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Francis Collins, the Templeton Prize, and the Problem of Evil

Online and authorial friend John Horgan dusts off an old interview with Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health on news that he's won this year's Templeton Prize.

Horgan notes that, at the end, where he asked Collins about the future of humanity, he showed lots of faith in god but little in homo sapiens. The questions were really about another issue — the role of suffering in religious belief.

The reality, per Logic 101 is that "suffering," however the word is defined, is not logically necessary for religion or a deity. (Remember: Folks like Theravada Buddhists have a religious belief system without a personal divinity.) Philosophy of Religion 101 will then add that suffering, or a belief in it, is not psychologically necessary, either.

The first is the old Problem of Evil. For believers in a god both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, it's an even bigger stumbling block than the Euthyphro Dilemma. The second often results from attempts by believers in a dual-omni god to avoid the Problem of Evil by citing their god's inscrutability. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this usually involves an appeal to Job, with Christians doubling down by citing Paul referencing Job.

Doesn't work.

This is, as I have called it, the Psychological Problem of Evil.

Either said god is less than all-powerful if he can't make himself scrutable, or he's less than all-good if, other than "stop questioning me," he can't make his followers accept his inscrutability is for their good.

That said, what if there was some new way to get these people to accept his inscrutability? Still doesn't address the omnipotence and psychological evil issue.

There's also a bit of a petard lurking here.

IF ... we did accept that some suffering is necessary for human development as part of religion, how much is necessary and how much is too much? Usually this ends up again being hoist on the inscrutability of god in the Western "dueling-omnis" idea of god.

Otherwise, Collins himself, who famously once said, and included it in a book, that he had the idea of the Trinity be made understandable by a three-part waterfall, doesn't strike me as the deepest of thinkers on matters religious. It's almost as silly as the apple explanation that I heard as a kid — the peel, the pulp and core are all separate, but all connected, and all have "appleness," but there's still just one apple.

Nor does his taking a page from Augustine, on the idea that an omni-god is outside humanity's four-dimensional space-time, makes such a god inscrutable by logical necessity. Per Flatland, such a god could intervene into our four dimensions in a perfectly scrutable way.

I mean, if Collins did a riff on Whitehead's process theology into something even more creative, or invented his own religion, even more, I'd have more respect for him. But this is just plain bleah evangelical Christianity.

As far as what Collins misses in terms of psychology of religion? It was staring himself in his hiking face. The "trinitarian" waterfall is a dictionary exhibit of confirmation bias.

This post first appeared on The Philosophy Of The Socratic Gadfly, please read the originial post: here

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Francis Collins, the Templeton Prize, and the Problem of Evil


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