To an atheist like myself it’s interesting to hear theists talking about the trust they put in their god. A few posts ago I wrote about how god gets all the praise for the good stuff and none of the blame for the bad stuff. The more I’ve thought about it the stranger it seems to me why this is so.
Theists trust their god that bad situations will turn out for the best. But this hope is only real because of the information that our modern world makes available to us. Let’s take the example of a life-threatening disease, cancer.
Humans have known about cancer for several thousand years. While this seems like a long time, it’s not so long in the span of humanity. This means that for over 90% of humanity’s existence people who died from cancer had no knowledge that that was what killed them. Maybe they thought it was some other disease, maybe they thought it was a judgement from their god, or maybe they just had no idea at all. But whatever idea they did have, it was wrong. Whatever remedy they hoped would work, was not going to. They lived and died with a hope so false that they never even knew it was no hope at all.
It wasn’t until the last 200 years that actual advancements were made in understanding cancer, with real progress only happening in the last 100 years. Until the last century, if you had a malignant cancer then unless something else got you first, chances were you were going to die of it.
Cut to today. We know more about cancer than ever before. We know that there are different types of cancers, and that these respond to different treatments. Cancers are screened for, and some treatments have a very high success rate. When cancer is detected in a theist in our modern world, they are in a vastly different position to a theist from even just a few hundred years ago, let alone a sufferer from tens of thousands of years ago. Whatever measure of hope that one’s doctor gives to the modern theist, these days it is an informed hope.
And as medicine advances, so to will the reality of hope. The cancer sufferer during Zeus’s or Christ’s time hoped for a recovery when there was none, the cancer sufferer of today hopes for a recovery when there is some, and the cancer sufferer of the next century may have total confidence that their hope for a recovery is something to be expected rather than something to be wished for. The chance of recovery, and so too the reality of the hope that the sufferer experiences, depends more on when and where the person was born than on whether a god is watching over them or not.
This capacity for real hope based on available information is not limited to the hoped for outcome to disease treatment. If you hope to make a million dollars a year then you know that irrespective of whether you believe in a god or not you’ve more hope of doing so if you live in Singapore than if you live in Liberia. A theist might well argue that miracles are a factor, that god intervenes to make hope a reality. But if that is the case then he does so across the board, such that you’re still much more likely to recover from cancer in the USA than you are in the Congo, or drive a Mercedes Benz if you live in Monaco than Mauritania. Which, regardless of faith, is what we’d expect.