Friday, January 26, 2007

If God Doesn't Exist, Why Are There So Few Atheists?

Many atheists regard religion as nothing more than fairytales invented to explain the unexplainable or fantasies of hope in a hopeless world; “the opium of the masses” goes the popular quote. They claim religion defies logic and rejects reason, resting on beliefs which could appeal only to the hopelessly stupid, the desperate or the manipulative. They tend not to give religion very much thought, because they assume its adherents have given it virtually no thought at all.

They ask questions like, “If God exists, how can there be so much suffering in the world?” and because they cannot provide an answer, they assume there isn’t one. Indeed, like the Sam Harris piece I linked to earlier this week, they triumphantly tout their unanswered questions with a distinctly defiant “A-ha!” tone of voice. “You Christians never thought of that, did you?” goes the subtext.

Compounding this problem is that (especially in America) there are multitudes of Christians who frankly have not given such important questions sufficient thought, and who spew forth copious nonsensical verbiage blaming natural disasters on homosexuals, for example. Primetime Christianity is not, alas, an intellectually serious or theologically coherent movement. Fundamentalist Christians, for all their protestations of belief in Biblical inerrancy, are often ignorant of what Jesus said about tragedy and suffering.

But that doesn’t mean no Christian has ever pondered tough questions and come away with faith intact. John Stott wrote, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.”

At the heart of the misunderstanding is anthropomorphism, the old “If I were God” conundrum. “If God is omniscient,” they want to know, “then how come (fill in the blank)?” Are you claiming omniscience? The answer (forgive my snark) is that God knows what you don’t. Just as a good parent often makes decisions that a child will reject as unfair, God acts in our lives in ways that often do not become clear until we have gained perspective with the passage of time and the accumulation of experience and wisdom. Good parents sometimes have to let their kids stumble and fall, so they learn from their errors.

That dismissive atheists like Harris have not really put much thought into their judgments on religion is readily apparent in issues like suffering. If the question is “How can God permit so much suffering,” I have a couple of questions in return.

First of all, what is suffering? If I plan a trip to the beach but it rains, I am unhappy. Would you say, though, that I am suffering? Probably not. If I am a teenager in Darfur who has just witnessed his village burned and his family massacred in the middle of the night and I am fleeing for my life naked into the desert, you would probably say I’m suffering. Fair enough. But where is the dividing line between unhappiness and suffering? In order for a loving God to exist, must we never be unhappy?

How much suffering is “so much” that God could not possibly exist? People often point to the Holocaust, in which 13 million people were exterminated. How could God let that happen? (The better question, which God would like an answer to, is how did we let that happen?) If the Nazis had only killed 12 million, might there be a God? Six million? A hundred-thousand? Ten? One? Where is this line we cross between enough suffering that God is a possibility and too much? This is a difficult question to answer, especially since we’re not even clear on where mere unhappiness ends and suffering begins.

Here’s a question for atheists to answer, one posed by St. Augustine in the 4th century: “If there is no God, why is there so much good in the world?”

The fact that even atheists like Harris claim to be able to identify a distinct difference between the way the world is and the way it ought to be means there is a universal supposition of a standard of supreme good to which we should all aspire. Is that merely a byproduct of evolution? Frankly, the desire to kill others we judge different from ourselves sounds like the more Darwinian instinct.

Why didn’t God create a world without suffering? The simple answer is, He did. But he also gifted humanity with free will, which would be meaningless without the freedom to choose to do harm. Free will is either unconstrained or it is an impossibility.

Imagine a world without suffering. Really imagine it. It would be a world devoid of any of the human traits we value the most. What is generosity without poverty? What is heroism without danger? What is altruism without imbalance? What is sacrifice without cost? What is justice without cruelty? What is acceptance without bigotry? Courage without fear? Could we define sweetness without bitterness? For that matter, how could we prize unconditional love so highly if there were no hatred?

And if we have never suffered, how would we learn compassion?

We must also consider that even grotesque evil and senseless tragedy contain within themselves the potential for good. How many of us can say we have been through difficult periods in our life but are nonetheless better for having learned from the experience? Suffering gives us insight and earns us credibility.

Let’s go back to the Holocaust. It is likely the civil rights movement of the 1960s could not have taken place without the perspective that humanity gained from the racism of Nazi Germany. We learned – well, some of us did – that when we classify people merely according to arbitrary characteristics such as ethnicity, nationality, skin color, religion, gender or sexual orientation, when we group them by random categories of our choosing, we stop seeing them as individuals, and we stop valuing them as humans. Before we know it, we’ve killed 13 million of them.

When we start to consider these factors, it becomes clear that a life without suffering is a life without meaning. And if anything suggests the absence of God, it would be a meaningless life.

29 comments:

DJRainDog said...

I'm happy to point you as a further resource toward a book called Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, by the Rev. Prof. Marilyn McCord Adams (Regius Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church at Oxford). I have not yet read the book (though it was published in 1999 -- BAD RainDog!), but having heard Mother Adams preach MANY times at Christ Church, New Haven, while I was at Yale and having sat in on a few of her lectures while she was there, I can tell you that it will likely be very exciting and meaty stuff, if probably not easy reading. Her Wikipedia page (including a brief book review) is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_McCord_Adams, and there's a more lengthy article on the work at http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3818/is_200110/ai_n8977477/pg_1.

Dagon said...

Free will is a rather hard concept to defend (I'd say impossible), unless you just say it's a magic gift from a deity, and many of us find that solution unacceptable. Free will doesn't solve the problem of theodicy for me at least.

I live a life without god, and I don't consider my life meaningless. It doesn't have cosmic-scale meaning, but it has meaning for me and those close to me and I find that sufficient.

Speaking for Harris and other atheists, which I don't really have any right to do, I'd say that we're aware that there are intellectual Christians who have struggled with many of these big questions. What we find frustrating is that the struggle seems rigged and there are no lengths of casuistry that these intellectual Christians won't go to in order to hang on to their faith. This is why we return over and over to simple "gotcha" stuff like theodicy, improbably miracles, etc. as things that no educated person should be able to swallow.
We don't live in the same intellectual universe as people who can fathom embracing all the nonsense in the Creed, and we're certainly not interested in all the casuistry that the more intellectual believers employ to make such nonsense palatable. So much effort wasted simply to avoid arriving at the simplest hypothesis!

Trickish Knave said...

"Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering"

- Agent Smith

Jarred said...

Imagine a world without suffering. Really imagine it. It would be a world devoid of any of the human traits we value the most. What is generosity without poverty? What is heroism without danger? What is altruism without imbalance? What is sacrifice without cost? What is justice without cruelty? What is acceptance without bigotry? Courage without fear? Could we define sweetness without bitterness? For that matter, how could we prize unconditional love so highly if there were no hatred?

Andy, do you believe that the afterlife (i.e. heaven) is devoid of suffering? This was the stance of the churches I used to attend, but I realize it may be universal?

If you believe as the churches I've been in did (and if you didn't, that's probably a whole different and equally discussion), then do you believe that such an afterlife will be devoid of these same qualities?

Andy said...

Free will is a rather hard concept to defend (I'd say impossible), unless you just say it's a magic gift from a deity, and many of us find that solution unacceptable.

Interesting. I'd have thought that free will is actually the best argument atheists could present against the possibility of an omnipotent deity. It seems to me that if humans are not autonomous in this regard, then what limits their autonomy would have to be some sort of "force."

I live a life without god, and I don't consider my life meaningless.

That wasn't the proposition. Could you find meaning in a life with no suffering? The truth is, we only have the possibility of being truly "good" people in a world where bad things happen all the time.

So much effort wasted simply to avoid arriving at the simplest hypothesis!

The simplest hypothesis being that the universe and everything in it is the result of random chance and that even though science believes the universe had a distinct beginning it had no cause? The simplest hypothesis being that through random chance inanimate chemicals arranged themselves in such a way as to be able to contemplate their own existence? For me, that requires a much greater leap of faith and, to to borrow Harris' phrase, "denial of the obvious" than accepting the possibility of God.

Andy said...

Jarred: I don't have the answer for that. I trust that what God has in mind will be fabulous. But yes, the traditional notions of "heaven" seem profoundly boring to me. If the afterlife is not a "life" similar to the one we are living now, then I'd guess it's something like the concept of Nirvana, a permanent state of such indescribable joy and bliss that we'd be too happy to be bored. But, that still sounds boring. On the other hand, I'm sure it's better than the alternative.

Jarred said...

Thanks for such an honest answer, Andy.

Will said...

“If there is no God, why is there so much good in the world?”

The answer: why does there have to be a god for there to be good?

Why can't good things simply be that which we have evolved to enjoy? Sex is fun because it plays a vital role in propagation of the species. The more you enjoy it, the more you do it, the more offspring you have, the more your genes are passed on.

Pain and suffering are simply a response to things that are harmful to the organism. Love and bonding allow us to form societies and families, and these social structures help their individual members thrive. It may seem like some kind of higher purpose, but it's simply much easier to cooperate and band together than to fend for yourself all the time.

So that leads to the problem I have with this paragraph:

The fact that even atheists like Harris claim to be able to identify a distinct difference between the way the world is and the way it ought to be means there is a universal supposition of a standard of supreme good to which we should all aspire. Is that merely a byproduct of evolution? Frankly, the desire to kill others we judge different from ourselves sounds like the more Darwinian instinct.


Evolutionary success is not always about killing off competition. Some species are great competitors. Others are great cooperators.

Primates other than humans exhibit xenophobia, but also exhibit cooperative behavior and even reconciliation. They can even learn to be more cooperative and peaceful if they gain a benefit from it. It's much better from an evolutionary perspective not to fight with competitors. It wastes energy and time, and means that some of your group might be killed. Of course, sometimes it can't be avoided - but it seems that even apes can see the difference between how the world is and how it ought to be.

I recommend a book by Frans De Waal, Our Inner Ape for some insight - we do not possess unique higher moral faculties. Lots of mammals appear capable of love, altruism, and other seemingly 'moral' behavior.

Again, I conclude that the existence of god is not necessary to explain either the goodness in the world, or our moral facilities.
This doesn't disprove god - god is just, from my point of view, irrelevant to our understanding of the material world.

We can explain the origin of the universe, the origins of life, and the origins of society perfectly well without god.

Now, when we start talking about why there was a big bang, or how we suddenly developed language and consciousness, or the meaning of life and all that, I'm not so sure. But there doesn't have to be something 'divine' about it, necessarily.

Andy said...

Will: I think you're arguing a different issue here. I am not attempting to present proof of God's existence. A foundation of my theological understanding is that it is necessary for there NOT to be proof. I am merely contending that the existence of a loving, benevolent God is possible despite tremendous suffering on earth.

You bring up great points. I don't mean to claim that this post should settle the issue. I am merely saying that this argument that the existence of suffering is indication that God is either a jerk or a fantasy is not as conclusive as people like Sam Harris seem to think it is.

What we find frustrating is that the struggle seems rigged and there are no lengths of casuistry that these intellectual Christians won't go to in order to hang on to their faith. This is why we return over and over to simple "gotcha" stuff

Translation: I have less success against sophisticated arguments so I prefer to resort to cheap shots that deliberately oversimplify and mischaracterize the profundity of religious experience in order to get my point across.

Andy said...

I'm sorry, that last bit was harsh and a cheap shot in itself.

Elizabeth said...

Interesting. I attended a Faith Forum this morning which will attempt to wrestle with the issues surrounding genetics research and ethics. We were shown a short clip from the movie Gattaca, where parents were given the choice of eliminating lots of genetic "defects" such as pre-disposition to disease, ADHD, obesity, etc. as well as the choice of what the hair color, skin color, etc. would be (I'd also assume that sexual orientation would be one on the block). After we watched the clip, the presenter made the observation that these are difficult issues to consider, because as he's thinking about his life as a father, some of the most beautiful moments in life were also surrounded by pain and suffering. I think this is true and I think the question to ask is not "why is there pain and suffering" but to be in wonder at the beauty that comes out of suffering, and enjoy the communion with fellow human beings that results.

And now we have Gattaca on our library holds list--it looked like a very interesting movie!

Hey, if you get to Portland by May, you could participate in this forum. If I remember correctly, you attend a UU church? The UU church was represented, so you could jump in on their discussion. We'll meet five times as church communities and then come together as a whole ecumenical gathering again in May.

Andy said...

Actually I'm Episcopalian.

Anonymous said...

Do you really believe that if there were no God, there would be no good in the world? Hogwash!

The proof that there is a God, is because so many people believe in God? Wow, that's intellectual reasoning, NOT!

That's a very low level of proof. Groups of people will believe anything, and the belief gets stronger feeding off each others belief.

The need to feel accepted by a group, makes many believe all sorts of things.

80% of all Americans believed invading Iraq was the right thing to do, now barely 30% believe that is true.

The fact that masses of people believe the same thing, doesn't make it true or real.

In fact group think can be dangerous.

Just 150 years ago a majority of people thought slavery was ok, and had been owing slaves for centuries. Slavery was accepted by Billions of people all over the world.

So anything is ok, real, and factual, as long as enough people believe it? Sorry, that's bad reasoning for anything.

Andy said...

Wow Anonymous, did you ever miss the point here.

I have been emphatically clear in my writing both here and previously that I believe there *is* no "proof" of God, nor can there be. If there were evidence for the existence of God, faith would be unnecessary. I'm not arguing for proof, I am merely arguing for possibility.

You've turned the entire argument on its head. The group you should actually direct your outrage at would be the atheists to whom I'm responding, because they've employed _exactly_ the faulty logic that you accuse me of here. I have never, ever said that the existence of good in the world proves the existence of God. But I am responding to the direct corollary, which is that the existence of suffering *proves* that there is no God.

kr said...

afterlife/suffering:

strong implication in the Bible that God suffers (is sad when one or more of us turn away)

strong tradition in Christianity that the saints hear our prayers and are sorry for us (not just adoring God for eternity or whatall, but somehow still active in affairs ... including the sad parts)

kr said...

Andy, not cool, though--goodness (compassion, etc etc) has to be able to exist sans badness, otherwise how God? You're stumbling into the dualism (two warring dieties) heresy, old friend.

The (metaphorical or whatever) Garden of Eden would be concept-source material for "we can exist without the bad (and probably would prefer to)"

in Judeo-Christian thought (NOT arguing with any atheists/agnostics here)

Elizabeth said...

Oops--I don't know what I was thinking. I remembered after I wrote that that you're Episcopalian. I don't remember there being any Episcopalians there....not sure why. Maybe I'm just not remembering.

Andy said...

KR: I see where you got that from this post, but I think you misunderstand. My point isn't that God/goodness can only exist or be defined in the presence of an opposite ?/badness.

I'm saying folks like Sam Harris have an impoverished way of looking at suffering. Their argument seems to be that if God really loved us, He'd have created a world in which we wouldn't have the power to desire to harm one another. But we could never be truly good people if we didn't have the opportunity to reject evil. We would just be robots. Now, that's not saying good only exists if evil exists, because theoretically everyone could/should choose to be good.

But it's precisely because so many of us fail, so often, and in so many ways, that those human traits I listed are so revered and admired.

Let's stick to the presumption at hand: my premise is NOT that evil has to exist in order for their to be a God, but just that it's possible to view a world with widespread suffering as being compatible with the existence of a just, loving God.

kr said...

I'm good to go with the main idea, yes

Wanted to put the other out there because, although secondary to your main point, if your main point hinges on it there are issues to be resolved; a theologically savvy atheist would point out the inherent dual-god proposition, so you might want to reconstruct that part of the argument in future go-rounds

--

truly deterministic atheists, like truly fatalistic "Christians," would not see any necessity (or even an honest possibility) of "free will"

--

The real problem between most atheists and most very religious people is a matter of experience, I think. Religious people have a set of experiences that modern science (which, in America, purposely and by choice closed its mind to many human possibilities about 100 years ago) rampantly cannot explain, nor even, except through the mystics of quantum physics (which many physicists are starting to be very leery of), begin to address intelligently.

Now, in the case of many religious people, that is partly because they don't understand the science.

But there are lots of religious people graduating from Caltech (and I assume MIT and Harvey Mudd) every year--faith intact or even encouraged. When my parents graduated in the 1970s (that time when religion was SOOOO encouraged in America), Mom estimates it was about half. Don't know the current numbers; I doubt the college has ever kept track.

So science, even an in-depth knowledge of science, does not drive people either way. Claiming it as the sole set of necessary truths would only make sense if science weren't (mostly) purposely closed to what we currently call spiritual experiences. Claiming science disproves religion is like claiming religion disproves science--both propositions deny huge swaths of human experience. It is just more ironic for a Modern Scientist, whose theoretical declared basis is the empirical.

Steve said...

Thanks Andy! I was raised in Baptist denomination that had to play a difficult balance in the whole suffering dialogue.

On one hand, they would state those that suffer do so because God is testing them. On the other, they would state that those who suffer do so because of a lack of faith.

We in the United States don't know a great deal about suffering. Yes, many of us including myself have lost siblings, children or others that we think left too soon.

Suffering is a difficult concept. We think we need to have an answer for it. When my older brother was tragically killed at 24, the minister who conducted the service decided he needed to speak for God. The pastor decided that my brother died "early" because he had sinned by living with his wife before marriage.

I don't have any use for anyone who wants to speak on behalf of God in circumstances like this. I know that is not what you were doing Andy.

You were attempting to say that there is a balance in the argument related to the existence of God.

If you are going to argue that God doesn't exist because of suffering then shouldn't we who believe be able to make the converse argument regarding the goodness that is in our world?

Thanks for making a great discussion.

Andy said...

Steve: you're welcome! Thank you for the compliments.

The rector at my church gave a very interesting sermon this morning, and I can't wait until the transcript is available online, though that usually takes about a week or two. I felt almost like he was responding directly to this post and smacking me upside the head a little bit.

To summarize, he explained that there are some things we know with our minds, but other things we simply know with our hearts. Faith is one of these things. We spend a lot of time and engery trying to explain intellectually what it is our hearts know, but try as we might we're not going to be able to convince someone through mere argument of something their heart has not experienced. Doctrine and theology and theodicy are all well and good, and I think it's a good thing to spend a lot of time with one's faith and questioning it and trying to work out answers like this, but when it comes right down to it, faith isn't located in the analytical mind but in the feeling heart.

DJRainDog said...

You know, I'm almost tempted, in response to Andy's last comment and Dagon's last comment, to say something like, "See? Maybe that's why Dagon's world is such a dull, miserable, loveless place!" ;-P Or, as I said to my friend the Th.D. last night over dinner, to take the frustrated (ill-educated) position of my Southern Baptist family members, who'd just say, "I'm gon' pray fer yew, 'cawz if yew don' change yer ways, yer gon' go da hell, bo'." But I don't believe that, either. Or to just say, "Let's take this outside and settle it the old-fashioned way." But more seriously, as I've said before, I haven't tried to hold onto my faith throughout my life; to the contrary, I've tried to jettison it repeatedly. Many find my faith ironic, strange, inexplicable, and understandably so -- I do not live, outwardly, a particularly good or virtuous life, and I don't make a lot of apologies. I also don't think I engage in intellectual gymnastics -- actually, I think "contortionism" is a better image -- to cling to my faith. I just want to UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING. I think the people who are so vehemently anti-deist (because TRUE atheism should be dispassionate, clinical, detached), are a bit misguided, unscientific in their dismissal of the possibility...and let me say it again, hubristic. (Remember, I allow for the POSSIBILITY that there's no God; I just don't believe that there's not one anymore than you believe that there is.)

little-cicero said...

Great post. These are things that I think Christians have floating around in their heads but are not always able to phrase so concisely and eloquently. I think I'll send this to some homophobic Christians I know to show them that your not such a heathen.

To add to the parent analogy which I often use in some form, I consider the ideal parent to be one that develops his or her child to be a first rate human being, then steps away at their moment of readiness to give the greatest gift of all, that is happiness. An inferior parent either is compelled or demanded to step in and redirect or direct the child's life in the midst of their adulthood, but the perfect parent has no reason to do so, because the imperfect child is able to strive through imperfection with the parent's wisdom.

Assuming that those of us who listen to "The Parent's Will" are his children specifically, with His wisdom, Creation, love and freedom there is no need for his intervention.

Jim said...

You're lump-summing atheists again, which is ironic since your rant echoes Buddhist.

Anonymous said...

While it is clear that God is certainly beyond good and beyond evil. It remains a mystery whether we have a free will at all, or whether an action occurs three tenth of a second before the thought manifests itself. In which case our thoughts are devoid of a causal power, but only have a relational effect between specific humans. In this case, freedom of the will is an erroneous concept, since it only siginifies the freedom to communicate i.e. using the phone or internet. this seems to be the fundamental aspect of why we speak, and this is not neccessarily an action but mostly a reaction. If we do have freedom of the will, it is not causal, but merely an alignment. by this I mean that your will chooses to do something, but whether that decision is carried out or whether our rational agency tricks us into thinking that "Us, humans are the truth" and thus we think that we willed actions are diffferent ways of looking at things. The ancient egyptians believed that consciousness came about from magic that imbued it in the physical realm.

NuclearLogic said...

it is a lot easier for someone to say "i dont know if god exists or not, im just going to say i dont know and stay in the middle. just encase"

most atheists have though about the concept a hell of a lot and are very proud about their beliefs. and the chance to mock something that has been trying to control the whole world ever since it started is something most people don’t want to miss.

in my idea, the only reason we have the idea of a "god" is because humans are lazy and don’t want to admit that we are here to look after ourselves, we want to believe that this world was made for us and we will always be safe but its simply not true.

i think if anyone could go back in time and claim to do things like Jesus then they would have "followers" i think their was a Jesus, he was just a very smart man that realised that in the current state of the world if he offered all these great things for nothing then people would listen and he would become famous. again with this idea; if you really liked someone or something you would say anything to make it sound better.

another strange thing is all religions are holding the world back. we are never going to advance in life past a certain point unless we stop listening to all these people saying that human cloning is un ethical or anything like that and start doing it! even if there is a god its better to ignore that and work out how we are going to survive for a billion more years then sitting around, listening to some guy in a bubble with a big hat that has no connection what-so-ever with this "god" and clinging to the hope that we don’t have to worry because everything thing would be ok.

Free will is something that is strange, I think this is a load of bollocks. If we have free will no matter what then we must have it when we go to “heaven” this means that heaven would turn out the same as earth. You cant say all the “bad” people are sent to hell because that would be against that free will idea and if god says “love your enemies” then why is he damning his to hell and telling us not to do the same? You cant prove something with no proof behind it false without first proving it exists. This is something the church knows very well and will always hide behind it.

Just want to point out to, I read the first post but none of the others =( im at school and don’t have enough time. So if someone has already mentioned a fault in something I said im sorry.

Anonymous said...

i get what your saying, but there is a line crossed when a baby is thrown into the woods because they are jewish. that is suffering. the holocaust killed jews just for being born. if god did exist he would have done something to stop. like give hitler and the nazi's aids, or let the jews fight back.

Andy said...

But God did do something to stop the Holocaust, something amazing and spectacular: he gave mankind a conscience. He gave us compassion and a sense of justice. That the holocaust occurred is our failure, not God's.

Anonymous said...

As a confirmed and considered atheist, I'd just like to make a few points. Firstly, and most importantly, the burden of 'proof' one way or the other should always lie with the party who proposes any given theory. Therefore, if you believe some all-knowing and all-powerful being created the universe in six days and is taking some kind of interest in everything we do, then it's your place to prove that theory with,like, science and stuff. The idea that 'faith' is enough to prove God's existence flies in the face of every other aspect of human intellect. It's just not good enough!

The title of this debate (If God Doesn't Exist, Why Are There So Few Atheists?) is misguided. There are a great many atheists who simply don't consider this an argument worth having. They tend to be free thinkers (so don't form unifying groups to confirm and reinforce their beliefs), and are statistically more intelligent than religious people (sorry, it's true, I'm sure you're all exceptions). Most people just aren't sufficiently bothered to call themselves atheists, yet here in the UK only five per cent of the population are actively Christian. Most people just go along with the idea that they believe in God because everyone else is doing the same thing.

Sam Harris's books are great fun, but if you haven't read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins then you really should.

I think this is a great discussion, but there are a few glaring holes in some of the reasoning. Let's just consider that earlier point about 'knowing with your heart' being different to 'knowing with your mind'. The heart is a muscle. It pumps blood. That's all it does. Granted, some people might wish to argue that the concept of 'heart' isn't referring just to the physical organ in someone's torso, but surely we've come far enough now to realise all such ideas are a product of our conscious and subconscious brains?

Suffering neither proves or disproves God - it exists as a counterpoint to happiness just as up balances down. A concept entirely void of meaning without its opposite. If everything was uniformly good, bad or average, what would be the point of doing anything? God didn't invent good and bad: our sense of good and bad gave rise to the idea of God.