OK, so here are a few views on the article “Think Again” by Standley Fish. The article, an opinion piece in the New York Times, is an introduction to new books by Bart Ehrman (“God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer”) and Antony Flew (“There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”).
The author clearly is looking at both books with the question, “Can religion or
atheism be supported based on their explanation of human suffering?”
The first four paragraphs try to provide a context for the discussion, but I find them a waste of space, since he never truly evaluates whether we should be asking the question at all. Mr. Fish quotes from “Paradise Lost” and Paul’s writings in the new testament. Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is a work of fiction. I think many forget that since Milton’s imagery often sneaks into theological discussions. The new testament writings are only valid if you pre-suppose they are NOT a work of fiction at which point the discussion is pretty much over and you are just trying to noodle-out god’s will.
Mr. Fish continues by suggesting that the problem of “the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent deity” is the supporting argument for atheism espoused by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and others. He misses that the sole purpose of this line of reasoning is to pursuade the faithful, it is hardly a major pillar of non-theistic reasoning.
While I have no doubt that Bart Ehrman did have a crisis of faith brought on by
the suffering in the world and the classic question, “How can god allow this to happen?”
From my reading of a number of his books and listening to his lectures, I believe he
has no illusions about the very human origin of scripture. Which, one would think, pretty much negates the whole question. If you don’t buy in to the fundamental doctrine of a vengeful god, or a god that participates in daily life, then you don’t need to discuss the “reason” bad things happen.
With regard to Mr. Fish’s comments on Antony Flew’s book. While atheism may be considered the dogma of god denial. I expect most atheists are clear in their recognition that one cannot assert that god does not exist, since you cannot prove a negative. Instead, they assert that the concept of god as it is defined by religion is one made up by man without evidence and, therefore, not worthy of belief.
It goes round and round, just because one cannot conceive of how the intricate workings of nature could occur without a conscious hand at the wheel, doesn’t prove there is a hand. It is just wish-thinking and wanting doesn’t make it so. “How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends [and] self-replication capabilities?”, this is a great question. Wouldn’t it be a shame, if we just bailed on the search for the answer and just decided “God did it”?
It is unfortunate that science cannot answer all the questions craved by the human mind. On the other hand, science has only had a few millennium to unravel about 14.5 billion years of known universal existence. It would be truly sad, if we thought we had all the answers and just stopped looking. Some questions, I think, will always be the domain of philosophy, since they cannot be evaluated by the rigor of experiment.
While I have not read Mr Ehrman’s latest book, I would be disappointed to think it begins an ends with the, wholly artificial, religious concept of “evil”. To allow religion to frame the context of the dialog is beyond giving them the home field advantage, it is granting them the ability to write the rules, referee and keep score.
“I believe in God, although I live very happily with atheists… It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God.” — Denis Diderot, conceding to Voltaire’s defense of the concept of God (during a letter dialogue sparked by Voltaire’s letter commenting on Letter to the Blind), though quoted from Jim Herrick, Against the Faith (1985), p. 75 (from Positive Atheism’s Big List of Denis Diderot Quotations)
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