Looks like it’s going to be an Anthony Grayling kind of week. We’ve had some words from him and Richard Dawkins today, he’s written a response to my post that I’ll put up tomorrow morning, and I’ve just found a nice short piece he’s written for the Dawkins website, “God and disaster.” It deals with why people pray after physical disasters like the Japanese earthquake, and the ludicrous ways that the faithful rationalize such “physical evil”. Here’s a snippet, referring to people who prayed after the New Zealand earthquake:
Indeed, were they praising and supplicating a deity who designed a world that causes such arbitrary and sudden mass killings? An omniscient being would know all the implications of what it does, so it would know it was arranging matters with these awful outcomes. Were they praising the planner of their sufferings for their sufferings, and also begging his help to escape what he had planned?
Perhaps they think that their god was not responsible for the earthquake. If they believe that their god designed a world in which such things happen but left the world alone thereafter and does not intervene when it turns lethal on his creatures, then they implicitly question his moral character. If he is not powerful enough to do something about the world’s periodic murderous indifference to human beings, then in what sense is he a god? Instead he seems to be a big helpless ghost, useless to pray to and unworthy of praise.
For if he is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world. And if he is powerful enough to do both, but created a dangerous world that inflicts violent and agonizing sufferings arbitrarily on sentient creatures, then he is vile. Either way, what are people thinking who believe in such a being, and who go to church to praise and worship it? How, in the face of events which human kindness and concern registers as tragic and in need of help – help which human beings proceed to give to their fellows: no angels appear from the sky to do it – can they believe such an incoherent fiction as the idea of a deity? This is a perennial puzzle.
This—the presence of horrible things caused not by humans, but by other features of nature—is the Achilles heel of theistic faith. Indeed, it even impugns deism, for it’s hard to imagine any kind of benevolent God who would create this kind of world. (And if you respond that “we can’t fathom God’s nature,” then why assert that he’s benevolent?)
The response that “God made the physical universe to operate freely,” does not explain why God couldn’t have tweaked it (or set it up) to prevent earthquakes, especially since religious scientists like Simon Conway Morris and Kenneth Miller claim that God did tweak it (or set it up) to make the appearance of humans inevitable. Why one tweak but not the other?