A pleasant Sunday morning’s reading

Although as a matter of fact I’ve never believed in any God, I have always been willing to concede that the existence of a nasty evil God was, if not true, then at least credible. (The hypothesis of a good and kind God is not credible.) So it ws a pleasure when I woke up to this in my twitter stream this morning.

And thanks to the modern miracle of instant e-book delivery, I was able to to spend some diverting hours therewith beginning just about right away.

This John Zande character doesn’t mess around. He gets right to business with a spoof of William Paley‘s famous watch-found-on-a-beach argument:

If we find a bomb carefully concealed in a kindergarten, primed and set to detonate when it would wreck the greatest possible carnage, we would assume, in all reasonableness, that someone vicious and vile — someone exquisitely evil — had designed the device and purposely put it there, positioned so as to maximize suffering and misery and mayhem. No prudent observer mindful of the legitimate passage of common cause and effect could consider the device’s shaped casing, circuits, electrical leads, assorted wires, power source, detonation pin, volatile chemicals, and inner chamber crowded with a small but appalling menagerie of metallic debris, including ball bearings and nails, had all come together in exacting order in which they must to perform the task by purblind chance.

And we’re off to the races. Zande “defends” the thesis that the universe is the creation of an omnipotent evil deity with the standard tools of religious apologetics. He provides an ontological argument for the existence of this evil deity as a necessary being and makes some inferences about the character of the being by the appalling overbalance of suffering over happiness in the world. The world is at it is because this divine being takes the most exquisite pleasure in contemplating the suffering of His creatures. And he answers a variety of objections, for example the absence of apparent divine activity in the world. (Of course God must hide from us. Were we to realize His design we would all commit suicide, and where would the suffering be then?) He responds cleverly to “the Problem of Good,” the apparently lack of universal evil in the world. Of course there’s some good in the world, retorts Zande. Without it, some of the more sophisticated forms of suffering, such as hopes that have been raised only to be dashed again, or a rueful sense that the present is worse than the past (a subject which I too have written on) would not be possible. He gets in some spectacular digs, for example at Alvin Plantinga‘s creepy notion that the Creator does not passively watch but enters into and participates in our sufferings Quite right, observes Zande. The Creator actively relishes them. This is deliciously wicked of Zande (and Plantinga deserves no better).

Now obviously all this is intended as a reductio of the premises of Christian theology, and as such it is powerful and immensely entertaining. I can strongly recommend this book as a stocking stuffer for the religious believers on your list. I do confess that it provokes certain inappropriate thoughts. Such as, if God takes so much pleasure in contemplating the suffering of others, does that mean that when we take pleasure in the suffering of others, are we therefore somehow specially participating in the divine? Perhaps I should change the name of a Internet project I run called Sacrilege Sunday? After all, if we take Zande at face value, then what I’m doing over there is honoring God!

One thought on “A pleasant Sunday morning’s reading

  1. does that mean that when we take pleasure in the suffering of others, are we therefore somehow specially participating in the divine?

    Such was the thesis of a couple of anime characters in Fate/Zero. They put it into practice too:

    When Caster and Ryuunosuke returned to their lair, they found that their work was destroyed by others. While Ryuunosuke cries, Caster comforts him but to his surprise Ryuunosuke claims that God punished them for having too much fun. Caster is surprised though, when he’s asked about the existence of God, as he didn’t believe his master to be spiritual. Ryuunosuke then shares his philosophy that God must be somewhat malicious to make the world with them in it, as he believes that God likely enjoys displays of violence, gore and evil actions. This firmly wins Caster over, as he hails Ryuunosuke as a brilliant philosopher and they resolve to perform a grand spectacle to amuse God.


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