Theistic Logic

David Heddle provides a typical example of the mental gymnastics required to believe that God is all -knowing and all-powerful. He writes:

Many of you know I live in a small town in New Hampshire. In a month or so, the scenery will knock your socks off. Believers will marvel at God’s creation, while unbelievers will be left without excuse.

Presumably that means without excuse for rejecting the idea of a loving God.

But then the post takes a grim turn:

I was just be-bopping down the road in my orange Honda Element, listening to demonic classic rock, when I heard a strange ka-thunk. Looking in the mirror, I saw a sickening sight: a fawn struggling to get up, and then pitifully limping into the woods, accompanied by its mother.

I’m not sure what happened–the best I can tell is that the poor animal ran into the back of my car and probably got its foot caught under the wheel.

I’m just heart-broken. The life-long rural types that I meet with dismissed it as a routine life-in-the-country occurrence. But to this guy who grew up in the inner-city–it nearly brought me to tears–thinking about that wounded fawn and with virtually no chance of survival.

And of course it made me ask that impertinent question: Why God?

Or is it impertinent? Certainly it can be–when asked from the premise that you know better than God. But when asked out of unadulterated sorrow about how the things which God ordains somehow and necessarily involve suffering–well then I think “Why God?” can be a purely honest and very human question–one for which I hope God is sympathetic. (Emphasis in Original)

Charming. When you look at the beautiful side of nature you are without excuse for rejecting the existence of a loving God. But if you dare draw any conclusions from looking at the nasty side of nature, you risk being charged with impertinence, and of thinking you know better than God.

Sorry, but gratuitous baby animal torture does not make me think of a just and loving God. The usual Christian answer to the manifest awfulness of nature is to cite the harmful effect of human sin. This is little more than a desperation move offered in the hopes that it will make the question go away. It makes no sense to say that humans sinned, and therefore God tortures baby animals.

As usual, RIchard Dawkins hits the nail on the head:

The total amount of suffering in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eated alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. (River Out of Eden, p. 132.)

Exactly right. But I have yet to meet a Christian with any serious response to this simple fact.

Comments

  1. #1 kemibe
    August 27, 2006

    In general I’m able to casually dismiss the dumb things uttered by the devout, reckoning that beliefs instilled at a yopung age — however feeble — outpace facts and reason any day of the week. But I can’t help but get peeved at this kind of shitheaded “thinking”: “Yeah, I killed a deer and it sucks, but hey, I can live with it ’cause nothing happens in God’s world by mistake!”

    I must be blessed from above in being free of agonizing over why bad things happen to good people. When a busload of nuns goes off a cliff while at the same instant a busload of felons is miraculously spared from the same fate, I don’t have to reach far up my ass for Satan-based rationales to explain these things.

  2. #2 Chad
    August 27, 2006

    It’s part of god’s plan! Don’t think and ask questions! Now read your bible and shut up or you’ll burn.!

  3. #3 mudbone
    August 27, 2006

    You think that’s something listen to this load of crap. A really sad event happen a few weeks ago costing the lives of two people. This man who was a popular sportscaster apparently had some kind of medical problem (it’s been determined no booze or drugs where involved) and crossed the center line and killed not only himself but the person driving the other car. Wingnut’s are writing into the local paper saying this was a “gift” from God. Go figure.

  4. #4 RSG
    August 27, 2006

    Medical problem? Probably Attention Deficit Disorder, if anything. Most of these cases involve simple inattention to driving, while speeding down the road. Cell phones, makeup, maps, newspapers, CDs, and most everything else can be involved, including simple daydreaming.

    God, if she exists, either doesn’t care, or can’t do anything about it. There is no plan, and that’s what scares shitless the simpletons who believe otherwise.

  5. #5 beepbeepitsme
    August 27, 2006

    I am compiling a blogroll of atheists and agnostics. Do you consider yourself to be in either of these categories? And if so, would you like to be added to the blogroll?

  6. #6 PZ Myers
    August 27, 2006

    “Mental gymnastics” always sounds like it takes skill and training and effort. Maybe we should call it “mindless torpor,” instead. It’s easy to believe many mutually contradicting things if you never turn on your brain.

  7. #7 pwe
    August 28, 2006

    Chad wrote:

    It’s part of god’s plan! Don’t think and ask questions! Now read your bible and shut up or you’ll burn.!

    Yes, especially the Book of Job. It’s possibly the best book in this connection – whether it succeeds with its apologetics or not is an entirely different question, however.

  8. #8 lpadron
    August 28, 2006

    Of course, it’s impossible to explain why suffering is bad if there isn’t a god. I’ve yet to see a non-theist give anything close to a reasoned reply to the question: “why is suffering bad?”.

    Your unwillingness to accept the Christian response to suffering, one I currently struggle with and don’t particularly care for, does not thereby make it a “non” serious explanation. In fact, it’s a very good one that explains a hell of a lot more than most and certainly more than any offered by non-theists.

  9. #9 Dave S.
    August 28, 2006

    I should note that being an atheist does not make me incapable of recognizing beauty, any more than it renders me incapable of having sympathy or acting morally (provided you don’t define morality as being a religious concept in the first place).

  10. #10 David Heddle
    August 28, 2006

    Kemibe,

    Your “reckoning” about beliefs instilled at a young age doesn’t apply to me, since I did not come from a Christian home, and became a believer in my 30s, while already a professional scientist.

    Also, there is no “Satan-based” rationale to explain suffering. To imply such a thing demonstrates virtually no understanding of Christian doctrine. And the fact that you don’t have to “reach up your ass” to explain why bad things happen to good people merely demonstrates that you have contentment with your nihilism, which is the most anti-intellectual of copouts.

    You also put the cart before the horse when it comes to “reason”. Reason is not the cause, it’s the effect. You don’t deny Christianity because you reason that it’s foolhardy, you have no choice but to conclude as such, unless you are born again, which is an act of divine initiative, not a reward for reasoning, good or bad, and not a reward for believing. In other words, you’re an atheist (I’m guessing) because, at the moment, you have no choice–a condition you mistakenly interpret as cleverness.

    Most of you miss the boat altogether: Christianity has no problem with the question “why do bad things sometimes happen to good people?” The much tougher question is: “why don’t bad things happen to all of us, all the time?”

    Jason,

    Presumably that means without excuse for rejecting the idea of a loving God.

    Close enough.

  11. #11 Wah
    August 28, 2006

    There is a simple reason for why this happened…modern humans are IMMENSELY powerful entities. When our natural state (a gift of millions of years of the bloody business of evolution) is augmented by our technology, the end result is a species of titans. We must be very aware of this power, and moderate its use, or we will continue to commit species genocide on a truly unlawful scale.

    And all that’s before we get to the global climate change being wrought by our blatant disregard for our own power, and the assumption that it’s perfectly natural for one person to drive around in a 3,000 pound hunk of steel powered by a controlled explosion.

    Great power (should) = great responsibility. Instead, it often just leads to great cognitive dissonance.

  12. #12 SLC
    August 28, 2006

    We are still waiting for Mr. Heddles’ explanation of how Joshua made the sun stand still withoug violating any laws of physics.

  13. #13 David Heddle
    August 28, 2006

    SLC,

    We are still waiting for Mr. Heddles’ explanation of how Joshua made the sun stand still withoug violating any laws of physics.

    Silly SLC! Joshua was just a man. He could never make the sun stand still! You’re trying to trick me, aren’t you?

  14. #14 Jolf_Moosenhoeger
    August 28, 2006

    What Heddle doesn’t realize is that bad things are happening all the time: every moment you are one step closer to drooling senility and death. In Heddle’s case, maybe closer than others.

    Christianity, nor its proponents such as Heddle, offers no believable explanation for animal suffering or natural evil.

  15. #15 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 28, 2006

    David-

    There seems to be a pretty blatant contradiction in your argument. You began by saying that anyone who has seen beautiful New Hampshire foliage is without excuse for rejecting God. But then you say that atheism is not a choice; rather, I am an atheist because God has not taken the initiative in allowing me to be born again.

    If this is correct, then it sounds like I have a very good excuse indeed for not believing in God.

    And with all due respect, I don’t think someone as smug and arrogant as you are should be lecturing others about mistaking his thoughts for cleverness. After all, you’re the one arguing that you have a keen insight into reality, one that transcends mere reason in fact, simply because God took the initiative in allowing you to perceive His glory.

    My local Christian bookstore is chock full of books with titles like The Case for Christ and Evidence that Demands a Verdict. You must think people like Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are pretty foolish, thinking they can make a rational case for Christian belief.

  16. #16 David Heddle
    August 28, 2006

    Jason,

    I did not write, anywhere, that you cannot make a rational case for Christianity–of course you can. Many have done so with great skill. So I do not think people like Strobel or McDowell are foolish–not in the least. What I actually wrote, to paraphrase, is that no atheist will be persuaded by their rational arguments. Apart from being reborn, he will reject any such argument, and attribute that rejection, incorrectly, to his own intellect.

    If, say you, are reborn, then you will begin to see the rationality of Christianity. Perhaps a book such as Stobel’s will be the means by which the gospel taks hold of you–but without being reborn, you’ll always consider it foolishness.

    And there is no contradiction–moral inability to choose God in our natural, fallen state is not an excuse–we are commanded to choose God The unhappy fact that, apart from God’s first choosing us, we cannot is our dilemma, not our excuse.

  17. #17 Jolf_Moosenhoeger
    August 28, 2006

    Shorter Heddle: if, say, you get a lobotomy, then you will begin to see the rationality of lobotomy. Without a lobotomy, you’ll always consider it foolishness.

  18. #18 David D.G.
    August 28, 2006

    Jolf_Moosenhoeger, that is a perfect distillation of the essence of Heddle’s post. Nicely done!

    ~David D.G.

  19. #19 somnilista, FCD
    August 28, 2006

    I did not write, anywhere, that you cannot make a rational case for Christianity–of course you can.

    Not without first redefining “rational.”

    The fawn story is evidence of evolution. Deer have not yet evolved the ability to properly judge the motion of objects as fast as modern automobiles.

  20. #20 bob koepp
    August 28, 2006

    somnilista – “The fawn story is evidence of evolution. Deer have not yet evolved the ability to properly judge the motion of objects as fast as modern automobiles.”

    I question whether you are, indeed, a FCD (with Fs like this, who needs enemies?) Talk about just-so-stories… and calling them _evidence_ even.

  21. #21 Jim Wynne
    August 28, 2006

    And there is no contradiction–moral inability to choose God in our natural, fallen state is not an excuse…

    May we assume that the fallen state you’re referring to is either Florida or Texas?

  22. #22 SLC
    August 28, 2006

    Re: Heddle:

    I didn’t say Joshua made the sun stand still, the bible said it and you claim that the bible nowhere violates physical laws. We are still waiting.

  23. #23 David Heddle
    August 28, 2006

    SLC,

    Come now, where did I claim “the bible nowhere violates physical laws?” (By which, I gather you mean, that I have claimed that nowehere in scripture is there described a violation of physical laws.) If I did, show me and I’ll retract. What I have claimed: “the bible is compatible with science.”

    A miracle, by definition, violates physical laws. So it would be crass heresy for me to state that the bible never describes violations of physical laws. I still think you are trying to trick me!

  24. #24 Jon S
    August 28, 2006

    No mental gymnastics or mindless torpor are required to understand that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. And the harmful effects of human sin can only be seen as a desperation move if you reject God, but is quite obvious for believers. It’s also not true that God doesn’t care about pain and suffering, and the notion that bad things happen to good people is just a myth.

    All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23). Therefore no one is good- except God alone (or Christ, who we believe is God). So if no one is good, then bad things do not happen to good people. Further, God hates sin, and tell us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So from a Christian perspective, it’s amazing that God even allows anything at all good to happen to anyone. It’s only by God’s loving mercy and grace that he provided a way out by sending his one and only son to die on the cross for our sins. Therefore, for those who put their faith and trust in Christ, death, pain and suffering are only temporary, and one day we will exerience the free gift of eternal life. So you can’t rationally call God bad, evil, or weak. If he was, then it doesn’t make sense that he would become a man and subject himself to a humiliating death on the cross. It makes more sense to believe that he can be trusted when he claims to be a loving God. Afterall, he could easily send everyone to hell, just as our sins deserve, but he chose grace and mercy instead.

    Jason, I hope you consider this a serious response to Dawkin’s simple fact.

    And Jolf, I hope you see that Christianity does offer believeable explanations for animal suffering and evil. The real question is whether or not you accept it, not if there are serious responses or believeable explanations.

  25. #25 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 28, 2006

    David-

    I’m afraid your last comment is pure gibberish. If people like Strobel and McDowell are making good arguments for the truth of Christianity, then those arguments will be persuasive to atheists. An argument that is not persuasive until God does something to you to make it seem persuasive is simply a bad argument.

    Saying that it is impossible to perceive the truth of Christianity until God wills you to see it is equivalent to saying that you can’t make a rational case for Christianity. It is in the nature of rational cases that they are persuasive to people without divine intervention.

    In one of your comments in this thread you said explicitly that an atheist has no choice about his beliefs. If that is the case, then how can atheist be held morally responsible for those beliefs? You say that I am commanded to choose God. Then you turn around and say it is impossible for me to choose God because of my unsaved state. You say that it is possible to make a rational case for Christianity. Then you say that that case will be unpersuasive unless God wills you to find it otherwise. You say that the mere sight of beautiful New Hampshire foliage leaves you without excuse for rejecting God. Then you say that atheists are morally incapable of recognizing God’s existence.

    Do you begin to understand my exasperation?

    I would also point out that your implication that the arguments of atheists can be dismissed because they are constitutionally incapable of perceiving the truth is the textbook definition of an ad hominem attack. Among civilized people that is generally considered a poor way of arguing.

  26. #26 David Heddle
    August 28, 2006

    Jason,

    Yes of course I understand your exasperation; its all too familiar from my own life. God has given us free will, but the problem is we are slaves to our desires. We will choose exactly what we want most at any given moment, and our predicament is that fallen man does not want God–which is why, unless he is changed, he will not choose him.

    It is indeed the most horrible of situations: moral responsibility coupled with moral inability. The moral incapability being that our free will never chooses what we don’t want, and sadly our desires have been horribly corrupted.

    And which is exactly why we need a savior. It is quite clear we cannot save ourselves.

    The good news, of course, is that if you recognize this predicament, if you recognize the need for a savior–well then, you have been born again, and the inexorable has already begun. Jesus came not for the well, but the sick.

  27. #27 JohnnieCanuck
    August 28, 2006

    Wow, Heddle.

    You are a good example of how very intelligent people can believe very foolish things. You start with the need to believe in immortality, etc. Then you set out to prove to yourself that your wishful thinking is real. You seem to have done a very good job of that.

    Now why do you feel the need to spread your wishful thinking around? If it’s that Great Commission thing, how is it you cannot heal by the laying of hands? Can you drink poison or handle snakes with impunity? Real evidence like that could win a lot of converts for you. The Bible says Jesus said it, so it must be true… No?

  28. #28 David Heddle
    August 29, 2006

    JohnnieCanuck

    Wow, that is such a display of original thought! I truly am impressed.

  29. #29 pwe
    August 29, 2006

    lpadron wrote:

    Of course, it’s impossible to explain why suffering is bad if there isn’t a god. I’ve yet to see a non-theist give anything close to a reasoned reply to the question: “why is suffering bad?”.

    Why is it necessary to explain it? Only a person that doesn’t consider suffering bad needs an explanation.

    Your unwillingness to accept the Christian response to suffering, one I currently struggle with and don’t particularly care for, does not thereby make it a “non” serious explanation. In fact, it’s a very good one that explains a hell of a lot more than most and certainly more than any offered by non-theists.

    An explanation that states that God for some unknown reason planted the tre of knowledge of good and eveil, and that the first two humans persuaded by a talking snake ate of the fruit, and that God cursed the entire creation as a consequence.

    Exactly what does that explain? How hysterical can we assume God to be?

  30. #30 Bill Snedden
    August 29, 2006

    David Heddle wrote:

    It is indeed the most horrible of situations: moral responsibility coupled with moral inability.

    This is a contradiction in terms. There can be no moral responsibility coupled with moral inability. If we are unable to act morally, then we can not possibly bear any culpability for our actions. A robot cannot possibly be thought “guilty” of following its programming. The idea that certain beliefs are rational and yet incapable of being chosen except through “divine intervention” while still being so obvious as to leave non-believers “without excuse” is nothing but pernicious nonsense.

  31. #31 JohnnieCanuck
    August 29, 2006

    Heddle

    If you have heard the questions before, you must have an answer, or know that you don’t – unless you are in denial.

    Which is it?

    You use millenia old thoughts from nomad tribalists, etc. as your truth from authority and expect original challenges?

    Jesus said a believer like you could heal the sick in his name. Why aren’t any Christians using their Jesus-given powers?

  32. #32 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 29, 2006

    David-

    Well, at least you’ve clarified one thing for me.

    As Bill Snedden point out, you are using language differently from the way most people do. You describe as “rational” an argument that has no force outside of divine intervention. Most people would describe that as “irrational.” You suggest that being utterly incapable of doing X does not constitute an excuse for not doing X. You say that some one can be morally culpable for holding a belief it was impossible for them to not hold.

    It would seem that in your world words mean whatever you want them to mean. Which explains why you find it so easy to reconcile Genesis with science.

  33. #33 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 29, 2006

    Jon S-

    With all due respect, I don’t see how you have even addressed the issue I raised in my post. The question is how a just and loving God allows the torture of baby animals. You gave me a lecture on human sin. If A murders B, is it okay to punish C for the crime? If it is not, then I don’t see how you’ve offered any answer at all to Dawkins’ simple fact.

  34. #34 386sx
    August 30, 2006

    If it is not, then I don’t see how you’ve offered any answer at all to Dawkins’ simple fact.

    That’s easy to answer. Just say something, anything at all, and then “poof”, say that “the real question is whether or not you accept it, not if there are serious responses or believeable explanations.” Badda bing, badda boom.

  35. #35 David Heddle
    August 30, 2006

    The concept that responsibility for a debt is somehow contingent upon the ability to repay the debt is so contrary to everyday life that I am surprised that anyone would attest to the obviousness of the position. If you borrow money and yet find yourself incapable of repaying, the bankruptcy laws may afford you with protection from harassment and prison, but you’ll still go to your deathbed with the moral responsibility for the debt.

  36. #36 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 30, 2006

    David-

    The situation you describe is not comparable to what we are talking about here. To make it comparable, you would have to assume that the person had no choice at all either in incurring the debt, or in subsequently not paying it off. If those two conditions are met, then the debtor would, indeed, have no moral culpability for the debt. Of course, in real life those two conditions are never met.

  37. #37 David Heddle
    August 30, 2006

    Jason,

    I would say that it is analogous, but that would necessitate a digression into the doctrine of original sin. I’m certainly prepared to go there, but it’s your call, given that it’s your blog.

  38. #38 386sx
    August 30, 2006

    The concept that responsibility for a debt is somehow contingent upon the ability to repay the debt is so contrary to everyday life that I am surprised that anyone would attest to the obviousness of the position.

    I thought we were supposed to forgive debts and debtors, plus get free daily bread and stuff. Lol, you’re right, I don’t see that one happening.

  39. #39 Bill Snedden
    August 30, 2006

    The idea that moral responsibility is in any way analogous to a pecuniary arrangement is simply repugnant to reason. If I kill your mother, can I just pay a fine and be absolved of my guilt? How utterly preposterous!

    And it certainly needn’t digress into a discussion of original sin unless one holds to the morally bankrupt satisfaction or penal substitionary forms of atonement theory.

  40. #40 David Heddle
    August 30, 2006

    Gee Bill, now that you’ve settled the argument with grace and intelligence, there really is no point in going on. Uncle!

  41. #41 Bill Snedden
    August 30, 2006

    David, it was never my intention to offend you but the plain truth is that I find the notions you proffer to be nothing less than morally repugnant. It’s nothing personal; I do find some of your other writings reasonable and interesting.

  42. #42 David Heddle
    August 30, 2006

    Bill,

    That’s a fair statement. I think that anybody who is not a Christian (I am making that assumption about you, perhaps I’m wrong) has trouble grasping the implication of moral inability accompanied with moral responsibility.

    Early Christianity did. Augustine and Pelagius debated this very issue, with Pelagius agreeing with you that such a view is morally repugnant, while Augustine arguing the view I am presenting. The church has repeatedly branded Pelagianism as heresy, while affirming Augustine’s view, a view we know as original sin.

    That is why original sin is relevant, for it is a two step approach that I think is called for. The first is to acknowledge that it is possible, though arguably unjust (obviously I don’t think so), that we are in a position that we must do what we cannot do (and hence need a savior), the second step is: how did we get in that position.

  43. #43 JohnnieCanuck
    August 31, 2006

    re: Heddle

    Apparently an omnipotent and omnipresent god got us into that position. Gave us freewill so he could give us the smackdown. Or not.

    The number of theologian man-years spent rationalising the random musings of some nomadic warrior-priests is awful to contemplate. That and the resulting suffering and bloodshed whenever two or more theologians came to different conclusions.

    If only the original writers could have foreseen the damage their written words would wreak. Given that they were only interested in power for themselves and their tribe, maybe they would have done it just the same.

    Bottom line, religion could not have achieved so much evil without the invention of writing. Another misuse of science.

  44. #44 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 31, 2006

    David-

    The argument between Augustine and Pelagius is not relevant to what we are discussing here. Neither of them would have accepted your assertion that an atheist has no choice about his disbelief. Augustine, after all, was the one who was offering arguments to prove the existence of God. He did not preface those arguments by saying they would only seem reasonable to people who already believe.

    Their argument was about how human beings achieve salvation. Pelagius argued that humans could choose by an act of will to live a moral life, and that Jesus’ role was to provide an example for us to live up to. He also rejected the idea that all of humanity is damned for the acts of one couple in Eden. That is a very sensible way of looking at things (similar to the views of modern Judaism in fact), which explains why the Church condemns it as heresy.

    None of this has anything to do with whether an atheist has a choice about his disbelief. The only way I can make sense out of your comments is if you are equating belief in God with an acceptance of various bits of Christian theology. If you’re not, then talk of original sin has no relevance here.

    In a previous comment in this thread, you wrote that we have free will but are slaves to our desires. Like much of what you have said here, that is a contradiction in terms. Having free will implies that we are not slaves to our desires. That is why free will is essential to any talk of moral responsibility. Where there is genuinely no choice, there can be no moral responsibility.

    Prior to your comments in this thread, I have always understood Christianity as follows: Because of original sin, we are born with a vile and corrupted nature. There is absolutely nothing we can do to overcome or mitigate that natue. In fact, there is only one thing we can do about this state of affairs. We can choose to recognize our pitiable state, and to acknowledge that Jesus accepted the punishment that was rightfully ours. And because you have the free choice either of accepting or rejecting Jesus’ sacrifice, God can hold you morally accountable for your decision.

    But now you are saying that you don’t even have that free choice. So you are in a situation where you inherit an evil and sinful nature, and you can’t even recognize that fact unless God takes specific action to open your eyes to it. Given that, I can’t imagine how you hold someone morally accountable for their disbelief.

    I agree with Bill that the doctrine of original sin is morally repugnant, both because it implies that people are made to suffer the punishment for the sins of others, and because the punishment seems out of all proportion to the sin committed by Adam and Eve. But to add to that the idea that though my disbelief is solely the result of God’s unwillingness to open my eyes, I am nonetheless morally responsible for my disbelief, is simply incredible.

    But we are rather far from where we started. You said that seeing beautiful New Hampshire foliage leaves a person without excuse. When I said that meant without excuse for rejecting the idea of a loving God, you said it was close enough. Perhaps you can tell me something even closer to what you had in mind.

    And you still have not explained why a just and loving God allows the torture of baby animals. Animals can’t sin, but they can certainly suffer. So far you have offered nothing to mitigate the force of Dawkins’ comment.

  45. #45 Bart Hanson
    August 31, 2006

    The $64 something question. Some may say man created god from the necessity to explain the hole inside themselves. I say (as a believer) that Genesis is a story God gave us to explain how we fall short through having sinful natures. Why will I die? Religious experiences can be had taking certain drugs. God saves us through our surrender, our humility and recognition that he is Lord. I’m rambling but clever semantics still cannot explain infinity. Time is measured because (for us) it’s finite so we divide it into years, but God set the day and night and the seasons.
    God help me to see your purpose more clearly. You sent us you only (beloved) son, sent him as a man to understand our plight. anyway…

  46. #46 David Heddle
    August 31, 2006

    Jason,

    Some interesting points. You wrote:

    Neither of them would have accepted your assertion that an atheist has no choice about his disbelief.

    I have to strongly disagree: Augustine certainly would have. He may not have used that precise construct, but that is the same as saying natural man is morally incapable of obeying God. He was so much in the “Calvinist” camp, that many Calvinists (including Calvin) prefer to call themselves Augustinian. In fact, Augustine’s view of original sin–that man in his natural state is unable to obey God–is exactly what the Calvinist’s call, somewhat unfortunately, “Total Depravity”–the ‘T’ in the famous TULIP acrostic.

    And once you accept that, you had better follow with the U (Unconditional election, or predestination) otherwise nobody would be saved, ever. That is because of the dilemma I have been describing:

    1) Man is too depraved ever to obey God (Augustine’s original sin)
    2) You are commanded to turn to God for salvation

    Then it is clear that the only way for anyone to come to God is to be drawn by him (John 6:44), that is, to be given a new heart. But who does God choose? It can’t be based on merit, for everyone is in the same sorry state. It’s just whoever it pleases him to call, hence predestination. Scripture teaches that God will have mercy upon whom God will have mercy.

    Of course, Augustine might be wrong, but it should be noted that all his arguments are scripture based. I can provide the references to any interested. Anyone is free to disagree with Augustine, but they must attack his arguments as he made them, based on scripture.

    As for free will, I’ll make a rash statement: exactly what you mean by free will, thought through, is close to what I mean: you always choose whatever you want most at any instant, always you never choose against you strongest inclination (all things considered). I write a little more on this here:

    http://helives.blogspot.com/2006/01/lesson-5-free-will.html

    That is just a thumbnail–for more elaborate discussion you can read any or all of: Augustine, Luther, and especially Jonathan Edwards on the topic. So the idea here is not that your free will is constrained–no your will is as free as a bird–the idea is that the will will not choose what it doesn’t want, and what it doesn’t want in its natural state is God.

    So the atheist does not reject God because he is so smart, but because he has no innate desire for God. That is what I have been trying to say. Nobody seeks God (Rom. 3:11).

    There is a subtlety in the original sin topic. It is often thought, and you sort of characterized it this way, that you are charged for Adam’s sin. That’s not the case at all. You are not born with Adam’s sin in your debit column. If you lived a sinless life (impossible, of course, though Pelagius would disagree) God doesn’t have a loophole to condemn you by. No, original sin is much worse than being born with someone else’s sin charged against you (which, by the way, would make God unjust). Original sin means that the race was corrupted so much that we are born to sin. But any sin by which we are condemned is ours and ours alone, not Adam’s.

    As for Augustine’s intent for his writing, who can say? But given what he wrote, which was pure sovereignty of God theology, his self-consistent intent would have included any or all of:

    1) Gloryifying God
    2) Helping believers to defend their faith
    3) Being instrumental in convincing unbelievers

    That last point being: if God changes your heart (say yours, Jason) you (normatively) will not come to faith in a vacuum. For some they then hear or remember the simple gospel message and that’s enough to make them fall on their knees. For others, they may read Augustine for the third time and gradually realize that they now find his arguments persuasive, but before that could happen God would have changed them.

    I wager that Augustine would never have believed that, apart from God, a man could read his writings and decide to trust that the blood of Christ paid for his sins.

    Of course, in all of this the gospel message remains the same. If you recognize that you are a sinner who is in need of a savior, then turn to Christ. Whether or not you made the choice without God’s help and were then reborn, as modern evangelism tends to teach, or, as Augustine taught, you were first reborn and then turned to Christ, doesn’t matter.

  47. #47 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 31, 2006

    David-

    I think I’ll make this my last comment in this thread. Not because it isn’t interesting, but simply because, you know, enough already. I’ll just make a few quick comments in reply to your last post.

    First, you are still equating believing in God with obeying God. These are two different things. Augustine believed that rational contemplation should be sufficient to persuade a person that God exists. What unaided reason could not do is permit a person to live a moral life. That is possible, he says, only through God’s grace.

    Next, your two point dilemma is no dilemma at all. Being constitutionally unable to obey God is different from being utterly unable to recognize your need for God.

    The next point is that free will has nothing to do with what you will actually decide to do in any given situation. Rather, it is about what you are capable of doing. Given the choice between a bowl of ice cream and a bowl of broccoli, most people will choose the ice cream most of the time. But because we have free will we are capable of choosing the broccoli neverthelss. Likewise, my sinful nature might give me a desire to reject God and behave badly, but because I have free will I can nonetheless choose to reject those desires. Arguing that it is utterly impossible for an unsaved person to reject his innate desires is simply equivalent to saying that he does not have free will. At least not on this issue.

    And it is simply wrong to say that no one seeks God. Quite a lot of people, me for example, seek God with great enthusiasm. We interpret our consistent failure to find Him, and the poor arguments of those who insist He exists nevertheless, as evidence that He does not exist after all. In fact, I regard it as a significant argument against Christianity that so many people make a sincere effort to come to know God without having any success.

    I’ll stop there.

  48. #48 Jon S
    August 31, 2006

    Jason-
    (I’ll make this my last post on this topic as well)

    I think you already know the answer to your own question (how a just and loving God allows the torture of baby animals)… the answer is sin. When Adam sinned, God cursed the world (Genesis 3:14-19), and now the world is groaning right up to the present time (Romans 8:22). Man, in many respects, is just like Adam; we want to be in control, be our own god, be the captain of our ship or master of our fate. Adam was tempted by Satan to become like God. Thus he sinned by being disobedient to God and brought upon himself, mankind, and the whole of creation, God’s curse and judgment. There are many reasons why God allows the torture of baby animals (all wrapped up in sin), all of which you may find repugnant or unacceptable (but that’s besides the point- truth isn’t always satisfying): to demonstrate his justice (by applying a stiff penalty for sin), his hatred of sin through judgment (death), his demand for obedience (if man hadn’t sinned, then baby animals wouldn’t die), and his mercy (not all baby animals die).

    And while death is aweful, there is hope… God promises a new creation for those who put their faith and trust in his son and savior Jesus Christ, and it will be a place where there is no death and suffering, a place where no baby animals die.

    Again I think you’re aware of this answer already, but you just don’t like the answers, find them unacceptable, repugnant, and appalling. For that I’m sorry. But you asked the question, and I’m answering from scripture. I understand that you’re an atheist and don’t accept what scripture claims (that it’s the Word of God), but there are many who do, and they are born again believers who find scripture true and trustworthy and authoritative. Just because an atheist disagrees and declares scripture irrational, doesn’t discredit scripture or make it null and void. As pointed out in previous posts it is God, through the work of the Holy Spirit that brings believers to him. We may not find that very comforting, but, then again, who are we to judge God? Were we there when he laid the earth’s foundation? Are we capable of understanding the mind of God? Of course not. So while we may, in our sinful nature, be ready to condemn God as an evil tyrant, we should instead humble ourselves before him and trust that he knows what he’s doing. After all, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthans 1:25).

  49. #49 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    September 1, 2006

    If we do have free will, as has been stated, and if God is truly all knowing about events past and to come then he must surely know whatever choice you are going to make eons before you make it. If God has the ability to see everything before it happens then how do we really have free will. He knows what’s going to happen. If “free will” was truly free, it should be without any constraints of some deity knowing about it. With God’s pre-knowlege of your actions you aren’t acting freely, you are just acting out the script that has been written since the beginning of time. Essentially, he having the script negates any ability to have free will. So following this and Jason’s point, if God knows your actions ahead of time (he should if he is the all knowing being, right?) then there is no choice about being “born again” is there? You are doomed from the get go if the script says you stay an unbeliever your whole life. You have no ability to change this. If you do, then God ether isn’t all knowing or he isn’t there.

  50. #50 JimT
    September 1, 2006

    Jason,

    I know you’re done talking on this issue, but I just wanted to let you know you did a brilliant job of trying to logically debate the religious mind on this blog. It is entertaining and illuminating to witness a debate between a man of impeccable logic and . . . (clearing my throat) . . . these other individuals. I respect your ability to keep it rational and level-headed (something I am getting better at) and applaud your ability to digest the illogical and dogmatic insanity these guys type into their keyboards in search of some point to have a rational debate on.

    I have learned over time that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, et al, are built solidly and irrationally on a foundation of ink on paper. The musings and hallucinations of shephards, rulers, and travelling salesman thousands of years ago, have all been co-opted by religions over the years to coerce others to join their closely scripted way of life (and belief). They fool themselves by saying they are commanded to “spread the word.” But I believe the truth is that people want other people to share their beliefs to make themselves feel better. People are social animals (through evolution) and want others to be like themselves.

    There is no God, but people who WANT to believe have been provided with the most generous gift of ink on paper (or papyrus) with enough words and enough wiggle room to divine almost anything they can dream of. The religious mind is a dreaming mind that understands the world seemingly in doublespeak and dogmatic belief. Logic is not required–in fact it is your doom. Ha ha . . . . make me laugh.

  51. #51 David Heddle
    September 1, 2006

    JimT,

    Wow, you figured all that out about religion! All on your own even! I am privileged to share pixels with you. You should write a book. Insights such as “There is no God, but people who WANT to believe have been provided with the most generous gift of ink on paper” should not be kept from the masses.

  52. #52 JohnnieCanuck
    September 1, 2006

    JimT

    You are entirely correct. The main reason we have Judaism, Christianity and Islam as they are today, is that beginning with the Hebrews, priests had access to the technology of writing. I recall one explanation being that the Hebrews learned to write while working under the Egyptians.

    According to Wikipedia, “the Qur’?n was one of the first texts written in Arabic”. Because it was not assembled until decades after Muhammed’s death, different compilations of the initial material give Sunnis and Shi’ites cause to kill.

    As I see it, the first guys to figure out the power of writing used it to establish themselves and their societies as dominant. Winners write the histories is a truism, but when you are the only ones who can write, what you record is what gets handed down.

    One part of this that I quite enjoy is that when a battle was lost, the priests recorded that God was angry that his religion was not being given enough respect. When they won, we learn that God did it, because of a few true believers that acknowledged the power of the priests. Spin doctors are not a recent invention.

    Practically from the first time a pen was wielded, men understood that it had power over swords.

  53. #53 JimT
    September 1, 2006

    David,

    Yes, I figured it out all on my own. I didn’t need a “Bible” of common sense. I didn’t need a minister or a priest, or a translator of texts thousands of years old.

    I asked my buddies ex-wife about dinasaurs. She had to go look on her church’s website to figure out what she “believed” so she could tell me. I just rolled my eyes . . .

    The foundation of religion that I term “ink on paper” is born out over and over again by folks who predominently use biblical quotes to answer questions of logic. Witness “Jon S” above who simply answers the question of suffering by quoting from Genesis, Corinthians, et al. There is no self sustaining logic. Instead, the FOUNDATION for his reasoning on this subject is based on really just text (ink on paper) written thousands of years ago. Text as historical and authoritative as any John Grisham novel–just a bit older and improperly translated at times.

    Look, the Mormons believe their “Book of Mormon” is sacred divined revelation from God. The Moslems believe the same thing about the Koran. I’m sure there are others. It’s all “ink on paper.” Everyone thinks they’re “ink” is better and more definitive.

    If there were a God, he would simply come down and visit me while I’m sitting on a park bench and say, “Hey, Jim–what’s up?” and explain everything to me. I know you don’t believe this, because (fill in appropriate quote-mined excerpt from the Bible). Maybe Romans or Psalms has something on this . . .

    See what I’m saying?

  54. #54 David Heddle
    September 1, 2006

    JimT,

    Yes Jim I see what you are saying. I’m thinking you must have to roll your eyes quite a lot, understanding all these things that us poor bumpkins can’t grasp.

  55. #55 JimT
    September 2, 2006

    David,

    One of the reasons, perhaps, that you can’t grasp this is that you are now on the INSIDE of the cult. I understand that to a certain extent; I was too–for about 30 years–off and on. We all have our life stories. In the end, I think we all believe what we WANT to believe–what we know in our hearts seems to be most right.

    If there is a God who drowns 1-year old children and lets their lifeless carcasses wash up on the beaches after the torrential rains recede (Noah’s Flood) because he doesn’t like what the adults are doing, or executes 2-year old children because he doesn’t like what the adults are doing (the Passover story), and other such biblical atrocities–I certainly could not worship such an entity–even if the Bible tells me I must. He is not worthy of it. And I need no other reason than my own heart.

    I honestly feel that the average religious-minded individual must (among other things) harden their hearts to suffering in the name of a fictional God so that they can appease Him, make Him happy and “feel” saved. That makes you a slave to thought. And that saddens me that intelligent people are swept up in this.

    I know I’m breaking out the old, tired “Hitler” analogy, but I would not worship Hitler because he built a good road system and had a “plan” that perhaps we are “unable to understand.”

    The question in my mind is do you judge someone based on the best of their actions or the worst of their actions. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, et al, were certainly justifiably judged on the worst of their actions.

    Let me further explain my philosophy:

    The existence of life, including human life is neither good, nor bad. It just is.

    The existence of SUFFERING, on the other hand, is bad–for no other reason than I don’t like it, and it’s very existence means that I may at some point have to experience it. Now if the existence of suffering is due to nothing more than nature’s course (which I believe), than I accept that and the word “bad” means nothing more than “something that I don’t like.” However, if an all-knowing God initiated this whole process with full knowledge of all the suffering that would take place, then He too is included in the bad. Because if He knew there would be suffering, then it would have been better to never have introduced life into the world in the first place. To argue otherwise is to say that it is “good” that we are just some sort of big “ant farm” whereby God gets to watch us live and (sometimes) suffer for his pleasure. If he is “all-powerful” he doesn’t need life as we know it with it’s attendant suffering to make Him happy.

    To reiterate:

    1. The existence of human life is neither good nor bad–it’s neutral (although I like my life–because I haven’t suffered).
    2. The existence of SUFFERING is bad. I only need my heart to tell me this–not God and not the Bible.
    3. The CREATION of life with knowledge of attendant suffering is criminal. (And no, I’m not talking about the occasional flu pains and stubbing your big toe).

    Hope this helps illuminate my views . . .

  56. #56 David Heddle
    September 2, 2006

    JimT

    I understand your position quite well, and if you had explained it the way you did in the last post I would have been happy to engage in a discussion. But I turn snide when someone simply argues, in effect, “the [believers] position is not logical, I can see that, but they need their opiate though they won’t admit it.”

    So where does that leave us–does it make discussion pointless? No it doesn’t. But the discussion between the two worldviews is only productive (even if that only means intellectually satisfying) if it’s done this way: to look for place where the opposing view is not self-consistent. You latch onto to suffering as an example as to why there is no God. But how do Christians explain suffering? Even then, if you don’t like their explanation, the question should be: is it consistent with their premises?

    The obvious starting premise for believers is that God exists. No more point arguing that with a Christian than it is arguing with an atheist his premise that God doesn’t exist. Even the great works of Christian scholarship that “prove” God exists–say the works of Aquinas, are really meant to give solid intellectual footing to believers, not to convince unbelievers. If not, we should air-drop such apologies to the great unwashed rather than bibles. The bible doesn’t even purport to prove God exists, it assumes it from its opening line.

    For me, this debate is always one way, for atheism is trivially self-consistent. Atheism derives its moral compass, so it says (typically) from whatever innate moral compass man has evolved as a survival benefit combined with whatever sense of community man has evolved for the same reason. From that premise one does not derive much of a philosophy beyond it’s generally good to live and let live, but it’s ok to punish those that go beyond what, as a consensus, we agree on as boundaries. There may be no absolute right and wrong, but we agree that murder is harmful to the species, so we punish murder.

    If I didn’t believe in God, that’s how I would view the world–that’s how I did view the world–and so I really have no argument with atheism’s self-consistency.

    Christianity is obviously far more complex of a philosophy, given that it imposes an absolute moral compass that is independent of mankind’s consensus.

    Christians from day one have dealt with the problem of suffering. The arguments, should you ever care to investigate, go far beyond simple “man sinned therefore suffering is here.” Christians, too, don’t like simple answers to tough problems. So while deeper explanations ultimately trace back to sin, the fullness of the argument must include a study of the holiness of God and what that means, as well as the sovereignty of God, and God’s redemptive plan in place before Adam was even created.

    It’s funny–to me, before I was a Christian, the existence of suffering wasn’t a problem. I remember thinking that believers are concerned with eternity, so suffering on earth isn’t a big deal–whether you end up in hell or heaven any suffering on earth will be quickly forgotten.

    That’s not my view of suffering now, as a Christian, but I just brought it up to point out that for me, when I was a non-believer, the problem of suffering did not make me think that believers were missing something obvious. My personal objections, at least voiced internally, centered around the fact that I was a scientist and obviously that which these people believed was easily shown to be false scientifically (not philosophically) and surely their holy book, as I had been told, was filled with trivial errors. I was wrong–but my original certainty in their blindness was in an entirely different place than yours.

    Jason,

    In an earlier comment you said you do seek God. I pray that’s true, for yours would be a powerful testimony should you come to God. Just for the sake of completing the thought, however, I will recognize that many seek what they perceive God has to offer, but not necessarily God. For example, people that have the luxury of living or working closely with people of great faith (any faith) may be attracted to the peace, happiness, acceptance, etc. that they see.

  57. #57 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    September 3, 2006

    I guess my question is either to ridiculous to answer or just being ignored.

    Either way I can accept it.

  58. #58 386sx
    September 3, 2006

    Rev., maybe the universe splits into many branch universes at each quantum event, so that when we make a choice to do something, we’re actually making all the possible choices at once. In other words, we have so much free will that we make all the possible choices –it’s just that we can only be aware of one universe at a time. Wow, that’s a whole lot of free will. Then on the other hand maybe God don’t know diddly squat. The only reason we believe God is omniscient is because, uh, some dude says so. Another alternative, albeit more rational, theory would be that there ain’t no evidence for none of them steenkin “God” thingers.

  59. #59 Simon
    September 4, 2006

    David,

    The problem is: I have found no advantages provided by Christianity over atheism.

    Atheism was recently accused by a Christian of providing no meaning to life (a regular ocurrance). She was disgusted that atheism leads only to nihilism. But when we examined the Christian story we found humanity served no purpose within that story. Humanity could be removed from the godly plod and everything would remain the same.

    We have no meaning in ‘God’s plan’, apparently, and yet we are supposed to take hope from the Christian story, even with our existence at best relying on the whim of a bored diety.

  60. #60 Ick of the East
    September 4, 2006

    …..But how do Christians explain suffering?

    Hell with suffering. I want them to explain orange Honda Elements.

    Oh, and the next time someone dies for my sins, I expect them to stay dead.
    Otherwise its about as much of a sacrifice as a weekend bender.
    .

  61. #61 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    September 5, 2006

    Thanks 386sx

  62. #62 oldhippie
    September 7, 2006

    …..But how do Christians explain suffering?

    Hell with suffering. I want them to explain orange Honda Elements.

    Oh, and the next time someone dies for my sins, I expect them to stay dead.
    Otherwise its about as much of a sacrifice as a weekend bender.

    Ick of the East, LOL best post this session

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