Ye Olde Problem of Evil

I sometimes write about the relationship of the problem of evil to evolution. Darwinian natural selection is a rather unpleasant business, you see, making you wonder why a loving God would employ it as his method of creation. My experience with anti-evolutionists has been that this is a point of special concern for them. Virtually every book proposing to reconcile evolution with Christianity devotes a chapter to this (or at least a major section), and some theologians write whole books about it. I devote a chapter to it in Among the Creationists.

You hardly need Darwin to point out that evil and suffering is a problem for theism, but evolution does contribute something to the discussion. Many of the standard replies that are offered in response to the problem plainly do not apply to evolution. For example, it is sometimes claimed that the evil people do to one another is the price we pay for the greater good of possessing free will. Others argue that suffering is necessary for “soul making,” which is to say that suffering is not truly bad as it makes it possible to work toward spiritual perfection. The suffering in nature, it is sometimes argued, is necessary as the price for a functional ecosystem. Regardless of whether or not these arguments are successful, it is clear that none of them address why God would employ Darwinian natural selection as his mechanism of creation.

Of course, there is certainly no shortage of evolutionary theodicies on offer. The point is simply that a specifically evolutionary theodicy is necessary.

In making this argument, however, I do not mean to suggest that I think the traditional replies to the problem of evil are adequate. In the current issue of Philosophy Now, Jimmy Alfonso Licon, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Maryland, argues that the free will defense is simply inadequate as a response to the problem. The article is not freely available online, so you will have to make do with a few excerpts.

The article begins with a lucid statement of the problem. I like the way he puts it:

Imagine someone who claims to love their children, but they constantly neglect them–they are never home, and their children are often hungry and unprotected. We would rightly be sceptical that they cared for their children at all. It looks like they don’t actually care. So too with God: it seems that with all the suffering in the world, there couldn’t be any such benevolent, omnipotent God.

Licon now explores three problems with the free will defense, all of them persuasive in my view. Here’s the first:

The first problem is that a good action (e.g. feeding thousands of hungry people) is morally permissible, while an evil action (e.g. killing thousands of people) is not. However, the reason feeding thousands of hungry people is morally preferable to killing them has little to do with our capacity to have chosen differently. Rather, it is because people have intrinsic moral worth.

Although this should be remarkably obvious, it cuts deeply against the free will defense. To appreciate why, consider the following: although choosing to do good while you have the capacity to do evil may be a kind of good itself, there are plenty of instances where this good is not good enough to justify the kinds of evil that are potentially unleashed by it. So although there may be moral value to some degree in our capacity to do tremendous evil, in that it provides us the opportunity to freely choose to do the right thing, this good is not absolute. Consider an example from history. Could allowing Hitler the ability to choose the good outweigh the suffering he actually inflicted, on Jewish people and others?

In the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I’ll skip over the second problem, which is that when someone exercises their freedom to do evil, they are robbing others of their own freedom. The third reason is this:

The worry is that in any other context, we reject anything that resembles the free-will defense.

Suppose that the police know that Jones is about to rob a bank and kill a number of civilians in the process (perhaps they know his getaway plan involves killing innocent bystanders as a way of creating a distraction). Suppose further that the police have enough evidence to justify arresting and convicting Jones for some previous crime before he gets the chance to rob the bank. The choices are as follows: the police could either allow Jones to go through with the bank robbery, respecting Jones’ freedom to engage in violent activity (call this option Freedom); or they could preemptively arrest him, preventing unnecessary violence–but unfortunately, this would only come at the expense of his freedom to engage in terrible violence (call this Safety) It should be clear that the Freedom option is what we would prescribe on the advice of the free-will defense, and that this is precisely the option that God allegedly chooses: He fails to intervene, even where there is a horrific amount of suffering, because this would undermine our free will.

…Clearly, between these two solutions, Safety is morally far better than Freedom. The value of human life is far greater than our ability to freely act in morally repugnant ways, or to refrain from acting in those ways.

Skipping ahead to Licon’s conclusion:

In conclusion, although it is good to have the freedom to choose between right and wrong, the free-will defense gets the moral weights wrong. It places too much weight on freedom, and not enough weight on the lives and well-being of innocents.

This is all well-said and convincing. I would further note that the moral callousness of the free-will defense becomes even more clear when you factor in further aspects of certain popular forms of Christian theology. Not only did those Jews who were murdered in the holocaust have their freedom in this life taken from them, but, unless they found Jesus prior to their deaths, they are now spending eternity in Hell. All so that Hitler would not have his free-will curtailed.

What would have been the harm if God, having noted that Hitler was determined to go through with his plan to kill the Jews, had caused him to fall down the stairs? Whose freedom would have been threatened by that? God, we are told, intervenes in human affairs all the time. He causes miracles and answers prayers. Some argue that God works His will in the world by hiding behind quantum indeterminacy. The ID folks tell us that God personally designed all manner of biochemical systems. You cannot hold to such beliefs and then balk at the notion of Him intervening in human affairs to forestall appalling evil.

And if you are horrified by the thought that He would behave like a hit man, I would simply note it is morally acceptable to kill in the defense of others, which is what God would have been doing in this case. Moreover, since He routinely condemns people to eternal damnation, it hardly seems apropos to get squeamish now. (Spare me the retort that God does not condemn anyone, but people freely choose an eternity in Hell by rejecting Jesus in this life.)

The free will defense is probably the strongest counter to the problem of evil that has been devised. That it fails so completely tells you something about the magnitude of the problem.

Comments

  1. #1 Ça alors!
    February 28, 2014

    I’ll address the problem from an another angle. This angle is nothing new if you know how eastern religions deal with evil but it looks like it is still ignored in the west, even if the myth of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil told in the Bible clearly has an oriental flavour. In other words, the problem of good and evil strictly concerns humans because humans grasp the world through opposites.

    Because of space, time, matter and language, we have no choice but to believe that those oppositions are somehow absolutes. Our mind, psyche and personality are all built on oppositions and dualities. That is how we can compare, think and feel. And it shapes our mode of thinking. That is why most of the oriental religions try to teach you how to escape that dual mode of perception so you can have access to your unborn nature, a nature that your dual mind cannot see since what is dual cannot apprehend what is non-dual (just like volume would be very strange concept to a bi-dimensional being).

    So yes, good and evil exist, but not in an absolute way, only in a transitory way where the dual mode operates. But just like the waves on the top of the ocean doesn’t affect its bottom, duality doesn’t split the inherent unity of the, let’s all it, the unborn One. It does only for those who aren’t aware that they are subjected (like me and most of the people I know) to a certain mode of perception that is not absolute…

  2. #2 G
    February 28, 2014

    The entire problem of evil vs. free will only arises out of the idea that a deity is omniscient, omnipotent, and obsessed with humans. If instead, you assume that the entity you call “God” is only “more” knowing and powerful than you are, but not “all”-knowing and “all”-powerful, and in any case has a whole universe to take care of, the problem disappears.

    Where was God when Hitler could have used a fatal shove down the stairs? God was busy diverting an asteroid that would otherwise have destroyed planet Q in star system Z. Where was God when a asteroid like that wiped out the dinosaurs? God was busy fixing a malfunctioning supermassive black hole in a galaxy far away. God’s constantly busy with planet-threatening problems in a gazillion galaxies, and even God has a limit to how much s/he can multi-task. Occasionally your prayers reach voicemail.

    Or, as Deists assert, God could only write the starting equations and then press the button to trigger the Big Bang. After that, all s/he could do was talk to intelligent animals via their souls. S/he tried to talk to Hitler, but Hitler was a zombie who lacked free will. S/he tried to talk to Stalin, but Stalin didn’t believe s/he existed. Etc.

    But, do you remember WW3 in the late 1980s, when a computer bug caused US and Soviet nuclear missiles to launch, and almost a billion people were wiped out? Of course you don’t remember it, because God fixed the computer bug before it could have caused the missiles to launch. See how that works? ;-)

  3. #3 Ruese
    February 28, 2014

    [And if you are horrified by the thought that He would behave like a hit man, I would simply note it is morally acceptable to kill in the defense of others, which is what God would have been doing in this case.]

    People always have a choice not to obey the authority, completely ignore it collectively, particularly, when it exhibits too much obvious fallibility, and create completely different societies and life styles, the kind of societies that allow both freedom and safety. There is also a choice to be an individual as well as being physically separate from groups. The holocaust happened largely due to the fact that many people seriously underestimate themselves, which leads to inequality in power.

    If there is a creator, who supposedly intervenes in human affairs intermittently, it is quite understandable why Hitler was allowed to stay in power for as long as he could. It’s actually very strange that someone like Hitler was allowed by people to be in such a position to begin with. He seems to be, by far, much more decent than the people who took him seriously. I guess weirdoes like Hitler can only shine on the very top. Hitler is actually viewed as someone, who simply performed a moral test on humanity. And unfortunately, Jews had too much fascination with non-Jewish Germans at the time, and fell prey to it, and they still do.

    And like I noted in my previous comments, evolution could’ve been precipitated and set in motion by evil, which the alleged god allows to exist. Though god per se, if there is such, may have nothing to do with creating it. Supposedly evil is created by Satan.

  4. #4 Pekta
    February 28, 2014

    Nazi in Germany were acting in isolated pockets as Germany wasn’t continuously populated. It’s kind of like what’s happening in the US right now. Nazi usually start by pushing people’s boundaries, and, these days, they don’t even have to announce their affiliation. They simply commit crimes by pushing and crossing people’s boundaries to the very limit. Many people in the US allow these criminals to act on their convictions, and the police even offers them protection for just a tiny payoff as so many people are filled with racist hate these days. They surely cause people a lot of damage, particularly, if you apply to that the modern-day sophistication in vileness. These incidents occur throughout the country here and there, which forces many people out of the US, including natural US citizens. You can easily identify a Nazi activity in the area by their extremely abusive reaction and response to your request to change the situation you’re in. And it can be on a very small scale as well.

  5. #5 Pekta
    February 28, 2014

    I guess the most disgusting aspect of US Nazi is that when they are targeting a particular person, they try to project other people onto them, and almost shove those people into that person without knowing who this person is. Whether US Nazi act out of pure ignorance or out of unbridled desire to cause damage to whoever is equally appalling. I am not sure if ignoring their behavior is the only viable solution, the strategy many people employ these days.

    It’s interesting to note that German Nazi emerged after World War I that took away many lives…I hope they weren’t possessed. It would be a lot more difficult to prove to bloggers like “eric”, for instance, that these people might’ve suffered a psychological damage.

  6. #6 MNb
    February 28, 2014

    “when someone exercises their freedom to do evil, they are robbing others of their own freedom”
    This is exactly why I don’t buy the free will defense. This thoroughly and systemetically neglects the victims of evil done.

    “the free-will defense gets the moral weights wrong”
    I like it how Licon illustrates this by giving concrete examples. Fans of the free will defense typically avoid this and keep their arguments abstract to maintain some plausibility.

  7. #8 Dave X
    February 28, 2014

    Interesting — when I googled “Philosophy Now, Jimmy Alfonso Licon” I got a readable link to the article.

  8. #9 David
    February 28, 2014

    Phrasing the issue as the “problem of evil” ignores an important aspect. What of acts which are not evil in intent, but which have unintentional adverse consequences? Not all bad outcomes are the result of human “evil.” How do theists address random catastrophes?

  9. #10 Lenoxus
    February 28, 2014

    My biggest issue with the free-will defense is tangential to this one, though I don’t see it come up often.

    Surely if God values free will, then he prioritizes to some degree. This, in turn, doesn’t suggest a hands-off approach. But any honest observer sees that our universe is mostly (if you believe in miracles) or entirely (if you’re an atheist) a hands-off one, and this obvious reality carries into theologians’ implications that a God who values free will takes something of a hands-off approach.

    For one thing, consider the existence of mental disorders that compel all kinds of behavior; you don’t have to believe in the legitimacy of insanity defenses to recognize this. In olden days, such diseases were atrributed to demons, implying direct anti-free-will actions by God’s divine agents. Eliminating the demons so as to look more scientifically respectable only makes things worse, by putting the onus entirely on God (either by his action or inaction) so you can’t even blame the “free will of the demons”.

    But the real problem isn’t that one small facet of reality. It’s this: free will is meaningless without an ability to put it into effect. Even if a slave has free will in some sense, they have little practical free will. Likewise the “free will” of a rape victim or someone about to be killed in a genocide. And the vast majority of “free-will evil” involves this sort of problem, almost by definition.

    In short, if God values free will, why does he allow any coercion to exist in the universe? Why does he consistently favor the free will of those in power? And doesn’t such a consistent valuing look an awful lot like the tautological fact that in an atheistic universe, the people in power tend to be the people in power?

    In other words, we can ask on the one hand why Hitler didn’t have an accident, and on the other, why the Jews never had the “free will” to avoid being murdered. (Sometimes it’s a problem of power, and other times it’s about knowledge; the workers who died on 9/11 had no practical free will to avoid getting killed because they had no reason to think they shouldn’t go to work that day.)

    I admit that a universe in which power as we know it didn’t always “win” would look radically different from ours and is difficult to conceptualize. But is that because it’s actually logically impossible, or just because we’ve grown up in an atheistic universe where truly unjustifiable evil is commonplace?

    David: 

    Phrasing the issue as the “problem of evil” ignores an important aspect. What of acts which are not evil in intent, but which have unintentional adverse consequences? Not all bad outcomes are the result of human “evil.” How do theists address random catastrophes?

    I think the term is still appropriate because if God exists, there’s no distinction to be made, when you think about it.

    They do have a lot of answers there, none satisfactory. When it comes to theodicy in general, the free-will solution is probably the most appealing (plus, it addresses the sort of evil that perhaps most disturbs us; I would feel worse if someone I loved was murdered rather than died accidentally), so it seems like that’s the go-to theodicy for everyone from theologians to lay defenders of the faith.

    It’s a bit odd that they do so since any satisfactory theodicy for so-called “natural evil” should logically extend to human-caused evil as well, and thus be more efficient, so to speak. Like I said, it’s likely that even the theologians subconsiously think of the natural theodices as less dependable than the free-will argument.

  10. #11 Jeffrey Shallit
    February 28, 2014

    Licon’s answer to the first problem, that “it is because people have intrinsic moral worth” is the kind of answer that philosophers find convincing, but I find to be just incoherent babbling. What’s intrinsic? What’s moral? What’s worth? How would we know? Where does this moral worth come from? How can we measure it? Why do people have intrinsic moral worth, but computers or bonobos don’t? This “answer” just raises more problems than it solves.

    For his other point, it’s worth recalling this quote of Steven Weinberg: “It seems a bit unfair to my relatives to be murdered in order to provide an opportunity for free will for Germans, but even putting that aside, how does free will account for cancer? Is it an opportunity of free will for tumors?”

  11. #12 Ruese
    February 28, 2014

    [Licon’s answer to the first problem, that “it is because people have intrinsic moral worth” is the kind of answer that philosophers find convincing, but I find to be just incoherent babbling. What’s intrinsic? What’s moral? What’s worth? How would we know? Where does this moral worth come from? How can we measure it? Why do people have intrinsic moral worth, but computers or bonobos don’t? This “answer” just raises more problems than it solves.]

    Morality, with religion aside, is a necessary prerequisite for normal interaction among humans within the society. By “normal” I mean harmless. Each person is also entitled to privacy. The legal system in the society is based on intrinsic moral worth, and each person knows when their boundaries are being violated even if they were not taught that a crime that is being committed against them is indeed a crime.

    [It seems a bit unfair to my relatives to be murdered in order to provide an opportunity for free will for Germans…]

    Free will can only be exercised outside harmfulness. Both the religious scripts with the 10 commandments, and the government legal code prohibit killing people. Restrictions do apply to free will. If people act outside the realm of harmlessness, at least, as described by the commandments and laws, they are criminals. People do not need to open themselves up to harm either for the purposes of exercising the free will in the realm of harmfulness or for habituating themselves to harmfulness.

  12. #13 eric
    February 28, 2014

    You cannot hold to such beliefs [that God intervenes] and then balk at the notion of Him intervening in human affairs to forestall appalling evil.

    This is what I think is the most telling argument for mainstream Christians (and Jews, and Muslims). A Deist could say “all those stories of interventions are just fables.” But the vast majority of Christians don’t think that. They think Jesus was the incarnate son of God, come to Earth, who worked miracles for people and in front of people, etc. If being in the crowd during the miracle of loaves and fishes didn’t destroy people’s free will, if watching Jesus walk on water and raise people from the dead didn’t do it, if observing an angel kill every first born son in Egypt didn’t do it for the Jews, then watching a lightning bolt hit Hitler wouldn’t do it to us moderns, either.

  13. #14 Jeffrey Shallit
    February 28, 2014

    Ruese: you’ve taken a lot of words to avoid answering my questions. What, exactly, is “intrinsic moral worth”? How do I decide if my computer or a bonobo has it?

  14. #15 jane
    February 28, 2014

    Polytheistic and non-theistic religions avoid the issue of “There is violence; there are volcanoes; there are cancers; hence there must be no [whatever]” by taking the material universe, in which “bad” things do happen, life is finite and change is constant, as either a fact to be accepted and celebrated or an illusion to be risen above. I like the former view.

    Even where monotheism is concerned, though, theodicy is usually discussed from a narrow, short-term and self-centered perspective that a singular universe-managing being [which I strongly believe does not exist, PLEASE note] would likely not share. For millions of years before we lived, there has been “evil” in the form of suffering experienced by other thinking, feeling species. In a world where baby parrots get eaten by tarantulas, why should we expect that every human should be able to live to old age in perfect health no matter what? If such things never happened, parrots probably would not have evolved their present impressive intelligence and neither would we. Would it be “better” for endless generations to live as unchanging, cosseted vegetables than to be allowed to fend for ourselves and become better than we were? If the dinosaurs had not been wiped out, we would never have existed; should the imagined deity have intervened to save them at our expense, and if so, why? Should the deity prevent human babies but not animals from getting cancers caused by the pollutants humans create? What would the ultimate consequences of such interventions be? It would be an arrogant little primate indeed who thought that he could specify the Right answers to a being that was able to survey billions of years of history and millions of species.

  15. #16 Reginald Selkirk
    February 28, 2014

    For example, it is sometimes claimed that the evil people do to one another is the price we pay for the greater good of possessing free will.

    Which is unconvincing because they cannot demonstrate the existence of free will.

    This argument is also additionally unconvincing when used specifically for the Judaic or Christian God, because the term “free will” appears nowhere at all in Teh Bible, and God violates the free will of individuals (such as Pharaoh) without apology.

  16. #17 Blaine
    February 28, 2014

    @15
    I am of a similar opinion. It is one of the negative side effects of the evolution of consciousness for humans to think that our existence is in anyway meaningful. It is a mere intermediate point for something equally as meaningless. Five billion years from now, if space travelers pass by earth, they will find nothing but a burnt cinder without a trace of our existence. This is just the standard atheist common sense view point. It is only the human community which makes life on earth a better place…it is OUR moral judgement and responsibility as the human community. If you think your life or anyone’s life has meaning or purpose outside of what you yourself, or other’s give it, then you are essentially a religious theist who believes in a big-Other to use Lacanian terminology – whether you can yourself an atheist, agnostic, skeptic, etc.

    However, if you are an Abrahamic theist, then you think you are the pinnacle of the creation – you are why the earth was created, so evil then becomes a problem, and that is what the critique of the problem of evil is all about. I only think the critique is successful against the Abrahamic god however.

    Plantinga’s free will defense can be found her in nuce: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantinga%27s_free_will_defense.

  17. #18 John
    February 28, 2014

    The problem with evil is we lack a definition of what is evil. Other words such as good, moral, etc. also come into play. This is all circular reasoning and very vague. The usage across these several posts seems to shift. For example, the evil the allies including the US did to Germany at the end of WWI triggered God to create a scourge to punish the allies for their evil. Also, God had been nudging the Jews to return home for several centuries. God was being ignored. So God cured two issues in one intervention. If Hitler had been pushed down the stairs, another would take his place. God seems to be big on duplication of effort. Well, the Jews finally moved back home and the US learned the lesson after WW II.

    Theistically we might posit “good” is doing what God wants. Now the only problem is finding what God wants. The Old Testament as a history serves the purpose of tracking God’s decisions over the long term. What have we learned? We’ve gone from tribe to chiefdom to state to large state. The state to large state growth is flawed. It needs to be a state to nation growth. We think now that a human life has moral value over many more important things and that criminals lives have some value. When the US was growing, the view was different. God seems to place a low value on a human life. I’m sure we will be punished for our current misconceptions of God’s will.

    OK. So this is a little over the top. But then so are the posts. Perhaps the truth is in between.

    Reuse
    Not ” prohibit killing people”. Murder. We can kill all the criminals and enemies we want. The US citizens today are rewarded for a lot of killing by our forefathers.

  18. #19 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 28, 2014

    Jeffrey —

    I can’t speak for Licon, but I take the phrase “humans have intrinsic moral worth” to mean that it is axiomatic that human beings are the kind of entity towards which we have moral obligations, and that among those obligations are things like mitigating suffering as much as possible and having some respect for their right to exist. In context, I think Licon’s point was that feeding the hungry is good and wanton killing is bad not because those actions serve or fail to serve some other worthy end (like making it possible to exercise our free will in morally responsible ways), but because they are just obviously good or bad ends in themselves. Moreover, this is important because it implies that having free will is not an absolute good, but is rather something whose value must be weighed against other moral goods that might be compromised by unfettered free will..

    If you ask why humans (and animals I would add) have intrinsic moral worth while computers do not, presumably he reason is that humans and animals can suffer while computers cannot. If you ask why suffering should be the criterion, though, I would not even try to defend that in terms of something simpler. Something has to be taken as foundational and for me that’s it.

    Weinberg’s quote is pithy as always, but it is entirely irrelevant to this post. The free will defense is put forward specifically as an explanation for why God allows people to do bad things to one another. As I wrote at the start of the post, you need a different explanation for natural evil. Theists have put forth a number of suggestions in that regard, none of them convincing in my opinion, but they have not overlooked that cancer is not covered by the free-will defense.

  19. #20 Sean T
    February 28, 2014

    jane,

    The problem of evil is really a big problem within the relatively narrow focus of Christianity, and even more specifically the traditional Christian view of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God. Such a God has no real excuse for allowing evil to exist. He certainly would know when an action is about to occur that would cause harm or suffering to a person or group of people (omniscience). He would certainly be able to do something about it (omnipotence). He would certainly desire to do something about it (omnibenvolence). So why then is that evil action allowed to occur?

    Giving up any of these three traditional features of the Christian God would seem to be a way out of the problem. If God’s not omniscient, then maybe an evil event occurs because he didn’t know that something evil was about to occur. If God’s not omnipotent, maybe he couldn’t do anything to stop the evil event. If God’s not omnibenevolent, then maybe he just didn’t want to stop the evil event. Lose any of these three, and the problem of evil goes away. Traditionally, Christians won’t give up any of them, so the problem of evil continues.

  20. #21 Tulse
    February 28, 2014

    If you ask why suffering should be the criterion, though, I would not even try to defend that in terms of something simpler. Something has to be taken as foundational and for me that’s it.

    To paraphrase Sam Harris, suffering is simply what morality is about — the notion of ethics involves causing and mitigating suffering. One can no more ask why suffering is the criterion for morality than why transporting fluids is the criterion for plumbing.

  21. #22 Tulse
    February 28, 2014

    Giving up any of these three traditional features of the Christian God would seem to be a way out of the problem.

    It’s also a way out of the Christian god. Who wants to worship something that’s just more powerful than you, or more knowledgeable than you, or more good than you? What’s to keep something else from being even more powerful, more knowledgeable, and more good than such a god?

    To be fair, from at least my perspective the Calvinists give up on an omnibenevolent god — they’re quite happy with the notion that their god has condemned the vast majority of humanity to eternal torture due to nothing that they have done or can do.

  22. #23 Ken
    February 28, 2014

    Lose any of these three, and the problem of evil goes away. Traditionally, Christians won’t give up any of them, so the problem of evil continues…

    And therein lies the foundations for sects. One believer gives up omniscience, another gives up omnipotence, a thrid leaves omnibenevolence; you have just created three dipictions of “god” and three factions arguing about which is right.

    To me arguing about which imaginary being is true and why they are so great is so much a comic book discussion built on unsubstantiated claims.

  23. #24 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 28, 2014

    Generally speaking, I do not consider the problem of evil to be such a big argument against theism because it is so easily solved. Just pick any of the following:
    1) god is not omnibenevolent, in fact he is evil
    2) god is not omnibenevolent, he doesn’t care
    3) god is not omnipotent, and thus impotent to avert evil
    4) god is not omniscient, and thus doesn’t know about all that evil or how to avoid it
    5) god works in mysterious ways
    6) although it seems evil to you unbelievers, everything god allows to happen is actually good by definition (shades of divine command theory)
    Several of these are fully consistent with the god described in the bible, and in fact many people who would claim to believe in a triple-omni god appear to make excuses on the basis of god’s impotence in practice.

    So all in all the Problem of Evil does not appear to be a very useful argument because all the apologist has to do is relax one of the omnis. Of course that does not change the fact that to those who DO care about the problem evolution would be a massive hurdle.

    But even if there were no evolution, as Jeffrey Shallit pointed out there is needless suffering everywhere. Explaining crime with freedom of choice is one thing, but whose choices are helped by having children born with neurogenerative diseases that will kill them terribly at age six?

  24. #25 J. R. "Bob" Dobbs
    February 28, 2014

    “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Isaiah 45:71 KJV

    “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and smashes their little innocent brains out against the rocks.” Psalms 137:9

    I just got back from doing some Evangelical Christian preaching ( which I do strictly for the money ) …What was the question again?

  25. #26 Ruese
    February 28, 2014

    @Jeffery

    [Ruese: you’ve taken a lot of words to avoid answering my questions. What, exactly, is “intrinsic moral worth”? How do I decide if my computer or a bonobo has it?]

    Jews of the US often ask such rhetorical questions upon being accused of living right in the heart of Nazi Germany. A typical question on moral values that comes out of the lips of any Jew is “And how do you define morality?”

    Well, if you think it was wrong to exterminate Jews in Nazi Germany during World War II just so non-Jewish Germans could act out on their unleashed human nature and psychopathology, then you already have some sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, at least, from your own non-Nazi perspective.

    Remember that the US harbors pretty much all ideologies that different parts of the world fought so hard to eradicate, and where something like a slaughter of millions of Arabs out of sheer hate, can be easily justified.

    Yes, the computer and baboon might have inherent value, but you, as a human, do not want other humans to put fruit and vegetables above you. This would be really terrifying. You might’ve noticed that the produce section in the US supermarkets is shrinking dramatically..

    I apologize for identifying your religious worldview from your blogger tag and mentality. If you’re not Jewish, then simply say why it bothers you to be confused with Jews, if it indeed does.

  26. #27 jane
    February 28, 2014

    Children, like baby animals, are occasionally born with neurodegenerative diseases largely because they have happenstance genetic defects or have been exposed to some toxic substance. Regarding the former: Since we are not here going to take up the provable nonsense of young-earth creationism, we have to postulate a creator who makes a universe where biological organisms can flourish and then sits back and allows evolution to happen. Evolution is a messy, flawed process, which reflects the reality that all living things have limitations. There would not be a lot of evolutionary change without happenstance errors in DNA replication, but it is also such errors that lead to birth defects and cancers. Some animals can regenerate lost limbs, but apparently the inevitable cost is a weaker immune system than ours. Would you rather think that your limitations and burdens, whatever they ended up being, had been deliberately inflicted by some deity’s conscious decision, or that they were just what nature made you?

    Regarding the latter: If the deity were to step in to protect humans from suffering the consequences of bad human decisions (e.g., to expose people to toxic pesticides), where would that stop? Should it intervene in each cheeseburger-eater’s life to prevent the natural “evil” of clogged arteries? Should it strike dead anyone who was about to engage in violence that would kill any number of children? Why, if it does not do so to prevent a male gorilla or chimp from committing infanticide? We ought to remember that from the perspective of such a being, the mental levels and social lives of humans and chimps would be considered virtually indistinguishable. Oh yeah, humans do have that art and music thing going, to a very limited degree … clever little monkeys, really.

  27. #28 Blaine
    February 28, 2014

    @27 –

    As you point out, once you allow the principle of theistic interference to ameliorate evil, the game is over and the question then becomes a matter of degree, ie where to stop. One can turn this around and point out that it vitiates the free-will critics’ argument. As Plantinga points out, it would be logically impossible to create humans that cannot choose evil if they have libertarian freedom.

    I am not a theist of any stripe, but it seems to me that the bible nowhere teaches that ‘god’ is omnibenevolent. This seems more a creation of some theologians. It seems to teach more the power of god. ( Jesus being an exception, but then we would need to go down Marcion’s path since the Jewish god is not a very nice person, so the Christian god had to be invented…’god is love’ ).

    A pet peeve of mine is that many secular thinkers and almost all scientists with few exceptions, transfer the attributes of a monotheistic god onto nature. The universe is somehow one whole thing with godlike power for determining what exists, etc. It is working assumption at best, but a philosophical naive one which is why I think a theory of everything ( ToE ) will never be achieved. There is no evidence that reality is one great seamless logical cloth amenable to a ToE. Believing it is, is pure raw unadulterated fideism. The stability of so-called natural laws ( E=mc^2 ) is a historical phenomenon which is no doubt temporary…I am thinking of those few instants when symmetry was broken and the big bang occured( ie when some event welled up beyond Planck time and broke symmertry ) The evidence seems to point to a violent fractured reality hobbled together as a makeshift assemble. I am not sure how evil could even be considered a ‘problem’ when viewed in that register.

  28. #29 Blaine
    February 28, 2014

    As an addenda:

    The Christian god may not be worth believing in or worthy of whorship, but if you don’t, you’re going to hell. It’s pure raw power. Calvin saw that clearly. I don’t get why Christian’s can’t admit that this is the only logical position they can take.

  29. #30 Ruese
    February 28, 2014

    @27

    […Should it intervene in each cheeseburger-eater’s life to prevent the natural “evil” of clogged arteries?…]

    If there is god, and if he does indeed intervene in human affairs occasionally, then the only way for him to achieve such an objective, would be to do that through humans. He probably has to implant the necessary thoughts in people’s brains, and induce proper motivations in order to make people change their minds, and take a proper course(s) of actions. If anyone has ever felt or noticed anything like this being done to them, perhaps, psychologically only, then this could be it.

    Plus, god, if there is such, could be biased against an individual as well, in which case such divine intervention will lead to everything working against that person in uncontrollable manner. A truly horrifying prospect, if that’s what’s really going on. I guess there is a way to tell if people are simply taking advantage of the concept of god to perpetuate evil against somebody, or if people’s actions are of extrahuman origin. Humans are usually possible to dissuade, and talk reason into. With extrahuman intervention, people get inexplicably stubborn, and achieve the desired goal despite dissuasion. This is just an observation. Something to watch out for. The difference can be too subtle to notice, and people who have a tendency to attribute everything to humans, simply think that it is that of humans only.

  30. #31 Blaine
    February 28, 2014

    @30
    To buy into anything you have said, you would have to jettison methodological naturalism as a working assumption and then you would no longer be doing science.

    _Theism and Explanation _ is an interesting book which investigates what a theistic explanation would have to mean logically if such a thing could even exist.

  31. #32 Blaine
    February 28, 2014

    From infidels.org on _Theism and Explanation_ by Gregory Dawes.
    “Overall, Theism and Explanation is a very sound and sensible book. It refutes most (if not all) of the fallacious attempts to divorce the question of God’s existence from our observations about the world. It provides believers with a blueprint for formulating a logically sound argument-to-the-best-explanation for God’s existence, and instructs nonbelievers on how to recognize a good argument-to-the-best-explanation for God’s existence (should they come across one). It represents a clear and well-reasoned paradigm in which we can consider theistic explanations, and so I highly recommend it.”

  32. #33 deepak shetty
    February 28, 2014

    alex sl
    I do not consider the problem of evil to be such a big argument against theism because it is so easily solved.
    No it can’t without conceding that either this god is not worth worshipping (options 1-4) or you dont have a clue at all about his plans(options 5-6 and if so dont preach about what he wants or what he likes or what we should do to please him). no theistic god survives the argument from evil intact. even if you are willing to sacrifice omniscience and omnipotence , which might explain why god cant prevent all evil , it doesn’t explain why God cant prevent this particular evil right now.

  33. #34 jane
    February 28, 2014

    Now I think Deepak Shetty has a devastating counter to the sort of traditional theism that sees God as a big invisible male primate in the sky. If you dispose of theodicy by saying that the creator has a perspective so much bigger than yours that it sees reasons not to intervene in dead-baby cases that you can’t imagine, you can’t then turn around and presume that it has such a small and narrow-minded focus as to care deeply about other things you think are important, e.g., what you eat, what funny hat you wear, or how you have sex.

  34. #35 MNb
    February 28, 2014

    @22 Tulse: “Who wants to worship something that’s just more powerful than you, or more knowledgeable than you, or more good than you?”
    Hindus.

    @28 Blaine: “As Plantinga points out, it would be logically impossible to create humans that cannot choose evil if they have libertarian freedom.”
    Has Plantinga ever told how this plays out for christian heaven, a rea;, where he expects to go to after his death?

    @29: “I don’t get why …..”
    No. At the other hand this is why I don’t think the Problem of Evil a conclusive argument against all forms of theism.

    @31: “you would have to jettison methodological naturalism”
    This is essentially why Herman Philipse thinks the whole concept of a god as an immaterial being meaningless. I find this argument much, much stronger – in fact conclusive – than the Problem of Evil, exactly because it applies to all immaterial beings, omnipotent or not, omnivolent or not, all-knowing or not, etc.
    You might like asking a christian what he means when saying “god loves you”. How is that god supposed to express his love? He doesn’t have any means to do so, just like a chair hasn’t.

    @30 Ruese: “If anyone has ever felt or noticed anything like this being done to them ….”
    Sounds awfully like a psychopath hearing voices in his head.

  35. #36 Tulse
    February 28, 2014

    The Christian god may not be worth believing in or worthy of whorship, but if you don’t, you’re going to hell. It’s pure raw power. Calvin saw that clearly.

    Calvin’s god (or at least the Calvinists’ god) doesn’t even require belief or worship, as neither of those things will affect whether you’re going to hell — their god already decided that at the time of creation. (I’ve always figured that I can claim to be a provisional Calvinist, since their view seem to be the most consistent, and doesn’t actually require me to do anything.)

  36. #37 Ruese
    February 28, 2014

    @Blaine
    What would humans know about rationality really? Being too rational can lead to projecting rational explanations onto supernatural phenomena, and this can also have negative consequences.

    You seem to be acting as someone, who already knows what’s going on, and simply tries to bring people back into the boundaries of the discovered truth. Hypothetically, if science can prevent the alleged god from intervening into your life and directing your actions, then it would make sense to do what you’re trying to do. Hopefully, this doesn’t backfire in the long run. But then again, even in the scientific realm, you still have to worry about the consequences of your actions, as there is cause and effect.

  37. #38 Ruese
    February 28, 2014

    @Mnb

    […Sounds awfully like a psychopath hearing voices in his head.]

    I do not rule out the possibility that people whose actions are too forceful and uncontrollable, as in the case of the Nazi, could stem from some form of psychopathology. However, a chance of extrahuman intervention can also be considered, as humans do not really know everything despite some of them carrying themselves as if they do. I simply pointed out that divine intervention, if there is such, would be most likely done through humans since humans are could be the tools that carry could carry out such tasks.

    I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that such feelings and realizations are as the result of psychopathology though. This is something you should’ve observed when Bush announced that god commanded him to invade Iraq. This wouldn’t been of immense help on your part.

  38. #39 Blaine
    February 28, 2014

    @35
    Do you find the existence of a malevolent being unthinkable? I agree with you that the concept of an immaterial being incoherent given our current state of knowledge – not only in physics but from the anthropology of religions, etc. But assume for a moment, that we are avatars in a grand simulation. Isn’t it thinkable that the simulator is malevolent? The knee jerk assumption of theists is that god is good, but why can’t it be evil? ( the simulator in this case ).

    I remember a story told by Kierkegaard of an ancient king who had a beautiful metal calf with flutes attached to its mouth. He would execute people by putting them in the calf and then light a fire under the calf slowly roasting them to their death. The escaping screams of terror…horror…pain…excruxiating suffering…powered the flutes and produced such sweet music. Is this not an apt description of the Abrahamic god, an absolutely evil being who delights in suffering?

  39. #40 eric
    February 28, 2014

    While not strictly biblical, the fairly standard Christian conception of Satan also poses a major problem for the free will argument for the hidden-ness of God. Here you’ve got a guy who knows, better than any human ever could, no matter how much proof we were given that God exists. Yet that doesn’t stop him from choosing not to worship. IOW, according to standard Christian doctrine, even absolute certainty (in God’s existence) does not necessarily prevent free will and free choice on whether to follow him or not. This completely, utterly undermines the free will defense.

  40. #41 proximity1
    March 1, 2014

    As badly confused as is organized religion’s moral consistency, the picture offered by J. A. Licon simply ignores what little ethical consistency there is in Christian doctrine when he writes that,

    “…Clearly, between these two solutions, Safety is morally far better than Freedom. The value of human life is far greater than our ability to freely act in morally repugnant ways, or to refrain from acting in those ways. ”

    The Jewish ancient theology and the Church Fathers’ view of it have already addressed such objections and Licon seems to have forgotten them.

    With some special differences between the Jewish and the Roman Christian view, the gist of it is that God’s place is one apart in authority and in His point of view of the affairs of the mortal world and cannot be reasoned according to mortal values and priorities. In God’s calculus, the Church authorities tell us, (human) safety is not only not “morally …better than Freedom” (free-will), the “safety” is, morally by definition, pointless and meaningless outside the frame of presupposed free-will since, as the Church tells us about God’s plan and purpose, there is no human “safety” for humans outside the redemption that God’s salvation from sin and eternal damnation affords people.

    From God’s point of view, the Church authorities explained it centuries ago, both human “safety” and “the value of human life” itself depend on one and the same thing: a freely-taken choice to place love and obedience to God before all other human desires and interests and, in doing so, find the salvation—we’re leaving aside here all tricky issues of “grace” versus “good works” in protestantism—that comes as a consequence of these.

  41. #42 proximity1
    March 1, 2014

    p.s.–

    as a coda to #41,above, I have to add that the church position on the injustices which ensue on earth from the human practice of free-will are said to be redressed in the reward of the life-after-death which God awards to his just and faithful followers. By such a scheme, mortal existence’s ethical scores are settled in the grant or the denial of everlasting life in Heaven. But Licon’s objections gloss over that aspect, without which, yes, human free-agency produces ethical outrages.

  42. #43 MNb
    March 1, 2014

    @38 Ruese: “However, a chance of extrahuman intervention can also be considered, as humans do not really know everything”
    And that sounds like a (pathological) god of the gaps.
    I don’t think many believers will be happy walking this road.

    “the conclusion that such feelings and realizations are as the result of psychopathology though”
    That was not what my comment was about. It was about your remark

    “He probably has to implant the necessary thoughts in people’s brains”

    @39 Blaine: “Do you find the existence of a malevolent being unthinkable?”
    No. I don’t find the existence of a square circle being unthinkable either.
    In fact here we find the best refutation of the Ontological Argument. Replace “benevolent” by “malevolent”, ie “perfectly evil” and the result is two omnipotent beings.

    “Is this not an apt description …..”
    Me being a 7 on the scale of Dawkins it’s not up to me to answer this question. It doesn’t interest me either.

    @40 Eric: “the fairly standard Christian conception of Satan”
    leads to a form of polytheism. Possibly that’s why not too many Dutch christians believe in Satan these days.

  43. #44 proximity1
    March 1, 2014

    Or, to put it even more succinctly–

    Christian doctrine dispenses with the problem of earthly evil by asserting that worldly existence is a veil of tears that is neither just nor, compared to eternal life in Heaven, of any importance. The world’s evils and ills, the church told its suffering members, are to be borne as patiently as possible and treated as a passage from an existence of no account or value except as it may determine one’s place or not in the next, ultimate, existence.

  44. #45 Ruese
    March 1, 2014

    @43

    [And that sounds like a (pathological) god of the gaps.
    I don’t think many believers will be happy walking this road.]

    I am not trying to create god or reality for anyone. The phenomena I mentioned would not depend on what people believe. If god does indeed intervene, then there is nothing people can do about it as god is supposed to be more omnipotent than humans, and if he is more than just a concept the illusion of which your brain can simply create. You seem to be confusing observations of what’s going on with beliefs that could be based on nothing but imagination.

  45. #46 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    March 1, 2014

    Deepak Shetty,

    A god you or me wouldn’t find worth worshipping I’ll give you, but this theodicy seems to work well for others…

  46. #47 Lenoxus
    March 1, 2014

    jane:

    If the deity were to step in to protect humans from suffering the consequences of bad human decisions (e.g., to expose people to toxic pesticides), where would that stop?

    Even if it can be philosophically defended that there is a theoretical possibility of “not enough evil” (eg, life would be pointless or human progress would stagnate without suffering) — and I’m not sure it can — this is a slippery slope fallacy. Especially when you consider that most theists aren’t deists and thus think that the degree of God’s intervention already lies somewhere in a continuum.

    One may as well ask “If we create a government and legal system that enforces against so-called evils like genocide or terrorism, what comes next? Do we ban murder in general, even if it was a gentlemen’s duel? Do we enact regulations on food? Seat-belt laws? Noise ordinances? A national obligatory dress code?” (Yes, unlike with the question of evil-prevention, I believe there can be too much government; this doesn’t make the slippery slope non-fallacious.)

    Not to mention that we’re not just talking about God’s failure to intervene but his apparent intention to do evil, as “documented” by many stories in the Bible and as shown by the evidence for evolution. Unless, again, one takes a deist interpretation.

  47. #48 jane
    March 1, 2014

    Lenoxus – No, it’s simply not a Fallacy to point out that other types of being might not share your opinion on which forms of suffering are bad enough that any conscious entity witnessing them should feel compelled to intervene. Human laws are intended to control harmful behaviors of humans within a society. We do not write laws to make it illegal for chimps to commit genocide against other chimps, nor do we try to physically intervene to prevent wolves from eating deer or hawks from eating mice.

  48. #49 eric
    March 1, 2014

    Jane:

    If the deity were to step in to protect humans from suffering the consequences of bad human decisions (e.g., to expose people to toxic pesticides), where would that stop?

    He’s omniscient and omnipotent, to presumably he doesn’t suffer from the slippery slope problem; he is able to pick a spot on the slope and stick there, no matter how unstable it would be for a human to try the same.

    As for where on the slope that would be….I’d say a very reasonable place is at the suffering of “the least suffering human.” IOW take the person in history who has it best – healthiest, happiest, etc. – and make everyone’s life like that. Not everyone gets cancer, so having cancer is clearly not a form of suffering necessary for our growth, development, or free will. Poverty isn’t necessary, because not everyone has it. Starvation isn’t necessary, because not everyone suffers it. And so on. But nobody needs to be given the ability to fly, magic immortality, or even some miracle that prevents their feeling from being hurt during personal relationships, because even the least-suffering person doesn’t have those.

  49. #50 Qweet
    March 1, 2014

    [No, it’s simply not a Fallacy to point out that other types of being might not share your opinion on which forms of suffering are bad enough that any conscious entity witnessing them should feel compelled to intervene. Human laws are intended to control harmful behaviors of humans within a society. We do not write laws to make it illegal for chimps to commit genocide against other chimps, nor do we try to physically intervene to prevent wolves from eating deer or hawks from eating mice.]

    This realization definitely elicits regret….So many humans killed because of the intervention by one group of humans into another group of humans with different ideas on what’s right and what’s wrong. And who even knows how each group of humans perceive themselves. And if Christians are correct, Lord Jesus, is supposed to come back any day now to make those lions start feeding on grass.
    Oh, Lord Jesus, the actual food is actually fruit and vegetables.

  50. #51 G
    March 1, 2014

    Jeffrey Shallit @ 11:

    That comment only illustrates that you don’t know the subject matter and haven’t bothered to look up definitions.
    Intrinsic = irreducible, non-tradable.
    Moral = of or relating to a code of personal conduct that governs issues one believes to be important.
    Worth = value and importance.

    Now please don’t go asking for definitions of “importance” and “belief” (etc.) lest you come across as a troll.

    Blaine @ 17, “meaninglessness.”

    Speak for yourself. Meaning is a subjective experience that provides feedback on goal-seeking activity. All you have demonstrated is that your own sense of meaning is below average. “Don’t attribute to nature what resides within yourself” applies equally to those who project personifications into the sky, and to those who deny the existence of others’ subjective experiences.

    John @ 18:

    “The problem with evil is we lack a definition of what is evil. Other words such as good, moral, etc. also come into play. This is all circular reasoning and very vague.”

    What I think you’re seeking is something like a physical sciences definition, that is causal or at least linear rather than circular. About which, I’ll offer the following:

    Evil is the willful or negligent infliction of pain or harm upon others, except when necessary for the defense of self or innocent others and carried out with due effort to minimize harm to the attacker.

    Every word or phrase in that definition has non-circular definitions, most of which are well established in law.

  51. #52 G
    March 2, 2014

    Jason @ 19:

    Excellent stuff, well-reasoned and well-said.

    Re. “If you ask why suffering should be the criterion, though, I would not even try to defend that in terms of something simpler. Something has to be taken as foundational and for me that’s it.”

    Suffering is an irreducible aversive reaction that arises in any sufficiently complex neural network. Thus there is nothing “simpler” for living organisms that have the capacity for any kind of awareness and response to their environment. It’s “foundational” because it can’t be reduced to something simpler for any organism with a sufficient neural network.

    Re. “natural evil,” I don’t believe that phrase is useful or meaningful. By definition we distinguish between “evil” and “harm.” Harm produces suffering, but harm does not presuppose any particular causal mechanism or agency. For example an accident victim suffers harm whether the accident was caused by a drunk driver or by a vehicle hitting a patch of black ice. Evil necessarily requires that the causal agency be a “moral actor,” by definition someone having the capacity for a moral sense that governs actions.

    If the causal agency of harm does not have the capacity for a moral sense that governs actions, then the harm is not evil. That’s the case whether the causal agency is a hurricane or earthquake (etc.) or whether it’s a hungry tarantula or a parasitic wasp. We even use the word “insectoid” to refer to the barely-existing moral codes of humans who act in an unrestrained predatory manner toward others.

    Tulse @ 21:

    Sam Harris contradicts himself. He vociferously believes that free will does not exist, as in, does not exist _at all_, and that 100% of human behavior is deterministic. In the absence of free will, there is no basis for morality: no good and no evil, only flourishing and harm, pleasure and pain, and the wholly-predetermined actions of humans bouncing off each other like Newtonian billiard-balls whose actions are (according to Harris) wholly predictable from the moment of the Big Bang. Harris’ ideas are as unfalsifiable as Abrahamic theism.

    Though, I agree with you that Calvinism is for the most part malevolent. There is a small minority of Calvinists who qualify as progressive (I ran into one over a decade ago) who relinquish the omnipotence part. In their worldview, the deity is like a higher-dimensional entity for which our entire 4space is traversable: thus the deity can observe (but not intervene in) the predetermined trajectories of humans through time.

    Harris and other hard determinists have much in common with Calvinists.

    Ken @ 23 and Alex @ 24:

    Yes, relax any one or more of the three omnis, and the problem goes away. Relax all of them and what you have is a universal mind that needs help managing the universe. And just as any sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic, any sufficiently advanced mind is indistinguishable from a deity.

    Though, IHMO, those who even half-seriously advance the proposition that we are avatars in a simulation, are just engaged in another version of Computer-God religion. There do seem to be a lot of those around lately.

  52. #53 Charles Sullivan
    March 2, 2014

    James Rachels in Problems from Philosophy made a similar argument about how we would be morally appalled if a police officer did not intervene to stop an assault, and then argued that he is simply letting the criminal exercise his free will. But the free will defense permits God to do this same sort of thing.

  53. #54 Qweet
    March 2, 2014

    @53
    [But the free will defense permits God to do this same sort of thing.]

    Free will can only be exercised within the boundaries of what’s permitted by the law. There is a reason why each state has government created laws, and even religious books contain outlined commandments. If people are going to commit crimes against one another, they will be too damaged to lead normal life. Thus, it would be logical to believe that restrictions do apply to free will, as “free” also means being free from harm!!!

    P.S. If the police allows criminals to commit crimes, they are nothing but stupid jokes, and criminals themselves. The police department should never allow swine like this to work for them. Otherwise, they simply make the police pointless.

  54. #55 G
    March 2, 2014

    James Rachels’ analogy is an abject fail. Police officers are required to uphold the law and protect public safety. The analogous case with a deity would be one that is constrained by the laws of physics and thus not truly omnipotent. That knocks out one of the three omnis and the analogy self-destructs.

  55. #56 Charles Sullivan
    March 3, 2014

    ^^No, The idea is that God is all good. And if he’s all powerful, then he can minimize suffering. Just like a police officer should on duty. ^^

  56. #57 Ruese
    March 3, 2014

    [The analogous case with a deity would be one that is constrained by the laws of physics and thus not truly omnipotent.]

    If a deity exhibits their capacity to defy the laws of physics in front of a group of filthy thugs, the whole world will turn upside down. Particularly, in countries like the US. Plus, there might be other reasons as to why a deity needs to keep their true identity unexposed.

  57. #58 Ruese
    March 3, 2014

    Also, do not underestimate slander….

  58. #59 jane
    March 3, 2014

    eric suggests that a hypothetical deity should be expected to: “take the person in history who has it best – healthiest, happiest, etc. – and make everyone’s life like that … Poverty isn’t necessary, because not everyone has it. … And so on.”

    Now you expect such a being to exert near-total control not just over nonhuman nature but over human behavior. Poverty is not necessary, as you say – though resource limitations are! – but usually it means not relative deprivation, i.e., suffering the consequences of having much lower socio-economic status than other individuals with more power within a society. How is a god to make sure the distribution of wealth is and always remains acceptably close to equality? Zap the brains of legislators to force them to vote for progressive taxation?

    In fact, genuine happiness derives mostly not from quantifiable things like length of existence and amount of money, but from relationships and personal satisfactions (including, for some, a religion or spiritual practice). If your marriage falls apart, your happiness will not be equal to that of your hypothesized paragon of contentment. Should the deity alter your brain to prevent you from doing whatever you might otherwise do to screw up a relationship? Or alter your wife’s brain so that she keeps happily putting up with whatever it is you do? The Stoics thought happiness came from behaving virtuously; if you were altered so as to have no ability to behave other than virtuously, would you still be able to derive satisfaction from doing so? Some religions believe in reincarnation; they think that learning from one’s mistakes goes on through multiple lifetimes. They certainly wouldn’t agree that a totalitarian god should prevent you from making any mistakes that might impinge on your or any other human’s well-being. That would be like saying that people should remain perpetually in kindergarten.

  59. #60 jane
    March 3, 2014

    sorry – “means relative deprivation”

  60. #61 Ruese
    March 3, 2014

    [The Stoics thought happiness came from behaving virtuously; if you were altered so as to have no ability to behave other than virtuously, would you still be able to derive satisfaction from doing so?]

    Harmful behavior also needs to be taught. A human baby, if raised by a pack of wolves, will be constricted by the peculiarities of wolve behavior, at least, on the physical level.

  61. #62 Qweet
    March 3, 2014

    If people can alter your superficial attributes even though there is cruelty involved, you can instead, alter human behavior in the favor of the benign.

  62. #63 MNb
    March 3, 2014

    @59 Jane: “How is a god to make sure …”
    Granted, but how do you know that god can’t improve human condition compared to here and now? Especially as humanity has done a wildly imperfect, but not too bad job say last 200 years? If god is supposed to be omni-everything, isn’t it likely he couldn’t have improved things a lot earlier? Not to mention several billions of years of animal suffering, like connected with this one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretaceous%E2%80%93Paleogene_extinction_event

    Couldn’t god really haven’t done better than humanity anno 2014?

  63. #64 deepak shetty
    March 3, 2014

    A god you or me wouldn’t find worth worshipping I’ll give you, but this theodicy seems to work well for others…
    I doubt significant numbers from the Christian/Islam/Jewish religion believes that their God could be evil or that God is so sorely limited that he couldn’t feed starving children (eastern religions are different in this regard where the thousands of deities have a part to play and “fate” and “destiny” are applicable for the Gods too)

    Believers are more likely to use the God has a plan and whatever happens happens for a reason defense (Bruce Almighty etc). Theologians like Haught liken this to monkeys being able to recognize alphabets but unable to read or understand a book . Though as before if you read Shakespeare and all you can make out are A, B and Cs then you really should keep your mouth shut about it.

  64. #65 deepak shetty
    March 3, 2014

    @Lenoxus
    eg, life would be pointless or human progress would stagnate without suffering
    So Heaven is pointless and stagnant :) ?

  65. #66 jane
    March 3, 2014

    MNb – Ah, the myth of progress. The last two hundred years have been great in some ways, less unique than we imagine than others, and disastrous in a few more.

    This argument would be hard for a young-earth creationist to deal with – except that they do have a reason for sticking up for free will. If the earth was made just a few years ago piece by piece, why would God make tapeworms and bilharzia? Why not make all animals, including us, vegetarian – and, necessarily, unable ever to produce more than 2.1 offspring apiece so that they didn’t rapidly overpopulate and starve? Good questions. But we are addressing the problem of evil as would be seen by a modern theist who accepts observable facts about the known universe. It is old and evolution does happen. Therefore, if it was created by a deity that has to be the sort of deity that allows evolution to happen, with all its consequences both good and bad. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that such an entity does not exist, but not so reasonable to assume that if it did, you would have sufficient knowledge and perspective to tell it how it “ought” to be using its powers.

  66. #67 eric
    March 3, 2014

    Jane:

    Poverty is not necessary, as you say – though resource limitations are!

    No, they aren’t. Not with God in the equation. He’s provided mana from heaven before, loaves and fishes before, and then there’s the whole ‘creation of the world’ thing; God can clearly give us resources on request, if he chooses to. He chooses not to at this time. But the fact that the bible contains stories of him giving resources to people and them not becoming un-free-willed-automatons because of it shows that, according to Christian theology itself, giving resources does not break anyone’s free will to believe.

    How is a god to make sure the distribution of wealth is and always remains acceptably close to equality? Zap the brains of legislators to force them to vote for progressive taxation?

    We all have inborn tendencies towards fairness. We have empathy. Some have more than others. Unless you’re willing to claim that the most good humans amongst us are unfree automatons, you must admit that they have free will too, despite very strong inherent tendencies to treat people with compassion and charity. So, make us all like them.

    The other problem with you counterarguments is, basically, heaven. If heaven doesn’t have the problems you mention, then they aren’t philosophically necessary and they could be solved by a tri-omni god, if he so chose. OTOH if they are philosophically necessary for our existence, then heaven isn’t very heavenly, is it?

  67. #68 jane
    March 3, 2014

    I wonder whether we’d really be happy living in the land of Cockaigne. Well, I suppose we could be remade so that we would all be happy. It’s still pretty nervy to grouse just because you have been born into a real material world rather than into Paradise.

    Speaking of Paradise, I don’t know that a believer in a deist, clockmaker god need necessarily believe in a heaven in which his immortal soul will forever loiter playing the harp. He might; or he might believe that he is supposed to improve his own character and native world through multiple lifetimes of experience and effort; or he might believe that one shot at this world is all you get and then you’re gone, making this world a sacred place to be treasured rather than a miserable prison to be escaped from.

    Remember that a pro-evolution deist has no a priori reason to think that we are fundamentally different in kind from chimps, parrots, or even rats, who also demonstrate a sense of empathy and fairness. On the one hand, if the world is not made perfectly safe and pleasant for cats, why should it be made perfect for you? (How could the world simultaneously be made perfect for cats and for rats? Maybe a hyperintelligent being would have the sense to stay out of that one.) On the other hand, if you don’t expect your cat’s “soul to go to heaven,” why should you presume that that is your eventual fate? Fundamentalist Christianity does believe in Biblical stories of free food from heaven, eternal bliss in the afterlife, etc., but cannot be taken as a synecdoche for all forms of theism, because many others exist or could potentially exist. Therefore finding philosophical problems with the former does not suffice to debunk all of the latter.

  68. #69 MNb
    March 3, 2014

    @66 Jane: “the myth of progress”
    That makes the question only more urging: couldn’t an omni-everything do better than mankind anno 2014?

    “the problem of evil as would be seen by a modern theist ”
    For him/her the question is equally urging: given say 10 000 years of human civilization, couldn’t god have done better than what we have now?

    “not so reasonable to assume that if it did, you would have sufficient knowledge and perspective to tell it how it “ought” to be using its powers.”
    Turning around the question doesn’t help. The modern theist, who accepts evolution theory, some way or another inserts some theology. Was that extinct event 66 million years ago, with all the connected animal suffering involved, worth it? Was it necessary? It’s not me who who has to tell the modern theist how his/her god could have used his/her powers better. It’s him/her who has to answer these questions. If he/she can’t it lowers the probability of his/her god considerably.

    “Poverty is not necessary, as you say – though resource limitations are!”
    Assuming an omni-everything god guiding the whole shenanigan from Big Bang up till now – couldn’t he have found a way to prevent mankind from overcrowding the Earth? Once again – if this question can’t be answered the probability of said god is considerably lowered.
    Apologists realize this. That’s why they try to think of all kind of made-up stuff.

  69. #70 MNb
    March 3, 2014

    “some way or another inserts some theology”
    teleology.

  70. #71 Phil
    March 3, 2014

    Michael Fugate,

    “It’s not me who who has to tell the modern theist how his/her god could have used his/her powers better. It’s him/her who has to answer these questions.”

    The things that irritate you are not necessarily irritable to God. His view on the economy of life is not the same as yours.

  71. #72 Phil
    March 3, 2014

    MNb…I beg your pardon.

  72. #73 MNb
    March 4, 2014

    “His view on the economy of life is not the same as yours.”
    How do you know? What is his view? Why hasn’t he created us in such a way that our view on this is the same as his?
    I don’t grant you the pardon you ask for. You as well make clear that supposing a god provides far more questions than answers. Hence atheism has a higher probability than theism.

  73. #74 eric
    March 4, 2014

    Jane:

    It’s still pretty nervy to grouse just because you have been born into a real material world rather than into Paradise.

    I’m not grousing about the state of the world; I’m grousing that standard Christian apologetics seems inconsistent with the state of the world, as well as their own holy book (in which God intervenes to help people out, without any negative impact on free will). They claim that there is a god who really wants us to be happy, who could fix everything, and who has created a heaven for us, and …and then assert that these claims are fully consistent with the world we observe around us. The problem worth grousing about here is in those assertions, not in the imperfection of the world.

    Fundamentalist Christianity does believe in Biblical stories of free food from heaven, eternal bliss in the afterlife, etc., but cannot be taken as a synecdoche for all forms of theism, because many others exist or could potentially exist. Therefore finding philosophical problems with the former does not suffice to debunk all of the latter.

    Of course not. But this has been covered by many other posters, above – we (nontheists) admit that relaxing the constraints on the nature of God is one way to resolve the theodicy problem. The issue is, most believers seem unwilling to do that.

  74. #75 jane
    March 4, 2014

    I found last night that the same issue was recently addressed by a mostly political, often highly entertaining blog I follow, Stonekettle Station, which is written by Jim Wright, an irreligious liberal retired Navy intelligence officer [foul language warning!]. In the course of a rant about people who blat about God’s opinion of gay marriage, he pointed out that it’s incredibly arrogant to suggest that you can read the mind of a being who creates universes and that, in fact, to such a being we would be hardly more advanced than bacteria. Worth a read.

    Suppose that I create a terrarium or a hyper-managed small formal garden. You can expect that everything in it will be healthy and well-tended and that there will be no unplanned species intruding; if that’s not so, it’s a failing on my part. Now suppose that I engage in an environmental restoration effort to (re-)create a natural prairie. I plant a lot of seeds, then walk away. Maybe some of the species I plant won’t survive there. Maybe field mice will move in, outbreed their carrying capacity, and suffer a population crash – or maybe a hawk will show up and, unpleasantly for them, impose an external limit on their population growth. I can’t be blamed for those things; maybe I would have the power to prevent some of them via constant intervention, but I don’t see that as being my job or, indeed, desirable if the goal is to have a functioning ecosystem. The mice might disagree – they might feel that I ought to put out perpetually filled feeding stations, and please shoot that hawk – but I reasonably consider my broader and longer-term perspective to be the better one. And that is why the non-paradisiacal nature of the real world should not be an obstacle to deism.

  75. #76 eric
    March 4, 2014

    And that is why the non-paradisiacal nature of the real world should not be an obstacle to deism.

    Its not an obstacle to deism. Its an obstacle to some types of theism…some very popular and prevalent types.

    Jane, nobody who thinks Jesus was God incarnate and came down to earth to work miracles and save us from our sin is a deist.

  76. #77 jane
    March 4, 2014

    I don’t see how anyone can believe that a being who creates universes, given what we now know about the age and scope of the universe, could be as petty, finicky, and humanocentric (or worse, tribocentric) as many people’s conceptions of God are. But one could well believe that great human teachers, such as Jesus, are able to surpass the narrow-mindedness of the people around them because they have some form of divine inspiration or special connection to the divine. I think there is a wide spectrum of possible monotheisms between strict deism and the often-caricatured forms of totalitarianizing fundamentalism.

  77. #78 Michael Fugate
    March 4, 2014

    Leaving Jesus aside, do you know anyone today who is divinely inspired/specially connected to the divine and who is able to surpass the narrow-mindedness of the people around him or her? On what basis have you made this conclusion?

  78. #79 Phil
    March 4, 2014

    MNb,

    “How do you know? What is his view?”

    I read the book. His view is from outside of our zone and limitations (which is what you’d have to expect if prophecies are authentic).

    “Why hasn’t he created us in such a way that our view on this is the same as his?”

    So that there is proper distinction made between individuals.

    ===

    eric,

    “I’m grousing that standard Christian apologetics seems inconsistent with the state of the world, as well as their own holy book (in which God intervenes to help people out, without any negative impact on free will).”

    I’m not aware of those particular standard apologetic frequencies. Anyone arguing from the actual standards should mention things like election and predestination along with free will.

    “They claim that there is a god who really wants us to be happy, who could fix everything”

    No, happy in spite of the fact that for the time being, everything is far from fixed.

    ===

    jane,

    “one could well believe that great human teachers, such as Jesus, are able to surpass the narrow-mindedness of the people around them because they have some form of divine inspiration or special connection to the divine”

    I would think that divine inspiration or special connection would mean access to absolute truth, which would necessarily result in absolute narrow-mindedness.

  79. #80 Cubist
    March 5, 2014

    sez phil:

    The things that irritate you are not necessarily irritable to God. His view on the economy of life is not the same as yours.

    The response to the Problem of Evil which phil employs here, boils down to We humans are too stupid/ignorant/limited to know Good when we see it. Well, that might just be true. After all, we humans are a limited species, and our thought processes are, indeed, plagued by a variety of flaws. So that response to the Problem of Evil is fine, as far as it goes. Alas, that response has a nasty sting in its tail (if you’ll forgive the summat odd metaphor): It defends the Goodness of God by denying that human being are capable of distinguishing Good from Evil! Once you’ve set forth the argument that some instance of seeming Evil is really Good, how can you say that any seeming Good actually is Good? If seeming-Evil is true-Good because of factors we humans are incapable of recognizing, how can you be sure that any instance of seeming-Good is not true-Evil because of factors we humans are incapable of recognizing?

  80. #81 Sean T
    March 5, 2014

    Phil,

    Cubist makes a good point. Your solution to the problem of evil certainly seems to boil down to “we really don’t know good or evil when we see it.” If that’s true, then how can any HUMAN tell others what or how we should believe? Could we not all be mistaken? I’m sure you will say that you know because it’s in the Bible. If that’s the standard, as I’m sure you can agree, there are a lot of very un-Biblical things going on in the world. We know these are evil because the Bible says so. We know God COULD prevent these things from occurring, so asserting knowledge of God’s will from the Bible brings you right back to the problem of evil.

    Short summary: How can you reconcile a purported knowledge of God’s will with a theodicy that asserts that we really don’t know God’s will?

  81. #82 jane
    March 5, 2014

    Michael Fugate: “On what basis have you made this conclusion?”

    *I* haven’t. Please don’t argue via straw man Fallacies. I specifically said that I am not a monotheist and don’t believe the universe was created by something’s conscious act. But stipulating that some other person does believe that, I find it totally reasonable for him also to believe that unusually wise humans – whether Jesus or the Dalai Lama – might be inspired in some way by that being.

    Phil: “I would think that divine inspiration or special connection would mean access to absolute truth, which would necessarily result in absolute narrow-mindedness.”

    Anyone who is confident of that is, I suspect, either a narrow-minded believer creating a god in his own image, or a narrow-minded atheist accepting those caricatures as the only possible sort of deity. You could think that a human was divinely inspired without thinking that he/she was him/herself omniscient, which is ludicrous – if you were, I think, you wouldn’t be human. And omniscience needn’t lead to pettiness. A being that knew truths about factual or moral issues with absolute certainty would also know why others with lesser minds were in error, and might be understanding of their limitations. (Maybe it would know that some things you think are absolute truth are silly prejudice, but that you can’t help holding those beliefs because you were raised to do so, so you don’t deserve condemnation for it.)

  82. #83 Michael Fugate
    March 5, 2014

    Why argue for the possibility of divine inspiration if the divine doesn’t exist? Of course you think it is possible and you have argued for it. Don’t back out now.

  83. #84 jane
    March 5, 2014

    Dude, are you seriously going to mansplain my own opinions to me? :-) Thanks for the laugh. Though I have stated that I believe “the divine” in a monotheist sense of the term does not exist, I would have to say that it is possible it does. Do I have perfect knowledge to prove it does not? Nope. Hence I am an agnostic and not an atheist. But since I do not believe it exists, I have not argued that it exists. I have only argued that the nature of reality does not prove that it does not, which is a matter more possible to debate.

  84. #85 Michael Fugate
    March 5, 2014

    jane, wow perhaps a psychologist would help?
    You are arguing that it is a possibility, no? If so, then you must have reasons for it being possible.

  85. #86 Michael Fugate
    March 5, 2014

    Oh and being in the middle doesn’t make you automatically superior – which seem to want to claim. As Jim Hightower said, ” There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” Please try to get over yourself.

  86. #87 Blaine
    March 5, 2014

    As William of Ockham pointed out many years ago, you cannot argue from the empirical facts of the world to the existence of god. Kant said essentially the same thing. This is Lessing’s ugly ditch – a reality Kierkegaard wrote much about.

    All arguments for the existence of god and the immortality of the soul ( such as Plato’s ) are futile. One’s belief in god is based on nothing more than pure raw unsubstantiated faith. It’s a free floating signified to use a Lacanian term.

    One can be a theoretical atheist and/or a practical atheist. I think it is an impossible task to prove the negative that no monotheistic supreme entity exists, however, it either exists or it doesn’t. It is of no concern to me because it is undecidible. So, I am a practical atheist since it is irrelevant to me whether it exists – since we can derive no knoweldge either way.

    At least Karl Barth had enough sense to know that Christians can no longer argue for their faith ( like the moronic apologist Craig ), you can only preach and hope that through some irrational process so will come over to your side ( prime example is Francis Collins ( our current NIH director ) who knew god existed and Jesus would save his soul because of his aesthetic response to the sight of a water fall ).

  87. #88 jane
    March 5, 2014

    Michael Fugate – Hee hee! Projecting the shadow can be so cute.

    Blaine – By that definition, I could call myself a practical atheist, since, though I cannot prove that the universe had no conscious creator, I presume that it does not and live accordingly. Unfortunately, “atheist” has developed such a connotation of “asshole,” thanks to a certain type of people, that I would rather not claim the word.

  88. #89 MNb
    March 5, 2014

    @79 Phil: “I read the book”
    How do you know this book correctly reflects his view?

    “So that there is proper distinction made between individuals.”
    Isn’t the distinction material and limited versus immaterial and omni-everything enough? If no, why not?

    I repeat: supposing a god provides far more questions than answers. Hence atheism has a higher probability than theism. You have brought up nothing to remedy this.

  89. #90 Blaine
    March 5, 2014

    @88 –
    I understand your concern with the word atheist.

    Atheist is the American context generally means you do not believe in the Christian god – especially when you consider that more than a trivial number of Jews are atheists. My concern is that I find atheists are often not atheist enough. Most are what I call Christian atheists. Like Kant ( and Jefferson ), they want to jettison the superstitious elements, but keep the morality. I often refer to myself as an atheistic atheist — yes an assaholic asshole — to emphasize that I reject every aspect of the Christian tradition and its filth. To me, finding something of value in Christianity is like spotting a undigested kernel of corn in the toiliet after a particularly bad bowel movement. When I see the shit eating grin on a Christian’s face and I see a piece of corn on a tooth, it makes me wonder where it came from.

  90. #91 Phil
    March 5, 2014

    Cubist,

    “The response to the Problem of Evil which phil employs here, boils down to We humans are too stupid/ignorant/limited to know Good when we see it.”

    Not really. I was speaking of our perspective as opposed to God’s…inside looking out vs. outside looking in.

    I agree we are limited, and that we start off ignorant, but I’m cautious about the stupid tag. The issues and answers are generally not incomprehensible. Unpalatable is more accurate. People reject things they don’t like.

    “how can you be sure that any instance of seeming-Good is not true-Evil because of factors we humans are incapable of recognizing?”

    It isn’t that hard to tell though, is it? Humans have conscience software. It is definitely subject to wear and corruption, but in general terms, they recognize violations. It is interesting though, that the shadow offerings in Leviticus included one for unknown sin, to compensate for ignorance.

    ===

    Sean T,

    “We know God COULD prevent these things from occurring, so asserting knowledge of God’s will from the Bible brings you right back to the problem of evil.”

    Yes, but though I might hate it, I don’t struggle with the problem of ongoing evil. I accept that it is a matter of timing. We just have to wait, as explained in the parable of the wheat and tares.

    “How can you reconcile a purported knowledge of God’s will with a theodicy that asserts that we really don’t know God’s will?”

    As I mentioned to Cubist, I think the not knowing deal is overstated. Nobody undertakes any kind of education without the expectation of learning something. God’s will is not so mysterious that it can’t become acquired knowledge to some degree.

    ===

    jane,

    “A being that knew truths about factual or moral issues with absolute certainty would also know why others with lesser minds were in error, and might be understanding of their limitations.”

    Good point. That’s why I would steer clear of any system that didn’t include atonement as a central principle.

    ===

    MNb,

    “How do you know this book correctly reflects his view?”

    There are several reasons I am willing to accept that it does. Continuity, exclusivity, longevity, purpose, timelessness of the message(s), accuracy of the appraisal of the human condition, etc. If I had to pick one thing, I would go with prophecy. It takes not less than God to do that.

    “supposing a god provides far more questions than answers. Hence atheism has a higher probability than theism. You have brought up nothing to remedy this.”

    Well, I didn’t bring up anything because I think it is a bad supposition. If questions are the problem, you have to ask a few about scientific counter-offers on things like origins. If ideas about space particles and deep sea vents are getting a free ride because they support atheism, then you can’t really measure the relative probability.

  91. #92 MNb
    March 6, 2014

    “Continuity, exclusivity, longevity, purpose, timelessness of the message(s), accuracy of the appraisal of the human condition”
    Muslims, Buddhists etc. etc. etc. will claim the same.

    “I would go with prophecy”
    Nostradamus.

    “If ideas about space particles and deep sea vents are getting a free ride”
    Two mistakes in once sentence.
    1. It doesn’t require atheis to accept such ideas.
    2. Such ideas don’t get a free ride – they are founded on empirical data, something your belief system typically lacks.

    In other words: exactly like I expected you don’t know anything. You have only convinced/deluded yourself.
    Thanks.

  92. #93 eric
    March 6, 2014

    Phil:

    Yes, but though I might hate it, I don’t struggle with the problem of ongoing evil. I accept that it is a matter of timing. We just have to wait, as explained in the parable of the wheat and tares.

    When you say “we just have to wait,” you’re making exactly the argument from ignorance that Cubist is complaining about. Why is God’s timing moral? If a human with the knowledge and power to prevent someone’s daily rape chose to let it go on for 20 years, then put stop to it, we wouldn’t call that good. So to call it good when God does that for all crimes, not just rape, and for thousands of years, not just 20 is to claim that we can’t see Good (God’s timing) when it’s right in front of us. And if that’s true, anything could be good.

  93. […] argument that’s the most at least intuitively convincing. It’s been brought up again by Jason Rosenhouse here, and while I was pondering why I find the argument less and less probable every time I read […]

  94. #95 Phil
    March 6, 2014

    MNb,

    “Muslims, Buddhists etc. etc. etc. will claim the same.”

    Perhaps, and in some aspects, you have to include materialists.

    “Nostradamus.”

    Well, I can’t argue with a hard-hitting and penetrating study like that except to point out that it is irrelevant.

    “1. It doesn’t require atheis to accept such ideas.”

    Well no, but that wasn’t my point. Atheism has to contend somehow with origins, so there is an understandable tendency to defend and inflate the few available alternatives.

    “2. Such ideas don’t get a free ride – they are founded on empirical data”

    See what I mean? Two sterling examples in one subpoint.

    “In other words: exactly like I expected you don’t know anything.”

    Well, not nearly enough. But I have learned to watch how people manage their personal analytical processes.

    ===

    eric,

    “When you say “we just have to wait,” you’re making exactly the argument from ignorance that Cubist is complaining about. Why is God’s timing moral?”

    It isn’t about God’s morality. It is a matter of policy and procedure. Not everyone lives at the same time. Many generations will live and die, and there will be a reckoning. Some have an exquisite destiny, while others have only a fate.

    The complaints, like some of the objections to an intelligent designer, boil down to “If I was God, I wouldn’t do it that way”.

  95. #96 MNb
    March 7, 2014

    “See what I mean?”
    No.

  96. #97 Sean T
    March 7, 2014

    Phil,

    You are missing the point. You claim one minute that we can get somewhat of a handle on the will of God, but then you claim that God has “policies and procedures” that cause Him to make a reckoning at some future date. The point is why is that the case? Why doesn’t God make the reckoning now, or even better, why not prevent all the suffering that happens on earth? Does He lack the ability to do so? Most theists would answer no. Does He lack the will to do so? The most common defense here is that we don’t really know His plans for us, so He doesn’t really want to stop suffering. Surely, however, He could accomplish his plans without, for instance, several thousand people dying in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. You purport to have some idea of God’s will. Why would He desire that several thousand people, whose only crime was getting out of bed and going to work, be incinerated in a terrorist attack?

    BTW, you are completely wrong about motivations of atheists. Sure, we want to find out the origin of everything. We are not, however, desperately defending the few available alternatives. We are looking at evidence and picking out the best available idea. If there were no ideas that made sense given the evidence we observe, “I don’t know” would be a perfectly reasonable answer to the origin of the universe. I speak only for myself, but not knowing the origin of everything would not be particularly disturbing to me. There are many things I don’t know; I try to learn as much as I can about them, but it doesn’t particularly bother me if I am unable to get beyond “I don’t know.”

  97. #98 eric
    March 7, 2014

    The complaints, like some of the objections to an intelligent designer, boil down to “If I was God, I wouldn’t do it that way”.

    What’s wrong with that argument? As far as I can tell, your only answer (‘we don’t understand god’) is somewhat self-negating, in that it applies to your arguments in favor of a god as much as it applies to ours.

    I also find it somewhat amusing that you would dismiss this argument because your very own theology would seem to give it some weight. Aren’t YOU guys the ones who say that I am made in the image of God? That, because of Adam and Eve’s bite of the apple, I have knowledge of good and evil? That God’s message is so very clear that anyone reading the bible can get it? Well, if that’s the case, then I say that I’ve looked at that message, and using my knowledge of good and evil and my god’s-image-mind, God’s actions don’t make moral sense to me.

  98. #99 Blaine
    March 9, 2014

    @98
    They( Christians) have an answer for this too. God has to enlighten your mind so that you can ‘see’ the truth. Even though we should see it and will be held responsible for not seeing it, we can’t because we are blinded by sin. Only god, working through his spirit, can awaken our minds. This brings in the concept of the elect. If you are never chosen, you are predestined to damnation. We might as well go off and enjoy ourselves and tell the x-tians to shut the F*CK up since we have no choice in the matter. Of course with over 33,000 different Christian denominations in the world, I am sure there is someone reading this who will be a member on one of the other 32,999 groups who disagrees with what I just wrote.
    .

  99. #100 Phil
    March 9, 2014

    Sean T,

    Sorry for the delay.

    “You are missing the point. You claim one minute that we can get somewhat of a handle on the will of God, but then you claim that God has “policies and procedures” that cause Him to make a reckoning at some future date. The point is why is that the case?”

    I don’t know why, as I didn’t make the decision. I just know that the drama is going to play out according to schedule.

    “You purport to have some idea of God’s will. Why would He desire that several thousand people…”

    I wouldn’t say that God desired this, but He can accommodate it. Everyone’s days are numbered. The method employed to remove them may seem tragic to us, but it is not from His point of view.

    “…we want to find out the origin of everything. We are not, however, desperately defending the few available alternatives.We are looking at evidence and picking out the best available idea.”

    You may take this approach, but many don’t. As far as evidence goes, there is essentially nothing beyond incomplete collections of chiral amino acids. It is almost impossible to overstate the immensity of the problems and the size of the gap between the (wrong) building blocks and a living cell.

    ===

    eric,

    “What’s wrong with that argument?”

    It isn’t an argument. It is just a complaint.

    “Aren’t YOU guys the ones who say that I am made in the image of God?”

    Adam was, but his descendants are missing one third of that image/essence.

    “That, because of Adam and Eve’s bite of the apple, I have knowledge of good and evil?”

    On a limited basis, as in having a conscience.

    “That God’s message is so very clear that anyone reading the bible can get it?”

    Absolutely not.

    “Well, if that’s the case, then I say that I’ve looked at that message”

    One point of the message is that natural humans are not capable of comprehending the message. To you, it looks foolish.

  100. #101 Phil
    March 9, 2014

    Blaine,

    “They( Christians) have an answer for this too.”

    But it isn’t as if we made this up.

    “This brings in the concept of the elect. If you are never chosen, you are predestined to damnation.”

    Not quite. Election and belief are two sides of the same coin, one being evidence of the other. If you are actually interested in the subjects, you can compare John 3:16 with Acts 13:48b.

  101. #102 Sean T
    March 10, 2014

    Phil,

    Blaine is perfectly correct in his exposition of the concept of the elect. He’s also correct in that many Christians believe differently. The concept of the elect is a Calvinist idea. The idea is that Calvinist theology turns the relationship between good actions on earth and salvation 180 degrees around from other Christian denominations. Non Calvinist theology teaches that if we behave morally, we will be saved and go to heaven. Calvinist theology teaches that if we are destined to go to heaven, we will behave morally. Obviously, that’s a conflict between different Christian beliefs. Your beliefs may differ, but Calvinists most certainly do believe that you either are saved or not, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

  102. #103 Sean T
    March 10, 2014

    Phil,

    With all due respect, your responses to the problem of evil are all cop outs. You claim it’s okay that innocent people suffered and died in the WTC attacks on 9/11 because they were going to die anyway. Well, why were they going to die? According to your own beliefs, they were going to die anyway for the same reason we all are; namely that Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. Why is it NECESSARY that God continues to punish everyone for the sins of two people who lived thousands of years ago? We did not eat the apple, why should we be punished because someone thousands of years ago did?

    Let me ask you a question, if the police came and arrested you, and you were charged with murder because one of your ancestors committed a murder 500 years ago, would you think this to be morally justified? I would suspect you would not. Why do we hold God to a lower moral standard than we hold our fellow man?

    I suspect you’ll cop out here again and claim that our own sins are the cause of our death. That’s still a cop out, though. Christian theology claims that Jesus died to atone for our sins and that God will forgive us. If that’s true, then why can’t God forgive us and allow us to not die? It’s also a cop out for another reason: what about children who are born with health problems and die before they become able to actually sin? A baby who suffers and dies within the first week of his/her life cannot truly be said to have done so because of his/her sins. What sins could a two-day-old sick baby possibly commit that would condemn him/her to death?

    It seems to me that there’s no real way out except to deny one of the “omnis” about God. I know that most Christians will be unwilling to do so. I have yet to hear a convincing resolution to the problem of evil that doesn’t deny one of them, though.

  103. #104 MNb
    March 10, 2014

    @Sean T: “The concept of the elect is a Calvinist idea.”
    This always makes me wonder why god, who is all-knowing, doesn’t skip the whole vale of tears called life and send “elected” or those “who comprehend the message” like Phil to heaven straightaway. I mean, that’s what christian theology is all about, isn’t it? How to secure a cozy place in afterlife?
    As I’m not afraid of death I wouldn’t mind at all as human life ceased here and now if this meant that faithful christians like Phil would go to heaven – a realm that doesn’t attract me anyway.

  104. #105 eric
    March 10, 2014

    Phil;

    [eric]“That God’s message is so very clear that anyone reading the bible can get it?”

    [Phil]Absolutely not….[later] One point of the message is that natural humans are not capable of comprehending the message. To you, it looks foolish.

    If we are not capable of understanding the message, then you have no reason to believe God is good, or powerful, or intelligent, or concerned with humans.

    But I really doubt the sincerity of your Socratic-esque skepticism. It seems to me that Christians are perfectly happy to claim that one can understand quite a lot about the nature of God from the message…when doing so does not present a philosophical problem for them. IMO folks like you only pull out the “unknowable” argument when someone points out that Christian claims about God’s nature appear to be in conflict with what we observe about the world.

  105. #106 MNb
    March 10, 2014

    @Eric: “the “unknowable” argument”
    Sligthly more precise: it’s reasonable to totally fall back on faith when contradictions pop up. WLC is an excellent example of this: “I have reasonable faith because even if all arguments and evidence say otherwise I am inspired by the Holy Spirit and hence know there is a god and that he is christian”.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-witness-of-the-spirit-as-an-intrinsic-defeater-defeater

  106. #107 eric
    March 10, 2014

    MNb – appealing to personal faith might work in terms of a believer describing/telling others why he/she believes. But when trying to convince others that your tri-omni God-concept is fully consistent with the amount of evil observed in the world (i.e. when trying to give an answer to the problem of evil), that justification of belief is pretty worthless.

  107. #108 Phil
    March 10, 2014

    Sean T,

    “Blaine is perfectly correct in his exposition of the concept of the elect.”

    No, he is wrong about this. There is nothing in the NT that supports such a view. There are two concepts involved. From our finite perspective, we initiate the redemption process with belief. This is repeatedly declared in point blank terms. Election, predestination and foreordination have to do with foreknowledge, something we do not have. God, on the other hand, is omniscient and knows everything that is knowable, including what people will decide for themselves.

    “He’s also correct in that many Christians believe differently.”

    There are indeed all kinds of beliefs…all kinds of cults and warped views.

    “Non Calvinist theology teaches that if we behave morally, we will be saved and go to heaven.”

    This is dreadfully wrong. The whole point of Christianity is that there is no behavior which can regenerate a person. There will be people in for a shock when it is time for them to plead their own case. See Matthew 7:21-23.

    “why were they going to die?..Why is it NECESSARY that God continues to punish everyone for the sins of two people who lived thousands of years ago?”

    Death is not punishment. I won’t quote the reasons here, but this and several other subjects are addressed very well in 1 Corinthians 15.

    eric,

    “folks like you only pull out the “unknowable” argument”

    But it isn’t an argument. It is a statement of fact about unregenerate humans. As I mentioned, we didn’t make this up. It is succinctly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:14. The verses preceding explain the bailout mechanism.

    “But when trying to convince others that your tri-omni God-concept is fully consistent with the amount of evil observed in the world..”

    I won’t quarrel with you about who is responsible for evil. But I can suggest that we are looking down a prophetic gun barrel, and you might see much worse.

  108. #109 MNb
    March 11, 2014

    “As I mentioned, we didn’t make this up. It is succinctly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:14.”
    Which means its made up – by Paulus.

    ” I can suggest that we are looking down a prophetic gun barrel.”
    Now that’s an impressive prophecy. It’s not like we haven’t had any say last 100 years: no WW-1, no WW-2, no Korean War, no Vietnam War, no Gulf Wars, no endless string of civil wars. Good to have you and your Bible around to warn us, because based on human history and human nature we totally couldn’t have guessed.
    Let me see. That prophetic gun barrel might begin in the Middle-East, where the abrahamistic religions and artificially created nations have coexisted peacefully for decades, so that more violence is totally unexpected – if we hadn’t had you and your Bible of course.

  109. #110 eric
    March 11, 2014

    Phil:

    [eric]“But when trying to convince others that your tri-omni God-concept is fully consistent with the amount of evil observed in the world..”

    [phil] I won’t quarrel with you about who is responsible for evil. But I can suggest that we are looking down a prophetic gun barrel, and you might see much worse.

    It largely doesn’t matter who is responsible: a god that could intervene and was highly beneficient would do so. If my kid starts heading towards a burner, what makes me a good parent is that I stop him. It doesn’t matter whether I was responsible for his desire to touch the stove or not: letting him do it is bad parenting. It is negligent.

    As for your last statment, your hint at future increased suffering does not solve the theodicy problem, it makes it worse.

  110. #111 Blaine
    March 11, 2014

    @108

    Phil, you mentioned: “There are indeed all kinds of beliefs…all kinds of cults and warped views.”

    The problem is that there is no way to adjudicate which of the various faith-based systems is correct. You are merely asserting that your belief-system is the correct one and pointing out that there are many cults and warped beliefs implying yours is the correct one.

    In the demcracy of faith, all belief-systems are leveled to the same playing field. The only way to decide which one ( if any ) is to apply external criteria. If you base your criterion on faith, you are in a vicious circle. So you must bring in external criteria to adjudicate the matter. Once you have done this, however, you have undermined your faith based system because it can no longer stand on its on. Just asserting that you ‘know’ its true, or using the so called ‘internal testimony of the spirit’ gets one nowhere. All the other faith-based systems do the same. You cannot appeal to the bible, because it doesn’t not speak with a univocal voice. Sincere believers the world over have come to radically different interpretations.

    Some in the Roman Catholic tradition rely on the teaching authority of the church as a way out of this dilemma. Protestants have gone their own way hoever, and landed in religious nihilism. I don’t see a way out for them. I am not agreeing with the RC church’s position because this does not really solve the problem either, because other believers assert that Christianity teaches something entirely different.

    Most of this has already been discussed extensively by 18th and 19th century philosophers and I am not saying anything new. The value of philosophy is not in the truths it asserts ( which I don’t believe there are any ) but it thinking though the implications of our ideas and concepts and what they imply.

    IMO, philisophy has to be done in a manner that is completely informed by science. Given that, science is the best means…the best external criteria to use to adjudicate between faith-based positions. Sure, you can immunize them against science ( which is what Christianity has done historically…read _Retreat to Commitment_, WW Bartley ), but you are back in the dilemma. If you open faith-based positions to external criticism, I think you’ll find that none are left standing.

  111. #112 Phil
    March 11, 2014

    MNb,

    “Which means its made up – by Paulus.”

    Well, he recorded the information. If he was making things up, he had the foresight to see a time coming when “they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables”. But I’m not sure even Paul would have anticipated the space particles and accidents deal.

    “That prophetic gun barrel might begin in the Middle-East…”

    Possibly. Israel is definitely the centerpiece. Jesus, anticipating Titus’ siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, said “they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”. They were, of course, led away captive and scattered with Hadrian finishing the job. But the times of the Gentiles is a finite thing (Paulus mentioned it in another of his tales), and the ‘until’ part began as a trickle in the late 1800’s, culminating in the reformation of national Israel in 1948 (after the holocaust of War 2). This was recorded by Isaiah about 2600 years prior to the fact when he wrote “it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea”.

    You mentioned human nature being a culprit, and that’s true, but it is abnormal for the world to be preoccupied with a country you can cover up with a nail clipping on a 12” globe. But that is exactly what Zechariah said recorded “I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about…in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people”. That passage indicates this is by no means finished, and I’m sure there are lots more UN resolutions and peace plans coming, but the stage is definitely set.

    I can’t go into the covenant with Abraham in Genesis that is behind all this, or the Levitical feasts which are prophetic shadows of the first and second advents, or Daniel, or Ezekiel, or the Olivet Discourse which is about the events in the Revelation, or the amazing things forecast about the Messiah and the crucifixion, and later recorded in the Gospels. Since you only accept iron-clad empirical data, it would be a waste of time.

    eric,

    “If my kid starts heading towards a burner, what makes me a good parent is that I stop him. It doesn’t matter whether I was responsible for his desire to touch the stove or not: letting him do it is bad parenting. It is negligent.”

    But what if he does it anyway when you aren’t around. Some people just will not learn lessons academically, and insist on the hard way. What if you had a daughter who was going to marry a loser and suffer for the rest of her life? Would you put a stop to it?

    Blaine,

    “The problem is that there is no way to adjudicate which of the various faith-based systems is correct.”

    Short of a common-denominator set of written instructions, you are correct.

    “You cannot appeal to the bible, because it doesn’t not speak with a univocal voice. Sincere believers the world over have come to radically different interpretations.”

    Actually, sincere believers have mostly defaulted to what someone is saying, not what the Bible says. There can be modest points of disagreement, but the essentials are all very clear.

    “Some in the Roman Catholic tradition rely on the teaching authority of the church as a way out of this dilemma.”

    In my experience, most Catholics don’t know you-know-what from apple butter about anything. I have asked dozens of them about the Immaculate Conception, and have met exactly one who knew. The catechism is crossways with the indications of scriptura almost from start to finish. You have to expect that when what men say trumps what is written. The Marian doctrines are a classic example.

  112. #113 MNb
    March 12, 2014

    @Phil: thanks for using a lot of words not addressing my point. Every neutral reader will understand now how silly your argument from prophecies is. Not you of course, I hadn’t expected that.

    “But what if he does it anyway when you aren’t around.”
    Then your god is not omnipresent nor omniknowing.
    Are you so blinded by your religious prejudiced that you don’t even see how obviously your analogy falls apart?

    “the essentials are all very clear”
    So free will and predestination aren’t essential? As a Dutchman I know very well that Calvin rejected them. We have our biblebelt as well, you see.

  113. #114 eric
    March 12, 2014

    Phil

    [eric]“If my kid starts heading towards a burner, what makes me a good parent is that I stop him. It doesn’t matter whether I was responsible for his desire to touch the stove or not: letting him do it is bad parenting. It is negligent.”

    [phil in response]But what if he does it anyway when you aren’t around.

    Irrelevant to the question of why God does not intervene, because the point is that being good requires that he should. If he came down and tapped me on the shoulder, and ignored him, you might have a point. But since he doesn’t show himself, the theoretical “but if God did that you might still ignore him” is not counter-argument at all.

    What if you had a daughter who was going to marry a loser and suffer for the rest of her life? Would you put a stop to it?

    I would at least talk directly to her. Face to face. God doesn’t do even that.

    I’m underwhelmed with your defense of God’s absence. Your examples just confirm for me that an ethical and beneficient God would intervene more than the Christian God does.

  114. #115 eric
    March 12, 2014

    Phil 3 days ago:

    [eric questions]“That God’s message is so very clear that anyone reading the bible can get it?”

    [Phil responds] Absolutely not.

    Phil from yesterday:

    Actually, sincere believers have mostly defaulted to what someone is saying, not what the Bible says. There can be modest points of disagreement, but the essentials are all very clear.

    You are making arguments of convenience now; just disputing what we say without any consistency. When it rhetorically suits you to deny the bible is clear, you deny it. When it rhetorically suits you to claim it is clear, you claim that instead.

  115. #116 Sean T
    March 12, 2014

    Phil,

    So then, you justify your beliefs based on the Bible. Now, personally, I do not believe that the Bible is in any way divinely inspired since I don’t believe that there’s any divine out there. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that the Bible is divinely inspired. You make the claim that you, and only you (with the “you’ here intended to be plural and include others who believe as you do), have actually read the Bible and actually base your beliefs on it.

    Given that, a few questions arise. First, am I to assume that you believe that the Bible is meant to be read literally? I have certainly encountered religious believers who do believe this, who have read the Bible, who are very well-versed in what the Bible says, and make a sincere effort to live their lives based on the Bible. Either you are claiming that these people are not actually doing so or you are one of them. I just want to clarify.

    A literal reading of the Bible presents issues which,, to put it generously, are problematic. Is pi actually equal to 3? Current heliocentric models of the solar system would call into question the need for God to make the sun stand still for Joshua. Why did the Bible not say that God made the earth stop rotating instead? The earth is not a circle; it is a sphere. Bats are not birds. Did Noah take two of each animal or did he take seven of some on the ark? These are just some of the issues with a literal reading.

    Now, if you are not suggesting that the Bible is meant to be read literally, then how do you respond to those who do believe this? They do, despite your objections, read the Bible for themselves. I am pretty sure that a literal reader of the Bible would say he is following the Bible better than you are if you don’t believe in a literal interpretation. This doesn’t really square well with your assertion that you are the only one who actually reads and follows the Bible. You may come to different conclusions about what the Bible teaches, but you would both be correct in asserting that your beliefs are based on the Bible.

    Further, if you don’t believe that the Bible is to be read literally, how do you tell which parts are to be read literally and which parts are figurative? There doesn’t seem to be any clear way to determine which is which, based solely on the actual words of the Bible. By your own standard, the Bible is all there is; you should ignore any person who tries to tell you anything about the Bible. That’s how all the various “cults” arose, right? Therefore, if you aren’t reading the Bible literally, there must be some very clear indication in the Bible itself that certain parts are not meant literally.

    In short, how do you know that your beliefs are correct and that everyone else’s are mistaken. I mean this as a rhetorical question for the benefit of others who might read this. I am sure that you are completely convinced of the correctness of your beliefs. That is the fundamental nature of religious belief. Just be aware that other religious believers are just as convinced that they are right as well. How are conflicts between religious beliefs to be resolved?

  116. #117 Sean T
    March 12, 2014

    Phil,

    Just an alternate perspective on the gospels that you probably haven’t considered. I’m sure you will reject it out of hand, but I feel the need to counter some of the assertions you make.

    Historical evidence indicates that the Gospels were written long after the death of Jesus, at least 30 years or more after. While there may have been some who remembered Jesus’ life at the time of the gospel writing, it is likely that stories passed along orally for 30 years would become distorted. Also, don’t forget that the gospels were not written by pagans who knew nothing of the prophecies of the old testament. The authors also were not impartial recorders of the life of Jesus. The authors knew the OT prophecies very well and were writing the gospels with the intention of convincing others that Jesus was the Messiah. Obvioulsy, it would have been helpful in convincing other Jews that Jesus was the Messiah if their record of Jesus’ life comported well with the prophecies. Given that, and given the likelihood that the oral stories of Jesus’ life likely were passed along by Jews who knew the prophecies and believed Jesus was the Messiah (after all, why would someone who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah tell stories about his life?), it is entirely reasonable that these oral accounts became distorted toward a greater degree of agreement with the OT prophecies. It is also reasonable that the gospel authors, who knew these prophecies, would write accounts that were in accord with the prophecies to great degree.

    You need not say anything to rebut this unless you really wish to. I just wanted to present an alternate explanation of the agreement of the gospels with the OT prophecies. I certainly don’t expect you to accept this explanation.

  117. #118 eric
    March 12, 2014

    Phil:

    If he [Paul or the author of the Pauline letters] was making things up, he had the foresight to see a time coming when “they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables”.

    Yeah, like its hard to predict that ones’ small already-persecuted cult might lose members or have skeptics that call it bunk. I predict that in the future, Scientology will have its detractors. Some of those will be former Scientologists. Do my posts get the bible’s “inspired by God” literary seal of approval now?

  118. #119 proximity1
    March 13, 2014

    MNb @ 113

    Still fighting the good fight, I see. Well, I’d be delighted to have the sort of command I suppose you must have of Dutch which you evidently have of English. In that vein, here’s a word in your ear as thanks for all the cogent arguments you’re offering here–

    Just as “ever-present” pairs nicely with “all-knowing”, so “omnipresent” pairs nicely with “omniscience” when referring to various and sundry omnipotent deities.

  119. #120 proximity1
    March 13, 2014

    @ 119 : P.S. correction for my comment above–

    I should have specified the form –ending with the ” t ” “omniscient ” — rather than the “–icence” ending form.

  120. #121 Phil
    March 13, 2014

    Sorry for the delay.

    MNb,

    “Every neutral reader will understand now how silly your argument from prophecies is.”

    Actually it isn’t. Authentic prophecies are easy evidence that a very large intellect, not limited by time, exists and controls. The issue for neutral (natural) readers is how to manage that reality. Humans are very talented at ignoring things they don’t like. But there is another factor, once again noted by Paul. Prophecy does not convince…it is not for unbelievers. The verse reads like this: “…prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe”. In my experience, this is very reliable. No matter how glaring the evidence is, dichotomous people cannot process the information.

    “So free will and predestination aren’t essential?”

    No, they are not.

    eric,

    “I would at least talk directly to her. Face to face. God doesn’t do even that.”

    If your perception of God is a composite of Ghandi and Mr. Rogers, I can see why you are disappointed. But what really is the point in despising a God that you don’t believe in?

    Sean T,

    “…am I to assume that you believe that the Bible is meant to be read literally?”

    Yes. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any issues whereby the context does not reveal when something is symbolic or figurative.

    “Is pi actually equal to 3?”

    1 Kings 7:23,26 “he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other…and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about…it was an hand breadth thick”

    [outside diameter] = 10
    [inside circumference] = 30

    You can use these to calculate that handbreadth is .225 of a cubit, about 4.05 inches for a regular cubit, or 4.725 inches for a royal cubit, which is probably what Solomon used.

    “Why did the Bible not say that God made the earth stop rotating instead?”

    For the same reason we say sunup/sunrise or sundown/sunset.

    “The earth is not a circle; it is a sphere.”

    Gesenius’s Lexicon
    חוּג chuwg – m. a circle, sphere, used of the arch or vault of the sky

    Do you really think anyone watching the lunar cycles thought they were looking at a disc? St

    “Bats are not birds”

    And neither are flying insects. But the word translated “fowl” in Leviticus can mean those too. The subject was animals the Israelites were not permitted to eat, not taxonomy.

    “Did Noah take two of each animal or did he take seven of some on the ark?”

    A pair of the unclean ones, and seven pairs of the clean.

    “These are just some of the issues with a literal reading”

    I’m not following you here. What are the problems?

    “In short, how do you know that your beliefs are correct and that everyone else’s are mistaken.”

    Well not everyone. But I follow a particular method, approach, and school of thought, but it is not at all unusual. “Study to show thyself approved….”

    “How are conflicts between religious beliefs to be resolved?”

    They don’t need to be.

    ==============

    “Historical evidence indicates that the Gospels were written long after the death of Jesus, at least 30 years or more after.”

    We can use your numbers, but what historical evidence are you referring to?

    Your take on the Gospels is not uncommon, but not very well analyzed. What would have aroused the writers’ interest in executing a conspiracy 30 years later?

    Collusion would require intense coordination, and close-quarters communication. There is no evidence of this ever happening, but if it occurred, we would not see the story coming from four different directions, differing only in details such as the mention of only one of, as opposed to both individuals when various events are described. Some things are amazingly verbatim, some are not. Some details are extensive, some are brief; some highlighted, and some not mentioned at all. The construction of the accounts suggests that some writers had access to the works of the others, but there is nothing in the structure of their works that stinks of any kind of plot to lie or exaggerate.

    But the real problem with the idea of conspiracy is that there is no evidence for it. Their works were copied over and over by hand as churches developed. Fidelity was obviously important, which is easily illustrated by the fact that there are no remnant ‘developing’ accounts of the gospels, or records of allegations of conspiracy. Humans are really not good at keeping conspiracies hidden.

    The manuscript evidence for the New Testament dwarfs, by orders of magnitude, any other ancient literature. Some are fragments. And some do contain copy errors, perhaps even some deliberate additions in a few places. These are not scary. They are identified by manuscript comparison, what is called textual criticism. There are some 24,600 catalogued manuscripts of the accepted canon, but the point has been made that we could lose every Bible, and all the manuscripts, and still have the entire New Testament, excepting a handful of verses, quoted in the writings of the early church fathers. It caught on quickly for a reason.

    Concerning the OT prophecies which about the Messiah, many of them had no meaning at all in their original historical context. David wrote Psalm 22 a thousand years before the crucifixion. It contains details which from the point of view of a man nailed to a cross, and watching the spectacle around him. A brief sample:

    “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”

    These things didn’t happen to David. Many of the details of the crucifixion recorded in the Gospels were prophetic obscurities…the last things that Pharisees, much less Roman soldiers, would have had on their minds. The beauty of the technique is that no imposters could stage the event before the real thing occurred.

  121. #122 Phil
    March 13, 2014

    proximity1,

    Speaking of cogent arguments, have you had any luck sorting out the omnimutations that resulted in the secondary code that duons operate with?

  122. #123 MNb
    March 14, 2014

    “Prophecy does not convince…it is not for unbelievers.”
    Thanks for confirming my point that your argument for prophecy is silly. You have to be a believer to accept it, so that you can believe. Excellent circular argument, Phil.

    “But what really is the point in despising a God that you don’t believe in?”
    Another silly question, which has been answered numerous times. I (and I assume Eric too) would despise your god if we happened to believe in. As we don’t believe the despise evaporates.

    “I can’t think of any issues whereby the context does not reveal when something is symbolic or figurative.”
    Sillier and sillier. You admit here that you take the Bible literally until you personally think it’s not literal.

    “A pair of the unclean ones, and seven pairs of the clean.”
    How did the sloth get at the Ark? He walks 150 meter an hour and isn’t exactly happy to swim the Atlantic Ocean and endure the North-African sun.

    “What would have aroused the writers’ interest in executing a conspiracy 30 years later? ”
    I haven’t checked it, but I doubt if anyone here used the word conspiracy. Contemporary testimony vs. conspiracy is a false dichotomy.
    Please keep up the good work; the silliness of your arguments becomes clearer and clearer.

  123. #124 Sean T
    March 14, 2014

    Plenty of problems with lilteral interpretation. Here are just a few concerning the story of the great flood:

    1. Genesis 6:19-21 states that two of each animal was brought on the ark. Genesis 7:2-3 states that it was 7 of each clean animal and 2 of each unclean animal. Which was it? The Bible seems to be internally inconsistent here. Besides, at the time of Noah, what would “clean” animal have meant anyway? Most people will relate “clean” to the rules of kosher, but these rules were based on the law given to Moses. That occurred after the flood, so in the context of the flood story at the time of the flood, what does “clean animal” mean?

    2. Where did all the water come from in the flood. If that much water vapor had condensed within a short period, the latent heat released would have cooked Noah, his family and all the creatures on the ark. If it’s in liquid form, but somehow suspended above the earth, it would cause atmospheric pressure to be enormously increased to the point where life would have not been possible. If it was underground, then why did the Bible say it rained for 40 days and nights?

    3. How did all the animals get to the Middle east? There’s a great big world out there. There are, for example, animals that were extant only in North America that were incapable of swimming. How did they get to the ark?

    4. Food supply: how were all the animals fed? There are some animals that prey upon only one species. Are you claiming that these animals could have survived for all the months that they purportedly were on the ark with only TWO members of their prey species available for food? Further, how did that prey species survive? It would not have done much good for the predator to survive if the prey species did not; the predator would just die soon after the flood waters abated.

    5. According to the Bible, the flood covered all the mountains on earth. Therefore, the flood waters must have been at least 29000 ft deep. Also according to the Bible, Noah sent out a dove, and it returned with an olive branch. Where the hell did that olive branch come from? At 29,000 ft in our current oceans, there is very little light. There would be even less light at a depth of 29,000 ft under raging flood waters that churned up tons of sediment. How the heck would you expect olive trees to survive under such conditions (assuming of course that these trees were somehow not uprooted by 29000 ft of rushing water)?

    6. How did fresh water fish survive? Many species of fish are incapable of living in salt water. When the flood covered the whole earth, it would have been salt water. Even if you want to cop out and say that the flood water was fresh water, then this point stands in modified form: there are species of fish that can only live in salt water; how did they survive?

    7. Repopulation of the earth. To get a populations that were historically recorded in places such as Egypt and China in years not long after the purported flood, the birth rate would have had to have been much higher than any birth rate in history, pushing near the biological limits of human fertility. Even with such a high birth rate, the infant mortality rate would have had to be near zero to yield the observed populations. Such low infant mortality rates in a pre-scientific society are very unlikely, to say the least. Even given the possibilty of such high birth rates and low infant mortality rates, what happens when rapid inbreeding of a population occurs? Remember, there were only 8 people on the ark and all were close blood relatives. Sure, the generation of Noah’s grandchildren would not have been inbred, but what of generations following this one? Who would Noah’s grandchildren have married, if not their first cousins (presuming that sibling marriages are excluded)?

    Again, I am sure you have answers, but I’m really not that interested in them. I am merely pointing out for the neutral observers who may be reading this post the fact that, contrary to your assertion, there are real problems with Biblical literalism.

  124. #125 Blaine
    March 14, 2014

    Phil,

    The problem with your argument, assuming that everything in the NT is historically accurate, is that just because a man rises from the dead and performs miracles, does not validate the veracity of the message. This was the very point the Jews were making. They were not impressed with all miracles because any magician and wonder worker worth their weight could do everything Jesus did – including raising the dead. They wanted to know in whose name he did those things. We are back to subjective evaluation. Even the gospels point out that it was not obvious what Jesus was doing. It is recorded that when he asked Peter who he was, after he answered, Jesus told him that flesh and blood did not reveal this to him. Ie, god enlightened his mind, ie, there was no other way to know. This is highly subjective and we are back to special revelation, election and what not.

    The gospels are the back story of the Christ myth. That is why they are propagandistic ( I do not mean this in a negative sense ). They were written to portray Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy so of course they cherry pick the OT and then apply an appropriate interpretation to make Jesus fit.

    BTW – When Hercules died, he traveled to hell and then ascended to the gods – yawn city population one. He also raised people from the dead – my point being, every hero did miracles.

    One thing I have always found laughable is the idea of Jesus’ suffering. Jesus was supposed to be both god and man and he was fully and completely congnizant of this fact. He knew what he once was before the incarnation and he knows what he will be during and after his death. He knows with absolute certainty that after he dies, he will rise again and live as the third member of the godhead. This is basic Christianity.

    Now, suppose I asked you: Would you be willing to die and save ALL humanity knowing that you will live in three days FOREVER as a god. Of course you would. You would be EVIL if you didn’t do it. You would be completely unethical in every since that the word has meaning. So. in actuality, Jesus’ sacrificial death is a trivial meaningless event. Only mortals can truly suffer and die. I don’t want to hear the nonsense about his human side dying and suffering. That is complete nonsense.

    “And Trojans hearing the brazen voice of Aeacides,
    all their spirits quaked – even sleek-maned horses,
    sensing death in the wind, slewed their chariots round
    and charioteers were struck dumb when they saw that fire,
    relentless, terrible, burst from proud-hearted Achilles’ head,
    blazing as fiery-eyed Athena fuelled the flames.

    ‘Stand in the trench Achilles, flame-capped and shout for me’

  125. #126 Phil
    March 15, 2014

    Sean T,

    “Genesis 6:19-21 states that two of each animal was brought on the ark. Genesis 7:2-3 states that it was 7 of each clean animal and 2 of each unclean animal. Which was it?”

    I don’t see any conflict. The first reference comes right after the instructions for the ark, and is about the intent “to keep them alive”. The second was probably 120 years later, and just additional instructions about bringing suitable sacrificial animals.

    “Most people will relate “clean” to the rules of kosher, but these rules were based on the law given to Moses. That occurred after the flood, so in the context of the flood story at the time of the flood, what does “clean animal” mean?

    It means animals suitable for sacrificial offerings, going back to Cain and Abel. No sooner than he got off the ark, Noah built an altar and offered one of every clean animal.

    Moses codified the law, but for a unique purpose. Part of he Law was to distinguish the Jews as the host people of the Messiah, and the feasts and sacrifices were about Him.

    “Where did all the water come from in the flood.”?

    I entertain the idea of a canopy, perhaps composed of ice or ice crystals. But the bulk was from the fountains breaking up. Nobody know the size or depth of these, but I found this very recent story interesting: http://phys.org/news/2014-03-water-rich-gem-vast-oceans-beneath.html#ajTabs

    The earth was a completely different place prior to the flood, tropical from pole to pole. Dinosaur fossils in Antarctica and the far north support this, as do stories like this: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,145059,00.html

    “If it was underground, then why did the Bible say it rained for 40 days and nights?”

    The Bible says both were occurring. But what was really happening was “I will destroy them with the earth”. The flood was catastrophic beyond what we can comprehend. It is worth noting that it wasn’t until after the flood that “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter..” were instituted. Some people think that the axial tilt of the earth either resulted or was changed so that the 30/12/360 balance of days/month/year was disrupted. Some also suggest the possibility that gravity was attenuated, and that sauropods, like Diplodocus, could not live now. Those things aside, everyone knows there was a time when “there were giants in the earth in those days” was a reality. And anyone disputing the record of the flood has to explain fifty million cubic miles of fossil-bearing sediments.

    “How did all the animals get to the Middle east?”

    They were delivered. “..two of every sort shall come unto thee..”

    “Food supply: how were all the animals fed? There are some animals that prey upon only one species.”

    Prior to the flood, men and animals were apparently still eating according to the original plan…”I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
    And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat”

    After the flood, the rules changed, and God told Noah that “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” which has been the food policy for Gentiles ever since it was announced.

    “According to the Bible, the flood covered all the mountains on earth. Therefore, the flood waters must have been at least 29000 ft deep”

    Possibly, but probably not. There is fossil evidence http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bsc/iar/2005/00000014/00000004/art00002?crawler=true , but more likely, the mountains were elevated after the flood. The table of nations in Genesis 10 speaks of two fifth-generation Shemites, “two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided”, and that could be referring to physical rearrangements of the planet. Whatever the case, we have confidence in Psalm 104:5-9.

    “according to the Bible, Noah sent out a dove, and it returned with an olive branch. Where the hell did that olive branch come from?”

    Leaf, not branch. Plenty of time had passed for seeds to have sprouted.

    “When the flood covered the whole earth, it would have been salt water.”

    How do you know this?

    “To get a populations that were historically recorded in places such as Egypt and China in years not long after the purported flood”

    How many years after the flood? What historical records are you referring to, and why are you willing to trust them?

    “Noah’s grandchildren would not have been inbred, but what of generations following this one? Who would Noah’s grandchildren have married, if not their first cousins (presuming that sibling marriages are excluded)?”

    Inbreeding increases the possibility of offspring being affected by cumulative mutations, and Noah was only 10 generations from Adam.

    “I am sure you have answers, but I’m really not that interested in them.”

    I know.

    “I am merely pointing out for the neutral observers who may be reading this post the fact that, contrary to your assertion, there are real problems with Biblical literalism.”

    I don’t think so. But, by way of comparison, may I a few questions?

    How did the earth acquire its water? Where did all of the material which composes the layers of the geologic column come from? How would you account for a 100 foot thick coal seam?

    ===

    Blaine, I will respond when I have time.

  126. #127 MNb
    March 15, 2014

    ““Where did all the water come from in the flood.”?

    I entertain the idea of a canopy, perhaps composed of ice or ice crystals. But the bulk was from the fountains breaking up. Nobody know the size or depth of these, but I found this very recent story interesting:”
    1. And how did all the water get high high up the sky? How did it get locked up in the minerals in such a short time?
    2. Where are those fountains to be found?
    3. Why does nobody know the size of depth of these fountains?
    4. Do you realize that even with those gems there is not nearly enough water to cover the entire surface of the planet?
    5. Do you realize how silly you look when defending made up stuff (you have exactly zero empirical evidence) because of your personal view on your favourite Book but rejecting scientific theories for which there is plentiful of such evidence?

    “but more likely, the mountains were elevated after the flood”
    Another fine example – more made up stuff with zero evidence.
    You’re a typical example of a believer who only accepts science when it suits hem/her and rejects it when it doesn’t.

    6. Do you realize how silly that attitude makes you look? That every single atheist on this blog immediately recognizes that you are guilty of this logical fallacy?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_pleading

  127. #128 Phil
    March 15, 2014

    Blaine,

    “[The Gospels] were written to portray Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy so of course they cherry pick the OT and then apply an appropriate interpretation to make Jesus fit.”

    This is the standard belief of the skeptics, but it is unmolested by any serious analysis.

    Multiple people contriving a personality and a narrative would require spending enormous amounts of time pouring through huge scrolls looking for cherries to pick. They didn’t have personal Bibles. Given the limitations and circumstances of the times, composing a common set of lies to accommodate various and scattered OT details would be impossible for independent writers.

    But why would four people be interested, years after the fact, in composing a false portrayal? What was the very profound motive they had for doing this?

    If you actually look at the prophetic OT references to the events around the crucifixion, they are not identifiable as such. They are queer, and often out of place in the context they are found in. That introduces a bigger problem for the skeptics than the necessity and desire for common collusion:

    Why did Old Testament prophets ever record these odd-ball cherries in the first place?

    As a side note, there is very interesting prophetic overlay of the structure of the Bible to be found in the Tabernacle in Exodus….all kinds of very dramatic imagery going on with that.

    “Would you be willing to die and save ALL humanity knowing that you will live in three days…”

    There is a better question. Why do unbelievers get eternal punishment, while Jesus only spent three days and nights in hell, and was resurrected?

    ===

    MNb,

    “…defending made up stuff (you have exactly zero empirical evidence) because of your personal view on your favourite Book but rejecting scientific theories for which there is plentiful of such evidence?”

    In my view, the empirical evidence is overwhelming in favor of my views. There is simply no place to hide from a resurrected nation of Israel, or a planet covered by sedimentary formations. Your declaration of plentiful evidence for your perspective does not match your ability to produce it. I think you’ve just been told that it is there, and that you like what you heard.

    But you can prove me wrong by addressing any of the questions I asked Sean, or starting fresh with something like the iconic space particles, or how enzymes formed. I don’t expect you to actually do this, as you seem to be sensitive to looking silly. But if you should, be cautious not to exaggerate favorable details or exclude unfavorable details. Authorizing accidents to do impossible things would be a most ignoble example of special pleading.

  128. #129 Blaine
    March 15, 2014

    @128 Phil

    “But why would four people be interested, years after the fact, in composing a false portrayal? What was the very profound motive they had for doing this?”

    Well, there were actually many more gospels than four. The four we have are the ones that were chosen to be in the canonical New Testament. As to why would gospels be written, it is because they were believers in the ‘Christ’. Many religious movements create holy books about their founders. Christianity is no exception. Why did Philostratus write the _Life of Apollonius of Tyana_?

    As to why some religious cults like Christianity grow stronger when their prophecy fails – in this case, the ‘Christ’ was supposed to return within the lifetime of those living …he didn’t return which is a dramatic falsification of his promise – his death was also a dramatic failure in the eyes of his followers –

    A good book on this which presents modern day examples of cults becoming stronger after prophecy failing ( such as the Millerites ) is _When Prophecy Fails_ by Leon Festinger.

    “Festinger and his co-authors concluded that the following conditions lead to increased conviction in beliefs following disconfirmation:

    1. The belief must be held with deep conviction and be relevant to the believer’s actions or behavior.
    2. The belief must have produced actions that are difficult to undo.
    3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and concerned with the real world such that it can be clearly disconfirmed.
    4. The disconfirmatory evidence must be recognized by the believer.
    5. The believer must have social support from other believers.”

    Festinger also later described the increased conviction and proselytizing by cult members after disconfirmation as a specific instantiation of cognitive dissonance (i.e., increased proselyting reduced dissonance by producing the knowledge that others also accepted their beliefs) and its application to understanding complex mass phenomena.[

    BTW – initially Christianity was a sect within Judaism and that’s how everyone in the ancient world viewed it initially. There was much disagreement over beliefs, etc which Acts points out. Also, the Jesus sect was not the only one – It is only because of survival bias that we view Christianity as somehow unique and special. There are still followers of John the Baptist living in Iraq. This is an ancient movement and the members are still awaiting the Messiah.

    In the 2nd centure, Lucian wrote the satire _The Passing of Peregrinus_. In it, he describes how stupid and gullible Christian are and how easily they are duped. The ancient word – as we do today – had no end of religious hucksters and wonder workers of which Jesus – if he even lived – was a prime example. At best, he was a Jewish terrorist who was rightly crucified for his criminal behavior. It is not surprising to me that it shoudl find followers especially after Theodosius I literally forced mass conversions on pain of death.

  129. #130 Sean T
    March 19, 2014

    Phil,

    How did earth acquire its water?

    Well, how deeply do you want to go? There are a lot of hydrogen atoms in the universe. The earliest stars fused some of that hydrogen to helium, and then further fusion reacions in these stars formed all the elements up to and including iron. That would include oxygen. These atoms became scattered through the universe when these earliest stars became planetary nebulae (or supernovae for heavier ones). Some of them, including a large amount of hydrogen and oxygen became part of the original cloud from which our solar system was formed. These hydrogen and oxygen atoms combined to form water. Much of this was incoporated into icy bodies in the proto-solar system. Some of these were attracted gravitationally to the clump of matter that eventually became the earth.

    Where did the material which composes the layers of the geological column come from?

    This one’s not a problem unless you believe in a 6000 year-old earth. This material came from repeated cycles of erosion and deposition — google the rock cycle if you want more information. Basically, rocks formed from cooling of magma, were eroded by various forces (wind, flowing water, glaciers, etc.), the sediment from that erosion is deposited and new sedimentary rocks formed, which in turn are subject to another cycle of erosion and deposition. Given billions of years, the formation of the geological column by this process presents no problem.

    How do you account for a 100 ft thick coal seam?

    Lots of dead plants! Again with geological time scales, it’s not really problematic.

  130. #131 MNb
    March 19, 2014

    @128 Phil: “fresh with something like the iconic space particles, or how enzymes formed.”
    Science can’t explain it hence god. Well, 2000 years ago science couldn’t explain thunder and lightning hence Thor. That’s equally lame, don’t you think?

    “the empirical evidence is overwhelming in favor of my views”
    Then enlighten me and answer my questions 1-4 from 127. If you can’t your hypothesis of a Great Global Flood is …. lacking empirical evidence.
    At the other hand I have a fine naturalistic explanation for you how the story of the Great Global Flood made it into the Bible.

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