When God attacks: Trying to make sense of God in natural disasters

As all my New Zealand readers know, as do many others I’m sure, just before 1pm a few days ago on the 22nd of February a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The destruction was massive. Over a hundred people have been confirmed killed, and over two hundred are still missing [EDIT: as I post this, the confirmed death toll has risen to 145]. The outlook is truly grim, with a couple hundred people likely to have died in this disaster. I have a number of family members and friends in Christchurch, but it seems that they are among the fortunate ones and they’re relatively unscathed.

These are photos I took of the beautiful Welseyan Methodist Church on Durham Street when Ruth and I visited Christchurch in 2009.

And here it is now. Some people were dismantling the organ at the time. It had been damaged in a previous earthquake which caused much less damage in September 2010. One of these men was killed. I’m amazed that any of them lived.

I could multiply dozens, hundreds of photos to demonstrate the level of destruction, but there are plenty of these elsewhere. New Zealand hasn’t seen a disaster like this since I don’t know when. For those of you who have lost loved ones, you have my sincerest condolences. I am truly sorry for your loss.

Right now, people are still afraid, they’re wounded (or dead), and thousands are going to be in mourning for a while. A large number of people, myself included, would love to be able to stop the clock in their own lives, go to Christchurch and be part of the rescue, recovery, relief and rebuilding effort. But of course this isn’t possible for us. We have lives, jobs, families and so on. We’re only human.

And that’s where I get to my point here. We’re only human. We can’t put things right. We can’t put the city back together. We certainly can’t raise the dead and reunite families, and we could never have prevented this catastrophe. We’re only human. But God is not merely human. God’s resources are limitless. God knows the future. God can raise the dead and heal the wounded.

And there’s the problem. God, who is loving and good, who has all of this power, allowed this to happen. You can’t blame me for the horror we’re seeing on TV right now, I’m powerless to do anything about it. But God is sitting there right now letting people endure this.

God and Natural Evil

The problem of “natural evil” aka the problem of suffering is usually presented as a poorly formulated and ham-fisted attempt to show… well, it’s often not explained exactly what it’s meant to show. The innuendo is sometimes that God doesn’t exist, but at very least the point is that God, if there is one, isn’t the sweet, bearded old man that Christians make him out to be. But however badly it might be presented by others and however wild the conclusions sometimes drawn may be, you’re putting your head in the sand if you think there’s simply nothing at all here to grapple with. There undeniably is. While I am (obviously) a theist and a Christian, I do think that the problem of suffering (or something like it) is the most weighty consideration (probably the only weighty consideration) that gives people pause when considering the Christian concept of God.

One approach taken by some Christians has to be tossed out immediately. I’m talking about the approach of those who have two versions of Christianity. When everything is well in the world (well, in their world at least), God is said to be in control. “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” as they say. When good things are happening, the doctrine of God’s providence looms large. Jesus’ encouraging words in Matthew chapter 10 easily pass through the lips: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Not even a sparrow dies with the co-operation of God’s will, so don’t worry, all things are under God’s supervision and you can rest easy. Isn’t God lovely? Here, God’s sovereignty is the most wonderful thought imaginable. But like Jeckyll changing into Hyde, suddenly when Dad gets cancer, or a volcano erupts and buries a village, or there’s a devastating earthquake in Christchurch, the believer’s faith changes (either that or she worships two different Gods and isn’t telling anybody). Now things are different. Now divine sovereignty is the last thing we want to be caught believing in. God isn’t in control of the universe any more. Now the only way that we can say that God is involved is in the loving response of people in the face of tragedy. God brings the good, but never the bad. And I’ll tell you what: If you’re this sort of Christian, people notice. They’ve seen you praising God for all the good things in the world, saying that the providence of God is present in all of life, that God is watching out for you and so on. And now they’ve seen you suddenly change your tune. They see through you.

The Bible offers no relief to anyone who wants this easy escape route. I remember sitting in class at Bible College in September 2001. We had all just seen the passenger planes slam into the World Trade Centre, killing thousands. The class was “Eighth Century Prophets,” and we were reading the book of Amos, chapter 3. As we read it, there wasn’t a single person in the room who did not immediately see the importance of what was on the pages in front of us.

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to meet?
Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from his den if he has taken nothing?
Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth when there is no trap for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground when it has taken nothing?
Is a trumpet blown in a city and the people are not afraid?

Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has done it?

We were silent for a few moments after the words were read out. Nobody asked us to be, it was just hard to think of anything to say. There was no wriggling, no trying to get away from it, no “but… but… but…” It was there in black and white.

Jewish Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel gets it.  He recounts the story – incorrectly thought to be apocryphal by some – of rabbis in Auschwitz who put God on trial for abandoning the Jews to the horrors of Hitler’s regime. “It happened at night; there were just three people. At the end of the trial, they used the word chayav, rather than ‘guilty’. It means ‘He owes us something.’ Then we went to pray.” Then they went to pray? Weisel and the others realised that the fact that God wasn’t what they wanted him to be did not make him any less God.

Another approach that I have little time for is the view that disaster must amount to some sort of divine punishment, and by looking at the consequences we can see just how angry God is feeling. I remember when Pat Robertson claimed that the devastating earthquake in Haiti was God’s wrath being poured out because of a pact made with the devil in the nation’s history. Other Christians made equally inane claims, such as that Haiti was devastated and Christchurch was not (in the September 2010 quake) because Haiti was evil and Christchurch wasn’t.

The Bible will have none of this, as we see in Luke chapter 13 verses 1 to 5:

There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Another example that touches on this is in John chapter 9, verses 1 to 3:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The question that Jesus’ disciples asked suggests that they actually entertained the prejudice against those who suffer that it must be because of some sin that they have committed (or perhaps their parents). But they were wrong. Is any suffering the result of wrongdoing? According to the Bible, absolutely. Perhaps the prime example is the Babylonian exile, which the prophets of the Old Testament point to as God’s judgement on wayward Israel. The point is, there is no rule connecting sin and suffering. The writer of Ecclesiastes complained because so many thoroughly evil people seem to have such comfortable lives. You certainly don’t help those who are suffering by acting like one of Job’s false comforters and telling them that it’s probably somehow their fault.

There’s also no excuse for the sense of self-importance seen in the way that some Christians react to survival stories (usually their own, naturally). I cringed while watching a Canadian man on TV as he recalled escaping with his wife from the Christchurch cathedral while parts collapsed, killing people. His summary was that this showed that there was certainly a God, looking out for him and his wife. So I suppose the families of those crushed to death in the cathedral should take this on board, accepting that three really must be a God after all, because while their loves ones were killed, some Christian guy from Canada survived? Somehow I doubt it. [EDIT: It turns out that initial statements in the media were mistaken, and in fact nobody was killed in Christ Church Cathedral.]

So what should thinking Christians make of all this? Maybe nothing. Maybe it’s something that you’ll never spend a lot of time thinking about. To be perfectly honest, even though I like to tackle issues in apologetics, I really haven’t given a lot of time to the various versions of the problem of evil. A big part of the reason for that is that I know that a number of other people do discuss it a lot. The Christian scholarly community is like a diversified economy. In our economy we are dependent on a whole range of industries and trades for growth and for employment in general. We have forestry, all sorts of farming, education, information technology and so on. So it is within the scholarly field. Not every philosopher deals with the problem of induction or mental causation (for example). They specialise in their one field and when issues come up outside their field, they defer to others who have expertise in dealing with those questions. That’s perfectly respectable, provided of course you have reasonable confidence that the question really is being addressed somewhere. As it turns out, problems of evil are being addressed somewhere. Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Peter Kreeft, Robert Adams and others have addressed the issue, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and think that you’ve got to come up with a response on your own. Take a look at what’s out there some time. There’s nothing wrong with saying “to be honest, it’s a large and hard subject and I don’t know how to address it, but I know that others do.” This is the way most people think about physics or astronomy, for example.

The free will defence seems a little out of place here. Sure, it might be the kind of thing to look at when asking why human beings do the terrible things that they do, but planets don’t have any will, let alone a free one. Volcanoes erupt. Tectonic plates move. Hurricanes blow. The reason such things are referred to as “acts of God” is that human beings have no say in whether or not they happen. So what else is there?

The first thing to say is that we need to be clear on what is at stake. As Alvin Plantinga showed decisively in God, Freedom and Evil, we are not dealing with a logical contradiction. The fact that God is good and all powerful and that evil exists does not entail that God does not exist, nor is there any formal inconsistency. All we are left with is the fact that if this God allows evil (including natural evil and suffering) to exist, there must be a reason for his doing so. And there is certainly no reason, as Plantinga noted, to assume that if there is a such a reason, God is automatically duty bound to tell Christians (or anyone) what that reason is. Maybe the reason is just too complicated for us to appreciate. Maybe we just wouldn’t like it. But the fact that we don’t know what the reason is doesn’t tell us very much.

Although in theory the Christian could leave the matter there, many do not. One way that some approach the issue – using earthquakes as an example (very appropriate right now), is that there are natural processes that exist and on which our own existence depends, and those processes every now and then produce some harmful effects. As we know, earthquakes are produced by plate tectonics, and plate tectonics need to exist in order for our planet to function and sustain life. When cities were founded, the founders didn’t realise that they were on a fault line and that they’d be subject to violent earthquakes. But those fault lines are there and we need them.

Is this a full and satisfying approach? It certainly has something going for it. Counter objections could, as always, be raised: “Okay fair enough, we need earthquakes. But do we need people to die in them? Couldn’t God have allowed the earthquake as part of a process that the earth (and the human species) needs, but somehow have protected people from falling objects?” Perhaps he could, but some of the initial sting has been taken out of the problem (even if not the pain it creates in real life), and a direction has been opened up where the problem ceases to be a case of “Ha! Got you!” and more a case of “Okay, there’s a complex conversation to be had about that and it’s not as obvious as I thought.”

Another way to respond to this type of objection – and this is how I approach the objection – is by looking at the nature of defeaters . The existence of natural evil here is being used as a defeater for the belief that the Christian God exists. The idea is that the probability of the existence of a good God is negligible given the existence of natural evil. Stated succinctly:

P(G/N) is low

(where G = the existence of a good God and N = natural evil)

But just how important is this? Consider, for example, the fact that this claim is true:

P(G/FR) is low

(where FR = the fact that fire engines are red)

Think about that for a moment. It’s true! The fact that fire engines are red, all by itself, offers no support for the belief that God is real and God is good. It’s not that FR makes the existence of a good God unlikely. But if FR is the only fact on our radar, it doesn’t move us one iota in the direction of believing in a good God and we would have no reason to believe in one. Even if it’s true that natural evil doesn’t offer us a high probability that a good God exists, there are plenty of things that don’t give us that, such as the fact that fire engines are red. But – and here’s where the two cases differ – the problem here is that whether or not fire engines are red shouldn’t be expected to change based on whether or not God is good. The existence of natural evil, so we are being told, should change based on whether or not God is good.

But why should we only base our verdict on whether or not there is natural evil? This isn’t the only thing we know, after all. Why not instead think like this:

P(G/N + A) is low

(where A = all the reasons that exist for thinking that a good God exists, apart from the fact that there is natural evil)

Instead of only deciding on the likelihood of a good God’s existence based on whether or not there is natural evil, surely it makes more sense to answer that question based on everything we know that might be relevant. But of course, the above claim about the probability of a good God’s existence is pretty contentious. Suppose that the following list of claims is true:

1) There are moral facts that are best explained by the existence of a good God
2) The origin of the universe is best explained by the existence of God
3) The facts surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth are best explained by the existence of the Christian God
4) There is some natural evil that Christians have trouble explaining

Suppose that we knew nothing else about the question of a good God’s existence, and that this list is our sum total of facts. Now it would seem that P(G/N + A) is possibly very high. The point here is just that how much of a theological problem we find in the occurrence of horrific events like the Christchurch earthquake is going to depend very much on what we already believe.

Let’s step away from Ps and Ns, and back into the world of normal people. What does the tragedy in Christchurch tell us about whether or not there’s a good God ruling the universe? Well, if the only thing we knew about reality is that there was a tragic earthquake in Christchurch and we had no prior reasons for thinking that there was a good God, we’d probably say that it was fairly unlikely that there was a good God in charge. But then, granted that such awful events have a way of grabbing the whole of our attention, I’d like to think that most people would still recognise that this would be a strangely myopic way of settling the question; by intentionally excluding everything else in reality from our assessment. At most, recent events tell us that if there’s a good God, he doesn’t stop earthquakes and he allows people to die in them. Yes, this may strike us as pretty odd, which is why these events trigger such questions and the winding conversations that follow. Nobody ever said that reality was limited to what we can easily or immediately understand.

My own take is that the earthquake tells us little or nothing about whether or not a good God exists. If you have reasons for thinking that a good God exists, reasons of the sort that I think are out there for the taking, then the occurrence of tragedy doesn’t change that. We can still ask with Job, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10). But we don’t have to try to turn it into a non-problem by simply shrinking God into the guy who’s in charge when things are going well. Ultimately, why does he allow this sort of thing to happen? I don’t know, and I’m not aware of anyone who does. We can speculate until the cows come home on why God allows these things to happen. But what does this change? Very little. Rather than try to know the mind of God, scenarios like this present us with the opportunity to do as he commands and do what we can to help those in need.

If you’d like to make a donation to help those affected by the Christchurch earthquake, here’s all you need to know.

Glenn Peoples

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66 thoughts on “When God attacks: Trying to make sense of God in natural disasters

  1. I concur. Bad stuff happens because it does. In this case, possibly because the moons gravitational pull is particularly powerful at the moment, for example. Or in fact, any number of “natural” reasons.

    The Dean of the Christchurch Cathedral hit the nail on the head: (my paraphrase) “You can see the hand of God now, in the human beings who are giving their all to help, comfort, rescue and care for one another”.

    My question is, why do we have to assume God caused something in the first place? I say “caused” because there is (in my mind) a huge difference between allowing and causing.
    If I “allow” my child to do something I might be tacitly “causing” it, but it is always someone/thing’s choice to act in any particular way. If I cause them to do/act in a certain way, I am removing their ability to freely choose.

    Anyway, great post dude.

  2. But just how important is this? Consider, for example, the fact that this claim is true:

    P(G/FR) is low
    (where FR = the fact that fire engines are red)

    I suspect you don’t mean this 😉 if the conditional probablity of god given red fire engines is low and we know fire engines are red, then it follows the probability of god is low!

    I think you’re headed for a Bayesian argument, that your prior certainty of god’s existence is so high that the problem of evil only knocks it a little. (I’m actually working on a post on the same sort of reasoning for a wildly different question). Of course, if that’s the case then N and FR are manifestly different – the problem of evil changes the probability of god (however slightly in your case) and red fire engines don’t.

  3. The problem with times like this is it demonstrates that a world where God allows indiscriminate suffering and disaster is indistinguishable from a world in which God doesn’t exist. I don’t really know how else to think of it.

  4. Paul, it’s a shame that you don’t know how else to think about it. You’ve evidently fallen prey to something I identified in the blog post where I pointed out that it’s wrong to think of this suffering as the only thing that exists.

    David: In regard to your first claim about probability: No, that’s not correct. In fact the existence of just about anything, given absolutely nothing but the fact that fire engines are red, has a low probability. There’s some related and illuminating discussion of this in Naturalism Defeated which I commend to you.

    As for you pointing out that fire engines don’t affect the likelihood of the existence of a good God which natural evil may well, I believe I beat you to it. Search my blog entry for the words “But the problem here is that whether or not fire engines” and you’ll see what I mean.

  5. Actually Paul I decided to offer a fuller response in case you didn’t get the meaning of my previous comment to you.

    “it demonstrates that a world where God allows indiscriminate suffering and disaster is indistinguishable from a world in which God doesn’t exist.”

    Note that this claim on your part assumes two things.

    First, it assumes that the level of N in a world where a good God is “indistinguishable” from the level of N in a world where a good God does exist and allows a certain amount of N. But how you could know this is beyond me.

    You comment also assumes that (N + A) is exactly the same as N, which is merely to assume that apart from the presence or absence of natural evil, there are no indicators of whether or not God exists, which strikes me as, at very least, flagrantly question-begging.

    So if you “really know how else to think of it” apart from making untestable comparisons and begging the question, then you really need to exercise more imagination!

  6. Glenn,

    If that’s what you meant then fine, I didn’t mean you hadn’t discussed how the problem of suffering effects the probability of god. I only commented to point out that section is not at all clear, and my reading of it seemed to imply something you can’t possibly have meant.

  7. David,

    I think it may be wiser to say “I didn’t understand” rather than “what you said isn’t clear.” Maybe it wasn’t clear to you, but we often miss things even in clear writing, especially when we anticipate that we’re going to disagree with what we’re reading. I know I’ve made the mistake in the past of rushing through things to find a point of disagreement, only to realise that my haste caused me to misunderstand what I was reading. I’ve gone back over what I wrote and it really does look pretty clear. And let’s face it, you don’t have a history of agreeing with me (to put it mildly!). I may tweak a bit here and there to make it even more obvious, but it doesn’t look too tangled.

    For instance: “But the problem here is that whether or not fire engines are red shouldn’t be expected to change based on whether or not God is good. The existence of natural evil, so we are being told, should change based on whether or not God is good.” You missed this first time through, but I have to say, it seems to me to read fairly clearly.

    As for the parts about probability: I don’t think there’s a communication problem going on. I actually think you’re mistaken (or at least, what you said at the time was mistaken). It really did not follow that the existence of a good God was unlikely, all things considered, just because the probability was low given FR. Not at all. I really truly did mean what I said, just as I said it. That the probability of A/B is low is actually unimportant unless B is somehow important in respect of A (also, it’s not heading for a Bayesian argument. It is a Bayesian argument). But now you say you’re fine with it, so I guess we’re good now. No worries. 🙂

  8. Not specifically speaking to any point in the post, just a thought I have where people expect God to stop all earthquakes because some people exercise their free will by deciding to settle there.

    Given he’s put the laws of plate tectonics and various other things into motion to ensure the world sustains life, it seems a bit incredulous that we think he will protect us forever from such things as the consequences of our choices. (Although I commend the faith of those who ask, with the optimism he may well listen given it is within his power.)

    Where would this stop exactly? Eternal life? Which brings me to my next point – this world is not heaven, so I wish people would stop pretending God should have made it heaven by their definition. You have to do a little bit of work to get there.

    And finally, Kiwi of the year person had a big rant about God last week in the paper – said God doesn’t exist, but if he did, he is evil for giving people cancer, like him. Then went on to say that he considers himself lucky to have cancer, because it has made a profound change to his attitude towards others. I found that incredibly funny. does anyone else?

    So just for the record, there is a small island in the Bermuda triangle he makes invisible from us because the mosquitoes there are particularly dangerous to human life. We have no ability to find it and think we can tame it. But it is for our own good, so no use whining about it, just thank him.

  9. Some paints I disagree with here Glenn.

    It is not clear that earthquakes are a result of plate tectonics. While that is a reasonable hypothesis, there is a lot of data that contradicts this. We do not really know the cause of earthquakes. Further, there is no reason to think we need the existence of plates, nor them moving to survive.

    And I think you are less than clear about your probabilities here. If we consider the existence of God (leaving good aside temporarily). Then

    P(G|N)=x;
    P(G|~N)=x; and
    P(G)=x

    That is, the probability of God is independent of N. The probability of God given evil is better stated

    P(G)=y
    P(G|E)<y

    The claim that it (y) is low is not that the probability of God is intrinsically low (which the atheist may believe), but that the existence of evil makes that even lower.

    Personally I think the existence of evil increases the likelihood of God.

  10. bethyada, I take the view that there’s a relationship between plate tectonics and earthquakes to be relatively orthodox, and I’m not about to reinvent the wheel.

    As for the rest, you say that my brief claims about probability are less than clear, and then you produce something that will quite obviously be even less clear to most readers. And I didn’t mean “even lower.” I meant “low,” and I see no reason to accept that “the probability of God is independent of N,” provided we mean “a good God,” which I insisted on. The very nature of this objection means that we must not leave goodness out, and any objection that excludes the issue of goodness really avoids the issue. Were it not for the element of goodness, the problem would never arise at all. If the only thing we knew was that there was tragedy and suffering, then we’d have a prima facie reason for thinking that the probability of a sovereign and good God was low (unless you deny that tragedy and suffering are prima facie bad, which I cannot do). But prima facie reasons can mislead us, which is why I added “A” into the mix.

  11. Even if earthquakes are a result of plate tectonics (possible, I wasn’t denying this), there is no reason to think that plate tectonics are necessary for life on earth. This was my contention. A world without plate tectonics and earthquakes could exist with no detriment elsewhere.

  12. First of all I find discussion of gods somehow uncomfortable during such times. If people draw comfort from prayer by all means pray. If you find strength and community in your church by all means attend. I must admit I find those who survive claiming gods involvement insensitive to those who were killed, who presumably were not worth saving.

    However, I’m a tad confused. The religious claim that God is omnipotent; capable of doing literally anything. Yet this is rather academic because as far as well can tell he does not interfere in any way with earthly affairs. Disasters occur and he sits on his hands. The faithful and non believers are treated equally. It’s almost identical to what we would expect to see if there were no god.

    Some claim that they are being tested; if so what of the non believers – if this was really about testing believers wouldn’t you expect to see a bias one way or the other. But we don’t; except for the unfortunate fact that a disproportionate number of deaths occurred in churches that were not up to safety standards; a consequence of poor building safety.

    Which brings me to science. You see us measly humans have worked out a way to make buildings safer. Through modeling and study of earthquakes we have introduced building safety codes which mean our structures are able to withstand earthquakes without killing the occupants. It’s not perfect of course, but science has does plenty to save the lives of our fellow citizens.

    But religion does not. Praying to your favorite god will not save you. In this world at least he remains detached, silent and unconcerned. The lesson is clear; if you want to be safe in this world listen to science; from it you can learn about reality.

  13. “It’s almost identical to what we would expect to see if there were no god.”

    Peter, do you appreciate the way in which this is question-begging? You do realise, I assume, that there are arguments for why the very existence of the Universe requires God’s existence, right? So what Christian is going to agree that what we see right now is equally compatible with God’s existence as with his non-existence?

    You might personally find the issue insensitive at such times, but that has never stopped rather vocal non-believers in the past from capitalising on such tragedy as platform from which to critique religion.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s any insensitivity at all here. It addresses a very real question that people ask precisely because these tragedies occur.

    It’s also, with all due respect, borderline trolling to drag in here arguments that (you claim) others use (e.g. “we’re being tested,” which I have never heard anyone say). What other people argue at their own blogs (again, assuming they genuinely do and this is not a straw man) is their concern. There’s no need to respond to them here. I have not used their arguments.

  14. Re the Wesleyan Methodist Church on Durham Street. There were 6 in the building working on the organ, two more were outside. Three were killed and one was only bruised who managed to help two out of the church wreckage. Paul Dunlop was a family friend.
    Great post Glenn for a time of where was God.

  15. The free will defence seems a little out of place here. Sure, it might be the kind of thing to look at when asking why human beings do the terrible things that they do, but planets don’t have any will, let alone a free one.

    It isn’t that much out of place. The world is a broken place because of our rebellion. it doesn’t explain why some earthquake happened at a specific place at a specific time and resulted in much death and suffering. But it does explain why we are in such a context, a context of redemption for broken souls where tragedies for our physical existence is tied to the tragedy of our corporate and individual spiritual rebellion, where punishment may very well be a part of the reason, or meaningless tragedies merely mirror the meaninglessness of our general brokenness, but provide a context where we must deeply depend upon each other and God and may draw closer to each other inspite of our general isolation from each other in order to heal in consistency with this world, our context of redemption.

    We can speculate until the cows come home on why God allows these things to happen. But what does this change? Very little.

    At the risk of not reading closely your entire post (I read some and skimmed some) regardless of whether you feel that there is an answer you can be confident in, many of us must persue the issue because even if we merely maintain that it is possible for there to be a good sovereign in a world of natural evil and other types, we still ought to be concerned to explore how a loving God is consistent with this world as many people don’t have that confidence and some people (As I myself several years ago) have there faith teetering on the edge concerned about whether the scriptural picture of God is indeed a moral one and one we can have confidence in.

    What we have from Job on the issue is pretty ancient and preliminary. Since Job, we have a lot of other scriptures and a rich theological tradition to reflect upon. Many people look at Job and the scant answer given to him and feel that the pious approach given there is to resign the matter to mystery. I think this is short sighted. Essentially, while Job refuses to curse God, he feels that if he could just sit down with God, he could straighten him out, cause there’s a lot of screwy things God allows and he doesn’t seem to be exercising sovereignty correctly. God’s answer is to point to the grandeur of nature and show by example that he is wise and he knows what he is doing. Job doesn’t get an explanation of what God is doing, only the assurance that what it is consistent with wisdom.

    But we shouldn’t stop there given that since Job, God has rolled out his plan for redemption, where God’s answer to evil in the world isn’t merely to eliminate it with an act of power at first, but to suffer it with us. And in the act of sharing in our suffering, God comes to us and we find a restoration that wasn’t available to us. It isn’t a complete and final restoration since the world grinds on as it is, but it is the most important step, a beginning of the end.

  16. Rob, I guess I have a hard time seeing how a free human decision can create a state of affairs where earthquakes happen.

    I skimmed the rest of your comment (touche!).

  17. Glenn, I think this is going to take us off onto tangents that are somewhat relevant, though possibly not that you will agree with. There are observations and people’s ideas that explain these observations. The ideas are often quite speculative, and are one of several chosen based on presuppositions unrelated to the field at hand (I realise you know all this). We know certainly there are earthquakes and magnetic fields. There are several explanations of these. One is chosen and defended vigorously until another acceptable interpretation is raised at which case the earlier one may be abandoned.

    Circulating currents in the magma is an explanation of both movement of the plates and the source of the magnetic field. The first has major problems with the force of uplift required and the direction of plate movement to mention just 2 issues.

    A current in the magma would explain magnetic field but for unrelated reasons, men want a self starting current thus propose moving magma.

    These 2 ideas are combined for the sake of unified theory and the fact that magnetic reversals are found in the crust. While unified theories are useful, it is not (to me) apparent that they have to be combined this way (though I understand why some do).

    Your link is much more speculative than the author supposes. His carbon comments are not necessary, without removal of carbon it doesn’t need replacement, and water is more important for temperature.

    We do not need plate tectonics for water for any reason I can think of.

    The magnetic field is not necessary for an atmosphere to exist (perhaps it prolongs its duration?). I think it is beneficial for life, though I imagine that others would see a lesser or absent field beneficial for life.

    I think we are getting away from your post and I am happy to leave it. I will say that I understand that some things are necessary for a good, though there may be an associated evil, which was the basic philosophical point you were making here. I would add that I think such a situation of good with necessary evils is a result of living in a fallen world.

  18. Glenn, I appreciate your responses and I hope you don’t think my question was meant to be antagonistic. I think Peter put it succinctly:

    “The religious claim that God is omnipotent; capable of doing literally anything. Yet this is rather academic because as far as well can tell he does not interfere in any way with earthly affairs. Disasters occur and he sits on his hands. The faithful and non believers are treated equally. It’s almost identical to what we would expect to see if there were no god.”

    This isn’t to say I don’t believe in God, but gone are the days when pat evangelical slogans and clichés were enough to convince me to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and doubts.

  19. Perhaps you can illuminate me. Are there any arguments that prove the existence of god that can not also be used to prove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? The arguments I’ve seen are no more than assertions in absence of evidence. They are of the nature “I don’t know how reality came to be, and all I can think of is a god”.

    If you find the FSM offensive insert any of the ancient gods or any modern non Abrahamic god. And if this god is so interchangeable with so many gods how can you claim any kind of knowledge – even about whether a god was responsible at all.

    Yes, I’m sure that most Christians have faith that god exists, and that faith colours their interpretation of the world at large, and how they believe it came to exist. But faith != evidence. There is no objective reason to believe gods of and stripe exist. And as a matter of objective reality, if one does exist he is indifferent at best.

    With reference to atheists using this as an opportunity to ridicule the religious I should note that those that tried to suggest such actions were shot down quickly by fellow atheists. Obviously there are individuals who are insensitive, but this is true regardless of religion. An example of this was this web site:

    http://www.christchurchquake.net/index.html

    This site has been taken down, but we have a copy of it; which in part says:

    To the hundreds of thousands of people who suffered because of the Christchurch earthquake: Ask yourselves: “Was the profit from meals, accomodation and transport from 900 poofters and lesbians attending “Gay Ski Week” worth the $4 billion damage, worth the homes destroyed? Was it worth going to sleep night after night not knowing if the roof will come down on you by morning?” Chris Carter and Helen Clark’s government got what they wanted — 12 year olds on the streets as prostitutes, overseas trips, expensive liquor and credit card junkets, lesbians running loose on the South Island as if they own the place. But, looking at your ruined homes, at all the historic buildings destroyed, ask yourselves, “Did we get what we wanted in all this destruction?”

    I really don’t want to get into a discussion about who is worse; we are all human and there are insensitive atheists just as much as there are insensitive theists. I don’t claim moral superiority of atheists.

    But let us look at your statement “My own take is that the earthquake tells us little or nothing about whether or not a good God exists.” Well, if as is claimed, the god you believe in is omnipotent then his inaction means he is at least indifferent. It means he could have stopped it but chose not to. Either that or he is not omnipotent. So it tells us plenty, it tells us that a omnipotent good god does not exist.

    A omnipotent indifferent god might exist. A sadistic omnipotent god might exist. A limited good god might exist. Of course, “good” is subjective; so I’ll use as an example of good and bad. The good people of Christchurch risked their lives to help their fellow person. They shifted debris at great personal risk, in at least one case resulting in their death. The bad people stole from the houses of victims.

    Good and bad are ill defined and subjective, but we know it when we see it. The actions of god would be like an individual walking by indifferent as injured and trapped people lay screaming and bleeding. Toe be able to help and refuse is not compatible with a good person. Or a good deity.

    If you believe in a god it might make you angry toward his perceived injustice; killing babies, but to me it is all natural; the air and water that give us life, the plants and animals that sustain us, and the disasters which hurt us. Nature is indifferent.

  20. Peter, the moment someone while trying to make an actual point makes an appeal to the Flying Spaghetti monster is the moment where I switch off. Sorry. It has nothing to do with offensiveness, and everything to do with what I perceive as utter lazy-brained trollishness. This is confirmed in my humble view by the general thrust of your first paragraph and the obviously ludicrous caricature of theistic arguments. I have no desire to even acknowledge such rubbish by engaging it.

  21. bethyada,

    The magnetic field protects the atmosphere from solar radiation, solar winds and stuff (I won’t pretend to be an expert, so “stuff” will have to do). I’ve heard it said many times that in doing so it enables the atmosphere to go on existing without being stripped away. Perhaps this is not correct.

    As for water, the reason (so I heard) that the magnetic field was necessary for this is that it protected the atmosphere, which is needed for water on the surface of the earth – again, so I heard.

    If somebody were to come up with a persuasive tested alternative explanation for earthquakes, we could then begin to look at it and ask whether, according to the new theory, earthquakes are the result of some other process that is important. But until then, we really can’t say. Yes, I’m a victim of scientific orthodoxy at this point, and I think that unless I have good reasons not to be, this is probably the most prudent stance (or to simply ignore the issue altogether, which is also often a smart move).

  22. Peter wrote “Well, if as is claimed, the god you believe in is omnipotent then his inaction means he is at least indifferent. It means he could have stopped it but chose not to. Either that or he is not omnipotent. So it tells us plenty, it tells us that a omnipotent good god does not exist”

    That argument has been pretty decisively refuted and almost no philosopher atheist or theist accepts it today. Glenn in fact addressed it in the post above. A key premise, which you all but explictly state, is that if a person does not prevents an instance of suffering when he has the power to he is indifferent towards it. But thats not true, whats true is that if a person does not prevent suffering he is able to and lacks any justifactory reason: such as bringing about a greater good or preventing a greater evil, for doing so, he is indifferent. If there is a good reason for allowing suffering then a perfectly good being would allow it.

    So your argument follows only if you can show that there is no good reason known to an omnsicent person which justifies suffering. Good luck with demonstrating this.

  23. Rob, I guess I have a hard time seeing how a free human decision can create a state of affairs where earthquakes happen.

    That wouldn’t be my claim.

    Of course it was God who broke the world, or who does not have all protections in place in response to our rebellion. Our actions don’t directly cause it, still, we are responsible because our rebellion was the necessary cause without which no natural evil would harm us.

  24. Of course it was God who broke the world, or who does not have all protections in place in response to our rebellion.

    Huh?

    I have a 3 yr old daughter. I could wrap her up in a rubber suit and confine her to her room and remove interaction with any other human being to protect her too. But then, you would consider me some kind of monster…

  25. bethyada – I forgot to add: I don’t mind the tangent. Although I know very little about geology and plate tectonics etc, I find it fascinating.

    Peter: Let me chime in with Matt. You essentially re-state the problem that this post was written to identify, ignore my comments about the problem and just declare that there are no possible avenues of reply. Fine – ignore the blog then, by why comment if you’re going to do that?

  26. God did not bring the destruction about. The planet Earth is unstable. Millions live in unstable regions. Earthquakes were going on eons before mankind appeared on the scene. Earthquakes are therefore not designed as some kind of moral test for men, women and children. They are merely part of the chemical processes at work in the solar system which keeps the planet in a suitable condition where life can exist and prevents the planet from falling apart and becoming an uninhabitable ball of hot and poisonous gas as it originally was. Fault lines are the glue which hold the construction together. Sometimes the glued pieces fracture.
    I don’t think that the admirable stoicism of the New Zealand peoples is a heavenly test which they will pass with full marks whilst the chaotic wailing and weeping one sees in some other earthquake zones is a test which they have failed. It is all just various aspects of human nature and various peoples’ lifestyles and upbringings which is at work.
    God may move in mysterious ways but the day to day reactions to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, drought, famine, plagues of locusts and all the rest of it are simply reactions.

  27. Peter –

    When you say this: “Good and bad are ill defined and subjective,…”

    You pretty much cut out the ground from your position that ‘evil’ is incompatible with the existence of an omnipotent ‘good’ God. Since, according to you, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are ill defined, it is possible that there is in fact no contradiction there; since, again according to you they are subjective, who’s to say that God’s view of what is good is not the same as ours (but equally – subjectively – valid and true)?

    And when you follow it with this: “…but we know it when we see it.”

    you appear to contradict yourself. If something is subjective, then what I know it as is not necessarily (but no less truthfully) what you know it as.

    An example:

    I know coffee as expensive, exploitative, bitter-tasting, gritty swill.

    You (say) know it as the best hot beverage there is, a refreshing morning pick-me-up, the perfect drink for a chilly evening.

    Glenn – great post, and interesting discussion to follow.

  28. Glenn,

    I skimmed the rest of your comment (touche!).

    Yes touche but as to my comment on not reading the whole article closely, it was an honest admission that you won’t get from all your participants and an explanation if anything I had said was already answered though I think I understood it well enough that what I said wasn’t answered.

    No disrespect was intended, I’m just honest about how much time and effort I put into it since I am limited in time.

    Geoff,

    I have a 3 yr old daughter. I could wrap her up in a rubber suit and confine her to her room and remove interaction with any other human being to protect her too. But then, you would consider me some kind of monster…

    Yes, because you have not the resources nor omnipotence to actually create and sustain a utopia nor restore the world to that intended perfection.

  29. Rob,

    In order to create a utopia in which there is autonomy and and freedom, there are consequences.. That is my point. God would truly be a monster if he removed our freedom, right? So what you’re saying is “God doesnt exist because he hasnt removed our freedom, but removing our freedom would mean God doesnt exist”.
    Or something like that anyway.

  30. In order to create a utopia in which there is autonomy and and freedom, there are consequences.

    If you are speaking of natural evil as an immeadiate consequence, I don’t see that at all. I don’t see why it isn’t the case that an omnipotent God cannot create a world without natural evil. There is certainly nothing logically necessary about it.

    Certainly there were possible consequences of moral evil and it was through that that natural evil was introduced into the world in lieu of it’s brokenness.

    God would truly be a monster if he removed our freedom, right?

    I don’t know. He wouldn’t be consistent with his purposes in creating us free. But creating a context where freedom isn’t likely to result in moral evil and by proxy natural evil is still a context where freedom exists.

    So what you’re saying is “God doesnt exist because he hasnt removed our freedom, but removing our freedom would mean God doesnt exist”.

    No, I wasn’t saying that at all. I am a Christian who maintains that God has given us freedom of the libertarian sort.

  31. hi Rob:

    If you are speaking of natural evil as an immeadiate consequence, I don’t see that at all. I don’t see why it isn’t the case that an omnipotent God cannot create a world without natural evil. There is certainly nothing logically necessary about it.

    Certainly there were possible consequences of moral evil and it was through that that natural evil was introduced into the world in lieu of it’s brokenness.

    I was thinking more along the lines of when you give autonomy, there is a chance that the autonomous may not comply with your “wishes”. Then, when/if this occurs, there are issues.

    I don’t know. He wouldn’t be consistent with his purposes in creating us free. But creating a context where freedom isn’t likely to result in moral evil and by proxy natural evil is still a context where freedom exists.
    I dont think it is possible, you are either free, or not free. It is logically impossible to be both. But then of course, you need to determine what you mean by free.

    No, I wasn’t saying that at all. I am a Christian who maintains that God has given us freedom of the libertarian sort.
    If I recall, libertarian freewill effectively is “the ability to choose anything”. In other words, if there is any restriction on your ability to choose something, you are not at all free.
    This is a problem, since you can not choose to be a cat. Nor can you “choose” to be reborn (john 3).
    To be free is to able to fulfil ones purpose, in this case, to represent God and be like him. I think it gives you quite a few problems. Anyway, a proper philosopher should argue this, not me.. I’m tainted from discussing this with too many christian crackpots who believe it (not that you are, particularly, but they are for sure).

  32. If God was truly distant, and had no interaction with the world, the world would be a far worse place.

    Without God, there would still be earthquakes, famines, floods, tsunamis, wildfires.

    With God, there are earthquakes, famines, floods, tsunamis, wildfires, and all the effects of where God has intervened. There is the hope that death need not be the end. There is a large community who follow a God who proclaims peace and justice, and are sworn to emulate this God.

    With our myopic eyes, it is easy to only see the obvious places that God has not intervened, but ignore the less recent ways that He has.

    Without God, the earthquake at Christchurch would still have happened. But it would not have happened at a place called Christchurch. All those who perished therein would have been lost forever. And who knows what dark shrine of man’s inhumanity may have been standing on Durham Street, instead of a house for a loving and merciful God?

  33. I guess the question for those who believe in a deity who actively intervenes for good in the world is this: if people getting killed by natural disasters in houses of worship won’t convince you of his non-existence, what would? A tsunami snatching an infant from the arms of its mother? Certainly not. In fairness, I guess the only honest answer is nada.

  34. You seem to be laboring under the idea that God existing would necessarily result in people in houses of worship being invincible from natural disasters. Can you explain the no-doubt rational sequence of ideas that led you to this proposition?

  35. If I recall, libertarian freewill effectively is “the ability to choose anything”. In other words, if there is any restriction on your ability to choose something, you are not at all free.

    that is not the definition of libertarian free will. Libertarian free will means that one can choose but can also refrain from that choice. As long as there is more than one possible outcome, then the choice is free.

    To be free is to able to fulfil ones purpose, in this case, to represent God and be like him. I think it gives you quite a few problems.

    Yes, this is the meaning of freedom in much of scripture when it is explicitely mentioned. libertarian freedom is arguably something else and something implicit in scripture, not the concept explicitely used.

    (not that you are, particularly, but they are for sure).

    my pot is quite cracked actually.

  36. that is not the definition of libertarian free will. Libertarian free will means that one can choose but can also refrain from that choice. As long as there is more than one possible outcome, then the choice is free.
    The last sentence is negated by the bit before it. Refraining from choice is also a choice (to choose or to choose not to choose), therefore what I said still stands. So, basically what I said was right.

    Yes, this is the meaning of freedom in much of scripture when it is explicitely mentioned. libertarian freedom is arguably something else and something implicit in scripture, not the concept explicitely used.
    So, in reality the 2 things are opposed to each other, so why would you claim to hold to the thing which is NOT in Scripture?
    In fact, imho, libertarian freewill is basically “nothing”. As I said above, we all have the ability to choose, or not to choose, so by definition we all have libertarian freewill. The Bible tells us that this kind of freewill is fraught with danger because our very nature is corrupt. The issue is whether we are free to do something about that or not, and the answer is.. no.

    my pot is quite cracked actually.
    Not half as cracked as mine.

    Glenn’s probably reading my replies and laughing at it!

    btw, imho (again), libertarian freewill leads us to a number of issues theologically, if it becomes the definition of what “freedom” is. I’ve noticed a number of dispensationalists and open theists who are (crackpots err..) passionate about this to the exclusion of anything else. I wonder if they stem naturally from one another.

  37. guess the question for those who believe in a deity who actively intervenes for good in the world is this: if people getting killed by natural disasters in houses of worship won’t convince you of his non-existence, what would? A tsunami snatching an infant from the arms of its mother? Certainly not. In fairness, I guess the only honest answer is nada.” TAM, this comment simply assumes the argument from evil is obviously sucessful and so attributes intellectual dishonesty to those who reject it. Sorry but question begging ad homs don’t count for much.

    As to what would convince me a perfectly good God did not exist. I can think of several situations. A world where everyone who does evil lives in pleasure for eternity and where those who do good suffer excruciating torment for eternity would be one incompatible with a perfectly good God.

    Question answered.

    Now are you going to address the argument or continue to beg the question.

  38. Greeting geoff

    The last sentence is negated by the bit before it. Refraining from choice is also a choice (to choose or to choose not to choose), therefore what I said still stands. So, basically what I said was right.

    Not in the slightest. of course refraining from a choice is a choice. you’re interpretation of me is an equivocation since by choice in that sentence, I meant an option to choose. I did not mean choice in that sentence as a synonym for free will itself.

    So, in reality the 2 things are opposed to each other, so why would you claim to hold to the thing which is NOT in Scripture?

    That isn’t what I said either. That freedom explicitly mentioned in scripture is not libertarian freedom (or I might rather say, isn’t clearly related to libertarian freedom… the free will offering has potential to also be a libertarian free act) is not to say that it is opposed to it. It wouldn’t be the only concept where the normal occurrence in language occurs where a word may have more than one definition and someone is perfectly consistent to hold all of those concepts are true. Dictionary definitions aren’t either/or conepts where you decide you only will use or agree to one of the many definitions of a word to the exclusion of others.

    Finally, I didn’t say that libertarian freedom wasn’t in scripture. I explicitly said that it was implicit in scripture.

    libertarian freewill leads us to a number of issues theologically,

    The lack of libertarian free will also leads to a number of issues as well, many rabbit trails all worth considering but getting further from the topic. But out of respect for the topic, I think this may be as much as I’m willing to go here on this rabbit trail. Good day.

  39. Yes, because you have not the resources nor omnipotence to actually create and sustain a utopia nor restore the world to that intended perfection.

    I’ll repeat again, this place is not heaven. Why do you expect to be living in heaven to prove God exists? There are lots of angles to refuting your point. For example, lets pretend you wish to be a brain surgeon at age 13. Do you expect to be given your medical degree and have the knowledge to fix people’s brain, or is there more to it than that?

  40. MaxVel :

    I was thinking about the question you ask in the car on the way to work; that is, if good and bad are so subjective, then how can one claim there cannot be a good and omnipotent god? In fact there are a few formulations of this argument that are similar.

    The first is that we don’t really know if there is a larger good. For example, if someone is trapped in rubble, obviously in need of help, and calls out to our “hero”, only for the hero to walk away, then is our hero “bad”? Perhaps our sorry trapped person does not know that there is a building down the road, and our hero is hurrying to save the lives of hundreds of people. Thus you might claim that our sense of good is the same as god, but our knowledge is incomplete; that god is busy with some larger good.

    This argument doesn’t fly. It may work with a limited human hero, but if god were really omnipotent he would be able to stop all pain and suffering. This calls into question whether omnipotence is possible in principle.

    The second approach is to say that our understanding of good is somehow faulty. The concepts of good and evil may be subjective, but that doesn’t mean that we as a society don’t share a sizable chunk of common beliefs about good and bad. I’m sure if I took a poll about killing, kissing, raping and helping; we could all agree on most things.

    So if it makes you more comfortable you might say that god cannot be good in the way we understand people are good, while also being omnipotent.

    Now, you can if you want define the word good to mean everything god says and does. That’s cool, you can do that, but it means defining killing and rape as good so personally I’m not really prepared to compromise my ideas of morality on that alter.

    My question remains unanswered however; is there any compelling reason to believe in your deity specifically? Assume I believe that a deity needs to exist to create the universe for a minute; why would I believe in your deity? We don’t even need to get onto whether such a being is good or bad; in fact it would actually help the credibility along to assume he is either sadistic or at the very least indifferent.

  41. Sorry, but really you’re insisting on sticking to your belief whatever the evidence – is there *any* horrible event that would finally persuade you that God doesn’t exist? (Others have already pointed out that your “statistics” is erroneous). If the God you believe in could have prevented this from happening (and if omnipotent, he could have created a universe in which we *didn’t* need plate tectonics) but instead thought it would be fun to create one in which such suffering (leaving aside Dachau, Auschwitz etc) occurred (being omniscient, he knew it would be the consequence of the kind of universe he’d created), then frankly I don’t think much of his moral standards. This of course was all covered much more succinctly in Robert Tressel’s “Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”. Let’s forget the superstitions and get on with creating a better world. Give up the God, ghosts (what *does* the holy ghost do, incidentally?), fairies at the bottom of the garden etc. and deal with reality. Start condemning the evils of religion (like the Pope arguing that apostasy is worse than child abuse) instead of trying to shore it up with fallacious arguments.

  42. ….and sorry Glenn, but really, just saying you don’t like the FSM so you’re not going to respond to it doesn’t really add a lot of credibility to any perception that you could refute the argument…..

  43. Glynn, Actually I responded to your point in comment 45.

    You also make the mistake of thinking that if there is nothing that would lead you to give a belief up its irrational. What would lead you to give up your belief that you actually exist? Is this belief irrational?

    As to the FSM what Peter said was “Perhaps you can illuminate me. Are there any arguments that prove the existence of god that can not also be used to prove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? The arguments I’ve seen are no more than assertions in absence of evidence. They are of the nature “I don’t know how reality came to be, and all I can think of is a god”.

    Glenn did not say he did not like this argument he said

    it has nothing to do with offensiveness, and everything to do with what I perceive as utter lazy-brained trollishness. This is confirmed in my humble view by the general thrust of your first paragraph and the obviously ludicrous caricature of theistic arguments. I have no desire to even acknowledge such rubbish by engaging it.”

    Glenn’s claim was that this comment was such a caricature of and so ignorant of the theistic arguments that the person who made the comment is not worth engaging with.

    Glenn is of course correct, these are caricatures of the theistic arguments and it is either totally dishonest or totally ignorant to make comments like this. But instead of responding to what Glenn actually says you describe his position as an assertion “he does not like the FSM”.

  44. Ah, Geoff, I don’t think I can debate with someone who tells me what I’ve said when I didn’t actually say it. I never said anything about rationality or otherwise, and simply being abusive about the FSM is no more persuasive than being abusive about the writer. I’m sorry, but ad hominem comments (and their close relatives) and putting words into other people’s mouths doesn’t make for good argument. Whichever way you look at it, if there’s a God the evidence is much more persuasive that he’s a malicious vicious bastard than that he’s omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent. Fortunately there’s no evidence for either kind of God to start with. Carry on believing in fairies, santa claus, god and other superstitions if you like (they all have equal credibility) but don’t try to pretend that your beliefs are subject to argument one way or another. Have fun in fantasyland. Cheers, Glynn (PS, you might like to learn some statistics – as has been pointed out before your little probability arguments are simply *wrong* – try applying Bayes’ Theorem).

  45. Glynn 😛

    Rob R:

    If libertarian freewill is:
    Libertarian free will means that one can choose but can also refrain from that choice.
    Then “choice” _is_ a synonym for freewill.
    Therein lies the problem.

  46. Computers make choices all the time. Great to hear they have free will. Oh, and my cat often chooses between one food and another – wow, maybe he has a soul too? 🙂

  47. Glynn, Sorry I assumed when you stated

    Glyn you saidSorry, but really you’re insisting on sticking to your belief whatever the evidence – is there *any* horrible event that would finally persuade you that God doesn’t exist? you were suggesting belief in God was irrational. Were you not suggesting this, do you think it’s rational perhaps.

    Whichever way you look at it, if there’s a God the evidence is much more persuasive that he’s a malicious vicious bastard than that he’s omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent. Fortunately there’s no evidence for either kind of God to start with. Carry on believing in fairies, santa claus, god and other superstitions if you like” this comment really undergirds my piont. I could just as easily attach evolutionary theory by asserting there was no evidence and telling you to keep believing your mum is an ape. You would not consider assertions and caricatures credible.

    Of course if you could actually show that the standard arguments offered by theists do not exist, or that they can be used to show a FSM that might be interesting. Consider for example Maydoles recent ontological argument, or Swinburne’s arguments, or Craigs, or Plantinga’s. Perhaps you can show me how they entail that fairies or FSM exist?

    The fact you rely on caricatures is evident from your comment

    “If the God you believe in could have prevented this from happening (and if omnipotent, he could have created a universe in which we *didn’t* need plate tectonics) but instead thought it would be fun to create one in which such suffering (leaving aside Dachau, Auschwitz etc) occurred (being omniscient, he knew it would be the consequence of the kind of universe he’d created), then frankly I don’t think much of his moral standards.” Perhaps you can point me to where Glenn or any theist for that matter claimed God created plate techtonics because he though it would be “fun” to cause suffering.

    Its really easy to attack a theology you have invented, a lot harder to actually criticise one that Christian philosophers and theologians actually propose.

  48. Of course it’s irrational, just as belief in fairies and the FSM is. But I didn’t say that believing in the absence of any conceivable contrary information is necessarily irrational, you put those words into my mouth. And of course the arguments you note don’t require that fairies or FSMs exist, because, like God, they don’t either (suppose the FSM is exactly the same as *your* god apart from the name?). The point is that superstitious beliefs of all kinds are equally defensible, and all the data “explained” by God are equally well explained by the FSM. And if you believe in the FSM there’s no difficulty explaining how Auschwitz occurred (I don’t think we have to assume the FSM is always benevolent) – so basically it provides a more powerful explanation, in that it explains more of the facts. If god produced plate tectonics (not “techtonics”) knowing it would produce suffering, it rather suggests he must have thought that this suffering was a Good Thing doesn’t it? After all, he could have produced a universe without suffering just as easily. If I were omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, it’s what I’d do. The fact that he couldn’t be bothered, and instead produced one in which suffering happens suggests he’s rather more malicious than I am – and definitely not benevolent. But really, I don’t see the point of this – you’re going to cling to your superstitions whatever anyone says, so I don’t think there’s much point in pursuing it further.

  49. Glynn says: “Sorry, but really you’re insisting on sticking to your belief whatever the evidence – is there *any* horrible event that would finally persuade you that God doesn’t exist?”

    Glynn, I have to wonder whether you even read the blog post that you’re commenting on. I commented on the issue in question here, namely the role that the existence of suffering should play when evaluating the probability that a good God exists. You have not once commented on this in any constructive way. In this last comment you’re really just insisting “No, forget the response you gave, just shut up and concede my position right now.” That’s not a reasonable request.

    As for your previous silly comment about the FSM, yours is the case to make. Step up and show that all the arguments for the existence of a good God, including arguments for Christianity, apply equally to the FSM. Put up or stop the chest beating with this rhetorical nonsense. You’re just not addressing what is being said to you, and it’s becoming obvious.

    I suggest that you will find a couple of things: First, you’ll find out that the mere fact that a theistic argument allows for the FSM is not important. General theistic arguments were never intended to specificy exactly which God exists, so the FSM objection merely misses the point and makes the objector look daft. Second, you’ll see that any argument for Christianity in particular, especially the arguments concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, falsify the silly FSM rejoinder as they offer no support for the FSM at all.

    The whole FSM issue was created be people who just fail to understand the issues at stake. It’s rather embarrassing to see them strutting their stuff and thinking that they’ve got this devastating comeback. It’s the intellectual of seeing some buy show up at school, having forgotten to put his pants on. That I have even spent this much time commenting on the FSM comeback is evidence that I have given it more time than it warrants, so this is the last I will say.

  50. If you’re really interested in debate, read what I said and comment on it. Your “probability” is just wrong, the data are more consistent with a malicious than a benevolent god, and the FSM can be whatever you want (exactly the same as your god if you like) and therefore can be equal to any god proposed. But sorry, I’m really not interested in silly superstitions – either debate rationally without the ad hominem or don’t expect any further replies.

  51. *chuckle* Glynn doesn’t read my post or comment on the way I dealt with the very issue he raised earlier, and now that I have gone one step better than him and actually tackled a number of his comments (even really silly ones) he now demands that go even further and give him more attention. Glynn, your comments just aren’t that good. Sorry.

  52. Glyn,

    Of course it’s irrational, just as belief in fairies and the FSM is. This begs the question, I challenged you to show that the arguments for Gods existence entail equally well a FSM, here you simply assert that theism and a FSM are on par.

    But I didn’t say that believing in the absence of any conceivable contrary information is necessarily irrational, you put those words into my mouth.

    If this is the case then your argument begs the question, Glenn argued certain types of evil was not compelling evidence for Gods non existence, you responded by claiming he was ignoring the evidence against God. Again simply asserting the point at issue is not a rational response.

    And of course the arguments you note don’t require that fairies or FSMs exist, because, like God, they don’t either (suppose the FSM is exactly the same as *your* god apart from the name?).

    This is evasive, my claim was not the arguments actually proved a FSM existed, I rather asked you to substantiate Peters claim that the arguments for Gods existence are also arguments for a FSM. I note you don’t show this.

    ” The point is that superstitious beliefs of all kinds are equally defensible, and all the data “explained” by God are equally well explained by the FSM.

    Again an assertion, perhaps instead of simply asserting this you can demonstrate it.

    ” And if you believe in the FSM there’s no difficulty explaining how Auschwitz occurred (I don’t think we have to assume the FSM is always benevolent) – so basically it provides a more powerful explanation,

    Again assertion, still no actual construction of the arguments theistic philosophers actually use to defend theism and a demonstration of how they provide equal support for a FSM.

    ”in that it explains more of the facts. If god produced plate tectonics (not “techtonics”) knowing it would produce suffering, it rather suggests he must have thought that this suffering was a Good Thing doesn’t it? After all, he could have produced a universe without suffering just as easily.

    No this does not follow, all that follows is that if he created plate techtonics knowing it would cause suffering he had some greater good permitted or justified it.

    But note that’s not what you said, you criticised the idea God created plate tectonics because he thought suffering was fun. I asked you to show me who ever claimed this. You haven’t

    If I were omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, it’s what I’d do.

    Actually, I doubt you can actually know this, do you really know what you would do if you were omniscient. That suggests that all the relevant information that an omniscient being has you are aware of know. Hardly likely.

    The fact that he couldn’t be bothered, and instead produced one in which suffering happens suggests he’s rather more malicious than I am – and definitely not benevolent.

    Unfortunately, both Glenn and I have already refuted this inference, sorry but again asserting a claim and begging questions is not a rational argument.

    But really, I don’t see the point of this – you’re going to cling to your superstitions whatever anyone says, so I don’t think there’s much point in pursuing it further.

    Not suprising, you made claims I asked you to substantiate them , now suddenly you want to make assertions and slip away. Unsuprising.

  53. You’re missing the point – *I* don’t need to substantiate anything, because *I’m* not claiming anything needs to be hypothesised (like God or FSM). If you can’t see that anything god explains is also explained by FSM then we’re all laughing at you even more than you thought. You’re the one saying we need to believe in these strange ideas like a nice god who nevertheless creates a world in which we suffer, and you’re the one who doesn’t understand probability theory (I note you still haven’t applied Bayes’ theorem to your argument). If someone comes up to me and says there’s an (invisible) FSM in the room,I don’t need to substantiate my disbelief (you haven’t substantiated your own disbelief in the FSM) – it’s their job to provide evidence. Your “evidence” is non-existent (and your “probability theory” really *is* very funny!). But I’ve laughed at you long enough, even the best jokes pall after a while. Good luck and I hope your superstitions don’t spread to hearing voices telling you to make people suffer ‘cos it’s all for a greater benefit…. 🙂

  54. ” *I* don’t need to substantiate anything, because *I’m* not claiming anything needs to be hypothesised”

    You are clearly making claims that should only be believed if there are good reasons (e.g. all arguments for the existence of Christianity or theism more generally also support the FSM and this fact is logically relevant to the problem of suffering). Unless you ever change your stance and try to defend your claims, Glynn, nobody’s going to take you seriously. This is why I have not taken you seriously.

  55. You’re missing the point – *I* don’t need to substantiate anything, because *I’m* not claiming anything needs to be hypothesised (like God or FSM). If you can’t see that anything god explains is also explained by FSM then we’re all laughing at you even more than you thought.

    You’re correct that you’re not claiming that God exists, but that’s not the question you and I are discussing. We’re discussing the question of whether or not the standard arguments for Gods existence provide as much support for a FSM as for God. You have “claimed” that this is the case.

    So if the person who makes a claim is the one that needs to substantiate it, then you need to substantiate your claims about the theistic arguments. In no subject do you get to simply assert that the arguments of your opponents are incorrect without actually addressing them. Unfortunately you do not do this, instead again you assert this and try and back it up with a claim, again which you fail to support, that everyone is laughing at me if I don’t agree.

    I don’t know why you think simply making an assertion about a FSM and following this with “we’ll laugh at you if you disagree” counts as a rational rebuttal of anything, because it doesn’t .

    You’re the one saying we need to believe in these strange ideas like a nice god who nevertheless creates a world in which we suffer,

    First, the idea of a God is not “strange.” In fact, it’s been a fairly normal and common idea for centuries. What’s actually strange is the claim that matter and energy is all there is. Almost every culture has found this strange. Secondly, no one talks about a “nice” God, that’s a caricature, they claim God is perfectly good, goodness and niceness are not the same thing.

    Finally, you again simply assume that it’s obvious that evil proves God does not exist so that its obviously strange to suggest otherwise. But this is of course false. The fact is that throughout history numerous people have defended the negation of this claim. In fact its still hotly debated by philosophers today.

    So again you are simply making assertions that your view is correct and trying to dress that up in pejorative language.

    Like I said, an argument to the effect that God if he exists, does not have a good reason for allowing evil would be interesting. However, asserting that an argument Glenn and I have already refuted is correct is not.

    and you’re the one who doesn’t understand probability theory (I note you still haven’t applied Bayes’ theorem to your argument).

    Never mentioned probability theory, but Glenn’s point is actually quite correct. The fact a claim (or hypothesis) is improbable on the existence of suffering does not mean that it’s improbable on the existence of all data relevant to the question. Perhaps you should read the article “On being evidential challenged” in the philosophical literature which spells this out rigorously.

    ”If someone comes up to me and says there’s an (invisible) FSM in the room,I don’t need to substantiate my disbelief”

    Actually that depends on the context, if a large number of people in the room who are intelligent and otherwise normal, tell you themselves perceive the FSM, and a large number of intelligent people offer you arguments for the existence of the FSM, and a large number of intelligent people also respond to and argue the arguments against the FSM are failures, then you don’t get to simply assert “there is no FSM, all your arguments are silly.” In that context the onus on you is to show them their perception is unreliable, that their arguments fail, their counter arguments do not succeed. The very things you are avoiding doing here.

  56. I have an honest question – What do we make of Christ walking on water or calming storms? It would be enough to say “He’s God, he can do that” but Peter walked on water and Christ asked where the disciples faith was after he calmed the storm. Maybe I’m making a bit of a leap, but it seems as if he wanted them to do something about it. This also comes out when Jesus curses the fig tree and then tells his disciples to speak to mountains and by faith, they will be removed.

    We also see Christ conquering natural evils in healing the sick, and his disciples also shared in this ministry and we’re told to continue this ministry (James 5:13-16) The prayer of faith WILL save the sick, we read.

    So if God brings the disasters, or natural evils, why does Christ rebuke them? Didn’t he say that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand? Maybe indirectly God caused it, just as God says “the silver and the gold are mine”, even though it’s not directly in his possession, per se. But he made them, and so in that sense they are his, just like he made the natural law in this world.

    I would also just throw out the fact that in prayer and being led by the inner witness of the Spirit, I’ve avoided a car wreck. I just had an inner intuition while praying on the highway to switch lanes, only to discover a car sitting in the middle of the road. Maybe God could be warning people to get away from disaster areas before it strikes, we don’t know. It seems that my experience is not that uncommon from talking to other Christians.

    Maybe when Plantinga said natural evils could be caused by evil spirits with wills of their own (for all we know, and I know he said it for argument’s sake) maybe that’s not as implausible as initially thought. I’m not saying Satan caused this, but perhaps it’s not all directly from God as we think, if I’m making any sense.

    I really am stumped, I’m afraid my question has turned into me thinking out loud.

  57. I’m a Christian living in Christchurch. While I find this discussion interesting, it pales somewhat with the reality of actually living through a natural disaster of this scale.

    My own experience the past few weeks, is that the emotional trauma has stripped away a lot of the superficial, surface day to day stuff in my psyche, and left me considering what’s important. I am alive and safe. There are lots of others that are not. The difference between the two in my case was only a matter of metres. There is nothing special about me that makes me any more worthy of being alive compared to those people a few metres away from me. But here I am, and now my challenge is what do I do with this life? It is at this point that I turn to my faith. I don’t have the answers yet because I’m still processing it all, but I don’t think atheism would help someone to find meaning in these questions.

  58. Adulcia, you’re right. Atheism will definitely not help you find meaning in those questions. Atheism doesn’t seek to provide answers … it just rejects answers for which underlying evidence is insufficient.

  59. This article reminded me of a story of a man, who died, and then, when he came before God, he was shown his life as he lived it. As a Man who believed n God, he had always lived believing that God was with Him. so, as the vision unfolded before him, he saw the footstep of Him and God, walking together. The intriguing thing was that whenever they came to very steel part of his life, he only saw two foot prints instead of four.
    Perplexed, the Man asked God, “ Why, Lord, it appears that you only were with me, when the road was easy, and you left immediately it became steeper!”
    God replied. ‘No, Son. I did not. These two footprints you are seeing are mine. When the road became too difficult for you, I carried you on my Back”
    Its true that people are always perplexed over the presence of disaster, suffering, and wickedness. It also becomes difficult to imaging God, being a good God, and yet, a God who apparently allows evil, suffering to exists. Its like imagining a parent who stuffs himself/herself, and watching her kids staff to death.
    In the book of Isaiah, God promises that He will create a New Heaven, and a New Earth. Its as He stated; “Whoever blesses himself on earth will bless Himself by the God of truth, and whoever swears an oath on earth, will swear by the God of Truth, for past troubles will be forgotten, and hidden from my eyes. For look, I am going to create a new heaven, and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered and will come no more to mind. Rather be joyful, be glad for ever at what I am creating, for look, I am creating Jerusalem to be ‘Joy’ and my people to be ‘Gladness’ I shall be full of joy in Jerusalem, and I shall rejoice in my people. Isaiah 65:16-20 This God, who promised to create a New Heaven and a New Earth, is the Christ, who Manifested Himself as Man. He, as the Son of God, who was also the Son of Man. When he was subjected to crucifixion, and was murdered, God, resurrected Him, and clothed the Human Spirit, the Image and likeness of God, with His Spirit, and His Body. This Christ, is raised up over the world, unseen and expresses Himself correctly on behalf of humanity, whom the Father has bequeathed Him. That means that this Christ, shared humanity, with humanity. And he is Crucified, whenever we express yourself wrongly before God. He is the one who suffers with humanity and for humanity, as he creates, a New heaven, and a New earth, promised for those who helps him, manifest a paradise on earth. Its as he stated; Then the One sitting on the Throne spoke,’ Look, I am making the whole creation new. Write this, ‘What I am saying is trustworthy and will come true’ Then again he said, ‘It has already happened. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water from the well of Life free to anybody who is thirsty; anyone who proves victorious will inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he will be my Son. Revelation 21:1-7 This New Heaven, and New earth, is the One that all those who have accepted the Christ and work for him, shall resurrect to. Its as he stated; “If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches; for those who prove victorious, I will feed from the tree of life, set in Gods paradise” Revelation 2”7-7
    That means that, this earth, remains imperfect because of human wickedness. But all those who help God, will be reward for their hard work. Its as he promised “ Then I heard a voice from heaven say to me, ‘Write down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord! Blessed indeed, the Spirit says; now they can rest for ever after their work, since their good deeds go with them.’” Revelation 14:13 This explains the nature of presence of suffering and wickedness on earth. In that in the Christ, God shares humanity with Man, and in the Christ, Man shares divinity with God. And since humanity for God in Christ is Hell, Divinity in Christ for Man, is Hell!! Watch yourselves!

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