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October 18, 2005

God and Katrina

From Enkidu, Theologian-in-Residence (October 1, 2005)

Though I grew up in New Orleans and was distraught, to say the least, as she went under Hurricane Katrina’s waters, it did not occur to me at the time to question God’s role in the disaster.

A number of my relatives and friends felt differently.  “Why has God taken my home, my job, my known world?  What have I done to deserve this?”  Or, alternatively, “why was I spared when so many others, better than me, perished?”

Given God’s purportedly causative actions last Christmas in the eastern Indian Ocean and on an infinite number of occasions before, such questions may seem parochial, though they are unquestionably heartfelt.

A few groups of people, however, had no doubts about God’s intentions.

Al-Qaeda, in a broadcasted news item, announced that "the whole Muslim world was filled with joy" as God “battered New Orleans, city of homosexuals."

Some among the American Religious Right pronounced similar posthumous judgment upon my hometown.

Franklin (son of Billy) Graham explained that “God is going to use that storm to bring a revival. God has a plan. God has a purpose… I would certainly pray that the gay and lesbian movement, the people that have this lifestyle, will come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and experience their sins being forgiven.”

Perhaps the American Religious Right and their Islamist counterparts worship the same deity after all? 

Then again, the less moralistic among the American Right offered a slightly different explanation for His destructive motives. 

“I truly believe that it was God’s intention to have Katrina come to New Orleans to eliminate the blacks from the city” my mother’s Republican friend told her. 

“This is God’s way of getting rid of the blacks” my dad overheard while having his flood-damaged car repaired.

“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them” noted Barbara Bush as she viewed the refugee camp in the Houston Astrodome.

Destruction and exile for the impoverished?  Specifically those impoverished by centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and oppressive social and economic policies?  Destruction and exile as the solution to black poverty?

I doubt the God of Al-Qaeda would be so racist.  He is too busy smiting Shi’a, Australian tourists and, of course, homosexuals, too bother with such things.

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Comments

>Not only are humans the only ones to make informed decisions,

As you've still failed to show--

>And to address your cheetah example - cheetahs don't make informed decisions on whether to attack a gazelle or an elephant. They attack gazelles because the kind of cheetahs that attacked animals that were hard to kill and eat, say elephants, died out long ago.

So, then, their eyes and ears are useless? If they don't use information in choosing a moment to jump, then why did they evolve these organs? And--yet again--the latest question you're evading is, on what basis are man's actions to be considered "informed decisions," if the cheetahs are not? If the cheetah's action is automatic and thoughtless, how exactly is ours then an "informed decision" to go to the restaurant?

>not even all humans make informed decisions.

Indeed, much human activity is as instinctual as the animals'--but _you_ are the one arguing, so far without evidence, that All animal activity is Only instinctive, yet that Some human activity evidences "informed decisions." Are you arguing against yourself, or was the Terry Schiavo comment irrelevant?

>But religion and gods are of no use to us now. It's time to grow up and face the world without hocus pocus.

Good idea. Someone should prove that thought cannot exist without organic life, so that God's existence can be disproved, and the question can be put to rest.

And to address your cheetah example - cheetahs don't make informed decisions on whether to attack a gazelle or an elephant. They attack gazelles because the kind of cheetahs that attacked animals that were hard to kill and eat, say elephants, died out long ago.

Do you understand how that relates to adaptation? And how the "survival of the fittest" does not have anything to do with informed decisions?

What I said, as I think you know, had nothing to do with the _type_ of food the cheetah eats, or other things that are obviously programmed at the genetic level. What I said had to do specifically with the decisions that the cheetah makes on the spot, as to how high to jump, that are both DECISIONS, requiring analysis (though the cheetah's brain is certainly simple, unsophisticated, and rudimentary, compared to a human's), and INFORMED (by the cheetah's sensory organs). You may argue that the decision is either carried out by the cheetah, or simply by the automatic, genetically programmed portion of the cheetah's being, but either one requires a DECISION to jump now instead of later, and is INFORMED by the sensory organ.

Anyway. Thanks again for your opinions, and we've been archived, so we'll leave it up to others to disprove or prove that thought (thus a God) can or cannot exist without organic life. I have not proved that God exists, and you have not proved that God does not.

Whichever physicist creates such a proof or disproof will get a free drink from me, a smile, and a pat on the back.


I have not proved that God exists, and you have not proved that God does not.

Whichever physicist creates such a proof or disproof will get a free drink from me, a smile, and a pat on the back.

So a physicist who proves either existence or non-existence of God will get a drink, smile and pat on the back from an anonymous blog-poster. Well if that doesn't motivate them, I guess nothing will.


Good idea. Someone should prove that thought cannot exist without organic life, so that God's existence can be disproved, and the question can be put to rest.

Yes and someone should prove that the Invisible Pink Unicorn does NOT exist - which you have yet to do. And once that happens, we'll look at the existence of thought floating in the ether.


Anyway. Thanks again for your opinions, and we've been archived

What is this mystical archived process of which you speak? This thread works perfectly fine, archived or not, with links right on the Majikthese home page for easy access.

Or is this simply a way to rescue yourself, with all your logorrhea and bravado, from a very thorough rhetorical ass-kicking?

Actually, I was just getting tired of asking the same questions of you ("do you have a _disproof_ of God?"), over and over, and I figured you just didn't have an answer. It also seemed strange to me that you would claim crowing victory in the debate, when I had only admitted a stalemate, which you hadn't even argued me into.

I consulted a theoretical neurophysicist for some expert opinion, though, and he disagreed with you. Wasn't sure if I should bother throwing this out there, but since I posted it elsewhere, thought it's more appropriate here. Dr. William H. Calvin, who I believe is an atheistic scientist, writes in "How Brains Think," p. 20-21:

"A cormorant can decide whether to cruise around underwater in search of another meal, or fly away to another pond, or spread its wings to dry... or just stand around--presumably by consulting the weightiness of its wings, the fullness of its stomach, its sexual drives, and so forth. Decision making is something that all animals do; it is usually an economistlike weighing of sensations and drives, followed by a standard behavior from its repertoire, as modified by the circumstances."

So there you go. Animals making decisions, based on the information their senses provide. Informed decisions. Deliciously, he even uses the same example, of humans deciding where to eat, that I did, though he feels that human awareness is marked out from animal awareness by its complexity, and traits like multi-stage planning, that are unique to humans, and would probably be skeptical of God's existence as well.

Do you understand how adaptation works?

I might ask the same of you. We, like the cormorant, make informed decisions about when to swallow, before that automatic function of peristalsis takes over. Also, as I also grew tired of asking, if evolving through natural selection means that one can't make informed decisions, then how is it that humans DO make informed decisions? Didn't humans evolve too? And what makes the human aware in its decision-making process, and the animals unaware? Since I've asked you until I'm blue in the face to explain these two questions, and been met with evasion on the first one, and the simple repetition of the fact (on which we both agree in the first place) that natural selection exists, I gave up on you.

Since you asked, that's why I quit bothering with you. If a "rhetorical ass-kicking" consists only of repeating that evolution exists, and crowing that I'm superior, then let me try: "I'm superior to Nancy; and evolution exists."

As far as the Invisible Pink Unicorn, that is cut from the same cloth as Steve Duncan's argument: that because some human beliefs which aren't empirically measured are delusional, therefore ALL such human beliefs are delusional.

The fallacy is this: The Invisible Pink Unicorn demonstrates nicely that God, being unproven by science, and outside the realm of the five senses, MAY not exist (which we both allow to be possible). It doesn't prove at all that God MUST not exist (which was my question, that began the debate), any more than it proves that George Bush is not really president, just because I've never watched him exercise his mythical powers, and no scientist has measured them. The Invisible Pink Unicorn premise can be applied equally to any unproved assertion, whether plausible, implausible, or ridiculous.

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