Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Problems of Theodicy (II)

In the previous installment we saw how human evil magnified the issues and problems for religionists in terms of theodicy. In addition, the use of “free will” didn’t work because millions of incidents and crimes, horrors occur each day in which an innocent victim has no say or choice at all. The victim is simply predated upon, as the case of the 11 year old Florida girl abducted from a mall two years ago, and brutalized, killed. Thus, a one-sided free will exercised (by the perpetrator) is not an issue to do with the exercise of free will, in terms of what befell the girl.

Why would an alleged, beneficent, “good God” allow such a thing to happen?

How can one even assign the quality of “goodness” to God if It doesn’t even act to the standards of a minimally decent human parent? It's again a cop-out to insist humans can’t “understand the ways of the Lord”. This is merely an excuse that refuses to address the core issue of human evil in theodicy problems and what it says about the alleged divinity.

The core problem of the apparent limitations of divine power (or attributes) was first enunciated by the Greek atheist-Materialist, Epicurus:

“God either wishes to take away evil and is unable, or He is able and unwilling, or He is neither able nor willing, or He is both willing and able.”

Mathematician John Paulos draws the key logical inferences (‘Irreligion’, p. 125)

“In the first three cases He is not very God-like, which prompts you to wonder about the prevalence and persistence of evil. Or to make the situation even more concrete: imagine a serial child killer with his thirtieth victim tied before him. Prayers for the child are offered by many. If God is either unable or unwilling to stop the killer than what good is He? It seems the usual response is we don’t understand His ways, but if this is so why introduce Him in the first place?”

Indeed. Because if God refuses to act in the case of an innocent and on her behalf, or is incapable of action – then for all practical purposes He does not exist. It is therefore a useless exercise to introduce a deity at all. One could as well toughen his mind, admit there's nothing out there, and we're all on our own in a totally purposeless cosmos devoid of remorse or empathy for us. In fact, one major Torino 10 asteroid could obliterate us one time and nobody would be the wiser.

Now, as seemingly sealed as this case of human evil, I'm not going to prematurley foreclose its import for Christian-favored theodicy just yet. The reason is that there is a “God Theory” which can explain it – recently put forward by Bernard Haisch in his book by the same name. I intend to cover Haisch’s theory in a future blog, but for now only note that the reason we behold inaction is because the divinity itself isn't fully knowledgeable, aware, or complete. (Because it is constrained to act via limited conciousness in finite fleshly beings.) Along the same lines, the cosmos and world are still in a process of evolution, and that de facto incomplete process allows for what we call “evil” and human (as well as divine) misjudgments and mistakes. I believe it was the philosopher N.M Wildiers who first observed:

Evil is part and parcel of a world in evolution, an incomplete world.”

Meaning that in an imperfect world governed by evolution, we must expect evil as a kind of natural order. "Evil" is the downside of a most fundamental polarity ("good"-"evil") which permeates all finite manifestation in the extant cosmos. We must therefore not expect divine intervention because God himself is “working things out” amidst a sea of polarities in the relative domain of physical reality. (Haisch argues this is the only way it can be, since the "infinite" can't simply manifest in the limited cosmos as the infinite. The only choice is to become finite then manifest at the dunned down level this dictates. No, this is not the same as the Socinian heresy, as I will later explain - future blog.) But in this frame let’s now examine the problem of natural evil.

As recent examples, we behold news of a massive earthquake that struck Kumming, China last night killing hundreds. Then, two months ago, a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti killing over 200,000. Meanwhile, in December, 2004, a tsunami struck Indonesia and over 220,000 were killed. What gives?

For the atheist or naturalist, nothing. These are simply normal events for a planet with a dynamic core and tectonic plates. There is no “evil” in any of the earthquakes since humans – like it or not- populate a disruptive planet. There are, in fact, about 12-15 earthquakes per year over magnitude 7.0 all over the Earth. We don’t hear about most of them because they occur in inaccessible, far off regions like Siberia or Mongolia or in the sea. We do hear about them when they manifest in populated land centers, but this doesn’t imply more are occurring or “the end of the world is nigh” or any such nonsense.

So, why does a problem of natural “evil” enter? It enters only for the theist, and specifically one type of theist who predicates his world view on a supposed benevolent “Creator” or “designer”. Because at root, if humans inhabit a world subject to monster storms, hurricanes, tidal waves and earthquakes…it is the fault of the Creator for designing such a world in the first place when He knew he’d put humans at risk. As Harry Truman once said: “The buck stops here”.

Religionists go round and round in circles trying to avoid this unsavory conclusion, but there it is! If you're going to posit that a Designer made it all, then logic informs that if we inhabit a world with large faults (no pun intended) it is that Designer’s fault when natural tragedies occur! After all, if He was truly omnipotent then why couldn’t he find or create a planet without these defects which he had to know would kill his ‘children’ by the millions each year? If, as some religionists argue, He did it to "teach us" something, then what exactly was it? Did it require mass death to get the lesson over?

But stand back! If the Haisch theory is correct (and again we'll get to it in detail down the line) this is expected because an incomplete deity is not any kind of proper “designer” (as Haisch himself concedes). Thus, the flawed "pinball machine" world (and cosmos) we inhabit is solely the product of a part-time, incompletely informed divinity- inherently limited in its power and wisdom because it must operate via finite proxy beings. The brains of such beings cannot channel the infinite in its entirely, but only minuscule fragments or quantums of it. In other words, using the framework in which Haisch would put it: “This is the best that a manifest divinity could do having to operate in a physical, relative domain in which Its absolute infinity couldn’t be manifest all at once. "

To summarize then, this is where we are so far led in considering the problems of theodicy:

The evils (natural and human) in the world, lead us to conclude that either the world (and cosmos by extension) is not the product of a “designer” at all (in which case no God exists by one set of criteria) OR: the world and cosmos is the product of a putative, supra-physical agent that is likely incomplete and whose actions are constrained by being manifest in an incomplete, evolving universe.

In the latter case, we’d more likely side with Leibniz, who opined that "natural disasters aren’t the result if any divine punishment for sin” but simply the foreseen (or better, foreseeable) consequences of a regulated and overall consistent system of natural laws.

After all, ALL the natural disasters to which I earlier referred were either completely or partially predictable – even by current methods of science. The 2004 tsunami would've been predictable with 10 or more hours to spare had tsunami warning bouys been present in and around the Indian Ocean (though the people in the immediate vicinity of Bande Aceh may still have not had enough time to prepare). The Haiti earthquake did have a warning, but it was too short, and most people (lacking radios, TVs) didn’t hear it.

The laws that unleash tsunamis and earthquakes are themselves well known, and have to do with sub-duction processes and pressures, shear stresses that accumulate over time, say between tectonic plates. The two plates (North American and Caribbean) that caused the 40' uplift displacement in Haiti were known to be en route to that for over two centuries, for example.

One recent commentator in the press also writing about Leibniz and his view (‘Natural Disasters and the Wrath of God’, WSJ, 4-10) has noted:

One unsettling consequence of Leibniz’s view is that God’s plans and purposes aren’t as human-centered as we might have believed. It is oddly wonderful to think the whole cosmos, even natural disasters, revolves around us – but that belief may already be hard enough to sustain given what we already know about the history and size of the universe”.

Indeed, and I might add it's the epitome of human arrogance and conceit to believe such – given a cosmos 66 billion light years in diameter and teeming with trillions of galaxies each containing over a 100 billion stars each. Only a totally ignorant or self-worshipping species could entertain such an incredibly egomaniacal fantasy!

So to believe any natural disaster or cosmic event is purely for human purposes and interpretations is to commit a ghastly mental crime so vast that it boggles the imagination. It rivals that of the egomaniac ant in one ancient Bajan myth. According to that myth, an ant decided one today to pick up a small piece of straw in its mandibles and drive all humans from its land! Before it could move two inches, it was squashed by a human foot – not intentionally- but merely because the ant was in the wrong place at the wrong time!

The whole history of the advance of modern science, especially astronomy, also provides a cautionary tale to anthropocentrism in showing how humanity has been repeatedly driven out of its preferred roosting perches: from Copernicus’ revelation of the heliocentric theory of the solar system (showing the Sun, not the Earth was the center of the solar system), to the discovery that the solar system is not at the center of the Milky Way galaxy – but two thirds to the edge, to the discovery that the Milky Way itself is not the center of the cosmos – but that all galaxies (in clusters) are moving away from each other in the expansion – with no single geometric center.

Finally, in 1997-98, the discovery that the matter of which we are composed isn’t even the predominant substrate for the cosmos. It is only about 7% of the total, the other 93% is dark energy and dark matter!

We’d do well to bear all this in mind, next time we fancy a major earthquake or natural disaster is “God’s punishment”. Or that multiple earthquakes or other natural disasters herald some "end times" event!

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