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God is cruel: an argument from creation

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Romans 1:20 was a verse I had to memorise in high school. I’m afraid I had to look it up to use it for this post. Memory verses were usually only effective on me if they had a song to go with them. Anyway, it’s a verse Christians often use to justify God sending people to Hell. The wonder of creation means that no one has an excuse for not believing in God. His character and power are evident in nature:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Righto then, lets examine creation, and thereby discover God’s invisible qualities, etc.

I can’t deny that nature is beautiful. I look into a starry sky or see a cute wallaby or a pretty mountain and I feel emotion. I feel beauty. I feel tiny and insignificant. I struggle with the idea there is no intelligence behind it. Grace, love, unity, are all possible feelings that go with this. These may be attributed to God, if you’re into that shit.

But I can’t ignore the harsher side of nature, the fact that it’s a fight for survival. Stephen Fry has nailed this:

“I love how people watch David Attenborough, Discovery Chanel type thing where you see the absolute, phenomenal, majestic complexity and bewildering beauty of nature and you stare at it, and then somebody next to you goes: “[wags finger] And how can you say there’s no God? Look at that.” And then five minutes later you’re looking at the life cycle of a parasitic worm, whose job is to bury itself in the eyeball of a little lamb and eat the eyeball from the inside while the lamb dies in horrible agony. Then I say “Where is your God now?” You can’t just say there’s a God because the world is beautiful. You have to account for bone cancer in children. You have to account for the fact that almost all animals in the wild live under stress, with not enough to eat, and will die violent and bloody deaths. There is not any way that you can just choose the nice bits, and say that means there is a God and ignore the true fact of what nature is. The wonder of nature must be taken in it’s totality.”

Nature is about survival of the fittest, it’s about competition and fighting to the death. It’s about the lion ripping the zebra to shreds. It’s about wolves stealing the bunny-rabbit’s babies for dinner. If “creation” is meant to be showing God’s character as Romans 1:20 says, then God really is capricious, cruel, and sadistic. There is no love in the wild. No grace. No mercy. Therefore God cannot have these qualities if Romans 1:20 is true. So Christians, do not quote that verse at me and pretend it supports your case, you’re really just confirming my own view. It gives me a pretty good excuse not to believe.

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17 responses »

  1. who makes his blog about knocking christianity to th exclusion of other religions he could ‘knock’ and still thinks himself ‘tolerant’?
    not into Jesus or christianity? ok, i get that and can appreciate your choice. but what i have a problem with is knocking those who do believe. what harm to you is the faith of someone else? want to talk about ‘cruel’… cruel is attacking someone’s deepest held convictions and beliefs just because you find them unbelievable yourself.
    please, choose a different ‘foil’ for your frustration with a god you don’t believe exists. tolerance is never intolerant.
    mike

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Thanks for commenting Mike, but I think we have very different perspectives here.

      I think Christianity is wrong, not only intellectually, but morally as well. I think it is cruel. Christianity has started wars, it has tortured people, it has executed people unjustly and abused human rights. In my country, it is threatening abortion, sexual, marriage and euthanasia rights. In my own life, it has torn me away from my family. It has put me through immense guilt and shame. The Bible is full of atrocities that have led people to do awful things. I WILL NOT TOLERATE A RELIGION LIKE THIS. I don’t care if it’s a deeply held conviction. Christianity has hurt people throughout history. It has hurt me personally. It can be very cruel and I will continue to oppose it because I care about humanity.

      Of course, this depends what you mean by tolerate. I will fight for freedom of religion down to the last nail. But I will not sit down and shut up when people are being hurt by it, when lives are being ruined.

      On the flip side, Christianity does a lot of good things. I fully support that. But that does not mean I will let them get away with the awful things they do/advocate.

      Also, the reason I write about the Christian religion in particular, when other religions are equally harmful, is because I don’t know enough about other religions to feel qualified to write about them. I haven’t had any personal experience with them. Maybe one day I will be able to write about them too, when I’m more experienced and knowledgable.

      I do really appreciate you commenting and thankful for the opportunity to make myself clear on this. I am sorry if I come across as inconsiderate or offensive, but this is something I feel very strongly about.

      P.S I’m a she, not a he 🙂

      Reply
  2. Of course, that’s not the full picture of what Romans is saying. Romans argues the existence of a creator from the existence of nature, but Romans also goes on to point out the manner in which the created order has been broken, infected with sin and death, that manifests in every aspect of existence. No Christian will argue that there is not a darker side to ourselves and to nature; it is precisely because of this darker side that Christianity exists.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Yeah that is a good point. However, many people I talk use that particular verse to justify God punishing people for non-belief which I’m not sure makes sense. Also, if nature is broken, infected with sin etc. then how are we supposed to figure out God’s nature from it?

      Thanks for another insightful comment.

      Reply
      • Well, on both counts, actually. People refer to nature to remind us how small we are in the scheme of things, and ultimately to point to something bigger than ourselves. People also refer to nature (and humanity) to point out the reality of brokenness on display. So, two of the central components of Christianity are visible: splendor and awe, and the presence of evil. The hope and message of christianity is that the former is overtaking (and will ultimately complete overtake) the latter.

      • criticofchristianity

        Okay, but I’m still not sure how God’s eternal power, divine nature etc. can be discovered through creation if creation has evil in it. Romans 1:20 says God is evident in ALL he has made, not just the pretty bits.

      • So are you suggesting that God is only reflected if evil is not present? The crucifixion was pretty evil, yet Christians see that as the central example of God’s presence and love.

      • criticofchristianity

        The crucifixion was evil, but we don’t see God’s presence and love in the actual act of the crucifixion. Rather, God’s love and presence is found in Jesus’s willingness to sacrifice his life for us. If God is good I don’t see how his nature can be reflected in evil, unless it is in opposition to it, which it doesn’t seem to be in Romans 1:20. I may be very wrong about all of this. I’m just not sure.

    • T.E

      Evil existed in nature long before humans were around to be blamed for it.

      Do you hold to the Augustinian belief that God created the world, so as to be exactly as God wishes it to be, containing no evil of any kind, but has nevertheless gone wrong? If so, this seems like a self-contradiction. If, as the Bible claims, H. sapiens were created finitely perfect and they lived in a finitely perfect environment then humanity should have never fallen into sin or evil. The very idea of a perfect creation’s going wrong spontaneously and without cause is a self-contradiction. It amounts to the self-creation of evil out of nothing, ex nihilo. This is equivalent to nothing, meaning not anything, creating something. How absurd! And something I assume you are opposed to?

      The fact remains, then, that a perfect creation would never go wrong and that if the creation does go wrong the ultimate responsibility for this going wrong occurrence must lie with its creator; not with humanity.

      Additionally, it was logically possible for God to have created free beings who would never in fact fall, as Mackie contended. I am going to quote at length and I apologize: “If there is no logical impossibility in a man’s freely choosing the good on one, or on several occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right. Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.”

      One is reminded of Epicurus’ s paradox: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

      Now, to bring us back round to the beginning, in the light of modern knowledge, it is no longer reasonable to think that our species existed, initially, as morally and spiritually perfect beings and then they fell from that state into our current condition. We know that humanity gradually emerged out of lower forms of life with very little moral awareness and with very crude conceptions of spirituality. The natural evils can no longer be thrust upon humanity as a form of justice because evil existed long before humanity arrived upon the scene. Life preyed upon life, and there were storms and earthquakes as well as disease during the hundreds of millions of years before our species emerged.

      Speaking from a specifically human perspective, evil is simply part of the natural evolutionary process, which, as Tennyson pointed out, “is red in tooth and claw.” Evil has a biological basis, being simply the inextricable concomitant of characteristics that served an adaptive function. As Hume told us, “Man is the greatest enemy of man.” Of course, there are other sources of pain that are entirely independent of the human will–for instance, bacteria, earthquake, hurricane, storm, flood, drought, and tornado. These all befall humanity from without and seem to be built into the very structure of the world, and are indifferent to human concerns. The point here is that we don’t need to appeal to dogmas or myths about the Fall or original sin to explain evil. Evolutionary processes are a sufficient explanation.

      Now, if you hold the Leibnizean-Irenaean notion that evil exists for some extramundane reason then I would wonder with Dostoevsky’s Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov: (…)but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature–that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance–and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell me the truth.”

      In my mind, no amount of utility can justify the torture of a child, which is what Attenborough was getting at, I believe, with his parasitic worm scenario.

      Perhaps some evil is impossible to prevent, but why is there so much of it? Couldn’t God have envisioned–like the mere mortals Mackie and Epicurus–another possible world in which humans are free but do much better than we do? Couldn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing deity do better than this? Not to mention, if God doesn’t intervene in human and animal suffering, don’t we have grounds to suspect that he doesn’t exist, doesn’t care, or is limited?

      In my estimation, the free will argument hasn’t survived the centuries, I am afraid, because the metaphysical libertarian free will, which is necessary for the free will defense, is not supported by any sound argument. Not to mention not any theist, to my mind, has explained what free will, the libertarian sort, is–how it functions–or how it is possible, which would be necessary for the argument to have any semblance of coherency or persuasiveness. And the theodicy defenses just seem implausible to me. Couldn’t an all-powerful, omnibenevolent God do better than make a world with this much evil in it?

      Finally, there is the idea of the eternal torment of hell, which would seem to serve no constructive purpose and it would offer no solution to the problem of evil, but would only build the sinfulness of the damned and their nonmoral pains and sufferings into the permanent structure of the universe. Of course, the entire idea of hell rests on the coherence and plausibility of survival in an afterlife, which seems highly incoherent and implausible, at least to me, anyway. You know, the necessary rearrangement and reconstruction of molecules in astronomical proportions from the dead and injured and the idea of consciousness living on without a brain or consciousness being transferred to be realized in some non-brain state and so on make a coherent Christian afterlife highly unlikely.

      Apologies for the long comment, CofC.
      Regards

      Reply
      • 1. Free will deals with the capacity to choose evil, not the necessity of evil. Aside from the metaphorical usage of adam in the creation narratives, we are still left with the idea that free will gives us the capacity to choose good or evil. To then suggest that an all powerful God could create humanity with the free choice to choose good or evil but also somehow be incapable of choosing evil is logically incoherent.

        2. You won’t find me arguing against evolution, I am an ardent evolutionist. Historically prominent Christian leaders such as Origen, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, etc. have understood the creation narratives as metaphor from the very beginning of the church. The modern obsession with a hyper-literalist rendering of Genesis 1 is a very recent development in the history of Christian theology.

        3. I don’t agree with your definition of hell. I unpack that in greater detail here: http://ofdustandkings.com/hell-doctrine-of-a-loving-god/

        4. The problem with the “reconstruction of molecules in astronomic proportions” or the continuance of consciousness in a non-brain state or a state of transfer (which is not actually what Christianity contends – that is Greek philosophy rather than Christian orthodoxy, which teaches resurrection) is only an issue if one first assumes a naturalist reductionism. This is a baseline worldview perspective which begins with some very different assumptions than Christianity does resulting in a tautology. The logic flows thus:

        -There is nothing beyond the natural world as understood by natural law
        -Any concept of a supernatural reality must, by definition, extend beyond the natural world as understood by natural law
        -Therefore, any concept of a supernatural reality can summarily be dismissed as false
        -Therefore, there is nothing beyond the natural world as understood by natural law

        The conclusion is assumed and only validated on the basis of that assumption.

      • T.E

        1) I am sorry. I have demonstrated how that idea is not logically incoherent. If you want to show that Mackie’s argument is logically incoherent, you must demonstrate where his argument fails, logically. I think you will find Mackie’s argument has considerable power. I recommend reading the quotation again.

        Nevertheless, I will address your concerns about human capacity to choose evil. This sort of argumentation requires a libertarian view of free will. A free will that is causally undetermined–a stance that is at odds with evolution–for reasons I should not have to mention. What this metaphysical libertarianism is saying is that if you were given two identically similar situations with identical causal antecedents, an agent could do act A at one time and act B at the other. This view is opposed to the manner in which natural phenomena operate. Every event and action in the world is either the product of cause or chance. Every. This is problematic for the free will argument because if the event is the result of mere chance, it is not a deliberative act for which we can be held accountable. On the other hand, if it is the effect of prior causes, we are not fully or strongly responsible for it. If you want to argue for soft determinism, which is, at least somewhat, successful in reconciling determinism and responsibility, it is not the kind of free will that is needed for your argument. The fact that Bob voluntarily does T makes him only the proximate, but not the ultimate, cause of D. Even Bob’s attitude would be determined, and the idea that human evil is the result of human choice falls apart because humans are not the sole originators of their thoughts or actions–which is required if the free will defense is to operate effectively as an explanation for why there is evil in the world.

        Of course, there is a larger problem for God within the libertarian viewpoint. It proceeds as follows:

        1) To be really free and responsible for our actions, we must be the cause of what we are–our states of mind.
        2) No one is the cause of one’s self. Not even God is causa sui.
        3) So no one is really free and responsible.

        If God does not create himself, he is not free to do otherwise than he does. God’s actions would be causally determined as ours. Either he acts out of his basic character for determining reasons or he acts in an arbitrary manner. Either way, he is not omnipotent in the way Christianity needs him to be.

        And the free will argument still fails to take into account natural evil.

        Also, you failed to answer, without ambiguity, if you maintain an Augustinian view of evil? Or answer my questions about what free will is–how it functions–and how it is possible, which I stated later in the comment.

        2) I find it strange that you would consider yourself an ‘ardent evolutionist’ if you don’t hold to some form of determinism? Do you? If so, how do you reconcile determinism with the free will defense?

        Evolution causes problems for the creation story, no doubt, but evolution also tells us that much, if not most, of moral or man-made evil is the unintended consequence of nature’s making us creatures with insatiable wants but limited resources and sympathies. Evil is just a natural circumstance. If you accept this then why wasn’t God more efficient and benevolent in developing the species? Couldn’t God have been less wasteful–you know not sacrificing millions upon millions upon millions of less fit organisms–and been more benevolent–like avoiding the predator-prey cycle in nature by making carnivores herbivores? These are the sorts of questions you are going to have to answer, satisfactorily, if you want to halt the haunting problem of evil within the theistic worldview.

        3) I think I could modify Twain’s declaration in light of your interpretation of Hell: Go to hell for the climate, and hell for the company. If Hell is not eternal torment, but non-believers left to their own devices then that seems like the place I want to be. I am an anti-theist, so that is the world I am attempting to create presently. The absence of god does not bother me because the idea that God’s absence would negatively influence my life is a metaphysical postulation that I do not intellectually honour.

        4) Are you suggesting that Christian resurrection does not require the resurrection or transfer of the consciousness of the individual being resurrected? If not, then, even if you could reconstruct the necessary molecules, who would you be resurrecting? An entirely different person, that’s who. If Jesus arose and didn’t know who he was or what he had done and was an entirely different person then Jesus’ consciousness would not have been transferred to his non-corporeal body, but Jesus understood these things, if you believe the Bible, so he had the same consciousness of his pre-deceased body. If an individual’s consciousness is not shifted to the individual’s afterlife form then the afterlife container is a different entity from the one who died.

        That’s not my view, I would agree with premises 1 and 2, but not 3 and 4. I would agree with premise 3 if it ran as follows: Therefore, any concept of a supernatural reality can summarily be dismissed as superfluous according to investigation and observation of natural phenomena. I would remove premise 4 because it is unnecessary and serves no logical purpose, other than to repeat what has already been established by premise 1. Remove premise 4 and re-word premise 3 and I don’t think we have a problem.

        Finally, you failed to address a number of my previous questions. Perhaps my comment was overly long. If so, I apologize, but I hope you didn’t just dismiss them out of hand. I would like to know what your argument against the problem of evil is. Is it just humans have an ability to sin, so they do? If so, the naturalistic account seems like a better explanation for why there is evil then theism. Maybe, your argument is more complex, but I would like to know.

        Regards

  3. Great post! I really like the Stephen Fry quote, too. The way I see it, sure we can see beautiful things in nature, but that’s just us. Nature itself doesn’t try to be beautiful in any way. if a peacock looks beautiful, it’s only because it strives to be attractive to another peacock. “Being beautiful” has no meaning outside the person looking at it.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Thanks! Stephen Fry is one of my heroes. I agree, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it really doesn’t make sense for God to expect all of humanity to be able to judge him from the beauty of creation. Every group of people/individual will interpret it in their own way. It does not always lead to a belief in God, and usually does not lead to a belief in the God of the Bible.

      Reply
  4. I’ve never seen that quote from the Bible before, but I can see why it’s used as a brainwashing tool on children, with that nice little ‘no excuse’ threat tagged on to it. Sort of like, ‘everything’s really beautiful so you’d better believe in God, or else!’ It just doesn’t have a benevolent ring to it.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      So true! It’s a good verse for scaring people into converting. Also, it doesn’t take other gods into account. There are millions of gods that could have created the universe, so as long as you worship one of them, you’re alright. But then a few books earlier it says Jesus is the only way. Totally confusing.

      Reply
  5. It’s possible that God is cruel. It’s also possible, as The Bible’s story suggests, that creation was good, human beings were given enormous responsibility for its care, and the consequences for humanity’s departure from God have been, and continue to be staggering.

    Apparently, it’s also possible that hedgehogs are at the top of the food chain. I hadn’t seen evidence for this before I saw the picture in your post. 🙂

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Sure, it’s all possible. I’m just trying to work out what is true and what is logically and morally consistent. And I like to point it out when things don’t seem to meet these criteria. I love blogging because so many different people offer their different perspectives. It helps to broaden the mind. I’ve learnt so much and I’ve realised that I have been wrong about some things.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

      Haha oh yeah, hedgehogs are pretty ferocious animals 😀

      Reply

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