Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Life is a gift, not a given

Yesterday, on Facebook, Gregory Shane Morris posted the following back to back quotes:

[If I met God] I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? 
– Stephen Fry 
[When I was an atheist] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too-- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning. 
– C. S. Lewis

To which I responded:

i) Lewis is using a good transcendental argument. 

ii) That said, there's a more direct response. It's true that God could eliminate cancer. Problem is, eliminating certain natural evils eliminates certain people in the process–whose existence is dependence on the existence of natural evils. 

Just about every life has a snowball effect. Take a child who dies of cancer. Say he goes to heaven. Say the parents create a "replacement" child. The replacement child wouldn't exist if his older sibling hadn't died young. So his untimely death results in two lives–his own life and the life of his sibling. That's a good that wouldn't happen in a cancer-free world. Tragedies can be a source of good.

A child dying of cancer is undeniably tragic, but atheists consider that in artificial isolation, yet human lives aren't compartmentalized. Consider a few alternate timelines. In one timeline a boy doesn't die of cancer. He grows up, marries a girl, and fathers three children by his wife. And they in turn marry when they grow up, and have kids. 

Conversely, suppose he dies from cancer at age 10. That girl doesn't marry him. She marries someone else, and has kids by a different husband. So there are winners and losers on either scenario. 

Or suppose the boy doesn't die of cancer. He has a great-grandson who kills a pedestrian in a drunk driving accident. Had the boy died in childhood, that person four generations down the line wouldn't be killed by a drunk driver who was the boy's descendent.

In a fallen world, you have goods that are nested in evils. For God to remove that evil removes the attendant good. That may be a better world in one or more respects, but a worse world in one or more respects.

iii) Untimely death underscores the fact, as nothing else can, that life is a gift, not a given. 

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts. In a similar vein (and hopefully not too OT), I would add that - to the antediluvian patriarchs - a man who dies at 100 years old would be cut off at the same "percentage mark" of life as a 10 year old to us moderners, and thus be a "child" in their eyes. A lot depends upon your frame of reference for a full life.

    And let's face it, for atheists holding to the idea of "deep time" it's all so absurdly short in the scheme of history that it's pointless to differentiate between death at 10 and 900 anyway.