October 23rd 2004

  Buy Issue 2693

Articles from this issue:

FEDERAL ELECTION 1: Behind Labor's landslide loss

FEDERAL ELECTION 2: Howard's opportunity, Labor's challenge

FEDERAL ELECTION 3: Kicking the ladders away

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Subsidised imports threaten pork industry

PORNOGRAPHY: Internet encourages sexual deviancy: SA psychologist

THE MARRYING KIND: Men's attitudes to marriage

US ELECTIONS: Bush still ahead in Presidential race

CHINA: US, Japan concern over China's military build-up

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Your good health / Costly hospitals / Voter discontent in Germany and Switzerland

COMMENT: Why we went to war in Iraq

CLIMATE: Europe to pay Russia over Kyoto Protocol

CINEMA: The Corporation: 'Psychopathic' corporate soul laid bare

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Latest PC news flash - black child-killers absolutely OK

Cigarettes and marijuana (letter)

Lessons for Iraq in the Communist insurgencies (letter)

Contempt for the democratic process (letter)

BOOKS: God: The Interview, by Terry Lane

BOOKS: The Long March, by Roger Kimbal

Books promotion page

God: The Interview, by Terry Lane

by Bill James

News Weekly, October 23, 2004
The problem of evil

by Terry Lane

ABC Books (2nd edition), Paperback RRP $22.95

Terry Lane is an ABC broadcaster, a Sunday Age columnist, and a public atheist of the Philip Adams variety.

This is his intellectual garage sale. The pontifications and petty prejudices of an autodidact, pub bore and village atheist are jumbled together with some of the most genuinely profound and distressing mysteries which a believer has to confront.

All the usual bricabrac is on display.

There is the "science has replaced God as an explanation" argument. This assertion ignores the fact that nothing which science has discovered, or could conceivably discover, bears any relevance whatsoever to the question of whether or not there is a Creator. Attempts to use the facts of science to prove or disprove God's existence are alike non-sequiturs.


Then there is the standard line of "look at all the evils done in the name of religion". Evils they undoubtedly are.

At the same time: first, there have been far worse evils perpetrated by militant atheists such as Stalin, Hitler and Mao; secondly, wrongdoing on the part of professed Christians is fully concordant with the Christian doctrine of the Fall, and therefore only to be expected; and thirdly, failure to meet Christianity's standards on the part of its adherents does not demonstrate that it is not true, any more than the phenomenon of Pol Pot necessarily falsifies atheism.

And of course no anti-Christian diatribe would be complete without the obligatory DIY anthropology, according to which God is an anthropomorphic projection of the thunder and lightning, a bogeyman hijacked for purposes of power and profit by a diabolically manipulative caste of priests.

Lane is on firmer ground when he gets on to the issue of suffering, particularly that of children. This is the territory that G.K. Chesterton called "three o'clock in the morning doubts".

Countless Christians retain their faith in the face of appalling accidents, diseases and natural disasters, as well as deliberate atrocities, but they persevere in their belief, not because they have an explanation as to why these horrors are permitted, but in spite of the fact that they haven't. Not yet, anyway.

In particular, Lane makes the powerful (indeed unanswerable) point that miracles constitute a moral rather than a metaphysical or scientific conumdrum. That is, if God is prepared to perform a miracle to alleviate one difficulty, then why doesn't He intervene miraculously in the case of other, and perhaps far more serious, evils? In other words, the apparent arbitrariness of miracles, rather than their provability or intrinsic likelihood, is the real challenge to faith.


But while the enigma of suffering is the strongest weapon in the atheist armory, it is the atheist who is disqualified from wielding it. While the problem of pain raises the most cogent of doubts regarding God's character, the paradox is that it only makes sense on religious (or at least supernaturalist) premises.

Unbelievers are impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Ever since the Enlightenment they have maligned Christianity on the grounds of the evil in the universe, but pari passu they have asserted a self-contained naturalism which makes human beings mere animals. The second dogma negates the first.

There is no morality in "Nature, red in tooth and claw". There is no logical or empirical reason for maintaining that a human life is worth more than that of a cholera bacterium, or that a man should not sexually abuse children if he thinks he can get away with it. It always boils down to the old truism that it is impossible to derive an ought from an is.

The practical solution has been for the secular West to live off the moral capital of Christianity without admitting to itself that it is doing so.

A Christian might anguish over why God permits cholera or paedophilia. However, he knows from a gut feeling - known variously as "common grace" or "natural law", which is backed up by divine special revelation of the infinite worth of the individual and the duty of charity - that both phenomena are evil and to be resisted.

The most that an unbeliever can say is that he doesn't like them, in the same purely subjective way that he doesn't like a colour, or a taste, or a particular football team.

Lane goes on at some length about possible genetic explanations for feelings and behaviour, but you can posit a hypothetical "gene" for anything. And even if such an entity does exist, it cannot transcend its descriptive function to achieve prescriptive status. Even if it could be demonstrated that that there is a gene, for example, which inclines us to sacrifice ourselves for our children, the question remains of whether we should do so, and why.

Despite the complete absence of any element in his world-view which justifies his doing so, Lane blithely tosses off ethical propositions of an early 21st-century, Western flavour, which he insists are of self-evident and timeless validity. Actually, his aperçus embody the very principles which, according to Nietzsche, the weak (including the wussy bourgeoisie like Lane and the rest of us) are obliged to hoodwink the strong into accepting. For as Nietzsche realised, in a world where God is dead, only might is right. Or, as Dostoevski put it, "Without God, all things are permissable".

God:The Interview was first published in 1993, and today Lane appears to be as ignorant of postmodern changes in the approach to knowledge as he was 11 years ago. His dogmatic rationalism has a musty 19th-century flavour to it which contrasts strongly with the timelessness of old-fashioned Christianity.

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