Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.
There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.
I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the seventh piece in the series.
Why don’t we photosynthesize?
Let’s get back to God’s creating us. It turns out that mere existence is predicated upon a whole raft of pain and suffering. Carnivorousness is a system whereby, in order to just exist, many organisms require the pain and death of other organisms. This happens, literally, on an industrial scale, from farming to the Serengeti. I once watched an online video of a water buffalo being eaten alive by a pride of lions just so I could understand this point.
It was terrible.
But that’s life, or death as may be. And it has happened for a very long time. All that pain and suffering―every unit―has been built into the design of so many organisms.
It doesn’t have to be that way. God could have it any other way, surely, with his omni-skills? Carnivorousness can’t be necessary, can it? We could, for example, all photosynthesize. All organisms could derive all of the energy from the sun, thus not necessitating the death of other animals. God could either cook the physical constant to allow for this, or simply allow for perpetual miracles to take place in every organism.
You can take this a step or two further. We don’t actually need energy. Conceptually, God could have created organisms, or a whole system, that didn’t revolve around our understanding of energy.
No, further still, God did not need to create a physical world at all. God could just have created heaven, and populated heaven directly.
[Here is a video I did on this topic when I was young and without grey hair…
(The Little Book of Unholy Questions paperback is presently on offer on Amazon, but that will not last if ordered!)
And this is from a previous piece on this topic:
The Problem of Evil is usually stated as something like this:
- If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
- There is evil in the world.
- Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.
Here is a better version:
- There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
- An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
- (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.
It is better because it talks about evil as being gratuitous or not. The evil in the world can still logically exist, as long as it is not gratuitous (i.e. serves a purpose). With regards to the question about photosynthesis, the idea is that eating meat and causing animal pain and death must be necessary for some other, greater good.
The Christian is in the position of being able to say, as they always do, that this is logically possible. This, however, is not good enough. It falls into the fallacy of what Richard Carrier calls possibiliter ergo probabiliter. In other words, something is possible, and so therefore it becomes probable. This is not, for me at any rate, an epistemologically good method. If I went through my life believing things because they were possible and not probable, I would get into some serious trouble.
The Christian would no doubt claim that the rest of the evidence for God means that the evidence for it not being gratuitous is good and makes the conclusion that there is a greater good probable. Again, this is not good enough for me. And if this is the case, then God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is. Many Christians argue that we cannot know the mind of God and we might not understand what the greater good might be. I think this is vastly underrating human understanding and is effectively laughable.
In sum, the fact that a vast number of animals eat other animals in order to survive, meaning that there is an incredible amount of pain and suffering on earth just so that animals can merely survive, raises some really difficult questions for the theist, and ones which are only ever answered with get-out-of-jail free cards employing the omniscience escape clause. And I just don’t think that’s good enough.
I asked this question to William Lane Craig at the Stephen Law debate in London after their debate a few years ago. He had no answer, though declared it was a great question. There you go.]
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