Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How could God have created a world like this? When does it get better?

Daniel Dennett wrote in Breaking the Spell:

"I, too, want the world to be a better place. This is my reason for wanting people to understand and accept evolutionary theory: I believe that their salvation may depend on it! How so? By opening their eyes to the dangers of pandemics, degradation of the environment, and loss of biodiversity, and by informing them about some of the foibles of human nature. So isn’t my belief that belief in evolution is the path to salvation a religion? No; there is a major difference. We who love evolution do not honor those whose love of evolution prevents them from thinking clearly and rationally about it! On the contrary, we are particularly critical of those whose misunderstandings and romantic misstatements of these great ideas mislead themselves and others. In our view, there is no safe haven for mystery or incomprehensibility. Yes, there is humility, and awe, and sheer delight, at the glory of the evolutionary landscape, but it is not accompanied by, or in the serve of, a willing (let alone thrilling) abandonment of reason. So I feel a moral imperative to spread the word of evolution, but evolution is not my religion. I don’t have a religion."

The desire for the world to become a better place is sometimes expressed more bitterly, as Romain Gary did in his novel The Dance of Genghis Cohn:

"If I were a believer, I would say it was God trying to create the world at last, an idea which has not yet occurred to Him, unless you consider this world to be a creation, an insult which would not even spring to the mind of an atheist."

The mathematician John Allen Paulos wrote in Irreligion that "the uncaused first cause needn't have any traditional God-like qualities. It's simply first, and as we know from other realms, being first doesn't mean being best." If being first cause doesn't equate to being the best god, being the first creation probably doesn't equate to being the best planet.

The crankiest language on the subject is from Christopher Hitchens in God is Not Great:

"In this way they choose to make a fumbling fool of their pretended god, and make him out to be a tinkerer, an approximator, and a blunderer, who took eons of time to fashion a few serviceable figures and heaped up a junkyard of scrap and failure meanwhile. Have they no more respect for the deity than that?"


Daniel C. Dennett. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. p. 268.

Romain Gary. The Dance of Genghis Cohn. (1968) New York: Signet Books, 1969. pp. 101-102.

John Allen Paulos. Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up. New York: Hill and Wang, 2008. p. 5.

Christopher Hitchens. God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007. p. 85.

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