Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why is there Suffering - a reply to Peter Singer

On May 19, 2008, the Japan Times published an article by Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and outspoken atheist. He is a proponent of abortion and euthanasia.

I have a couple of questions about his reasoning and I am quite astonished about his lack of scriptural knowledge. If we were to discuss God and religion seriously, he need to better know the foundations of religion as revealed in sacred texts. When criticizing Christians, he better know the Bible.

For example Singer writes “some Christians say that we have all inherited the original sin committed by Eve, who defied God's decree against eating from the tree of knowledge. This is a triply repellent idea, for it implies that knowledge is bad, that disobeying God's will is the greatest sin of all, and that children inherit the sins of their ancestors and may justly be punished for them.”.

This is not a triply repellent idea, but shows Singer’s triple ignorance.
1. it is not that knowledge is bad. It was bad for Eve (and Adam) to disobey. For a believer, who acknowledges that God created the universe, and furthermore created a good universe (Genesis 1), it is not bad to investigate nature. Just the opposite. It fills the believing investigators with joy and awe to see the skillful creator’s hand in nature. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, in chapter 1: “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Paul writes about spiritual wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge of God is clearly distinct from faith. And isn’t all knowledge we have ‘spiritual’? Our senses and perceptions are processed by the brain before we ‘understand’ it. So every knowledge we get is ‘spiritual’.
Again Paul, in the letter to the Romans, talks about knowledge and nature: ”From the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly observed in what he made. As a result, people have no excuse. 21They knew God but did not praise and thank him for being God. Instead, their thoughts were pointless, and their misguided minds were plunged into darkness. 22While claiming to be wise, they became fools.”. Here again, it is not knowledge that is bad, but that humans do not acknowledge God for what He is.

2. It indeed is the greatest sin to disobey God. Exactly. What is so repellent about it? If God is almighty, all-good, all-wise, omnipotent, omnipresent, an eternal being, it should be clear that obeying Him is in the best for us. We were created to have fellowship with God. Satan told Eve that by eating this fruit, she would become like God. So the sin she committed was two-fold. One, she disobeyed God’s command, fully knowing that her actions would lead to death, and two, she wanted to become like her creator, that means she wanted to live a life without God, while she would be her own god. Again I ask Professor Singer: what is so repellent about it? It looks logic to me.

3. Isn’t it one of the big tenets of evolution that offspring inherit their traits from their parents? Further, do not parents imprint on their children their own behavior? Our life is determined by many things, two of the biggest factors are directly correlated to our parents. Evolutionary biology trumpets out that monkeys and birds learn some techniques of food gathering from their parents. Then let those scientists not complain that disobedience is also inherited. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The one God they were seeing and who was walking with them in the evening breeze of paradise. Once thrown out of paradise, what makes you hope, Professor Singer, that their offspring, who now do not see God anymore, will be more obedient?

Singer continues to show his ignorance when saying that “Even if we accept all this [that there is inherited sin], the problem remains unresolved. For animals also suffer from floods, fires and droughts, and since they are not descended from Adam and Eve, they cannot have inherited original sin.”
He forgets that Adam and Eve’s sin threw the whole creation off balance. The ground was cursed after The Fall. Genesis 3, 14 says that the serpent is more cursed that other cattle. Verse 17 speaks of the ground being cursed. So the whole creation bears the effects of that original sin.

Singer continues to build and burn straw men. He quotes D’Sousa, a conservative commentator he debated lately, who says that “since God gave us life, we are not in a position to complain if our life is not perfect”. Singer builds a strawman out of it by extrapolating that thus we have no right to condemn an expecting mother to use drugs during pregnancy. He misses the point. The mother is not the ultimate source of giving life to her child. She is the vessel that God uses to bring fourth life, which He created. No willpower of a woman is enough to become pregnant. No medical technique is powerful enough to fertilize any infertile women.

That said, all the theological theoretizing and trains of thought about suffering come to a screetching halt when one is faced with the reality of suffering childrenas Singer writes:
“But infants and small children are just as likely to suffer and die in natural disasters as adults, and it seems impossible that they could deserve to suffer and die.”
Here Singer is right. It seems impossible that small children deserve to die. And I know that first hand. In 2000 I saw my own ten-year-old son die from the effects of his congenital heart defect. The ailing heart could not support his body anymore and one after another, his internal organs stopped working over the course of a few days: lungs, kidney, and liver. He died after being in a coma for two days and both my wife and I were at his side when his heart stopped beating. Since he was born, my wife and I took him as what he was: a gift from God. He was raised in a Christian home, he loved Sunday service, he invited his teacher and classmates to church events. He prayed as if he knew that God would listen to him – and He did. If one boy did not deserve to die, it was he. But I am convinced that God keeps His promise and that Daniel is in heaven now. With the same conviction, I know that God is a just and merciful God, who saves all those children who die before they can make any decision about their faith. “Let the children come to me” is a famous quote of Jesus. He said this here on earth, but it is eternally true. Also now, Jesus lets the children come to him. With such a knowledge, what then is indeed the short suffering here on earth compared to the riches in heaven?

Later on in the text, Singer adds a personal musing that “(Some say that we need to have some suffering to appreciate what it is like to be happy. Maybe, but we surely don't need as much as we have.)”
This is just his personal opinion. He acknowledges that suffering has some merits. He forgot the biggest: suffering and personal hardship can bring people closer to God. And that is what counts here in life. Adam and Eve chose to be disobey God. Now God uses suffering to bring their descendants back to Him. If there were any other less painful way, He would do otherwise.

Finally, did Singer realize that God suffers, too? He says he’s debating Christians, so it should not have skipped his attention that books over books have been written about Christ’s suffering for us. Jesus Christ, the perfect man in whom even Pilate could find no fault, suffered dearly on the cross. Jesus died a horrible death. Did he need to? No - He is God. But He chose to.
Humans suffer, because they are far from God. God suffers so He can be near to us.

Monday, May 19, 2008

If there is a god, then why is there suffering?


PRINCETON, New Jersey — Do we live in a world that was created by a god who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all good?

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