Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Will be posting soon!

With my first set of exams over I will be posting some more interesting things soon. Hopefully for Friday for those of you wondering if I am still alive!

Until then keep searching and just follow the evidence where it leads whether that be to theism, deism, agnosticism, atheism or whatever.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 3

Suffering is Also a Problem for Atheists

Evil also poses problems for the nonbeliever. Claims that torture is wrong even though the victims of torture might be terrorists with useful information appeal to some external standard. But what is this standard? Such claims need to be grounded in something if they are to be asserted with such confidence. So, while some naturalistic philosophers have developed ethical systems without God, many other naturalists acknowledge this doesn’t work and that such ethical systems are entirely arbitrary. If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis. The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 2

A God Who is Great but Mysterious

One response to the problem of evil that is necessary but ambivalent is to acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. God is greater than we are, with purposes that may differ greatly from ours. Even though we may not be able to see any reasons for our suffering, it is always possible that a God of such wisdom and creative power might have reasons for the existence of evil that are simply beyond human understanding.

I hear a lot of people, especially atheists say things like "Well if God is so loving how can you justify His killing of thousands of innocent people in the Old Testament?" But who is to say they were innocent? If a man or x number of men break into your house and try to harm or kill your family and you end up killing them in self defense to protect your family, are you no longer a good man or woman? Are you an unjust murderer? Where do we draw the line? How are we in our finite understand supposed to judge the actions of someone, or something (God) beyond our understanding? What is evil? Which leads me to my next point on how can we suffer if there is a God and can God use suffering in this world for the greater good.

A provocative Biblical story of suffering is the tragic tale of Job, a righteous man greatly blessed by God and successful in all that he did. Satan challenges God with the claim that Job only worships God because he is so blessed. So God allows Satan to torment Job to prove Job’s faithfulness. Job tragically loses his property, his children and finally his health. Long after one would expect, Job finally cries out to God to explain his suffering, a call that goes unanswered. Instead, God simply reminds Job of God’s divine majesty and power. Job withdraws his complaint, returns to trust in God, and his bountiful life is fully restored. Job’s story offers no answer to why he suffered so much, beyond the apparent discussion God was having with Satan about Job’s faith. The story does offer a powerful example of someone who remains faithful and acknowledges the limits of his own understanding:
"Then Job answered the Lord and said, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes."
Through his suffering, Job came to know the reality of God in a new and more personal way.
The Biblical story of Joseph also reveals that suffering can lead to good. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongfully accused of sexual assault and thrown into prison. God uses these events to make Joseph a great leader in Egypt. As a result of his leadership, Egypt and the surrounding countries are saved from starvation in a terrible famine. Joseph makes this point to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph’s story illustrates how God can use suffering for good purposes.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Keller describes a man from his church who lost his eyesight when he was shot in a drug deal that went bad. The blindness humbled the man and led to spiritual transformation. Reflecting on the experience, the man said, “It was a terrible price to pay, and yet I must say it was worth it. I finally have what makes life worthwhile.”

Our tragedies are often terrible: losing a child, watching an elderly parent suffer, being betrayed by those we trust. But if we are open, we can often see ways that our pain is being at least partially redeemed by God working purposefully through these experiences. As Keller suggests, God can no doubt see ways to bring some good out of our pain.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 1

This is a really big topic so I have termed this post as Part 1 as I am sure I will be posting a lot throughout the year on how evil and suffering can exist as well as a loving all-powerful God.

The most ancient and persistent objection to God’s existence is the problem of evil. How can a loving, powerful God allow so much evil and suffering in the world? Believers and nonbelievers alike must wrestle with this difficult question. Nonbelievers struggle with the atheist conclusion that morality is an illusory and ungrounded evolutionary artifact, in which case there may be no basis to complain about the unfairness of suffering, and believers battle with the apparent contradiction between God’s goodness and the suffering in the world.

Freedom in the Universe


As we grapple with the question of evil, we must first recognize that humans cause much of it. Humans, not God, murder, torture, defame, persecute and rape. Because humans have free will, they can do terrible and immoral things. But free will is essential if humans are to relate meaningfully to God. For humans to truly love God, they must be free to choose or reject that love. For God to stop all evil in the world, our freedom would have to be removed, and with it our capacity to truly love God. God cannot give us free will while at the same time restraining us from evil acts.

It is more difficult, however, to understand why a loving God would allow suffering from natural disasters or diseases. The Rev. John Polkinghorne refers to these as a consequence of physical evil. These cause incredible destruction and pain, but are not linked to human agency. As Dr. Francis Collins writes, “Science reveals that the universe, our own planet, and life itself are engaged in an evolutionary process.” The mechanisms that God used to create humans — like  the misspelling of a gene during cell replication — can also produce pain and suffering — if that misspelling leads to cancer. Likewise, the same forces that produced a life-sustaining planet including the laws of physics, chemistry, weather and tectonics, can also produce natural disasters. As with the free will of humans, God cannot constantly intervene in these areas without disrupting the inherent freedom of his creation and disrupting his consistent sustaining of all the matter and energy in the universe. Without this consistency, science would be impossible, and moral choices would be subverted. If God blocked the consequences of human moral choices, like committing murder, and natural events, like tsunamis, every time they led to evil results, then moral responsibility would disappear and the natural world would become incoherent.

Although evil challenges the existence of a good and loving creator, complaints about the unfairness of evil can also be interpreted as support for God existence. If there are no external standards of morality, what is the basis for moral claims? Why can we say that torturing children is wrong?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Prayer Experiment

One of the topics Dawkins discusses in The God Delusion is the "great prayer experiment" of 2006. 

Two previous double-blind studies (1) (2) had shown that intercessory prayer had significantly improved the health of patients admitted to coronary units of hospitals. And a third study was funded by the Templeton Foundation to confirm or refute the results of the other two studies.

The design of the latest prayer study (3) was somewhat unusual. The researchers used three patient groups. Two groups were advised of the study, but were not told whether they were in the prayer group or placebo group. The third group knew that they were being prayed for. The study was performed at six hospitals. Out of 3295 eligible patients, 1493 (45%) refused to participate, which is very high, although they did not explain the reasons for non-participation. The intercessors were composed of three groups. Two were Roman Catholic and one was a Protestant group. Unlike in previous studies, the intercessors were not allowed to pray their own prayers. The prayers were given to them by the study coordinators to "standardize" the prayers. The discussion section of the paper suggested that at least some of the intercessors were dissatisfied with the canned nature of the prayers. In attempting to standardize prayer, I believe the study introduced a serious flaw, since most intercessors tend to pray as they are led by the Spirit, instead of praying prepared scripts. Jesus told His followers not to pray repetitiously, since God would not hear those kinds of prayers. (4)

Ultimately, the results showed that groups 1 (prayer) and 2 (no prayer) were identical, whereas group 3 (those who knew they were being prayed for) did worse than the other two groups. However, the lack of efficacy of intercessory prayer in this study could be due to theological problems associated with the study design.

Dawkins fails to cite prayer studies that showed a positive result, instead reporting only on the one that showed a negative result. In fact, a new meta-analysis, which takes into account the entire body of empirical research on intercessory prayer (17 major studies), shows that according to American Psychological Association Division 12 criteria, intercessory prayer is classified as an experimental intervention that, overall, shows a small, but significant, positive effect.(5)