Soft Theism: What Good Is God if He Doesn’t Intervene?

Soft Theism: What Good Is God if He Doesn’t Intervene? April 14, 2021

We’re responding to an imaginary dialogue that explores Soft Theism, which is basically Christianity without the unpleasant baggage. Can jettisoning Christianity’s crazy bits make it acceptable? Read part 1 here.

This is post 19 in this series. What good is the soft theist’s God hypothesis, and is beauty a clue to God?

God provides a better explanation

But if your almost-Deistic God is so non-intervening, what good is He? I’m left wondering: why believe at all?

Good question. In practical terms, maybe He’s not much good. But, intellectually, God gives me a better ultimate explanation for the universe, than . . . random chance.

So he’s a mental placeholder and doesn’t have to exist. He’s not the inevitable conclusion pointed to by evidence, preferably from different avenues, as science does it. This is just a way to replace “I don’t know” with “God.” By your own admission he doesn’t make sense, so therefore he makes sense?

Maybe you have an itch that I just don’t have, but this does nothing for me. If we don’t know, I’d prefer to say that.

And . . . there is also a big psychological or emotional aspect to it . . . I read that Elvis Presley once said—and I think this is actually quite profound—he said that . . . to be happy, a person needs three things—someone to love . . . something to do . . . and . . . something . . . to look forward to.

The God worldview is a happier one

I think, given that we can’t prove God or disprove God, we might as well take the happier path and live with the idea that God probably does exist, and . . . look forward to some ultimate resolution to life . . . other than . . . dust. . . .

“The happier path”? Life seen honestly sucks so that you need help getting through, and this theology is a bullet to bite on when things are toughest? This probably isn’t what you think, but then I’m not sure what you’re saying.

Christians also claim that their worldview is more pleasing, as if to say, “Well, there’s not much reason to think that it’s true, but see how happy it makes me!” but this approach has consequences. For example, you posit an afterlife. I don’t want to rearrange my life to adapt to this fact unless I have reason to believe it’s actually a fact. Given the choice between a happy worldview and an accurate worldview, I’ll take the accurate one. (I’ve written about this here and here.)

Personally, I intuitively embrace the idea that . . . everything we do counts, rather than ultimately . . . doesn’t count. . . .

“Intuitively” doesn’t sound like sufficient grounding for a supernatural worldview

Another label for Soft Theism might be . . . “Warm Deism,” . . . warm deism, where a Deity IS involved, DOES care, but, not in any intervening or verifiable way.

Evidence for God (or for Douglas Adams’ puddle?)

Do you have any evidence that God cares about us?

Yeah . . . not hard evidence, but, I see certain aspects of reality, as soft evidence of God’s care for us:

For one, our species is largely thriving on the planet.

This reminds me of Douglas Adams’ puddle, which marveled at how well its hole fit it. It didn’t realize that the adaptation was the other way around.

For another, our bodies usually have the capacity to heal.

Puddle again.

For another, life is intelligible, navigable, rather than . . . a total crapshoot.

Maybe we should worship evolution, which, clumsily, adapted us to our world.

And, there are many joyful experiences in life.

And many sucky ones. The argument for an evil god is just as good as for a good god (though I realize that you don’t claim God is particularly good). Do we really need this God hypothesis? Life shaped by evolution explains things adequately.

I think these aspects of reality are all some evidence, that God cares about us. Granted, one can look at the negative side of each of these factors as evidence of God not caring—situations where people do not thrive, do not heal, are crushed by their circumstances, or have horrible experiences.

I personally went through cancer treatments for a year and a half. That was horrendous. I prefer to think that was just bad luck, and not an act of God.

Yeah, I don’t think God micro-manages. I think good luck and bad luck . . . randomness, is part of the overall plan. And yeah, you’re right, that we can’t logically CONCLUDE that God cares about us in the way a human would, in an overt, consistent way. But, I think God has given us a matrix which, though NOT fully consistent, DOES have . . . strong tendencies—the reasonable person will TEND to do better; the good person will TEND to be loved more. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to interpret those . . . tendencies . . . as God’s care for us.

Yeah, nothing says “I love you” like a marginally supportive living environment.

You want us to believe that this God is a pleasing idea? You’re not selling it. He may not micromanage, but he could’ve created a much more nurturing environment.

Beauty in nature

(Note that this dialogue is a composite of many atheists. Some were more hardcore, some less hardcore.)

I feel that a rainbow is not any less beautiful because you understand the science behind it.

Sure. Sure. I get that. But to me, there is something about beauty, of all kinds, that transcends the . . . ordinariness of life. I feel it wouldn’t be there unless it . . . came from some greater beauty.

Let me propose an alternative: we’re tuned by evolution to be drawn to some things and away from others. Why are we instinctively repulsed by bad smells or things with a disgusting appearance? Because evolution tuned us that way. It was healthy to avoid eating something rotten, and evolution selected against those humans who didn’t avoid contaminated food.

There’s nothing objectively pretty or sweet-smelling about a flower. It is the way it is because that gave it reproductive success. The stinking corpse lily or skunk cabbage are also successful but in a different way. “A daffodil is pretty” is our programming talking, not something objective. Don’t forget that we’re just Douglas Adams’ puddle, and we’re adapted to the hole, not the other way around.

That we enjoy waterfalls doesn’t mean that a god created them. Thank evolution instead.

Yeah, I understand how you feel. And unless someone is immune to beauty, and the awe and wonder of nature, I think there must be times when everyone has felt there must be something greater than themselves, to put on such a show.

We are programmed to see agency. Is the rustling in the bushes a panther or the wind? The timid hominid who imagined an agent lived for another day, but the unconcerned one might’ve become lunch.

Does this look like a beneficent world?

My problem is that, for every wonderful thing there is an opposite. As Bertrand Russel said, “For my part, I am unable to see any great beauty or harmony in the tapeworm.”

Yes, you could make a long list of how life on earth sucks. Let me add a few more parasite examples from famous naturalists.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. (Charles Darwin)

When Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind. (Sir David Attenborough)

Evolution as the reason for why life is the way it is—not a caring god—is the peg that neatly fits that hole.

Absent hard evidence. I come down on the side of metaphysical naturalism . . . Of course . . . I . . . could be wrong.

Yeah, I appreciate that response. I readily admit I could be wrong. We’re both going with what makes MORE sense to us.

Next: the Problem of Evil

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.
— Frank Lloyd Wright


Image from Chloe Chen, public domain

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