Tuesday, March 10, 2009

God and Tragedy

A pastor in Indiana was recently shot fatally while preaching from the pulpit. Bob Dutko today discussed this and other tragedies that are in some sense inexplicable for Christians. Christian missionaries were shot out of the sky over Peru en route to missionary work. In another almost inconceivably sad story a Christian couple lost six of their children to flames in an auto accident. Bob himself has had more than his share of life's difficulties. His 17 year old daughter collapsed in his arms and died several years ago on Mother's Day. Today he recounted how his wife on that day saw the ambulance carrying his daughter and prayed that whoever was in it, may God not let them die, because it would be all the more awful to lose a child on Mother's Day. Little did she know that it was her own daughter.

Sadly this is not the only health difficulty Bob has had to endure with his children. I don't know exactly which of his sons has the various afflictions he's described, but apparently one is legally blind, another is Diabetic (Type 1 I believe), and he recently discovered that a third son, the one that he thought was the one without any serious afflictions, in fact has the same heart defect his 17 year old daughter had, and he nearly died from it. He has since had surgery to protect him.

Anybody that needs a belief in God to cope with such tragedies has my full support. I wouldn't begrudge anyone this grieving mechanism. And of course belief in the Christian God can be reconciled with the above described tragedies and health problems. Nobody knows the mind of God. God has brought the dead to a better place. Etc, etc. Bob took calls today from Christians to get their thoughts, and of course this is how they responded. Bob expressed the same reasoning.

But the problem here is obvious. It seems that tragedy befalls the believer and unbeliever alike. That's exactly what we would expect if there was no God.

But if there was a God, then there is no reason to assume that the world would look this way. It might. It's possible. Who can know the mind of God? But it would also be possible that God would shower his blessings more on those that follow him and less on those that do not. If that was what we observed that would be consistent with God belief as well, right?

So a better question from Bob would be this. Are the facts about the tragedies we observe more likely on theism or less likely on theism. Given that this is exactly what we would expect on atheism, and given that there would be no reason to expect a world that looks like this on theism (at best one could say it might be either way), this is evidence for atheism. It's not a proof. Atheism can never be proved. But it can be shown to be more plausible. Atheism makes better sense of this data.


HispanicPundit said...

I like it when you argue like this; when you give the limitations yet relevance of your argument. Its these type of posts that appeal most to the fence sitters, IMHO.

Regarding the point in general: I would respond that the more God gives believers an advantage, the harder it would be for God to make the argument that you should have faith first, than works. After all, if you gain by believing in God...then whats to stop people from believing for the gain, instead of for the "free will" spirit that love should come from?

On the other hand, I've read studies that show that religious people live longer, are generally happier, and overall have a higher life satisfaction. That would seem to add to the argument that God does exist...without necessarily violating Gods free will argument.

With that said, there is one argument along the lines that you bring up that is a powerful argument against the belief in God, or atleast an intimately involved God: I've read about a study where they randomly broke up patients into two groups. One group of patients was the "prayer group" where the doctors would send the names and illness to convents, Churches, Synagogues, and Masques around the world asking for prayer for their illnesses and the other group they would do nothing of the sort. I read that statistically, they both died at the same rate.

Hard to argue against that study. That does argue, IMHO, that prayer has little to no effect, and, assuming the study was done right, a way around it.

Jon said...

Yeah, I think you're right that if you want to be persuasive you need to talk about the limitations of your argument. I've mentioned a guy named Draper that argued against WL Craig, and this was his style. I thought it was completely disarming for Craig. He conceded all of Craig's points before Craig made them. He didn't deny that it is possible for God to make sense of these things, but only that they seem more like what we would expect on atheism than theism, and it seemed hard to deny.

Could be the faith thing. That's another possibility.

Here's the answer on the prayer thing. God knew they were running the experiments, and he's not going to allow himself to be manipulated and give us this knowledge we're looking for. So he randomized the deaths intentionally.