Paul, in his strolls around Athens and other cities inspecting the statuary,
would have seen the world system represented by a sphere. Was he a skeptic
or a believer? He doesn't say enough to make the judgment. He is not an
enthusiast like the gnostics who talk about "seven heavens" and
populate the various features of the Ptolemaic system with elevator-attendant
gods, nor does he say anything diagnostic of flat-earthism.
The Ptolemaic system was not a myth, it was a complex scientific hypothesis
with very high predictive value. Copernicus' system excelled it in simplicity,
not predictive prowess. The only astronomic observation which adherents
of the Copernican system could throw in the faces of the scholastic astronomers
was the apparent size of Venus, which does not vary as widely as it should
in Ptolemy's world-system, though even this is subject to dispute.
River in Egypt
Why did Cleopatra go into therapy?
Because she was Queen of de Nile.
Bart Ehrman perceives human suffering as random and capricious. But sometimes
it almost looks, not random and capricious, but laser targeted. Dr. Ehrman
hastens to drive the thought out of the reader's mind:
"It is not only homophobic and hateful but also inaccurate and unhelpful
to blame this epidemic on sexual preference or promiscuity. Unsafe practices
might spread the disease -- but why is there a disease in the first place?
Are those who suffer the unspeakable emotional and physical agonies of
AIDS more sinful and worthy of punishment than the rest of us?" (Bart
Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p. 162).
Certainly it's true that the one prayer no one should ever want to pray
is, 'O Lord, give me what I deserve.' But blaming God for AIDS overlooks
some simple realities: if people lived the way God instructed them to live,
there would be no AIDS. If sexual activity were confined to monogamous
marriage, as God intended, then few people would find occasion to exchange
bodily fluids with total strangers. It is difficult, therefore, to see
where humanity acquires the moral standing to condemn God for AIDS.
This is a constant in these complaints, that the complainants are
sure God can have nothing on them, nor can they stop railing against
others, perhaps for being "homophobic and hateful." God they condemn
when He judges, because they have themselves assumed His robe and
"Amongst miseries wherein the soul is so fast bound and
included, that it scarce can breathe, men still find space to be
wicked, and amongst all their perils, are judging others, and never
themselves. You are angered at God's anger, as if a bad life
deserved that any good should come to it, as if all that happens
were not less and lighter than your sins." (Cyprian, Treatise VIII,
An Address to Demetrianus, Chapter 4).
According to Bart Ehrman, the Bible offers several different answers to
the question, 'Why is there suffering?' But strictly speaking, the Bible
never asks that question (look it up). Who did ask the question? Siddhartha
Gautama, known to his fans as the Buddha. The question as phrased addresses
a psychological reality. 'Suffering' is a perception held by sentient beings.
So phrasing the question leads to the next question, 'How to avoid suffering?'
It turns out that, by convincing oneself that the world and the suffering
it entails is an illusion, this perception can be dimmed. Whether this
is useful advice or not depends on whether convincing oneself that the
world is an illusion makes it so.
The Bible does not ask the question, 'Why is there suffering?' A better
Bible question might be, 'Is suffering deserved?' or 'Why do the righteous
sometimes suffer, and the wicked sometimes prosper?'
The Donkey and the Straw
Understanding that the Bible does not ask the question, 'Why is there suffering,'
and that forcing the Bible to answer a question it does not ask is to pound
round pegs into square holes, let us nevertheless blunder onwards. Is the
procedure followed the correct one?
To give an example: Suppose, upon the collapse and bankruptcy of Widgets,
Inc., I stroll through the factory floor and check the boxes on my checklist
that seem applicable, determining that:
The collapse of Widgets, Inc. was owing to:
a.) Excessive debt;
b.) Low employee morale;
c.) Poor quality product; and
d.) Cyclical collapse of demand.
A plausible tale, because there may well be businesses which have failed
owing to one of these factors in isolation. What I am asserting is this:
Several years ago during the boom times, management borrowed to finance
expansion, leaving the business over-leveraged; owing to miserable working
conditions, the employees resent their employer and their productivity
is low; the widgets are crummy; and the recent recession led to a precipitous
drop in the demand for widgets. This is what dragged Widgets, Inc. down
to its doom, I say.
Dr. Ehrman rebuts my assertion thus: a.) Excessive debt cannot have caused
the collapse of Widgets, Inc., because companies can fail without being
over-leveraged. b.) Low employee morale cannot be the reason why Widgets,
Inc. failed, because some companies fail which have high employee morale.
c.) Poor product quality is not an intellectually satisfying answer either,
because some businesses succeed by offering the public low quality wares.
d.) Cyclical demand collapse cannot be the explanation, because some businesses
collapse during the boom years.
Is this a satisfactory rebuttal? No, because there is no necessity that there be one cause for business failure which is applicable to each and every case. There is likewise no necessity for one cause for all 'suffering.' According to the Bible, it was because of disobedience that Israel fell to Assyria and Judah fell to Babylon, and according to the Bible, the man was born blind for the glory of God:
"And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man,
or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this
man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest
in him." (John 9:2-3).
It does not follow that, because the man was born blind to show the glory
of God, Israel also fell to display the glory of God rather than because
of disobedience as stated. It can be questioned whether these events even
belong in the same category, though both would fall within Dr. Ehrman's
category of 'suffering.' One does not then run down the checked list of
potential causes for business failure and evaluate each factor according
to its suitability in explaining all bankruptcy. This is not the procedure to follow in evaluating complex
It might even be the case that Widgets, Inc.
would not have failed had not all the listed causes been present together.
Readers may be reminded of the conundrum of the donkey and the straw. Pick
up each straw and place it on the donkey's back to test his capacity; he
bears it easily. Pick up the bundle and throw it on him; will he bear it
easily, or stagger?
Bart Ehrman urges decent minded people to "intervene" to stop
the suffering which is caused, for example, by "people who exploit
the workers in the world:"
"Since human beings misbehave and hurt others out of their free will...then
we need to intervene ourselves and do what we can to stop the oppression,
torture, and murder -- whether here at home or in developing countries,
where the atrocities are both more blatant and less restricted -- and so
do what we can to help those who are subject to these abuses of human freedom."
(Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem, pp. 122-123).
No doubt this involves, in the case of Darfur, to which Dr. Ehrman cries
"never again" (Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p. 277), military
action against the militias who burn villages. No doubt people will get
killed. But wait a minute: didn't the prior two chapters consist of a diatribe
against God for doing precisely this: intervening to stay the hands of
the wicked! Dr. Ehrman understands that Moses' law sought to protect those
exploited: "They were laws designed to ensure that the poor were not
oppressed, that the needy were not overlooked, that the weak were not exploited."
(Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p. 54). When God enforces His law, however,
it is "scandalous and outrageous" (Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,'
p. 55). Why is it "scandalous and outrageous" when God punishes
the wicked, but beneficial and necessary when we do it?
Bart Ehrman's schtick is Bible contradictions; that's what he contributes
to the flood tide of atheist and agnostic literature lately put out by
the publishing industry. As per usual, he perceives a Bible contradiction here: