Monday, 11 May 2020

Does God Exist?

I suspect there are plenty of people asking that question at the moment...

And although my latest book might not help answer it, it will help students come to grips with the complexities of a philosophical question like no other, a question of ultimate meaning and a question that underpins, in many cases, the meaning of our actions.

It's another in the series of notes from my days standing at the front of a classroom, revised and re-written as a book, rather than a collection of handouts designed to help students whose teacher might just occasionally have talked a bit too much to keep pace with a packed curriculum.

Anyway, in the spirit of the times it's free to download on Kindle Unlimited and only 99p (the cheapest Amazon would allow me to make it) elsewhere. Here's an extract...


The problem of evil predates Christianity. It was being discussed by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (371-270BC) over two hundred years before Christ’s birth and before that, polytheistic deities like the Olympians were as likely to deliberately cause human suffering as attempt to prevent it. The problem of evil is a particularly difficult one for the Christian religion because, as one of its greatest saints, Augustine (AD354-430) wrote in his Confessions:
“Either God cannot abolish evil, or he will not; if he cannot then he is not all-powerful; if he will not then he is not all-good.”

In case you’re wondering if all this ‘god-blaming’ is a bit unfair you have to appreciate that, in Christianity (as well as Judaism and Islam, for that matter) god has all the superhero qualities needed to stop bad stuff happening, once and for all. Christians believe god is:

Omnipotent: he’s all-powerful, there’s nothing he can’t do;
Omniscient: there’s nothing he doesn’t or cannot know;
Benevolent: he’s kind and loving, not just a little but a lot;
Immanent: he is with us, in the world, always;
Transcendent: he also exists beyond our universe and our universal laws.

And Christians traditionally holds that all these qualities are always present, always, forever. (I.e. god can’t be omniscient on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Benevolent only on Tuesday and Thursday.)

The next important thing to realise is that the category of bad stuff, or evil, is divided into: 

Natural evil: earthquakes, disease and other natural disasters; 
Moral evil: suffering caused by human actions - theft, murder etc; 
Physical evil: bodily pain, emotional anxiety etc. 
Metaphysical evil: things ‘wrong’ with the natural world - imperfections and privations.

Original Sin

So religion—Christianity especially—has always had a problem with pain and suffering. Evil. Bad stuff. Because it so often seems to happen to good people. And if God (with a capital ‘G’) is wholly good and all-powerful, He (with a capital ‘H’) should both want to stop it and be able to do so. But He doesn’t. It persists. We suffer. Why?

There have been all sorts of creative solutions (or attempted solutions) to this problem, from shifting the blame to the devil (which still begs the question as to why God would either permit it in the first place or allow it to continue) and from the devil, to man. And woman. Especially woman. Because, as it says in Genesis, God was especially hard on poor Eve, promising to:
…greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

That passage (2 Genesis, 3: verse 16 should you wish to know) has got a lot to answer for. But then, the Book of Genesis as a whole has plenty to answer for. For a start, there’s God’s curse on Adam for listening to Eve in the first place:
Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (2 Genesis 3: 17-19)

And all was for an apple… Not any old apple, though. Because the forbidden fruit that the serpent persuaded Eve to pluck was from a special tree, the tree of knowledge. And God didn’t want that tempting fruit being taken because, as the serpent hisses:
God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Ye Shall Be As Gods. That gave humans a huge advantage, made mere homo into sapiens. Because knowledge is power. But it is also pain, the pain of being cast out from the nescience of Eden to the knowingness not only of the harsh, new realities of life (the bruised heel, sweating brow, pain of childbirth) but the knowledge of the paradise that was then but had now been lost.

This explanation for ‘evil’ (which in the philosophy of religion means all manner of bad stuff, whether it’s caused by people or natural forces) is that all our problems are caused by the ‘original’ sin. We’re all being punished for what Adam and Eve did. Things were all right before they behaved so badly and disobeyed god. There was no coronavirus in the Garden of Eden; earthquakes didn’t happen; and Adam and Eve didn’t argue with each other. But once banished, shit hit the fan big time!

You can download Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction here:

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