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Friends in Ottawa

I mentioned meeting Mark Fournier at Eschaton. (There are surprisingly many B&W readers-and-commenters in Ottawa.) Step in the time machine and go back to 2006, and Richard Swinburne…

Remember this of Swinburne’s? The interjection is mine.

Theodicy provides good explanations of why God sometimes — for some or all of the short period of our earthly lives — allows us to suffer pain and disability.

Good? Good explanations? Good in what sense?

Although intrinsically bad states, these difficult times often serve good purposes for the sufferers and for others. My suffering provides me with the opportunity to show courage and patience. It provides you with the opportunity to show sympathy and to help alleviate my suffering. And it provides society with the opportunity to choose whether or not to invest a lot of money in trying to find a cure for this or that particular kind of suffering.

Uh huh. Because everything, if you look at it like that, can be warped into something that is actually good. We should all go out and cause suffering then, right?

Mark a few months earlier was considering Swinburne’s take on causality and why God.

And now we come to another of Swinburne’s arguments: that assuming an intelligent creator is a simpler premise than the naturalistic alternatives. Given that it took all of this infrastructure just to get a few billion moderately intelligent and generally benign humans to appear on one planet, how is it simpler to assume the existence of an infinitely intelligent and good entity? Where did God come from? The answer is usually that God has always existed, but since Swinburne finds it highly suspicious that particles all follow the same rules across most of space and time, how likely is it that an entity as complex as God would never change? It’s no good to say that God is above time, because apparently he intervenes occasionally, which situates Him as an actor in time. It is precisely this temporal existence of the divine that believers crave–a God above time is not interactive. Indeed, an entity above time and space would be so utterly alien as to be completely orthogonal to all human hopes and wishes, ruling the universe by an incomprehensible aesthetic more conducive to blind terror than comfort and hope.

I always think it’s odd that many people think they know not only that god exists but also what god is like and that god is good in a sense that is meaningful to humans. That’s a lot to know. It’s a lot to know and there’s no real source for any of it. How can they possibly be so sure that god is not “so utterly alien as to be completely orthogonal to all human hopes and wishes”? It always makes me wonder how they know god isn’t raising us for food. That’s why when we got to this point in the conversation on Friday evening, I said “it’s a cookbook” and everyone laughed. They all knew the reference.

Comments

  1. Rodney Nelson says

    Given that it took all of this infrastructure just to get a few billion moderately intelligent and generally benign humans to appear on one planet, how is it simpler to assume the existence of an infinitely intelligent and good entity?

    I look at the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field and come away with the conclusion that a god which made a universe with galaxies over 12 billion light years away is not going to be concerned with a teenager masturbating or who wins the Big Game on Saturday.

  2. lpetrich says

    Richard Swinburne’s arguments seem like Panglossianism to me, the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds.

    Those arguments also remind me of how the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus claimed that bedbugs have the purpose of keeping us from sleeping too late and mice have the purpose of reminding us to clean our homes.

  3. says

    There are surprisingly many B&W readers-and-commenters in Ottawa…

    PZ noted something like this, too, about his readership, and skeptical folk in general, at the conference in Montréal a few years back, when the Ottawa contingent was again around in force, and he was realizing how many names he’d seen around were from here. I made a few tongue-in-cheek guesses at why, mostly in the ‘anyone who’s spent any time in this climate knows at least there’s no benevolent god, anyway’ category…

    More seriously: quiet place, so blogs are the only nightlife? Government/tech town, so high levels of education? Relatively stable/safe sort of place (see Hank re general quality of living) and this generally seems to be inversely correlated with religiosity? At borders of cultures/gets lots of international traffic, and I can’t remember which mouldy theologian noted people who see just how many religions there actually are tend to disbelieve them all? Next to relatively recently dramatically secularized Québec… Who knows? Or it’s just something in the water.

  4. Martha says

    @Rodney #1 I’ve always found it particularly offensive that someone who believes in a good and caring god thinks that entity has time to make sure that his or her team wins the Big Game. Really, don’t they think their god has more important problems to deal with?

  5. yahweh says

    Ramdom comments

    1. Maybe we atheists should talk about gods (pl.) rather than God as it concedes a mostly Abrahamic view. It also facilitates the fallacious leap from ‘not being able to prove there is no god’ to ‘therefore the baby Jebus’.

    2. Theodicy is the reductio ad absurdum of theology.

    3. Since stopping third party cookies I now get adverts about my breast implants every time I visit this site and in some way I find that better than weight loss programmes for middle aged men.

  6. fmitchell says

    Indeed, an entity above time and space would be so utterly alien as to be completely orthogonal to all human hopes and wishes, ruling the universe by an incomprehensible aesthetic more conducive to blind terror than comfort and hope.

    Ia! Ia! Yog-Sothoth!

    Seriously, the transcendent horrors of H. P. Lovecraft seemed far more likely to me (and to Lovecraft, reportedly) than the Abrahamic deity. Sure, he cares for ever sparrow that falls, but if you’re in Darfur or dying of cancer or just dirt poor you’re screwed; he loves us all but unless you pledge your loyalty to him, avoid all forms of sex but the procreative one, and vote Republican he’ll torture you for all eternity. That’s damn close to an incomprehensible aesthetic, now that I write it out. But that’s what happens when you try to scale a tribal god up to an all-powerful, all-knowing cosmic entity.

  7. says

    Seriously, the transcendent horrors of H. P. Lovecraft seemed far more likely to me (and to Lovecraft, reportedly) than the Abrahamic deity.

    See Stephen Law’s(?) reverse theodicy in 50 Voices of Disbelief, where he makes pretty much this argument (albeit without the specifically Lovecraftian reference).

    Eg:
    Standard theodicy: GoodGod allows evil to happen so that we will enjoy the good even more when it comes.
    Reverse theodicy: EvilGod allows good to happen so that we’ll be that much more miserable when he takes it away without warning. IOW: he’s a sadistic bastard who likes fucking with our minds.

    It’s scarey how much *more* compelling his theodicy is than the standard one.

    One of my two favorite essays in the book.

  8. sunny says

    Hitler and Stalin were only providing opportunities to “show courage and patience.”

    I feel better already. It seems that even Hitler and Stalin were only following orders.

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