01 August 2012

Why do religious believers keep making excuses for God’s impotence?

One thing that confounds atheists about god-believers is the way that they rationalise the existence of an all-good, all-powerful deity despite the occurrence of evils like natural disasters, disease and horribly violent deaths like those of the Aurora shooting victims – a rationalisation known as theodicy. A Christian pastor, Rob Brendle, engages in theodicy when he makes excuses for his almighty God who failed to prevent the Aurora massacre. Typical for theodicy, Brendle rigs the (troubling) issue so that it becomes a win-win situation for believers like him: if nothing terrible had happened, it was God’s doing, but if something terrible happened, it wasn’t God’s fault.

And Brendle just makes stuff up as he goes along while contradicting himself. He writes:

But Scripture also teaches that God is totally in control. He is all-powerful and all-knowing and he is willing and able to intervene in human events. So there is a gap between human choice and divine foreknowledge, a gap that transcends understanding and that helps define God in my mind.
The debate over this theological tension has persisted for centuries, and I don’t aim to settle it here. Let me suggest simply that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to make our decisions meaningful. Consequently, much of what happens on earth neither conforms to nor results from his preference. There are at least four influences on human events: God’s will, to be sure; but also the will of Satan, our adversary; peoples’ choices, for better or for worse; and natural law (gravity, collision, combustion, and the like).
It is difficult to know which force causes the circumstances that devastate us. But it is enough to know that God need not be responsible for them.

So Brendle believes that God is “totally in control”, yet is somehow constrained in affecting the “will of Satan”, “people’s choices” and, this is a hoot, “natural law”! Brendle arbitrarily makes “natural law” a distinct category that for some unknown reason falls outside the purview of the Almighty. But didn’t God create those laws? Shouldn’t God be able to break them? And how does Brendle know that there are “at least four influences on human events”? Because the Bible says so? He makes assertions that are not only unsupported by any evidence outside of his religion’s propaganda, but that also conveniently absolve his God of any responsibility for every evil that exists. Brendle’s theodicy is nothing but the purely subjective opinions of a god-believer trying to convince himself that his beliefs aren’t contradictory nonsense.  

In his blog post excoriating Brendle’s article, Jerry Coyne had this to say about Brendle’s statements quoted above:

If God is all powerful, why can’t he get rid of Satan? God’s not responsible for the devil? Does Brendle really suggest that when your kid gets leukemia, it’s Satan’s doing? What’s the evidence for that? And if God gave us free will knowing that we’d use it to do evil, is he absolved of responsibility?
“God’s will” is a non-answer.  If we can’t know or fathom God’s will, then neither can we know that God is good, powerful, and all knowing. You can’t say that God is inscrutable in one respect but comprehensible in many others.

Precisely. Religious apologists for God are ever ready to invoke God’s mysterious will as a get-out-of-jail card on the presumption that God’s will is invariably benevolent. What if it isn’t, and God has actually got a vicious streak that gets indulged occasionally? More importantly, how could anyone know for certain?

Brendle’s loyal defense of his deity must have impressed the big guy, because God Himself posted the following in the comments (the first comment, no less):

Dear Christians:
God here. I thought I would take the time to personally explain my absence in the Aurora shootings. While I was at it, I thought I would also explain my absence during every murder, massacre and crime that has ever taken place in World history, and in every war, in every famine, drought and flood.
You see, I do not exist. I never have. Did it really make sense to you that I would create an entire Universe with billions of billions of planets and wait about 13,700,000,000 years just so I could focus on a few Jews from Palestine about 2,000 years ago while ignoring the rest of the 200,000,000 people on the planet at the time? Did I make those few Jews or did those few Jews make me?
Further, do you really think I would sit back and do nothing while Nazis killed 6 million of my “chosen people,” but find it important enough to intervene and turn water into wine to stop some hosts being embarrassed at a wedding in Cana? Why did I seem to be so active in the Middle East for a brief period about 2,000 years ago, but totally absent everywhere else on the planet and for the rest of recorded history? Did I make the Jews or did the Jews make me?
So, you really think my periodic miracles prove my existence hey? Then why not something inarguable and unambiguous, like a huge crucifix in the sky, or my face on the moon? Why is it always that believers have to construct my miracles out of perfectly explicable natural events?
This happens every time there is a tragedy or near tragedy of any kind, anywhere in the world and in all cultures. Captain "Sully" Sullenberger pilots a distressed plane to land safely on the Hudson River in New York City with no deaths, and it's a miracle from God; a young girl is found in India, totally terrorized, but alive after being abducted and ra.ped for a week, and it’s a miracle from my competi.tor Rama (or Vishnu or Shiva) that she is returned to her parents; or a family in Northern Pakistan survives an errant American missile attack, and it’s a miracle from Allah.
What all these self-serving proclamations of miraculous intervention always ignore is the downside of the incidents. The fact that the passengers and crew of Flight 1549 were terrorized and the plane destroyed, that 11 innocent people are dead in Aurora, that the girl was held for seven days, ra.ped and sod.omized and will be traumatized for the rest of her life, or that a number of innocent civilians were killed by the missile.
Of course, none of these incidents really are "miracles.” When the totality of facts are taken into account, "miracles" turn out to be nothing more than believers who are desperate for some sign of my existence ignoring the downside of a set of facts, focusing solely on the upside and calling the quarantined "good" a miracle from me or one of the other sky-fairies. A CEO might as well ignore the liability side of his balance sheet and declare it a “miracle” that his company just doubled in value.
Another annoying habit my “miracles” seem to have is that they always seem to tag along, just behind medical science, like an annoying kid brother who won’t go away. Until the mid nineties, those with AIDS who prayed for a miracle were never granted one. Medical science finds a way to permanently suppress the disease, and all of a sudden I start to perform miracles with AIDS patients. No polio patient ever received a miracle until the Salk vaccine and I routinely ignored cancer patients until chemotherapy and radiation treatments were developed. Suddenly, prayers to me from cancer patients are regularly “answered.”
Why is it that I still seem deaf to the pleadings of amputees who would like their fingers, arms or legs back, to those who have physically lost eyes or ears, to the horribly burned and to all others who ail from patently visible and currently incurable maladies? Why is it that, at the very same time, I am very receptive to the prayers of those whose condition is uncertain, internal and vulnerable to miraculous claims?
Take five minutes to make two lists; one of those ailments I will miraculously cure and the other of those I will not. You will quickly find it coincides perfectly with those conditions medical science (or the human body itself) can defeat and those we cannot. Why do you think that is? It is almost as if my miracles are created out of medical ambiguity isn’t it?
No, my human friends. I am afraid I do not exist. I do not read your minds (or “hear your prayers” as you like to call it) and you are not going to achieve immortality (or “eternal life” as you like to call it) no matter how many commandments from Iron Age Palestine you choose to “keep”. Move on and enjoy the few years you have. You were all dead for the last 13,700,000,000 years and it wasn’t that least bit uncomfortable now, was it?


Somehow I don’t think Brendle would have liked that response.


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