Mike, at The Creation of an Evolutionist, calls attention to an article by Dinesh D’Souza on Townhall.com, in which D’Souza replies to an argument by Christopher Hitchens. Mike says this is worth thinking about, and I agree, but I’ve got some bones to pick with D’Souza’s approach.
Hitchens’ argument is essentially that God has been absent for 98% of human history. According to this argument, humanity has been around for 100,000 years, while Christian history, which is apparently the only part of concern in this argument, has lasted only 5,000 years. Thus, man is unredeemed for 95% of human history. One hardly knows where to start in discussing this abuse of math and logic.
Here’s the quote:
Here’s what Hitchens said. Homo sapiens has been on the planet for a long time, let’s say 100,000 years. Apparently for 95,000 years God sat idly by, watching and perhaps enjoying man’s horrible condition. After all, cave-man’s plight was a miserable one: infant mortality, brutal massacres, horrible toothaches, and an early death. Evidently God didn’t really care.
Then, a few thousand years ago, God said, “It’s time to get involved.” Even so God did not intervene in one of the civilized parts of the world. He didn’t bother with China or Egypt or India. Rather, he decided to get his message to a group of nomadic people in the middle of nowhere. It took another thousand years or more for this message to get to places like India and China.
(Note that the move from 5% to 2% seems to happen in the time the message takes to spread.)
We are assuming that because Jesus came at one particular time, and because what we count as the Christian Bible was initiated at a particular time, God must have been inactive before that time. But there is no particular reason to believe that. One also would assume, on this basis, that the massive destruction we can inflict today, and indeed have inflicted is a better indication of God’s absence than the misery of life as a caveman.
Human misery is an issue for Christian apologetics, but the argument against Christianity is really not strengthened by this particular argument. Since I have been blogging on theodicy for some time, and am not nearly finished, I’m going to leave that issue aside at the moment. Whatever arguments apply to things like the holocaust will likely apply to the misery of cavemen.
D’Souza justifiably attacks the numbers. He has discovered that only 2% of the 105 billion people who have ever been born were born in the time before Jesus came to earth. I haven’t checked those statistics, but let’s assume that they are essentially correct. D’Souza has put the math in perspective, a worthy accomplishment, but he hasn’t really answered the underlying problem. As one commenter on the article points out, if God can ignore 2% of the population, how can he know that he isn’t part of a 2% that God is ignoring now?
D’Souza’s other argument, that human prehistory and the sudden explosion of civilization are much more of a problem for atheists, deserves a separate response. It is not an area that interests me nearly as much.
There seem to be several assumptions regarding revelation and salvation on which this argument is based. The ones I noticed off-hand are:
- Revelation has only occurred in the written scriptures of Judaism and Christianity
While many Christians may believe that, a substantial number of Christian theologians do not. C. S. Lewis, surely not a liberal leader, held that God revealed himself many times, and that myths in pagan religions bore truth that led toward the eventual truth about Jesus. Accepting the Bible as God’s revelation does not require that one deny that God spoke to other people, even to cavemen.
- Redemption only occurred in that same period
I would not expect Hitchens, an atheist, to be concerned with this issue, but Christians surely should. The death of Jesus was efficacious for people who lived prior to his death, and even prior to the first written prophecy. If this is a critique of Christianity, Christian understandings on this issue should rule.
- Absence of records means actual absence
We really have now idea how God might have related to cavemen. Amongst those who care about such things, there are debates about just when the image of God came to be. Personally, I’m not that interested, though if I were to argue, I would suggest that God’s image is not a binary thing. Those who look toward their creator, however fumbling that effort, are manifesting some aspect of the image of God. My own efforts to seek out God may well not be sufficiently different from the earliest caveman to even notice.
D’Souza has place the numbers in context very effectively. As stated, the argument appears to suggest that God didn’t care about 95-98% of the people who ever lived, whereas we’re talking about 2%. But is this a good answer for a Christian? I think it simply buys into the assumptions of D’Souza’s debate opponent. Theodicy will continue to fail, I think, as long as we make the assumption that God’s “care” involves making us all comfortable. There’s a harsh reality in there that many Christian apologists don’t want to have front and center–God lets people reap what they so for the most part.
Christian theology teaches that God cares about everyone, but it also teaches that he does not resolve everyone’s problems. He doesn’t prevent all wars, death, disease, or suffering. Why that should be is another subject. But whether it happens to 2%, 5%, or 95% is not the issue.
I recall a sociology class I took in my first year of college. The professor was a communist. No, not a liberal I accused of being a communist. He was a self-proclaimed communist. In a discussion I brought up Solzhenitsyn’s figure of 66 million dead as a result of communism in Russia. (I’m working from memory here. Solzhenitsyn was citing a statistician who calculated the figure.)
“I think you’re wrong about that,” he said. “The cost in lives was only about 40 million.”
I was fairly stunned. Using “only” and “40 million” together with reference to people killed was pretty astonishing. The reduction of the estimate by 26 million didn’t make Russian communism look any better to me. Similarly, reducing the number of people ignored by God to 2% or 5% of human doesn’t help me here at all.
What does help me is that I don’t believe God ignored them, any more than he ignored those 66 million people in Russia or 6 to 10 million in World War II. In all cases, the problem remains the same: Why doesn’t God make it better? It’s a good question, or better it’s one that will certainly be asked, and it remains the same despite the numbers.
[Note that I leave this here even though someone is sure to note that I have not responded to the more basic issue of why God allows any of the things I’ve cited. I’m addressing those in the posts in my theodicy category, and will continue to do so over time.]