Andrew Sullivan has posted several more blog entries on the subject of theodicy. Here’s one written from a theistic perspective. It gets off to a bad start:

The emails you have received regarding the theodicy problem are, I think, very telling. Most striking to me is how few of your correspondents — and none in the set of notes posted just yesterday morning — seem interested in, or even cite with a measure of familiarity, any of the great Christian theologians on the matter: St. Augustine or St. Thomas, Luther or Calvin, Kierkegaard, or even a near contemporary like Reinhold Niebuhr.

Right. Because if you express in a blog post or in an e-mail the view that the problem of evil and suffering poses some problems for Christianity, you are required to discuss the musings of various long-dead theologians on the matter. As another of Sullivan’s correspondents pointed out, one wonders why Kierkegaard and Niebuhr had to revisit the issue if those early folks had already polished it off. I have read my share of what theologians and philosophers have said on this subject, and I am unimpressed (to put it kindly).

Later on we find this:

A non-fundamentalist, Christian account of evil will try to hold various notions in tensions with one another: human responsibility and freedom, sin’s inevitability but not its necessity, the goodness of creation and the idea that humans were tempted — in short, tries to take in our entire situation and see all the inflections and tensions in how we actually live. It tries to give an actual answer, however provisional and however couched in the language of myth, to a real human perplexity. Theology, in other words, is a set of concepts and terms, a language, that we use to make sense of our situation. To look for literal “truth” in it is misguided. Or rather, it may not be historically accurate but it is true in every moment of existence.

That looks like word salad to me. If theology only provides myths and concepts and does not possess “literal truth,” then how does it provide an “actual answer” or allow us to make sense of our situation? Science, and especially evolution, may not provide literal truth, but it certainly provides a good approximation of it. It tells us all sorts of things that are relevant towards understanding the human condition. Why should I turn to myths for guidance when I can have the facts of the matter instead?

I would respond further to this and to the remainder of this correspondent’s letter, but two other readers of Sullivan’s blog saved me the trouble. Here’s an excerpt from the first letter:

Your reader asks, what does Darwinism have to say about evil? The answer, of course, is that current evolutionary theory has nothing to say about evil – it is a scientific theory, not a system of morals. It just happens to be a correct scientific theory that seems to have ramifications for theories of human behaviour. If theology is merely “a set of concepts and terms, a language, that we use to make sense of our situation,” it is an incomplete and inaccurate set of concepts, if it does not take evolution into account, because the fact of our evolution is part of our situation.

Sounds good to me. Here’s an excerpt from the second letter:

You want a secular account of evil? Here it is. Evil does exist, like most other phenomena granted a label by human culture. It is what we’ve semantically converged on: a universally-understood though fuzzily-bounded descriptor of that which goes against our current moral framework. This framework contains some fairly absolute elements dictated by wiring in the brain that was selected for to maintain strong, cohesive communities (e.g., sharing is good, the golden rule), and some fairly relative elements developed through cultural evolution over time. Too relativistic for you? Consider this: isn’t it better to arrive at an account of morality through social consensus (in evolving popular opinion informed by expert ethicists as well as the changing realities around us), rather than through religious fiat based on interpretation of just those parts of millennia-old writings that happen to still remain relevant in modern times?

The religious accounts of good and evil, your reader would be wise to recall, have frequently demanded the persecution of outsiders and gays and had nothing proscriptive to say about the systemic enslavement of women (or anybody else). Throughout history, it’s been conservative, and usually more religious, forces that have clung to older notions of morality, while progressive, doubting voices have updated it, resulting in the First World formulation broadly agreed on today that prizes equality, compassion and individual liberty. I dare any critics of “moral relativism” to explain how their own absolute values weren’t improved via moral drift from the pro-slavery, genocide-neutral, anti-women’s rights precedents of the past. Where will it go from here? Nearly impossible to say, though with global society so interconnected now, there’s less inter-society selective pressure/freedom to drive drastic changes. But even abandoning that comfort of absolutism that enables us to imagine a distant future with morality totally like our own, I believe the humanist take on morality is enormously positive, wherein we as a society take responsibility to craft and maintain a consensus of good and evil that can feel right to each of us, is logically consistent, and allows us to make the best of our reality, rather than squabble over which antique scroll serves as an authoritative template for right actions.

But if you’re still looking for something that “redeems” evil by telling us that suffering isn’t really so bad because there’s some Grand Intentional Reason why it exists (though one which we can never know, and to which we can’t appeal for any measurable guidance), then I guess the secular account can’t really help you. But it seems to me the real vacuum is in your unwillingness to grant humanity its personal responsibility, not in the secularists failing to provide you with a poetic enough ghost story.

Again, sounds about right. Go read the full text of both entries.

What I found relaly interesting, though, was Sullivan’s response. Here it is, in its entirety:

And so the contempt deepens. I am glad to post these responses but have no desire at this point to converse with people whose utter disrespect for the religious life and contempt for people of faith is fathomless.

I was surprised by this rather snotty reply. The first correspondent did not strike me as contemptuous at all. The second letter was certainly strongly worded, but mostly because it was in reply to a letter which was itself contemptuous and condescending towards non-religious people (not to mention poorly-reasoned as well). Leaving aside issues of tone, both correspondents made solid arguments that deserve a cogent response.

Moving on, since when does Sullivan run from conversations with people who are disrespectful towards religion? He routinely mentions his friendship with Christopher Hitchens, and he was perfectly happy to engage in an extended blogalogue with Sam Harris. (You should read this exchange in its entirety, despite it’s being rather long. In my completely unbiased opinion, Harris slaughters him.)

Theologians continue to write about the problem of evil and suffering because to date no one has come up with a satisfying response to it. One suspects they never will. When you are done admiring the myths and concepts and lack of literal truth in theology, it will still be true that the general rottenness of nature and of human relations make notions of an all-loving God at the heart of it all seem a bit oblivious.

A final point. Sullivan has titled his recent posts, “What is Evil for the Darwinist?” What a bizarre title! He is essentially using the term “Darwinist” as a synonym for “atheist.” That’s not exactly reasonable. Furthermore, as I noted in this earlier post, evil and suffering are only a problem if you place an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God at the center of things. Under an atheist view of the world there is no mystery to be explained.

Comments

  1. #1 John Danley
    October 5, 2009

    He’s still at it? Jeez. Sullivan’s dish runneth over.

  2. #2 HP
    October 5, 2009

    evil and suffering are only a problem if you place an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God at the center of things

    This really struck home for me the last time I read the Illiad. There’s plenty of evil in Homer, but it poses no theological problem. In fact, one could argue that Greek polytheism served an adaptive purpose for the Hellenes, in that it helped them make sense of evil — Poseidon wants one thing, and Apollo wants something else, and if you happen to get caught in the middle, well, that’s evil for you.

    In fact, I’m not so sure that evil is as big a problem for Jews and Muslims (and I imagine it’s no problem at all for Hindus, even Vedanta and other monotheistic Hindus). Buddhists, I’m pretty sure, would argue that evil is an illusion. And after all, wasn’t it Aquinas and the other early theologians who created the “God the omni-everything” idea that created the need for theodicy in the first place?

    I remain unconvinced that the Problem of Evil is a productive strategy for atheists to embrace, because it seems to be so specific to Christianity. I’m sure there an any number of Wiccans, neo-Pagans, and New Age types for whom evil is no problem at all.

  3. #3 JimV
    October 5, 2009

    I hope Andrew Sullivan reads this post, because it says some things I would have written him using his blog’s email button, if he had not shut down debate with that shocking final statement. Plus some things I would not have thought of, such as the point about assuming all ‘Darwinists’ are irreligious. (You would have thought he had heard of Dr. Ken Miller.)

    Sullivan has written some very good (IMHO) stuff about the Bush/Cheney administration (con), the Obama campaign and administration (mostly pro), torture, Sarah Palin (both severely con), Iraq, Iran, and even about health insurance reform. He has seemed depressed lately – as who wouldn’t be with the shape the country and the world are in, as he has been documenting over the last several years. I hope that final statement was caused by a temporary loss of optimism and civility.

  4. #4 Anton Mates
    October 6, 2009

    A commenter on one of Russell Blackford’s posts raised an interesting objection to the argument from evil: namely, that maximally good (or evil) universes are probably logically impossible. (This seems pretty plausible to me; given a possible universe, you can always imagine one where there are even more and happier people, can’t you?) If this is the case, there’s no point asking why a good God would create unnecessary suffering; any level of suffering, including zero, is unnecessary. Whatever universe God created would have a basically arbitrary degree of goodness.

    Of course, that argument implies that “good” and “evil” are logically indistinguishable for an omnipotent being. Which probably isn’t very cheering to believers in a good God. But still!

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    October 6, 2009

    From the first quoted passage above:

    Most striking to me is how few of your correspondents — and none in the set of notes posted just yesterday morning — seem interested in, or even cite with a measure of familiarity, any of the great Christian theologians on the matter: St. Augustine or St. Thomas, Luther or Calvin, Kierkegaard, or even a near contemporary like Reinhold Niebuhr.

    I bet none of them cited Euripides’ The Bacchae or the Klingon translation of Hamlet, either.

  6. #6 Coriolis
    October 6, 2009

    I don’t find that particularly convincing Anton. If god cannot create a world without suffering, then he’s not actually omnipotent, is he?

    I wonder why they don’t just admit that in their conception of god he isn’t truly omnipotent in the sense of being capable of changing absolutely anything. At the end of the day these arguments usually devolve into something where they put some constraint on his power in any case.

  7. #7 David D.G.
    October 6, 2009

    HP wrote:

    This really struck home for me the last time I read the Illiad. There’s plenty of evil in Homer, but it poses no theological problem. In fact, one could argue that Greek polytheism served an adaptive purpose for the Hellenes, in that it helped them make sense of evil — Poseidon wants one thing, and Apollo wants something else, and if you happen to get caught in the middle, well, that’s evil for you.

    Excellent observation. It would at least make more sense than platitudes about the “mysterious ways” of a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving god who allows disease, famine, natural disasters, and all sorts of other evils to rage unchecked except by human efforts.

    ~David D.G.

  8. #8 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    October 6, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan has posted several more blog entries on the subject of theodicy.
    If he had a decent response, only one post ought to cover it.

  9. #9 Anton Mates
    October 6, 2009

    Coriolis,

    I don’t find that particularly convincing Anton. If god cannot create a world without suffering, then he’s not actually omnipotent, is he?

    The argument isn’t that he can’t create such a world, though; it’s that such a world still wouldn’t be maximally good. It wouldn’t even be closer to maximum goodness than this world, since no possible world is maximally good.

    If a zero-suffering world and this one occupy two basically arbitrary points along an infinite-in-both-directions goodness scale, there’s no reason why we should expect a “good” God to create that world instead of this one.

  10. #10 qbsmd
    October 6, 2009

    “Furthermore, as I noted in this earlier post, evil and suffering are only a problem if you place an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God at the center of things. Under an atheist view of the world there is no mystery to be explained.”

    I think that was an attempt to pull out the old “atheists can’t base moral judgments on anything” canard, which the beginning of the second letter easily rips apart.

    Also, your link to the dialog between Harris and Sullivan is broken.

  11. #11 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 6, 2009

    qbsmd –

    The Harris/Sullivan link is working fine for me.

    Anyone else out there having a problem?

    Also, I’m not sure how you got “atheists can’t base moral judgments on anything” out of what I wrote. I was simply pointing out that there is nothing mysterious about evil and suffering in a world with no God. Evil and suffering are only puzzling if you think the world is superintended by an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God.

  12. #12 heddle
    October 6, 2009

    Jason,

    Evil and suffering are only puzzling if you think the world is superintended by an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God.

    Oh, if that were true, for then it is not much of a problem, at least for any God that sends people to hell. Clearly you don’t send someone you love to eternal torment. This would make the problem of evil extremely severe for UUs, but not so much for mainstream Christians.

  13. #13 Tusle
    October 6, 2009

    no possible world is maximally good

    Isn’t the Christian heaven usually conceived of as maximally good, or at least a state in which there is no suffering? Why didn’t the Christian god create the universe like heaven?

    I was surprised by this rather snotty reply

    I was as well — actually, shocked was more like it. I was reading the replies, and thinking, “Well, these certainly make good solid arguments, and perhaps Sully has had a change of heart in publishing them”. But he then proceeds to completely ignore the content, and haughtily dismisses them with a completely unjustified charge of rudeness. I suppose we should at least be grateful he published them at all.

  14. #14 Kevin (NYC)
    October 6, 2009

    “but not so much for mainstream Christians.
    Posted by: heddle | October 6, 2009 2:09 PM”

    because cause they… believe in a god who deliberatly creates flawed humans so he can torture them for eternity?

    because their god likes evil and suffering and thats why they exist?

    hmm sounds about right.

  15. #15 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 6, 2009

    heddle –

    I was under the impression that God does not send anyone to hell. People choose hell by their refusal to accept their need for a savior.

    I didn’t understand the rest of your comment. If there is no God then there is nothing mysterious in the existence of evil and suffering, for why should we expect things to be any other way? If God exists but does not have the three omni’s, then the problem is also solved, albeit in a rather unpleasant way. But if God has the three omni’s, as my Christian friends routinely tell me He does, then there is a problem.

  16. #16 heddle
    October 6, 2009

    Kevin,

    We can agree that Christian biblical God is not all loving–especially since he says so (Rom. 9:13). The details don’t really matter. The point stands, if not being all-loving solves the problem of suffering (I don’t think it does, not at all, but Jason suggested it did) then Christianity has no problem of suffering.

    Jason,

    I was under the impression that God does not send anyone to hell. People choose hell by their refusal to accept their need for a savior.

    Fair enough. I’ll rephrase:

    Oh, if that were true, for then it is not much of a problem, at least for any God that created hell. Clearly you don’t send someone you love to eternal torment, when it is in your power to grant clemency.

    If God exists but does not have the three omni’s, then the problem is also solved, albeit in a rather unpleasant way.

    But why is it unpleasant? I (and countless other Christians) am perfectly happy worshiping a God who is not omni-benevolent, a god who tells me, right up front: I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (That means he is benevolent but not omnibenevolent, in my understanding of the word.) As long as he is not unjust, I don’t have a complaint.

  17. #17 Anton Mates
    October 6, 2009

    Tulse,

    Isn’t the Christian heaven usually conceived of as maximally good,

    I’m not sure, actually. I think it’s usually conceived of as infinitely better than our own world, but that’s not the same thing. (After all, there are infinitely large cardinal/ordinal numbers, but none of them is maximally large.) But if it is thought of as maximally good, then the argument I outlined would imply that heaven’s a logical impossibility.

    I can think of specific Christian writers who probably don’t conceive of heaven that way, e.g. C.S. Lewis as per “The Last Battle” and “The Great Divorce.” His heaven basically seems to get better and better without bound, which (I would think) implies that it’s not as good as it could be to begin with.

    or at least a state in which there is no suffering?

    Probably not. After all, heaven is only one half of the traditional Christian afterlife; hell exists in the same universe, and there’s tons of suffering there. As a matter of fact, the “net suffering” in the afterlife might be equal to the suffering in this life…it’s just distributed differently among the inhabitants.

    Why didn’t the Christian god create the universe like heaven?

    Dunno–but since that can be rephrased, “Why didn’t the Christian god create heaven to be as bad as this universe?”, I think it’s a wash in terms of implications for his goodness.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 6, 2009

    heddle –

    As long as he is not unjust, I don’t have a complaint.

    But that is precisely the problem. The God you described in your italicized remark sounds completely arbitrary, and therefore unjust, in his judgments. If He is not being arbitrary, then He must have some standard for deciding on whom to bestow mercy and compassion. Knowing that standard would be far more helpful than your tautology.

    The standard I usually hear is that your disposition in the afterlife is determined by whether or not you accepted Christ in this life. That standard strikes me as monstrous (and unjust, of course). It means that you could live like a saint by any human standard and still end up in Hell, while a moral monster will be in heaven so long as he made a sincere conversion on the day before he died. I see no justice in that. I also see no justice in setting in motion a savage and brutal evolutionary process that necessarily entails ludicrous amounts of suffering among animals.

    As for what does, and does not solve the problem, tell me what attributes God has and I’ll tell you if there is a problem. The triple omni God clearly has a problem, which is why so many folks have worked so hard to try to resolve it. If you simple get rid of omnibenevolence then we have the possibility that God has a sadistic streak in Him. That would render the problem solved but it would be unpleasant, as I suggested before. If you replace “all-loving” with something like “all-just”, then you have a problem again, since the world seems terribly full of injustice, much of it committed by the God of the Bible. Likewise for natural history. Show me the justice in a mass extinction, for example.

  19. #19 Ivan
    October 6, 2009

    As long as he is not unjust, I don’t have a complaint.

    Right, because eternal torment is so fucking just. “I got mah get-outta-jail-free card, screw the resta y’all.”

  20. #20 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    October 6, 2009

    As long as he is not unjust, I don’t have a complaint.

    Heddle, do you want to discuss the evangelism problem? Do people who have not heard teh “good news” get a free pass, or what happens to them when they die? Or do they only go to Hell if they have heard the “good news” and reject it? That’s the quandary that finally led me to think the whole thing is a selfish crock on the part of Christians.

    And if it is true that only those who hear and reject go to Hell, then I severely curse the ones who “evangeled” me.

  21. #21 BaldApe
    October 6, 2009

    Isn’t the Christian heaven usually conceived of as maximally good, or at least a state in which there is no suffering?

    And that’s why it is logically impossible. Suppose somebody near and dear to me wanted in the afterlife always to hear Celine Dion “singing,”, and always to be by my side. That would be a pretty good definition of hell as far as I’m concerned.

    The reason not to take arguments of theologians seriously is exactly the same as the reason not to take the arguments of astrologers seriously. Accusing me of not understanding the subtleties of an argument with no foundation in reality just doesn’t make sense.

  22. #22 Russell Blackford
    October 6, 2009

    Wow, I created a monster when I replied to Barney Zwartz back whenever it was. Anyway, Jason, you’re doing a great job of responding to Andrew Sullivan.

  23. #23 Jim W
    October 6, 2009

    Jason,

    I agree completely with your response to Sullivan. I had the same experience in originally reading those posts (I’m a fan of Sullivan’s even though I disagree with him about religion) and thought the readers’ emails were excellent and not contemptuous at all. I was also taken aback by Sullivan’s rude reply.

    About your statement that, for an atheist there is nothing surprising in the existence of evil and suffering, I basically agree, except with one caveat. To me, it is only unsurprising once you grant that complex nervous systems (even complex information processing systems?) seem to inevitably be capable of feeling things. That is, the existence of widespread misfortune is not surprising to me as a believer in natural selection, but the additional fact that misfortune in complex beings seems to inevitably give rise to suffering, is surprising, even “astonishing” as Francis Crick put it.

    I don’t think you can ignore what David Chalmers calls the hard problem of consciousness when discussing the existence of suffering.

  24. #24 Tulse
    October 6, 2009

    Do people who have not heard teh “good news” get a free pass, or what happens to them when they die? Or do they only go to Hell if they have heard the “good news” and reject it?

    Heddle is a Calvinist, and therefore, if I understand correctly, believes that God has predetermined who will be saved and who will not, and there is absolutely nothing that one can do in this life to alter that, including hearing (or not) the “good news”. (I’m sure David will correct me if I am mistaken.)

  25. #25 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    October 6, 2009

    and there is absolutely nothing that one can do in this life to alter that,

    Woo-hoo! Time for some drunken gay bdsm sex! Who’s in?

  26. #26 Richard Eis
    October 7, 2009

    Will there be shellfish… and a puppy kicking contest?

    Then i’m in.

  27. #27 Wes
    October 7, 2009

    But why is it unpleasant? I (and countless other Christians) am perfectly happy worshiping a God who is not omni-benevolent, a god who tells me, right up front: I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (That means he is benevolent but not omnibenevolent, in my understanding of the word.) As long as he is not unjust, I don’t have a complaint.

    Posted by: heddle | October 6, 2009 3:54 PM

    But such a God would clearly be unjust. Even in the description you give in this paragraph, he sounds like a capricious tyrant.

  28. #28 rx1
    October 7, 2009

    I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

  29. #29 heddle
    October 7, 2009

    Wes,

    Yes, in a way. There is non-justice involved with God, but only in a good sense. (After all, God is good.)

    That is, of the two deviations from “perfect justice”, injustice and mercy, God deviates from justice only in distributing mercy (some escape the punishment they deserve) but never does he dispense injustice (nobody receives a punishment they do not deserve.)

    That is, God does not follow mandatory sentencing guidelines. (Neither, I believe, should our human judges.)

  30. #30 Ivan
    October 7, 2009

    nobody receives a punishment they do not deserve

    Please explain how it is possible to deserve to be tortured forever.

  31. #31 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 7, 2009

    Russell –

    Yes, I was thinking this was all your fault! Sullivan has several other posts on this subject that I have not addressed. This one, for example, in which it seems that being a bit snide toward religion is enough to get you branded a bigot. Whatever.

  32. #32 Gingerbaker
    October 7, 2009

    “I was surprised by this rather snotty reply.”

    I wasn’t. Petulant claims of victimization are the penultimate ploy of apologists running to ground. The final ploy is an agreement to disagree and a change of subject.

    There has never been a satisfactory answer to the Problem of Suffering. Ergo, YAHWEH doesn’t exist.

  33. #33 qbsmd
    October 7, 2009

    qbsmd -

    The Harris/Sullivan link is working fine for me.

    Anyone else out there having a problem?

    Also, I’m not sure how you got “atheists can’t base moral judgments on anything” out of what I wrote. I was simply pointing out that there is nothing mysterious about evil and suffering in a world with no God. Evil and suffering are only puzzling if you think the world is superintended by an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God.

    Posted by: Jason Rosenhouse

    I didn’t read the error before; it’s

    You are not authorized to view this page
    The Web server you are attempting to reach has a list of IP addresses that are not allowed to access the Web site, and the IP address of your browsing computer is on this list.

    so, obviously it’s not your error. Someone behind the same router as me must have done something bad to beliefnet.

    And I apologize for ambiguous pronouns; the “that” that I was referring to was

    But none of your correspondents have give their own account that I find persuasive (in most cases, they give no account of evil). The advantage of the Christian account, so far as I can tell, is that it actually calls evil what it is, and seeks to put it in a larger framework that redeems it. What is evil for the Darwinist? Simply an externality of the struggle of the fittest?

    from the second letter which you were responding to in the line I quoted. I understand why that wasn’t obvious, since the paragraph above doesn’t make much sense on its own; I was assuming it means what other Christians have said in debates.

  34. #34 Mystical Seeker
    October 7, 2009

    “evil and suffering are only a problem if you place an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God at the center of things.”

    Absolutely true, but on the other hand there is nothing inherent to the definition of God that presupposes that God is omnipotent, as any process theologian will tell you (consider, for example, Charles Hartshorne’s book “Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes” as an example). Your statement that “Theologians continue to write about the problem of evil and suffering because to date no one has come up with a satisfying response to it” appears to show that you are unaware of the existence of process theology or other theologies like it, and that you presuppose that omnipotence is an inherent attribute of God in all theologies, when in fact it is not.

  35. #35 JasonR
    October 7, 2009

    heddle,

    There is non-justice involved with God, but only in a good sense. (After all, God is good.)

    How can it be good if it’s a “deviation” from justice? If it’s a deviation from justice then it’s an injustice. Why is injustice better than justice?

  36. #36 heddle
    October 8, 2009

    JasonR,

    How can it be good if it’s a “deviation” from justice? If it’s a deviation from justice then it’s an injustice. Why is injustice better than justice?

    Mercy is a deviation from justice, if justice means equal time for the same crime. Mercy is the good side of the non-justice coin, with injustice being the bad side.

  37. #37 GravityIsJustATheory
    October 8, 2009

    “never does he dispense injustice (nobody receives a punishment they do not deserve.)”

    What about:
    The entire of humanity, punished for Adam and Eve’s scrumping (which they presumably wouldn’t even have know was wrong, as they didn’t have knowledge of good and evil before they ate the fruit).

    The entire of humanity, apart from Noah and his family?

    The entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah, apart from Lot and his family?

    All the eldest sons in Egypt?

    The entire population of Jericho (apart from the whore who sold out her people), and the other cities in the Promised Land? Although admittedly that wasn’t God himself who did that, merely the Israelites acting on orders from God.

    Not to mention, the entire of humanity, come the Apocalypse.

    “That is, God does not follow mandatory sentencing guidelines. (Neither, I believe, should our human judges.)”

    Adam and Eve?
    Lot’s wife?
    Everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as his personal saviour?

    (Assuming that all that actually happened, and it’s not just an analogy for… something. In which case, I’m not sure what lesson you can learn from it. “If God was a vicious bastard, he would have drowned the whole world, and nuked several cities. But science has shown that none of that actually happened. Therefore God is good”? Hey – I’ve just become a theologian!)

  38. #38 heddle
    October 8, 2009

    GravityIsJustATheory

    The entire of humanity, punished for Adam and Eve’s scrumping (which they presumably wouldn’t even have know was wrong, as they didn’t have knowledge of good and evil before they ate the fruit).

    They did know, so you presume incorrectly. (If, after reading Gen 1-3, you still don’t “get it”, read any child’s Sunday School lesson on the tree in the center of the garden—that will explain it to you at a level you can grasp. And you’ll be able to color it in with crayons.)

    All of humanity is not charged with their sin—it is more nuanced than that. All of humanity is congenitally defective a result of their sin. If you commit no sin and demand entrance to heaven, the response will not be: “sorry (*snicker*) but you forgot that we put Adam’s sin in your debit column.” No, the result of Adam’s sin was that his being was corrupted, and he then passed this corruption to his descendants, all of whom are then born sinners.

    The picture is this: All men born of Adam are born in rebellion to a holy God. Their just punishment, according to this God (of the bible—not, say, Jerry Coyne’s strawman god whom he trivially disproves and then slaps himself on the back for his accomplishment) is damnation. Therefore nobody, none of the people you mentioned, not one of them, ever, in this picture, is unjustly punished—not one receives injustice at the hand of God.

    If God followed mandatory sentencing guidelines, all would be lost. Thankfully he does not.

    The only possible complaint is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. That’s a different question. But if the bible is the truth, then nobody has ever received injustice (from God) in the universe it describes. (Not even Jesus, who would have the strongest case. But in his case he accepted an unwarranted punishment voluntarily.)

    Hey – I’ve just become a theologian

    Hopefully, since in the whole of your comment you displayed only ignorance of rudimentary Christian theology. (Yeah, yeah, I know: why should we display sophistication about a subject that is all fantasy?)

  39. #39 GravityIsJustATheory
    October 8, 2009

    “No, the result of Adam’s sin was that his being was corrupted, and he then passed this corruption to his descendants, all of whom are then born sinners.”

    I’ve just realized why creationists are so hostile to Darwin: they’re secret Lamarkists!

  40. #40 Tulse
    October 8, 2009

    All of humanity is congenitally defective a result of their sin.

    Yeah, that’s fair. What a great system created by your god. In the human world we consider collective punishment and genetic bias horrific and profoundly unjust, but I guess it’s OK if you’re the being who set up the system in the first place.

  41. #41 eric
    October 8, 2009

    Heddle: Mercy is a deviation from justice, if justice means equal time for the same crime. Mercy is the good side of the non-justice coin, with injustice being the bad side.

    You’re splitting hairs. Eight men commit the same crime. Seven of them get a year; the last gets ten years. You’re telling me this outcome is “good” if ten years is the expected punishment and the first seven happened to get the judge when he was in a good mood, but “bad” if one year is the expected punishment and the last guy happened to get the judge while he was in a bad mood. That’s crazy – if the concept of “justice” means anything, it should at least mean that punishment is not based on the feelings of the judge.

    But even if I accept your position for the moment, you still haven’t answered Ivan’s question. For what crime is it just punishment (deserved) to be tortured forever? This is ultimately the bigger theodicy problem: the problem posed by natural evil pales in comparison to the problem posed by the stated punishment for nonbelief.

  42. #42 Jim W
    October 8, 2009

    Reason number 1037 that Christianity is unjust is that we atheists are supposed to be tortured forever merely for believing the wrong thing. What’s more, we really don’t even have a choice about what we believe. My reasoning led me to believe that there is no god. I couldn’t force myself to believe in a god any more than any devout Christian could force themselves to believe in Santa Claus.

    Belief vs. disbelief is a difficult question that most of us struggle with at some point in our lives. For me, it was in my mid teens. Its inevitable that many good people are going to come to the wrong conclusion, however well-intentioned and reasonable they are. And for this, they are supposed to be tortured for eternity? Can you imagine torturing a 1st grader, even for a little while, because they think that 2+2=5? That would be less unfair than Christian “justice” because it is actually a much easier question to get right.

  43. #43 heddle
    October 8, 2009

    Eric,

    This is ultimately the bigger theodicy problem: the problem posed by natural evil pales in comparison to the problem posed by the stated punishment for nonbelief.

    I don’t know the answer to that. I am certain it has to do with the Holiness of God—but I don’t know what that means. I cannot answer why rebellion against such a God deserves eternal punishment. In a related question, I don’t why the blood of Christ atones for that rebellion. Nor do I know why some are chosen for mercy and others are passed over. Nor do I know what is the origin of evil.

    I am only arguing, in this thread, that there is no injustice at the hand of God in the universe described by the bible.

    You’re telling me this outcome is “good” if ten years is the expected punishment and the first seven happened to get the judge when he was in a good mood, but “bad” if one year is the expected punishment and the last guy happened to get the judge while he was in a bad mood.

    I don’t know if I am telling you it is good or bad. I’m telling you that, if the penalty for the crime was ten years, then in your scenario one man received due justice, seven received mercy, and nobody received injustice.

  44. #44 tomh
    October 8, 2009

    heddle wrote:
    (Yeah, yeah, I know: why should we display sophistication about a subject that is all fantasy?)

    You say this sarcastically, but it’s actually a serious question, one that’s never been satisfactorily answered.

  45. #45 eric
    October 8, 2009

    Heddle:I cannot answer why rebellion against such a God deserves eternal punishment…I am only arguing that there is no injustice at the hand of God in the universe described by the bible.

    If you cannot articulate a reason why nonbelief deserves eternal torment, then you are not arguing God is just, you’re merely asserting it without any rational foundation.

    If you want to argue that God is just, then give an argument why His stated penalty for nonbelief is just. But its circular to say that the punishment is just because God is just and therefore the punishment must be just, even though no one understands why.

    in your scenario one man received due justice, seven received mercy, and nobody received injustice

    One man received a harsher punishment than the others for the same crime, for no good reason. That’s unjust, any way you slice it.

  46. #46 Tulse
    October 8, 2009

    I don’t know the answer to that. I am certain it has to do with the Holiness of God—but I don’t know what that means. I cannot answer why rebellion against such a God deserves eternal punishment. In a related question, I don’t why the blood of Christ atones for that rebellion. Nor do I know why some are chosen for mercy and others are passed over. Nor do I know what is the origin of evil.

    And this is why I respect David Heddle, even though I don’t respect (or even understand) his views — he is always honest in his argumentation. You may not agree with his premises, but he sticks to his axioms and follows them, even when they lead to silly places like the above.

  47. #47 Ivan
    October 8, 2009

    You may not agree with his premises, but he sticks to his axioms and follows them, even when they lead to silly places like the above.

    Indeed, even when they lead to brain-melting contradictions like

    (a) We are wholly created by God.
    (b) We are wholly responsible for the defects of our natures.

    I mean, you can even forget the insane crap about Original Sin™ being inherited from Adam. Just replace “We” in the above two statements with “Adam and Eve”, if you like. God has less of a moral sense than a three-year-old, QED.

    Or how about

    (a) We do things that make God mad during our short lives.
    (b) God then tortures us for an infinite period of time.

    Even ignoring the absurdly evil incongruity there, is the idea of living for eternity even comprehensible whatsoever? Combine this incomprehensibility with a manifestly malevolent God and serve to young minds, and what do you get? Child abuse, plain and simple.

  48. #48 Wowbagger
    October 8, 2009

    Eric wrote (to heddle):

    If you cannot articulate a reason why nonbelief deserves eternal torment, then you are not arguing God is just, you’re merely asserting it without any rational foundation.

    You beat me to it, Eric – and probably expressed it more effectively than I would have.

    heddle, you don’t know the answer to any of these problems; you’re just taking wild stabs in the dark in order to keep the argument going. If your god exists you’ve got no more of an idea why he does what he does or doesn’t do than we do, since you’ve got no way of knowing anything about your god other than what was tossed out centuries ago by people who had a vested interest in having other people believe.

    All you’re doing is arguing on the basis of your circular assumptions (you believe your god is good because god = good) and preferences (you hope your god is good because you are a decent human being who wouldn’t want to have spent his life in thrall to a monstrous tyrant).

    Either admit you don’t genuinely know anything about your god and his capricious whims or respond to the point raised. Don’t suddenly hide behind ‘I don’t know’ when you’ve got precisely as much material from which to draw on for this issue as you do for any other.

  49. #49 Wes
    October 8, 2009

    Wes,

    Yes, in a way. There is non-justice involved with God, but only in a good sense. (After all, God is good.)

    That is, of the two deviations from “perfect justice”, injustice and mercy, God deviates from justice only in distributing mercy (some escape the punishment they deserve) but never does he dispense injustice (nobody receives a punishment they do not deserve.)

    That is, God does not follow mandatory sentencing guidelines. (Neither, I believe, should our human judges.)

    Posted by: heddle | October 7, 2009 9:10 AM

    So, we don’t need a theodicy, since your God is all-just rather than all-good. And we atheists are dumb for not seeing that. And when we point out that your God’s justice sounds arbitrary and capricious (i.e. completely unjust), well that means we’re being stupid for not realizing that your God is good and would only deviate from justice in a good way, never in a bad way–which amounts to being all-good.

    Gotcha.

  50. #50 Kevin (NYC)
    October 9, 2009

    “If you cannot articulate a reason why nonbelief deserves eternal torment”

    I know I know I know a reason because the bible tells me so.

    I know I know… god does not f around and if you don’t give him full attention you will find yourself in the bad place and then you will be so f’ed up.

    It is clear to me that god wants to torture us. look at the S&M thing he was into himself.

  51. #51 heddle
    October 9, 2009

    Wes,

    And we atheists are dumb for not seeing that.

    I wouldn’t put it that way. I would put it this way: Some atheists repeat Mill’s proof that God cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent (ergo no god), and pretend they are saying something about the god as described in the bible.

    tomh,

    heddle wrote:
    (Yeah, yeah, I know: why should we display sophistication about a subject that is all fantasy?)

    You say this sarcastically, but it’s actually a serious question, one that’s never been satisfactorily answered.

    I think it has. If my goal is to show the fallaciousness of religion, then given there are ~109 Christians in the world and, I’m guessing, ~104 followers of Zeus, then it would make sense for me to study the precepts of Christianity rather than Zeusism.

    Wowbagger,

    Either admit you don’t genuinely know anything about your god and his capricious whims or respond to the point raised.

    So I either know why eternal punishment for rebellion against God is warranted (that was the point raised), or I know nothing about God.

    I’ll take false dichotomies for $400.

  52. #52 Tulse
    October 9, 2009

    So I either know why eternal punishment for rebellion against God is warranted (that was the point raised), or I know nothing about God.

    I’ll take false dichotomies for $400.

    You may not know “nothing”, but you darned sure don’t seem to know enough understand whether your god is even worth worshipping — on the face of it, anyone who would torture someone for a literal eternity seems to me to be nothing short of a monster, something far worse that Lovecraft concocted. If you don’t have a justification for why your god would do such an ostensibly horrific thing, I’d argue that indeed you know very little about the qualities of your god.

  53. #53 tomh
    October 9, 2009

    heddle wrote:
    If my goal is to show the fallaciousness of religion…then it would make sense for me to study the precepts of Christianity rather than Zeusism.

    This makes even less sense than your usual arguments, if that’s possible. Both Zeusism and Christianity are rooted in the same fertile ground, known as, “let’s just make stuff up.”

  54. #54 heddle
    October 9, 2009

    tomh,

    Nice quote mine. You left off the part of there being billions of Christians. That is why it is worthwhile (for any educated person) to know something about Christianity (or Islam) while Zeusism can be ignored. Christianity and Zeusism are not the same, purely from a critical mass perspective. Of course, it is convenient to ignore the huge numbers and simply say: they’re the same, each can be trivially dismissed.

  55. #55 tomh
    October 9, 2009

    heddle wrote:
    Nice quote mine. You left off the part of there being billions of Christians.

    No, I just couldn’t make those cute little numbers.

    it is convenient to ignore the huge numbers and simply say: they’re the same, each can be trivially dismissed.

    They are the same, and the numbers can be ignored. Your statement was, ” If my goal is to show the fallaciousness of religion,” – well, if that’s your goal, the number of adherents to any particular religion have no bearing on the fallaciousness of any of them. They all rest on the same quicksand – they’re just stuff somebody made up.

  56. #56 Tulse
    October 9, 2009

    heddle, while there may be billions who identify as “Christian”, a very small percentage of those would identify as Calvinist. Given views you’ve expressed before, I’m not sure how many who don’t call themselves Calvinist you would recognize as “Christian”. In any case, by your logic we can ignore Calvinism entirely, since it is such a tiny minority.

  57. #57 Wowbagger
    October 9, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    So I either know why eternal punishment for rebellion against God is warranted (that was the point raised), or I know nothing about God.

    I’ll take false dichotomies for $400.

    Sorry, I didn’t make that clear. What I was trying to do was ask this question: why does the bible suddenly cease to have the answers when it’s always worked for you in the past?

    That’s the thing about the bible; you can take a passage from it and interpret it to mean whatever you want it to mean – at least most of the time. But for you to suddenly cry ‘I don’t know’ after never having had ‘I don’t know’ stop you from engaging in sophistry before seems to be to be an indication that even you, an experienced handwaver and tapdancer, can’t find a way to twist any of the words in the bible in such a way so your god doesn’t appear to be a vile monster when the issue of the justness of eternal punishment for rebellion comes up.

    Oh, and you don’t know any more about your god than I do, or anyone else does – what you are is familiar with a book people wrote, and which some claim is about him. You find a way of proving that the bible is correct about your god and then you can say that you know.

  58. #58 heddle
    October 9, 2009

    Wowbagger,

    Well since you essentially put it this way: you’ve lied before, why stop now? I’ll be sure to give your question its just due.

  59. #59 Wowbagger
    October 9, 2009

    I’ll be sure to give your question its just due.

    That’s right, heddle – you just take your illusory bat and imaginary ball and go home. That’ll show me!

  60. #60 JohnnieCanuck
    October 11, 2009

    When the con men were working their little trick on the Emperor, they didn’t just try to convince him. They took advantage of his vanity and self doubt to make him want to believe in the beautiful, if non-existent clothes. Once they had achieved that, the rest was easy. The Emperor set about using his intellect to help convince himself that what he wanted to believe was reality.

    One of the more fascinating aspects of the human mind is how some of the most intelligent can argue so eloquently and cleverly for what remains what it has always been, mere wishful thinking.

  61. #61 haber
    October 11, 2009

    its very nice documents.

  62. #62 Wowbagger
    October 11, 2009

    One of the more fascinating aspects of the human mind is how some of the most intelligent can argue so eloquently and cleverly for what remains what it has always been, mere wishful thinking.

    Spot on – and, as a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that the acceptance of religion is far more contingent on emotion than intelligence. Sure, intelligent believers can use their intelligence to construct intricate – and often internally coherent arguments – to defend their emotionally-held belief. But, despite having the capacity to do so, they still manage to render the underlying reason for the belief immune to any kind of intellectually honest or critical analysis.

  63. #63 GeorgeRic
    October 11, 2009

    Christianity is the reasonable choice.

    Seekers of Truth: Using the logic of science, we check phenomena to see if they are explained by theory. If many phenomena can be explained, we then hold that theory to be true.

    Edwin Abbott, writing his book ‘Flatland’ to humorously explain contiguous dimensional worlds, shows us a logical explanation for worlds superior to ours. ‘Techie Worlds’ uses the Flatland Concept to examine far-out Christian teachings such as Trinity, soul, Resurrection, Judgment, etc. While quite ridiculous from a ‘material world only’ view, these teachings make rational good sense in the Flatland context.

    Mankind has long been plagued with reports of the spirit world: miracles, ghosts, possession, pagan gods, witchcraft, occult, devil worship, black masses. Materialists classify all such as superstition and overactive imaginings. Christians shy from such, holding them unnatural as Jesus taught. But the materialist position involves an act of faith that ‘the material world is all that there is’. Their act of faith cannot be proved. Certainly, science cannot possibly experiment with the spirit world. Techie Worlds’ (available from http://www.amazon.com) shows the belief in higher worlds, also an act of faith, is logical and considered, and shows these strange Christian concepts to be logically possible.

    Pascal’s Wager points out that the Christian act of faith urges us to a better life in this world and can result in great rewards in the next. The unbelieving view permits selfish misanthropic behavior now and denies all future eternal rewards. Clearly, rational self-interest makes belief in a logical, rational, rewarding Christianity to be the wise and intelligent choice.

    GeorgeRic

  64. #64 Wowbagger
    October 12, 2009

    Christianity is the reasonable choice.

    ‘Reasonable’? I think not. Why not Islam? Hinduism? Voodoo? Scientology? Buddhism? Zoroastrianism? What unique, verifiable, objective claim to validity does Christianity have that cannot be claimed by any (or all) of the hundreds of competing religions?

    Or, put simply: why can’t any of the claims you make for your religion be used to justify another?

  65. #65 anon
    October 13, 2009

    Anyone interested in a good example of theology-as-incomprehensible-French-litcrit-theory may like this:

    http://blakehuggins.com/2009/10/13/on-theology-proper/

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