Oh, no…it’s an irresistible magnet. Francis Collins and Karl Giberson, with funding from the Templeton Foundation (who else?), have put together a whole website full of fluffy bunnies and pious weasels to reconcile science and faith. It’s a rich vein of the worst of pseudo-scientific apologetics, and I am stunned by it — not because I am impressed by the substance, but because it is such a target-rich environment. Having read both Collins’ Language of God, with it’s amazing conversion experience that had to have impressed all with its depth and majesty, and the equally wooly-minded Karl Giberson’s book, Saving Darwin, I can say I knew these two would have put together a web site exactly like this.
Like I say, I’m overwhelmed with the tripe available on that site, so I’ll just have to take a poke at one small example. They actually have a page to address the question of How does the evil and suffering in the world align with the idea of a loving God?. As one who often hears the atheists accused of being philosophically shallow, this page is a consolation: it’s a collection of tired cliches that don’t answer the question. There’s the usual “Free will!” blather, and the “god works in mysterious ways” nonsense, and as a special bonus, there’s the extra-special “We Christians are special because our god suffered, too” excuse (which answers nothing, but raises many more questions about this contradictory deity of theirs). One curious thing about the approach this site takes is that it is slathered with Jesus everywhere — if you aren’t already a New Testament lovin’ evangelical, you are not going to be at all impressed.
But here’s one special case of their problem of evil logic, of interest to us non-Jebusites.
Suffering is Also a Problem for Atheists
Evil also poses problems for the nonbeliever. Claims that torture is wrong even though the victims of torture might be terrorists with useful information appeal to some external standard. But what is this standard? Such claims need to be grounded in something if they are to be asserted with such confidence. So, while some naturalistic philosophers have developed ethical systems without God, many other naturalists acknowledge this doesn’t work and that such ethical systems are entirely arbitrary. If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis. The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.
Um, no. This is all wrong. Evil is not a problem for us. I believe that we are a rare cosmic accident in an impersonal and hostile universe — the natural state is one which is largely inimical to our existence. I also don’t think human beings are designed at all, but evolved by natural mechanisms, and that we are not by any means optimized for anything, let alone any kind of local definition of goodness. That bad things happen, that accidents occur, that many normal events can lead to our death or suffering, that humans are flawed and can harm one another…all of that is to be expected. We atheists certainly do not have the kind of problem with evil that a believer in a universal benignity would have, so this is a bit of a dodge.
Now you could turn it around and say that atheists have a problem with goodness, which is ultimately what Collins/Giberson are trying to say. But once again, Collins makes the same mistake he did in his book — he can’t imagine any source of morality other than an external imposition by a moral entity, and reveals again that he doesn’t actually have any understanding of evolution.
We are social animals. We are the children of a particular kind of animal that improved their chances of survival and reproduction by cooperation, working together as a family/tribe/nation. We have an operational, working definition of what is good and evil that is defined by our history: goodness is that which has promoted the survival of our community and ourselves. Anyone who has a reasonable grasp of Darwinian logic ought to be able to see that this is the kind of property that can emerge from forces entirely within a group’s history, with no exogenous agent required.
I certainly do have grounds to be outraged at the use of torture. Those are fellow human beings who are experiencing pain: I empathize with them, I see them as fellow members of the greater community of humanity, and I can rationally see that a society that allows torture is one in which I and my family are less safe. I do not need a little god sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, “Oh, PZ, you aren’t supposed to enjoy that person’s suffering”.
My sense of horror and outrage points me to a common humanity, not some invisible magic man who wills it because he works in mysterious ways.
Oh, and by the way, any rationalization that claims that “if god doesn’t exist, then you have no reason to be moral” is making the fallacy of arguing from consequences. It does not imply the truth of the statement. You’d think a couple of high-powered Christian apologists flying high on buckets of money from a billionaire might have been able to avoid errors in logic 101, but nah…these are guys with brain-poisoning from an overdose of faith.
Also by the way, Jerry Coyne has his own favorite parts of the site. Maybe you do too!