Here’s the thing, the author knows biology, but not philosophy — I kinda think he needs to sit in on some Intro to Philosophy courses and work on the arguments concerning the nature and existence of God. Perhaps him giving this “talk” to his students is a good thing, because they’ll keep looking for answers.
Barash treads on traditional ground trying to refute the argument that God uses Evolution as a tool of creation — and he does well with this part — then he says:
Theological answers range from claiming that suffering provides the option of free will to announcing (as in the Book of Job) that God is so great and we so insignificant that we have no right to ask. But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.
Hmmm… nice try — BUT — the thing is, there is a big bit of “bad stuff happens to good people, therefore there cannot be a God” argument he’s missing. That bit is, human beings seem to have free will. What Barash really does is to slide right by the debate itself. This is because human beings having free will goes against his overall view — IF we’re pretty much just animals, then we cannot have free will (the illusion of choice is just biology, doncha know?).
The trouble with just slipping this one by is that much of human suffering is caused by humans making choices — choices they KNOW will cause pain. Not just the natural pain from disease, nature etc — but, choices like shooting someone. THOSE choices are at the crux of the philosophical problem Barash just hints at — i.e. the “problem of evil”.
The argument concerning the problem of evil is something like this:
Traditional definitions of God include three parts — all of which need to be combined for the Judeo-Christian God to fit the picture most folks have of him. God, according to the traditional view, is all knowing, all loving/carking, and all powerful.
So — God knows everything that happens. God can do anything. God loves his people.
When bad stuff happen to good folks, the question is which one of those three is missing from “God” — Does God know and care that bad stuff happens, but cannot do anything about it? Would God care about the bad stuff and stop it, but he doesn’t know it’s going on? Or does God know and care that good people suffer, but lacks the ability to do anything about it?
The natural bad stuff Barash relies on for the whole of his argument can (and is — often) explained to be necessary for our overall well-being. The response is that as human beings we need a very predictable physical enviornment. To that end, gravity needs to always work. IF a person is exposed to a disease, their body needs to fight it or it will die etc — those levels of predictability are necessary because otherwise we’d be in a constant state of wondering whether our next step will send us flying off the planet etc… Those kinds of micro-interventions would also be pretty odd, if they just came when we really needed them — and they’d require a God very involved in the physical lives of each individual person on the planet.
The thing is, all of this is very loosely connected to evolution. Barash is correct when he says that the ground religion is standing on — concerning science and evolution, is eroding quickly. BUT — I don’t think that should really be a cause for concern for biology students. Those students can understand the basic answer my 8th grade confirmation pastor gave me — “God uses evolution as one of his tools, why wouldn’t he?”. This answer, which Barash brushes off, is a good one.
The ANWSWER is also a good one — God sees that human beings having free will is for the best — it’s a good answer because the only way to prevent people from choosing to hurt other people is to remove free will — BUT, free will also includes the ability to choose to do good things for other people, to help people survive the crap nature thows at us, and to make a choice for faith. Their answer is that having faith necessitates free will — and that faith helps us much more than the bad choices made using free will hurt..
and — in the end — what I really think goes more or less like this..
I find the problem of evil to be pretty persuasive. IF “God” really is all loving, all knowing, and all powerful — then bad stuff shouldn’t happen to good people. IF God really is all of those things, then as persons we ought not WANT to choose to do bad things — but, we do.
There is some truth in the answer concerning free will tho — having religious faith can be very good for people. It does (in some places) lead to war and conflict — but, overall, it can also be very helpful to have an explanatory force in the world and hope that things can and will be better in the future.
Yep, Barash needs an intro to philosophy course… and, perhaps some tutoring on arguments.