arguably, it is a decisive argument against the existence of a loving god.

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        The Greek Jewish scriptures (The Septuigant (sp) has the Book of Macabees; in the second book, Jewish soldiers pray for the souls of the soldiers who were killed in battle but were later found to be wearing illegal idols.

    • Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      So you’re saying, God can cause suffering, as long as he gives a good enough reward for it in return? If God is the example of morality to live by, how should humans put this example into practice? Can humans torture people, as long as they make them millionaires afterward, so they can live a life of luxury from then on? Of course not! So why should God, who is supposedly more moral than anyone, get to do that?

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        The best response to that I’ve seen is from the book “Growing up Catholic”: God is God and we have to like Him anyway.

        (many enlightened Christians know how ridiculous their official doctrines are and merely blow them off in private)

  37. munty13
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading your post.

    Imagine that God is everything. Everything! The very fabric of the Universe itself.

    Imagine that God is in every single atom, and that it is God which is making each and every single one of them spin.

    I don’t think the Universe enjoys seeing humans suffer. But I think suffering has been an important factor in human spiritual growth – not that I would ever wish it upon anyone!

    If you actually analyse human suffering, it tends to stem from a place of fear. It arises from the need to protect the self.

    I think what the Nazi’s did was not some act of God – but an act of human nature! We blame God, but sometimes fail to see that the holocaust was administrated, and performed by mankind.

    The Sun shines on Saint and Sinner alike. It is not simply the Jews which are the children of God, but every single one of us. Each and every one of us is loved equally, regardless of who we are, or what we have done.

    God’s love encompasses the Nazi and the Jew alike – which I think is a pretty difficult concept for for most people to get their head around.

    I think evolution is taking place. I think the human race is evolving. I think this evolution is taking place in this awful way so that man’s free will remains intact.

    The only condolence I can offer myself when I suffer, or when I see others suffer is that I know that any alternative would have been worse; that everything that happens is for the greater good.

    And that, I guess, defines the act of faith – to let go of the need to control, to let go of the fear and to learn how to trust in the Universe.

    • Occam
      Posted December 15, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Two lines of thought in your post.
      A very short one, God as the “fabric of the Universe itself”. In other words, Einstein’s God, strictly a metaphore. Why we should apply the same name to hammer-swinging Thor, to Aton, to the biblical Lort of Hosts, and to Gravitation, Electromagnetism, Weak and Strong Interaction, is begging the question. Einstein at least was perfectly clear about picking up a traditional notion and using it in a sharply defined sense as a universal metaphore. When you’re still dealing with folks believing in a Celestial Watchmaker, and you suddenly find out that the watchmaker is the watch, that’s a legitimate tactic. No quarrel with that.

      The second, much longer line of thought is the conventional God endowed with love, compassion, etc., hence feelings, hence a psyche we can relate too, hence a personal entity. Sorry, but Occam’s Razor applies here. The much simpler hypothesis is that of projection: “My Friend Harvey”, only Universe-sized.
      We’re just beginning to cure our collective hangover from that one.

      Then there is one paragraph which, if anything that was aired here got through to you, you should never have written:
      “The only condolence I can offer myself when I suffer, or when I see others suffer is that I know that any alternative would have been worse; that everything that happens is for the greater good.”
      If this sort of placebo helps you, fine, just please, please, don’t ever think of repeating such drivel, no matter how well-intentioned, in the face of anyone who is suffering, or who knows what suffering means.

      • Michelle B
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        Religious beliefs are all about self-medication. Not satisfied with unintended reality? Then make up stuff as you go along, in the face of the lack of evidence, that every atom is vibrating with godness. So what. Each atom is a god particle. That and whatever the current price is for a cup of coffee, will get you a cup of coffee.

        God loves both the Nazis and the Jews? Why would that make anyone feel better about their crazy, insane god? Why are they so desperate for love? Just a bunch of love junkies. They will do anything for this idealized concept of love, this magical potion of god juice.

      • Posted December 15, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        “God’s love encompasses the Nazi and the Jew alike – which I think is a pretty difficult concept for for most people to get their head around.”

        It’s not so much that this “love” is hard to get one’s head around. It’s that this “love” is indistinguishable from “indifference” to suffering and extreme wrongdoing.

        This “love” is either absent or imaginary.

      • munty13
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        “…strictly a metaphore”

        I don’t think understanding God is the Universe itself is a metaphore. God is believed to be the three O’s – omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. The only way god can ever fulfil this criteria is by being the Universe itself.

        “If this sort of placebo helps you, fine, just please, please, don’t ever think of repeating such drivel, no matter how well-intentioned, in the face of anyone who is suffering, or who knows what suffering means.”

        I think that every human being understands the meaning of suffering, because we are ALL suffering.

        I would never offer this condolence to someone who hit their thumb with a hammer, least of all someone at a funeral. That would be insensitive of me. But I might offer it to someone who was looking for some understanding about human suffering.

      • Occam
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        munty13: Sorry to be nit-picking, but this is exactly the sort of fuzzy phraseology that religious wordcraft leads you to. “God is believed to be the three O’s – omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. The only way god can ever fulfil this criteria is by being the Universe itself.
        Not so. An omnipresent, omniscient Universe would infinitely preserve complete information about all past and future states of all its particles, at macroscopic and quantum levels. Let’s ignore for a moment all the physical laws such an assumption would be breaking. All this information would have to be represented at some meta-level of some meta-Universe, at the cost of meta-entropy. And so on ad infinitum.
        This God-Universe would have to be bigger than it is, contain more than it contains, be more than it is.
        Nice metaphore, theology-wise. Bad logic. Worse physics. Zero explanatory power.
        Turtles all the way down.

    • gillt
      Posted December 15, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Munty13: “If you actually analyse human suffering, it tends to stem from a place of fear. It arises from the need to protect the self.”

      Analyze? Besides yourself, who has “analyzed” human suffering and arrived at this wacky conclusion? Making such a general and unqualified statement is completely unreasonable, and by that I mean you haven’t analyzed it at all.

    • Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      If you actually analyse human suffering, it tends to stem from a place of fear.

      I guess God wasn’t capable of producing humans who weren’t so fearful then.

      • munty13
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        But what is fear? It’s a natural response to a percieved threat. Perhaps it’s possible to redefine our perception of what it is that we are afraid of.

        Are we afraid of what it is that threatens us, OR simply afraid of the sensation of fear?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        munty13, you have degenerated the discussion with nonsense.

    • munty13
      Posted December 15, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      “An omnipresent, omniscient Universe would infinitely preserve complete information about all past and future states of all its particles, at macroscopic and quantum levels.”

      The only thing that is real is this moment. God does not have to hold information on the past or future, but only the present. What emerges thus, is an unfathomable intelligence that is present in every single particle of the Universe.

      This would also mean that every single particle was AWARE of its exact position in the Universe.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 15, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        More nonsense.

    • munty13
      Posted December 15, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      “An omnipresent, omniscient Universe would infinitely preserve complete information about all past and future states of all its particles, at macroscopic and quantum levels.”

      The only thing that is real is this moment. God does not have to hold information on the past or future, but only the present. What emerges thus, is an unfathomable intelligence that is present in every single particle of the Universe.

      This would also mean that every single particle was AWARE of its exact position in the Universe.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 19, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        That is no out. The metauniverse becomes stacked in one point, but contain no less information, since you have to know “previous” states (now only labeled so) to come to new states.

      • munty13
        Posted December 19, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        But there really is no such thing as “previous state”. There is only this moment, and then this moment.

        The “previous” state you mention is illusory.

  38. Barbara B.
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    The free will argument also breaks down when you consider other than human sentient beings capable of suffering, namely non-human animals. They suffer similarly to humans from diseases, hunger, thirst, predation. Do they have a free will too? Are they also being thought a lesson? If so, what for? And why weren’t they given a rational enough brain to comprehend this lesson? There is no mention in the Bible of any reward in heaven for them.

    • Posted December 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      I’ll bring up C. S. Lewis, even though he’s useless, since he’s a major influence on Collins. Lewis asserts in “The Problem of Pain” that the appalling suffering in the natural world must just be an illusion since we “know” that God wouldn’t allow any such thing.

      Whew, that’s a relief.

  39. Glenn
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Your point about why assume that God isn’t just a malicious SOB is a good one. I’ve never understood how it is that believers — who, of course, constantly tell us that God can’t be “defined” or “limited,” yada yada — insist that God is benevolent. I mean, even under their own terms, that’s nothing more than ascribing a characteristic to God in order to make him/her/it more palatable to us…talk about hubris!

  40. TZ
    Posted December 16, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Hello,

    I’ve only just stumbled upon the blog, and I think the post is insightful.

    I’m a theist, and I think that some evils are explained by higher-order goods, free-will, etc. But I doubt that these could explain e.g. the Holocaust.

    That said, the post might underestimate the worth of such explanations. The theodicy needn’t appeal to the freedom of “a small group of anti-Semites” alone. There is also the freedom of millions of anti-Semites across centuries, whose collective evil ultimately resulted in the Holocaust.

    Our freedom is significant; the consequences of what we do can affect people generations later. Such significance is very good – but is it worth the cost? I doubt that the answer is as “obvious” as you think, though I think that the theodicy could at best only be a part of the explanation.

    • Chris
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Are you sure you have free will? Look closer. Observe your thoughts. Do you choose them, or do they appear on their own? Look closely at the sensation you get when you perform an action. Pay attention. You may surprise yourself.

  41. Dave J L
    Posted December 16, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps ironically when dealing with the childish way of thinking of theodicists I feel the only proper response is the repeated childish ‘but whhhhhy?

    Theodicists often imply that a universe where everything is perfect and humans have no chance to grow is somehow pointless, that God wants us to learn from our mistakes and understand suffering to appreciate love and beauty etc. But why? Why does God create humans for this end, what does he get out of it? If he gets some sort of eternal satisfaction from the whole thing surely – being God – he can get the same feeling in the blink of an eye, rather than going through millions of years of painful evolution/existence.

    If the response is ‘but it wouldn’t be the same – it’s the difference between working for months to buy a new car and winning one in a raffle’, it still leaves the question, but why? It needn’t be any different for God – he’s not constrained by our boundaries; it’s no more ‘work’ for him to make something long and complex happen over millions of years than it is for him to ping it all into existence in an instant. To imply that for him one route is ‘better’ than another seems to suggest He too is constrained by rules outside of himself, which does contradict the theist conception of god somewhat.

    • TZ
      Posted December 16, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      I think the response would be that God is doing this not for himself, but for our own good.

      I suppose two questions may now arise about this: Why is growing in virtue good for us? Why does God do good things for us? But these questions are answered pretty easily.

      • Dave J L
        Posted December 17, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        But this just pushes the ‘but why?’ question further back: assume God has created us – then, the idea that suffering-for-moral-growth is for our own good is at least coherent, but it still leaves the question of why we were created in the first place? What does God get out of it?

        Parents might allow their children to make mistakes in order for them to learn, but this is an approach taken to navigate the children through life as functional, happy beings; it is not the reason for their existence in the first place. Parents have children for a variety of reasons (incidentally to do with various pre-existing factors in the world, which isn’t analogous to God), but it would be odd indeed to have children purely to allow them to suffer and learn: much easier to simply not have them at all if there are no other reasons for their initial creation (and again the idea that the parents gain from bringing up children well only makes sense in a human, successive-generation context, not in God’s infinite context).

        These ideas are for the post-creation benefit of children, not the reason for their creation in the first place, so it suggests that God’s self-created laws make the creation of life a better path to choose, for some other reason, than its non-creation, which is curious: wouldn’t it be simpler all round for Him to create laws that don’t involve all this mess?

        The obvious response would be that we don’t know why the creation of life is a better and ultimately more worthwhile path than its non-creation, only God does. But this is merely a faith assertion, useless as the basis for argument and surely the opposite in spirit of theodicies, which at least attempt to rationalise the state of existence in light of God’s apparent all-loving traits.

        ‘Why is growing in virtue good for us? Why does God do good things for us? But these questions are answered pretty easily.’

        I think those are two rather enormous questions that assume and imply a tremendous amount of things, so I am intrigued to hear an apparently easy and concise answer.

      • TZ
        Posted December 18, 2009 at 7:12 am | Permalink

        David,

        Thanks for the reply. Here are concise answers to the questions:

        Question 1: Why were we created in the first place?

        Answer: Because God is good, and bringing about conscious beings with the ability to grow in virtue is good.

        Question 2: Why is growing in virtue good?

        Answer: It is constitutive of growing in virtue that it is good, in the same way that it is constitutive of e.g. pain that it is bad.

        The goodness or badness of some things depends upon the goodness or badness of others, but not always. The goodness of growing in virtue and the badness of pain is rock bottom.

        So someone who doubts whether growing in virtue is good or whether pain is bad doesn’t have a full understanding of virtue, pain, goodness or badness. Also, to the extent that we should doubts whether growing in virtue is good, we should doubt that many of the evils that are supposed to count against theism are indeed evils after all, rather than evils outweighed by higher order goods.

        Question 3: Why does God do good things?

        Answer: Because God is good. Goodness may be entailed by omnipotence and omniscience: an omnipotent being is not impeded from doing what it has the most reason to do, and an omniscient being knows what it has the most reason to do, and what there is the most reason to do is what is good.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 18, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        TZ, your response is extremely juvenile.

        You say god is good because god is good and everything is good because god is good.

        You don’t even use the apologetics arguments.

    • henry
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      I may regret chiming in here, given the hostility of a few angry commenters, but nonetheless:

      I would reply to your “but whyyyy?” question, with another question: “Why assume we are able to understand God in the first place?”

      As a species humans have just raised our heads out of an ocean of obliviousness. We can, just now, get a glimpse of the universe. Our small brains can understand some things, but why assume we should understand everything, in particular, the reason we are here.

      Subtract a few points from the human IQ and we are playing with our own feces.

      If you can allow yourself to imagine what a divine Being would have to be like, do you really think we should be able to understand such a Being. That Being would have to be so much more advanced than us, that thinking we should understand it makes as much sense as thinking a plant can understand us.

      I am not saying this is evidence that God exists. Of course it isn’t.

      I am just applying critical thinking to this idea that we should be able to understand God.

      If there is in fact a God, it is, in my opinion, irrational to think we should understand God or why we are here or why things are as they are.

      The fact that we know as much as we do is remarkable enough.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        …why assume we should understand everything, in particular, the reason we are here.

        A. No one rational assumes we should understand everything.
        B. Who says there has to be a reason why we are here.

        Subtract a few points from the human IQ and we are playing with our own feces.

        This is a stupid statement. There are millions of animals that have a lower IQ than humans and they do not play with their feces. This shows a lack of understanding of biology and evolution.

        I am just applying critical thinking to this idea that we should be able to understand God.

        I see no critical thinking. I see convoluted logic.

        If there is in fact a God, it is, in my opinion, irrational to think we should understand God or why we are here or why things are as they are.

        Yes, that is your opinion, but since there is no inkling of any evidence, one could argue that there is every reason to assume that we should understand everything about a god. The bible claims that humans are made in the image of god. Therefore understanding everything is mandatory.

  42. Dave J L
    Posted December 19, 2009 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I’m rather disappointed with your response, TZ. I thought I was conversing with an open-minded intelligent theist but you turn out to just regurgitate meaningless religious drivel. Your last post was almost entirely without substance or meaning.

    ‘Question 1: Why were we created in the first place?

    Answer: Because God is good, and bringing about conscious beings with the ability to grow in virtue is good.’

    How do you know? What is your evidence for His existence in the first place? How do you define good? Why is the ability to bring about conscious beings good? Why would God engineer the world that way? There’s a distinct whiff of Euthyphro around this answer.

    ‘It is constitutive of growing in virtue that it is good, in the same way that it is constitutive of e.g. pain that it is bad.’

    No it isn’t.

    Pain is a biological response, a warning system against damage; it follows that it is ‘painful’ otherwise it would be useless as a deterrent. It is not objectively ‘bad’ in any universal sense, only in our subjective experience of it (ditto ‘good’).

    I can see your logic that pain, by definition, is bad – otherwise it wouldn’t be pain – but this isn’t as simple for your prior example, that growing in virtue is by definition good: I think that’s a bad analogy and the reality is much more complex. What defines virtue? Could it ultimately be a hindrance to some other sort of personal growth (whatever that is)? The concept isn’t without reason but I think it’s in a different category of good/bad than pain, which is rather more rooted around a physical response.

    However even the pain definition is not without problems: if as you imply pain is good for our growth, does this not suggest pain is a good thing in the long term?

    Your answer to question 3 is so circular as to be practically spherical; it simply throws around a few tautological concepts which mean nothing of substance in relation to the existence of God, what good is etc.

    Oh, and everything newenglandbob said too.

    • TZ
      Posted December 20, 2009 at 3:08 am | Permalink

      DL,

      I’m sorry that my reply disappoints. But the criticisms you raise seem unfair.

      The question about why God creates conscious beings was answered in terms of his goodness and the overall goodness of conscious beings. Now you ask how I know that God exists and that conscious beings are good.

      The original question did not seem to be asking for evidence for theism so much as an explanation of why God would create conscious beings. Anyhow, I think that theism is plausible partly because theism provides a good explanation for the existence of natural laws and their fine-tuning.

      I suspect that you do not really doubt that conscious beings are good, or that growing in virtue is good and pain is bad. For if you did doubt this, then you should not think much of the problem of evil; why was the holocaust so bad if not for the death and suffering caused?

      You point out that pain can serve some good, and I understand this. Theodicies attempt to explain many bad things in terms of higher-order goods. But this does not mean that the bad things considered in themselves are not bad, and I stand by my claim that the feeling of pain, considered by itself, is bad.

      You finally claim that my answer to the third question is circular, and Newenlgandbod accuses me of answering that, “god is good because god is good”. But I did not. I answered the question about why God does good thinks in terms of his being good. I anticipate the question about why God is good, and try to show how goodness is entailed by other attributes.

      I should add that I’m quite hesitant of the last point, and would rely more on the explanatory power of goodness as a reason for thinking that God is good. This you should appreciate: after all, if the bad things in the world count against the existence of God, should not the good things count in favour of the existence of God?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 20, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        …theism is plausible partly because theism provides a good explanation for the existence of natural laws and their fine-tuning.

        I would love to hear what that explanation is. Theodicy certainly does not provide it. Natural laws are actually often quoted as proof that gods do not exist. Fine-tuning has been disproved.

  43. Julian
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    It’s even simpler than this though. Is it a violation of free will for humans not to want to drink crude oil, or to find fire painful? Of course not; these aversions are fundamental outcomes of the physical and biological nature of humans. So too, is the human capacity for “evil” behavior.

    To say that god must allow evil for “free will” to exist misses the point. God, the omnipotent and all knowing, so-called, could have chosen to make humans in such a way that acting to destroy other human life would be abhorrent, inconceivable, or physically impossible. “Evil” is not some epistemological choice, pulled out of the air by humans; humans have a psychological predisposition towards selfishness, and it is the pursuit of this selfishness, primarily, that leads to what we consider “evil” acts. In effect, if god made humans, then god chose to make humans naturally inclined to evil in our conception (though not that of early mankind), and thus, chose evil. On a biological and mental level, what would have stopped an omnipotent being from creating intelligent life that could behave selfishly, but wasn’t predisposed towards it?

    Why not create a mind possessed of an extensive intuitive grammar instead of the mere capacity for it, thereby facilitating communication and sympathy? Why not make a being that recognizes all humans as like it, and thus, friendly, instead of clannishly fearing slight differences in dress,body type, and speech? If one is to defend the idea of a benevolent creator god regardless of an “evil” world, one cannot merely wave “free will” around; one must explain why, at a basic level, their god would have chosen, in designing us, to include preferences for destructiveness and selfish behavior instead of preferences towards cooperation. For those who do not reject evolution, they must also explain why god would choose a developmental process for making life which, again, favored selfish behavior and ruthlessness over symbiosis and sociability.

    • munty13
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Every “evil” committed on this Earth stems from a person’s need to protect themselves.

      Humans so often lash out at others to protect themselves.

      Humans manipulate others to protect themselves.

      Humans willfully torure others to protect themselves.

      The question is – what are we trying to protect exactly? Are we trying to protect oureselves from bodily harm, or are we simply protecting an idea that we have about ourselves?

      Humans do have the ability to discern between the two – but how many people do you know that follow this line of reasoning? I personally have only met one person, and she is what most would consider “enlightened”.

      I think the next stage in human evolution is understanding why we experience fear, and learning that is only a biological process.

      We all wish that humans did not have to learn this process, but it’s evolution, it just is, and we’re just going to have to learn to accept that and move on.

  44. Posted December 21, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    The problem of physical evil is one of my largest problems with the existence of God. If God’s only reason for not getting involved with “moral evil” is that it violates free will, he should have no problem with making changes to the natural world to prevent those things that will cause “evil” or suffering.

    Then there’s the argument that people “learn and grow” from suffering. But anyone can simply examine people that have gone through horrible suffering and see that many people are broken and permanently hurt by the suffering that they have to go through. Sometimes they are so hurt that they go out and hurt others in kind.

    It doesn’t work like that, and it’s quite obvious.

  45. henry
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    It’s easy to criticize a belief in God when you reduce God to a wizard who lives in the sky.

    Many believers, like myself, find this sky-God belief to be just as irrational as Atheists do.

    For us, God is not something you understand rationally. It is something you feel, you know. I don’t expect that to convince anyone who doesn’t feel it.

    I believe our small minds can no more understand the mind of God than an ant can understand the mind of man. Even an Atheist should acknowledge that if God does exist, it would have to be something, by its very nature, far beyond are relatively primitive intelligence’s ability to comprehend.

    The existence of evil in the world does not diminish my belief, because my belief isn’t based on some puppet master God who controls everything.

    I believe God intervenes in the world, but only though humans, who are in part divine. When, for example, we alleviate the suffering of others, we do God’s work.

    Evil exists because nature follows physical laws, forces that have no concern for others. Only humans, who are in-part divine, can understand evil and can fight it.

    You can choose to see evil as evidence that God does not exist. I just see it as evidence that nature exists. But I see compassion and goodness as evidence that God exists.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      For us, God is not something you understand rationally. It is something you feel, you know.

      Now there is a rational statement. Effused with logic and facts and evidence. I guess we have nothing to counter that.

      I believe our small minds can no more understand the mind of God than an ant can understand the mind of man.

      You speak only of yourself. It is arrogant for you to speak about the rest of us.

      I believe God intervenes in the world, but only though humans, who are in part divine.

      Once again a rational, logical, factual statement.

      It is obvious you don’t understand much of anything but make sweeping nonsense pronouncements.

      • henry
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        New England Bob,

        I only speak for those who feel the way I do. I think that much was obvious from my post.

        Why the need to insult me?

        I’m just explaining my point of view, so people can understand that not everyone who believes in God sees God in the same way.

        I have no problem with what you believe — or disbelieve.

        Do you really think insulting people who see things differently accomplished anything?

      • munty13
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        I think that you sir, like making sweeping pronouncements with the word “nonsense”.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        henry, if you think pointing out that your statements are irrational, illogical and lack any facts or evidence is insulting, then yes, I insulted you.

        I talked about your statements and their non-effectiveness, not your character.

        munty13, your stuff is here to be laughed at by everyone. Your previous comment about lashing out was even too stupid to make a comment about.

        munty13 is the king of straw men arguments who also does not understand the word evolution. No one can predict the next step of evolution.

      • henry
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        New England Bob,

        If you honestly think saying to me “It is obvious you don’t understand much of anything” is not an insult, then I suggest you seek objective advice from someone on what is and what is not insult, as you may be going through life insulting people all the time without even knowing it.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Let’s knock off the invective folks; it serves no purpose to say that somebody doesn’t understand anything. Can we please stick to the arguments and avoid ad hominems?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        henry, making irrational, illogical, emotional statements with no facts or evidence shows to all that you understand little. Dave J. L. called your statements self-delusional but you didn’t take that as an insult. I stand by my analysis. Your pop psychology is also worthless.

    • Dave J L
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Very sweet but fundamentally I fail to see the point of your God. He seems to have created a world in which His existence is entirely hidden.

      You have taken what is essentially an atheist view but added in an abstracted God who is more amorphous theological concept than existing being.

      ‘For us, God is not something you understand rationally. It is something you feel, you know. I don’t expect that to convince anyone who doesn’t feel it.’

      Sorry but statements like this are exasperating in the extreme: how do you come to a belief in this God? It certainly isn’t through evidence, as you say so yourself, so it only seems to suggest that at some point you simply decided that your emotional reactions to things, reactions most of us have – to family, music, art – are evidence of God. But again, what caused this decision – you’re quite clear that it’s not external so it seems like some sort of self-convincing internal process. Because you simply liked the idea of this God? Because He made you feel like a compassionate and warm person without actually committing you to any doctrine? Because it conferred a sense of enlightenment and significance to your life without the complications of effort and thought?

      At least those believers to whom God is ‘a wizard who lives in the sky’ (the majority) have some external basis for their beliefs – an odd incident apparently ‘explained’ by religious texts, being ‘healed’ by prayer – which are then continually reinforced once the religious way of viewing the world has settled in: I think these people are responding to the same feelings you have, but in a more insecure, tribal way.

      Yours is the self-convincing, loftier attitude but no less led by emotion: atheism is merely a step away, a realisation that the feelings are real and wonderful, that they are the complex product of evolution and consciousness, but that this makes them even more precious and exciting in light of the short span of time we all get. It is also the realisation that feelings are not the basis for gaining knowledge.

      I don’t believe you ‘know’ God exists, because simply analysing your own emotions isn’t a route to objective knowledge: you only think you do, and it seems to work for you, reinforcing your confidence in your beliefs every time you view the world through a prism of those same beliefs, and making you feel good in the process. Fine, but that’s not knowledge. It’s self-delusion.

      • henry
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Dave,

        Thank you for your respectful reply. I do appreciate it.

        (I don’t know why so many Atheists are so hostile to those who see things differently — see comment above. Many Atheists act — or write — as if all non-Atheists hate them.)

        Now, back to your post:

        You wrote “how do you come to a belief in this God? It certainly isn’t through evidence, as you say so yourself, so it only seems to suggest that at some point you simply decided that your emotional reactions to things, reactions most of us have – to family, music, art – are evidence of God. But again, what caused this decision ”

        It’s definitely not through physical evidence.

        If you really want to know how I came to this position, I will tell you.

        In my mind the only purely logical position is Agnosticism.

        To me, if you are an Atheists (or a hard Atheist) you have taken a position on the subject. You believe that the universe is a mindless machine.

        I have no problem with Atheism. I just can’t bring myself to believe in a machine universe anymore than a lot of Atheists can bring themselves to believe in God.

        I don’t think there is any physical evidence for either view. (Though I would agree with Atheists there is a lot of physical evidence for not believing in a Sky God. )

        To me, there’s either “something” or there’s “nothing,” and “something” seems a lot more plausible, especially in light of my own subjective “evidence,” that is the mystical states and insight I have experienced — which I acknowledge may just be stuff happening in my brain.

        You can label it self-delusion if you like. But I don’t think it is. For one, I don’t think being an Atheist is bad at all, so I don’t have that much motivation to delude myself into believing in God. Without a belief in God I’d have just as much to live for. It’s just that believing in God makes a lot more sense to me. I believe 100 percent, yet I acknowledge I may be wrong. (Just like I believe 100 percent my wife loves me, though I could be wrong about that)

        Perhaps, it is the other way around. Maybe it is Atheism that is self-delusion, perhaps believing in a machine universe is something people tell themselves because it works for them, because it makes them feel better. After all, for some, it must be easier to live with the certainty of Atheism, than with the mystery of now knowing.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Once again, henry, you produce words with no meaning, only emotions. You do not produce any evidence behind your conclusions.

        To me, there’s either “something” or there’s “nothing,” and “something” seems a lot more plausible, , especially in light of my own subjective “evidence,”…

        There are two things wrong with this. First you have no evidence outside your own head. Second, it has been mathematically proven by physicists that ‘something’ is a more natural state than ‘nothing’ so therefore there is no need for any supernatural being, which is the opposite of your conclusion.

      • henry
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        New England bob wrote: “There are two things wrong with this. First you have no evidence outside your own head. ”

        I don’t remember ever saying I had any evidence outside my own head. I don’t think any evidence outside my head is necessary for what I believe and I am not trying to convince you to see things my way. I think you should believe in whatever works for you.

        You seem to want to engage in a pissing contest.

        I’m merely sharing what I believe so you — and others –can understand, how some people see the world and see God.

        The original article, in my opinion, painted a simplistic notion of God, which, in my experience, many people, including myself, don’t subscribe to.

        Therefore, I felt it would be helpful to explain another way some of us see God. You may not like it. You may feel a need to call it names and mock it.

        That’s fine.

        But you may do more for the Atheist cause if you treated those who see things differently than you with a bit more respect.

  46. Chris
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “Where are there are two desires in a man’s heart he has no choice between the two but must obey the strongest, there being no such thing as free will in the composition of any human being that ever lived.” -Mark Twain

    http://www.naturalism.org/freewill.htm

  47. newenglandbob
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    But you may do more for the Atheist cause if you treated those who see things differently than you with a bit more respect.

    No, absolutely not. I respect people but do not have to respect their ideas or their dogma at all. That is what the so-called “New” Atheism is all about. No longer showing respect where it is not deserved.

    That is a huge problem with some theists. They expect others to give them respect where they certainly do not deserve it.

    If someone wants to announce illogical, irrational, emotional dogma in public and not back it up with facts then that person can expect to suffer the consequences.

    henry, you claim to not want a pissing contest but you repeat your dogma in every comment.

    • henry
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      “I respect people but do not have to respect their ideas or their dogma at all. That is what the so-called “New” Atheism is all about. No longer showing respect where it is not deserved.”

      Yes, this is a good approach. I’m sorry I didn’t see the light sooner. If everyone just disrespected and mocked those ideas that they don’t agree with, the world would be a much better place.

      I think the real problem is that people have been too respectful towards those who think differently. That sort of civility has led to so many problems.

      Thanks for enlightening me!!!

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

        …where it is not deserved”

        Of course, as I expected, you do not understand. You twisted what I commented.

        Ideas have to earn respect. They do not get them automatically.

        If everyone just disrespected and mocked…

        These are your words henry, not mine. Misquoting is a tactic of those who have no real argument.

  48. Dave J L
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Henry

    I did hesitate over the final phrase ‘self-delusion’, since this does imply something broader and pejorative about a person beyond possible alternatives like ‘mistaken’ or ‘misguided’ (and seemed to get people annoyed so much in The God Delusion), but I used it because I felt it best summed up my view, that the unconscious desire to believe (and/or the self-reinforcing nature of ‘successful’ beliefs) is a massive influence in the actual act of believing.

    I’m not convinced there is an equivalent for atheism: religion (theism in its most common form) offers solutions to what people believe are problems about life: its uncertainties, its purpose, its finiteness etc. I can see emotionally why people would turn to religion, and why they would want to resist the notion of atheism. I cannot see what would entice people towards atheism in this emotional sense (a Godless universe with no afterlife and no absolute moral grounding?!)- I think it is a position more commonly reached through objective analysis (there are of course those who may reject God after experiencing tragedy, or feel the need to rebel against religious parents etc., but these surely comprise a tiny minority. I am also not counting the non-thinkers, those who simply ‘aren’t religious’ and thus atheists somehow by default: I feel one ought to have given the ideas some consideration before adopting either position).

    You say that you would have no problem with atheism, suggesting that this wish-fulfillment element doesn’t play such a big part in your beliefs, which I can only take to be true since I can’t comment on your personal mentality. I do think, though, that in a broader sense we have evolved with a particular set of very subjective organs of interpretation, and ought to be very wary of drawing big conclusions about the external world purely from our own internal thoughts: our brains work in various ways to enable us to survive and thrive, but helping us gain objective knowledge isn’t necessarily a useful product of evolution; that is why so much science is hard and counter-intuitive).

    For this reason I find your statement ‘…“something” seems a lot more plausible, especially in light of my own subjective “evidence,” that is the mystical states and insight I have experienced — which I acknowledge may just be stuff happening in my brain’ curious. Given what we know – as far as we know anything – about the objective world is it not the most logical position to assume that experiences we have are the result of brain processes only? The chemicals in drugs altering brain patterns, people’s personalities changing following strokes and brain damage, surgeons prompting strange sensations by prodding parts of the brain during surgery under local anaesthetic, stimulation of test subjects producing the sensation of a nearby presence (‘God Helmets’), near-death experiences following hypoxia, hallucinations, dreams, etc.?

    Personal experiences can be enormously powerful and emotional (and when occurring already in the context of religious belief are usually attributed to a specific deity or religion, tellingly) but concluding a supernatural cause can only ever be a wildly speculative hypothesis: there is no basis of comparison, no way of testing the claim. What there is are the various similar experiences by different people measured against changes in their physical and mental states, where possible, which suggest a correlation between physical processes and mental/psychological experiences.

    What I feel you seem to be trying to say is that we can explain the sensation of eating chocolate through chemicals and tastebuds and nerves and neurons, but that abstract, intangible pleasure of eating chocolate is something else, and points to the existence of something else which is not material (extrapolating beyond confectionery to art, family and the like). The transcendent, in fact. I get those sensations listening to Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, but – and it in no way reduces the pleasure – I don’t believe my response is anything other than a complex set of physical responses to external stimuli, whose workings science will learn about in time, because there is no reason to believe there is anything beyond the material world.

    Your conception of God seems to be based in these intangible elements, as though God is even more abstract than the Deist God, and appears in the guise of positive sensations – listening to music, helping others etc. A sort of quasi-Buddhist all-permeating ‘one-ness’.

    You say ‘Without a belief in God I’d have just as much to live for. It’s just that believing in God makes a lot more sense to me.’ – so your belief hardly affects the way you live your life, and you believe as a conclusion rather than as a way of living?

    It’s a lovely and untroubling idea but for me I’m not sure what there is to believe in if this is the case. Do you believe in an afterlife? Your God seems a non-thinking being, or at least one who gives absolutely no indication of thinking, or being something of whom it even makes sense to use the word ‘think’. It’s almost as though the very experiences themselves have been elevated to the position of deity. It is certainly not the very specific theist God which, despite what you say, I think really is the God the vast majority of believers follow, even if they don’t always like the earth-made rules of His human representatives.

    And it does seem like these emotional responses are at the heart of your beliefs: ‘I just can’t bring myself to believe in a machine universe anymore than a lot of Atheists can bring themselves to believe in God.’

    ‘I just can’t bring myself…’ sounds exactly like an emotional response to me. And I don’t think the opposite is quite true for atheists – I think most of us can’t bring ourselves to believe in God because we don’t see any reason to, aside from any emotional implications.

    Also you do seem a little self-contradictory, if you don’t mind me saying so, for instance:

    ‘In my mind the only purely logical position is Agnosticism… To me, if you are an Atheists (or a hard Atheist) you have taken a position on the subject… I don’t think there is any physical evidence for either view.’

    But you obviously do take a position yourself – not one that can be described as theist, but you do say you believe ‘100 percent’. I also think I could be wrong, but that doesn’t make me any less an atheist.

    (I agree in the absolute sense in the agnosticism, but we’re not talking about believing what we have proof for, rather what we think we have evidence for (or not).)

    Hmmm I feel I’ve just written a lot trying to psycho-analyse you, which may seem patronising, so if this is case apologies. I’m just trying to get a handle on exactly what it is you believe, and what attributes ‘it’ has.

    For me your line makes perfect sense:

    ‘You believe that the universe is a mindless machine.’

    Yes – it is mindless, not good, not bad, not conscious, unconscious or subconscious, simply non-conscious. A machine in terms of the interaction of various parts (though dazzlingly more complex than any machine humans have invented), and one neither created nor evolved to be understood, something which we can only attempt to do through the limited non-conscious information (photons, energy waves, heat radiation) we interpret through our equally limited sense-organs.

    • Todd
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      “I cannot see what would entice people towards atheism in this emotional sense (a Godless universe with no afterlife and no absolute moral grounding?!)- I think it is a position more commonly reached through objective analysis…”

      We live in a culture that almost deifies autonomy. I would go so far as to say that the notion of autonomy is a value or a philosophical principle around which Americans typically build their identity. The notion of God is a direct assault on that notion of autonomy. ‘God’ relativizes it from the start. If the basis of my identity is attacked, I can assure you of a very emotional, gut level response. It is not surprising that in such a culture the idea of God is more problematic. It is also the kind of society wherein a rejection of the belief in God has a very strong emotional component. In other words, in such a culture the desire not to believe has a very strong emotional element. If I am right, the unconscious desire not to believe might also play a significant role in one’s not believing.

      One a more secondary issue, I would take issue with your claim that atheists typically come to their position through objective analysis. This basically presupposes that atheists are, on the whole, objective, cool headed rationalists and believers… eh, not so much. It is a self serving bias.

    • henry
      Posted December 21, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      Dave,

      Thanks again for the thoughtful response.

      By the way, I didn’t see your remark about self-delusion as an insult. I ask myself the same questions and I think they are fair.

      If you’d really like to understand my view, I suggest the book “Quantum Questions,” which is a compilation of spiritual writings by folks like Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Einstein and other physicists. While I’ve read many books on spirituality, none of them come close to expressing my views as these, in particular the writings of Erwin Schroedinger. (I think it’s because these folks stayed away from cultural baggage and metaphors when describing their spiritual beliefs)

      You wrote: “It’s a lovely and untroubling idea but for me I’m not sure what there is to believe in if this is the case. Do you believe in an afterlife? Your God seems a non-thinking being, or at least one who gives absolutely no indication of thinking, or being something of whom it even makes sense to use the word ‘think’. It’s almost as though the very experiences themselves have been elevated to the position of deity .”

      To invert a Groucho Marx quote, any God that I could understand, I wouldn’t want as a God. If you look at consciousness as something evolving, I see the distance between God’s consciousness and my own consciousness as enormous, to be at least as great as the difference between an my own consciousness and that of an ant. Now, I don’t expect an ant to understand my mind, so I certainly don’t expect to understand the mind of God. I don’t even know if the phrase “mind of God” makes sense.

      I know it’s not the greatest analogy, but it touches on it.

      So these questions, is there an afterlife, what is God like, does he think, intervene, etc. I have no idea. It’s kind of fun to speculate it, but it would only be guesswork. My God is mysterious and that mystery is what makes God so awe inspiring. To understand God in a rational sense would be to diminish God.

      But I am the first to admit that I have not come to my conclusions through logic alone. I have been blessed to have had numerous mystical experiences in my life, tastes of the divine. Without them, I would not be a believer.

      The experience of oneness with God is so great, it’s impossible for me to explain it away as just brain happenings, and honestly, if I could, why would I want to?

      Once you have these types of experiences, belief in a higher intelligence becomes, as William James put it, a living hypothesis. (unlike, say, belief in a flying spaghetti monster)

      When it comes to describing mystical experiences to those who have not had them, it’s like returning to Plato’s cave and trying to tell the cave dwellers that the images on the walls are just shadows.

      I don’t agree with you that my position is not that of a theist. To be a theist you only need to believe in God, in a higher intelligence, which I do. As far as I know there’s nothing in “theism” that says you have to believe in a personal God.

      But those are just names anyway, and if an Atheist says I’m not really a Theist, I’ll take that as a compliment.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        Sounds to me as defining it as no definition so therefore nothing can be pinned down. It is just an emotion, a feeling, an “OM”. It is one hand clapping against a tree falling in the woods. Hey, if it is so indescribable then no one can argue with it. It is safe. It is daddy and mommy.

        This is more new age than new age. LOL

      • henry
        Posted December 22, 2009 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        New England Bob,

        Once again, you say absolutely nothing of substance. It’s just name calling. “It’s emotion. it’s new age. It’s daddy and mommy.” Your level of discourse is that of 13 year old. (and perhaps you are a 13 year old, which might at least explain it)

        I googled your username and found that this seems to be your hobby. You troll around the internet looking for people who believe in God and then call them names!

        I understand that you believe in being a confrontational Atheists — as you wrote about yourself elsewhere — but I think you are missing the point.

        Doing that effectively requires actually articulating positions or showing why someone’s ideas are wrong.

        Just labeling things– “that’s dogma, that’s nonsense, that’s emotion” — is just being a bully. And frankly, it makes me wonder if you are even capable of saying anything intelligent, as your posts on other sites only indicate you are capable of labeling things you don’t like with pejorative terms.

        I’m all for confrontation — after all — I’m in the Lion’s Den here — writing about a belief in God on an Atheist site. And I love a good argument.

        But you are not providing me with a good argument — just a nuisance, like a child laughing at his own farts.

      • Dave J L
        Posted December 22, 2009 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        Henry

        I agree, in terms of how concepts are defined at least, with some of your way of thinking: that God would need to be of a higher order of being that we can’t possibly comprehend (and I think I’m with Dawkins on this one in terms of the necessary complexity of God given that of the Universe). It is familiar to me as a stage I went through from a sort of benign casual Catholicism (my family background), through ‘Christian’, ‘spiritual’, ‘agnostic’ and finally (or currently at least!) ‘atheist’, a few years ago. The sort of mystical amorphous God (and equally amorphous afterlife) is one I believed in for a while, sitting nicely away from doctrine but sort of matching my experiences of music, joy etc.

        It’s not really a position one can argue with as it is so subjective, personal and opaque (I’m still not really convinced it’s a position at all), so I don’t think we can go much further with this exchange.

        I do think, to go back a point though, that most religious believers really are of the more old-school dogma-and-doctrine type, whether that doctrine is very conservative or progressive and liberal, and it is these sorts of systems which do cause problems in society and do need to be examined and criticised openly.

        As far as definitions go, they are generally understood according to their predominant usage, and ‘theist’ and ‘God’ do come with a lot of historical baggage which I think justifies my view of what they should be taken to mean. I just think your using of ‘God’ for what you believe is confusing when it is vastly different in most respects from the widely-understood definition of ‘God’.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 22, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        What argument have you provided, henry? Absolutely nothing. Your spewings sound like an emotional 12 year old girl. You have produced nothing of substance, not one fact, not even a logical position. You say “I believe because my head tells me so”. That is nothing. Labeling something as dogma and nonsense IS taking a position. I explained quite clearly how your lack of rationality and logic does not articulate a position. If you want to make a point then do so with something that actually uses logic and evidence.

        It is obvious that YOU are the one who is not capable of saying anything intelligent. All you have done is repeat the same emotional, irrational dogma over and over and over. It is quite annoying. Give us even one real reason for your position that is not “because I say so”.

        Logic and evidence and facts and rational discourse is something you have not attempted yet. You are the one calling names here and defaming. Once again, this is a tactic of someone with no real or defensible position.

  49. Dave J L
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Good lord that was a long response, sorry!

  50. newenglandbob
    Posted December 22, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    henry, I countered your irrational, emotional nonsense with a fact about physics (something vs nothing) and a a statement from the bible that refutes your claim. I have supplied substance. I suggest you start to do the same and stop maliciously accusing me of something that you do.

  51. Ivan Soto
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I can’t agree any more strongly with Dr. Coyne’s sentiments. For Francis Collins to claim that the horrible humiliation of his daughter is God’s instrumentality for his edification in faith is the pinnacle of nonsense (foolishness and stupidity is fairer, but let’s keep it clean), particularly coming from a practicing scientist! I realize this is an old post, but it turned up in my email this morning and this kind of material gives me something to be incensed about–pleasurable.

  52. Mr Claw
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry.

    If you like Levi’s wartime writing, I recommend Tadeusz Borowski’s excellent This Way for the Gas Ladies & Gentlemen. Easily one of the most bitter and brutal books of any I have read. Borowski was a Polish survivor Auschwitz. He committed suicide in the early 50s.

    http://www.amazon.com/This-Ladies-Gentlemen-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140186247/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317813943&sr=8-1

    Mr Claw

  53. torger helgeland
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    The writer says, roughly, “There are many ways that God could have allowed for free will and yet ensured that no innocents suffer.” I can’t think of any. If we could only “freely” give good to each other with no possibility of bad, why would it remain, or even be in the first place, good? What reason would there be to take care in our relations at all? “Don’t think, just express stuff at people, and they’ll experience it as good.” How can that be good, at least over time? I think it would grow old and awful as quickly as a guarantee of Twinkies for every meal for a six year old. Our legacy of literary drama is full of the reality that what makes love beautiful and compelling is that care is required to not hurt the loved one, because hurting them is quite possible. The truth is we’re so used to our current reality that we can’t conceive of an alternative with any sense of confidence. Seems to me the writer tossed off a heavy comment without knowing it, thereby exposing a serious flaw in his argument. Torger Helgeland


7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] for it, and not offend God by questioning the world around us.  It is why we must deal with the idiocy of theodicy and let theologians justify the reasons that nature plays horrendously cruel tricks on us, […]

  2. […] Religion: here is a non-argument against the existence of a deity. […]

  3. […] ~Jerry Coyne […]

  4. […] kind of mental substance outside the physical world).(tags: consciousness philosophy dualism qualia)Theodicy III: Primo Levi versus Francis CollinsJerry Coyne has been reading Francis Collins's "The Language of God" as well as […]

  5. […] and the Existence of God In a recent series on his site, the atheist Jerry Coyne attempts to argue against the existence of God by citing the absurdity of believing in Him in light of the great evils that occur in the world. He […]

  6. […] for it and not offend God by questioning the world around us.  It is why we must deal with the idiocy of theodicy and let theologians justify the reasons that nature plays horrendously cruel tricks on us; […]

  7. […] theodicy question continues to raise its pointy head, this time in a showdown between Jerry Coyne and Francis Collins, lately installed as head of […]

%d bloggers like this: