There’s still a need for "that hypothesis".

I got myself in hot water over the question of God’s action in the bushfires. I apologise to anyone I may have offended. Unfortunately one reader decided that my comments of late have shown me “as very superior, insenstive and b*tchy”. Oh dear.

But here is another question raised by one of my interfaith dialogue partners, which hopefully will take the discussion in a different direction. My friend asks: “I wonder how our atheist and ratinalist freinds would console those who have lost all in the fires?”

I was wondering the same thing the other day while listening to the interview of John Cleary with John Lennox.

Lennox acknowledges that the “problem of pain” is the most significant arguement in the atheistic arsenal against the existence of a good God. And that there isn’t really an answer to the problem.

But, as he points out, one thing that is clear is that the rejection of the existence of a good God is not a solution to the problem of pain. In fact, it makes it a darn sight worse, for two reasons. The first is that then the whole notion of justice breaks down. But the second – especially in the context of natural rather than human evil – is that if there is no good and just supreme Being, then not only is pain as senseless as ever, but there is no HOPE that things will ever be better.

Laplace may have famously said “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothese-la”, but at least in the face of the suffering such as we have seen and felt in the last week, “that hypothesis” still seems to serve a positive function.

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23 Comments

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23 responses to “There’s still a need for "that hypothesis".

  1. Tony

    Maybe an atheist simply accepts that there is no ‘solution’ to the problem of pain. Or that a ‘solution’ is yet to be found. And that whatever the ‘solution’ is, it doesn’t involve a God.

    Your inferior, sensitive and whatever-the-opposite-of-b*tchy-is friend. 😉

  2. Peregrinus

    Yes, but it’s perfectly possible for a theist also to accept that there is no “solution” to the problem of pain – in fact, that’s pretty much the line taken by the Book of Job . So this isn’t an argument for theism, or against religion.

    An atheist who goes on to argue that “whatever the ‘solution’ is, it doesn’t involve a God” seems to be asserting that there [i]is[/i] a solution – which, unless he is actually suggesting what the solution might be, is something of a leap of faith.

  3. Schütz

    From my reading of Dawkins and co, they seem to fall back onto a somewhat “communitarian” reply to Lennox – ie. we can’t find hope in a higher being, but we can find hope in the human community. The reaction to the fires would seem to bear that out – in the main.

    But in such a scheme, the arsonist himself causes a problem: how to explain that while most human beings are basically decent, there are these “aberrations”, against whom there is no protection.

    And in fact the problem of pain caused by human beings requires a sense of real evil and a sense of real justice, neither or which seem to make sense in an atheistic world view.

  4. Peregrinus

    Again, this doesn’t seem to me to bear very much on the theist/atheist argument. We can find hope in the human community whether or not we also find hope in a higher being.

    The bottom line, for me, is that while theist attempts to address suffering are not entirely satisfactory, atheist attempts are no better.

  5. Louise

    Just a little observation: atheists don’t have a suffering non-god to call on.

  6. Louise

    The last word verification just now was “aussly” and I like it and wish to introduce it into the languge!

    Also this one is “denistes” and sounds like one of those dead Greek guys, so I think we should introduce that too.

  7. Tony

    Shame on your tangent Louise!

    OK. I have to admit I’ve been fascinated by the verification words for some time too.

    They’re not just random, they are all pronounceable and similar enough to real words. I’ve even thought of collecting them.

    Now really, back to God or a lack thereof!

    ‘droesc’ has a nice ring to it, yes?

  8. Tony

    The bottom line, for me, is that while theist attempts to address suffering are not entirely satisfactory, atheist attempts are no better.

    I agree. I suppose the ‘project’ of theists is to show that the existence of pain and evil, doesn’t preclude the existence of a good God.

    ….

    ‘dradi’

  9. Peregrinus

    Well, it obviously precludes the existence of a certain kind of God – one who does not permit pain and evil to exist. But I don’t see that it advances the cause of atheism much further than that.

    The English philosopher Anthony Kenny (originally Catholic but now considers himself agnostic) reckons that atheism is a fairly extreme claim, and a difficult one to sustain. Pointing out that there are many possible meaningful definitions of “God”, he reasons that the atheist must assert that there is no meaningful definition of “God” by which God can be said to exist. Whereas the theist merely asserts that there is a definition of God. In other words, the atheist must refute all possible Gods; the theist need sustain only one. Dawkins, I think, does a fairly thorough job of refuting a particular understanding of God; what he is reluctant to accept, however, is that his concept of God is not definitive, and therefore his refutation of it is not a convincing argument for atheism, and the weakness of Dawkins’s case is best seen when he is confronted with theists who, inconveniently, believe in a God different from the one he debunks. He really has no answer except to assert that they are somehow inauthentic theists; if they had the courage of their convictions they would be simplistic fundamentalists, and he could demolish them easily.

    The challenge for us as theists is to explain a God who is both powerful and loving, and yet allows pain and evil to exist – and I myself have never found more than partial explanations for this – or alternatively to accept that we cannot satisfactorily explain that God.

    PS: From now on I am going to end all my posts by using the verification word as a complimentary close!

    Brizina! [Raises glass of schnapps.]

    Peregrinus

  10. Tony

    Dawkins, I think, does a fairly thorough job of refuting a particular understanding of God; what he is reluctant to accept, however, is that his concept of God is not definitive, and therefore his refutation of it is not a convincing argument for atheism, and the weakness of Dawkins’s case is best seen when he is confronted with theists who, inconveniently, believe in a God different from the one he debunks.

    I have to say that if I were a ‘card carrying’ atheist I’d be terribly dissapointed by Dawkins. I find his methods just one big ‘straw man’ argument. He finds the worst of religion — and that’s not a hard job! — and condemns it as representing all religion. But science gets the kid gloves.

    He’s a ‘tabloid’ atheist and I imagine atheists who are seriously trying to engage in a conversation about the issues cringe as much as his ‘enemies’.

    PS: From now on I am going to end all my posts by using the verification word as a complimentary close!

    Good plan. We may find, hidden within these intriguing almost-words, evidence of ‘intelligent design’!

    vingst!

    (Look at what you’ve started Louise!)

  11. Tom

    David, the question of pain as responded to by atheists, and as a way of explaining pain is actually much simpler. There’s a reason for them that the argument should be as such; if there is no good god, then why [i]shouldn’t[/i] there be pain? Why shouldn’t the universe just happened to be arranged it such a way. Certainly, they provide no sense of meaning or hope for this; infact it becomes impossible to do so without a supernatural authority to underwrite justice (in a sense).

    I think that really the biggest question that the atheist can’t answer is (to borrow from GK Chesterton) why is there pleasure in the world? In this sense of necessary evolutionary development, what developed that we should enjoy eating, or sex, or sight, or touch, or smell?

    Of a certainty, to satiate ones hunger is satisfying, and this is kind of pleasurable, but it’s a very different thing to enjoy what one eats. Why should we enjoy what we eat? What other evolutionary factor directed us to need something more than the pangs of hunger to direct us to survival? Because there really isn’t an answer for this. I think this is the better question to ask, because an atheist can claim that pain is just the way of the world; there doesn’t seem to be ANY reason for pleasure. Other than perhaps a good God, who wanted us to enjoy our life!

  12. Louise

    Shame on your tangent Louise!

    What can I say? I am evil.

    Loidelin!

  13. Schütz

    I heard a good one from Rachel Kohn on an ABC Spirit of Things interview with an atheistic psychologist recently. The Psychologist asserted that it was selfish of religious people to do good in order that they might get to heaven. She then asserted that when she does good to others, she does it because it gives her pleasure.

    To which Rachel whimsically replied: “I wonder if it is less selfish to do good to others because it gives you pleasure than it is to do it because you want to get to heaven?”

    PS: From now on I am going to end all my posts by using the verification word as a complimentary close!

    Drat. I can’t play this game since I am the moderator of the blog and don’t get offered a verification code.

    But PLEASE DO continue to play it – with this slight difference – you have to offer a “definition” of your verification code word (as some of you have already been doing). I might then be able to make a collection of the best of them, and put them into a separate blog as a “verification code dictionary”.

  14. Tony

    To which Rachel whimsically replied: “I wonder if it is less selfish to do good to others because it gives you pleasure than it is to do it because you want to get to heaven?”

    So David, why do you do good?

    forelug: pulling from the front

  15. Louise

    Don’t most of us do good, because it’s the right thing (and it sometimes happens to feel good, but not always)? And don’t we do evil because, at the time, it feels good?

    wadec: [anglicised Polish expression] “hail!”

  16. Kiran

    The point about doing good in order to get to heaven seems to me very similar to the point about the cross, which is that it is done “for the sake of the joy which is still in the future,” and which is still, for an orthodox Christian who hasn’t had some extraordinary revelation of his final destiny, uncertain. And also, one should be weary of trying to define as a reason for action, something which could only be such for a small number of the good actions we do. I hardly think that all virtuous actions, or even most, are done with a clear idea that they will get us to heaven. Ideally, most of them are simply the natural actions of a virtuous person. As such, they do give pleasure sometimes, but not always. I am yet to meet someone who does every good thing he or she does because they feel pleasure in that action. I will start to worry about the problem when I meet one.

    dismoth: To get off a moth one has been riding.

  17. Tony

    Isn’t Christ’s call to goodness a little more challenging than that though Kiran? Doesn’t he prefer that we do it ‘on the quiet’ with the express intention of not making it known?

    I guess my motivation — outside the unreliable feel good factor — is that doing good draws us closer to the ultimate good. It fulfills our nature, seen or unseen; appreciated or unappreciated; even successful or unsuccessful.

    bowaga: the phenomenon of the trembling hand of the archer just before the release of the arrow.

  18. Peregrinus

    I must confess I find this discussion a little sterile. If I act virtuously because, and solely because, that is the way I know I ought to act, without any thought of heaven or any hope of personal emotional gratification or the esteem of others (and, believe me, this doesn’t happen very often), I will still enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that I have acted virtuously. In other words, it’s not possible to act virtuously without receiving [i]some[/i] reward. Does this make all virtue selfish?

    I don’t think this is a useful meaning of “selfish”. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbours as we love ourselves – which means, obviously, that we should love ourselves. We should wish ourselves well, happy and healthy. So hard luck, self-hating killjoy Jansenist Puritans; self-love is only selfish in the morally bad sense when it is indulged at the expense of or in disregard of love of neighbour (or love of God), or when it appears superficially to be self-love but is actually destructive of self.

    Saying that I act virtuously “because I want to get to heaven” is simply another way of saying that I act virtuously “because I want to become the person I am called to be” – that is, a person who journeys towards theosis. It’s self-love, but it’s not selfish.

    [Rutgan: of, or pertaining to, the island of Rutga.]

  19. Vicci

    Tom claims…
    I think this is the better question to ask, because an atheist can claim that pain is just the way of the world; there doesn’t seem to be ANY reason for pleasure. Other than perhaps a good God, who wanted us to enjoy our life!
    ..in his astute post. One could add ‘music’. Or colour. Or….

    One must also acknowledge the level of faith required to be an Athesist!

    xebnuo the result of typing English on a French keyboard

  20. matthias

    I wonder what Dawkins response is when he is accused of being a follower of the religion of scientific naturalism or evolutionary optimalism with vitalistic elements.
    I recall an English Marxist being critical of Dawkins’s bigotry and making the comment that it was Christianity that did work amongst those who are the fringe dwellers of our world.I was quite surprised at this dialectical marvel.Stone the crows ,there’s those big words ,i had better stop this or risk being relegated to an ontologically negative place. Big words and I am a Collingwood supporter-look that up PE

  21. Kiran

    Tony, I don’t see the point you are making. Actually, Christ says both. We shouldn’t do good for the sake of public approval, but we should do good so that people seeing it might give praise to God. The motivations you speak of are very Aristotelian in conception, and I have no quarrel with them.

    Peregrinus, I think ultimately, all our conscious actions, almost by definition, are guided by a purpose, and insofar as they attain that purpose give satisfaction.

    fluillin: The miracle cure for common colds and flu.

  22. Peregrinus

    I think ultimately, all our conscious actions, almost by definition, are guided by a purpose, and insofar as they attain that purpose give satisfaction.

    I agree. And, my point is, since all our voluntary actions are undertaken for the purpose of achieving that satisfaction, they are all in that sense “selfish”. Which means the question “are they selfish?” admist of only one answer in all circumstances, which makes it a pointless question to ask. Hence my frustation with a discourse which attemtpts to diminish the value of virtuous acts on teh basis of the selfishness of the actor.

    [Effugist: one who makes a whistling noise when exhaling.]

  23. matthias

    “bowaga: the phenomenon of the trembling hand of the archer just before the release of the arrow.”
    reminds me of ‘sprinting juggler syndrome” where jugglers often walk forward as they juggle so to correct this problem ,some stand in front of a wall or on a cliff edge as they practice. Bit like Christians walking carefully and trusting God in dangerous places, before a watching world