Friday, April 13, 2012

The Problem of Evil

I'm always curious to see how religious people rationalise or explain away the problem of evil or suffering.  Plantinga's "free will defence" does not help and it's easy to show what a whole lot of rubbish that is especially when it's used to defend the Christian God who is supposed to be all-compassionate but we'll leave this for another post.  I just listened to a talk by Ravi Zacharias and I want to deal with his arguments.  He begins by taking issue with the way non-believers bring up this problem of evil as a means of tripping up the Christian.

What did Ravi do?  Did he offer a solution to the problem of evil and explain how an omnipotent and all-compassionate God could sit by as untold sufferings occur every minute of the day?  I've seen how apologists and philosophers try to wrangle God's way out of this mess but nothing has worked.   Naturally, I was curious to see if Ravi could do what no Christian thinker has been able to do satisfactorily in the past 2000 years.

Ravi did not address the problem at all.  Instead, he tries to say that an atheist is not in the position to talk about evil because for there to be evil, there must be a moral law.  If there is a moral law, there must be a moral law giver.  Ergo, God.

For centuries, mankind has sought to look for some evidence for God's existence and since God is spirit and any material evidence of him is elusive (in other words, there is zilch evidence for God's existence notwithstanding the fact that he supposedly intervenes in human affairs in a big way), some have attempted instead to discover the God equation, some equation to determine the existence of God.  Unwin's equation, for example, "shows" that there is a 67% chance for God to exist.  Not bad for an entity for which there is zero evidence.

Of course these desperate attempts to defend God can at best be looked on as no more than a joke.  I don't know of a single rational, sane person who accepts the equation as proof that God probably exists.

As Ravi continues to talk, his voice gets increasingly triumphant but the victory in his tone cannot make up for the emptiness of his argument.  Like all the arguments of apologists, his is flawed and filled with presumptions.  It's reminiscent of the above God equation or any other equations in which some complex figures and symbols are placed in a mathematical formula and the conclusion that follows this abstruse equation is that of course God exists.

Let's examine Ravi's argument.  Is there evil?  Of course there is evil.  The Holocaust was evil just as the Rape of Nanking by Japan (which incidentally remains defiantly unrepentant to this day) an act of extreme evil.  If God did cause two she-bears to tear up 42 boys for merely teasing Prophet Elisha for being bald, that massacre of children too is an act of evil.   It matters not who it is who is standing in the dock.  The act is evil and the perpetrator is evil, let's make no mistake about that.

Is there then a moral law?  That's what Ravi would ask and I've seen him in countless videos shutting his eyes and trying hard to look intelligent as he asks this question, believing that this question, his trump card, will vanquish his opponents.

You can call it a sense of morality, an idea of right and wrong or if Ravi likes it all that much, it's all right, we'll call it a moral law.  I can almost see Ravi leap in triumph.  "If there is a moral law, there must be a moral law giver", is what he will say solemnly.

Now, there is something I have observed about apologists.  When they say something stupid, they usually do it with a stern, authoritative voice.  "If there is a moral law, there MUST BE a moral law giver".  And don't you dare question that.  No, they don't expect a humble "Amen, Lord have mercy" from you godless atheists but they hope that you will at least be bound by some rules of courtesy and you won't question the statement.

When an apologist does that, the right approach is to fight back and be equally belligerent.  Do not accept his statements as if they are fact even if they raise their voices and sound pugnacious.  Growl back, "Why must there be?  Your Holy Book says so?"

That's precisely it.  Why on earth must there be a law giver just because there is a law?  Here is where Ravi Zacharias displays a child's level of thinking.  Only children insist that everything must have a maker.  If a child sees a watch on the table, he'll usually ask, "Who made it?"  His father will probably reply, "The watchmaker".  If he sees a tree, he will ask the same question, "Who made the tree?".  If his father responds with the question "Why do you assume that a tree must have a maker?" the child will no doubt reply, "Since a watch has a maker, so must the tree."  His father may explain that the watch is a manufactured object and naturally such an object is made or manufactured by someone else.  A tree is not a manufactured object so to draw a parallel between a tree and a watch is incorrect.  Now, Ravi and the child obviously cannot grapple with this concept.  They both will go away thinking still that since the watch has a maker, so must a tree.  You may find this amusing but let me assure you that very many people think in that way.

A law does not necessitate a law maker.  It's illogical to suggest that it does.  In science, a law is a statement of fact deduced from observation.  Newton's laws are examples.  

Ravi may be employing another trick that apologists are famous for - confusing the opponent.  Ravi is injecting ambiguity into the word "law" so that you think of the law of the land which, as we all know, is man-made and naturally has to have a maker.  Ravi wants us to think of a king giving his law (like Hammurabi and his famous Code of Laws) or a Parliament enacting a law.  It's easy to jump from that to God.  But that's not the same kind of law as Newton's law or a moral law, although the same word is used.  One is clearly man-made and has a maker while the other is entirely different and to impute a maker to it is like a child insisting that since a watch has a maker so must a tree.

So, the answer to Ravi is "No, a moral law need not have a giver.  The law of the land needs a maker (eg Parliament) but that's a different kind of law from a moral law even though the same word is used".

Why then is there morality?  Here again is one big problem the apologist has.  He questions everything in the hope of finding one question that yields no answer and he jumps on it and declares that God is the answer.  Our ancestors used to employ the same trick with the lightning at a time when nobody knew how it came about.  It had to be from God.  Today, we've moved on from the lightning to other aspects of the universe where there are still no answers and we plant God there.  I recall reading somewhere the proposition that dark matter was evidence for God!

Every communal animal will exhibit some sense of moral code.  To survive, communal animals can't be too selfish.  If it's too selfish, other animals may shun it totally and in times of famine, it will probably have a smaller chance of survival.  At the same time, an animal can't afford to be too altruistic and go about its way giving its food to others or it too will not stand much chance of survival in this harsh world that it lives in.  A balance is usually struck with the selfish animal showing altruism when it has plenty.  Instances of altruism in the chimpanzee, our closest cousin, have been documented.  We can have all this without having to assume that there is some cosmic law giver dishing out a consistent moral law.

Here is yet another huge flaw in Ravi's argument.  He assumes that the moral law is consistent and unchanging.  He makes fun of the assertion that our morality comes from our humanity.  He says that in some tribes, you love someone by eating him up.  He draws the conclusion that humanity is incapable of coming up with a consistent immutable law of morality.   That leaves only the cosmic law giver of course.

Again, Ravi's argument is totally misconceived.   Morality or moral law is never immutable and consistent.  It changes from time to time and from culture to culture.  It's the same everywhere, even in religion.  In other words, even God's morality changes with time and culture.  I'll give examples from my own religion, Christianity.

We read in the Bible the story of a man who was caught one Sabbath evening collecting firewood.  The people brought him to God for his punishment.  God the law-giver had earlier given the law that everyone had to rest on the Sabbath day.  This chap had transgressed the law and so what ought to be done?

The Bible tells us that God told the people to take him out of town and stone him to death.  As God put it in his admirable, no-nonsense, cocksure way, "Surely he must be put to death".  God has made his law very clear.  No flouting it and if you do, you die a cruel and excruciating death - by stoning.

We read in the Gospels how the Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of transgressing the Sabbath laws.  What was Jesus' reply?  Did he say, "Oh blimey!  I should have known better.  Now take me out of town and stone me to death"?  Or did he try to defend himself that he had not offended Sabbath day laws?  This is the explanation given by most scholars who take great pains to show that Jesus NEVER broke any Old Testament law.  [Explanatory note to non-Christians: we need to show that Jesus never broke any biblical law because he's got to be sinless and that's the only way he can effectively be the "Lamb of God" who takes away the sins of the world.]  But let's forget what scholars say.  After all, it's obvious they have their own agenda.  Let's see what Jesus himself said.  Jesus gave examples of how King David in the Old Testament broke some religious laws and implied that since David did it, so could he.  But I don't want to get into a debate on this point with Christians because this part isn't important.  What's important and indisputable is the fact that Christ himself after giving his example of King David concluded that:

"The Sabbath was made for men and not men for the Sabbath."

Made for men?  Why didn't you say so when that poor man was caught picking up wood on a Sabbath evening?  Why did you (or your Father who is also you because the two of you are one with the Holy Spirit) not say precisely this statement and spare his life?

The answer is clear.  Even God's moral law changes from time to time.  I can give many more examples from slavery (which by the way remained the same throughout Scriptures but the Church in very recent times ordered the change and God presumably agreed), sexism, infanticide, genocide, etc but this blog entry is already way too long so I'll talk about the rest another day.

Before I end, I should add something about myself.  I keep getting emails and messages about me being an atheist and I want to put an end to this misconception.  I am a devout Christian who (if I may say as humbly as possible) is far more pious than most parishioners.  I take a deep interest in my faith and read up extensively about it while most parishioners are only interested in the lust of the world (if I may borrow this colourful expression from the good book).  I have also served the church in various capacities since my earliest days whereas you'd be lucky if a tenth of parishioners attend church once a month and we're not even talking about actually serving the church regularly.  Although I am a devout Christian, I also believe in the importance of truth and honesty.  I'll be happy if there is evidence for God's existence or if there is a cogent logical argument for God and I don't mean the philosophical sophistry that some apologists and philosophers employ.  I would be overjoyed to see a good chunky solid piece of evidence but as matters stand, there isn't even the tiniest sliver of evidence for God's existence.  But what I take strong objection to is the lies that some of my fellow Christians come up with to defend God.  Many don't tell lies but they rely on seriously flawed arguments and I sometimes wonder if they are aware of these flaws and if they are, they are guilty of dishonesty.  If they aren't aware of the obvious flaws, they're just stupid but not dishonest.  

I want to play fair.  If we have no logical argument for God and zero evidence for his existence, we have to own up.  We can't cook up evidence or give misleading arguments.  The Bible tells us that "God is truth".  To tell lies for God must surely be the height of blasphemy.

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