Monday, November 05, 2007

Jason Rosenhouse, PZ Myers, et al, meet Scott Carson:
It doesn't help that many modern day Christians have abandoned their Neoplatonic roots and think that physical suffering is a Bad Thing that trumps just about everything else, including the fact that our souls are supposedly immortal. If you really have an immortal soul, and if you really believe that everyone else has one too, then you will not worry as much about physical suffering as a person who thinks that the present material existence is the only one there is. But of course, we are called by the Gospel to care for others and to alleviate suffering where we find it, but the call here is not so much to prevent suffering as to cherish life. Although these two things are functionally very similar (indeed, in many cases they are the same), they are not by any means identical, and the failure to see this is often behind the inability to see that the "problem of evil" is not really a problem at all.

As long as we are the byproducts of evolutionary forces--and of course we are--we will have the capacity to feel pain. It is a mistake of a rather elementary kind to try to equate a natural property of a material entity with a moral category like "evil". Sure, we don't like pain and suffering, but it is a mechanism, nothing more. Only a moral relativist of the most distasteful variety would associate moral goodness and badness with what we like and don't like. We feel pain in the way that certain kinds of plants wilt when they don't get enough water--it is just an artifact of the way we are put together, it is not something that an omnibenevolent God "ought" to have prevented if he had cared enough about us to have put us together in a different way. Again, you'd have to be some sort of bizarre fundamentalist committed to intelligent design and young-earth creationism to fall for the kind of crap that equates mere physical suffering with evil in the world.

People sometimes act as though God's justice is at stake in all this. Young babies dying of starvation in Ethiopia are supposed to show us that God is himself somehow evil (or, more benignly, simply non-existent), just as we would accuse a human parent of "depraved indifference" if he calmly watched as his young child wandered out into a busy highway and did nothing to prevent the inevitable. It really does take a village, doesn't it? Why anyone would be attracted to a theology in which God is just one more citizen in the universe, who can be expected to throw himself in front of oncoming traffic or pull careless swimmers out of riptides, is beyond me, but there you have it: if God is just one of us, then we can criticize the rationality of his decisions regarding particular human fates out there in the world. If my theology was as banal as that I would lose my faith, too, because that really is a stupid way to look at things.