Judging our Judge, Part 2
In my slightly silly, futuristic fantasy Do you believe in man? I tried to depict the incongruences of Darwinism by putting the theory in the “minds” of man-made computers. Though it fails as a perfect analogy, I hope it demonstrates the self-imposed limits of naturalism which hamper true scientific inquiry, and the ridiculousness of the theory that intelligence rose from non-intelligence.
I also intended it to show the futility of the attempts of a created being of a certain order or dimension to fully apprehend the higher order or dimension of its creator. And the arrogance in thinking itself uncreated because its creator is not apprehendable by its limited processes.
Such futility and arrogance applies to our cross-examination of God in his dealings with men. We may ask the questions…How can a good God have ordered the killing of innocent children?…Why would an omnipotent God allow such wholesale destruction from natural disasters?…Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? (Romans 9:19)…but in the end we must admit and accept that our understanding of one so much greater than us will always be incomplete and less than we would like. This is not a cop-out or a plea from ignorance. It is a totally rational conclusion from the obvious reality of the hierarchy according to cognizance and capability that we see in the created order, and which we can and must apply, to an even greater degree, to the relationship between the created order and the creator.
That being said, God does not discourage nor frown on honest questions borne of our human nature as reasoning creatures. The Psalms and Job are full of them, and God himself says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together.” There are truths we can ascertain about him and he commends us for seeking them (Jeremiah 29:13).
One of the clearest and simplest truths that should guide our understanding is that since God created all life, he has the right to do with that life as he will. We may not like it, we may charge him with unfairness, but we cannot deny that he has that right. But this should always be balanced with the truth that he is good. This truth, of course, is called into question when his deeds appear nothing short of evil. But the operative word there is “appear.” We “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our vision and understanding are clouded, for a variety of reasons, oftentimes because we really don’t want to see.
I refer you to a simple illustration which I shared with one of my readers and which you may have heard before. Suppose your sister or wife was 8 ½ months pregnant and she experienced a dramatic event, only the barest details of which were given to you. All you were told was that a man with a knife slit open her abdomen to get at her child. Was this the horror of a murderous, cold-blooded, child-stealer? That conclusion would fit the facts. But an opposing conclusion also fits: the man was her obstetrician who, with the aid of anesthesia, performed an emergency C-section to save her life and the life of her child.
So when we look at passages in the Bible that seem to paint an image of a God who is callous, indifferent, vindictive, unjust, or otherwise evil, we must approach them with the acknowledgement that our vision is limited. Those who are unwilling to accept that will never arrive at a totally coherent conclusion. If they reject God outright as nonexistent because of perceived evil motivations or deficiencies in power or concern for his creation, how do they reconcile that with the clear revelation of his compassion and love? How do they even know what to expect God to be like?
If they acknowledge some sort of god but reject the God revealed in the Bible because he cannot account for all his actions to their satisfaction, what can they know about this god that does satisfy? And how do they account for the transformative power of Jesus’ life, death, and apparent resurrection that changed the course of history?
If they stubbornly refuse to believe unless and until they have answers to all their questions, they must be content with an explanation for the origin of the universe and the beauty, complexity, intelligence, and apparent design of all life within it that is void of any prior intelligence or purpose. I know many will say they’re fine with that, but it is an incoherent conclusion.
Well, this is already long and I didn’t get to much of what I wanted to say. I appreciate you struggling through these issues with me. Feel free to share your insights as I continue endeavoring to express what I believe God has shown me.
I have three ways I want to look at this, which will make this a long comment.
I want you to imagine you’ve gone for a walk with a friend, and it’s cold out and it was snowing last night. Your friend turns to you and says “Look at that perfect, white, crisp, pristine snow as far as the eye can see”. And you look, and you see slushy, grey-ish trampled-in snow with mud showing and a couple of places where someone hasn’t cleaned up after their dog and puzzled you turn to your friend and say “Well, it’s kind of pristine over there, beside the river. But it’s muddy and melting for the most part”.
And your friend gleams a wonderful smile and says “yes, it is pristine over there. Therefore it is perfectly pristine everywhere; yes I know it’s trampled-in and looks muddy, but it is still pristine.”
Then you explain that the snow was probably pristine very early this morning and it is still pristine in places now, but that does not make it pristine. There is a spectrum from perfect snow to ruptured pig-silos, and the issue is not binary.
So then your friend looks at you, slightly disturbed, as says “you just don’t get it. The snow is perfect, because snow is always perfect, even when it’s mixed with dog droppings”.
He kills people, even the innocent, and He is good. “This sentence is false”. It just is, you don’t understand!
I wrote a post about how if God has to do bad things in order to achieve a greater good then He may be perfectly good; He makes the hard decision that no one else could. But He can’t be omnipotent in that situation, because He is negotiating with something (e.g. the state of reality, or the devil) and is coming up with the best options, but still less-than-perfect results. If the result of a negotiation are less than perfect for any one side then that side is not omnipotent
(I think I’ve sent this to you before, but: http://allallt.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/epicurus-and-the-problem-of-evil)
Friend – (may I call you friend? I’m not trying to insincerely ingratiate myself with you, I’d just like to address you as something more personal. I think I know your name, but you may not want me to use it.)
Your snow analogy, though interesting and well-written, does not appear to me to successfully refute the argument to the goodness of God. There is no reason to expect that a blanket of snow cannot be at once pristine in one area and muddy/slushy/ugly in another. But it is unreasonable that a being that is perfectly good can at the same time be also evil.
“He kills people, even the innocent, and He is good. ‘This sentence is false.’” In order to be able to properly judge this sentence as false, you would have to know a lot more than you are capable of. You would have to know…1. there is no afterlife where the innocent go to enjoy eternity in bliss, 2. taking the life of an innocent one could never save that one from much pain and hardship, 3. taking an innocent life could never be for the purpose of saving many more innocent lives…for starters.
I read your post before, and I read it again. First of all, God’s omnipotence is not compromised or called into question by the fact that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Just because he has all power doesn’t mean he will always exercise that power. He does not “negotiate” with man, but he has chosen to give us free will, which we use to go against his will, resulting in “imperfect” and often undesirable consequences.
Secondly, you (and I) judge results “perfect” or “less than perfect” based on our limited understanding. We do not know everything – not the way everything is nor what it will be in the future. An omniscient being would. Our perspective is radically different from God’s. We tend to see the goal of life as personal and communal happiness, or well-being, as you like it. But God may have designed this life to train us, shape us, mold us into his likeness, and this likely would involve trials, disappointments, failures, suffering, and unhappiness. If this life is temporary, and there is a life after that is eternal and everyone will live forever either joyfully with God or in despair without him, and what state we are found in at our death determines our eternal fate, and if a person was being so stubborn that the only way he would turn to God is if he suffered enough to cause him to humble himself and call out to God for help, wouldn’t the loving thing for God to do be to bring that suffering on him?
Based on the fact that you believe you have a limited understanding, why should I believe your claims about your god? Or anyone’s claims about god, scripture included?
“and if a person was being so stubborn that the only way he would turn to God is if he suffered enough”
God: Hmmm…I could appear before him and give him evidence. But instead I’ll make him suffer. Clearly that will get him to believe in me and love me.
Firstly, to clarify a miscommunication on my part, “this sentence is false” was not meant to refer to the sentence that immediately preceded it. It was meant to refer to itself. “This sentence is false”. It is a paradox. The only way for infanticide and religious persecution and keeping virgin girls are the spoils of war and burning people alive and blanket judgement and guilt-by-association can be “good” is if one of us misunderstands “good”. Else the statement is a paradox.
Secondly, I could have died at birth. And that would have been loving, because then I was too young to be held accountable for my lack of belief, so I’d have gotten into Heaven.
Why is God perfectly good? This is one of the things I’m really not following. Why is He not good some times and bad in others; that’s what humans are like. And that better fits the jealous and capricious God.
Why faith? When I ask this I am normally told that the only innocent person to have ever lived got killed by torture and therefore I can be forgiven for my sins. That doesn’t follow and if it did it still wouldn’t be moral.
Freewill doesn’t answer the question of God’s negotiation. Yes, the hostage situation comes down to freewill, but tsunamis and famine and drought and parasites that eat children’s eyeballs do not.
I did misunderstand your statement. Thanks for clarifying. Nevertheless, I have responded to the apparent paradox or dichotomy of “bad” deeds from a good God. I think we’ll just have to accept a stalemate on that one.
Humans are “good some times and bad in others” because we are NOT perfectly good. God has to be perfectly good because otherwise he wouldn’t be God. If he were not perfectly good, we could imagine a being greater than he. That being would then be God, and the first…not. Do you see?
I don’t understand how you can claim that sacrificing oneself for another is not moral. Certainly you can imagine a father or mother willingly dying for a child because of love. Why is it so hard to believe God would do the same thing for you?
When it comes to biology, design is not apparent.
Design is not apparent.
No electrician would do cabling in a way analogous to the laryngeal nerve.
No carpenter would give a whale a pelvis.
No software designers (firmware?) would intentionally create software prone to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In what profession is it okay to endow your inventions with self-destruct features, like the appendix or massive heart attacks (for apparently no reason)?
No plumber would put an air pipe that is easily blocked right next to a food pipe with constant traffic of materials that might block it.
How would you feel if your local council built a waste disposal pipe right next to a recreational area? Because that is what’s going on between your legs.
Haemoglobin’s one job is to allow iron to be oxidised near the lungs and reduced near a cell. That’s it. The oxygen in a haemoglobin molecule has the molecular mass of 32. The actual haemoglobin molecule has a molecular mass of about 20,000. (As a point of reference, artificial blood that humans have created is 1/3 the size and carries twice as much oxygen.)
Ha-ha. I would like to see what the human body would look like if we designed it. Why don’t we have wings? Why can’t we fly? That’s what I want to know.
But all those examples of seemingly poor design aside, you cannot deny design in the way the universe is fine-tuned, the way our blood clots to seal off a cut and protect against infection, the incredible systems that are found in a single cell, in the amazing processes ordered by the precise information in DNA. I’m sure any honest biologist, biochemist, or student of anatomy and physiology could list a whole bunch more.
I am not any of those, so I can’t intelligently address apparent “bugs” in the human body, the whale, or anything else. However, I would like to point out the noticeable design in the “flap” that “automatically” covers the windpipe when we eat….usually. And when we happen to take a breath just as a morsel is headed for our esophagus, our bodies are designed to cough it up. That’s wondrous to me.
The fact that our bodies are sometimes born “defective,” succumb to illnesses, have parts that prematurely deteriorate of fail in some way….I don’t have an answer for you that will satisfy. Other than to suggest that it is possible that God has a purpose in allowing pain and imperfections. It would not take much to find examples of great blessings, great courage, great compassion demonstrated in and through the lives of folks who we would consider among the physically disadvantaged.
Hawking comes immediately to mind, but probably only because he’s just done a terrible advert on British TV (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onzJBr-CAmI — as a digression, the thing they open up in the advert isn’t a simulation of a black hole… I wonder if that annoys Hawking).
The paralympians also come to mind.
The hallmark of evolution is imperfections, where something that already existed was built upon. So there are many imperfections like this. The complexity of the cell is one thing, but high efficiency would be another thing. The protein machines are not particularly efficient: they get the right thing done enough of the time.
“Right” by the way, in this context, is defined as “encourages function for survival”.
The design of the universe is a big topic. But where could you live off of land on this planet. Even some of the land in uninhabitable. Space is massively uninhabitable.
As for the “fine tuning” of the all the physical constants, we have no reason to suppose any other conditions are possible. If you apply Probability Theory, in fact, we are guaranteed the conditions we got (and that’s the failing of a small sample size).
But that’s the point, on the sample you’ve got you have no reason to assume these conditions came out against the odds.
*Sigh* Go to bed, friend. Please? 🙂
Fair enough, your argument makes sense. It kind of leaves me a bit stuck though. It’s impossible to know for sure whether God is real or not, no one can prove/disprove it. Therefore, I can’t reject/accept God on terms of his existence. God’s thoughts and ways are above mine, so I cannot accept/reject God on terms of his goodness/lack-thereof. Do you just accept the verses that suggest God is good and then when a verse suggests otherwise you say “he’s beyond my understanding”? Isn’t that picking and choosing a bit? How am I supposed to decide if your God is worth following if I have no way of assessing his goodness or even his existence? How do I know if your God is the right one?
And no. I do not think God automatically has the right to do whatever he likes to life just because he is the creator. I think this question might depend on where one stands on the Euthyphro Dilemma. The question of whether God is good because God is the definition of good, or whether God is good because he meets an objective, independent standard of goodness. If the latter is true, (as I think it must be for God to be worthy of worship) then God cannot do whatever he likes to his creation and still be good. What do you think?
Though it is true that no one can prove, beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, that God exists, there is enough evidence to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he does. Faith is deciding, on the basis of evidence, to believe something is true. We actually exercise faith without ironclad, visual, experiential evidence more than we realize. You may believe that Alexander the Great was an actual historical figure from the 4th century BC. But you’ve never seen him; no one alive today has ever seen him; we have documents that tell of him but they were written hundreds of years ago and the earliest fragment was written 100 years after his death. So can you be absolutely certain they are accurate?
You may believe that all life originated in a primordial soup and somehow managed to evolve into complex creatures like you and me. But you weren’t there to witness it, and neither was anyone else. Furthermore, the theorized processes have never been observed, even with the help of intelligence. So this requires faith, just like the existence of God.
It has been proposed, by C.S. Lewis I think, and probably others, that this “gap” which must be crossed by faith, was God’s purposeful design. The thinking is, if God made himself so plain that there was no way we could deny him, he would actually be overriding our free will. We would not be free to choose or reject him.
About “picking and choosing” because he’s beyond our complete understanding…I think I addressed that in this post.
If you mean by, “How do I know if your God is the right one?” how do I decide among the many gods that have been proposed?…ask yourself which belief systems have actual evidence to back them up and can best answer the existential questions of life.
And I believe the answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma is that God IS good, he IS the objective standard of goodness. Because of that, whatever he does will be good. But we have differing understandings of “good”, and I think that’s where our objections come from.
I really don’t see any convincing evidence for God that would prompt me to take the step of faith. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but the evidence seems weak to me. I will be continuing my reading and searching in this regard though, as I very well could be wrong.
In the case of Alexander the Great, I trust the historical records and legacy, and the experts who say he lived. I’m not sure if they are necessarily accurate, but I guess I am willing to take a step of faith here because of the evidence and because it isn’t going to have any effects on my eternal soul (presuming I have one) if I do/don’t believe in him.
I don’t know if I agree about God creating a gap. If I knew with certainty God’s existence and character, I would be able to make an informed decision about whether I should follow him or not. Wouldn’t that be that a good thing? If I was informed, and then rejected him, then it is fair for me to end up in Hell. If everyone was informed, no one would end up in Hell simply because they didn’t find the evidence conclusive, or were brought up in the wrong religion. It seems to me that people will end up in Hell through no choice of fault of their own in this system of a large epistemic distance. That isn’t right. Because of this “gap” that God has made, I do not have the information I feel is required for me to accept him beyond reasonable doubt. I cannot accept him, but nor can I completely reject him. I’m stuck.
So genocide, rape, slavery, etc. could all be good if God commanded it? Any act could become moral according to a random whim of God. It makes morality so arbitrary! Bertrand Russell said that if this was the case “For God himself there is no difference between right and wrong.” This view requires complete trust of God. It makes me think of those in Nazi Germany who completely trusted Hitler, believing he knew best. What is the difference? How do you know that God is not a cosmic Hitler if there is no objective morality?
Thanks again for listening to my many questions. I really appreciate your taking the time to give such thoughtful responses. I’m not sure if I can agree, but it is definitely thought-provoking. Sorry this comment has gotten so long!
I think it may be helpful to point out that God is much less insistent on having all the facts than we are. What I mean is, he doesn’t require that we know and believe all the truths about his character and his ways before he will seal us for his own by his Spirit. He basically just requires that we submit to him, which I believe is the essence of “fearing” him. And this can be done without much knowledge of him at all. Since God knows our hearts, he knows if we are humble enough to recognize that we were created by a Being greater than ourselves and that we are necessarily subservient to him. And if he sees that we, with this humble attitude, sincerely want to know him, he will reveal himself.
If one were to say, I DO want to know him but he hasn’t shown up, I would suggest that one examine his or her heart to see if perhaps there’s still some stubborn resistance to submission.
So, the argument that God unfairly sends people to Hell for lack of “evidence” or being born into a culture with little Christian influences fails because God’s “entrance exam” to Heaven is so simple. As the Bible says in Romans 1: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Your mention of rape in the context of God “conforming” or not to our understanding of morality raises an interesting point. Though he did order that whole groups of people be killed, he would never command a rape. I think that’s an important distinction to see. Life is God’s to give and take away; killing is not necessarily evil. Not even for us. Killing in self-defense or defense of another is not, neither as a punishment for murder, in my opinion anyway. But rape is always evil.
Slavery as we in Western civilization have experienced it, is evil also. However, slavery in biblical times was not like the enslaving of blacks in our history, where a whole race was considered inferior and subject to ownership by another race. Back then it was more of a position in society, similar to the low-income class today, where financial hardship drove some to sell themselves as slaves. Many working poor today probably feel not much better than if they actually were slaves because of what they are forced to do to provide for themselves and their families. Or you had one nation conquering another and enslaving the conquered people, no matter their race or profession.
The Bible has rules governing slavery without expressly condemning it because of the reasons cited above, but also because God’s objective in His dealings with man is not to make everything just in this world but to reconcile us to Himself. Taken as a whole, the Bible is clear that God considers everyone equal before Him, no matter their race, position, or social status. But since the fall of Adam and Eve we have been consigned to an imperfect world and God uses the imperfections to shape and mold us for the perfect world to come which He has prepared for those who follow Him.
I hope this further demonstrates that God cannot be charged with evil and immorality.
Simple question: do you believe in the god of the old testament?
I suppose you’re trying to set me up for something John, but…yes, I believe in the one God who is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments.
Not setting you up, Caroline, and if i were i wouldn’t be so open about it. I was just interested.
Just want to say, this made me smile. Thanks for that. 🙂