Garry DeWeese, on "Natural Evil: A 'Free Process' Defense."

As announced earlier I’m planning on reviewing every chapter in the new anthology on the problem of suffering titled, God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain,edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew. [To read other entries in this series just click on the "God and Evil" tag below this post].


This time up is chapter four (pp. 53-64) written by Garry DeWeese, "Natural Evil: A 'Free Process' Defense." In this chapter DeWeese aims "to deploy the empirical phenomena of 'chaos systems' to help us understand why the world is such that natural evils occur." Basically arguing for John Polkinghorne's "free process" defense, DeWeese claims such a line of reasoning is "quite plausible, with considerable empirical support." He argues, "God might well have good reasons to create such a world, even with the possibility of natural evil." That is, "chaos systems in our world make natural evil possible," and even "perhaps inevitable." (p. 64) So "even God cannot make such a world where natural evil never occurs." DeWeese ends his chapter arguing that at least some natural evil is actually moral evil due to both demonic and human activity.

When it comes to chaos theory, also known as the "butterfly effect," let me just refer my readers to the Wikipedia article on it. DeWeese claims that such a dynamic world order (contrasted with a static one) is beneficial to life, produces novel outcomes, and allows for human creativity. Fair enough. Of course it does! That's why we are here is the first place. Without such a dynamic world we wouldn't exist. So what DeWeese is doing is special pleading his case using the results of science to do so. The world operates according to X, therefore God had to create a world that operates according to X.

Once again, God's omnipotence ends where the apologist needs it to end to solve a problem for faith. Go figure. Typically Christian. Same thing goes for God's omniscience. Aren't his ways supposed to be infinitely beyond our understanding? That's what we hear so many times it's nauseating. But when it comes to solving this problem, the problem of massive ubiquitous naturally caused suffering in our world, the apologist argues that we can understand from what God supposedly created why he created such a world. There is such a lack of imagination and ignorance here it is stunning to me. I think faith stunts one's imagination and inspires ignorance.

Look, either omnipotence means something or it does not. Either omniscience means something or it does not. No, not even a deity can do the logically impossible, nor can he know what is logically impossible to know. But limiting God's power and omniscience arbitrarily as apologists do so often is proof that faith is irrational.

I’m looking at this world and asking whether or not God exists, while the apologist already believes God exists and is trying to explain why there is intense suffering in this world given that prior belief. The fact is that this world is not the one we would expect to find if there were a good God, and these two different perspectives make all the difference in the world. David Hume first made this distinction in these words:
What if I show you a house or palace where there was not one apartment convenient or agreeable, where the windows, doors, fires, passages, stairs, and the whole economy of the building were the source of noise, confusion, fatigue, darkness, and the extremes of heat and cold? . . . The architect would in vain display his subtilty, and prove to you that, if this door or that window were altered, greater ills would ensue. What he says may be strictly true. But still you would assert in general that, if the architect had had skill and good intentions, he might have formed such a plan of the whole, and might have adjusted the parts in such a manner as would have remedied all or most of these inconveniences. His ignorance, or even your own ignorance of such a plan, will never convince you of the impossibility of it. If you find any inconveniences and deformities in the building, you will always without entering into detail, condemn the architect. [Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part X]
That being said, even a child could imagine a better natural world than this one. Here I'll quote selected sentences from pages 231-33 in my book Why I Became an Atheist:
God should not have created predation in the natural world. The amount of creaturely suffering here is atrocious, as creatures prey on one another to feed themselves. All creatures should be vegetarians and/or vegans. And in order to be sure there is enough vegetation for us all, God could’ve reduced our mating cycles and/or made edible vegetation like apples trees, corn stalks, blueberry bushes, wheat, and tomato plants to grow as plenteous as wild weeds do today. God didn’t even have to create us such that we needed to eat anything at all. If God created the laws of nature, then what’s the problem? [Edit: The process of photosynthesis could have fed us, something we find in the natural world.]

God could’ve created all human beings with one color of skin. There has been too much killing and slavery, and there have been too many wars, mostly because we do not all share the same racial background and language.

God could’ve made all creatures sexually self-reproducing. Asexual reproduction would eliminate gender harassment and discrimination, since there wouldn’t be any gender differences between us. Even if there are social benefits that result from two-parent sexual reproduction, societal ties could still be instilled within us by God.

God could’ve created us with much stronger immune systems such that there would be no pandemics that decimate whole populations. God could’ve created us with self-regenerating bodies. When we receive a cut, it heals itself over time, as does a sprained ankle or even a broken bone. But why can’t an injured spinal cord be made to heal itself? Why can’t an amputated leg grow back in a few weeks? If that were all we experienced in this world, we wouldn’t know any different.

We find a lot of things in nature that God could’ve done for us. God could’ve created us with a much higher threshold of pain. He could’ve given us wings on our backs so we could fly to safety if we were to fall off a cliff. He could’ve given us gills to keep us from drowning.

Only if the theist expects very little from such a being can he defend what God has done. Either God isn’t smart enough to figure out how to create a good world, or he doesn’t have the power to do it, or he just doesn’t care. You pick. These are the logical options given this world.
Even if God could not have created a different world than the one we experience given his goals, DeWeese bifurcates God's creative work into a separate category from his providential work. Even if this is the best God can create why doesn't his God providently avert the most intensive kinds of suffering we experience in the natural world? Is an omnipotent God lazy or something? God should prevent all natural disasters like the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed approximately a quarter million people. If God had prevented it by virtue of a miracle (if needed) no one would have been the wiser, precisely because it didn’t happen. And he would have saved many lives in the process. Any person who is supposed to be good would be morally obligated to prevent such a natural disaster, especially if all it took was a “snap” of his or her omnipotent fingers to do so. For the more one has it in his or her power to stop a tragedy, the more of a moral responsibility he or she has to do so. Since Christian theists believe God can do miracles, he could have done this with a perpetual miracle. Can an omnipotent God do things like this DeWeese? If not, why not?

Let me end by commenting briefly on DeWeese's claim that at least some natural evil is moral evil due to both demonic and human activity. For this argument to work there has to be evidence that Satan and his demons exist, as well as evidence there was a fall into sin by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (yes, there really are pseudo-intellectuals who believe this crap!).

Let me merely respond with two dilemma's and offer two books on these two subjects.

Dilemma Regarding Satan (From page 446 of my book Why I Became an Atheist):
If Satan was the brightest creature in all of creation, and he knew of God’s immediate presence, absolute goodness, and omnipotent power like no one else, then to rebel against God makes him pure evil, suicidal, and dumber than a box of rocks! How is it really possible that any creature in the direct unmediated presence of God would want to rebel against the absolute goodness and love of an infinitely all-powerful being? Even if a creature wanted to rebel, he would know that such a rebellion would be absolutely futile. But since no rational being can be that evil or stupid, he doesn’t exist at all.

Furthermore, if such a God existed he would never have allowed Satan to work his evil ways upon others, unless he simply did not care about us. God should have either immediately incarcerated Satan or put him out of existence entirely. For by not doing so, God has allowed Satan something that no decent civilized society would ever allow. Once we know there is a powerful, deranged, sociopathic maniac on the loose, we put him in prison so he cannot harm anyone else in our society. We take these kinds of people out of the population. It’s the decent, caring, civilized thing to do.
Dilemma Regarding Adam and Eve:

It's believed there was a first human pair (Adam & Eve) who so grievously sinned against God when tested that all of the rest of us are being punished for it (including animals), even though no one but the first human pair deserved to be punished. If it's argued that all of us deserve to be punished because we all would have sinned, then the test was a sham. For only if some of us would not have sinned can the test be considered a fair one. But if some of us would not have sinned under the same initial test conditions then there are people who are being punished for something they never would have done.

Now for two books. Just touch the cover of Robert M. Price and Edwin Suominen's book, Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution.Another one to touch is T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley's book, The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil's Biblical Roots.You see, it takes a massive amount of biblical ignorance to make the argument Garry DeWeese does at the end of his chapter. That's par for the course when it comes to evangelicals though, so I'm used to it. [No personal offense intended, it's just that this is what I see too often.]

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