The Meaning of Life

I'm not in the mood for heavy blogging just now, so how about we discuss something light and frivolous. Like the meaning of life.

Back in July, I wrote this:

Answers about our origins have no implications at all for questions of meaning and value. Arising through blind, uncaring forces in no way implies that life is not awesomely precious, and being made in the image of a transcendent designer in no way implies that it is.

That seems entirely obvious to me, but I routinely hear religious people deny it. They say that if there is no God, then life has no meaning. The only way this claim makes any sense is if they take the question, “What is the meaning of life?” to mean something like, “What were we put here to do?” It is implicit in that question that there is some sort of intelligent agent that put us here for a purpose. By contrast, on an atheistic view of life, we were not “put here” at all. We simply appeared. Under this understanding of the question, we are simply defining our terms in a way that makes it impossible for life to have meaning if there is no God.

I assume, though, that religious people are not trying to win this argument by making arbitrary definitions. Moreover, if references to “meaning” in this context are really just shorthand for “what God wants from us,” then I much prefer that life not have meaning. I do not understand the mindset that says life has no meaning unless you can supplicate yourself to the wishes of an all-powerful father-figure.

But if religious folks are not trying to win this argument by definition, then I can see no reasonable interpretation under which life has no meaning without God. People find meaning in their lives in all sorts of ways that have nothing to do with their religious beliefs. Let us imagine a person who has friends and family and a satisfying career. Let us further imagine that he can honestly say he has left his corner of the world a bit better than he found it. That person has plenty of meaning and value in his life, even if he never spends a single moment worrying about what God wants from him. If you disagree then tell me exactly what you mean by “meaning” and “value.”

Conversely, let us stipulate that there is a God, that He put us here for a reason, and that we have some way of knowing what that reason is, mighty big stipulations all. How does it follow that life has meaning, or that life is awesomely precious, to use my earlier phrasing?

What follows from our stipulations is that there is a powerful entity that wants something from us. You have a whole lot more arguing to do before you can go from that to the claim that we are obligated to adopt God's purposes as our own.

Far from life having no meaning without God, to me the reality seems to be just the opposite. It is when I try to view life as the intentional creation of God that I start feeling despair. I don't suffer pangs of nihilism until I try to imagine that I am just a pawn in some cosmic game.

One person who disagrees with me is Orthodox rabbi Moshe Averick, writing at The Times of Israel. I know he disagrees with me, because he titled his blog post, “The Morally Confused World of Atheist Mathematician Jason Rosenhouse.” Subtle!

Averick posted this back in August, but I only just became aware of it. Let's see what he has to say:

If life itself emerged from the pre-biotic slime due to some fantastically improbable process (as to how this happened scientists have nothing to offer us except blank stares, shrugged shoulders, and purely speculative theories; each one wilder than the next), and then evolved over countless millions of years into the upright walking primates we call humans, the simple unadorned truth is the following: The human being is to the lobster what the lobster is to the cockroach, and the lobster is to the cockroach what the cockroach is to the paramecium. Human life, or any type of life for that matter, has no value or significance at all.

Every part of that is silly.

It is tempting simply to dismiss Averick out of hand for his snide remarks about scientists. You should remember them the next time you hear an atheist accused of arrogance. Someone who believes that an undetectable magic man simply poofed us into existence with an act of will has no business criticizing others for wild speculations. Theories about the origin of life are tightly constrained by the wealth of information we have about chemistry, physics, and the geology of the early earth, and they are at least partly capable of experimental verification. In this they compare favorably with the invented-from-whole-cloth notions of Orthodox Jewish theology.

We then come to an incomprehensible analogy about humans, lobsters and cockroaches. I assume Averick's point is simply that if evolution is correct, then human beings are just one more species among many. If that was his intent, then I agree! But how on earth does that imply that life has no value or significance? All those millennia of evolution that separate us from lobsters and cockroaches, during which we acquired intellectual capacities that make possible art, literature, music and mathematics, among other delightful things, have no significance? The numerous successes of humanity in our finest moments have no value if we are the end result of evolution?

What a silly view of life that is.

Averick next launches into a series of atheist quotes that are meant to put me in my place. We get Stephen Jay Gould and George Gaylord Simpson emphasizing the contingency of evolution. Then we get people like Christopher Hitchens or William Provine noting the lack of any deep meaning to existence, and so forth. Now, I think it's safe to say that everyone Averick quotes either believes, or believed when they were alive, that their lives were very meaningful indeed. In every case their point, obviously, was that if atheism is correct then we cannot turn to some outside authority to find the meaning of our existence. That is far different from saying that life has no value and significance at all.

So far Averick seems to think he can make his point simply by asserting it over and over again. But now he goes completely off the rails:

Contrast this with the view of an Orthodox Rabbi such as myself: “Precious and beloved is man who was created in the image of God. Exceeding love was bestowed on him by being informed explicitly [in the Torah] that he was created in the image of God.” (Babylonian Talmud) The most revolutionary idea in the history of mankind was the Torah's clear assertion that man was created in the image of the infinite, transcendent Creator of the universe, that he can transcend his own material existence and grasp, as it were, eternity. Finally, there was an escape from the degrading, chaotic world of pagan mythology. It also forms the basis of the American Revolution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that all men have been endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.” Let's face it, any self-respecting atheist should choke on these words. He would claim that it is a violation of the separation clause of the Constitution to read the words of the Declaration of Independence in a public school! I hope that non-believers will not obfuscate the issue by citing parts of the Torah or Judaism that they disagree with or think are inhumane. Feel free to reject the rest of the Torah if you like -- that discussion is for another time and place -- the issue on the table is how one views the origin of human beings and the implications of such.

A remarkable paragraph. It's so crazy it's difficult even to find a point of entry for correction.

His view is that he is loved by God. I'm delighted for him. My parents love me, but the meaning of my life is not determined by their desires for me.

Then he gushes about the Torah and offers some vague gobbledygook about grasping eternity. He knows somehow that those dumbass pagans never contemplated anything so deep.

Suddenly he's on to the American Revolution! Apparently one single reference to the Creator in the Declaration of Independence, and not the long list of grievances contained therein, was the basis for it. And if you don't believe in a Creator then you must be so offended by people who do that nothing else matters about them or what they accomplished. (And that's leaving aside, mind you, that many of the signers of the Declaration were very tepid believers, to the extent that they were believers at all).

Then for some reason he's talking about the separation of church and state.

He then remembers that the Torah is chock-full of barbarism and bad ideas, but warns us that we're not allowed to talk about that.

He's right that I'm confused, but it's not about the implications of my world view. I kept waiting for the part where he would explain why our life has no meaning without God, but it never came. To judge from what he has written, his argument is that life has no meaning without God because he would find it unpleasant if there were no God. Powerful stuff.

Bring it home rabbi:

Dr. Rosenhouse: As an atheist it is your prerogative to choose any system of values that suits your fancy; be it nihilism, humanism, logical positivism (or positive logicalism for that matter), progressivism, conservatism, hedonism, capitalism, socialism, utilitarianism, communism, Buddhism, fascism, etc. – or any combination thereof. All are equally as meaningful or meaningless, as significant or insignificant, as your personal preferences lead you to decide. All are nothing more than artificial, purely subjective products of human imagination whose purpose is to dull the simple truth that Freud expounded; that is to say they present the non-believer with illusory systems that prevent him from getting “sick” while contemplating the rather “bleak” reality of our existence. By all means choose “whatever gets you through the night” as instructed by philosopher of the ages, John Lennon. After all, the only alternative – besides belief in God – is to take a long walk off a short ledge – not very helpful for an academic career…even if one has tenure. I do request, however, that you not demean your own intelligence and insult ours, by pretending that how one views human origins does not have profound implications on how we view the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence.

What a charming fellow. I can only say in reply that if his religious faith is really the only thing that keeps him from committing suicide, then I'm very glad he has his faith to keep him going. But it doesn't reflect poorly on atheists that we don't need the love of an imaginary friend to find meaning and purpose in our lives. We're not the ones with a sick, bleak worldview.

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i think that inherent in all these arguments/thinking/posturings is that there needs to be meaning to life, that there needs to be importance to life

wrong

sorry, but if what we can learn from what little science we know has any value it is this

we are nothing less than the universe's way of screaming and biting and kicking against the inevitable

first, let's face it, if what we can learn from biology really sinks in then your life is pretty much meaningless other than it is part of a whole tapestry of seething life doing its thing

you have no value (as far as biology is concerned) more than any other expression of life anywhere or any time. Even the whole of life has no "meaning" as such - it too is terminal

life IS

and probably just erupts wherever it can - an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics

we have no value and no meaning and we are utterly terminal

once we realize that, truly understand it, embrace it, only then can we start to build an ethics that addresses our nature and our plight

your child has no more value than mine - no matter what either of them might grow up to accomplish

it is all meaningless

yet we are trapped in our animal nature - our life nature - to strive and compete as life has evolved from the very nature of thermodynamics to do

once we recognize this in each other how can we have anything but empathy?

we are all on a path to oblivion in a universe that will spawn life in every crevasse of opportunity

we are as if trapped by it all, quite capable of seeing it for what it is, yet never being able to shift inevitability by much more than a butterfly's breath in an infinitely humongously HUGE universe

how could we have nothing but compassion for all of life if this is what we know?

there is your "meaning" of life

what will you do with it?

or, if i have directed you to glimpse the face of God, will you burst into flame and die, now, screaming at the fundamentally awesomeness of it all?

p

By The Peak Oil Poet (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

Poet of Peak -- you said a powerful mouthful and staggering mindful (except for the last stanza).

The meaning of life is meaningless in that it is not a well-defined concept and thus can be twisted to serve any purpose as seen in the rabbi's quotes.

Complete and utter nonsense. The first 2 comments have no meaning.

By The Seattle Seahawk (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

I'm not even sure "What is the meaning of life?" is a well formed question.

But let's say it is. And let's even grant the silly rabbi his position that atheism is inherently meaningless, since the only possible meaning for life is, "To do what Yahweh wants me to do."

Surely the only possible response for a free, rational, sentient creature in such a case is to say, "Bugger that for a game of soldiers." In other words, if that means I'm a nihilist, mark me down in that column willingly.

In short, even the best possible argument for meaning being connected to religion fails to convince me, and the rabbi's argument was so far from the best possible argument that I'm not even sure it's possible to SEE the best possible argument from there... I seem to have mixed a metaphor or two there.

Sorry to hear you're not in the mood Jason; I hope we can look forward to a return to the math puzzles soon, and I always enjoy your chess stuff as well. I'm currently trying to improve my game, and it's always nice to see your perspective; I'll admit, I was largely uninterested in chess problems until you started featuring them. I'd say I'm still more interested in tactical puzzles (ie those that are not strictly problems, because they CAN and often DO start with a capture or check) but you're winning me over.

By Gary Sturgess (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

#3

"Complete and utter nonsense. The first 2 comments have no meaning"

i think you missed the last to words "of life"

#2

actually the last stanza (hey cool i like that) has lots of meaning - in the old Hebrew bible somewhere it says that if you look on the face of god you get zapped in a ball of fire or somesuch

Spinoza convinced me the only possibly valid "meaning" for "God" was the entirety of "creation" (ie the universe)

and gee if you did, in a flash (so to speak), perceive the entirety of the whole humongously big universe, don't you think the information overload would fry your insignificance into oblivion?

#4, it's a well formed question but it begs a lot

i mean really "life" is pretty complex to grasp for even some biologists (assuming that ANY biologist can actually understand much more than a glimpse)

and yes "meaning" - sheesh what an overloaded word!

i'd say it's a question only an idiot would ask

or a child

or some sort of snake oil salesman

p

By The Peak Oil Poet (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

Really--the collective human "house" is on fire and the fire is out of control. Obama, once the great hope of Black people suffering from idiotic "identity politics" and the great hope of guilt-ridden White liberals, has proven beyond all expectations that

a) despite his credentials--and, worse indeed, perhaps just as much because of his credentials, he's an over-schooled dumb-shit.

b) Morally, he's even worse than the above. He's not merely a moral miscreant, a moral "lightweight," he's morally "weightless." And that, in the office he holds, is even worse than being just plain stupid.

c.) It's now becoming clear--just very recently, that is, in both the thoughtful press as well as among the non-expert observers of politics--that, even by his own measures of "success," Obama's foreign and domestic policies have produced practically nothing whatsoever of real value. In foreign policy, it's worse: his entire term to this point has failed so terribly that the entire Bush-Cheney wars--which Obama adopted (needlessly) and augmented, have produced, if anything, a set of outcomes that are now so horrible and intractable that, believe it or not, they are worse than even the worst of what, under Bush and Cheney's misrule, was thought probable or, for some, even possible.

In such circumstances, perhaps it's not very surprising that one could be moved to ponder "What is the meaning of Life?" but, really, in my opinion, there are much more serioius, pressing and important things on which we ought to be spending our time and energy thinking.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

That's it Peak Oil Poet. Let's just make it up as we go along. It's really fun to read rants of nonsense online by people who believe that the gibberish in their brain is gospel. The conviction in which you deliver your dung is fascinating as well. Whatever you say your meaninglessness. Maybe you can write a science fiction novel to see if you can tickle enough ears to start a cult like L. Ron Hubbard!!

Life most certainly has meaning and it's too bad you're oblivious to it. I do, however, like parts of your response to #4 which indicates that you understand how little you understand.

By The Seattle Seahawk (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Jason:

His view is that he is loved by God. I’m delighted for him. My parents love me, but the meaning of my life is not determined by their desires for me.

Yeah I was thinking the exact same thing, only from the parental perspective. I have a kid. I love him and he is (partially) made in my image. But is that the sum total of the meaning of his life? Is that even the most important part of the meaning of his life? No and no. What a destitute definition of 'meaning' that would be. His 'meaning' is in what he sends back out into the world; his actions and accomplishments, and in how he leaves the world a bit of a better place than when he came into it. I hope my love (and genetics) contributes to that result, but my love isn't some sort of 'goal' that he needs to accomplish before his life has meaning. And considering genetics really shows how facetious the Rabbi's comments are. How can something you came pre-loaded with and had no will or say in, be the meaning of your life? I've got five fingers on each hand: is that my meaning of life? Its absurd.

@4:

And let’s even grant the silly rabbi his position that atheism is inherently meaningless, since the only possible meaning for life is, “To do what Yahweh wants me to do.”

I'm not sure many theists will admit to this and I'm not sure what the Rabbi's beliefs in the afterlife entail, but I suspect that for many religious people, the unspoken 'meaning of life' is to pass the deity's tests and therefore get to heaven/an eternal pleasant life. Remove the hope for a pleasant afterlife, and they'll say this life has no meaning regardless of whether they're made in God's image etc. or not.

Oh look, we already got a troll (6), now let's ignore it.

--

First thing we ought to do is define "meaning," for which I'll offer this: "the subjective sense of significance in relation to something greater than self, typically associated with the emotion of inspiration, and measured in terms of effort spent working toward relevant goals."

Objects of the sense of meaning might include one's family, business or profession, religious values such as unconditional love, understanding of the physical universe, excellence in the arts or athletics, etc.

We can look at (at least) two axes of measurement: the degree to which the subjective sense of meaning is felt by the individual (this is relative and subjective; does not operationalize to an interval scale), and the degree of effort the individual makes (which could be translated to an interval scale depending on how measured).

One thing we're likely to find (this is a testable hypothesis) is that the degree to which the subjective sense of meaning is felt by individuals varies in a normal population (and I would say, frequentist that I am, that it varies normally).

In this very column we can see examples of positions at one end of the scale: people asserting that "there is no meaning" or "life is meaningless."

But some of the most successful science communicators (Sagan, Tyson, Ethan Siegel here on Scienceblogs) are good at stirring up the sense of inspiration in their audiences: the root source for the sense of meaning. They stand as examples at the other end of the scale.

The word "purpose" can be used in two very different senses: one (A) is a purpose for which something is made; the other (B) is a mental state, namely an aim or intention. An inanimate object like a hammer can only have a purpose in sense A. Talking about humans we mostly use the word "purpose" in sense B, e.g. "my purpose in going to the shop was to buy food". To use sense A of a person implies that the person was made for a purpose by a creator, and generally only a theist would speak in that way. The theist may then conflate the two senses, supposing that to have a purpose in any sense, people must have been created for a purpose. But people can have purposes in sense B (aims and intentions) without having a purpose in sense A (having been made for a purpose).

Suppose we knew that we were created by a sadistic god, his purpose being to entertain himself by our suffering. Would we have to make it our purpose in life to suffer? Of course not. God's purpose in creating us is not the same thing as our purposes (aims) in life. We might make it our aim to bring God's plans to fruition. But we would only do so if we felt some motivation to do so, if we cared about God's plans. Motivation must start from within, not from without.

Similarly, "meaning" must start from within. If nothing meant anything to me, then God and his plans wouldn't mean anything to me. I wouldn't care about them. But it's human nature that we do care about things, i.e. that some things have "meaning" for us. And over our lifetimes these innate cares can lead to us caring about other things, possibly including God's plans. So "meaning" arises first and foremost from our evolved human nature.

By Richard Wein (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

By the rabbi's logic, a cow's purpose is to be eaten. If I were a cow, I wouldn't find that comforting.

@10:

First thing we ought to do is define “meaning,” for which I’ll offer this: “the subjective sense of significance in relation to something greater than self, typically associated with the emotion of inspiration, and measured in terms of effort spent working toward relevant goals.”

That's a bad definition, I think. Our subjective sense of significance (of an event or act) is a result of chemical signaling. And in fact it can be artificially triggered/chemically altered, so that the significance your brain assigns to something is blown totally out of proportion. This is why you get drunks and people on dope thinking they've come up with the solution for world peace: because their brains are assigning a significance to some thought it doesn't deserve. Its why people have PTSD and traumas such as getting rear-ended in a can stick with us so strongly, that we behave with irrational fear towards circumstances that are vaguely similar to (but unrelated to) the trauma circumstances. There again, our brain has assigned too much significance to some event. Finally, some studies support the hypothesis that triggering the 'significance control' part of the brain in the absence of other strong stimuli is what causes religious experiences (i.e. feeling that you are in the presence of God). With no event to attach itself to, humans tend to externalize the internal sense of huge significance into a being or presence.

All of which is a long way around to saying, we probably want to define 'meaning of life' as something more than just an internal, subjective feeling of significance. Otherwise what you're saying is what gives meaning to our lives is when our brain malfunctions.

"All of which is a long way around to saying, we probably want to define ‘meaning of life’ as something more than just an internal, subjective feeling of significance."

Why define it at all? It's up to those who want to use the expression to say what they mean by it. I see no use for it.

By Richard Wein (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

"They say that if there is no God, then life has no meaning."

What they mean is "if there is no God, then religion has no meaning." No one wants to admit they tossed away so many years of their lives chasing invisible friends in the sky.

"The human being is to the lobster what the lobster is to the cockroach..."

Lobsters eat boiled cockroaches? I had no idea. And frankly, I find it hard to believe. Where would they get the butter?

#16

actually Jane, cockroaches have their own naturally buttery flavour

reminiscent of the taste of bugs in vids like this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gaa2Eb-sSQo

:-)

if you really want a treat, deep fried spiders are the way to go

p

By The Peak Oil Poet (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Hey, I know what the meaning of life is!

It's a Monty Python movie. The good (or bad) rabbi should watch it.

Had to get that out of the way. I think what most theists really mean is, it's less stressful to get through the day if you believe you have a powerful sky-daddy who watches over you and has a plan for you and helps you win football games. When things seem to be going badly it's all part of his magnificent plan for you, so don't worry, be happy. They're all the stars of their own personal morality play, with the whole universe as a stage. It's not just "a" meaning they want, it's that meaning.

My father used to have a saying which probably came from my Irish grandmother, which I think applies to the rabbi: "He's just as happy as if he was in his right mind."

"It's less stressful to get through the day if you believe you have a powerful sky-daddy who watches over you and has a plan for you and helps you win football games."

LOL! I really liked that one :)
GO HAWKS!!!! And almighty and powerful sky-daddy please help them repeat as Super Bowl champs, especially since pretty boy Tom Brady has been outed as a dishonest cheat!

Other than that admittedly fun bit of humor, the tone of the rest of your post is dung. Implying that theists are not in their right mind is only fun while you remain under the delusion that they're wrong.

By The Seattle Seahawk (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

This is beautifully written and expresses many thoughts that I also have but could never put that well.

Meaning does not have to be given, it can be found. Deities are not required.

By sean samis (not verified) on 23 Jan 2015 #permalink

"They say that if there is no God, then life has no meaning."
What they actually say, but won't admit, is that the only relevant meaning is external.

"I assume, though, that religious people are not trying to win this argument by making arbitrary definitions."
You assume wrongly. They define "meaning of life" (even if instinctively) in such a way that it's impossible for human beings to give their lives meaning themselves.

The big fun is that those believers who assume an afterlife in the presence of Divine Grace (or however they put it) actually say that Earthly life is meaningless, because that afterlife is all that counts.
As so often they are incoherent. As soon as you see why it's very easy to refute their illogic.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury explains the meaning or purpose of life very well. Not as funny as Monty Python though.

MNb,

"The big fun is that those believers who assume an afterlife in the presence of Divine Grace (or however they put it) actually say that Earthly life is meaningless, because that afterlife is all that counts.”

No, we believe in things like justice. This life is very meaningful. MNb,

"The big fun is that those believers who assume an afterlife in the presence of Divine Grace (or however they put it) actually say that Earthly life is meaningless, because that afterlife is all that counts.”

No, we believe in things like justice. This life is very meaningful.

Re. Eric @: _Of course_ our sense of meaning is produced by chemical signaling. All emotions are the subjective sensation of the action of neurochemicals on neurons. And yes they can be chemically altered, and the sense of meaning can as well, both downward and upward. Though I'll disagree about PTSD: it is _not_ that the brain assigns "too much significance" to the original trauma, it's that the emotions associated with the original trauma are so strong that they get generalized to associate with other stimuli that become triggers. Subtle but significant difference.

Agreed, the subjective sense of deep meaning, in the absence of a direct object (such as e.g. an artistic performance) can get projected and personalized such as in religious experiences. However that does not weigh on the question of whether or not a deity exists, which is empirically undecidable.

Disagree about "brain malfunction." To paraphrase Charlie Tart (Prof.Emeritus, Psych., UC Davis), there are no such things as "higher" or "lower" states of consciousness: those are merely subjective value judgements. What state is best for doing mathematics?, for driving a car?, for playing a violin?, for expressing love? The value of a state of consciousness depends on the task for which it is used. Thus I would say that for any given task (designing a jet airliner, planning a military strategy, composing a symphony, docking a space craft, etc.) there is a range of "subjective sense of meaning" that is appropriate, above or below which the probability of success declines.

The meaning of life? 42!

Professor, I wouldn't bother with Averick. He's seriously deranged, arguably psychotic, and I don't think he even has much of a following within the Orthodox world.

He often signs himself "M. Averick", as in "maverick". He sees himself as an independent thinker, a lone voice crying in the wilderness against the evil forces of secularism and atheism. In reality, he is a raging lunatic.

He really isn't worth the time it took you to write this post.

Re. Richard Wein @ 11: "The word “purpose” can be used in two very different senses: one (A) is a purpose for which something is made; the other (B) is a mental state, namely an aim or intention."

Yes!, and very interesting & useful distinction. I'll admit that in years of thinking about "purpose," I've failed to explicate that distinction, instead using a definition along the lines of "the goals toward which one is willing to expend effort."

Meaning is inherently subjective, but the objects of the sense of meaning may be internal (artistic creativity) or external (patriotism), or empirically undecidable (a deity).

-----

Eric @ 13 again: "...some studies support the hypothesis that triggering the ‘significance control’ part of the brain in the absence of other strong stimuli is what causes religious experiences..."

That would be Michael Persinger, Laurentian University, numerous papers published in _Perception and Motor Skills_. I read all of them in grad school. About which I have a hypothesis:

EM stimulation of the right temporal lobe produced two effects: a) "numinous experiences," increased sense of meaning, as you've mentioned, and also b) "verbal substitution behavior," where subjects did not repeat test sentences exactly but instead substituted words. Item (b) is highly convergent with findings in comparative religion about cognitive differences between fundamentalism (emphasis on scriptural literalism and importance of exact text) and mysticism (emphasis on abstract understanding in which exact text is not important): mystical experiences tend to undermine fundamentalist beliefs.

Based on which, I hypothesize that induced mystical experiences (such as per Peringer, or Griffiths, psilocybin study) are a potential cure for fundamentalism, that could undermine the base from which religious extremist movements (ISIL, Dominionism, etc.) draw their followers. Neat, eh?;-)

---

Theism & atheism generally: It would be preferable to not use emotionally loaded language. Derisive language toward theism is a shoot-self-in-foot maneuver: it accomplishes the opposite of what you intend.

See also Phil's response to that stuff @24.

And see also the language I've been using, which does not seek to put others down (with the exception of terrorist groups, about which both theists and atheists can agree should be defeated).

What we ought to be working for in public policy is a pluralistic society with secular government and universal scientific literacy. That is orthogonal to the axis of personal beliefs in the existence or nonexistence of deities: all can coexist as long as they do not seek to dominate or otherwise harm others.

Re: #19 "... the tone of the rest of your post is dung. Implying that theists are not in their right mind ..."

I was responding to the rabbi. I'll respond to rational arguments with civility, but not to his. I stand by my implication that he (not all theists) is not in his right mind, i.e., not being rational. And it's no delusion that the theists I know and see on TV thank their sky-daddy for letting them win football games. Is that rational? Is there in fact any rational basis for being a theist? It really doesn't explain anything about the universe and how or why it exists, you know. An incomprehensible entity of unknown origin and unknown means of operation is not an explanation, it's just a fancier way of saying, "I don't know how or why that happened." Such an entity could of course prove its existence by signs and wonders, say writing its name on the moon, but funny thing, he never does signs and wonders in any controlled experiment vs. placebo or in any reliable way that could pass peer-review.

I do know a theist who told me god appeared to him one night, temporarily granted him an IQ of 1000, and debated the Devil in his presence, proving that every word of the Bible is true. Turns out however that he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, aka the Prophet's Disease, and refuses to take medication for it - speaking of delusions. I listen to him when he stops me on street corners to expound his latest creationist theory that he's heard on the radio or seen on the Internet at the library until my knees hurt from standing in one place. He threw away his glasses because he has faith that Jesus will heal him. I offered to buy him new ones at the mall so we could play tennis, but that offended him.

He'll probably see the rabbi's ramblings and cite that in support of his delusions. There are cases of people with brain dysfunctions being able to recognize them and overcome them with the cognitive ability they still have (e.g., "A Beautiful Mind") - as long as they haven't been indoctrinated by people like the rabbi.

Cipher,

“I wouldn’t bother with Averick. He’s seriously deranged, arguably psychotic…he is a raging lunatic.”

Interesting. But so is this statement attributed to him above:

“If life itself emerged from the pre-biotic slime due to some fantastically improbable process (as to how this happened scientists have nothing to offer us except blank stares, shrugged shoulders, and purely speculative theories; each one wilder than the next)”

What part of this is deranged?

“It is when I try to view life as the intentional creation of God that I start feeling despair. I don’t suffer pangs of nihilism until I try to imagine that I am just a pawn in some cosmic game.”

A pawn? Why not a friend? Or better than that, according to easy Christian doctrine, an heir. Why in hell should anyone reject the promise of child status? I could understand if the terms were out of reach, but when the requirements are so pitifully minimal as “call upon the name of the Lord”, who can you blame if you don’t do that?

works for santa clause too

not much to ask - a nice word for santa and you get presents every year

it also works for the tooth fairy

i'm praying to aliens to come save us

p

By The Peak Oil Poet (not verified) on 24 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

Re: “If life itself emerged from the pre-biotic slime due to some fantastically improbable process (as to how this happened scientists have nothing to offer us except blank stares, shrugged shoulders, and purely speculative theories; each one wilder than the next)”

Projection based on ignorance.

Where did your god come from? Blank stare.

How does he work his magic? Shrugged shoulders.

How could Jesus be the son of god if there's only one god? Speculative theory (trinity) wilder even than the Garden of Eden and Noah's Ark.

Meanwhile, Szostak's lab has produced a proto-cell, Ventner's lab has produced an artificial bacteria genome, and ten minutes on a Google search of abiogenesis will produce lots of scientific work and tons of data - which of course won't be understood. Scientists don't treat the unknown with blank stares, unlike most theists, they research it, and wild speculations don't become scientific theories until they are backed by reliable evidence and have predictive value. The results are often strange and difficult to understand (e.g., quantum mechanics) but that's our problem, not the universe's.

Phil -

Naturally, it wouldn't even occur to you that I have previous experience with Averick. All that matters to you is that he is, like you, a conservative religious ideologue who is saying precisely what you want to hear.

Please don't address me. You've repeatedly demonstrated here that you're largely impervious to reason, and in fact, you are the reason I've been unsubscribing from these comment threads. I've nothing to say to you, and will not respond to you again.

"it wouldn’t even occur to you that I have previous experience with Averick."

No, it wouldn’t. But it must have been very painful.
-
"Please don’t address me."

Wise policy I think. There is nothing to be gained by provoking an agitated child.
-
"in fact, you are the reason I’ve been unsubscribing from these comment threads."

Yes, you mentioned your intent to retreat some time ago. There are safer venues where you will only hear precisely what you want to hear.

I grant you atheists that you deny the notion of "Eternity". But is it really so hard to figure out what someone means when they use the word?

In the context of the phrase "the meaning of Life", the word "Life" is a specific reference to that period of time we experience individually between birth and death.

So when religious people answer the question, "What is the meaning of Life?", they are attempting to explain a reason behind their brief existence here on this earth.

Jason, you have discussed instead whether there is any good to be found in simply being Alive. Of course the answer is Yes, and as the Rabbi pointed out, that good is whatever you choose to identify as being meaningful to yourself personally. Take your pick. Because there is no higher authority to whom you are answerable, your choice is by definition correct.

The religious folks, especially those of the Abrahamic tradition, see this life as mere preparation for something better. And that something better is ... Eternal. They actually believe that death has no power over them.

Far from being crazy, the Rabbi has very eloquently explained that hope to which all religious people aspire - Eternity, or Eternal Life. Deny it you may, but fail to comprehend it? Please!

Put another way, the religious man believes that the choices he makes in this lifetime have eternal consequences, and are therefore meaningful. By contrast, the atheist believes that he will be gone from this realm soon enough, with no consequences that matter to himself personally.

So if you want to take on the good Rabbi, and not come across like some blind man describing the sunrise, at least write some thoughts about how the choices you make in this life still affect others who will succeed you, and why this ability to affect the quality of the life of future generations actually matters even once you are gone.

the religious man believes that the choices he makes in this lifetime have eternal consequences

And that makes no sense, especially as you yourself emphasize the importance of the notion of "Eternity". What possible justice could there be in choices made during a literally infinitesimal period governing a later infinity of existence? Especially when the only two outcomes are an eternity of bliss or an infinitude of torture? So yeah, the notion is absurd.

By Tulse (not verified) on 26 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Gordon (not verified)

I've often heard evangelical Christians say that our existence in the physical world is just a prleude to our “real lives” in heaven. To me that makes our lives here seem pretty meaningless after all.

I will grant you that this simplistic view held by many evangelical Christians does have the result that they don't seem to seek a meaning or higher purpose in this life. They view this life as merely some sort of test to be passed, and since they are sure they have already passed, they are now just sitting around waiting for that great train to Glory.

If evangelical churches truly practiced what they preached, they would have two doors for leaving their service every Sunday: One for the faithless who needed to get back to the daily grind and suffer a bit longer in this world, and another for the "saved" where they shoot you as you exit and send you straight on you way to "real" life!

It should be obvious by now that “meaning” is a fluid term that “means” whatever one wants or needs. Some people need a “meaning” given by a greater power and lasting for eternity. Others (including me) do not. For the former group, religion is essential to their search for meaning, to others (including me) it is not. To each their own.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 26 Jan 2015 #permalink

Phil: @31:

I could understand if the terms were out of reach, but when the requirements are so pitifully minimal as “call upon the name of the Lord”, who can you blame if you don’t do that

I can blame God, obviously. When my kid reaches for a hot burner I don't insist he call my name before saving him. I don't insist he worship me for me to give him my love. And I would never permit him to spend even one second in hell just because he didn't call on my name. Such a requirement is cruel and evil. He could repeat "father? What father? I don't have a father" for his entire life and I'd still pull him out of hell immediately. What parent wouldn't? Evidently, Yahweh wouldn't. I find that evil.

Gordon:

Put another way, the religious man believes that the choices he makes in this lifetime have eternal consequences, and are therefore meaningful. By contrast, the atheist believes that he will be gone from this realm soon enough, with no consequences that matter to himself personally.

The consequences of what happens after we die matter to us personally while we are alive. But moreover, your first part seems to trivialize Averick's argument. Yes, you can parse the religious meaning of life argument as "if we define 'meaning of life' in this particular way that refers to an afterlife, then atheists don't have meaning of life.' And parsed as such a conditional statement, its true. But aren't we after some bigger fish? Giving Averick the benefit of the doubt here, I think he is trying to make a deeper philosophical point than just 'atheists don't believe in an afterlife.' He's trying to argue that atheism grants no meaning of life even when considering a pan-religious and pan-atheist definition of the term. And on that broader definition, he is IMO wrong for many of the reasons Jason and others have cited here.

eric,

“I can blame God, obviously. When my kid reaches for a hot burner I don’t insist he call my name before saving him. I don’t insist…”

Well, I guess everyone has a strategy. But I wouldn’t want to show up in court wearing that one.

Actually, we have some information about the judgment (yours being different than ours). What you will actually wind up doing is recounting what a nice person you were, and the nice things that you did.
-
“He could repeat “father? What father? I don’t have a father” for his entire life and I’d still pull him out of hell immediately. What parent wouldn’t? Evidently, Yahweh wouldn’t.”

But He is not your parent. It is often said that we are all God’s children. But like the notion that we are our brother’s keeper, it sounds good, but it is wrong.

Last comment was in reply to Jason.

Eric, if God did not allow us to learn from our mistakes, he would be robbing us of Free Will.

I am a father, and I told my children the consequences of touching the hot burner, but I did not stand beside them every minute to make sure they did not touch it.

One of the most valuable lessons my son ever learned was when he ignored one of my warnings while climbing a tree. He hurt his hand quite badly, and came running to me for comfort. Of course I did not scold him for disobeying me. I treated the wound and told him he was going to be alright. Even before he showed me his hand he said that he should have listened to me.

The alternative would have been to forbid him from climbing trees altogether. That would not have demonstrated true love.

I am a father, and I told my children the consequences of touching the hot burner, but I did not stand beside them every minute to make sure they did not touch it.

Do you do the same thing when they want to run across a busy road? Or climb into the lion cage at the zoo? Or play Russian Roulette? If you saw your child doing something that you know would kill them, would you not physically intervene? Seriously, what kind of parent are you?

And, of course, all these example involve mere death, and not an infinitude of pain under torture for all eternity. Torture, of course, that is meted out by exactly the same being that won't prevent the circumstance from happening. What kind of horrible monster is that, anyway? How can one possibly refer to it as "Father"?

By Tulse (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Gordon (not verified)

To ask what is the meaning of life, I suggest you must first answer what is the meaning of a rock?
Its a question that just doesn't apply, you might as well ask what's the square root of life?
Life has no meaning, and worse, no square root either.

By Jeremy Thomson (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

Re. Eric @ 40: "...Yahweh wouldn’t [pull his own kid out of hell]. I find that evil."

Evil by our standards, in the modern industrial world with modern child protection statutes.

But by the standards of a persecuted people living in brutal times, having a brutal moral code was evidently the price of survival. The Jews had a harsh deity and survived, but we never heard about the Mews, because they had a cute kitty deity and perished.

Gazelles living near lions and tigers must have a pretty harsh moral code too, and if they have a deity, it probably isn't a cute cat.

Phil:

[eric] “I can blame God, obviously. When my kid reaches for a hot burner I don’t insist he call my name before saving him. I don’t insist…”

[phil] Well, I guess everyone has a strategy. But I wouldn’t want to show up in court wearing that one.

What does your answer mean? Are you saying that when facing a court, you would say "as a father, I think the proper strategy is to let my kid touch the burning stove if he doesn't worship me first." ??? Are you referring to final judgment, when you will stand before God and proclaim that yes, it was good and right that you allow your child to get hurt because your child refused to worship you?

Actually, we have some information about the judgment (yours being different than ours). What you will actually wind up doing is recounting what a nice person you were, and the nice things that you did.

Well, I'm not perfect but I don't think i'm the self-centered a-hole you make me out to be. No, I am not keeping my kid safe from harm just so I can talk about what a nice guy I am. I'm doing it because I love him.

But He is not your parent. It is often said that we are all God’s children. But like the notion that we are our brother’s keeper, it sounds good, but it is wrong.

Okay, describe to me what makes it perfectly moral for God to leave someone burning in eternal agony just because that person won't worship him.

Gordon:

Eric, if God did not allow us to learn from our mistakes, he would be robbing us of Free Will.

If God can't fashion free-willed entities that don't need to make mistakes to learn, he's not omnipotent. If he chose not to, he's kinda evil. Which do you subscribe to? Or are you going with the 'his motives are unscrutable' defense?

I am a father, and I told my children the consequences of touching the hot burner, but I did not stand beside them every minute to make sure they did not touch it.

Again, though, you're not thinking through the implications of omnipotence and omniscience. We don't protect our kids from harm 24/7 mostly because we can't. We must balance risk of danger vs. cost of monitoring, when non-monitoring allows us to do other things that are also good for the kid. God, however, doesn't have to do that calculation. There's simply no reason not to 'stand beside us' every moment, and indeed I thought it was pretty standard Christian theology to claim that he does 'stand beside us' every moment. Am I wrong in that?

G:

Evil by our standards, in the modern industrial world with modern child protection statutes.

But by the standards of a persecuted people living in brutal times, having a brutal moral code was evidently the price of survival.

Agree on th first part, not so sure on the second. Regardless of the truth or falsity of your last statement, that is an argument in favor of God being constructed by men, not an argument in favor of man being constructed by God.

When talking about “meaning”, people mostly are talking about 1) a role something has been assigned by a Greater Power; 2) hope for a better future, or 3) glory. These seem to fill the majority of “meanings”. One can find their own role, it need not be assigned. Likewise hope for a better future. As for glory: that is a shallow purpose imho.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

I really hope you are not serious. The difference between you as a parent and God is that God presumably is omniscient. I too have a child and I know what kind of trouble they can get into. I am not omniscient, nor omnipotent, so I cannot always prevent my son from doing something stupid and hurting himself. If I could, though, I would. Why would God not do so? God has no such excuse as not knowing that a person is about to do something stupid and hurt himself, nor does god have the excuse that he couldn't do anything to help.

Further, if your children disobey you, do you completely disown them and punish them for all eternity? I sincerely hope not. Sure, children need to be punished. An eternal punishment of the most tortuous type seems a bit over the top for someone who goes astray, though. If I can see that this is not moral, and you presumably can see that this isn't moral, why can't God see it?

I don't know your personal beliefs, but some Christians certainly believe that you go to hell for any sin and are tortured for all eternity. The murderer gets the same punishment as someone who fails to go to church on a few Sundays when they were able to. Eternal damnation for all who fail to live up to the standard, right? Is that a fair thing for an all-loving, all-powerful God to do? I certainly think not, and I suspect most people would as well.

Perhaps, given the lack of evidence for God's existence, along with the issues I've raised, as well as many other well-documented logical and theological problems with God's existence, there is a simpler answer.

Eric and Sean,

Think on this one for a while. There is a fundamental conflict between God's omnipotence and omniscience, and his ability to allow us Free Will. Eric, you assert outright that an omnipotent being could give us Free Will while at the same time stopping us from doing any bad things.

You are asking for him to provide water that is not wet, and to let us dwell on this planet without the constraints of gravity. You are demanding Free Will that does not actually involve freedom.

The failure to come to terms with this conflict has led many to conclude that God cannot be Benevolent. But his benevolence is seen in the very fact that he has given us Free Will.

To go back to the father analogy, I allow my children to climb trees, but I first inform them of the risks. From the Garden of Eden story, it is pretty evident that God did not put us in a cage with hungry lions. The risk was not that some other thing would harm us, but that we would be harmed by our own wrong choice. This is benevolent Free Will.

Most of the objections in these posts come down to the notion that a Benevolent Creator would not punish his children for all eternity, no matter how badly they stuffed things up. I happen to agree with you all on this.

Hell appears to be a medieval notion not found in the original Hebrew or Greek, and the conception comes from a lone verse about a "Lake of Fire" found in the book of Revelations, a book written almost entirely in figurative language.

With Hell out of the way, the question of "eternal consequences" can be thought about this way: If you knew that you would live forever in the house that you built while here on earth, would that give more of a focus to how you spent your time here? In such a scenario, those who wasted their time would not have their house burned down. They just wouldn't have as nice a house as the ones who were diligent in building the best house they could.

Those who "believed" in the 'eternal house' would find meaning in building theirs, whereas the non-believers would find meaning in whatever else best suited their fancy at the time. Both would receive the eternal consequences of the choice that they made.

By Gordon (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Sean T (not verified)

In my local paper this morning, four young men attend a party, the 18 yr old driver is drunk, falls asleep at 3am, crashes and rolls several times, killing his 20 yr old friend in the process. If there were a loving God, where was this God?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

@50 - well, according to Gordon, he was letting them learn from their mistakes.

@51
at least one of them will never ride with a drunk driver again!

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

With all due respect, the "free will" defense to the problem of evil is just a cop out. Why SHOULD God respect free will above all else, no matter who gets hurt? Why does God not make exceptions to the rule that "free will trumps all" when such exceptions are warranted? For instance, someone previously posted a case where an 18 year old got drunk, drove his car and killed his 20 year old friend. Why shouldn't God have made an exception to the "free will" rule here? He could even have done so in such a way that the parties involved would have had no clue that he did. The 18 year old was drunk; why couldn't God have caused this 18 year old drunken individual to fall down and hurt himself so he couldn't drive and kill his friend? Would that undetectable violation of his free will really have caused greater harm than the actual events?

To further consider this, let's think about what we would think of a government that acted like God purportedly does. Now, real governments are not held accountable when lunatics hear voices and go out and kill people. That's because governments are not run by beings who are omniscient and omnipotent. You could be darn sure, though, that were there to be an omniscient and omnipotent government, we would hold them to account when something like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings or the shootings in the theater in Aurora, CO occurred. Would we really think that an omnipotent, omniscient government should just stand by and watch a gunman shoot elementary school children in order to allow that gunman to have his free will? I would think most people would answer no to that, and I would fear for the sanity of anyone who would prefer to allow the gunman to have free will in this case. In any case, why does the free will of the gunman trump the free will of the victims? Presumably it was not the will of these victims to go to school and die, so why would God not stop such an occurrence?

There is a fundamental conflict between God’s omnipotence and omniscience, and his ability to allow us Free Will

Well first off, it's good to see you admit that your god can't logically be omnipotent.

But your god cannot have also given you real "Free Will", because your will is constrained in all sorts of ways. For example, you can't "choose" to fly, or turn invisible, lift a train engine. You can't kill people with just a word, or raise them from the dead. You can't end world hunger with a snap of your fingers, or by wishing carve mountains in your likeness. Because we are not omnipotent, our "will" is not truly "free" -- it is always constrained.

Besides, if "Free Will" were so vital, why does your god permit so many illnesses to impair it? Is the will of Alzheimer's patients as free as yours? What about schizophrenics? Those suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder -- are they "free" to choose their behaviour? What kind of jerk demands that we be evaluated by how we act, then intentionally prevent us of deciding our actions?

By Tulse (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Sean T (not verified)

Ok, so Free Will is a really bad idea. And none of you have it.

But if you wanted it, you know exactly how God should make it work. Presuming of course that there was a God.

And given the fact that there is no God, it is downright comical to listen to you all blame him for all the bad things that happen in the world.

Guy gets drunk and kills his friend. Its not his fault, because he had no Free Will. So it must be God's fault. Wait! Let's resurrect the 'God' concept just long enough to blame him for this, before we trash anyone who suggests that God might be responsible for anything Good thing about our world.

You look at all the Good and see ... no God.
You look at all the bad and ... suddenly you see God!

I will leave you to argue with yourselves, because that's where the most fundamental contradiction lies.

By Gordon (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Sean T (not verified)

Eric, you assert outright that an omnipotent being could give us Free Will while at the same time stopping us from doing any bad things.

No, I asserted that an omipotent being could give us free will and the ability to learn without making mistakes. Which is really just an expansion of a pre-existing human capacity: some of us don't touch the stove. So now Gordon' you're faced with a conundrum: I'm asking why God couldn't give all humans the reasoning capacity some humans have. You must either admit that doing that would not damage our free will, or you must claim that those humans who have that capacity have no free will.

The same is true for the tendency to do evil. Some people act saintly. Some people act devilishly. I'm not asking why we all can't be perfectly moral - that might indeed be inconsistent with the concept of free will. I'm asking why we all can't be as moral as the most moral humans. That must be consistent with the concept of free will - the only other option you have is to claim that the most moral humans have no free will. Do you want to claim that?

The risk [in the Eden story] was not that some other thing would harm us, but that we would be harmed by our own wrong choice. This is benevolent Free Will.

You are yet again not comprehending the ramifications of omnipotence and omniscience. God put the tree of knowledge there. God decided the fruit would grow within reach instead of 100' off the ground. God decided that eating it would cause death/the fall. He didn't have to make any of those decisions, but he did. Why not, for example, have eating the fruit cause a nasty shock and that's it? Why have it cause the slow destruction of the entire univere? That seems utterly absurd. Horrific. Its the equivalent of me first putting landmines around the tree my kid wants to climb and then telling him "remember, don't fall." There is simply no good reason for me create that danger in that environment. It is certainly not loving. But God is wholly responsible for the Edenic environment, including the tree and all its characteristics. The only way God can come out looking moral is if he's not responsible for the tree; that some unchangeable principle required biting the fruit to be linked to death/the fall. If that's the case, God's not omnipotent. So which theology do you want to defend - God chose to make the consequences of eating the apple as destructive and nasty as the story says, or that the consequences were beyond his control?

With Hell out of the way, the question of “eternal consequences” can be thought about this way: If you knew that you would live forever in the house that you built while here on earth, would that give more of a focus to how you spent your time here?

I would ask why the frak an omnipotent being who supposedly loves me (a) designed me to be inherently limited and imperfect and then (b) forced me to spend eternity in an environment produced by my imperfections. I don't currently live in a house I constructed - thank goodness! You probably don't either. And odds are, it would suck for both of us if we did because neither one of us is probably super good at house construction. So why would you want to do that for eternity? Why is that good? Why would someone who loved us and had omnipotence force us into that?

@Mr. Rosenhouse

I utterly agree that the rabbi's comments were silly and his tone was unhelpful. Religion cannot be used to argue against science. I've chosen for my life to believe in a deity, and specifically in Jesus, so I own that this influences my thoughts below.

I would like to consider an idea with you and would welcome your feedback. In your article you said this:

"People find meaning in their lives in all sorts of ways that have nothing to do with their religious beliefs. Let us imagine a person who has friends and family and a satisfying career. Let us further imagine that he can honestly say he has left his corner of the world a bit better than he found it. That person has plenty of meaning and value in his life, even if he never spends a single moment worrying about what God wants from him. If you disagree then tell me exactly what you mean by “meaning” and “value.”

I *think* we would agree that any consideration of "meaning" and "value" would derive from the subjective satisfaction they offer the individual, and I agree that individuals can find this meaning and value apart from an outside force, and have since the beginning of time. I think the risk in the subjective satisfaction is that of circumstance. What happens when your child gets cancer and dies? What happens when you lose your job? What happens when you have a debilitating injury? What happen when war breaks out in my country and I lose everything I love? Again, holding there is no outside force, one's ability for meaning and value is threatened in debilitating crisis.

In my particular flavor of belief, I am able to make meaning of crisis as part of a larger plan in motion, and feel comforted by being connected to a loving outside force who I believe to be in control while allowing an open system (i.e. meteorites, hurricanes) and free will (i.e. drunk driving, war) that inevitably brings about crisis. I own that this means I find meaning in very hard circumstances, such as those mentioned in the comments above.

Again, if meaning and value are derived from the subjective satisfaction they offer the individual, a non-religious argument can be made that my "type" of belief is empirically more helpful in providing this meaning and value, as it provides greater insulation for satisfaction in the face of debilitating crisis.

Our current limits of observational science requires each of us to either (1) choose to withhold a decision about existence prior to the Big Bang, or (2) choose to believe in an outside force that created it with intention. As science cannot currently assist us to what existed one second prior to the Big Bang (or one second prior to any other theoretical "start"), we are left with faith propositions, and each has consequence for how we define meaning and value. If we must make a faith choice in #1 or #2 above, an argument can be made that #2 is a rational strategy to derive the most meaning and value in life, again as it provides the most insulation for satisfaction in the face of crisis.

I'm hopeful this is a (coherent :) beginning of a mutually beneficial dialogue. I would welcome your thoughts, sir.

Our current limits of observational science requires each of us to either (1) choose to withhold a decision about existence prior to the Big Bang, or (2) choose to believe in an outside force that created it with intention.

No, those are not the only two options, as #2 imports a number of unnecessary assumptions as well as potentially a logical contradiction. To start with, why would your "outside force" have to have intentionality? Hurricanes and tidal waves produce massive changes without intentionality, so why couldn't your "outside force"? Second, if your "outside force" created "existence", how does that force itself exist? What created it? (If nothing created it, why couldn't that be true of the universe itself?)

If we must make a faith choice in #1 or #2 above, an argument can be made that #2 is a rational strategy to derive the most meaning and value in life, again as it provides the most insulation for satisfaction in the face of crisis.

Sure, if you mean "rational" purely in a psychological sense. But by that criterion, for some people shooting up heroin is "rational". Your argument basically endorses the notion that "religion is the opiate of the masses", and that potential self-deception is better than the truth. Perhaps instead of embracing #2, you should instead consider why you feel the need for comfort from some overseeing force.

Andrew:

holding there is no outside force, one’s ability for meaning and value is threatened in debilitating crisis.

Yep, it might be. However, wishing for or wanting an 'invulnerable to circumstance' meaning is not evidence that such a meaning exists. Any more than wishing for a more perfect criminal justice system is evidence for a cosmic justice-dealer.

if meaning and value are derived from the subjective satisfaction they offer the individual, a non-religious argument can be made that my “type” of belief is empirically more helpful in providing this meaning and value, as it provides greater insulation for satisfaction in the face of debilitating crisis.

This is the "religion has social benefits" argument. Three thoughts on that. (A) that doesn't provide any evidence or argument that it's true. (B) I'm not sure your God would be particualrly pleased with you arguing that people should believe for the perks. (C) "You can't handle the truth" arguments are pretty insulting to others. Like Tulse, I think that you're basically agreeing that religion is the opiate of the masses.

(1) choose to withhold a decision about existence prior to the Big Bang, or (2) choose to believe in an outside force that created it with intention.

As Tulse already pointed out, this is a false dichotomy. There are many other possible options. And I'm not sure why you think #2 gives one more meaning to life than #1. Many people find meaning in exploration and discovery, in figuring things out. #1 provides that. #2 stifles it by nothing more than an argument from authority.

I *think* we would agree that any consideration of “meaning” and “value” would derive from the subjective satisfaction they offer the individual, and I agree that individuals can find this meaning and value apart from an outside force, and have since the beginning of time. I think the risk in the subjective satisfaction is that of circumstance. What happens when your child gets cancer and dies? What happens when you lose your job? What happens when you have a debilitating injury? What happen when war breaks out in my country and I lose everything I love? Again, holding there is no outside force, one’s ability for meaning and value is threatened in debilitating crisis.

In my particular flavor of belief, I am able to make meaning of crisis as part of a larger plan in motion, and feel comforted by being connected to a loving outside force

So this ``loving outside force'' is unable to enact a long term plan without harming and or killing innocents? Sounds like a perfectly horrible entity. Given the eternal and word wide scale - a much worse human rights record than the worst human despot ever.

If God can't intervene because of "free will," then why all the stories about miracles? Was God involved in when the sun stood still for Joshua or for Daniel in the lion's den? Was God involved when Jesus was turning water into wine or raising Lazarus from the dead? This is the problem with the whole God thing - it's only consistency is its inconsistency.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

Free will is an entirely different topic from meaning. But that seems to be where this is going---

Free will is not even conceptually an explanation for evil. All free will would be is an ability: the ability to make evil choices.

The problem of evil is not “why we are able to make evil choices?”; it’s “why are we so inclined to?” Free will cannot answer that.

Whatever deity there is / are; They have utterly failed to give us the ability or information to avoid evil choices. That’s on Him / Her / It / Them.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

Very well put Sean. You have narrowed things down to the core question. I have two answers:

First, God has given us the information needed to avoid evil choices. You will find 95% of that information in the books of Genesis and Matthew alone.

Second, this information has been mishandled in a bad way, and it takes real effort to sift out the wheat from the chaff. So don't go to church and expect someone to spoon feed the correct answers to you. You have to figure it out for yourself.

"Seek and ye shall find."

By Gordon (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

You look at all the bad and … suddenly you see God!

You mistyped: that should read

You look at all the bad and … point out that the vision of God I put forward is contradictory with his supposed actions.

Gordon, I appreciate your succinct reply so I shall try to do likewise.

Your two answers do not suffice because even among Christians who read essentially the same Bible (including Genesis and Matthew) their conclusions are wildly, often violently different.

Add to this the possibility that Christians got it wrong, and since no deity has ever given me any command, or even a “good morning”; my half-century-plus efforts lead me to conclude I cannot rely on any of it and should not worry about it.

The problem is not limited to sifting through scripture, or through how other persons (mis)interpret it. If you’ve been reading this thread then you know the elephant in the room is squaring Christian scripture with how the world works; a world supposedly made by the Christian God.

The entire quote from Matt. 7:7 is “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

I asked, I sought, I knocked. I got nothing, nothing, and nothing. If there are any deities, I KNOW that those deities do not care what I think or do; and I am inclined dismiss them. Being a rational person (imho) I acknowledge that new evidence must compel me to reconsider my conclusions. But absent any new evidence —

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

Gordon:

Guy gets drunk and kills his friend. Its not his fault, because he had no Free Will. So it must be God’s fault. Wait! Let’s resurrect the ‘God’ concept just long enough to blame him for this, before we trash anyone who suggests that God might be responsible for anything Good thing about our world.

Gordon,
Dean nailed it, but just to be clear: I don't blame God for those events. However, when someone like you comes along and tries to justify them as a necessary product of God giving us free will, I will indeed point out the flaws in your argument. I'm sure you will agree that you don't need to believe in the FSM to argue against claims made about It. Well, I'm in the same boat: I don't need to believe in Yahweh to argue against claims made about Him. Over the last few posts, you have made claims about Yahweh's nature that make no sense and which often run counter to our human understanding of either omnipotence or benevolence. Which is not surprising, becasue the larger point me and others have been trying to make with you is that the combo of omnipotence + omnicience + benevolence is not consistent with either the actions of God as presented in the bible or with the world around us.

First, God has given us the information needed to avoid evil choices. You will find 95% of that information in the books of Genesis and Matthew alone.

Second, this information has been mishandled in a bad way, and it takes real effort to sift out the wheat from the chaff.

Ah, so you're a gnostic. That's Christian heresy, by the way. And as Sean points out, that verse is wildly inconsistent with the observed fact of millions of ex-Christians. See, that's the sort of inconsistency with the world we keep talking about. The bible asserts or implies that all people who sincerely seek god will find him. Observation tells us this is not true: many people sincerely seek him and don't find him. The bible is at odds with reality.

Gordon, you are the one claiming God exists - we are just pointing out the consequences of your belief. How can one be angry at something that one doesn't think exists.

Here is your premise:
God can't intervene because of human free will. If this were true, then a) God has never intervened and all the claimed interventions are untrue - just wishful thinking by humans, or b) God has intervened and we don't have free will - we can attribute everything that happens to God - he is the giver of good and bad. Of course, your premise could be false. Set up the contingency table: "God" "no God" v. "free will" "no free will" and look for the expectations and the observations - what is the best fit are they correlated or independent?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

“Hell appears to be a medieval notion not found in the original Hebrew or Greek, and the conception comes from a lone verse about a “Lake of Fire” found in the book of Revelations,”

No, it does not appear to be that at all.

===

Michael Fugate,

“God can’t intervene because of human free will.”

Says who? Free will is a way overrated concept. Nobody chooses their parents, their gender, the locale of their birth or their position in time.

We have obvious instances of intervention, and a declaration that lets people rule themselves. It looks like this:

“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”

G @ 10: First thing we ought to do is define “meaning,” for which I’ll offer this: “the subjective sense of significance in relation to something greater than self, typically associated with the emotion of inspiration, and measured in terms of effort spent working toward relevant goals.”

(you cited without attribution-- I note.)

You've merely moved the abstractions around a little. "Subjective sense of significance" ? That's just as vague as its one-word analogue, "meaning,"the clarification of which you proposed we begin.

So "meaning" is not only a "sense of significance"---which, for those who haven't noticed, is a reformulation of "meaning", but a "subjective" one at that !

Life's "meaning"--for what we regard as higher-order conscious creatures such as we are-- then, is always more or less contingent, dependent on the circumstances and context of an individual or group. That, I hope, is already understood here. It's understood even by some nine year-olds.

Beyond a rather constrained number of individuals, life's "meaning" blurs into greater and greater misty vagueness--which characterizes your post.

From there, the discussion has degenerated--through no contributions on my part--into the usual doctrinal disputes over God's will and human agency and free-will and such stuff supplemented with citations of Biblical scripture.

As I tried to point out above, there are much more urgent things we could be taking up for discussion. This one, as the thread demonstrates, is vain, stale and a swamp of lexical mumbo-jumbo. And you denounce me as a "troll" ! My contributions here generally amount to a fair deal more than what I see in this thread and, moreover, I generally stay out of the usual trivial religious disputes since they're a dialogue of the deaf. "Troll" --my eye!

By proximity1 (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Sean and Eric,

All I can do is offer you my own experience, which is that I asked, sought and knocked, and the results have proven satisfactory beyond my wildest expectations.

But it did not come easy. First, I had to learn to ignore my own family and church, who did not want to deal with the inconsistencies that troubled me. At an early age I was very aware of, and troubled by, that elephant in the room you speak of.

I cannot comment on your own sincerity or approach that led you away from faith in your Creator. I can only tell you that my own faith never wavered. Throughout a process that has taken many decades, I remained convinced that there were answers to be found that were also consistent with my belief in something greater than myself. The delay in finding those answers did not cause me to question my faith.

I have had to broach the subject of Free Will because it is the only way to answer the objection that an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent Creator should not allow suffering in the world he created. But this is indeed off topic, and will obviously take more explaining before you can appreciate the logical consistency of my conclusion.

Now you have already labelled me a Gnostic, and I can only guess at what other accusations might start flying if I tried to explain how I see this discussion of Free Will integrally linked with the meaning and purpose of our existence here on this earthly plane. For my views are not conventional in anyone's book.

My initial comment was more limited, seeking more to clarify the question than to give an answer. This is probably not the place for the wider discussion that has followed from it.

By Gordon (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by proximity1 (not verified)

"We have obvious instances of intervention"

Thanks for the morning laugh - roads were icy on the way to the office so it was tense.

Instances not immediately explained != divine intervention - at least in the minds of people based in the real world.

Gordon,

I appreciate your response; your experiences explain why you believe. I cannot speak for Eric, but have no comparable experiences. My experiences of Godly silence and inactivity lead me to doubt. I am sure some will challenge your experiences, but I will not; I will only say that my experiences are very different.

I don’t recall who labeled you “gnostic”; I suggest you simply ignore the term. In any event, it was not I.

Regarding “Free Will ... is the only way to answer the objection that an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent Creator should not allow suffering in the world he created.” I will reiterate that it does not answer the question at all.

Assuming the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent deity, free will would only explain how we are able to perform evil acts. Free will cannot explain why we are so inclined to perform evil acts. Free will would grant us abilities, it could not prevent a benevolent deity from acting to prevent evil. The explanation for evil and God’s inactivity must lie elsewhere.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Hi Sean,

It was Eric who labelled me a Gnostic.

Yes, Free Will does not explain 'Why' we are so inclined to perform evil acts. But this then moves the discussion to what are the evil acts spoken of.

For example, the 'Original Sin' could not have been sexual, because the Garden of Eden story says quite plainly that, "the man and the woman were naked and were not ashamed." This explicitly states that they knew nothing of the shame that we associate with sex today. Thus, that shame arose AFTER the original sin.

This is just one example of a natural (God given?) drive that was not in itself a problem at the point of Creation. We could equally say that hunger did not lead to gluttony and go on to scratch most "sins" off the list of what was the actual 'Evil' that God warned Adam and Eve against.

Now, if you approach the average Theologian (don't even bother with the average Christian) and ask him what the Original Sin specifically was, he is most likely to give you a very vague and unsatisfactory answer. And without this answer, we can't answer your question or determine if we are still so inclined to make the same mistake as Adam and Eve.

I do have an answer to your question, but I fear that we are now truly outside the topic of this post. Perhaps you know of a better forum for us to delve into this important subject.

By Gordon (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

Phil -"“God can’t intervene because of human free will.” Says who?"

Gordon did. It was his explanation for why God can't intervene. Please pay attention.

So God can intervene any time it chooses, but doesn't when it is most needed by his most fervent followers. Why?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Re. Eric @ 46:

To be clear about this, I'm an "uncertaintist" about the existence of deities and immortal souls. The proposition that the deity (or the immortal soul) exists, or does not exist, is empirically untestable, and logical inference both for and against is affected by emotional bias.

Strictly speaking, the proposition that moral codes are created by humans (which is not even arguable; where the debate comes in is whether the moral codes are, or are not, given or inspired by deities) does not imply that deities are also created by humans. That's an example of inference affected by bias.

---

Re. the "what a horrid deity" arguement:

The first blind man said, "what a lovely elephant, it quite resembles a tree trunk."

The second blind man said, "what a useful elephant, it quite resembles a vacuum cleaner."

The third blind man said, "what a horrid elephant, you pull on this rope and it poops all over you!"

The fourth blind man said, "what a beautiful cosmos, it produces a planet on which we can live!"

And the fifth one said, "what a horrid cosmos, outside of our planet it produces a vacuum in which we can die!"

Finally the sixth one said, "elephants and universes are all of that and more, but neither of them conform to our preferences."

---

Sean @ 48: Nicely said.

---

Andrew @ 57: What you propose is that affirmative belief in a deity has personal benefit and collective benefit, something with which anthropologists will also for the most part agree.

In my (hardcore empiricist) view, given the untestable nature of core faith propositions, plus the natural variability in brain structure & chemistry (by way of which some people are by nature prone to belief and others prone to disbelief), that's where the matter rests. In other words I'm standing with you in affirming your right to hold and express the beliefs that are natural to yourself, and I also believe that those of us whose beliefs are based on empirical science have no basis to argue that you are any less reasonable for it.

---

Eric @ 59: Re. opiates of the masses: There is no inherent virtue in pain of whatever kind, existential as well as physical. Those who abstain from alcohol, cannabis, and caffeine, might have standing to argue the virtues of pain, but those who observe them doing so have standing to argue the meaninglessness of masochism.

---

Sean @ 66 quoting Matthew 7:7: Matthew's brain is naturally wired to perceive the existence of a deity; your brain is naturally wired to perceive a universe without a deity. He asked and a deity replied; you asked and no deity replied. This is not surprising, any more so than differences over 'which music is better?'

Proximity1 @ 71:

I didn't need a citation, that was my definition.

"Significance" means "importance," not "meaning." Another way to put this is, "meaning" = "sense of importance of a/the relationship between the self and something larger than the self." If you like, I could operationalize this in terms of a particular type of activity in the right temporal lobe, that also correlates with increased verbal substitution behavior compared to a control condition.

Music = sound that has melody and rhythm. Oh, but "melody" means "music," so the definition is circular! Nope.

As for semantic autoeroticism, qualia are by definition not quantitative, nor do they usually translate to interval scales. My experience of the color blue is not the same as yours. Though, get enough of us in a room, independently pointing to our archetypal "blue" on a chart, and those dots will most likely make a normal curve.

---

Gordon @ 72: Or, to make a universe with life-bearing planets on it, a deity would also be bound by the internal logic of the physical laws it creates, such as to have a deadly vacuum in the space between planets. If one drops the requirement that omnipotence includes the ability to violate consistency at will, most of these issues disappear. (Those whose pleasure is to mock others whose beliefs differ from their own, will probably find something else to use for that purpose.)

---

Lastly, to be clear about this, my assertion that the propensity toward belief or disbelief has a neurophysiological basis, is also unrelated to the question of whether a deity does or does not exist.

We should all be able to agree that individuals have an inherent right to believe/disbelieve as their nature and their observations and their reasoning indicate.

Michael Fugate;

Gordon’s explanations for “why God can’t intervene” don’t work and have been debunked already.

G;

To accept your assertion of a neurophysiological basis for religious belief, I’d need to see some pretty strong evidence. Until then, I see it as dubious. But I completely agree with you that “individuals have an inherent right to believe/disbelieve as their nature and their observations and their reasoning indicate.”

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

I cannot comment on your own sincerity or approach that led you away from faith in your Creator. I can only tell you that my own faith never wavered.

Well, but that's somewhat irrelevant to the claim, which is that all those who seek, find. Look, if you claim that all swans are white, you showing me a white swan doesn't prove your claim. Me showing you a black swan, however, disproves it. Likewise with seekers. You showing me a successful seeker does not prove the claim that all who seek, find...but me showing you a seeker who did not find, disproves it. And the only way around that is to claim some version of the no true scotsman fallacy: they weren't sincere, or they aren't really finished seeking, etc...

I have had to broach the subject of Free Will because it is the only way to answer the objection that an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent Creator should not allow suffering in the world he created.

It might explain why some amount of evil or suffering is necessary in theory, however my point (and it's been said before) is that it is a completely invalid explanation for the amount and types of suffering we have in this world, because we can easily show that (a) much suffering has nothing to do with free will, and (b) we are perfectly willing to call people with strong predispositions toward goodness 'free willed.' Since the later is the case, its fair to ask why we weren't all given such predispositions, and 'free will' cannot be the answer to that.

Now you have already labelled me a Gnostic, and I can only guess at what other accusations...

I didn't intend for the label to be insulting. Gnostics think that the truth of God is not obvious; that you have to work to find it. In contrast, the position of the mainline western churches for the past 1,500 years or so is that the key theological truths of God are obvious and no particular special effort is needed to find them. So when you tell me you had to work hard to ignore a lot of inputs and that it the truth did not come easy to you, you're basically in the gnostic camp, whether you like the label or not.

More much later. Not much time now. Cheers.

Gordon,

This forum is as good as any for your answer to my question. I am not the only one here who’s interested in this topic and I don’t have a better place for us to discuss this.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Thanks for your clarification Eric. I suppose the lie has been put to the 'mainline' notion by the actual results following the Protestant Reformation. If the key truths are really so obvious, then how come such a multitude of denominations has sprung up? So if this makes me Gnostic, so be it.

My case in point, in answer to Sean, is that none of the mainline churches can tell you what the Original Sin actually is, in spite of the fact that they all teach this basic concept. So yes, I had to dig deep to find an answer that satisfied me. Either that, or accept that there is no answer, which is how the churches deal with the subject. They teach it like some sort of permanent damage to our DNA that we are now simply stuck with and can do nothing about.

From that view, death becomes the only solution, rather than being the problem that resulted from the Original Sin, which is what the story clearly says.

So to undo death, we must undo Original Sin. And if Jesus taught the secret to Eternal Life, then his teaching should show us how to undo Original Sin. There should be a consistency across the board.

I could write a book at this point, because I have such a complete picture after more than ten years of intensive study. But I will have to give you just an outline.

The forbidden fruit was of "the Knowledge of Good and Evil". Everything up to that point was Good, so this really introduced the "Knowledge of Evil". The Original Sin was an Evil or wrong thought.

That thought was a doubt in the goodness (benevolence) of the Creator. The original evil thought was a belief in scarcity: "Sure, we have all that we need today, but what if God does not provide for us tomorrow?"

So contingency plans were made, and ownership was claimed over the fruit trees (food, as just one example). This sets man against man, because you must be willing to fight to defend your claim, or your claim to ownership is meaningless.

A lack of faith in God's provision leads to man taking matters into his own hands, where he now thinks evil of God (he might not provide) and evil of his fellow man (he might take what is MINE).

Adam and Eve enshrined the Original Sin into the name of their first-born son. Cain was the evil son, and his Hebrew name means literally, "Possession". If you read the story which tells how Eve named her son, I take it to say that she took one look at this creature birthed from her own body and said, "Mine!"

Once ownership is claimed, then we start to need rules. If I get sick of eating "my" apples and you get sick of eating "your" oranges, then we start to develop a system of trading equal value for equal value. Barter arises, followed by money and expanded commerce, and laws to govern all of this. To trade with our fellow man requires mutual promises, but people don't always keep their promises and so we need courts and Police and Jails and guillotines.

And here is where Sin gets out of hand and becomes so darn hard to control within ourselves. We place hopes and expectations on the promises made by others. When we are disappointed, we react negatively. Often we judge our own reactions to be wrong. We wish we could do better.

Most expectations arise from contracts based on money. But in this environment we place expectations on others, especially family members, even when no money is involved. We think our children owe us respect and obedience and our spouse owes us love, etc.

The proper term for these obligations that we place on others, and that others place on us is Debt. Even when the debt is not of the monetary variety, we still say, "You owe me one."

The Mosaic Law was given to regulate these obligations. The remainder of the Old Testament consists of story after story detailing what a pathetically bad job Israel did of obeying this Law. Is that how you would write a Holy Book for your religion? I certainly wouldn't.

When Jesus comes along, we see that time and again he opposes the concept and use of Money. "No man can serve two masters. ... You cannot serve God and Mammon." Not once does he have a good thing to say about Money. Of course the average church works overtime to explain all these verses away, right before they pass the offering plate!

But if Jesus' central message was not against Money, then why does the New Testament have nothing whatsoever to say about Tithing and Usury, two very important monetary rules from the Mosaic Law? And why does the Apostle Paul name the love of Money as, "the root of ALL Evil."?

If we want to get rid of Evil, if we want to go back to the perfection that was lost in the Garden, don't we have to get rid of the root of the Evil?

Jesus gave us the formula for doing away with Money. He taught, "Forgive us our Debts as we forgive our Debtors." It is impossible to enter into a contract AND obey Jesus at the same time! And he gave the alternative in the same sermon. "Give to him who asks of you." And, "Ask, and ye shall receive."

If everything was created by God (as Genesis 1 clearly states), then who in their right mind can claim ownership of one grain of sand of God's creation? And if no one owns anything, but God has put enough here for us all (Give us this day our daily bread), then you should see that we will stop fighting with each other for our "fair share". Most of the rules simply disappear, and it becomes a whole lot easier not to do evil against your fellow man.

And Jesus' disciples all understood this. Just read the end of Acts chapter 2. They did all that they could to undo this fundamental concept of Possession, the Original Sin. They disclaimed ownership. They sold all that they had. They held all things in common.

Both Jesus and Paul said that it was impossible to fully obey the Law of Moses. All those rules could never lead us to "perfection". This is because no one can keep all their promises. A world predicated on contracts and promises can never lead us to the fulfillment that God intended at Creation. Paul went so far as to call the Mosaic Law, "the law of Sin and of Death." So it definitely is not the answer we are looking for.

Jesus taught that all the rules of Moses could be replaced by a single law: Love. But the Greek word 'Agape' is more accurately translated as "Benevolence", which means a will to do good, simply because you can. Benevolence is truly unconditional, whereas the notion that we call "Love" today is almost always reciprocal. Jesus told us how to achieve this, but the critical step is to do away with Money, Contract and Possession. If we won't take this first step, then of course we will find it somewhere between very hard to impossible to obey the rest of Jesus' teaching.

So this is what I see as the answer to Sean's question, and the consistent and clear storyline found in the Bible. It is a story not hidden by manuscript errors or poor translation, but by incredulity. People read Jesus' teaching about Money, and immediately tell themselves, "We have to have money, so that CAN'T be what he really meant!" They understand him perfectly, but their mind will simply not follow through with the thought.

And if Christians who "believe the Bible" are so hard to convince on this point, then what reaction do you think I expect from atheists who don't even accept the basic premises of the Genesis stories?

But you guys have been great to dialogue with, simply due to the respect that you show to an opposing point of view. So while I do not expect you to agree with my personal conclusions, I still consider it worth my time to demonstrate that there are different answers to be found, even in the well-trodden territory of biblical stories.

By Gordon (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

"Michael Fugate;

Gordon’s explanations for “why God can’t intervene” don’t work and have been debunked already."

Does Gordon know this?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Michael, (#82)

Does that matter?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

On the topic of "Why God can't intervene", I have not actually conceded the point.

To allow for meaningful Free Will, God must allow us to make wrong choices and to experience the consequences of those wrong choices. If we do not experience negative consequences, then how can we know that they were wrong choices? If there are no negative consequences, then there are also no wrong choices.

So when someone chooses to get drunk, that can have many consequences, some of which can be very negative. You can't blame God for giving that person Free Will and for taking a "hands off" approach simply because you didn't like the outcome.

But this does not also require that God never intervene, as someone suggested I was implying. God can still intervene in many ways. For example, he might protect me from experiencing the negative consequence of someone else's drunkenness. Or he might even protect the drunk in an isolated instance.

The idea that God's benevolence would require him to intervene was answered in one of the temptations of Jesus. "Throw yourself down from the Temple, for it is written ..." Jesus' answer was clearly that it is wrong to expect God to intervene on our behalf in every instance. We can be grateful for a situation where we believe he has intervened, while at the same time not blaming him for those many instances where he failed to intervene.

In short, we can believe in miracles while not expecting that the physical laws set up by God to govern the Universe be made meaningless by a continual string of exceptions to them. And while it may seem like a cop-out, we do indeed have to trust that he knows best when his intervention is warranted. Otherwise we pit our limited understanding against his omniscience in claiming that we know better than God what the best outcome is.

Examples of death, and often of horrific or mass deaths are repeatedly cited by atheists as examples of the kind of situations where a Benevolent God should intervene. But death itself is the consequence of the Original Sin. Because of that, everyone is going to die at some point. So if death comes at age 18 or 80, does that really change anything? If you die as a group in a plane crash or alone in a hospital, does that alter God's benevolence? Does he love you more just because he let you live longer? Only if you believe that you needed more time to discover his truth!

To the Atheist, Death just is. It is a fact of life, and the timing of it all is completely arbitrary. But to the believer, there is in the biblical message the opportunity to defeat Death itself. Incredulity may stop most from taking it seriously, but it is an undeniable theme that runs right through the scriptures.

This then becomes the goal: That a Benevolent Creator gave us instructions, not on how to control the timing or means of our demise, but on how to avoid that demise altogether.

Unbelievable! You can take that any way you want.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

Let me be clear: in my mind trying to ferret out the “original sin” is as empty an exercise as trying to determine the color of unicorn blood. It is of no significance I can see to real life.

I see nothing in your explanation worthy of a specific response. You never answer the question: why are we so inclined to do evil?

You surmise that “The Original Sin was an Evil or wrong thought [which] was a doubt in the goodness (benevolence) of the Creator. The original evil thought was a belief in scarcity”.

Well, actually that’s two things: doubt about God and belief in scarcity. But that’s nothing.

WHY did we have these doubts? Why are we so inclined to do evil? You give no answers. Describing the sin does not explain the “why” of the sin. Until that is explained, the rest is futile.

I am sure your attempt is sincere, but that does not save it.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Thanks Sean T and Sean S. You made my day. My understanding causes so much cognitive dissonance for the average Christian that they cannot see the logical consistency in it.

Sean S, I cannot tell you why we are so inclined to doubt our Creator. I just know that most of us are, and the only answer is Faith. I can only hope that you see that some of us think it important to have an informed Faith rather than acting merely on blind faith.

Jesus addressed this partially in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). His conclusion regarding those who doubt was: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."

To further answer why we are so inclined to do evil, you need to see the place of the Mosaic Law in the wider scheme I detailed above. It is an artificial construct. John tells us that "Sin is the transgression of the Law (of Moses)." Paul tells us that without the Law there would be no Sin.

So most things that we call Evil today are things which go against the Law of Moses. "Thou shalt not kill" seems to be a favorite one here. But what drives us to break this law? My short answer is: our belief in scarcity. When we see our fellow man as competition for scarce resources, we Covet, Lie, Steal and even Kill, all over that perceived scarcity.

Over time, people hoard things due to their fear of scarcity, the rich really do get richer and the poor get poorer, and the problem compounds because now the scarcity is real for an ever increasing number of people.

The root of the problem is the belief in Possession. But rather than forbid it, Moses simply sought to regulate it. For example, every 7 years all debts were to be forgiven and all slaves were to be freed. But the rich people were not so good about obeying this part of the Law. They only liked the parts that favored them, such as the law that allowed them to make people slaves as payment for debts.

I have already explained how this system of obligations leads to expectations, and that when our expectations are disappointed, that we tend to react badly - to do Evil. The only way to fix this is to eliminate the expectations, and this is exactly what Jesus proposed.

If you can imagine a world where everyone is assured that their needs will be met, simply by asking, and that therefore no one makes conditional promises to each other that need to be enforced, then I believe you will get an idea of what life here on earth was (and is) supposed to be. This is Paradise, or Heaven, here on Earth, just as Jesus taught us pray for!

Michael, I see the Flood story fitting into this as Plan A: Wipe them all out and start again. That didn't work. Noah's family went right back to the same mistake as Adam and Eve. You can say this was a bad thing, but all those people were going to die anyway. And if you create something, don't you have the right to destroy it as well? You have to take the biblical story as a whole, which includes the notion that we are integrally linked with our Creator.

The Law of Moses was Plan B, to regulate man's bad idea of Possession. But the purpose in that was simply to prove how bad the idea actually was. If everyone kept the Law perfectly things would be very harmonious indeed. But the Bible repeatedly affirms the Impossibility of keeping that Law. It is impossible because it is an artificial construct. It is founded on a concept created by Man and not by God, the idea of Possession (ownership, property rights). So this plan did not work and was never supposed to work and was not expected to work. And the failures were carefully recorded for us, so that we might learn this single lesson from Israel's experience.

Plan C is the "New" Covenant, detailed by Jesus in Matthew 5, 6 & 7. This is a plan that takes us back to Eden, by eliminating Possession and all that flowed from that first bad idea, especially contracts and Money. This is a workable plan, but it depends on Faith and Love (benevolence), and these seem to be in short supply right now, even among believers.

In summary, when we start by accepting Possession and all the rules that follow, we find it very hard NOT to do evil. If we get rid of this one bad idea, then we will find it much easier to avoid doing evil. So this is a complete answer to the question of Why we are so inclined to do Evil.

Eric, your question about Heaven is the perfect conclusion to all this. The purpose in allowing us Free Will is so that we could learn the lesson that God's design was perfect from the start. When we do things our way, they don't work out so well. When we finally accept the original design, then by our own Free Will we consciously choose NOT to do evil and we have the ability to avoid it entirely. And THAT is what Heaven really is - Free willed beings choosing to always do the right thing by one another. That is the ultimate objective of the exercise.

Only when we both have Free Will AND choose to use it only for Good can we fulfill our destiny as creatures made in the image of our Creator.

Phil, I am extremely familiar with the various understandings of Scripture on these issues. To start with, almost no church teaches a coherent view of the Law of Moses. They cannot explain where it fits. They will say it has been "done away with" or "nailed to the Cross", and then turn around and preach about the importance of Tithing, which is only found in the Old Testament! If the Law only applies to Israel, then I suppose we Gentiles should go around Lying, Stealing and Killing at will.

Look at what I call Plans A, B and C above, and see if that doesn't better fit the entire flow of the biblical storyline, and explain the role and purpose of the Law in God's wider scheme.

As for Money, it would be humorous to hear Christians defend it were it not so very sad. For example, you cite Matthew 25:27, which is the ONLY mention of usury in the entire New Testament, and that is a parable in which the concept of usury is merely used to make a point that has nothing whatsoever to do with the rightness or wrongness of the practice itself. This is grasping at straws. It is a desperate attempt to justify a personal belief that is found nowhere in the Bible.

Try this little exercise and see if it does not raise your understanding to new heights. Do a search on every instance of the word, "Perfect" in the New Testament and read those verses, together with their context. See if you can escape the conclusion that Jesus and other NT writers not only tell us that we CAN be perfect in this life. They tell us exactly HOW to do so!

By Gordon (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

Gordon,

I must say that your post #84 is one of the most logically thought out descriptions of an individual's personal religious belief that I have read. I would suspect that your particular belief has not found much following amongst the mainstream Christian churches precisely because one of the goals of those churches has been (whether they were willing to admit it openly or not) the accumulation of wealth. Certainly the Catholic church prior to the Protestant Reformation would be guilty of that. I suspect many of the mainline Protestant churches would also be guilty as well.

You haven't convinced me, primarily due to the lack of solid evidence for God's existence as well as theological problems such as the problem of evil, which has been amply discussed, so I won't go further into it. I do thank you and respect you, though, for your well though out explanation of your personal religious beliefs. I apologize if I came off as combative or negative earlier on in these discussions. I may have been guilty of painting you with an overly broad "irrational Christian" brush.

I suppose the lie has been put to the ‘mainline’ notion by the actual results following the Protestant Reformation. If the key truths are really so obvious, then how come such a multitude of denominations has sprung up?

Indeed. The RCC eliminated the Gnostics early on precisely because they were afraid of schisms and the gnostic message that each person must find their own path to God. They wanted the population to accept that there was one truth, they had it, and little to no thought about it was necessary for salvation.

To allow for meaningful Free Will, God must allow us to make wrong choices and to experience the consequences of those wrong choices.

That doesn't answer my point. Why don't we all have the internal moral compass of the best free-willed human? Any less perfect compass leads to unnecessary evil. "Free will" can't be the answer, because we all accept that the most benevolent humans on the planet have it...so if we had their benevolence, we would still be just as free-willed as they are.

Gordon;

If God is omnipotent and omniscient then the phrases “God can’t” or “God must” are instantly false. If your God is real, your God can do anything, there are no significanct limits.

God would not have to allow us to make wrong choices, God could just provide us with the means to learn the consequences of bad choices and therefore avoid them. This is the "internal moral compass" Eric asked about. Providing information does not obliterate freedom. Interfering with manifest acts of evil does not obliterate freedom either.

You wrote that we “can’t blame God for giving [a drunk] Free Will and for taking a “hands off” approach”. Um, yes we most certainly can. If a mere human did that, we’d blame them. God is supposed to have far more ability and power than a mere human, so God would be capable of taking greater care. Therefore God would be obligated to exercise that care. A failure to do so is blameworthy. Holding a deity to a lower standard of conduct than we hold people to is nonsensical.

If the physical laws set up by God to govern the Universe entail evil, suffering, and horror, then God is indeed fully accountable for all that evil; it would be His doing. We may not know what the best outcome is, but what we see is not even a Good Outcome.

More importantly, if God is omni-potent, then God is not constrained to seek outcomes through messy processes. This is supposed to be the God that invoked the Universe with a few words; there is no outcome that such a God would seek that this God could not invoke with a few words. So to say that God has to do things in a certain way denies God's omnipotence.

If death is explained as our punishment for sins, the painful and necessary lesson, then answer me this question:

In the movie “Schindler’s List” was a little child in a red coat. You could not have missed her, her red coat was the only thing in the movie that was not in black-and-white. This child was murdered by the Nazi’s.

Question: what possible sin could that child or any adult have committed to justify God’s complacency in the manifest evil of her murder? What did God accomplish by that evil that He was UNABLE to do any other way? Blaming this on human sinfulness is a nonstarter; the very question we are kicking around is how so much sin is possible given a benevolent, omni-potent God. To blame this evil on sin is to say that evil is due to evil. That dog don’t hunt.

You finish saying that the “Benevolent Creator gave us instructions”. As I’ve said before, no deity has ever said anything to me. I have been given no instructions, commands or even greetings. I suspect that I am pretty ordinary in this.

Let me end this by seconding Sean T’s comments that you have, I think, done a fine job of laying out your beliefs, even if I find your explanations unconvincing. I thank you and respect you for your explanation of your personal religious beliefs. I just cannot join you in them.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

I have a relative who has a very low IQ, really, it's like 80. He's a lovely man but he is pretty much the dumbest person i know

he's been a "religious" person his whole life and has rooms full of spiritual books

when he was younger, even though his IQ is low, he used to like to try and fend with me but i just did not take pleasure in making an idiot look bad

i read through his library of christian books, i mean i opened random books and read random pages

wall to wall drivel

who am i to say? Actually, i read biblical Hebrew and know a thing or two about religion

i mean, really, you can repaint drivel in countless ways but it's still drivel

drivel can come from the mouths of fools, decrepit old people, charlatans, mentally ill people and so on - and it's all drivel

drivel can be intertwined with useful things - like a decent method for turning people into meat or an efficient method for roasting a town full of people or how to get around the law etc

drivel can be expressed in the most poetic words, or in words encyclopedic or in many languages - it's still drivel

a billion people can stand beneath a sign proclaiming their support for drivel - it stays drivel

can you remove all this drivel from my friend's head?

no, it's locked in there pretty solid, he is, after all, an idiot (yes i am a psychologist so yes i can say that)

and if i could rip the drivel from my friend's head what would it achieve?

a lonely old idiot, with absolutely nothing at all and no way whatsoever to commune with a anyone

at least with his drivel solidly in place he can go weekly to assail the poor priest who i've seen try and duck for cover whenever he sees my friend

you can't do very much at all to help idiots, that's a sad truth about this very harsh world. You can't make a great name for yourself taking away what little they have (even if you could)

fact is, for lots of people, the drivel in their heads (much of which is an even more twisted version of the drivel in the books they read - all drivel descended from older drivel once thought by idiots (or claimed by crooks) to be the word of God) is pretty much all there is to them

they have no real education, no world experiences, no interesting hobbies and no friends worth knowing unless you get off on occasional tea parties where everyone just talks more drivel

and there are people who force the drivel down the throats of children (the only crime that i believe deserves the death sentence)

the most insidious speakers of drivel are those criminals who use the drivel as a cloak to hide their crimes - most of which are to do with murdering other people and stealing their resources

they get away with it because as soon as they utter drivel, believers in drivel acquiesce

is there anything whatsoever good about all that drivel?

some nice poetry perhaps? I nice Elvis song maybe?

nope

the only good thing about drivel is that it comes wrapped in a flag that all can see

if there was no longer any drivel you'd have to actually listen to people to try and figure out what exactly they might be talking about

you could not turn away from terrible crimes with confidence that they are being committed in the name of this god or that

you could not instantly identify your team by the colour of their drivel and the timbre of their liturgy

i really do appreciate that the world is full of people full of drivel

it makes it so much easier to feel superior and to not have to hang around with idiots

God bless idiots and their drivel

p

By The Peak Oil Poet (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Gordon:

To allow for meaningful Free Will, God must allow us to make wrong choices and to experience the consequences of those wrong choices. If we do not experience negative consequences, then how can we know that they were wrong choices? If there are no negative consequences, then there are also no wrong choices.

So, maybe now would be the time to bring up heaven. Is there no free will in heaven, or is there evil in heaven? Because according to you, it must be one or the other; you can't have free will without evil.

But death itself is the consequence of the Original Sin. Because of that, everyone is going to die at some point.

We already mentioned the problems with the Eden story and you had no defense, no substantive reply. God created the tree. God designed it so the fruit was in reach, rather than being 100' off the ground. God designed it so that biting it would cause the fall, rather than some other (less insanely collateral damagey) penalty. These are monstrous acts. If I put a fatally-booby-trapped apple in reach of my children (and let's cut off the 'not children' reply: if I even did this to adults), you'd send me to jail, and rightly so. We even have a legal term for this sort of behavior: criminal negligence. In setting up the situation, God is behaving in a way we would today describe as criminally negligent. If you disagree, please explain to me how designing such a system is morally defensible. Please tell me how intentionally penalizing all things in creation for the acts of two humans is not collective punishment worse than any collective punishment any human dictator or conqueror has ever visited on others.

Gordon,

“The Mosaic Law was given to regulate these obligations. The remainder of the Old Testament consists of story after story detailing what a pathetically bad job Israel did of obeying this Law.”

That’s a little abbreviated. First, the Law was given exclusively to Israel, and was never applicable to Gentiles. The OT records lots of history, and the successes and failures of the chosen people, but more importantly, a lot of the Torah, the Psalms and the Prophets was devoted prophetically to the Messiah.
-
“When Jesus comes along, we see that time and again he opposes the concept and use of Money….But if Jesus’ central message was not against Money, then why does the New Testament have nothing whatsoever to say about Tithing and Usury”

There are lots of places in the NT where the necessity of money and giving is recognized. How would you apply your statements to the Samaritan who left money with the innkeeper to take care of the crime victim? On usury, what about Matthew 25:27?
-
“Just read the end of Acts chapter 2. They did all that they could to undo this fundamental concept of Possession”

Actually, you have to start at the beginning of the chapter to understand why everybody temporarily pooled their resources.

“And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven…Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia..Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes…Cretes and Arabians”

They were all in Jerusalem for Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, when (not by coincidence) the Church was inaugurated. Those who had extra stuff sold it to help the ones who wanted to stay in Jerusalem and hang around the Temple for longer than normal.
-
Also, you mentioned “Hell appears to be a medieval notion not found in the original Hebrew or Greek, and the conception comes from a lone verse about a “Lake of Fire” found in the book of Revelations, a book written almost entirely in figurative language.”

There is a lot more to this. The LoF appears more than once in the Revelation, but there are several verses that speak of fiery accomodations, one being a temporary holding place, and a final one after unbelievers are judged. (The same thing holds true for paradise and heaven. They are, or at least were, different places).

"5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them."

How exactly did God not see this coming?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

Jason, this post seems to be exactly right. To my mind, the idea of "meaning of life" only makes sense in the context of conscious, intelligent beings like ourselves. If we exist and can conceptualize meaning, then we can make meaning and experience it. The existence of a deity does not change one bit the existence of meaning.

By Nathan Eanes (not verified) on 29 Jan 2015 #permalink

I forgot to mention that John was commissioned to “bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw…Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter”

He used the the phrase “I saw” 33 times. While we might not completeley understand his descriptions, he was recording literal events.

Re. Sean @ 79: Neurophysiological basis of religious experience and belief:

Just off the top of my head:

Michael J. Persinger, Laurentian University (Canada), numerous papers in _Perception and Motor Skills_. Findings demonstrate that electromagnetic stimulation of the right temporal lobe produces two specific effects: One, "verbal substitution behavior" where subjects substitute words in sentences on short-term memory tests. Two, numinous feelings associated with the sense of a "presence" or higher intelligence.

Roland Griffiths, Johns Hopkins University, paper published in _Psychopharmacology_ in 2006. Findings demonstrate that psilocybin, a psychedelic drug, reliably produces mystical experiences that meet conventional comparative religion criteria for these experiences, with a statistically significant difference favoring psilocybin as compared to other-drug and non-drug controls.

Numerous studies of the EEG activity of Buddhist monks and others with long history of practicing meditation, demonstrate clear changes in EEG pre/post meditation, and unusual EEG activity during meditation sessions that were described as having elements of mystical experience. I don't have a specific cite for this, but there were numerous "meditation/EEG" studies done during the 70s and 80s so it shouldn't be hard to find examples.

But while we're on the topic, surely you're familiar with clinical near-death experiences (NDEs) in surgical patients. One of the interesting features of these NDEs is that they entail fully lucid consciousness (awareness of self, awareness of condition, and time/place orientation) in patients who are under the influence of combinations of multiple drugs: narcotic analgesics, sedatives, and general anaesthetics, that ordinarily have the effect of shutting down consciousness altogether.

There are two current hypotheses that seek to explain the apparent anomaly of full lucid consciousness under the influence of multiple drugs that produce complete unconsciousness singly or in combination.

One hypothesis is that these patients are having paradoxical drug reactions, possibly combined with hypoxia. That hypothesis is convergent with my point that religious attitudes and experiences generally have neurophysiological underpinnings Though, I find it odd that there hasn't been more alarm, from supporters of this hypothesis, about paradoxical reactions to these drugs during surgery.

But if you don't agree with me on that, then perhaps you'll agree with the second hypothesis for surgical NDEs: that they represent brief entry into a different state of existence in which the mind is not dependent upon the functioning of the brain, thereby supporting the dualist-interactionist theory of mind (something I don't rule out either; as I said, I'm an "uncertaintist" about these things).

Gordon @ 84:

Christian communism: very interesting details you have there. Your description of your beliefs provides a coherent framework for recognizing that a commitment to Christian morals, necessarily entails the practice of communism in one's life and with others. This stands in sharp distinction to the religious right, and its "prosperity gospel" in which wealth is a sign of God's favor and poverty does not deserve charity, which I find morally repugnant.

People of good will can get along as friends and allies, across a diverse range of beliefs.

Gordon @ 85:

Nicely said: "In short, we can believe... while not expecting that the physical laws set up by God to govern the Universe be made meaningless by a continual string of exceptions to them."

Omitting for a moment the question of miracles, a term with which I'm somewhat uncomfortable, and keeping in mind that I'm an "uncertaintist" about the existence of a deity: it appears you & I might agree on this.

From my comment @ 77: "...to make a universe with life-bearing planets in it, a deity would also be bound by the internal logic of the physical laws it creates, such as to have a deadly vacuum in the space between planets. If one drops the requirement that omnipotence includes the ability to violate consistency at will, most of these issues disappear."

By "these issues" I meant, the entire set of physical conditions that are not favorable to us (e.g. the vacuum of space, hard radiation, etc.), the existence of suffering, sin as a side-effect of free will, etc.

Sean T. @ 88:

Right on!, and that took guts, and intellectual integrity. It's important that we find the common ground across the diversity of differences in beliefs. What we have in common is more important than where we differ, particularly in this era of climate change as the greatest existential threat to our species.

Eric @ 89:

"Why don’t we all have the internal moral compass of the best free-willed human?"

I would answer by saying that it's due to natural variation in humans. Some are benevolent, some are malevolent, as an outcome of their genetics and environment (broadly defined). Emotional traits and states play an enormous role in determining behavior. Emotions are largely deterministic, and the exercise of free will is primarily cognitive rather than emotional. Bringing behavior into line with conscious thoughts rather than emotions, is difficult but not impossible. These issues are addressed in most of the world's major religions and secular moral philosophies.

---

More later, gotta scoot for a bit.

Gordon:

If you can imagine a world where everyone is assured that their needs will be met, simply by asking, and that therefore no one makes conditional promises to each other that need to be enforced, then I believe you will get an idea of what life here on earth was (and is) supposed to be. This is Paradise, or Heaven, here on Earth, just as Jesus taught us pray

God's omnipotent. So why doesn't he just [snap fingers] eliminate scarcity? Why wait, when waiting causes literally billions of humans to experience unnecessary suffering and evil?
And you still have that tree do teal with. Why design a tree in such a way that biting its fruit degrades this creation so badly? Geez, why not just create the apple to have the property "stings a little bit when you bit it" instead?
God decided there would be a penalty for eating the tree. God chose what that penalty was. So whether it comes directly from him or indirectly through the tree, God is the agent of death and destruction. Its just like me rigging my house with a fatal booby trap. Who are the police going to come after when it blows someone to smithereens? Not the person who triggered it, but me.

The purpose in allowing us Free Will is so that we could learn the lesson that God’s design was perfect from the start.

That is a lesson one can learn in a few minutes or hours at most. It takes the span of time required to read the first part of Genesis or perhaps hold one conversation with a priest. There is simply no need to allow massive suffering throughout the world just to communicate this message.

When we finally accept the original design, then by our own Free Will we consciously choose NOT to do evil and we have the ability to avoid it entirely.

So why are the jails filled with Christians? Clearly, there are many people who accept the lesson who don't choose to do only-good. Or is this going to be another no true Scotsman?

Now, I happen to agree with you that resource scarcity/distribution causes a lot of bad acting. But again, the world didn't and doesn't have to contain scarcities. God can fix the world any time he wants. If there are scarcities in the world today, it's because God actively chooses to allow them. That's evil.

Gordon,
So you must be a big supporter of war, death penalty and abortion. If people aren't what you want - wipe them out and start again. They are going to die anyway. Were your ancestors passing blankets out to the native americans, by any chance?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

Gordon;

Regarding, “I cannot tell you why we are so inclined to doubt our Creator. I just know that most of us are, and the only answer is Faith. I can only hope that you see that some of us think it important to have an informed Faith rather than acting merely on blind faith.”

“Informed faith” may be an oxymoron; information undermines faith, or converts it to knowledge. It should be obvious that, if there is any answer to the problem of evil, it is that whatever created us put that inclination into us. If that creator is a deity (your God for instance) then our inclination to evil was put there by that deity. They are responsible for it.

Your subsequent paragraphs miss the point. Recounting our bad behaviors does not explain why we have those behaviors. Whatever (or whoever) created us created those behaviors. If the “root of the problem is the belief in Possession” then whatever (or whoever) created us created that belief.

I believe your comments are a sincere effort to explain your faith, but I have to say it seems you are doing everything you can to avoid looking at the actual problem: from whence evil in the first place?

Regarding, “See if you can escape the conclusion that Jesus and other NT writers not only tell us that we CAN be perfect in this life. They tell us exactly HOW to do so!”

Your conclusions are unpersuasive because everything you write is predicated on the assumption that your God is real, which is itself an unsupported idea. Your answer to one mystery is to propose yet another. Not a persuasive strategy!

Perhaps if your God or another deity told me these things I could try to take them seriously, but no deity including your own ever has told me anything. So I have no belief in your deity, nor an trust in arguments based on faith.

As for prayer, I tried it. No answer, no sign. Nothing. I only KNOW one thing about God: if God exists, he does not care what I believe or pray for. That much is knowledge.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

G;

Off the top of my head, these studies you cite seem inconsequential. They at most identify the locations and perhaps biochemistry of religious thought and experience. Demonstrating where the brain “creates” pain does not mean that pain is not created by that hammer I dropped on your toe.

Assuming (arguendo) that religious experience is real in the sense of existing apart from our perceptions of it (just as that hammer does not need to be perceived to exist) then the findings below are interesting but not significant to the nature of religious experience. Everything we experience has in part a “neurophysiological basis”. That’s obvious. The question is whether there is any reality to it apart from the mind. Neuroscience has not established that at all.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

Doesn't it make more sense that the Garden of Eden story is an attempt to explain consciousness? - the trade-offs of being able to think through a problem and design a solution versus the knowledge that we will die? Just because someone is unaware of his or her death doesn't mean that death won't happen, just that it is something we can't worry about. The writers thought that humans must have done something wrong to be saddled with the knowing we will die - we had to pay some price for being different than a sheep, for instance. Consciousness is not a result of something some humans did knowingly - it is not our fault. I ask you would you really want to go through life unconscious - to have no memories? Would that really be better? It is the ignorance is bliss school of thought - they look back to the "innocence" of their childhoods and think the world was better then. It is delusional - the world was not better when we were young - not matter when that was.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

"As for prayer, I tried it. No answer, no sign. Nothing. I only KNOW one thing about God: if God exists, he does not care what I believe or pray for. That much is knowledge."

Now that kinda got me choked up :(

By Kanye East (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

Jason:

I assume Averick’s point is simply that if evolution is correct, then human beings are just one more species among many. If that was his intent, then I agree! But how on earth does that imply that life has no value or significance? All those millennia of evolution that separate us from lobsters and cockroaches, during which we acquired intellectual capacities that make possible art, literature, music and mathematics, among other delightful things, have no significance?

Much is being made here of the capacities that distinguish humans from lobsters and cockroaches, and their significance as a source of "meaning". But the hundreds of thousands of millennia of evolution that separate us also join us together. Our separation from lobsters and cockroaches proceeded by small, incremental steps away from our last common ancestor of less than a billion years ago. At which step did our lives take on meaning, while theirs went on without it?

Evolution, simply put, is descent with modification. It is the necessary outcome of imperfect replication resulting in differential survival and reproduction, i.e. natural selection. The fact of evolution is demonstrable, and the theory of adaptation through natural selection, together with unpredictable (i.e. "random") events like asteroid impacts and continents drifting asunder, is sufficient to explain both the similarities and the differences among species. Residual ignorance about precise mechanisms and timing isn't a valid reason to reject the theory of evolution, and the exemption of Homo sapiens is nothing more than conceit. Scientists aren't required to refute arguments for divine intervention in detail: it is enough to say "I had no need of that hypothesis."

Nor do I have need of meaning! Our ancestral species possessed all the adaptations necessary for its members to survive and reproduce. Each succeeding generation in the line that led to modern humans was equally well-adapted for its place and time. Along the way our ancestors evolved (by descent with modification) the intellectual capacities that distinguish us from other species. If the joy that Jason derives from art, literature, music and mathematics gives his life meaning, did the lives of our most recent ancestors who lacked those capacities lack meaning? Does it matter? With or without meaning, they were able to survive and reproduce well enough to be our ancestors! Evolution explains how I came to be here. "Why" I am here, or what my "purpose" might be, is uninteresting. No possible answer can be verified, thus all are equally true. That way lies boredom, if not madness.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

Mal Adapted,

“Evolution, simply put, is descent with modification.”

Yes, but that is just a little too simply, but necessarily, put. Descent with modification is observable at a dog show. But if you try to close in on the “imperfect replication” deal, it gets really nasty, and fantastically stupid. What you are saying is that a grossly improbable series of impossible DNA replication errors could produce things like heart valves, or any other exquisitely functional biological feature that you are too much of an ingrate to appreciate.

I hate that you are a casualty. You have been gifted with your own personal volition, and with reasonable, normal curiosity and deliberate blindness as choices, you have used yours to opt for the latter.

Gordon,

“Phil, I am extremely familiar with the various understandings of Scripture on these issues.”

I recognize your confidence. I just want to ask some questions.
-
“As for Money, it would be humorous to hear Christians defend it were it not so very sad. For example, you cite Matthew 25:27, which is the ONLY mention of usury in the entire New Testament, and that is a parable in which the concept of usury is merely used to make a point that has nothing whatsoever to do with the rightness or wrongness of the practice itself.”

Okay, but in this parable, what were the talents?

As an extension to this, what is the meaning of Luke 22:36?
-
“Do a search on every instance of the word, “Perfect” in the New Testament and read those verses, together with their context.See if you can escape the conclusion that Jesus and other NT writers not only tell us that we CAN be perfect in this life. ”

That’s an interesting study, but several words translated as ‘perfect’ are involved. Personally, I’m relying on Christ’s imputed perfection. Which words and verses are you referring to that lead you to believe that you can and have achieved perfection on your own?

Evil: You all have not actually defined this term. So a few of your statements range beyond what I have discussed. If we want to solve, "the problem of evil", then we must start with defining this term.

To start, we must remove anything that blames God, such as natural disasters. I must remove them because I believe that God is only Good. You must remove them because you deny his existence.

So when I discuss the problem of evil, I am addressing all the bad things that Man does to Man, knowingly and willingly. War is an evil because it only happens when someone chooses to pick up a gun and try to force his will on someone else. A car accident where the driver was obeying the normal safety rules is NOT an evil, because what happened was outside the control of the driver.

With that definition, it is my contention that almost every evil on this planet is rooted in Man's belief in Scarcity. God does not figure into this. If you think there is a better explanation for why we do bad things to our fellow man, then put it forward. An atheist can agree with this, without believing in God, or he can put forward his own explanation for evil that also does not need God as part of the equation.

Eric, you have to get past the notion that Adam and Eve literally ate an apple and that caused God to curse them. If there was an apple tree, Adam drew a line around it and said, "Mine!" Then he carved a big club and told everyone who came near that he would bash them over the head if they attempted to pick any of "my" apples.

Why did he do this? He believed in Scarcity. He was afraid that his apple tree might run out of apples and he might go hungry. Was the Scarcity real? No! Just as it is not real today. God created a world with no Scarcity, but once we start claiming possession, WE create the Scarcity!

The curses listed in Genesis are not God's punishment for eating an apple. They are the cause and effect consequences (based on natural laws God had already put in place) of Man implementing the concept of Possession. This is no different to God saying, "Don't jump off that cliff". Was Gravity a mistake? A bad law? Should God have made the world completely flat?

The consequence of a system of Possession is that it creates Scarcity! For example, it is acknowledged that there is enough food in the world today to feed everyone. And yet we also know that far too many people are going hungry, and many children are dying solely of malnutrition. How can this be? Is it God's fault?

If there is enough food, then God has done his job. If we worked to distribute it as needed, then NO ONE would go hungry. But instead, we have a monetary system that demands that people pay the farmer who grew the food out of God's earth, using God's seeds and God's sunlight and rain. A little bit of work, and somehow the farmer 'owns' vastly more food that he can possibly eat. But because of his own fear of Scarcity, he will only give it to someone who can give him equal value in exchange.

This system of money and contract is entirely of Man's doing. You cannot blame God for it. And it is just plain silly to blame God for allowing Man to think this wrong thought. You all seem to want Free Will to NOT be Free Will. All of your other points are valid and worth discussing, but if you start demanding dry water from God, then you will have us arguing over nonsense.

If you still think this is a valid point, then you need to define Free Will and detail for us how we can have Free Will while at the same time being prevented from doing anything bad, stupid or evil. Hopefully you can see from the above that God could not stop Man from imagining Scarcity simply by making the tree taller. This has nothing to do with your hand on the hot burner analogy. Possession is a concept that applies to absolutely everything, such as the tree itself and not just the apple.

Now, if the lesson we need to learn about Scarcity were so easy to learn, then you all would already be thanking me for explaining such a simple lesson to you! But the fact is, as Phil here demonstrates, that when this is explained to Christians who claim to "believe the Bible", they choke on their lunch. Were stones readily available to them, I would have to flee for my life. The LAST think anyone wants to do after a thorough explanation (if they will even sit through it) is to give up their precious notions of possession and money.

This is a deeply rooted problem. Remember, they killed Jesus. What did he say that rubbed them the wrong way? How about, "Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me ..."

2000 years after he explained this in great detail, we find ourselves as devoted as ever to the concepts of possession and money. So Eric, if it really was as simple as you say, you should already be my strongest supporter!

Phil, there are numerous parables that use money as part of the object lesson. Does "the widow's mite" prove the importance of money, or is it a parable about something else entirely? If you read every passage where Jesus discusses money directly, you will not find a single good thing that he had to say about it.

For the word "perfect", just use a King James Bible and search on the English without worrying about the Greek at this point. Most preachers go to the Greek when they need an excuse, because the English is too clear!

Why did Jesus say, "Be ye perfect"? Why are these words not qualified? Why does every preacher explain this by saying, "Of course we know that we CAN'T be perfect in this life, and so what Jesus must have meant is ... {excuse of the day}"

Why did John say, "Little children, I have written these things to you that you SIN NOT"? And why do preachers only discuss the "But IF" that follows?

I did not say that I am already perfect. But I now know what it takes and that it is achievable in this life. And I have given you a simple way of confirming the New Testament message for yourself. I look forward to your findings.

By Gordon (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

From 71 (my reply) : (citing) "G @ 10: "First thing we ought to do is define “meaning,” for which I’ll offer this: ' the subjective sense of significance in relation to something greater than self, typically associated with the emotion of inspiration, and measured in terms of effort spent working toward relevant goals.' ”

From G's @ 77 :

" I didn’t need a citation, that was my definition.

' “Significance” means “importance,” not “meaning.” Another way to put this is, “meaning” = “sense of importance of a/the relationship between the self and something larger than the self.” If you like, I could operationalize this in terms of a particular type of activity in the right temporal lobe, that also correlates with increased verbal substitution behavior compared to a control condition." '

So, then, we have:

"... the subjective sense of (significance) importance in relation to something greater than self, ..."

More vague gibberish. First, we have to fill in for you whatever "sense of importance" is supposed to mean here--with respect to, recall, "life"--also left vague but we have to assume that we're really only concerning ourselves with human life--though you didn't clarify that, either.

So, since all human lives and their supposed related "senses of importance" are necessarily subjective, we can drop that qualifier and simplify further:

..."the [human individual's (or group's) (of course) implied and left untreated--another fault ]... sense of (significance) importance in relation to something greater than self, ..."

So, this supposed "sense of importance" is supposedly the or part of the source or "seat" of the "meaning" of "life." Again, though you fail to recognize it, this gets us nowhere. We don't know what "importance" means or how or whence it comes--if it comes as all--to each and all of us. We don't know why "sense of importance" = "life's meaning" but we might suppose that you're busy here using "meaning", "sense of ( (significance, i.e.) importance" as being, for present purposes, practically synonyms. But, since their linguistic content is so similar, they are practically synonyms. So, again, to the question, "What is the meaning of life" you've stuck with your original circularity--giving us first, Sense of significance, then diverting to "importance" for "significance" . So, the "meaning of life" is the sense of 'importance' of (something/ (undefined)) "greater than ourselves" --but, to get "there," to the position of identifying something(s) "greater than self", we're already presupposing a prior "meaning" or, in your circular gibberish, a prior "sense of importance of" which is in contradistinction to "self." Nowhere do you tidy up this grade-school level mess.

What's next on the diversions and redefinitions trail you're blazing ? Or, on second thought, never mind. You're out of your depth here.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 31 Jan 2015 #permalink

Sean @ 104:

Nowhere was I arguing that neurophysiological causes or correlates of subjective experiences, or the results of the research I cited, implied that the objects of those experiences were necessarily real outside of the mind of the individual.

However I don't exclude that possibility either, so perhaps that's what's at issue here: "not atheistic enough." Sorry to disappoint.

You didn't address my point about the paradox of lucid consciousness in fully sedated and anaesthetised surgical NDE cases. But by all means do so; I'm interested in any psychopharmacological data you may have, that support the conclusion that lucid consciousness under the influence of sedatives, narcotics, and general anaesthetics is common and can reproduce NDEs in all detail under controlled conditions.

----

Gordon @ 110:

I define evil as desiring or taking pleasure from the suffering of others, and more generally as treating persons as objects. Those definitions are supportable from both theistic and naturalistic interpretations of human nature.

I would remove natural disasters from the category of evil, because they do not occur as the result of intention. Theistic interpretations of reality do not require that natural events have divine intent.

----

proximity1 @ 111:

It's clear that non-sequiturs and ad-hominems are your stock in trade. Quoting your #6:

"Obama, once the great hope of Black people suffering from idiotic “identity politics” and the great hope of guilt-ridden White liberals, has proven beyond all expectations that
a) despite his credentials–and, worse indeed, perhaps just as much because of his credentials, he’s an over-schooled dumb s---."...

Right. Classic troll.

Gordon;

Regarding, “You all have not actually defined [evil].”

Evil: any act which 1) causes harm, 2) is intentional and 3) is unnecessary.

Harm: any physical injury, financial loss, or impairment of liberty; or a substantial risk of any of these against the express consent of the one harmed or placed at risk.

Intentional: includes premeditation, recklessness, and unreasonable negligence.

Unnecessary: not justified by mitigation or prevention of a harm or injustice nor justified by the consent of the one harmed.

This probably covers more than 80% of genuine evil, and is a good starting point. I do not claim it is complete. Suggestions will be considered.

Regarding; To start, we must remove anything that blames God.”

No. If your God is good, why would it be necessary to hold him to a LOWER STANDARD than we hold others to? Failure to be willing to blame God improperly insulates your claims about God from the searching analysis that all moral claims are due.

It is possible that God exists and is evil. There is no logical reason to exclude that possibility, as unpleasant as it may be. If the evidence indicates that – should a deity exist, it would be guilty of evil – that evidence would argue against the existence of that deity, or against the deity’s worthiness.

Regarding, “So when I discuss the problem of evil, I am addressing all the bad things that Man does to Man, knowingly and willingly.”

When I discuss evil, I am addressing all the bad acts that any person (including hypothetical deities) might do to other persons (including hypothetical deities) knowingly or willingly. I cannot write for others, I will let them state what they mean by evil.

There is little in the rest of you post of much consequence to me. I appreciate your effort to keep consideration of your God’s guilt out of our discussions. Do you appreciate why you need to do that? The irony of it?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 31 Jan 2015 #permalink

G;

I read that first paragraph (from #112) carefully several times; if I did so correctly, you believe the evidence you cited is silent on the question of whether the objects of experiences (the hammer dropped on your toe, or deities) are necessarily real “outside of the mind of the individual”. I agree, but that shows the limitation of the evidence you cite.

I believe that objects of experience usually are real “outside of the mind of the individual” but not necessarily so. Given that, the evidence you cite provides little value to resolving the question of whether religious phenomena are real “outside of the mind of the individual”.

The phenomena of “ lucid consciousness in fully sedated and anaesthetized surgical ... cases ” is interesting, but again insubstantial to this question. They prove nothing in particular about whether religious phenomena are real “outside of the mind of the individual”. Perhaps you meant it to be significant regarding some other topic.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 31 Jan 2015 #permalink

Phil:

What you are saying is that a grossly improbable series of impossible DNA replication errors could produce things like heart valves, or any other exquisitely functional biological feature that you are too much of an ingrate to appreciate.

"...grossly improbable series of impossible DNA replication errors..." -- how did you come to be convinced of that? You can easily find out how probable DNA replication errors are from a college 2nd-level Biology textbook, if you are really interested in knowing. I'm pretty sure you're not, though.

"...could produce things like heart valves, or any other exquisitely functional biological feature..." -- I doubt it will do you much good, but genuinely skeptical readers will find Darwin's Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett, to be a concise and lucid explanation of how complex adaptations can arise by iterated cycles of random variation and selective retention in a sufficiently large population. I thought the author's metaphor of "the library of Mendel" was especially useful.

"...you are too much of an ingrate to appreciate." -- To whom do you suppose I should be grateful? If you say "to God", you are begging the question of His existence, which has yet to be demonstrated to my satisfaction. In any case I have no need of the "divine intervention" hypothesis. "Imperfect replication followed by differential survival and reproduction" is more parsimonious, as any genuine skeptic would recognize upon completing a basic college Biology curriculum.

Lastly:

I hate that you are a casualty. You have been gifted with your own personal volition, and with reasonable, normal curiosity and deliberate blindness as choices, you have used yours to opt for the latter.

It would be grandiose of me to declare this a TH Huxley moment, but... your concern is noted. You shouldn't be surprised to know that I've come to the same conclusion about you. Apparently the suspicion that you might not have any special significance in the universe compels you to take refuge in a comforting delusion of a cosmic parental figure, and defend it with arguments from ignorance. I, OTOH, am compelled by six decades of study (including two years in a doctoral program in evolutionary biology, FWIW) to concur with Richard Dawkins:

The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 31 Jan 2015 #permalink

proximity1;

Although I don’t agree with G’s conclusion that you are a troll, your unnecessary snide comments give G a reasonable basis for that opinion.

Nevertheless, as your comment #111 shows, you have a good grasp of the problem of “meaning”. It’s hard to see why we need a deity or greater power needs to assign us something for life to have “meaning” or value. I think that’s what many people are getting to with the question of meaning: why bother with anything?

Often this topic gets so high-flown that expressions become circular or vacuous, as you showed. Believers insist we need their deity(ies) because they do not want us to consider that we don’t. We don’t.

If meaning is about why bother then one needs no deity to find a reason, though even a deity is not enough for some. I have my opinion and think I know why I bother. But I do not believe in any deity.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 31 Jan 2015 #permalink

Sean and Eric,

You guys are just a little too keen to blame God for everything that is wrong with the world. If you truly believed that God does not exist, you would not be so keen to make this blame stick. Blaming God actually disempowers you, even if only a subconscious manner.

I have answered "the problem of evil" so as to show that God is not the one to blame. But I took it further, and showed that once we understood its cause, and accepted the blame ourselves, that we in fact had the power to do something about it.

I find it far more productive to discuss the root cause of Evil and what we can do about it ourselves. Approached objectively, and especially by an Atheist, any answer put forward could not possibly involve God in any way. Evil exists. We all agree on your definition Sean, and we all agree that bad things happen in our world that fit this definition. So if you actually want to solve the problem, then God side should be dropped from the start.

You have almost turned a corner from arguing that the existence of Evil proves that God could not exist, to using it to prove that God exists, and that he is just plain Evil. There is an irony in your eagerness to engage in a debate that concedes the existence of God at the outset.

So, to be clear, I think the question worth answering is the question of why there is evil in our world. That is the issue I have been trying to advance, especially when I said that you cannot blame God.

I also explained that God had to allow us to make bad choices if he was going to give us Free Will in a meaningful way. Your responses have not furthered that discussion either. You have nothing to say about Free Will. And so I will address the one point that you are both very keen to discuss: Why is God so god-damned evil?

I have already shown that the Harm was ultimately caused by OUR choice, not God's. You have turned omniscience into amounting to a conscious choice, since the outcome is already known. That does not hold up, especially in light of the other two elements necessary to constitute Evil. You want to remove all blame from us, even when we do something that we have been told is bad.

For 'Intention', you rely on the loosest definition: unreasonable negligence. Once again, you fall back on the notion that omniscience turns this into negligence. And you basically demand that God be an overprotective parent. Sure, we can do whatever we want, except all those things that might cause harm to ourselves or someone else.

Obviously, if you will not discuss Free Will, then it is impossible to take this point further. I contend that you have just removed Free Will. You don't want to go there.

But I also contend that I am not an Evil father. My children were given great liberties due solely to my conviction that they should be able to try anything that did not entail a very serious risk. I set the bar quite low. I already told you the story about my son climbing the tree.

Their mother was the opposite. Had she had her way, they would have spent the first 18 years of their life locked in a closet, just to make sure nothing bad happened to them. She was the quintessential over-protective mother. I contend that she did them the greater disservice than I. In the end, they were going to grow up and would be in control of their life anyway. I thought it best for them to learn as many hard lessons as possible while still under my watchful eye.

You point out that I am not omniscient and omnipotent, and so I could not protect them all the time. But the protection you demand of God would have the same result as the overprotective mother. Were God to take you seriously, soon people would be flinging themselves over cliffs, confident that God would always override gravity just for the sake of their stupidity. In short, God would have to suspend all natural laws just to make you happy.

A quick observation will prove that this is not how God set the world up. He does not regularly and predictably intervene. If he did, you could not deny his existence.

Which brings us to the third element of Evil. He does not intervene in most cases, and he is not overprotective precisely because the present state of affairs is Necessary. Without it, we cannot have Free Will, and without Free Will we cannot truly act as beings made in the image of God.

The apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 8:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now."

Clearly Paul saw the present "sufferings" as necessary. And he describes the higher purpose to be served. It is ultimately for our good. And he describes a good that is so vastly better that it cannot even be compared to the present sufferings.

Paul was familiar with Greek philosophy, and so it is interesting to note that he had already answered the Epicurean Paradox some 2000 years ago, yet here we are, still arguing it today!

By Gordon (not verified) on 31 Jan 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

Gordon:

To start, we must remove anything that blames God, such as natural disasters. I must remove them because I believe that God is only Good. You must remove them because you deny his existence.

No, if you are positing a hypothetical entity to explain stuff, I can certainly walk through what I think are the consequences of your statements, even if I don't believe in said entity. Just like if I said "unicorns like to bathe in the blood of 3-year-olds," you could assert that my conception of unicorns are evil without believing they exist.

So, your conception of God is evil, because (according to your theology) he booby-trapped existence in a way we would describe as evil. Not to mention stuff like the slaughter of the Midianites, and drowning everything on earth that didn't fit in a single boat. The tower of Bablel story also seems pretty clear cut: he punished humans for being too competent.

“the slaughter of the Midianites”

Baal worship has consequences. Now that we are electing and importing the practice, we can expect the results.

"Now that we are electing and importing the practice, we can expect the results."
If that "warning" (prediction) weren't so mind numbingly stupid it would sound rather like a threat.

dean,

"(prediction)"

With no hesitation. That gives you the opportunity to watch for the results. You might notice the effects, but I'm very doubtful about you being able to identify the cause.

With no hesitation. That gives you the opportunity to watch for the results. You might notice the effects, but I’m very doubtful about you being able to identify the cause.

Given the effort you had to put forth to present the lie that biblical prophecies have come true it is as sure a bet as can be that your prediction will turn out to be nothing more than the ranting of a bigot (you) who
a) doesn't like the fact that people don't worship your god they same way you do
b) is more upset they have a different skin tone than you while they do it

Gordon;

Again, I cannot speak for Eric, but here are my responses.

First, a couple of little things. your qualities as a father are not in dispute, at least not by me. As for the mother of your children, I have absolutely nothing to say.

And I will happily discuss Free Will, I believe it exists in some form. But I will not cooperate with any effort to put any part of this topic off limits. I will not agree that free will exculpates any deity without strong evidence of that. I’m an old guy, and after decades of discussion and reading, no such evidence has appeared.

FREE WILL

QUESTION: Does God have Free will? If free will necessarily means evil, then either God is predeterministicly bound, or God is evil, isn’t that so? If God is Free, and yet not evil, then Free will cannot be the cause of evil. Q.E.D.

You wrote that, “the present state of affairs is Necessary. Without it, we cannot have Free Will ...” Nonsense. Our inclinations toward evil are not a necessary predicate of free will. Free will is not about making ignorant, uninformed choices, it’s about making choices. In fact, being forced to make choices without all the facts is a denial of freedom; arguably our ignorance proves we don’t have free will.

GOD’S CULPABILITY

You wrote that we “are just a little too keen to blame God for everything that is wrong with the world.”

If God exists and is the Creator/Judge of the world, then His role is worthy of examination, it is an essential part of the problem. If an honest examination of the evidence is uncomplimentary of Him, that is His fault. It makes no sense to stipulate to the most powerful being in existence and then treat Him as irrelevant to this question.

You wrote that “I think the question worth answering is the question of why there is evil in our world. That is the issue I have been trying to advance, especially when I said that you cannot blame God.”

If this question in worth answering (I agree it is) then it deserves an honest answer. That means God’s culpability must be considered. If the evidence supports it, we must be able to blame God, otherwise we are only pretending to answer this important question. So Gordon: let us know if you are interested in actually seeking an answer to this question or not.

To our questions about why the world is not a better place, or God more active in it, you wrote that “... this is not how God set the world up.” Again; His choice, His fault. It’s a poor Creator who blames His creations. If God set up the world, then God’s conduct and choices are essential to the question of why there is evil in our world.

PROBLEM OF EVIL

You wrote that “I have answered “the problem of evil ...”

No, Gordon, you really haven’t. You tried to answer the problem of evil and you’ve done better than most, but your answers remain woefully inadequate. You are just too keen to place the blame on us, and too keen to not even think about God’s culpability. That willful blindness toward God’s culpability disempowers you, and not merely at a subconscious level.

If there is a God, then that God is very much part of the problem of evil. If we drop the “God side” of the problem of evil (as you suggest), it can only be because we all agree there is no God, no deity. At least for the sake of making the world better, I’m open to that. Are you?

The problem of evil does not prove God cannot exist, but it does limit our choices to:
1) there is no deity,
2) whatever deity there is, they are quite limited in their power,
3) whatever deity there is, they are evil,
4) whatever deity there is, they are totally incomprehensible.

I’m sure you are tempted to latch onto #4, but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). To embrace #4 means you can no longer say “God is good” or that “God has a plan”. Those statements indicate that you comprehend a God you claim to be totally incomprehensible. #4 means that you can say nothing in defense of God except that you believe in God. Once you make any assertion about God, i.e. “God is good” you REPUDIATE #4 because you claim to comprehend God at least a little. Embracing #4 means you claim you cannot comprehend God at all.

BTW, just to be clear, the requirements of the previous paragraph are not just some arbitrary rules I’m trying to impose on you; they are the logical consequence of choosing #4. You cannot logically claim that God is totally incomprehensible and yet you comprehend God. You have to exercise your Free will and choose: #4 or something else.

The problem of evil does prove one thing: God cannot be good and even very powerful within the human understanding of those words.

You wrote “God had to allow us ...”. This appears to be a repudiation of God’s omnipotence. Is that your point? An omnipotent God does not HAVE TO ALLOW anything.

You asked a rhetorical question: “Why is God so god-damned evil?” If some deity exists, I cannot explain the why of God’s god-damned evil (your phrase), at least not yet. I can’t really explain why snow is white, but it still is. The apparent evil of God does incline me to believe there is no deity. I am inclined to say that God is not evil because God is probably a fiction anyway.

You claim to have shown “that the Harm was ultimately caused by OUR choice”, but you have not proven that to be a reasonable idea. Certainly you have not shown how the notions of scarcity and possession justify childhood cancer, the Holocaust, criminal violence or other suffering.

You certainly have not shown why a benevolent God would react to these “errors” with violence and death instead of with further information. One wants to shout to the heavens that injunction most of us gave our young children: DEAR LORD, USE YOUR WORDS!!

“... you basically demand that God be an overprotective parent.”

I demand nothing of God. I don’t have any reason to think God exists. But if God exists, that God will do what that God will do.

I demand only that we be honest about the apparent indolence or ill-will of God. If God is omniscient, then his negligence is inexcusable. I know you don’t want me to even consider this, because there is no answer to the charge. But I do consider it because it’s a claim that merits consideration.

“God would have to suspend all natural laws ...” Again, you seem to repudiate God’s omnipotence. Evil is not about natural laws as much as it is about our ignorance.

If bad experiences teach important lessons; knowing the lesson before committing the bad act would make the bad act less likely. After all, that is the goal of all teaching. God could have made that enhanced learning possible, but if God exists he chose not to do so, and the consequences of that choice–THE FAULT–is God’s (if God exists). His choice; His fault.

Paul’s answer to the problem of evil is no better than yours. Evil is not ultimately “for our good”, it’s probably just there. To paraphrase something Steve Fry said just recently, “Bone cancer in children, what’s it for?”

I sense (inaccurately, perhaps) that you are getting angry and frustrated with how this exchange is going. That is inevitable when we want to ask about something (God’s culpability) and your response is that it’s taboo. Mind you, the only reason we discuss it is that you and others continue to assert the existence of your benevolent deity.

I doubt the existence of God, I don’t claim to know that there is no deity, but I DO KNOW that there’s no reason for me to believe in any deity. The problem of evil is a problem only if people assert the existence of a benevolent deity. Without any deity, the problem of evil vanishes.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

Michael,

My main point in citing the Bible is to show that the answers to the questions being asked were already written down thousands of years ago. The Garden of Eden story is nothing if not a comprehensive explanation for why there is Evil in our world today. This answer was given centuries or millenia prior to Epicurus positing his 'paradox'. And just for good measure, the Apostle Paul directly answers it again, a few centuries after Epicurus, and a few millenia before us. This elevates the book to something more than just another set of opinions.

And the answers have nothing whatsoever to do with your notion of 'fiction' or 'magic'. Even if the Garden of Eden story is fictional, you cannot deny that it's purpose is to explain the existence of Evil. And that makes the story relevant today, when we still struggle with the same problems and therefore still ask the same questions.

Sean, under FREE WILL, you must start by taking the Garden of Eden story for what it is. God made a perfect world. He then told Adam and Eve how to keep it perfect. They were initially unable to even contemplate the possibility of Evil.

But for Free Will to be meaningful, they had to have the POSSIBILITY of thinking Evil and acting upon that thought. God gave them a choice. With no choice at all, there would be no Free Will. And in the story it is clearly not an uninformed choice.

In short, almost every statement you make under FREE WILL stands in direct contrast to the story itself. The first step in proving your opponent wrong is in understanding your opponent's position. Thus far you have proven nothing.

Under GOD's CULPABILITY, I have already answered in great detail why I believe there is Evil in the world. And in answer to your questions about God's conduct and choices, I offered the answer given by the Apostle Paul. You have not comprehended Paul's answer.

Under PROBLEM OF EVIL, I am very open to hearing other ideas for why there is Evil in the world, and what we can do about it, even if the answers leave God out of the equation. Thus far, I am the only one to put forward an opinion on the matter.

You seem to imply that if we take God out of the equation, that this will somehow get us to an answer faster. But if that is the case, why I am the only one to put forward an answer so far? The rest of you seem to see the question as nothing more than a tool with which you are sure you can disprove the existence of the Christian God, or at least limit the options to 4 choices that do not mesh well with the Christian concept of God.

Yet I have put forth a 5th possibility, and shown how it matches with the biblical text: There is a Deity, and he chose to grant us Free Will, knowing it opened the possibility to Evil, but also knowing that there was a higher purpose to be served (as described by Paul).

I didn't explain well when I said "God had to allow us ..." What I meant is that he CHOSE to give us Free Will, and in making that choice it became necessary that he allow us to make bad choices. This does not remove Free Will from God, as the initial choice was up to him. And if you read Paul's answer, you will see that he pegs this choice squarely on God, effectively saying that the presence of Evil originated with God's choice, but that he had a higher purpose in mind when doing so.

While the ultimate choice for how the world presently is rests with God, the vast majority of choices that daily cause unnecessary harm to people rest with us individually. I already gave the example of how the farmer, out of fear of scarcity demands money for the food he grows, and that ultimately results in some people going hungry despite there being enough food to feed them. I could give a thousand such examples.

But just think about it. Pick a problem and do the logical exercise yourself. What is the root of the Evil? In my experience, 9 out of 10 times you will find yourself back to a fear of Scarcity. If you want, pick some examples and I will trace the logical steps for you. But be specific. The Holocaust and Criminal violence are too broad to meaningfully discuss this way. Childhood cancer is specific, but we will end up in an argument over what causes cancer, which no one agrees on. If you ask, why did Germany go to war?, or why do people Steal?, it is pretty easy to trace these back to a fear of Scarcity.

Since you appear to have raised children, you would be well aware of what happens when you tell them, "Don't touch that!" For some reason it creates a desire within them to do the forbidden thing. They want to find out for themselves exactly why you said this. They don't believe you or trust you.

Now imagine that they have never been burned. What effect would you have by adding more information? "It is hot! You will be burned!" These words have no meaning to them, so they will not make your initial warning any more persuasive. This is simply how we operate. You can blame God for making us this way if you wish, or you can go back to Paul's words and contemplate them until you see the higher purpose he was speaking of. You can still disagree with him, but right now you have not grasped the profound answer that he gave us.

For the record, I am neither angry nor frustrated with this exchange. You guys are a refreshing change from the people trolling YouTube. I appreciate your intellectual integrity. I do not expect you to agree with me, nor do I expect to convert any of you to my way of thinking. Only good can come from an honest exchange of ideas, and so I appreciate that this is indeed what we are engaged in.

You close with a rather startling statement. You already believe that no deity exists. So does this mean that no Evil exists either? Is the "problem" of Evil only a problem for God? Is it not a problem for us as well, here and now, today? If it is, is it not worth seeking an answer? I will be surprised if you tell me that we are already living in Heaven on Earth, and the only thing mucking it up at all is the incessant pestering of a bunch of Theists.

By Gordon (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

The problem here is that Gordon and Phil take the Bible to be authoritative and many others don't. I would categorize the Bible as historical fiction and magical realism. Sure there are insights to be gained, but then so are there from Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende or perhaps Gore Vidal or Dorothy Dennett. You both are making assumptions based on premises that may not be true and are likely false when viewed against the history of religion.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

Topic:

"The person who practices sin belongs to the evil one, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason that the Son of God was revealed was to destroy what the devil has been doing."

Talk amongst yourselves!

By Truth Seeker (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

dean,

“Given the effort you had to put forth to present the lie that biblical prophecies have come true”

But that doesn’t really take much effort Dean. Jesus said that the people of Jerusalem:

“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”

He spoke these words decades before Titus in 70 AD, and almost a full century before Hadrian completed the task. After a few decades of historical gyrations to include War2, Israel was officially reestablished in 1948, and Jerusalem liberated in 1967. You may not like this, but inasmuch as it is all historical reality, you can’t really dismiss it as a lie.

You might gather from this that the times of the Gentiles is pretty much over, and eventually a period of time we call Daniel’s seventieth week will commence. You’re not going to like that either.
-
“doesn’t like the fact that people don’t worship your god they same way you do”

Oh, I have things that aggravate or appeal to me, but we have wide latitude in practice and form. As long as we are worshipping the same God, I’m good with everyone under the umbrella. But if you’re still on the Allah tangent, you just don’t know what you’re talking about.
-
“is more upset they have a different skin tone than you while they do it”

Like my fabulous wife? Nah, no room or reason for stuff like that. “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne” Race is not the qualifying factor.

Sean Samis @ 113:

Nice definition of evil: harm, intentional, needless. That addresses the effects and makes only the minimal inference about the actor (intent). Empiricists and rationalists should be willing to use terms such as "good" and "evil" in descriptive and morally normative applications.

One of the issues that contributes to fear of atheism among theists, is the sense that atheists don't have a basis for morally normative value judgements. Use of morally normative language should help to assuage those fears, by demonstrating that whether we do or don't believe that a deity exists, we share certain common moral frameworks.

Ultimately we should be able to ground those judgements in empirical facts, something I'm working on elsewhere. Yes, the dreaded "ought from is" problem, but I'm just foolish enough to think I can pull it off;-)

Sean Samis @ 114:

Agreed, objects of experience "usually are real" outside the mind, but "not necessarily so." The key point of research such as Persinger, Griffiths, et.al. and all the meditation studies, is that it demonstrates a both-way relationship between mind and brain as regards the elements of religious experience. That accomplishes two things.

One, removes those experiences from dependence upon supernatural hypotheses. That, in and of itself, is enormously valuable. If you look up the early (late 1950s - late 1960s) academic discussions of psychedelic drug induced mystical experiences, you'll see the paradigm shift in progress. The rest of it came with the EEG studies of meditation (late 1960s through 1970s). I'm extensively familiar with the literature in this field, so this is not idle speculation.

Two, makes these experiences amenable to controlled experimentation. That is also enormously valuable for other reasons, such as in research that seeks to understand the relationships between these experiences and beliefs that people hold about their content. Some of this crosses over from biological sciences (neuroscience) to social sciences (psychology) and into the humanities (religion, the arts): wonderful!, let's get cross-disciplinary, which can only be a good thing.

The point of all that research is _not_ (not, not, not) to explore the subject of whether the contents of religious experiences are real outside the mind. That would be a ferocious non-sequitur.

And to be crystal clear about that, if someone tried to use Persinger's or Griffiths' work to support the idea that a deity exists (or for that matter, doesn't exist), I'm quite sure that Persinger and Griffiths would _vociferously object_. I know a little more about Griffiths outside of his published paper, and I can say with high assurance that he in particular would object to any such conclusions being drawn. He would do it in very polite and reserved language, but none the less.

Further, _I_ would object vociferously to anyone trying something like that. It frankly makes me mad as hell when I see people doing things like that, because their logic is so obviously fatally flawed. I run across this kind of thing in other forums, and frequently have to take the time to explain the other side of the coin to those who are all too willing to believe that powerful emotions make for objective truth (they don't, obviously).

Let's reduce this to its bottom line: imagine a box you can connect to your head, or a pill you can take, that produces 100% reliable experiences of communion with the deity. What does that tell you about the existence of deities? Exactly _nothing_. All it tells you is that you have a reliable method for inducing a subjective experience.

The test I would use for objective reality of content of that kind, is the "tell me something I don't know" test. For example someone comes back from a meeting with the deity (however induced), and even though their formal education was in the humanities, they have the chemical formula and diagram for a new drug to treat cancer or Alzheimer's, or they have the equations for unification of gravity and electromagnetism. _And_, the "stuff" they bring back, checks out as valid by experts in the respective fields. _That_ would be highly impressive.

So far I haven't seen it. If anyone here has examples of that kind, please let me know. Kekule's hypnagogic vision of the structure of the benzene ring, and Crick's LSD vision of the structure of the DNA helix, are not that: both are examples of people who were highly educated about, and working directly on, the subject matter. No supernatural causality is needed to explain scientific insights that happen to occur to working scientists while in altered states.

Nobody with half a brain is claiming that transdermal magnetic stimulation of the brain, or psilocybin, or (whatever procedure or compound), demonstrates evidence for or against the existence of a deity.

Hopefully that puts that question to rest (in bed, with chicken soup or some other pleasant placebo;-).

Sean @ 114: NDEs:

The way I read the data, lucid consciousness in NDEs in surgically sedated patients is potentially supportive of a dualist-interactionist theory of mind. This because the incidence of paradoxical drug reactions to these compounds could not get that high without triggering a serious review of anaesthetics and procedures.

However, to be crystal clear about this also, that does _not_ (not, not, not) get us "proof" of "immortal souls." Immortality presupposes eternity, which is an immeasurable quantity, thus outside the scope of empirical science. And that is not the usual dozy dodge of declaring a question unfalsifiable to remove it from science's grasp. if anyone can find a way to get at the "immortal soul" question empirically, they should be up for a Nobel in medicine, but I won't be holding my breath.

In the end, death is the ultimate acid test of intellectual integrity about all of these issues. Whatever one believes about any of this, every one of us will encounter the reality of it when we drop dead. At which point, one of two things is true: either there's another state of existence, or there isn't. Either there's an afterlife or there's nothingness. No amount of wishing, no amount of belief or disbelief, no amount of logical loop-the-loops or literary exegesis in search of support for one's preferred hypotheses, will change what actually occurs. So there is exactly no point and no value to be gained by BS-ing around about any of it: reality is what it is. Our job is to make peace with reality.

Lastly re. proximity and trolling: I spotted him as a troll long before he trolled me, per his comment at 6 and my reference to it at 10. Enough said about trolls, best to not feed them at all.

"Lastly re. proximity and trolling: I spotted him as a troll long before he trolled me"

I'm sure I disagree with proximity1 on all kinds of things. But I disagree with this assessment as well.

@ 116 & 129

Phil, You're correct about at least one thing. I'm not a troll. And Sean, if you think I'm unecessarily snide, what do you think of people who enter into such discussions clearly unprepared, so careless as to make the simplest errors in reasoning and who use their terms so loosely as to demonstrate that they really have thought carefully about the topic(s)? For me, that's worse than what you regard as my snide attitude.

There's a vast literature on these topics. Most of it is poor to worthless. The few clear and competent treatments bring one to a starting point that is already far advanced of what's being disputed here. Some better background knowledge would indicate that a person cares enough to have looked into the issues well enough to avoid the kind of sloppy language and reasoning which "G." shows us. So, as soon as I read his comment (@ 10) , "“the subjective sense of significance in relation to something greater than self, typically associated with the emotion of inspiration, and measured in terms of effort spent working toward relevant goals, ” it was fairly clear to me that he hadn't bothered to do even that much in background prep. That's insulting to the rest who have and we then find ourselves dragged into swamps of conceptual confusion and, so, either obliged to engage in remedial instruction--which is tedious when the information is out there for anyone who cares to look for it--to get out of them or we're obliged to avoid and ignore this time-sink of trivia.

Then there's the fact that, when faced with cogent arguments which he cannot counter effectively, G resorts to childish non-responsive dismissals. That, too, is both insulting and indicative of the low level of his part in this dreary discussion. In light of all that, I think what you call my snide attitude is fully warranted. If you want to disagree, that's your right.

If the "Meaning of Life" really only means human life, then all we have and all we need are socially-constructed intermediately derived "meanings" or purposes for, or, in G.s terms, "sense of (significance) importance in relation to something greater than self " since anything of an ultimate or absolute character simply isn't available for human life or, even less, for "life's" (as in all of life) "meaning."

By proximity1 (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

The problem of evil is no problem at all without the presence of an all-powerful deity. Without such a deity, the easiest explanation for evil is that there are some humans who are willing to cause harm to others in order to benefit themselves. The real problem is why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent deity allow such people to get away with harming others to benefit themselves.

Sean T,

Your succinct reply speaks volumes.

First, completely absent is any notion that we can solve this problem. After all, it is a problem that affects us personally. People do stupid things, and sometimes we are the actual party harmed by them.

Integral to my understanding is the notion that the problem can be solved, and that it is within our own power to do so. Admittedly, most Christians do not share my view, but I submit that this is their own narrow reading of the Bible, and not due to any deficiency in the text itself.

Now there are many answers to your question of why God would let people "get away with harming others". Phrased this way, I expect that the average Christian would simply answer that God, in his justice, punishes these people eternally for the Evil they have done, and so they do NOT get away with anything. This same answer has the added benefit of justifying Hell, and thereby knocking over another of the favorite talking points of Atheists.

I know what you are trying to say, so please do not argue the above answer with me. Rather, rephrase your question to remove the "get away with" part of it, so that you don't make it so easy for the average Christian to counter.

From the "job description" you all are giving a deity, it appears you want some sort of cosmic Orwellian "Big Brother" watching over your every move, and intervening any time anyone tries to do something they shouldn't. This demand truly puzzles me.

I have used my example as a father to illustrate how I understand benevolent guidance, but you guys just throw in omnipotence and omnipresence to give the deity a full-time babysitting job. If God looks the other way for an instant, he is not omniscient. If he fails to intervene, he is not omnipotent or not benevolent. Even though you can definitely see benefit in not being over-protective with your own children, you count it a fault if God is not over-protective with us.

We call it "over"-protective because too much of a good thing can turn out to be a bad thing.

By Gordon (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Sean T (not verified)

Gordon,
So - you have obvious never read any others books - they all do the same thing - ever read any Greek stories - I thought not. That an answer was given doesn't mean it is the correct answer.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Sean S, Sean T and Eric,

Lots to reply to here, and unfortunately I am busy today. But I will get back to you soon. For now I will deal only with two side issues.

Michael,

The "other stories" line is as tired as you are lazy. I predict:

1) You know less about those other stories than I do
2) You have contemplated none of them
3) You cannot tell us how or if any of them address the problem of Evil
4) You have never taken the time to come to your own conclusion as to why there is Evil in the world and what we can do about it

Now, let's see if you can prove me wrong by putting forward a better answer than I have, whether based on another story, or just out of your own head.

"I thought not." Yeah, exactly!

Phil,

Let's be painfully clear here: It is the churches that "leave literality" when they come to passages in the Bible that don't match their practice. This is especially true when they read the words of Jesus. I have already given some examples, but I could give a lot more.

When Jesus says, "Be ye perfect", the churches teach, "We KNOW it is impossible to be perfect in this life ..."

When Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and Mammon", the churches teach, "Of course we know that we NEED money, so what Jesus really meant was ..."

When Jesus says, "Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me ...", the churches teach that this only applied to the particular man that Jesus was talking to at the time.

If it were worth the effort, I could go right through the Gospels and contrast how the stock 'interpretation' given in most churches directly negates about half of the LITERAL words that Jesus said.

I might be the only Christian you ever met who is NOT relying on his imagination! The Bible paints a coherent picture when you take most of it literally.

But there is more to this problem. When a passage is very clearly using figurative language, such as I Thessalonians 4:17, or most of Revelations, the churches take these parts Literally! This leads to a morbid fascination with the "End Times", which actually stops them from contemplating how to make life better for everyone here and now.

I am probably also the only Christian you have met who has observed this hypocrisy, seen it for what it is, and not abandoned the Faith as a result.

By Gordon (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Michael Fugate (not verified)

Okay, I will rephrase. Why does God permit evil people to cause harm to others when He could prevent such harm? I am not asking for an overly protective parent type God here. Just one who would step in when really needed. Did 6 million Jews really have to die in the mid-20th century to fulfill Hitler's free will? Did those kids an Sandy Hook Elementary School really have to die to satisfy the free will of the nutjob who killed them? If God exists and He's really all-powerful and benevolent, why did He not prevent these (and many other egregious) atrocities? Again, you claim "free will", but why did the free will of the victims matter less than the free will of the perpetrator? I'm pretty sure that the 6 million Jews did not die of their own free will, nor did the students at Sandy Hook. What about their free will?

Free will does NOT mean a guarantee of success at whatever you attempt to do. It means that you are free to choose a course of action. Why could God not have miraculously stopped the bullets before they hit the children at Sandy Hook? Why could God not have done something to stop Hitler before he could commit his atrocities?

Gordon:

You guys are just a little too keen to blame God for everything that is wrong with the world. If you truly believed that God does not exist, you would not be so keen to make this blame stick.

I don't personally blame him for anything. As I said, I am pointing out that the biblical conception of God paints a pretty clear picture of an evil entity. That isn't a disproof of some God, but it is a refutation of the claim most Christians make, that the God of the bible is benevolent and all-merciful. He is not, not the way we modern humans judge benevolence and mercy.

For ‘Intention’, you rely on the loosest definition: unreasonable negligence. Once again, you fall back on the notion that omniscience turns this into negligence. And you basically demand that God be an overprotective parent.

It is not 'overprotection' to design the tree of knowledge such that eating it does nothing harmful, or maybe just produces a little harm to the individuals who actually eat from it, rather than slowly destroying the entire universe and bringing death to all creatures that had nothing to do with the disobedient act.

How was it an act of goodness to design the tree in the way God desgined it? It's a lethal booby-trap. Why make a lethal booby-trap in the first place? How is creating such a characteristic of the tree an act of benevolence?

BTW, I think you're missing the point. Nobody is trying to blame God for all that is wrong in the world. Most of us arguing about the problem of evil are atheists. By definition, atheists cannot blame God for anything; we believe God does not exist. What we are doing is assuming for the sake of argument that God actually does exist and that He has the properties that Christians, such as you, typically claim that he has. From there, we are following the logic to see what conclusions can be derived from those assumptions. More formally, the "problem of evil" can be explained like so:

Premise 1: God exists
Premise 2: God is benevolent
Premise 3: God is omnipotent
Premise 4: God is omniscient

Conclusion: Evil should not exist because there exists a being that desires that evil not exist (benevolence), is capable of knowing all instances where evil actions are about to occur (omniscience), and is capable of preventing those evil actions (omnipotence).

We atheists believe that this is a logically valid argument, so it must obviously be logically unsound since evil clearly does exist. That means that one (or more) of these premises must be untrue. We certainly choose (more or less by definition) premise 1 as the one we believe to be untrue. That solves the problem of evil for atheists. Christians cannot choose premise 1 and the one that is untrue. Therefore, Christians must either argue against the validity of the whole argument (which is where you seem to be coming from) or reject one of the other premises. Personally, I've never heard of Christians (at least explicitly) rejecting any of the other three premises. I also have yet to see a convincing demonstration of the invalidity of the argument. Most attempts at that invariably implicitly deny the truth of one of the premises, such as your attempt at using free will as a defense. Your attempt implicitly denies omnipotence since it states that God cannot interfere when such interference violates the free will of the perpetrator. Stating that God cannot take a given action denies omnipotence. If you try to argue around it by saying that God could intervene but chooses not to, then you are implicitly denying benevolence - God could end evil but chooses not to do so.

I would be interested to see an argument against the validity of the problem of evil argument that does not implicitly deny one of the premises. Perhaps someone on here more well-versed in philosophy could present one if such exists.

Which brings us to the third element of Evil. He does not intervene in most cases, and he is not overprotective precisely because the present state of affairs is Necessary. Without it, we cannot have Free Will, and without Free Will we cannot truly act as beings made in the image of God.

If its capital-N necessary then he's not omnipotent, is he? You are basicaly telling us there is a possible world God can't create: one in which people learn and grow without large amounts of suffering. Since you've earlier linked evil acts to want/need, you're saynig that God was impotent to create an earth where there is little to no need or want.

Secondly, the bible is full of direct divine interventions. God literally talks to people. Perfroms miracles. According to the NT, Jesus walked the earth 30+ years performing miracles.

Are all the people who witnessed those miracles in hell because they lost their free will? Did all of Jesus' disciples lose their free will by seeing interventions?

The answer is "no," right? You don't believe they did. So similar interventions would not cause us to lose our free will. God could drop mana from heaven to feed all who starve, and it wouldn' broach our free will because he already did that, and you're not about to claim that it caused the biblical recipients to lose their free will.

So no, 'free will' is not a good argument for suffering or divine hiddenness, because the bible notes over and over and over and over again people who have given some sort of benefit or prosperity through divine intervention and not lost their free will.

Gordon:

First, completely absent is any notion that we can solve this problem.

We can solve the problem. The solution is, in fact, obvious: when an hypothesis is inconsistent with the evidence, abandon the hypothesis.

What's going on here is that you reject that solution and so are stuck trying to find a way to claim that it had to be an act of good to stick a death-and-suffering-bringing booby trap next to his beloved people. Even though if anyone did that today, in the real world, you would call them insane or a criminal or a negligent parent.

Gordon;

Regarding, “under FREE WILL, you must start by taking the Garden of Eden story for what it is.”

No, I don’t have to do that, because it wouldn’t help anyway. The Garden of Eden story tells us little to nothing. The story just raises more questions.

If the world was initially perfect, then the Tree did not belong there.
Why would a benevolent deity put it there?
Why a benevolent deity subject Adam and Eve to temptation?

If Adam and Eve were “unable to even contemplate the possibility of Evil” then how was their choice not innocent?
One cannot choose to do something one cannot even contemplate the possibility of.

Regarding, “God gave them a choice.”

Not quite, in the story, God gave them an UNINFORMED choice, and then the serpent turned that into a MISINFORMED choice. If Adam and Eve were unable to even contemplate the possibility of evil then they could not have known the serpent was lying to them. That is not what free will is about. That scenario makes both God and the serpent responsible for the situation, and culpable for the consequences of the choice. Adam and Eve were victims and scapegoats.

Regarding, “The first step in proving your opponent wrong is in understanding your opponent’s position. Thus far you have proven nothing.”

I think I’ve just proven I understand your position, and that it is demonstratively wrong. The story itself stands in direct opposition to free will. Adam and Eve were entrapped; they were lied to; they were victimized. By God and the serpent.

Regarding, “You have not comprehended Paul’s answer.”

I accept that you believe what you believe, and that you have the right to believe as you do and to express your belief. But I cannot make your beliefs sensible, and have the right to express that. I comprehend Paul’s answer, I just think it’s wrong. If some benevolent deity made us flawed, then the fault is His.

You asked (fairly), “You seem to imply that if we take God out of the equation, that this will somehow get us to an answer faster. But if that is the case, why I am the only one to put forward an answer so far?”

Well, please remember that this thread was not originally about evil, it was about meaning. The topic is drifting, and somewhat erratically. Here is my explanation for “why there is Evil in the world”:

Evil requires knowledge. An act committed without the knowledge of its effects on others and without awareness of alternatives is not an evil act. Evil exists because there are creatures (humans at least) who can know and should be aware of the consequences of their actions for themselves and others; but unfortunately, not all these creatures care about others. Nature does not provide that ability to all. The human brain is the most complex object in nature that we know of, and the mind, which arises there, is yet more perplexing. It’s no big surprise that natural processes introduce a level of variance in the construction and behavior of the mind. Hence evil.

Regarding, “I have put forth a 5th possibility” to explain evil. “There is a Deity, and he chose to grant us Free Will, knowing it opened the possibility to Evil, but also knowing that there was a higher purpose to be served ”

If this deity is omnipotent, then free will and its accompanying evil serve no purpose. The omnipotent deity could simply invoke the “higher purpose” ex nihilo. Having chosen not to ,the deity is evil because the resulting evil is gratuitous. (#3).

On the other hand, If this deity created free will as a necessary means to a legitimate end that the deity was unable to achieve by any better means, then the deity is far, far from omnipotent. (#2).

Your “5th possibility” is actually just options 2 or 3. If it’s logically distinguishable from them, you’ll need to explain how.

Saying that God chose to give us free will resolves the question of Godly free will, but does not render God innocent of the consequence of his choice UNLESS you claim God is not omniscient and didn’t realize what would happen. That would take this conversation in a whole new direction!

Regarding, “This does not remove Free Will from God, as the initial choice was up to him.”

It also does not take the guilt away from God, as “ the initial choice was” his. WE are not responsible for HIS choices. He is.

You wrote that, “the vast majority of choices that daily cause unnecessary harm to people rest with us individually”.

Perhaps true, but since those choices are made by persons who are hobbled by ignorance or weakness which God imposed on them, God remains culpable. A child who ignorantly kills a playmate with a loaded gun left out by an adult is not guilty of the killing, the adult is, even if the adult told the child to not touch it.

Regarding, “Since you appear to have raised children, you would be well aware ...”

Since I am merely a human, I can only use words to teach children (mine or others) or use demonstrations. God, being omnipotent, could teach us by directly inserting into our minds the information a bad experience imparts to the survivors of it. God could also enable us to do the same for our children. Such instruction would not violate free will, it would enhance free will.

God apparently chose not to do that. The consequences of that choice are his.

Regarding, “the higher purpose [Paul] was speaking of ...”

If evil is justified by a higher purpose (as you and Paul suggest) then your God is not very powerful (#2), or not very wise or your God is not free.

Saying there’s a higher purpose leaves questions: how does evil lead to this purpose, and why is it necessary when God is fully capable of simply invoking that purpose ex nihilo? You and Paul propose a mystery to resolve a mystery; that boat don’t float.

Regarding, “You close with a rather startling statement. You already believe that no deity exists.”

Hmm. You did not read my closing statement well. Try again:

“I doubt the existence of God, I don’t claim to know that there is no deity, but I DO KNOW that there’s no reason for me to believe in any deity. ...”

In other words: I only know that I have no reason to believe in any deity. That does not mean I believe there is no deity. I have no opinion on that either way. Making a decision in the absence of compelling evidence is unwise. I am open to persuasion, but not easily persuaded.

Since I have provided an explanation of what evil is sans deity, I can skip the remainder.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon et al;

If you took every instance where I place blame on God or some deity, and substituted mere humans for those deities, then I doubt you’d ever say it was unjust to blame these mere humans for these acts in those situations.

If I am wrong, that is worth exploring. If I am right, and yet you insist God is not blameworthy in these cases, then I can only conclude that you think of God as “good” because you hold him to a lower standard than you hold we mere mortals. You appear to think we humans have greater moral capability than even God, and are therefore more accountable than God.

Me? I expect God to comply with the same standards we apply to ourselves.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

“Admittedly, most Christians do not share my view, but I submit that this is their own narrow reading of the Bible, and not due to any deficiency in the text itself.”

I think some some stricture is warranted. When you leave literality, the issue is not deficiency of the text. It becomes the efficiency of individual imagination. You seem to dwell on a few private deductions at the expense of other issues that are far more important, in my view.

Gordon,
I really wish I were as smart and humble as you. So Christlike - can I still aspire to be like you when I grow up?

So what do you want to know about other myths and stories about "evil?" Ask away.

Here's one: "“The hell with it! There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing. And some of the things the folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that’s as far as any man got a right to say.”

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 03 Feb 2015 #permalink

So Michael,

You can dish it out but you can't take it in, eh? Let's definitely play the double-standard game here.

Nice to know that you have such a clear picture of Christ-likeness, and that you aspire to it.

Step #1: Don't assume that all theists are ignorant.
Step #2: Never underestimate your opposition.

Since you have nothing to add to this conversation, you will understand why this will be my last reply to you.

Phil,

I see you looking for holes. I don't see you answering any of my substantive points.

In theory, you and I are on the same team. In practice, well, you have thus far failed to engage the main discussion here.

The rapture is a notion based on a single Bible verse, that no Christian believed until a young girl had a vision in the mid-1800's. Her pastor was a famous revival preacher, and he popularized the concept.

Today, Christians debate Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, and Post-Trib, but don't stop long enough to figure out how ridiculous this bad theology makes them sound, and act.

I will be here, on earth, during the thousand year reign of Christ, which is where he will be also. Where will you be? Floating on the clouds?

By Gordon (not verified) on 03 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Michael Fugate (not verified)

4) You have never taken the time to come to your own conclusion as to why there is Evil in the world and what we can do about it

The 'why' seems pretty simple from the atheist/humanist perspective: mutation and sexual reproduction create variation in our species' population, some of which is behavioral. On top of that, there is no evolutionary advantage to long-term global altruism, so we must socialize/acculturate it as a value rather than expecting it to be inborn.

As to what to do about it...you mean other than forming governments and granting them the authority to enforce laws and norms of behavior? That is what we humans have done about it. Its a highly imperfect solution true, but then again, the universe doesn't owe us a perfect solution to every problem, so why would we expect one in this case? We have to make our choices in a Churchillian way - try and choose 'the very worst form of self-governance except for all the others.'

Eric;

In general I agree with your #145 except where you wrote “there is no evolutionary advantage to long-term global altruism, so we must socialize/acculturate it as a value rather than expecting it to be inborn.”

I think there arguably is an evolutionary advantage to “long-term global altruism”. That’s probably a fit topic for a different thread. We may need to “transmit” this memetically instead of genetically, but it’s still part of the evolutionary process. As this ability becomes more valuable, it could become inborn to the extent that temperament and character are inborn. I think that process may well be underway already.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 03 Feb 2015 #permalink

Here is an interesting commentary on how we view the world affects how we view others.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/oliver-burkeman-column/2015/fe…
Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. Dead is dead. Being dead and being in "heaven" sound remarkably similar - no pain, no worries, nothing bad at all can ever happen again.

Education seems like one of the best ways to make the world a better place. The simple practice of sending girls to school improves their lives enormously. The simple practice of vaccinating children removes so much suffering. The practice of acting on a local level - of helping individuals have the resources to feed themselves. This means having access to land, to sources of investment to start a business.

There are always going to be trade-offs - this is why utopian scenarios are unsustainable. Positive feedback loops will always run up against some limit and must be nested within negative feedback loops.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 03 Feb 2015 #permalink

“Life is not fair.” Indeed!

Thanks for the link, Michael.

Life is not fair, but we can be, and we can smooth out some of the unfairness. Education is an essential part of that. Education should be a Natural Right.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 03 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

“When a passage is very clearly using figurative language, such as I Thessalonians 4:17”

What is clear about that? If Paul was not describing a literal event, then what is this figurative language actually referring to?

Gordon,

“I don’t see you answering any of my substantive points.”

Honestly, I don’t know how to respond. You have views about money, and contracts, and possession(s), but you haven’t really elaborated on the practical application of your interpretations.
-
“The rapture is a notion based on a single Bible verse…"

Well hardly. But that isn’t the point. I don’t think you’d be so bold as to claim that the verse you mentioned doesn’t mean anything at all. So let’s assume that the real meaning is over my head, and you know what it is. What does it really mean?

Hi Phil,

I have laid out an understanding of Scripture that explains Original Sin, puts the Law of Moses into context, and details how obeying the teachings of Jesus should return us to that state of Paradise in the Garden of Eden. Either you see the consistency of the theme, or you don't.

The practical application is just as obvious as it is terrifying. Few Christians have such faith in God to provide all their needs that they will give up all their possessions in pursuit of that Pearl of Great Price. But if you expressed a genuine interest, I would be happy to tell you how this has worked out practically in my own life.

Regarding the Rapture, I have another exercise for you. Take every Bible verse used to justify the doctrine and read it on its own. Isolated from all other considerations, ask yourself, "What is this verse saying?"

What you will find is that I Thessalonians 4:17 is the ONLY one from which the notion of the Rapture can be reasonably inferred. Remove that one verse, and no one would ever have come up with the idea.

To save you the trouble, there are only two other passages that even come close:

Matthew 24:30-31
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."

Unlike Paul, this passage fails to distinguish between the living and the dead. Read by itself, no one would imagine the living being "caught up into the clouds". Rather, I don't think anyone disputes that "the Son of man coming in the clouds" paints a picture of Jesus returning to earth. Why would the elect not gather on earth, if that is Jesus' destination?

The Rapture includes the notion that the living go from being caught up in the clouds to going on to heaven, which is not supported by any of the passages. Jesus is on his way from heaven to earth. Why would we be going the other way?

1 Corinthians 15:51-52
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

Here the dead are raised and the living are "changed", but there is no notion about being "caught up into the clouds" here either. And that's it. There is nothing else worth noting.

Now just because I recognize figurative language does not mean I necessarily know what it means. That is sort of the point. It is open to interpretation, unlike all the literal passages. It is a worthwhile discussion for another day. Especially important when Paul tells us to "comfort one another with these words."

But the part that is comforting is clearly the picture painted in all three passages of the dead being raised to new life. The part about the living being whisked away to heaven to escape the Tribulation (or perhaps not) is pure fantasy.

And you have to ask yourself: Why does the idea of getting off this planet hold such a strong appeal for us? Might it be because we still consider ourselves powerless to do anything about Original Sin, and thus see death as the solution, rather than the problem?

By Gordon (not verified) on 03 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

I see now that we are really discussing two related questions:

I have mostly discussed WHY there is Evil in the world, and this has led to my conclusions on what can be done about it.

But the phrase "the problem of Evil" is really a reference to the question of HOW can there be Evil in the world if the 4 premises that Sean T laid out are true.

The question of WHY is more practical, while the question of HOW is more philosophical. But it is the philosophical one that you all are pressing me for an answer on, so that is what I will address.

Looking back, it was in comment #46 that Eric first said, "If God can’t ..., he’s not omnipotent." From that point, most of our disagreements have come down to what we believe constitutes omnipotence and benevolence.

Eric wants Free-willed beings who can learn without making mistakes. I find that unreasonable, and have countered with examples such as the fact that we tend to want to do the very thing that is forbidden. No response to that one so far.

It is beyond dispute that we are hard-wired to want to touch the very thing we are warned not to touch. So if there is a God, he made us this way. Is this a design flaw? Or is it a necessary expression of Free Will?

Take a simpler example to illustrate the truth that "omnipotence" does NOT mean that God can do absolutely anything. When God made water, he made it wet. Water is, by its very nature, wet. Therefore GOD CANNOT give us dry water.

This fact in no way diminishes God's omnipotence. He could have made water any way he wanted to. That is omnipotence. But once he made it, it is nonsensical for us to demand of him water that is not actually water. Hopefully we are all agreed on this.

But it is not so easy to prove my belief that Eric's demand is unreasonable. A conclusion would require an in-depth discussion of the nature of Free Will, hopefully including a few Philosophy majors who could elevate the discussion by informing us of what the great philosophers have already said on the subject.

I am not a Philosophy major, so my conclusion has come from the other end. I assume that God knew what he was doing, and I know what our nature is. So I assume that our need to learn from our mistakes was somehow a necessary component in giving us Free Will.

I am open to being proven wrong, knowing that my assumption serves only the purpose of letting me move on to other considerations (such as the WHY of Evil), and serves no useful purpose in proving my position to others. But what is clear here is that my understanding of omnipotence differs from how the rest of you are using the term.

Sean T, the same is also true when it comes to your definition of God's benevolence. I do not think that to be benevolent requires that God "desires that evil not exist." In fact, when I read the Genesis account, I see a different picture:

"Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil."

Leaving aside for now any notions of polytheism, we see here that Evil was something that God "knew". This places Evil outside of God, as something he knows about, but is apparently not inclined to do anything about.

And perhaps the nature of Evil is such that God CANNOT do anything about it! Perhaps Evil is necessary to the very concept of Free Will. If Evil is the absence of God, then free-willed being would have to have the ability to conceive of the world without God. Otherwise God becomes omnipresent in the sense that you simply cannot get away from him at all.

So we see that omnipresence can also have different meanings. We theists claim that God IS omnipresent, and yet no one can see God. So he clearly does not make his presence known to the degree that no one can deny his existence. Some might argue that this is enough to prove he is not omnipresent.

I would define God's benevolence as being a desire that no one commit Evil. But he cannot make Evil "not exist" because he must at least leave open the Possibility of committing Evil, or else he does away with Free Will. As I read your posts, I think you all believe that a truly benevolent Creator would have done away with the Possibility of Evil right from the start.

It is entirely possible that we have reached a cross-roads with nowhere to go in the discussion from here. For we are presently at odds in our fundamental definitions of omnipotence, benevolence, and perhaps omnipresence. Resolving this is not simply a matter of pulling out the dictionary, for these are deeply philosophical terms that convey complex ideas. It is precisely the use of simplistic definitions that got us into trouble in the first place.

So I will close for now by saying how I chose which way to go when I came to this cross-road. I knew my understanding was incomplete, so I knew it was a step of faith. But in the assumption of a benevolent Creator I saw a future. In the assumption that I was merely a cosmic coincidence, I saw no future.

And the benevolent Creator was testable on a personal level. Having chosen my presumption, I could see whether or not, "God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God." This is benevolence on a personal level. It does not answer why millions die in war. It leaves the philosophical questions for another day.

The result of this path has been that I have repeatedly experienced God's benevolence in unmistakable ways. They are all the proof I need that I made the right choice. And this proof has given me the confidence that there must be answers to the philosophical questions as well. So I am happy to explore those questions, even when I don't have all the answers.

Gordon,

“I have laid out an understanding of Scripture…”

Can I ask, what is the source for your interpretations? Are you associated with a particular group or person who teaches this narrative?
-
“To save you the trouble, there are only two other passages that even come close…There is nothing else worth noting”

There are lots of others, but the Matthew passage is describing the second coming, so it is not one of them.
-
“Now just because I recognize figurative language does not mean I necessarily know what it means.”

You’ve summarized your method here. This is called getting rid of something. You did the same thing with hell.

Hi Phil,

Regarding the Rapture, you have proven my point more powerfully than I ever could. The passage in Matthew is the closest in wording to the one in Thessalonians, and yet many claim as you do that these similar passages are not describing the same event. Since no other passage even comes close, that leaves the Rapture notion as a one-verse wonder!

My understanding of the Bible comes from the approach of using Scripture Alone as my authority, guided only by the Holy Spirit. Sure I listened to what others had to say, and I also went through most Protestant denominations, but my views have not come from any one group or teacher.

I think anyone reading this thread will see that I have gotten rid of nothing, while you have gotten rid of a whole pile of Bible texts that you just don't know what to do with.

It is challenging enough to find atheists who will engage in a meaningful debate, but finding Christians willing to explore this stuff has thus far proven impossible.

By Gordon (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

Eric wants Free-willed beings who can learn without making mistakes. I find that unreasonable,

"Making mistakes" is not what we are talking about, unless you're trying to use it as a euphemism for "suffering incredible and unnecessary pain."
Of course it is possible to learn and grow without suffering injury and pain. We do it all the time. I ask you what is the capital of Azerbaijan. You look it up: it's Baku. See, you just learned without pain. So the claim that pain is necessary is a non-starter. It obviously isn't.

...and have countered with examples such as the fact that we tend to want to do the very thing that is forbidden. No response to that one so far.

I responded to that one in @55...and again in @80...and again in @89. But you ignore the answer every single time I give it (just like you also refuse to explain or even touch on the subject of how God's putting a cosmic booby trap into the tree of knowledge was benevolent). So, one more try: we observe as fact that there is a range of human predispositions toward good and evil. We accept that the people around us who are highly predisposed to do good still have free will. So "free will" doesn't and can't explain why God didn't give us all that high predisposition for good. I'm not asking "why aren't we perfect," - I'm willing to acknowledge that perfection may be logically impossible. I'm asking something more like "why aren't we all as nonviolent as MLK." Free will cannot be the answer to that question, unless you want to claim that MLK had no free will. So since free will can't explain that, what is your explanation for God allowing such evil dispositions in humans when it isn't necessary to preserve our free will?

And perhaps the nature of Evil is such that God CANNOT do anything about it! Perhaps Evil is necessary to the very concept of Free Will.

Once again, I would point out that we directly observe that the amount of evil some people experience is unnecessary for free will, because we directly observe that other people don't experience so much of it. So your choice is to (a) admit some of the evil in this world is not explained by the free will defense, or (b) claim a lot of humans (i.e., the good ones) don't have free will.

It is entirely possible that we have reached a cross-roads with nowhere to go in the discussion from here

Well, if you keep ignoring a point I've made four times now, then yes we are indeed at a crossroads.

Likewise, with the tree. If you keep ignoring the point that God set up the tree to have a giant, cosmological self-destruct button in it, an act which was unnecessary, reckless, and frankly insane from our perspective, then I guess we don't have much more to talk about.
Look, I don't want my kid watching adult movies (of the standard "R" type or pornographic type) until he has matured enough to handle them. But I don't lay them out in front of him, and if I installed a booby trap into an R movie that gave him cancer and killed him slowly if he watched it, that would frakking insane. But that is what God did. How can that possibly be seen as consistent with omnipotence and benevolence? One of those has to give.

Gordon,

Yes, it does appear that we were talking about different things. It does seem to me, though, that you are at the very least weakening the premises of omnipotence and benevolence. In so doing, obviously, you can get around the philosophical problem. I just have very rarely heard a self-identified Christian do this. I do respect you for another reason as well - I have also very rarely heard a self-identified Christian admit that he/she did not know all the answers.

I think I am content to leave our discussion at that. Good luck and best wishes to you.

Gordon;

You wrote, “ I have mostly discussed WHY there is Evil in the world, and this has led to my conclusions on what can be done about it. ... But the phrase ‘the problem of Evil’ is really a reference to the question of HOW can there be Evil in the world if the 4 premises that Sean T laid out are true.”

Two points: the topics of “WHY there is Evil in the world” and “HOW can there be Evil in the world” are functionally the same question. Either way “what can be done about it” is the same: try not to participate; encourage others to not participate.

As for “4 premises that Sean T laid out”, are you referring to the four premises I laid out? I am not Sean T. If you are commenting on something Sean T laid out, ignore this.

You wrote that, “It is beyond dispute that we are hard-wired to want to touch the very thing we are warned not to touch. So if there is a God, he made us this way.” If this is true, you have just destroyed the whole basis of your argument. Creatures that are “hard wired” to do certain things are not acting freely. They are acting under a compulsion. If God created us this way, he created us WITHOUT free will, and your entire rationale is destroyed. You should reconsider this concession.

Your comments on the “limits of omnipotence” are valid, water cannot be “dry” and still be water. But likewise “freedom” must be “free”; you propose a free will which is not free. If “free will” is not a misnomer, it must include freedom, and freedom requires information, information which God has withheld and thereby withheld our freedom. If there is any God.

“I assume that our need to learn from our mistakes was somehow a necessary component in giving us Free Will.”. This is an unnecessary assumption. Free will needs only freedom and information. Further, if learning from our mistakes means being killed or crippled by them, then that is excessive. Learning necessarily damages ignorance but the dead have learned nothing. Then of course are the times one person’s mistake kills others. That is wholly inexplicable in the presence of an actually-benevolent deity.

“I would define God’s benevolence as being a desire that no one commit Evil.”

This does you no good. If God desires that no one commit evil then He would not tempt them to; He would not deprive them of the ability to avoid it.

It appears to me from your closing comments that the key to retaining your belief is to not think about the hard questions. That may work to keep your faith alive, but that is, by definition blind faith. If your God is a God Of Truth, then thinking about the hard questions is a Holy Act which you appear to avoid. This is why you are not able to make much progress with us.

I cannot do blind faith. The hard questions did not destroy my faith, it was the profound silence of whatever deity that exists which did. Carry on, don’t look too closely at your faith.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 04 Feb 2015 #permalink

Eric,

I appreciate the enthusiasm with which you explain yourself. Your effort to make your point even when I missed it (or you think I missed it) is not wasted on me. Whether you agree with me or not, I want you to be satisfied that I have understood you and addressed your point directly.

Yes, it is possible to learn many things (or even most things) without any pain and suffering. So I think we must look at exactly what it is that is being learned.

Taking a step backward, I have asserted that Free Will requires that we at least have the Possibility of choosing Evil. And the ultimate goal is for us to have this option, and yet to choose the Good every time. Then we are Free Will beings who choose to do Good, which is the best of both worlds.

Now let's take another step backwards. Why is Evil, evil? What actually makes something Evil? Is it not the consequences that make an act Evil? So if I grab your daughter, throw her out the window, and she plunges to her death, my act was Evil. But if I do the exact same thing and she drops into the net of the Fire Brigade and thereby escapes from a burning house, then that same act of mine was Good.

Now, here is the question: How do we actually learn the consequences of Evil? Especially if there was no one to even teach us the consequences in the first place, if no one had ever observed them?

Take an example like lying. We can be told that it is wrong to lie and that we should not do it. And when we do lie, we find that we get results we want very easily at first. So lying seems initially to be a good thing for us. Only over time do we find out that people stop trusting us once they know we are prone to lying. And then it becomes harder than ever to get what we want from them. If no one ever lied, would we ever be able to figure this out?

This reveals another aspect of the nature of Evil: there is always an element of it that seems justified. Initially, and from a limited perspective, it seems like a good thing. And so it is only as experience with Evil builds up do more and more people understand why many things are actually to their detriment.

To go back to your example of the hot burner, we might stare at it for years wondering why we were told not to touch it. But until someone touches it, we can't really see a good reason not to touch it. Even though you can feel the heat, until you have been burned you have no way of knowing that being burned is a bad thing.

So all this adds up to paint a picture where, if it is Evil itself that we are trying to understand, there is simply no way for us to learn without experiencing the negative consequences of it first-hand. Sure, some of us will accept the testimony of others. We might hear them screaming in pain and see their red hand and conclude that this is not something we want to try. But without their experience, we would not have any reason not to touch the hot burner ourselves. So at least some of us must have the actual experience of the consequences of Evil in order for us all to appreciate exactly WHY Evil IS Evil. And without that, we will never choose to avoid it.

This is essentially what the Garden of Eden story reveals. Adam and Eve were told, "Do not touch", but they had no idea why. They were even told the consequences, but having never experienced death (including no one else dying around them), they failed to appreciate just how bad the consequences actually were. And so they were persuaded that eating the fruit was no big deal.

So my conclusion is that we are locked into this reality, and the only other option open to God is to take away our Free Will. And in his wisdom, he reached the conclusion voiced by Paul that the final result of the exercise will be so vastly better than the present suffering that it is worth allowing us to burn our hands just as many times as it takes before we finally figure it all out.

You posit that the consequences should not be so severe. Why not just a tummy ache from eating the fruit? Shouldn't that be enough to make the point?

What we see in our world is that Evil has a full range of consequences, from the mildly irritating right on through to the catastrophic. I see the Garden of Eden story more as God simply naming the most severe consequence, rather than a long list. The actual consequence of each act depends upon the act itself. In a world of limitless possibilities, I think we must necessarily have limitless consequences as well.

Put another way, if we take your notion that God could simply make all consequences relatively painless, then that makes Evil not really Evil! I have already explained why I do not think that God can do away with Evil without taking something else important from us.

Your question of why all of us aren't as good as the best people is a question for another day. I do have an answer, but it would take us away from what I see as the core issues.

Sean T,

I appreciate that you and the others believe I am watering down Omnipotence and Benevolence, even to the point where I apply a lower standard to God than I apply to my fellow man. I will try to explain the thinking behind my differing perspective.

I do not place myself on equal footing with my Creator. This is just logical consistency. He can judge me, but I cannot judge him.

There is a very logical premise that springs from this that we all understand. The Creator has the right to do what he pleases with his creation. If you build a sandcastle at the beach and later destroy it, you are well within your rights. If I come along and decide to destroy your sandcastle, I have wronged you. Something that is right for you, as Creator, can be wrong for everyone else.

Now it is this exact situation that I have identified as Free Will that has us thinking of ourselves as more than just another sandcastle. We don't get too worked up about destroying an inanimate object. But let God wipe out a city and we start to feel downright indignant.

But why? How would we even feel this way were it not for the Free Will that God saw fit to endow us with?

So for now, I simply don't worry about why God kills people (in Bible stories), or allows them to die in tragic situations today. That is his prerogative with his Creation. Otherwise he is not the Creator. I have to trust that he knows better than me. To claim otherwise would be to claim that I myself was omniscient, which I know would be utter foolishness on my part.

So in my reply to Eric you can see some of why I believe that there are real limits to omnipotence. And these simply are the way it is - a broader understanding of the term. Not a weakening of it.

And in this post I explain why certain acts by God cannot in any way impugn his Benevolence without us as the created putting ourselves in the place of being wiser than our Creator, and his judge. Both notions are simply preposterous.

Yes, you are free to judge a situation if there is no Creator. However, once you accept the existence of a Creator, for the sake of argument, then you must be logically consistent with that premise. The difference, as I see it, is that because I already believe in a Creator, I have followed through the logical chain of thought to these conclusions. You will allow the concept of a Creator into an argument, but you have not taken the time to consider what limitations that thereby places on your argument.

So for now, I simply don’t worry about why God kills people (in Bible stories), or allows them to die in tragic situations today. That is his prerogative with his Creation.

One of the clearest statements of the horror that a god would be (if one existed) around.

Hi Sean S,

The 4 premises I was referring to were indeed from the other Sean, at post #137.

I think I answered most of your points in my reply to Sean T, just above.

I agree with you that looking at the hard questions is a Holy Act. I do not see how I am avoiding anything. It is taking time, but we do seem to be working our way down to the true points of disagreement

Hi Dean,

Of course I expect reactions like yours to what I said. But think on this for a moment:

We live in a world of death and destruction. That is simply an observable fact. We can debate "why" until the cows come home, but it does not change our present reality.

Now the atheistic/evolutionary position has no answer to this. No solution. No hope for this to ever change.

On the other hand, the New Testament especially tells a story about this state of affairs ending and being replaced with a far better reality.

Regard it as a fairy tale if you will, but one worldview offers no hope whatsoever, while the other offers hope at the very least.

I see this as the flip side of Pascal's wager. Forget "believing" just so you escape Hell. How about choosing the only set of beliefs that offers the hope of a better future, and eternal life? Then, even if you are wrong you are no worse off than the atheist who was "right all along".

It is my conviction and experience that this hope of a better life applies here and now, and not just after we die. And it is on the basis of my own experience that I have concluded that I have already won this wager personally.

Gordon,

Your #160 left me reeling.

You wrote, “The Creator has the right to do what he pleases with his creation. If you build a sandcastle at the beach and later destroy it, you are well within your rights.”

Sandcastles, being inanimate objects, have no lives, they cannot sin or even do. They just are. If you create a LIFE, a life with consciousness, a life that can do and choose, no creator has the right to summarily destroy that life. Especially, no creator has the right to punish the created for the blunders of the creator.

You wrote, “let God wipe out a city and we start to feel downright indignant.”

This is amazing. You really don’t think there’s a difference? If a man named Smith knocked down someone’s sand castle and a man named Jones wiped out a city, do you claim their acts are morally equivalent?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

"do you claim their acts are morally equivalent?"

He did, because of something that forbids criticism of his creator.

Apparently morality doesn't matter to the gods.

Well, at least we are down to the real nitty gritty.

Sean, the acts you cite of a MAN named Smith and a MAN named Jones are NOT morally equivalent, because they are both MEN.

I clearly laid out that what was wrong for a MAN to do was not necessarily wrong for the Creator do to in relation to his creation. This is straight logic. Emotion does not come into it.

Now, I appreciate your very frank answer, but you ascribe some Sacred quality to Life without first acknowledging the Sacred! I have already put forward that it was God's decision to give us Free Will that even allows us to think in such terms. You have not seen the irony in your position.

You have repeated the notion that the Creator is punishing his creation for his own mistakes, and this is simply a false construct. We receive the cause and effect consequences of our own mistakes.

However, the Creator has the right to do ANYTHING he chooses with his creation. This is inescapable. It is also biblical. Paul answered your objection 2000 years ago at length in Romans chapter 9.

What you must now do is put forward a rational basis on which something can be created, and then acquire rights equal or superior to its Creator, without whom it would not even exist in the first place.

You have to keep in mind that the moment you admit a Creator for the sake of the argument, you must admit that he is the one responsible for your presence here, for the purpose of that same argument.

By Gordon (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by dean (not verified)

Thanks, dean, You may be right, but I think I’ll wait for Gordon’s answer. He dug this hole, I think we should let him rescue himself.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon:

How do we actually learn the consequences of Evil? Especially if there was no one to even teach us the consequences in the first place, if no one had ever observed them?

That's an irrelevant hypothetical, since the vast vast majority of human have access to other people to help them learn. Even A&E were told by God not to eat from the tree.
Sure, I grant you that if we were in an unrealistic skinner box, it might not be possible to learn about good and bad without geting burnt by the stove...but we do not grow up in unrealstic skinner boxes. We all have, to some extent, the ability to listen, consider, and inernalize lessons without necessarily taking the risk ourselves. I can see no reason why God couldn't just amp up this ability in the people who have less of it, so that they are even with the people who have a lot of it. And free will can't be the answer, unless you're willing to claim the people who have a lot of it don't have free will.

So at least some of us must have the actual experience of the consequences of Evil in order for us all to appreciate exactly WHY Evil IS Evil.

No, that's clearly bullflop. I'll continue with the stove example. My kid doesn't touch the stove when we tell him not to. He has never seen anyone touch a hot stove. Never heard their cries, never experienced even as a spectator what touching the hot stove implies. So he obviously didn't need what you claim he needs. Why not give his listening skills to all kids? Free will can't be the answer.

This is essentially what the Garden of Eden story reveals. Adam and Eve were told, “Do not touch”, but they had no idea why.

Switching topics here, but that pretty strongly implies their punishment was unwarranted, irrational, and thus evil.

I see the Garden of Eden story more as God simply naming the most severe consequence, rather than a long list. The actual consequence of each act depends upon the act itself.

Okay, so explain to me why "the act itself" of disobeying God and eating the apple deserved the response of all creatures in the universe suffering death.
Or maybe I misunderstand you and you're not agreeing to 'the fall' as a theological event at all. Are you saying that death, pain, suffering etc... would have happened regardless of whether they ate the fruit or not, and God was just citing death-by-apple as an example of the sorts of things A&E would experience as they went through life?

There is a very logical premise that springs from this that we all understand. The Creator has the right to do what he pleases with his creation.

I have to agree with Dean @161 on this one: that is horrifying theology. It treats people as nothing more than property.

Somewhere way up the line you said that you were trying to think through and give reasons for your theology, but that is not what you're doing here. You're doing apologetics: looking for ways to interpret evidence and scripture to maintain your belief, rather than using evidence to evaluate whether your belief is well-founded or not. There is not anything that God could say or do (in scripture), no the most evil, horrible act, that would make you abandon your belief that he exists and is good. Faced with some horribly evil (scriptural) act, you'll just redefine good, say the equivalent of 'the two-year-old deserved death,' or ultimately, go with the argument from ignorance ("I don't know how it's good, but it's gotta be good, because God is good"). This is what an apologist does. Someone truly interested in basing theology on fact and claim would not presume or insist that any act of God must be good. They would instead ask "based on their description, do the scriptural acts of God fit what we call good?"

However, the Creator has the right to do ANYTHING he chooses with his creation.

And there is the indescribable evil inherent in Gordon's view. Despicable.

Paul answered your objection 2000 years ago at length in Romans chapter 9.

Quoting that scumbag Paul is not a point in your favor.

What you must now do is put forward a rational basis on which something can be created, and then acquire rights equal or superior to its Creator, without whom it would not even exist in the first place.

Easy peasy, but you've now shifted the goalposts. More on that later. We generally posit that every thing that feels pain has some right to be free from unnecessary pain and bondage, that the more capacity some animal has to feel and be aware of it the more rights they have to be free of it, and (very importantly) the more self-awareness, cognition, and will power some being has, the more they are expected to recognize and honor those rights. That's why we don't jail children for hitting other children, but we would jail an adult for the same act: the child victim has a right not to be randomly hit, but we don't reasonably expect other children to be able to recognize that. And with other animals, we don't punish acts for being 'rights violations' at all because we don't think they have the capacity to understand that. We punish as a means of behavioral modification, but that's pretty much it. With God being omni-everything, then, we can and should naturally expect him to honor human and animal rights far better than we do ourselves.

You're shifting the goalposts. The question was not about rights, it was about good, evil, and you thinking that God can do anything he wants to us and still be considered benevolent/good. Let's say we throw rights out the window. For sake of argument, I have none. Nobody has any. We can still talk about whether acts are good or evil, because those are questions of morality and ethics, and most ethical systems or rules don't rely on rights to work. The golden rule doesn't rely on people having some predefined set of rights. Utilitarianism doesn't rely on it. Not even Kant's categorical imperative (which, I'll admit, sounds very right-like) doesn't rely on people having rights to define good and evil.
So, I'm not buying your shifting of the discussion from morality to rights. God doesn't follow the golden rule. He certainly doesn't follow the categorical imperative, because "I'm going to be dictator over everything" could not be a universal rule that everyone could follow. And for an omnipotent being who can fix pretty much any problem or pain instantly with a snap of his spiritual fingers, fixing things any other way certainly does not qualify as good in the utilitarian framework.

Hi Eric,

To answer the "argument from ignorance", it is true that I cannot explain every single action of God found in the Bible. To require me to do so before I can considering him benevolent is not reasonable.

I try to tread a rational middle ground between not questioning God at all and believing that every objection must be answered. I take the evidence on the whole. If I found one thing after another that made no sense to me, then I would seriously question God's benevolence. But when the evidence clearly leans the other way, then a few isolated examples do not call my faith into question.

Let's get away from death for now and use another favorite example of atheists: slavery. I have read many critiques of passages such as Exodus 21, because they approve of slavery. Yet when you consider the rules in Exodus 21 in light of the culture of the time, the passage is actually a veritable Bill of Rights for slaves. In a day when slaves were nothing more than property, Moses actually gave them some rights, and one of those was that they would gain their complete freedom after 6 years.

Anyone who reads this passage and has nothing more to say than, "God is Evil because he approves of slavery", is not raising a valid argument against God's benevolence. They must even avoid a discussion of the passage itself, or they would be in the awkward position of having to explain how freeing slaves every 6 years is Evil.

So you see, on an issue like slavery, I have already considered the text and come to the conclusion that it demonstrates God's benevolence, rather than calling it into question. Far from defending God's actions so as to maintain my beliefs, I have taken the time to understand the broader picture and found it to be consistent with my beliefs. This is as opposed to the casual critic who simply objects to the first thing that sounds weird to him.

My position on slavery at least, is not of the apologetic variety that you claim. And this is only one example I have given you.

As for our discussion of Evil, I did not pose an irrelevant hypothetical. You even quoted where I said that SOMEONE had to experience the actual consequences of Evil. Someone must take the risk, even if it is not us. Re-read my post and see if I have not answered clearly.

Your final question of why the act of eating the apple deserved death has been answered, but across multiple posts. Eating the apple only gave the "knowledge of Evil". It was what Adam and Eve did with that knowledge - imagine scarcity and claim possession - that ultimately led to the introduction of death into our world.

Rather than explain exactly why this is the natural consequence of their decision, I have merely shown that Jesus taught us how to undo this. And that is why his teaching is, "the secret to eternal life".

Taken together, this is a big picture answer that meshes with real life. I completely avoid the simplistic view held by most Christians that God is mad at us and punishing us today for a single mistake made by our ancestors.

In my view, we are being slowly cooked to death because we continue to touch the hot burner, and after at least 6000 years we have yet to figure out that this is a bad deal for us! For some reason, this is a very hard lesson for us to learn.

Every group of humans for which we have evidence have asked questions like "Why do we die?" Why do we know we die?" "What happens after we die?" "Why do bad things happen to good people?" etc. etc. Every one of them produced answers too. The problem is in believing a priori that one group produced better answers than another - let alone correct answers. Some believe death resulted from a crime, others from a comic mistake. Life is absurd enough that I find laughing the only recourse. It is like a game and we can play to enjoy the play or we can play to win. People who need to win - think the ends justify the means - the rules be damned. The time spent with friends and family, the puzzles solved, the strategies thought out, the unexpectedness of random dice rolls or card choices - aren't those a better reason to play? Are you the kind of person who only wants to play if you know you will win? If so I pity you.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Michael,

Yes, there are many answers out there. I have found one that I believe to be correct. My point about your comment was that in absence of a better answer, you are not in a position to judge. I have little patience for armchair quarterbacks.

The reasons you give to "play" the game of Life are all good ones. But I still play to win also. However, you are mistaken if you believe that I think the ends justify the means and the rules be damned. I am a great respecter of rules, and so I take far more time to understand them than most people do.

By Gordon (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Michael Fugate (not verified)

To answer the “argument from ignorance”, it is true that I cannot explain every single action of God found in the Bible. To require me to do so before I can considering him benevolent is not reasonable.

It's very reasonable. He's supposed to be perfectly benevolent, so even one counterexample is sufficent to show that claim isn't true.

In a day when slaves were nothing more than property, Moses actually gave them some rights, and one of those was that they would gain their complete freedom after 6 years.

Anyone who reads this passage and has nothing more to say than, “God is Evil because he approves of slavery”, is not raising a valid argument against God’s benevolence.

Yes they absolutely are, because God could simply have put "thou shalt make no person a slave" on the 10 C's, but didn't. He decided not swearing was more important. That's screwed up. It is not benevolent the way we think of benevolence. You have to reject all modern notions of good and evil and say we are just plain wrong about them to get to the point where saying "Jesus on a popsicle stick" is considered to rank higher as a concern than human slavery.

Now, I don't necessarily question Moses' cultural limitations. Because he (or his story authors) was/were human. But the rules aren't coming from Moses in your theology, the rules are coming from God. So if the rules reflect stoneage notions of good and evil that we now reject as (a) approving of some huge crimes, and (b) criminalizing thought and speech, then the responsibility for those rules resides with God.

My position on slavery at least, is not of the apologetic variety that you claim. And this is only one example I have given you.

Oh its absolutely apologetic. Let me illustrate the difference. "Bible rule #345 permits limited slavery, discuss."
Non-apologist: limited slavery is wrong. A more stringent no-slavery law would have been more moral, so the person or being who handed down the limited slavery law was not being perfectly benevolent.

Apologist: God always does the best good, so rule #345 must have been the best good. God made the best improvement he could with the people of the time; biblically limited slavery was the best possible outcome. Any more stringent no-slavery rule must have been unworkable and that's why God didn't choose it.

Eating the apple only gave the “knowledge of Evil”. It was what Adam and Eve did with that knowledge – imagine scarcity and claim possession – that ultimately led to the introduction of death into our world.

But causing death to come to all the things in the world because of what humans do (and, under your theology, continue to do) is still a form of collective punishment, which we consider evil. If I experience the stove burn when I touch it, that's one thing. When every animal in existence experiences the stove burn because we humans continue to touch it, that is not just, merciful, or benevolent.

In my view, we are being slowly cooked to death because we continue to touch the hot burner

Please tell me why my cat is being slowly cooked to death because I'm touching the hot burner.

Gordon;

Yes. Here is the nitty-gritty:

If God has given us our moral code and demands we treat other persons as we wish to be treated, then God is obligated BY HIS OWN COMMANDS TO US to behave as He commands us to behave, otherwise God would be a hypocrite.

Unless God is a fiction, God is fully capable of conforming to the same level of moral conduct as we hold ourselves to. To fail to do what God could do is an act of evil.

If our moral system is ordained by God, and yet God does not even obey his own rules, then God would be a hypocrite.

God cannot gain a moral exemption by any logical argument. His putative status of “creator” does not logically confer such an exemption.

Regarding, “I clearly laid out that what was wrong for a MAN to do was not necessarily wrong for the Creator do to in relation to his creation. This is straight logic.”

No. This is not a logical argument. This is an arbitrary, capricious distinction without a logical basis. Eric seems correct: this is apologetics, not logic.

Question: Is there any evidence, situation, or event that could even hypothetically cause you to doubt God’s goodness? If there is not, then you are not employing logic, but apologetics. That’s a fault only if you are not honest about it.

The human word “good” carries meaning. If God does not conform to the meaning of the human word “good” then God cannot be “good” in any sense humans understand.

In fact, if God’s conduct matches any human word, it is “evil”. You may object, and say that God only appears evil. Fine, but then the fact remains: God appears to be evil as we humans understand evil.

Regarding, “You have repeated the notion that the Creator is punishing his creation for his own mistakes, and this is simply a false construct. We receive the cause and effect consequences of our own mistakes.”

You have already admitted that we make these mistakes because either God withholds information from us or gives us compulsions to bad behaviors, or both. That means our mistakes are due to God’s choices, not our free will.

If God punishes us for the evil he does, then He is punishing us for His sins. If we were “created” with the compulsion to sin (as you suggest we are) then the guilt attaches to the one who gave us the compulsion: God.

Regarding, “the Creator has the right to do ANYTHING he chooses with his creation. This is inescapable.”

Not only is it escapable, it is not even logically defensible. It is an arbitrary and purposeless exemption. Why would a creator of living things have that right? This you have yet to justify.

Regarding, “What you must now do is put forward a rational basis on which something can be created, and then acquire rights equal or superior to its Creator, without whom it would not even exist in the first place.”

Why would a created person not have the same rights as their creator? By what logic does the status of “created” deprive one of any rights at all? You have not put forward any logic as to why we would not have the same rights as God.

If God has given us our moral code and demands we treat other persons as we wish to be treated, then God is obligated BY HIS OWN COMMANDS TO US to behave as He commands us to behave, otherwise God would be a hypocrite.

Regarding, “the moment you admit a Creator for the sake of the argument, you must admit that he is the one responsible for your presence here”

This is not logical. Being responsible for my presence does not give the Creator the right to mistreat me, nor does that give the Creator greater rights than I.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Sorry about all the embolding at the top of that. I need an editor ...

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

If there is a God (I am not saying if there is or isn't), but if there is, and this God has a purpose for me as an individual (this God had a hand in me as a phenotype through my genotype and environment), then why would my appearance seem so random?
My mother started her life with maybe 1-2 million oocytes. My father with maybe 75 million sperm cells per ejaculate. Yet here I am as a combination of a single egg and sperm. Then we can talk about genotype probabilities before we ever get to environmental variation and its influence on phenotype. If a God wanted me specifically, why do it in such a roundabout way?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Why ask why? Oh scratch that, as there are obviously many good reasons to ask why. My real question is: why let questions about the Creator's process lead you into denouncing the existence of the Creator? Low hanging apples, the problem of evil, genotypes and phenotypes have no bearing on His existence. Like kids who are curious about how babies are made have to wait until an appropriate age to hear the gory details, we'll have to wait for certain answers. None of us have them all, but the ones here explaining or defending God may have the answer to THE MOST CRUCIAL QUESTION OF THEM ALL: is there a God? Asking "why?" doesn't eliminate or disprove His existence and a believer's inability to give you the sufficient answers you want doesn't either (BTW, I think you're doing a commendable job in your attempts Gordon as I'm encouraged by your posts).

Human beings think in a box confined by our understanding of our present dimension which God is not constrained by. Lean not (completely) on your own understanding recognizing that it is inferior to His.

By Kanye East (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Kanye East asked, “why let questions about the Creator’s process lead you into denouncing the existence of the Creator? Low hanging apples ... have no bearing on His existence.”

That’s a fair question. Here’s my answer:

I have no reason at all to believe in the Creator except that there are people who tell me this Creator exists and has certain expectations of me (and everyone else).

Should I believe these people and what they tell me? How do I decide that? One of the best ways is to consider their claims and ask simply if the claims are consistent. Taken as a whole, do the claims make contradictory assertions about this Creator? If they do, and if the persons telling me about this Creator cannot resolve the contradictions, why should I believe their claims?

Worse, if these people insist that there is no contradiction; that logic somehow does not apply to their Creator why should I take them seriously?

These questions are, as you say, low-hanging fruit, and yet the people who are the only source of information about this Creator cannot reach these low-hanging fruit. So it tells me their claims and accounts are doubtful. It is not proof about their Creator, but it is proof that they’re accounts are at best badly flawed if not totally false.

This seems an important topic to get right; if the low-hanging fruit is rotten, as well as everything else you can see in the tree; then the claims are not worth anything.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Amen, sean s. Amen.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Yep.
Though I'd also point out that all the stories about the Creator's process could be completely consistent...and without evidence that such an entity existed, I'd still be a nonbeliever. After all, I can go to 100 different bookstores and buy 100 different copies of Beowulf in various languages - some in prose, some in rhyme. I can discover they are all extremely consistent in the details of the story...and that still isn't convincing evidence of Grendel.

sean s,

"I have no reason at all to believe in the Creator except that there are people who tell me this Creator exists and has certain expectations of me (and everyone else)."

The "AT ALL" is a little strong isn't it?

By Kanye East (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

“Since no other passage even comes close, that leaves the Rapture notion as a one-verse wonder!”

John 14:1-3 does not work with your contention that the “Rapture includes the notion that the living go from being caught up in the clouds to going on to heaven, which is not supported by any of the passages”.

What do these verses mention in common?

Zechariah 14:5
Colossians 3:4
1 Thessalonians 2:19
1 Thessalonians 3:13
1 Thessalonians 4:14
Jude:14
Rev 19:7-14
-
“My understanding of the Bible comes from the approach of using Scripture Alone as my authority, guided only by the Holy Spirit.”

Can you describe how the HS helps you conclude that verses do not mean what they say?
-
“Sure I listened to what others had to say, and I also went through most Protestant denominations, but my views have not come from any one group or teacher.”

You haven’t specifically stated what you mean about dealing with original sin, becoming perfect, and dealing with death, but there are some who seem to share some of your views.
-
“I think anyone reading this thread will see that I have gotten rid of nothing”

Well no, you didn’t get rid of it. You simply dismissed it as obviously figurative language. I don’t see anything in the passage to indicate that.
-
“finding Christians willing to explore this stuff has thus far proven impossible”

Well, I think you have to appreciate their reluctance to engage. Your take on the tree in Genesis begs for some kind of support.

Eric,

Let's apply your idea of what is "reasonable", to you.

Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto:

"The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production."

Here he clearly states that it is NECESSARY to use force to remove all property from the Aristocracy. While not directly advocating killing them, this placed no limits on the use of force to remove everything they owned, in order to achieve his worker's paradise.

As we all know, Communism is an atheistic political ideology. So much so that this same use of force was justified in being used against anyone who did not share its theological beliefs. And we all know the outcome. Millions killed. Millions more persecuted. Entire countires ruined. Etc.

So now you are faced with a choice: Justify this atheist ideology, or convert.

Remember, "even one counterexample is sufficent". As the world's only example of a hugely influential and purely atheistic ideology, this is the elephant-in-the-room counterexample. All atheists run a mile from it.

But this is real atheism in action, here in our world today, or at least in recent years. Can you justify it?

No? Then I welcome you into the fold of the One True Faith!

Amen.

Sean S,

The very notion of a Creator implies that without him, we would not be here. If our very existence depends on him, then how do we separate ourselves away from that?

For him to make us, and then destroy us, is the exact same as if he never made us at all. So if it is immoral for him to make us and then destroy us, then it must be immoral for him to choose not to make us in the first place. But that is a logical absurdity.

Eric took issue with my use of the term "rights", and I was not trying to confuse the issue, so I have laid out my answer above purely in terms of morality.

It seems that we must first try to reach some sort of agreement on what is logical, just as with Eric I must first reach some understanding on what is reasonable.

To me, the above logic makes very clear why the Creator is not bound by the same rules that he establishes for his Creation. Even writing it this way reveals the absurdity of it. If I design a car, and decide that it must use gasoline as its fuel, does that mean that I am now required to start drinking gasoline myself?

A Creator is necessarily outside of, and superior to, his creation.

Thank you Kanye, you just made my day.

Phil,

John 14:1-3 is a question of timing. The Rapture idea contains an inbuilt presumption that THAT is the precise time at which we are taken to Heaven.

Just compare the passage in Matthew again and see that Jesus is gathering his elect at that time also, which according to you is a different time to the Rapture. Only one of the two times can mesh with John 14. Or neither. But not both.

The other verses you list have the saints together with Jesus. That is not in dispute.

But are these the dead, or does it include the living?

And where will we meet? Only ONE verse has the Living being "caught up" into the clouds to meet Jesus in the air.

And does this all happen at his second coming, or at a preceding event called the Rapture?

Phil, I hope you can get past the denial you are presently in. You have me somehow claiming "that verses do not mean what they say." Yet this is immediately after I pointed out that I am the only fellow you have met who reads the Bible literally, and especially the words of Jesus.

Rather than rebut my claim to be taking the words of Jesus literally, you make this statement that completely twists things around.

I have spent a lot of time here supporting my view. The atheists here give me more credit for that than you do. The fact that you won't engage shows that you are not really interested. You have your ticket to Heaven, and are now just patiently waiting out your remaining time here on earth. And you come to forums like this in the hopes of bringing a few more souls with you.

I don't know how to get past this mindset that paralyses most Christians. There is so much more to life, but you do not even go looking for it. "No use polishing the brass on a sinking ship", as I was told in my Sunday School days.

The very notion of a Creator implies that without him, we would not be here

As long as the only evidence for a creator is in the minds of those who say "I can't imagine anything here unless it was created by something bigger than us" there really is no evidence, simply people who still believe in imaginary friends.

I think the adage "If something is too good to be true, it probably is" applies here. In life, there are choices and trade-offs - nothing is ever perfect. We compromise. To claim that there is someplace that is perfect and perfect forever, just doesn't fit. It is clear from these conversations that if there is a God it is not only unknown, but unknowable. To sign a lease for eternity for a flat in heaven sight unseen with a roommate one has never met seems at best imprudent. What exactly is in the fine print?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Re - the "roommate one has never seen" comment at 190: Remember Mark Twain's comment:

Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

Or the old postcard in my grandfather's collection.
There're only two things to worthy about
either you are sick or well
If you are well there's nothing to worry about
If you are sick there're only two things to worthy about
either you get well or you die
If you get well there's nothing to worry about
If you die there're only two things to worthy about
either you go to heaven or hell
If you go to heaven there's nothing to worry about
If you go to hell you'll be so damn busy shaking hands with all your friends you won't have time to worry

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Kanye East;

“The ‘AT ALL’ is a little strong isn’t it?”

I don’t think so. No. There’s lots of testimony for God out there, but none of it seems reliable to me. There are too many internal contradictions, too many questions that believers dance around and evade, much to the destruction of their credibility. Throw in all the other religions and philosophies out there, it just gets worse.

Lay all the theologians and theistic philosophers in the world end-to-end, and they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion.

At the end of the day, I really have nothing at all except doubts.

I’ll get to the other comments later, maybe tomorrow.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

... and Gordon, when I wrote about “too many questions that believers dance around and evade, much to the destruction of their credibility” I was thinking of you. Have a good day.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon:

So now you are faced with a choice: Justify this atheist ideology, or convert.

What are you talking about? You posit a perfectly benevolent God and so I point out that one non-benevolent act disproves this perfect benevolence. This is not at all analogous to what you seem to be claiming, which is that I must justify any ideology that is called "atheistic" by its founder or become a theist. That's a complete nonsequitur.

Can you try to describe your counter-point better? Because right now, I'm not seeing it.

If our very existence depends on him, then how do we separate ourselves away from that?

Now you seem to be refuting your own claim that free will is needed. The free will argument requires there be some separation from God. Now you're saying that separation is impossible?

For him to make us, and then destroy us, is the exact same as if he never made us at all.

Riiiight. So you think that if I have a kid, and then kill my kid, that's the exact same thing as not having a kid at all? One of those options is not morally different than the other?

Surely you see the problem with that!

So if it is immoral for him to make us and then destroy us, then it must be immoral for him to choose not to make us in the first place. But that is a logical absurdity.

That is a logical absurdity. You have reached it by claiming two things are equivalent when they are not equivalent. The clear way to avoid the logical absurdity is to admit that admit that God creating then killing humans is not morally equivalent to him never creating them in the first place.

Gordon;

Regarding, “Yes, there are many answers out there. I have found one that I believe to be correct. My point about your comment was that in absence of a better answer, you are not in a position to judge.”

This is vacuous. Until someone judges it, no one can say if a “better answer” has been found.

Regarding, “For [our Creator] to make us, and then destroy us, is the exact same as if he never made us at all.

No, it’s not. If we were never created, we never existed. If we were created and then destroyed, then we were here, we did stuff, we could still be doing stuff, we could still be here. Something that existed and was then destroyed is categorically different from things that never were.

So if it is immoral for him to make us and then destroy us, then it must be immoral for him to choose not to make us in the first place. But that is a logical absurdity.”

Yes, you are being absurd. If there is a Creator, then that Creator was never under a moral obligation to create us. But once that Creator exercised His free will to create us, His choice (freely made) imposes moral obligations on Him. This moral principle applies whether we speak of Gods or humans.

This is, in fact, the basic principle behind holding anyone accountable for their choices: “you didn’t have to do it, but once you did you were bound by the consequences of your choice.”

Regarding, “To me, the above logic ...”

... is not logic. It is a sequence of bald assertions connected only by an apologetic purpose. That’s not how logic works.

“If I design a car, and decide that it must use gasoline as its fuel, does that mean that I am now required to start drinking gasoline myself?”

Is drinking gasoline a moral requirement? No. It has no moral valence at all. Irrelevant distraction. God is not obligated to eat and sleep because we have to. But God is morally obligated to treat us as he would want to be treated.

Here’s your chance to do some actual logic: “A Creator is necessarily outside of, and superior to, his creation” BECAUSE ... what?

I am interested to see you syllogism.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

... your syllogism.

I need an editor.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Eric and Sean,

There was more to this conversation that I really did want to discuss with you, but we cannot agree on what is rational and what is logical.

You have no fixed set of rules that can be appealed to. You get to disagree simply for the sake of disagreeing. You have both reached the "Duh!" stage where you claim to not understand what I am even saying. It is a great defense, for you don't have to defend anything.

Both of you are doing precisely what you accuse me of Sean: you are now dancing and evading in a big way. You sidestepped my points without actually addressing them at all. You simply take a few words to state that the obvious is not obvious to you at all, and then move on to beating the drum that you feel safe beating.

So I thank you for your time, and for the opportunity to hone my own thinking. This has been a useful exercise for me. But really, if you don't know what a Creator is, why would I spend any more time discussing a concept that you feign is beyond your capacity to comprehend?

I reached this same point with another atheist who simply could not grasp the concept that God was outside of Time, because Time was part of his creation.

But then, I knew all along that atheism was neither rational nor logical. So what else should I expect?

By Gordon (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

Gordon,
Better? I am not seeing better. Equivalent maybe in that mythology is well myth. An answer that says you're screwed because an ancestor made a mistake is better? better than what?

We die because bodies are material and material things wear out. Even though we have elaborate repair mechanisms , you can only repair something so many times. Fitness in the evolutionary sense is a better answer. Entropy is a better answer.

Bad things happen again because we are material and mistakes occur - developmental errors, cancers, pathogens, accidents, violence. Some times we do them to ourselves and sometimes they are done to us by others or by chance. Most of these things have little to do with free will. I don't get to choose my genes, my parents, the environment I grow up in.

I realize I am pretty lucky through no choice of my own to have been born healthy in a developed country to educated parents. Others are not so lucky whether it is childhood cancer, chronic disease, poverty or war - you name it. Hell, many of these people who never had a decent chance are likely better individuals than I will ever be.

I wonder how a world without a supernatural entity who cares about each of us as individuals would differ from the world we live in. I don't detect a whole lot of love permeating the cosmos - looks more like a whole lot of indifference.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon,

“Just compare the passage in Matthew again and see that Jesus is gathering his elect at that time also, which according to you is a different time to the Rapture. Only one of the two times can mesh with John 14. Or neither. But not both.”

The Matthew passage is directed towards Jews. He was describing events in this chapter that are further detailed in the Revelation, where, after chapter 3, the Church is conspicuously absent.

Both Israel and the Church are called elect, but they are separate, with separate roles and destinies. Bear in mind that while Jesus was accommodating to Gentiles on several occasions, He qualified His own personal ministry in point-blank terms: ”I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Paul reiterated the rule three times: “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile”
-
“The other verses you list have the saints together with Jesus. That is not in dispute…But are these the dead, or does it include the living?”

Both, as the 1 Thess 4 passage lucidly points out. There is a sequence:

1 Thess 4:14-17
1 Cor 15:52-54
1 Cor 3:13-15

These render the bride presentable and furnished, ready for the marriage supper, which precedes the second coming, as revealed in Rev 19:7 and following.
-
“Only ONE verse has the Living being “caught up” into the clouds to meet Jesus in the air.”

Uniqueness does not render the verse null, void or allegorical. Paul did not distinguish himself as the apostle to the Gentiles by being obscure.

What is your take on the Levitical feasts?

Hi Phil,

You need to appreciate that I approach the biblical text from the standpoint of reading only what it says. I don't try to make it fit any preconceived notions.

So on an initial comparison of Revelation 19 with I Thessalonians 4, I see the following sequence:

1) Marriage supper of the Lamb - does not mention anywhere that the living are brought to Heaven to take part in this.
2) Jesus returns to earth - seen in both passages
3) The living join the dead who have preceded them

Thessalonians is the only place that discusses those believers who are still alive on earth. I can understand why people think that ALL believers should be present at the marriage supper, but the text does not actually say this.

Really, having delved into this with you I now see a clear picture being painted, which is that Thessalonians 4 fits perfectly in line with all of the Second Coming passages. It merely adds one more detail to the picture, by saying that those still living will join Jesus and his armies from Heaven.

Where we will join them is still open to question, as "caught up in the clouds" is figurative language in my book.

I reject the notion that there are different laws or outcomes for Israel and for the Gentiles. We Gentiles are merely to be grafted in. Yes, At the time of Jesus and Paul the priority was to bring the message "to the Jew first", but the message was the same for all. The artificial distinction between the two springs from a misunderstanding of purpose of the Law of Moses.

This is one of the greatest causes of confusion in Christendom, both between believers, and with non-believers. Just look at the first thing the atheists attack. They cite some passage in the Law that proscribes the death penalty for a particular sin, and the average Christian doesn't know how to respond!

I have spent more time studying the Law than any other Christian I have ever met, including Seminary graduates. The place and purpose of the Law is crystal clear. I have spelled it out already, but would be happy to go into more detail for you.

I assume you are referring to the prophetic nature of the Levitical feasts, and yes, I believe we will soon see the actual fulfillment of the 3 Fall feasts. But I also believe that most Christians will sleep right through that fulfillment, just as the Jews had no idea that the 4 Spring feasts were being fulfilled before their eyes in Jesus' day.

Incidentally, this understanding has only been embraced by Christians quite recently. I heard not a whisper about it during my early years in church. Not even from a Jewish evangelist who taught us lots about the Hebrew roots of Christianity. But unlike money, this does not ruffle any feathers. So it is safe to introduce to people who have never considered it before, without fear of being branded a heretic!

By Gordon (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

Regarding, “You have no fixed set of rules that can be appealed to.”

Oh Gordon, this is disappointing. The rules of logic are as fixed and reliable as the rules of math. Apparently you are unfamiliar with them. I suggest a basic logic course at some university or community college. And if you took such a course in the past, you need a refresher. I’m sure you can find something online.

There is no logical rule which permits one to simply assert some fact and expect it to be declared true. It just doesn’t work that way. Nor can one simply declare something to be “obvious” and leave it at that. If something is obvious, then a syllogism to prove it should be trivial. But it was my request for such a syllogism that makes you balk.

Regarding, “You simply take a few words to state that the obvious is not obvious to you at all, and then move on to beating the drum that you feel safe beating.”

If it’s obvious, it should be easy for you to demonstrate. But it’s my request for a demonstration you balk at.

Regarding, “a concept that you feign is beyond your capacity to comprehend?” Clearly it’s beyond your capacity to demonstrate it. Asking for such a demonstration is what led to this situation.

And, BTW, I know what a creator is. That is not what we disagree on; we disagree on the relative moral status of a creator and the creation.

It does seem futile to go on, tho’ I am willing. I’m sure that you believe you are being logical, but there’s no small amount of arrogance in your positino: you refuse to provide a simple demonstration of something you claim is obvious. This is nothing extraordinary to be asked, it is disappointing that you are not able to do so.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Sean,

There is a fundamental problem here. You see yourself as being on equal footing with your Creator. By virtue of having a conscience, you consider your fleeting existence to somehow hold an equal claim to that of the eternal Creator.

You mention arrogance, and you certainly display the arrogance identified by Isaiah:

“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
those who are nothing but potsherds
among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
‘The potter has no hands’?
Woe to the one who says to a father,
‘What have you begotten?’
or to a mother,
‘What have you brought to birth?’"

I pointed out the obvious that if you make something, you are in no way bound by it. I already used the example of a car. You objected that my example was not one regarding morality. But no morality whatsoever attaches to a car, or to any other thing that you are capable of making!

You cannot make something equivalent to yourself, and yet your position reflects a notion that God has made us equal to him. But just because he is capable of creating life, and you are not, cannot magically change things so that he is bound by his creation but you are not. By denying your Maker, you seem only capable of thinking of him on a level equal to yourself.

I said earlier that you ascribe a Sacred quality to Life, yet without embracing the Sacred. You did not respond to this. This is have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too logic. Of course you can claim anything, because you can pick only the rules you like, and throw out the rest.

On what basis is Life Sacred or special or worthy of some status above that of an inanimate object? My worldview has an answer for that, but that answer goes hand-in-glove with a reverence for the Creator. You can't steal the answer of the theists. Come up with your own. You are a cosmic coincidence. One sperm in 75 million, as Michael pointed out. What makes you special at all?

Now you might put forth children as something that we create, and then are morally bound by the existence of our own creation. But you would only display an ignorance of the laws of the past 5000 years. At all times and cultures prior to our own, children were considered mere property of their parents. There were no consequences if a parent killed their own child. There were no laws against child abuse, etc.

I recently read a story from Saudi Arabia where a father had killed his daughter. The court ruled that he had to pay some compensation to the mother. That was all. The child was property of the mother also, so he had to compensate her for her loss. So this view of children NOT binding the parents morally as their creator still holds in many countries.

In fact, the only basis for the change in modern law is the notion that the parents are actually NOT the Creator of their child. By acknowledging God as the Creator, this puts the child on equal footing with their parents, and binds the parents to the same morality in relation to their child that applies in relation to all other people.

Morality applies among equals, on the basis that they all have an equal claim. When slavery was accepted, the slaves held no claim equal to their owners. Only between equals do you have to balance equal claims. Otherwise, the one with the superior claim wins every time. This is fact, this is law, this is history. This is how morality has always applied.

You said God must treat us the way he wants us to treat him. But he is capable of killing us. We are not capable of killing him. So how could you possibly apply such a standard among unequals? We NEED morality to tell us how to treat our fellow man, specifically because we ARE capable of killing each other. A rule that said that we should not kill God would be silly. It is meaningless. So how can there be the same rule in reverse, that God should not kill us? On what basis do you make such a rule? I have already shown that "Do unto others ..." does not apply, and so cannot be used as the basis for such a rule.

So it is time for you to put forth your own syllogism:

"If there is a Creator, then that Creator was never under a moral obligation to create us. But once that Creator exercised His free will to create us, His choice (freely made) imposes moral obligations on Him", BECAUSE ... what?

By Gordon (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

Gordon,

“You need to appreciate that I approach the biblical text from the standpoint of reading only what it says. I don’t try to make it fit any preconceived notions.”

Your take on original sin and the tree in the garden requires reading a lot into the text. On the other hand, hell being a medieval notion requires a lot of exclusion. These two points and other things were the reason I asked about affiliations. Some of your ideas don’t just jump of the page.
-
“Really, having delved into this with you I now see a clear picture being painted, which is that Thessalonians 4 fits perfectly in line with all of the Second Coming passages. It merely adds one more detail to the picture, by saying that those still living will join Jesus and his armies from Heaven.”

This would have the meeting Him in the air just to turn around and come back to earth. The easier correlation with 1 Thess 4 is John 14.

A lot of Jewish wedding imagery is involved in all this. The fire trial in 1 Cor 3 for instance, which I view as the judgment seat of Christ, can be viewed as a mikvah, the ritual bathing of the bride before the wedding.

Actually, one of the stronger rationales for the rapture has to do with the betrothal. What bridegroom would subject his fiancé to the brutality of the tribulation? Could you justify such a thing in view of Eph 5:29?
-
“Where we will join them is still open to question, as “caught up in the clouds” is figurative language in my book.”

I don’t think so. I am only willing to step away from a literal take when context obviously and absolutely demands it, which is not very often.
-
“I reject the notion that there are different laws or outcomes for Israel and for the Gentiles….The artificial distinction between the two springs from a misunderstanding of purpose of the Law of Moses”

It is pretty easy to see actually. The Church, the bride, is by and large a finite Gentile enterprise. Jewship is suspended until it is completed. But Israel was and is, the chosen people. You can see the difference between the two in several places. Matthew records Jesus, continuing the Olivet discourse in chapter 25, telling about the virgins and the lamps. I have a question for you. In that narrative, where is the bride?

As to laws and outcomes, of course they are different. Gentiles were never under the law. The law served to distinguish Israel from everyone else. See Eph 2:12. Beyond basic conscience morality, the laws for Gentiles are very skimpy. They were introduced in Acts 15:24-29.

Also, the Jews are on reserved real estate during the Millennium.
-
“Just look at the first thing the atheists attack. They cite some passage in the Law that proscribes the death penalty for a particular sin, and the average Christian doesn’t know how to respond!”

They attack low-hanging, confused fruit.
-
“I assume you are referring to the prophetic nature of the Levitical feasts”

Yes, but also the meaning of each. I view the 3 spring feasts as the first advent. Passover is about the crucifixion, unleavened bread is the resulting riddance sin, first fruits is the resurrection. The summer feast is about the great harvest of the Church. The fall feasts have their own distinct meanings as well. I see a very strong correlation between the feast of trumpets and the rapture. 1 Cor 15:52, 1 Thess 4:16 and Rev 4:1 are all rapture passages, and they all mention trumpets.
-
“Incidentally, this understanding has only been embraced by Christians quite recently. I heard not a whisper about it during my early years in church.”

Me either, but I think that is to be expected. Daniel wanted to know just what in the sam hill he himself was writing about. But he was told:

“And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand…But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”

As a point of conjecture, that last sentence and several other things allow me to speculate that Daniel and John could be the two witnesses in Revelation.

Dean,

"As long as the only evidence for a creator is in the minds of those who say “I can’t imagine anything here unless it was created by something bigger than us” there really is no evidence, simply people who still believe in imaginary friends."

"I can’t imagine anything here unless it was created by something bigger than us” - so I create God in my head? Nice try! Believers are receiving confirmations that encourage faith and confirm that they're in a relationship with Someone greater than themselves - you should open yourself up to the possibility that we're on to something. I know you're heavy on the "Jesus never existed" argument but you're PROBABLY wrong there. With that in mind, consider the possibility that if believers didn't dream Him up, we didn't dream up His Father as the Personalities have been revealed independent of our imaginations.

Michael,

"I think the adage “If something is too good to be true, it probably is” applies here. In life, there are choices and trade-offs – nothing is ever perfect. We compromise. To claim that there is someplace that is perfect and perfect forever, just doesn’t fit. It is clear from these conversations that if there is a God it is not only unknown, but unknowable. To sign a lease for eternity for a flat in heaven sight unseen with a roommate one has never met seems at best imprudent. What exactly is in the fine print?"

To good to be true: there is no Creator of your existence and consequently no accountability for the life He's entrusted you with.

sean s,

"There’s lots of testimony for God out there, but none of it seems reliable to me. There are too many internal contradictions, too many questions that believers dance around and evade, much to the destruction of their credibility. Throw in all the other religions and philosophies out there, it just gets worse. At the end of the day, I really have nothing at all except doubts."

Let's reduce everything down to just you. Forget "all the other religions and philosophies out there" and "all the theologians and theistic philosophers who can't agree" and bring it down to your world. I was thinking you were a little off with your statement; "I have no reason AT ALL to believe in the Creator except that..." because there has to be some provisions (dare I say "blessings") in your life that you are grateful for? Life, eyesight, limbs, habitat, taste buds, oxygen, etc.? Even atheists who go with the idiotic nothing/nobody created everything paradigm have to consider the possibility that there is an intelligent designer of all the intelligently designed stuff in our world. If that explanation were true, you'd have MANY reasons (looking around and within) to believe in the existence of a Creator.

The Christian faith is dependent on the Bible being the Word of God. If Jesus were an average guy no different than the rest of us, the Christian faith would officially be debunked. HOWEVER, He hasn't been discovered to be a fraud (sorry Dean) and I believe He came outta that tomb 3 days after crucifixion subsequently becoming a REAL Presence in the lives of billions post His life. I believe and accept what His buddies (Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, Peter, Paul, etcetera) wrote about Him and what the Old Testament says about God before He stepped a foot on the planet. You can reject the Bible as the Word of God consequently rejecting it's authority and the messengers, but I believe that God has made Himself accessible and has attempted to communicate through it. He did us one better by coming down to introduce Himself, showing us how it's done, giving us some instructions and making an impact on the world outside of creating it. I'm onboard with Jesus for many reasons, but I love that that's precisely what He's done; came, comes and is coming. If I had to dream God up, I could think of no better demonstration of leadership than for Him to get His hands dirty by joining us common folk in the struggle. This Christ thing really should've been squashed centuries ago if it weren't true; man lives an unprecedented life (miracles and such), dies on the cross and resurrects! Too much to make up only to die for your lie. Some of the aforementioned disciples died for truth or they would've shouted: "STOP STOP, WE LIED!!!" during their deaths - but reneging on their claims never happened as they gladly perished for their Leader which I find compelling.

"Should I believe these people and what they tell me? How do I decide that? One of the best ways is to consider their claims and ask simply if the claims are consistent. Taken as a whole, do the claims make contradictory assertions about this Creator? If they do, and if the persons telling me about this Creator cannot resolve the contradictions, why should I believe their claims?"

We observe 2 brothers haggle over interpretations in this thread. We observe many different branches of Christianity due to the same kind of disagreements about how to interpret Scripture. None of this is God's problem as His intended meaning is the only interpretation that matters at the end of the day. I believe that both Phil and Gordon are in route to heaven despite their disagreements because they likely agree on the most important insight to gain from Scripture: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." The Bible is rich, God is rich and mere men will have issues trying to interpret what's being communicated (me included), but where Jesus is concerned there's less room to wiggle. You either believe He was merely a charismatic man, a liar or He was God's Son who died for the sins of mankind. You either believe that "He is the Way the Truth and the Life and that NO ONE comes to God but by Him" or you don't. You said: "consider their claims and ask simply if the claims are consistent. Taken as a whole, do the claims make contradictory assertions about this Creator?" I recommend that Jesus is where you'll find the most consistency amongst believers. Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons may have slightly different takes on Him, but there is a consensus amongst believers about Jesus as most of us agree that there is no other way to God/salvation.

I've had issues understanding Scripture in the past and present, but always found that the answer/clarification was tangible if I dug a little and asked around (which is what you're doing). If you can't get the resolutions you need in this forum, keep looking as the answers exist. If there is a God (there is!), the last thing you want to do is die ignorant of the fact so keep on the hunt! You got me when you shared; “As for prayer, I tried it. No answer, no sign. Nothing. I only KNOW one thing about God: if God exists, he does not care what I believe or pray for” prompting me to do some praying on your behalf. I wish you blessings and hope things open up for you in your pursuit of truth.

By Kanye East (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Kanye,

“We observe 2 brothers haggle over interpretations in this thread…I believe that both Phil and Gordon are in route to heaven despite their disagreements because they likely agree on the most important insight“

Gordon and I are very tightly bonded by rebirth into a royal family. We are kinsmen. We share a destiny.

Hey Brother Phil,

It is true that my conclusions on both the Garden of Eden and on Hell have years of study behind them and were not arrived at by simply opening the Bible and reading the text.

But to use Hell to illustrate how you can quickly figure some things out from the text, can you cite for me an Old Testament passage about Hell that does NOT use the Hebrew word "Sheol"? It is beyond dispute that Sheol refers merely to "the grave" in text after text. So can you prove the concept of Hell from the OT text alone? If not, then you are left with a theological notion of everlasting punishment that rests on certain New Testament passages. Sort of undoes the whole New Covenant concept, does it not?

If God did not promise the Israelites eternal damnation for violating the Law, then how is that Jesus came along and preached a Gospel based on Love that was so simple that you could basically ignore the Mosaic Law if you just got "Love thy neighbor" right, yet if you got this one simple thing wrong our loving Savior was going to do something truly horrific that is found nowhere in all of God's Old Testament judgements?

Regarding the Rapture, every other passage with Jesus "coming in the clouds" has him on his way to earth. Only Thessalonians is silent in this regard, leaving open the novel possibility that he will do a U-turn in the sky and head back to Heaven after gathering his bride. You have really made my point again that this verse stands all on its own in justifying the Rapture. But it shouldn't. It should be read in light of all similar verses, which are actually about the second coming. Matthew 24 is so close in wording I'm surprised you can't see that.

And I started out by saying that we have to remove the concept from our thinking before approaching the text. Yes, once you have the Rapture concept, you can interweave it with a story about the marriage supper. But none of this comes from a direct reading of any text.

Same with the notion of escaping the Tribulation. Yet Revelation has two different passages that make clear (and literal) reference to protection from the Tribulation, and these passages get interpreted such that they are not applied at all.

Rev 2:10 - The persecuted church does NOT escape the Tribulation:
"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

Rev 3:10 - The protected church DOES escape:
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."

Rev 12:14-17 - The Woman and the Remnant
The Woman flees into the wilderness (not up to the clouds), where "she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time" - the 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation.
The Dragon then goes "to make war with the remnant of her seed."

So in both passages we see persecuted believers and protected believers specifically during that period of time we refer to as the Great Tribulation. This is just a straight reading of the text. The language is clear. Yet because these passages do not fit with the Rapture, no teacher that I have heard even mentions them. Rather, both passages are treated as historic, as dealing with ancient churches and with Israel, in a book where absolutely everything else is read as future and as prophetic. Odd, don't you think?

Regarding literality, I would be thrilled if believers would actually take the approach that you state, of taking everything literally in most cases. So, when did you sell all you had, and give the money to the poor? Or are you in the process of doing that right now, since I brought the literal words to your attention?

Israel were indeed the chosen people, and they had a purpose. It was Israel alone who made the covenant with God that we refer to as the Old Covenant. A covenant is a promise, and the balance of the Old Testament is devoted to recording what an abysmally bad job they did of keeping that promise. Quite a bizarre approach for a Holy Book, don't you agree?

But it all makes sense once you learn from Jesus and Paul that the purpose of the Law was to demonstrate the impossibility of keeping it perfectly. Question: why was it so important to record over 1000 years of failures just to make this one point? "To prove that we need Jesus" is the simplistic and misguided notion of modern Christianity. That rests upon our ignorance of Original Sin.

And if we Gentiles were never under the Law, then I suppose we can go off Stealing, Lying, Killing and committing Adultery to our heart's content. Act 15:29 lists none of the Ten Commandments. This pat answer mouthed by many Christians really reflects no understanding of the Law whatsoever. The Law is universal. But Israel was charged with the unique task of proving for us that it would never lead us to perfection. And God knows, they tried!

A proper understanding of the Law definitely does not leap off the page at you, but at the very least you should experience the unease I felt as a younger Christian when I saw the inherent contradictions in the answers that were being taught to me. This bugged me for decades, and I did not rest until I found an answer that was completely consistent with both Scripture and with the world around me.

Regarding the Feast of Trumpets, I agree that the passages mentioning trumpets are connected to it, but the one in Corinthians specifically mentions the "last" trumpet. There are 7 trumpets in Revelation, and those are not found in chapter 4. Supposedly, the Rapture is the opening event, not the last. And the first 6 trumpets sound a whole awful lot like a great Tribulation, do they not?

If it were easy to match all the passages up to the theory, then there would not be so many different takes on End Time events. Take out the Rapture, and I'm sure you will find fewer conflicts. The Feasts portray 3 events: Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. Most End Times interpretations are a lot more involved, and that is where they go off the rails.

Our mate Eric perfectly summed up the approach of most atheists when he claimed that he only had to find one problem in the Bible in order to prove the whole thing wrong. In theory, I must now spend the next 3 lifetimes justifying every book, page, passage, verse, line, sentence, word, jot and tittle before I have proven anything. He on the other hand, gets to raise any new objection immediately after I have decimated his previous one.

Nice rules. Very reasonable. Low hanging fruit indeed. I seem to recall that one of his main objections was the very fact that God made the fruit hang too low!

By Gordon (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

Amen Phil and I'm glad about it :)

By Kanye East (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

This comment is directed to Kanye East, and Gordon, each in their turn.

Kanye East;

Regarding, “Even atheists ... have to consider the possibility that there is an intelligent designer of all the intelligently designed stuff in our world.”

As long as you remember that all the stuff in the world that I know to be intelligently designed is like my computer and my home: made by humans or made by robots which were made by humans.

Regarding, “If that explanation were true, you’d have MANY reasons (looking around and within) to believe in the existence of a Creator.”

So, to summarize: if there is God, there’d be many reasons to believe in God.

But, since there are not any reasons that I am aware of to believe in a God, I don’t. I realize that absence of proof is not proof of absence, but absence of evidence IS evidence of absence.

I appreciate your long paragraph in which you state your beliefs, but as for me, I no longer believe. The “instructions” of the Bible are too muddled and contradictory to put much store in. I look at the vast differences between what different Christians find there, and I conclude that the Bible is like the The Mirror of Erised in the Harry Potter canon: “The mirror shows the most desperate desire of a person's heart”.

Like the Mirror of Erised, people find in the Bible what they want to find. You have found what you were looking for. Congratulations. Likewise for Phil and Gordon. So did Francis of Assisi, and William Phelps, and Mother Teresa, and the Inquisitioners, and Luther and Calvin and ... and ... .

But the Mirror didn’t work for me, and apparently I’m not alone in that. The picture was too muddled and confused to tell me anything.

You try to make light of disagreements by believers about the Bible, but those disagreements destroy the idea that the Bible is a message from God. If God exists, and God cares what we believe, God would provide a clear message. God did not.

And we haven’t even begun to consider whether the Veda’s are religious scripture too. Christians need not be right, Hindu’s might be. Or others. I have no reason to think YHWH is truer than Zeus, Odin, or Baal.

How does one decide? I don’t have anything AT ALL that tells me how to do that.

Gordon,

Regarding, ““Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,”

I do not quarrel with my maker. My maker (if there is one) has never spoken to me, has never let me hear the sound of his voice. So unless you, or another on these threads claims to be God I am not quarreling with God.

ARE YOU GOD? If not, my quarrel is with you or other humans on this thread, not with any deity.

Regarding, “I pointed out the obvious that ...”

You’re off the rails already. Nothing is “obvious” just because you say it is. If it is obvious, you should be able to demonstrate that logically, but this you refuse to do. You insist that we just take your word for it. Perhaps you want evidence that it’s not obvious. That’s easy, your inability to provide evidence is evidence that it is not obvious.

Regarding, “if you make something, you are in no way bound by it.”

Really? Why? I made my children; do you claim I have no responsibility to my children? That I am free to destroy them at any time? Really?

(I realize that you did try to explain why we have responsibilities to our children, but those explanations contradict your global claim, so you have yet to convince yourself, which is why I am unmoved too.)

Regarding, “I already used the example of a car. You objected that my example was not one regarding morality. But no morality whatsoever attaches to a car, or to any other thing that you are capable of making!”

Chuckle.

Here’s a syllogism:

A: X makes inanimate things.
B: Morality does not attach to inanimate things.

C: Therefore, X has no moral duty to the inanimate things X made.

If A is true and B is true, then C is true.

Here’s another.

D: X makes sentient beings.
E: Morality attaches to sentient beings.
F: X is a sentient being.

G1: Therefore morality attaches to X.
G2: Therefore X has moral duties to the sentient beings X made.

If E and F are true, G1 is true. If D, E, and F are true, then G2 is true.

Here’s another:

H: X attaches moral rules to other sentient beings.
J: X declares all sentient beings created by X must obey X’s moral rules.

K: X is bound by X’s own moral rules.

If G2, H, and J are true, L is true.

Here’s another

M: X tells others to obey moral rules.
N: X does not obey these moral rules.

P: X is a hypocrite.

If M and N are true, P is true.

Regarding, “By denying your Maker, you seem only capable of thinking of him on a level equal to yourself.”

I do not deny “my maker”; I have no reason to think I have a maker other than nature. I do not claim we are equals; equality is not necessary for two persons to have the same moral rights and duties.

You write a lot about how life is Sacred, etc. Yet your also argue that this Sacredness does not create any obligation on your deity. As Sacred as life is supposed to be, you advocate for a God who treats Sacred life as if it were nothing; smashing it blithely on a whim. You compare your God’s destruction of whole cities to someone kicking a sandcastle. If life is Sacred as you say, your God cannot do those things and honestly claim to be Good. Such nonchalance at the whole-sale destruction of Sacred life is evil, regardless of who commits the destruction.

I don’t think I’ve ever called life sacred on this thread. But I do agree that life is uniquely valuable. If you want everyone to think it’s sacred, perhaps you could begin by convincing your God that it is. As long as you don’t care about Him treating life like dirt, your comments about life being Sacred ring hollow.

Regarding, “In fact, the only basis for the change in modern law [regarding the treatment of children] is the notion that the parents are actually NOT the Creator of their child.”

That’s a claim crying out for evidence. Have any?

To the best of my knowledge, the basis for the change in law concerning children is the general rejection of the notion of people as property, the recognition that children are humans with human rights.

I should not be surprised that you appeal to slavery as an example of “how morality has always applied.” I assume you recognize that morality was applied incorrectly in the days of slavery and child-selling. So your appeal to tradition: that “this is how morality has always applied” was doomed from the start.

Regarding, “You said God must treat us the way he wants us to treat him. But he is capable of killing us. We are not capable of killing him.” So your claim is that “Might makes Right”?

I may not be able to punish a deity for their sins, but there is one thing I can do: Speak Truth to Power. God is not good unless God behaves as a good person. To say otherwise is False Witness. Your God might send me to eternal damnation for stating this truth, but if that’s my fate, it is everyone’s fate. An evil God’s promises are worthless (to whom will your appeal?)

Regarding, “So it is time for you to put forth your own syllogism:”. It’s up above. Actually, there are several.

And where is your syllogism? Or are you claiming to be God again?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

Gordon:

There was more to this conversation that I really did want to discuss with you, but we cannot agree on what is rational and what is logical.

If you're talking about God creating a human and then killing a human being neither good nor evil, then you're going to have to show me the logical or rational argument behind that. Heck, just tell me which post your argument for that is contained in (by number) and I'll reread it. Because as far as I can tell, you have merely asserted this to be true, not actually argued it.

What we can say is that if a western human adult tried to argue this, they would be thought immoral. Once a sentient being is created, we consider killing them (unnecessarily or without some sort of justification) to be immoral. That's the same whether the entity doing the killing is Alice, Bob on through Yahweh and Zeus.

Gordon,

“So can you prove the concept of Hell from the OT text alone? If not, then you are left with a theological notion of everlasting punishment that rests on certain New Testament passages.”

Yeah, but the Church isn’t mentioned in the OT. Does that mean that there isn’t one?

The most revealing view into sheol/hades is Jesus eye-witness account of Lazarus and the rich man. There are two chambers; one where unbelievers, ancient and daily new arrivals, are languishing. The other is paradise, where OT saints rested until the Resurrection. This is where Jesus (and one of the thieves executed with Him) spent ‘three days and three nights”. There is all kinds of information in that account, about the grave, the nature of disembodied souls, etc.
-
“Sort of undoes the whole New Covenant concept, does it not?”

I don’t see how.
-
“Regarding the Rapture, every other passage with Jesus “coming in the clouds” has him on his way to earth. Only Thessalonians is silent in this regard, leaving open the novel possibility that he will do a U-turn in the sky and head back to Heaven after gathering his bride.”

“if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself”
-
“Matthew 24 is so close in wording I’m surprised you can’t see that.”

It isn’t the similarities, it is the differences. ! Thess is without question describing a resurrection; Matthew 24 is not. The gathering of the elect in Matthew is accomplished by angels, and after the second coming, whereas the 1 Thess passage (and John 14) is “the Lord Himself”. And as I showed in multiple verses, the saints will be coming with Him, not meeting Him when He arrives.
-
“The Woman flees into the wilderness (not up to the clouds), where “she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time” – the 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation.
The Dragon then goes “to make war with the remnant of her seed.”

The woman is Israel, “the woman which brought forth the man child”,not by any means the Church. Israel This is all occurring during Daniel’s seventieth week, when the focus is specifically on “thy [Daniel’s] people. See Dan 9:23-27

“So, when did you sell all you had, and give the money to the poor? Or are you in the process of doing that right now, since I brought the literal words to your attention?”

No, that was directed toward a guy who thought getting eternal life is a quid pro quo deal. Jesus could have answered his question with “There is nothing that you can do. I have to do it”. Instead He kept raising the bar till it was over the rich young man’s head. Do you think if he’d agreed to sell everything he had and given the proceeds to the poor, that he would have been given eternal life for having done so? Did Nicodemus do that? Joseph of Arimathea? Zaccheus? Lydia? Lazarus and his sisters?
-
“And if we Gentiles were never under the Law, then I suppose we can go off Stealing, Lying, Killing and committing Adultery to our heart’s content.”

No, this is very straightforward in Romans 2:14-15. Gentiles have conscience, but they “have not the law”.
-
“There are 7 trumpets in Revelation, and those are not found in chapter 4”

Correct. These are sounded in heaven where John is positioned to hear them. They signal severe judgment. The trumpet associated with the rapture is a different signal altogether. The last trump is not the seventh trumpet in Revelation 10.

Eric,

I raised a different issue with you, and you quickly pushed it aside. Read the last two paragraphs of post #208, which was a reply to Phil, to see why I will not carry on a discussion on your unreasonable terms.

Sean S,

You have written that "Morality attaches to sentient beings". Of course we agree that morality is only meaningful when applied to sentient beings. Yet this is not actually what you are claiming, especially in light of all I have written.

Your actual position is:
"Morality attaches EQUALLY to ALL sentient beings."

On what basis?

Your third syllogism is meaningless. K is a restatement of G2, and is only true if G2 is true. H and J prove nothing.

Your fourth one is incorrect. For it to be true, it also relies on G2 being true, but you did not include G2.

In short, you are only making one point, and that is the one that I stated above. Since God is a sentient being, you presume he is bound by the same morality that applies to us.

The basis for your morality is the Golden Rule, but I showed how applying it to God produces a nonsensical situation. You cannot kill God, so the Golden Rule cannot be used as the way of determining any moral relationship between you and God, if one exists.

You need another basis, and have only come up with "speaking Truth to Power." That might work with Governments, but again is meaningless in relation to your Creator. If you convince all of us that he is Evil, and we all stop believing in him, it still changes nothing. So try again.

When you say in G2 that God is bound by some moral duty to you, then you are indeed quarreling with your Maker. This is between you and God. I did not write those words.

You use a different term than Sacred, but the concept is the same. Only you unbind it from the respect for the Creator that is the flip side of the same coin. You want all the advantages of religious belief, without any of the conditions. As I said before, this is a typical have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too position. Also known as hypocrisy - another favorite of yours.

How's this for the evidence that is cried out for?:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

By Gordon (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

Hi Brother Phil,

You appear to have bought the notion of Dispensationalism, which slices the Bible into several unrelated sections, essentially throwing away all but the New Testament as inapplicable to us. This is another novel idea that only infected Protestant Christianity around the same time as the Rapture did. Before Scofield wrote his Reference Bible around 1900 (with all the "answers" in the margins), almost no Christians ever considered such a bizarre notion. The Bible is one unified story from start to finish.

The "Church" is either in the Old Testament, or not in the Bible at all, depending on your reading. "Church" is a word made up out of whole cloth that transmits none of the meaning of the original language.

The Greek word "ekklesia" that is most often translated "Church" is merely the word for "assembly" or "congregation", from "assemble" and "congregate", i.e. a gathering together of people. The Hebrew equivalent found in the Old Testament is most often translated "congregation". The King James translators even snuck in a clue in Acts 7:38 where the congregation of Israel is referred to as "the Church in the wilderness".

So neither Greek nor Hebrew has any word that should properly be translated "Church", and the actual concept of an assembly or congregation is found in both Testaments and applied uniformly to the gathering together of believers.

As you should be able to see, my theology starts from Genesis 1:1 and tells a uniform story that does not end until we get to Revelation. I did describe Plan A (the Flood), Plan B (the Law), and Plan C (a return to Eden), but I also explained the purpose of each one, and how they fit together.

The Scriptures make no artificial distinction between the Church and Israel, and neither do I. Paul only makes a distinction between the Jews who embraced the New Covenant, and those who rejected it. You will find that Dispensational theology depends on reading only the English translations, which have consistently kept the "ecclesiastical language" after King James ordered that it be so.

As the Levitical feasts point out, God's uniform plan is still in progress. The Temple and its system of animal sacrifice was done away with in 70AD. Yet the 3 Fall feasts still await fulfillment. The New Covenant and the Old Covenant go hand in glove. The later cannot be understood without the former. Yet this is exactly what modern theologians attempt to do: Write off the Old Covenant before they even understand it.

Once you see the New Covenant as a return to that state of perfection found in Eden, then you will see how truly far-fetched it is to go through the entire period of the Law with no notion of eternal punishment in Hell, only to suddenly introduce it as part of telling people they are no longer under "the law of sin and death". Does Jesus really have a plan to do away with sin and death, yet to send everyone to Hell who does not believe in his plan?

The main difference here is that the concept of Hell has been established theology for almost the entire history of the church. This is no novel concept from 150 years ago. And so it is a bit harder for me to blame anyone for not questioning it. I never set out to question it either. In fact it was only last year that I learned that the concept appears nowhere in the Old Testament. But due to my other studies, I immediately saw the significance of that.

We are back to figurative language in Matthew 24:31. The gathering of the elect sure sounds like a resurrection to me. Angels vs Jesus does not change this. You are illustrating the exact problem that occurs when figurative language is read as being literal. "From the four winds" is indisputably figurative. But I understand it to mean the same as, "from the four corners of the earth." You have the elect being gathered from Heaven because of the also figurative "from one end of heaven to the other", and since the Rapture requires that they already be there.

I think we are the end of the Rapture stuff. My initial point was about literal vs figurative language, and now we are back at that very point. All I can do is explain what I see when I read the text without any presumptions. And this little exercise has confirmed for me that my approach does lead to a more cohesive understanding of Scripture. But I appreciate that it has probably not served that same purpose for you. To me, the Rapture is only a side issue in any case.

The story of the rich young ruler is always dismissed in the manner that you have. But to do so requires overlooking some key points of the text.

First, the man was asking how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus tested him. Jesus cited the Law. Yet we know that the Law CANNOT lead someone to the righteousness that is necessary to inherit eternal life. So Jesus' answer was a test, and not the real answer.

But the answer was very clearly the Old Covenant answer. This is what the Jews were taught and what they believed. And the man had taken it seriously ("all these I have kept since my youth"), but he still had doubts. Something told him there had to be more.

The man passed Jesus' test by showing that he knew the Law was not enough. If you did the study I recommended on the word "perfect", you would know what comes next. In Matthew 19:21,

"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."

This is the New Covenant answer. This is how we rise above the Law. This is what leads to perfection, according to Jesus. What Jesus told the man was hard, but not impossible. But it is especially hard for a rich man, like this one in the story was. And that is what we see throughout the New Testament. Those for whom the monetary system provides advantages, are not so ready to give up those advantages. Yet time and again this is exactly what Jesus demands.

This not a parable, but the parables of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price tell the exact same story. You must give up Everything! ("sell all that you have", "sold all that he had")

And the disciples understood this. Look at their reaction:

"Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."

In verse 29 Jesus mentions "everyone" and gives a long list of things that must be "forsaken", and at the end very clearly links the giving up of these things to inheriting eternal life.

Christians run a mile from this passage. They have no idea what to do with it. There is no quid pro quo to be found in it, as you claim. Yet it contains the secret to perfection and the secret to eternal life. It does not say we cannot be perfect. But it does raise the bar quite high.

How do you expect to be rewarded for "believing IN Jesus" if you do not "believe Jesus"? Following him in the manner demanded by this passage takes real faith. Faith is not some mental assent to a list of propositions promulgated by your church. That is dogma.

Following Jesus requires genuine Faith in our Creator. And if you can see it, the faith that the Rich Young Ruler lacked is exactly the same faith that Adam and Eve lacked. We want guarantees. We do not actually believe that God will meet all our needs. We do not actually believe Jesus when he says that if we give up all these precious things, that we "shall receive a hundredfold" (in this present life, Luke tells us).

By contrast, I have heard countless sermons about how it is possible to serve God and money at the same time. Just so long as God is the higher priority, right? So spend 40-50 hours per week serving money, and 1-2 hours on Sunday attending church, and God will be happy with you. Pastors preach this stuff with a straight face, and then pass the offering plate!

Gordon: (in response to his suggestion @212):

Our mate Eric perfectly summed up the approach of most atheists when he claimed that he only had to find one problem in the Bible in order to prove the whole thing wrong. In theory, I must now spend the next 3 lifetimes justifying every book, page, passage, verse, line, sentence, word, jot and tittle before I have proven anything. He on the other hand, gets to raise any new objection immediately after I have decimated his previous one.

Nice rules.

You've mischaracterized my argument pretty badly. Its not that the bible is perfect, but rather that one evil act committed by a being someone claims to be perfectly benevolent refutes the perfect benevolence. There is an obvious way out, which is to say that the evil acts attributed to God in the bible weren't actually God's acts. Many liberal Christians do this, considering stories like the flood story and tower of Babel story to be some sort of wierd allegory made up by people trying to understand God, rather than actual events performed by God. And there is a second obvious way to deal with it, which is to say God does not appear to be benevolent the way humans describe benevolence.

But that doesn't really have anything to do with you breaking off the conversation. If you like, we can put aside the issue of 'perfect benevolence' and focus narrowly on the last issue you brought up: the fact that you assert that having a kid and then killing them is not any more immoral than never having a kid in the first place. I'd really like to hear your argument for that position, for it doesn't seem to be consistent with human morality. We put people in jail for doing the first, but not for doing the second.

Hi Eric,

The wider point on going through every single story in the Bible is that no one can be expected to understand the entire book. It is many stories, many books, written by many people, over centuries or even millenia. To claim that anyone must be able to answer every objection is simply unreasonable. It presumes that they are able to understand the entire Bible perfectly, and I for one will never make such a claim.

If the discussion is limited to perfect benevolence, then you should already see that I have been saying that our ideas of what constitutes benevolence on God's part do differ in several respects. My position is that if God creates you and allows you to live for a single day, that is benevolent of him. Nothing required him to make you in the first place.

Your position is a little more fuzzy. Obviously you are against God killing anyone prematurely. But it is not clear if his benevolence stands so long as he allows you to die a natural death. You might claim he is not benevolent because he allowed you do die at all. Or you might claim that dying at 100 is Ok, but dying of lung cancer at age 50 is proof that God is not benevolent. I need to understand your yardstick, because you keep trotting out stuff that God should do simply because he is able to do it (omnipotent).

On the other topic, of why God can destroy anything he creates, including us sentient beings, and it not be immoral for him to do so, see my last few exchanges with Sean S.

By Gordon (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by eric (not verified)

Gordon,

“You appear to have bought the notion of Dispensationalism, which slices the Bible into several unrelated sections, essentially throwing away all but the New Testament as inapplicable to us.”

Well, I am a dispensationalist, but your characterization is not correct. Dispensations are sequentially and naturally indexed in Biblical history, at events and at changes in policy. The creation, the fall of mankind, the flood, the covenant with Abraham, the giving of the law, the beginning and end of the assembly of the Church, the beginning and end of the millennium, are all benchmarks. Clarity about dispensations allows us to understand what applies to us and what does not.

“This is another novel idea that only infected Protestant Christianity around the same time as the Rapture did. Before Scofield wrote his Reference Bible around 1900 (with all the “answers” in the margins), almost no Christians ever considered such a bizarre notion.”

Sorry, but it goes back a lot further than that.

“The “Church” is either in the Old Testament, or not in the Bible at all, depending on your reading.”

The Church was not extant at the time Christ announced that He would build it. The only solid reference in the OT is typologically represented in the person of Ruth.
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“ “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

This is a state of mind. Did you abandon your parents, wife and children? If this is not about mental performance, why did Paul not restate and emphasize this policy?

Also, you didn’t respond to my inquiry regarding Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Zaccheus, Lydia and Lazarus and his sisters. If they did not rid themselves of the “long list of things that must be “forsaken” that are linked to inheriting eternal life, then they didn’t, and neither will I. Who exactly do you think will make the cut?

You keep mentioning your unique point of view, and your performance, but I don’t recall you referring to grace. Does that fit in somewhere?

Brother Phil,

I was raised in the Dispensationalist tradition, and so I know it well. It was in seeking to understand the whole counsel of Scripture that I found myself time and again knocking up against the wrong presumptions embedded in this system of theology that originated less than 200 years ago.

From Wikipedia:
"As a system, dispensationalism is rooted in the Plymouth Brethren movement in the 1830s of Ireland and England, and in the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–82). The original concept came from Darby's interpretation of 2 Timothy 2:15, '...rightly dividing the word of truth'."

Your dogmatic adherence to Dispensationalism, not Scripture, is what has kept you from examining most of what I have put forth in this thread. And this is where the atheists are right when they accuse Christians of relying on blind faith. Most Christians accept without question the dogma they have been taught, and genuinely believe it to be "the very Word of God" when it is in fact the very words of Darby and Scofield.

When you say, "This is a state of mind", you change literal language into figurative. Can you see that? The tough verses are NEVER applied literally.

What I found was that, as I sought to obey more and more fully the literal words of Christ, first my parents disowned me, including my Bible-thumping mother. Next my wife demanded that I chose between her and my convictions. Finally, they all conspired together to keep my children from me. I had to choose. I never expected Jesus' words to apply so precisely, and yet in the end I had to let the ones I love most all go in order to continue following him.

You don't see this happening to Christians around you because they all dismiss Christ's words and don't actually try in faith to take the radical steps that he demands.

You name a bunch of people from Scripture about whom we know little. Yet you ignore the Apostles and the very clear actions they took in Acts chapter 4. You dismiss that as a one-off necessity due to a feast. Of course the book of Acts makes no effort to qualify this at all.

We read how the Disciples reacted to what Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, and we see them follow this through to the letter after Jesus has ascended to heaven. And you even appeal to the notion that the church did not exist until Jesus' statement to Peter, yet the conduct of Peter figures nowhere in your thinking!

How about this: "Silver and Gold have I NONE, ..."

Peter carried no money with him, and this is also after the ascension. Want to know what the church really is, and how it differs from Israel? Look no further.

The Law regulates commerce and money. Israel tried to obtain perfection by obeying the Law. The church did not use money, except collectively. No one claimed ownership. No one claimed possession. And so they no longer needed to concern themselves with most provisions of the Law.

What purpose is a law that says, "Thou shalt not steal", if no one owns anything? Can you see now how Jesus' teaching did away with the Law by making it irrelevant to the circumstances?

Can you also see that the modern church remains under the Law to this day, because you still believe in possession and money?

Grace is an excuse. I have yet to meet a single Christian who actually uses the term in the way it is used in the New Testament. Catholics sin all week long and then go to confession on Sunday. Protestants ignore Christ's commands and then pull out their "Get out of jail free" card, called Grace.

That ticket to Heaven does not work the way you think. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth by many who say, "Lord, Lord ..."

By Gordon (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

The wider point on going through every single story in the Bible is that no one can be expected to understand the entire book.

I'm not talking about some complex parable here. Genesis is pretty clear about why God does things like flood the world and destroy the tower of Babel, and the reasoning God uses is not what we consider benevolent today. So you either ditch the divine origin of the story, or you ditch the concept of benevolence.

Obviously you are against God killing anyone prematurely. But it is not clear if his benevolence stands so long as he allows you to die a natural death.

Now you're getting it! Yes, this is absolutely true. Given Christian theology regarding heaven, it is clear that this being has the power to make us live forever, and the claim is that he wants us to live forever. So why doesn't he? The claims of his nature lead to an obvious course of action, which he doesn't take. Thus they are inconsistent with reality.

I need to understand your yardstick, because you keep trotting out stuff that God should do simply because he is able to do it (omnipotent).

My yardstick is that if a critter is claimed to know everything, be able to do anything, and wants happiness and prosperty for all of us for all eternity, then we would be happy and prosperous for all eternity, including right now.

The fact the he can do that stuff and a good being would do that stuff, shows that the best explanation for that stuff not happening is that the stories are made up by humans rather than being an accurate description of a deity.

From your back and forth with Sean:

The basis for your morality is the Golden Rule, but I showed how applying it to God produces a nonsensical situation. You cannot kill God, so the Golden Rule cannot be used as the way of determining any moral relationship between you and God, if one exists.

No, you're getting the GR wrong. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" does not require that we actually be able to kill God before we can hold him responsible for murder. It means that God should act towards us the way he would want us to act toward him if we could. If we could kill God, would he want us to? If the answer is "no," then he shouldn't kill us; it is immoral for him to do so.

Hi Eric,

The Flood story requires neither that I ditch the accuracy of the story nor that I ditch the benevolence of the Creator. It does however, require an understanding of the Creator in line with what I have been debating with Sean S. I have tried to explain the rationale behind this thinking, and right now we are at an impasse.

You have added your view on the Golden Rule, and want to argue hypotheticals while ignoring the practical reality of your position. Morality is practical, not hypothetical. There are very good reasons why one does not quarrel with his Maker. But if you want to reject those reasons in favor of a hypothetical, then of course there is not much else I can say in response.

When you say, "an accurate description of a deity", you miss the point that none of us mere mortals can claim to adequately describe the Deity. We are just doing the best we can, whilst acknowledging that it can only ever be inadequate. An accurate description requires omniscience just for a start. Surely you can see that.

I believe we have it right, and you are correct, when you say that the claim is that he wants us to live forever. The only difference is that you assume he should snap his fingers and make this happen, whereas I appeal to the biblical narrative which clearly lays out:

1) God created Man to live forever
2) There was one condition
3) Man violated the one condition
4) God allowed this so as to allow Man free will
5) God then showed us how to fix the problem
6) The problem is still not fixed because we are still refusing to follow God's instructions!

You can read Phil's objection above to "Sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me", and you will see the justification used by most Christians to avoid following those instructions. And these are the people who make such a big deal about "believing in Jesus". So if even they won't follow the instructions, is it really so hard to understand why this world is still under the power of death?

I can tell you, as one who has taken the instructions seriously, that they really do work. But the first requirement is Faith, and without that you will not get anywhere. So if you demand observable proof, you will be waiting for a long time. The Bible says this time and again, and neither you nor I are going to change that rule. It simply is the way it is.

Why God did things this way is for him to know and for us to find out. And that starts with a belief that he knows better than we do. Again, Faith.

May God bless you with that intuitive knowledge that there is real truth here, despite the fact it cannot be proven.

By Gordon (not verified) on 10 Feb 2015 #permalink

In reply to by eric (not verified)

Okay, I wanna ask a few quick questions before this thread closes. I've been keeping up with your posts Gordon and trying to digest your perspective:

"That ticket to Heaven does not work the way you think. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth by many who say, “Lord, Lord …”

1st question(s): I always thought that salvation was irrevocable, and once you acknowledge your sin and consequently take God up on His offer of Jesus', you were in. How could anyone who "confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God raised Him from the dead" not be saved? Who's in danger of thinking they're in, only to inevitably get a rude and disappointing awakening? When Jesus says; "I lost none of those You gave Me", is He referring only to the original disciples or all of us and what self test can a believer perform to ensure that they're truly a kingdom citizen? Is it the transforming or renewing that confirms it? The new desires, repentance? How does one ensure that they never hear; "I never knew you: depart from Me..."? The wisdom and density of each of your posts lead me to assume that I am a younger/less mature Christian than both you and Phil, so feel free to both chime in as I respect both of your perspectives!

2 question: I couldn't draw a conclusion on your interpretation of who will be around for the tribulation - nobody wants to be here for it, but who will be? Are ALL blood bought believers safe from having to experience it?

By Kanye East (not verified) on 10 Feb 2015 #permalink

Kanye,

“I always thought that salvation was irrevocable, and once you acknowledge your sin and consequently take God up on His offer of Jesus’, you were in.”

I accept this premise for a lot of reasons. Most of the objections to this view basically boil down to confusion about the role of works/good deeds/personal performance. There is sort of a standard list of verses that are used to support the objections, but in my mind, the arguments are really about the character of Christ.
-
“How does one ensure that they never hear; “I never knew you: depart from Me…”?”

He tells us the answer to that in verse 21.

Hi Kanye and Phil,

My answer to Kanye's question comes from a wider view than the standard, "Walk the aisle, pray the prayer, and you are Saved". I will not even engage in a discussion over whether once we "believe in Jesus", is it possible to lose our salvation. This misses the point.

Two terms are much more helpful here: Kingdom and Debt. Have you entered the Kingdom and are your Debts forgiven? And without linking these to salvation, I will tell you that the answer is No on both counts. But I will let you prove this to yourself.

"Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Tell me, what does the Kingdom look like? If you cannot describe it, you have not seen it. I have never heard a Christian describe God's Kingdom, and I will be very surprised if either of you are able to.

The "weeping and gnashing of teeth" is done by those who find themselves outside of the Kingdom. So where is the Kingdom? "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on EARTH, as it is in heaven." How do Christians pray this every week, and yet miss this? This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff.

We see in the story of Ananias and Safira two people who thought they could trick their way into the Kingdom. The consequences were severe. They sold their property, but then kept back some of the money and lied about it. They thought they could have one foot in the world even while setting their other foot in the Kingdom. No go. A real life example in the Bible of the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The notion of Jesus paying our debts is also not mere pie-in-the-sky. Few people even know what Debt is. Sure, if you have a credit card bill, you know you have a debt to the bank. But is God mad at us and we have some debt to him? Or is the debt actually of the nature described by Jesus?

When you yell at your child to clean up his room, it is because you believe he had a debt to you. He owes you a clean room in exchange for the fact that you feed and shelter him. No money involved, but a debt nonetheless.

"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" is the only workable formula for eliminating ALL debt. The Kingdom is a place with NO debt! Surely you understand that at least. But Jesus gave us a parable.

Read Matthew 18:21-35

People get confused because the translators interchange "forgive us our debts" with "forgive us our trespasses (or sins)". But the story itself is about Debt. The King forgave a large debt, but the debtor would not forgive the small debt owed to him. The consequences were severe.

The parable is specifically describing the Kingdom. "The kingdom of heaven is like ..." So once again we see just how important the requirement is to "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." You CANNOT enter the Kingdom without doing this!

And you cannot use money without creating debt. Every contract creates two mutually offsetting debts. The moment you walk into Starbucks and order a coffer, two debts exist. You owe them money, and they owe you a coffee. So if you have a job to earn money, you have a debt to your employer, to show up each day and work, and they have a debt to you, to pay your paycheck at the end of the week. You then use that money to put others into mutual debts with you. You are living in the Kingdom of Commerce, not the Kingdom of God.

We see several times that Jesus requires more than mere lip service:

"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

I do not see this as a Faith vs Works argument. You cannot obey the teachings of Jesus except by Faith. This is the whole point. "Without Faith it is impossible to please God." Doing what Jesus said, and what the Disciples understood him to say, takes real Faith. If you won't follow through on his instructions, indeed if you won't even make a good-faith effort to understand his instructions, then saying that you "believe in Jesus" will not count for anything in the long run.

"Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and ALL THESE THINGS shall be added unto you." Another statement that demands Faith on our part.

In summary, saying "I believe that Jesus paid for all my debts" achieves nothing. Your debts will NOT be paid/forgiven unless you also forgive others their debts. You cannot keep a foot in each kingdom. This much is painfully clear by the very severe consequences detailed in both parable and real life events in Scripture.

Gordon:

You have added your view on the Golden Rule, and want to argue hypotheticals while ignoring the practical reality of your position. Morality is practical, not hypothetical. There are very good reasons why one does not quarrel with his Maker.

The same very good reasons also apply to not quarreling with a mob boss, but they have nothing to do with morality and the golden rule, do they? Yes, the Golden Rule has something of a hypothetical nature to it. The "as you would have them..." kinda gives that away, or should. It asks the user to switch shoes with their potential victim. And you seem to be claiming God does not have to do that, does not have to act towards others the way he wishes they would act if they were God and he were the mere mortal. When claiming it is not immoral for God to kill humans, you didn't show God follows the golden rule, you showed he doesn't.

When you say, “an accurate description of a deity”, you miss the point that none of us mere mortals can claim to adequately describe the Deity.

Yet you have spent thousands of words telling us all that he must be benevolent the way we humans think of benevolence, and insisting that we are wrong to think the seemingly nonbenevolent acts attributed to him demonstrate nonbenevolence.

If nobody can know God's true nature, then how can you claim to know his true nature is benevolent?

1) God created Man to live forever
2) There was one condition
3) Man violated the one condition
4) God allowed this so as to allow Man free will
5) God then showed us how to fix the problem
6) The problem is still not fixed because we are still refusing to follow God’s instructions!

On 2: It was evil to set that one condition. Imagine if anyone else did that to their kid. "Don't take that cookie, or the poison I chose to put in the cookie will kill you." We lock such people up.

On 3: A&E did not know what death was. It is evil to punish people so innocent and naive in such a horrible way.

On 3, part deux: It is evil to punish all the animals and plants that did not make this choice and do not 'sin' for the crimes of humans. That's collective punishment. Puppies dying because I sin - you truly think that is benevolent?

On 4) there are many people with good, strong wills who would've done what they were told. They have free will too. So it would've been no violation of our free will for God to give A&E such a nature. There would be no violation of our free will to give all humans, today, the moral fortitude of our most good men and women. That would immensly reduce the amount of human-caused suffering. Heck, just giving 15-35 year old men the average moral sense of a 45 year old woman would reduce crime by something like 90%. Surely you aren't going to argue that that would violate their free will? It can't, unless you are claiming mature women have no free will.

On 5: No, God shows us nothing. A book makes some claims. Other humans make claims to have received messages from God. But God himself is conspicuously absent. If he wants to visit me personally in the flesh and let me poke his hand-holes the way Thomas did, I'll be happy to listen to what he has to say. And no, this can't be a violation of my free will either, unless you think disciple Thomas didn't make it into heaven. I'm not asking for any more proof than God has given to other humans.

On 6: to reprise 2, the punisment is evil to begin with.

So if even they won’t follow the instructions, is it really so hard to understand why this world is still under the power of death?

When God is claimed to be all-merciful? Yes, it's really hard to understand. Mercy means, almost by definition, not making people pay the penalty for their crimes and errors. Someone 'throwing themselves on the mercy of the court' is admitting they did the bad thing and asking not to be punished for it. When the court chooses to withold punishment, that's them being merciful. Forgiveness means letting the past lie. So the way you describe God as not giving us eternal life because we continue to disobey, is not merciful or forgiving.

Gordon,

You seem to be advocating not getting tangled up with money. Do you mean to not use it at all?

Also, what are your verse by verse thoughts about Matt 7:21-23?