Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Egnorance: God's Will; Martina McBride



A beautiful song from Martina McBride, From Mihai Caragiu at RO-THEORIA.

The problem of suffering is difficult for all of us. Why do innocents suffer? Why do even the guilty suffer-- often the suffering seems disproportionate to whatever evil we could have done. In my day job, I see a lot of innocents suffering. I don't fully know why God allows it.

Many years ago, before I was a Christian, I was caring for a 6 year old boy with a malignant brain tumor who was dying. He was a sweet little boy, from a lovely family, and I had been his doctor since the moment of diagnosis, when he had a seizure, just a few months before. I had removed the tumor, and it had recurred twice, each time traveling to a different part of his brain. Now it was in many places, and all of our treatments had failed.

It was the middle of the night, and he was not going to make it to the morning. I came in to be with him and his family. I didn't know what to say. I asked the nurses to make sure that he had enough pain medication to keep him comfortable.

Our hospital's chaplain was there, a Lutheran pastor named Steve. We had become friends. We sat in the pediatric ICU, and I told him that I wanted to believe in God, but that I found this kind of suffering inexplicable. How could God allow it? What sense of all of this could Christianity possibly draw out?

Steve told me his own story, of his own illness in his agnostic days, when he was on a respirator and not expected to survive. He said that for the first time in his life (he was in his 20's) he prayed, and he asked God to spare him. He got an answer-- God told him that he would live, and that He wanted him to devote his life to ministering to the sick and dying. He became a pastor and a hospital chaplain.

"But why does God allow suffering at all?" I asked him.

His answer startled me. "He never said that we will not suffer. Suffering is a part of what it means to be human. He only promised us one thing: that we would never suffer alone. He will always be with us, and especially in our darkness. He suffered. He understands. Suffering draws us to Him."

That shook me. It haunts me still. There is something about suffering that is fundamental to existence. He uses it to draw us to Him. He is most present in our weakness and our agony. Of course, from the beginning He told us. He is most with us in the least of our brethren.

I know my combox will fill with the usual atheist sneers: 'if He loves us so, why didn't he just cure the kid instead of letting him suffer?'

My answer to them is: if God doesn't exist, why do you care? Nothing really matters, ultimately, in a Godless world. Why would dust lament the passing of dust?

I find, in the Christian answer, a gleam of real truth. The truth is Love Himself, and to suffer in darkness is to know Love more intimately, without anodyne. In our desolation we know Him in a way we could not have known Him in our complacency.

55 comments:

  1. Pain is a universal feature of the animal world, and from an evolutionary standpoint pain is ultimately quite beneficial. Pain evolved to make organisms stop doing whatever it is that causes the damage that triggers the pain. Our earliest ancestors that could feel pain would have an extraordinary evolutionary advantage over those organisms that couldn’t. There’s absolutely no mystery here, pain compels up to take immediate action to lessen the pain and thus minimize the damage.

    “The problem of pain” is only a problem when you try to reconcile the natural world with the concept of a benevolent god.

    -KW

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  2. So basically God is like men who beat their wives while saying "you deserved it, it's for your own good".

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  3. @KW:

    You're exactly right. Suffering is only a moral problem if God exists. If there is no God, there are no objective morals, and suffering is not evil, but merely something to be avoided if it is excessive. And if there is no God, the extraneous suffering of others-- premature death and disability-- is to be desired, Darwinly.

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  4. @anon:

    God doesn't cause evil. He permits it in some circumstances, for a greater good.

    If there is no God, you have no reason to lament wife-beating, as long as it is someone else's wife. Darwin and all that.

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  5. Suffering is an evil but its effect can be an asset, said John Paul II. Suffering, even when it is not accepted, hollows the heart in the sense of humility (I am nothing) and desire (sometimes desperate) of a love that saves.

    God is love and humility. To be with God, we need to love and be humble like Him. Suffering makes us humble and even desperate at times. It is then we pray and ask God for his help and salvation.

    Nobody dies an atheist.

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  6. @ Egnor

    « God doesn't cause evil. He permits it in some circumstances, for a greater good. »

    .. for the greater good ? Can you explain that to me ?

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  7. @ Pépé

    “To be with God, we need to love and be humble like Him. »

    Maybe someone should remind that to the Republicans.

    « Nobody dies an atheist. »

    You must be kidding, right ?

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  8. @ Egnor

    “If there is no God, there are no objective morals, and suffering is not evil, but merely something to be avoided if it is excessive »

    In the animal kingdom, only humans kill for pleasure.

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    Replies
    1. Seriously? One simple example is your house cat who on capturing a mouse inflicts pain on it until it decides to kill it, often not eating it either!

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    2. Seriously? One simple example is your house cat who on capturing a mouse inflicts pain on it until it decides to kill it, often not eating it either!

      Delete
  9. Egnor: "There is something about suffering that is fundamental to existence. He uses it to draw us to Him. He is most present in our weakness and our agony."

    Mike, your theology is astoundingly incoherent. According to it, God is a cruel attention whore. At least, Paris Hilton does not inflict pain on her fans.

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  10. @oleg and Iko:

    God does not inflict pain, He permits pain, to accomplish greater good-- such as:

    1) Allowing human freedom
    2) Preventing complacency
    3) "Hollowing us out", as Pepe said so eloquently.
    4) There may be constraints on a rational universe that God accepts. For example, plate tectonics may contribute to evolution, geology, etc in ways that are very useful, but a side effect is earthquakes, that can't be avoided. There are many trade-offs in nature, and these tradeoffs may explain some of natural evil.

    As I've said many times, atheists have no standing to ask about evil, because they intrinsically deny objective moral law.

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  11. You’re suggesting atheists don’t have a moral compass.

    I find that offensive.

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  12. You can be free without religion.

    You can prevent complacency without religion.

    You can be ‘hollowed out’ without religion.

    You can be ‘evil’ with religion.

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  13. “And if there is no God, the extraneous suffering of others-- premature death and disability-- is to be desired, Darwinly.”

    Understanding the evolution of pain isn’t the same as desiring pain in others. Atheist and theist alike can empathize with pain because we’ve all suffered form it to varying degrees.

    It’s an undeniable fact that the closer our relationship to people the more we care about their wellbeing. All of use would go to far greater lengths to save a spouse or child from suffering than we a co-workers spouse or child. All of use would fight to preserve American lives even if it meant killing foreign enemies. Dr. Egnor cares a great deal about the suffering of a patient under his care, yet is a big fan of Ann Coulter who famously called for the carpet bombing of the entire Middle-East.

    This relationship based continuum of degrees of caring is perfectly explained by Darwinian evolution. You fight harder to preserve those around you because they are more likely to share your genes.

    -KW

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  14. I know plenty of Atheists who are perfectly happy to label some action or person as evil subjectively without concern for the existence of objective moral law. Atheists are in no way logically compelled to accept morally reprehensible acts simply because you say so!

    -KW

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  15. Pépé:

    Suffering, even when it is not accepted, hollows the heart in the sense of humility (I am nothing)

    "I am nothing"? I thought the atheists were the one believing they are nothing.

    Nobody dies an atheist.

    This is a lie and you know it.

    Iko Ouro Preto:
    You’re suggesting atheists don’t have a moral compass.
    Yes, Egnor is convinced that if you don't believe in his particular deity, there is no morality and there's nothing stopping you from killing and raping people.
    That's why people in countries with a lot of non-religious people such as Australia, Sweden or France keep murdering each other all day long. Oh wait, they don't.

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  16. Egnor: "As I've said many times, atheists have no standing to ask about evil, because they intrinsically deny objective moral law."

    We do not ask questions about evil. But you try to answer them anyhow. Your answers are often hilarious, so we laugh.

    On a more serious note, the problem of evil is a problem facing any religion whose god omniscient, omnipotent, and good. It undermines religion from within. Many Jews lost their belief in God after World War II.

    Theodicies are highly contorted mental gymnastics meant to resolve the problem of evil. Mental gymnastics only takes you so far. Take the popular line of defense of mass casualties during earthquakes, namely that plate tectonics is necessary for evolution. That's pretty silly. Just think it through.

    Suppose, arguendo, that plate tectonics was necessary for evolution of higher animals. Well, now that evolution has presumably reached its pinnacle (man), plate tectonics is no longer necessary. God can flip the switch off. No more earthquakes and the related mass casualties. Don't tell me God can't do that. If He was able to stop the rotation of the entire Earth (Joshua 10:12), then fixing the Earth's crust should be a piece of cake.

    So don't complain about atheists when you discuss the problem of evil. It's a problem of your own making and its resolution is not forthcoming anytime soon.

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  17. @Iko:

    [You’re suggesting atheists don’t have a moral compass. I find that offensive.]

    Why would I care what you find offensive?

    And I am NOT suggesting atheists don't have a moral compass. You have every bit as much a moral compass as the most devout Christian. We all have God's law written in our hearts. All of us. Some of us know it, and try to obey it. Some of us don't know it, and still try to obey it. Some of us know it, and disobey it on purpose. Some of us don't know it, and disobey it anyway.

    I am not saying that you don't have a moral compass, or are not a moral person. There are many atheists who are more moral than many Christians.

    I'm saying you are a fool.

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  18. @KW
    ...degrees of caring is perfectly explained by Darwinian evolution.

    Darwinian evolution is a fourre-tout philosophy and can explain about anything under the sun. As P.E. Johnson wrote in Darwin on Trial:

    (T)he positive evidence that Darwinian evolution either can produce or has produced important biological innovations is nonexistent. Darwinists know that the mutation-selection mechanism can produce wings, eyes, and brains not because the mechanism can be observed to do anything of the kind, but because their guiding philosophy assures them that no other power is available to do the job.

    I call that philosophy chasing your own tail…

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  19. Egnor: "I'm saying you are a fool."

    That's your typical Michael Egnor. The one who writes very silly things on his blog (Ann Barnhardt is his heroine). He can't string together a coherent argument. But he can call his opponent a fool.

    Well, Mike, you win!

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  20. Pépé:
    Darwinian evolution is a fourre-tout philosophy and can explain about anything under the sun.

    Michael Egnor writes some pretty stupid things but you, Pépé, are the champion. You broke my irony meter again. Seriously, what is your god (aka "Goddidit with magic"), if not a "tourre-tout philosophy [that] can explain about anything under the sun"?

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  21. “Darwinian evolution is a fourre-tout philosophy and can explain about anything under the sun.”

    Indeed. That’s why it’s been referred to as the unifying principle of biology. Any question of why something biological is the way it is has an evolutionary answer. The fact that evolutionary theory can come up with plausible answers to virtually every question in biology servers to underscore its correctness.

    Creationism and ID on the other hand have never demonstrated the broad predictive and explanatory power of evolution, and instead have been forced to appeal to gaps in our knowledge and outright lies.

    -KW

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  22. Yes, Dr. Egnor, how do you square your passion for Coulter and Barnhardt, against your Christian ideals ? Somewhat contradictory, haven’t you noticed ?

    No, no, since they’re patriots and Bible thumpers, everything is OK, right ?

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  23. Nobody dies an atheist.

    This is a lie and you know it.


    It might be more aptly said that no one, having died, remains an atheist.

    There is the distinct risk that misotheism, however, can turn out to be an eternal condition.

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  24. @Iko:

    Coulter and Barnhardt are quite imperfect, although less so than I am. We're a mess, actually.

    But they tell the truth, frequently, and aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe. They also love Christ.

    I respect that.

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  25. Michael,

    If suffering is part of God's plan, then why do you spend so much effort in alleviating it? Young children have been dying of malignant brain tumours, assuming that they didn't previously die of the all too common childhood infections, for thousands of years, before humans even knew what the underlying nature of their illness was, let alone had any idea of a treatment.

    If suffering and death of young children due to malignant brain tumours was part of God's plan for thousands of years, then what are you doing perverting God's plan?

    Of course, what you are doing is no different to what an atheist neurosurgeon would do; seek a cure if possible, alleviate suffering if necessary, console and sympathies with the parents ...

    I wondered what illness your Lutheran pastor suffered. The graphic at the top of your thread implies polio, but I wonder if it might have just be the Guillain-Barre syndrome, a reversible neurological condition often leading to respiratory paralysis and needing assisted ventilation. A terrifying condition, but not fatal with good medical and nursing care. I wonder whether your friend might not have been in real danger of his life?

    A good story though. You're good at telling stories to support your preconceived ideas, but not very good at asking questions when they conflict with facts.

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  26. In many cases, the suffering is clearly preventable. Infant mortality rate was as high as 30% in the Middle Ages. There was no sense in that, however you slice it.

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  27. @KW
    ...broad predictive and explanatory power of evolution...

    You must be kidding!

    Darwinism can't predict anything and when it tries to predict something, it falls flat on its face and is always wrong (i.e. junk DNA).

    As for explaining things, it is a real bummer. It is a tautology from start to finish: the fittest survive because those who survive are the fittest. Reminds me of the Hygrade commercials! I used to play that silly game when I was 5. You should grow up.

    Darwinism will be dead and buried by 2020.

    Bon débarras!

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  28. Pépé,

    What will evolutionary biology look like in 2020? I am curious. Describe it to the best of your ability. Mention any pertinent details such as "Behe receives a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine" or "Dembski gets a Fields medal for his explanatory filter."

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  29. Darwinism will be dead and buried by 2020.

    Hilarious. Here's a more realistic prediction: in 2020, Pépé will by saying "Darwinism will be dead and buried by 2030."

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  30. Pepe,

    You're still an idiot.

    What makes you think that evolutionary biology predicted 'junk' DNA. You've got to stop imbibing the cool aid of ID 'science'.

    Before the genomes of different species were determined, it was assumed that they were efficient with little waste. Rather similar to that of bacteria in fact, which consists almost entirely of genes, with little waste.

    It was a considerable surprise that the size of the genome in different complex species varies so greatly, and how little of it codes for product. In humans 1.5% codes for protein or various non-mRNA, 3.5% is strongly conserved and therefore apparently performs some function, and 95% appears to be without function.

    It is wishful thinking to imagine that ID predicts that all of 'junk' DNA has a function, and just because some tiny part of it is later shown to have some function, that it verifies ID.

    ID is the perfect prediction free structure. In 'Signature of the Cell', in appendix A, Stephen Meyer lists 12 'predictions' ID makes. One is that design is perfect. If it isn't, then it's due to the 'Fall'. Heads you win, tails I lose. Meaningless.

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  31. Pepe is suffering from extreme stupidity. But that's OK, because it will bring him closer to Jeebus who understands suffering.

    Marx was right about religion being opium.

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  32. @bach
    ...and 95% appears to be without function.

    You say appears, so you have doubt. Just go ahead and tell Microsoft that 95% of the code of Windows 7 is without function!

    You are below stupid: you are brainless...

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  33. @bach:


    [If suffering is part of God's plan, then why do you spend so much effort in alleviating it?...]

    As an atheist, why do you care about suffering of others? You do not believe in objective morality, so there is no true good or evil, just our opinions. When others suffer, your genes get a better shot at replicating.

    Why don't you take your atheism seriously?

    Regarding my pastor friend, I can't be too specific about the illness (for his privacy), but he was (and is) in danger.

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  34. Egnor: "As an atheist, why do you care about suffering of others? You do not believe in objective morality, so there is no true good or evil, just our opinions. When others suffer, your genes get a better shot at replicating."

    You don't need to believe in the existence of some objective categories of good and evil in order to feel sympathy and compassion for those who suffer. Asking for objective justification of compassion suggests that human emotions are foreign to you.

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  35. @mregnor:

    As a theist, why do you care about suffering of others? You do not believe in objective morality, so there is no true good or evil, just your god's opinions. When others suffer, your soul gets a better shot at getting into heaven.

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  36. Michael,

    I care about the suffering of others, because if they can get into a situation where they suffer, then I can also get into a situation where I can suffer.

    I do believe in objective morality, just not your bizarre definition of 'objective'. Morality allows groups of humans to survive and prosper.

    I'm not worried about competition preventing my genes propagating. As the 7th and last child in a large family, I decided long ago that my siblings could do the hard lifting of proprogating copies of my genes, so I decided I wasn't going to reproduce.

    OK, you won't reveal the illness afflicting your Lutheran friend, but you assure us it was life threatening, for privacy reasons. You've identified him as Steve, at an unnamed hospital at an unspecified time, so no one would be able to identify him. What illness would infringe the privacy of an anonymous person?

    I take my atheism much more seriously than you take your religion. I think that if we stuff up this Earth, then there are no second chances, so I'm consistent with my environmentalism. You claim that suffering is part of God's plan, and then you go and try and alleviate it. Go genitive dissonance is a good description of part of your psychopathology.

    Pepe,

    You're still an idiot. I wrote that 95% of the human genome 'appears' to be without function, because that's precisely the case. We can't exclude the possibility that 1 or 2% or even more mightn't be shown to have a function. So 'appears' is the right word.

    Comparing the human genome to Windows 7 is just silly. We know that Windows 7 was (badly) designed by humans. We can even find out their names and addresses if we want to.

    Personally, I use Apple. I don't know how much of the OS is functional. A lot of it is superfluous. I don't bother using GarageBand, iMovie, Photobooth, and a lot of the other Apps it comes with.

    I could have said that you appear to be an idiot, but your comments over time have removed all doubt. You haven't revealed the slightest trace of sense.

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  37. Oops,

    I meant to write 'cognitive dissonance'. Curse the spell check on an iPad!

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  38. Pepe, much of the junk DNA has been clearly identied as “Pseudogenes”, damaged, non-functional copies of functional genes. When an extra copy of a gene is present one of the two copies can undergo further mutation while the other one continues to carryout the genes original function. The vast majority of these mutations compromise the gene’s original function making it junk. On rare occasions these mutations result in a new function for the gene that can then be influenced by selection pressure.

    There is no doubt that there are sections of the genome that are highly conserved but still mysterious. Their ubiquity implies functionality that has yet to be discovered, but there is absolutely no doubt that we have identified broken copies of existing genes in many species. There is also no doubt that as we refine our theories based on detailed observation we will eventually have the tools solve the remaining mysteries of the Genome.

    Here’s an evolution base prediction off the top of my head. Non-coding genetic sequences with no known function that are preserved over long periods of time in multiple species will be found to serve the same function in all cases where it is preserved. Now that sounds reasonable to me, but I’m no expert, it could be total B.S. My point is that having a theoretical framework allows you to make predictions even if those predictions are wrong. “Magic man in the sky did it” doesn’t give you a framework to make predictions of any kind. If we indeed live in a universe where a magic man can do whatever he wants whenever he wants too, it’s truly amazing that no observation has ever been made that supports that notion.

    Please give me just one prediction of something we should observe assuming your god is real, just one. Historical examples are welcome.

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  39. @bach:

    [I care about the suffering of others, because if they can get into a situation where they suffer, then I can also get into a situation where I can suffer.

    I do believe in objective morality, just not your bizarre definition of 'objective'. Morality allows groups of humans to survive and prosper.]

    What bullshit.

    1) You don't believe in objective morality, which means moral law that exists independent of human opinion. If there is no God, there is no objective moral law. Just admit the obvious.

    2) Without objective morality and God, you have no reason to care about the suffering of others unless they share your DNA or can reciprocate. Even then, your concern is selfish.

    Atheists have nothing coherent to say about suffering. Suffering is a difficult topic for Christians. It is an impossible topic for atheists.

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  40. Michael,

    I do believe in objective morality, just not your bullshit definition of it. The meaning of words is not one of your strong points. Remember your bullshit definition of 'imaginary'? My correction of your 100% wrong definition led to a paranoid rant in another thread on your part. Paranoia is also a good assessment of part of your psychopathology.

    You have nothing coherent to say about suffering. You are completely incoherent, and talking nothing but bullshit.

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  41. Egnor: "Without objective morality and God, you have no reason to care about the suffering of others."

    Mike, you are a hoot.

    I care about the suffering of others not because I reason to it but because it is human nature to empathize with other human beings. It does not matter whether you believe in God or not. We are hard-wired to empathize.

    How that came about is a good question. People like you say it is because God hard-wired us to feel empathy. Evolutionary biologists suggest that altruistic behavior can arise naturally. There are well-known toy models in game theory that illustrate how altruistic behavior can produce selective advantage. See here for a brief outline. There is no reason to think that altruism cannot arise in nature and thus requires an intelligent designer.

    Learn some biology, for Christ's sake. You are a doctor, after all.

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  42. mregnor:

    If there is no God, there is no objective moral law. Just admit the obvious.

    You are disgusting. Everything you say about "God" is extremely offensive because it implies that your religion is the right one and that mine is wrong. But your God doesn't exist and the only God is Baal. Repent before it's too late.

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  43. Brilliant post, Mike.
    Right from the heart, too.
    Kudos.

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  44. @crusadeREX
    You are right.

    It sure made the usual atheists very very angry and that's the mark of a Brilliant post as you say.

    Atheists just can't bear the truth!

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  45. @bachfiend

    You're still an idiot...

    The more you slander me, the more I know I cast doubts in your mind. You may still live to acquire some wisdom...

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  46. The more you slander me, the more I know I cast doubts in your mind.

    Slander requires the accusation to be untrue. However, you've demonstrated quite amply that you are an idiot, therefore, calling you an idiot is not slander.

    And you are still an idiot. And if you think you cast doubts in anyone's mind with your babble, you're a bigger idiot than anyone could have thought.

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  47. "Evolutionary biologists suggest that altruistic behavior can arise naturally."

    Yes, but should we care? Evolutionary biology does not tend to attract the sharpest tools in the shed. In any event, ethology/sociobiology strikes me as glorified extispicy.

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  48. O'Brien:

    "Yes, but should we care? Evolutionary biology does not tend to attract the sharpest tools in the shed.

    You mean tools like Ronald Fisher?

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  49. @anusnymouse

    So slander is like atheism: UNTRUE!

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  50. Dear Pépé,

    How come you have an Internet access from your mental institution?

    Regards,

    God.

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  51. So slander is like atheism: UNTRUE!

    Slander is untrue statements.

    Hence, religion is slander.

    Now you can go back to your padded room.

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  52. Evolutionary biology does not tend to attract the sharpest tools in the shed.

    Sharper than anyone associated with ID, or creationism, and any theologian.

    But keep smearing the clown makeup on and screaming. It might become magically convincing one day.

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  53. Pepe,

    Good news! It's your turn! Come on up. St. Peter will be giving you a drug test before you come through the gates, but thats just a formality. You will pass it right?

    Right?

    -Kisses,
    Jesus

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