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For Text Colour-conventions (at end of page): Click HereBlog - Stephen Fry on Natural Evil
A bridge friend sent me this link, which (for once) was fairly topical and had been raised at my wife Julie’s Bible-study only the last week. The link was Link (https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/tv-host-asks-atheist-stephen-fry-question-about-god-you-have-watch-what-happens-next300115/), and basically centres on the question of what the fact of inordinate evil has to say about the theism / atheism debate.
Footnote 1: (Unmerited Suffering & Hominid Evolution) (CORRESPONDENT)
Now you remember we were discussing suffering, and disasters. And I think we agreed that ‘limited' suffering did humanity good – although philosophically one could not define that limit. Then we moved on to Haiti and natural disasters. I think I mentioned something that if God did allow any to suffer unjustly (e.g. David's child by Bathsheba who died in David's place) God was more than able to make that up to people in eternity.
It is interesting that some in our Lord's time may have had the same problem with God permitting man's inhumanity to man and also to natural accidents. In Luke 13:1-5 we read:
'Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think' they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
The interesting thing about this is that Christ seems not interested in what happened in the here and now, on earth. He is much more interested in the hereafter. Maybe it is a case of:
Isaiah 55:8-9: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. "
Also please find enclosed an article ("McKie (Robin) - Out of Africa: The Sequel") from the weekly Guardian. Sylvia has done all the markings and we were discussing this. It shows the absolute uncertainty of the absoluteness of evolutionary science. No other scientific theory would be allowed to get away with so many caveats and still hold it head up high.
Footnote 2: (Unmerited Suffering & Hominid Evolution - Response)
Firstly, the letter on unmerited suffering. Obviously the arguments in the letter are not news, and I doubt we can make much further progress on this topic. My objections to the arguments are firstly that the Biblical quotations seem to read into the text a positive slant that's not there, and secondly that the Isaiah quotation really ought only to be invoked as a last resort.
With respect to the matter of David and Bathsheba, David’s comment that – as far as his dead son is concerned – “I will go to him but he will not come back to me”, makes reference not to the happy hereafter, but to the grave. Is there any suggestion in the context that things will be “all right” for David’s son? The focus is entirely on David and his wicked ways.
In the passage from Luke, the focus is on perishing, not on future happiness or final restitution. I raised this passage myself, as it doesn’t say who’s responsible for the disasters, other than that it wasn’t the victims’ fault; and presumably Pilate was (immediately) responsible for the slaughter his soldiers wrought. Anyway, the victims hadn’t brought the Tower of Siloam down on their own heads. It’s interesting to consider just when the “perishing” would be. I’d have thought a good dispensationalist would think that it would be in the cataclysm that would engulf Judea at the end times if there was no national repentance, much as happened at AD 66-70.
Isaiah 55:8-9: obviously a being with the attributes traditionally predicated of the Christian God can do lots of things – anything that’s not logically impossible or contradictory to his declared character. But that’s the whole issue concerning the problem of what appears to be excessive “collateral damage” unmerited by the recipients. The thought that God, with his infinite bag of goodies, can “make it up” to anyone caught in the cross-fire seems too facile. It reeks of using people as means rather than ends, to the dismay of the Kantians. Now, personally, I’m a consequentialist (ie. a sophisticated utilitarian). So, there are some dreadful acts that have to be done in order to avoid even worse consequences. If the Kraken comes and demands one of your daughters, and won’t take you instead, but would otherwise take everyone, what are you to do? Of course, in the myth some super-hero comes along and slays the Kraken, but we’ll assume that way out isn’t open (incidentally, this story from “Clash of the Titans” seems to be a mix-up of Greek and Norse mythology – it seems that it’s Ceto (and not the Kraken) that Perseus turns to stone using the Gorgon’s head; but we’ll let that pass). But, to continue, God is that super-hero, and (it might be said) has failed to turn up when he could have. If I allowed my daughter to be eaten alive by ants, say, when I could have done something about it, but would not “for the good of the cause”, I’d not be considered virtuous even if I could conjure her up again and give her an eternity of bliss. And what would she think of me? Even the Catholic clergy don’t abuse children that badly. These are the ideas that have to be wrestled with.
I’ve discussed this issue a couple of times with Pete – he quoted “God is no man’s debtor”. Where’s this thought from? Is it scripture or a proverb? I’ve done Bible and internet searches and can’t find it. I even asked Julie, the walking concordance. It appears in the Summa Theologica, in an objection. See Link (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1021.htm) (which looks like a useful site – even if a Catholic one – follow the scripture links to a triglot Bible). But there are two ways of taking this – that God owes us nothing, or that God does owe us something, and will pay up. The Calvinists take the first approach – we all deserve the everlasting bonfire because of what we are, irrespective of what we’ve done. See this blog (Link - Defunct). The atheist lobby would say this makes God out to be a monster. Are there really any promises that everything will be all right for everyone other than “the wicked”? Other than in Julian of Norwich, that is.
To take this further, I’m teetering on the edge of joining (or succeeding) Pete at Heythrop. They do an MA in “Philosophy and Religion”. Apart from evaluating the arguments of natural theology (which I’ve never been impressed by) you have to endure a course on “20th century religious thought”, which I imagine involves evaluating utter drivel. Then there are a couple of courses on ethics – probably the ones Pete took.
Secondly, the article ("McKie (Robin) - Out of Africa: The Sequel") enclosed with the letter (follow the Abstract / Comment Link for a transcript). Naturally, I don't agree with the comments, which were "Please find enclosed an article from the weekly Guardian. Sylvia has done all the markings and we were discussing this. It shows the absolute uncertainty of the absoluteness of evolutionary science. No other scientific theory would be allowed to get away with so many caveats and still hold it head up high."
The reason I don't agree with the comments is that this is all “work in progress”. The presumption that humans and the great apes are related, and have a common ancestor, is based on genetic and morphological studies. Evolution (taken as descent with modification, whatever its mechanisms) is taken as the unifying principle that brings together all the seemingly arbitrary facts of biology. Why do we have all this diversity and similarity, other than because God decided to do it that way? And if evolution is right as a general paradigm, then we’d expect human beings to fit into it somehow. Articles like the one you enclosed are attempts to fill in the gaps. Now it seems that this is a difficult task. Until relatively recently, on geological timescales, hominids haven't been very numerous, and by all accounts, they don't fossilise well - fossilisation being rather an extraordinary process in any case. So, it's difficult to find much evidence, and piecing together what has been found is a difficult task. All this is just an artefact of where the science is at right now. Presumably (Sylvia will like that), as time goes by, more bits of the jigsaw will be discovered and it'll be possible to tell a more robust tale, and one in which the paradigm isn't as likely to be upset by the next discovery. But even now there's a story that can be told that some would say has more flesh on its bones, and more credibility, than that the first man was made out of the dust in some middle-eastern garden. The reason that "cat's are amongst the pigeons" is that there's a bunch of data that's been pieced together, and new data indicates that some of the pieces might be in the wrong place. But there are more bits to this jigsaw than are available in the Biblical account - which is so brief that it can't be regarded as a scientific account at all. Nor should it be.
There have been a couple of similar articles recently on the same topic – you may have seen them. One was "Krause (Johannes) - Our Ancestral Cave Gets More Crowded". The other was "Burkeman (Oliver) - Revolution in Evolution". Like you, no doubt, I’m not too impressed by extrapolation from fingers, but the “Revolution” article is interesting, if a little muddled. The suggestion that Lamarkianism – the inheritance of acquired characteristics – might have something going for it isn’t to be viewed as the overthrow of evolution, but as a major adjustment to the Darwinian synthesis (natural selection plus genetics). Everyone (if they are honest) is worried by the improbabilities of genetic variation, inheritance and natural selection being the whole story if the only generator of variation is random mutation. But if somatic changes induced by behaviour could somehow get into the genome, then the improbabilities would reduce enormously. Then, we’d only need to fall back on anthropic principles and multiverses to get the initial replicator off the ground. Maybe, but because something would be “nice to have” (for those of us inclined in that direction) doesn’t mean it should be accepted as true.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on "Walton (John H.) - The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate". I'd not had time to read the last couple of chapters, but I think he was summing up by then. I liked the general approach, and in particular the author’s distinction between the thought that the Biblical account is "indebted" to other ancient creation accounts (which he rejects) and the thought that such accounts formed the backdrop of common pre-scientific assumptions into which the Genesis account was directed, and against which it needs to be understood.
Footnote 3: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil)
I sent out the email below in response to an article in the BBC News Magazine website (Link (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8467755.stm)). The immediate responses are here, here and here. Follow the links for these responses, my responses and any ensuing correspondence.
The discussion eventually fizzled out , but fizzed back to life briefly in another item further up the blog.
Of course, there’s been a lot written on this subject of greater rigour than the popular piece by David Bain. For instance:-
To: Pete, Sylvia
Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 10:10 AM
Subject: Fw: Haiti and the problem of evil
Any comment on the email / attachment below? I couldn't find any reference - at the time of writing - to "an enemy7 has done this". Maybe the modern church thinks the problem of cosmic dualism / Manichaeism is worse than the problem of evil?
Footnote 7: Ie. Satan – this is a quote from .Matthew 13:28, the passage about the wheat and the tares.
Footnote 4: (Grand Inquisitor)
This is a place-holder. Currently, just see the Heythrop reading-list below. The recommended text (marked “(*)”) is by Bauckham.
The lectures ("Fowler (Charlotte) - Evil and Suffering: Protest Atheism") didn’t actually cover the Grand Inquisitor, though it did cover Ivan Karamazov.
The student presentation was "Heythrop Student - Seminar Paper: Philosophy of Religion - Ivan Karamazov's Rejection of God and Possible Challenges to this Rejection".
Books / Articles
- The Rebel, London, 1953, Chapters 'The rejection of salvation' and 'The absolute affirmation'.
- See also his novel "Camus (Albert), Gilbert (Stuart) - The Plague", Penguin, London, 1998. Note3.
Footnote 2: In addition to the original paper by Chignell, there are the following
Footnote 3: I have "Camus (Albert), Gilbert (Stuart) - Physical Suffering and the Justice of God", taken from Michael L. Peterson (Ed.) – The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings.
Footnote 4: I have "Dostoyevsky (Fyodor), Magarshack (David) - The Brothers Karamazov", and the extract "Dostoyevsky (Fyodor) - Rebellion".
Footnote 5: This book is out of print and hugely expensive. I found "Williams (Rowan) - Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction", which may investigate similar themes, though presumably from a more positively theistic perspective.
Footnote 5: (Free Will Defence)
This is a place-holder. Currently, just see the Heythrop reading-list below. The recommended texts (marked “(*)”) are Mackie, Plantinga, Flew, Hick, Gorman and Geisler & Corduan. Note that the reading list includes those supporting Hick’s “Irenean Theodicy”.
Charlotte Fowler gave the lecture - "Fowler (Charlotte) - Hick's Irenean Theodicy".
Peter Vardy’s paper was "Vardy (Peter) - The Problem of Evil - The Free Will Defence" (though the lecture was not actually delivered).
There are two related questions on this topic:-
I will need to ensure that my essay (on the former) doesn’t stray too far into the other’s territory. Maybe a possibility is a “middle way” – something like
For a student paper on Hick's Irenaean theodicy, see "Heythrop Student - Seminar Paper: Philosophy of Religion - John Hick's Irenaean Theodicy".
Books / Articles
Footnote 2: This title has been approved by Charlotte Fowler
Footnote 3: Peter Vardy didn’t give the lecture (Charlotte Fowler did), and so didn’t provide the promised “Ulf Gorman” hand-out.
Footnote 4: The Stump extract is a selection only. See "Hick (John) - An Irenaean Theodicy" for the full text.
Footnote 5: This is in fact a couple of excerpts from "Hick (John) - Evil and the God of Love", ie:-
… Chapter XII.3 (‘The Starting Point / The ‘vale of soul-making’ theodicy’) and
… Chapter XV (‘Suffering’)
Footnote 6: This is Chapter 9 – ie. pp. 164 – 195, of "Plantinga (Alvin) - The Nature of Necessity".
Footnote 7: Vardy isn’t explicit on what these are. I presume the whole of Part 4 (Chapters 14 – 17) is relevant, with Chapter 16 the most relevant; ie:-
… Chapter 14 ("Geisler (Norman) & Corduan (Winfried) - The Nature of the Problem of Evil"),
… Chapter 15 ("Geisler (Norman) & Corduan (Winfried) - The Metaphysical Problem of Evil"),
… Chapter 16 ("Geisler (Norman) & Corduan (Winfried) - The Moral Problem of Evil"),
… Chapter 17 ("Geisler (Norman) & Corduan (Winfried) - The Physical Problem of Evil").
Footnote 6: (Aquinas on Evil)
This is a place-holder. Currently, just see the Heythrop reading-list below. The recommended texts (marked “(*)”) are Davies and McCabe.
Vardy’s Paper is "Vardy (Peter) - St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Traditional Catholic Approach to the Problem of Evil".
The student-led Seminar hand-out was "Heythrop Student - Seminar Paper: Philosophy of Religion - Review of 'God, Evil, and Divine Responsibility' by Herbert McCabe".
Books / Articles
… The Summa is available at Link (http://www.newadvent.org/).
… See also extract in Davies, "Davies (Brian) - Philosophy of Religion: A Guide and Anthology", Oxford University Press, 2000, Chapter 57.
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Timestamp: 12/10/2018 10:43:28. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.