Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Godforsaken by Dinesh D’Souza takes on the age-old question: Can an all-powerful, all-knowing God be good, since bad things continue to happen? He answers the question with a resounding, “Yes” and then proceeds to explain why. 

After spending many years debating atheists, D’Souza believes this question is at the root of the disbelief. Atheists are in fact “wounded theists”, people who have been deeply disappointed in God for not stopping evil. This conundrum is somewhat specific to Judeo-Christian religions. Others accept suffering more readily as random acts by random gods or the universe. Believers in God, positing that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, must then ask and try to answer the central question: why do bad things happen?

He states, “I will argue that God is the divine architect, the Cosmic Designer. He wanted to make a lawful universe containing human beings. More broadly, God wanted to create conscious, rational agents who could understand his creation and also freely relate to him. Given God’s objective to make humans, God constructed the universe not in the best possible way, but in the only way that it could be constructed.”

This idea that, given His objectives, God was limited to only one way to make the universe seems to limit God’s power, to negate His omnipotence. Yet we know there are already limits on God’s omnipotence. God cannot tell lies. He cannot make two plus two equal five. The problem arises from a wrong understanding of omnipotence. It is not the power to do anything, but the power to do the possible. And how do we know our universe was the only possible way accomplish His goals? Surprisingly, that supposed nemesis of religion, science gives us the answer.

D’Souza begins by offering the usual explanations given by believers to the problem of suffering. He states these rarely work to convince unbelievers and even the faithful find them less than satisfactory. He begins with “original sin”, then talks about suffering as punishment, or that evil is simply a lack of God’s goodness and therefore not His “fault”, or finally that this is, not the only, but the best of all possible worlds. This last one is not persuasive because we can always imagine a better world. How can this one be the best?

Next he turns to atheist’s arguments and punches some holes in them as well. While acknowledging that it seems to be the believer that faces an uphill battle in defending God, he states the atheist has his own burden of proof. He must tell us why human-produced evil exists in the first place. Human evil radically surpasses that of regular animal cruelty. Why? He also points out the fact the we humans are definitionally limited in our understanding of why God may do this or that. Yet we arrogantly act like our ways are higher than God’s ways, our thoughts higher than God’s thoughts. I may not understand a deeply researched paper on quantum physics, but does my lack of understanding mean it’s all gibberish and therefore wrong?

In the following chapters, D’Souza takes on the role of a defense attorney, not trying to prove anything, except to show the case against God doesn’t hold up. “So the task of the defense is to show that there could be morally sufficient reasons for the existence and magnitude of evil and suffering in the world. In particular, I intend to argue that evil and suffering are necessary in order to secure a vastly greater good, a good that even an omnipotent being could not obtain without it.” 

The first thing that makes true evil possible is free will. God created us in His image and likeness and as He himself is free, so are we. Some would argue we either aren’t free to choose or God could have created us without freedom. But the essence of humanity is our ability to choose, to fail, and to learn. God wanted humans to love and to return that love. Without free will, we are animals. Quantum physics destroyed the idea that there is no such thing as free will within the scientific community, but God made it clear years ago when He said, “Choose you this day...” Yet in Adam and Eve, we chose to go our own way. Had we remained perfectly aligned with God, we would have been happier, but would have foregone free will. Instead, we abandoned God and introduced the kind of evil only possible with the ability to make choices.

What about evil in the form of “Acts of God”? Earthquakes kill thousands. Yet science tells us that the tectonics that allow earthquakes make our very existence possible. No earthquakes, no life at all. Fire and water, both deadly, but both absolutely necessary for life. 

What about disease? Once again, our free will often brings diseases on ourselves. In addition, the things that cause disease are themselves part of a large interconnected system. Without them, who knows what other calamities would befall us.

Once again, D’Souza comes back to the idea of a finely-tuned universe, constructed in such a way that man appears to be the final destination - The Anthropic Principle. First of all, the universe operates according to laws and constants. Why? It doesn’t need to, but our world is orderly and discoverable. So many things had to go right for us to even be here to discover them. Yet some say that of course everything went right. We’re here. We got lucky. There may in fact be an infinite number of universes, all with different features. This is just the one we live in. But this multi-verse theory just points out the fact that some have given up finding a non-God explanation and are now venturing off into science fiction. 

Finally, Dinesh D’Souza describes the character of God. Why did God create in the first place? Should He have? Apparently, yes. Despite all the suffering and evil, we humans seem to still believe that life is worth it. What about the evils perpetrated by God Himself in the Bible? Many of these “crimes” have deeper explanations that show a God of mercy, not murder, when carefully looked into. Would a loving God send people to hell? Well, if this life is not always fair, a loving God provides the opportunity for true justice in the after life. In Jesus Christ death and resurrection, God brought ultimate good out of the evil we introduced in the Fall. That alone proves He is a good and loving God. 

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