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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Barney Zwartz on the Problem of Evil

Barney Zwartz, religion editor of The Age newspaper, has published the written version of his speech to the Problem of Evil forum at the University of Melbourne the other day. Note that I will not be following suit: I judged it more effective to speak without notes. (I had a couple of cards with a few reminder points and quotations scribbled on them, in case I needed them, but made little use of them and certainly did not have any written speech.)

Anyway, Barney's main points don't seem very responsive to the question of why an all-good (in the sense of loving, benevolent, etc., God) would want to permit evil in the form of suffering, or why an all-powerful God would be unable to prevent the evil. In his speech, he claims that no one really believes in a God with these qualities of omnipotence and omnibenevolence, but that is plainly nonsense. The Bible, of course, is not written in such abstract language; however, most Christians (and probably most Muslims and Jews) do, in fact, believe in a God with these superlative qualities. Ask a traditional Christian whether, for example, she believes the power of God is limited, and she will certainly be unwilling to say "Yes." The many people who have suffered enormous anxiety, or even lost their religious faith, over the years and centuries have, in fact, been wracked by doubt as to why a God who is capable of preventing suffering is seemingly not motivated to do so. The nub of it is this: How can a God not motivated to prevent suffering that it could avert with no effort at all be thought of as all-good in the sense of good that has so often been taught? Is this really the goodness of an infinitely benevolent being?

Of course, that's a philosophical question. It's the kind of thing that philosophers think about. But it's a question that relates to the God believed in by many, many people who are not professional philosophers.

Barney Zwartz admits quite freely that he can't answer this question, and that the answers attempted in the past can seem merely glib. It's no use throwing up your hands and saying we don't understand because we are finite. No doubt we are ... but how can there be such a complicated story to understand? It's not as if God has to work with a lot of complex limitations and difficulties, like a movie director with a conceited cast of actors and a tight budget; God is supposed to be omnipotent. If we had some overwhelming reason to believe that this God exists, but could not answer the question, then perhaps we'd be justified in throwing up our hands and saying, "We don't know the answer, but there must be one." But once doubts arise as to whether this kind of God exists at all, that is unsatisfactory. If we think about it honestly, distancing ourselves from our religious starting point (if we do have such a starting point), the honest approach is to admit that there's (1) no plausible answer, (2) no plausible prospect of one, and (3) no reason to be confident that there "just must" be one.

As for the idea that Christians and others have an "infantile" religion if they think it's all about them as individuals, this seems like a very odd thing to say of a religion that offers each individual personal salvation, but in any event it misses the point. The point isn't whether I, Russell (for example), am the centre of the universe, the single focus of God's concern, and should have a carefree life with nothing but happiness. Rather, God is supposed to care in an infinitely loving way about each individual. It's not, "Why does this horrible thing happen to me?" but, "Why is an infinitely loving God prepared to let horrible suffering happen at all, to any human being or any other sentient creature?"

We live in a world in which many creatures, vast numbers of them - human and otherwise - suffer terribly. This has been going on for untold millions of years. It wasn't caused by acts of human free will 6000 years ago - or 100,000 or 200,000 years ago - and there is no plausibility in the claim that all the instances are contributing to some higher good (how could that possibly work?). That's the situation we face. It has nothing to do with individual people having an "infantile" religion.

Note in passing that the free will explanation makes no sense, and Barney Zwartz didn't even try to explain how it might. We could have been created in such a way that we never act cruelly, for example, because free will is not about acting in some random way that doesn't reflect our character. It is about acting in a way that does reflect our character. When we act freely, we get to act on our actual values, after thinking about what we want to do. We want to deliberate without someone threatening us with a gun (for example). But we don't want to act in some way that is not a reflection of our actual values, as if our decisions were made by quantum-level randomisers in our brains.

(Imagine a world where everything in the situation, including everything about me - my principles of choice, values, etc. - is exactly the same as in this world, and yet I make a different decision. I might be a kind person, who makes a kind decision in this world, but in the other world I make a cruel decision. Or vice versa. That's not free will. That's having my decisions determined by a randomness beyond my control, so that my decisions don't reflect how I actually am, whether cruel or kind. In this scenario, there is no guarantee that my decisions reflect the real me, so how can I ever be blamed or praised for them? I may act cruelly, not because I am a cruel person but because of my quantum randomiser. This is nonsense. Why would this have anything to do with free will, and why would an infinitely loving God set things up so that cruel decisions might or might not emerge in this way from kind people? Where's the value in that?)

In any event, most of the supposed explanations of evil make sense only in a pre-scientific setting. They are now absurdly implausible even at face value. In particular, most of the suffering that there has been on this planet took place long before human beings even existed. An all-powerful God did not need any of this. It could have created the world in a desirable form without any of it just by thinking, "Let it be so!" That's what being all-powerful is about, if we take it seriously.

Barney Zwartz tried to de-fuse the issue, or dance around it, in various ways, but he freely admitted to having no explanation that was satisfactory. At least that's honest. Someone else might have tried to push harder on the free will defence, the higher goods defence, or some other lame explanation. These explanations do sound glib, as Barney says. In fact, they sound desperate or even intellectually dishonest. Some of them are morally monstrous. They are the refuge of someone who wants to hold onto religious faith at all costs.

The fact remains that the problem of evil is a real one for people with a traditional idea of God. The problem rightly causes many honest people deep anxiety. It assuredly does not involve a God that no one believes in, but the God that most monotheists actually worship, and it has never been satisfactorily solved. Of course, if you don't start by believing in gods at all, or you believe only in limited gods or metaphorical gods, the problem does not arise for you except as a hypothetical scenario. But for people who posit the traditional Abrahamic God, the problem assuredly does arise, and there is no adequate answer.

The intellectually honest response, painful though it may be, is to stop believing in that God. Nothing less will do.

129 comments:

Brian said...

Excellent post. I especially liked how you explained why free will isn't acting randomly. Bravo.

Russell Blackford said...

Pity we never got into issues like that the other day, except in response to some questions from the audience that weren't taped.

Brian said...

Yeah, it seems to me that it was set up so that the grist of the argument could be ignored.

Jerry Coyne said...

Great post, Russell, and the best short discussion of theodicy I've seen.

Michael said...

Great post.

As a compatibilist I've been searching for a pithy-enough defence of compatibilism for a while -- I think the paragraph about alternate worlds is it.

Anonymous said...

Here's one for Barney to think about:

God created the devil and that was a mistake; obviously god wasn't all-knowing when he did that, but he's all-knowing after the fact. Simply destroying the devil would have other nasty consequences which we poor earthlings can't understand.

There you go - no more problem with evil because god created it before he was all-knowing. Personally I think there are far greater problems with the god story than the concept of evil.

Tyro said...

Excellent illustration re randomness, much better than any example or objection I've seen before. The only other problems I've had with the PoE seem minor in contrast: why famine overwhelmingly affects Africans and poor minorities. They're too young to deserve this, too poor to change it and because it's fatal, unable to learn anything. And if suffering and dying from disease or dying during childbirth was valuable to humans for one hundred thousand years, why have we been permitted to make such advances in medicine and are we violating parts of God's plans in doing so?

Scott Hedges said...

Russell, what keeps you from getting up in public making the argument that the God Barney denies anyone believes in, was the only God that possibly could have been in the minds of the good christians at Kristallnacht?

What keeps you from reading Luther on the Jews to Barney in a public forum? Why does Barney get to say that you and Dawkins are shrill, but Luther was what, just a humble Christian who made some mistakes in his perception of God?

Why is it so drop dead simple for the faithful to claim that YOUR ideas have no moral basis while their ideas, while perhaps from time to time badly implemented by the church, the highest expression of love.

I want to suggest that we have become socialized to not get up in public places and blame the Holocaust on Christian theology because we have been socialized to be polite about this.

But do we really do anyone any service by not forcing Christians to constantly confront the failure of their theology in the face of what everyone understands as evil?

What good are these elegant and fair minded discourses on theodicy?

Our opponents show us no reciprocal altruism. Barney's treatment of Dawkin's is exactly the kind of nonsense that should cause us to deploy the kinds of arguments he doesn't want to hear. Who is going to stop him from just walking right by on his way to catch the next bus to tell us how the non believer doesn't listen?

We have so ceded this field that Barney feels totally at ease to open his article in the Age with Auschwitz ... you got to hand it to him.

Is our self censorship and deference to civility on these issues a problem?

I can't help but feel that you are being nice, while he is spinning us? Accusing us of not listening and counting on the fact that we don't have the guts to really make the brutal arguments ourselves. He is like a car salesman who uses our manners to keep us from walking off the lot.

Annika said...

I was at the the forum on Tuesday and I had many of the same issues with Barney's speech that you have outlined above.

It is frustrating that he skirted around the issue, but even more frustrating is what he turned to instead. His argument that suffering is a practical problem is in itself perfectly fine, because as someone who lacks a belief in the supernatural, or more specifically an all knowing, all powerful God, the problem of evil and suffering is practical more than it is philosophical. However, Barney's suggestion that religion provides a way for people to cope with that suffering completely denies the fact that a lot of evil and suffering comes about as a result of religion (just as it can come from many other parts of society). I do not deny that people can find comfort in religion, but the amount of suffering caused by religious bigotry speaks for itself.

I will however give Barney some credit because as much as I did not agree with him, i could follow what he was saying. Unlike Rev. Adam whose speech can only be described as the same nonsensical waffle too often heard from religious leaders.

Rosa said...

I left a comment on Barney's blog this morning about the tension I see with Christians invoking the Holocaust for their moral tales when the orthodox Christian view is that the victims of the camps must be in Hell because they had not accepted Jesus Christ, therefore could not have eternal life. Didn't get published for whatever reason.

I can't agree with his response to you that you are merely arguing about an abstract set of high falutin' theological concepts, the god you describe is the one clearly revealed in the Bible and the one you will hear about in sermons on Sunday. Barney seems to deny his god has any attributes at all.

Tony Smith said...

Russell, while I have no problems with where your argument finishes up, you seem to be dancing dangerously with Cartesian dualism en route.

[...] we don't want to act in some way that is not a reflection of our actual values [...]

Our "actual values" are at best emergent properties of some momentary state of our personal neural networks and neurochemical bath. More likely they are post hoc rationalisations.

In earlier times, I was closely associated with parents of two young men who separately suffered serious head injuries in road incidents. Each emerged after his eventual recovery with a much more gregarious personality than they had shown before. And I have another friend who has written powerfully of her personal experience recovering from what is nowadays reified as "acquired brain injury".

Yes, I do understand that the "soul" delusion has Darwinian advantages. But everyday I am more convinced that the "debate" about God is better understood as a proxy for the debate we refuse to have about soul. (Of course the Abrahamic God is also a smokescreen for authoritarianism, but that is another story.)

Brian said...

Rosa's comments reminds me of the time after the bushfires where Barney attacked Danny Nahliah's theology as being unsophisticated or wrong. On what basis? Sure, you can posit a god with few attributes so as to dodge things like the problem of evil and divine retribution. But what is your epistemic basis? Cherry picking from the Bible and/or thoughts of other theologians? In the end, either there's some substance underlying the ideas or it's just meaningless fluff.

I think Nahliah was very wrong, but can't find any reason to think Zwartz is any less wrong. Even if his theology is more teflon like and less vicious.

Brian said...

Tony, your comment gives me an opportunity to plug something I posted about how Cartesian dualism doesn't work. If you're bored, have a squiz and let me know what you think.

http://philosophicalneuron.blogspot.com/2009/09/mind-over-matter.html

Scott Hedges said...

Barney says ...

"Historically, Christians have not had a “solution” to the problem of evil, they have had a community of care that has made it possible to absorb the destructive terror of evil".

Of course they haven't had a solution, their faith shows no statistically significant trend away from doing "evil, harmful things or eliminating suffering. It isn't till you get science, reason, and the concept of secular society that people can even begin to stop dying of toothaches and diagnosing epilepsy as demonic possession.

Because of knowledge, people take Christian teachings much more "metaphorically" the good things in Barney's life are a result of the triumph of reason and secular thought, not a better understanding of what jesus' sacrifice meant.

Historically, the Christians have had a "community" that was very good at promoting the things that civilization would benefit from and they were very good at organizing to oppose others they saw as threats, often this just meant chrisitans that wore different funny hats - but at no point did anyone as a "community" ever take seriously the idea that they should love their enemies.

But rather that they should hold their enemies with contempt, hatred and dehuminization.

This was what Luther arrived at from his study of the "Jewish Problem" ... if you can't convert them, kill them. If the Jews don't convince you, then the Aztecs? How bout closer to home, the people who lived in Australia until the British Admiralty brought a bit of God's love their way?

Barney has to show that religion has been a reliable engine to snuff out human misery, and suffering - not that religion has a "solution" to evil, but that it helps humans.

Because it doesn't we're working it out of our system.

Why are the least "godly" nations the most just?

Why is non belief, and secularism a leading indicator of social welfare?

Can Barney walk by these questions too?

Ralph said...

Russell, how simplistic is your closing statement? - in effect, "I don't believe in God so it is intellectually dishonest for others to do so - they should stop believing in God" - presumedly to become intellectually honest in your eyes. Problem, of course, is that they would then be intellectually dishonest in their own eyes.

I suggest instead that you make a bit more of an effort to understand God. Intellect is useful but intellect follows belief. If you are determined not to believe your 'intellect' will always support that belief.

WRT 'The problem of evil', the only way God can instill eternal life is by permitting evil (i.e. by means of our free choice) but (He) certainly doesn't will or create evil.

Brian said...

WRT 'The problem of evil', the only way God can instill eternal life is by permitting evil (i.e. by means of our free choice) but (He) certainly doesn't will or create evil.

I think you read the whole of Russell's post and didn't understand any of it. Genius!

Brian said...

If you are determined not to believe your 'intellect' will always support that belief. So for believes in Lord Shiva, they are correct and you are wrong? After all, you are determined not to believe in Shiva, Zeus, or any god except one. Seems to me your belief circularly underwrites your belief.

David said...

"The intellectually honest response, painful though it may be, is to stop believing in that God. Nothing less will do. "

Yeah, well since you say so that must be the only response. Certainly. Since you say so.

Actually this whole post is an epic fail at least from the perspective of this Christian. First of all it addresses the wrong formulation of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is not: why does God allow suffering? The problem of evil is: where did evil come from? As for why some suffer, that’s not a problem at all—in fact the more relevant question is why don’t we all suffer, all the time?

"Rather, God is supposed to care in an infinitely loving way about each individual. It's not, "Why does this horrible thing happen to me?" but, "Why is an infinitely loving God prepared to let horrible suffering happen at all, to any human being or any other sentient creature?"

That’s only an important question because you claim that it is important. Any Christian would recognize this strawman. You are performing the most childish trick in the books—creating a God according to your definition, then acting as if you accomplished something meaningful when you blast him off his perch. But what you provide for inspection is not the God of the bible—the God who declared, before they were born or had done anything right or wrong, he loved Jacob and hated Esau. We know right off the bat that God is omnipotent and yet he is never portrayed as you described him, as “caring in an infinitely loving way about each human being.” We don’t recognize the God you invent—and so your description of him is irrelevant to our religion.

Just as an aside—do you think we never noticed that people suffer? Do you think we have been walking about with a) A picture of God who “cares in an infinitely loving way about all individuals” as you invented and b) Noted the suffering in the world and yet c) never saw, until some clever philosopher pointed it out, that there is a problem reconciling a) and b)?

As Christians we have been dealing with this for millennia—it poses no problem. We understand that the only superlative used to describe an attribute of God is holiness—he is holy, holy, holy. God is not love, love, love. However much God is “love” by our definition of love—he is all the more holier. Neglecting this greatest of God’s attributes and defining a new one called “infinite care and love” allows you to play this silly trick.

Stripped of its academic veneer, your bottom line, as the bottom line is for so many school-boy objections, at least as they apply to the god of Christianity, is this: God isn’t how I would be if I were God, therefore there is no God! That’s the essense of your argument—and it’s still, after all these millennia, a bad argument. That should be rather obvious. I would like to think that I would notice that even if I were still an atheist--it is the only intellectually honest conclusion--While I can invent a god and then shoot him down, that may not be much of an accomplishment, in terms of addressing the foolishness of a given religion. For that I should take the trouble, even though it requires actual work, to understand their god and try shooting him down. Then I'll have done something. But as I said--that requires actual effort. Much easier to invent a god.

Now if you want to focus on the actual problem of evil, as far as Christianity is concerned, i.e., where did evil come from it the first place?—Well at least you’d be working on a real problem, one that actually has escaped a satisfying theological answer.

Brian said...

I note that David makes the error that he acusses Russell of making. He gives his definition of god, and then says that fixes the argument. Nice.

J.J.E. said...

Shorter David:

"God's either weak, ignorant, or a douche. If you accept that, then there's no problem."

Or, as Hume quotes Epicurus concerning god:

"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

In any event, our observations about the world constrain what kind of properties god can possibly have. For example, the simultaneous possession of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence is refuted by the observations of needless and extreme suffering. To deny this is to possess an unconventional notion of the meanings of the words "good" and "evil".

According to you, god isn't "good good good", rather it is defined more by "holy holy holy". If you concede that god should not be defined by good, then you get rid of the connotation of morality that "holy" has. And pretty much, you're left with either "devoted to god" or "divine". I'm not aware of any other relevant connotations of "holy" unless you mean it as an intensifier, ie "Holy smoke!"

Which is just another way of saying "god is divine divine divine" or more simply "god is god god god". Which answers nothing. That is mind numbingly stupid, actually. Moving right along...

Finally, to answer your question of "where did evil come from?", I think if you are willing to jettison the concept of a good in favor of the pointlessly circular term "holy", you remain as constrained as ever, though now with a difficult question.

If, like many believers, you are willing to attribute to god the identity of the "uncaused cause" or the "unmoved mover", then clearly evil comes from god, either because:
1) evil is tied up in the essence of god;
2) god consciously brought evil into the world;
3) god brought the potential for evil into the world and then knowingly allowed for it to blossom.

Unless of course god is a know-nothing douche.

Paul said...

I often get the argument that it's the result of free will and God can't give us it without suffering. If that's true though - what will heaven be like? no free will or lots of suffering?

great article. thanks.

David said...

Brian,

True to some extent—but doesn’t it make more sense to take the God that is actually worshipped and explain why he makes no sense than to attack a convenient God? Anybody can do the latter:

God is “infinite” in all his attributes. God is infinitely good. Being fair is good. Therefore God being good, must be fair. Therefore God is infinitely fair. But lo, God treated the Jews and the Amalekites very differently. So God is not fair. Therefore the only intellectually honest response is that there is no God.

Can I haz flosifee degreez now?

On the other hand your criticism is not accurate—because I am presenting the biblical God. We can argue my interpretation is faulty. But at least there is a reasonable basis or model for arguing—not like the God our host pulled out of his ass.

JJE

I agree with you. God cannot possess omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. Fortunately, from my perspective, the bible makes no claim of omnibenevolence. God cannot, in fact, violate the law of non-contradiction, which is what I think you are arguing. But we don’t claim he can. We claim, for example, that God is just but he is not infinitely just, whatever that means, because he is also merciful to some—and mercy is a form of non-justice. So god is neither just, just, just nor merciful, merciful, mericiful but rather both just and, at times, non-just in the form of being merciful.

Ralph said...

"I think you read the whole of Russell's post and didn't understand any of it. Genius!"

Thanks for the assessment Brian. Maybe it's more that you didn't understand my response.

"So for believe(r)s in Lord Shiva, they are correct and you are wrong?"

Playing the many competing Gods card heh? What if I were to say there is one God called different names by different people. The question is, "belief in God or non-belief in God?" Presenting different concepts of God as plural Gods is either naive or intellectually dishonest.

Your response indicates that you didn't understand my claim - that the intellect serves (is the tool of) the will. Intellect does not lead to belief (or lack thereof) it merely confirms it. If your belief is negative towards God, your 'intellect' will confirm that belief.

Tulse said...

"Playing the many competing Gods card heh? What if I were to say there is one God called different names by different people."

Then you would have to explain why the nature and qualities attached to those names are so radically different, and how the "intellects" of believers drove them to such incompatible views.

J.J.E. said...

Intellect does not lead to belief (or lack thereof) it merely confirms it. If your belief is negative towards God, your 'intellect' will confirm that belief.

So, in other words, for those of us who have gone from being believers to unbelievers, our will initially required our intellect to serve the purpose of justifying belief? And now, with the will inexplicably changed (because surely it wasn't intellect that changed it!), the intellect now serves a diametrical master?

Right...

Greywizard said...

There is a very curious dimension to Barney Swartz's understanding of the problem. He writes:

"Something has gone decisively wrong if we think Christianity is a set of propositions that can be understood by anyone, believer or atheist, without being part of the life of the Christian community. Historically, Christians have not had a “solution” to the problem of evil, they have had a community of care that has made it possible to absorb the destructive terror of evil."

If something can only be understood by a (committed?) member of the Christian community, then, by default, no one can criticise Christian responses to evil who is not such a member. This implies that a member who is beginning to doubt the adequacy of how Christianity understands evil automatically puts that member outside the community, and, as such, no longer able to understand the problem in a Christiian way.

But if the terror of evil is something that has to be absorbed by a community, then evil is something for which there is no answer. It's fine to comfort those who are suffering. In fact, that's a very human thing to do. This is no help with the problem of evil, because much of the terror will not be absorbed by the community, and many suffering creatures cannot know community.

To suggest, as a couple commenters do, that suffering is not a problem for Christianity is not only laughable; it is contradicted by the amount of attention that Christians have given to the problem. Christians and Jews found suffering a problem from very early times. The Psalms reflect this concern, and the book of Job is, you might say, not a solution to the problem, but a particularly poignant expression of it. The prophets seek to understand why God would let his chosen people suffer. They conclude, almost to a man, that it was punishment for sin, whether worshipping other gods, living unjustly, or failing to show mercy. However, irony of ironies, God makes the innocent and guilty to suffer together.

But more important, from the standpoint of what might be called the argument to the Christian community, is the fact that suffering has been a fact of life since almost the dawn of life, and none of that suffering, until human beings came on the scene, could have been absorbed by a caring community. It was just a jagged fact about living. As Karen Armstrong said in her WSJ article:

"The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful."

Armstrong considers the problem of evil unsolvable, and it is. And when we read some of the morally horrifying ways that people have sought to solve the problem (Richard Swinburne offers not a few), it seems clear that only a religion that was morally bankrupt could actually offer such contemptible solutions.

Some theologians and Christian philosophers (like John Hick and Keith Ward) suggest that the only way that suffering can be redeemed is by providing an afterlife so glorious that all the suffering endured during this life would be seen as in some sense 'worth it'. But even this doesn't make sense, as the book of Job makes clear, if you read between the lines. For, at the end of the story, Job is given another family, more beautiful than the first, and riches even greater. But no replacement such as this is possible. One person does not replace another, and, no matter how glorious, bliss cannot erase the misery of unbearable pain and distress.

No matter how much comfort the Christian community can provide, misery is still misery, pain still hurts. The problem of suffering has been continuous in the tradition. The Bible proposes many solutions to the problem. None of them is satisfactory. (Crenshaw's Defending God is a good introduction.) The intellectually honest thing to do would be to abandon belief in God. This is especially true for those who claim that the afterlife will pay in full for suffering now, because, if God can create such a realm, this could have been it.

Anonymous said...

What problem of evil?

As I noted elsewhere, one can always imagine a better world, no matter how good you have it. If every conceivable universe is subject to such criticism, the criticism itself becomes meaningless.

In a hypothetical better universe its inhabitants may be complaining about paper cuts and showers that ruin their picnics - and wonder why a kind and loving God allows such horrors to occur. Conversely, the inhabitants of a worse universe then ours would consider our world to be paradise and scornfully dismiss our complaints.

The "problem of evil" is a meaningless question.

"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent.

That confuses restraint with inability. God is not a tyrant or a slave master. He gives free will to chose evil if we so desire.

Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent.

Why is setting us free an act of malevolence? Would you prefer to be a slave? He made us for love, and love isn't love if it is coerced. God is not a rapist.

Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

Evil comes from freedom. You can't have one without the other. Pain comes from life. You can't have one without the other.

God won't remove your burdens or your pains, but He will give you the strength to bear them. This cancer survivor finds that to be a good arrangement.

A universe with life and freedom is going be painful. So as God told Job "gird your loins like a man" and learn to face life with some courage.

For those who still complain about God allowing evil to exist, what exactly would you rather He do? As the Beatles said, we'd all love to see the plan.

Tulse said...

"As I noted elsewhere, one can always imagine a better world, no matter how good you have it. If every conceivable universe is subject to such criticism, the criticism itself becomes meaningless."

So much for heaven.

J.J.E. said...

For those who still complain about God allowing evil to exist, what exactly would you rather He do? As the Beatles said, we'd all love to see the plan.

Nah, the problem of evil is a problem faced by a subset of theists, not atheists. I see no evidence that it exists. But if you're willing to agree that it is a jealous, powerful, vindictive prick, go ahead enjoy your god. But until evidence is forthcoming, I don't see the point of discussing it.

David said...

Greywizard
”To suggest, as a couple commenters do, that suffering is not a problem for Christianity is not only laughable; it is contradicted by the amount of attention that Christians have given to the problem.”

No, it’s not laughable. Saying it is doesn’t make it so. What you really mean is this: “I’m going to call it laughable because it is inconvenient for my argument if some Christians claim that suffering is not a serious theological problem. It just has to be a serious problem, so that it becomes a valid reason to renounce one’s faith. It just has to be. I'll settle for nothing less.”

And your ‘proof’ is ridiculous: the question of soteriology and even, unfortunately, eschatology is discussed much, more by Christians than the problem of suffering. If the amount of attention is an indication of the seriousness of the problem, then these topics, just to name two, are much more problematic. As I wrote earlier, in slightly different terms, many Christians accept we are a fallen race conceived in rebellion to a holy god—therefore, again, the more vexing question is: why don’t we all suffer even more? Suffering is not a problem—for crying out loud the bible promises that we’ll suffer. If the bible promised that “if you follow God, you will never suffer, because he is an omnibenevolent deity” then we’d have a problem. But it doesn’t, so we don’t.

“The intellectually honest thing to do would be to abandon belief in God.”

So Russell Blackford has already pointed out. That is very nice of you guys to a) define god and b) ‘prove’ that he should be abandoned. Yeah. Let me know how that works out.

יאיר רזק said...

I'd like take this opportunity to ask: who wields the following theodicity, and why do most theologians don't?

God, being omnipotent, can create all possible worlds, some of them, or none. Creating a world that has good that outweighs its evil is a good act. God, being good, chooses to create all such worlds; we're in one of them.

What are the arguments of traditional theology, assuming an omnipotent benevolent deity, against the possibility of creating multiple worlds? It seems to me that this theodicity arises naturally from said percepts, but I can't find it anywhere. Is it held by anyone, and what is it called?

Thanks :)

J.J.E. said...

we are a fallen race conceived in rebellion to a holy god

Can you show this god to me? Can you convince anyone of the properties you ascribe to this god without reference to dogma? If you can't but you persist in arguing for properties of this god, then anything is possible. This is why discussing god isn't very helpful and why I'm not an "atheist" in the anti-theist so much as an atheist/agnostic. Theists don't even warrant the dignity of being taken seriously in discussion until they actually make an effort to convince. No evidence, no dice.

Parrhesia said...

I think the supreme irony here is that the very god that is supposed to be our consolation is the very god who wrote pain and suffering into the laws of nature. I think I understand why Dawkins uses the word "delusion": the "god" experience, a revelation if you will, is a sort of blissful hallucination which makes complete sense of everything at the time but can't be explained later, like having a joint and thinking you've worked out the meaning of life. Barney doesn't want to let that feeling slip away, so he just accepts there is no rational justification for it and holds on, like a child with its comfort toy.

Parrhesia said...

David, the topic of conversation is Barney Zwartz. Barney Zwartz is someone who claims god is love, etc. So that is why everyone is refuting that claim. Get it now? By the way, just curious: have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Greywizard said...

David, what you say is simply ridiculous. Christians have, since the beginning, tried to understand the apparent overplus of suffering in the world. Some of it can be dealt with in a superficial way by the freewill argument. Some can be understood as a result of faithfulness, since Jesus is said to have told people to take up their crosses and follow him. But the books of Job and Ecclesiastes are eloquent testimony to the fact that suffering is a problem for those who believe that God is just.

Paul brags about suffering, because suffering for the sake of faith in Jesus was taken as a confirmation of faithfulness. So being beaten, imprisoned, ship-wrecked, stoned, etc., gave Paul bragging rights. However, Christianity has often taken the suffering of Jesus as an expression of God's love, in that he became man and suffered with us, and on our behalf, and, by sharing it, in some way may be said to have lightened the load of suffering. The whole idea of the suffering servant is a response to the problem of suffering, not a dismissal of it. However, it is quite simply perverse to say that suffering is not a problem for Christian belief. It is. It has always been. Christian theologians have made many efforts to make suffering, given the existence of a benevolent, all powerful God, intelligible, starting with the early church 'Fathers', and continuing until the present day. Attempts to do this are an integral part of Christian scripture itself. I cannot see why you should want to deny this.

Sinbad said...

Imagine a world where everything in the situation, including everything about me - my principles of choice, values, etc. - is exactly the same as in this world, and yet I make a different decision. I might be a kind person, who makes a kind decision in this world, but in the other world I make a cruel decision. Or vice versa. That's not free will.

Nonsense. There are alternative possibilities consistent with "who I am" in any number of situations; "I" am not confined to a single "right" answer. Some days strawberry; some days vanilla. Moreover, since only one answer will do in your world, your "deliberation" is nothing more or better than post hoc rationalization.

The intellectually honest response, painful though it may be, is to stop believing in that God. Nothing less will do.

If you were really interested in intellectual honesty, you would point out that your alleged choice is nothing of the sort -- in your world we're merely meat machines, albeit highly sophisticated meat machines. Moreover, it's dishonest to suggest that deliberation or thought matter in a world where every action is predetermined by "who I am." Finally, it's dishonest to suggest that we can, in any meaningful way, write our script when the best we can hope for is the chance to mouth words that have been foisted upon us by neurons we can't in any way control.

J.J.E. said...


Finally, it's dishonest to suggest that we can, in any meaningful way, write our script when the best we can hope for is the chance to mouth words that have been foisted upon us by neurons we can't in any way control.


You know this to be true?! Really. That's pretty awesome. I suggest you send in a letter of inquiry to Nature. I imagine they'd want to publish your keen insight into neurobiology. You seem to have more knowledge than people who devote their careers to understanding cognition.

David said...

JJE,

”Can you show this god to me? Can you convince anyone of the properties you ascribe to this god without reference to dogma?’”

I have no desire or mandate to convince you. Furthermore it’s an impossible task, as the doctrine of Original Sin, and the bible itself teach. (So the answers to your questions are no and no.) I have been issued only one command in dealing with nonbelievers: present the gospel. I have not, nor has any other Christian, been charged to prove God exists. It’s the Great Commission, not the Great Fool’s Errand.

Parrhesia,

Yes I do, and it is on perfect display here when some who do not know the actual attributes of God as he is worshiped invent a strawman god and then 'prove' that he should be abandoned—and that anyone who doesn’t is, well, intellectually dishonest. It's textbook.

Greywizard,

I don’t deny that people have dealt with the problem of suffering—I deny that it is insoluble. The problem of the origin of evil, the true theodicy, now it has no solution and that is a problem—but you have your head in the sand if you think the problem of individuals suffering is, in the abstract as a theological problem, keeping Christians up at night. Show me where the bible teaches that we will not suffer and then you have a point. So—at the very least I would say that for Christians who take the bible seriously, call us fundies, there is no problem at all. For liberal Christians, who tend to redefine God to be more like they would be if they were God—and don’t take the bible so seriously—now they may have a problem.

David said...

JJE,

”Can you show this god to me? Can you convince anyone of the properties you ascribe to this god without reference to dogma?’”

I have no desire or mandate to convince you. Furthermore it’s an impossible task, as the doctrine of Original Sin, and the bible itself teach. (So the answers to your questions are no and no.) I have been issued only one command in dealing with nonbelievers: present the gospel. I have not, nor has any other Christian, been charged to prove God exists. It’s the Great Commission, not the Great Fool’s Errand.

Parrhesia,

Yes I do, and it is on perfect display here when some who do not know the actual attributes of God as he is worshiped invent a strawman god and then 'prove' that he should be abandoned—and that anyone who doesn’t is, well, intellectually dishonest. It's textbook.

Greywizard,

I don’t deny that people have dealt with the problem of suffering—I deny that it is insoluble. The problem of the origin of evil, the true theodicy, now it has no solution and that is a problem—but you have your head in the sand if you think the problem of individuals suffering is, in the abstract as a theological problem, keeping Christians up at night. Show me where the bible teaches that we will not suffer and then you have a point. So—at the very least I would say that for Christians who take the bible seriously, call us fundies, there is no problem at all. For liberal Christians, who tend to redefine God to be more like they would be if they were God—and don’t take the bible so seriously—now they may have a problem.

Parrhesia said...

David, let me say this again, slowly (then I'm going to bed). We are not attacking a straw god. We are attacking Barney Zwartz's god. The title of this post is "Barney Zwartz on the Problem of Evil". Barney Zwartz is the one who has described god in the manner in which you so vehemently oppose. Your issue is with Barney Zwartz, and those who propagate a similar conception of god. Barney. Zwartz. BARNEY ZWARTZ. BARNEY FRIKKIN ZWARTZ!!! Get it YET???

PS. BARNEY ZWARTZ.

PPS. Goodnight.

J.J.E. said...

@David

So your god in all its wisdom has given you a task that is indistinguishable from the task that was given to Mohamed by Allah? Or to Joseph Smith by Moroni? Or to Scientologists by Hubbard? And he expects that to work.

And of course, regarding your god, it is a weak thing. I was a practicing Christian, born again, baptized, sincere and pious, but also questioning. I prayed, I asked questions, I sought counsel of other Christians, and my faith was strong for many years. (I accepted Christ when I was 7 and "rededicated my life to Christ" many times until I was 22.) And you know what, I never perceived anything unique about it. So unless you are special and I cursed, you have no special experiences which allow you to access its will anymore than I did.

What angers me isn't that you believe, it is that your faith is self righteous and possessed of an unjustified certainty. And when challenged on it, you bring out the "pearls before swine" line of thinking. That is disingenous.

And of course, either you propose that your god mandates consequences for not believing or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no need to believe, and if it does, then you have billions of souls burning in hell because they didn't have the fortune to talk to some intrusive missionary spreading their arrogant memes around.

Unless of course you'll concoct an ad hoc explanation of how only certain unbelievers go to hell while the others don't.

Again, all asserted without the barest hint of evidence that any of what you say is true. Again, your philosophy allows the espousal of anything.

Tulse said...

"it’s an impossible task, as the doctrine of Original Sin, and the bible itself teach."

How do you understand these aspects of the bible, except via the intellect that you denigrate? How do you know the qualities of your god, except via the use of reason?

Ralph said...

"Then you would have to explain why the nature and qualities attached to those names are so radically different, and how the "intellects" of believers drove them to such incompatible views."

Tulse, most people grow up within a particular culture with a particular concept of God. I don't believe they are "radically different" - (Ever heard the story of 'The Six Blind Men and the Elephant'?) They all teach belief in God and adherence to God's commands.

**************

"So, in other words, for those of us who have gone from being believers to unbelievers, our will initially required our intellect to serve the purpose of justifying belief? And now, with the will inexplicably changed (because surely it wasn't intellect that changed it!), the intellect now serves a diametrical master?

Right..."


Why J.J.E do you say, "the will inexplicably changed"? Are you a robot? Change of will/belief results from choice. Otherwise you seem to have gotten the picture. I think one has to question the depth and strength of the original belief if one subsequently chooses unbelief which really means transfering belief from belief in God to belief in self as the arbiter of all things.

There is nothing preventing anyone from re-choosing quite possibly with an upgraded concept of God.

J.J.E. said...

Change of will/belief results from choice

So, let me get this straight:

1) Will/belief is subordinate to choice;
2) Intellect is subordinate to will;
3) Choice does not involve intellect.

If that really is your classification, then it sounds like your vision of the way people come to belief is rather like spoiled children. Choices are arbitrarily made, which directs belief. At the bottom of the pyramid is "intellect" which is used only to adduce the higher layers, especially of belief?

Sorry, that's the best I can reconstruct. To be quite honest, it sounds rather illogical and doesn't make much sense.

And of course, why "upgrade" to another god belief? There's no evidence to think "god" is a useful concept in the first place. I do however remain open to such evidence. But as discussed before, the kind of god allowed has already been narrowed quite above. The problem of evil in particular makes certain "upgrade paths" illogical given human experience.

David said...

Parrhesia,

You need to reread the post. A title is not a post. Blackford writes:

“he claims that no one really believes in a God with these qualities of omnipotence and omnibenevolence, but that is plainly nonsense.”

That’s setting up a strawman to knock down—a mystical omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. I am arguing against that strawman. For here I am as a Christian—a Baptist no less, from the Southern part of the US no less, who proclaims biblical innerancy and infallibility no less—why I am right out of central casting (surely I have multiple rows of buck teeth) and I am telling you: neither I nor anyone I know proclaims a God who is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. On the contrary—the bible does not claim “God will have mercy on everyone” but rather that “God will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy”. The God described in the bible is most assuredly not omnibenevolent—but rather he is particularly or selectively benevolent. Just ask Esau.

So I am arguing with Blackford’s post, not his title. Get it? It ain’t rocket science. Maybe you should read his post again, as you said, slowly.

JJE

"What angers me isn't that you believe, it is that your faith is self righteous and possessed of an unjustified certainty. And when challenged on it, you bring out the "pearls before swine" line of thinking. That is disingenous.”

Oh, brother. I’m guessing that Blackford’s certainty does not ruffle your feathers as much as mine does. And no, I don’t use the pearl before swine argument, as anyone who knows me from the intertubes can attest. I’ll argue theology with anyone, theist or atheist, until I get booted off. But it will be an argument of self-consistency, not an attempted proof of God’s existence. I can't prove that God exists. You have to be regenerated before you can see the kingdom of God, as John writes.

And of course, either you propose that your god mandates consequences for not believing or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no need to believe, and if it does, then you have billions of souls burning in hell because they didn't have the fortune to talk to some intrusive missionary spreading their arrogant memes around.

Um, no. That resembles nothing that I know about God. In particular while missionary work is fine, its purpose is to bring glory to God, not to save souls. You must have a picture of God in heaven, or imagine that we picture him, saying to himself: “Gee, I wish those two missionary white boys from Wheaton College would quit texting their girlfriends and get to the next remote village—there’s a sick old man there I’d like to save, and I’m counting on them—oh drat, too late, he died. Bummer.” No, God is sovereign.

Tulse,

”How do you understand these aspects of the bible, except via the intellect that you denigrate?”

Huh? I don’t denigrate the intellect. I have no clue what you are talking about. The impossibility is not due to intellectual shortcomings—it is due to moral shortcomings. Fallen man is morally incapable of believing in God or pleasing God or choosing God—not intellectually—at least that’s the doctrine of Original Sin as I understand it.

Tulse said...

"most people grow up within a particular culture with a particular concept of God. I don't believe they are "radically different""

Polytheism vs. monotheism? Religions that believed their deity/deities demanded human sacrifice vs. those that didn't? Religions that reject all other conceptions of the divine vs. those that are more ecumenical? Heck, religions that believe their god loves homosexuals vs. those who literally believe their god demands they be stoned to death? That's not "radically" different"?

And that of course is just accounting for religions with "gods" as commonly conceived, and doesn't cover ancestor worship, or belief systems that don't really emphasize the divine as a separate entity (such as Hinduism or Taoism).

The whole "people see the same god in different ways" schtick is just nonsense usually promulgated by warm fuzzy liberal believers who would be some of the first up against the wall in a real theocracy.

Greywizard said...

David, you miss the point. I didn't suggest that Christians were losing sleep over this. But most thoughtful Christians - not only liberal ones - have been aware of problems here. And the main reason for being aware of them is that their own scriptures told them that there is a problem, and tried, in different ways, to deal with it. The Bible may never say that we will not suffer. Obviously, from the start, it was assumed that we do. But there is suffering and suffering. Biblical writers could understand when really bad people suffered, but they found it harder to understand when innocents suffered. The psalmist asked why so many evildoers prospered while the faithful suffered, why so many evil people lived long, happy, prosperous lives, and the faithful were rewarded with poverty, sickness and a suffering death. So, even if you don't lie awake at night, some of the biblical writers did. If the fact that the Bible itself raises the question doesn't help you to see that there may, after all, be a problem here, then, clearly, it is not I who has his head buried in sand.

J.J.E. said...


I have not, nor has any other Christian, been charged to prove God exists. It’s the Great Commission, not the Great Fool’s Errand.



And no, I don’t use the pearl before swine argument, as anyone who knows me from the intertubes can attest.


Hmmm. The difference must be subtle.

I’m guessing that Blackford’s certainty does not ruffle your feathers as much as mine does

Russell isn't making a positive claim. You are. In fact, Russell is merely adducing human experience to challenge theodicy. And his so-called certainty did not say that god doesn't exist. He said something much more reasonable: the only option is to stop believing. I'm sure he'd change his mind if he observed a resurrection or 2, some water-wine, healing an amputated limb, etc. But until a belief lacking positive evidence can be justified, it should be abandoned. "Not believing" is more or less the same as saying "Nobody knows the first thing about it".

But you on the other hand are claiming specific and intimate knowledge and are incapable of sharing anything but the assertion that you have it. Your very specific and positive claim merits the burden of proof. The default is simply unbelief. Notably, I didn't say denial of god, which is a positive belief. But I refuse to believe in claims without a scintilla of evidence.

So, no, you aren't allowed to say "certainty" = "uncertainty". A rejection of belief in the absence of evidence is not "certainty" it is its antithesis. And the ability to live without such beliefs is far more humble than the claim to special knowledge of a topic for which observations cannot be made.

Tulse said...

"I don’t denigrate the intellect. I have no clue what you are talking about."

My apologies, I had confused the remarks made by another poster.

Sinbad said...

But I refuse to believe in claims without a scintilla of evidence.

I suspect you do it all the time. Examples might include the idea that "all men are created equal" or are endowed with "certain inalienable rights." Perhaps you think that all persons are due legal equality. Perhaps you think that you're as good as the next guy. Perhaps you think that despite the lack of a God, evil is a coherent concept or that your life has purpose and meaning. Perhaps you think that equal pay for equal work is the right thing to do. Perhaps you think that Bach is better than Milli Vanilli. Perhaps you think that honesty is a virtue. Perhaps you think that love is stronger than hate.

David said...

Greywizard,

Of course people wonder about suffering and all manner of everyday events—and the Psalms is a perfect place to look for answers. And of course just about any Christian who suffers will ask “why me?” That’s not the issue—you are missing the boat. The question is not: do we need to comfort and be comforted when confronted or experiencing suffering? The answer to that is yes of course. No, the issue is whether, in the final analysis, suffering is a serious theological problem—and it is to that issue that I am saying: it is not. That doesn’t mean that we look forward to suffering—it means that it is not a challenge to our faith—it only is a challenge to those who place faith in a God who, by definition, does not permit suffering.

Did David have a crisis of faith when he suffered horribly at the death of his son? He did not. His faith was, if anything, strengthened. After the child died David said to the servants, who were perplexed at his behavior: "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (Beautiful) David did not say: “this makes no sense, an omnibenevolent God would have listened to the prayers of me, a man of his own heart.” Did he suffer? Yes. Did he enjoy the suffering? Of course not. Did he see a theological problem? It appears that he did not.

JJE,


”I'm sure he'd change his mind if he observed a resurrection or 2, some water-wine, healing an amputated limb, etc. But until a belief lacking positive evidence can be justified, it should be abandoned.”

From anecdotal experience and theological understanding—I’d say that he will change his mind if he is regenerated by a divine, supernatural act. After all, I know many, many professing Christians, and not one that I know of has seen a miracle, yet they all (well probably not all—who can say?) believe. Likewise many Jews of the Exodus and hangers-on of Christ saw miracles and did not come to faith--so there is no reason to suspect that anyone today would come to faith in that manner.

”But you on the other hand are claiming specific and intimate knowledge and are incapable of sharing anything but the assertion that you have it. Your very specific and positive claim merits the burden of proof.”

Where is that written in stone? It only demands a burden of proof if I demand you also believe (which I don’t) or I demand you respect my beliefs (which I don’t). I’m telling you what I believe—if you want to discuss it great, if not that’s OK too, and if you want to mock my beliefs that’s your right and privilege—(but if you do I hope you are at least novel and clever about it). Under those conditions I deny any burden of proof rests on me.

Tulse,

No problem and your comments on the silliness of “it’s all the same God”—I agree. I could use your support when I start getting into arguments where I claim that the god of Christianity is not the god of Islam is not the god of (modern) Judaism.

tomh said...

David wrote:
"I have been issued only one command in dealing with nonbelievers: present the gospel."

And that, in a nutshell, is why discussing any part of this subject with a True Believer is so boring. Whether it's evil, or belief, or whatever, the answer always comes down to, "the Bible tells me so." How boring.

rx7ward said...

Ralph: "Intellect is useful but intellect follows belief. If you are determined not to believe, your 'intellect' will always support that belief."

I see you are an authoritarian. For you, belief comes first, and thought comes after (if at all). Why is intellect so unnecessary for you? Is it because you believe what you are told to believe, without thinking for yourself?

"WRT 'The problem of evil', the only way God can instill eternal life is by permitting evil (i.e. by means of our free choice) but (He) certainly doesn't will or create evil."

Then your god is neither omnipotent nor benevolent.

"Intellect does not lead to belief (or lack thereof) it merely confirms it."

For you, maybe. Most other humans, however, think you have this exactly backwards! What a surprise!

J.J.E. said...

Where is that written in stone? It only demands a burden of proof if I demand you also believe (which I don’t) or I demand you respect my beliefs (which I don’t). I’m telling you what I believe—if you want to discuss it great, if not that’s OK too, and if you want to mock my beliefs that’s your right and privilege—(but if you do I hope you are at least novel and clever about it). Under those conditions I deny any burden of proof rests on me.

So you are not "discussing" at all, or at least not in good faith. You explicitly admit that the communication is one-way. You go beyond refusing to have your mind changed, you refuse to engage at all. You are here making a positive assertion and refuse to accept the burden of proof that such positive assertions bestow in standard discussions.

You are here to communicate your idiosyncratic version of the gospel and refuse to do engage in anything that doesn't contribute to that goal. That sounds an awful lot like god spam.

David said...

JJE,

”So you are not "discussing" at all, or at least not in good faith. You explicitly admit that the communication is one-way. “

Your reasoning ability seems somewhat limited. I said there is no burden of proof for the existence of God on me—so long as I don’t demand that you accept my beliefs. Discussion in good faith? I would characterize my discussion with GreyWizard as an example of a discussion in good faith—though he may, of course, have a different view. At any rate, there can be plenty of discuss about the consequences and implications of belief or non-belief.

And I don’t refuse to have my mind changed—in fact some of my theology was rather radically influenced by an atheist: Bertrand Russell, especially his discussion of what appears to be Jesus’ unanticipated delayed second coming. Oh that the New Atheists lived up to the standard of the Old Atheists.

”You are here making a positive assertion and refuse to accept the burden of proof that such positive assertions bestow in standard discussions. “

Again, where does that rule appear in the fabric of spacetime? If you tell me you believe in Zeus I can ignore you, make fun of you, or discuss the implications of Zeus belief—but unless you demand that I accept Zeus you are not obligated to prove to me that he exists.

At a physics seminar, should I stand up and say: No, you can not talk about {Super Strings, Other Universes, Magnetic Monopoles, Higgs Bosons} until you prove to me that they exist or provide experimental evidence—because JJE sez so!

”You are here to communicate your idiosyncratic version of the gospel“

What that really means (and I hear it a lot): you don’t fit the stereotype, go away! Fine. I’ll try to encourage Jimmy Swaggart or Pat Robertson to stop by—then you’ll have a Christian who fits your model to argue with.

Anonymous said...

@Sinbad:

"I suspect you do it all the time. Examples might include the idea that "all men are created equal" or are endowed with "certain inalienable rights." "

Why assume that he believes either one of those? I don't. The Declaration of Independence wasn't a binding legal document or a philosophical treatise. It was a temper tantrum.

Rights are philosophical ideals: ideas we adopt axiomatically because whether or not they are true, we think that acting as though they are true will make the world a better place? Is that what you think God is: a white lie?


"Perhaps you think that all persons are due legal equality."

There's evidence for that one. Countries with legal equality have stronger economies, better quality of life, and longer life spans than ones that don't. In fact, by almost any measure, countries where the citizens have the most equal rights before the law are better than countries that don't. To me, that's some pretty good evidence.

"Perhaps you think that you're as good as the next guy."

I know a lot of people. Therefore, I have sampled the quality of the character of the population of "next guys." Given the number of people I've known, I am statistically justified in assuming I am as good as the next guy. An empirical result.

"Perhaps you think that despite the lack of a God, evil is a coherent concept or that your life has purpose and meaning."

"Evil," "meaning," and "purpose," all CAN be coherent concepts, but not everyone's concepts of these things are coherent. Since the words are all abstract, this one just comes down to semantics. If one believes his life has meaning, it's probably because he's working with a particular definition of "meaning." Right?

"Perhaps you think that equal pay for equal work is the right thing to do."

There's mathematical results from game theory that suggest this is so, and more empirical results confirm it. Wage discrepancies are labor market inefficiencies.

"Perhaps you think that Bach is better than Milli Vanilli."

Better how? Milli Vanilli might be better looking...

"Perhaps you think that honesty is a virtue. Perhaps you think that love is stronger than hate."

Those are value judgments and not empirical statements of fact. "God exists" is an empirical statement of fact, not a value judgment.

So none of these things are statements which I believe with no evidence, and I suspect most skeptics would answer similarly. Got anything else?

--Dan L.

Anonymous said...

"Again, where does that rule appear in the fabric of spacetime? If you tell me you believe in Zeus I can ignore you, make fun of you, or discuss the implications of Zeus belief—but unless you demand that I accept Zeus you are not obligated to prove to me that he exists."

It's not written into the fabric of spacetime, it's a patently obvious conclusion.

Consider:
A) Assertions should be doubted in the absence of positive evidence.

What is the alternative? How about:
B) Assertions should be believed in the absence of negative evidence.

But there's uncountable infinities of assertions for which there is no negative evidence, and many of these assertions contradict each other. B cannot possibly provide a good framework for deciding between reasonable and unreasonable assertions. That leaves A.

Since your beliefs regarding the problem of evil are contingent on your belief in the verity of your particular interpretation of the Bible. If you can't provide any basis for believing that your interpretation is correct, there's no reason for us to listen to what you have to say about evil. And you have provided no such reason. I think that's what people are trying to explain to you.

"At a physics seminar, should I stand up and say: No, you can not talk about {Super Strings, Other Universes, Magnetic Monopoles, Higgs Bosons} until you prove to me that they exist or provide experimental evidence—because JJE sez so!"

You could say the same about atoms. No one has ever seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or felt one, after all. It's a theoretical construct that explains results from experiment. Higgs bosons, super strings, and magnetic monopoles are all likewise theoretical constructs used to provide a causal model for the results we get from experiment. How are atoms different from God? Well, our mathematical model of atoms is highly constrained and is therefore predictive: it tells us that such and such an atom under such and such conditions will act in such and such a way.

Compare with God. If we assume that God exists, what predictions can we make that can be falsified be experiment? If you can come up with something, then your analogy to theoretical constructs from physics makes sense. Otherwise, it doesn't.

"What that really means (and I hear it a lot): you don’t fit the stereotype, go away! Fine. I’ll try to encourage Jimmy Swaggart or Pat Robertson to stop by—then you’ll have a Christian who fits your model to argue with."

Or you could go argue with Zwartz or some other Christian who doesn't realize the problem of evil has been solved. Spread the news, get mainstream Christianity behind your argument, and then come back. The post is about Christian theology, not David's private theology.

Maybe you have a point, but again: you haven't provided any reason why we should think you have any special grasp on the problem of evil over and above, say, academic theologians or Catholic bishops (both groups spend a lot of time on the problem of evil from what I understand), and THAT is who we're arguing against.

--Dan L.

Sinbad said...

Dan –

Part 1

Your claim echoes that of W.K. Clifford: “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Some take this dictum one step further still by insisting that only truths ascertained via the scientific method are somehow “genuine.” This claim fails in that (a) evidence-based thinking is inherently limited; and (b) our ability to evaluate the evidence is severely limited.

Let’s be clear from the get-go. Evidence-based thinking is a terrific thing – a necessary thing even. But it is also inherently limited.

Each of us (and every ideology -- good, bad, indifferent, benign, effective, evil, etc.) necessarily rests his or her core beliefs (or humanity if you will) on certain ideas that we must take as given since they cannot in principle be evidence-based. Examples include such statements as all men are created equal, I should marry her, representative government is good, Bach's music is beautiful, political equality is a fundamental right, ice cream tastes great (I especially like strawberry), we should help the weak and the oppressed, and love is the most important thing.

Some of these base-line assumptions may be falsified, of course, but they may not be evidenced. For example, most of us accept (and quite rightly) the idea that all persons are created equal even though the concept can't be sustained with evidence. Indeed, James Watson (need I add "noted Nobel Prize-winning scientist"?) was famously quoted as saying that "he was inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa," since "all of our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really;" that "people who have to deal with black employees find that [the belief that everyone is equal] is not true;" and that "there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so." Watson was rightly vilified for the opinions he expressed. Some tried to counter his claims on evidence-based grounds, but none claimed that universal equality is evidence-based. Watson subsequently backtracked, at least somewhat, but the point is still made. All of us rightly base our lives on ideas which cannot be supported by evidence.

Significantly, these base-line ideas relate to the most interesting and powerful areas of our existence (at least in my view) -- meaning, value, virtue, beauty, desire and worth. Indeed, these foundational principles relate to what we, in our better moments, think of as being human. Put another way, there are a significant number of things we existentially need to know which cannot be supported by evidence and about which science can have nothing whatsoever to say.

Note how Colin McGinn (need I add "prominent atheist philosopher"?) makes this point clearly, pondering "who is more deplorable among us: the superstitious zealots who limit their knowledge to what the Bible tells them or the scientists who are unable or unwilling to take any question seriously which has no scientific answer -- which includes most of the questions I as a philosopher spend my time on. ...Why are people so incapable of stepping outside the narrow world-view of their specific range of expertise -- either the Bible or their particular scientific discipline? Is it fear, narcissism, laziness, bloody-mindedness?"

Sinbad said...

Part 2

Most ironically, the alleged incompatibility between science and religion, despite the alleged primacy of evidence throughout the atheist playbook, isn’t itself evidence-based at all. It’s entirely philosophical, political, practical and predicated upon preconceived notions as to the way things must be (as Lewontin famously said, rationalists must not allow the Divine foot in the door). The possibility, for example, that the evidence might at some point demonstrate the possibility of the miraculous is deemed not just unlikely, but downright impossible.

The typical web-atheist, no less than the typical fundamentalist, has his or her own myths, rites and symbols believed to be objectively, universally and even provably (capital-T) True. Although my view is based only on anecdotal evidence, based upon my many observations at prominent atheist websites over many years, I think that’s why so many web-atheists seem to come from the ranks of the fundamentalists.

The religious fundy believes, indeed (pathologically) must believe, that his religion is (capital-T) True -- not just objectively and universally but, more importantly, demonstrably, obviously and certainly True. If the web-atheist could convince the fundy of the error of his ways, then he will have stolen the fundy’s security blanket (and cancelled his fire insurance). In that moment of uncertainty, the web-atheist rushes in to convince the fundamentalist that he has a different security blanket that can protect him from that awful gnawing inner knowledge that he is here on this planet and has no sure-thing idea why (and that he doesn't need fire insurance). The new security blanket offered is different in that it denies any meaning (Dawkins’s alleged ruthless indifference), but for the web-atheist that is irrelevant. What counts is that he can say, "There is no meaning" and wholeheartedly believe that he is expressing the (capital-T) Truth, of which he (quite naturally) is a repository. The fundy requirement of being certainly right is thus fulfilled. Indeed, for the typical web-atheist, the only legitimate choices are the atheist way and madness.

This approach is pure realpolitik, the grandmaster of which, with his contempt for individual human dignity and his ability to stimulate fundy-like support, was surely Josef Stalin. There is a myth (perhaps true), concerning his proclivity for stripping people of the ballast of their ideological identity. Stalin, standing in front of his party officers, reportedly took a live chicken and plucked it. The result was a naked and stunned chicken, disoriented and in great pain. Stalin then comforted the tortured animal, and in its own chicken-like way, it adopted him as its savior, pathetically following him around and rubbing up against his boot.

For the typical atheist recruiter, trying to turn our morons (or chickens) into their morons, the task is facilitated by the obvious idiocy of so much of what the ignorant religious fundy believes. It should be relatively easy to strip a fundy of his ideological security. After all, if a fundamentalist is required sincerely to believe that the world was created in six 24-hour days six thousand years ago, and if that fundy has just wandered barefoot out of them-thar hills into a citified and sissified country where people simply don’t believe such things, what else could explain the presence of all these atheist refugees from all those off-the-wall cults?

Sinbad said...

Part 3

The typical (so-called) rationalist also believes, from the word go, that he is in a morally superior position to the religionist. This assumed sense of superiority, in every publication, in every public statement, in every atheist forum, absolutely overflows from the rhetoric, like honey running from a full comb. This arrogance is particularly amusing (not to mention ironic) when the subject turns to practical policy issues and is completely independent of what policy positions are being advanced. An atheist position of libertarian hue or an atheist position of welfare socialism are both, in the spirit of the atheist expounding them, positions flowing from a purely rational foundation, having nothing whatsoever in common with the exact same policy recommendations issuing from conservative redneck congregations or their bleeding-heart liberal counterparts.

Unfortunately for the would-be rationalist, the underlying ethical calculations cannot have anything to do with evidence and logic. The individual rationalist must decide what he believes in and values, and to what extent, without any help from science or logic. Of course once these decisions are made, science and logic are the best means of approaching and achieving those ends. However, it’s still the case that what an individual values and desires is not something that can be evidencially determined. In this sense, if the rationalist is to hold himself superior to the religionist, the only grounds upon which he can do so is to say, "I may be, in ethical calculations, beyond the realm of science, but, at the very least, I am not beset by the irrational foibles of religion." However, with the exception of a very small number of people (much smaller than the hordes of atheists, pseudo-atheists, and secularized token religionists), ethical calculation and study has always been done in a religious context. And this leads us to the real-life dimension of Scientism’s claim, seen in an ethical (ideological) light.

Science is an extremely powerful phenomenon. It has provided the basis for many of the modern world’s great advances as well as the raw material for much of its great evil. Moreover, the current technological state of scientific knowledge will inevitably provide the raw material for events that will make the evil we’ve seen thus far appear as banal anecdotes, in the same way that the horrible casualties of the WWI were dwarfed by those of WWII. So at the very least, science poses one or more ethical questions which cannot be avoided by any conscientious person involved with it, from near or far, and in this sense, the idea of science and knowledge whooly based upon evidence and without ideology is not just untenable, it’s downright silly. Recall Tom Lehrer's famous ditty from the '60s about Wernher von Braun and his rockets. The job of the rocket scientist, sings Lehrer, is simply to get the rockets into the air -- "Who cares where zey come down?" Many scientists are too narrow and self-satisfied about what they do, and show too little concern about the role of science in society and the ethical questions inherent in their work.

There are any number of ethical positions that can accompany scientific work, of course (as many as there are people to think about them). However, in human terms, scientific work, and the larger rationalist adhesion to the idea of science as an ideal pursuit, based solely upon the evidence at hand, demands ethical reflection. So what is the state of that reflection, in our super-scientized, progressively secularized world of today? Well, astounding as this may sound, through the technological advances since WWII, the prevalent ethical attitude among scientists, and secular rationalists generally (with of course many outstanding exceptions), has been that of Pontius Pilate (“What is truth?”) or more nearly, Alfred E. Newman (“What -- me worry?”).

Sinbad said...

Part 4

Here is the directly resulting practical problem. The evidentialist jettisons religion (the primary human medium for the exploration of ethics and morality), but he cannot apply his sacrosanct (capital-S) Scientific (capital-M) Method to ethical problems. He therefore has no agency for the study of his own humanity (ethics, love, will, etc.). Thus we see the stereotypical scientist of the 21st C., in his crisp white lab coat, declining outright to speculate upon the ethical questions which he is not "qualified" to address, being "only" ( with what smug superiority does he pronounce that word) a scientist (probably no capital-S this time).

Even, and perhaps especially, with regard to the critical importance of some idea of the moral implications of science itself, the evidentialist scientist is mute (and thus perhaps moot). Scientific advance is conceived as an unqualified good, and the motto of the establishment scientist, to the effect that he is concerned with (sacred) science and not with (profane) application, is reminiscent of the unofficial but popular Marine Corps motto, "Let God Sort 'Em Out," meaning of course, I’m just here to kill them, not to decide whether or not they deserve to die.

This is not to say that such ideological blame should lie entirely at the feet of science itself. However, the existence of science without some non-evidential ideological bias is impossible because science is practiced by human beings, who are morally responsible for what they do (which responsibility is shared by a much vaster number of people who support, without direct involvement, the scientific ideal). In this context, the ultimate irony and perversity of the current cult of rationalism and science is the picture of scientists -- real human beings -- pretending that they are not required to elaborate upon and question their own moral positions, because their pursuit is inviolate (capital-S this time) Science. The problem now is not confusing pure science with ideology; the problem is the delusion of real people believing that their human existence can partake of scientific and rational purity (“I refuse to believe in claims without a scintilla of evidence”).

In a sort of mystical operation, all of these scientists, and that much larger group of atheist, rational enthusiasts, who follow the ideal of science at a distance, consider themselves one, in the immaculate body of science, through the taking of vows to forever eschew irrationality in all of its forms. In short, all of these pencil-necked, white-coated maniacs, holed up in labs around the world, often with the potential raw material of massive crimes against humanity and or the human environment, lying about on shelves, as personal toys, theoretical or physical, not only feel no urgency about considering their moral relation to the world they live in but, on the contrary, actually have a social status and personal construct whose primary value is based on ignoring all forms of moral inquest as irrational.

Rationality cannot mandate ethical choice, and we have vowed to evacuate all that is irrational? No problem. Can we live without any conscious moral inquiry? Thousands of years ago, the Mesopotamian adepts (male) of the goddess Ishtar, personally and publicly castrated themselves in order to achieve moral blamelessness through obedience. The modern rationalist who avoids the key questions of human responsibility by claiming that only evidence-based reasoning provides any "genuine" answers is practicing a self-emasculation more disabling yet.

robotaholic said...

David,

So let me get this straight...you somehow are in communication with a magical invisible ultimately powerful being and it has told you that you must share information regarding the future of the earth and it's inhabitants. This being has created the entire universe. It also has written a book by possessing humans and controlling their limbs in such a way so as to write it. You get your information from this book. You say you are obligated to share your 'gospel' because the invisible magical person told you to.

Nice-

Those of us in the reality based community would call what you have a delusion. I think your problem is much worse though.

I say this in the most basic terms and it is the absolute truth.

Your brain is infected with a disease. It is obvious. You need to get help.

David said...

robotaholic,

Most excellent. Your insightful commentary is a lasting tribute to New Atheist intellectualism. You are truly one of their best and brightest. I mean that sincerely, and I congratulate you, sir! Just as a small example of your scholarship: few polymaths, if any, have nailed the doctrine of inspiration as you have nailed it. The writers were possessed and their limbs controlled--no doubt your username is a clue as to how you developed such a revolutionary explanation. Your contribution, truly, can not be measured.

Brian said...

What's this 62 comments and no one's mentioned C.S.Lewis? Woo hoo. A quality blog indeed. I just mentioned 'im didn't I? D'oh!

Brian said...

David, as a southern Baptist, who seems to be saying goodness isn't a major attribute of God, what do you think of what Catholics say?

The chief positive attributes are unity, truth, goodness, beauty, omnipotence omnipresence, intellect and will, personality.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02062e.htm

Michael said...

David, I know this is way down here and you probably won't read it, but you talked about the Great Commission in one of your posts above. You are aware the Great Commission is not in the Bible, but the result of a translation error, yes? The original Greek has a sort of "continuous tense" which English lacks. A better translation (though not perfect, as there can be no perfect translation from one language to another) would be not "Go into the world and preach the gospel" but "WHILE YOU ARE GOING into the world, preach the gospel". Subtle, I know, but I think the difference is clear: one says you should actively seek ways to spread the gospel, while the other - the way it was actually written - basically says you should tell people you meet while you're out in the world, which is passive. There is no Great Commission.

luke said...

Posting over from Coyne's site in response to a couple things mentioned concerning me over on Coyne's blog.

Thank you. My word not to post on this site again, nor Coyne's.

...

No, it's not true as Russell implies [This follows a reply Russell made to another poster - see link below].

It's as simple as my last post - what we are actually talking about is testing claims of the supernatural, NOT the supernatural.

What Blackford is doing (never called him an idiot or a creationist as he complains) is pernicious to a proper understanding of science and nature, done in the mistaken belief it has something to do with a "war between naturalism and supernaturalism" (which makes little or no sense scientifically speaking).

Scientist can say what ever they want.

One final time.

Someone makes a claim that "God created the world 10,000 years ago".

This is a claim, we can safely say, to do with the supernatural(the God as understood in a claim like this).

We can test the claim, but scientifically what is done has only to do with nature. Therefore, we can dismiss the evidences for the claim (such as "it says so in the Bible and that's how I interpret it, so it is true" - that is not scientific, it is ridiculous), then we can offer positive evidence for the age of the earth (which is over 10,000 years).

Hence, science has refuted the claim that the earth is 10,000 years old.

What it didn't do, has never done, nor does it need to do, is refute that a God ("supernatural force") did anything.

To make Blackford's argument, what Coyne does (and others) is make up claims to nature - such as a talking Mount Rushmore, 900-foot tall Jesus etc.

Those made up claims have no basis in reality. We can not say scientifically what it means, because it is meaningless bullshit.

It's really that simple.

Science says nothing about what none of us know anything about, outside of the claims (this allegence to naturalism is what has made science so successful and progressive, it explains our scientific beliefs).

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/another-flea/#comment-11281

luke said...

Fix for last paragraph:

Science says nothing about what none of us know anything about concerning the "supernatural", outside of the claims (this allegiance to naturalism is what has made science so successful and progressive, it explains our scientific beliefs).

David said...

Brian,

Sorry if I gave the wrong impression, I certainly believe that God is good, and that as the apostle wrote: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And that as Joseph, who suffered at the hands of his brothers, later said to them: “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” What I have denied here is that Russell Blackford (or Jerry Coyne, he does the same stupid trick) gets to define that “God being good” means “God is supposed to care in an infinitely loving way about each individual.” That’s the tiresome strawman that people have been standing up for ages.

As for the Catholic Encyclopedia definition—I have no problem with it. Catholics tend to look at God’s attributes a bit more esoterically and abstractly that Protestants do—but I have no issue with what they wrote.

Michael,

I am aware that many passages in the New Testament have a translation problem due to the complexity and richness of Greek verb tenses—especially as you pointed out perfect tense that implies continuous action—and in many cases the Greek is more powerful than the English. But as for the Great Commission—it doesn’t make a difference. The example of Paul indicates quite clearly that we are to preach the gospel, yes as we travel about--but nothing precludes traveling for the express purpose of spreading the gospel. Although your point of the Great Commission being misunderstood is not, in my opinion, without merit—because what it actually calls for is to make disciples—but modern evangelism tends emphasize making converts.

Brian said...

Thanks David. I was raised catholic, and goodness certainly seemed to be an important attribute. Especially Jesus being all good, and Jesus being God.

“God is supposed to care in an infinitely loving way about each individual.

Well, this seems odd. Excuse my ignorance, but if you don't mind. If God is infinitely good, then how could he not be infinitely loving about his creation? I guess I think that good people love other people, especially when theres an asymmetric relationship as of parent to child. The child might be a turd, but the parent will still love. Now max that to infinity, and isn't that God? Our father who art in Heaven. I'm a bit confused. Perhaps God isn't infinitely good? I'm enjoying picking your brain. Hope you don't mind.

luke said...

Blackford wrote:

- "In particular, most of the suffering that there has been on this planet took place long before human beings even existed".

How do you know this? What animals and at what time are you saying there was suffering? How are defining "suffering" to make this claim?

Brian said...

How do you know this? What animals and at what time are you saying there was suffering? How are defining "suffering" to make this claim?
Russell will answer this if he wants. But I'll scribble a few bits 'n' pieces.

How do we know this? We have plenty of evidence that animals from millions of years ago had sufficiently developed nervous systems to feel pain like animals alive today do. The list of animals is not fully known, but what is know is too lengthy to enumerate.

luke said...

Crap!

Promise, this is it (but I have another correction to make). I'm tired and extremely tired of making this point. It actually pains me to watch my fellow atheist come up with stories like Oral Roberts' 900-foot Jesus to say if it was documented that provide evidence of the supernatural (or his new one, our tentative consent that its supernatural). It's a made up story, it's meaningless bullshit, this is a stupid way to combat irrationality or to make claims about science.

Anyway, I said in my first post: "Therefore, we can dismiss the evidences for the claim..."

No, it's not as bad as it looks, I took a shortcut, but could hear the grumbles to clearly. We take whatever evidence is provided if it's useful, i'm talking about the evidence for the "theory" - that "God created" ie "God did it". It can be dismissed out of hand when approaching the entire claim scientifically.

This stupid mess is Dawkins' fault in misunderstand Gould, that's all it is. It's just sad to see someone as gifted as Coyne spout out with such nonsense about talking Mount Rushmore's. And, now that his words are visisble while I write this; "best short discussion of theodicy I've seen" is fundamentally a shame. It's when I see stuff like this I realize why the "new comers" to the skeptical movement seem so unaware of the basics.

Ok, have a great life, sincerely.

Yours in reason.

luke said...

OMG,

When I said: "i'm talking about the evidence for the "theory" - that "God created" ie "God did it"."

No, it's not as bad as it sounds. Should be obvious but I can hear the moans. Saying "god did it" is not coherent in a scientific sense. It holds no meaning in science. There's a very long list of reasons why we have a problem.........

F-it!

luke said...

Brian,

Ok, then you are defining "suffering" as simply pain, period. Or so it seems. Suffering in such discussions usually focuses around the wider psychological aspects, I think.

luke said...

UHG,

Didn't mean to leave out physical pain. Just adding what is commonly understood, such as, enduring misery etc.

Sorry, seriously, I apologize.

I'm crazy tired now, zonked on benzo to help me sleep :^)

I'm done! I'm nuts, but this is just some comments on some blog in a tiny corner of the internet universe, so I can't lose sleep over it.

Barney Zwartz said...

It is a rather interesting experience being the subject of a blog. Also a bit flattering and a bit discocerting.

Russell did not post a link to my comments, for whatever reason, and I think I have been a little misrepresented. I did not say Christians don't believe in an omnipotent God (which clearly they do), I took issue with defining God merely as abstract attributes.

However, the reason I am posting a comment here is that the National Times had problems the morning it was posted. Rosa's comment never arrived, so I invite you to try again. I will also try to address other points raised.

I don't know whether it's etiquette to post my address on someone else's blog; if not, I apologise. I did post Russell's web address on mine.

If I am allowed to, here it is:
http://www.theage.com.au/blogs/the-religious-write/god-after-auschwitz/20090916-fqbq.html

If not, google The Religious Write and Zwartz.

Thanks, Barney Zwartz

Amanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosa said...

Thanks, Barney

Ralph said...

I see you are an authoritarian. For you, belief comes first, and thought comes after (if at all). Why is intellect so unnecessary for you? Is it because you believe what you are told to believe, without thinking for yourself?

Rx7ward, I can't see this as a definition of authoritarianism. Ultimately all authority resides in truth. Truth has authority because it is true (describes reality as it is). Jesus taught as one having authority (Matthew 7:29) because he was the 'truth' in human form (John 1:14).

Intellect is very necessary to me because I'm interested in truth and intellect is necessary to recognise and affirm truth. Belief only comes first in the sense that it guides and directs the thought. This is the same for everyone. When we call someone (or they call themselves) a non-believer we don't mean that they think instead of believing , we mean they believe in themselves in place of God.

your god is neither omnipotent nor benevolent.

Or you haven't thought it through properly.

God is both omnipotent (all powerful) and benevolent (loving) - creating beings capable of feeling life as their own and also capable of recognising their creator and of freely choosing to live the way God has ordained (lovingly – for the sake of others). If God imposed good/altruism on us (overrode the freewill {He} has given us) we would not have free-will or even a semblance of it. We would merely be robots. It is infinitely loving of God to enable us to feel life as our own (which we do when we make free choices) even though all the power behind our actions (and even the ability to choose) come from God.

Most other humans, however, think you have this ("Intellect does not lead to belief”) exactly backwards! What a surprise!

People who 'search' for God (and spiritual things) with their intellect only never find them because they are not physical entities, but people who believe in God see evidence of (His) operation and purpose all around them – within themselves and others.

Even with the search for empirical truth (of physical things) the intellect does not lead but confirms or rejects hunches or hypotheses. There must first be a desire or want to search and a belief in the method.

David said...

Brian,

"Well, this seems odd. Excuse my ignorance, but if you don't mind. If God is infinitely good, then how could he not be infinitely loving about his creation?"

I didn't claim God was "infinitely" good--for two reasons 1) I don't know what that means and 2) the bible does not describe him that way.

Indeed, the bible says that all that God does is good only for a subset of people: for those who love him, and that in only an ultimate sense. It seems rather obvious that sending someone to hell is not for their good.

This takes us full circle It is definitely not true that the God of the bible is infinitely loving. To use again the obvious example: God loved Jacob; God hated Esau.

Who knows how much those emotions, when applied to God, resemble our emotions of those names or how much they are anthropomorphic --but at any rate it is clear that God is not infinite with his favor.

To me, saying God is "infinitely this"or "infinitely that" is simply a slightly more sophisticated version of the child's "Can God make a rock so big he can't lift it?" conundrum. God has attributes none of which can be expanded to infinite size at the expense of squeezing out another. It is best, for Christians anyway, to say that God is good no more or less than the manner in which the bible describes him as good. If this doesn't meet our invented "infinitely good," then so be it.

Brian said...

Thanks David, so there could be a being that is better than God? A being that is more good, more knowing, more powerful? Or perhaps God could could improve if a challenger (say an Archangel) came along? If so, then your version of God is that s/he/it is not imutable?

J.J.E. said...

Sinbad says:


J.J.E. says:
But I refuse to believe in claims without a scintilla of evidence.

I suspect you do it all the time. Examples might include [...]
[snip]
Perhaps you think that love is stronger than hate.


Dan L. answered these adequately. Thanks Dan!


The problem now is not confusing pure science with ideology; the problem is the delusion of real people believing that their human existence can partake of scientific and rational purity (“I refuse to believe in claims without a scintilla of evidence”).


This is pure sophistic bu115h!7, plain and simple. All of those so-called problems are easy to resolve and fall into two classes.

1) Many of them happen to be very complex factual claims and simply aren't easy to verify, though it isn't impossible in principle.

Here's just one example. While I don't know or believe that "all men are created equal", I do know that when that principle is violated, it is often observed that society can become unstable, people can suffer deprivation, and the security of all layers of society can more variable, etc. I may opine on whether I prefer (conditional on such observations being representative) the outcome of a society where that principle is respected or the one where it is not.

2) The rest are emotions and opinions. Perhaps my language was insufficiently clear.

I don't accept as knowledge (i.e. justified beliefs) anything that has no basis in observation. I might accept it as a hypothesis, or a conjecture, or as a side effect of a theory that is otherwise useful, or hold it as a personal opinion, or as an emotion, but not as knowledge. So, when I say:

But I refuse to believe in claims without a scintilla of evidence.

That is synonymous with saying that I refuse to accept opinions lacking even a scintilla of evidence. God is one such opinion.

And no, I'm not so deluded as to believe that I (or anyone else) engage in rational purity. Opinions and emotions abound and I never claimed to be free of them. But opinions and emotions are not the stuff of knowledge. When someone makes a claim to knowledge, it must be scrutinized.

And of course, your long exegesis really opens 1,000 new avenues, it is hard to begin. Suffice it to say, accepting a belief absent evidence in a situation where there is no reason to believe it is even in principle consequential is unacceptable. I haven't come across evidence for the modal Southern Baptist God, or the modal Sunni God, or the modal Mormon God, et cetera. And I have no reason to believe that not accepting any or all of them would have any consequence external to the change in belief itself. I could be wrong, and I would like to know if I were. But I have no way of knowing if I am. If you can offer it, please do.

In fact, I'm quite content struggle against ignorance (mine as well as that of others) to the best of my ability. But I also recognize that I will remain ignorant as well as wrong about countless issues. Your strawman argument that places people who try to vet their beliefs critically as absolutists is dishonest.

Ultimately (and I'm only speaking for myself, but I suspect others agree with me) I am satisfied to engage in a life-long journey of discovery, and I believe with evidence that rational investigation of the world is one fruitful way to do that. Though I could be wrong, my experience tells me it is the best way that I know of. My journey started far from perfect knowledge, and even if I were perfect, my life is too short for me to travel very far, let alone given my many imperfections.

David said...

Brian,

Are these questions meaningful?

Could there be a god more merciful that God? Yes, the god of the Universalists is more merciful (I guess he is “infinitely merciful”) than the god of orthodox Christianity, since the latter doesn’t see fit to assure the salvation of everyone. I can speculate that God’s attributes are in some sense optimized—but as I said in my first post the only attribute ascribed to God in the superlative—which is what I assume people mean by “infinite”, is that he is infinitely holy. I accept that—even though I have a only very tenuous, gut-instinct-only grasp of what holiness is.

And no, I don’t think any other god is more powerful—for I believe God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, i.e., is sovereign over all—and even Satan has to ask for God’s permission, e.g., to attack Job or sift Peter like wheat. And yes I think God is immutable.

Brian said...

Thanks David. So any god that was better than God would not be better than God because God can lift a rock that's too heavy for that god because God's more powerful? ;)

Sorry, just joking. It's late, I would like to pose more questions. I feel that you've ignored some of my points, but that could just be indigestion. Thanks again. :)

Greg said...

A theologically liberal friend of mine surprised me with her answer to this problem: "God has no power to act." That is, she actually would rather believe in a weak, limited god that does absolutely nothing (in fact cannot do anything), than face the looming elephant in the room. (No, not the elephant standing on the turtle.)

Anonymous said...

we have officially jumped the shark

Piero said...

Fucking brilliant post! (Sorry about the profanity, but polite words just could not convey my enthusiasm).

Liam said...

Actually, it's the existence of evil that makes belief in God more plausible than unbelief. For me (and, not surprisingly, for a good number of former atheists), the theodicy argument, critically considered over time, is a nudge towards belief. As for God's omnipotence, the space created by free will is a necessary one, as we can see in any enduring relationship: trust and love require at least a smidgen of uncertainty (another word for that space) in order to grow. The moment we become absolutely sure of another person, we human beings have a time-tested bias to take them for granted and melt love into transaction.

Andrew said...

Russell, contrary to Brian's first comment, I am a bit puzzled by the fact that the only alternative you seem to offer to determinism is (quantum) randomness as a decider for human choice.

Surely free-will (as imagined by the key medieval theologians, existentialists, most notable Christian analytic philosophers, and the ordinary person in the street etc etc) is neither of these but simply the insistence that the person herself has the power to choose - ie transcendence.

Is this what you think is incoherent? The idea that an agent might have real power of self-determination?

Brian said...

Free will is the power to choose, but you don't chose randomly. You can't choose to make a choice that person X or Y might have done and you don't choose in a vacuum. You can only choose what is possible and conscious to you. These possibilities are limited to your psychology, current mood, physical abilities and past.

Liam, do you think you're in a fair relationship with God? God will punish you for eternity if you don't play his game. How free is your will if you believe this? That's an abusive relationship.

Andrew said...

Hi Brian,
Am I right in thinking that "power to choose" here is nothing more than the power of a computer to spit out data according to the hardware, software and input-data it has available?
I don't think that is what most people think of by "free-will".

Andrew said...

Hi Brian,
Am I right in thinking that "power to choose" here is nothing more than the power of a computer to spit out data according to the hardware, software and input-data it has available?
I don't think that is what most people think of by "free-will".

Andre said...

Sorry - hate it when that happens

Anonymous said...

Is the Cat cruel to the Mouse? Does the Blind Worm who lives in Darkness suffer? To be a fallible, temporally and physically limited being in a Very Large world is to Suffer, as Buddha remarked. Does Suffering necessarily imply Cruelty, or Evil?

Perhaps Cruelty require Intention and Empathy. Perhaps (on this planet) the necessary degree of those qualities only exists in Humans. Then, it is sufficient to assert that Cruelty arises from the exercise of human Free Will.

Then ask two questions:

Why did God give humans free will? … because God chose to create Man in his own image.

Why did and do humans, in their free will, neglect God and choose Evil? …. that, indeed, is a mystery.

-Marshall

….and BTW….
> In particular, most of the suffering that there has been on this planet took place long before human beings even existed.

If you want to talk about the Abrahamic myth….and for some reason the Evangelical Atheists only seem to want to talk about the most rigid Verbal Truth tradition from the Christian Bible…very little at all occurred on this planet before human beings existed. And suffering began only when Eve chose and Adam went along.

Brian said...

Hi Andrew, can you state what you mean by free-will? Most people think something contradictory when they talk about free will. As Russell pointed out, free will that was random or without antecedent is not free will at all. It is as if you were a at a whim and thus could not be responsible for your actions, as there was no cause behind them. Generally we lock people up who cannot account for their choices nor be responsible for their actions. In any case, you'll explain what free will is for you.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the question, Brian.
I've seen JL Mackie say something similar to this when he says that most people have a contradictory idea that a decision can be uncaused yet (not random but) caused.

I certainly think you (and Mackie) are right about the "most people". But, again, I think you are mistaken about it being contradictory.

What I - and most people :-) - believe is that human nature is partly self-determined. Certainly there are boundaries and various types of impinging pressures (social, biological and so on). And certainly these operate at different strengths for different people and circumstances.

The claim is however that it is *not meaningless* to speak of "going against your conditioning". For example, the abused child can *chose* not to become an abuser – though it may be difficult.

Please note I am not speaking about random action or whim. What I am speaking about is self-determination: the person has two exigencies (this is obviously simplified) and they sovereignly/transcendently "choose" one over the other. In other words it's not that there is *no* cause for the action. It is simply that *the person herself* is the cause.

Now the obvious objection here is for you to say that the person will only make this choice for some *other reason* - and thus on to infinite regress. Certainly this is the implacable logic of determinism. My point however is not to disprove determinism but simply argue that it is not the same as "free-will", nor that the latter is incoherent.

Brian said...

My point however is not to disprove determinism but simply argue that it is not the same as "free-will", nor that the latter is incoherent. You seem to be arguing a compatibilist case for free will. I have no objections to compatiblism.


http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

Andrew said...

You seem to be arguing a compatibilist case for free will

Then I am not making myself clear :-)

I am saying free-will is NOT deterministic.
When I say that I am not trying to disprove determinism it is because that is not my agenda at this point - not because I agree with it.

Brian said...

So, if free will is not deterministic, then how can you be responsible for you choices? You didn't, or at least can't guarantee, that you chose your thoughts or actions. They're undetermined. You're not sovereign.

Brian said...

So, if free will is not deterministic, then how can you be responsible for you choices? You didn't, or at least can't guarantee, that you chose your thoughts or actions. They're undetermined. You're not sovereign.

Brian said...

damn reposts. :)

Andrew said...

I know, they're a pain!

You didn't, or at least can't guarantee, that you chose your thoughts or actions. They're undetermined. You're not sovereign.

Well that's the nub of it, isn't it? I am saying that free-will theory (as me and all my mates see it) dictates that we can. And we are. Not wholly. But truly.

Andrew said...

I know, they're a pain!

You didn't, or at least can't guarantee, that you chose your thoughts or actions. They're undetermined. You're not sovereign.

Well that's the nub of it, isn't it? I am saying that free-will theory (as me and all my mates see it) dictates that we can. And we are. Not wholly. But truly.

Brian said...

Andrew, it seems that if you're not controlling your thoughts, you're not sovereign. If you're mad, you are not held responsible for your actions because you're not free to do so. How, if you don't determine your thoughts are you responsible?

Scott Hedges said...

Brian, how does the insight from modern brain science, that the mind is an evolved collection of functions - and the one we call conscious thought, having evolved to serve the older parts of the brain (and older organism) - how does this idea impact the seemingly endless discussion of freewill you are valiantly thwacking away at here? Seems to me that this is all very simply, vis a vis, John Haidt's "elephant and rider" analogy. Clearly there is much going on in our minds (and in our ancestors minds that is not what we call free will ... but instinct, automatic response etc ... but all this is now being "ridden" by the part of the brain that has blog smackdowns ... does this "new" factual insight into the mind cut through this knot? I'm asking this of you as a philosopher ... ie are these discussions ever subject to resolution through biology?

Look forward to your thoughts, am trying to come back from courting crankiness and brooding ... which I've been warned about here before.

So seriously, now that we are not so much guessing about the brain, what changes. We still having this discussion?

Also Andrew Sullivan is reading Russell ... very good company Andrew ... he is a nice break from the "daily me" ...

Regards, Scott

Andrew said...

How, if you don't determine your thoughts are you responsible?

I'm sorry - I thought that was what you were arguing?!?

Brian said...

Scott, I think that changes in personality after brain injury, which make no sense under substance dualism. The fact that our minds are not a unified thing, which is demonstrated by neuroscience, and the fact that it is impossible give our current scientific understanding for an immaterial "thing" to interact with matter that mind is just the functioning of the brain.

Here's that blog post I recently did on it again. ;)

http://philosophicalneuron.blogspot.com/2009/09/mind-over-matter.html

Brian said...

Andrew, I thought you were arguing that our thoughts weren't determined, that is that determinism is false. If our thoughts are determined, this determining does exist with a previous determination, which eventually gets back to psychology, environment, genes, and all other material stuff.

Brian said...

I'm asking this of you as a philosopher I wish I was a philosopher. I'm just an interested amateur. Russell is the real McCoy. But thanks for the compliment.

Andrew said...

It seems in both your response to Scott and me you are invoking an "all or nothing" dilemma for both dualism and free-will.
I would certainly not argue that we are consciously responsible for everything that goes on in our minds. But that doesn't mean I am responsible for nothing.

Scott Hedges said...

I don't follow the "all or nothing" ... isn't it solved? Don't we actually know the answer at this point? This whole "free will" thing is now behind us. We no longer sit here and have this discussion because we no longer live in ancient f-ing Greece.

We are evolved creatures, our minds are evolved organs, what we call "will" is something rather "recently" evolved.

At their best these days the religious want to argue that the human mind has some kind of "receptor" for "god" ... that the mind is "tuned" to pick up the signal for god, the way my dog's nose is tuned to pick up the scent of a bitch in heat.

Seriously, someone, Russell, Brian, answer my question, when does biology "settle" the question?

Or is this like the "if a tree falls" parlor game.

There is plenty that goes on in your mind that you have no control over in the sense of "will" ... when you walk - your mind is doing things that you have no idea it is doing.

The thing is people are scared that just admitting this is going to hatch some lefty plot to excuse crime. Explaining something is not the same as excusing it.

Brian said...

I would certainly not argue that we are consciously responsible for everything that goes on in our minds. But that doesn't mean I am responsible for nothing. But if things are beyond your control, and you're punished for them, don't you think that's a bit of a miscarriage of the idea of free will?

Brian said...

Scott,
Seriously, someone, Russell, Brian, answer my question, when does biology "settle" the question?

Biology yes, well physiology, but for me, it's more physics. An immaterial mind cannot interact, even if the idea of an immaterial thing isn't a contradiction, with a material thing. Further, philosophically, a mind is not like a number, so those who wish to play the number if an immaterial thing cannot get away with that. A number is an abstraction, and even if it had platonic existence, it is outside space and time as it has no causal efficacy. Numbers don't order curry, but curry gives causes number 2's ;)

Which brings us nicely back to physics. Anything that is causally efficacious acts in time, anything that acts in time is part of space time. The mind, whatever it is are ultimately, but maybe not reducible to, physics.

Scott Hedges said...

Can you say that again so it can be understood by a normal person, like me?

Is that a Sokal Hoax? Did you generate that using a web site, like

"Mypsychjargon.com"

Brian said...

Sokal Hoax? I wish. But thanks for another compliment. I generally understand what I mean, but as my wife lovingly reminds me on occasion, I'm full of shit. So, I'm not surprised if that made no sense. It was an attempt to give a short version of why I think any explanation of mind and free will only works if we accept that the mind, being a part of the physical world (time) must in the end be of the brain and thus, biology, chemistry and physics. The idea of a mind that isn't based on or reducible to the natural sciences is a rejection of fundamental science and philosophy in my opinion.

Whoops, I'm carrying on again. :)

Brian said...

Andrew, can you tell me again what you mean by free will. From what I can gather you mean that most of our decisions/willings are determined, but occassionally some things are free and thus undetermined. Is that what you mean?

Scott Hedges said...

Brian,

Why are you using the "mind" as if it is some unified thing - what I'm saying is that the brain is now understood differently than when the ancient Greeks were talking about this problem.

You are still talking in a way that would be understandable to a person from the 18th century. When are you gonna man up and cut that out that crap. We have fresh insight into the "mind" as an organ - and it ain't "optional" ... it is fact.

News flash ...

And would you cut out with the "Biology, Chemistry, Physics" ... when talking about "life" ... you can just say "biology" - the chemistry and physics are understood to be involved, this too is not "optional" ... I mean how fast do facts infiltrate the mind of the philosopher, one a century?

The question is why theologians and philosophers get off positing these ideas, that seemed good in the 18th century, but should have been binned about the time that ol' "Phineas Gage caught that metal bar in his left eye"

Brian said...

Fair enough Scott. My bad. In my defence, I used the term mind as a synonym for the functioning of the brain. This is the current understanding my neuroscience texts give. Also, I find that when arguing against certain beliefs, a doctrine of mind or life might mean only biology, with denial of chemistry and physics or similar denials of other natural sciences. As you point out, science isn't distinct groups of unrelated subjects. But many people treat them this way to deny biology or deny physics, which is why I try to marshall some form of argument from each broad group.

Can you give a few paragraphs elaborating your understanding of mind (understood as functioning of the brain) that rules out both empirically and if possible logically, free will or whatever it was we were talking about?

Brian said...

Scott, regarding Phineas Gage. It is good evidence, in fact, for someone like me almost irrefutable evidence for the scientific understanding of self or mind (I'm worried about using that word, even as a shorthand now!) The problem is that some people don't apply scientific reasoning and evidence to broader conclusions. A doctor may believe in God and a Cartesian style dualism while at the same time performing labotomies and servering the corpus collosa of patients which ensuing personality, cognitive changes. It should be obvious that the changes she makes to a patients brain changes the patients personality, but it seems to be glossed over. This is a failure to apply a rational way of thinking across one's life, and we all do it at some level.

Another problem, related to the first, is that in order to defend beliefs held for emotional reasons or inculcated in childhood, people ignore or diminish science because its conclusions are not logically necessary, but contingent. Say you believe the brain is where thinking occurs, but a religious person might say some animal or basic cognitive processing might occur in the brain tissue, but the real you or mind communicates with the brain and exists as a non spatiotemporal thing, like a ghost or god. You offer your evidence that the 1st law of thermodynamics rules this out, and biology, espeically evolution rules this out, and they reply that yeah, well science doesn't know everything and science has been wrong before, and perhaps that's how god created the world, so that we'd think it was all material, but that's just to test your faith and so on. Any evidence your then offer won't help, because they've rejected any contradictory science as being flawed, you need to argue from a more conceptual or philosophic angle I reckon.

Wow, I do waffle. :)

Scott Hedges said...

Brian, sure, the working understanding of the brain/mind free will question is most simply articulated as and comports with science) by calling it "The Rider and the Elephant".

What I was trying to ask is that over in the world of "philosophy" it still seems very kosher to talk about "the brain" and "the mind" ... as if we don't actually know for a scientific fact that the brain is where the mind and we don't also know that we can manipulate same.

What is it, tenure that means you have to die and be replaced by a younger person who wasn't exposed at a young age to an idea to change your mind?

The whole beauty of science is that we agree to "change our mind" when the evidence warrants, at best we agree also to only hold our understanding of the world as provisional, and supported by evidence.

We lived in a Newtonian world till we didn't ... no one had to be burned at the stake, no one had to be tossed from power, they simply have to acknowledge that the cat has indeed dragged something into the house.

That is all I'm asking. Why is it even possible for learned people accept it when they talk about the mind in ways that are understandable to a philosopher from the 18th century?

Doesn't the fact we have all these facts just force us to say, yeah, we don't think that anymore?

I saw Russell sits there and entertain Barney and bobbles on about "spooky free will" ... instead of simply refusing to accept the validity of views of human nature that exclude our modern fact based knowledge.

Thats all I'm asking, at what point does knowledge invalidate what you "used to think ... how good a chemist must you be before you just mock what alchemists think is worth testing?

Brian said...

Scott, the problem is that people simply deny the science and philosophy. Religion has an unearned right to deny the truths of science. Philosophers and Scientists of a religious bent spend lifetimes weaving objections and gossamer diversions to allow space for believers to maintain a claim to rationality. These arguments need to be refuted and picked apart as they arise.

Russell is arguing against them in a reasoned and respectful way because if you jump and scream at them, as they probably deserve, they dismiss you as irrational and strident and the average man sees you shouting and them looking serene and concludes that they must have something right. Personally, I think Russell debating Barney was probably a waste of time because it gives Barney a veneer of respectability. But then the Age has already done this, so perhaps he has to be confronted.

In other words I don't know.....

Scott Hedges said...

Look, i'm not saying that Russell should scream, or act uncivil, just that he should be very pain in saying that these ideas are obsolete and uninformed by science, and thus are at best obsolete notions that were valid in the 18th century but today belong in the museum of philosophy the same way alchemy belongs in the study of the history of chemistry.

There are ways to use words like "iron age", "privative" "childish" "uninformed" without seeming angry.

I would argue that this is exactly the kind of treatment that would help the public discussion. Rev Pete Adam is as you say unaccustomed to being told in an respectful but firm manner that his his ideas are childish, uninformed and rooted on presumptions about reality that have been discredited. Just like every branch of knowledge, science has plowed a head and shown us what is wrong. It may still be working on what is exactly right but there are vast areas that are just simply "proven false".

That is what I'm trying to get at. It isn't a matter of respecting them or shouting at them, there is a vast array of other options.

WAT said...

there is a vast array of other options.

Can you list some of the options? I presume that the current new atheists and Russell are well known to both of us, so what other options are there? I believe there must be a wide variety of approaches. I'm just doing a good job of thinking of them right now.

Russell Blackford said...

I'm really not sure what Scott thinks was possible in the format we were given. We were explicitly told that this was to be a friendly exchange of views NOT a debate, and we were given a format that excluded any real possibility for replies. Some isolated aggressive comments were made, of course, by me and others, but Scott seems to be asking me to tear up the rules that I agreed to when approached by the Secular Society to do this gig.

I also think that we always need to ask ourselves who we are trying to persuade and what we are trying to persuade them of. Acting arrogantly towards Barney Schwartz and Peter Adam would not have convinced anyone of anything, except maybe that high-profile atheists are arseholes.

From an educational/advocacy viewwpoint, the questions are: were the secular people given a better understanding of the problem, which they can use for their own purposes? Were the religious people from the Christian Union likely to have gained a better understanding? Would someone who is considering becoming a Christian have been reassured by how events went and gone ahead? Would someone who is a Christian but has "doubts" have gained reassurance?

Perhaps the answers these questions are all neutral.

However, I'm pretty sure that my account did give people in the audience a greater understanding, that it would have been pretty challenging for any Christian who already has doubts, and that no one who is wavering from the other direction would have gained much reassurance from Barney or Peter.

By the way, no one should underestimate how troubling the Problem of Evil is for sincere religious people. Many people have abandoned Christianity over exactly this issue. I am one of them (though admittedly it was this problem in conjunction with others).

Scott Hedges said...

dear russell:

first, i admire your skill and the tact and decency you brought to this discussion, but I respectfully submit, that you got sandbagged.

I am not suggesting that you be disrespectful, or act in a way that would open you up to being dismissed as an arse, so lets take that issue off the table.

It seems to me that the problem with approaching the issue from the standard accepted philosophical problem of evil as you did at the MSS non debate, and as it has played out on the blogs with Andrew Sullivan, is that God's apologists keep saying, "we never said that" ... the entire discussion could have been distilled to you saying "i'm not making a straw man" and them saying "you are making a straw man".

You get to look like an academic and they get to look like they are in possession of some profound mystery and deep soulful source of strength, which is beyond your egg head paygrade. Russell, do people rip up their bibles after some horrible life event which proves that their all loving God is totally indifferent to their suffering? No.

For instance, last year's bushfires, do people stand up and say, "and were was God" ... does the VFC demand that the church show up at a commission and answer for their teachings, offer a defence of their doctrine? No, piety only increases, clerics rise in the ashes, faith is offered as a salve for the burns. Suffering and "evil" are case #1 in the ecleisiastical raison d'etre, in fact the main purpose of faith is "delivery from evil" ... In otherwords, if you think presenting the "problem of evil" as a philosopher is going to disturb the slumber of reason when burnt twisted corpses and the screams of the forsaken, won't show us plainly the indifference of the universe ... I submit, you've not been watching the same channel that I have.

Scott Hedges said...

cont

It seemed to me that the rules you agreed to included "the other side" denying that there was a problem, and mainly discussing the problem of evil as a problem with your understanding of the problem. Afterall, they got to quote Mencken (against you) and assert that they served God, and that God doesn't serve us. What is not to understand here?

If there were to be a next time, what I think I would have done was to do what they did, avoid the "problem of evil", and press them on the "myth of evil".

I would have opened with the idea that "act of God" is a euphamism, and that geology and medicine, have all quitely rid themselves of God. You could have accepted credit for solving most of what people used to think of as "evil".

Then I would have turned to the problem that religion causes in promoting evil as an explaination of human atrocity. Barney got to assert that religion = communities of care. Educated people allready know that God doesn't cure cancer, or create tsunamis. Evil though still seems to be a legitimate cause of human wickedness.

Barney and Pete belong to a school of thought which would have us accept that "materialism" leads to social and moral decay. They want everyone to believe that without a lawgiver, there can be no laws.

The question should have been turned to them as, why faith and moral certainty are ALWAYS at attendance at a human atrocity. Is it really possible that the 9-11hijackers really just read their holybooks wrong?

This was the subject of Baumiester's 1997 book: Evil: Inside human cruelty and Violence. I would point you here for the arguments that effectvely counter Barney's cant.

The problem of evil is that we carry with us, a "myth of pure evil". Religion, by encouraging moral absolutes and offering us the idea of a "lawgiver" outside ourselves shows how the idea of evil works as the ultimate self serving bias.

The fact is that human atrocities are rarely perpetrated by people acting out of some sadistic or greed or psychopatholigy, but rather come from normal people acting out of what they see are just and good reasons ...

I find it incredibly frustrating that Barney Zwartz can use the Holocaust as an example of way that faith can be enriched, and I don't know why Darwin and Dawkins have to answer for Hitler every time they leave the house.

Theologians have been stoking the fires that made it all possible for 1000 years ... the problem of evil should have been focused on evil as a faith based construction.

What I think we need more of is articulate exposition of why evil is so much happier in faith based systems, why we can be certian that human attrocity thinks just the way Barney does, "god doesn't serve me, I serve god".

The care and goodness that Barney wants desperately to accord to religious faith, belong in another ledger altogether, and the Golden Rule, requires no faith what so ever ... that is why it is so useful.

Again, none of this should require being unlikable or unpleasant, in any sense other than saying things that they don't want to hear, but are true ...

Saint Brian the Godless said...

As for the idea that Christians and others have an "infantile" religion if they think it's all about them as individuals, this seems like a very odd thing to say of a religion that offers each individual personal salvation,
-------------------------
And yet is it not just that sort of thing that would most appeal to infantile, egocentric minds? Personal Salvation, "I'm special and deserving and beloved of God and so I will be saved" etc.? Infantile minds motivated by unchecked ego and fear of death and oblivion.

After all, while it definitely *offers* them personal salvation, it never does deliver. Instead it squelches any development of personal spirituality whatsoever, even going so far as to stamp it out utterly with violence if no other way presents itself.

It makes the believers into addicts.

The personal salvation is the 'carrot' and hell is the 'stick' in what amounts to the world's longest running case of mass conditioning.

The Greatest Lie ever told is the Lie that keeps telling itself forever.

Macchiavelli only wished and dreamed that he was as good at lying manipulation as Constantine was. He was a tyro by comparison. A mere tot.

Or am I wrong? I would love to be.

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