Gardner on Theodicy

Writing in The New Criterion, the always excellent Martin Gardner reviews Bart Ehramnn’s new book God’s Problem: how the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Since I am among those who think the problem of evil and suffering in its various forms is a real crackerjack argument against traditional Christian theism, I read the review with great interest.

The “review” part of the review is actually brief. What did Gardner think of the book?

Back to God’s Problem, the book that triggered my long-winded speculations. It is hard to imagine how a better, more persuasive volume could be written on why irrational evil implies atheism. When you read a book on the topic by an orthodox Christian, such as C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, or his A Grief Observed about the death of his wife Joy from cancer, you sense Lewis’s agony as he struggles to believe his own arguments. It is not only his pain that troubles Lewis, it is also his awareness of the enormous amount of suffering that continues to plague humanity. By contrast, there is little agony in Ehrman’s book. There is only a huge relief over finally abandoning a youthful theism.

That’s clear enough. Guess I’ll have to pick up a copy. On the other hand, Ehrman’s earlier book Misquoting Jesus has been sitting unread on my shelf for a while now. Looks like I’m getting behind.

Most of the review consists of Gardner’s own ruminations on the subject. He writes:

Of course this is no problem for an atheist. Evils are simply the way the world is. But for a theist the problem can be agonizing. Indeed, it is probably why most atheists are atheists. There is an answer, though not one likely to persuade any atheist. Surprisingly, Ehrman only briefly mentions it in connection to Rabbi Harold Kushner’s popular 1981 book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. (Emphasis added)

It has been my experience that something like the boldface remark is a mainstay in writing seeking to refute the argument from evil. I’ve always found it vaguely insulting. The goal, after all, is not to persuade atheists that God exists. It is instead the more modest one of persuading atheists not to reject God based on the argument from evil. If there is a good counter-argument, then I for one would badly like to hear it. Announcing ahead of time that your response to the argument from evil will not persuade an athesit is equivalent to conceding that you’re not making a strong case.

Skipping ahead a bit

The fact that stable laws are essential for any conceivable universe with sentient life at once makes natural evils inevitable. If someone carelessly loses balance at the edge of a cliff and topples over, you can’t expect God to suspend gravity in the region and allow the person to float gently down. If a piece of heavy masonry dislodges from the top of a tall building, and is on its way toward the head of someone on the sidewalk, you can’t expect God to divert its path or turn it into feathers.

And skipping ahead again:

It is easy to see how similar arguments apply to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, lightning that starts fatal fires, and other natural evils. Laws of physics obviously apply to movements of the earth’s crust that cause earthquakes. Laws of rain and lightning make inevitable the occasional starting of fires. Deaths from quakes and lightning are the prices we pay for the laws of physics without which there could be no universe. Do I know this is why God permits such disasters? I do not. I only put the explanation forward (it goes back to Maimonides and even earlier) as the best I have encountered in the vast literature on the topic.

As Gardner notes, a lot of really sharp people have put forth this argument. I guess that means we must take it seriously. To me, alas, it seems transparently mistaken. It is all well and good that God had to endow the world with unbreakable natural laws, lest it be uninhabitable by creatures such as us. The question is whether he had to endow the world with the precise natural laws we find all around us. It is hard to argue that earthquakes and tsunamis are a logically necessary part of any world in which human-like creatures can leave.

Likewise, consider the misery caused by birth defects. Was it logically necessary that our process of embryological development be so inefficient and convoluted that tens of thousands of babies are born every year with crippling diseases and infirmities? Could it really be true that any other logically possible universe would leave human beings even worse off than this one? I would suggest the burden of proof lies with those who answer yes.

This is why I believe evolution presents an extra new wrinkle on the argument of evil, one that takes an already serious theological problem and ramps it up several more notches. For so long as we are discussing the God of traditional Christian theism, we can say with certainty that he was not logically compelled to use evolution by natural selection as his modus operandi. There is no reason at all why such a God could not have started the film, as it were, four billion years in. That orgy of suffering, violence, bloodshed and mass extinctions could have been avoided in its entirety. Whatever the state of the world at the precise moment when humanity arrived on the scene could have been produced ex nihilo by God.

Nor can we argue that fast-forwarding the tape would represent an illegitimate intrusion by God into the natural order. If we are to say that God created the universe, then at some point he did something. Gardner writes:

Leibniz’s vision can be given a contemporary form as follows. After God selected the best compossible universe–the one with the least amount of necessary suffering–he adopted what could have been the only way to create such a universe. Somewhere in a higher space he started a quantum fluctuation that triggered what astronomer Fred Hoyle derisively called a “Big Bang.” The bang generated a set of fundamental particles, fields, and laws–a fantastic mix in which you and I were there in potentia.

I fail to see how God doing all of that represents less of an intrusion into nature than simply creating us directly from the dust of the Earth, in precisely the way the Bible describes. The plan of creation described in the first chapter of Genesis is far more gentle and benign than the story told by Darwin. Explain to me, please, why that plan is logically impossible. Explain to me which of God’s purposes could only have been attained by four billion years of evolution by natural selection.

There is, of course, another issue with Gardner’s argument. That is his assumption that humanity was there in potentia from the start of the universe. My impression is that most biologists take the Stephen Jay Gould position on this, namely, that were we to rewind the tape and let evolution play out again, it is exceedingly unlikely that anything like humanity would evolve again. He famously jousted with Simon Conway Morris on this point. Personally I thought Gould won that debate in a rout. Regardless, it is very much at issue whether humanity or something effectively identical to it really was inevitable.

As with most serious theological musing, this sort of talk has little to do with religion as it is commonly practiced. The God of traditional Christianity is constantly intervening in the natural order; at least, the Bible is premised on the assumption that that is so. To this day many Christians pray in the serious expectation of having some effect on future events. They are not going to be happy with a conception of God that keeps him scrupulously out of the picture.

The remainder of Gardner’s essay contains many interesting nuggets, so I recommend reading the whole thing. He could well be right that this is the best argument ever devised for countering the argument from evil (though the fundamentalists’ refrain that it is all because of human sin should not be dismissed out of hand). If so, that reflects very badly indeed on what theologians have managed to accomplish.

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Lubin
    January 21, 2009

    Does any of us dare to hope to be as sharp as Martin Gardner is now, when we’re his age?

  2. #2 The Science Pundit
    January 21, 2009

    Jason,

    I agree with you that The Problem of Evil is fatal to traditional Christian theology (although fringe sects like the WBC who eschew an all loving God can get around it easily). In fact, I’m of the opinion that Epicurus (with his PoE riddle) exposed the lie of Christianity–centuries before there even was such a thing as Christianity.

    The Gardner quotes you posted don’t move me in the least. In fact, all “refutations” of the Problem of Evil that I’ve come across reek of The Courtier’s Reply syndrome.

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    January 21, 2009

    OK, having read the whole review, I have to say that my favorite part was

    I once had lunch with a fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventist. When I asked him how he defended God’s drowning of innocent infants he astonished me by saying that God foresaw the future and knew that the babies would all grow up to become malevolent men and women! I was tempted to stand and shout “Touché!” It was a thought that had never occurred to me.

    I don’t buy it, but it never would have occurred to me either.

  4. #4 Ahcuah
    January 21, 2009

    Interestingly, the same Christian who has no trouble saying that God had to create the world with all these natural laws and evil, also believes that God creates something called “Heaven” that manages to do just fine without all that evil. (The same applies to “free will”? They’ll say one of the consequences of that free will is the evil, yet they never say there is no free will in heaven.)

    Why not just skip the messy step?

  5. #5 Ahcuah
    January 21, 2009

    Re: The Seventh Day Advocate’s response.

    What, so God was incompetent in seeing the future and failed to weed out Hitler and Stalin and John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Kaczynski, and Charles Manson?

  6. #6 windy
    January 21, 2009

    The fact that stable laws are essential for any conceivable universe with sentient life at once makes natural evils inevitable. If someone carelessly loses balance at the edge of a cliff and topples over, you can’t expect God to suspend gravity in the region and allow the person to float gently down.

    I guess that takes care of Christianity, then. No miracles ever, for any reason?

    Or is this another version of the argument, that occasional exceptions to the laws of nature (virgin birth? isolated parlor tricks?) would be OK, but God can’t be “expected to” step in every time some poor loser gets into trouble? OK but then it’s no longer about the inexorable laws of nature (God’s version of ‘The Cold Equations’?) – it goes back to God’s messed up priorities.

    Even if a stable universe is required to produce sentient life, once the sentient life is there, why would God protecting them from at least the worst natural evils necessarily screw up the whole universe? If God intervened consistently, the result should be something like everyone having superpowers.

  7. #7 386sx
    January 21, 2009

    He could well be right that this is the best argument ever devised for countering the argument from evil (though the fundamentalists’ refrain that it is all because of human sin should not be dismissed out of hand). If so, that reflects very badly indeed on what theologians have managed to accomplish.

    I’m afraid I have to agree with that. If the best argument for a supernatural God is that we can’t expect God to do supernatural type stuff, then uhhhhhhhmm, what’s the point.

  8. #8 AdrianP
    January 21, 2009

    Ahcuah is right on the money – if God is capable of acting and choses to act, then the only conclusion we can reach is that God endorses the Holocaust and other genocides.

    The discussion about stable natural laws may be a defence but it requires a God which does not intervene. The Christian God disappears in a poof, as does any active or even benevolent god. We’re left defending only a hands-off deist god. I wonder how many of the people mouthing these defences understand the consequences of their own arguments.

  9. #9 386sx
    January 21, 2009

    If someone carelessly loses balance at the edge of a cliff and topples over, you can’t expect God to suspend gravity in the region and allow the person to float gently down.

    Why the hell not? The only reason somebody would ask that question is because they are looking at the evidence for natural stuff. That’s completely irrelevant to anything supernatural at all. Sounds to me like the worst possible argument instead of the best possible argument! (Caveat: I’m not an adbvanced theologian though.)

  10. #10 386sx
    January 21, 2009

    If someone carelessly loses balance at the edge of a cliff and topples over, you can’t expect God to suspend gravity in the region and allow the person to float gently down.

    Of course you can’t expect that to happen. Why not? Because it doesn’t happen! The only thing that’s an argumernt for is an argument for natural laws! Good grief…

  11. #11 386sx
    January 21, 2009

    The discussion about stable natural laws may be a defence

    Yeah, a defence for stable natural laws.

    but it requires a God which does not intervene.

    No it doesn’t. It only requires stable natural laws. Sounds like a pretty lame “defence” if you ask me. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong!

  12. #12 AdrianP
    January 21, 2009

    386sx,

    “It only requires stable natural laws. Sounds like a pretty lame “defence” if you ask me. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong!”

    You’re wrong because the presence of stable natural laws does not address the issue of why God does not intervene to stop disastrous events or to act to save us when they do arise. God could act to save us by sweeping us to safety just as a mother can save a child by pulling it from a river. No laws are necessarily violated if God acts, and if some laws are violated (as if physical laws are like legal laws, but I digress) then so what? We’re still left in the position of concluding that God could save us but has chosen not to because the principle of “natural laws” or nonintervention are more important than suffering. Since Christians imagine that God has broken both principles in the past and many Christians believe God acts even today, the “stable natural laws” defence doesn’t hold water.

    We’re left with either a God that can’t act (and so not a god) or can act but chooses not to (a callous, uncaring god or deist god). Giving “stable natural laws” as the reason for non-intervention doesn’t change the conclusion.

  13. #13 386sx
    January 21, 2009

    No laws are necessarily violated if God acts, and if some laws are violated (as if physical laws are like legal laws, but I digress) then so what?

    Good point. God doesn’t even have to break any natural laws at all if God doesn’t want to. God can still intervene and not break any “stable natural laws”. God can do any freakin thing it wants to. The whole “defence” is just freakin stupid.

  14. #14 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 22, 2009

    Jonathan Lubin -

    Gardner seems as sharp and prolific as ever in his mid-nineties. I traded some correspondence with him regarding the Monty Hall book. It was a great thrill for me.

  15. #15 Pseudonym
    January 22, 2009

    This discussion is all very interesting, and far be it from me to defend the Traditional Christian Theistic Conception of God(tm), however…

    The entire argument, on both sides, seems to me to be predicated on the idea that gods possess a bunch of “omni”-type properties, and any entity not possessing these “omni”-type properties is not a god. I’ve never seen a justification for this, either from reason or from any Judeo-Christian sacred texts.

  16. #16 AL
    January 22, 2009

    I find it curious that a lot of you atheists use the phrase “natural law” in the same way theists do, such that we can talk meaningfully of them being “violated.” What do you suppose natural laws are? To me, as an atheist myself, natural laws are merely descriptions of generalized phenomena that we observe. As descriptions, they never get violated, they are simply falsified. e.g. If you dropped an object off a cliff, but it didn’t fall, then once you’ve ruled out other factors, you conclude not that gravity was violated, but that gravity is either incomplete or false in that it fails to cover this phenomenon you just observed.

    To speak of natural laws being violated is to necessarily beg the question that in fact these laws were handed on high from an authority, sort of like our everyday legal prescriptive-as-opposed-to-descriptive laws.

  17. #17 James
    January 22, 2009

    How about the Gnostics solution to this dilemma: the world was created by the evil Demiurge?

  18. #18 A Pedant
    January 22, 2009

    Please change “can leave” to “can live” so your sentence makes sense.

  19. #19 John Farrell
    January 22, 2009

    The goal, after all, is not to persuade atheists that God exists. It is instead the more modest one of persuading atheists not to reject God based on the argument from evil. If there is a good counter-argument, then I for one would badly like to hear it. Announcing ahead of time that your response to the argument from evil will not persuade an athesit is equivalent to conceding that you’re not making a strong case.

    I agree, Jason. I recently read this book, by Brian Davies, which (at the risk of making your book shelf even more stuffed than it already is) you might want to add to your wishlist.

    One of Davies’ arguments, for example, is taking a critical look at the presupposition that God’s goodness is meant to be defined (by the classical theologians like Maimonides and Aquinas) in purely moral terms. It came as a surpise to me that they never did define it that way, and it does pose a different twist to the problem.

    For what it’s worth.

  20. #20 Tom Rees
    January 22, 2009

    The question is whether he had to endow the world with the precise natural laws we find all around us. It is hard to argue that earthquakes and tsunamis are a logically necessary part of any world in which human-like creatures can leave.

    Here is the fundamental problem. For this to be true then God would have to be constrained by what we regard as logic. In other words, you are putting bounds on God. Mainstream theology does not permit this, which is why it gets itself all wrapped up.

    It’s easier to see that a god who is restricted in his actions might have no choice but to allow evil. But that’s not the Judaeo-Christian god.

  21. #21 J-Dog
    January 22, 2009

    Best answer as to why there is Evil in the world?

    God’s a dick. Period, end of story. So suck on it religionists!

  22. #22 Tulse
    January 22, 2009

    The goal, after all, is not to persuade atheists that God exists. It is instead the more modest one of persuading atheists not to reject God based on the argument from evil.

    It sounds to me like the goal is more modest still, namely to give theists some sort of comfort that such arguments have a response, even if that response is not laid out in a convincing fashion. It’s a security blanket for believers, and really is only intended to make sense to them.

  23. #23 John Farrell
    January 22, 2009

    For this to be true then God would have to be constrained by what we regard as logic. In other words, you are putting bounds on God. Mainstream theology does not permit this, which is why it gets itself all wrapped up.

    If you mean modern theology, Tom, yeah, I think you’re right. But Aquinas et al did believe God was contrained (i.e., he cannot make 2 + 2 = 5), or, as he humorously put in a related topic, not even God can restore a virgin.
    :)

    Apropos of which, btw, I recommend Bill Vallicella’s post here.

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    January 22, 2009

    I bought Ehrmann’s book last spring, just after I’d had a root canal. I guess suffering was on my mind. I was heading home from the endodontist and had to kill time before I could eat or drink, so I stopped in a bookstore, and I happened to see God’s Problem on the “religion” table. It was a pretty good read. Of course, I was on some pretty nifty painkillers at the time, so your kilometrage may vary.

  25. #25 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    January 22, 2009

    I have run into many people who have some awareness of Gardner’s long and laudable record of skeptical publication, and mistakenly assume Gardner is an atheist. This is not the case. In The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener he identifies himself as a “philosophical theist.”

  26. #26 llewelly
    January 22, 2009

    It has been my experience that something like the boldface remark ['though not one likely to persuade any atheist'] is a mainstay in writing seeking to refute the argument from evil. I’ve always found it vaguely insulting.

    I’ve always interpreted it as an admission that the argument was a failure.

  27. #27 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    Jason,

    It is hard to argue that earthquakes and tsunamis are a logically necessary part of any world in which human-like creatures can leave.

    No it isn’t. A fairly persuasive argument can be made that plate tectonics, vulcanism, etc. are hugely beneficial if not necessary for complex life.

    That orgy of suffering, violence, bloodshed and mass extinctions could have been avoided in its entirety.

    Only the extinctions. Even if God chose a no-evolution route, animals get eaten. Their suffering is not lessened if their demise was not part of evolution, nor does it depend on whether or not their death is part of the process of the extinction of their species. A rabbit in the jaws of a wolf doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether or not evolution is happening.

    Whatever the state of the world at the precise moment when humanity arrived on the scene could have been produced ex nihilo by God.

    Yes, a young earth would have, in a integrated sense, much less suffering than an old earth. But an old earth, with all that death, has the same level of pain and suffering regardless of whether or not evolution occurred. As I have said before, you can argue that the problem of evil is worse for an old earth creationist than a young earth creationist, but it is independent of evolution. Hugh Ross (OEC, no evolution) has exactly the same “problem of evil” problem as a theistic evolutionist. Pain and death is pain and death.

    AdrianP,

    if God is capable of acting and choses to act, then the only conclusion we can reach is that God endorses the Holocaust and other genocides.

    Sorry, your logic is lacking. We can only conclude that God could have but declined to prevent such tragedies. It does not imply endorsement. There are many such examples in the bible: and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; (Jer. 19:5, NASB). God could have prevented human sacrifice to Baal. He didn’t prevent it. He doesn’t endorse it.

    We’re left with either a God that can’t act (and so not a god) or can act but chooses not to (a callous, uncaring god or deist god).

    No, again this is a false dilemma. Probably the best example is the story of Joseph. Sold into slavery by his brothers. Languished as an innocent man in prison for years. Later he says to his brothers: you meant it for evil, God meant it for good.

    I agree with the notion that the problem of evil is the second most vexing theological problem for Christians. (The first being: why doesn’t God just save everyone?). In light of the fall, however, I like to, for some perspective, rephrase the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? as Why don’t bad things happen to all of us, all the time?

  28. #28 llewelly
    January 22, 2009

    An old argument—it traces back to ancient Greece—goes as follows. God is either incapable of abolishing natural evil, in which case he is not omnipotent, or he can but won’t, in which case he is not good.

    Revelations – and much of the rest of the Christian bible – clearly illustrates a god which is not good. The belief that god is other than a monster requires the rejection of most of the bible.

  29. #29 Tulse
    January 22, 2009

    A fairly persuasive argument can be made that plate tectonics, vulcanism, etc. are hugely beneficial if not necessary for complex life. [...] Even if God chose a no-evolution route, animals get eaten

    Presumably neither of these things were true in the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall. And presumably God could have set whatever conditions he wanted on the post-Fallen world. He’s allegedly omnipotent, after all.

    and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind;

    But apparently not omniscient…

  30. #30 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    Tulse,

    Presumably neither of these things were true in the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall.

    Depends on who you ask. Only YECs say there was no death or carnivorous activity before the fall.

  31. #31 John Farrell
    January 22, 2009

    BTW–apropos of Jason’s remark about Gardner. He is indeed a gentleman. Some years back when I was writing about the anti-relativity movement, Gardner was very kind and helpful about pointing me to various physicists and astronomers who had tangled in the past with several of the more egregious crackpots.

  32. #32 Tulse
    January 22, 2009

    Only YECs say there was no death or carnivorous activity before the fall.

    There was no human death or pain, right? As far as earthquakes and tsunamis go, the hard problem is not that they kill animals, but humans.

  33. #33 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    Tulse,

    There was [before the fall] no human death or pain, right?

    That also depends. The OEC’s have different views. If you think Adam and Eve were the first humans, either because the species didn’t exist or that they were the two hominoids selected for the imbuing of an immortal soul, then by definition no humans died before the fall. But in the latter view, their precursor Homo Sapiens ancestors certainly died before the fall.

    Personally I think that even in the absence of “The Fall” that Adam and Eve would have died, if of nothing else then of old age, and I think that is consistent with the bible.

    the hard problem is not that they kill animals, but humans.

    Obviously Jesus didn’t think so. He wasn’t especially troubled by the construction disaster that happened during his ministry when the Tower of Siloam collapsed, or those Jews brutally butchered by Pilate in the Synagogue while they practiced their religion. In both cases he stated matter-of-factly that that those killed were not in any way more sinful than those who lived on. (Luke 9) Also, he stated that the man born blind was not afflicted because of his sin nor his parents’ sin, but for God’s glory. Jesus was not troubled by the problem of evil or why bad things happen to good people. I am, but he wasn’t.

  34. #34 Schnurx
    January 22, 2009

    Only one minor comment, about a cute typo ;)

    “It is hard to argue that earthquakes and tsunamis are a logically necessary part of any world in which human-like creatures can LEAVE.”

    Hmmm..seems to me, human-like creatures tend to leave areas of earthquakes or tsunamis rather fast ;)

  35. #35 windy
    January 22, 2009

    I find it curious that a lot of you atheists use the phrase “natural law” in the same way theists do, such that we can talk meaningfully of them being “violated.”

    That’s because we are discussing a theist argument in which such laws are assumed. Yours is another way of tackling the argument, but it seems to fail even if we grant the theist such laws for the moment.

  36. #36 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    I do not find the argument from evil compelling. God knows all contingencies, whereas, we do not, and we are just sojourners here.

    Incidentally, one of my friends and his advisor, Ron Graham, recently collaborated on a book with Martin Gardner. (Well, I think it was much more Ron Graham and Martin Gardner, but I know Eric played a role, however modest.)

  37. #37 Damian
    January 22, 2009

    heddle, I’m curious as to whether you believe that God could have created a heaven right here on earth? Obviously, one of the objections to this argument, which you have almost certainly heard before, is that our time on earth is meant to be about spiritual growth, etc, and that it is necessary for us to experience the levels of pain and suffering that we have (although, one has to wonder, as I believe you have alluded to yourself, why does it seem to be so unfairly distributed?).

    But then the obvious problem with that is that you have to account for (at least in some sense) the sheer amount of pain and suffering that has been experienced, as well as the relative distribution. Or in other words, you would have to argue that the good that would come from it all, outweighs the suffering, itself. Not an easy task, if you ask me.

    I’ll be interested to read John Loftus’ new book concerning animal suffering, which he believes is fairly insurmountable, at least as far as Evangelical Christianity is concerned. Obviously animals – as far as I am aware – should not need to suffer to the extent that they have (could God not have made us all vegetarian, for instance?), given that they do not experience a life of spiritual growth in preparation for an eternity in heaven. You should perhaps check out his current book, as well, which has been given numerous favorable reviews by believers for its scholarly approach.

    Also, I’m slightly confused by:

    No it isn’t. A fairly persuasive argument can be made that plate tectonics, vulcanism, etc. are hugely beneficial if not necessary for complex life.

    in response to:

    It is hard to argue that earthquakes and tsunamis are a logically necessary part of any world in which human-like creatures can leave.

    Are you suggesting that God could not have brought about the same outcomes and “benefits”, without the potential pitfalls? That would suggest (at least to me) that, not only is God severely limited in certain crucial aspects (which you may well agree with), but that, in a sense, He is kind of indistinguishable from what we might ordinarily consider as the laws of nature.

    To further clarify, if we accept (and many people do) that it is plausible, and indeed, highly probable, given what we have already explained, that both the origin of life and universe can be explained by entirely natural means, would that not then mean that God’s ability to affect and shape the universe is no more powerful, if you will, than nature, itself?

    Obviously I don’t know if you would agree with that, but it would be a striking admission, if you do. Or would it?

    And would that not affect our thinking where miracles are concerned, also?

  38. #38 Damian
    January 22, 2009

    Perhaps I should add to my last comment that an obvious answer to the question, “would that not then mean that God’s ability to affect and shape the universe is no more powerful, if you will, than nature, itself?”, would be that God did not create a universe that reflects the full extent of His abilities.

    I guess that I could accept that, even if I did find it rather odd, but it would certainly leave me with even more questions than it supposedly answers.

  39. #39 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    Damian,

    I’m curious as to whether you believe that God could have created a heaven right here on earth?

    Yes.

    is that our time on earth is meant to be about spiritual growth, etc, and that it is necessary for us to experience the levels of pain and suffering that we have.

    Yes, the bible is clear that suffering and persecution serve a purpose, but I have nothing to say about the degree of suffering, other than what Paul alludes to: that the glories of what is to come overwhelm anything that happens in this blip of time on earth. That makes a bit of sense to me. If the after-life is real, and there is a heaven and hell, then whatever your destination the sufferings during your life here will be of no concern.

    Are you suggesting that God could not have brought about the same outcomes and “benefits”, without the potential pitfalls?

    No I am not suggesting that. This gets into the whole issue of secondary causes, not unlike what was discussed in the post proper. God could, we can presume, move the planets around in equilateral triangular orbits, micron by micron, by divine fiat. But instead we have gravity. Given that mode of operation, plate tectonics is necessary for, among other things, pushing the higher density and beneficial minerals near the surface rather of keeping them locked up– buried, out of reach, underground. So the question is: why does God work through secondary causes? Again, I don’t know.

    To further clarify, if we accept (and many people do) that it is plausible, and indeed, highly probable, given what we have already explained, that both the origin of life and universe can be explained by entirely natural means, would that not then mean that God’s ability to affect and shape the universe is no more powerful, if you will, than nature, itself?

    Yes I’ll admit to that. If you can explain (in a testable manner) the origin of life and especially the origin of the universe, with no “it’s just so” assumptions, completely from first principles, without any need for God or something God-like (such as undetectable parallel universes) then you will, by definition, have rendered God unnecessary and obsolete.

    I would add that your optimism that such an accomplishment is “highly probable” has no basis in current science as I understand it.

    And would that not affect our thinking where miracles are concerned, also?

    I don’t know why it would. Miracles are extremely rare suspensions of the laws of physics that were performed not willy-nilly but for specific purposes in God’s redemptive plan. Since God’s redemptive plan is finished, my guess is there will be no more miracles prior to the end of history. But that’s just a guess.

  40. #40 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2009

    Thoughtful post, Jason.
    One of the significant weaknesses of the argument against God, beginning from evil, is that the argument always comes with the assumption that there is a better world which might have been had God done it another way. It begs the question in a most terrible fashion. This is expressed by Jason as he indicates that evil is no problem. Really? So you do not oppose what is evil? Of course you do. You know very well, and so do the other critics here, that evil exists. It is the argument from the existence of Good which nullifies this in the simplest of fashions.
    I am tempted to do a post in response in the near future.

    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  41. #41 Tulse
    January 22, 2009

    One of the significant weaknesses of the argument against God, beginning from evil, is that the argument always comes with the assumption that there is a better world which might have been had God done it another way.

    I clearly have misunderstood what is meant by the term “omnipotent”.

  42. #42 JimC
    January 22, 2009

    If you think Adam and Eve were the first humans, either because the species didn’t exist or that they were the two hominoids selected for the imbuing of an immortal soul, then by definition no humans died before the fall. But in the latter view, their precursor Homo Sapiens ancestors certainly died before the fall.

    Either way things died, death = not mans fault.

    You know very well, and so do the other critics here, that evil exists.

    No I don’t think so, human(animal) behaviour that we find wholely unacceptable is deemed ‘evil’. It’s an opinion on a behaviour. In and of itself ‘evil’ doens’t exist. It’s a non entity.

  43. #43 CheTaylor
    January 22, 2009

    My gosh the nut level on this thread is high, heddle, O’Brien, Colin……..the problem of evil as Sam Harris has said should be considered answered.

  44. #44 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    JimC,

    I agree. Physical death is not man’s fault.

    CheTaylor,

    My gosh the nut level on this thread is high, heddle, O’Brien, Colin……..the problem of evil as Sam Harris has said should be considered answered.

    I guess you are fighting fire with fire? That is, you respond to nuts with a reference to an eastern-mysticism guru/nut? Which “rational” astral plane was Sam Harris on when he made that statement? How far outside of his body was his spirit? A few feet or lightyears? Did he bump into Shirley MaClaine?

  45. #45 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2009

    Tulse,
    Yes, you do misunderstand. Omnipotence does not mean determnistic.

    Che,
    What can I say?

  46. #46 steve
    January 22, 2009

    OK, having read the whole review, I have to say that my favorite part was

    I once had lunch with a fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventist. When I asked him how he defended God’s drowning of innocent infants he astonished me by saying that God foresaw the future and knew that the babies would all grow up to become malevolent men and women! I was tempted to stand and shout “Touché!” It was a thought that had never occurred to me.

    I don’t buy it, but it never would have occurred to me either.

    I heard a very similar argument in a debate between Christopher Hitchens and insert_random_fundie_here (They all run together after you’ve seen a few).

    When asked why god would allow people born before the birth of christ to go to hell (had not accepted jebus as their personal saviour so off the the pit of eternal torment for you), he explained that god had arranged that only bad people that would have gone to hell anyway to be born before the great event. At least that’s how I understood it, you had to work really hard to extract anything coherent from his ramblings. What a waste of Hitchens time.

  47. #47 Koray
    January 22, 2009

    There’s not much of an argument from evil against god by atheists. If you’re willing to imagine ‘possibilities’, you can easily imagine a god that creates people just in order to boil them all in hot oceans. The god described by christians sounds like a rather good fellow, and the existence of evil and deaths and suffering by disaster contradicts this description.

    But, atheists don’t care about this anyway; it’s only a problem for christians, some of whom apparently already think that suffering serves a purpose. We’re all square, then.

    Perhaps one might think that we’d be insterested how in the world a christian reconciles a loving god with drowning babies, but it ranks pretty low in the list of “the next good argument I’d like to hear from a believer.”

  48. #48 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    the problem of evil as Sam Harris has said should be considered answered.

    Sam Harris’ opinion and a dime would not get you a gumball from a gumball machine.

    I suggest expanding your (non-coloring book) library beyond Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and other members of the ‘New Atheist’ clown car.

  49. #49 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    steve,

    That sounds fishy. First of all Hitchens is too smart to ask such a stupid question, because he would know that there is no Christian doctrine that states that people born before Jesus are out of luck, as it were. Secondly, nobody stupid enough to give the answer you alluded to would have been invited to debate Hitchens. At least that’s my theory. Do you have a link?

  50. #50 steve
    January 22, 2009

    @ heddle

    Hitchens didn’t ask it, it was during the Q/A after the debate,

    Usually during the debate proper even the most batshit insane fundies manage not to claw off the thin veneer of rationality that keeps them out of the asylum.

    I think it was the surprise factor of the question, he actually answered truthfully for a change, his non-public true believer ™ persona showing through.

    I’ll look up the youtube video, it may still be in Trash, and post it.

  51. #51 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    steve,

    Cool, I’d like to see it. It would be good fodder for a post. I want to know which prominent fundie (he had to be reasonably prominent) knows absolutely nothing about Christianity, if he answered as you indicated. His answer would not have been worse if he had stated “God only allowed colored people to be born before Jesus.”

  52. #52 Raymond Minton
    January 22, 2009

    For the theist, the existence of evil and suffering in a universe supposedly created by an all-loving God is indeed an agonizing dilemma to struggle with. For the atheist, the reality of an indifferent universe where human suffering counts for nothing, and that there is no benign invisible force to protect them, may be in a sense depressing, but also liberating, because it makes them realize they alone control their destinies. It may not be, in a sense, the most cheerful outlook, but it explains the known facts better than the theists view, and we don’t have the same dilemma to contend with.

  53. #53 Michael
    January 22, 2009

    Personally, I don’t see the point of these arguments. Judeo-Christianity has been getting a one-sided ass-kicking from the Reformation onwards. Why are we still arguing with the Bible Belt over their nonsensical doctrines at this point in history?

  54. #54 JesseJames
    January 22, 2009

    His answer would not have been worse if he had stated “God only allowed colored people to be born before Jesus.”

    I don’t think this is true. It has at least as many legs as any other made up and allegedly more ‘sensible’ answer to the query.

    I suggest expanding your (non-coloring book) library beyond Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and other members of the ‘New Atheist’ clown car.

    Each and every one intellectually superior to whoever this O’Brien fellow is, are you the one with the monthly award over at Dispatches?

    Physical death is not man’s fault.

    Oh so it’s spiritual death then? And the apologist 2 step continues. When somethingis found to contradict plain meaning, i.e. death entered the world via man’s sin, and common sense and science shows that death predated man by billions of years come up with an idea to fix it.

    Much better. How one maintains any semblence of intellectual and persoanl integrity with the above is the real mystery.

  55. #55 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    Michael,

    Well, then–there’s the end to it. Gosh, why didn’t you come along earlier with your declaration? Could have saved much time and pixels. That was just mean to let us go on and on…

  56. #56 CheTaylor
    January 22, 2009

    That is, you respond to nuts with a reference to an eastern-mysticism guru/nut? Which “rational” astral plane was Sam Harris on when he made that statement? How far outside of his body was his spirit? A few feet or lightyears? Did he bump into Shirley MaClaine?

    Fair enough but none of which addresses his point that the question has been answered satisfactorily. That he buys the other is neither here nor there. Ad hominum.

    What IS funny is that you’ll insult that(and it is insult worthy) while trumpeting a much larger myriad of the same(or similiar). I say to each his own. Maybe we are all nuts.:-)

  57. #57 James
    January 22, 2009

    Heddle,

    You can deny it all you want, but Judeo-Christianity is simply living on borrowed time. I’m embarrassed that people are even having this conversation in contemporary times after Spinoza, Hume, Kant, etc. I’m not a fan of Dawkins and the New Atheists, but I think the are right in their opinion that Judeo-Christian resurgence would be an absolute disaster for modernity.

  58. #58 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    are you the one with the monthly award over at Dispatches?

    Yes. Once Ed had me over and when he excused himself to answer the telephone, I ate his last Krispy Kreme, earning his undying enmity.

    Are you one of his vapid hangers-on?

  59. #59 Schnurx
    January 22, 2009

    @O’Brien: ” do not find the argument from evil compelling. God knows all contingencies, whereas, we do not, and we are just sojourners here.”

    Yup. That WOULD be a convincing argument, if believers would be consistent about it. On the other hand, believers tend to claim that god wants tis and tat and you have to behave like tis and tat and the bible says and so on.
    But if you don’t know all contingencies, god might mean the exact opposite of whats in the bible. How would you know otherwise?

    The argument from evil works best, if you understand it not as an argument against any god, but against the “feature set” of omnipotence, all knowingness and all benevolence.
    Excuses like the “intervention when a piece of wall falls” simpy don’t work in this scenario, because an omnipotent god could simply have created the universe in a way that pieces of wall might fall down and kill people or people might fall from cliffs according to the physical laws, but they just don’t.
    In the same way, an Airliner might fall on my head anytime. But just doesn’t. (so far)
    If he isn’t able to create such a universe: drop the omnipotent.
    If he won’t do it: drop the benevolence.

  60. #60 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    I’m embarrassed that people are even having this conversation in contemporary times after Spinoza, Hume, Kant, etc.

    If I were you, I’d be embarrassed to be a few hundred years behind the times. Bayes and Babbage bitch-slapped Hume and Goedel turned Kant on his head.

    I suggest reading more.

  61. #61 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2009

    James,
    Are you still hanging onto the mysticism of the Enlightenment or have you actually faced the failures of modernity and liberalism?

  62. #62 James
    January 22, 2009

    “bitch-slapped”

    You’ve got to be kidding me? People still use this lame term. At any rate, I assure you that I’ve read all the arguments. I’ll even cite a book on the shortcomings of Hume’s argument:

    http://www.amazon.com/Humes-Abject-Failure-Argument-Miracles/dp/0195127382/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    In the final analysis, who really gives a sh*t? It doesn’t make the doctrines of Judeo- Christianity any more plausible. I should stress that my problem is with Judeo-Christian divinity (anthropomorphic law giving creator who loves us) as opposed to “The One” of Greek philosophy. Plato and Plotinus are too metaphysical for me, but their works are far more recondite than anything you find in Christian theology. Sean Carroll stresses the same point here (note how he debunks Christian theology with one blogpost):

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2006/10/29/the-god-conundrum/

  63. #63 Caliban
    January 22, 2009

    Heddle,

    In an earlier comment you sudgested that God’s plan had been fulfilled (with Christ’s reserrection i would presume) and further miracles might not be required.

    Yet, the much heralded “Second comming” of Christ as prophesized by Christ himself and further, with much elaboration in Revelations, suggests to me that God’s plan is far from “completed”, to say nothing of the demonic interferences (with nature)that are also described in Revelations and in other biblical texts.

    The NT mentions that a Christian’s struggle is against unseen forces, and (supposedly) demonic “powers & principalities”. If these demons aren’t trying to interfere with our moral choices and trying to subvert nature and/or God’s plan, then how do you reconcile such verses with the wholle God-doesn’t-interfere-with-nature-anymore sentiment? Demons don’t seem to suffer such limitations.

  64. #64 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    “bitch-slapped”

    You’ve got to be kidding me? People still use this lame[sic] term.

    Yep.

    At any rate, I assure you that I’ve read all the arguments.

    Uh-huh.

    I’ll even cite a book on the shortcomings of Hume’s argument:

    http://www.amazon.com/Humes-Abject-Failure-Argument-Miracles/dp/0195127382/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    Very good. Now read it.

    In the final analysis, who really gives a sh*t?

    Lots of people.

    It doesn’t make the doctrines of Judeo- Christianity any more plausible. I should stress that my problem is with Judeo-Christian divinity (anthropomorphic law giving creator who loves us) as opposed to “The One” of Greek philosophy. Plato and Plotinus are too metaphysical for me, but their works are far more recondite than anything you find in Christian theology.

    I am familiar with Plato, Plotinus, and many Christian theologians. Your comments only demonstrate your ignorance of Christian theology.

    Sean Carroll stresses the same point here (note how he debunks Christian theology with one blogpost)

    Pull the other leg.

  65. #65 Tulse
    January 22, 2009

    Yes, you do misunderstand. Omnipotence does not mean determnistic.

    I see, Collin — well that certainly clears up why an omnipotent god couldn’t produce a better world.

  66. #66 386sx
    January 22, 2009

    If he isn’t able to create such a universe: drop the omnipotent.
    If he won’t do it: drop the benevolence.

    I’d like to but I don’t see any reason to think that the universe was “created” by a “god”. I don’t even see how anybody could believe a “god” if it told them it “created” the universe.

    I don’t even see any reason to believe that anybody could even have the faintest idead of what a “god” is. Something poofs from out of nowhere and tells people it’s a “god”? WTF does that supposed to mean?! People think the dumbest things sometimes. Shrug!

  67. #67 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    CheTaylor,

    That he buys the other is neither here nor there. Ad hominum.

    Yes I made an ad hominem attack on Harris. But recall your post was:

    My gosh the nut level on this thread is high, heddle, O’Brien, Colin…

    No comment about the substance of any of our posts, just that we are nuts. Pot. Kettle. Black.

    Maybe we are all nuts.:-)

    Fair enough.

    James,

    You can deny it all you want, but Judeo-Christianity is simply living on borrowed time.

    Based on what? It is actually growing in numbers in all but the (diminishing, relatively speaking) Western world and Japan. (See, for example, this book.) The world is seeing more and more Christians of color in Asia, Africa and South America–growing faster than Islam. To first order it’s only Whitey leaving the church–and that could be because the stigma of admitting unbelief is being lifted in the west–a good benefit of the New Atheists–rather than actual believers renouncing their faith. But who knows? (If nothing else, we’ll out breed you.)

    I’m not a fan of Dawkins and the New Atheists, but I think the are right in their opinion that Judeo-Christian resurgence would be an absolute disaster for modernity.

    That’s fine that you agree with their opinion. Just keep in mind they have not actually demonstrated anything, or made any substantive or original arguments against Christianity. If I’m wrong on that, then tell me what new insight they provided. I ask that all the time and never get an answer.

    Caliban,

    Yes the Second Coming would involve the supernatural in a spectacular manner–but that marks the end of history. I don’t expect any miracles before then, but I could be wrong. As for Revelation, except for the end where it discusses heaven, I think it is prophecy already fulfilled (in AD 70, when Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple was destroyed) not prophecy waiting to be fulfilled.

    You have a good point about demons and God intervening (as part of His sovereign plan)–I do believe that–but I, perhaps too cavalierly, make a distinction between those routine things and walking-on-water type miracles–that is those grand supernatural incursions that are visible and could, if you were there with a camera, have been photographed. Those, according to the bible, are rare, in that the bible describes a some number of millennia of history but only records a handful of miracles.

  68. #68 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    I don’t understand the problem with omnipotence. We are told (in Revelation) that God will make a better earth. That presupposes that he didn’t make the present earth as good as he could have–although one could still claim it was perfect for his purposes.

    As for benevolence, nowhere does God claim to be benevolent to the superlative. The only attribute that the bible attributes to God in the superlative is holiness–He is holy, holy, holy.

  69. #69 CheTaylor
    January 22, 2009

    It’s the perfect storm of the nutfest:

    or have you actually faced the failures of modernity and liberalism?

    Huh? Really? Modernity and liberalism have failed?

    or made any substantive or original arguments against Christianity

    original perhaps not, substantive, of course they have.

    It is actually growing in numbers in all but the (diminishing, relatively speaking) Western world and Japan. (See, for example, this book.) The world is seeing more and more Christians of color in Asia, Africa and South America–growing faster than Islam. To first order it’s only Whitey leaving the church–and that could be because the stigma of admitting unbelief is being lifted in the west–a good benefit of the New Atheists–rather than actual believers renouncing their faith. But who knows? (If nothing else, we’ll out breed you.)

    This is false. By percentage the number is shrinking. By number as the population increases so go the general pop. And a new barna poll shows it’s people renouncing the faith not people who have been in hiding coming out. I’ll let others decide if this is good/bad.

    No comment about the substance of any of our posts, just that we are nuts. Pot. Kettle. Black.

    Actually I had made some comments above. I was just mentioning the relative high number of geenrally perceived scienceblog nutters. Nothing personal, you give the place flavor.

    Bayes and Babbage bitch-slapped Hume and Goedel turned Kant on his head.

    Oh my you really have drunk the kool aid. Bitch slapped is so 80′s as mentioned above. And your ascertion is simply absurd.

  70. #70 Caliban
    January 22, 2009

    Heddle,

    Interseting… Not to pry on esoterica, but my past Christian fellowship experiences were with large groups of folks who very passionatly held to an interpretation of Revelations as a prophetic document for the not-too-far-off future. Is your different view a kind of outsider’s position (among other Calvinists or Protestants)?

    As to your other remarks, i find the fine distinction you make between large, openly visible miracles and smaller, perhaps unnoticed miracles to be problematic.

    If a supernatural agency, divine or otherwise, is able to interfere with the natural, causal chain of events in the universe, that’s a miracle. The scale of the miracle seems less important than whether or not they are true suspensions of nature.

    This is further confounded by popular beliefs about the efficacy of Prayer. If any Joe Shmoe can call upon the Holy Spirit or Christ to change the course of nature (even for something mostly unseen, like the curing of a disease) then that should qualify as an “official” miracle and an instance of God suspending the natural order for the sake of answering a prayer.

    By the way, i’m not trying to bait you or be snarky. I’m genuinely curious about what you think here and am trying to type very fast at work. -Sorry if my post is sloppy.

  71. #71 CheTaylor
    January 22, 2009

    That presupposes that he didn’t make the present earth as good as he could have–although one could still claim it was perfect for his purposes

    Which is what? he already knows who will be where correct? So perfect for his purposes is perfect. Why do you do so much tap dancing?

    Likewise all this talk about the supernatural seems beside the point in reference to the bible God. Once he enters the natural world and acts upon it as he does repeatedly in the book he becomes subject to science.

    So while it’s nice to presuppose this and that supernatural event or miracle it doesn’t seem to fit the concepts as they are presented. If Jesus flew away he defied gravity and the how could have been studied.

    What is funny is that people ask legit questions like the above ‘what happens to people that came before Jesus?’ and aretold it’s not a good question. Thats BS. It’s a freaking great question and brings about some seriously amusing answers.

  72. #72 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2009

    The anti-intellecualism here is quite amazing.
    But not surprising.
    One need not be theistic to observe that, for many, orthodoxy often trumps reality.

    Tulse,
    What world is that? And how do you *know* it would be better? Why is a purely deterministic system better than a morality-based system? And how can one who denies a Deity dare insist on any form of morality? I’ll sit back and watch the begging continue …

    Heddle,
    Are you a full preterist?

  73. #73 Zarquon
    January 22, 2009

    Failed grad student O’Brien doesn’t know what he’s talking about, as usual.

  74. #74 sb
    January 22, 2009

    The anti-intellecualism here is quite amazing.
    But not surprising.
    One need not be theistic to observe that, for many, orthodoxy often trumps reality.

    A major case of projection here.

  75. #75 CheTaylor
    January 22, 2009

    The anti-intellecualism here is quite amazing.
    But not surprising.One need not be theistic to observe that, for many, orthodoxy often trumps reality.

    You seem to cling to orthodoxy and know little about reality.

    And how can one who denies a Deity dare insist on any form of morality? I’ll sit back and watch the begging continue …

    You must be kidding, where you not just talking about reality above? Morals are opinions. Opinions on behaviour. They vary from culture to culture and often situation to situation. It’s the behaviour that matters.

    Basic observation of primate societies shows the underpinnings of what we call ‘morals’. The behaviours that are excepted and those that are not. The behaviours that benefit and those that do not. To deny what is well known in zoology doesn’t seem particuarlly intellectual or an embracement of reality. Seems more like pretending and having ones head in the sand.

    One need not believe in a God to know that one behaviour leads to negative consequences and another behaviour positive results. This seems very black and white. It seems you position is if you didn’t have this belief you would go about raping and killing when in truth you wouldn’t because others would rebuke you for it quite strongly.

  76. #76 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    CheTaylor

    By percentage the number is shrinking.

    Where are your data? According to the Jenkins book that I linked (Jenkins is Distinguished Professor at Penn State, and his book was acclaimed by other academics) the percentages are growing (except in the west.) The growth, in large part, is in the charismatic denominations. For example, the number of Christians in Africa grew, according to Jenkins’ research, from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million in 2000.

    Once he enters the natural world and acts upon it as he does repeatedly in the book he becomes subject to science.

    No matter how much authority you muster when you say that, it amounts to: Miracles do not happen because I say they cannot happen. That’s begging the question.

    Caliban,

    Not to pry on esoterica, but my past Christian fellowship experiences were with large groups of folks who very passionatly held to an interpretation of Revelations as a prophetic document for the not-too-far-off future. Is your different view a kind of outsider’s position (among other Calvinists or Protestants)?

    You are talking about, probably, dispensationalists–the Left-Behinders. That is the majority position among American evangelicals. The view I hold to is known as preterism, and it is growing, especially among Calvinists. If you are interested, I wrote an essay on preterism here.

    As for prayer, that is another difficult subject. Personally I agree with the Westminster Confession (or, equivalently, the London Baptist Confession) that states:

    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. (WCF III.I)

    That is, I don’t think that God changes his mind as a result of the prayers of humans–although it might appear that way to us. The bible occasionally talks about God changing his mind, such as he was pissed and about to kill Moses, but I believe those to be examples of anthropomorphisms.

  77. #77 James
    January 22, 2009

    ” Your comments only demonstrate your ignorance of Christian theology.”

    Okay, give me an example of something that wasn’t ripped off from the Greeks (Plato, Aristotle, Neoplatonism, etc.) and Christianized (synonym: dumbed-down).

  78. #78 James
    January 22, 2009

    “(If nothing else, we’ll out breed you.)”

    I don’t doubt it. If Christians had their way, every family would resemble the Duggar household. Nobody cares about people’s private beliefs. The point that secularists are making is that Judeo-Christianity will not play a role in the public discourse of modernity. Like it or not, we will move in the direction of Western Europe.

  79. #79 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    James,

    Okay, give me an example of something that wasn’t ripped off from the Greeks

    The crucifixion. The Greeks would have (did) consider the idea of a God that could not save himself to be an absurdity.

  80. #80 James
    January 22, 2009

    “The crucifixion.”

    I rest my case.

  81. #81 heddle
    January 22, 2009

    James,

    Like it or not, we will move in the direction of Western Europe.

    Yes, quite possibly we will (I assume you mean the US.) But not Africa, Asia, or South America.

  82. #82 Another Jason
    January 22, 2009

    Collin B

    Your questions don’t make much sense. The issue is why anyone should believe that this is the best of all possible worlds. If God is omnipotent, why couldn’t he have made a better world than the one we actually live in, a world with less evil (either less natural evil, or less moral evil, or less of both)? Do you have an answer?

    We devote enormous efforts to reducing human suffering and premature death. We develop medicines to prevent suffering from diseases and disorders. We develop agriculture to prevent suffering from hunger and starvation. Is it your position that this is all a waste of time, that we cannot reduce suffering in this way? If not, then why didn’t God make the world such that there was less suffering to begin with? Why didn’t he make us such that we are naturally immune to all the diseases we have developed vaccines and cures for? Why didn’t he make the world such that food is much more abundant, to reduce or eliminate suffering from hunger and malnutrition?

    And why didn’t he make us such that more us choose to do more good more often? Why didn’t make us more like Gandhi and less like Hitler?

    And what about the Christian doctrine of the perfect afterlife in Heaven? If moral evil is an inevitable consequence of free will, then either there is moral evil in Heaven, or when we die and go to Heaven we lose our free will and become automatons. Which is it?

  83. #83 James
    January 22, 2009

    “Okay, give me an example of something that wasn’t ripped off from the Greeks”

    I’m going to answer myself. I just thought of a uniquely Christian cultural innovation that had a great impact: anti-Semitism.

  84. #84 Another Jason
    January 22, 2009

    heddle,

    I don’t understand the problem with omnipotence. We are told (in Revelation) that God will make a better earth. That presupposes that he didn’t make the present earth as good as he could have–although one could still claim it was perfect for his purposes.

    What purposes are those? If God is not “benevolent to the superlative” (as you assert below) they could presumably be evil purposes. So God is evil, or partly evil? That doesn’t sound like Christian theology to me.

    As for benevolence, nowhere does God claim to be benevolent to the superlative. The only attribute that the bible attributes to God in the superlative is holiness–He is holy, holy, holy.

    So what does it mean to be “superlatively holy” but not “superlatively benevolent?” I just looked up “holy” in Merriam-Webster. The first definition is: “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” The others have to do with the quality of being Godly or divine (“having a divine quality,” “devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity”). Which makes “superlatively holy” mean “superlatively divine” or “superlatively Godlike.” God is superlatively Godly? Hard to know what’s supposed to mean.

  85. #85 Kevin
    January 22, 2009

    “I’m going to answer myself. I just thought of a uniquely Christian cultural innovation that had a great impact: anti-Semitism. Posted by: James | January 22, 2009 9:27 PM ”

    errr. I think the Romans had that covered..

  86. #86 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2009

    Che,
    Morals are based on opinion only? Then how do you know you’re right?

    Heddle,
    For those who do not know, in PROC the number of Christians is growing by about 10,000 per day. Fastest in the world.

    Another Jason,
    You ask why God didn’t make the world the way you want it. That was my precise point in the beginning.

    James,
    As you spend time in Aquinas and Augustine you’ll see not that they included Aristotle and Plato but that, for the most part, they evaluted theology using the tools of those men. It was a framework for understanding the world. I trust you actually read (theology)?

    Enjoy,

    Collin

  87. #87 Anton Mates
    January 22, 2009

    Gardner writes:

    Kushner’s “Why” rests on the belief of many theists, past and present, that there are severe limits on the powers of any sort of deity. Thomas Aquinas somewhere writes that there are many things God cannot do. One, he can’t alter the past. I doubt if anyone today thinks God could, if he liked, erase Hitler from history.

    Why not? Superman could. So could Doctor Who. Isn’t God supposed to be outside of time?

    It is necessary also that gravity remain constant. Life could not exist if gravity turned into a repulsive force that sent everything flying off into space.

    Presumably an omnipotent, omniscient god could reverse gravity in the vicinity of a falling toddler without also doing so everywhere else and blowing the planet apart….

    Indeed, if all laws were not unbreakable the world would be far too chaotic to support life.

    Since our current understanding of physics is non-deterministic, this is clearly not the case. Classical laws, up to the big ones like conservation of energy, get broken all the time; they just don’t get broken in ways that appear to favor our happiness and well-being.

  88. #88 Anton Mates
    January 22, 2009

    The Greeks would have (did) consider the idea of a God that could not save himself to be an absurdity.

    Dionysos couldn’t save himself.

  89. #89 Another Jason
    January 22, 2009

    Collin B,

    You ask why God didn’t make the world the way you want it.

    No, I’m asking why God didn’t make the world better. A world with less suffering. A world with less evil. Do you have an answer?

    And what about the issue of evil in Heaven? Do we lose our free will and become automatons when we enter Heaven, so that Heaven remains free of evil? Or do we keep our free will and, as a result of that free will, continue to behave badly sometimes, meaning that there is evil in Heaven?

  90. #90 Zarquon
    January 22, 2009

    ,i>Do we lose our free will and become automatons when we enter Heaven,

    Well, yes. all you do in heaven is adore and praise god. There’s no free will and there’s nothing of your humanity left. (see Alighieri, D. Paradiso)

  91. #91 Catastasis
    January 22, 2009

    As far as I see it, the problem of evil is only a problem if “omnibenevolent” (or “good” or whatever term) is defined to include “will stop evil at every opportunity”. I don’t see why this is a necessary definition – a world without problems would be terrible, because we would have no opportunity to improve it. And isn’t that the best purpose for our existence?

  92. #92 Pseudonym
    January 22, 2009

    Schnurx:

    The argument from evil works best, if you understand it not as an argument against any god, but against the “feature set” of omnipotence, all knowingness and all benevolence.

    That’s a good way of putting it.

    In this sense, the problem of evil is really just a more sophisticated version of the question of whether or not God could make a stone so heavy that he couldn’t lift it. And this, in turn, is similar to various logical paradoxes from mathematics which involve unrestricted universal quantification, such as the Burali-Forti paradox.

    In other words, it’s not deities that causes the problem, it’s the “omnis”, as heddle hinted at.

    There is no reason why a deity must have all of these “omni” properties. The Greek pantheon, for example contained many deities which didn’t have these “omni” properties, and yet we have no problem identifying them as “gods”. Epicurus knew this, which is why he didn’t consider his riddle an argument for atheism. (The best term I can think of for him is “polydeist”: he believed in multiple gods, none of whom really interacted with people.)

    Also, as I noted earlier, I’ve never seen a justification for most of these “omnis” from the Judeo-Christian sacred texts.

    To be fair, getting rid of (at least the naive idea of) these “omnis” also makes most of the supposed logical arguments for the existence of God trivially incorrect as well, such as Plantinga’s version of the ontological argument.

  93. #93 AL
    January 22, 2009

    As far as I see it, the problem of evil is only a problem if “omnibenevolent” (or “good” or whatever term) is defined to include “will stop evil at every opportunity”. I don’t see why this is a necessary definition – a world without problems would be terrible, because we would have no opportunity to improve it. And isn’t that the best purpose for our existence?

    Yes, but “problems” need not be moral in nature. For example, it’s not too difficult to imagine a universe in which we never feel pain, suffer or die, but we are curious beings seeking knowledge. In such a universe, our only “problem” is knowledge acquisition, which is not a moral problem, and can still provide us with the “best purpose for our existence,” as you put it.

  94. #94 Another Jason
    January 22, 2009

    pseudo,

    Obviously, the problem of evil isn’t a problem for believers in Gods that are evil, indifferent or significantly limited in power.

    But it doesn’t apply only to the “omni” God. Even a God who is just very powerful (but not omnipotent) and very good (but not omnibenevolent) ought to have been able to do a much better job. He should at least have been able to create the world without, say, smallpox. We managed to get rid of it, and we’re not remotely omnipotent or omnibenevolent.

  95. #95 Zarquon
    January 22, 2009

    Omnipotence is a meaningless term. That’s why there are so many arguments as to what it implies. The reason “omnipotence” gets used is that it is used to claim the believers god can beat up the god of the next tribe over. (“My god can beat up your god times infinity” = omnipotence)

  96. #96 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    Okay, give me an example of something that wasn’t ripped off from the Greeks (Plato, Aristotle, Neoplatonism, etc.)

    Pick an anemic argument and stick to it, blockhead. Neoplatonism was influenced by Christian Platonism as well as Plato and the Middle Platonists, and, in turned, influenced later Christianity (e.g., Pseudo-Dionysius).

    and Christianized (synonym: dumbed-down).

    I am already convinced you are a dullard. There is no need to keep beating a busted piñata.

  97. #97 Robert O'brien
    January 22, 2009

    I just thought of a uniquely Christian cultural innovation that had a great impact: anti-Semitism.

    What an idiot. Quit while you are behind.

  98. #98 James
    January 22, 2009

    “errr. I think the Romans had that covered..”

    It is true that there were clashes between Jews and non-Jews before Christianity, but these were the result of specific and contingent conflicts of interest such as the political uprising of Jews against the Roman state (it is also true that people like Cicero said unsavory things about them). Other than conflicts such as these, they were granted the status of religio licita. The Pagans never had any anti-Semitic doctrine in their religion or philosophy. The scenario changed considerable with the Christianization of Rome.

  99. #99 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    Failed grad student O’Brien doesn’t know what he’s talking about, as usual.

    I have an M.S. in statistics and I will be a coauthor on a couple of papers, so in what way am I a “failed grad student” you trifling pos?

    I suspect your vita is as impressive as Ed Brayton’s.

  100. #100 James
    January 22, 2009

    “Neoplatonism was influenced by Christian Platonism as well as Plato and the Middle Platonists, and, in turned, influenced later Christianity (e.g., Pseudo-Dionysius).”

    I’m the blockhead? Christian Platonism? At least you admit that the Christians had to rip off Plato to craft anything that was of intellectual significance. Plotinus doesn’t even mention Christianity and he was very critical of the Gnostics.

  101. #101 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    The Pagans never had any anti-Semitic doctrine in their religion or philosophy.

    Against Apion

    Have you popped up in China yet?

  102. #102 Leni
    January 22, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    That is, I don’t think that God changes his mind as a result of the prayers of humans–although it might appear that way to us.

    But then why pray?

    I mean, imagine how many times he must have had to hear O’Brien ask if by “turn the other cheek” he didn’t mean “show everyone your talking ass”?

  103. #103 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    Oh my you really have drunk the kool aid. Bitch slapped is so 80′s as mentioned above.

    A classic never dies.

    And your ascertion is simply absurd.

    WTF is an “ascertion?” The arguments of Hume and Kant have been answered decisively.

  104. #104 CheTaylor
    January 22, 2009

    Morals are based on opinion only? Then how do you know you’re right?

    Right? Perhaps you don’t but it’s a trite way of thinking in any regard. If the behaviour is deemed acceptable in the given society and proves beneficial or neutral it would likely be regarded as positive. Likewise the opposite would be true for a neagtive behaviour. What an individual may find good a society may find threatening and unhealthy and seek to remove such from the ‘pool’.

    Where are your data? According to the Jenkins book that I linked (Jenkins is Distinguished Professor at Penn State, and his book was acclaimed by other academics) the percentages are growing (except in the west.) The growth, in large part, is in the charismatic denominations. For example, the number of Christians in Africa grew, according to Jenkins’ research, from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million in 2000

    Perhaps you are correct and my data is from the west. Although I will say equating the Christianity of the nations you are listing with western Christianity is a reach. While they share the same name they practice much differently. As an aside linking that growth as a positive is a bit spurious given the enormous superstition prevalent there. One would think as these nations develop they will eventually go the way of the west. Give them 100-150 years.

    No matter how much authority you muster when you say that, it amounts to: Miracles do not happen because I say they cannot happen. That’s begging the question

    No a miracle CAN happen just not without a trail that could be studied. Would that make it less a miracle, perhaps. Once God suspends his laws he enters the realm of science. There is just no getting around this. There is a how and a force to accomplish any of it.

    Yes, quite possibly we will (I assume you mean the US.) But not Africa, Asia, or South America.

    For now, eventually they will move into a more modern era like the west and away from superstition. It will take time but it will happen. South America’s version of religion is ALOT different than here and far more cultural. Asia you get a mixed bag. Africa you get Christianity along with the practice of animal sacrifice.

  105. #105 James
    January 22, 2009

    “Against Apion”

    Sorry, I meant the Greeks and Romans.

  106. #106 Chetaylor
    January 22, 2009

    WTF is an “ascertion?” The arguments of Hume and Kant have been answered decisively

    It’s called a misspelled word due to fast typing. I assert you are correct on the spelling error. But wrong on Hume and Kant, very wrong.

  107. #107 Zarquon
    January 22, 2009

    The arguments of Hume and Kant have been answered decisively.

    Lie.

  108. #108 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    But wrong on Hume and Kant, very wrong.

    You are welcome to that error. People who stopped reading past the 18th century sometimes arrive at that conclusion.

    Incidentally, in the future, if you are going to refer to other posters as “nuts,” then I suggest not spelling like one.

  109. #109 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    Lie.

    I’ve already demonstrated your detachment from reality, you dumb pos. Do you have a worthless philosophy degree or another, equally worthless, degree?

    In any event, read this (or, more appropriately, have it read to you):

    The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise

  110. #110 Zarquon
    January 22, 2009

    OK I read it. It was GIGO. Like your own bluster and lies.

  111. #111 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    OK I read it. It was GIGO. Like your own bluster and lies.

    No you didn’t. I suggest sticking your non-prehensile tail in between your legs and slinking back to your hole.

    PS Pretend to read this, too:

    This seems to treat existence as just another property of individuals, such as whether they are wearing red suits or have white beards. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) criticized the ontological argument by stating that existence is not a predicate. That is, existence is not a property of individuals in the same way that being short or red is. It is certainly true that we have to be careful here. If we can arbitrarily add existence as a defining property for an individual, there seems to be no limit to what we can prove to exist. For example, we might define a unicorn as follows:

    Definition: A unicorn is a four-footed beast resembling a horse having a horn on its head and existing.

    Thus unicorns exist. By definition.

    However, this is a parody of Anselm’s argument, and doesn’t stand up under close examination. Any good mathematician will allow you (within reason) to define your terms any way that you like. So there is nothing wrong with the definition. Can we really show that unicorns exist using this argument? The answer is no. Our definition of a unicorn would only seem to imply that all unicorns exist, or equivalently, that for all x, if x is a unicorn then x exists. However, this statement is trivially true, because it is vacuously satisfied.

    Anyway, the form of the ontological argument that we have used does not explicitly assume that existence is a predicate. It assumes that the modal status of an individual (the Eiffel tower, say, or the number 17) can be regarded as a property. A number between 16 and 18 exists necessarily, whereas the Eiffel tower exists contingently, and the distinction between the two can be regarded as a property of each. The statements

    [see link]

    are both true in the domain of natural numbers because natural numbers are Platonic objects. (The latter is also true vacuously.) Both these statements are reasonable mathematically, and parallel to Axiom 2. Therefore Axiom 2 cannot be easily dismissed.

    http://www.stats.uwaterloo.ca/~cgsmall/ontology1.html

  112. #112 Tulse
    January 22, 2009

    do we keep our free will and, as a result of that free will, continue to behave badly sometimes, meaning that there is evil in Heaven?

    Lucifer seemed to do things in there that kinda pissed off the Big Cheese, and so he was tossed out. That sounds like evil to me, although that also pretty clearly makes heaven less that the bestest possible place ever. (Or is it silly to think that Heaven should be omniperfect?)

    In any event, read this (or, more appropriately, have it read to you): The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise

    You think Babbage disproves Hume?

    Wow.

    (That said, it’s a bit odd to trumpet Hume as the defender of naturalism against miracles, since he’s also the fellow who knocked the pins out from under induction in general. Without induction, pretty much all bets are off — there’s no foundation for establishing any natural laws, and thus no way to say whether an event is natural or miraculous.)

  113. #113 Zarquon
    January 22, 2009

    Unlike, you, I don’t lie. Babbage assigns probabilities for relaiblility of witnesses without regard for the facts. The mathematics are sound, the model is irrelevant to real world. This is the definition of GIGO.

    natural numbers because natural numbers are Platonic objects.

    Platonic objects don’t exist. Reification fallacy.

  114. #114 Robert O'Brien
    January 22, 2009

    You think Babbage disproves Hume?

    I don’t think. I know.

    Unlike, you, I don’t lie. Babbage assigns probabilities for relaiblility of witnesses without regard for the facts.

    I am convinced you are an idiot; no further effort from you is necessary. Charles Babbage showed via straightforward calculation that as long as the testimony of the witnesses is independent and the witnesses are more likely than not to be truthful, a finite number of witnesses can always be found such that it is more likely that a miracle has occurred than the unanimous testimony of the miracle is false.

    Platonic objects don’t exist. Reification fallacy.

    Your attempts to sound like you know what you are talking about are precious.

  115. #115 Another Jason
    January 22, 2009

    Lucifer seemed to do things in there that kinda pissed off the Big Cheese, and so he was tossed out. That sounds like evil to me, although that also pretty clearly makes heaven less that the bestest possible place ever.

    If God threw Lucifer out Heaven is presumably now free of Lucifer’s evil. My question concerned human moral evil. A standard response to the problem of moral evil is that it is an unavoidable consequence of free will. The argument is that it’s better that we have free will even though that means we sometimes choose evil than it would be for to us to have no free will and thus be incapable of choosing at all. But what happens when we die and our souls enter Heaven? If we keep our free will, we will sometimes choose evil, so Heaven cannot be perfect. If we lose our free will, we become automatons, which is supposedly worse than having free will and sometimes choosing evil. The moral-evil-is-the-downside-of-free-will argument just doesn’t seem consistent with other aspects of Christian theology.

  116. #116 Another Jason
    January 23, 2009

    heddle,

    That is, I don’t think that God changes his mind as a result of the prayers of humans–although it might appear that way to us.

    The vast majority of your fellow Christians don’t seem to agree with you. Petitionary prayer is ubiquitous among Christians. It’s even organized in churches. Members of the congregation are asked to pray to God for some desired outcome–everything from helping a fellow member recover from some illness to world peace. I’ve never seen any indication that these petitions are insincere (“Just kidding, God! I know I asked you to help Fred recover from his heart attack, but I didn’t really mean it!”).

  117. #117 Tulse
    January 23, 2009

    If God threw Lucifer out Heaven is presumably now free of Lucifer’s evil.

    True, but I presume that Lucifer was not unique among the angels in having free will. So while Heaven may be free of Lucifer’s evil, presumably it still retains the possibility of evil from other angels, and thus is not omnigood (unless, of course, after that bit of unpleasantness, God gave all the angels lobotomies).

  118. #118 Zarquon
    January 23, 2009

    the witnesses are more likely than not to be truthful

    Diogenes of Sinope already showed that such an assemblage is impossible.

    Your attempts to sound like you know what you are talking about are precious.

    As seen here, Diogenes was correct.

  119. #119 Pseudonym
    January 23, 2009

    Another Jason:

    Obviously, the problem of evil isn’t a problem for believers in Gods that are evil, indifferent or significantly limited in power.

    Or, to put it another way, gods that have a different definition of “good” than we do, juggling multiple priorities or any logically consistent limitation on power.

    But it doesn’t apply only to the “omni” God. Even a God who is just very powerful (but not omnipotent) and very good (but not omnibenevolent) ought to have been able to do a much better job. He should at least have been able to create the world without, say, smallpox. We managed to get rid of it, and we’re not remotely omnipotent or omnibenevolent.

    That does assume some kind of micromanagement which a “big picture” deity might not be able to do. Is it possible to have evolution without something like smallpox inevitably appearing?

  120. #120 Anton Mates
    January 23, 2009

    Charles Babbage writes:

    …it having been observed that m persons have died without any restoration to life…the probability of the death without resurrection of the (m + 1)th is (m +1)/(m +2), and the improbability of such an occurrence, independently of testimony, is 1/(m +2); which is therefore the probability of a contrary occurrence, or that of a person being raised from the dead.

    Why does he set the probability of the (m + 1)th death without resurrection at (m +1)/(m +2)? That’s neither supported by modern probability theory nor consistent with Hume’s analysis. Anyone know if Babbage had his own idiosyncratic take on probability?

  121. #121 Leni
    January 23, 2009
    Charles Babbage showed via straightforward calculation that as long as the testimony of the witnesses is independent and the witnesses are more likely than not to be truthful, a finite number of witnesses can always be found such that it is more likely that a miracle has occurred than the unanimous testimony of the miracle is false.

    Perhaps you could use your large brain and extensive knowledge of everything to explain how Babbage’s model would account for something like this. Or this.

    continued in next post to avoid spam filters…

  122. #123 Leni
    January 23, 2009

    Or this: http://www.fairygardens.com/sightings/

    Or this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudun_possessions

    Or things like recollection bias, exaggeration and other memory distortions.

    Satanic day care baby rape and sacrifice facilities? Remember those? Whew! It’s a good thing Babbage was wrong, because if he wasn’t then apparently there is a good probability that there exists a network of baby-sacrificing satanist day care workers out there. Waiting. Lurking black-cloaked and craven in an underground network of tunnels extending from New Jersey to San Francisco, with convenient basement hatches hidden in every day care facility in-between. Tunnels filled, no doubt, with the half-eaten corpses of innocent, plump, tasty Christian babies.

    Or maybe it just was all a bunch of bullshit fueled by people who were sometimes opportunistic, lying and manipulative, and sometimes simply credulous, mistaken and frightened.

  123. #124 Caliban
    January 23, 2009

    Heddle,

    I must confess that i was displeased with your response. Quoting the Westminster Confession doesn’t help your case. I asked of you, because i wanted to know how you personally reconciled biblical verses with the rigors of scientific discipline (as they pertained to the subject of miracles).

    I am acquainted with the obligatory christian responses to the “big questions” and found those responses intellectually unsatisfying. The reason why i put such questions in your lap is because i have not yet encountered a Christian with your particular educational expertise that was so eager to go to the wrestling mat on these very contentious issues.

    So, I want to assure you beforehand, that I’m posting this because i find you to be more interesting than those who already subscribe to my point of view…

    That being said, it seems wholly irrelevant to me whether God deterministically preordained events to occur beforehand or interceded spontaneously with the force of his will, in either event, God suspends the natural order to allow all manner of ramshackle human desires to play a part in his omnipotent Plan. The extent to which this plan is rationally justified is solved by the same criteria we judge any other resolution: intellectual fairness.

    I simply cannot conceive of a divine intelligence who would commit billions of persons to the torment of hell because they honestly could not see how such an outcome could be justified.

    As for myself, i have done no wrong to such a deity, and no deity that was truly benevolent would condemn individuals for an honest dispute of conscience on such matters.

    In a way, I would think that any deity worth his salt wouldn’t be encumbered by such primitive allegiances. That’s not something an enlightened, let alone an omnibenevolent creator would demand from beings with flawed reasoning abilities in an imperfect world. How could a “perfect” entity demand such fealty when the obstacles to acquiring such “faith” are ever present?

    Why wouldn’t an omnipotent God make a world where the primary source of energy was achieved through photosynthesis instead of eating the flesh of fresh-killed prey? There are an infinite number of alternatives available to a truly omnipotent deity. The fact that you or I may not be able to adequately conceive of them is nothing more than a failure of imagination. This is primarily why i am unconvinced.

    For instance, I am a vegetarian because i viscerally feel compassion for the other mammals that comprise our world. I don’t require divine sanction or demonic trickery to respect the lives of other creatures around me. To me, it is self-evident. What, in all the varied interpretations of biblical scripture is self-evident?

  124. #125 Robert O'Brien
    January 23, 2009

    Why does he set the probability of the (m + 1)th death without resurrection at (m +1)/(m +2)? That’s neither supported by modern probability theory nor consistent with Hume’s analysis. Anyone know if Babbage had his own idiosyncratic take on probability?

    Babbage starts with a non-informative prior (i.e., for m=0, p = (1-p) = 1/2), which is adjusted downward with each “failure” (i.e., with each non-resurrected deceased individual). His approach is legitimate.

  125. #126 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    James,

    I’m going to answer myself. I just thought of a uniquely Christian cultural innovation that had a great impact: anti-Semitism.

    Yes, before Christianity the Jews were loved and respected by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the…

    CheTaylor,

    No a miracle CAN happen just not without a trail that could be studied.

    Who says it wouldn’t leave a trail? Somewhere upstream I noted that if you were present at a miracle you could photograph it.

    For now, eventually they will move into a more modern era like the west and away from superstition. It will take time but it will happen. South America’s version of religion is ALOT different than here and far more cultural. Asia you get a mixed bag. Africa you get Christianity along with the practice of animal sacrifice.

    How do you know it will happen? You cannot even say with certainty that there will not be a revival in the west, let alone what will happen in the non-western world. There have been large movements away from Christianity in this country, only to be followed by revivals. Our founding fathers were, for the most part, non-Christian. All you can be certain of is that, at this moment, Christianity appears to be waning in the west. That was also the case during the Enlightenment and its concomitant trend toward deism and away from Christianity. Your certainty that “it will happen” ain’t worth a damn. As for practices in the non-western world, that is somewhat true, the liturgy is different, but that is irrelevant. And if you actually meant that Africans mix their Christianity with animal sacrifice, you are wrong. If you mean it co-exists with other religions, religions that practice animal sacrifice, that I assume you are correct.

    Another Jason,

    What purposes are those? If God is not “benevolent to the superlative” (as you assert below) they could presumably be evil purposes. So God is evil, or partly evil? That doesn’t sound like Christian theology to me.

    The purpose was to redeem a chosen people for himself for his own glory. God is not evil. You have postulated a model which is nonsense: that the sum of benevolence and evil is a conserved quantity. Not displaying benevolence is not the same as being evil.

    God is superlatively [holy] Godly? Hard to know what’s supposed to mean.

    Very hard indeed. I have no clue what holiness really means. And I suspect that a lack of comprehension of holiness is precisely why many of God’s actions are incomprehensible. Why can’t God just forgive everyone’s sins without the blood sacrifice he required? I don’t know—but I suspect it is related to his extreme holiness which, like you, I cannot begin grasp.

    And what about the issue of evil in Heaven? Do we lose our free will and become automatons when we enter Heaven, so that Heaven remains free of evil? Or do we keep our free will and, as a result of that free will, continue to behave badly sometimes, meaning that there is evil in Heaven?

    That would take a long answer, but the nutshell is that we will have the same free will in heaven that we have on earth. You will neither lose your free will nor be an automaton. (Except in the sense that free will, here and there, means you are a slave to your own desires.)

    A standard response to the problem of moral evil is that it is an unavoidable consequence of free will.

    You are correct that is a standard answer. Wrong, but standard. Before Adam and Eve chose to sin from their free will, they must have had the desire to sin, which is already sin. Where that desire came from is the great answered question.

    The vast majority of your fellow Christians don’t seem to agree with you. Petitionary prayer is ubiquitous among Christians.

    I didn’t say there was something wrong about petitionary prayer. I said God doesn’t change his mind. Ask all those people praying if they believe God is immutable. I suspect they’d say yes. We understand that God has a sovereign plan, but we tell him our wants and needs a) because we can, we are invited to have personal fellowship with God and b) because he tells us to.

    Leni,

    But then why pray?

    Because it is a privilege and also because he commands us to.

    Caliban,

    How could a “perfect” entity demand such fealty when the obstacles to acquiring such “faith” are ever present?

    Oh, it’s much worse than that. Not just obstacles but insurmountable obstacles. For everyone. We all are born in the unhappy position, not of merely being unwilling to contribute to our own salvation, but being unable to do so.

    As to why an omnipotent God didn’t make the world a better place for us (according to our perspective), I couldn’t say, beyond knowing that he could have done this or that (no malaria, autism, etc.) but for his own good pleasure and purpose chose not to. I have no better answer.

  126. #127 Stephen Wells
    January 23, 2009

    The Babbage “calculation” contains the unstated, false assumption that a _truthful_ witness is the same thing as an _accurate_ witness. Truthful witnesses will report what they honestly believe that they observed, and such witnesses are common. Accurate, truthful witnesses report what actually happened, and are quite rare.

    Accurate untruthful witnesses are a pain in the ass..

  127. #128 Stephen Wells
    January 23, 2009

    Heddle, why should “god commands it” be a reason to do anything?

  128. #129 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    Stephen Wells

    Heddle, why should “god commands it” be a reason to do anything?

    Because he is God.

  129. #130 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 23, 2009

    James,
    Have you read the vile liberak anti-semitism on HuffingtonPost recently? It is pretty sick. And there is a lot of it, so you won’t have ot look far. Perhaps a good reason to leave the Left behind (so to speak)?

  130. #131 JimV
    January 23, 2009

    Speculating well above my pay grade, what if: without randomness built into the fabric of the universe, there could be no entropy; and without entropy there could be no direction of time, just an endless cycle among a finite set of events; and without these things there could be no evolution? Or in other words, perhaps a hypothetical creator deity would create this sort of universe, with the possibility of catastrophe as well as triumph, because it is the most interesting kind. I could even go on to speculate that “heaven” is one of the alternate universes with no entropy or time, just an endless repetition of the same set of events.

    Although this might explain (or not) why a creator deity might have created a universe of the sort we see, it is not an argument for the existence of such. To me the creator deity hypothesis has no explanatory value (given that its adherents ultimately frame the hypothesis so as to be untestable). Just as Heddle is content to believe that his God does non-understandable things by virtue of being God, I am content to think that the universe exists because it exists (while bearing in mind that I do not know why it exists).

  131. #132 Spartan
    January 23, 2009

    You will neither lose your free will nor be an automaton. (Except in the sense that free will, here and there, means you are a slave to your own desires.)

    Heddle, I’ve read with great interest your posts on free will and predestination on your blog. The free will one in particular seems to gloss over one point though: do we have any power to change our desires? I’m assuming not, since that would also be controlled by our desires; it’s ‘wants’ all the way down. You seem to admit that if God was whispering in your ear and commanding your every decision that we would not have free will; what’s the difference if our involuntary desires are commanding them? Just as an aside, I think the term ‘free will’ does refer to the ability to make decisions for no reason at all or contrary to our wants, whether or not that is a logical impossibility or not.

    The Westminster Confession was also interesting, specifically God not being the ‘author of sin’. I’m assuming that means that God is not responsible for the fact that we sin, but it seems clear that the possibility and definition of sin was created by God. If God ordained whatsoever shall pass, doesn’t that ‘whatsoever’ include our sinful nature and sins? Is ordained just being used as ‘has knowledge of’ or ‘allows’, instead of ‘prearranged’? It would seem that he must have decreed that some people will commit adultery for example, otherwise he didn’t ‘ordain whatsoever’ will occur.

  132. #133 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    Spartan,

    The free will one in particular seems to gloss over one point though: do we have any power to change our desires? I’m assuming not, since that would also be controlled by our desires; it’s ‘wants’ all the way down.

    It’s a fair question/point, and I believe I am careful on those posts to admit that such a model cannot be the final answer. There has to be second order/non-linear effects for precisely the reasons you point out. There has to be some bootstrapping or feedback loops otherwise we are not free moral agents, but how that works is a mystery. I don’t have an answer and have never read an attempt at an answer–but I would suspect that it is related to the aspect of God’s sovereignty known as his “permissive will.”

    what’s the difference if our involuntary desires are commanding them?

    The difference is significant: one would be determinism by coercion from an external source. The other is still determinism, but it is self-determinism.

    Of course, to be fair here, there are no better models of free will in the secular world. At least none that I know of.

    If God ordained whatsoever shall pass, doesn’t that ‘whatsoever’ include our sinful nature and sins?

    Yes, it does. I think way the divines used “ordained” in the WCF, as I understand it, was that nothing happens outside of God’s purview. Anything that happens is either decreed by God or allowed to happen–even though he could have prevented it. In that sense evil was ordained though not decreed, and if not decreed then God is not the author. God could have prevented Adam from sinning by removing the desire to sin from Adam’s heart. But he didn’t create the evil desire and place it in Adam’s heart.

  133. #134 CheTaylor
    January 23, 2009

    There has to be some bootstrapping or feedback loops otherwise we are not free moral agents, but how that works is a mystery. I don’t have an answer and have never read an attempt at an answer–but I would suspect that it is related to the aspect of God’s sovereignty known as his “permissive will.”

    That is a 100% totally fabricated pile of dung. And that is being polite. The only mystery is how/why a reasonably intelligent person would just not see that it’s not a question with a good answer and all the hand waving doesn’t make it go away.

    You cannot even say with certainty that there will not be a revival in the west, let alone what will happen in the non-western world. There have been large movements away from Christianity in this country, only to be followed by revivals. Our founding fathers were, for the most part, non-Christian. All you can be certain of is that, at this moment, Christianity appears to be waning in the west. That was also the case during the Enlightenment and its concomitant trend toward deism and away from Christianity. Your certainty that “it will happen” ain’t worth a damn.

    The certainty your correct is worth as much as yours. But trends seem to be become modernized move away from superstition. I’ll stay with the trend. There will not be a revival in the west sans a major war or other such problem. Even when we had revival the religion had changed from the previous practice.

    And if you actually meant that Africans mix their Christianity with animal sacrifice, you are wrong. If you mean it co-exists with other religions, religions that practice animal sacrifice, that I assume you are correct.

    Nope, you are uninformed here. No less than 2 years ago RCC priests where complaining about RC Africans practicing and wanting to practice more animal sacrifice in the churches. You are correct that it also occurs alongside but African Christianity is a very intersting blend in alot of regions. One might even say we are witnessing the evolution of a religion in the region as old customs blend with the new imported religion.

    One should also mention that these ‘growth’ numbers are also most often accompanied by actual aid to the people some of who say they are Christian to get it. Then go home and practice their tribal religion. Bottom line, the numbers are simply not reliable.

    We all are born in the unhappy position, not of merely being unwilling to contribute to our own salvation, but being unable to do so.

    No we are all born very happy, knowing nothing, not needing anything but food/love/etc. Then adults come and dump tripe into our head and eventually make us debate unknowable things needlessly.

    Incidentally, in the future, if you are going to refer to other posters as “nuts,” then I suggest not spelling like one.

    So a misspelling indicates ‘nut’ huh. You are special.

  134. #135 Spartan
    January 23, 2009

    The difference is significant: one would be determinism by coercion from an external source. The other is still determinism, but it is self-determinism.

    Thanks for the explanation heddle; I’m relieved that it is mysterious to believers and that I’m not missing something obvious. In the quote above I’m not seeing a big difference between being coerced by an external source and being coerced by something you have no control over, but this would also be alleviated by the feedback loop possibility you mentioned.

  135. #136 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    CheTaylor,

    The only mystery is how/why a reasonably intelligent person would just not see that it’s not a question with a good answer

    What part of my saying “but how that works is a mystery. I don’t have an answer and have never read an attempt at an answer” was not clear?

    There will not be a revival in the west sans a major war or other such problem.

    Again, you know this how? During the Enlightenment there was a great deal of Laplacian certainty that traditional religion was dying. It revived. You may be right about what will occur, but it won’t be because “we are now much smarter—really we are; I mean this time we really, really are much more clever and grown up. Oh yes indeed, this time we got it right. For sure. I’m not kidding. Trust me.”

    The certainty your correct is worth as much as yours

    The difference is, unlike you, I never claimed “it will happen.” True, my certainty is no better that yours—but I didn’t prophesy. You did.

    Nope, you are uninformed here. No less than 2 years ago RCC priests where complaining about RC Africans practicing and wanting to practice more animal sacrifice in the churches.

    No I am not uninformed. Anecdotal evidence is not conclusive. If so I can overwhelm you with anecdotes from many missionaries I know who have spent time in Africa (and South America, and Asia, and Eastern Europe) and reported on vibrant orthodox congregations—yes with wonderful cultural influences especially in music and worship—but no animal sacrifice. (You can also, by the way, find aberrations of Christianity involving animal sacrifice in the US. The world is a big place.) If you think anything other than a minority of the 360 million (as of 2000, according to Jenkins) Christians in Africa are sacrificing animals as a misguided part of their Christian worship then you have a chauvinistic view of Africans. It is Christianity 101 that animal sacrifices are no longer needed. Do you think Africans are too stupid to grasp that?

    One should also mention that these ‘growth’ numbers are also most often accompanied by actual aid to the people some of who say they are Christian to get it.

    Again with the unsubstantiated wishful thinking. How do you know this? What is your reference that large numbers of Africans simple claim to be Christians to get aid?

  136. #137 Chetaylor
    January 23, 2009

    Again, you know this how? During the Enlightenment there was a great deal of Laplacian certainty that traditional religion was dying. It revived. You may be right about what will occur, but it won’t be because “we are now much smarter—really we are; I mean this time we really, really are much more clever and grown up. Oh yes indeed, this time we got it right. For sure. I’m not kidding. Trust me.”

    Your are mistaking my point. I don’t think religion will ever go away. I think it will continue to dwindle in importance and become as it is for most now, quaint.

    The certainty your correct is worth as much as yours
    The difference is, unlike you, I never claimed “it will happen.” True, my certainty is no better that yours—but I didn’t prophesy. You did.

    So i made a prediction based on trends. I am not certain of it as i am of the sun rising tomorrow but I suspect as people become better educated they will continue to dump more and more superstition. There is a pretty good correlation there. Not foolproof but solid.

    Anecdotal evidence is not conclusive. If so I can overwhelm you with anecdotes from many missionaries I know who have spent time in Africa (and South America, and Asia, and Eastern Europe) and reported on vibrant orthodox congregations—yes with wonderful cultural influences especially in music and worship—but no animal sacrifice.

    Overwhelm me huh? Full disclosure I can tell you the same seeing how I’m married to one and know of an entire missionary community personally. She was just in Africa BTW. And she didn’t see animal sacrifice either. That doesn’t change what the RCC priests where dealing with in that community.

    If you think anything other than a minority of the 360 million (as of 2000, according to Jenkins) Christians in Africa are sacrificing animals as a misguided part of their Christian worship then you have a chauvinistic view of Africans. It is Christianity 101 that animal sacrifices are no longer needed. Do you think Africans are too stupid to grasp that?

    You really think that sitting in your chair in America gives you some insight into Africa don’t you? I never said ALL Africans are doing it but was using it as an example as to how they are blending old practice with the new. Of course they are no longer needed, in reality they never where, but the avergae African has a different take on religious matters than the average American.

    Again with the unsubstantiated wishful thinking. How do you know this? What is your reference that large numbers of Africans simple claim to be Christians to get aid?

    Well in this case I believe their was a post on Dispatches in this regard within the last year or two. But why would that be wishful thinking on my part? As mentioned I’m married to a missionary. It is just the way it is in Africa. People are much easier to convert when you are giving them food and necessities.

  137. #138 Tulse
    January 23, 2009

    heddle, I am genuinely confused. You’re clearly a very smart person, and you say things like:

    I have no clue what holiness really means. And I suspect that a lack of comprehension of holiness is precisely why many of God’s actions are incomprehensible.

    and

    As to why an omnipotent God didn’t make the world a better place for us (according to our perspective), I couldn’t say, beyond knowing that he could have done this or that (no malaria, autism, etc.) but for his own good pleasure and purpose chose not to. I have no better answer.

    and

    how that works is a mystery. I don’t have an answer and have never read an attempt at an answer

    So, given all that…why would an intelligent person believe in, much less worship, an entity which has such undefined and opaque properties? How do you even know that God is actually good, and not just acting “for his own good pleasure”, but without any benevolent intent toward humanity?

  138. #139 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    CheTaylor,

    Now that is interesting. You wrote, concerning Africa, that they too would shed superstition, they’d just take a bit longer than the white man:

    One would think as these nations develop they will eventually go the way of the west. Give them 100-150 years.

    And your wife is a missionary to Africa? You must have some interesting dinner conversations.

    By the way, I missed this:

    What is funny is that people ask legit questions like the above ‘what happens to people that came before Jesus?’ and aretold it’s not a good question. Thats BS. It’s a freaking great question and brings about some seriously amusing answers.

    It can be a good question, if it is asked in sincerity, say by a child or a neophyte. If asked as a “gotcha” question it is incredibly stupid. If asked by a debate moderator where some expertise is assumed, it is a stupid question.

    And why are the answers amusing? The answer is that people before Christ are saved in exactly the same way as people after Christ. Both are saved by faith in Christ. The only difference is that one group has faith the God’s promise of redemption would be fulfilled, and the other has faith that it has been fulfilled. That’s not esoteric theology—most Christians, I suspect, would not be challenged to give some form of that answer.

  139. #140 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    Tulse,

    So, given all that…why would an intelligent person believe in, much less worship, an entity which has such undefined and opaque properties? How do you even know that God is actually good, and not just acting “for his own good pleasure”, but without any benevolent intent toward humanity?

    As a variant on something a very wise man once told me: It’s not what I don’t know about God that grabs my attention, it’s what I do know.

  140. #141 CheTaylor
    January 23, 2009

    Now that is interesting. You wrote, concerning Africa, that they too would shed superstition, they’d just take a bit longer than the white man:

    I said nothing about white or black, simply education and increasing modernity in the society. These are the trends that support that type of prediction. Many of the black Africans who I am friends with are very well educated. They also are not very religious. There are, of course, many white Africans.

    And your wife is a missionary to Africa? You must have some interesting dinner conversations.

    Was a missionary. We still maintain ties there and other places.And we do have some great dinner conversations! We agree far more than we disagree.

    It can be a good question, if it is asked in sincerity, say by a child or a neophyte. If asked as a “gotcha” question it is incredibly stupid. If asked by a debate moderator where some expertise is assumed, it is a stupid question.

    Thats just it, and you do this from time to time. A neophyte or a ‘gotcha’ have exactly the same footing here because the answers are simply so poor. There is no expertise needed as it simply isn’t really helpful.

    And why are the answers amusing? The answer is that people before Christ are saved in exactly the same way as people after Christ. Both are saved by faith in Christ. The only difference is that one group has faith the God’s promise of redemption would be fulfilled, and the other has faith that it has been fulfilled. That’s not esoteric theology—most Christians, I suspect, would not be challenged to give some form of that answer.

    Oh Christians are rarely challenged to give an answer. We will answer anything no matter if it makes sense or not. And it doesn’t answer for those that had no concept of God or his promise, or the Greeks or the Chinese and on and on. In short, it’s no answer at all.

    Thanks heddle. I have enjoyed the discussion but thats about all the time I can give for now. Until we meet again.:-)

  141. #142 CheTaylor
    January 23, 2009

    As a variant on something a very wise man once told me: It’s not what I don’t know about God that grabs my attention, it’s what I do know.

    You don’t KNOW anything about God, you believe things about God.

    Big distinction.

  142. #143 Stu
    January 23, 2009

    Tulse: heddle knows his faith is irrational yet goes to great lengths to pour extra-spicy rationalization sauce over it. Petrifying, and proof that religion is rooted in delusion rather than stupidity.

  143. #144 Tulse
    January 23, 2009

    It’s not what I don’t know about God that grabs my attention, it’s what I do know.

    That’s not much of an answer, heddle, but I will grant that you mean it sincerely.

  144. #145 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    Stu,

    Tulse: heddle knows his faith is irrational yet goes to great lengths to pour extra-spicy rationalization sauce over it. Petrifying, and proof that religion is rooted in delusion rather than stupidity.

    No I don’t know that my faith is irrational. Now my conversion: yes, that was utterly irrational. But given that conversion, my faith is in fact the only possible rational response.

    Your understanding of “proof” needs some refining. My inadequacies as an apologist only prove my inadequacies as an apologist. If I can’t explain String Theory to you, is that a “proof” that it is rooted in delusion?

  145. #146 Rich
    January 23, 2009

    Hi Dave –
    you say:

    “God could have prevented Adam from sinning by removing the desire to sin from Adam’s heart. But he didn’t create the evil desire and place it in Adam’s heart.”

    So he authored Adam with the desire in his heart and knew full well that that would manifest itself as sin?

  146. #147 Robert O'Brien
    January 23, 2009

    Now my conversion: yes, that was utterly irrational.

    Dr. Heddle,

    Don’t you think it would be better to describe your conversion as arational instead of irrational?

  147. #148 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    Rich,

    No the desire itself is sin, so God didn’t create Adam with the desire, otherwise God is the author of sin. Worse yet God could not hold Adam culpable for such a sin, any more so than if sinful decisions are caused by amplified random quantum uncertainties in s neuron. That would make him unjust. May in never be.

    Robert,

    I don’t know what arational means. But in any case I didn’t plan on my conversion. I wasn’t contemplating hell. I didn’t take a Psacal’s wager. I wasn’t seeking God. I wasn’t weighing the pros and cons. I wasn’t concerned with the problem of evil. In short, I didn’t “reason” that it was time to believe, or that the scales had been tipped. I simply, one day, believed. Is that irrational or arational? I don’t know.

  148. #149 Robert O'Brien
    January 23, 2009

    Diogenes of Sinope already showed that such an assemblage is impossible.

    Diogenes the Cynic was a do-nothing parasite and it comes as no surprise that you identify with him.

    As seen here, Diogenes was correct.

    There is a distinct difference among mere assertion, in which that worthless pos engaged, evidence, and proof.

    The Babbage “calculation” contains the unstated, false assumption that a _truthful_ witness is the same thing as an _accurate_ witness. Truthful witnesses will report what they honestly believe that they observed, and such witnesses are common.

    A truthful, inaccurate witness would be included in the event A’, the complement of A, where A is the event that the witness reports the truth (not the truth as he perceives it, but objective truth). Thus, as long as independent witnesses can be found who are truthful and accurate more often than not, a finite number of witnesses can always be found such that it is more likely that a miracle has occurred than the unanimous testimony of the miracle is false.

  149. #150 Robert O'Brien
    January 23, 2009

    Robert,

    I don’t know what arational means. But in any case I didn’t plan on my conversion. I wasn’t contemplating hell. I didn’t take a Psacal’s wager. I wasn’t seeking God. I wasn’t weighing the pros and cons. I wasn’t concerned with the problem of evil. In short, I didn’t “reason” that it was time to believe, or that the scales had been tipped. I simply, one day, believed. Is that irrational or arational? I don’t know.

    Well, Dr. Heddle, some people might complain that arational is not an “official” word. In a event, perhaps extra-rational is more properly descriptive. I do not think the conviction/witness that came upon you is anti-reason, incoherent, or any other connotation of the word irrational.

  150. #151 Spartan
    January 23, 2009

    Robert, let’s flip it around; do you agree that belief in other gods is also ‘arational’ and not ‘irrational’? Greek gods? Rastafari?

    Maybe ‘rationality’ isn’t the term to use, but I’m not sure how reasonable it is to believe in something based on such mystery, incomprehensibility, and ambiguous evidence.

  151. #152 Stu
    January 23, 2009

    No the desire itself is sin, so God didn’t create Adam with the desire, otherwise God is the author of sin.

    Okay, then who is?

  152. #153 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    Stu,

    Okay, then who is?

    Have you been following the thread? That’s the theodicy problem. There is, as far as I’m concerned, no satisfactory answer.

  153. #154 Stu
    January 23, 2009

    heddle, I was facetiously getting around to an actual honest question: doesn’t the fact that nothing in the word of God or anything in theology can even get close to giving you that answer bother you? It sure as hell would bother me. To me, it’s a gaping hole on a par with “how does Santa get into apartments without chimneys?”

  154. #155 heddle
    January 23, 2009

    Stu,

    doesn’t the fact that nothing in the word of God or anything in theology can even get close to giving you that answer bother you?

    Yes it does in a certain sense. But if I don’t have an answer then I don’t have an answer. I just have to live with not knowing. What choice do I have? As I said earlier there is another question: why doesn’t God save everyone? That is even more troubling.

  155. #156 Anton Mates
    January 23, 2009

    Robert,

    Babbage starts with a non-informative prior (i.e., for m=0, p = (1-p) = 1/2), which is adjusted downward with each “failure” (i.e., with each non-resurrected deceased individual).

    That’s great, but why does he adjust downward by this particular formula? It reads like a distant ancestor of Bayesian inference, but there’s no justification given for it.

    His approach is legitimate.

    Proof?

    By his formula, I should conclude that the probability of a hippopotamus having the power of flight is 1/3, because I’ve only ever met one hippo and it couldn’t fly.

  156. #157 Anton Mates
    January 23, 2009

    Thus, as long as independent witnesses can be found who are truthful and accurate more often than not, a finite number of witnesses can always be found such that it is more likely that a miracle has occurred than the unanimous testimony of the miracle is false.

    But Hume himself doesn’t disagree with this. He simply claims that a sufficiently large number of sufficiently truthful and accurate witnesses has never been found.

  157. #158 Adam
    January 23, 2009

    God’s Problem is not, in my view, as good as Ehrman’s other books. Each section starts off with a long story about tragedy that Ehrman uses to ground the discussion. We’re not talking about theoretical pain here, he’s saying. This is real people really screaming. It’s okay to remind us of this, I think. Most people I know who think god is doing a good job don’t really appreciate the magnitude of human suffering or the gravity of birth defects. I didn’t need it for myself, but some do need it.

    Then each section discusses one of the Bible’s distinct rationales for the existence of suffering, with long (over-long?) exposition of the scriptural threads reflecting the worldview from which that particular rationale comes. Suffering is to teach, to punish, to ennoble, etc. Lots of examples and long quotes. Again, I didn’t really need it.

    Then, each section ends with a very few pages discussing for a general audience why the particular biblical rationale fails to satisfy. There might be one or two pithy sentences.

    So: Long Story + Long Scriptural Exegesis + 1 Dram Pith = Slog.

    In my opinion.

  158. #159 Tulse
    January 23, 2009

    if I don’t have an answer then I don’t have an answer. I just have to live with not knowing. What choice do I have?

    I would think the answer to that question would be obvious.

    Honestly, at times you talk of your god as if he were an abusive boyfriend: “I just know he loves me, and even though he occasionally beats me that’s not his fault, it’s mine, and sure there’s all these things I don’t know about his background, all this stuff he won’t tell me about, but what choice do I have but to trust him?”

    The advice I’d give to someone in that situation is “leave”.

  159. #160 Bloggie
    January 23, 2009

    God is a coping mechanism for dealing with a unstable environment. In modern civilizations where there is greater predictability in daily events religious beliefs
    decline. Religion on the other hand probably exist as a mechanism to maintain societal control and cohesion.

  160. #161 Robert O'Brien
    January 23, 2009

    Robert, let’s flip it around; do you agree that belief in other gods is also ‘arational’ and not ‘irrational’? Greek gods? Rastafari?

    Hello. I am convinced by various arguments that there is at most one God (and at least one God) who has certain attributes. This rules out the various pagan pantheons. So, in light of those arguments, I would not agree.

  161. #162 Robert O'Brien
    January 23, 2009

    That’s great, but why does he adjust downward by this particular formula? It reads like a distant ancestor of Bayesian inference, but there’s no justification given for it.

    Because it works.

    By his formula, I should conclude that the probability of a hippopotamus having the power of flight is 1/3, because I’ve only ever met one hippo and it couldn’t fly.

    In that case, the problem is not Babbage’s approach but your unwillingness to update the prior. Thousands of people have observed thousands of hippos over thousands of years. You need to incorporate that data.

  162. #163 Anton Mates
    January 23, 2009

    Because it works.

    How so? It’s certainly a less accurate estimator for a Bernoulli process (which seems to be how Babbage is treating the problem) than the simple ratio of successes to trials would be.

    Why not say, “Of the m people under consideration that have died, m have failed to resurrect, therefore I estimate the probability of death without resurrection to be m/m = 1″?

    In that case, the problem is not Babbage’s approach but your unwillingness to update the prior. Thousands of people have observed thousands of hippos over thousands of years. You need to incorporate that data.

    So were this hippo a newly-discovered species, and were I the first human to observe one (at least the first human whose reports are available to me), I would be justified in saying that the probability of the next one taking flight is 1/3?

  163. #164 J. J. Ramsey
    January 24, 2009

    Schnurx: “The argument from evil works best, if you understand it not as an argument against any god, but against the ‘feature set’ of omnipotence, all knowingness and all benevolence.”

    The catch is that the “benevolence” bit is flexible. On the one hand, God’s purported benevolence can’t be defined so broadly as to have no relation to human benevolence. One could argue, for example, that God can’t both be benevolent and condemn people to eternal torture. On the other hand, suppose that I’m in the heavenly afterlife and that I’ve been there for a million years. Would having gone through 70-odd years in this screwy world have made me more appreciative of my current afterlife, and happier? I have no idea. If that question could be affirmatively answered, not only for me but for people that have had lives waaaaaaaaay worse than me, then one might argue that if there were a God, then he could still be benevolent. Indeed, the main problem that I have with seeing the argument from evil as a knockdown argument against Christian theism is that it could be seen as based on a failure of imagination.

  164. #165 Another Jason
    January 24, 2009

    Ramsey,

    Would having gone through 70-odd years in this screwy world have made me more appreciative of my current afterlife, and happier? I have no idea.

    Why couldn’t God have made us such that we were happier in the afterlife without having to go through all the suffering in this one? Why do we need the vale of tears at all? Why not just give us eternal joy to begin with? And if greater suffering in this life produces greater happiness in the next one, why should we work to alleviate suffering, and thus reduce the happiness to come in the afterlife? Your proposed solution to the problem isn’t a solution at all.

  165. #166 Another Jason
    January 24, 2009

    heddle,

    You are correct that is a standard answer. Wrong, but standard.

    If it’s wrong, we’re back to the original problem. If moral evil (“sin”) is not an inevitable consequence of free will, why didn’t God make us such that we have free will but do not sin (as is supposedly the case in Heaven)?

    Because [praying] is a privilege and also because he commands us to.

    Asking God to do something that he won’t do and that we shouldn’t expect him to do is a “privilege?” What’s privileged about it? And why should we do something just because God commands it? That claim just raises the Euthyphro dilemma. Either God commands it because it is good, which means there is a standard of good independent of God, or it is good because God commands it, which means goodness is a matter of God’s whim.

  166. #167 Leni
    January 24, 2009

    Another Jason wrote:

    What’s privileged about it? [praying]

    That was my immediete response as well.

    I suppose we are to think that prayer results in some sort of knowledge or awareness or pleasant spiritual feeling. However, since we know that meditation can result in much the same thing, I still fail to see the need to direct one’s prayers at this particular idea of god.

  167. #168 Tulse
    January 24, 2009

    Why couldn’t God have made us such that we were happier in the afterlife without having to go through all the suffering in this one?

    Because He’s a right bastard.

  168. #169 J. J. Ramsey
    January 24, 2009

    Another Jason: “And if greater suffering in this life produces greater happiness in the next one, why should we work to alleviate suffering, and thus reduce the happiness to come in the afterlife?”

    That presumes that it’s just the suffering itself that’s supposed to make the afterlife sweeter, as opposed to it being the total experience of being in this world as it stands, with efforts by humans to relieve suffering as part of that experience. Why or if that would make an afterlife sweeter? I have no idea, and I doubt that anyone does–but that’s my point. Our ability to imagine what an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent being would do is limited, and so any argument that boils down to “I can’t imagine that such a God would allow this, therefore he wouldn’t” doesn’t work. We don’t accept arguments from incredulity from theists, so why dish them out?

  169. #170 Tulse
    January 24, 2009

    That presumes that it’s just the suffering itself that’s supposed to make the afterlife sweeter, as opposed to it being the total experience of being in this world as it stands

    Boy, that “total experience of being in this world” must be incredibly powerful to exert such an influence on an afterlife of infinite duration. That’s kinda like an 80-year-old man still mooning over a crush he had one day in kindergarten.

  170. #171 J. J. Ramsey
    January 24, 2009

    Tulse: “Boy, that ‘total experience of being in this world’ must be incredibly powerful to exert such an influence on an afterlife of infinite duration.”

    Maybe. How would either of us know?

  171. #172 Tulse
    January 24, 2009

    Maybe. How would either of us know?

    And maybe God is a giant purple badger, and Heaven is a bowling alley. How would either of us know?

    See, we can play this game as long as you like.

  172. #173 J. J. Ramsey
    January 25, 2009

    Tulse: “And maybe God is a giant purple badger, and Heaven is a bowling alley. How would either of us know?”

    Ok, turn in your atheist badge. You are not ready to join the Evil Agnostic Conspiracy. I’m sure that John S. Wilkins can fill you in on the super-secret rituals. :P

    Seriously, though, your earlier sarcastic response amounted to saying, “I can’t imagine how a distant memory could influence an infinite afterlife.” That’s an argument from incredulity, and a legitimate response is, “Yes, you can’t imagine it happening, but how do you know it can’t happen?”

    In general, the big problem I have with the argument from evil is that in practice it always seems to boil down to “I can’t imagine any scenario where a good deity would fill-in-the-blank.” This can be a very emotional argument, but again, it’s an argument from incredulity.

  173. #174 Tulse
    January 25, 2009

    Seriously, though, your earlier sarcastic response amounted to saying, “I can’t imagine how a distant memory could influence an infinite afterlife.” That’s an argument from incredulity, and a legitimate response is, “Yes, you can’t imagine it happening, but how do you know it can’t happen?”

    Knowledge is not certainty — its likelihood of truth is always weighed against the plausibility of the alternatives offered. I’m not certain that you’re not a chatbot, or that I’m not actually made of cream cheese, but the likelihood of those alternatives is damned small given everything else that I hold to be true.

    I offered an argument regarding the nature of infinity — that, in a literal eternity of perfect happiness, any event or characteristic of limited duration would have a literally infinitesimal effect, and be swamped by the alleged perfect nature of heaven. One can say “you don’t know that’s true”, but without some other alternatives to weight, that argument seems rather unconvincing to me.

    Ok, turn in your atheist badge. You are not ready to join the Evil Agnostic Conspiracy. I’m sure that John S. Wilkins can fill you in on the super-secret rituals. :P

    I for one would welcome our giant purple badger overlord if he showed up, and as far as I’m concerned, that possibility is not zero. But of course, the possibility that I am actually made of cream cheese is also not zero, and in practice, I treat both of those possibilities as so unlikely to be effectively zero. So sure, I’m agnostic, in the same sense that Dawkins says he is — we can’t be certain god doesn’t exist, but only because we can’t be certain of anything.

  174. #175 J. J. Ramsey
    January 25, 2009

    Tulse: “I offered an argument regarding the nature of infinity”

    No, you offered an idea based on your intuition and experience of how we tend to not think as much about events that are further in the past. As anyone witnessing creationist arguments can show, intuition can be misleading.

    Tulse: “One can say ‘you don’t know that’s true’, but without some other alternatives to weight, that argument seems rather unconvincing to me.”

    So, by your reasoning, I should treat your intuitions about what Heaven would be like as a guide to what Heaven would be like if it were to exist. Never mind the unreliability of intuition when dealing with things well outside human experience.

  175. #176 Jack Kolinski
    January 25, 2009

    WOW! Talk about your “Tower of Babel”? Allow me to attempt to summarize the eight gazillion comments thus far.
    ATHEIST (Bright/Agnostic/Freethinker/Rationalist): “There is no god because there is no evidence of god. There is not even an accepted definition among “god”-people about who or what “god” is. Can you at least give us something to work with here?”
    THEIST (I shan’t presume to supply synonyms. I’m probably in enough trouble for the “atheist” synonyms): “There IS a God (and you should be polite enough to capitalize his name, dickhead!) because I believe in Him. I can’t describe Him (even though I DO, CONSTANTLY albeit not CONSISTENTLY) because he is indescribable. I cannot prove He exists because despite being indescribable he is mysterious enough that I know He would not be God if I could prove He exists. That is what “faith” means. I believe without proof. I “know” without any evidence whatsoever. Sometimes, to try to convert you atheists, I try to submit “evidence” to support the existence of God, but every time I do you snotty bastards (pardon my profane language, but I am a sinner) shoot it down and send me scurrying back to God’s mysteriousness. My God has been worshipped for thousands of years by millions and millions of people. You atheists—and a LOT of you are scientists! Don’t try to deny it!—change your beliefs every time some smart person comes up with a new theory. You change your beliefs more often than you change your socks (and YES we DO notice the smell!). Why does everything have to make “sense” to you people? Why are you NEVER satisfied with the status quo? Does quantum mechanics “make sense”? Ha! Gotcha!”
    ATHEIST: “I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree about god.”
    THEIST: “Yep. At least until we come back into sufficient political power to shut you bastards down again. Enjoy experimenting with those dead babies while you can.”
    ATHEIST: “Dead babies?”
    THEIST: “Don’t play dumb with me Mr. Smarty Pants! Stem cells are dead babies. God says so. Even Catholics and Protestants agree on that and we’ve hated each other’s guts for five hundred years.”

    I could go on, but you get the idea. To all my fellow travelers hoping to save humanity from ignorance and superstition masquerading as religion, do not fall for protestations of a desire by religion for peaceful coexistence with science, much less, non-believers. Science and religion are inconsistent, even contradictory pursuits. The only reason religious leaders do not burn scientists—today’s most dangerous heretics— at the stake is because WE the PEOPLE no longer allow them to get away with it. You will search in vain for any document penned by any pope, mullah or rabbi that acknowledges the wrongfulness of burning heretics at the stake or similarly outrageous behavior “in the name of God.” Their “holiest books” are expressly and explicitly to the contrary.

  176. #177 Tulse
    January 25, 2009

    No, you offered an idea based on your intuition and experience of how we tend to not think as much about events that are further in the past.

    I offered an argument based on the nature of infinity, and yes, on experience, in other words, empirical evidence. Why is that problematic?

    Never mind the unreliability of intuition when dealing with things well outside human experience.

    The point of talking about the impact of postulating a literal eternity is to demonstrate that the particular concept that is “outside of human experience” appears to be damn well incoherent. I haven’t seen an argument against that, just a “well, maybe it isn’t”. Pardon me if I don’t find that rejoinder convincing.

  177. #178 Anton Mates
    January 26, 2009

    J.J. Ramsey,

    On the other hand, suppose that I’m in the heavenly afterlife and that I’ve been there for a million years. Would having gone through 70-odd years in this screwy world have made me more appreciative of my current afterlife, and happier? I have no idea. If that question could be affirmatively answered, not only for me but for people that have had lives waaaaaaaaay worse than me, then one might argue that if there were a God, then he could still be benevolent.

    The trouble with that argument, it seems to me, is that it omits the “logically necessary” condition Jason demanded. It’s not good enough to say that the travails of this life could improve our experience of the next. Unless they’re actually logically necessary for a maximally awesome afterlife, God could have done without them. And I see no reason to think they’re necessary; quite the contrary. As Another Jason pointed out, God could simply poof us into existence in Heaven. If a particular earthly life would have left us in the perfect condition to enjoy heaven, then he could create us in that condition, complete with memories of that former life. (Or, if there’s something special about heaven which prevents even God from creating new souls there, then he could create us on Earth at the moment just before we’re scheduled to die, in the end-state of the ideal earthly life. That way we’d only have to endure a nanosecond of pain before bliss began.)

    More generally, I don’t think the arguers-from-evil are showing a lack of imagination; quite the opposite. It’s easy to imagine a universe where suffering from hookworms and tsunamis is necessary to accomplish some greater good…the trouble is that we can also imagine a universe where it isn’t. Unless there’s something logically incoherent in the second scenario, God should be able to instantiate it, and that would be a better world than the one we’re in.

    For that reason, I think the best rebuttals to the argument from evil are those that attempt to show, Leibniz-style, that natural evil really is logically necessary for some good, as Catastasis did above. Unfortunately, they always seem to imply that God’s version of “good” is very different from my own.

  178. #179 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse: “I offered an argument based on the nature of infinity, and yes, on experience, in other words, empirical evidence. Why is that problematic?”

    Because it is not clear that the empirical evidence that you have in mind is relevant. I certainly have plenty of empirical evidence that if I leave a messy room alone, it will not become clean and orderly on its own. That evidence, however, is irrelevant to the claim that local order can arise from disorder. (And yes, I have heard creationists use the “messy room” argument.)

    Anton Mates: “The trouble with that argument, it seems to me, is that it omits the ‘logically necessary’ condition Jason demanded. It’s not good enough to say that the travails of this life could improve our experience of the next. Unless they’re actually logically necessary for a maximally awesome afterlife, God could have done without them.”

    The thing is, we don’t have enough information to assert that they aren’t logically necessary, nor, AFAICT, the means to get that information, because we don’t have any experience in actually architecting an afterlife, nor the means to really put ourselves in the shoes of something who is omniscient and omnipotent. Sure, we can sketch out the possibility of a universe where suffering is unnecessary and we are maximally happy, but whether we can fill in the details enough to ensure that such a possibility would actually work when fleshed out is another question. To put it another way, our ability to argue what God would or wouldn’t do is severely constrained by our lack of a God’s-eye view.

  179. #180 Tulse
    January 26, 2009

    we can sketch out the possibility of a universe where suffering is unnecessary and we are maximally happy, but whether we can fill in the details enough to ensure that such a possibility would actually work when fleshed out is another question.

    One word: omnipotence.

    Seriously, unless one postulates that god is limited in some fashion, your answer doesn’t make sense. Some theologians/authors have done just that, and argued that god is not omnipotent as that notion is usually conceived, but that’s a rather radical re-working of the modern characterization of the Christian god.

  180. #181 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse:

    One word: omnipotence.

    Seriously, unless one postulates that god is limited in some fashion …

    … and Gardner already pointed out why even omnipotence has limits of sorts. Been there, done that.

  181. #182 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Grrr, ScienceBlogs handling of block quotes is still evil. The line “Seriously, unless one postulates that god is limited in some fashion …” belongs to Tulse, not me.

    Anyway, Tulse, see what I wrote above to Anton Mates about the lack of a God’s-eye view. To put it yet another way, if I assert that something is impossible, I better be sure that I’m not doing this simply because there’s a possibility that I’ve overlooked. I don’t see any such assurance with the argument from evil.

  182. #183 Tulse
    January 26, 2009

    … and Gardner already pointed out why even omnipotence has limits of sorts. Been there, done that.

    Yeah, yeah, got the T-shirt. But various folks have offered arguments why Gardner is wrong, or at least has a very screwy notion of omnipotence that, well, isn’t really omnipotence. Indeed, the “limits” he proposes seem to be exactly a case of “failure of imagination” of what is possible to an omnipotent being.

    Do you have a counter-argument to offer?

  183. #184 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse: “But various folks have offered arguments why Gardner is wrong, or at least has a very screwy notion of omnipotence that, well, isn’t really omnipotence.”

    What Gartner was absolutely right about was that even omnipotence does not entail that God can do the logically impossible, and that’s the only bit that really matters.

    Suppose that assert, as you do, that it is logically possible for a universe to exist that both lacks suffering and maximizes our happiness. Now, do I find that a plausible assertion? Sure. Do I find it likely? Sure. Can I be sure that if I fleshed out that purported possible universe that it wouldn’t have some nonobvious or counterintuitive contradictions? Ah, there’s the rub. I can’t exhaustively examine this possible universe, obviously. That would require a God’s-eye view. Neither is there an obvious way that I can focus on select portions of this possible universe and be completely sure that the parts of it that I’m ignoring are irrelevant. That’s why I don’t consider the argument from evil very reliable.

  184. #185 Tulse
    January 26, 2009

    What Gartner was absolutely right about was that even omnipotence does not entail that God can do the logically impossible, and that’s the only bit that really matters.

    So logic exists prior to God? Who made it up if not God? If He did make it up, why can he not violate it, or create exceptions for Himself?

  185. #186 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse: “So logic exists prior to God? Who made it up if not God? If He did make it up, why can he not violate it, or create exceptions for Himself?”

    Tulse, if you allow God to do the logically impossible, then the argument from evil and all argument at all, really, goes right out the window. That’s just the principle of explosion at work.

  186. #187 Caliban
    January 26, 2009

    On the one hand, logical necessity is a good argument for the non-existence of any truly omnipotent God because you end up with ridiculous contradictions (can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it? etc).

    On the other hand, whatever logical necessities a creator God might be limited by, he might only be limited by them in the one universe where it exists. From there, such a God (or even a very advanced alien race) could create any number of other universes as nothing more than running simulations with whatever parameters God wanted. From the point of view of the creatures in the simulation, it would, presumably, be impossible for them to know that their existence was a simulation in a larger one.

    So, given that possibility, i don’t see why an Omnipotent God couldn’t handle making such a universe without Autism. Would an entire (even simulated) universe collapse without Autism, Fred Phelps or Milli Vanilli? I doubt it.

  187. #188 Tulse
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse, if you allow God to do the logically impossible, then the argument from evil and all argument at all, really, goes right out the window. That’s just the principle of explosion at work

    I think you are misapplying that principle. It’s true that if you allow God to do the logically impossible, then He can do anything, but that is pretty much what I take to be the meaning of “omnipotence”. However, it does not mean that He hasn’t imposed the rules of logic on the world at large (and it’s pretty clear the world does indeed rest on it).

    You are presuming that God is somehow subject to the laws of the world. I don’t see how that is omnipotence. If you demand the pre-existence of logic, why not other foundational principles as well, such as causality, in which case an “uncreated Creator” isn’t possible?

    More to the point, any limitation on the power of God requires that such limits precede God, and that just doesn’t jibe with the Christian concept of a creator who made everything. And yes, such limits include the limits of logic, and math, and all other formal systems. Or do you argue that God could not have created a world where calculus worked differently?

  188. #189 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse: “I think you are misapplying that principle.”

    The principle of explosion means that if any contradiction is allowed, then any statement can be proven. It doesn’t matter if the contradiction is about God or about fuzzy socks.

  189. #190 Tulse
    January 26, 2009

    The principle of explosion means that if any contradiction is allowed, then any statement can be proven. It doesn’t matter if the contradiction is about God or about fuzzy socks.

    I think you’ve missed my point — why is it not possible that contradictions are not permitted unless God allows them. That is, the laws of logic apply to the universe, as laid out by God, but since He laid them out, He can violate them. The laws of logic apply to human reason, or reasoning within the Universe, but why must they restrict a being outside of the Universe?

    In any case, if you’re correct, as I pointed out above you’re arguing that logic precedes God. How far does that go? As I asked above, does that apply to all formal systems? Did calculus exist before God? Are the axioms of geometry somehow independent of God? Where did logic (and all the other formal systems ) come from, if they are prior to (or at least a constraint on) God?

  190. #191 Iapetus
    January 26, 2009

    “The principle of explosion means that if any contradiction is allowed, then any statement can be proven. It doesn’t matter if the contradiction is about God or about fuzzy socks.”

    That would only be the case if all other constants and rules of inference remain unchanged. However, as the example of paraconsistent logic shows, it is possible to create a logical system without relying on the law of non-contradiction. But even if we had no such proof of principle, we could not rule out its existence with utter certainty and ultimately declare what god is or is not able to do.

    Moreover, it seems that the term “logically impossible” is highly ambigous. What should be included under this headline? Only the law of non-contradiction? What about the law of excluded middle? On the other hand, intuitionist logic as developed by Brouwer and Heyting has abandoned it. So is god bound by it or not?

    Generally, it is rather naive and (ironically) a lack of imagination to presuppose that an omniscient and omnipotent god would be constrained by what we feeble human beings consider logically possible or not. The moment you do so, you reduce an omnipotent being to an (at most) extremely powerful one.

    However, even leaving all this aside, the Leibniz-style defense of “Maybe we live in the best possible universe that god could have made under the circumstances and just lack his knowledge to appreciate this.” is possible, but not convincing. Ultimately, it boils down to a rather lame “The lord works in mysterious ways.” argument.

    I might just as well (or even more persuasively) argue that this could be the worst of all possible universes, where the purpose of the few good things is to emphasize the abundance of evil things. The logical plausibility is equivalent.

    Thus, in order to effectively counter the objection from the existence of evil, the theist has to provide arguments as to why our universe is really the best one that god could have come up with and not rely on the mere possibility that this might be so.

  191. #192 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse: “The laws of logic apply to human reason, or reasoning within the Universe, but why must they restrict a being outside of the Universe?”

    Because the laws of logic aren’t laws in the same sense as physical laws. The only reason we can even discuss logically impossible “things” is because our language allows it. I can put together the words “square” and “circle,” but that doesn’t mean that there is a concept described by those words. The sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is a classic example of something syntactically correct but semantically void. Logically impossible “things” aren’t really things, but just artifacts of language.

    Back to a previous question of yours: “Or do you argue that God could not have created a world where calculus worked differently?”

    Pretty much, yeah. We can quibble about whether symbols for math would be different and whether Newton or Leibniz could have conceived of limits in a way different from what we have now, but that’s about right.

    This statement seems rather odd, though: “More to the point, any limitation on the power of God requires that such limits precede God”

    Why does time enter into this at all? One can certainly argue that such limitations would have to be around as long as God has supposedly been around, but one need not introduce the idea that there was a time before God.

  192. #193 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Iapetus: “However, as the example of paraconsistent logic shows, it is possible to create a logical system without relying on the law of non-contradiction.”

    It is certainly possible to construct such a system as a language game. Whether you can continue that game without falling back on classical logic at some point is a whole other story. Try arguing against the law of non-contradiction without employing it.

    Iapetus: “the Leibniz-style defense of ‘Maybe we live in the best possible universe that god could have made under the circumstances and just lack his knowledge to appreciate this.’ is possible, but not convincing.”

    Not convincing in the sense of not feeling very satisfying, sure. However, the argument from evil is brittle enough that conceding a Leibniz-style defense kills it. How one feels about that is irrelevant.

    Iapetus: “I might just as well (or even more persuasively) argue that this could be the worst of all possible universes, where the purpose of the few good things is to emphasize the abundance of evil things. The logical plausibility is equivalent.”

    Strictly speaking, this is true, but irrelevant. Once an apologist has dealt with the problem of evil, that clears the way for making a constructive case for God, e.g. “Let me sell you a bridge show you why you can trust the Bible.” Such constructive arguments, if correct, would make your argument moot.

  193. #194 Tulse
    January 26, 2009

    One can certainly argue that such limitations would have to be around as long as God has supposedly been around, but one need not introduce the idea that there was a time before God.

    I’m not sure that the existence of such limitations doesn’t require that there was something that was in some sense “before” God, even if not in the temporal sense you mean. As I understand you, God didn’t create logic, calculus, geometry (and presumably by extension any of mathematics), so these must have been, in some sense, “pre-existing” features of any possible universe. That doesn’t mean that the universe itself must have had some duration (as we understand it) prior to God, but it does mean that there were features of the universe that were not the product of God, and thus those limitations must be limitations inherent in any possible “god”. They must “precede” a god in the sense that any such god would have to conform to those limitations. They are “rules” that God didn’t create. (Whether you consider that the proper use of “precede” is in some sense beside the point, which is simply that God was stuck with certain limitations not of His own making.)

    I’m also curious as to how far your acceptance of the necessity of formal systems goes — for example, do we get most of computer science as a necessary feature of the universe? Is it impossible for God not to include bubble sort in His creation? Is literally all of math something that God was stuck with?

  194. #195 Anton Mates
    January 26, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    The thing is, we don’t have enough information to assert that they aren’t logically necessary, nor, AFAICT, the means to get that information, because we don’t have any experience in actually architecting an afterlife, nor the means to really put ourselves in the shoes of something who is omniscient and omnipotent.

    I disagree; the nice thing about trying to disprove logical necessity is that you only need one counter-example. Very little information is required.

    Sure, we can sketch out the possibility of a universe where suffering is unnecessary and we are maximally happy, but whether we can fill in the details enough to ensure that such a possibility would actually work when fleshed out is another question.

    I think some of the elements of our sketch are sufficiently general to apply regardless of details. And, remember, we don’t need to construct a universe of maximal happiness (or maximal whatever-it-is-you-think-is-sought-by-the-good), but merely a universe where we would be happier than we are in this one.

    Case in point: Last Tuesdayism is, I think most would agree, logically possible. If so, it follows that our happiness (along with any other aspect of our current state) is not logically dependent on any events in the distant past. Therefore past suffering is unnecessary to secure present or future happiness.

    Again, the brain-in-a-vat scenario, and other variants of solipsism, are logically possible. It follows that even if my happiness or free will requires me to be able to inflict suffering on another person, that person doesn’t actually have to exist. Hitler could have done whatever he needed to do for his own spiritual development in a virtual pocket universe, safely walled away from the rest of us.

    To put it another way, our ability to argue what God would or wouldn’t do is severely constrained by our lack of a God’s-eye view.

    True, but I think that constraint is almost entirely mitigated by an omni- god’s powerset; God may be way better at cataloguing contingencies than we are, but contingencies are irrelevant when omnipotence is involved. And it doesn’t seem to me that our mortal viewpoint is equally deficient when it comes to logical analysis; we’re much better at discovering logical universals than empirical ones.

    (I agree, by the way, that an omnipotent god would still be constrained by logic, if only because I’m incapable of comprehending the alternative. More importantly, I think most theists consider God to be bound by logic, and since it’s their God that we’re arguing about, might as well go with that.)

  195. #196 Iapetus
    January 26, 2009

    “It is certainly possible to construct such a system as a language game. Whether you can continue that game without falling back on classical logic at some point is a whole other story. Try arguing against the law of non-contradiction without employing it.”

    That the law of non-contradiction is an integral part of argumentation as we can conceive of it at the present stage of our cognitive capabilities in now way constitutes a proof of its indispensability, especially for an omnipotent and omniscient being.

    Were you not stating before that the argument from evil is based on incredulity? I think this describes your own approach with regard to logic pretty well. A lack in our powers of reasoning and imagination is just that, and not a positive proof for anything.

    Furthermore, I would be very careful to posit logical principles as some kind of normative, metaphysical laws that reality, let alone a being that is purportedly omnipotent, has to abide by. It is much more sensible and realistic to see logic as a tool we have developed to aid in rational argumentation and inquiry. Thus, it necessarily reflects our way of thinking and reasoning as well as its limits. Why should we assume that we have thereby discovered any ultimate principles which are binding for god/the universe?

    “Not convincing in the sense of not feeling very satisfying, sure. However, the argument from evil is brittle enough that conceding a Leibniz-style defense kills it.”

    No, the most it would show is that the concept of a god that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is not rendered incoherent by the presence of evil in the universe.

    What it manifestly does not do, in the absence of any further arguments, is to counter the objection that such a god is unlikely to exist, since the hypotheses of an evil god, a power-limited god or no god at all would fit the facts much better.

    “Strictly speaking, this is true, but irrelevant. Once an apologist has dealt with the problem of evil, that clears the way for making a constructive case for God [...] Such constructive arguments, if correct, would make your argument moot.”

    But these positive arguments would have to be made! I think nobody who has studied this issue would claim that the argument from evil conclusively disproves the existence of the Christian god, just like the medieval “proofs” did not indubitably show that he exists. It does, however, severely reduce the likelhood of his existence, unless the theist provides strong arguments in support of his position. And these, I have yet to see.

  196. #197 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Anton Mates: “the nice thing about trying to disprove logical necessity is that you only need one counter-example. Very little information is required.”

    IMHO, that works more against the argument from evil and makes it very brittle, for reasons I’ve already indicated above.

    Anton Mates: “God may be way better at cataloguing contingencies than we are, but contingencies are irrelevant when omnipotence is involved.”

    However, if one is making a Leibniz-style argument and saying that God may be seeing contingencies that we don’t and thus behaves counterintuitively, then our limited view makes it much harder to conclusively deny that those hypothetical contingencies don’t exist.

  197. #198 J. J. Ramsey
    January 26, 2009

    Tulse: “I’m also curious as to how far your acceptance of the necessity of formal systems goes — for example, do we get most of computer science as a necessary feature of the universe? Is it impossible for God not to include bubble sort in His creation? Is literally all of math something that God was stuck with?”

    I think the answer to that is a little tricky because it can be hard to tease out what in math is man-made and what is merely discovered. However, I’d say that it would at least be impossible for a universe to exist where the formal systems that you mentioned were incoherent. Generally speaking, I’d be prepared to take the sort of necessity that you are talking about pretty far.

    Iapetus: “No, the most it would show is that the concept of a god that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is not rendered incoherent by the presence of evil in the universe.”

    Errm, pretty much by definition, saying “the concept of a god that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is not rendered incoherent by the presence of evil in the universe” is equivalent to saying that the argument from evil fails.

  198. #199 Tulse
    January 26, 2009

    I’d say that it would at least be impossible for a universe to exist where the formal systems that you mentioned were incoherent.

    As Iapetus says, isn’t that just an argument from incredulity? In any case, you still haven’t clarified where you think such limitations come from if not actually created by God.

  199. #200 Anton Mates
    January 27, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    IMHO, that works more against the argument from evil and makes it very brittle, for reasons I’ve already indicated above.

    I’m not following your reasoning on that bit. The argument from evil is making an existence claim: at least one possible world is “better” than the actual one. The theist is arguing its negation, which is a universal claim: all possible worlds are equal to or worse than the actual one. Surely the limitations on our knowledge hamper the latter task more than the former.

    However, if one is making a Leibniz-style argument and saying that God may be seeing contingencies that we don’t and thus behaves counterintuitively, then our limited view makes it much harder to conclusively deny that those hypothetical contingencies don’t exist.

    But, again, contingencies are irrelevant to an omnipotent deity; the Leibniz-style argument requires that God see some very general logical relationships that we don’t.

    In particular, consider the examples I mentioned above. If we live in a world which optimally prepares us for the afterlife, then there must be yet-to-be-discovered logical disproofs of both Last Tuesdayism and many forms of external world skepticism. That strikes me, at least, as very unlikely–although I can’t claim it’s actually impossible.

    Side story: My grandfather was once lecturing on Leibniz’ theodicy in a philosophy course, and he mentioned Leibniz’ assertion that even Judas was part of an optimal universe. Up popped a fundamentalist student, who whipped out his pocket Bible and quoted Jesus himself saying that it would have been better if Judas had never been born. So much for Leibniz.

    In another conversation, this student explained that Noah’s Ark had carried every kind of animal down to the subspecies level–in particular, it had a breeding pair of Boston bulldogs.

  200. #201 Iapetus
    January 27, 2009

    “Errm, pretty much by definition, saying “the concept of a god that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is not rendered incoherent by the presence of evil in the universe” is equivalent to saying that the argument from evil fails.”

    Only if your standard of success is the indubitable proof of the non-existence of the Christian god. Anyone who recognizes the fallible nature of our reasoning capabilities as well as the inherent limitations of argumentation will see this demand as utopian. Furthermore, you can always include ad hoc assumptions into your proposition to shield it from critique and refutation, especially if said proposition relates to a being which is seen as omnipotent and omniscient.

    Thus, the most that can be achieved is to reduce the likelihood of such a being actually existing. Which the argument from evil does quite well, unless the theist provides convincing, positive counter-arguments.

    In this regard, I see a Leibniz-style defense as pretty feeble, since

    a) it merely asserts that this is the best possible universe without showing why it could not equally likely be a middle-brow universe or even the worst possible one; and

    b) it demotes the meaning of omnipotent from “can do everything” to “can do everything that is logically possible”, thus collapsing it to “supremely powerful”. In this sense, it is dangerously close to accepting the argument instead of rebutting it.

  201. #202 J. J. Ramsey
    January 27, 2009

    Anton Mates: “I’m not following your reasoning on that bit. The argument from evil is making an existence claim: at least one possible world is ‘better’ than the actual one. The theist is arguing its negation, which is a universal claim: all possible worlds are equal to or worse than the actual one.”

    Actually, the theist can merely argue that the existence claim in question is unprovable. That move puts the one asserting the existence claim on the defensive to, well, prove it.

    Anton Mates: “But, again, contingencies are irrelevant to an omnipotent deity; the Leibniz-style argument requires that God see some very general logical relationships that we don’t.”

    I’d disagree. The logical relationships that God supposedly sees could be dependent on premises relating to various possible universes unfold, and those premises are obviously contingent on how these universes evolve.

    Me: “Errm, pretty much by definition, saying ‘the concept of a god that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is not rendered incoherent by the presence of evil in the universe’ is equivalent to saying that the argument from evil fails.”

    Iapetus: “Only if your standard of success is the indubitable proof of the non-existence of the Christian god.”

    That’s a bizarre statement to make. The claim of the argument from evil is that the concept of a god that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is rendered incoherent by the presence of evil in the universe. Obviously, to claim the opposite is to claim that the argument from evil fails. One’s “standard of success” is a non sequitur.

  202. #203 J. J. Ramsey
    January 27, 2009

    Me: “Actually, the theist can merely argue that the existence claim in question is unprovable. That move puts the one asserting the existence claim on the defensive to, well, prove it.”

    Ok, I need to clarify this. Obviously, putting someone on the defensive to prove a claim that he/she makes isn’t necessarily that big a deal if one has all one’s ducks in a row and has proof for the claim at the ready. However, if one is making an ambitious claim that one hasn’t thought about too carefully because it seems “obvious” to him or her in spite of its scope, then one can easily find that one’s support for the claim isn’t as solid as it first appears.

  203. #204 windy
    January 27, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey:

    The thing is, we don’t have enough information to assert that they aren’t logically necessary, nor, AFAICT, the means to get that information, because we don’t have any experience in actually architecting an afterlife, nor the means to really put ourselves in the shoes of something who is omniscient and omnipotent. Sure, we can sketch out the possibility of a universe where suffering is unnecessary and we are maximally happy,

    But the theist suggests that such an existence is not only possible, but probable, in the form of an afterlife! Isn’t it his responsibility to show how this squares with the logical necessity of suffering in this lifetime?

    On the other hand, suppose that I’m in the heavenly afterlife and that I’ve been there for a million years. Would having gone through 70-odd years in this screwy world have made me more appreciative of my current afterlife, and happier? I have no idea. If that question could be affirmatively answered, not only for me but for people that have had lives waaaaaaaaay worse than me, then one might argue that if there were a God, then he could still be benevolent.

    Assuming for the moment that your level of discomfort in this lifetime adequately prepares you for the afterlife, why is it logically necessary for some people to have it “waaaaaaaaay worse than you”?

  204. #205 J. J. Ramsey
    January 27, 2009

    windy: “But the theist suggests that such an existence is not only possible, but probable, in the form of an afterlife! Isn’t it his responsibility to show how this squares with the logical necessity of suffering in this lifetime?”

    The burden of proof is on the one making the claim, and the ones making the claim that an omnipotent and benevolent God is inconsistent with the suffering in this world are the atheists, not the theists.

  205. #206 Lofcaudio
    January 27, 2009

    the meaning of omnipotent from “can do everything”

    Not only are there problems with such a definition, there is the tendency for unstated assumptions (too many anthropomorphisms) about the subject matter to taint what is being debated.

    I would submit that a better definition of omnipotent is “having unlimited power.” Having unlimited power is not synonymous with having the ability to do anything and everything imaginable and even those things which we cannot fathom. In fact, being omnipotent by definition would limit such a powerful being in what it can and cannot do. The heavy rock conundrum is the most popular example as an omnipotent entity is limited in only doing those things which are logically consistent with having unlimited power. I think it makes the most sense to assume that such a being is logical (better yet, the most logical entity that exists).

    As has been mentioned previously in this thread, the Biblical God is never described as being “omnibenevolent”. Instead, the Bible describes God as being the ultimate truth, the definition of love and being the only thing that is truly holy (“perfect”).

    I think it makes more sense to combine God’s omnipotence with his holiness (or perfectness, if you will) when discussing what a perfect being of unlimited power can and cannot do.

    First of all, a perfect being cannot create anything that is perfect. Barring the creation of a duplicate copy of itself, whatever is created will be less than perfect, since the standard of perfection will be the supreme being alone. Can a perfect thing make something imperfect and still be perfect? This the problem of evil argument in its most basic form: that a perfect thing decided to create (“allow”) imperfection. For those who believe that such a perfect God exists, they have the belief that there must be a “perfectly” perfect reason for God’s creation of something less perfect than itself. This is perhaps the greatest spiritual mystery of all.

    Secondly, a perfect God is limited to doing only those things which are perfect. God cannot act ungodly, nor do anything contrary to its (his) nature.

    If a God does exist that takes an interest in his creation, it makes complete sense that he would be much like the God described in the Bible. In the Bible, we see a God frustrated by people who devote themselves to imperfect things over Him, the one and only perfect thing. He does not do this as a spoiled egotist, but instead knowing full well that the best thing for creation is to relate to the coolest thing in existence (which happens to be himself). Ultimately, He has to sever part of his very godhead from himself to solve the imperfect-perfect impasse that exists between God and his creation. God, being God, knew going into the creative process that this was part of the package.

    Peace.

  206. #207 J. J. Ramsey
    January 27, 2009

    Lofcaudio: “As has been mentioned previously in this thread, the Biblical God is never described as being ‘omnibenevolent’”

    True enough. One could easily say that the argument from evil no more applies to the God of the Bible that it does to Loki. :) However, somewhat ironically, the God of the Bible and the God of typical Protestant Christianity aren’t quite the same thing.

    Lofcaudio: “First of all, a perfect being cannot create anything that is perfect.”

    Define “perfect.”

  207. #208 Anton Mates
    January 27, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    Actually, the theist can merely argue that the existence claim in question is unprovable. That move puts the one asserting the existence claim on the defensive to, well, prove it.

    Not at all. First, the theist’s argument must be valid, or at least moderately persuasive; simply saying, “Well, you don’t really know” isn’t much of an argument. Second, I may argue, correctly, that the existence of Mel Gibson is unprovable; it doesn’t follow that anyone asserting Gibson’s existence is obligated to provide a logical proof thereof.

    Moreover, the theist who argues this has just provided an argument for why we can’t know whether the real world maximizes or minimizes any quantity, defeating all of his/her own statements about the creator God’s personality or intent.

    Do you disagree that the theist can’t refute the existence claim without also demonstrating the impossibility of Last Tuesdayism and external-world skepticism?

    I’d disagree. The logical relationships that God supposedly sees could be dependent on premises relating to various possible universes unfold, and those premises are obviously contingent on how these universes evolve.

    Doesn’t matter. Unless those premises apply to all possible universes–in which case they aren’t contingent by definition–God can nullify them by choosing from the remainder where they don’t apply. (I think this is more of a semantics quibble than anything, since we agree that God can’t get around non-contingent logical restraints).

    The claim of the argument from evil is that the concept of a god that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is rendered incoherent by the presence of evil in the universe.

    But that’s not the claim that the majority of pro-argument-from-evil posters in this thread are making. They are saying that the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god is rendered unlikely, or unjustified, by the existence of evil. This is commonly called the “evidential argument from evil.”

    Most of us are, after all, weak atheists. We’re not shooting to disprove God, merely to show that there’s no good reason to believe.

  208. #209 Anton Mates
    January 27, 2009

    Lofcaudio,

    As has been mentioned previously in this thread, the Biblical God is never described as being “omnibenevolent”. Instead, the Bible describes God as being the ultimate truth, the definition of love and being the only thing that is truly holy (“perfect”).

    I think it makes more sense to combine God’s omnipotence with his holiness (or perfectness, if you will) when discussing what a perfect being of unlimited power can and cannot do.

    As J. J. Ramsey implies, “perfect” is a very problematic word–about as problematic as “great” in the ontological argument. You’ll have to define it more carefully before I can agree or disagree with any of your later statements.

    And what happened to the “definition of love” bit? That doesn’t seem to factor into those statements at all.

  209. #210 Lofcaudio
    January 27, 2009

    Define “perfect.”

    In retrospect, perhaps “perfect” was not the best term to use. I was hoping that “perfect” would be a term that could be interchangeable with both “holy” and “ultimate good”.

    What I was intending to say was that God, being the ultimate good, cannot create anything that is as good as he is. Anything created is LESS GOOD than God, yet God was pleased with his creative work and considered it to be good (thus, my previously characterizing God’s creation as not being perfect is slightly off).

    As such, created beings, being LESS GOOD than God do not have a holy nature which prevent them from committing acts that fall short of being GOOD. Thus, God’s creation has the ability to lie, to sin and commit acts of unrighteousness — the very things a holy God is incapable of doing. Rather than this inability of God to do these things as being a knock on his omnipotence (“unable to do this, unable to do that”), I would argue that it is the very opposite — that God’s holy nature and inability to be nothing other than the ultimate good is part and parcel of his omnipotence.

    I have no idea if this clarifies anything.

    Scripture references: Genesis 1:31; Romans 1:18-25; Romans 9:14-24.

  210. #211 Lofcaudio
    January 27, 2009

    As J. J. Ramsey implies, “perfect” is a very problematic word–about as problematic as “great” in the ontological argument.

    Not having seen your comment prior to my follow-up, it is entirely likely that I am doing nothing more than inadvertently restating the ontological argument. (Full disclosure: as a philosophical dilettante, I am ignorant of many of the historical arguments made on this particular subject, the ontological argument being one of them.)

  211. #212 windy
    January 27, 2009

    windy: “But the theist suggests that such an existence is not only possible, but probable, in the form of an afterlife! Isn’t it his responsibility to show how this squares with the logical necessity of suffering in this lifetime?”
    The burden of proof is on the one making the claim, and the ones making the claim that an omnipotent and benevolent God is inconsistent with the suffering in this world are the atheists, not the theists.

    Is the burden of proof on the one pointing out an inconsistency? Gardner himself said in his essay that an afterlife seems necessary to “rectify” injustices in this world. I am pointing to the problem Gardner himself notices (as Another Jason did above, and thousands before us):

    “A strange question now arises: If there is an afterlife, will it be in a world with free will and science such as to permit both kinds of evil? (…) I haven’t the slightest idea. How could I possibly know?”

    Therefore, it is not just the atheists asserting it; theist Gardner says that a benevolent God is inconsistent with the suffering in this world, if there is no afterlife where the suffering is rectified.

    IMO rather than just saying “I couldn’t possibly know”, the theists should attempt to flesh out the answer to Gardner’s “strange question” and state how the afterlife escapes the evils resulting from free will and natural law, before it can be accepted as even a possible solution to the problem of evil.

  212. #213 J. J. Ramsey
    January 27, 2009

    windy: “Is the burden of proof on the one pointing out an inconsistency?”

    Yes. If you are going to claim something is inconsistent, shouldn’t you try to prove it?

    Anton Mates: “simply saying, ‘Well, you don’t really know’ isn’t much of an argument.”

    True, but pointing out that someone doesn’t have the knowledge to support an assertion is quite another thing.

    Anton Mates: “Moreover, the theist who argues this has just provided an argument for why we can’t know whether the real world maximizes or minimizes any quantity, defeating all of his/her own statements about the creator God’s personality or intent.”

    The creator God’s personality and intent would–from the theist’s standpoint–be evidenced by purported revelation. Of course, the strength of that evidence is lousy another story.

    Anton Mates: “Do you disagree that the theist can’t refute the existence claim without also demonstrating the impossibility of Last Tuesdayism and external-world skepticism?”

    The catch with Last Tuesdayism is that you can argue that God isn’t supposed to lie.

    Anton Mates: “I think this is more of a semantics quibble than anything, since we agree that God can’t get around non-contingent logical restraints”

    Agreed.

    Anton Mates: “But that’s not the claim that the majority of pro-argument-from-evil posters in this thread are making. They are saying that the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god is rendered unlikely, or unjustified, by the existence of evil.”

    Offhand, I’m not sure that many of the posters are making a clear distinction between the logical and the evidential versions of the argument from evil.

    IMHO, the evidential argument from evil is more an argument that the world seems to run on its own and is indifferent to us, which is really more of an argument along the lines of Laplace’s “I have no need of that hypothesis.” In that case, one might as well argue straight up that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, and avoid making statements that suggest that one thinks one can have a God’s-eye view.

  213. #214 windy
    January 27, 2009

    windy: “Is the burden of proof on the one pointing out an inconsistency?”
    Yes. If you are going to claim something is inconsistent, shouldn’t you try to prove it?

    Sigh. I have pointed out the inconsistency (at least in Gardner’s version of the theistic argument) in two posts now. And it’s not exactly a new argument: The first half of Gardner’s problem (is there free will in heaven?) is such a cliche that it might be better to consider the second half: are there natural laws in the afterlife and suffering resulting from them?

  214. #215 J. J. Ramsey
    January 27, 2009

    windy: “Sigh. I have pointed out the inconsistency (at least in Gardner’s version of the theistic argument) in two posts now”

    In those two posts, you pointed out the problems related to arguments like “God needed consistent natural laws.” You did not answer the question, “Ok, you claim that at least one possible world is ‘better’ than the actual one, so how do you know?”

  215. #216 Anton Mates
    January 27, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey:

    The creator God’s personality and intent would–from the theist’s standpoint–be evidenced by purported revelation. Of course, the strength of that evidence is lousy another story.

    But the validity of revelation is itself dependent on a claim about God’s intent–namely, that he intended that revelation as an accurate and human-readable expression of truth. And that claim, by your argument, is insupportable. It could be that he was compelled to send us an entirely false or misleading revelation, because this is somehow logically required for his optimal world. Who can say?

    Really, your argument demolishes all empirical evidence for any property of God. Given any empirical fact X, we cannot claim that God did or did not have the knowledge, power and will to arrange for X to be true; for all we know, X is required to be true by some unknown logical relationship.

    The agnostic and the weak atheist should have no problem with this result, of course.

    The catch with Last Tuesdayism is that you can argue that God isn’t supposed to lie.

    Three counters to that. First, again, by your argument God may have no choice but to lie; every logically possible alternative may be worse. Alternatively, by the Omphalos argument, God cannot create a universe without a fictitious past, since we can always run the laws of nature backwards from the present and construct one.

    Second, creating humans with false memories or other objects with false histories isn’t, strictly speaking, lying. God isn’t actually telling us that there was a fictitious past, he’s merely permitting us to conclude from our observations and memories that there was one. And, as nearly all theists agree, God is allowed to permit evil even if he can’t perform evil acts himself.

    Third, if there is a God, we already know that he does “lie” in this fashion. People have false memories, jump to false conclusions, and interpret data incorrectly all the time.

    Offhand, I’m not sure that many of the posters are making a clear distinction between the logical and the evidential versions of the argument from evil.

    windy, iapetus and I are going for the evidential version, I believe. Tulse and Caliban are going for the logical version, but since they’re arguing that logic is itself contingent, their logical version is evidential after all!

    IMHO, the evidential argument from evil is more an argument that the world seems to run on its own and is indifferent to us, which is really more of an argument along the lines of Laplace’s “I have no need of that hypothesis.” In that case, one might as well argue straight up that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, and avoid making statements that suggest that one thinks one can have a God’s-eye view.

    One can, but that seems largely equivalent to the evidential argument from evil to me–it’ll still end being the evidential argument from some observed property of the universe.

    IOW, if you’re arguing that the world “seems to run on its own and is indifferent to us,” you’re implicitly arguing that the world could be more obviously managed and human-centric than it is. If you’re arguing that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, you’re implicitly arguing (I think) that there could be worlds where the existence of God had explanatory value, and this isn’t one. (Unless you prefer to argue that the concept of God is inherently incoherent or without cognitive content, anyway).

  216. #217 Anton Mates
    January 28, 2009

    Also, it seems to me, most logical theodicean arguments imply that the mere fact of God’s benevolence tells us nothing about the future. We have no grounds to think that “everything will work out all right;” the future may be as imperfect as the present and past. It may be that 99.9% of us will go to hell and the rest will spend eternity in Fresno, simply because that’s the best God could do under the logical constraints he faces.

    It no longer matters whether God is benevolent or malevolent or quixotic or insane.

  217. #218 J. J. Ramsey
    January 28, 2009

    Anton Mates:

    Really, your argument demolishes all empirical evidence for any property of God. Given any empirical fact X, we cannot claim that God did or did not have the knowledge, power and will to arrange for X to be true; for all we know, X is required to be true by some unknown logical relationship.

    That doesn’t necessarily hold. Given any empirical fact X, we have a range of logical possibilities for why it is, and the likelihood of each logical possibility depends strongly on other priors. If, as an example of a prior, Christian apologetic arguments were to hold (at least in a probabilistic sense) and Christianity actually had a lot of explanatory power, then the supposedly few empirical facts that superficially contradict Christianity would be better explained by appealing to some unknown logical relationship than by overturning a theory that otherwise works well.

    To put it more succinctly, the plausibility of the argument from evil depends strongly on how well or poorly theists have already supported their beliefs.

    Anton Mates:

    again, by your argument God may have no choice but to lie; every logically possible alternative may be worse.

    The obvious counter to this is that God may deliberately choose only among the alternatives that don’t require him to lie, that is, not lying trumps benevolence.

    Anton Mates:

    creating humans with false memories or other objects with false histories isn’t, strictly speaking, lying.

    But it is active fakery, and the main difference between it and lying is that it is nonverbal.

    Anton Mates:

    If you’re arguing that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, you’re implicitly arguing (I think) that there could be worlds where the existence of God had explanatory value, and this isn’t one.

    However, one is arguing from grounds that don’t require a God’s-eye view, but on facts that are obviously humanly accessible. For example, one can make physical predictions based on impersonal mathematical laws (like Laplace’s celestial mechanics). Another example is a rough inverse relationship between how spectacular or obvious a purported miracle is and its separation from us in time and/or space, which makes a lot of sense if reports of miracles are rumors and legends, and makes it unnecessary to buy the miracle claims offered by most religions. I could go on. Here, the theists are put on the defensive, challenged to shore up the evidential basis for their beliefs, and there isn’t an appeal to what a hypothetical God would or wouldn’t do.

  218. #219 windy
    January 28, 2009

    You did not answer the question, “Ok, you claim that at least one possible world is ‘better’ than the actual one, so how do you know?”

    Well- that’s exactly my point! Gardner claims that heaven will be better than the actual world, despite arguing that the actual world couldn’t be better than it currently is because natural law is required for the independent existence of humans. OK, so heaven is different. How?

    Of course one could nitpick that heaven isn’t a ‘possible world’, perhaps leading to the defense that you alluded to, that earth + heaven together constitute the best possible world. But I think this explanation requires biting any one of a number of bullets that in themselves call the goodness of God into question (some of them were discussed above by various people).

  219. #220 Anton Mates
    January 28, 2009

    J. J. Rmasey

    That doesn’t necessarily hold. Given any empirical fact X, we have a range of logical possibilities for why it is, and the likelihood of each logical possibility depends strongly on other priors.

    But if we can make likelihood arguments for and against logical possibilities, your argument no longer rebuts the argument from evil. I can say, for instance, that the existence of a logical relationship between earthly suffering and heavenly bliss is unlikely. The “failure of imagination” defense doesn’t work if I admit that such a relationship is imaginable, yet improbable.

    Moreover, I strongly doubt that you can meaningfully compute a likelihood for the existence of a potential logical truth—what a Bayesian nightmare that would be!—much less a likelihood over the space of all possible logical relationships which would imply X.

    I mean, what’s the likelihood of the Goldbach conjecture turning out true? Show your work!

    If, as an example of a prior, Christian apologetic arguments were to hold (at least in a probabilistic sense) and Christianity actually had a lot of explanatory power, then the supposedly few empirical facts that superficially contradict Christianity would be better explained by appealing to some unknown logical relationship than by overturning a theory that otherwise works well.

    That’s hardly our usual method of dealing with facts that contradict a theory; either we modify our understanding of the facts or we modify the theory. For instance, if Christianity had a great deal of explanatory power, then a modified Christianity (where God is mostly good and fairly intelligent and powerful, but occasionally has spasms of rage and stupidity and weakness) might explain all the same phenomena without being contradicted by the evidence for God’s imperfection. There’s no need to appeal to unknown laws of logic.

    The obvious counter to this is that God may deliberately choose only among the alternatives that don’t require him to lie, that is, not lying trumps benevolence.

    But that counter does not support the omni-benevolent God under discussion; a God for whom some other priority trumps benevolence would be a different God. Moreover, the claim that there is an alternative, that doesn’t require him to lie, runs counter to your argument. Can you prove the existence of this alternative? Perhaps it is logically forbidden.

    creating humans with false memories or other objects with false histories isn’t, strictly speaking, lying.

    But it is active fakery, and the main difference between it and lying is that it is nonverbal.

    It need not be any more active than the other evils for which, a theist would say, God is not morally responsible.

    God creates a universe in which a human and a volcano both come into existence, and the volcano kills the human—but God didn’t actively kill the human.

    God creates a human with a certain brain configuration which encodes false memories, and the human concludes that those memories accurately reflect the past—but God didn’t actively persuade him of that fact.

    And, as I said before it’s a known fact that humans have false memories, and have inferred false histories from present observations. Evidently there is some means of causing humans to err which God finds either acceptable or unavoidable. That means could be involved in Last Thursday’s creation of the universe.

  220. #221 Anton Mates
    January 28, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    However, one is arguing from grounds that don’t require a God’s-eye view, but on facts that are obviously humanly accessible. For example, one can make physical predictions based on impersonal mathematical laws (like Laplace’s celestial mechanics).

    But the deist/theist may say (as the fine-tuning folks do) that these mathematical laws are themselves best explained by a benevolent, life-loving God. Now we must consider whether the latter hypothesis does lead to those laws, and whether it leads to other predictions that do or don’t pan out.

    Another example is a rough inverse relationship between how spectacular or obvious a purported miracle is and its separation from us in time and/or space, which makes a lot of sense if reports of miracles are rumors and legends, and makes it unnecessary to buy the miracle claims offered by most religions.

    This is true, of course, but it also makes sense if, for instance, we live in a fallen and post-Incarnation world such that miracles are no longer to be expected. In that case, it becomes necessary to discuss whether this theistic explanation (one of many that are possible ) possesses enough parsimony and explanatory power to compete with the nontheistic explanation you provided.

    I could go on. Here, the theists are put on the defensive, challenged to shore up the evidential basis for their beliefs, and there isn’t an appeal to what a hypothetical God would or wouldn’t do.

    I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with challenging theists to provide positive evidence for their beliefs. However, pointing out apparent evidence against those beliefs is also valuable. If nothing else, the theist must take on additional assumptions (such as the existence of particular undiscovered logical truths) to account for that evidence, and we can then point out that those assumptions are similarly unsupported.

  221. #222 J. J. Ramsey
    January 28, 2009

    Anton Mates: “But if we can make likelihood arguments for and against logical possibilities, your argument no longer rebuts the argument from evil.”

    You are misapplying probabilities. If one is claiming that something is logically impossible, then any counterexample showing that the impossibility doesn’t necessarily hold works, and the probability of the counterexample is irrelevant for its use as a counterexample. Whether the probability of the counterexample is an issue in other contexts is a separate matter.

    Anton Mates: “either we modify our understanding of the facts or we modify the theory… There’s no need to appeal to unknown laws of logic.”

    No one is appealing to unknown laws of logic. Rather, to say that if “Christianity actually had a lot of explanatory power, then the supposedly few empirical facts that superficially contradict Christianity would be better explained by appealing to some unknown logical relationship” is an example of “modify[ing] our understanding of the facts.”

    Anton Mates: “But that counter does not support the omni-benevolent God under discussion; a God for whom some other priority trumps benevolence would be a different God.”

    There is a reason that I’ve (mostly?) avoided using “omnibenevolent” in this thread, except when referring to someone else’s use of it. The Christian God is arguably benevolent, but not overridingly so. For example, he hardly shows that much concern over the suffering of animals.

    Anton Mates: “It need not be any more active than the other evils for which, a theist would say, God is not morally responsible.”

    So, deliberately creating false memories isn’t more active than passively allowing bad stuff to happen. Okaaaay.

    Anton Mates: “But the deist/theist may say (as the fine-tuning folks do) that these mathematical laws are themselves best explained by a benevolent, life-loving God.”

    In that case, you let the deist/theist flesh out their arguments for that claim and then worry about showing why those arguments don’t work.

    Anton Mates: “This is true, of course, but it also makes sense if, for instance, we live in a fallen and post-Incarnation world such that miracles are no longer to be expected.”

    That doesn’t work when the reports are of miracles all dating after the Fall.

    Anton Mates: “I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with challenging theists to provide positive evidence for their beliefs. However, pointing out apparent evidence against those beliefs is also valuable.”

    Agreed, but it helps if the evidence is something that is obviously humanly accessible and not something requiring a God’s-eye view. The reason I said, “Here, the theists are put on the defensive, challenged to shore up the evidential basis for their beliefs” is because that evidential basis is already being attacked by the arguments that, as I said, don’t require a God’s-eye view.

    IMHO, arguing in favor of the argument from evil to a Christian apologist (or even just a run-of-the-mill theist) gets into a quagmire of hypotheticals.

  222. #223 Anton Mates
    January 29, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    You are misapplying probabilities. If one is claiming that something is logically impossible, then any counterexample showing that the impossibility doesn’t necessarily hold works, and the probability of the counterexample is irrelevant for its use as a counterexample. Whether the probability of the counterexample is an issue in other contexts is a separate matter.

    I don’t understand the relevance of the above in this case. Both your defense against the Argument From Evil and my defense against the Argument From Any Empirical Fact assert the possibility of logical relationships that make the existence of evil, or any other empirical fact, a necessary consequence of [insert arbitrary claim about God here]. But neither of us actually proposed a particular logical relationship to test, so counterexamples don’t come into it. Isn’t that why you turned to discussing the likelihood of logical relationships instead?

    No one is appealing to unknown laws of logic. Rather, to say that if “Christianity actually had a lot of explanatory power, then the supposedly few empirical facts that superficially contradict Christianity would be better explained by appealing to some unknown logical relationship” is an example of “modify[ing] our understanding of the facts.”

    What’s the difference between “unknown laws of logic” and “some unknown logical relationship?” And what precedent is there for invoking unknown logical relationships rather than modifying our understanding of the facts in some empirical manner (e.g. “Your data’s wrong; you must have a busted sensor”), or modifying the theory?

    There is a reason that I’ve (mostly?) avoided using “omnibenevolent” in this thread, except when referring to someone else’s use of it. The Christian God is arguably benevolent, but not overridingly so. For example, he hardly shows that much concern over the suffering of animals.

    How can you tell? Perhaps he is as kind as he can be to animals without somehow inflicting more suffering on humans, etc…

    In any case, no one ever claimed the argument from evil could be used against jerky or vaguely nice gods.

    So, deliberately creating false memories isn’t more active than passively allowing bad stuff to happen. Okaaaay.

    Why would it be? God starts some cosmic machinery going, people eventually come into existence with AIDS and cancer and false memories. What makes the false memories any more actively God’s fault than the other bad stuff?

    In that case, you let the deist/theist flesh out their arguments for that claim and then worry about showing why those arguments don’t work.

    They’ve already done that. “Universal constant X must be right where it is so the universe will be friendly to life!” In that case, I think it’s quite reasonable to respond, “The universe isn’t nearly as friendly to life as it could be.” That’s not the only counter, but it’s a useful one.

    That doesn’t work when the reports are of miracles all dating after the Fall.

    Which is why I added “post-Incarnation.” There are plenty of reasons in Christian theology for blatant miracles being common 2,000 years ago but extremely rare nowadays.

  223. #224 Iapetus
    January 29, 2009

    “IMHO, arguing in favor of the argument from evil to a Christian apologist (or even just a run-of-the-mill theist) gets into a quagmire of hypotheticals.”

    Hmm. Let’s recap.

    Thusfar you have stated that

    1.) The powers of god are constrained by logical principles (although you did not provide any arguments as to why that should be so, which principles these are and why these limitations only apply with regards to logic); and

    2.) god is not overridingly benevolent.

    Somehow, I do not see how this invalidates the argument that the existence of an all-powerful, perfectly good god is rendered unlikely by the presence of evil in the universe.

    Quite the contrary, actually.

  224. #225 J. J. Ramsey
    January 29, 2009

    Anton Mates: “But neither of us actually proposed a particular logical relationship to test, so counterexamples don’t come into it.”

    I already proposed a counterexample in my first post on this thread.

    Anton Mates: “What’s the difference between ‘unknown laws of logic’ and “some unknown logical relationship?”

    Oh, sheesh! An unknown logical relationship can simply involved unknown–and possibly practically unknowable–facts related by the same old laws of logic that we’re used to.

    Me: “So, deliberately creating false memories isn’t more active than passively allowing bad stuff to happen. Okaaaay.”

    Anton Mates: “God starts some cosmic machinery going, people eventually come into existence with AIDS and cancer and false memories …”

    … that are not deliberately created. Your response is a non sequitur.

    Anton Mates: “They’ve already done that. ‘Universal constant X must be right where it is so the universe will be friendly to life!’ In that case, I think it’s quite reasonable to respond, ‘The universe isn’t nearly as friendly to life as it could be.’ That’s not the only counter, but it’s a useful one.”

    It’s not that useful, actually, since the gist of the theist’s argument rests on the supposed improbability that the various universal constants happen to lead to a universe with regions hospitable to life. A more useful response is to note that even if one conceded that the purported improbability is real, improbability != goddidit.

    Anton Mates: “There are plenty of reasons in Christian theology for blatant miracles being common 2,000 years ago but extremely rare nowadays.”

    True, but the catch is that one can analyze reports of supernatural happenings in this day and age (or more realistically, look at what James Randi and people like him have done) and note that the same reasons for doubting today’s miracles apply then. Chris Hallquist, a while ago, did something similar.

    Iapetus: “The powers of god are constrained by logical principles (although you did not provide any arguments as to why that should be so …”

    Actually, I did. I cited the principle of explosion. You tried to get around this by abusing the notion of paraconsistent logic, but ignored tradeoffs in such logic such as the inability to make this sort of argument:

    * A is B or C or D
    * A is not C or D
    * Therefore, A is B

  225. #226 Anton Mates
    January 29, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    Anton Mates: “But neither of us actually proposed a particular logical relationship to test, so counterexamples don’t come into it.”

    I already proposed a counterexample in my first post on this thread.

    Do you mean this post? That contains no logical relationship I proposed; I wasn’t even on this thread yet.

    I’m sure if I gave you a hypothetical logical relationship to test, you might well come up with a counterexample. But I don’t have to come up with such a relationship to defend against the Argument From Any Empirical Fact, any more than you had to come up with one to defend against the Argument From Evil. All we have to do is say, “Well, there might be some logical relationship that makes this state of affairs necessary, and our minds are not powerful enough to disprove this possibility.”

    If you say there may be a logical relationship which makes present suffering necessary for future bliss, how can I possibly come up with a counterexample?

    If I say God is omni-malevolent and there may be a logical relationship which makes present happiness necessary for future torment, how can you come up with a counterexample?

    If I say God is [adjective X] and there may be a logical relationship which makes [fact Y] necessary for [fact Z], how can anyone come up with a counter-example? In all cases, I can say, “Well, it’s a big complicated universe, and you can’t fill in the details enough to be sure that counterexample actually works.”

    Anton Mates: “What’s the difference between ‘unknown laws of logic’ and “some unknown logical relationship?”

    Oh, sheesh! An unknown logical relationship can simply involved unknown–and possibly practically unknowable–facts related by the same old laws of logic that we’re used to.

    Ah, I see, you’re using “laws” to mean “axioms.” Sure, let’s say “logical relationships” instead, then. I reiterate–when do we ever postulate unknown logical relationships to salvage a theory contracted by empirical facts?

    Anton Mates: “God starts some cosmic machinery going, people eventually come into existence with AIDS and cancer and false memories …”

    … that are not deliberately created. Your response is a non sequitur.

    Yes, false memories in a Last Thursdayist universe need not be deliberately created; this is precisely my point! You claimed that they must be such, and that God would therefore be morally responsible for them. I’m saying that this is not the case; whatever mechanisms lead to the appearance of a Last Thursdayist universe, with its attendant false memories, could be just as slow and complicated and indirect as the mechanisms leading to AIDS and cancer and death-by-volcano in this universe. Therefore God could be equally free from moral responsibility in both cases.

    It’s not that useful, actually, since the gist of the theist’s argument rests on the supposed improbability that the various universal constants happen to lead to a universe with regions hospitable to life. A more useful response is to note that even if one conceded that the purported improbability is real, improbability != goddidit.

    Sure. But fine-tuners have gone on to say that goddidit has explanatory value–it predicts multiple improbabilities and constant-tunings at once, and is a better explanation for these than, say, a multiverse theory. I think they’re wrong, but one has to actually deal with that.

    True, but the catch is that one can analyze reports of supernatural happenings in this day and age (or more realistically, look at what James Randi and people like him have done) and note that the same reasons for doubting today’s miracles apply then. Chris Hallquist, a while ago, did something similar.

    You can do that, and then you have an explanation to compete with those based on Christian theology. But you still have to show that your explanation is, by some criteria (e.g. parsimony + explanatory/predictive value), better. Hallquist, to judge by the debate you link to, refuses to do this. He simply rules out the Christian’s explanations by fiat: “At the very least, we should not accept miracle-claims if a plausible alternative exists.” I see no reason why any theist apologist would accept this principle, which makes it rather useless in a discussion.

  226. #227 Iapetus
    January 29, 2009

    “Actually, I did. I cited the principle of explosion. You tried to get around this by abusing the notion of paraconsistent logic, but ignored tradeoffs in such logic such as the inability to make this sort of argument:

    [disjunctive syllogism]“

    I did not “abuse” anything; I merely pointed out that the law of non-contradiction is not necessary to construct a logical system.

    And to repeat: the lone fact that according to our present understanding certain forms of logical argument/inference presuppose its validity does not constitute a positive proof. Lest we forget, we are talking about an allegedly omnipotent and omniscient being here. On what possible basis would you want to curtail its capabilities? You can not on the one hand claim that the argument from evil is based on incredulity since we lack god´s superior knowledge and on the other hand make categorical pronouncements about the limits of said knowledge with regards to logic.

    Furthermore, I fail to see what “tradeoff” has got to with this. One could just as well argue that classical logic is burdened by paradoxes like the Liar Paradox, where using logic leads to illogic. This outcome is avoided by employing a paraconsistent framework. So maybe god has adopted it?

    The bottom line here is that you have taken what you deem to be ultimate, indispensable and indubitably valid logical principles and slapped the resulting limitations on god. But you have given no justification as to why this procedure is appropriate and, even if there were some logical limits to god´s power, why it should be just the ones that you imagine.

  227. #228 J. J. Ramsey
    January 29, 2009

    Anton Mates: “If I say God is omni-malevolent and there may be a logical relationship which makes present happiness necessary for future torment, how can you come up with a counterexample?”

    If “omni-malevolent” is defined in such a way that it allows someone omni-malevolent to allow some good to happen, then I don’t think that you can counter the possibility that there may be a logical relationship which makes present happiness necessary for future torment. What you can do depends on the nature of your “argument from good” (our mirror image of the “argument from evil”).

    If you are arguing that there is a complete contradiction between omni-malevolence and omniscience and omnipotence, then as I see it, your argument is sunk.

    If you are arguing that it is merely improbable that omni-malevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence can coexist in one being, then you judge that probability in light of other priors, such as the evidence that this Bizarro-God (okay, maybe not that bizarro :P) exists in the first place. This is what I was trying to say earlier when likening Christianity to a theory.

    This line of argument extends to the more general case that you mentioned, where “God is [adjective X] and there may be a logical relationship which makes [fact Y] necessary for [fact Z] ….”

    Anton Mates: “Yes, false memories in a Last Thursdayist universe need not be deliberately created; this is precisely my point!”

    You’ve never come close to defending this point. The sort of false memories that come from “slow and complicated and indirect” mechanisms seen in this universe couldn’t hope to create the effect of a Last Thursdayist universe. In a Last Thursdayist universe, everybody’s memories are altered in a synchronized fashion such that no one even knows that they were altered. The indirect mechanisms that you propose are incapable of such synchrony.

    Anton Mates: “[Hallquist] simply rules out the Christian’s explanations by fiat: ‘At the very least, we should not accept miracle-claims if a plausible alternative exists.’ I see no reason why any theist apologist would accept this principle”

    Theist apologists are well aware that charlatans exist and can do phony miracles, so they would indeed accept Hallquist’s claim. For example, apologist J. P. Holding, who is most certainly a conservative Christian, accepts that Joseph Smith’s prophecies were not miraculous and accepts the plausible alternatives that he was merely making reasonable extrapolations from current knowledge or even pulling the same sorts of trickery as Jeane Dixon. Indeed, if you look through the whole debate that Hallquist had, he is not making an a priori assumption that miracles can’t happen, but rather using arguments similar to what Holding was willing to use against Mormonism. It’s just that, unlike Holding, he applied them more consistently.

  228. #229 J. J. Ramsey
    January 29, 2009

    Iapetus: “I did not ‘abuse’ anything; I merely pointed out that the law of non-contradiction is not necessary to construct a logical system.”

    But you did it by pointing to logic systems that are propositional weaker than classical logic in order to assert the possibility of a God that can transcend the limits of classical logic.

    Iapetus: “Furthermore, I fail to see what ‘tradeoff’ has got to with this.”

    It’s the tradeoffs that make the paraconsistent logics weaker. Also, if you don’t accept the tradeoffs, then you’re stuck with the principle of explosion, and you’ve killed whatever arguments that you wanted to make.

    Iapetus: “One could just as well argue that classical logic is burdened by paradoxes like the Liar Paradox, where using logic leads to illogic.”

    And one could just as easily argue that these paradoxes are an artifact of language, much as oxymorons like “square circle” are.

  229. #230 Anton Mates
    January 29, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    If you are arguing that it is merely improbable that omni-malevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence can coexist in one being, then you judge that probability in light of other priors, such as the evidence that this Bizarro-God (okay, maybe not that bizarro :P) exists in the first place. This is what I was trying to say earlier when likening Christianity to a theory.

    But every piece of evidence for or against the existence of a particular god rests on an argument analogous to the evidential argument from evil; it wouldn’t be evidence unless you could say, “This does/doesn’t look like the sort of thing that your god would do.” Suppose we have irrefutable evidence for every miracle in the New Testament…how would that grant Christian theology explanatory value unless we could take a God’s-eye view and agree that this looks like the work of the Christian god?

    And of course trying to compute a prior probability for the existence of a particular god without evidence is pretty hopeless.

    You’ve never come close to defending this point. The sort of false memories that come from “slow and complicated and indirect” mechanisms seen in this universe couldn’t hope to create the effect of a Last Thursdayist universe.

    I didn’t say a Last Thursdayist universe could be generated using the same mechanisms at work in this universe; I agree, it could not. I said the mechanisms which generate an LT universe could be as slow and complicated and indirect as those here. I’m not sure why this is even controversial–if God can create a certain sort of universe at all, presumably he can causally chain its creation to all sorts of Rube Goldberg devices. He can have every atom hand-pushed into place by tiny goblins if he wants.

    In a Last Thursdayist universe, everybody’s memories are altered in a synchronized fashion such that no one even knows that they were altered. The indirect mechanisms that you propose are incapable of such synchrony.

    Incapable?

    The synchronized false memories are simply a corollary of the definition of a Last Thursdayist universe–it is made to resemble, in every way, our universe at a certain moment in its history, but it does not share our universe’s past. “In every way” includes the states of our brains and (if substance dualism is correct) our immaterial minds as well; therefore, if a LT universe is possible at all, then it must have perfectly synchronized false memories.

    Now you haven’t denied that Last Thursdayism is logically possible, so what’s your objection? Are you saying that God could generate an LT universe directly, but could not possibly create any other being or mechanism which could generate an LT universe for him? That’s a pretty strange restriction on omnipotence.

    Anton Mates: “[Hallquist] simply rules out the Christian’s explanations by fiat: ‘At the very least, we should not accept miracle-claims if a plausible alternative exists.’ I see no reason why any theist apologist would accept this principle”

    Theist apologists are well aware that charlatans exist and can do phony miracles, so they would indeed accept Hallquist’s claim.

    That’s hardly true, since they don’t rule out historical miracles, despite being well aware that charlatans existed in the past as well. They recognize that the explanation of charlatanry can be more plausible than the supernatural explanations, and is so in many cases, but that’s not the same as accepting the former explanation as soon as it passes some threshold of plausibility.

    Take Ken Miller, whose personal theology seems to imply that true miracles were more likely to occur around 0-33 AD than at any other time. This motivates him to prefer “charlatanry” or “misinterpretation of natural events” explanations for putative miracles in prehistory or in the present day, but to prefer supernatural explanations for the miracles described in the Gospels.

    For example, apologist J. P. Holding, who is most certainly a conservative Christian, accepts that Joseph Smith’s prophecies were not miraculous and accepts the plausible alternatives that he was merely making reasonable extrapolations from current knowledge or even pulling the same sorts of trickery as Jeane Dixon.

    Holding (a pseudonym) appears to be some sort of extremely dedicated troll, so I’m not sure what he actually believes…but again, it’s entirely possible to believe that the non-miraculous explanations are more plausible than the miraculous ones in some cases, less so in others. And certainly most religious apologists are somewhat biased in how they make this call, and that should be pointed out.

    Indeed, if you look through the whole debate that Hallquist had, he is not making an a priori assumption that miracles can’t happen, but rather using arguments similar to what Holding was willing to use against Mormonism. It’s just that, unlike Holding, he applied them more consistently.

    That’s true–and if the theism apologist in question is willing to grant non-miraculous explanations precedence when dealing with other religions’ claims of miracles, you can certainly exploit the inconsistency.

  230. #231 Iapetus
    January 30, 2009

    “But you did it by pointing to logic systems that are propositional weaker than classical logic in order to assert the possibility of a God that can transcend the limits of classical logic.”

    You asserted that the law of non-contradiction is a logical principle which is so fundamental and indispensable that an omniscient and omnipotent god would necessarily be bound by it. However, the example of paraconsistent logic is a proof of principle that it is possible to construct a coherent logical system which does not rely on the validity of the law of non-contradiction.

    Moreover, it is not even necessary to point to paraconsistent logic here; unless you could show with utter certainty that such a framework can not exist, the mere possibility would have been sufficient to render your assertion untenable.

    Regarding the propositional strength of a specific paraconsistent framework, this is irrelevant. Since god is defined as omniscient, he might be in possession of and adhere to a logical system which does not rely on the law of non-contradiction, but is nevertheless propositionally stronger than our classical logic. How would you want to rule this out? The only way I can think of would be to construct a meta-logical theory which indubitably shows the necessary nature and maximum reach of our classical logic and its basic axioms. I have no idea how such a framework should look like, not to mention that this meta-logical theory would itself have to be justified again.

    “It’s the tradeoffs that make the paraconsistent logics weaker. Also, if you don’t accept the tradeoffs, then you’re stuck with the principle of explosion, and you’ve killed whatever arguments that you wanted to make.”

    Again, this presupposes the impossibility of constructing a paraconsistent logical framework which is superior to its classical counterpart. Unless you can show this impossibility, it is an argument from incredulity. Furthermore, in certain applications a paraconsistent framework is superior to a classical one, which is why the former was developed in the first place.

    Btw, you have not answered this question from another poster: if god is constrained by logical principles, it seems that he can not be their creator. Does this not run counter to the classical definition of the Christian god as the source of all reality?

    Now, one may answer in the Thomistic sense that logical principles are binding even for god since they are a necessary part of his nature; however, this does not solve the problem, since if said principles are “necessary” in the logical sense it would mean that logic is still “prior to” or “higher than” god.

    “And one could just as easily argue that these paradoxes are an artifact of language, much as oxymorons like “square circle” are.”

    Maybe. Or one could see it as an indication that the classical framework is incomplete and/or just a subset of a broader one. Which god, being omniscient, would be aware of. Do you want to indubitably rule this out? Based on what?

  231. #232 J. J. Ramsey
    January 30, 2009

    Anton Mates:

    But every piece of evidence for or against the existence of a particular god rests on an argument analogous to the evidential argument from evil; it wouldn’t be evidence unless you could say, “This does/doesn’t look like the sort of thing that your god would do.”

    Not necessarily. One needn’t speculate about what the god would do if real in order to point out that the evidence for said god is shaky. One can simply attack the credibility of the evidence in question using what we know about mere human fallibility. No God’s-eye view required.

    Anton Mates:

    I didn’t say a Last Thursdayist universe could be generated using the same mechanisms at work in this universe; I agree, it could not. I said the mechanisms which generate an LT universe could be as slow and complicated and indirect as those here.

    And you have provided no indication as to why this could be the case. More to the point, you haven’t established how you can get perfect synchrony without a deliberate design, even if the design is Rube-Goldbergian.

    Note that proposing an unknown logical relationship can only take you so far here. The reason it works at all for the argument from evil (or the corresponding argument from good against malevolent gods) is that there is a bit of flexibility in the definition of benevolence (or malevolence). If benevolence were defined as the inability to tolerate any suffering whatsoever, then the argument from evil would be airtight.

    Anton Mates:

    That’s hardly true, since they don’t rule out historical miracles, despite being well aware that charlatans existed in the past as well.

    Theists often will buy that “we should not accept miracle-claims if a plausible alternative exists,” but still argue that for the miracles undergirding their faith, the alternatives aren’t plausible. Holding’s Impossible Faith is an example of such a line of argument.

    Iapetus, here is a problem with assuming that God is not subject to the logical law of non-contradiction:

    Suppose God is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent. Since God is supposedly not subject to non-contradiction, he can make himself omniscient, omnipotent, and malevolent at the same time. Since the argument from evil doesn’t apply to malevolent gods, it fails to apply to God. But wait! God is still not subject to non-contradiction, so he is still omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent. So we have the argument from evil failing, and we still have our benevolent God.

    By asserting that the law of non-contradiction need not apply to God, you’ve torpedoed any attempt that you might make to support your argument from evil.

  232. #233 windy
    January 30, 2009

    Not necessarily. One needn’t speculate about what the god would do if real in order to point out that the evidence for said god is shaky.

    I believe Anton’s point was that the speculation is implicit or hidden in the concept of having evidence for a god!

  233. #234 J. J. Ramsey
    January 30, 2009

    windy: “I believe Anton’s point was that the speculation is implicit or hidden in the concept of having evidence for a god!”

    But it’s the theists saying that the data that they provide is evidence for a god. They may be doing speculation involving a God’s-eye view, but that doesn’t mean that we have to. You don’t need a God’s-eye view to note the human history of fallibility or charlatanry, or contradictions between what the archeology says and what the Bible (or possibly another holy book) says, or to note internal contradictions within a book.

  234. #235 Iapetus
    January 30, 2009

    “Iapetus, here is a problem with assuming that God is not subject to the logical law of non-contradiction:

    [...]

    By asserting that the law of non-contradiction need not apply to God, you’ve torpedoed any attempt that you might make to support your argument from evil.”

    We are obviously going in circles here:

    All you have done is provided an example of why the law of non-contradiction is a presupposition for a meaningful argument within the framework of classical logic according to our understanding. Great. However, I never disputed this. Indeed, at present I can not imagine a workable alternative.

    The problem lies, as I have stated repeatedly, in postulating our limitations to be the insurmountable limitations of an omnipotent, omniscient being. Thusfar, you have not given a justification for this procedure. How can you rule out that some form of advanced paraconsistent logic or even a form of logic which is wholly unfathomable for us is required to fully capture god´s capabilities?

    On another note, I would really be interested in an answer regarding the question as to where these supposed limitations come from. Are you some kind of Platonist concerning logic? And if this is so, how does that square with the concept of the Christian god?

  235. #236 windy
    January 30, 2009

    But it’s the theists saying that the data that they provide is evidence for a god.

    But you seem also to be arguing that we can’t, or shouldn’t? No speculation is necessarily required – when we argue that a particular theist explanation is false, we imply that the negation is true. For example, if someone argues that God placed fossils in the ground with the intent of testing the faithful, and we argue against this and present another explanation for fossils, we are in effect saying that God -if he exists- did not in this particular case have the particular intent that the believer ascribes to him.

  236. #237 J. J. Ramsey
    January 30, 2009

    Iapetus: “All you have done is provided an example of why the law of non-contradiction is a presupposition for a meaningful argument within the framework of classical logic according to our understanding.”

    Actually, what I did was point out is that you can’t simply assume that you can get away with allowing God to do logical contradictions without making your own arguments about God explode.

    windy: “when we argue that a particular theist explanation is false, we imply that the negation is true.”

    But that is beside the point, or at least beside my point. What I am saying is that there are plenty of arguments against theism that don’t require a God’s-eye view and that these arguments are a heck of a lot more robust than arguments that pretty much require getting inside the head of a purported being that is supposed to be well beyond our comprehension.

  237. #238 Anton Mates
    January 30, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    One needn’t speculate about what the god would do if real in order to point out that the evidence for said god is shaky. One can simply attack the credibility of the evidence in question using what we know about mere human fallibility. No God’s-eye view required.

    This rules out the possibility you already raised, though, namely that “Christian apologetic arguments were to hold (at least in a probabilistic sense) and Christianity actually had a lot of explanatory power.” I know you don’t believe that to be the case—neither do I—but if it’s possible, then the evidence would not be inherently shaky and we would have to resort to a God’s-eye view to discuss it. If it’s impossible, apologetics is hopeless a priori.

    Moreover, not all theistic evidence is incredible. A theist may point to cancers that really did go into remission, individuals and communities who really did have profound religious experiences, cosmological and biological contingencies which really are (to our knowledge) necessary for humanity’s existence. In this case the problem is not that the evidence is unbelievable, but that it doesn’t actually support theism. I don’t see how you can get that across without considering what theism (at least, the variant under consideration) does or doesn’t predict…even if you come to the fairly reasonable conclusion that theism doesn’t predict anything.

    I didn’t say a Last Thursdayist universe could be generated using the same mechanisms at work in this universe; I agree, it could not. I said the mechanisms which generate an LT universe could be as slow and complicated and indirect as those here.

    And you have provided no indication as to why this could be the case.

    Here’s an example. God creates a demiurge (or multiversal computer) who has the power to generate an LT universe, but will only choose to do so when it witnesses a second universe attain a particular state. God creates that second universe (of size and complexity comparable to our own) such that it only attains that state after 5 billion years.

    More to the point, you haven’t established how you can get perfect synchrony without a deliberate design, even if the design is Rube-Goldbergian.

    “Deliberate”isn’t a problem. Any universe created by an omniscient and omnipotent god is necessarily deliberately designed—he chooses to actualize it while knowing its history in every detail. Deny that God possesses that level of knowledge and power and there’s no need for the argument from evil—you’ve already conceded its conclusion.

    Theists often absolve God from direct responsibility for the evil in the world by saying that, although he deliberately chose to create a world where that evil would occur, he didn’t directly or actively perform those evil acts. He just set things up knowing that something else would—a free-willed being, or an insanely complicated natural process, or something like that. If that argument is valid, then you can make the same argument for a God creating a Last Thursdayist universe. If it’s not, then it appears that God is directly responsible for evil (including false memories) in our universe, which contradicts both the God-concept most theists are defending and your (hypothetical) argument that God would never lie.

    Note that proposing an unknown logical relationship can only take you so far here. The reason it works at all for the argument from evil (or the corresponding argument from good against malevolent gods) is that there is a bit of flexibility in the definition of benevolence (or malevolence). If benevolence were defined as the inability to tolerate any suffering whatsoever, then the argument from evil would be airtight.

    One can use that same flexibility, however, to dispute the possibility of a benevolent god who is unable to tolerate any dishonesty whatsoever. (Certainly a God who considers honesty to be worth any amount of suffering would not meet my own definition of benevolence.)

    Theists often will buy that “we should not accept miracle-claims if a plausible alternative exists,” but still argue that for the miracles undergirding their faith, the alternatives aren’t plausible. Holding’s Impossible Faith is an example of such a line of argument.

    And in that case, we can certainly shoot that down.

  238. #239 J. J. Ramsey
    January 30, 2009

    Hmm…

    Anton Mates, you’ve given me a lot to think about, to the point that I’m almost willing to concede that the argument from evil actually is valid. The main reason that I leave that “almost” there (aside from shear ego :)) is that with an argument centering on what a weird, counterintuitive being would or wouldn’t do, I’m always left with a nagging feeling that I’ve left out some possibility that torpedoes the argument because I wasn’t as good as I thought at taking the counterintuitiveness into account.

    Still, I’ll let you have the last word, especially since I think I’ve overindulged my SIWOTI syndrome as is.

  239. #240 Anton Mates
    January 31, 2009

    J. J. Ramsey,

    I’m always left with a nagging feeling that I’ve left out some possibility that torpedoes the argument because I wasn’t as good as I thought at taking the counterintuitiveness into account.

    And I can’t actually refute that worry. But I feel compelled to act like I’m ignoring it, because allowing for the possibility of unknown logical relationships throws a monkey wrench into pretty much all of my reasoning on any topic. So I just file it in my rather large mental drawer labeled “Philosophical Skepticism: Do Not Open If You Wish To Continue Drawing Any Conclusions Whatsoever.”

    Sigh. I wish I were Gödel, only not crazy.

    Anyway, I agree with you that the argument from evil is only relevant against a rarefied class of theist. The omni- God is a relative newcomer to the theological scene and still doesn’t really have much to do with, say, fundamentalism. In the case of the latter, it’s better to stick to pointing out how much of that doctrine is clearly, empirically, false.

    Still, I’ll let you have the last word

    Finial!

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