Why if there is God there is also Tragedy
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
A disaster such as the earthquake and tsunami at the end of 2004 is often called an "act of God." But why would a benevolent God act to create a tragedy that kills 300,000 people?
Atheists have an simple answer, saying that there is no God. Agnostics simply say "I don't know." But a pure and complete agnosticism is not logical if there are some aspects of this issue that we can know. And atheists could still wonder why the world is such that disasters occur.
Most of human suffering is caused by other human beings, not by nature. Theologians have pondered the mass murders during World War II and then in Cambodia and Rwanda, and come up with several answers. The usual one is that God wants human beings to feel they have free will rather than be robots or puppets, and with free will comes the choice to do good or evil. A related answer is that God wants human beings to build good character by choice and experience, so that those with good character will be selected to live in the next world, and this requires endowing them with free will, which is to the greater good even if some suffer.
That does not answer the question of why God created the world with so many woes, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, and hundreds of deadly diseases. Why did there have to be malaria and smallpox? Since human beings can eradicate smallpox, this organism is not required for the world to go around.
Believers in God often answer that we cannot know the reasons, that the works of God are a mystery, that we should not judge God, that there is some greater good even if we don't know what it is, or that we should just submit and not ask too many such questions.
But assuming in this context that God exists, God endowed human beings with reason, and a reasoning being does ask questions, and then applies reason to answer them. My reasoning below may offend some believers, so if you are easily offended, please don't read what follows.
Since the answer to the question of tragedy is confronted using reason and thus logic, one first has to analyze whether logic itself is an absolute or whether it is an arbitrary creation of God. Did God create the rules of logic and then fashion the human mind to think by these rules, or are the rules of logic inherently logical?
For example, consider the logical rule of subsets: if X is a subset of Y (so that X is part of Y), then the existence of X implies the existence of Y. Suppose God instead created the logical rule that Y could exist and yet X not exist, e.g. California is a state of the USA and California exists yet the USA does not exist. But the boundary of the USA includes California, so this counter rule could not exist. Even God cannot change the rule of subsets.
It is likewise with all the rules of logic, and therefore it applies also to the rules of applications such as mathematics. The area of a rectangle is the lengths of the sides multiplied together; God cannot make it otherwise. The sum of the degrees in a triangle is half that of a square; God cannot make it any different.
So logic is greater than God. Logic is eternal and unchanging and ubiquitous. If God created the physical universe, then Zhe had to follow rules of logic in so doing. Physics and chemistry can therefore not be arbitrary. The positive and negative charges of matter are a logical necessity. God could not make gravity other than proportional to the masses of objects and inversely to the square of their distances. The electron, the photon, the string of sub-sub-sub particles, and time and space all have to follow the rules of logic, and so for example the speed of light is not a number that God could arbitrarily set, because this speed affects everything else, and all have to be connected logically.
So if God created the earth, perhaps Zhe could set it at just the distance from the sun to make life possible. That distance is not a matter of pure logic, because there are planets with various distances, which seem to be arbitrary to some degree, a matter of chance if not deliberate design. Perhaps God arranged it so that the moon would be a thrown object just the right size and distance to have both tides and eclipses, quite different from the relatively small moons of the other planets. Such striking coincidences lead deists and other theists to believe that these are not mere coincidences.
But to have earth with materials which do not have earthquakes would contradict the logic of physical matter. To have an earth required rotation that causes wind storms, and hot molten matter in the center that must burst to the top once in a while to create a destructive volcano.
Biology is subject to the laws of physics and chemistry, and to be self-perpetuating and have the necessary organs, life required programmed DNA. Perhaps God was the master programmer. But any computer programmer knows that software must apply logic. So even if God programmed life, Zhe was constrained by logic to make life with pain as well as pleasure, to evolve, to die, to inevitably suffer. The answer to "why, God, why!?" is "logic compels it so."
Theists believe that God is good. One answer to why there is suffering is that God could not make it otherwise. But another answer is that it is not meaningful to ascribe goodness to God. (To those who find this shocking, I did ask you not to read this!)
What is good is inherently subjective to each individual. If I deem dancing to enjoyable, it is personally my good. There is no logic in saying that dancing is objectively bad, if I find it enjoyable and it does not impose harm on others. If God would say dancing is evil, then that is Zher subjective viewpoint, since I see not harm in it and I get pleasure from it.
Moreover, there are outcomes that some find good and others bad, so that occurrence cannot be purely good. As to some "greater good," if we don't know what that is, this is not only a conjecture with no warrant in logic, it does not mean anything, since we don't know to whom this would be good, other than to God.
God can therefore be neither purely benevolent nor omnipotent. If God is omniscient, then the entire future is determined, and if everything was determined eternally, then God is irrelevant, because everything that happens had to happen anyway. So when we suffer from a natural disaster, it is illogical to ask why a good God would allow such a thing to happen, because such things must happen, and God cannot be universally good in the first place.
We can say that if God exists, it was very good to have the creation of an earth that supplies us with life and the great natural benefits of sun, soil, air, and delicious fruits. If nature compels the existence of diseases, human reason can eliminate or at least alleviate these pains. But human beings make a mess of it with wars and injustice. Fanatics murder in the name of God, not seeing the logical contraction. Most tragedies are human caused, so for those who believe that God seeks human happiness, as well as those who seek to minimize tragedy for the sake of humanity, let us do what is logically possible. Let us use reason to achieve human harmony as well as to minimize the suffering that inevitably follows from the logic of reality.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2005 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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