Friday, July 31, 2009

The Other Problem of Evil

Given my experience with apologetics, I can safely say that many apologists don't know much of anything about your typical atheist. Or at least those like me. I've seen a LOT of them listing the primary suspected reason for atheism as the Problem of Evil: If their deity's good and all powerful, why is there still evil? Though this is a legitimate question, it is pretty much independent of my belief in gods.

Given relatively literal readings of the Bible and a number of common beliefs, God is very much evil. Human sacrifices, genocide, slavery, strange and arbitrary rules, purposeless torment in a lake of fire, and so on: Some things are simply inexcusable. Though many atheists will often give a stock answer that they don't hate God because he's fictional, I will say I have no trouble hating fictional characters who deserve the emotion for the actions they perform in their fictional world. Or would perform if they were in the real world.

That, however, is not what I base my disbelief on. I do not disbelieve out of spite, but out of a lack of evidence, or even a decent definition of evidence to look for. If I had evidence of the typical fundie's god, I wouldn't be an atheist anymore. I'd be looking for the gates of Heaven and an army of concerned and morally upright citizens to storm them and overthrow the sadist, regardless of power differences.

I don't believe in gods because they're a slippery concept. Some are chimeric mishmashes of contradicting characteristics. Some are described as chiseled stone idols carrying thunderbolts and hopping around on clouds, and are only disbelieved because they've mastered the art of hiding where we aren't looking at any given moment. Others are so amorphous, described with words like "transcendental" and "infinite" that they can hardly be described as the vapor of a germ of an idea. If they can't even get consistent with what they're talking about, how can we expect to know what evidence to look for? If we can't figure out what to look for, how can we find it? If we can find no evidence, how are we supposed to believe in any version whatsoever, much less a particular one?


James K said...

The other reason not to lean too heavily on the problem of evil is that it only really applies to the Abrahamic religions. It only works if the god or gods are omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent.

The ancient Greek and Roman religions had several simple solution to the problem of evil: They could say "The gods don't always agree" or "sometimes the gods are cruel, all the more reason to stay in their good graces".

Dunc said...

"I'd be looking for the gates of Heaven and an army of concerned and morally upright citizens to storm them and overthrow the sadist"

Ever read Garth Ennis' Preacher?

Valhar2000 said...

Many Fundies also have a ready solution to the problem of evil: God is not omni-benevolent. They may not want to say it that way, but Fundie Gods are real nasty bastards.

Therefore, as James says, the problem of evil is not really much of a reason to stop beleiving once you already do. It is interesting to watch apologists struggle under the weight of the problem, though.

Dark Jaguar said...

Good point. Most sermons will go on about god's loving grace and salvation, but every now and then there's some sort of memetic "flashover" where preachers start having a series of sermons for a few weeks about "remembering" that god is "also vengeful and jealeous", with additional justification in that their god has every right to be as vindictive as those nasty parts of the bible mention. This is the ancient idea of total ownership of one's children, which ask any christian and they won't generally buy into "owning" their kids or child abuse (there are sickening exceptions), but in the case of god, that guy apparently is going to play up that "I created you" card for all it's worth as some sad justification for it's biblical child abuse. That's all well and good for a fictional villian, except for the sad fact that, as I noted before, there are a very few christian groups that take that "role model" to heart and treat their children just as terribly. It's far more common in the middle east, but I must add that we're talking the outskirts, the "catskill" type regions there. Daily Show made it clear there's plenty of pretty rational normal people there just trying to get by and enjoy their Nintendo 64s they just got there last week.