A novel solution to the problem of evil

If you believe in a good, kind, etc God then [[problem of evil]] is to explain away the various obvious features of the world at variance with this belief. People always succeed in doing so, because they want to. A good trick with any form of human badness is to invoke Free Will: obviously God doesn’t want you to be naughty, but he couldn’t very well stop you, could he? But things like death-dealing earthquakes and the accompanying tsunamis are a bit more of a puzzler. However, in a rather daring and novel piece of theology I heard at Thought for the Day, 15 March 2011 the Revd Dr David Wilkinson says

As a Christian I find such a narrative in the conviction that this world is the creation of a good God, who risks giving freedom to human beings and the natural world. Today the people of Japan will take inspiration from picking up corpses from the beach…

(my bold, and of course I made up the ending to that last sentence). Neatso, eh? God of course didn’t want the tsunami to smite the Japanese (even though they are heathens, which in the good old days would have been excellent grounds for a bit of smiting), but it has to be given free will to decide what to do for itself. Errr.


* Platitude of the day

Losing mah religion

Well not *my* religion because I didn’t have one to lose, certainly not since I refused to be Confirmed at about age 13. Though I do like the churches and the stonework a lot; and the old hymns. No, I went to the Cambridge Union Society to hear that Paul Wright talk to the Aetheist Society, pretty much about his essay of the same name. When I got to the Society buildings I was someone surprised to find a queue; fortunately the hoi-polloi were being filtered off downstairs to listen to a comedian, and we had a spacious room upstairs and some sweeties.

The setting and audience reminded me of the Old Days when I used to give GW talks – the characteristic mixture of old and young folk with their very different responses. Paul speaks better than I do, which helped. I think he upset some of the aetheists, who perhaps looked for a less nuanced assult on the Godly (I’m sure there was some harrumphing “but this is the aetheist society” at one point). Paul’s viewpoint (to attempt to compress something nuanced into a small compass) is that the Evangelical Christians are nice people with some good arguments, the study of which can be intellectually satisfying; but that fundamentally its just not convincing (FWIW my own viewpoint was always “but why should I believe this book”? so while I was happy to play intellectual games (If God is omniscient he can see the future so how can we have Free Will? – discuss, but not here) but I never felt any great involvement with the answers – these are just for fun. Paul is in the interesting position of having once Believed, but not any more, but cannot sufficiently reconstruct his state of mind then to be able to fully explain *why* he believed; and perhaps this would be impossible without Believing again.) Also fun was when he was trying to talk about the quality of argument, and to say that some Christians were good in debate, and beat prominent aetheists in debate. This was close to heresy, and it needed to be heavily emphasised that this meant only that during the heat of debate they got the better of the exchange.

[While I’m here, I’ll add in a link I intended to blog: http://www.operationnoah.org/calendars/campaigncalendar/13-october-hear-dr-rowan-williams-wisdom-noah. But its never going to get to the top of my stack.

Also, Pauls notes are now up -W]

The stoat in the room

The normally sensible mt has a post The Elephant in the Room that I’ve been meaning to rip to shreds for ages (oh, by the way, if anyone feels tempted to say “how unfair ripping mt to shreds when he is on the Good side, why not shred Plimer or someone” the answer is: mt is interesting, Plimer is dull). Most of it is just gobbledegook as far as I can tell, but I may just be too materialist (a nice word, perhaps hijacked for alternative meanings, but in many ways better than “atheist” which otherwise defines me in terms of something I’m not. Yes, I’m a materialist) to have fully understood.

It looks like mt retreats in the comments a little, saying “The point I am making is that plenty of intelligent people don’t dismiss religion. These are the people who should be talking to fundamentalists, not people who dismiss the whole business as nonsense”. Or later, “The point is that creating an atmosphere of direct challenge to religious belief acts against the interests of science”. If that was the point of the post, I wouldn’t complain (I wouldn’t necessarily agree either; I’m just not terribly interested in arguing religion; there is nothing new to say). mt is rather more interested in communicating science, and furthermore appears to live in a rather more wacko-filled environment than Cambridge, so all credit with him for trying to engage with the religious folk on climate change. But if that was the point then he has very unhelpfully mixed up two very different ideas.

Anyway, what does mt say?

* There is a view in which science and religion address orthogonal questions, and in a sense I’m an advocate of that view. A fair start. I’m prepared to let religion have that much. “In a sense” is troubling though, and leads on to…

* The separation can’t be said to be perfect. Certainly, here in Texas as we are besieged by people who are convinced who “don’t believe in” evolution… This is just confusion. The beliefs of the wackos in Texas has nothing at all to do with the orthogonality of science and religion (depending of course by what you mean by religion. If you mean “a set of beliefs of varying kinds amongst varying tribes subject to sociological analysis” then yes, science and religion interact, but only in the sense of religion being subject to science).

* the inherent value of the experience of Unity… in turn draws attention to the phenomenon of experience, and how very feeble and hollow efforts to reduce the phenomenon of experience (formerly, the “soul”) to a basis in a physical theory must be. I think this is nonsense. We clearly haven’t reduced conciousness down to a physical explanation, nor do we have a path towards doing that. But we haven’t reconciled QM and GR either. mt doesn’t event attempt to provide a reason to believe that this is in principle impossible (Paul said that too. If mt found an answer, I didn’t see it). Off in the comments mt expands it is impossible to come up with a physical origin for the metaphysical property of consciousness – this is merely an unsupported assertion (assuming by “impossible” he means “ever”; if he means “today” then it is just obvious but uninteresting).

* As theologian Paul Tillich (apparently; I’ve seen this attributed to others) said to atheists: “Tell me the God you don’t believe in, and I probably don’t believe in that God either”. – this is a cute quote, but the point is a little obscure. Later on, he says I wasn’t raised in the Christian tradition, and I find the Christian approach to religion confusing. so this may be a way of trying to say that he believes in some kind of “religion” but not one of the mainstream ones. I can’t tell.

* shallow materialism – again, I don’t really know what this means. It looks like a cheap shot. Is the idea that a philosophy must have some incomprehensible non-physical component in order to be respectable?

By the end, after skimming the comments, I’ve become very unclear what he was trying to say. The post is nominally about “God” but god doesn’t really get a look in to the discussion – it is all about “spirituality” and explaining conciousness, which apparently physics can’t do. Welllll… suppose that is correct. In fact, it wouldn’t even be especially surprising. Suppose we either get bored trying, or through some Godel-like theorem we deduce that conciousness can’t be explained by physics. So what? That still doesn’t get you a god; it still doesn’t prove (or even suggest) that conciousness is anything other than a direct result of the unaided operation of the physical world.