A Space Theodicy

by Matthew Sitman David Mihalyfy offers a theologically-inflected take on the film Gravity, noting that in addition to the “survival narrative” of astronauts Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski (played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, respectively) struggling to make it back to earth, there’s another story going on: [I]n the parallel and primary narrative of … Continue reading A Space Theodicy

God, Free Will, Theodicy

Jerry Coyne returns to the theodicy debate. He quotes this Francis Collins paragraph:

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.

And responds:

Theodicy, Once More

Coyne responds:

Humans do not have a unique capacity to “rise above suffering.” Every animal rises above suffering.  It has to, if it is to live and leave offspring.  It’s ADAPTIVE to be resilient!  Any dog who hobbles along on three legs after an accident is rising above suffering.  How are we humans different? We have big brains that can mentally come to terms with suffering, but that’s adaptive too. It’s certainly not evidence of “God’s love for us,” much less for a god itself.  It’s better evidence for evolution, for those individuals who couldn’t rise above suffering left no offspring.  Ergo we cope, both mentally and physically. Sullivan goes on to talk about the terrible diseases that afflicted his loved ones, and for that he has my deepest sympathy. But even atheists recover from such traumas.

One feels as if one is talking past someone.

Theodicy, Front And Center, Ctd

A reader writes:

You said:

My notion of a fallen world is related to the fact of mortality, which embraces almost everything on our planet, and causes terrible suffering to animals as well as humans. The difference is that, so far as we know, only humans experience this suffering as a form of alienation; we feel somehow as if we belong elsewhere, as if this mortal coil is not something we simply accept, as if our home was from somewhere else.

There is no reason for humans to feel alienated due to the facts of our existence.  Once one understands evolution, the fact that we exist at all should leave humans feeling as if they have won the biggest lottery ever, one that makes the largest Powerball payoff seem like a beggar's breakfast on a bad day. What I hear you saying translates, in the context of my worldview, as something like, "Despite the incredible stroke of luck I have experienced, I want more. Therefore, there must be more." I see no evidence that the sheer fact of one's wanting is a necessary and sufficient condition for there being that which one wants. It seems an incredibly egoistic take on reality.

Another reader:

Theodicy, Round Three

I wonder how much of my writing Coyne has ever read, how much of my wrestling with doctrine and theology and faith he has perused before he dismisses one side of an ancient debate as “insulting to anyone with a brain”. Obviously, my case of letting go to God reflects a Christian understanding of what one’s response to suffering could be. This does not deny suffering, or its hideous injustices, or the fact that so many in the animal world suffer without any such relief or transcendence.

Theodicy, Front And Center

A reader writes:

You confused me with 514px-Blaise_Pascal_2

First, I have never looked at the theodicy argument as an argument against faith, or I should say, all faith.  Rather, I have looked at it as an argument against an omnipotent, wholly good God.  It does not necessarily deny God; it denies a particular God and, at most, the supposed rational portions of a faith associated with that particular God. Second, the snippet of Blackford’s argument that you presented noted suffering that “took place long before human beings even existed.”  Yet your dismissal of the argument rested on your belief that “suffering is part of a fallen creation.”  My understanding of the Judeo-Christian “fallen creation” is that it did not occur until – and it occurred only with – the presence of human beings.  Therefore, your rejoinder had nothing to do with Blackford’s argument that you presented your readers.

It seems to me that the theodicy argument is an argument from reason.  Your argument is an argument from faith.  Therein lies the paradox: you cannot counter reason with faith.  As I learned this summer from reading Unamuno, the irresolvable conclusions arrived at through reason and through faith lead us to what he calls the tragic sense of life.

I take the first point. But I do not adhere to the Rick Warren God, intervening like some massive finger coming down from Heaven to push us through every decision we have to make. The idea of everyone's life as divinely "purpose-driven" is horrifying to me.

Theodicy Again

Heather Mac Donald argues with Martin Gardner: Gardner assumes that were God to start preventing some deadly accidents, he would have to prevent all such accidents, resulting in chaos.  The reality is far worse than that.   Since believers give credit to God for answering their prayers when they are saved from catastrophe or illness, they … Continue reading Theodicy Again

“The Best Of All Possible Worlds”

The phrase comes from the early modern philosopher, G.W. Leibniz, used in his book Theodicy – though it was made famous when Voltaire later mocked it in Candide. Marc E. Bobro unpacks what it means: In the book, Leibniz defines “world” as “the whole succession and the whole agglomeration of all existent things, lest it be said that … Continue reading “The Best Of All Possible Worlds”

Not Having The Patience Of Job

The sociologist of religion Peter Berger posits that modern atheism emerged as “a rebellion against the monotheistic faiths that originated in the Middle East – Judaism, Christianity, Islam,” and that, as such, it “makes much less sense in a non-monotheistic environment”: The rebellion is triggered by an agonizing problem: How can God, believed to be … Continue reading Not Having The Patience Of Job