Our thoughts and prayers



The two children from Denver killed in this accident are the niece and nephew of a friend of mine.

My thoughts are definitely with them, and my family is helping support where we can.

For those people praying, what are they really praying for? Support from a God who allowed the tragedy to happen in the first place? Where was God's Hand when it should have been holding up this airplane? What is it about such ridiculous tragedy that many turn to faith for consolation when really, it illustrates that if there is a God, he is unavailable?

18 comments:

RBH said...

That's a tough scene to watch for an old firefighter like me. So much of life, and of death, is adventitious, chance. It's tempting to want to assign meaning to events like that, but there is none. It's tough to accept, but it's also freeing once that's accepted.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Tom,

Yes - Epicurus killed an all powerful and all loving god "by definition" for me to.

This is going to hurt like hell for ever.

Best Regards,

Psi

Gordon J. Glover said...

Thoughts and Prayers?

I admit that I have not said any prayers regarding this tragedy, but what are our thoughts really accomplishing anyway - other than to unecessarily dwell on some "meaningless" event that we've all decided to assign meaning to by imposing the word "tragedy" on? And if some choose to deal with a declared "tragedy" by investing in their ineffectual thoughts, why rob somebody else of the comfort they recieve by investing in their (supposedly ineffetual) prayers? Congratulations that you have found your peace with the cosmos - but why strip others of that which you found no use for if it comforts them? Why do you care?

And I'm curious, given this view of reality, what really qualifies as a tragedy anyway? Why should we get upset that some material, under the influence of physics, landed on some other material and rearranged it? Matter and energy were conserved, and entropy was increased. Stuff like this happens everyday. The history of earth is marked by impacts much greater than this with far greater loss of life. If it doesn't affect me, then what's the problem? At least I've got more time to spread my genes, right?

Obviously this is NOT how I really feel -- and neither do you. I actually thought about you, Tom, when I saw the news report about this. I submit that the reason we are understably upset by this is because life has value, not just because we arbitrarily assign value to it, but because we are here intentionally. And the reason we feel a sense of loss when lives are cut short is because we know that we are worth more than the carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and other trace elements that constitute our physical being.

It seem as though you want it both ways. You want to get upset by something the majority votes is tragic, but you also want to shake your fist at the concept of diety for "allowing this happen". But what should we expect from God here? You seem to think he should have prevented this with a miracle of protection. Is that what you would do if you were God? What would life be like if we each lived inside of a divine "force-field" insulated from the laws of nature and unable to make descisions of our free will if the consequences of our descisions might turn out bad? That would be a pathetic existence. Yet, people seem to think that if God does exist, then He should baby sit the cosmos so that nothing "bad" can happen to anybody who doesn't "deserve" it. Who decided that this was utopia?

The reason I personally did not say any prayers when I heard this news is because I don't even know where to start. I have my own questions about how personal God really is (versus how much we anthropomorphisize him). I'm as angry as you are. I feel as helpless as you do. If it were my children, I'd probably be questioning everything right about now. But even though our existence can be fleeting and our lives can sometimes, for no apparent reason, clash with the regular operation of the cosmos and the will of other concious beings who don't always make good descisions, the kind of "safety-net" world that you expect an all-loving God to provide us would be more like a cosmic straight-jacket.

Tom said...

Gordon, What a wonderful comment!

...what are our thoughts really accomplishing anyway...

At one level, especially for the atheist, "thoughts" and "prayers" are synonymous because a prayer is a thought. And for the moment, let's disregard any discussion of "meaning" with the event itself. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.

What are our thoughts/prayers?

That the family can be comforted and know that there are many who can sympathize with them, at least to some degree. That friends and strangers want to help them know that there is still a world that can be enjoyed. That this world and their lives were enriched by their children. That their children enjoyed their experience while they were here. That this world will miss the children and we appreciated the chance to share it with them. We want to tell the family that their children "live on" -- in the case of the Christian, that their spirit persists and we will be reunited in Heaven, and in the case of the atheist, that the memories and impact of their lives will remain.

These thoughts/prayers are a comfort, even if it is to know that there are some n strangers "thinking/praying" for you and you don't know the exact words thought or spoken.

Now, it is not meaningless to the thinker/praying person either. It is part of the recognition that we are human and can empathize with others' suffering. You said, "If it were my children, ..." That is an example of empathy. We pity the luckless, imagine how we would feel if it were us, imagine how we would like to be treated if it were us, and feel relief (thank God?) that it was not us. We recognize the unfairness and can label it "tragedy". So, I guess, in effect we assign meaning to tragedy by serving each others' recovery through it.

And as random as an event might be, we seek to squelch the frequency of such events. I can imagine, for example, that airplanes are continually getting better instrumentation, that flight instruction is getting better, better weather reports are provided to indicate safer times to fly, and that fewer people will take off in the fog because of this. I am saying that the odds of a particular tragedy striking will diminish as we collectively learn. At the same time new forms of tragedies arise. It's part of evolution.

So, I am an evolved form of trace elements that has learned empathy. I can also feel pain and pleasure. Why a particular dance of molecules should equate to an abstract feeling like pain, pleasure, or empathy, and how that evolved, I don't know how, exactly, but my dog even experiences pleasure, pain, and empathy.

The discrepancy between thought and prayer is the hope and expectation that a supernatural force will also intervene. That's all well and good on the surface. If a God does not exist, however, it clouds the tragedy with a dishonest belief that spirits live on and we will be reunited. We might as well promote seances. Refusing to accept death, be it your own or others', is not a productive way to live. If God does exist, then it opens this can of worms of theodicy, which to me, sounds like believers want it all ways -- that God is omniscient, omnipotent, love, evil, creator (and for you theistic evolutionists, randomizer).

You ask, "But what should we expect from God here?" I appreciate your Reformed response, but to say that it's all been decided is not entirely comforting.

My answer as an atheist, "Nothing." It's as comforting a response as I can think of.

Gordon J. Glover said...

Hi Tom, I apprecieate the way you answered my question re: thoughts vs. prayers. The qeustion was obviously rhetorical, but your response was delightfully balanced.

When I ask the question, "What should we expect from God here?" -- I really don't know. Sometimes I think, like you, that it would be nice if God shielded us from the consequences of law (necessity) and will (contingency) -- if that were in his power, but how could we reach our full potential as a species if we were not allowed to dare, to risk, to chance, and to fail?

I asked the question becasue those who complain about the theodocity problem have it in their minds that if God is good then he should do this or that. A "good" God would always intervene on behalf of the helpless or the innocent -- hence my "divine force-field" comment. But if God is right to keep the patterned bahavior of the material cosmos on track -- even when the consequence of that trajectory cuts our lives short, then there really is no "can of worms" here. We all lose our battle with the cosmos eventually, and succomb to the laws of death, decay and entropy -- with or without God. So perhaps my response to the question can also be "nothing" albeit for different reasons than yours.

"Why a particular dance of molecules should equate to an abstract feeling like pain, pleasure, or empathy, and how that evolved, I don't know how, exactly..." I don't know either. But I hope you and your other neuroscience buddies figure it out someday! As a theist, I would say that consciousness was inevitable. The patterns of material behavior that gave rise to that capacity from mere matter were built into the cosmos from the beginning. We all reason the same way, as if reason was something that existed before us and we simply discovered it. Do I have proof of this? Of course not. Does this faith assumption connect us to the rest of the universe in such a way that provides a context that helps make sense of things like tragedy and joy; right and wrong, good and evil, justice and unfairness? Yes, it does. So the "God" model has validity to those who find it useful. And Christianity, to me, is the ultimate "God" model where God Himself puts on human flesh and experiences all the pain and tragedy we experience. You talk about finding comfort in the fact that others empathize with the unlucky. How about when the creator of the universe swithches places with the unlucky? The Christian is indeed comforted by the thoughts and prayers of others. But even more so by the notion that God himself personally idenentifies with pain, suffering and tragedy. Intervene? He already did on the cross. "It is finished..." Anything beyond that would only give a "nanny" cosmos!

But we don't find ourselves in a nanny cosmos. In this world, full of both potential and danger, an idiot can still fly his plane in the fog, and gravity can still pull heavy objects down on top of us in a senseless accident. But death has no power to rob us of the joys of life -- even a life cut short. Isn't that ultimately the same way you view the tragedy?

You specifically said, "That this world and their lives were enriched by their children. That their children enjoyed their experience while they were here. That this world will miss the children and we appreciated the chance to share it with them."

This could also qualify as a Christian response to the tragedy. What I find strange is that non-theists often operate within the same "God" framework as theists (sometimes they are even better theists than the professed theists). Notice how we are not having a discussion about whether or not people's lives have meaning, whether they should be comforted, or whether or not their momories should live on. We are both operating within a context that assumes this is morally correct behavior. This is hardwired into us from the creation itself, which - to the theist - reflects the mind of the creator. But it doesn't have to be. What if we all had different moral compass. What if, as a society, we all voted to make fun of those who experience tragedy? Why would something like this still make us sick even if it were socially acceptible? If the God model provides us with this context, and the context is a useful way to deal with these life experiences, then why reject the possibility that the model could reflect a deeper reality? Why not just work to rid the model of those more extreme elements that work against golden rule?

"If a God does not exist, however, it clouds the tragedy with a dishonest belief that spirits live on and we will be reunited." The apostle Paul agrees with you wholeheartedly. If there is no resurrection than we are fools to be pitied. But if there is...

Cliff Martin said...

My views (decidedly un-Reformed) are quite different from many of my Christian friends. I believe in a God who is compassionate, and likely hurts more than we could possibly imagine when these kinds of tragic events happen. I believe in a God whose character is represented by the one who wept at the graveside of a friend. Could an Almighty God intervene, and prevent such things? Certainly, he could (but, as Gordon asks, what kind of a life would such a padded-cell existence be?). He chooses not to intervene. And I presume he has his reasons, reasons that transcend any of our finite brain twitching about what he "ought" to do.

It appears that much of our existence is governed by a merciless randomness. While we Christian's believe God, at times, does intervene, does answer prayer, does respond to our faith-filled invitations on many occasions, more often he does not. I am convinced that this entropy driven cosmos, with its built in tendency toward pain, suffering, death, decay, devastation, etc. must be accomplishing a higher purpose of God, a purpose which compels him to restrain his hand, a purpose in which even our sorrows and suffering play a meaningful role (even as we are ignorant of exactly what that role is), a purpose which will yield incredible value to the groaning of all creation (Romans 8:19-25).

If this is not true, than Tom is right ... there is no answer to the theodicy riddle. If this is not true, then there is no comfort, and we are left, at best, with those impotent "thoughts" Tom recited. If this is not true, the prayers of believers are equally lame. If this is not true, than all is meaningless.

Gordon J. Glover said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh2VFkF7NLo

Tom, here is one family's response to a similar tragedy. Your thoughts?

Note: the family attends a church of the same denomination as I do and is probably very similar theologically.

Tom said...

Gordon said,

How could we reach our full potential as a species if we were not allowed to dare, to risk, to chance, and to fail?

This is a great Theistic Evolutionary response. It indicates that God uses evolution to "better ourselves". "Tried by fire" so to speak. Evolution seemingly needs evil, reduced resources, or capitalism (but let’s not forget cooperation) to work. This does not necessarily negate theodicy. Did evil exist before God introduced evolution, or is such competition part of the original plan?

But if God is right to keep the patterned behavior of the material cosmos on track -- even when the consequence of that trajectory cuts our lives short, then there really is no "can of worms" here.

Yes there is. Not necessarily the "theodicy" problem you envision, but it begs the question about how people should be trying to live if all is predestined and even our questions and apparent randomness are simply unfoldings of nature. What good is believing in God? Does it just help in validating that you are part of the redeemed? It comes down to the question before Adam and what constitutes Original Sin: What good is God? Why have a belief if all is predetermined? We can ask “what is meaning” in a random world, but it seems just as difficult, if not more so, to ask what it means in a predeterministic setting.

As a theist, I would say that consciousness was inevitable. The patterns of material behavior that gave rise to that capacity from mere matter were built into the cosmos from the beginning.

This is not a uniquely "God" model. One could argue that consciousness simply evolved, and was destined to evolve, simply out of molecules finding ways of organizing themselves to reproduce in larger and larger clusters. This again leaves us with an evolutionary framework, which indeed sounds suspect, but is at least testable, to some degree in the present day. To assume that it is transcendent beyond a material basis means that it is out of the realm of science and we might as well throw our hands up at the problem. Furthermore, it opens up the probability that this is another God-of-the-gaps problems. Now, if evolution is the Divine Plan, and God is letting Nature unravel herself, again, why Jesus? What was Jesus' mission and purpose? Why are we to expect God to come in human form and do miracles for a couple decades and then be unavailable to modify the natural unfolding of events?

Why should I, or you, Cliff, Psi, RBH, or anybody believe in God if we should not expect any benefit now? Or is it all about benefit later?

Regarding the video, I had not heard about that story (even though I knew of Steven Curtis Chapman from my previous years when that's what I wanted to be when I grew up!) It's a horrific story and on many fronts they are handling it well -- telling the brother driver that he is loved and that it was just an accident. They all seem to reach out to each other and in many cases like that, I can see where families could be torn apart, so it is very admirable.

To maintain a hope, however, of reunion is problematic. It keeps one in a faith, at least in part, simply out of a wish to be reunited with loved ones rather than out of true belief of doctrine. The ideas of the spirit living on are more of a New Testament thing, and I wonder if it was employed to keep people in the fold. The other problem is not dealing with the death properly. If you think the person is still alive and you will see them again, there is a denial of the finality of death. This might be a nice, even necessary, bridge for some time or some people, but on the whole, because it is not honest, then it denies us or our culture from dealing with death honestly.

Cliff said,

And I presume [God] has his reasons, reasons that transcend any of our finite brain twitching about what he "ought" to do.

I hate this response because it falls on faith -- that there must be an ultimate purpose and it is beyond our measly human comprehension -- all we can do is trust. C’mon, we can do more with these evolved processes than just assume all will be revealed when we are are neuronless spirits. Speculate more, please!

Also, regarding my "thoughts" that I enumerated, I did not say that they are meaningless, but do carry weight for the people being thought of as well as the thinkers. Yet, you say without God, it is meaningless. It is difficult to say what "meaning" really is and how we got it, but your definition seems to require God. Why? What is it about God that makes life meaningful and meaningless without?

Gordon J. Glover said...

Tom,

I wish we were having this one over a couple of pints! There are many threads here I would love to explore. Let me do my best with just a few:

"Did evil exist before God introduced evolution, or is such competition part of the original plan?"

I'm inclined to say that competition is a necessary consequence of the universe that God set up. Laws give rise to order, order gives rise to patterns, as patterns become more complex, a threshold of complixity is reached where the "contingency" that has always existed at the quantum level is amplified by creatures with complex neural clusters, randomness (or free wil) is then introduced into the system, and creatures have to make "decisions" that have consequences. This drives the entire system towards something inevitable...

I'm confused why you are painting my response with the "predestination" brush. The laws of nature produce necessity on the macro-level. There seems to be this spooky contingency that exists on the quantum level. Creatures seem to be living in both worlds with mind (contingency) and body (necessity) together. For instance, I can think of random thoughts, but I can't will my self to defy gravity. Predestination only applies to the inanimate world -- which is something that you would probably agree with.

"Now, if evolution is the Divine Plan, and God is letting Nature unravel herself, again, why Jesus?"

That's the million dollar question! I posted something on my site Friday that elaborates on this. But in a nutshell, without Jesus, a scientifically informed theism = deism. God is simply there to adminster the cosmic operating manual, and make sure the chips fall where they should - regardless of who they crush as they fall. But Christ shows us a God who is not only transcendent, but imanent. He identifies with us by becoming us. The falling chips crushed him as well. This is empathy/sympathy to the extreme.

"To assume that it is transcendent beyond a material basis means that it is out of the realm of science and we might as well throw our hands up at the problem."

C'mon, not everything has to be solved with science! You don't have prove your own existence every morning. You don't assume your wife's indifference until her professed love for you passes some scientific test. Which is better: Bach or Beethoven? Impressionism or realism? You might was well throw your hands up at most of the human experience, since it transcends impericism. Why demand more of religion than you would of the rest of these things?

Craig A. James said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the young lives that were lost. Why is it that religious people give God all the credit, but none of the blame?

When we had the terrible wildfires here in Southern California last year, people started talking about how the fact that their houses didn't burn was miraculous, and thanked God. I wanted to grab them by the lapels and shake them, and ask, "What about your neighbors, you ass? God started this fire, it was the FIREFIGHTERS who saved your house!"

By the way, You might be interested in my blog today; it's a challenge to all Atheist bloggers. The topic is "Atheists: Get out of the Damned Closet!"

religionvirus.blogspot.com.

Gordon J. Glover said...

"I wanted to grab them by the lapels and shake them, and ask, What about your neighbors, you ass?"

I know exactly what you mean. Even as a theist, that kind of talk bothers me. I get really upset in the sports world, when athletes thank
God for their victory. What about the other guys? Does God not approve of them? Does God not reward their hard work and training? Is a sports event a contest of atheletic poweress or a test of whose got God on their side?

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

I did not mean to imply that we cannot supply possible reasons which are rational (and biblical) for God restraining his hand in the face of tragic events. I was just trying to keep the comment short. I am currently writing the second part of “Red in Tooth and Claw” which will appear sometime soon at OutsideTheBox. It will explore why God chooses a reality dominated by death, decay, and pain, which seems contrary to his character.

Though I appreciate Gordon’s approach to this issue, and have learned from reading his comments, my approach is different. I do not try to set aside theodicy as a non issue. I stipulate that the standard “problem of evil” argument is a valid one that requires a response, even if there is some speculation involved.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Tom,

I'm an ex-young-earth creationist, and edited Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. I've also been collecting testimonies of ex-young earthers, both those who remained Christians and those who did not.

On the problem of "evil," most (including C. S. Lewis) prefer to call it the problem of "pain," since "pain" is more universal and more directly understood and agreed upon than the term, "evil," which involves broader generalizations (for instance, a religious believer finds "evil" in many things, including people who question their particular dogmas and doctrinal religious beliefs).

What I find interesting is that there does not seem to be any limit to the "pain" that is acceptable to a religious believer. A tornado can kill their whole family, leaving only grandma and she'll pray to God, her belief intact. Perhaps that's because religion is connected in grandma's mind with eternal self-preservation and a grand family reunion in heaven, and the attraction of such a view is obvious to people faced with the prospect of death and eternal oblivion.

What's even more interesting is the view of Christian old-earth creationists and evolutionists who accept a about two billion years of cell death and species pain, deaths and mass extinctions, all occurring before human beings even appear on earth. That's a lot of pain and death, and then there's the pain, deaths & extinction of various early species of hominids and early species of human beings. And lastly, if the person is not a universalist Christian, they also believe that a considerable portion of the human race will be damned for all time, eternally suffering psychological and/or physical pains, without end. So that's even more pain.

So is there any amount of pain or suffering that an old-earth creaitonist or Christian evolutionist is unwilling to accept? So long as "fellow believers" are "saved" they don't seem to mind all the pain on the earth (and perhaps in the cosmos if life exists on other planets), and all the pains of eternity for some. That's fine to them, not worth questioning their beliefs over.

Though it does sometimes get to them to imagine close friends and relatives in eternal hell, i.e., people they come to know and love in this life.

Tom said...

Edward,

Welcome! I've had a link to your blog since I started mine! I hope the discussions I raise will keep you commenting. The somewhat ironic thing about my site is that former and current fundies never comment here, but the little circle of theistic evolutionists and atheists is a pleasure.

Check out Cliff Martin's blog and Gordon Glover's (from my sidebar). I think you will find from them that they are believers who are not so comfortable with pain, per se, as you have described of other Christian evolutionists.

Tom said...

Gordon,

Thanks for the parallel discussion on your blog!

I'm always up for a pint, or two, or ....

Christ shows us a God who is not only transcendent, but immanent. He identifies with us by becoming us. The falling chips crushed him as well. This is empathy/sympathy to the extreme.

As I said on your site, I do not see the logic with this. On the surface, we are supposed to appreciate the God who experiences the tribulations of humanity, but God created the tribulations through evolutionary pressures. So what if he gets a taste of his own medicine? Why should I be engendered to this God?

C'mon, not everything has to be solved with science! You don't have to prove your own existence every morning.

No, I can appreciate a sunrise, Bach, and the way Beethoven put a rest at the climax of the first movement of his third symphony. Of course I take so much for granted and just do my thing, but when I seek a deeper understanding, I turn to the books that have a scientific basis over the spiritual.

Gordon J. Glover said...

Tom,

Here is an introduction to the work of Nancy Murphy. I thing this is right up your alley.

http://www.counterbalance.net/evp-mind/index-frame.html

Gordon

claudius2u said...

First, this discourse is one of the best examples of Human Beings being honest about their deepest motivations about and for Deity that I've encountered - thank you!

Growing up in a family with parents raised in the Friends(Quaker) worship format(No appointed 'preacher' as such, but all members of equal value and import for bringing Creator's Mind to each other's consciousness, I learned that Creator is and always will be a being Who is entwined intimately in the affairs of all human kind.

Therefore, some basis exists to presume that humans may call upon Creator to perform and/or direct earthly events according to the individual's will exists. Clearly, this is evident in reading any Bible avaialable, and it is backed up in clear examples in the faultlessly-preserved Hebrew Scriptures, of which we now have physical examples dating to 2300+ years, with the finds at Qumran, Israel.

So, I patterned much of my life around this clear evidence that "God"(I NEVER use this word for Creator, as the original form, in the Greek tongue, is used like our English term for the animal we name "Sheep," which is the same term for many sheep, as it is for one sheep), for Creator tells us in His record by Moshe'(Moses), that "I am singular(Not the 'One' as translators reworded it)," in Deuteronamy 6:4, also the oldest surviving Hebrew Scripture fragment to date, on a silver leaf worn on a neck-string, from about 3500 years ago.

After a devastating period, where my ability to provide financial sustenance for my family vanished, our oldest was miraculously saved from his literal death in a head-on, my wife of 25 years suddenly abandoned me, divorcing herself from our marriage, and my hopes and dreams for my own business vanished as if they'd never existed, and several other massive traumas struck, including my desperate attempts to pray my family and life back, it has dawned on me that David, as a shepherd, spoke a most profound truth, as he said, "Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not err(sin) against [what I know to be true] You [Creator].

Well then, when I see how faithfully Creator always meets my needs, and how He always makes a way for me to find blessing in my circumstance at every given instance(There's been very disconcerting circumstances!), then what is it to me to simply bow my heart before Him and let my heart and breath speak, "Thank You!"

Those two syllables tell us so much about our state of mind!

As I give this blessing to Creator, my heart is at rest. In my mental state, I discover it is more at peace. For my attention, rather than be frightened over the raging reality of our contry and world falling into Satan's terrible hatred for mankind, I can simply rest in the knowledge of Creator caring for me without regard for any of the calamity all around, or even as it hits me, and those I love and care for.

"Thank You" is not at all acquiescence to calamity, rather, it is giving full attention to the Controller of both that calamity, and the Peace that He presides over, beyond that calamity!

It gives real meaning to the records of history, where Believers in Creator were thrown into 'sport' rings where they faced lions unarmed, seasoned 'sport' warriors, whose only means of survival was by murdering their fellow opponents in the public 'sport' of those Roman Empire days, but, as they fell to the certain death awaiting, even to being sawed in half, these dear Believers would sing with joy to their Creator!

What in today's rotting Church inspires Believers to that degree of love for Creator?

I just do not attend church, any more. It is based on money, as every church must be registered with the IRS, have a preacher-leader licensed to preach by the IRS, and comply with IRS regulations on what, and what NOT to preach about!

I think the Satan owns today's churches. Why go where money and the sense of not having all one wants of it prevails?

Tom said...

Thanks for the note, claudius2u. You are the first Quaker I think I’ve ever conversed with. (Certainly the first to post a comment on this blog). The spiritual language you speak is peculiar to me. You obviously place a lot of trust in Creator to assume that despite calamity, there is reason for thanks, but of this, I am unclear. When traumas hit (and I’m sorry they’ve hit you hard) what are you thanking Creator for?