Does theodicy devalue human life?

| 99 Comments

Gert Korthof, on his blog today, takes on either Richard Weikart or God, I am not sure which. Professor Weikart, whom we have met before, thinks that something he calls “Darwinism” undermines the sanctity of human life and led directly to the Holocaust (and no doubt retroactively to such atrocities as the Crusades and the Inquisition as well).

Professor Korthof points out that current Christian theology assigns blame to God, not “Darwinism.” Specifically, he points to the free-will defense, a theodicy in which God is said to allow evil in order to grant us free will. He quotes the theologians John Hick and Richard Swinburne, and argues that their theodicy intrinsically devalues human life.

The free will defense does not work very well for natural evil or misfortune, but Professor Korthof quotes Michael Behe to the effect that malaria must have been designed. Professor Behe even calls Darwin “squeamish” for his famous remark that a beneficent God would not allow wasp larvae to eat a caterpillar alive. If Professor Behe is right, then God surely has killed many more people than Hitler ever dreamed of. And not by natural selection but by design.

Thus, says Professor Korthof, Christian theodicy (if not God) devalues human life and discounts human suffering. He concludes that what Professor Weikart considers shocking is unhesitatingly and “maybe even enthusiastically, ascribed to God by modern philosophers of religion such as John Hick and Richard Swinburne.” Who, then, brutalizes the population, those who think that humans are the result of natural selection or those who think that God tacitly approves of evil? In short, does “Darwinism” truly lead to devaluing human life, or is it religion?

99 Comments

They say that evil is necessary in order to allow free will. Why could God not have granted us free will, but only to do good? He did, for example, not grant us free will to disobey physics.

We say we have free will, yet we do not have free will with respect to gravitation.

Oh well. it was worth a try.

Yes, but it could have been aliens. Very God-like aliens, of course, but inscrutable and practically omniscient and omnipotent aliens indeed.

Distinction without a difference in science, yes. They (I mean IDiots, not theists) don’t do science, however.

Glen Davidson

Best rejoinder to that sort of theodicy (except for Korthof’s) is to ask whether there’s free will in heaven, and then, if the answer is yes, to ask whether there’s also evil in heaven. And if the answer to that one is no, then it’s apparently possible to have free will without evil. I suppose it’s always possible that somebody would answer no the the first question or yes to the second, but I haven’t encountered such a thing. Usually the response is silence.

Ahhhh, theodicy! Such a fun little exercise…

One could argue that any given religion (indeed, any ideology) has moments where it devalues human life, either in general or for specific cases, and the justifications for these lapses are often amusingly convoluted.

The argument that really gets me grinding my teeth is the one about ‘the greater good might not make sense from a human perspective’ because what often follows is an apology for a particularly nasty event. I rank that one right down there with ‘suffering brings glory to (deity of choice)’. The intent may be to comfort the afflicted, but in practice it raises more ugly questions.

The MadPanda, FCD

Olorin said:

They say that evil is necessary in order to allow free will. Why could God not have granted us free will, but only to do good? He did, for example, not grant us free will to disobey physics.

We say we have free will, yet we do not have free will with respect to gravitation.

Oh well. it was worth a try.

Ah, to hell with Newton’s laws. Go ahead, exercise your free will and drive into a wall at 60 mph without your seat belt on. At least that’ll earn you a Darwin Award for sure.

If God exists and acts in a way that is unpredictable and uninfluenced by our behavior, then His existence or non-existence is really irrelevant to us. His actions become merely another random force of nature over which we have no knowledge or control, like lottery numbers. We must go about our lives and simply endure whatever this random God chooses to do to us.

Of course, religious people don’t really believe that. At bottom, they believe not only that God exists, but that they have some influence over His actions. They think that by speaking the right words, abstaining from the wrong foods and actions, or even from wearing the wrong clothes, they can influence God to treat us more favorably, if not in this life but in some supposed afterlife. Otherwise, why would people knock their heads on the floor five times a day while facing Mecca or use separate forks to eat chicken and cheesecake or kneel while a priest puts wafers on their tongues?

Almost all theodicy responses involve some tacit assumption that evil is our own fault because we did or didn’t perform some action that was needed to induce God to save us: the volcano erupted because we didn’t sacrifice a virgin to Mthulu Gombe. Katrina hit New Orleans because we let the homosexuals have a parade.

I don’t like to pick on theology unless it is impacting on me somehow, since I don’t care much about it and many of the people I admire have been religious (e.g. Dr Martin Luther King, St Francis of Assisi, Jimmy Carter, etc).

But some arguments are just stupid, and the “free will as entrapment” one is extremely so. Especially when it comes from people whose denominations have historically been grounded in pre-determinism, I might add.

“God gave you free will. Then he created evil so that you might choose evil, so that you can go to Hell. But he doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell. Why would you choose evil? Because God created you wrong? No, God created everything perfectly, and he doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell, but he gave you free will, and then he created evil, and because and therefore you might (will) go to Hell…”

Fortunately, we can translate the above type of garbage into plain English.

“I am an authoritarian sadist. I like it when other people have misfortune and get hurt. I like to perceive it as ‘their own fault’. I like to boast about my lack of concern for the misfortune of other people. I think it makes me look ‘tough’ to chuckle and sneer when other people have misfortune. If you were desperate enough to fight in one of the wars I support and got hurt that way I might restrain my glee a little, but I’ll certainly support denying you any help. However, if I have even the smallest unfavorable occurrence in my life, and if it is clearly my own fault, I will whine and squeal. Misfortune is deserved and enjoyable when other people have it, but a violation of my perfect entitlement and a horrible tragedy when I bring it on myself. I project my hateful narcissism onto a god of my own invention, who bears very little resemblance to anything in the Bible, and I call doing this ‘Christianity’.”

harold said:

“I project my hateful narcissism onto a god of my own invention, who bears very little resemblance to anything in the Bible…”

Try reading the bible again. No projection is necessary. Or if there is, it’s on the part of the authors.

They say that evil is necessary in order to allow free will. Why could God not have granted us free will, but only to do good? He did, for example, not grant us free will to disobey physics.

We say we have free will, yet we do not have free will with respect to gravitation.

Oh well. it was worth a try.

Oh, the way to do that is throw yourself at the ground - and miss.

Can God make a universe so perfect that he can’t destroy any of it?

How does the Christian concept of ‘The Fall’/’Original Sin’ fit into this God-is-Good-But-Allows-Humans-Free-Will-To-Do-Evil theodicy?

Doesn’t this concept mean that, because of the (purported) actions of God’s direct creations (Adam and Eve) in an environment that God directly created and controlled (the Garden of Eden), and interacting with some of God’s other direct creations (the Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), humans are (purportedly) inclined to evil.

How is this either an act of omnibenevolence or promoting Free Will? It forces humanity to accept the consequences for a decision that they had no part in making.

Mike Elzinga said:

Can God make a universe so perfect that he can’t destroy any of it?

The god of the bible is suffering really badly from Dunning-Kruger syndrome when he keeps declaring his work to be good. He severely overestimates his competence (in performance and judgment). And so do his supporters, despite seeing (reading about) some of the consequences.

http://www.rationalchristianity.net/genocide.html

…sez enough about the problem of theodicy.

Huh. I think I read the second-hand descriptions of Weikart in a much simpler and less deep way than the rest of you. IMO Weikart is not saying anything about metaphysics. He’s not saying descent with modification or natural selection is the root cause of evil. He’s saying the idea of it leads people to do evil things. This is just the “gangsta rap lyrics leads to murder” argument.

I suppose one could bring theodicy into it by asking why God allows rappers to come up with lyrics that promote bad behavior. But that’s a stretch. A much more common-sense interpretation of Weikart is to say he’s not discussing the problem of the existence of evil at all. He’s talking merely about the influence “Darwin’s dangerous idea” has had on culture. He’s talking about the meme of evolution, not the occurrence of it.

Matt Young Wrote:

…something he calls “Darwinism”…

Yes!!! If only we could stop using that obnoxious word as a serious synonym for “Darwinian evolution” we would take away the scam artists’ 2nd favorite rhetorical trick (the 1st is “Darwinist(s)”).

Think about it. We could answer their nonsense with: “You’re absolutely right. Your ‘Darwinism’ is indeed the root of all evil. And evolutionary biology is not. Thanks for playing.”

Argon said:

http://www.rationalchristianity.net/genocide.html

…sez enough about the problem of theodicy.

So the site’s authors say that, even though those children were indeed innocent, their parents and societies were so evil, so the children deserved to die, regardless of innocence.

And that murder, and genocide are wrong, unless God tells you to do so.

Utterly sickening.

Stanton said:

Argon said:

http://www.rationalchristianity.net/genocide.html

…sez enough about the problem of theodicy.

So the site’s authors say that, even though those children were indeed innocent, their parents and societies were so evil, so the children deserved to die, regardless of innocence.

And that murder, and genocide are wrong, unless God tells you to do so.

Utterly sickening.

And we know someone who has admitted right here in front of us that he hoped, if he got the call to do just that, that he would obey.

IMO Weikart is not saying anything about metaphysics.

I don’t think that Professor Korthof is accusing him of saying that. It is Korthof, not Weikart, who claims that religion (and especially theodicy), not “Darwinism,” may have a brutalizing effect on the population. The link that Mr. Argon supplied makes that point in spades - if God says so, then kill all the children. Hugh Ross says that the people were “reprobates” and likens their genocidal extermination to excising a cancerous growth. And people have the nerve to blame “Darwinism” for the brutality of the twentieth century!

Stanton said:

Argon said:

http://www.rationalchristianity.net/genocide.html

…sez enough about the problem of theodicy.

So the site’s authors say that, even though those children were indeed innocent, their parents and societies were so evil, so the children deserved to die, regardless of innocence.

And that murder, and genocide are wrong, unless God tells you to do so.

Utterly sickening.

See Jeffrey Shallit’s account of a modern fundagelical making that claim in public:

But the most repulsive part of Durston’s talk was when someone from the audience asked why Durston’s condemnation of genocide would not apply equally well to the god of the Old Testament, who indulged in genocide himself, in particular the genocide of the Canaanites. Suddenly Durston’s tune changed. Instead of condemning this genocide, Durston sought to justify it. Genocide was OK, he claimed, if his god ordained it. Indeed, he said that the only thing that prevented him from going and out murdering people for his advantage was his religious belief.

If God ordained genocide in our modern day, Durston said, he would obey. However, he said he would have to be very convinced that this call was correct. God would have to appear to all Canadians in an unmistakable way. If that happened, we would have to obey and kill those we were instructed to.

Matt Young said: It is Korthof, not Weikart, who claims that religion (and especially theodicy), not “Darwinism,” may have a brutalizing effect on the population.

Isn’t that a bit of a nonsequitur then? If I say “rock and roll has lead to people disrespecting their elders” and you respond “oh yeah? God allows babies to die of smallpox” it sounds like you are simply using my statement as an excuse to vent your own pet issue. You really aren’t responding to me at all. My claim may be a stupid one, but you aren’t showing why its stupid by taking the conversation on that tangent.

Korthof may have a good argument about theodicy, but if Weikart isn’t making a theological point about evil in the first place, then K. is simply using W.’s comment as an excuse to get his own pet issue into the fray. A better response to W. would be the standard one: to show that he’s utterly and laughably wrong to think major political events of 19th and 20th century like the rise of Nazism or the Soviet Union had anything to do with the public’s acceptance of descent with modification.

Isn’t that a bit of a nonsequitur then?

Yes, now I see what you are getting at. I do not think it is a non sequitur; Professor Korthof opens his article with

In his ‘From Darwin to Hitler’ Richard Weikart makes the link between Darwin and Hitler. Weikart contrasts the ‘Judeo-Christian conception of the sanctity of human life’ with Darwinism: “Darwinism undermined traditional morality and the value of human life” (p.3 ‘From Darwin to Hitler’, or: FDTH). Weikart is not merely describing Darwinist conceptions in a neutral way. He uses emotional and moral words: “brutalizing tendencies of Darwinism” (p.2 FDTH) and “This alone is a shocking demonstration of the devaluing of human life [by] naturalistic Darwinists” (p. 181 FDTH). [My italics]

Thank you for clarifying that point – I should have made it more clear in my synopsis.

RBH said:

See Jeffrey Shallit’s account of a modern fundagelical making that claim in public:

But the most repulsive part of Durston’s talk was when someone from the audience asked why Durston’s condemnation of genocide would not apply equally well to the god of the Old Testament, who indulged in genocide himself, in particular the genocide of the Canaanites. Suddenly Durston’s tune changed. Instead of condemning this genocide, Durston sought to justify it. Genocide was OK, he claimed, if his god ordained it. Indeed, he said that the only thing that prevented him from going and out murdering people for his advantage was his religious belief.

If God ordained genocide in our modern day, Durston said, he would obey. However, he said he would have to be very convinced that this call was correct. God would have to appear to all Canadians in an unmistakable way. If that happened, we would have to obey and kill those we were instructed to.

I have occasional have been told that the reason for proselytizing is, in effect, to give infidels a chance to reject the gospel so that Jesus can return sooner.

This apparently means that all infidels will now be “guilty,” and can be slaughtered justifiably by whatever agents God commands to do so.

Matt Young said: I do not think it is a non sequitur; Professor Korthof opens his article with

In his ‘From Darwin to Hitler’ Richard Weikart makes the link between Darwin and Hitler. Weikart contrasts the ‘Judeo-Christian conception of the sanctity of human life’ with Darwinism… (p. 181 FDTH). [My italics]

Okay, phrased this way it makes more sense to me. Korthof wants to show that Weikart’s ‘Judeo-Christian conception’ of sanctity is imaginary, and the evidence Korthof is citing to make this point is the common Christian theodicy arguments that directly refute this sanctity.

Sorry to be obtuse. Just trying to point out that Weikart is using the old “grand theft auto leads to cats and dogs sleeping together” argument, which really has nothing to do with theodicy per se.

To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself– creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in,, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs– to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

Professor Weikart, whom we have met before, thinks that something he calls “Darwinism” undermines the sanctity of human life

Think it is the other way around.

The fundie xian mythology.

God created humans in his image. They promptly screw up and get kicked out of the Garden.

They become too smart and powerful so god creates all new languages at the Tower of Babel.

They keep screwing up. God kills all but 8 people in the Big Boat incident.

They screw up some more. God sends himself down to be killed by his creations.

They keep screwing up. Being murdered on a cross didn’t really change anything obvious except create a new group of bloodthirsty religious fanatics.

The latest plan is for god/jesus to show up 2,000 years late and murder everyone again and destroy the earth.

The fundie god is an incompetent idiot whose solution to anything is mass murder which never works anyway. He can’t even keep a universe going for 6,000 years or leave a simple instruction manual behind.

Science says we live in a 13.7 billion year old universe which is just getting started. We are survivors of 3.8 billion years of evolution and the only and dominant species of intelligent tool users on the planet. As far as we can tell, we may be the only intelligent species in the Galaxy. If we can keep things together we could spread out and own the whole thing, a trillion star systems and spawn any number of successor species.

So much for Weickart’s fundie sanctity of life view. Besides which, the truth claims of science aren’t contingent on whether anyone likes them or not but rather on how well they describe objective reality.

And we know someone who has admitted right here in front of us that he hoped, if he got the call to do just that (murder and genocide), that he would obey.

Not going to bother asking which troll. Who knew Osama bin Laden reads Pandasthumb?

That is a problem. It is one we see everyday, quite literally.

But we know how to deal with it. In the US, that is what the police, laws, courts, DA’s, and prisons are for and that is where our xian terrorist assassins go. The loonier ones, like Andrea Yates go to lockups for the criminally insane.

Outside the USA, that is what metal detectors in airports and the US armed forces are for.

The “god told me to kill people” crowds have been around as long as god and we have the right and duty to defend ourselves.

And every once in a while one “god told me to kill” crowd collides with another one and we have an Iraq or Northern Ireland to clean up after.

And people have the nerve to blame “Darwinism” for the brutality of the twentieth century!

maintaining religious ideology in the face of reality requires both denial and projection as defense mechanisms.

it’s a simple explanation, but surely you have seen the pattern enough times by now to realize how well it fits.

I’ve been reading Gert off and on since he wrote his review of Francis Collins’ book.

http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/korthof83.htm

scroll down to his discussion of the many problems with Collins’ Moral Law argument.

Not going to bother asking which troll.

of course, but I also recall seeing Vox Day (Theodore Beale) say the exact same thing.

meta:

Yo, Raven, you need to clean up the mess Antagonizer left of your comments back on the “Turtle” thread on Pharyngula.

srewtape -

It’s really, really better to make citations clear. (In case anyone didn’t recognize it, that post is a passage from C. S. Lewis.) Why not put quotes around it and openly attribute it to C. S. Lewis? Is it really that hard?

I assume you are offering up C. S. Lewis as an alternative to the theological positions and false statements about the theory of evolution that are being discussed here, although the passage you quote is only peripherally related.

After all, Lewis was an Anglican. The Anglican Church doesn’t officially deny evolution or promote creationism.

In the passage you quote, Lewis does not argue that evil was created in order that beings with free will could be “tested”.

(He seems to be saying “Humans have free will because God wants it that way for some inscrutable reason”.)

Matt Young said:

Sorry, but Grecianize (or [to my surprise] Grecize, not necessarily capitalized) is a perfectly good word, roughly equivalent to Hellenize. It feels funny to use Hellenize for the language – to Hellenize a word – but I guess it may be OK too.

More than OK: it’s perfectly correct. Quoth the OED:

2. trans. To make Greek or Hellenistic in form or character.

“Grecianize” may be legit, but it sounds wretched. Grecize is even worse. No euphony at all, and they even look clumsy. Both are also commonly defined simply as “hellenize”. Besides, the word for “Greek” in Greek is “Ελληνικά”. Basically, “Hellenic”

eric said: Prof. Korthof, If you’re interested (you may not be), the creationists over at Uncommon Descent are discussing your post.

Eric, thanks for the link to Uncommon Descent.

Hellenize is still the more accepted term and the one which should be used IMHO for the very reasons I have given (It is also the term which substantially more readers would understand.). And here’s an example of its appropriateness:

The Hellenistic empires established by Alexander the Great and his generals had, as one of their goals, the desire to Hellenize their conquered territories, ranging from Bactria to Egypt:

didymos said:

Matt Young said:

Sorry, but Grecianize (or [to my surprise] Grecize, not necessarily capitalized) is a perfectly good word, roughly equivalent to Hellenize. It feels funny to use Hellenize for the language – to Hellenize a word – but I guess it may be OK too.

More than OK: it’s perfectly correct. Quoth the OED:

2. trans. To make Greek or Hellenistic in form or character.

“Grecianize” may be legit, but it sounds wretched. Grecize is even worse. No euphony at all, and they even look clumsy. Both are also commonly defined simply as “hellenize”. Besides, the word for “Greek” in Greek is “Ελληνικά”. Basically, “Hellenic”

“Grecianize” may be legit, but it sounds wretched. Grecize is even worse. No euphony at all,…

Grecize ought to mean to turn someone into a Greek, but Grecianize is no worse, I think, than Americanize; it is only unfamiliar.

Matt Young said:

“Grecianize” may be legit, but it sounds wretched. Grecize is even worse. No euphony at all,…

Grecize ought to mean to turn someone into a Greek, but Grecianize is no worse, I think, than Americanize; it is only unfamiliar.

How about bowdlerize? ;-)

This is starting to sound like an advertisement for some bad hair dyeing formula:

Mike Elzinga said:

Matt Young said:

“Grecianize” may be legit, but it sounds wretched. Grecize is even worse. No euphony at all,…

Grecize ought to mean to turn someone into a Greek, but Grecianize is no worse, I think, than Americanize; it is only unfamiliar.

How about bowdlerize? ;-)

As for the OED, while I respect it, it is after all meant for English spoken in the ancestral mother country. Have to see what Webster’s Dictionary might say, but I should also note that having participated in events at the Onassis Cultural Center (near Rockefeller Center) for years now, the staff of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA) - which operates the center (Its twin - and “parent” - foundation is based in Athens.) - have preferred the terms Hellenic and Hellenize over Grecian, etc.

John Kwok said: As for the OED, while I respect it, it is after all meant for English spoken in the ancestral mother country.

Er, no. It’s function is to be “the definitive record of the English language”, period. Exactly what it says on the tin. It is not oriented towards British usage.

Matt Young said:

… but Grecianize is no worse, I think, than Americanize; it is only unfamiliar.

I’d say it was worse because it is familiar! It sounds like someone has had their greying hair dyed.

Whereas, Hellenic etc is fine.

Am well aware of that didymos, I am merely asserting my American literary bias here:

didymos said:

John Kwok said: As for the OED, while I respect it, it is after all meant for English spoken in the ancestral mother country.

Er, no. It’s function is to be “the definitive record of the English language”, period. Exactly what it says on the tin. It is not oriented towards British usage.

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