Friday, February 06, 2015

Some Gods are more equal than others

Many people will have seen the video of Stephen Fry talking about his view of a theistic God in an interview on an Irish TV program last week (see above). In the cold light of day it's simply an articulate statement of one of the main arguments against the existence of the Christian God (and some others) The broad argument is known as "the problem of evil", i.e. how can there be an all loving, moral, beneficent man in the sky when there is so much pain, evil and suffering of innocents in the world, it simply doesn't make sense. It's not a new argument and has probably been around for thousands of years, certainly there were Romans and Greeks who documented this thought; actually the Greeks had a much better idea, as Fry points out, at least the behaviours of their Gods conformed to our experience of reality i.e. their Gods were unabashedly random, petty, capricious and vindictive.

No doubt religious apologists of all stripes will now respond with indignation and the stock responses to this argument; totally childish and inadequate responses (which they always are) like, "God is mysterious" or "that's not my God" or "it's the work of the devil", which as explanations are about as insightful as saying "shit happens!" Over the years the number of lethal phenomena that are unexplainable has diminished enormously; things like earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, plagues, crop failure, floods have all been explained by natural processes, nothing in recorded history has ever gone the other way, i.e. something with a natural explanation that is better explained by a supernatural one. For some of us this is a logical and rational reason (among many) to reject the whole "God hypothesis", for others it's a reason to find ever smaller indistinct gaps to insert their God into.

Back when religion was in charge of meme creation in the west we used to think disease was a punishment (some people still do) from God for contravening some petty rule or not grovelling enough to him.  Fortunately thanks to the enlightenment and science we now we have a germ theory of disease and an understanding of genetics which explains things properly. Clearly, we don't yet know all the answers in terms of prediction and prevention but we can take comfort in the knowledge that very smart people dedicate their lives to work on such problems and the rate at which these kinds of inflictions are yielding to science holds great promise for the health of future generations. As a side-note I was pleased to note the comments of the Arch Bishop of Canterbury regarding this interview, he reiterated the point that in our (modern) society people should be free to express their views, even though they may conflict with the deeply held convictions of others. Justin Welby himself has expressed similar doubts in the past all very reasonable and progressive; perhaps he's an Atheist too?

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