Praise God for 150,000 dead in Haiti

January 25, 2010

Now that estimates of the Haiti tragedy exceed 150,000 dead , any supernatural God would have a right to be proud of such good work.

For our theist friends out there, let's be reminded about why God deserves praise for this tragedy. A theistic God can supernaturally control everything, and everything is a part of God's wonderful plan for the world. (Note to Christians: If you don't accept both of these notions of God, you are not a theist and you should look into Buddhism or Taoism.) No Christian would judge that God has permitted something to go wrong in Haiti -- so praise God!

The Washington Post's On Faith blog has asked guest bloggers to comment on the Haiti tragedy. You read Dan Dennett's skeptical commentary. One Christian blogger, James Standish , says that modern Christians can make three mistakes when dealing with tragedy.

  • Mistake 1: There is no devil.
  • Mistake 2: We live in a just world where the good prosper and the wicked suffer.
  • Mistake 3: Humans can judge God.

Hmmmm. If Christians steer clear of these mistakes, will Christians praise God for Haiti?  I think so! 

Maybe the Devil caused the earthquake -- but of course, God could prevent or undo anything Satan does. So God permitted the Haiti earthquake.

And maybe we don't live in a just world after all, so that the good often suffer and the wicked often prosper. So God permitted the Haiti earthquake to unjustly kill good people.

And if we can't judge God, then we can only judge that God's earthquake is all for the best. So God permits us to see evil as good.

Praise God for the Haiti earthquake!  And praise God that Christians can't tell the difference between good and evil well enough to know to condemn God.


#1 Paul Robinson (Guest) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 at 11:09am

You have the theological understanding and debating skills of an ignorant 4 year old.

If you wish to have a serious conversation about theology, I for one would have been happy to have one with you, but to assume that what you have posted here - naive and intellectually pathetic as it is - passes for something constructive, is beneath contempt. To use an earthquake and the deaths of 150,000 people as a tactless half-proof of atheism, is frankly, disgusting.

And for what it’s worth, I’m an agnostic myself. It’s just I actually went and read some theological scholars before making a decision rather than doing what you appear to have done, and come up with an argument based on school yard taunts.

Consider these points:

1. A theology that stipulates an omnipotent creator only requires him to be instigator and observer, not as an actor.

2. Earthquakes aren’t “evil” or “good” in any theological sense. Humans are. To describe the earthquake or deaths as either is inhumane and pathetic. Instead, question the reactions of wider society in assisting those in need if you wish to understand where God’s love could conceivably be in this equation.

3. Your argument that God can do anything - and would only ever do “good” things, undoing all “evil” things - is that of a pathetic simpleton. The only way such a situation could exist is for no action at all to exist, because all actions can be subjectively interpreted by some member of human society to contain evil and therefore would have to be instantly undone according to your interpretation.

Frankly, you disappoint me. You can do better than this, and in future, certainly should do so.

#2 sarniaskeptic on Wednesday January 27, 2010 at 9:03am

Paul Robinson - theology is hardly a “subject” and it is definitely not a science.  I would suggest that the ignorance and limited understanding would rightly apply to someone who believes in an evidence-free proposition/claim.

Since you’re sure that John Shook isn’t referring to “your god”, maybe you can define your god - let us know what it is that your god does that deserves worshipping.  What can and can’t your god do and what evidence you have for your god. 

If your god can’t intervene in this world (stop natural disasters) than he can’t intervene to save a single child from a tsunami.  He also wouldn’t be able to cure a person’s cancer or relieve a person’s suffering.  In other words, she’s not a god worth worshipping.

If she (god), however, can intervene, you might have a god worth worshipping.  But, then you’d have a god who is complacent to (or the causer of) such natural disasters (a god not worth worshipping). 

So, John, which is it that properly defines your imaginary friend?

#3 Paul Robinson (Guest) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 at 10:14am

Sarniaskeptic, to be clear, theology is indeed recognised as a theoretical science by many respected and well-regarded institutions around the World.

Theology is not about supporting religion in some dogmatic faith-based way, but discussing and dissecting faith in order to try and understand possible religious truths. It is a very particular strand of philosophy mixed with social science.

You appear to not own a dictionary - theology is a rational study, and can be quite critical of monotheism, polytheism, etc.

Oddly, the Pope has a BSc in theology - the University he went to has two different faculties awarding such degrees. They disagree with each other, each believing the other to be more systematically rigorous than the other.

What you’re saying is “faith” is not a science. Well, no, that’s the point. Science is just one way of understanding the World - there are plenty of things we know to be true that are beyond the bounds of current scientific thinking (how cells interpret DNA, exactly how weather systems work, pretty much anything at all involving chaos theory, etc). They may become knowable at some point, but the wider question is whether mankind can ultimately know everything through science - to say “yes”, is ultimately an act of faith in itself, because we surely can not know right now.

If you therefore accept it’s possible there are some unprovable or unknowable truths, you have to accept that scientifically God *might* exist. Such is the position of the agnostic: we refuse to condemn or accept, preferring instead for Science to run its course to get to a point where we know whether science can encompass all knowledge or not. We expect to die (and therefore potentially be wrong) before such an answer is discovered.

You should also understand that a central tenant of faith is that it is ultimately unprovable or provable in a scientific system. By definition, it can not be measured as being “correct” scientifically. The moment you go to describe how God must exist in a provable sense, it is possible to find an alternative, compatible model of God that can exist but is not measurable by your means. That is an important part of what “faith” represents.

Which brings me to your last point about whether God is an interventionist. I have no idea if God is interventionist or not, but if I believe regardless of whether God is or not, by expressed belief/love I could secure an eternal afterlife, your point is invalid and it’s perfectly sensible to continue believing in (and loving) such a God.

You suggest that it is only worth believing in God if It IS an interventionist one, but any theologian can point out that in itself is not sufficient to be a good Catholic/Jew/Buddhist, and also a flawed objective with other ones available to you that make more rational sense on a day-to-day and exceptional (Haiti-like incident) basis.

Alas, I think you’ll argue with all of this some more because I don’t think you really understand the basis of the last 6,000 years of human civilisation, its interpretation and interaction with faith, and instead prefer to bury yourself in a “truth” you can’t accept might actually be a punt of faith in itself.

#4 JohnnyCrash on Thursday February 11, 2010 at 5:14pm

Paul, when such a horrific thing happens, what is wrong with questioning the existence of god?  This is not opportunistic.  It is the best time to do so.

To compare what the bible and koran claim about god with real life shows them to be full of incorrect claims.  For apologists to make excuses, with a Theology degree or otherwise, or to find alternate paths to force these sacred texts to be “correct” with the realities of life, science, or common sense is also wrong.  To vacillate and play with definitions of what “truth” is or a supposed god’s “real” character is, is not a very good way to divine truth - it’s just changing the rules and moving the pieces around to divine what one wants.

In life it is best to deal with facts, not conjecture, wishful thinking, or magic fairies from Bronze Age books.

The concept of something like “god will raise everyone from the dead, therefore this proves that letting children be crushed in rubble and/or starve to death is not evil, unjust, or unloving of him.  My proof?  The bible tells me he is love” is absurd.  The texts also make other claims that require a great deal of massaging, rationalizing away, and travesties of logic, just to faintly resemble fact or truth (however you try to wiggle such words).  A degree in theology doesn’t answer any universal questions, it simply studies man-made religions’ attempts to answer them and attempts to reconcile their own text’s errors, mistakes, and inaccuracies in a way to force evidence to foredrawn conclusions and wishes.

Mr. Russell said it best… I can’t prove that there is, or isn’t, a fine China teapot orbiting between two distant planets, but if some ancient book of myths claimed it to be so, it would be classified as “theology” and preached as unquestionable fact.  I’d rather study medicine to help people in a practical and real way.  Theology is theoretical and often not practical, but I still study it to undo the harms religion does to others.  The bible and the koran are ancient fiction, not “theoretical” textbooks for some legitimate science or truth seeking.

What is wrong with questioning things?  What is wrong with questioning the existence of god and the claims of sacred texts, especially when some great tragedy happens?  If you can find that teapot, I can brew some calming chamomile tea for you… until then send money to Haiti because praying doesn’t work.  Let’s get practical, not theoretical.

#5 CitizenX on Monday February 15, 2010 at 3:25am

Robinson: “Science is just one way of understanding the World”

Science is a *valid* way. Scientific inquiry (evidence-based) has proven itself. I am not aware of any other way that has been shown to be valid.

Robinson: “there are plenty of things we know to be true that are beyond the bounds of current scientific thinking (how cells interpret DNA, exactly how weather systems work, pretty much anything at all involving chaos theory, etc).”

This, while true, is not an analogy that furthers your position on religious faith. We know beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that cells interpret DNA. This is evidence-backed and very certain knowledge which has nothing to do with faith. That we do not know the finer details of the process is in no way analogous to religious faith or the insinuation that just because science does not know everything, we can say religious faith is a valid way of “knowing.”

Religious faith is not based on hard facts or manifest evidence or centuries of more-or-less rational inquiry. There is no gross and obvious proof of the supernatural that would allow us to claim, “Well, based on all this rational and irrefutable evidence we at least know the supernatural does exist. We may not know how many gods there are, or what a god’s nature and action might be in detail but we at least know that our theological inquiry is solidly based on non-faith based evidence.”

No, we cannot say that. We cannot equate theology with any sort of rational inquiry or scientific rigour. All your examples of what we do not scientifically know are based nevertheless on much that has been proven and demonstrated by hard evidence and rigorous mathematics. There is nothing of this rational and proven foundation in theology, which is completely dependent on non-science “faith.”

That I have “faith” that the cell somehow interprets DNA has absolutely nothing to do with your use of the word “faith” in a religious or theological context. Religious faith has not one shred of evidence to support it, while every lacuna in science today about which we are rationally “faithful” nevertheless is supported by surrounding evidence which unequivocally defines the shape and limits of such lacunae. Every area of scientific “faith” is supported by evidence. Theology cannot benefit from this, quite different, use of the word “faith.”

There may be much we know is true that is still beyond scientific thinking, but theology of any kind is not one of those things. There is no evidence that suggests any theology is true, so any endeavour by theologians to explore the “details” of the supernatural is in no way analogous to scientists exploring the unknown. Science’s unknowns are largely *known* unknowns, deeply anchored in a very evidenced and proven body of findings. Theology’s unknowns are merely unknowns with absolutely no evidence to support their existence.

If theologians had proved the existence of God, then whether such a God was interventionist or not would be a valid *known* unknown, ripe for rational theological inquiry. But they haven’t even proven the existence of the tiniest bit of the supernatural.

So, theology does not know a single thing, while science knows much. Rational scientfic “faith” is justified because of the past successes of predictions, the huge body of corroborating evidence, etc. Theological faith by comparison is mere folly, a pure faith unencumbered by the weight of corroborating evidence, and while its philosophical arguments and debates may be logically rigorous and intelligent, it should be abundantly clear that religious faith is in no way justified by the view that scientists have “faith” in certain things which are not yet rigorously proven. The trick (or mistake) in your argument is that you shift the full meaning of the word “faith” when moving from science to theology, and this allows you to draw an incorrect conclusion about there being able to be valid “other” ways of knowing, or that religious faith does actually have something to support it, just as scientific faith does. No.

Well, that’s how I see it, anyway.

#6 CitizenX on Monday February 15, 2010 at 4:35am

Robinson: “there are plenty of things we know to be true that are beyond the bounds of current scientific thinking (how cells interpret DNA, exactly how weather systems work, pretty much anything at all involving chaos theory, etc).”

A further example may prove enlightening.  That there is weather is manifestly obvious. We can measure humidity, wind speed and direction, temperature, etc. We can rigorously prove that weather systems are chaotic in the mathematical sense. This means that while we know weather exists, and know enormous numbers of things about it, and even know how to predict it – we can also know that even if every last molecule in existence were utilized in a super-computer working at near light-speed and dedicated to predicting weather, the mathematics of chaotic systems proves beyond any doubt that such an ultimately and supremely powerful computer would still not be able to predict the weather with any accuracy at all a year into the future. We know this. We can prove this. However, that fact, that chaotic systems are inherently intractable (in the strict mathematical sense) does not mean this “limitation” of scientific knowledge about weather prediction (or any chaotic systems) allows you to claim that any aspect of theology, unknown or even unknowable to science, is therefore fully capable of being accepted (as a matter of faith) as being nevertheless true.

The implication is no doubt meant to run something like this, “See, science takes some things on faith. This means that faith in God can also be scientific and justified in some way.” Well no. While the existence of weather and chaotic systems is manifestly obvious, we cannot say the same about the existence of any god. Even that there is a supernatural realm of *any* kind is not obvious or undeniable by any stretch of the imagination.

That there are things we do not know about weather or DNA can in no way be used to support the notion of religious faith. Religious faith is not evidence-based. Scientific faith, such as it is, is evidence-based. Believing in something without evidence that you can demonstrate to me in some replicable or reliable way, is the character of religious faith. It is this kind of faith, and this faith only, that is not respectable or tenable in any rigorous or scientific inquiry.

#7 CitizenX on Monday February 15, 2010 at 4:42am

Robinson: “Such is the position of the agnostic: we refuse to condemn or accept, preferring instead for Science to run its course to get to a point where we know whether science can encompass all knowledge or not. We expect to die (and therefore potentially be wrong) before such an answer is discovered.”

Science is already there! At least as far as theological issues are concerned. Every main aspect of how human beings and life in general could arise in a godless universe is now known or is reasonably regarded as being within the explanatory power of future science. Some people regard consciousness as the “hard” problem that only a theology of some sort can resolve. Well, theology cannot resolve any issue: it can just make unsubstantiated claims. But science has already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that consciousness depends on a living brain, and that damaging a small part of such a brain has a direct physical result in the nature and abilities and experiences (even personality) of said consciousness. Every piece of evidence we have points to one rather obvious fact: if the brain is destroyed so is consciousness. Damaging the brain is indistinguishable from damaging consciousness (ignoring the fact that much of the brain is devoted to non-conscious tasks, but you get my general drift, I hope).

Theology may posit “soul” in order to “solve” consciousness, but there is no evidence for “soul.” The evidence (or lack of it) points to the fact that however consciousness arises as a subjective experience, it is an outworking of a physical organ working according to non-supernatural laws, and there is no known mechanism indicated by evidence anywhere that it can survive the death of the brain. Consciousness is another *known* unknown and I recommend Oxford Press’s A Very Short Introduction To Consciousness by Susan Blackmore as an introduction to and summary of current thinking about consciousness and even possible solutions to the so-called “hard” problem.

My point is that there is enough established science and informed philosophical argument now for the agnostic to clearly see that nothing more needs to be discovered before deciding that there probably is no supernatural realm, gods, or theological “purpose” to human existence. You have more than enough to decide right now. You do not have to wait for science to discover a single jot more. Theologically speaking, it is game-over, as they say. I do not think you are an agnostic: you are rather a theist who prefers the implication of open-mindedness and non-dogmatism that the term “agnostic” holds.

There is ample knowledge available to allow you to be justifiably certain there are no gods. It is entirely intellectually respectable and supportable not to believe in gods nowadays, just as it is entirely respectable not to believe in ghosts, or anything supernatural, in fact. Enough evidence is in for an open-minded, reasonable, and honest verdict: no gods.

What part of the world that you see around you seems entirely beyond scientific inquiry to such an extent that you need to keep open the option for any theology at all? What part of the way the world currently works, or the way life behaves on this planet seems it may require a supernatural or non-scientific answer, or an answer that might require the God Hypothesis? I honestly cannot think of one, including human consciousness.

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