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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The problem of Andrew Sullivan

Over here ,an astute reader replies to Sullivan's "let's-change-the-subject" answer to the Problem of Evil. The reader says:

You confused me with your dismissal of the theodicy argument. Here are my two biggest objections to what you had to say:
First, I have never looked at the theodicy argument as an argument against faith, or I should say, all faith. Rather, I have looked at it as an argument against an omnipotent, wholly good God. It does not necessarily deny God; it denies a particular God and, at most, the supposed rational portions of a faith associated with that particular God. Second, the snippet of Blackford’s argument that you presented noted suffering that “took place long before human beings even existed.” Yet your dismissal of the argument rested on your belief that “suffering is part of a fallen creation.” My understanding of the Judeo-Christian “fallen creation” is that it did not occur until – and it occurred only with – the presence of human beings. Therefore, your rejoinder had nothing to do with Blackford’s argument that you presented your readers.

It seems to me that the theodicy argument is an argument from reason. Your argument is an argument from faith. Therein lies the paradox: you cannot counter reason with faith. As I learned this summer from reading Unamuno, the irresolvable conclusions arrived at through reason and through faith lead us to what he calls the tragic sense of life.


Sullivan says that he takes the first point.

Well, lets leave aside the rest of the argument. Sullivan simply has to admit that he has no response to the argument as I presented it.

In a later post, Sullivan complains that Jerry Coyne has been pretty dismissive of his, um, argument. Well, understandably so, since Sullivan has provided nothing of intellectual substance. What is Coyne supposed to do, call the supposed resolution something it is not? It doesn't work, and, nice though Jerry and I may be, we can't say it does when it palpably doesn't.

Sullivan does say,

My own reconciliation with this came not from authority, but from experience. I lived through a plague which killed my dearest friend and countless others I knew and loved. I was brought at one point to total collapse and a moment of such profound doubt in the goodness of God that it makes me shudder still. But God lifted me into a new life in a way I still do not understand but that I know as deeply and as irrevocably as I know anything.

I'm terribly sorry to read about the death of Sullivan's friend. I can see why this subject may be painful to him. I am terrified of losing the people I love, or any of them, especially if it happens long before their time.

But Sullivan was the one who chose to comment on my post about the Problem of Evil. He can't suddenly expect us to drop the intellectual rigour because something terrible happened to him in the past, though he can, of course, expect our ordinary human sympathy for his loss (and he has it). But he has failed to say anything in response to my argument that makes any rational sense as an explanation of why God has allowed all this suffering, most of it millions of years before human beings even evolved. There is no reason why an omnipotent God had to do things this way, and no plausible reason has ever been given, by Sullivan or anyone else, as to why a loving and benevolent God would be motivated to do so. Sullivan has said nothing even remotely responsive to the problem as I formulated it.

Once again, though, my sincere sympathy for the loss of his friend.

114 comments:

David said...

Intellectual rigor? There hasn’t been any on the part of either you or Coyne. Again, all you are saying is what Christians already know and what the bible teaches: that God is not “ominbenevolent”.

It is not just the case of our covering our ears and saying: we don’t want to hear that. No, this problem has a large and mostly satisfactory treatment, from God’s lecture of Job, to Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, to David’s suffering (in that case a direct consequence of sin) through Jesus as the suffering servant, Jesus’ discussion, the 18 killed by the falling tower, to the blind man healed whose lifelong suffering, we are told, was not do to his sins or those of his parents, but for God’s glory, to Peter and James telling us we all will suffer to Paul’s reminder that God works for good for only a subset of people, those who love him. And we understand that since God is sovereign he has ordained all this suffering—either by his decretive will by his permissive will—i.e., at the very least he could have prevented it. When the bible tells us plainly a) this is God worship him or not and b) by the way you’ll suffer, suffer, suffer then by definition of professing Christianity we all, to some degree, have accepted the theodicy in regards to human suffering.

It is not saying: Oh, no, there is no problem (It’s actually you decreeing that there is a problem, and indeed there is with the God you feel free to define.)) If we were simply ignoring a problem we would not admit, as we do, that a satisfactory theodicy for the problem of the origin of evil does not exist. Free will doesn’t explain it. Evil is just the absence of good doesn’t explain it. Leibniz didn’t explain it. No theodicy has ever explained the origin of evil—but the existence of suffering—that’s a different story.

Telling us that God is not like God as described in the bible—he is really like the god that Blackford and Coyne disingenuously define—and that god has a problem with the existence of suffering—well Your intellectual rigor is no better than Sullivan’s—if not worse. Ditto for Coyne. At least Sullivan is displaying an honest if somewhat incompetent struggle against the intellectual cheat that you and Coyne have presented to him.

Diego Agostini said...

Whether you accept the suffering or not is irrelevant. The point is that if god is benevolent and all powerful then it follows that he would not allow suffering (unless his benevolence is not directed toward his creation).

And why the devil would you worship a god that isn't perfectly benevolent? How is that different from a human with superpowers?

For the record, you're the first Christian I have ever encountered that says that god is not all good, the first to say that, although you're not the first to suggest that god will condemn those who do not stroke his ego to eternal torment* (this means I should change my question: How is that different from a psychopath with superpowers?).

*With this:"[...]to Paul’s reminder that God works for good for only a subset of people, those who love him."

386sx said...

When the bible tells us plainly a) this is God worship him or not and b) by the way you’ll suffer, suffer, suffer then by definition of professing Christianity we all, to some degree, have accepted the theodicy in regards to human suffering.

Well of course. You will accept all kinds of goofy stuff. No big secret there!

Jesus heals people by casting out demons? Sure why not! Jesus fly up up into the clouds like a birdie? Sure what the heck, why not! Tweet tweet tweeeet!

David said...

386sx,

You miss the boat—as you often do. I can’t say much for the intellectual merits of Coyne’s or Blackford’s argument—but they are at least attempting one level of abstraction, while you are not. That is, they are not merely stating your argument, which amounts to this: ”Christians are stupid and they have poopy pants, nyah, nyah, nyah. They are saying that within theism there is a insoluble theological problem of human suffering. They are wrong and disingenuous, but at least they give the appearance of carrying the argument to the next level and discussing it rationally (Blackford does this much better than Coyne.) Your argument is that of a not-very-bright kindergartner.

386sx said...

Yes David, Jesus healed people by casting out demons, and can fly up into the sky like a birdie. You can read that from very many intellectual theologians. So very intellectual!

Diego Agostini said...

No, they are saying that the popular conception of god as all-good, all-loving has a problem: evil.

tomh said...

David wrote:"
Intellectual rigor? There hasn’t been any on the part of either you or Coyne."

How would you know? When your entire argument rests on the proposition, "the Bible tells me so", it's incredibly pretentious to claim that you know anything about intellectual rigor.

David said...

Diego,

"No, they are saying that the popular conception of god as all-good, all-loving has a problem: evil."

They are imposing that concept. At least they are imposing on the Christian god.

The Christian god is not, for example, all loving. The bible tells us that he declared: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.

How could it be any clearer than that?

All you can do is what Blackford and Coyne did: invent a strawman god that is all loving, and then show (surprise, surprise) that the god you just created has a problem with the existence of suffering.

They are disingenuous in implying that the problem generalizes to the Christian god.

David said...

tomh,

I have enough intellectual rigor to know that if I wanted to argue that the Moslem God had a problem with suffering, I would be obligated to argue against the Moslem God as defined in the Moslem holy book. I have enough intellectual rigor to know that it would be disingenuous to pull out a god out of my ass, argue that there is no theodicy for the existence of human suffering under that God, and then have the cajones to claim that it had any relevance to Islam.

I have that much intellectual rigor. Coyne and Blackford do not.

Ophelia Benson said...

So! We've had it wrong all this time - the god that Christians believe in is not the philosophical god that is omnipotent omniscient and benevolent - it's the all-too-human sadistic bully described in the old testament and much of the new. It's good to have that straight!

386sx said...

And can fly like a birdie. Up up and awaaaayyyyy!

David said...

God is: omnipotent omniscient and benevolent

OR

God is an all-too-human sadistic bully

False dichotomy, thy name is Ophelia.

BTW, the Christian God is omnipotent omniscient and benevolent, in fact he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, sovereign and benevolent, among other things, but he is not omnipotent omniscient and omnibenevolent, as is necessary for Coyne and Blackford's argument.

Steelman said...

I think David would like everyone stop arguing against the "unquestionably heretical Arminian God", and give the "obviously correct to anyone with half-a-brain and a Bible Calvinist God" a go.

tomh said...

David wrote:
"... what Blackford and Coyne did: invent a strawman god that is all loving,"

This is just silly. Untold numbers of theologians have posited an all-loving God. And how do they justify such a concept? Why, the same way you justify your concept of God - by cherry-picking quotes from the Bible that support their vision. That's the real usefulness of the Bible. By skimming the right stories out, it can be all things to all people. Loving, unloving, just, unjust - it's all there, ready to be plucked.

Diego Agostini said...

How can a god that has the power to stop suffering (fuck, to not even create suffering) be considered benevolent? And please, any being that is quite happy to torture others is the definition of sadistic. He fucked Job up on a friggin' bet for fuck's sake.



By the way, no, they're not imposing the concept. Every single Christian that has preached to me has said that god is all good, all loving, all powerful. Every single damned TV evangelism show coincides. Why? Maybe because it doesn't make much sense to worship what is essentially a superpowered human with sadistic streaks. that's why it's rationalized into the "mysterious ways" thinking.

Diego Agostini said...

Can comments be edited? I see a typo or two.

David said...

Diego,

Oh he is all good. One relevant passage, already quoted, is: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28) Thus in all things God works for good (he is all good) but it is for the good of only some (those who love him) – so he is not omnibenevolent.

"Every single damned TV evangelism show coincides."

Perhaps we have a televangelist show up so that you can argue with a convenient type of Christian, one that fits your stereotype. Whom would you prefer? Benny Hinn? Jimmy Swaggart? Pat Robertson?

Big Frank said...

"David" is David Heddle, a well known troll, who has now proclaimed himself the ONE PROPER INTERPRETER of the Bible! He knows all about God, because the Bible tells him so! Apparently,too, he feels that people should be killed for working on the Sabbath, because the Old Testament says that, too!

This guy is going to mess up this thread, as he's done in so many other places.

tomh said...

David wrote:
"so that you can argue with a convenient type of Christian, one that fits your stereotype."

Yet these other types of Christians prove their points by quoting the same Bible that you quote to prove opposite points. Can't you see a tiny flaw in using such a document as the be-all and end-all authority? When you rest your entire argument on such a contradictory document, you can't avoid being engulfed in contradictions yourself.

Diego Agostini said...

Oh he is all good. One relevant passage, already quoted, is: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28) Thus in all things God works for good (he is all good) but it is for the good of only some (those who love him) – so he is not omnibenevolent.

So we're back to a sadist with an overblown ego (because if he's only good to those who love him, then that leaves the evil for those who don't).


David wrote:
"so that you can argue with a convenient type of Christian, one that fits your stereotype."

Right back at you, I suppose. That's the problem with having a self-contradictory source.

Diego Agostini said...

Oh, look at what I found on a goole search for attributes of god: http://www.parentcompany.com/awareness_of_god/aog6.htm


"The very nature of God, and the greatest of the Christian virtues. Attributes of love include patience, kindness, protection, trusting, hoping, and persevering. Love is not envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, a recorder of wrongs or does it take delight in evil."


Check the link out for ZOMG! Scriptural Support!

David said...

Big Frank,

” "David" is David Heddle, a well known troll,”

Gee Big Frank, you done outed me! And here I thought that commenting using my google profile and my photograph would keep me anonymous, because my full name and blog address is a whole click away! I underestimated your cleverness and resourcefulness!

” Apparently,too, he feels that people should be killed for working on the Sabbath, because the Old Testament says that, too!”

Then in spite of claiming I show up everywhere, you certainly haven’t bothered to read any of my posts, since I often argue, passionately, for separation of church and state, against Christian intrusion into politics or participation the culture wars, and against theonomy and dominionism. I also argue, frequently, that the Ten Commandments and all the Mosaic Law are null and void. Just as a reminder, Jesus worked on the Sabbath—if it’s a sin, punishable by stoning, then Jesus sinned, and he can’t even save himself let alone us. But go ahead, it’s your right to write inaccurate, stupid comments.

Ophelia Benson said...

God is benevolent? Yet this god allows horrible suffering for billions of animals for millions of years, before humans are even in the picture. That god is not benevolent.

"Thus in all things God works for good (he is all good) but it is for the good of only some (those who love him) – so he is not omnibenevolent."

But animals can't "love him" because they don't have the neurons, but god lets them suffer anyway. "Benevolent" forsooth - what a sick idea of benevolence.

Diego Agostini said...

And isn't it his will that some people and all animals will be excluded from his "benevolence"? Isn't he allowing it to happen? You've said that he is omnipotent, which means that nothing has power over him, which means that nothing that he does is against his will. This implies that things happen either because he lets them happen or because he makes them happen
(or a mix of both).

Calling that "benevolence" is not even wrong. It's ludicrous.

Jer said...

"Thus in all things God works for good (he is all good) but it is for the good of only some (those who love him) – so he is not omnibenevolent."

That's the basic tenet of the sickest form of Christianity ever invented - Calvinism.

I almost wish that I believed in Hell, so that I could sit in comfort knowing that John Calvin was burning there for all eternity for coming up with such an evil interpretation of the Gospels & Paul's letters and propagating it as far and as long as he did. If there was ever a clear argument for the existence of Satan, John Calvin is it. Calvin's God is an evil, malicious bastard and if such a God actually existed it wouldn't be worthy of worship anyway - it would be an entity that all of humanity would need to band together, hunt down and kill for being such a horrible threat to not just humanity but to the whole world. Calvin's God is the kind of entity that comic book superheroes fight against - an evil malicious entity who gets its jollies off of putting people into unwinnable situations and then torturing them for all eternity when they don't win. If the choice is between worshiping a malignant bastard like Calvin's God or atheism, it's pretty damn obvious that atheism is the more moral choice.

John Calvin almost convinces me that Satan could exist (and that Calvinists worship him as a god) - but he doesn't do much for convincing me that a Christian God worthy of worship exists.

Ophelia Benson said...

It's not even wrong and it's not even ludicrous because it's much much worse than that - it's embracing and endorsing and worshipping hideous pointless cruelty.

Moses said...

Dr. David Puddle wrote:

Oh he is all good. One relevant passage, already quoted, is: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28) Thus in all things God works for good (he is all good) but it is for the good of only some (those who love him) – so he is not omnibenevolent.

Well, well, well. If it isn't David Puddle taking things out of context and selectively quoting and misrepresenting his beliefs and other positions he's held in other places to win debate points. I'm so not surprised.

(For those who don't know why, I call him Dr. David Puddle because he's big into the anthropomorphic universe and has been a big supporter of "The Privileged Planet" and other silly anthropomorphic beliefs at The Panda's Thumb, Pharyngula, etc where he's trolled, on-and-off, for the better part of a decade.

The "puddle" is a play on his last name (Heddle) and a passage by Douglass Adams who mocks the anthropomorphic universe people: "Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise." )

Anyway, don't waste your time with him. He specializes in selective quoting and goal-post moving. He will, also, never answer honest questions about the complex issues that revolve around the origin and evolution of the tenants and principles of his faith. Preferring instead to fall back on a rather unsophisticated "the bible says it, so there" approach that he gussies up in four-dollar words.

In his defense, he's not quite as tedious as Carol Clouser, For-the-kids, John Davidson or Larry Farfarman.

Moses said...

tomh said...


How would you know? When your entire argument rests on the proposition, "the Bible tells me so", it's incredibly pretentious to claim that you know anything about intellectual rigor.


You picked that up fast! Congratulations.

Michael Fugate said...

Have you noticed how if you critique a characteristic of any god, then that god conveniently never has that exact characteristic or the critique is just too silly to warrant response? It does make argument impossible.

Diego Agostini said...

Ophelia: "It's not even wrong and it's not even ludicrous because it's much much worse than that - it's embracing and endorsing and worshipping hideous pointless cruelty."

You are, of course, correct.

Greywizard said...

David, Jesus did not work on the Sabbath. He defended the hungry disciples, who plucked a few heads of grain. Good Jewish teaching for the time.

Aside from this, when you speak of God as not omnibenevolent - that is, quoting Paul, he only works together for good for those who love him - what exactly do you have in mind? Exactly what do you mean by that? Certainly, you must acknowledge, that there are many people who love God who suffer.

That's so many people were distressed by the Lisbon earthquake - on All Saints Day (1755) no less - and on a Sunday, too, and most people were in church. Had they at home, fewer would have died. God seemed to have gathered them all together to worship him, and then pulled the plug. A lot of people thought this indicated something was seriously wrong with their understanding of God.

But what about animals, as innocent as babes, yet they suffer, sometimes unedurably? Just saying that Coyne and Blackford's arguments are responses to a caricature of Christianity simply won't do. Christians have had problems with pain since the beginning. The Bible is full of it. Job is a locus classicus. You can cut your Christianity loose from the Jewish scriptures if you like, but the church has always been committed to them. I get the idea that you like to quote scripture, but I'd like to see you put it altogether in an intelligible way so we could know what you think you are saying about God and evil. So far, nothing that you say really measures up to anything intelligible.

It's true that some people have mocked your religious belief. Forget that. Take it at a very serious level. Do you see no problem here at all? Why was the writer of Job worried then? Why did Paul think he needed to add those words of reassurance? They weren't worried about nothing. Read Bart Ehrman on God's Problem (the title of his book). It's very revealing. Or, if you want a more 'scholarly' work, try James Crenshaw's "Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil." (Oxford, 2005) But you really must stop pretending that there's no problem here at all.

David said...

Michael Fugate,

”Have you noticed how if you critique a characteristic of any god, then that god conveniently never has that exact characteristic or the critique is just too silly to warrant response? It does make argument impossible.”


Bullshit. Utter bullshit.

I’ll list any number of characteristics of the Christian God:

Sovereign
Holy
Omnipresent
Omniscient
Omnipotent
Immutable
Eternal
Trinitarian

If you want to critique any of these characteristics I’ll be happy to take you on. Coyne and Blackford are arguing that God is omnibenevolent, and therefore there is no theodicy for the existence of suffering. I’m not refusing to argue about an attribute of God as a matter of convenience—they are making up an attribute of God as a matter of convenience.

Diego Agostini said...

O RLY?

God is Love

"Definition:
The very nature of God, and the greatest of the Christian virtues. Attributes of love include patience, kindness, protection, trusting, hoping, and persevering. Love is not envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, a recorder of wrongs or does it take delight in evil."

Funnily enough theopedia lists Jealousy as another attribute, contradicting itself.

It's even funnier when you're all citing the same book and contradicting each other. It's an orgy of contradictions!

Diego Agostini said...

Forgot the link to the Love thing.

Quick googles of the attributes of god yield somewhat differing lists (which shouldn't differ in the slightest), but the Love thing crops up everywhere, and yet David omitted it. Odd.

Tulse said...

the Love thing crops up everywhere, and yet David omitted it. Odd.

David is a Calvinist, and as far as I understand Calvinism, it doesn't believe that its god loves everyone (or that its god is even just).

Diego Agostini said...

Oh, Calvinism. That explains it. They openly worship arbitrary cruelty, after all.

David said...

Greywizard,

I was thinking more of those instances of Jesus healing on the Sabbath.

”Certainly, you must acknowledge, that there are many people who love God who suffer.”


Not just many—all of them, to first order. That is, there is plenty biblical teaching that all believers will suffer. Think of Joseph. He suffered horribly. What did Joseph say to his brothers? You meant it for evil, God meant it for good. That is the view we have on suffering. We don’t applaud it. We don’t welcome it. We are neither Stoics (even Jesus wept with grief) nor Epicureans. We may, when suffering, fail to acknowledge what we know intellectually—that all that God does is good for those who love him.

”That's so many people were distressed by the Lisbon earthquake - on All Saints Day (1755) no less - and on a Sunday, too, and most people were in church. Had they at home, fewer would have died. God seemed to have gathered them all together to worship him, and then pulled the plug. A lot of people thought this indicated something was seriously wrong with their understanding of God. “

That is understandable—but again we have the lessons from Jesus. We have, for example, the devout believers who were murdered by Pilate, the “Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” (Luke 13:1) They too were killed during worship. Jesus is not perplexed or apologetic that these believers perished horribly—he offered no theodicy. Instead he used it as a metaphor for how we all are at the brink of death. The bible makes no promise that all believers will die peacefully in their sleep. On the contrary.

”Job is a locus classicus. You can cut your Christianity loose from the Jewish scriptures if you like, but the church has always been committed to them.”

As am I (committed to the OT, that is.) I am not sure why you think that is an argument—yes Job had a problem with suffering, and eventually God answered him, chapter after chapter. We have the advantage of the solution right in front of us: that very same response that God gave to Job. (And the sidebar response to Job’s misguided friends.)

”Why was the writer of Job worried then? Why did Paul think he needed to add those words of reassurance? They weren't worried about nothing”.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago I am not saying that people do not think, write, ponder, consider or otherwise agonize over the question of suffering. They do. They also think, write, ponder, consider or otherwise agonize over the question of salvation or creation or eschatology or the substitutionary atonement, or the role of works, etc. What I am saying is that the problem is only insurmountable when you posit an omnibenevolent God. That’s the gist of my complaint: Coyne and Blackford claim this problem has no solution, but that is true only for the god they invent. Otherwise it is like any of the other problems I mentioned—it may not be trivial but a thorough study can lead you to a satisfactory explanation, and many theologians, through the ages, have offered analyses.

We can, of course, play dueling theologians. I know of many whom I believe have dealt satisfactorily with the question. Again, that’s not true for the question of the origin of evil—that has no satisfactory theodicy.

Michael Fugate said...

David,
If I questioned your god's sovereignty, you would either dismiss me by calling me an idiot or you would say my definition of sovereignty didn't match your god. This is what you do in every response.

Brian said...

David, how goes it? You say the Christian god, but Catholics, presumably Christian, list goodness as part of God's attributes. You even agreed with their list of attributes, now you don't?

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

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

The other thread you said you didn't know what it would mean that god is inifinitely good. Goodness is one of the perfections, and thus god is infinitely good.

God is All-Perfect, this infinite Perfection is viewed, successively, under various aspects, each of which is treated as a separate perfection and characteristic inherent to the Divine Substance, or Essence.

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

Of course you can argue that Catholics aren't christian. ;)

David said...

Michael Fugate,

“If I questioned your god's sovereignty, you would either dismiss me by calling me an idiot or you would say my definition of sovereignty didn't match your god. This is what you do in every response.”

Copout. And where have I called anyone who engages me in a serious manner an idiot? Did I call GreyWizard and idiot? Have I ever called Tulse an idiot? In fact I just searched this page for the word “idiot”. The first time it appears is in your comment.

Here is my definition of God’s sovereignty, right from the Westminster confession:

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

We can argue that one, or I’d be interested in hearing your definition—though I doubt it could be stronger than the one above which argues for absolute sovereignty.

Brian,

I do agree with the list you posted before. Did I say somewhere that God is not good? Show me so that I can retract it. My list was not exhaustive—God has many attributes, I listed a sample. I could have included: God is good, God is longsuffering, God forgives, God is loving—in fact I love God only because he first loved me. I even wrote earlier (the 3:54 am comment) that God is all good. When I said he was not infinitely good it was in the sense of not being omnibenevolent—for which there are a gazillion examples in the bible.

I would never argue that Catholics are not Christians. I would absolutely argue against Catholic teaching on Justification—after all there was a Reformation over that issue—but I would never claim that there are not saved Catholics. There is no such doctrine (thankfully) as “salvation by passing a theology exam.”

Greywizard said...

I don't think you understand, David. All you have to do is take John's 'God is love', then consider the suffering in the world, and it simply doesn't add up. It's fine to say that, for you, it does, but you really do have to convince people, or at the very least make a stab at it! Jesus, remember, doesn't let you off the hook. So, you have to convince people that this God is loving, this God that allows so much suffering. That's why Paul thought he had to be reassuring. He wanted people to believe. Just saying you're right is not the appropriate Christian response at all. You are supposed to commend your faith to others. You can't do that by simply saying that everyone is wrong but you.

Regarding Jesus healing on the Sabbath. That wasn't work, and was understood by the Pharisees, the predecessors of Rabbinic Judaism, not to be. Jesus used a fairly typical, rabbinic response.

Read Job again. See if God does really answer him. Job asks for justice. God says, "Look how powerful I am! Were you there when I created the hippo? No? Well, don't ask stupid questions." Sorry, that doesn't look like an answer to me.

Another point. Jesus told people to take up their crosses and follow him, implying, I agree, that they would suffer for their faithfulness. This doesn't say much about other forms of suffering. But he also said that he'd be right back!

386sx said...

Greywizard, God does give us an answer for why people suffer:

1) Because God asks Satan what Satan thinks of people.

2) Because Satan thinks people have ulterior motives for worshiping God.

3) Because God tells Satan to go ahead and jump down out of the sky and kill people and destroy everything since Satan doesn't believe what God or people say.

There you go! Hope it makes sense, glad to help out.

Brian said...

David, I think you missed my point
When I said he was not infinitely good it was in the sense of not being omnibenevolent—for which there are a gazillion examples in the bible.

And that is exactly what the page I quote from says. God is perfect in every attribute, and on of the divine attributes is goodness. Thus God is omnibenevolent according to that page. Can we agree on that, if I've reported that page correctly, and you can surely read it and determine, then against that god, Russell's argument is cogent?

David said...

Greywizard,

No, I do not have to convince anyone, anymore than I have to convince someone that God exists. I could lay out the sum total of all arguments as to how Christians have come to understand that suffering is part of the human experience and part of the Christian experience—and the response would be: “that’s not good enough.”

It should, however, be somewhat obvious—the bible is full of human suffering including enormous sufferings of believers. If this were an insoluble problem, we’d all be in a constant state of angst. As I said before, if the bible promised a cushy life and a painless death for Christians, then you’d have a point.

No, I never signed on to the task of convincing anyone—I strongly believe that all apologetics is for believers, not unbelievers. I have never claimed that I could convince an unbeliever—in fact I would consider that a fool’s errand.

What I have argued is the problem of human suffering is not an intractable problem for Christians—we have solutions that satisfy us. We say: we do, you claim: no you don’t. One facet is the answer God gave Job: that God has a sovereign plan the details of which we are not privy to. Another aspect, not entirely unrelated, is man’s fall. There we can ask the question: how is it that we don’t suffer even more? Another aspect is the sort of pedagogical use of suffering—a man born blind so that at a later date his affliction could be cured by Jesus for God’s glory. There is the promise that everything God does for believers is ultimately good. And countless examples of how the sufferings of believers have strengthened the faith of others. To all this the unbeliever would say: phooey. But the Christian will acknowledge the arguments (when presented cogently and completely and with biblical support, not like a shotgun as I just did) as sound, and will come to an intellectual acceptance that human suffering is not antithetical to a good and loving God.

And once again it is not that we bury our heads in the sand. It is true that the bible teaches that God is not the author of evil—and yet evil exists. Where did it come from? Nobody knows. We acknowledge actual problems.

David said...

Brian,

I don’t know Brian—you showed me a list before and I had no problem with it. But what does it mean that God is perfect in goodness? If they mean that he is omnibenevolent, then obviously I disagree—is that what you are looking for? But the phrase is nebulous. You are asserting that “perfect in goodness” means omnibenevolent—but you cannot be certain that is what they meant—you cannot be certain that they would claim: yes God was benevolent toward the Amalekites. If they do, then I disagree, but you in fact don’t know with any certainty that is what they mean.

The bottom line is: I have no outright objection to the platitude “God is perfectly good.” After all, I never claimed “God is imperfectly good.”

Brian said...

Fair enough David. There's two issues here as I see it:

1. if some group of people believe in an omni-benevolent, or seriously good god who doesn't restrict its goodness, then Russell's argument works against that particular god. I don't think that's controversial. Agreed?

2. Does any mainstream Christian religion believe in such a god? I think infinitely perfect in every perfection, and goodness being a perfection makes omni-benevolence. Things like God's smiting might be then construed as metaphors or I don't know what. I'll have to do more digging to see what the Micks think vis-a-vis infinitely good = omni-benevolence. I think I've learned more theology in the last few years than I ever learned in 13 years of R.E. as school. ;)

Thanks again for your answers.

Ophelia Benson said...

we have solutions that satisfy us. We say: we do, you claim: no you don’t.

I don't - I claim you shouldn't. Just for one thing you're completely ignoring the issue of millions of years of animal suffering. That doesn't trouble you. It should. Your 'solutions' say nothing at all about animal suffering, and they shouldn't satisfy you.

David said...

Brian,

If anyone has a doctrine that says God is all loving and all benevolent to all people all the time then it is agreed that they have no theodicy for the problem of suffering, and they must yield to the criticisms of Coyne and Blackford.

As for mainstream denominations, I don’t know of any who have such a doctrine. That would include the caveat: when push comes to shove. Some denominations or independent churches may have doctrines that sound like that—with phrases like “perfect goodness”. But if pressed: is God benevolent to all people, all the time—then I believe most would say that he is not—with various schemes for justifying and rationalizing the fact.

Ophelia,

That’s true. There are 1189 chapters in the bible. Two deal with creation. One deals with the fall of man. The other 1186 deal, more or less, with redemption. As far as I know there is little said about the sufferings of animals. We know that we have dominion over them. We can safely infer, under the general topic of stewardship, that we should not mistreat them. We know that as part of creation they too “groan” at the degradation resulting from the fall—though of course they were already dying and going extinct before the fall. We know that we can eat them. We have something that may be metaphotic—but I don’t think it is, that in the new creation the animals will live in peace. Beyond that-I have no theology of animals. (I really hope that all dogs do indeed go to heaven.)

Brian said...

David, the problem then seems to be not with the argument presented by Russell, et al., just that the god you believe in isn't all good and so sidesteps such problems. I can't say that I see why anybody would worship such a god, but that's not my problem. :)

Brian said...

Now if only I could get your fellow believers to worship whatever divinity they worship without trying to make me and others who don't worship it submit to its morality as interpreted by the same faithful. :)

Ophelia Benson said...

Okay, that's it. You're not thinking, you're just blathering about the bible. Who cares what the bible says about animals?! What matters is the reality of what animals suffer and why a benevolent god would arrange things that way. We don't 'know' any of what you say 'we know' - the mere fact that it's written down somewhere doesn't mean that we 'know' it.

How dare you talk to anyone else about intellectual rigor?! Pointing at a very old book is not intellectual rigor.

386sx said...

David, the problem then seems to be not with the argument presented by Russell, et al., just that the god you believe in isn't all good and so sidesteps such problems.

There you go Mr. Heddle. Looks like you have the "all clear" sign for your god. Everything looking good. All clear for takeoff! Runway 7!!

J. J. Ramsey said...

Ophelia Benson: "Who cares what the bible says about animals?!"

If you are dealing with God as he is portrayed in the Bible, and you are saying that the suffering of animals should matter to this god, well, then you should care about what the Bible says about animals.

"What matters is the reality of what animals suffer and why a benevolent god would arrange things that way."

Correction: If you are talking about David Heddle's God, then the question is why his God "would arrange things that way." He's already made clear that the god that he worships is very selectively benevolent, and that this god's benevolence toward animals is pretty limited.

David (Heddle): "Telling us that God is not like God as described in the bible--he is really like the god that Blackford and Coyne disingenuously define"

That is unfair to Blackford and Coyne. They did not invent the notion of an omnibenevolent god. True, the God that we see in the Bible is far from omnibenevolent, but Christians have been describing this God as omnibenevolent for quite some time.

Darek said...

How dare you talk to anyone else about intellectual rigor?! Pointing at a very old book is not intellectual rigor.

QED.

Whats amusing is after reading through these comments, David can be accused of the exact same things he accuses others of - that this goes right over his head indicates how far it is up his ass.

Anyone who is honest with themselves and examines their own arguments against others should have no problem seeing these faults and correcting them. Of course, that would require some intellectual rigor.

Tom said...

David (Heddle).

Could I restate your argument so that I am clear on it?

Picking an example that restricts the suffering to people and that was not caused through human agency (i.e. not dependent on free will) so we can argue, reasonably, that an omniscient, omnipotent god caused it to happen.

For centuries Smallpox killed an uncountable number of people, men, women, children, babies. It was, by all accounts a horrible and painful death.

Your argument is that an omnibenevolent god would not let Smallpox happen but a merely benevolent one would?

J.J.E. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.J.E. said...

Re: David's particular method of "debate"

This is a classic example of why I find arguing from the "anti-theist" position to be counter-productive. If we've already agreed that questions regarding some concept as nebulous and poorly attested as "god" are worthwhile discussion, then we've already granted most of the battle. When David comes along and argues that god must be "sovereign" or whatever (among other attributes), there is very little to gain traction against.

After all, we've already agreed to that really squishy ill-defined concept without any real requirement to demonstrate it. It is no wonder it is hard to refute some arbitrary sprinkles decorating that amorphous cake called god. We should really be wondering if the cake exists at all.

Now, on occasion, some theist will make such an outlandishly implausible claim about that otherwise squishy god that even without much traction, it can be easily refuted. The omni-X god is one such claim, where X \in {knowing, powerful, benevolent, present}. That type of god CAN be refuted. Of course any apologist worth his salt can simply retreat to a god defined ever so slightly differently and that isn't so obviously ridiculous.

However, this doesn't mean that David is right about of the strawman fallacy accusation he keeps lobbing. I can easily walk down to several local Christian churches and pull from the pews several people AND pastors who do in fact adhere to the omni-X god. David may in fact argue that their concept of god isn't a proper one. However, the fallacy would be his, not ours. He would be guilty of a no true Scotsman violation.

Quite frankly, I find arguing about god a waste of time after the initial thrill of engaging intellectually wears off. If god exists, it clearly doesn't prioritize convincing humanity of its existence now as much as it reportedly (according to Christian stories) did 2 millennia earlier.

But that's another argument that presumes that god is even a reasonable explanation. I'm still waiting for some experience in my life to bring that concept home. Until then, I won't devote much time to refuting god. First I want some evidence that god isn't as ill-defined a concept as Zeus, the ether, homunculi, or other concepts that I can live without debating.

Brian said...

Tom, I think David has been quite clear that the god he believes in is not omni-benevolent. In fact, I believe he said that that god is only good to those who love him. Not the love your enemy as your friend type of Jesus (Jesus being part of the trinity) I guess.

Personally, I've found discussing with David to far less a frustrating experience than I have with other theists. At least you're clear what he believes and he is prepared to stand by it.

David said...

Brian,

"he said that that god is only good to those who love him."

No I never said that--maybe my wording was sloppy but it should be obvious that I never stated that everything God does for unbelievers is bad. No Christian denies common grace, no Christian denies that it rains on the just and the unjust. I have repeatedly quoted the passage: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called"

This means that everything that God does for the elect is good. It also implies that at least some things that God does for the reprobate are not good; e.g., sending someone to hell cannot possibly be construed as for their good. That does not preclude the obvious: that God extends common blessings to all people.

Greywizard said...

Well, David, if all you have to do is convince each other, then I think you've missed the point. And if quoting the Bible alone constitutes thinking for you, then there's not much point in your carrying on - here, a least. What do you hope to achieve? Not only do you make yourself look foolish, you also make Christianity look more foolish than it actually is, which is quite an achievement. By joining in this disucssion you implicitly accept that these issues are discussable, yet you time and again refuse to engage.

Perhaps you should read a history of Christianity, and see the extent to which reasoning was actually used. I acknowledge that, in that history, the place of reason in Christianity has been debated, but it is very seldom that it has simply been dismissed in quite the cavalier way that you seem to manage.

It may be true that many Christians are not angst ridden on account of the suffering of animals and children, but, arguably, they should be. But of course you don't accept argument, so there's not much point in continuing the discussion. There are sites on the internet which are composed of completely self-absorbed Christian self-congratulation. The only reason to engage in this discussion is the willingness to use reason. But you are unwilling to do that.

Might I suggest that you seek a place that is more receptive to your dogmatic approach to things? Suffice it to say that Christians throughout history have recognised that suffering is a problem, and a genuine one, for belief, and have tried in various ways to solve it. None of them seems to me entirely successful, but at least they tried.

All you seem able to do is to spout Reformed evangelical cant. It is scarcely edifying. It is not helpful to those who seek to use reason, and it certainly does not commend the faith that is in you, a calling that I should have thought was very close to every Christian's heart. After all, the whole point of the Christian's life is to bear witness, with their lives (including, I should have thought, their words), to what Christ had done for them, so that, as Paul said, at least some might be saved.

It was, in other words, a part of the commandment to love. But you don't seem to understand even that. If Christianity is, then, just a matter of purity of faith, as you seem to think, then it is, perhaps, the most self-serving egotistical nonsense ever foisted upon the world. As someone who used actually to preach the gospel, but now find that I cannot, I find your idea of Christian faith so remarkably repulsive that I wonder anyone chooses to be a Christian. I used often to say that the one thing that would convince me not to be a Christian was what so many Christians apparently believe.

You happen to be an example of what I meant, with your hard edged unyielding conviction, without care or compassion. I admit that Jesus could seem like that sometimes, which is why I could never consider him to be perfect man (or 'the glory of man' as one English theologian called him), but most Christians have thought of Jesus as loving and compassionate. Sadly, you picked the wrong part to emulate. This is not meant to be insulting, but merely to suggest that you think more seriously about faith, and what it should mean to you.

Brian said...

David:

This means that everything that God does for the elect is good. It also implies that at least some things that God does for the reprobate are not good;

I'm a reprobate? It's good to be acknowledged for a life's work. I think you're swell too. Who elected you by the way? Was it you?

:)

David said...

GreyWizard,



”Well, David, if all you have to do is convince each other, then I think you've missed the point. And if quoting the Bible alone constitutes thinking for you, then there's not much point in your carrying on - here, a least.”

That does not preclude arguing—anyone who knows me knows that I argue with unbelievers all the time. What I said, which you distort, is that it is not my job to convince you. I have no interest in convincing you, and if I thought that a requirement for my debating was to convince my opponents I’d have a life filled with disappointments—as would anyone else who engages in debates. Is that distinction difficult to grasp?

”Perhaps you should read a history of Christianity, and see the extent to which reasoning was actually used.”

I have read on the history of Christianity, extensively, I’ve taught the history of Christianity. You may indeed know much more about church history than I do—but nothing you have written so far demonstrates that fact. You are starting to sound like a pompous ass: “Oh David, if you only knew what I know!” I am the one using reason--not you--"they should be" is not an example of reason--I am saying: here is one God as he is described, here is a basis for an argument, does this God as he is described have a problem with human suffering? I am providing a basis for a rational argument. So Coyne and Blackford--the only difference is they are arguing about a different god--that is fine--until they generalize that their results apply to the Christian God. Then they, and you, step into the irrational.

”It may be true that many Christians are not angst ridden on account of the suffering of animals and children, but, arguably, they should be.”

What you call an argument, “they should be” is recognized by most critical thinkers as an assertion, not an argument. I’m the one here who is actually willing to argue—you just don’t like the basis of my argument, just like Ophelia. I can argue, substantively if not convincingly, that the bible teaches of a holy god for whom the existence of human suffering is no fatal problem. Your rebuttals amount to “all you can do is quote the bible” and “gee you need to read more” and “you are making yourself look foolish” and “arguably [absent the actual argument] they should be worried.”

Tulse said...

I'm a reprobate? It's good to be acknowledged for a life's work.

Remember that David is a Calvinist -- "life's work" has absolutely no impact on salvation in his belief system.

Drew said...

David, you're being really rather silly to claim that the arguments over theodicy are disingenuous. Theologians: real Christian theologians, have been debating this matter for nearly as long as Christianity has existed. Many many Christians do believe, regardless of how YOU interpret the Bible, that God is and must be perfectly good. And thus a philosophical debate arises. There's nothing illegitimate about any of this.

Now, YOUR concept of God may well not include omnibenevolence. Good for you: then the argument people are having isn't really relevant to your conception of God (you don't accept one of the central premises of the dilemma, and thus, there is no dilemma, for you). But that doesn't mean that the argument is "disingenuous" or "attacking a straw man." It just isn't an argument directed at what YOU believe.

That you seem to equate this with lying seems to be a very confused response on your part. It's like you walking into a meeting of the Apple society and demanding that people address your concerns about Oranges.

David said...

Tulse,

Off Topic:

Thanks for the words of support (not that you support my arguments, which I know you do not--but that you support the idea that I engage) on Coyne's blog. I can't comment there anymore--at least the last few times I have tried the comments have not appeared. The two blogs I cannot comment on are Dembski's and Coyne's--a rather strange duo.

Anyway, I suspect it's not pleasant to defend me (again, not my arguments but me, personally) and I do appreciate it.

Greywizard said...

Well, David, I was trying to be as kind as I could, but I see that kindness is not your thing. But, so far, you have not argued. Correct that. You have not reasoned. You have stated, asserted, quoted the Bible and reformed documents, as though they have some probative weight, but not a smidgeon of a genuine argument, not one reason why the amount of evil in the world does not trouble you. Clearly, as harsh and unyielding as the god you worship. I recall Stewart Sutherland, a Christian philosopher theologian, once said, in one of his books (God, Jesus, and Belief, if memory serves), about the harshness and unyielding certainty of someone much like you, that he wished that that person had shown just a bit of the nuance and moral sensitivity, even cautious uncertainty, of Smiley, the spy master in John le Carré's novels. I could wish the same from you. You make Christianity and the Christian's god so utterly unappealing. So, you in your small corner, and I in mine.

David said...

Drew,

"David, you're being really rather silly to claim that the arguments over theodicy are disingenuous. "

Yes I would be silly to make such a claim. Fortunately I did not. But again, my claims are this:

1) There is no theodicy for the Coyne/Blackford god. I agree that their cannot be reconciled with human suffering.

2) There is a theodicy (actually several) for the existence of human suffering with the Christian god as defined in the bible. (That's consistent, not inconsistent, with the idea that Christians have been talking about the problem since the early church.)

3) There is no theodicy for the origin of evil.

"Many many Christians do believe, regardless of how YOU interpret the Bible, that God is and must be perfectly good."

Yes, so do I. What I dispute is that "perfectly good" means that god is a kind of defanged, Mr. Rogers, "I love you just the way you are" god. And I contend that any Christian who takes the bible seriously would agree. (Again, how can this not be obvious?--the Christian god sends people to eternal torment--that can never be reconciled with the Mr. Rogers god of Coyne and Blackford.)

"But that doesn't mean that the argument is "disingenuous" or "attacking a straw man." It just isn't an argument directed at what YOU believe."

Some truth, but not the whole truth--the God they are arguing about is not the god described in the bible--independent of my personal theology. The god in the bible commanded genocide and ethnic cleansing. The god in the bible sends people to hell. The god in the bible loved Jacob and hated Esau, before they were born. Real or not, there is a god who is defined.There is a god the definition of whom we can more or less agree, and then we can argue whether that god has a fatal problem with human suffering. And then we could draw conclusions that would be relevant for Christians.

Coyne and Blackford are not disingenuous in the context of their strawman god--which has no basis other than they imagine he is like Mr. Rogers. They are disingenuous when they extrapolate their trivial result to theism in general.

Tom said...

David,

I can see that your conception of God is consistent and the problem of evil is not a problem because 'pefectly good' can be defined to include hating certain people and consigning certain people to hell. I am still unclear why he kills so many infants?

(As they are killed by a non-human agency their death's can be directly attributed to god (as the only omnipotent, omniscient being around))

Tulse said...

I contend that any Christian who takes the bible seriously would agree.

But surely you would also agree that most Christians do not have the same interpretation of the bible that Calvinists do, and that omnibenevolence is an important part of much Christian theology. In other words, while you and other Calvinists may have come to terms with a god of limited benevolence, most Christians have not, and to argue otherwise is to just engage in a No True Scotsman fallacy.

(And yes, David, I do find your argumentation style frustrating at times, and certainly do not buy any of your theology, but you engage the issues honestly, and are definitely no troll, and as Voltaire said...)

Tulse said...

I am still unclear why he kills so many infants?

For a Real True Christian this shouldn't be an issue at all -- recollect that infants have yet to sin, and thus should get an express ticket to heaven. Indeed, it is arguable that under most Christian theology, abortion should be seen as a positive good, as it prevents souls from endangering their salvation through, you know, actually living (and thus risking sin). Heck, even the Catholics seem to be ready to ditch Limbo, so on the whole dying as an infant would seem to be the only guaranteed way to get to eternal paradise.

Ultimately, I think most Christians really aren't committed to their theological beliefs in this domain. They see the loss of a child in very human terms as a terrible tragedy, as a loss of human potential, and seem to forget that this mortal coil is supposed to be a literally infinitesimal portion of one's existence. Who cares that one only gets a few decades on this earth when one gets a literal infinite existence afterwards, and for babies that existence will be in perfect bliss?

David said...

GrayWizard,

”not one reason why the amount of evil in the world does not trouble you. “

Sigh. I have never said: “the evil in the world doesn’t trouble me.” I stated, at least N times, that human suffering is not a fatal problem for Christians. And no reasons? Are you serious? I have given many reasons:

1) God is sovereign. He has a sovereign plan. We are not privy to all aspects of that plan. Like Joseph there will be evil that befalls us—but like in the case Joseph we understand, at least intellectually, that God means it, ultimately for good. Thus we understand that (at least for those who love God) suffering is ultimately beneficial.
2) God is holy—which is a bit mysterious (at least to me, but probably not to someone as intelligent, learned, and well-read as you) but which includes that he is great and he is good. That in turn implies that he is just. The human race is born in rebellion to this holy God. In the face of such rebellion to absolute holiness, God cannot be holy and great and good and then ignore justice. God is a law unto himself—and the law that God obeys is that he immutably reflects his own character. Thus we understand that we suffer, at least in part, because of the fall.
3) Human suffering can be instructive and even evangelical. (it was in my life.) I gave the example of one of the blind men Jesus healed. There is also the lame man who we can presume suffered—Jesus heals him to confirm his divinity. Thus we understand that we might suffer, in times, to bring glory to god, which is in fact our chief purpose.
4) Human suffering can be corrective. Again I gave an example: the death of David’s child. Thus we understand that, at times, suffering is a punishment—a correction.

It is just utter nonsense to claim that I never gave any arguments why Christians do not see a fatal problem with human suffering.

All you have respond with is: “Christians have been struggling with the notion of human suffering from the beginning, see [insert theologian] says so.” which I never disputed.

I have refused to play dueling theologians—but now I’ll ask: have you ever read Jonathan Edwards? Francis Schaeffer? St. Augustine?

”You make Christianity and the Christian's god so utterly unappealing.”

I understand—therein lies the problem—a holy God is always unappealing to fallen man. Fallen man never seeks a holy god—he flees from a holy god. That’s the doctrine of Original Sin. That’s Edwards’s moral inability. That’s Augustine’s so-called loss of liberty. But this God is indeed appealing—for in spite of the total rebellion of the human race, he (in love) offered a propitiation.

David said...

Tulse,

"omnibenevolence is an important part of much Christian theology."

I dispute that. Now of course if you walk up to Christian and ask "Is God omnibenevolent?" many might say yes. They will not have thought through that for an omnibenevolent god suffering is a big problem. And they will think that answering no is to impugn God's character.

However, if you ask them a more straightforward question: "Can we reconcile God with human suffering?" I believe most of them will say something along the lines of: "It's not easy, but yes." Furthermore I believe the answer has nothing to do with Calvinism.

NewEnglandBob said...

David spews forth his word salad, taking over the blog and saying nothing of value.

David said...

New England Bob,

That’s funny coming from you, because I’ve noticed your posts on Coyne’s blog are of the non-substantive ring-kissing obsequious variety. Coyne posts about Sullivan? You can count on New England Bob to show up and say something like Yeah Sullivan is dumb. Who listens to Sullivan anyway? Smooch.

As for taking over the blog--don’t feed the frigin’ troll. Apart from responding to New England Bob and my very first comment, I believe that all other comments I made have been in response to direct questions. People forget that when it is N-on-one, the one will necessarily post a lot. (And on Coyne’s blog, Diego criticized me for not answering all his questions on here—damned if you do, damned if you don’t.)

But at any rate, if nobody asks me any questions then I’ll be posting no responses. It’s that simple.

Tom said...

David,

Sorry to go on about this. Which of the reason's for god to inflict human suffering applies to the infliction of pain, fear and death on so many infants throughout history?

Greywizard said...

I'm sorry David, I need to repeat that you have not provided one reason why the amount of suffering doesn't trouble you. Saying that God is sovereign and holy really doesn't provide reasons at all, especially when you add the idea that fallen reason can't appreciate God's holiness. (Holiness, by the way is related to otherness. God is completely Other than we are, and so holy. Holy things are things that are set apart, the relatively other, like the sanctuary in the Temple of old.) This is an old religious trick, and there is no reason why anyone should accept it. Basically, what it is saying is that, if you believed in God, that is, recognised his complete otherness, and your absolute dependence on him (Schleiermacher), you would accept that, whether you understand or not, God has a reason for everything.

But supposing that suffering is instructive and evangelical or corrective, even if it were true, simply cannot account for the sheer amount of suffering that there is, the billions of years of suffering animal life, the terrors and horrors that so many people have endured. Do you really think that you have given enough reason for all of that?

Of course, again, you could doubtless say that this is hidden in the mystery of God, or hidden from us because we are fallen, but it is not a particularly convincing move in an argument.

By the way, I have not read Jonathan Edwards - he simply never interested me enough - but I have read much of Augustine. Augustine does not, I'm afraid, convince, especially since it was Augustine who first came up with the idea that it is right for the church to execute heretics, because its motivation in doing so is love. It is neither an act of vengeance nor of hatred, but love for the sinner, and care for those who might be influenced by the heretic to depart from the way of truth, and be lost forever. As I say, I find it hard to convince myself that Augustine knew what freedom really was. As for Francis Schaeffer. I looked at one or two of his books a long time ago. They were unappealing, for much the same reasons that his son finds them unappealing.


The God you speak of is, to my mind, at least, a monster. When I believed in God, I thought God was much kinder, and the problem of pain concerned me a great deal, as it concerned most of my parishioners. But then I realised that I was wrong. It is simply not possible to believe that God is either good or loving if this world is God's creation. Some people, like Rabbi Harold Kushner, solves the problem by diminishing God's power, and making of God someone who shares our sorrows. It's certainly more convincing than your God, but I rather think, with you, I suspect, that that would to derograte from God's holiness. It seems more rational to accept that nature, as we know it, is simply blind to our suffering or sorrow. Kindness and comfort we must seek from each other.

David said...

Tom,

If the suffering of humanity is reconcilable with God—why would you think that dead babies would still be irreconcilable? That is, if you don’t concede the former, then the latter is superfluous, and if you do concede the former, then the latter is not a special problem. Babies are not innocent in Christian theology. (Recall what the water in infant baptism symbolizes.) We are sinful from conception the Psalmist tells us. True, the suffering and loss of a child may be the supreme grief-causing gut-wrenching faith-challenging form of suffering—but qualitatively it is not a different problem—and it succumbs to the same theodicy as general human suffering.

GrayWizard,

”I'm sorry David, I need to repeat that you have not provided one reason why the amount of suffering doesn't trouble you.”

I have no way to address your comments about the “amount” of suffering. No way to quantify it. No meter. No standard. But if you concede that some suffering, any suffering is compatible with a holy God—then I feel that we have made progress. I will say that focusing on the amount—putting the onus on me to argue X amount of suffering is acceptable, but 2X is not, is moving the goalpost.

(BTW, yes, surprising as it may seem, I know holiness means "other".)

”By the way, I have not read Jonathan Edwards - he simply never interested me enough - but I have read much of Augustine. Augustine does not, I'm afraid, convince, especially since it was Augustine who first came up with the idea that it is right for the church to execute heretics, because its motivation in doing so is love. It is neither an act of vengeance nor of hatred, but love for the sinner, and care for those who might be influenced by the heretic to depart from the way of truth, and be lost forever. As I say, I find it hard to convince myself that Augustine knew what freedom really was. As for Francis Schaeffer. I looked at one or two of his books a long time ago. They were unappealing, for much the same reasons that his son finds them unappealing.”

That’s why your (or my) arguing from authority (you did it several times, I just did it to make this point) is almost always silly. It inevitably comes down to the response: Oh those theologians, they don’t count. Nobody who is anybody reads those theologians anymore.

”When I believed in God, I thought God was much kinder, and the problem of pain concerned me a great deal, as it concerned most of my parishioners. But then I realised that I was wrong. It is simply not possible to believe that God is either good or loving if this world is God's creation.”

Sure, I’m guessing you believed in a god as described by Coyne and Blackford. I too believed in that god at one time and I too stopped believing in that god and remained an atheist until much later, when I was an adult. That god is untenable—I agree.

Tulse said...

I dispute that. Now of course if you walk up to Christian and ask "Is God omnibenevolent?" many might say yes.

If you asked "Is god completely good", I am willing to bet that the vast majority of self-identifying Christians would say yes.

They will not have thought through that for an omnibenevolent god suffering is a big problem.

This is simply a variation on the No True Scotsman fallacy. I appreciate that Calvinism has solved the problem of evil by accepting that its god is not all good, but it is simply a fact that the vast majority of individual Christians and Christian sects have not. They are not willing to abandon omnibenevolence, and so do indeed explicitly face the problem of their god allowing suffering. That is why this issue is not just some minor historical curiosity, but why it has engaged many theologians over the centuries, and continues to trouble people like Andrew Sullivan. Those are simply the facts on the ground -- to claim otherwise is disingenuous.

In other words, I recognize that you have a solution, and you think your solution is right, but you fail to recognize (or admit) that other Christians simply don't accept your solution.

Tom said...

David,

Thanks for the clarification.

"Babies are not innocent in Christian theology. (Recall what the water in infant baptism symbolizes.)"

Does this mean they go to hell?

I am not trying to trip you up here, I just want to get a handle on how 'bracing' your type of Christianity is. Personally I would have a problem with god being attributed with this kind of behaviour along with any category of "goodness" but it would not be a well formed argument.

Greywizard said...

No, David, I'm not shifting the goalpost. You've been ignoring it all along. Nor am I arguing from authority. I referred to some theological positions that I thought you might find compelling, but, as a strict Calvinist, I guess you can't. But I have never referred to anything that I would call an authority, and would prefer to stick to reasons. And as Ophelia pointed out, referring to an old book doesn't count. I thought it might count with you, but you've already made your selection, and your shell is pretty hard.

As for calculating the amount of suffering. I should have thought, offhand, that there are fairly good measures. Given the way that the world is, we are going to suffer. I suppose, if there had been some rational way in which it was distributed, that might suggest that there was some purpose behind it. But since there is no obvious rationality or justice behind its distribution - as the psalmist says, the evil seem to prosper and the good suffer - there seems little reason to accept the idea that there is a power that governs these things for good.

But amount. Well, how does billions of years of suffering animals, where there was very little chance of even evangelical or intrsuctive value in the suffering involved grab you? In fact, this kind of pointless suffering is built into the system of evolution. The strong survive and the weak die, and then they all die in the end. So the sum is simply staggering. So, it just won't wash saying that you have no measure.

Ah, but you meant God's measure, no doubt? Well, you know what David, if you can explain that to me, the whole thing might make a lot more sense. Until then, I think, doughty as your defence has been of completely insupportable premises, we'll have to leave it. This teeter-totter could go on for ever! And that really would be to add suffering to suffering.

Of course, there are philosophers like DZ Phillips and Rush Rhees, who try to build up a defence of God, based on the crucifixion. Doesn't work for me, but they seem to find it convincing. Simone Weil is brought in along the way, with her idea of the complete self-emptying of the suffering person somehow becoming identified with the crucified and risen one, etc. This just doesn't work for me. It takes an extraordinarily odd spirituality to hold this kind of thing together. One thing that Phillips does point out, however, something that you should perhaps pay more attention to, is the way that most defences of God simply end up being offences against those who suffer, so that they suffer not only once but twice. You've provided several instances of that here. Try thinking this through, instead of taking it all on faith, which really has nothing to go on except authority.

Tulse said...

there are philosophers like DZ Phillips and Rush Rhees, who try to build up a defence of God, based on the crucifixion

Yeah, and I really don't understand how an immortal, timeless being, fully aware of its immortality and timelessness, somehow is making a big sacrifice by "dying" for a few days. Jesus had a bad weekend, and then got over it -- it's not like he had to live for decades with profound chronic pain, or had fibromyalgia, or cancer, or elephantiasis. And even if he had, what is a few decades of pain and suffering to one who knows it will end and he will then live literally forever?

Just where is the big sacrifice here?

David said...

Tulse,

But the theodicy I briefly and incompletely sketched is not unique to Calvinism. It might be unique to those who take the bible very seriously—call us fundies you like—but not unique to Calvinism. Take a stroll into your average Southern Baptist church. It’s not likely to be Calvinistic (yet). It may indeed teach that Calvinism is the devil’s spew. But I am certain that they will give you a healthy dose of God-ain’t-no-Mr. -Nice-Guy-and-that’s-OK-by-us.

Tom,

”Does this mean they go to hell?”

No it doesn’t mean they go to hell. Nobody is innocent—being innocent is not the requirement for salvation. Thank God.

Graywolf,

Why don't you just make this argument: For billions of years animals have eaten one another. Ergo, no god.

That's what it amounts to. It is the same as Coyne's and Blackford's argument. Much easier to understand than the anti-theist apologetics of Kant, Camus, Sartre, Freud, Marx, (Bertrand) Russell, Mill, Ayn Rand, etc.

Greywizard said...

As I say, David, this could go on for ever. But, just in case you didn't notice, you just blinked!

Diego Agostini said...

"Why don't you just make this argument: For billions of years animals have eaten one another. Ergo, no god."

That's a nice strawman you got there.

Diego Agostini said...

"Why don't you just make this argument: For billions of years animals have eaten one another. Ergo, no god."

That's a nice strawman you got there.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, one solutionto the Problem of Evil is, indeed, to bite the bullet and admit that the God of the Bible is a monster. If that is what David wants to do, I'm cool with it. I doubt that many Christians who happen to be reading will be conforted, but, sure, maybe there is an all-powwerful monster who created the universe and doesn't care about the suffering of most creatures. I have no idea why anyone would worship this God - except perhaps out of terror - but that's another issue.

There is no satisfactory solution, because all attempted solutions are wildly improbable, end up changing the subject, or portray the God concerned as monstrous (and reveal the person who is offering the solution as happy to worship this monster). Maybe there's another category that I've forgotten, but it's really up to sincere Christians reading this to decide whether they can, in all intellectual honesty, accept one of these "solutions" while taking the problem seriously. I don't see how they can. If they try they should beware of ending up sounding as bad, by any humane standards, as David Heddle sounds.

As I said in my talk, the problem does not affect limited gods, a deist god, or merely metaphorical gods. One class of limited god is David's all-powerful monster.

Anonymous said...

it's the all-too-human sadistic bully described in the old testament and much of the new.

Why is it that atheists spend so much time and energy being pissed off at something they don't believe exists in the first place?

Brian said...

Why is it that atheists spend so much time and energy being pissed off at something they don't believe exists in the first place?

Cute. Why do religious people spend so much time trying to organise and prescribe the lives of others if religion is a private thing? After all, if it's private, why legislate it?

Greywizard said...

Anonymous said: "Why is it that atheists spend so much time and energy being pissed off at something they don't believe exists in the first place?"

Not pissed off, Anonymous. This is just another reason not to believe. But also, the callous acceptance of suffering, as we have all witnessed in David's case, is something that drives many other things as well. For instance, it won't take into consideration the suffering of women who, for good reasons, seek to terminate a pregnancy. They don't allow for someone, in intolerable suffering, to receive help in bringing their lives peacefully to an end. In many cases they spiritualise suffering in such a way that it ignores the pleas of those who are suffering.

So belief in God, and in a God who not only permits suffering, but actually plans for it, has practical implications. Pointing this out is, for many people, decisive, and belief in God becomes much more difficult. Many, on this account, give up belief in God altogether. Arguably, anyway, Darwin did. From the standpoint of atheists, this is a good thing, and should lead to a more rational morality than is so often promulgated by churches and other religious institutions.

By the by, thanks to Russell for drawing out the implications of the last couple days' worth of discussion so clearly. It is distressing, however, to think that people actually do believe in a monster, and, on top of it all, call this monster good and loving.

Brian said...

It is distressing, however, to think that people actually do believe in a monster, and, on top of it all, call this monster good and loving.

For all his faults, Eric Blair was a understood a lot about humans.

Brian said...

I need to learn to proof my comments!

David said...

GreyWizard

”But also, the callous acceptance of suffering, as we have all witnessed in David's case,”


You’re an ass. You know nothing about whether my acceptance of suffering is callous. In addition to being an ass you are a liar: I said explicitly that we are not to be stoics, that the grief is real, and that even Jesus wept with sorrow at the death of a friend. Do you know what callous means? I think not. It means insensitive or indifferent. Acknowledging that suffering is real and that the bible tells us that we should not be surprised that we suffer does not mean we are insensitive, as I sated in various ways many times—and it certainly doesn’t necessarily make you more compassionate or sympathetic towards suffering than I am. Have you witnessed my personal response to suffering that I have encountered or witnessed? I think not.

”thanks to Russell for drawing out the implications of the last couple days' worth of discussion so clearly.”

You are spot on: he did just that. At first all he (and Coyne did) was plagiarize Mill, badly, converting a cogent argument into a mishmash of poor thinking. Mill taught that god cannot be all powerful and all good. Mill and was able to express the problem succinctly and elegantly. (He didn’t invent the problem: it is already addressed numerous times in the bible.) Coyne and Blackford pseudo-intellectualized Mill’s argument (expanding its word count by a least a factor of ten) into a shallow appeal to consequences: accept this argument if you want to be intellectually honest. But you are correct to salute him for summarizing all the debate with his intellectual magnum opus: the God of the bible is a monster!

Marx taught that God was a myth fostered for the benefit of the rich and powerful. Freud taught that god arose because man feared nature. Bertrand Russell argued about the inconsistency of scripture. All intriguing ideas.

Yet behold the state of modern intellectual atheism: “God is a monster!”

Brian said...

Acknowledging that suffering is real and that the bible tells us that we should not be surprised that we suffer does not mean we are insensitive, as I sated in various ways many time

Yet, however sensitive you are, you think us reprobates merit damnation for the "crime" of reserving judgement on something that is not obvious to anyone who isn't already a believer? You think all animal suffering is part of some plan to save the elect?

Brian said...

Did it again! I need to learn English or at least comprehensible English.

Brian said...

Cheap shot alert!

as I sated in various ways many time

Sated indeed by suffering!

Just kidding David.

Anonymous said...

Why do religious people spend so much time trying to organise and prescribe the lives of others if religion is a private thing? After all, if it's private, why legislate it?

Oh I agree completely. The main reason that religion is flourishing in America and declining in Europe is their state sponsorship of official religions. What you have in Europe is socialized religion, no wonder it is failing.

Traditional state supported religions (e.g. the Church of England) are essentially no different than the old state run economies of the former Warsaw Pact — and just as lacking in choices and products to meet consumer needs. Perhaps this explains why Western Europe (especially compared to the US) is spiritually moribund. Apparently Westminister and Chartres are as bad at meeting the spiritual needs of their "consumers" as the old GUM department store in Moscow. Like the former East Block, Western Europe also has its religious equivalent of the black market — newly arrived religious movements like Mormonism and Islam or locally derived non-Abrahamic religions like neo-paganism and druidism.

Fundies in America should get down on their knees and thank God for the wall separating church and state in America. Ironically, it has allowed religion to flourish independent of government interference or political taint. Furthermore, nothing is more poisonous to religion than political power. Should the Fundies succeed in breaking down that wall, if they are lucky they will become as moribund as the CofE. Or if not so lucky, they will become as corrupt as the Borgia Papacy.

CS Lewis aalos warned about the evils of theocracy:

"I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber barron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme -- whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence -- the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication,"

Anonymous said...

But also, the callous acceptance of suffering, as we have all witnessed in David's case, is something that drives many other things as well.

You have to accept suffering and pain. Without them there would be no freedom or life. A perfect universe would be a dead place, forzen in its own perfection. It's inhabitants would be enslaved automatons, incapable of committing evil.

God made our imperfect, but perfectly free, universe deliberately out of love for us. A perfect universe was too horrible to contemplate.

For those who complain that such a universe is too painful and would rather be slaves in a dead universe, God gives the same advise He gave Job: "gird your loins like a man".

Greywizard said...

David, I'm not going to get involved in name-calling. You are wrong to say that the Bible simply says that we are going to suffer and should not be surprised. The Bible actually tries to explain suffering, and in some cases, to try to explain it away. There is, throughout the Bible, an attempt to understand how, granting that we suffer, it is right to call God good. You have given up on that effort altogether. Suffering exists. It's all a part of God's plan. Nuff said. This is to accept, as Russell says, that God is a monster. And, indeed, your God is. A few Roman Catholics, you say, might be saved. The only chance of salvation is through Jesus Christ. Those who are not saved will suffer for eternity. The suffering of animals counts for nothing in the scheme of things, millions and millions of years of suffering, and still the God you believe in is, in some sense, good. Yes, yes, I know, not omnibenevolent. Well, that's just another way of saying that God is good to those whom you think will be saved. As for the rest, they deserve it all. That's a pretty good definition of monstrous. You may, of course, believe what you like, as Russel says. If you are comfortable with a monster, that's fine. Live with it, but please don't pretend that there is no problem here. The biblical writers noticed it. Theologians throughout the ages have noticed it. The anicent Greek philosophers noticed it. And it is still a continuing problem in philosophy. Your posture of serene distance from all of this may convince you. It's not clear that you have convinced anyone else. And to criticise, I mean, actually criticise Russell and Jerry Coyne for "pseydo-intellectualising Mill" is beyond all reason foolish. Believe what you like, but don't pretend to some kind of intellectual coherence. That's just a bit over the top, even for you.

Tulse said...

A perfect universe would be a dead place, forzen in its own perfection. It's inhabitants would be enslaved automatons, incapable of committing evil.

So when we go to heaven, we become enslaved automatons? Or is heaven not perfect, and allows evil?

David said...

Graywizard,

No name calling? Except for callous, I guess.

”You are wrong to say that the Bible simply says that we are going to suffer and should not be surprised.”

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Pet 4:12)”

Seems pretty simple.

”You have given up on that effort altogether.”

No, I have actually used the biblical arguments to make my case.

”A few Roman Catholics, you say, might be saved.”

You are lying again. Where did I say “ a *few* Roman Catholics might be saved,” as if it were an exception to the rule? I acknowledged that salvation is not based on a theology test, that God has mercy upon whom he will have mercy.

”Live with it, but please don't pretend that there is no problem here.

That says nothing. I can respond with an equivalent assertion: please don’t pretend there is a problem, when there isn’t one.

Read God’s own theodicy—or rather pick one. His response to Abraham when Abraham presents God with Rabbi Kushner’s question is both humorous and instructive: Abraham asks: will you kill the good along with the bad at Sodom? God says: if there are only fifty good men in Sodom, not only will I spare the good--I’ll also spare the bad on behalf of the good. Abraham negotiates this down to ten. But God, like Diogenes, finds no good men in Sodom. Why, because none are righteous, no not one. God cannot be good and refuse affliction on a race of traitors.

You place a moral obligation on God to give only blessings to a people that have earned none.

Anonymous said...

So when we go to heaven, we become enslaved automatons?

IIRC, angels fell from heaven. So yes, free will exists even there.

Greywizard said...

As I say, David, monstrous. And please do stop calling me a liar.

About Catholics, you say this:

"I would absolutely argue against Catholic teaching on Justification—after all there was a Reformation over that issue—but I would never claim that there are not saved Catholics."

That doesn't use the word 'few', but it does not suggest many. But I am through trying to discuss something with you. The third word 'word,' is my last word.

Brian said...

You place a moral obligation on God to give only blessings to a people that have earned none. It's an obligation to turn the other cheek is it?

Tulse said...

Abraham asks: will you kill the good along with the bad at Sodom? God says: if there are only fifty good men in Sodom, not only will I spare the good--I’ll also spare the bad on behalf of the good.

David, I wonder how this squares with Calvinism -- surely the god had already determined, since the beginning of time, who would be saved or not, so why wouldn't he already know?

IIRC, angels fell from heaven. So yes, free will exists even there.

So there is evil in heaven?

David said...

Tulse,

Yes, I believe that when God negotiated with Abraham he knew who was elect in Sodom and Gomorrah.

And he also knew that if he annihilated everyone in Sodom, the saved and the unsaved, and was then asked how many righteous men died in Sodom, the answer would be: none.

That's the point he was making by 'negotiating' with Abraham.

Tulse said...

Yes, I believe that when God negotiated with Abraham he knew who was elect in Sodom and Gomorrah.

So he wasn't really negotiating in good faith (as it were). I know that is probably not a problem for you -- I was just clarifying.

386sx said...

As I said in my talk, the problem does not affect limited gods, a deist god, or merely metaphorical gods.

Oh okay thanks. Mr. Heddle gave us the impression you didn't have that kind of intellectual rigor! Thanks for clearing that one up.

386sx said...

In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

[intellectual rigor]
Not a problem! Sure, why the heck not!
[/intellectual rigor]

Anonymous said...

So there is evil in heaven?

There is the potential for evil. Apparently it's not tolerated.

As nobody (not even Hitler) deserves an eternity of punishment in Hell, nobody (not even the greatest saint) earns eternal bliss in Heaven. Heaven is not a reward and Hell is not a punishment (remember, God is not a behaviorist). Instead, Heaven is a freely given gift, while Hell is the big nothing the soul gets when the gift is rejected. Also remember that "eternal" means "outside of time", not "of infinite duration". What does it mean to be outside of time? I haven't the foggiest idea. However, we must remember that concepts like time and duration are simply not applicable to either a positive or negative spiritual state.

Remember also that all stays in Hell are voluntary. We're all sinners. Hell is a place for sinners without remorse, while Heaven is a place for sinners who do feel remorse.

Tulse said...

There is the potential for evil.

So heaven is not perfect, then?

Heaven is not a reward and Hell is not a punishment

I'm reasonably certain that is not the view of all Christians.

"eternal" means "outside of time", not "of infinite duration". What does it mean to be outside of time? I haven't the foggiest idea.

Me neither, which suggests to me that the concept might not coherent. And I'm not sure what you mean by "outside of time", given that the bible clearly shows your god participating in time, and he certainly is shown to create the universe over time.

Anonymous said...

And I'm not sure what you mean by "outside of time", given that the bible clearly shows your god participating in time, and he certainly is shown to create the universe over time.

All time, past present and future, exist for God as the same moment.

YMMV

Tulse said...

All time, past present and future, exist for God as the same moment.

So why does he act angry at times, or seem surprised? Doesn't he know what is going to happen ahead of "time"? I just don't know how to interpret your claim, which again makes me think it is incoherent.

Jerry Coyne said...

Oh, Russell, I weep for you. . .

Anonymous said...

I just don't know how to interpret your claim, which again makes me think it is incoherent.

Quantum mechanics is far more incoherent than any theology. Photons are both particles and waves, depending on how you look at them. Electrons can be two places simultaneously. Quantum entanglement would allw me to alter one of a pari of aprticles and instantly change the characteristics of its partner even if it was on the other side of the galaxy via "spooky action at a distance".

Paradox and things contrary to common sense are at the very foundation of the universe. Incoherence is the building block of reality. I wouldn't lose to much sleep over them.