The responses to my letter to the editor of the Times Leader regarding the problem of evil and the Japanese earthquake continue to roll in…and the responders continue to miss my point and strawman. This letter writer has questions, so I have answers.
Questions for writer who said belief ‘irrational’
In a recent letter, a spokesman for the NEPA Freethought Society said that belief in an omni-god is “irrational.” He apparently comes to this conclusion because the Earth doesn’t suit him.
His points are infused with implicit theology of his own that seems to say something like “if a God exists, he must create a perfect world where everyone must be happy.” His argument is not science versus theology. Christians know where they got their theology. Where does he get his? How does he justify his presumptions?
Similarly, his points are based on the idea of “bad design.” If bad design is a pointer to non-design, then one must justify what the original purpose of the proposed designer is! Justin Vacula, the spokesman, must justify his theological presuppositions.
There also is a problem of optimizing a design across multiple goals. For example, a laptop computer could be much more powerful if you didn’t care if it weighed 50 pounds. Earth is similar, in that there are tradeoffs. We get rain to grow our food, but we get floods. Earthquakes, caused by tectonic plate shifts, are part of the natural order that makes life on Earth possible. This is, in turn, caused by atomic reactions inside the Earth’s core. Without it, life on Earth would not be possible.
He also says that the universe is ultimately indifferent to human life. Vacula’s arguments neglect the cosmological fine-tuning argument and the anthropic principle. These show that Earth is exquisitely suited for human life.
Vacula is right about donating to charitable organizations such as the Red Cross. But, he gives us no ethical foundation by which he is informed to do one thing or the other. In the Bible’s book of Micah, Chapter 6, Verse 8, we are directed by the Lord’s requirement “to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
The letter writer believes that I come to the conclusion that belief in God is irrational because the earth doesn’t suit me, but that’s far from the case and a gross mischaracterization of my argument. In my original letter
, I argue that we should not expect natural disasters such as earthquakes if a God designed the universe, not that “I don’t believe because I don’t like the way the world is.”
The author continues to strawman and state that I argue that God would create a perfect world, but this is not what I said at all. My argument is not a theological or scientific argument at all, so I fail to understand why the author is stating that my argument is theological. Believers state that God is all-loving and created humans that he cares for so much in his image, yet the earth doesn’t seem designed for humans at all. Humans, rather than being created for the earth are the products of natural selection and have adapted to the environment.
The author states, “If bad design is a pointer to non-design, then one must justify what the original purpose of the proposed designer is!” The author again strawmans me and misses my point. I don’t for a moment believe that there is a designer and don’t say that there was bad design; I say that the current state of the universe is inconsistent with what one would expect if an omni-god created it. Christians typically believe that God is all-loving and that is what I am attacking. The intentions of said god do not matter for my argument, but the intentions must be consistent with all-loving because if they were not, this god’s attributes/intentions would be contradictory.
The author talks about trade-offs and states that without certain natural calamities, life would not be possible. This is absurd because if God made the universe and he is all-powerful, he could have done whatever he wanted and made the universe in such a manner so that natural calamities aren’t needed for “trade-offs.” If God couldn’t do this, he wouldn’t be all-powerful. The author forms an analogy like this, “A laptop that weighs more might be more effective, but we trade weight, thus power, for compactness. This analogy fails because humans make laptops and are very limited in design. If God would perform action x and have plan y, he could do whatever he wants and not worry about trade-offs.
The author dismisses my argument that the universe is indifferent to human life and states that this is not the case because I neglect the cosmological fine-tuning argument and the anthropic principle. We tend to think that we’re in quite a special place that is just suited for us because we have a mistaken view of probability, for one. Fine-tuning proponents state that the chances of the fundamental constants being what they are is very slim and ridiculously improbable, therefore God must have done it. Imagine, first, the vastness of the universe that we can’t possibly comprehend. In such a wide universe, many stars exploded and many opportunities to form life occur, have occurred, and are occurring. We can’t possibly quantify this, but it’s certainly a large number because the universe is so vast. Eventually, we’re going to have conditions for life present and over a very long time, life will thrive. We hit the cosmic lottery and are alive today because of this. Life is and was inevitable.
It also doesn’t appear that the universe was made for us when only about 2% of what we observe is protons, neutrons, and electrons. It seems more plausible to think that if the universe were designed to support something, it would be dark matter and black holes. Douglas Adams told a clever story about a puddle that goes like this: Imagine if a puddle could think, it would surely say something like, “Hm. This gutter is such a great place for me to be in! It’s so perfect! A designer must have put it here for me to live.” This is the same case with humans and shows the profound absurdity.
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.
The fine-tuning argument fails. We’re looking at the earth/the universe after an event (the big bang, the collapse of stars, etc) happened. There are certainly other configurations that would allow for life besides the ones that are here today…and they would be even better.
The fine-tuning argument just seems, in the end, that we’re throwing our hands in the air and saying “Well, I think an improbable event happened, therefore God.” Many improbable events happen every day such as you seeing a very specific chain of cars and respective licence plates as you drive to work, school, or somewhere else. All of the specific events that happened in your life yesterday were extremely improbable; imagine “resetting” that specific day after tracking what happened in each second of that day and then seeing those events happen again. The chances of this are extremely improbable, but this doesn’t mean that we need God to explain your day because we can explain it through naturalistic means. For more on fine-tuning, visit this link
It’s quite easy to understand, without religion, why people should care for other human beings and donate to charity if we are able to do so. A sense of morality emerges for several reasons without supposing the supernatural. Here are two:
– When we look at other human beings we realize that their basic wants and needs are generally the same as ours, so we project our needs and wants onto them. We don’t want to be deprived of our rights, so we don’t deprive others of their rights. Sure, some people “cheat,” harm others, and don’t always act in a moral fashion, but this doesn’t defeat this naturalistic explanation of morality.
– We gain a sense of morality through experience and socialization. We reflect on issues, watch how others act, and learn how to be agents compatible with society. We feel a sense of responsibility toward others and are concerned with our own reputations, so we act in a moral fashion.