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Does God Care about 2% or 5%?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.]

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  1. Dr X says:

    My reaction to the Hitchen’s argument was: Well, you noticed, again, that God let’s S happen. How many times have you pointed that out now? Are you realizing it anew each time you say it in a different way or do you simply believe that the rest of us haven’t noticed?

  2. Larry B says:

    I didn’t read the linked article, but I agree with your assessment that arguing the fine points of the numbers ignores the larger problems with Hitchens arguments which are the assumptions he’s using the make that argument. As you point out, he’s really just asking the theodicy question in a different way.

    I’ve always understood the Old Testament to simply be the story of God’s revelation to the Jewish people, but never thought it made any exclusion of prior/future revelations.

  3. Mel Steffir says:

    God has broken his silence. Now I am on the subject. All of the Christians and the Atheists have been deleting God recent message because they say your not on the topic Mel. I am on the topic here. Your saying God has been silent for most of History. I agree with what you wrote above. You had some good points that I think I can answer. But first Gods recent message below.

  4. Mel Steffir says:

    In the Spring of 2006 God sent a message. The message is about the meaning of First is Last and Last is First. The message is this:
    In the morning I go to Heaven. In the afternoon I live my life. In the evening I die, death.
    What does this mean? It means that Birth is Last and Last is Birth. God also gives an example so that you can understand this better. Example: Mike Douglas died on his birthday, August 11. (Note: Mike Douglas and Michael Douglas are two different people.)

  5. Mel Steffir says:

    Another point is that God disagrees with a number of scriptures in the bible. Much of it did not come from him. The Romans, Constantine, put there our words in it. So far God disagrees mostly with what is written in the New Testament. He says that it is more the word of Man than the Word of God. But that does not prove that God does not exist.

    Now, I am still of the topic. Your saying God has ignored humans 2 to 5 percent of the time. The percentage goes up here now to 3 to 6 percent of the time.

  6. Mel Steffir says:

    In 2007 god had this to say:
    We each die in succession, then we are born on the same day.

  7. Mel Steffir says:

    Just to make it brief here. This is a list of topics that God talked about.
    If you believe that:
    1. Making a mental note that Jesus does exit, gets you into Heaven. Or, “Those that believe in me will go to Heaven”>
    2. Atheists go to Hell.
    3. Christains go to Heaven.
    4. Jesus Acended into Heaven.
    5. Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, and raised the Dead.
    6. Your old body comes to life again after 3 days.
    7. Virgins give birth.
    8. Asking God to forgive you on your death bed grants you forgiveness.
    9. Mary is a Goddess.
    10. The Bible is the word of God and man did not tamper with it.
    11. Jesus died for you.
    12. God can hurl lightning bolts.

    You have been deceived by the writtings of Man. Gods disagress with everything on this list.

  8. Mel Steffir says:

    Now most Atheists have already determined that the list above never made any logic to them. So they are Atheists. Now Christains believe that the list above is correct. They will say the bible is so the word of God. They have been deceived. I mean God is talented, but he can’t do magic. Give him a break please.

    God came back to fix the mess and correct the mistakes. It must have gotten to the point he couldn’t take it anymore.

    I know your thinking, Mel, this a hard to believe.
    First ask yourself where have I tripped up. And I am still on the topic. God has returned, it now 3%. God has broken his silence. Just because he hasn’t said anything for thousands of years doesn’t mean he hasn’t spoken up now. And just because he didn’t talk to you doesn’t mean he didn’t speak to someone else. Just look at it this way, he was being nice to you and mean to someone else. Cause I never asked for this and I am tired of people deleting my blogs and calling me crazy.

  9. Mel Steffir says:

    Correction: To the meaning of First is Last and Last is First. It means that Birth is Last and Birth is First. Sorry for the error. God talks in symbols and opposites at times so it takes time to figure out what he is saying. Some of his messages are clearer than others, plus they have multiple meanings.

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