“How do we, (that is to say Joyful and the other believers on here) regard earthquakes in relation to God?”
The natural world, the world of the contingent and the conditioned, is inevitably imperfect. So the question is, would it be better to not have a world at all? Would nothing, rather than something, be better?
I opt for a world rather than nothingness as better. Therefore I see natural “evil” as consistent with the goodness of God. Could the world have been a “bit better” though? —– How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Imponderable.
God created a physical world in which we live as physical beings.
Here is what we know about our physical world. Molten rock, in cooling, cracks into crustal plates. Such plates shift under gravitational and tidal pressures.
These and other physical properties make suffering possible – even likely. Indeed, suffering is – in my view – a necessary companion to change. We see suffering as evil, and it certainly feels that way to the person experiencing the suffering. But without change, there is no life.
Would it be better not to exist? I vote with Mr Badger – something is better than nothing.
Could God have created a world in which suffering was not possible? Only, in my opinion, if he’d created a world without sentient life.
But what the theists seem to be unable to grasp is that if their god is truly all powerful, omnipresent, etc, etc, he (it/she) could have created a world where earthquakes didn’t happen.
The fact remains, therefore, that if you believe that god made the universe and, by inference our planet, he made it with tectonic plates that move and cause earthquakes. Now god knowing all this (because he’s omniscient as well) clearly knew the damage and hurt that earthquakes would cause, yet went ahead and created the world with them anyway. In my book that makes him either evil or incompetent and not omnipotent.
KA, omnipotence doesn’t mean being able to do anything; it means being able to do anything that is not intrinsically impossible.
Intrinsically impossible things are nonsense propositions, like round circles, or a good evil, or a static world full of change.
Our claim is that the current world is the one that is possible at this time. Modern science seems more and more to be supporting the idea that the range of ‘possible’,when it comes to worlds that can support sentient life, is vanishingly tiny.
In addition, we hold the view that God, in making the choice to create people, chose to place a limit on His omnipotence, in that He won’t force us to change our minds.
However, we continue to trust the promise that all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
You continue to claim that omnipotence holds a different meaning. However, since you don’t believe in God or His omnipotence, I can’t see why you expect us to take that claim seriously.
if you believe that god made the universe and, by inference our planet, he made it with tectonic plates that move and cause earthquakes. Now god knowing all this (because he’s omniscient as well) clearly knew the damage and hurt that earthquakes would cause, yet went ahead and created the world with them anyway. In my book that makes him either evil or incompetent and not omnipotent.
In my book, it shows He knows the end of the story, and knows also that we’ll think it’s worth it.
Personally, Toad doesn’t expect a perfect world, just one a little bit less imperfect than this one.
Presumably, the garden of Eden is a metaphor, but did the metaphor include the potentiality, at least, for earthquakes and malaria? He never seems to get a satisfasctory answer to this. Probably just dense.
(On a different topic, Toad is looking forward to Easter and a chat about, as he put it on CP&S, The Case of the Missing Body.)
Presumably the garden of Eden, metaphor or not, being part of a physical world, had physical properties – so the potential for earthquakes. Perhaps a perfected human race could practice translocation (as Jesus and some of the saints are purported to have done)? This would certainly be a handy talent in an earthquake or, indeed, in most natural disasters.
Malaria? It’s unlikely, I would have thought. Malarial transmission into humans seems to have first occured between 4000 and 10000 years ago, and even a metaphorical garden of Eden needs to be pushed back at least to 40,000 years ago, if not 100,000.
Yes, KA, you are distorting the meaning the word omnipotence has had for more than 1000 years to suit your conception of an uber-being. Which, since you don’t believe in one, is (in the cold light of rationality) plain ridiculous.
“Personally, Toad doesn’t expect a perfect world, just one a little bit less imperfect than this one.”
Like I said Toad, that is angels dancing on pins territory. You either accept the idea of a world which has the potential for suffering as worth existing or you reject existence as an evil. A world, or nothing, tweaking leads to imponderables and the inevitable claim that the world should be perfect. As to what we DO in the world we find ourselves in, well that can get some traction.
As to the goodness of God, I believe in that of course, and I don’t find it to be contradicted by the nature of the world. And I have felt the sting of suffering.
Well, I’ve kept promising to talk about earthquakes, so here’s a start. I doubt I’ll stray very far from the sorts of noises coming from JP and Badger, but still.
The issue comes in two parts. Firstly, the problem of natural evil – the inevitability of suffering arising from the created order, which might call into question God’s goodness, though of course it has no bearing on whether or not a creator exists.
The second issue which Toad has alluded to is the claim that prior to the Fall the universe was in some sense in better shape than after it; that sin has cosmic material consequences.
One step at a time. Firstly, earthquakes along with volcanos are products of the tectonic plate system of the planet, which is at least a contributing factor towards creating an environment supportive of life. It is believed that both the atmosphere and the ocean arose from outgassing from the earth’s depths (along with comets in the case of water). Moreover, a fact that always stuns me is that the average depth of ocean over the entire surface of the earth (including land) is around one kilometer. With a static crust, perhaps all land would eventually succumb to ocean, whereas instead we have a dynamic relationship between land and ocean, including continental drift which has contributed to the evolution of land-based animal life.
Specific questions that have been raised about earthquakes here have included:
* Why have them at all? I think the above provides some sort of answer;
* Why couldn’t God have created an otherwise identical universe but with the absence of earthquakes? The increasingly confident response to that is that the creation of a physically coherent universe which supports life like us is very constrained. Besides, would the absence of earthquakes make any difference to the anti-theist case? Suppose there were earthquakes just long enough to create the atmosphere and oceans and continents, but that the tectonic plate engine slowed down over the eons so that there were none for the last few million years. And there was just enough ocean so that the seas would never entirely swallow the static land. I’m not suggesting this is physically plausible, of course. Such a happy circumstance would not placate critics of theism, any more than does the role of Jupiter in hoovering up stray asteroids and comets and hence reducing the probability of major impacts on earth impresses them. The anthropic argument would be deployed in a similar manner – well, if things were otherwise we wouldn’t be here, would we?
* Why this earthquake, here and now? Could prayer avert or defer or shift a specific earthquake to reduce a human tragedy? Is it futile to pray for safety from earthquakes (from Toad, I recall)? My own view on this is that would be consistent with God’s limited direct interventions in the material world to hope and pray for such things, certainly in the short term. But being blessed with brains it would be unwise to live in a known earthquake area and expect permanent divine protection. It’s fairly clear that if God exists, he doesn’t offer permanent material protection from anything in this life, and any mature theist position takes that on board. I don’t know of any claimed cases of prayer influencing the outcome of an earthquake.
* So why doesn’t he, then? The same question applies to many other sources of natural evil, for which the answers are fairly well known and regularly rehearsed by JP and others.
Toad, the emphasis of the sentence is on the final phrase. Your response illustrates why I’ve delayed discussing the matter earlier. Or perhaps you do know inhabitants of Christchurch who did expect “permanent divine protection”?
I’ve said this before, but anyone who expects that ‘permanent divine protection’ means freedom from pain, illness, grief, and death, has not paid attention to the history of the martyrs and suffering saints, let alone the Crucifixion itself.
I do expect ‘permanent divine protection’. I expect God to make sure that everything works out for me and mine in the long run, as long as that is what we want and ask for. I expect pain and suffering along the journey, both because that is the nature of the world we currently are in, and because pain and suffering wake my ideas up.
Nobody would be loony enough to suggest that the presense of earthquakes and malaria and the like are ‘proofs’ that God does not exist. Or so Toad hopes.
But Toad, and others find it hard to square thes unfortunate events with the accepted image of a deity who, it seems, hears every sparrow fart, and knows our hopes and desires and loves us all like billy-o.
And yet lets millions every year die like rats.
When Toad was a mere tadpole, he remembers the nuns telling him that “God made us to know Him and love Him and serve Him.”
But how can someone in Japan, who’s just been born, and is immediately washed away by a tsunami, do that?
Of course, it is their fault for living in a place like Japan, apparently. Much like what they probably said about the people who were mad enough to live in Lisbon in 1755. Except that, until then, there had been no appreciable history of earthquakes there. Nor has there been since.
But would Manus think it ‘safe’ to live in Lisbon now?
In fact, where does Manus choose to live?
Clearly an earthquake-free zone. Hope it’s not San Francisco.
Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
Your problem, then, Toad, isn’t earthquakes, but death.
Why didn’t you say so to begin with?
Perhaps you did, and I just wasn’t listening?
In this world, approximately 108 people die every minute of every day. Nobody – but nobody – gets out of this life alive.
I believe that there is a resurrection. I believe that the child who dies when just born misses out on all the suffering and trouble and goes straight on to the resurrection. Death, whether at the end of a long and productive life, right in mid-event, or almost before it is begun, has already been answered. Jesus rose from the dead, and we have all of eternity to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him.
As the being they were always intended to be, I hope. In her book Dialogues with the Devil, Taylor Caldwell has Lucifer in correspondence with his brother Michael. One of Lucifer’s complaints is that God cheats by taking babies straight to heaven, when they haven’t had the opportunity to make a choice. Yet our soul, surely, being eternal, doesn’t have an age, and so is capable of choice, if not before death when we are limited by biology, then after?
As to their age and physical characteristics, I find the idea that all souls will be 33, since that was Jesus’ age at his death, to be rather quaint. I quite like the possibility that some writers have toyed with that we will be able to pick the age we like best, and change it when we so wish.
Surely they hadn’t just not had the oppurtunity to make a choice, they hadn’t had the oppurtunity to become choice-makers.
If the “journeying world” and the suffering life on Earth have positive value, as we’ve been asserting, then surely any account has to include the fact that it is an objective loss to die as a baby. — Otherwise the thin end of the wedge would be in, “why not just make only heaven?”
It is possible – I’m speculating here – that they suffer vicariously through the love they have for their families on earth. It is certainly an objective loss for a baby to die, and we believe that the community of saints are vitally involved in and aware of what happens here on earth. Is it too much of a stretch to think that our lost babies have their time of choice as they react to our sufferings?
What I find most difficult to understand is this: if (and it’s a big if) you’re uber god exists and created this and all the other universes, surely it would not have been beyond the wit of such an entity to create an Earth that existed perfectly well without earthquakes, volcanoes, disease, evil &c. The fact that he didn’t means one of a number of things:
a. God left it to one of his unter gods to create the Earth and the unter god cocked up
b. God cocked up
c. God created it this way for a laugh
d. God is evil and enjoys watching his creation suffer.
e. God doesn’t exist and it’s all made up superstitious nonsense.
God could have created a perfect world. The theist proof for that is the resurrection and the new earth and the new heavens in the perfect world to come. If God couldn’t create a perfect world, then it’s bye bye to the theist hope in a perfect world to come.
One approach is to say that God created the world perfect and all the imperfections (including natural disasters) resulted from the choice of sentient beings (angels and men) to sin. That idea fitted well with the ancient understanding of the way the cosmos worked.
These days we have science and evolution and our understanding of how creation can be a long term and ongoing process that uses evolution.
The theist answer is that all of creation, as with each of us individually, is in the process of being made perfect.
You left out option F: God humbly choose to create using evolution and made perfection a long term plan.
A loving God would be expected to work WITH creation, as kind of a joint project, to reach perfection.
Rather than just dictate perfection by divine fiat.
I see this as very consistent with the nature of Love – humbly working with others and letting them be part of the solution. And taking a long term view rather then rushing in to do everything all at once.
The problem with a world that is “a little better” in its essential make up, is twofold. First, for any suggestion as to how the world might be a little better, it is hard to cash out exactly how this improvement would work, and what worse evils it may or may not imply as it unfolds (post tweaking). Second, if a little better, why not a lot better, the logical terminus is the claim that the world should be perfect. — And here we can have a debate.
Is it too much to ask that the world itself be a little better? well I’m not convinced you have asked a coherent question there.
KA, you adopt the stance of the clear sighted man in a room full of be-fogged and confused yokels. And yet, somehow, the theists refuse to be as dumb as you would like them to be.
I think your claim that the world should be free of any possibility of suffering is tantamount to a claim that there should be no world; that is, no contingent, limited, existence subject to change and development. And that claim is nihilism, which may appeal to you, but has nothing to do with clear thinking as opposed to “superstition”
I think your point is fruitful, and one which was discussed in that book I mentioned a few posts ago (away from home, can’t remember the chap’s name, some Prof of Theology).
The line of argument is that the specific sources of natural evil are less important than the sheer quantity. As I said above, if there were no earthquakes, we wouldn’t miss them, there would be plenty of other natural evils to concern us.
And while one might acknowledge the point that ‘some’ suffering may be ‘character building’, do we really need quite so much? Couldn’t there have been a little less?
I was impressed with the answer, so impressed that I can’t remember the guy’s name. I will precis it when I get the chance.
But JP’s point about death is clearly a fairly central one. One can hardly suggest that Christianity offers the good life in this ‘veil of tears’. You may find claims of an afterlife absurd or unprovable, but it is more intellectually and morally consistent, and indeed central to the claims of the Gospel, then to try to find continuing value in Christianity as a well-meaning, harmless myth in a truly and entirely material cosmos.
Chris’ point about an ‘evolving’ universe can be used to try around the problem: we might through science banish death. That still isn’t a perfectly just universe, unless we can manage the resurrection of the dead too.
And finally, whatever you are referring to by M*l G****n, I would hazard a guess that it does not constitute a natural evil.
We can relieve a great deal of human suffering from earthquakes, Tsunami’s, malaria etc. That compassionate relief of suffering and solidarity with the suffering has always been a central part of the religious project (of all faiths) and of many good atheists too.
A basic faith principle is that we ought not rely on God to do for us that which God has enabled us to do for ourselves.
As just ione example, here’s a nun rescuing animals after the Japan earthquake.
A very interesting link about Platinga. This is primarily about moral evil caused by humans. The issue of natural evil, which has been our chief interest here, is mentioned only in passing. My chap Swinburne disagrees with Platinga about natural evil, suggesting God could allow that directly too. I will precis the argument, but not now, as it’s after midnight already.
You both would recognise that the problem – suffering caused by the natural world behaving as we find it to be, rather than by the deliberate action of any moral agent – is the same whether you label it as “evil” or not. Indeed Toad, you have been most eloquent on the subject.
And of course, ultimately (or at least from the theist perspective) all notions of “evil” are personal; the argument is not whether earthquakes or tigers are evil, but whether their ultimate cause, God, is “evil” for allowing them to cause suffering without themselves being moral agents.
KA makes that point repeatedly in his usual blunt fashion.