Sunday Morning Atheism

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Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

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  1. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    Mark Twain made a similar point about hookworm and trypanosomiasis.

    The hookworm parasites often so lower the vitality of those who are affected as to retard their physical and mental development, render them more susceptible to other diseases, make labor less efficient, and in the sections where the malady is most prevalent greatly increase the death rate from consumption, pneumonia, typhoid fever and malaria. It has been shown that the lowered vitality of multitudes, long attributed to malaria and climate and seriously affecting economic development, is in fact due in some districts to this parasite.

    His conclusion was that

    It is he whom Church and people call Our Father in Heaven who has invented the fly and sent him to inflict this dreary long misery and melancholy and wretchedness, and decay of body and mind, upon a poor savage who has done that Great Criminal no harm. There isn’t a man in the world who doesn’t pity that poor black sufferer, and there isn’t a man that wouldn’t make him whole if he could. To find the one person who has no pity for him you must go to heaven; to find the one person who is able to heal him and couldn’t be persuaded to do it, you must go to the same place.

    This was written at the very end of Twain’s life, after he’d lost three of his four children to diphtheria, meningitis, and epilepsy.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    We might as well ask “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Most of the evil in the world is what man does to his fellow man. The winners write the histories and the losers write the songs. If sickle cell anaemia seems to guide you to the notion of a cruel and uncaring God who allows, or to use your more tendentious term, “makes” children suffer, I am not convinced of the goodness of man, especially not to his fellow man.

    To exist is to suffer. Naked and screaming we enter the world, going from the helplessness of infancy to the helplessness and infirmities of old age. We go from need to need, defined by those needs: to eat, to relieve ourselves, to sleep, to make money, to fuck and be fucked. We haven’t evolved beyond selfishness and cruelty to each other, justifying it all to ourselves and to each other, dressing it all up in the filthy rags of our versions of justice. Don’t tell me about man’s justice. If there is any proof of God in the world, any proof of the divine light, it’s that everyone knows what justice is and also knows he doesn’t measure up to even his own standards.

    (2) Why is the genetic mechanism for sickle cell such a gigantic, inelegant piece of crap?

    And now, in our hubris, we’re urged to pass judgement on what evolution produced? If the human genome is such a piece of crap, we’re learning to fix it. But we’re also stupid and greedy enough to want to patent parts of it, too — which rather points to the problem in the first question: who’s to say what’s good and bad? We’re all in this proposition together, for both good and evil.

    (3) How can you look at something like sickle cell disease and see anything other than meaninglessness?

    You want meaning? I’ll give you some. The haemoglobin gene is codominant. That means sickle cell sufferers produce both “good” and “bad” erythrocytes. It also evolved in separate populations, meaning it solved a problem and was reproduced. We also know sickle cell disease falls where the malaria parasite has been eliminated. That’s what sickle cell “means” in a scientific sense. There are dozens, thousands of instances, all across the human genome, of what seems like “nonsense”. The genome is like a cookbook: full of protein recipes we’ll never use. Literally, a cookbook: an active site has the “double-helix” strand opened up so proteins can be expressed. There’s a cookbook in every live cell in your body.

    God doesn’t fit in your little box. If your concept of God seems such that it might seem to have come out of a box or a book and won’t fit back in, well, Chris, trust me on this, as someone who still believes, that’s not a worthy concept of God. My version of God isn’t even remotely like a human being. Religion is mostly a foolish aping of true worship, mostly used as a pretext for power-hungry persons trying to tell you that evil is good and lies are truth. God’s given life in the divine spark within everyone, the knowledge of eternal truths and the knowledge of human imperfection. Doesn’t mean we have to grovel, a-la Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Quite the opposite. It just means there’s some force at work in the universe, beyond the mere blind outworking of chance, a force which puts each moment in time in the context of eternity.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Well, in sperm and eggs, there’s half-a-cookbook — but that’s how everyone gets a complete cookbook for all the cells in their body, to start with….Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      If your God doesn’t have human features like being capable of love and thoughts about morality, the Problem of Evil is not a problem for you.

      The Problem of Evil isn’t meant to show that God doesn’t exist. It is meant to show that if God exists he cannot be all of the following:

      Omnipotent
      Omniscient
      Omnibenevolent

      If God can do anything, why doesn’t he make the world better for us? He could have, but didn’t. So he wants us to live in shit. So he mustn’t be omnibenevolent.

      The usual religious response to this, of course, is to say that God is good, but he cares more about whether we act morally and choose to be good people, not whether we suffer. Life on earth is a test and God wants you to use your free will to behave morally. And you wouldn’t really have the opportunity to exercise free will if life weren’t filled with this much shit. This, in simple terms, is the free will defense.

      I always love Russell’s little story which puts the lie to the Free Will defense, by saying if God is just testing us with allowing us and causing us to suffer, he doesn’t deserve our worship and love:

      “To Dr. Faustus in his study Mephistopheles told the history of the Creation, saying:
      “The endless praises of the choirs of angels had begun to grow wearisome; for, after all, did he not deserve their praise? Had he not given them endless joy? Would it not be more amusing to obtain undeserved praise, to be worshipped by beings whom he tortured? He smiled inwardly, and resolved that the great drama should be performed.

      “For countless ages the hot nebula whirled aimlessly through space. At length it began to take shape, the central mass threw off planets, the planets cooled, boiling seas and burning mountains heaved and tossed, from masses of cloud hot sheets of rain deluged the barely solid crust. And now the first germ of life grew in the depths of the ocean, and developed rapidly in the fructifying warmth into vast forest trees, huge germ springing from the damp mould, sea monsters breeding, fighting, devouring, and passing away. And from the monsters, as the play unfolded itself, Man was born, with the power of thought, the knowledge of good and evil, and the cruel thirst for worship. And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrous world, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few brief moments of life before Death’s inexorable decree. And Man said: ‘There is a hidden purpose, could we but fathom it, and the purpose is good; for we must reverence something, and in the visible world there is nothing worthy of reverence.’ And Man stood aside from the struggle, resolving that God intended harmony to come out of chaos by human efforts. And when he followed the instincts which God had transmitted to him from his ancestry of beasts of prey, he called it Sin, and asked God to forgive him. But he doubted whether he could be justly forgiven, until he invented a divine Plan by which God’s wrath was to have been appeased. And seeing the present was bad, he made it yet worse, that thereby the future might be better. And he gave God thanks for the strength that enabled him to forgo even the joys that were possible. And God smiled; and when he saw that Man had become perfect in renunciation and worship, he sent another sun through the sky, which crashed into Man’s sun; and all returned again to nebula.

      “Yes,’ he murmured, ‘it was a good play; I will have it performed again.'”

      If God exists, he does not deserve your worship.

      No, a free man’s worship recognizes that the world is hellish, theis no loving (person-like) being and moves from there.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot5
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        says:

        “If God exists, he does not deserve your worship.”

        This is one of the wacky things that I don’t understand. It seems that the definition of being worthy of worship has been set to omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent… and anything less than that is worthy of derision on the part of the deity.

        People treat presidents better than that.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          No, I mean God is actively bad, not just that he isn’t perfect. You wouldn’t worship a person as bad as God.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot5
            Ignored
            says:

            I certainly wouldn’t vote for one.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              Are you arguing for something here or just being silly?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                So, in plain terms what are you arguing for?

                I was suggesting that an immoral God should not be worshipped.

                Traditionally, God is said to be the most perfect, most powerful, most loving, wonderful being.

                If God is no more powerful than Santa Claus and is either indifferent or hateful towards people, why worship him?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                Have you seen the amount of effort people put into defending (insert president here)?

                If they put half that much effort into defending God from accusations of malfeasance…Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                …then, what?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                We’d have a fairly homogeneously religious society, I imagine. On the surface, anyway. A superficial monoculture when it came to the god we believe in.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I don’t understand at all. People put a fair amount of energy into that now. If they just put some amount more, it would fundamentally change the whole way religious belief is distributed and/or how believers interact?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                People put a fair amount of energy into that now.

                Half of them, sure. Depending.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                So are you saying it’d be better if we had the thing you’re describing (which I don’t understand)?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s more that I wish that people didn’t transfer the faith that they used to put in gods that may or may not exist into politicians.

                What does sickle-cell anemia say about the existence of God (or gods)?

                Well, he must not be either good enough to worship or powerful enough to call “God” in which case, screw him.

                And yet when a Politician gets up there and promises Good Things, To Everybody!, and doesn’t deliver, the counter-arguments are fairly familiar.

                He’s not all-powerful, you know. He has to fight against the opposition. If he didn’t have so many forces opposing him, we’d have these things now, or be a lot closer to having them. If you want those Good Things, you’d stop opposing him. Followed shortly about insinuations about the people who don’t want Good Things, For Everybody!

                In “When Bad Things Happen To Good People”, Kushner finally wrestled God down to not being powerful enough to make these things happen (or to prevent these other things from happening)… but still sees God as a partner worth having. A peer with whom one could work against Evil.

                Which, it seems to me, is the argument that people take up in defense of (president). He’s not all powerful. But he’s Good… and he and I will work against Evil together. (and, insinuated: Which side are *YOU* on?)

                And the energies once devoted to religion are now devoted to the political sphere. The apologetics for God are now apologetics for (party).

                When you ask about “better”, I’ll just say that I suspect that religious thinking does the least harm in the religious sphere.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                In politics people actually are faced with the problem that if it’s not This Guy, then it’ll be That Guy. In religion, you actually can just walk away, for the most part. But I understand where this is coming from.

                I probably would have assumed that was what you were interested, but the thing you said at first was that we’d have a superficial religious monoculture. That seems like a separate effect – not really related to the not transferring the worshipful regard from God to politicians. I.e., it’s if people direct their worship to God and not to politicians that people don’t direct it to politicians. The result might be a superficial religious monoculture (but it seems like it might not, too, to me). In any case, it’s a separate effect. The direct thing would have just been to say, well, if people only worshipped/had faith/defended God more, they’d do it less with politicians.

                So what’s with your interest in a superficial religious monoculture?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I.e., it’s if people direct their worship to God and not to politicians that people don’t direct it to politicians.

                Well, there’s the rub, innit?

                From what I understand, across the pond, the whole “celebrity worship” of politicians is dumped upon the Royals while politicians are held in different esteem. This strikes me as a good thing and, if it’s even theoretically recreatable in the US, that’s how it’d be done.

                But the Atheists are coming to a head and we’ll get to see what happens when the cold eye of their deconstruction of religious faith turns to other topics, as it inevitably will.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s good since (much of) the power of the State was taken out of the monarchs’ hands, I assume you mean.

                I’m not big on spending time pining for the reversal of broad historical trends (which is not going to happen), and for the re-inculcation of mass illusion among people who have managed to see through such (by your own lights) illusions, as a way to think about inducing a change in political attitudes when direct argumentation is an active and equal-regarding way to do it that actually might have an effect.

                We can wish for people to start to forget that they figured out that God is a fiction (a fiction we might think has redeeming qualities as a mass illusion, but one we – you and I actually know/think is a fiction!) in hopes that it might cause them to think differently about other things (how they relate to politicians) – or – we can just make an argument to them about how to think about those things we care about what they think about. One seems more respectful and less condescending to me than the other.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                And if the prevailing attitude was “I don’t have the where-to-stand to tell you how to live your life”, I’d agree wholeheartedly.

                This is not the prevailing attitude.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                What?

                If I defend my mom (or anyone) from the charge of acting immorally, I can’t argue that the supreme being is immoral?

                This is absurd reasoning.

                Suppose I say

                1. The President isn’t responsible for not passing more stimulus because he wanted to but Congress prevented it.

                2. God is responsible for creating a world that caused that little girl to have to suffer for years and die after having her body burned in a fire. NB: God is omnipotent.

                Are 1 and 2 logically inconsistent? Is there evidence that the truth or falsity of one hinges on the other?

                If not, then you recognize that your comment is completely irrelevant, but designed to suggest some kind of hypocrisy, where in fact none exists, right?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                So in your view people’s failure to respect you enough to be libertarian because they morally have to because you want the state to leave you alone means you get to disrespect them in your way of wishing they believed in God rather than defending politicians rather than just making an argument to them about why they mightn’t defend politicians as much as they do.

                That works fine, but that’s only because you get to be as disrespectful of people and condescending as you want to be *anyway*.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                So in your view people’s failure to respect you enough to be libertarian because they morally have to because you want the state to leave you alone means you get to disrespect them in your way of wishing they believed in God rather than defending politicians rather than just making an argument to them about why they mightn’t defend politicians as much as they do.

                No.

                But I’m pleased to have received the signal that tells me that the conversation has ceased to be fruitful. Grazie.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                The signal I’m sending is that when you choose to communicate in the way you do, people simply are not going to be able to determine your meaning, and are left having to take stabs at it in whatever direction they think might be plausible. I’m sick of asking you what you mean since you always could just be more clear and it becomes insulting to have to point that out to you time after time after time, and I’ve decided I am going to minimize the time I spend trying to puzzle out your riddles. So what you see is what you’re going to get. (That really was my best short-term stab at what you were trying to say there).

                So if you want to clarify what the point of what you said about the prevailing sentiment is, that would be fine, but I haven’t done anything wrong here.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Also, what would say about the atheist arguments if they came from someone who never said anything about the president one way or the other?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Shaz, to be honest, most atheist arguments seem petulant to me. Some form of anger at God for not being better. Not being powerful enough, or good enough. There are so many bad things happening and the attitude seems to me to be one of resentment toward an entity that doesn’t exist at all.

                Try forgiving God for not existing, I want to tell those people. See what happens.

                (I imagine that the people who put so much effort into being affronted by this God not existing would find the idea of forgiving this same God to be absurd. I would hope that they would meditate on that.)Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                And what would you say about the defenses of the president?

                If anything, your argument is a grand ad hominem.

                As Jason said, treat all arguments (including the Problem of Evil) as if it came to you on stone tablets.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Jaybird,

                The argument shows what must be true of God, if God exists.

                It suggests that (IF God exists) God must be immoral or not powerful. Given that the latter isn’t supposed to be true of the one God (though maybe is true of Apollo and Santa), the conclusion is that if God exists, then he is immoral.

                Anger has nothing to do with it. The question is whether the judgment “God is immoral, if he exists” is justified.

                Everything else is irrelevant.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                As instructive as it is to read arguments as if they were written on stone tablets, it’s sometimes useful to see when the stone tablets in question argue for nothing less than perfection and when the stone tablets argue that, you have to understand, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here…

                Because we both know that there are serious arguments to be made for Strong Adherence To Principle on pretty much any given topic… and serious arguments to be made for Strong Understanding Of Pragmatics on the same topic. And the cases where stone tablets switch between the two is illustrative as well.

                As for God’s immorality, sure. Unless, of course, there isn’t any real or objective morality. One of the nice things about God is that God pretty much allowed such things as Objective Morality to squeeze through the door. How do we know this is good, evil, or other? Well… we’ve got God. Hell, even if we didn’t agree on what was put where, we could agree that the categories existed.

                Without God, we’re stuck with trying to figure out who has the burden of proof when it comes to statements of Objective Morality and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why people who are making the argument in the affirmative shouldn’t be the ones stuck with it.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Completely irrelevant.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                To what? The argument about where we have standing to judge God, if He exists? It seems to me that He needs to exist for us to judge Him.

                And, if he doesn’t, we pretty much can’t. Or, at least, the burden is on others to explain why we’d be able to, if it came to that.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Jaybird,

                Again, the Problem of Evil is supposed to prove that IF (IF, IF, IF) God exists, then he cannot be omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

                This is important because many people believe in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God who created the universe, and there arguments that such an “omni” God exists.

                So your remarks that God doesn’t exist are completely irrelevant.

                The Problem of Evil does not show that Santa and Apollo and Baal don’t exist. There are separate reasons for not believing in them.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                So you create a Cartesian God out of whole cloth, then prove that you’ve created a contradiction, and… then what?

                Most of the gods out there that people believe in (there are still pagans running around, you know) aren’t Cartesian.

                And, I suppose, they aren’t worth the worship? They certainly aren’t worth a capital ‘G’.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                In my experience, in practice, many Christians (protestants, especially Lutherans, are the ones I have the most experience with) tend to think that God is potent but not omnipotent, good and maybe but not necessarily perfectly good (mysterious!), and omniscient. So I do think the omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good conception is largely a creation of analysts and philosophers. In fairness, I believe a not inconsiderable number of those analysts were Christians – sometimes inside the Church, the Roman Catholic one in particular. It’s not like this is Shazbot’s invention.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                “Most of the gods out there that people believe in (there are still pagans running around, you know) aren’t Cartesian.”

                What “most” believe is an empirical question that isn’t settled by your assertion of what you think people believe in.

                Catholic doctrine holds that God is omnipotent amd that God is incapable of evil. There is a long literature on this and that which is “intrinsically impossible” even for an omnipotent God.

                http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11251c.htm

                Also, here is Wikipedia on God amd Theism:

                Theism generally holds that God exists realistically, objectively, and independently of human thought; that God created and sustains everything; that God is omnipotent and eternal; personal and interacting with the universe through for example religious experience and the prayers of humans.[24] It holds that God is both transcendent and immanent; thus, God is simultaneously infinite and in some way present in the affairs of the world.[25] Not all theists subscribe to all the above propositions, but usually a fair number of them, c.f., family resemblance.[24] Catholic theology holds that God is infinitely simple and is not involuntarily subject to time. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, although this belief raises questions about God’s responsibility for evil and suffering in the world. Some theists ascribe to God a self-conscious or purposeful limiting of omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Open Theism, by contrast, asserts that, due to the nature of time, God’s omniscience does not mean the deity can predict the future. “Theism” is sometimes used to refer in general to any belief in a god or gods, i.e., monotheism or polytheism.[26][27]”Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Here is the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Western Conceptions of God:

                Theism is the view that there is a God which is is the creator and sustainer of the universe and is unlimited with regard to knowledge (omniscience), power (omnipotence), extension (omnipresence), and moral perfection

                http://www.iep.utm.edu/god-west/Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia:

                The object of attitudes valorized in the major religious traditions is typically regarded as maximally great. Conceptions of maximal greatness differ but theists believe that a maximally great reality must be a maximally great person or God. Theists largely agree that a maximally great person would be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and all good. They do not agree on a number of God’s other attributes, however. We will illustrate this by examining the debate over God’s impassibility in western theism and a dispute over God’s relation to the space-time world in Indian theism. The entry concludes by examining some concepts of limited deities.”

                http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/concepts-god/

                You can believe in Apollo or Santa, but that isn’t what Theists believe in. But the major Western religions explicitly teach that God is omnipotent, benevolent, and omniscient.

                Here is wikipedia on “God in Judaism”

                “Most rabbinic works also present God as having the properties of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence.[citation needed] This is still the primary way that most Orthodox and many non-Orthodox Jews view God.”

                Though that “citation needed” is troubling.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                I swear. You’d teach your grandma to suck eggs.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                No one is obligated to defend nor should an atheist expect to have defended, a conception that is simply absurd. (Whether an all-powerful God could will the absurd or contradict Itself is a special theological question we can leave aside for now, I hope.)
                If “omnibenevolence” + “omnipotence” required the absence of evil, or the absence of evil up to Shazbot’s limitations, then both concepts would cease to function as meaningful concepts.

                There is no “good” conceivable as “good” without an opposing “bad.” The removal of “bad” from the universe – any universe – is the removal of good. The alternative of “just the right amount of suffering,” “just a tolerable amount of the intolerable,” the work of a God “deserving” of worship morally is equally absurd. Just as to conceive of the good is to conceive of the bad, to conceive of living existent beings is to conceive of beings that may suffer and die and in ways exactly equivalent to their mode of existence in detail. Likewise, the innocence of the child is the possibility of the violation of that innocence – or meaningless. The vitality of the child is the possibility of the death or non-existence of the child (or of human beings generally) or meaningless and non-vital. If I can breathe, I can suffocate. If I cannot suffocate, then what is breathing for? If I can feel pleasure, I can feel pain. If I have skin, it can be torn. If I have an eye sensitive to light, I have an eye exquisitely sensitive to injury. If I have a heart, it can be stopped, and so on. You won’t get around it: However you positively are, whatever you feel or think, contains its negation or opposite.

                All concepts of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience will also fail or produce absurdities if we begin by defining them impossibly or absurdly. It further goes without saying that if you propose an absurd or absurd or impossible definition of a concept and define some other concept on its basis, then the latter concept will take on the former’s absurdity. In this instance, the atheist blames “God” for his or her own absurdity, although the problem may be originate in the secondary error of taking equally unserious believers or would-be defenders of faith seriously.

                If the original post’s or Shazbot’s views were coherent they would be a proposal for non-existence or absurd existence or chaos, but Shazbot and Mr. Carr are saved by their contradictions. Their and the other atheistic anti-fables of inferior or evil or undeserving “God”‘s are all alike in one respect: They are offerings of devotion to a perfection inadequately approached, or held to be un-approached, by someone else’s myth or by myth at all: a most pious sentiment. They contemplate that which is beyond understanding – the eternal, the perfect, the all-pervasive, etc. – and turn to the fellow creature or life in compassion: That is the very same mechanism of prophetic monotheism since ancient times. The indictment of the false image impelling us toward a higher morality offers a proof of that which the ideological or vulgar atheist pretends to reject, if while also offering a rebuke to the ideological of vulgar theist.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                So it offers proof of humans seemingly innate yearning for something they understand as morality. You can call that God, but that doesn’t put you into alignment with other people who call other things God. You’re not right about what you say; they’re not wrong – and vice versa.

                All there is is confusion.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Mr. Drew,

                You write:

                You can call that God, but that doesn’t put you into alignment with other people who call other things God.

                I think I understand exactly what you mean here. It may put me radically out of alignment with the modes of speech adopted by un-serious or incompetent defenders of faith, who may necessarily consist of all defenders of faith, since they are by definition finite beings seeking articulations of the infinite, but it does not necessarily put me out of alignment with their actual states or experience of belief, or for that matter with the actual states of experience of belief in non-belief typical of the ideological atheists. It does not put me out of alignment with what they all would say if they knew how to say it, or with what they mean to say.

                If we acknowledged “proof of humans seemingly innate yearning for something they understand as morality” and that some call that condition the presence of the divine in all human beings, while others stand on their allergies to such terms for what amount to political reasons, then we would, I think, have come very far in dissolving any notion of radically divergent fundamental assumptions. We would be making a statement of radically common fundamental assumptions.

                We go to spiritual war with the souls we have. This problem, that a truth may be difficult, or that its expression is difficult, has been precisely the justification of the myth or the simplified picture or the just-so story, since the person who has confronted or is capable of confronting this difficulty in words is, according to the mechanism of compassion, moved to help as he or she can those who lack the capacity or interest. The vulgar or ideological atheist focuses on the faulty or incomplete picture, mainly designed for children and pre-occupied illiterates, for the innocent and the multitudes, descends to its level or maybe just above it, and declares his or her work done.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                CK,

                This will sound rude, but are you familiar with Dennet on “deepities?”

                “Deepity is a term employed by Daniel Dennett in his 2009 speech to the American Atheists Institution conference, coined by the teenage daughter of one of his friends. The term refers to a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another. Generally, a deepity has (at least) two meanings; one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be “earth-shattering” if true.
                The example Dennett uses to illustrate a deepity is the phrase “love is just a word”. On one level the statement is perfectly true (i.e., ‘love’ is a four letter word) but the deeper meaning of the phrase is false; love is many things – a feeling, an emotion, a condition and not simply a word.”

                http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deepity

                “Just as to conceive of the good is to conceive of the bad, to conceive of living existent beings is to conceive of beings that may suffer and die and in ways exactly equivalent to their mode of existence in detail. Likewise, the innocence of the child is the possibility of the violation of that innocence – or meaningless.”

                Is that a reason for X to think it is moral for me to murder 10 children by burning them alive? Can’t have good without bad. So, the bad is good.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Response to Shazbot below.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                CK,

                Denying the existence of God isn’t necessarily an assertion that there are “radically divergent fundamental assumptions.” It’s just a denial of a particular claim. Potentially even just a semantic one.

                We might indeed all share “actual states or experience of belief,” such as a yearning for something we understand as morality, but here you’re mistaking a thing with a word for it. That that yearning exists doesn’t make it divine – doesn’t make it a version of God. God is a word that has a meaning, and it isn’t just humans’ moral sense. You’d lke that – you’d make it so if you could, but it isn’t. Human moral sense is a prosaic, material thing. I can say that just as surely as you can say that it is God – but only you are playing with the meaning of a culturally freighted term whose meaning is far more often not limited to yours than being so.

                Yes, you can pick out concepts that those who deny the existence of God agree are real and say they are God, say that those who say God is more than that unserious or incompetent, and call those who deny the existence of God self-contradicting because they deal with things we all encounter in the world every day (like humans’ moral instinct) while denying their divinity. But it doesn’t accomplish anything.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Reply to Mr Drew below.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          To be more specific, if God exists, and is omnipotent, then it’s not worth worshipping. You can get around it with a god that can’t alleviate much suffering but wants too. Of course, one has to wonder how little power a god like that would have to have to be consistent with the world we observe.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Heh. I’m not sure, Jaybird. If the legions of shitweasels lined up to obtain access to POTUS are any indication, Power is worshipped if the Man is not.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          More than a few Jewish theologians actually argue that the idea that God is perfect is inconsistent with Judaism because the Torah doesn’t present God as perfect.

          http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/an-imperfect-god/Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            In fact, He describes Himself to Moses using the imperfect tense. Coincidence?Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling
              Ignored
              says:

              If you think the Torah is at least semi-divine if not outright divine in origin, probably not. If its entirely of human origins, probably not either. People and presumably God use tenses to express meaning. The fact that Hashem uses the imperfect to describe himself to Moses is evidence that either God or the human writers of the Torah did not see God as perfect.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to LeeEsq
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                says:

                The statement at the Burning Bush is not in the imperfect as we understand it in English. Whoever said that doesn’t read Torah Hebrew. esheh asher esheh. Torah Hebrew only has two tenses, a perfect in the sense of completed action and an imperfect for everything else.

                I sure as hell wish the people who are so ready to comment on Torah or the Bible had actually read it.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Point, however God still describes himself as “I will be what I will be”. This implies that God isn’t static or complete in nature but can grow and change like anything else. If God can grow and change than that implies that God is not perfect because why would a perfect being need to do this?

                I actually find the idea of God being imperfect more exciting and comforting than a perfect God. If God is imperfect than it is easier to relate to him.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            My Senior Thesis was on Theodicy and I came out and compared the claims of Judaism/Christianity in the various texts to this wacky Cartesian God that people say is the only one worth killing animals to and came to the conclusion that The Text doesn’t really run with the whole “God Is Good” thing as much as we’d like it to. It’s more than happy enough to run with “Evil Exists” and “God is Powerful” but when it comes to God’s Goodness? You have to read a looooooong time before you get to John’s Gospel.

            And that’s not even talking about the whole “what if there’s an Enemy?” question that pops up in the third reel.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Maybe you ought to re-read John’s Gospel. You seem to have missed Chapter 1.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              This might just be me but I’ve read the entire Tanakh or as Christians put the Old Testament and never understood where the God is evil thing comes from? From my reading, God comes across as good and concerned with justice, ethics, the welfare of the unfortunate and others aspects we generally associate with morality. Maybe as a Jew I just read the Tanakh differently from non-Jews. I also read the New Testament and found it underwhelming and not as moving as the Tanakh.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to LeeEsq
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                says:

                Yah, the New Testament is pretty slow. I preferred the new Star Trek movie, no foolin.

                And certainly the whole of the Bible doesn’t match up to the whole of the Star Trek canon in terms of:

                Interestingness
                Aesthetics
                Valuable moral lessons
                Production values

                Star Trek doesn’t tell you to kill gay people and that slavery should be done this way, instead of that. Star Trek also doesn’t tell you to cut baby penises or not turn on the lights one day of the week.

                Star Trek is also fun to watch.

                I propose Star Trek instead of religion and am dead serious.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                Nothing worse in all of fiction than “And then Blizz-Blazz begat Him-Ham… and then Him-Ham begat… Just get to the bloody point!”Report

              • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                And the ghost of Gene Roddenberry smiles…Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                On a similar note, The Doctor (of Dr Who) is superior in every way to Jesus.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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                says:

                In Jesus’s Defense, he’s only on his first resurrection.

                So, technically, you should compare Jesus to William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton incarnations. It’s not quite fair to compare to everybody up through Matt Smith.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to James K
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                says:

                I would be very happy to make a religion out of Star Trek and/or Doctor Who.

                The only requirements for entry to the religion would be that everyone remembers that it is all just make believe.

                Church will be a local Star Trek convention. There will be pilgramages to Shatner’s house, but we will all remember that he is just silly actor by occasionally watching “TJ Hooker.”

                We will discuss physics and metaphysics and ethics amd try to learn life lessons. We will call that newest series “apocryphal.”Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Theo Dicy and Phil O’Mathy were college roommates.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot5
        Ignored
        says:

        This reminds me of the Bokononist creation myth:

        In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.

        And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

        “Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

        “Certainly,” said man.

        “Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

        And He went away.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Shazbot5
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        says:

        Bertrand Russell was an endlessly contradictory old cuss. A fine man in his own way but he never quite clarified if he was an agnostic or an atheist. This much is true: he maintained an exceedingly bad opinion of human society all his life, an opinion I share with him. If he did not believe in God, he certainly believed in Sin and Science.

        As for Why God doesn’t do this or that on your behalf or anyone else’s, or why man insists on all this singing and maudlin carrying-on and preaching and suchlike, stupid people seem to enjoy alternately blaming God or attempting to kiss his ass. It’s what they’d want if they were gods. It’s mostly harmless — until it’s not. Bertrand Russell once said “Most prayer is an attempt to persuade God to change the rules of the universe on their behalf.”Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP
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          says:

          ?

          “I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.[2]”

          You should be an agnostic only to the extent that you are agnostic about the celestial teapot, which is to say that you admit it is possible, but you believe it is unlikely. Russell was just as agnostic about Santa Claus as he was God.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Shazbot5
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            says:

            To take another illustration is just silly. There were people who believed in the gods atop Olympus and Valhalla, people very much like you. They weren’t stupid people: they were exquisitely aware of their world. If their lives were shorter than ours, all our technology has not made us into better people. Don’t lecture me on Russell’s Teapot, I’ve heard all that before. I have already said Religion is mostly an engine of fraud and tyranny, ever the most reliable tool to scare the rubes into doing the will of Man and not of God.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP
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              says:

              Smart people believe stupid things like 9/11 trutherism. Doesn’t make it not stupid.Report

            • Avatar GordonHide in reply to BlaiseP
              Ignored
              says:

              @BlaiseP

              all our technology has not made us into better people.

              Are you really sure about that?Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to GordonHide
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                says:

                I think our technology has enabled some of us to be better people, by cutting down on the digging ditches part.

                But cutting down on the digging ditches part also enables people to be worse.

                It’s all about what you do with the time.Report

            • Avatar James Vonder Haar in reply to BlaiseP
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              says:

              It might not have been our technology (though personally, I’m with Brink Lindsey in that material prosperity generally produces the security that helps with creating kind people), but taking a look at the abolition of slavery, the women’s rights movements, and other such advances tat have occurred in the past few centuries, I find it hard to resist the conclusion that we are morally superior to our forerunners.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP
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          says:

          The Problem of Evil rests on the claim that the universe could be better. There could be at least a little less horrible suffering and devastation.

          I take it hostory proves this is true. The universe used to be worse. Now it is better. Why couldn’t God have got us to this better place without all of the shit.

          My favorite thing to think about is what a broken leg must’ve been like before modern medicine. How many people had to go through that. Couldn’t God have made people a little more succesful at discovering modern medicine a little faster so that not so many countless people in ancient times had to go through that? Remember, God is supposed to be omnipotent.

          Or maybe you are of the opinion, like Leibniz, that this is the best of all possible worlds?Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Shazbot5
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            says:

            This isn’t a question of what God can do but what Man can do. This is not the best of all possible worlds: it’s the only world we’ve got. We might make of it a better place, were we up to the challenge of seeing ourselves as we are seen, being enlightened, abolishing this conceit of the self, behaving mercifully to each other.

            We know from Neolithic burials that man did care for his wounded and infirm. People did survive broken legs, from earliest times. There’s a burial at Catalhuyuk of just such a man. Otzi, the Ice Man, had a first-aid kit. For all our advances, we haven’t conquered death. We’ve only been draining the pond, eliminating a few of the worst bacteria, coming to terms with the rest of the human condition.

            Al this blethering about what God can do and won’t do is alternately amusing and horrifying. It’s as Nietzche observed: man takes all his hopes and fears, balls them up in a wad, throws it up into the sky and calls it God. Small wonder you don’t believe: if that’s all I had to work with, I wouldn’t believe in God, either.Report

          • Avatar Will H. in reply to Shazbot5
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            says:

            A non sequitur; to the extent that robber baron-type exploitation necessarily follows infinite power.
            Might as well say that: If God loved me, he would give me a BJ without ceasing, for it is within his power.
            Oddly enough, very few accept the absence of an infinite BJ as proof of non-existence of Divinity.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Will H.
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              says:

              Is there a moral difference between not giving someone a (if you easily could and it wouldn’t harm you) BJ and not curing someone’s ALS (if you easily could and it wouldn’t harm you?)

              Yes, failure to do the latter is cruelty and immoral. Thus, if God is omnipotent, he is immoral and cruel.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                I seem to remember a passage from Joshua where God says that he could wipe out the Canaanites all at once to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites, but then the wolves and other wild animals would multiply, and cause danger to them. And so, He let them duke it out, giving the land over to them piecemeal.
                Now, you argue for an omnipotent God, with unlimited intervention. Whether I burn my dinner on the stove is all up to God. He could make my food sit there and simmer unburned if He wanted to.
                Upon reflection, it is of no surprise that God observes a different manner of wisdom.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Will H.
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                says:

                I think I could make your food simmer unburned.

                By definition, an omnipotent being could do so.

                If by “God” you mean to refer to a being with the powers and abilities of, say, Zeus or Apollo, that is fine. But how could such a weak being be the creator of the universe, of time and space, who set the laws of physics? (NB: the Greek gods are not the creators of the universe.) Thus, the cosmological argument (nor the fine-tuning argument) doesn’t prove the existence of the God that you are referring to. And since your “God” is not all powerful, we can imagine a more perfect being, so your God is not proven to exist by the ontological argument either.

                And since your God is not omnibenevolent, your God cannot be the source of all morality and meaning in the universe either.

                In short, your God is Santa Claus wearing different colored clothing. And as with Santa Claus, we think Santa doesn’t exist. S why think your non-omnipotent God exists?

                That is the danger of the Problem of Evil for theists. It shows that (to reference Pascal) that the “God of the philosophers,” the omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator of the universe (whose existence is supposed to be proven by a variety of arguments) cannot exist.

                If you wish to believe in Zeus or Santa or Thetans, and not the God of the philosophers. the question is what reason is there to believe in such things? There are no a priori reasons to do so and certainly no empirical reasons to do so. It is just backwards and stupid to do so.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                Someone needs to explain this term “omnibenevolent” to me.

                Because there are times when I do things that my children interpret as arbitrary or cruel. That doesn’t mean that they are so.

                They may not be benevolent in the purest sense, though. There are some things I don’t give my children *not* because I can’t afford them or I think they can be misused, but just because I think most people who grow up with no idea of what deprivation is usually turn out to be assholes.

                All of this, of course, is predicated upon the assumption that the Universe is all there is. If you’re talking eternity, the amount of time we spend here is indistinguishable from zero. In that sense, the most egregious suffering is of no moment, except in how it reveals our being.

                Here’s a thought experiment. Let us assume that heaven actually existed, but it wasn’t governed by any entity. The rules to get in are like the rules of physics, they just are what they are. So in the future we derive them and find out that unremitting agony for a long time here on the planet Earth actually gives you the best situation up in heaven.

                Literally torturing yourself to death (slowly) gives you the most awesome extended afterlife. Which, remember, never ends. Ironically, everybody who was a horrible person here on Earth put a bunch of people in heaven.

                What’s “evil”, in this scenario?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                In practice, I’ve never seen “omnibenevolent” outside of this argument. That said, it’s generally used to mean “my communicated inclination to prevent things that God hasn’t demonstrated”.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Patrick
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                says:

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

                Commonly used in debates about the Problem of Evil.

                If torturing us is necessary to give us a good afterlife, then maybe torture is good. But how is that necessary?

                The Problem of Evil is simple. If there is a better possible world than this one. an ominpotent all-good, all-loving God would have put us in that world. So, if you believe in such a God, you shouldmexpect to see a world that couldn’t be better, i.e. the best of all possible worlds. But this world is objectively awful in all sorts of ways that an omnipotent God could fix. For example, God could’ve cured all the pedophiles. The world would be objectively better if he did that.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                So either God can’t cure pedophilia (pretty weak God) or God doesn’t want to cure pedophilia.

                If God doesn’t want to cure pedophilia, you could say he wants to leave the pedophiles free to be molesters. He doesn’t want to make them puppets. At which point I ask whether we non-pedophiles are puppets?

                This is so clearly not the best of all possible worlds, and not just because we make it bad with our choices.

                Also, the free will defense that you are all advocating relies on a pretty extreme view of human free will (libertarianism in the metaphysical sense, not the political one) that is very, very likely to be false. Human actions are determined.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Also, the free will defense that you are all advocating relies on a pretty extreme view of human free will (libertarianism in the metaphysical sense, not the political one) that is very, very likely to be false. Human actions are determined.

                That is a whole ‘nuther discussion.

                I’m on the fence. I’m inclined to jump the other way, though. If I’ve ever witnessed a miracle, it’s witnessing someone change their mind about something through what looks (to me) like pure contemplation.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Weakest defense of the existence of God ever. Just a typical rambling screed, an excuse to throw in favorite stock phrases, without regard for whether they reference anything actually argued by anyone else or not (don’t tell you about man’s justice? nobody did, so why pretend anyone did?).Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        says:

        Summon up a better one. It answered the questions, as asked. If you don’t like it, well, that’s a compliment. Don’t tell me about God’s justice in allowing Evil, I won’t tell you about Man’s Justice in creating it.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP
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          says:

          Heh, why would I bother to talk about the justice of a non-entity? You can talk about man’s injustice and evil all you want, and I’ll agree with much of it. Just don’t pretend that doing so in any way either answer’s Chris’s argument or works as an argument for God.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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            says:

            I won’t pretend. Don’t you pretend you’re actually saying anything about the strength or weakness of what I’m saying. You can believe or not believe. I really don’t care. But don’t play little mind games, especially not with yourself: the world does not revolve around you nor are your arguments against God worth a bucket of warm piss.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        says:

        James,

        Weakest defense of the existence of God ever. Just a typical rambling screed, an excuse to throw in favorite stock phrases, without regard for whether they reference anything actually argued by anyone else or not (don’t tell you about man’s justice? nobody did, so why pretend anyone did?).

        Please keep all disagreements within the spirit and letter of The Commenting Policy. Conversations that start this way never end well so let’s try to avoid starting them.Report

    • Avatar GordonHide in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      @BlaiseP

      Most of the evil in the world is what man does to his fellow man

      Traditionally famine and disease have always killed more people than war. Did you know, for instance, that more people were killed in the “Spanish” flu pandemic of 1918 than died on all sides in the First World War?Report

    • Avatar GordonHide in reply to BlaiseP
      Ignored
      says:

      @BlaiseP

      I am not convinced of the goodness of man, especially not to his fellow man.

      You might consider that if man did not receive net advantage by associating with his fellows then natural selection would have ensured he was not a social animal. The fact that man is a social animal should tell you that he does represent a net good to his fellows.Report

  3. Avatar Pierre Corneille
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    says:

    I’m not properly a theist–more of an theist-leaning agnostic–and the only answer I have to those questions are hyper-rational ones (rational, that is, within a set of starting assumptions that non-theists usually don’t share). Those explanations are easy for someone like me to offer, who has so far never suffered such random-seeming afflictions. So I really have no answer.

    I suppose any belief system I would embrace would have to assume the suffering from the get-go and posit a response to that suffering. On first blush, what seems promising about Christianity–the theism that I, for all my agnosticism, lean toward–is what I interpret as the self-surrender that it requires to, in that case, the Christ figure. Somehow that idea (or comparable ones I could cherry-pick from other religions) is a comfort to me, although I cannot say how. I also cannot say that, if I were faced with such challenges as those afflicted with sickle cell or if someone close to me was faced with such challenges, that such an idea would prove a comfort to me.Report

  4. Avatar Tod Kelly
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    says:

    If I man, CC, I’d like to recommend to you James Murrow’s Blameless in Abaddon. It’s the (sort of) sequel to his Towing Jehovah, but it works fine as a stand alone novel.

    The entire novel is centered around the questions you ask here. I suspect that you would enjoy it.Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    Here is a link on the Jewish answer to Why Bad things happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner whose the Jewish expert on the matter.

    http://www.tabletmag.com/podcasts/113001/harold-kushner-reads-jobReport

  6. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    Right. The evil that men do can be chalked up to free will. But the evil that nature does is pretty powerful evidence that God either does not exist or is a colossal dick.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      Actually, I’m not sure that the latter isn’t consistent with the Old Testament. Maybe the Jews have it right.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Jewish thought doesn’t see God as evil, rather God is basically seen as being beyond human comprehension. The Rambam argued that God can only be described in the negative, by what God is not rather than in the positive. Its probably better to see God as being correct rather than good or evil from a Jewish point of view.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      Nature does evil? Who gets to say so? By whose yardstick will you measure the viper eating a mouse? Mark Twain, since he’s been quoted upstream, once said man was the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        Nature does evil?

        Well, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fire, lighting strikes, avalanches, tsunamis, volcanoes, downbursts!, loose rocks, etc have been known to inconvenience people to the point of killing them. And their loved ones. The problem of evil isn’t new or well answered (in my view anyway).

        Who gets to say so?

        Anyone with a view on the topic.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” — Matthew 5.

          If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. The typhoon that blows one man’s boat over waters another man’s rice paddy. Want to live on a world without volcanoes? Try living on a world without a molten core. Of course, there won’t be a magnetosphere and that means the sun will fry you. Loose rocks obey the law of gravity; let’s repeal the law of gravity or at least write up a statute so that rocks must give fair warning.

          As for Loved Ones dying, perhaps we can work on making everyone immortal so they can go on cluttering up the world, hanging around until the sun burns down to a white dwarf, and we’ll all be waiting for the end of time.

          The problem of Evil is one we invented. Some of the animals are awfully nasty to each other, I’m not sure the problem is strictly limited to us as human beings. But we’re stuck in this cleft stick of our own making: either Evil is, as you put it, just a view on the topic of free will and disasters and death and other things we don’t like in the world — or it doesn’t exist at all.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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            says:

            Blaise, this comment will be short, so don’t take offense. You wrote

            The problem of Evil is one we invented.

            I’d say it differently: the problem of evil results from – nay! arises from! – a God we invented. As James K wrote somewhere on this thread, any god consistent with the world we live in is a pretty Small God. (OK, he didn’t say it quite that way…).Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Absolutely. Invented gods are created in Man’s image. But Man understands there’s something to these contradictions of Justice and Mercy. For all his short-sighted wickedness, man knows good and evil. If he’s taken to reifying those contradictions into Religious Mystery, all those forms are somewhat silly and imperfect. Still, they’re a vast improvement on man setting himself up as a god, a phenomenon we’ve seen often enough in history.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              We should invent better gods.

              I mean, if we’re married to keeping evil around.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Wouldn’t that be great? I mean, I couldn’t buy into them, but there were some awfully useful gods, long ago. One Egyptian god in particular intrigues me: the Greeks called him Thoth. They identified him with their own god, Hermes.

                But Thoth was the god of the scales and calendars, a god of equilibrium, of knowledge, of writing and alphabets, of science and mathematics.

                See, why should we be stuck with this idiotic notion of God handed off to us by the preachers and the enemies of science? Never worked out why religion was always the enemy of facts. I swear, Jaybird, it’s just horrible believing in a God congruent with reason and the spirit of inquiry: atheists might not believe in God but it’s the Bible Thumpers who have given me the most grief over time. If we can’t have a God like that, I’d rather be an atheist.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Thoth was also the God of speech defects.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Even if we aren’t.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                If we aren’t, I don’t see why we can’t keep the old ones around.Report

  7. Avatar James K
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    says:

    A thoughtful post Chris. While there are religions that could respond to the questions you raise (an Ancient Greek priest would just say “sometimes the gods are cruel, all the more reason to stay on their good side”), but it raises uncomfortable problems with all three of the Abrahamic religions, and that covers the religion of about half of humanity.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to James K
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      says:

      No not necessarily so, as I mentioned above Jewish thought doesn’t necessarily see God as perfect or even good in the traditional sense. Judaism isn’t really a theological religion and the nature of God played relatively little role in the thinking of the Rabbis. The Rabbis were more concerned with what God wanted, the commandments in the Torah, than the nature of God. The Rabbis that did tend to think about the nature of God were more or less content to define what God is not rather than what God is but the consensus is that God is not human and describing him as good or evil really isn’t that helpful.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        I haven’t read the Torah, but I have read the Old Testament and if God’s that evil, why would you want to worship him?Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to James K
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          says:

          We have a different interpretation than you do and I do not find the Old Testament God is evil, New Testament God good cute or appropriate. Why don’t you try to understand this from our perspective?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            Understanding it from your perspective doesn’t mean agreeing with you, does it? Unless you’re suggesting that he understand it exactly as you do.

            I don’t think there’s any good argument that the Old Testament God wasn’t evil. He was vengeful, acted on jealousy, invoked fear in people. That’s just a start.

            Do you think envy is synonymous with jealousy? Pretty close? If so, then God violates his own commandments.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              And what he did to poor Job…

              Once upon a time some Christian-folk asked about my Faith. I said I didn’t have one. They told me to read Job. I thought that was puzzling: to me, that book’s a decisive reason to reject the Old Testament God.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              That’s a facile reading of the Old Testament. You have to remember, the Jealous God was also an abstract God.

              “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God”

              Seen in the light of present times, you can attribute whatever attributes you’d like to the people who wrote the Bible. It was still an important step forward, abstracting away all the worshipping and serving of idols.

              The Rambam:

              Alexander Aphrodisius said that there are three causes which prevent men from discovering the exact truth: first, arrogance and vainglory; secondly, the subtlety, depth, and difficulty of any subject which is being examined; thirdly ignorance and want of capacity to comprehend what might be comprehended. These causes are enumerated by Alexander. At the present time there is a fourth cause not mentioned by him, because it did not then prevail, namely, habit and training. We naturally like what we have been accustomed to, and are attracted towards it. This may be observed amongst villagers; though they rarely enjoy the benefit of a douche or bath, and have few enjoyments, and pass a life of privation, they dislike town life and do not desire its pleasures, preferring the inferior things to which they are accustomed, to the better things to which they are strangers; it would give them no satisfaction to live in palaces, to be clothed in silk, and to indulge in baths, ointments, and perfumes.

              The same is the case with those opinions of man to which he has been accustomed from his youth; he likes them, defends them, and shuns the opposite views. This is likewise one of the causes which prevent men from finding truth, and which make them cling to their habitual opinions. Such is, e.g., the case with the vulgar notions with respect to the corporeality of God, and many other metaphysical questions, as we shall explain. It is the result of long familiarity with passages of the Bible, which they are accustomed to respect and to receive as true, and the literal sense of which implies the corporeality of God and other false notions; in truth, however, these words were employed as figures and metaphors for reasons to be mentioned below. Do not imagine that what we have said of the insufficiency of our understanding and of its limited extent is an assertion founded only on the Bible; for philosophers likewise assert the same, and perfectly understand it, without having regard to any religion or opinion. It is a fact which is only doubted by those who ignore things fully proved. Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Job, based on its language, is certainly older than the books of Moses and may not have an origin with the Abrahamic stories of God.

              I think it’s far older, going back to a dualistic system going back to before Babylon, a religious system which might have given rise to Ahura Mazda and Angramainu, who occupied the roles of Jehovah and Satan, respectively. Other stories of this sort exist, of unjust suffering and redemption. I think Job got picked up along the way and found its way into the Tanakh.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              The entire book of Jonah? God’s rage at the oppression of the poor in Amos? God’s frequently expressed concerns for the welfare of the poor, the widow, and the orphan in the Torah and the Prophets.

              Lets look at Leviticus, which the “OT God is evil” crowd likes to site a lot as evidence. I’m using the JPS translation, specifically Leviticus 19. In Leviticus 19:9, people are told to leave food for the stranger and the poor around harvest time. Leviticus 19:13 is a command not to commit acts of fraud or to exploit laborers. Leviticus 19:14 expresses concern with the disabled.

              The rest of Leviticus 19 is an expression of similar ethical concerns that leads ultimately to Leviticus 19:33, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your God.” This is a declaration of universal love as the supreme virtue.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            I don’t think New Testament God is cute and cuddly either, but Old Testament God advocated slavery, genocide and execution for trivial acts. If that’s not evil, the word has lost all meaning.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        and the nature of God played relatively little role in the thinking of the Rabbis. The Rabbis were more concerned with what God wanted, the commandments in the Torah, than the nature of God.

        Just following orders is not a good defense, regardless of who’s giving the orders. That’s what I find particularly disturbing about this approach.Report

  8. Avatar zic
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    says:

    Really, this is a logical flaw of the ‘uni’ god.

    With a Pantheon of Gods, there is choice for the consumer; a veritable market in gods, and they can wreek havoc and cause untold misery in the struggles with each other with mankind, with innocent victims, as either bystanders or simply beyond their attentions and care because they’re busy jockeying for position. They are a multitude, and so not binary, and neither pure good nor pure evil. With a Pantheon of Gods, there is a free marketplace for gods, competition for human attention.

    And aren’t free and unregulated markets a good thing, centralized top-down management a problem?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic
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      says:

      What we need is a *GOOD* God. Then we wouldn’t have these problems.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Milton, from Paradise Lost:

        Justly thou abhorest
        That son, who on the quiet state of men
        Such trouble brought, affecting to subdue
        Rational liberty; yet know withal,
        Since thy original lapse, true liberty
        Is lost, which always with right reason dwells
        Twinned, and from her hath no dividual being:
        Reason in man obscured, or not obeyed,
        Immediately inordinate desires,
        And upstart passions, catch the government
        From reason; and to servitude reduce
        Man, till then free. Therefore, since he permits
        Within himself unworthy powers to reign
        Over free reason, God, in judgment just,
        Subjects him from without to violent lords;
        Who oft as undeservedly enthrall
        His outward freedom: Tyranny must be;
        Though to the tyrant thereby no excuse.
        Yet sometimes nations will decline so low
        From virtue, which is reason, that no wrong,
        But justice, and some fatal curse annexed,
        Deprives them of their outward liberty;
        Their inward lost:
        Report

  9. Avatar Will H.
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    says:

    I really don’t see anything to suggest that God is into micro-managing things like that.
    Maybe the box you’re trying to fit God into isn’t quite so much the right shape.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Will H.
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      says:

      That still leaves the problem of why God created a universe in which such suffering could exist, and why he isn’t averting suffering that any of us would stop if we had the power. His not wanting to is inconsistent with being omnibenevolent.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to James K
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        says:

        So . . . Proof of the depravity of God lies in the wealth of sensate experiences we are capable of?Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Will H.
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          says:

          The bad ones, yes.Report

          • Avatar Will H. in reply to James K
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            says:

            So, a lobotomy ought to cure all depravity of God then?Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Will H.
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              says:

              Just like killing someone who is depressed instead of giving them prozac isn’t depraved.Report

            • Avatar James K in reply to Will H.
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              says:

              Good experiences like joy and fulfilment are good, bad experiences like suffering and despair are bad. Is this honestly too difficult for you to understand?

              “Suffering is bad” is about the least controversial proposition ever. Unless religion is involved, in which case you can count on a bunch of people falling all over themselves to assert that black is white.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to James K
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                says:

                Not a Christian, so I don’t identify with Calvinist theory.

                Again, which portion of this is actually God’s responsibility?
                The potential of suffering, or the realization of it?
                Is God at fault for suffering generally, or only for specific instances of suffering?Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will H.
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                says:

                If god is the ultimate cause, he is ultimately responsible.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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                says:

                And suppose if the ultimate cause were certain properties of the carbon atom.
                Would carbon atoms then be ultimately responsible?Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Will H.
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                says:

                Carbon atoms are incapable of moral reasoning and there cannot be held cannot be held morally responsible for anything. But your God is supposed to be an agent capable of moral reasoning and therefore can be held responsible for the carnage and suffering he has caused.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will H.
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                says:

                What James K said. And surly more clearly than I would have said it.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will H.
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                says:

                What James K said. And surly more clearly than I would have said it.Report

              • Avatar Just Me in reply to James K
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                says:

                Without suffering growth would never happen. What incentives for change are there if death and mayhem do not occur? That any God would conceive of a universe that is stagnant and unchanging makes me shake my head. If God wanted that why not just paint a picture and look upon it for the rest of eternity. Or however long Gods live for.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Just Me
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                says:

                Without suffering growth would never happen

                We’re not sweating as we toil, but about innocent people being destroyed b earthquakes and typhoons, children being raped and murdered by depraved monsters. What kind of growth have we had tha justifies that?Report

              • Avatar Just Me in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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                says:

                Seems to me that you are looking at a very small time frame. How is a child being raped or innocent people being destroyed by earthquakes any different from the squid in the ocean being eaten by the whale? Because they are people? I’m just not buying the whole my daddy beat me so God must be evil angle. I am buying the whole my daddy beat me so he is not a very nice person angle. I am buying that shit happens and due to that shit people leave where they live, or they band together and pass laws trying to make things better. I also buy that someday humans will leave this planet looking to make a better place for themselves, humans will continue to evolve. In a million years, humans may not even be recognizable as we know them today. Is this good or bad?

                You want to say, but the poor children, the poor innocents. Bah! Is it God’s fault that you can’t see any purpose in the suffering of today? Or that you even look for purpose in the suffering of today? Seems to me you are trying to fashion God in your own image.

                Maybe there is no purpose for the suffering of innocents, maybe it is the cost of free will and of allowing things to change as they see fit. Maybe it is like a parent who hopes they raised their child to do right and be the best person they can be, but that child gets on a cell phone and crashes into a car killing a little baby and his mother. Is it the parents fault, they created that person who just killed innocents? Or is it the fault of the one who made the choice to talk and drive? Does that mean the parents are uncaring to allow such a horrible thing to happen? Or did they eventually have to hope their child made good decisions and let them go out and make their own mistakes and hopefully have their own triumphs?Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Just Me
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                says:

                Or that you even look for purpose in the suffering of today

                Dude, you’re the one claiming there’s meaning in suffering. I’m the one denying it.

                And, no, I’m not trying to fashion god in my own image. You have. I’m denying the existence of any such entity as you have fashioned.

                If there were such an entity, then we could say confidently that if it were omniscient it wasn’t good, and if good, not omniscient.Report

              • Avatar Just Me in reply to Just Me
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                says:

                I really don’t understand why if you don’t believe in a God you would argue about what a God is. Really, that is like arguing about Darth Vader, is he evil or just a misunderstood young Jedi who did not receive the attention he deserved? Who cares? Your thoughts about what makes a just or unjust, caring or uncaring God is just as relevant to those who believe in a God as your thoughts on Darth Vader are.

                Ok, I’ve changed my mind argue away, arguing about one or the other is just as entertaining as any other useless pursuit in life.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Just Me
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                says:

                What I’m arguing against is the pretense that if there is a creator he’s not responsible the evil in the world, and is deserving of worship. In other words, it’s not really god I’m arguing about, but the disturbing nature of belief in god.

                And, yeah, I know that because I don’t believe in god my views don’t matter to you. Yet here you are responding to me. But please don’t try to deny me standing in this debate–I was born into the Christian faith and spent nearly four decades in it. These types of questions, my inability to find satisfactory answers, even with help of my fellow Christians, was a big part of my current disbelief.Report

              • Avatar Just Me in reply to Just Me
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                says:

                See I think that may be the difference. I don’t believe, I know, throw my own words back at me, I would, then why do I care if I don’t believe. I was not raised to believe, the only times I went to church were for funerals, weddings, and in Basic Training when it got me out of the barracks.

                I don’t mean to be disrespectful but it has always seemed to me that those who argue the most fervently against religion are those who grew up with religion. As an outsider it has seemed like they are arguing to themselves, more to give reason on why they no longer believe.

                I view it just like a reformed smoker. There is no more fervent anti-smoker than a reformed one. They have seen the light and wish that all who haven’t would.

                Maybe this is a topic best left to those who believe or don’t believe. Not to someone who is indifferent such as me. Because being indifferent it makes me more prone to being on the side of if someone wants to believe then let them believe.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Just Me
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                says:

                it has always seemed to me that those who argue the most fervently against religion are those who grew up with religion

                Pshaw. We’re engaged in a discussion with each other on a blog, yet you’re indifferent while I’m fervent. How’s the view from the high ground?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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                says:

                Think of it as creative destruction.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Apoptosis.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Just Me
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                says:

                So what you’re saying is that the Al Qaeda operatives who brought down the towers were really doing a good thing since they created opportunities for growth in the people they attacked? If that one doesn’t do it for you, I’ll go on to the Holocaust.

                This is one of the most destructive aspects of religion, it takes the entirely straightforward moral reason people can do on their own (suffering is bad) and warps it in an attempt to make an imaginary figure look like less of a total bastard. When suffering is the result of human action, no one tries to justify it with “suffering is good for you”, so you have to write a big exception into your moral reasoning to avoid tripping over a massive conflict in your beliefs.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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                says:

                You don’t even need to go that far. You can just point out that the guys who crashed the planes were religiously motivated and thought that they were doing a good thing in the name of their God.

                How stupid is that! We all know that they were doing no such thing.Report

  10. Avatar PPNL
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    says:

    Meh, I am second to none in rejecting religion but I never thought the problem of evil was worth thinking about. The strongest argument against religion is simply the argument against Russell’s tea pot. It is simply the total absence and vacuity of the arguments for religion.

    The second best argument against religion is any god that would want us to worship it isn’t worthy of that worship.

    The third best argument is even if I knew god existed I would still stay away from any organized religion. Hell, I would stay away especially if I knew god existed. We have either created or recreated god in our own image and so at best hopelessly corrupted it. Who is the harlot? Look at the religious world around us. From Muslims mutilating women’s sex organs and forcing them to wear tents to the prosperity ministeries in America the religious world is an intellectual and moral waste land.

    And thats my answer to Pascal’s wager… even if there is a god worth admiration I would rather face him as an atheist than as a christian.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to PPNL
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      says:

      I tend to focus on the question of existence as well, since it works equally well on all gods, whereas not every religion is vulnerable tot he Problem of Evil. Still, I think this side of things is worth discussing too.Report

      • Avatar PPNL in reply to James K
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        says:

        Would you want to live in a world without struggle and the possibility of failure? Heaven is an inhuman place that would quickly drive its inhabitants insane. We humans were born in fire and pain so it is not surprising that we dream of peace and strive for it. But I doubt we could survive it.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to PPNL
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          says:

          Some suffering and failure is good.

          But not this much suffering and failure.

          The world will be better when suffering is eased, say, 150 years from now.

          God could’ve got us to that point already, if he is omnipotent. He chooses not to because he doesn’t like us and is a big jerk.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to PPNL
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          says:

          failure is fine, even some pain, but suffering and despair aren’t good for human beings.Report

          • Avatar PPNL in reply to James K
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            says:

            Yes but you are still missing the point. If we aren’t careful 150 years from now suffering will be much worse. Remove that possibility, remove the consequences for our actions and what does that do to us?

            It isn’t that suffering is good or that the death of a child is a blessing. If a god created a world with a safety net that made such things impossible it would create a world without responsibility or consequence.

            God or no god the safety net is our responsibility. When we fail, and we will, children die. The weight of this responsibility is what makes us who we are. Remove it and we become pets cared for by forces beyond any hope of understanding.

            I do not believe in an all powerful god but even if I did I would not ask to be domesticated.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to PPNL
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              says:

              No, we aren’t missing the point. Here’s another way to put our rebuttal.

              Is it good for God to create more suffering? Make the whole of the earth like Africa? Make the whole of the earth like Europe in the 13th century?

              If suffering is good for (what Hick calls) “soul making,” then is more suffering a better world than what we have now?

              No. Some suffering is good for “soul making” and keeping life interesting and developing, but you don’t need raped children and mass starvation and the plague and AIDS, etc.

              God is a dink because of how much suffering has been and still is in the world. Not because there is some suffering. And if putting more suffering in the world is good, then why isn’t it good for the world to be worse?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                The Deity is the only one allowed the active voice. Everybody else is subject to the passive.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Sigh.

                My cat’s breath smells like cat’s food.Report

              • Avatar PPNL in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                Suffering in any amount isn’t good. The possibility of suffering is necessary.

                Africa is a human invention. The suffering is the result of the choices of men either by direct action or failure to act.

                Again if there were a god the worst thing it could do is make suffering impossible.

                Do you have a pet dog? Is he castrated? For his own good?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to PPNL
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                says:

                I’m not saying there should be no suffering, just much less suffering.

                The fact that there is so much suffering is evidence that there is no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

                I do not have a dog.Report

              • Avatar PPNL in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                Again no amount of suffering is good. The possibility of suffering is necessary. For a god to add suffering would be beyond perverse.

                The amount of suffering must depend on us. That is the point. If we decide to have WWIII and god does not intervene then he does not exist? I say he should not intervene. God should follow the prime directive.

                We do not need a hell to punish us for our sins. We do just fine there without god’s help as well. Our responsibility, our choices, our rewards and our punishments.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to PPNL
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                says:

                But God does determine the amount of suffering in many ways. God threw down Katrina amd the Lisbon earhquake and the Black Plague and AIDS and burned houses with children who have burns all over their tortured little bodies.

                Also, if suffering is necessary for humans to give them free will, why does God fill animal’s lives with so much suffering?

                Is all the suffering not caused by humans necessary for us to have free will. If not, the God could’ve stopped it, and he is an evil dink (if he exists).Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to PPNL
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                says:

                Also, a good God could make us less tempted to violence and rape and genocide. Some people are less tempted than others. S it is possible to have a world where we are all less tempted.

                Why didn’t God actualize that world.

                Or is this the best of all possible worlds?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PPNL
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                says:

                1) The State of the World is God’s Fault
                2) God does not Exist

                While I can understand forcing someone to pick one of these, I suppose, I can’t understand embracing both.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to PPNL
                Ignored
                says:

                Do you know what “if” means?

                Did you read the comment that you are responding to?

                I am done with this conversation.Report

              • Avatar PPNL in reply to PPNL
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, try to remember that I don’t believe in god and even if I did I wouldn’t believe it had anything to do with Katrina or earthquakes. If he did cause or prevent Katrina then he is evil.

                I don’t know anything about free will but if we have it in some measure then I would assume animals have it in some degree as well. But since I can’t define or measure free will it isn’t important for anything I have said.Report

            • Avatar James Vonder Haar in reply to PPNL
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              says:

              This looks persuasive at a macro level.

              It’s a lot more difficult to sustain when you look at a kid that dies of cancer at 5.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Vonder Haar
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                says:

                And yet there are Jews that survived the Holocaust with faith in God intact. Russian Orthodox who survived Stalin with faith in God intact. Losing a child is horrific… but there are greater horrors out there. (Losing two, for example.)

                Entire families, destroyed. Entire lifetimes, ruined by torture and imprisonment and the worst that man can do to man…

                And yet they survived these things with faith intact.

                It’s pretty easy to come up with explainations for why this is, of course. Most of them are self-serving, though.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to PPNL
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      says:

      Not all of us religious people want to impose what we do onto other people like Evangelical Protestants or other religious groups. Nor do we necessarily want to convince atheists or other people who believe otherwise that our way of life is correct. Lots of us just want to be left alone to practice our religion without having to listen to lectures why our religion is wrong from believers of other religions or atheists.Report

      • Avatar Just Me in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        I think that secretly those who profess the most about the non-existence of God secretly fear they may be wrong. They have to comfort themselves with “proof” that God must not exist. I myself have never been religious, but I don’t profess to know everything in the universe, so I don’t really know if a God does or does not exist. Frankly it doesn’t trouble my mind not to know either or that others may believe that there is a God.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Just Me
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          says:

          So if you know what others secretly think, there’s no sense in actually listening to what they think because they’re obviously lying?Report

          • Avatar Just Me in reply to zic
            Ignored
            says:

            Don’t believe I said they were lying. But if that’s how you want to take it then so be it. You can secretly think something and not even know you do. At least I think so. Again this is my position, it is worth no more nor no less than anyone else’s opinion on the topic is. I don’t really believe their is a God. At least I don’t think I do. But I also do not feel the need to prove that my disbelief is more “right” than someone’s belief in God is. I personally do not understand the need to be “right” in this situation. Obviously others have more investment in their being right in not believing than I do.

            And I find it hilarious that you would say there is no sense in listening, when I don’t see much listening from those who do not believe. All I see if a bunch of double speak as to why they are right and those who believe are wrong. Isn’t it great to say that belief is invalid. Belief is not needing proof or in spite of proof. How is someone to prove belief? And why should they have to prove belief? They believe in a God, but other’s feel the need to “prove” that their belief in misguided. Why?Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Just Me
              Ignored
              says:

              There’s a whole lot of social justification that happens in the name of god; it extends far beyond any individual’s beliefs or lack of belief. Those conflicts, and how we resolve them, matter a great deal. Some recent ones include if women who work for religious organizations should have their reproductive health care paid for by their employer-provided health insurance, or if women should have full rights in Arab Spring nations.Report

              • Avatar Just Me in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                So if I’m reading this right, this post in that light would fall under the we don’t like what they do with their religion so we will disprove the basis of their religion, that there is a God.

                Am I reading this right?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Just Me
                Ignored
                says:

                No. You asked why someone would debate about another’s beliefs; and the answer is that when another’s beliefs intrude into the public sphere belief has gone beyond belief and become policy, which is subject to public debate.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                … and whining about how God allows sickle cell anaemia isn’t stinking up this joint? Who’s going after the atheists around here, saying they’re all a bunch of unscientific jamokes and smug, intolerant doctrinaires. None that I can see. But where’s the tolerance from the atheists?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Perhaps because they think there might be future medical treatments to eliminate cycle cell anemia; maybe a way to delete the redundant gene that might be frowned upon by the religious for some reason?

                Perhaps because they were speaking to the discussion of when it might be appropriate to challenge belief?

                Perhaps because they’ve been told, repeatedly, that there’s no way they can be moral because of their lack of belief?

                Perhaps because they see evil perpetuated in the name of God?

                Perhaps because they don’t think it’s ‘stinking up the place,” but an important discussion?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Just stop while you’re ahead. This religious person has provided the only valid answer to the “Why” of sickle cell anaemia. Frowned upon by whom, exactly, and for which reasons would they oppose a fix for sickle cell anaemia?

                Zic, I have to contend with all sorts of irrational and rude nonsense from within my own camp. I won’t tolerate this sort of cheap snark from the atheists, the supposed standard bearers from rational thought, any more than I tolerate it from within my own camp.

                Over time, I’ve said plenty of nice things about atheists and you know it. Now it’s high time the atheists demonstrated some respect in like measure and I’m not seeing it around here and absolutely none of it from you.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                BlaiseP, I have stated my belief about religion; I have every bit a a right to it as anyone else, and every bit a right to express it. If you’re offended, you’re offended.

                I haven’t told you you’re wrong to believe, in fact, on this post and others, I’ve expressed why I think religion was/is important to mankind, and that it has proven significant value.

                But I don’t think god’s got anything to do with it. And if you think that translates to saying your superstitious, that’s your thought, not mine. I would put fourth a whole lot of other discussion then one rooted in superstition, and I have done that on this post.

                I don’t really care if you want to get all pissy on me, but I won’t be bullied, either. If you don’t like it, stop reading the thread. Stop reading my posts. But don’t try and tell me I don’t have the right to speak.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                You are entitled to your opinions. But this one: So if you know what others secretly think, there’s no sense in actually listening to what they think because they’re obviously lying? — is not a good faith attempt at dialogue.

                Atheism needs to learn manners: over time it seems to have inherited many of the more troublesome aspects of various religions in this regard. Those who would impute motive, reaching the conclusion that they’ve been called liars when no such statement has been made are not arguing in good faith. Nor do I accept the charge of bullying, on the same basis. I explained the Why of sickle cell. Nobody seems to have accepted it as a reasoned statement, least of all you.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                I asked a question based on this statement from Just Me:

                I think that secretly those who profess the most about the non-existence of God secretly fear they may be wrong. They have to comfort themselves with “proof” that God must not exist.

                I fail how to see that translates into disrespect for the observant, BlaiseP.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                “Obviously lying.”

                Well, it certainly fits in with the rest of this Underpants Gnomes theology around here:

                1. Sickle Cell Anaemia Exists.
                2. God Could Prevent It.
                ….
                3. Profit: God Doesn’t Exist.

                Fact is, a good deal of what I’ve seen in this wretched comment section is exactly what Just Me describes, a reaction to someone else’s bloody-minded clinging to doctrine. All this ignorant hooey dragged in from elsewhere, all ’bout how God describes himself in the Imperfect Tense, whereupon I have to explain, as if to a particularly dull child, that Torah Hebrew doesn’t support the English version of the Imperfect Tense.

                I don’t like what religion has produced generally. I’ve said that a hundred times. But I don’t like what atheism has produced any more. Both sides suffer from this thin, whiny, tendentious, ill-considered, bumptious Underpants Gnome Theology or Anti-Theology. Reach whatever conclusions you wish. But when it comes to Protesting Too Much, yeah, I do think a substantial fraction of it is based on what ol’ James calls Visceral Reaction. Certainly isn’t Cerebral Reasoning.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                “Huff and puff. Hints at a not actually revealed knowledge and harshly-phrased suggestions that everything other people have said here is stupid, therefore I’m right.”

                This is pretty much what I expect from internet discussions on religion. Perhaps miraculously, most of this thread has been well above this level.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                , I do think a substantial fraction of it is based on what ol’ James calls Visceral Reaction. Certainly isn’t Cerebral Reasoning.

                I do think the commenter has missed to what I viscerally reacted. Cerebral Reasoning is not a synonym for sound and fury.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                As you’ve furnished none of the Cerebral Reasoning and plenty of the Visceral Reaction (and been told your comments are out of line) , seconds out, Hanley.

                The only viable position on this topic is agnosticism: there’s no more proof against the existence of God than there is for his existence. Atheology is just as dogmatic as any theology: would that everyone would just mellow out a bit, live and let live. I say atheists ought to be the arbiters of the public space since they don’t have a dog in the fight over Manger Scenes and Creation Myths. But when they do try to put a dog in this fight, with their Underpants Gnome Atheology, I will give that dog a kick in the slats and send him howling back to mama.

                Opinions and assholes, as the old proverb goes: everyone’s got one.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                The only viable position on this topic is agnosticism:

                Thank you for admitting your defense of theism was not viable. Can we expect your apology for damning atheists for doing no more than what you’ve also done?

                : would that everyone would just mellow out a bit, live and let live.

                That’s a pretty nice idea. are you indicating your willingness to take the lead?

                But when they do try to put a dog in this fight, with their Underpants Gnome Atheology, I will give that dog a kick in the slats and send him howling back to mama.

                Oh, I guess you’re not. Quelle surprise!

                Opinions and assholes, as the old proverb goes: everyone’s got one.

                True, very true. I admire your courge in fessing up to it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                whereupon I have to explain, as if to a particularly dull child, that Torah Hebrew doesn’t support the English version of the Imperfect Tense

                Do I have to explain, as if to a particularly pretentious child, that English doesn’t have an imperfect tense?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Now, you’ll do us all a favour, go back and read what I actually wrote, Hanley. In that little screed, which you clearly didn’t read, any farther than the “BlaiseP” tag, I reminded folks why

                Religion is mostly a foolish aping of true worship, mostly used as a pretext for power-hungry persons trying to tell you that evil is good and lies are truth. God’s given life in the divine spark within everyone, the knowledge of eternal truths and the knowledge of human imperfection.

                See, there’s a reason why every culture comes up with a different view of the divine. They see the world as it is, full of sin and error. They also see goodness in the world, kindness, decency, lives of service to others. In each such culture, someone reifies the Divine, gods for this, gods for that, a priestly class grows up around these gods. Religion is therefore an artefact of culture.

                But faith, well, that’s rather like accepting that a given function might take an eternity to approach the asymptote. Yet the limit becomes fairly obvious once you’ve begun to apply Laplace over a few iterations. So what? Does your atheism make any difference in your own life? Make you a better person? You’re one of the unhappiest men I’ve ever known. My belief in Jesus Christ and the God of Truth has led me to do some important things in my life, the only things in my life that ever made me proud, besides raising my kids. What has your atheism ever led you to do?

                Your bilious little feud with me is going nowhere. It’s petty and sad and I wish you’d stop it. It’s embarrassing, like some yappy little dog biting at my heels. I’m not worth the fight, Hanley. Really, I’m not.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Do I have to explain, as if to a particularly pretentious child, that English doesn’t have an imperfect tense?

                English does have an imperfect tense. Several such tenses in fact. We force in a form of to-be to use them. The perfect in Hebrew only appears with conclusion of action, as in something-is-finished.

                Modern Hebrew did grow a haja conditional. But Torah Hebrew is stuck with avar and atid, which don’t even faintly resemble a Perfect and Imperfect in English, or any of the other Romance Languages.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Religion is mostly a foolish aping of true worship, mostly used as a pretext for power-hungry persons trying to tell you that evil is good and lies are truth. God’s given life in the divine spark within everyone, the knowledge of eternal truths and the knowledge of human imperfection.

                You criticized religion, while still defending theism. I quote: “God’s given life is the divine spark…” So since you’ve argued that theism is just as unviable as atheism, you’ve just once again taken a position that you yourself have said is unviable.

                Maybe instead of demanding that I re-read you, you should re-read yourself. And if you really want to defend the existence of God, give an actual argument for God’s existence, instead of just attacking atheists. Then perhaps I’ll buy your rib-tickling pretense that you are the example of cerebral reasoning here.

                like some yappy little dog biting at my heels.

                Oh, oh, where’s my fainting couch?Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                We’re done here.

                This shit is getting old.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                You criticized religion, while still defending theism.

                I think you’re seeing a lot of contradictions in what Blaise is saying, and you’re attributing that to him thinking incorrectly.

                I think you should stop for a sec and realize that even though you and Blaise disagree on almost everything, he’s certainly no idiot. So if you see a contradiction that’s blindingly obvious, maybe it’s not so much that he’s making a very fundamentally obvious mistake, but that you’re misunderstanding what he’s saying.

                Religion and theism are separable concepts, after all. I think this is an eminently justifiable stance, meself (criticizing religion, while supporting theism).Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                IMO,

                James is right about Blaise’s position. It is not uncommon for smart people to hold obviously contradictory positions.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                English does have an imperfect tense. Several such tenses in fact. We force in a form of to-be to use them.

                That is, English has progressive tenses. If your point is that the imperfect tense in Biblical Hebrew is different from the progressive tenses in modern English, you’re correct. Of course, no one suggested that they were alike.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                he’s certainly no idiot

                Nor have I said that. He’s indisputably quite intelligent. But contradiction there is, nonetheless. If you sincerely think there isn’t, I’ll be happy to consider your argument.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Religion, necessarily, is a construct of man. It is going to be flawed (unless of course you buy that man acting by divine inspiration will be necessarily unflawed, but most of the major religions will acknowledge that this isn’t the case, even Catholics hem and haw over papal infallibility, arguing over when we’ve actually had legitimate claims for it).

                God, iff’n existence is assumed, is thus (pretty trivially) shown to be, at best, badly approximated by religion.

                The theist can believe in God without supposing the stuff that comes with a particular religion, or even religion in general.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Patrick,

                Ummmm, I fully agree. But I don’t see how it’s on point. His criticism of religion was not the target of my critique. I may not have been clear.

                1. He claims neither atheism nor theism are viable (The only viable position on this topic is agnosticism: there’s no more proof against the existence of God than there is for his existence.”)

                And yet,

                2. He defends not religion but the existence of God, a theistic position (“My belief in Jesus Christ and the God of Truth”).

                And,

                3. He attacks atheists for making claims against the existence of God (“But when they do try to put a dog in this fight, with their Underpants Gnome Atheology, I will give that dog a kick in the slats and send him howling back to mama.”).

                If 1 is a correct statement of his belief then he cannot consistently do both 2 and 3 (although I think he could certainly do 3 alone, and could do 2 alone if qualified with appropriate caveats). If 2 and 3 are his real positions, then 1 cannot be his real position.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                This is what I don’t get; this whole line of argument.

                . . . if women who work for religious organizations should have their reproductive health care paid for by their employer-provided health insurance, or if women should have full rights in Arab Spring nations.
                and
                when another’s beliefs intrude into the public sphere belief has gone beyond belief and become policy

                Nothing about my life in particular is affected by either of these things.
                Every single thing about my life will go on the same as before.
                If things change, if things stay the same, it’s just the same as if nothing ever happened.

                Policy, effectively, has little value in the pragmatic sense.
                That’s all I can see.

                Now, if you would have said, “You might get chocolate chip cookies, you might get peanut butter cookies– depending on prevalent policy.”
                Well then, that’s a policy concern that has real-world implications.
                I take such matters ver-r-r-r-ry seriously.

                But I think, in general, “Policy” is a euphemism for something else.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Hmmm. So if you’re married, and get health insurance through your wife, and say she’s a nurse in a Catholic hospital or professor at a Jesuit college, this wouldn’t have an impact on you, also?

                Or are you saying that policy that only impacts women don’t have direct impact on you because you’re male are not actually policies? That they’re sexist in some way?

                What if the policy were putting Creative Design in a science curriculum? Or restricting sex-education to abstinence-only education?Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                That’s the World of Unreal.
                Those things are nothing but suppositions based on if things were other than what they are now.

                It matters more to me to see how things stand right now at this time, and to deal with them accordingly.

                Getting caught up in possibilities is a mindtrap; that of paralysis.
                It helps no one were I to undertake arrangements for what might occur if I owned anther house cat.
                I have cats which need attended to at the moment.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                So you don’t care what is made of this policy because it doesn’t impact you. Fine. Bow out of the conversation. Because there are folks who care deeply because they are, at present time, deeply impacted by it.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Excuse me, but are you even vaguely aware of what the topic at hand might be?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Why don’t you enlighten me?Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Sounds like one of those impossible tasks, something that would be asked of Heracles; but here goes . . .
                In a greater frame of “God– Exists, or BS?” there was this little side thing which caught my eye concerning the import of Policy as a directive toward prescriptive action.
                I then questioned the value of Policy as a legitimate consideration on pragmatist grounds; specifically, that the real is of greater concern than the possible.

                That’s my recap.

                Over to you . . .Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                So when you say…
                “. . . if women who work for religious organizations should have their reproductive health care paid for by their employer-provided health insurance, or if women should have full rights in Arab Spring nations.
                and
                when another’s beliefs intrude into the public sphere belief has gone beyond belief and become policy

                Nothing about my life in particular is affected by either of these things.”

                And I say, “So you don’t care what is made of this policy because it doesn’t impact you.”

                You think that is evidence I’m not even vaguely aware of the topic at hand?

                Dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge!Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Actually, the point I was trying to make was something along the lines of:
                Fear of thirst while the well is full is the thirst that cannot be quenched.

                “Policy” is more the fear of thirst than thirst itself.
                It really doesn’t matter as much at the end of the day.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                So you’re talking about policy in the abstract? Or simply policies that you don’t care about?Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Policy generally.
                It seems as more a euphemism for some other concern.

                Now, tell me a policy that I really care about, other than liberal use of military-grade mace for minor disciplinary infractions in public schools?
                (Tough on education, ya know)

                And mandatory police brutality for minorities at all traffic stops?
                (Because the discretionary police brutality hasn’t rendered the desired results)

                What exactly are these “Policies I care about” to which you refer?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Hmmmm.. And what of all those people whose lives would be dramatically changed by such “policy”? To be frank, it’s sorta fucked up to dismiss every policy that doesn’t impact you directly as “something else”.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kazzy
                Ignored
                says:

                Maybe.
                But I’m ok with that.
                I have needs of my own.
                Someone needs to advocate for those needs.
                If I’m busy being someone else, who’s going to be me?

                I think it’s sufficient if I don’t take steps to actively undercut their ability to advocate for their own causes, rather than taking up every cause as my own.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, first they came for someone else…Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                . . . and for the greatest part of the time, they were fully satisfied with that.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                So until they’re knocking at your door, not your concern?Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Not until they start knocking on someone’s door within a 1500 mile radius.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                So there are no women who work for religiously-affiliated organizations who live within 1500 miles of you? Because those are people who are impacted by this policy?Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                If the worst thing that’s going to happen tomorrow is the very same thing that happened today, I’m ok with it.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                So you’re avoiding the question, are you?

                As I said, you are okay with it, because you are not impacted by it.

                If we all took such an attitude, things would quickly get much, much worse.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Not necessarily so.
                Only that I’m impacted by it tomorrow to the same extent that I am today.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Just Me
          Ignored
          says:

          My experience is that some of the more militant atheists attribute to all religions the aspects they see in the religion they hate the most. If they despise Evangelical Christianity the most, for whatever reason, than every religion has the same problems as Evangelical Christianity. Its the non-diffrentiation that makes discussion hard.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq
            Ignored
            says:

            Any many atheists don’t disbelieve in God so much as they dislike the One they’re most familiar with.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling
              Ignored
              says:

              Pithy but largely correct.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to LeeEsq
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes, I think this is a common characteristic. It’s always nice to find an atheist who actually isn’t just a bundle of pissed off repressed (whatever).Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Patrick
                Ignored
                says:

                Wow. That is a pretty stupid thing to say Patrick. Maybe you’re joking.

                I have so much respect for you, I can’t imagine that you won’t take that back.

                Atheists here include:

                Zic, James H, James K, and me.

                Atheists philosophers throughout history include:

                Carnap
                Russell
                Davidson
                Lewis
                Ayer
                Camus
                Mill
                Feuerbach
                Marx
                Chalmers
                Schopenhauer
                Ayer
                Searle
                Dewey
                Mackie
                Quine
                Nietzsche
                Sartre

                Are you really saying the atheists you meet are mostly repressed and angry?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Shazbot3
                Ignored
                says:

                We have to learn to just let that kind of crap roll off our backs, Shaz. Who knows what issues that kind of attitude it’s based in or what it thinks it’s responding to.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Lord knows, it can’t be personal experience.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                It certainly is based on “personal experience”, but all experience, especially the personal kind, is mediated by perception, and perception is influenced by all that who-knows-what kind of crap.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot3
                Ignored
                says:

                Are you really saying the atheists you meet are mostly repressed and angry?

                For self-awareness to exist, God must exist.

                God does not exist.

                Q.E.D.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Shazbot3
                Ignored
                says:

                I count the people here on the blog as fairly thoughtful atheists, Shaz. Some of them particularly so.

                Keep in mind that an observation about an aggregate to which you may belong isn’t intended as an observation about you, or Jaybird or Zic or James or Chris or Sam or PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins or any other finite collection o’ folks.

                The original line to which I was responding was “many”, not “most”. And I have met many atheists who are (or most accurately, were at the time I’ve met them) people who were in many ways highly informed by their prior religious experience (usually negatively). Jaybird has talked about the evolution of his atheism, and in the people I’ve met that have taken what I call a thoughtful approach to their atheism, they’ve had similar stories of their evolution.

                Interestingly, a lot of the thoughtful theists are the same way.

                The vast majority of people aren’t particularly thoughtful when it comes to their theism or lack thereof, though; they’re fairly non-self reflective about it.

                It is not terribly uncommon for the atheists I’ve met to be in a reactionary period. That isn’t to say that they wouldn’t become thoughtful atheists later (who knows) or that this is a particularly pejorative state of being (it’s pretty common human impulse, reactionarianism, everybody goes through it now and again about something and as far as I’m concerned the jury is still out about religion as opposed to faith, so it’s entirely possible that reactionarianism is a more morally justifiable stance than ambivalence).

                I enjoy the conversations I have with people who are thoughtful theists and thoughtful atheists. Kyle and CK would be two examples on one side, Jaybird, Chris, and Zic would be examples on the other, just to pull some names out of a hat.

                I’m pretty agnostic, myself.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s always nice to find an atheist who actually isn’t just a bundle of pissed off repressed (whatever).

                I struggle to see how that does not rather clearly imply that finding one is a great deal rarer than it sounds in this comment like you now want to say it is. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have read the previous comment as one saying that it’s all too rare. Which means – who knows what – wrt to the atheists who were actually going to read the comment.

                I mean, “It’s always nice to find an atheist who actually isn’t just a bundle of pissed off repressed (whatever) – which includes essentially all the atheists here at the League (who also happen to be probably the only atheists who will read this comment).” I mean, what’s the point of making that comment, minus the clarifying language, at The League, except to needlessly confuse, poke, and inflame?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Patrick
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, that makes it a bit better, but I think Michael is right below that you are backpedaling and not apologizing, when maybe you should do the latter.

                By analogy, suppose Blaise, Stillwater, or I said this:

                “It’s always nice to find a libertarian who actually isn’t just a bundle of cruelty and narcissism.”

                I have made some regrettable claims about libertarians, but never anything that bad.

                You should apologize.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
                Ignored
                says:

                I think I may have said this about a gazillion times before, but once more for the record: I’m not a libertarian.

                For what it’s worth, the original comment was meant to be wry humor, and I certainly wasn’t intending to give offense. I apologize for that. I forget sometimes that the combox isn’t quite as familiar as talks around the bar, and things that are intended to be jokes can be misconstrued.

                This particular topic of conversation has been one in which agnostic me and atheist other person have engaged before; like the libertarian conversation, actually. There are lots of people who are non-thoughtful libertarians and they usually express themselves like non-thoughtful atheists do… and (at least in my experience) the thoughtful atheists roll their eyes like the thoughtful libertarians roll their eyes at Glenn Beck. “Yes, that’s our crazy cousin Larry.” Me, “You have a lot of crazy cousins”.

                This doesn’t speak at all to the validity of the position, nor is it intended as pejorative by association.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                The vast majority of people aren’t particularly thoughtful when it comes to their theism or lack thereof, though; they’re fairly non-self reflective about it.

                I think the real point here is that the vast majority of people aren’t particularly thoughtful when it comes to anything they believe in, so nothing is gained by further specification. At best it’s just a redundancy that leads people to think you’re claiming the specified group is eversomuchmoreso than others.

                Let’s keep in mind also the problem of confirmation bias. If we think most atheists are pissed off, guess which atheists we’re going to take the most notice of?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Appreciate the kind words, but I never identified myself as a theist, and wouldn’t do so. I seek anismism, and recommend that quest, which from one point of view would make me an anismist, but which from an anismistic point of view would no longer be anismistic if it meant identification with an ideology of “anismism.”Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Please stop substituting “most” for “many”, it rather does change both what I said and what meaning people draw from it.

                I think the real point here is that the vast majority of people aren’t particularly thoughtful when it comes to anything they believe in, so nothing is gained by further specification. At best it’s just a redundancy that leads people to think you’re claiming the specified group is eversomuchmoreso than others.

                Actually, in this one particular case, I think something is gained by further specification. Public atheism is not anywhere near as uncommon as it was a generation ago.

                However, it’s still uncommon enough that I think it’s likely that most people who are atheists are not children-of-atheists or grandchildren-of-atheists, but people who have chosen atheism. This seems borne out by more than my anecdotal experience, but of course it could be wrong; I haven’t read any systemic evaluations of atheism in the modern world. Anybody got some data, feel free to lay it on me.

                So, in this particular case, it does seem that people who have chosen to reject the religions of their direct ancestors (note: I’ve done this myself, this is not pejorative) have chosen to reject it without giving much self-reflective thought as to where they’re going with it.

                So yes, I do find it a little odd that given the general population of atheists, and the number of them who have claim to have chosen atheism as an act of will… that there appear to still be a great number of them that have done so non-self-reflectively. That implies (to me) that a number of them have done so for reasons other than a principled rejection of the religion of their ancestors.

                Please don’t project here, James. I’m not attributing anything to anyone on this thread. I’m not claiming to have advanced knowledge of what’s in your head, or Michael’s, or Shazbot’s.

                I have in my experience also plenty of thoughtful atheists. One nice thing about a Jesuit education is that it does hammer all of this Catholic dogma and the theology behind it into your head, but unlike some, it does so to explain rather than convert. As a result, a number of my fellow Jesuit-institution-graduate friends have very principled objections to Catholicism in particular, or deism generally.

                But, let’s be fair, they are a subpopulation of atheists. Just like there’s lots of bananas-nuts guys like Alex Jones out there when compared to principled libertarians, right?

                Let’s keep in mind also the problem of confirmation bias. If we think most atheists are pissed off, guess which atheists we’re going to take the most notice of?

                Dude, fair point. And of course it’s the case that generally – still – atheists aren’t necessarily public about their atheism. So there could very well be a silent majority of thoughtful atheists. I don’t think it’s particularly likely (see the second paragraph up above – which you agreed with! – for why). But it’s certainly possible.

                All of this is neither here nor there, though. Shaz and Michael and yourself seem to have assumed an inherent criticism on my part of atheism, as a intellectual position, from an observation about atheism, as a group characteristic. Please, believe me when I say that this is not my belief nor did I intend to write anything that would lead anybody to believe that this is the case. Thoughtful atheism is certainly intellectually defensible. Blaise (elsewhere) says that agnosticism is the only really kosher stance… I happen to think that agnosticism is the particular stance that I personally find most useful but I don’t agree with Blaise in the general case.

                God is, or is not. You can choose to believe, or choose not, or choose neither. In and of themselves, none of these things get you anywhere nearer to a moral existence, iff’n you ask me. Struggling with your principles does, though.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Please don’t project here, James. I’m not attributing anything to anyone on this thread. I’m not claiming to have advanced knowledge of what’s in your head, or Michael’s, or Shazbot’s.

                Oh, I didn’t think that. I just thought it was unfortunate phrasing.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                “I do find it a little odd that given the general population of atheists, and the number of them who have claim to have chosen atheism as an act of will… that there appear to still be a great number of them that have done so non-self-reflectively. ”

                How did you determine the number of people who chose it non-reflectively? Are we talking 50 people? 100? What are their names? Did you do a study?

                Sorry Patrick, but I call BS.

                This seems to me like some attempt at derision. I see a lot of this sort of rhetoric aimed at Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and Dawkins. There is some attempt to say that atheists are rude or silly or not philosophically deep. They’re just trying to be cool and contrarian. Their just hipsters trying to be rebellious.

                I see the same rhetorical technique directed at ethical vegetarians.

                Not that it proves much, but there is evidence suggesting that high IQ, education, and atheism are correlated,

                http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/high-iq-turns-academics-into-atheists/402381.articleReport

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                How did you determine the number of people who chose it non-reflectively? Are we talking 50 people? 100? What are their names? Did you do a study?

                No, I did not do a study. Shaz, I’m a big fan of science and all, but I don’t require every thought that enters my head to be exposed to a full blown study. There’s a difference between an impression (which may or may not be correct) leading to surmising about something and coming to tentative conclusions which you don’t hold strongly, and studying everything with full rigor. I’m not making any public policy prescriptions, here. I’m just offering an observation. I never claimed it was inerrant.

                Have you done a full-blown study regarding atheists you know? You seem to be in very strong disagreement with my observation (indeed, a couple of orders of magnitude stronger disagreement than my idle agreement); why? Outside of your own experience.

                Regarding Hitchens… I will say this for Hitchens, the man understood quite well many of the arguments for theism. I will not say that for Dawkins. Dawkins understands his atheism just fine, but he really doesn’t understand many of the arguments for theism. He finds them largely incomprehensible.

                Which would be fine, if he said, “I can’t accept the premises of the argument, they make no sense to me”, but generally Mr. Dawkins doesn’t do that, he says, “I can’t accept the premises of the argument, they’re nonsensical”, which is rather different.

                It shows a real lack of curiosity about the thing which he’s arguing strenuously against. One would think that if you were an atheist and you were fine with that, you wouldn’t bother to possibly investigate theism very much and that’s okay. But when you start getting involved in panel discussions about the problems with religion and theism, you probably should back up and start trying to understand the thing you find disagreeable.

                This seems to me like some attempt at derision.

                Well, if you’re correct you’re in good company, apparently. I get that a lot.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                I get that you did not do a study.

                I just want to know roughly how many angry, unreflective atheists you know. Is the percentage higher than angry, unreflective people in general.

                I bet the answer is “No” or “I don’t know.” If so, you shouldn’t have made that claim that ” It’s always nice to find an atheist who actually isn’t just a bundle of pissed off repressed (whatever).”

                It’s the word “actually” that sinks it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                I just want to know roughly how many angry, unreflective atheists you know. Is the percentage higher than angry, unreflective people in general.

                That’s an interesting way of framing the question.

                I think there are a lot of angry, unreflective people in general, so “No”.

                But I don’t know that this implies the conclusion that you might think it does.

                As I pointed out right here, just above, the reason why I find the presence of angry, un-reflective atheists interesting is because (and this is almost universally true in my experience) people who declare atheism say that they’ve come to it consciously, as a matter of self-introspection, via a process of reflection.

                Generally, I find that people who are into the whole self-introspection thing are not the angry, un-reflective people. A whole selection issue, there, right? So I see this as a odd occasion. A class of people who ought to be less likely to be angry or un-reflective seem to have an interesting number of angry and/or un-reflective folk in their class.

                Again, this doesn’t say anything about atheism in general, nor your atheism in particular. It says something about some section of people who identify as atheist.

                I don’t have a problem with atheists, as a class. At least I think I don’t. I haven’t had Jaybird or Chris or Burt or Zic or any one of a number of the folk here that blog with me tell me I have a thing about atheists, maybe they’re just not telling me. If I’ve got some sort of prejudice, this is the first time anybody has indicated that it might be affecting my observations.

                If you have an objection, I can think of three. One, you think I’m talking about you. Two, you think that atheism as a whole doesn’t match my perception of it as a group activity. Three, you think I’m just a dick.

                If you think that atheism as a whole doesn’t have a tension between what people call “militant” atheists and atheists in general, well, okay. I’m hardly the first person to make this observation, though. I can find all sorts of commentary on the web about how PZ Myers or Dawkins are regarded as counterproductive folks by atheists, if you like. Maybe they’re suffering the same confirmation bias I am, I dunno.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                So your claim is that Dawkins and Myers are unreflective and are just atheists because they’re angry?

                Ad hominem. 10 yard penalty, repeat 4th down.

                Myers and Dawkins might be wrong about some things, but you don’t get to assume they are unreflective, especially when they write about what lead them to their conclusions.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                No, Shaz, that’s not what I said.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Patrick,

                Your sense of being in a position to judge others’ level of reflection, and whether it counts as “self-reflective” or “not self-reflective” is pure arrogance, and also, I suspect, not applied evenly by you to atheists as to others. That’s the problem with your judgements here.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Can we compromise and agree that the statement should have something about how atheists are thin-skinned?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                I’m not thin-skinned! I’m rubber, and you’re glue…Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Michael, there’s a self-referential irony to your last comment. I mean, really, dripping irony, dude. That’s an awful lot of certainty concerning my position from a dozen or so comments on one blog post. I may certainly be incorrectly correcting for observer bias in my own anecdotal experience (I did say that right?), but c’mon, man.

                If anything, I’m woefully uncertain about most things, except that most people’s certainty is misplaced. If you’re reading my comments and thinking I’m trying to express certainty, I’m clearly not expressing myself well.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Patrick,

                I don’t follow the logic of your response. You’ve said what you’ve said here; I’m certain you’ve said it; that’s what I’m responding to. Beyond that, I don’t know what certainty I’m claiming to have, or what it is I’m saying you’re certain about that you’re not. Honestly, I’m not sure I even follow what certainty or the lack thereof has to do with what I said there. I didn’t say you or I were certain about anything.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Your sense of being in a position to judge others’ level of reflection, and whether it counts as “self-reflective” or “not self-reflective” is pure arrogance

                If someone claims to have come to a decision by self-introspection, and they can exhibit very little in the way of descriptive language to describe that decision, I don’t think it takes very much expertise at all to guess whether or not they’re truly self-reflective or not. I don’t even think this is a particularly difficult thing for anybody to do, Michael. It’s generally easier to see when other people are bullshitting themselves than it is to see when you’re bullshitting yourself about stuff that has to do with self-introspection.

                So I’m not sure how it’s arrogance; I’m not claiming any particular expertise at it.

                You attributing this to arrogance with such declarative language means that you’re understanding what I’m saying in spite of my own admission that I might not be explaining it well, and you have rather a large chunk of surety about it. Which is actually a stronger assessment of my motivation and capabilities than the assessment I’m making of other people, which is what you’re calling arrogant.

                And also, I suspect, not applied evenly by you to atheists as to others.

                Given that we haven’t had any much of an interplay between me and “others” on this thread, at all (except a couple of asides where I mentioned that I don’t agree with Blaise), you have very little evidence as to how I apply my criticism of self-evaluation and whatever interesting biases that might reveal.

                You’ll note that in the initial comment, I said, “Interestingly, a lot of the thoughtful theists are the same way.” comparing thoughtful theists to thoughtful atheists… which might imply, if you were inclined towards reading me charitably, that I find a lot of congruency between thoughtful atheists and thoughtful theists (which, if you’re going one step further, also implies something of a congruency between non-self reflective atheists and non-reflective theists).

                In any event, I apologized quite a lot of digital ink ago, here. That was intended as sincere.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Honestly, that’s more involved than I care to get with this discussion, Patrick. It seems to me that you aren’t saying much more here than that you can tell a lack of some particular degree of self-reflection when you see it. If you can say that, then I can say that I can tell arrogance when I see it.

                As to my suspicion – there very well not be evidence here to support a belief by me that it’s borne out by facts. All it is is a suspicion, albeit one I chose to voice. That’s all I said it was.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                I guess you’re not seeing the irony in that statement, either.

                Let’s just call this an unproductive exchange and move on. Tomorrow is another day.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                I’ll flesh out why I take your view to be arrogant, because on further inspection, I see that your explanation makes it apparent:

                If someone claims to have come to a decision by self-introspection, and they can exhibit very little in the way of descriptive language to describe that decision, I don’t think it takes very much expertise at all to guess whether or not they’re truly self-reflective or not.

                A person can make that claim, but they’re under no obligation to demonstrate to you that it’s the case. It’s finally a fundamentally private question what kind of reflection leads to a person’s personal conclusions about the nature of the universe they reside in.

                What language they are able and willing to produce to represent those processes to you doesn’t give you the position to judge the level of self-reflection of their own private conclusions. The only position you are in is to say whether the arguments they do present to you are compelling to you. You don’t stand in a position to judge the level and sufficiency of their self-reflection for them. That’s fundamentally private, and yet your words indicate that you believe you are in aposition to judge that – just by looking at or listening to the words they are able and interested in offering to you to represnet their internal reflections to you (an act of generosity that you have no standing to expect, and even less to judge the results of).

                That’s why this position is arrogant. It would be fine for you to say that you don’t find someone’s arguments for atheism convincing as a public matter, or for your purposes. For you to think you can judge the sufficiency of the self-reflectiveness of their own personal processes for considering these questions just based on what they choose to offer to you as representations thereof, is fundamentally arrogant. They are under no obligation to demonstrate outwardly the level of reflectiveness they employ in making these considerations in order to for prevent conclusions from being made about those processes. That you would think that the outward expressions you are privy to are or should be enough to allow you to draw such conclusions, is another, epistemological arrogance on your part.

                So there are two arrogances here: the one in which you think you’re in a position at all to judge the sufficiency of the self-reflectiveness of these considerations (as apart from simply the convincingness of the arguments they offer qua public arguments for a particular public position (1), and then (2) the one in which you think the public representations of those processes that people offer up to you could be enough evidence for you to draw conclusions (even if ones in which you admit uncertainty) about the sufficiency of that self-reflectiveness.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                As to your belief that you see irony in what I’m saying, Patrick, I don’t care. If you have a problem with what I’m saying, then just say what the problem is and make the case… if it turns out to be similar to my problem with what you’ve said, well, great. But I just am not interested in worrying about your unspelled-out allusions to that possibility. If it’s a significant problem, you can spell out what you are saying is wrong with what I’m saying, and then people can decide if it’s just like what I’m saying is wrong with what you’ve said… or whether something about the context of the statements might distinguish our observations of each other. I’ve never been impressed or concerned with the practice here of making such a big deal out of the possibility that someone could plausibly be accused of something similar to what they’re accusing another person of doing. Spell it out and see if you don’t find that the situations don’t map so well onto each other.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Okay, one last try here.

                For you to think you can judge the sufficiency of the self-reflectiveness of their own personal processes for considering these questions just based on what they choose to offer to you as representations thereof, is fundamentally arrogant.

                Michael, the “this is private and therefore ineffable to you” is rank bullshit for the people I’m talking about, allright?

                They do plenty of talking. Credit me with some level of reserve in my judgements, okay? Do I really appear to be that level of a hothead, in all of the posts and comments I’ve written here? Jesus Christ, the normal accusation leveled against me is that I’m too wishy-washy!

                I’ve gotten into numerous online and real life discussions about theism and atheism. I’m talking about the people I’ve talked to about the subject, not atheists in general. I readily grant that most people don’t talk about their religiousity or lack thereof. That’s fine.

                In that group of people – the people who are willing to get involved in a conversation in the first place – who are admittedly a subset (and maybe even a trivial subset of overall atheists), many (not most) of them exhibit a very strong conviction without being able to explain that very strong conviction and yet they claim specifically that this very strong conviction comes through active thought. I don’t think it’s because they communicate badly.

                Hell, I think it’s legitimate to come to atheism as a matter of faith. To just decide, “Nope, I don’t believe in God” because there is no calling to believe, or even that you feel an active calling to disbelieve.

                But there’s a subset of people who seem to have difficulty doing that, and they assemble just enough of a framework of an atheist belief system that they feel justified saying, “I don’t believe this as a matter of faith, I believe it because I’ve rationally eliminated the possibility of God“. And then they talk to me about this process (these people are often the first ones to show up in a thread about theism or atheism, rushing in to explain to the theists why they’re irrational!) and there’s all kinds of holes in their framework. They haven’t rationally done a fucking thing, they’ve rationalized sufficiently to feel good about themselves. They often make claims about specific religions with the authority of a multiple PhD in comparative theologies when it’s clear that they haven’t actually done even my layman’s investigation into the theologies they’re disparaging.

                These people are out there, dude, and there are a lot of them. Witness Chris’s observation that this thread is remarkable unlike the vast majority of threads on religion and atheism – we chuckle, but the truth of that statement comes from the fact that most of the people that contribute in the League’s commentariat are thoughtful sorts of folks regardless of whether they’re deists or not.

                But c’mon, to pretend that this isn’t how this conversation goes almost everywhere else on the Internet is kind of ignoring everybody else on the Internet.

                If you have a problem with what I’m saying, then just say what the problem is and make the case

                I’m attempting to have a discussion about an interesting facet of a subpopulation of a group of people, a facet that I find particularly interesting for it’s apparent contradictory characteristics, and what I have is two people telling me that they find my observation offensive. When I attempt to clarify, the response I get is not about the substance of what I’m saying, but (at least this is how I’m reading you and Shaz) that I’m arrogant for thinking it, and a heavy implication that this subpopulation doesn’t exist, it’s just a facet of my imagination fueled by my arrogance.

                If you don’t believe that there are non-self-reflective atheists, then let’s get that out in the open and we can agree to disagree on that regardless of whether or not I’m qualified to discern who they are or not.

                Look, man, going through life some people are going to be rubbed the wrong way by me no matter what I do. I accept that. Generally, our interactions on the blog have been productive and it’s really rare that we get into this sort of digression so I’m not really sure why I’m tagged as arrogant for observing what looks to me to be a pretty common phenomenon on the Internet (again, yes, subpopulation and not representative). If I have a problem with what you’re saying, it’s that it’s a pretty forcible re-railing of the conversation.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                I’m not denying they exist; I’m merely saying that you’re arrogant to think that it’s your place to or that you can figure out who they are. You’re certainly free to say that their public arguments are bad as public arguments without arrogance, though.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                If I may get binary:

                I’ve met two kinds of atheists.

                Those who think something to the effect of “I’m an atheist too.”
                Those who think something to the effect of “I’m not a theist either.”

                The former tend to act like members of a group to a much greater extent than the latter, in my experience.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Do I get to conclude that Myers is a dick who glories in his dickishness, or that the public face of his atheism largely consists of being a dick? Because there’s much evidence for both.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                …But I’m also not sure they exist, because I’m not sure “non-self-reflective” is a category that actually discreetly exists in the world for this area of inquiry (for theists, atheists, or neither). To think about these things is inherently to reflect on them, and to do so within the self, because the evidence is inherently so sketchy about them. So to say that someone is “non-self-reflective” about them is to choose to judge the sufficiency of those reflections, not to observe a fact in the world. On some questions, I feel that doing that wouldn’t be arrogant, but here, because the questions are so personal, I think it is arrogant to decide we are in a position to judge that sufficiency.

                Again, though, none of that is to say we can’t judge the validity of the public arguments they make in defending public claims they make regarding these questions. But ultimately, yes, I do believe that people are often that bad as communicators when it comes to conveying the amount and quality of reflection they’ve done on these questions, so I don’t think I can judge their level of reflection based on the arguments they make. Or, I’d rather not. I’d rather just say they aren’t currently making good arguments for their claims.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                It seems to me the claim “most atheists are dicks!” is an instance of the exact same behavior that dickish atheists are being criticized for.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Mike,

                Being a dick consists in actions, so if you observe it, then you can conclude it’s there (with some degree of certainty or less, depending on your definition of it, etc.). I’m talking about making conclusions about strictly internal processes (how self-reflective are you on this issue – enough to stop me from saying you’re not at all (whatever that amount is) or not?).Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                @ Stillwater

                most atheists are dicks!

                I quote myself: “Please stop substituting ‘most’ for ‘many’, it rather does change both what I said and what meaning people draw from it.”

                I mean, c’mon, if there’s one way to prejudice yourself against what someone is saying, it’s to deliberately change a pretty important bit of nuance. Again.

                So to say that someone is “non-self-reflective” about them is to choose to judge the sufficiency of those reflections, not to observe a fact in the world.

                Fair enough.

                My response to that is that I believe that there is a difference in kind between “being judgmental” and “judging”, not just a difference in degree. To the extent that every human being skates on either side of that line, we all risk arrogance. So I don’t disagree with the point, in that framing.

                I don’t think it’s particularly useful to say that all judgment is necessarily springing from the mind of the judgmental, your mileage may very. Sam certainly disagrees with me on this score.

                If you think I’m on the judgmental side of the line, well, I’ll take that under advisement – I mean that seriously, with no snark.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Pat,

                I’m not saying you’re judgemental, nor that the problem with this judging is the kind fo problem with judgementalness – i.e. just a general tendency to be too morally condemnatory of people. You’ve said you’re not passing moral judgement, and I accept that; that’s not the problem. By judging here, I just mean judging in the sense of judging how far something is from you, and then judging in the sense of, say figuring out if you think a person can throw something that distance by looking at them. Or maybe judging whether you think someone is smart enough to do a job (that you’re not the person hiring for). That kind of judgement. I don’t feel we’re in the position to do that kind of judging about people’s degree of self-reflection *on these questions* – neither the determining how much is being done, nor the determining whether that is sufficient for the relevant purposes (which are not our own).

                I do think we are in a position to judge whether arguments people make for their public claims on these questions in fact support those claims. I even think we’re in a position to note that those arguments don’t show evidence of what we would consider good reflection on these questions. I just don’t think a conclusion (even tentative) that someone isn’t self-reflective on these questions is ever valid.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                I’m not looking for an atheist that likes my religion, I’m just want one that will engage in a debate on the actual teachings of my religion rather than the actual teachings of another religion. If your going to subject Judaism to a critical analysis at least do it on Jewish terms rather than Catholic terms.

                Most Jews are rather underwhelmed by the God of the Torah is evil argument and find the entire concept puzzling at best and insultingly aggravating at worse. The argument tends to be based off a couple of passages in the Tanakh and ignores large chunks of the rest of it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq
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                says:

                I’m quite underwhelmed by the common statement that the Old Testament is about a rigid God of laws while the New Testament is about a loving God of mercy, because it’s so completely false that it can arise only from ignorance or prejudice.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq
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                says:

                As rigid as the deity behind Leviticus was, at least He had the decency to say “well, after you die, I’m going to stop caring”.

                It was with the New Testament deity that the deity said “I don’t care what you do, I care what you *WANT* to do… and I’ll set it up so that Hell takes into account your downright impossible desires AS REASONS FOR YOU TO GO INTO LOWER, CRAPPIER CIRCLES!!!”Report

        • Avatar PPNL in reply to Just Me
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          says:

          And maybe those who most insist that god exists are secretly afraid that he does not? Projection is an ugly thing.Report

          • Avatar dhex in reply to PPNL
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            says:

            it would not surprise me to discover that a really aggressively evangelical atheist secretly believes in eternal punishment and/or grace anymore than we’re particularly surprised when a devoutly loud anti-homosexual pastor is discovered to be up to his ears in funboys on the dl.Report

          • Avatar Just Me in reply to PPNL
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            says:

            That would not surprise me. Anyone who really believes in anything has to be nagged by self-doubt, constantly reaffirming their belief. So that being the case I’m not sure why this projection is an ugly thing. I have seen that those who are not certain they are correct are more fervent in their assertions. When I see some arguing so stridently against something, especially a belief I have to wonder why. Zic has come the closest to explaining why, but I don’t get that in order to change a groups public policy it is needful to show that their belief in a God is wrong and to try and prove that their God doesn’t exist.Report

  11. Avatar GordonHide
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    says:

    @Christopher Carr
    It seems to me that as a theist you couldn’t get past the problem of evil. I guess most modern thinking theists have had to get past this. Perhaps you took the wrong approach?

    Then as an atheist you seem unclear whether you have rejected God because he doesn’t conform to your idea of what is moral or you no longer believe in him.
    I don’t think you’ve thought the morality thing through. You may be still burdened with theistic ideas of morality. If you took a more realistic view of why morality exists in the world you wouldn’t expect God to be moral at all.Report

  12. Avatar zic
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    It seems to me there is much conflation of two separate things in this thread.

    First (and the theme of the original OP) is that the mechanisms of life throw a lot of random stuff out there, and some of it get’s selected and carries forward despite how horrible it is; so the gene that survives because it offers protection from another genetic disease is lethal when doubled. Or, if you prefer, there’s unknown plan of God to test us.

    The second issue is moral, man’s behavior toward man (and I’d add toward other life forms, I think our tendency to put man at the center of debates like this itself a moral failing). Is ‘evil’ a byproduct of intelligence or biological — for instance, the argument that raiding/rape had the biological benefit of mixing genes in small, isolated tribal groups, and was an instinctual behavior that was selected — or temptation and sin.

    I don’t really care how you want to explain the whys of suffering. But there are two discussions here. The first is of natural events that are painful, and would include natural disasters and things as simple as growing old; these are events that happen upon us, where we have no agency. The second is how humans behave, the harm they cause. Neither seems to justify/explain a need for gods, but both seem to be among of the many reasons humans use to justify crafting myths of gods with agency beyond what humans hold in their hands.

    And most importantly is recognizing the third: we understand much of the harm we do; but that harm impacts either people in other places or future generations, and we cannot be bothered to hold ourselves accountable for that harm. That, to me, is the most disturbing thing.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to zic
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      says:

      zic, your explanation of crafting the myth of Gods falls more into the pagan worldview that everything is up to fate and humans have little control over what they do and what happens to them. It goes against the monotheistic worldview. In all of the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism, God has ethical standards and holds people to them. Some monotheistic thinkers lean closer to the idea of fate and pre-destination but generally most go towards the idea that people have free will and the capacity to control their worst desires if they put the effort into it. Its not easy but it is possible.

      The idea of self-discipline and free will is especially important in Judaism. Judaism does not teach that being good or moral is easy, we actually think its very hard. Its why God describes the Torah as a blessing and curse when he gave it to Israel. Its a blessing because it creates a guideline for an ethical life. Its a curse because living an ethical life is not something that comes easily and requires sacrifice.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        While I don’t disagree on the specifics of the development of monotheistic religion, I think that represents much too small a time scale.

        I would argue that all monotheistic religions are based upon social constructs that were older and tended toward pagan; that as time passed and myth grew, there was a trend toward monotheistic religions because they were easier to spread through larger population groups, and beliefs refined toward ethical standards because they provided more social stability.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to zic
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          says:

          I believe it was just the opposite; that paganism provided a functional portability that monotheism simply can’t.
          Specifically, the technique involved invaders bringing in a new set of gods, and co-opting the existing gods of the defeated peoples by introducing the newer deities as offspring of the older; i.e. Titans, Olympians, etc.Report

  13. Avatar Kyle Cupp
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    says:

    The absurdity and tragedy of life ought to remind theists of their own apophatic tradition: nothing can be said of God, including the word “nothing.” Words like omnipotence and omniscience and so forth are not really descriptions of God, but metaphors for understanding the divine that, by definition, fall infinitely short of the mark. The talk of God having a plan or bringing good out of evil or other such expressions often heard amidst disasters are really about maintaining the consistency and coherence of our theologies; they can’t be about God because we do not know what we’re talking about when we talk about God. Horrors disrupt our lives and they should disrupt our theologies.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Kyle Cupp
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      says:

      God having a plan or bringing good out of evil or other such expressions often heard amidst disasters are really about maintaining the consistency and coherence of our theologies; they can’t be about God because we do not know what we’re talking about when we talk about God. Horrors disrupt our lives and they should disrupt our theologies.

      As a non-believer, I agree with this 100%; though perhaps not for the reasons you intend, and forgive me Kyle, if I chuckled at your expense.Report

    • Avatar Zac in reply to Kyle Cupp
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      says:

      If nothing can be said of God, then congratulations! You have destroyed the basis for all religions. You can’t say God is beyond human comprehension and then turn around and say, “But we know he wants us to do X.”Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Zac
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        says:

        You can if you believe that God has spoken in a way that can be comprehended.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Zac
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        says:

        Zac, Judaism tends to speak of God in the negative. That is speak about God by defining what God is not. Its called negative theology. Its kind of like trying to explain really advanced scientific concepts to people without the background or education to really comprehend them. You have to reduced the complexity of the ideas to a certain extent so lay people can understand. Even very intelligent lay people might need to have certain scientific or mathematic ideas explained to them in the simplest terms possible.

        Not all religions are based on around the worship of God or gods. The Dharmic religions are not really concerned with the divine but with a release from the cycle of suffering. Daoism isn’t that much concerned with the divine either. Among monotheistic religions, Judaism is not overly concered with the nature of God or the afterlife as Christinaity and Islam are but with living a sanctified life through Halacha.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kyle Cupp
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      says:

      I imagine that if I were a theist, I would be a Scotist, so I find apophatic theologies to be significantly less than satisfying, but I wonder how you get from not being able to say anything about God to the notion that “natural evil” shouldn’t at least affect one’s theology. In fact, I think the strongest counters (perhaps the only counters) to the argument from the problem of evil, rely pretty heavily on univocity, since they rely on a graspable difference in scope between the knowledge entailed by omniscience and the knowledge that we finite beings have. Without such a distinction, or the positing of supernatural beings lesser than God but endowed with free will as well (suggesting that these beings are responsible for natural disasters or diseases, making them a problem of moral rather than natural evil, and therefore an issue of free will and not God’s omnibenevolence), I’m not sure how you defeat the problem of evil without merely waving it away as a mystery of divine simplicity on which our knowledge and language simply cannot speak. In which case, one has only avoided having one’s theology disturbed by closing one’s eyes and covering one’s ears.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I look back at my life, I can see any number of experiences where I thought I was being punished unjustly and, now, I know that I was being treated mercifully. Stuff I thought that was a bad thing that happened to me was, instead, something that turned out to be something good.

        Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that absolutely everything must be like that… but I was absolutely certain at the time and now I have enough perspective to say “huh, I was wrong”.

        So the argument that I know, for sure, that this… *THIS* must be something that is bad this time? I can’t help but look at the seventy times I said that and was wrong.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          You’re missing Chris’s point, just like you’ve been missing (deliberately?) Shaz’s point.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Eh, I kinda thought that I was merely disagreeing (and not disagreeing that much, at the end of the day). The thing that bothers me most in the theodicy debate is the whole “I have where-to-stand to be a Judge.”

            Not necessarily because I disagree with whatever judgment they happen to make but because of how much they sound like people that I know are wrong… including versions of me.

            It makes it difficult to not wonder aloud “what’s different from the last kabillion times?”Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Actually, I think you’re agreeing with me. The only counter to the problem of evil that I find compelling is the one that says that we don’t know enough to understand why these things happen, and whether there might be things that we could know that would make it clear that these things are, as you say, merciful (or something else less than or the opposite of evil).

              My only point to Kyle was that this argument only makes sense if our theology is at least to some extent cataphatic. Otherwise, we really are just waving the problem away.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Thanks, Jaybird. Next time a student tells me she was raped, I’ll counsel her to consider whether it may have been a merciful act.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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            says:

            Tell her that God should have done more to prevent her rapist from raping her.

            Perhaps you could go from there to explain that maybe her rape should be seen as sufficient evidence that she should stop believing in either a good God or a powerful one.

            Perhaps even in a God at all.

            Then be sure to use her as an example in an online argument. Maybe her rape will help you win a point in the comments.Report

            • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              I’m sure once she gains perspective she’ll see that all of that is true.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Jaybird, I can’t help but read this comment as willful ignorance. You were a philosophy major as an undergrad, yes? So I have 100% certainty that you actually are aware of the distinctions being made in the Argument from Evil. What I don’t understand is why you’re acting like you don’t understand the distinctions being made.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Yeah. +1000Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                My problem is that, in the absence of a God, I can’t help but wish we had better definitions of what Evil (or Good, for that matter) would actually consist of, if not a certain number of “really”s that prepend a “dislike that”.

                We’re more than happy enough to abandon God but we’re just as married to His Law As We Understand It as we were when we believed in Him.

                “Evil Exists” is a much different statement in a universe without a deity than in a universe with one. Perhaps it can be just as meaningful, sure… but it requires, at the very least, a shouldering of the burden of proof.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Jaybird, just suppose that there is no God; and despite that, for all thousands upon thousands of years, we’ve talked of God (or gods), we’ve had laws about how to behave that have civilized us; helped to keep us from thieving, lying, murdering, etc. We’re supposing, just for a minute, that there isn’t a God, but otherwise, all that history and law remains unchanged.

                We get a net benefit to mankind; something that’s helped them keep enough peace to go from a relatively rare and weak biped-mammal to one of the most prolific of mammals in a mere 2 million years.

                So even if God doesn’t exist, that we created God fulfilled some need; and we can keep the laws of good behavior and bad behavior because they’ve served us well. We don’t need to be ‘good’ because God tells us to; we can do it simply because we know, in the long run, we’re all better off for that good; like you don’t behave (well, at least most of the time) because your parents told you to, they’re not looking over your shoulder any longer, they cannot read your mind; you behave because you know it’s better.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic
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                says:

                Sure. And in 1640, what would we have thought about the status of women? In 1740, what would we have thought about the status of slavery?

                In 2140, we’re going to look back at 2000 and see a bunch of preening moral cretins who thought that they knew what good or evil was despite everything going on under our nose right freakin’ now.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                In 2140, we’re going to look back at 2000 and see a bunch of preening moral cretins who thought that they knew what good or evil was despite everything going on under our nose right freakin’ now.

                I hope so.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I’m pretty sure you can count on it.

                Just as I’m fairly sure that we can count on them being preening moral cretins as well.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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            says:

            Rape is the sort of moral evil that Christian theology at least (and I assume Jewish theology) treats as a problem of human free will, not a problem of divine will. Rape, to them, is possible because in order to make it impossible, God would have to deny us free will. Same goes for murder and any other moral evil we can think of.

            The problem of evil really only works as a logical argument for the nonexistence of God if we focus exclusively on “natural evils”: disease, pestilence, and natural disasters like the tsunami or the recent tornadoes. And I think it’s a good argument, or at least can be one (some versions are pretty shitty, but the more formal ones are good). I think at the very least it should make the theist think about the nature of God, if not God’s nonexistence. But there’s a counter, and as is the case in most arguments for or against the existence of God or gods, I think the counter results in a draw that leaves us with a choice.

            I don’t mind that it leaves us with a choice, either. In the end, one of the things that I like most about my atheism is that it was chosen; that it is active rather than a reactive.Report

            • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris
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              says:

              Fine, forget rape as an example and stick with a natural evil, the 2004 tsunami. I’m sure that was bad, but I think of the 70 times I was sure something was bad but was wrong.

              Maybe with time I’ll develop the perspective to see that the quarter million casualties weren’t a bad thing after all. Maybe it was even a merciful act.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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                says:

                The thing is, the Argument from Evil doesn’t even require the existence of EVIL (or, on Jaybird’s tortured view of things, a definitive semantics of EVIL) to go thru. Any old bad thing will do. Like a tsunami. And given that … well … what you just said is exactly correct.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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                says:

                If we wanted to compare its moral content to the moral content of the asteroid strike that ended the Cretaceous, would we begin with “it obviously has more and we should question the moral bona fides of people who disagree”?

                I’m assuming we will, of course.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Who is we?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j@m3z Aitch.
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                says:

                You and me at the beginning, but I’d be willing to include everybody in the thread.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Not so sure about me. Sure, I’d prefer it be dinosaurs, not me, but if you’re going to talk about the moral content, I think I’m going to have to compare numbers. I’d probably add some modifiers for presumed differences in capacity for experiencing psychological anguish, but, man, that’s still an awful lot of dinos.

                I guess now my moral bona fides get questioned, but I’ve grown accustomed to that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Basing things on psychological anguish brings me back to wondering if what we mean by “evil” is little more than the number of “really”s that show up in the sentence “I really, really, (this goes on for a while), really don’t like this.”Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Is killing someone slowly by torture more evil than killing them by a bullet to the brain?

                “Really, really” may have more utilitarian clout than “really.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                And that means that evil can be addressed to a great extent through expectations management.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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                says:

                Some predator out there is eating her fill; a fat mouse, maybe a bird. A few years back, it was a fox, and the prey one of my cats. I’m rather sure that the prey feels pain in it’s death; some quicker, some slower. But I’m also sure the cat has the right to live. This is not good/evil; it’s life, death, and our nervous systems, evolved to help protect us from being prey. Often, not very successfully.

                Earthquake, volcano, storm — these things are not evil, either, though they cause pain. Without volcanos, we’d have no atmosphere, no water, no life, for instance. So though they’re potentially horrible, though they cause pain and misery, its not a malevolent evil.

                Now if we muck with the atmosphere enough that horrible storms increase, and the horror from storms increase or the sea rises, we can debate evil there; for we’ll have done this mucking with both agency and knowledge of the potential consequences.

                I think, in discussing evil, it’s important to account for the importance of agency; something can be ‘bad’ because it causes harm and destruction and pain, but hey, even a fox has got to eat; vegetarian isn’t an option. And something can be ‘bad’ through evil agency, as in a rape, an intentional murder, a genocide.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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                Now, as an atheist, I don’t find the tsunami to be evil. I find it to be unfathomably horrible, and senseless as well, but not at all evil. We live on Earth. We are at the mercy of its forces, which can destroy us with no ill intent. The best we can do is try to mitigate their danger. To the extent that it was evil, if that’s the word we want to use, it is so because we failed to mitigate their danger to the extent that we reasonably could have (with an early warning system, e.g.).

                One of the weird things about the problem of evil, to me, is that the evils it uses in its proof are only evil if there is a God. If we buy the argument, we get a sort of paradox: if (natural) evil exists, then via a pretty straightforward reductio, God’s existence leads to a contradiction, so we conclude that God doesn’t exist. However, if God doesn’t exist, then (natural) evil doesn’t exist, so the reductio no longer leads to a contradiction.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Once again, Chris says what I have been failing to say and would probably continue to fail to say.

                (Does “Deep Ecology” still have influence in certain corners of the academy or did that wither away like Communism as the 90’s congealed into the oughts?)Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Can’t speak to Deep Ecology and the Academy, but I have some pretty serious concerns about any ecology that doesn’t view man as part of the ecology. We are not above it, nor outside it, we are part of it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic
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                says:

                Watch out. That might lead you to “Global Warming ain’t no big thing because humans are part of the natural order too.”

                Not saying that it necessarily will, of course… but it certainly *CAN* and it’s not at all obvious that it shouldn’t.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                says:

                No natural evil still exists, there is just no one to blame for it.

                If you don’t like the word “evil” ask yourself whether this is the best of all possible worlds or whether God could have put us in a better one.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Eh, if evil is simply things happening that are bad, regardless of whether there’s any intent (much less intent to do evil), then I find the concept silly. Should implies can, and the planet simply cannot obey moral commands. Or at least, if you think that it can, you and I have very different metaphysics.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                says:

                No, the problem is that if the world can be better and God can do anything, the fact that he hasn’t put us in a better world means he either doesn’t care or actively dislikes us.

                To say that there is evil is just to say the world could be better than it is.

                If there is no one who can make the world better and no one who is responsible for making the world this way, it is still true that the world could be better (in colloquial terms that there is evil), but it is not true that there is someone who is responsible for making the world this bad (i.e. filling it with evil).

                No contradiction at all.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Chris
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                says:

                No, the problem is that if the world can be better and God can do anything, the fact that he hasn’t put us in a better world means he either doesn’t care or actively dislikes us.

                There are at least four assumptions in that one sentence with which various theologies take exception. Now, you can find those exceptions not compelling…Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                OK, I’m feeling a little bit dim. How is it possible for the world to be better, in the sense that it doesn’t harm people, occasionally in large numbers? Or at least, in what sense is it possible? Is it possible in that we can conceive of an alternative world, with all the life-giving properties of ours, which would include both its internal heat, the abundance of water, an atmosphere that admits a certain range of cosmic radiation, particularly solar radiation, of roughly this size and distance from the star around which it revolves, and so on, that doesn’t have plates that move against each other, or large-scale (and deadly storm-producing) transfers of energy from one part of the planet to the next, etc.? Is it possible to conceive of a world in which evolution does not produce any organisms that survive at the expense of organisms, which would mean no predators or pathogens?

                It seems to me that the alternative composition of the planet would either violate the laws of physics or result in a planet hostile to life, and that the alternative evolutionary history, if it doesn’t violate everything we know about biology (I suppose we’d have to get all of our energy directly from the sun, and all of the chemicals we’d need to harness that energy directly from non-organic sources, which seems like it would be pretty tough), would certainly mean that we would be radically different creatures, would it not?

                It seems to me the world, on a global scale, is pretty much what it needs to be, perhaps with some small room for correction here or there, for us to be here and be anything like we are. In which case, the only way to imagine a world that is less evil in the relevant ways (e.g., the way the weather works) is to imagine a world in which we don’t exist.

                And even if we can conceive of a world that is the same in all the live-giving respects, but different in the ways that it can potentially harm us (and we’re going to have to include the whole universe here, too, because presumably giant asteroids that hit the earth and wipe out most or all life are evil under your view, too), how does this logical possibility, but is at least currently a physical impossibility, imply evil? I mean, physical impossibility is impossibility, which means there is no can to allow a should, which means…Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                If you could put a drug (known with certainty to have no harmful side effects) in the water supply that would cure all child molesters and take away anyone’s psychological desire to molest children would that not make the world better?

                If you could easily put the drug in the water supply, wouldn’t it be “evil” of you not to do it?

                Would you be concerned that you were taking freedom away from the child molesters.

                The creator of the universe should be able to cure the molesters. But he doesn’t, if he exists. He wants us to live in a world with child molestation.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                If you could put a drug (known with certainty to have no harmful side effects) in the water supply that would cure all child molesters and take away anyone’s psychological desire to molest children would that not make the world better?

                Below I humor you and treat this as the same as tsunamis, but at this point, you’re asking a very different question. You’re asking if, were it possible to eliminate certain kinds of human behavior without any other consequences (a counterfactual scenario that is purely fanciful, but we can forget that for the moment), would the world be better off if we did so? Sure! If we could eliminate the killing of other human beings for unjust reasons, the raping of adults, theft, and so on, without any other consequences, the world would be a better place. It would still have hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis and sink holes and droughts and floods, though, and those things would still not be evil. No one is questioning whether child molesting is evil. I am questioning now why you think we can blame the planet for it (or are you asking a question completely unrelated to the conversation we were having?).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                I mean, physical impossibility is impossibility, which means there is no can to allow a should, which means…

                Chris, what you’ve just written here is consistent with the conclusion drawn from the argument from evil, ie., that if there is a God, he isn’t omnipotent. (The conditional is important!)

                Personally, I think there’s some confusion expressed in this thread about what the argument from evil is supposed to show. One thing it isn’t attempting to show is that evil is inconsistent with any conception of God. (It’s not an argument for atheism!) It presupposes a semantics for the word “God” according to Judeo-Christian tradition, one in which God is all powerful, all good, all knowing, eternal, etc etc, and presents a reductio on that concept.

                I think it’s a successful reductio, myself. It seems to me, tho, that you’re working on the assumption that people on this thread are using the problem of evil as a reductio on all conceptions of God. That doesn’t follow, it seems to me. It’s entirely possible for someone to adhere to a conception of God which isn’t omni-everything, one which is consistent with the existence of evil.

                If someone responds to the argument from evil by advocating for a more minimal or limited conception of God, then they’re actually conceding that the argument from evil is sound.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Still, this little subthread wasn’t really about the problem of evil, but about whether natural disasters are evil. Personally, as an atheist, I don’t see them as evil except to the extent that their dangers could have been mitigated by us and weren’t (and no one’s claiming that we’re omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent). Shaz is arguing that they are evil, to which I replied that if the Earth can’t change its behavior in accordance with moral commands, then they are not immoral, which means I wouldn’t call them evil.

                I also think that you can make a valid reductio out of the problem of evil.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Ahh, OK. On that point I agree with you. For something to be evil it must have resulted from an intentional act by a moral agent. Something like that. So naturally occurring events cannot be evil. QED!

                Maybe Shaz has been a little loose in his language, but like I said upthread the Argument from Evil doesn’t actually require the existence of evil in the world to get up an running. Any old bad thing will do.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Chris,

                Suppose we find out that a parasite had infected the brains of Hitler and everyone in charge of the Holocaust that caused them to engage in the Holocaust.

                Would you stop calling the Holocaust evil?

                Stillwater is right that the term “evil” is being used loosely here. I don’t mean this to sound rude and condescending (though you were condescending to me by saying you would “humor me”), but any undergrad who has studied the problem knows that the term “evil” isn’t really an important part of what they call the Problem of Evil. If an MA or PhD student came to me (when I was an academic) and said they wanted to write about what you are talking about, I’d point out that they’ll look ignorant about the problem of the content of the problem of evil.

                The Problem of Evil is that God would have made the universe as good for us as he possibly could if he loves us and is all-good, and God can do anything (outside of the logically impossible), so therefore the universe we live in is the best possible world that there could be. But, unless you want to go with Leibniz, this isn’t the best possible world. The world could be better, for example, of we got rid of the impetus to molest children. The cost to human freedom would be negligible, as you are not less free because you do not desire to molest children.

                As Hume points out in the Dialogues (best treatment of religion evah!), if the is even one little bit of suffering or horror or awfulness that isn’t necessary to bring about a greater good, the problem of evil shows God either isn’t all good or all powerful. And it is nearly impossible to maintain such a strong necessetarianism about all evil (suffering, pain, cruelty), particularly when some places (or time periods) on earth have less of that evil than others.

                The paradox that you are worried about just isn’t relevant to the Problem of Evil. It is mere wordplay about the word “Evil” which is irrelevant to the content of the problem.

                This will be my last comment on this subject. I am annoyed by your condescension about “humoring me.”Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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                That’s how proof by contradiction works. You start by asserting the premise you want to disprove. If that leads to a contradiction, you’ve disproven the premise.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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                And the contradiction goes away if you don’t assert the false premise, because true premises don’t lead to contradictions.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Brandon Berg
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                Apparently you’ve missed the point. If the premise is true, the conclusion is true. If the conclusion is true, the premise is false. Therefore, if the premise is true, the premise is false. That’s pretty much what a paradox is.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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                I think that’s just an artifact of semantics.

                Premise A: There exist natural phenomena which would not exist in a world governed by a benevolent, omnipotent god.
                Premise B: The world is governed by a benevolent, omnipotent god.
                This gives us a contradiction, therefore at least one premise is false. Since we know A to be true, it must be B.

                -vs-

                Premise A: There exist natural phenomena which would not exist in a world governed by a benevolent, omnipotent god.
                Premise B: The world is not governed by a benevolent, omnipotent God.
                No contradiction.

                Now, if we change premise A to “Evil exists in the form of harmful natural phenomena,” then the second set of premises produces a contradiction (assuming a definition of evil that requires conscious design), because the natural phenomena can’t be evil if they’re not the product of conscious design. But that’s just because we got the premises wrong.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                Well said Brandon.

                BTW, I always seem to disagree with you, but I am always impressed by how whip smart you are. Seriously.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                Brandon, again, I’m saying the premise is true only if the conclusion is false, but if the premise is true, the conclusion is false. As a matter of formal logic, not as a matter of mere semantics, this is a paradox. This is not difficult. You can deny that the premise depends on the truth or falsity of the conclusion (while the conclusion, in the argument, does depend on the truth of the premise), but that’s another point altogether (one that Shazbot is making, though I think ultimately unsuccessfully).Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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                Shazbot:
                Well…shazbot. Now I have to be nice to you.

                Chris:
                I’d have to see it formalized, I guess. I can’t see any contradiction in what you said that can’t be resolved by replacing “evil” with a description of the phenomena that doesn’t implicitly assume conscious design.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
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              I don’t mind that it leaves us with a choice, either. In the end, one of the things that I like most about my atheism is that it was chosen; that it is active rather than a reactive.

              I feel just this way, too, and you’ve put it wonderfully.

              I feel this choice here also puts an onus on me to live a carefully examined life; not because I receive punishment or reward after this life is over, but because this is what I get, no more.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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              Well God could prevent some human evils and still allow us to have free will.

              I have free will and have never thought about or had the chance to commit genocide. If God gave us enough compassion that it was literally impossible for us or even just incredibly unlikely for us to commit genocide, the world would be better.

              Another analogy. Women are very unlikely to rape men. But women still have the gift of free will, even if they don’t rape often or even if their brains made it impossible for them to rape. If God had made all men more like women in this respect, there would be less rape, AND we wouldn’t be puppets or automata.

              God could have made the world filled with less human/moral evil. But he didn’t because, if he exists, he is a dink.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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                Hmm… so are you saying it is in men’s nature to commit evil, and God should have made it not so? Or are you saying that it is in men’s nature that it is possible for him to commit rape, and God should have made it so? If it’s the former, well, I don’t know what to say. If it’s the latter, where do we stop? If we were theists, would we think that a God who’d made it impossible to commit any evil beyond petty little ethical violations like stealing the neighbor’s paper for the coupons, God had given us free will?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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                (Removed by Jaybird. This comment was not helpful.)Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                The world would be better without rape and AIDS.

                Would the world be better without pissy arguments and head colds and back pain. Maybe not.

                Is it hard to draw the line between what we would be better off without and what we wouldn’t? Yes. But it is a line drawing fallacy to suggest that because the line is hard to draw that there is no line.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Shazbot3
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                Let’s stick with AIDS for a moment.

                AIDS evolved by the process of natural selection. If the process of natural selection exists, and a variable environment exists, you’re going to get stuff like AIDS.

                So your choice is to have AIDS, or not have natural selection and thus probably have to have a static environment or everything goes extinct at the first outside influence on the environment.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Patrick
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                An omnipotent God can’t make a universe with natural selection and no AIDS?

                Omnipotent means he can do anything that isn’t logically impossible.

                Is the existence of AIDS logically necessary?

                You guys need to read the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Sorry to sound condescending.

                I am done.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                What is Hume going to tell us there?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                “Tis not unreasonable for me to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.”Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Patrick
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                I think that was Mel Brooks on the difference between comedy and tragedy.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                Heh… I believe that’s from the Treatise, but still a quote that should be brought out whenever possible.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                P.S. I was hoping for something about infant and superannuated deities.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                I’ve read Hume. Just for the record. I’m absolutely certain that Jaybird has, and Rose, and Chris, and Blaise, and I’d be gobsmacked if Jason hadn’t.

                And yes, that was condescending. That’s okay.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is one of those texts that requires a pretty close reasoning, or you will almost certainly fall into fairly easy misinterpretation traps. In my experience, it rarely gets such a reading from the people who, in contexts like this thread, tell you that you should read it. I’ve found that such people, well atheists, tend to latch onto certain of Philo’s arguments without really even considering what Cleanthes says or how successful Philo is in employing them. That’s why I fully expected the passage about infant and superannuated gods and knowing the nature of god from design arguments.

                I bet Jason, given the period of time he’s focused on academically, would be the best person here to talk about it. It’s a very timely work, all wrapped up in the science of the time and the natural religion that is used to explain/justify that science. Also, I think I’ve seen Brandon of Siris around here occasionally. He is a Hume scholar, and has written a bunch on the work (though I take it his interpretation of what the Dialogues is about is somewhat outside of the consensus).Report

              • Avatar kenB in reply to Patrick
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                I don’t see it as condescension so much as a rhetorical tactic to claim intellectual superiority without having to provide any real evidence for it. To me it always suggests that the speaker doesn’t really have a command of the recommended material, or else s/he would provide a brief summary of the relevant argument — can’t say whether that applies in this case.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                Also, if I had a dime for every time I’ve been told by people… well, atheists, to read Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, I could probably afford to buy the original manuscript, if it is still in existence. It’s in the standard atheist toolkit, apparently.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Patrick
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                Sigh…

                ” Several different strategies are available to the theist to defuse this problem [the problem of evil] — that is, theodicies of various kinds. One strategy is to deny the reality of evil and insist that the evils we experience or observe in the world are really “goods to the universe” which are essential for a perfectly good whole. In other words, these are only evils relative to our individual, narrow, human perspective. From the divine perspective, viewing the universe as one system, the removal of such ills or afflictions would produce greater ill or diminish the total amount of good in the world. This strategy may be interpreted as arguing either that there are no real evils in the world (i.e., only apparent evils) or that there are real evils in the world but they are all necessary evils — without which the whole system of nature would not be so perfect (Cp. D, 10.5–7/194; EU, 8.34/101).

                In respect of the first view, that there is no real evil, <Hume takes the view that it is plainly contrary to human experience. The reality of the distinction between good and evil — whether physical or moral — depends on “the natural sentiments of the human mind”. These distinctions, based on feeling, cannot be altered or amended “by any philosophical theory or speculation whatsoever” (EU, 8.34–5/101–03). In the Dialogues Hume opens his discussion of the problem of evil by having Philo (the sceptic) run through a long catalogue of the variety and extent of misery and suffering in this world. He begins with animal suffering of various kinds (the strong preying on the weak etc.) and moves on to human suffering in its numerous forms (illness, emotional torments, war etc.). Even religion (i.e., “superstition”) is a source of fear and anxiety. Despite this catalogue of human suffering and grief, we find ourselves too afraid of death to put an end to our miserable existence. “We are terrified, not bribed to the continuance of our existence.” (D, 10.17/197) The conclusion that Philo draws from all this is that “the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity” –which brings us back to “Epicurus's old questions" [i.e. the problem of evil] (D, 10.25/198).

                The first line of reply to this comes from Demea (the mystic) who argues that “the present evil phenomena … are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence” (D, 10.29/199). This is a view that is immediately corrected by Cleanthes along similar lines to those that Hume also presents in the first Enquiry. The problem here is that if we grant, with Demea, the reality of evil in this world then in so far as our understanding of God's attributes is based on the evidence of his creation in this world, we are in no position to infer the “perfect goodness of the Deity”.

                Now without some such license of supposition, it is impossible for us to argue from the cause, or infer any alteration in the effect, beyond what has immediately fallen under our observation. Greater good produced by this Being must still prove a greater degree of goodness: a more impartial distribution of rewards and punishments must proceed from a greater regard to justice and equity. Every supposed addition to the works of nature makes an addition to the attributes of the Author of nature; and consequently, being entirely unsupported by any reason or argument, can never be admitted but as a mere conjecture and hypothesis. (EU, 11.26/ 145)

                Hume's point is not that the reality of evil proves that God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly good but that we are in no position to claim that we know that God will “rectify” the evil of this world (e.g., its unjust distribution of good and evil) in a future state, since the evidence of this world does not support such a conjecture. Our predicament is like that of a person who stands in the porch that leads into a very different building or structure and must conjecture what the complete or whole plan is like. We may hope or imagine that something better awaits us but the present phenomena do not license a conjecture or hypothesis of this kind (EU, 11.21,24/ 141,143).

                Faced with this difficulty, Cleanthes insists that contrary to all that Philo and Demea have claimed, we must allow that there is more happiness than misery, more pleasure than pain, in this world. Failing this, “there is an end at once of all religion” (D, 10.28/199). Philo’s response is that this is a fatal concession. Not only will it be hard to prove that there is more happiness than misery in the world, much more than this is needed to vindicate God’s moral attributes. Unless all evil is essential or necessary the religious position will collapse. Any degree or kind of unnecessary evil — however small — would tell against the existence of God as an infinitely powerful and perfectly good being. The usual reply to this (echoing God’s answer to Job) is that we humans are in no position to tell whether there is any unnecessary evil in this world –for all we know, all the evil in this world is indeed necessary evil. It is arrogance to question God’s existence and goodness when we lack understanding of the infinite complexities of his creation.

                The central thrust of Hume’s discussion of evil in the Dialogues is to show that this kind of theodicy fails. [That is, Chris’s reading of the dialogues is wrong.]

                I will allow, that pain or misery in man is compatible with infinite power and goodness in the Deity, even in your sense of these attributes: What have you advanced by all these concessions? A mere possible compatibility is not sufficient. You must prove these pure unmixed, and uncontrollable attributes from the present mixed and confused phenomena, and from these alone. (D,10.35/201)

                Philo goes on to point out that even if the phenomena of nature were “pure and unmixed” (i.e., entirely good) they are still finite and so insufficient to prove God’s infinite perfection and goodness. The phenomena of nature are, in any case, not only finite, they are a mixture of good and evil, so any effort to prove God’s “infinite power and goodness” on this basis is a hopeless task. Here Philo claims to “triumph” (D, 10.36/201). Further on, Philo returns to this point.

                … as this goodness is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no grounds for such an inference, while there are so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can be allowed to judge on such a subject. I am sceptic enough to allow, that the bad appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose: But surely they can never prove these attributes. (D, 11.12/211)

                Clearly, then, the task required of orthodox theism cannot be to establish merely the possibility that the existence of evil is consistent with God’s existence, it is to explain how we can infer God’s infinite power and goodness on the basis of our experience of finite phenomena that presents us with a mixture of good and evil in this world. It is this task, Philo maintains, that Cleanthes has failed to perform.

                The subtlety of Hume’s argument is now clear. There is no need for the sceptic to launch a strong argument that aims to prove that God cannot exist on the basis of the real existence of evil in this world. All that the sceptic needs to do is to show that the theist is unable to prove or establish God’s attributes of infinite power and goodness given the evidence of creation as we observe it. What the theist must do, in order to meet this challenge, is to show that all the evil that exists in this world (i.e., every last degree and measure of it) is necessary and unavoidable. It is clear that the theist is in no position to support this claim. The mere possibility that this is the case will not suffice to justify the inference to God’s infinite power and goodness. We cannot, therefore, establish God’s moral attributes along the lines that Cleanthes has suggested.

                Hume’s “concession” that evil and God’s existence are compatible may have the appearance of (another) “retreat” from a stronger sceptical position. The significance of this concession should not be exaggerated. While the sceptic cannot prove that there does indeed exist some unnecessary evil in the world, it is nevertheless possible to show that this view of things is in no way unreasonable. Hume describes a fourfold catalogue of causes of evil in this world none of which “appear to human reason, in the least degree, necessary or unavoidable” (D, 11.5/205). He asks, for example, why animal creation is not animated entirely by pleasure, as it appears “plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain” (D, 11.6/206). Similarly, why could God not have been more generous in providing his creatures with better endowments for their survival and happiness (i.e., why is God not more of an “indulgent parent”)? (D, 11.9/208) Again, why does nature run into such extremes in relation to heat and cold, rains, winds, and so on? Surely things could have been arranged so that these extremes and their destructive consequences could be avoided? Finally, Hume asks why God does not act through particular volitions to prevent specific catastrophes and disasters (e.g., why not ensure there is no storm blowing when a fleet is out at sea)? (D,11.8/206) In all these cases, Hume grants, there may “be good reasons, why providence interposes not in this manner; but they are unknown to us” (D, 11.8/207). The implication of all this is not just that we have no reason to infer the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God but that we have considerable reason for doubting it.”
                Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Patrick
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                If you have read the relevant passages of Hume, you wouldn’t offer up arguments he clearly knocks down.

                I get that there is a worry about whether Philo is the voice of Hume in the Dialogues, but the Stanford Encyclopedia Entry I cited suggests that these are not just Philo, but Hume’s statements about theodicies.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Patrick
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                One scholar who thinks that Hume destroys any rational basis for theism and any attempt at theodicy in the Dialogues is Simon Blackburn.

                Granted, Blackburn is no “Brandon of the Internet,” but I’ll take his Hume scholarship over Brandon’s any day of the week.

                I like this little article here by Blackburn, and it makes a concession: A person shouldn’t be a “militant atheist,” as Hume wasn’t, even if Hume (and others) clearly showed in the Dialogues that there is no rational basis to theism. I’m not sure exactly what “militant atheism” means, but it might be a good concession.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                What was my reading? I forgot, since I have forgotten actually laying one out here (also, could you point me to my comment where I gave one)?

                Honestly, I don’t really know how to respond to an entire comment taken from another source, but I’ll try. I think I can say that just because Hume says that physical evil exists because our natural sentiments say it is so, and we cannot argue against natural sentiments, doesn’t count as a serious refutation of my position that “physical evil” (or natural evil) doesn’t exist without divine command. Hell, I don’t hold Hume’s theory of the sentiments, but now that you’ve told me I must accept them, I should probably reread the Treatise and Enquiry so that I can remember precisely what I have to accept. I’ll get back to you 3 months from now when I have finally finished reading them.

                Also, I disagree that Hume, or Philo (and Philo is clearly Hume), has argued or concluded that we have “no reason to infer the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God.” This is pretty clearly not the point of the Dialogues. The point of the Dialogues, if it is along these lines, is that we cannot “infer the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God” from natural facts alone. In fact, the bulk of what Philo is on about is that, while the design may (in fact does) imply an intelligence, it doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of that intelligence (and so Cleanthes is unjustified in basically going from nature to the Christian God via analogy). I would argue this point with you, but you’ll have to read the text, and not just an SEP article, first.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Patrick
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                I won’t let you be more condescending than me.

                Your position on physical evil completely misses the point of the problem of evil. It is a joke. The problem requires that there are natural events that we would be better off had they not happened. That is all. It does not require that the physical universe be blamed for them. Not at all. The question of whether natural acts that we would be better off had they not happened should be called “evil” is just completely irrelevant.

                Your reading is that Philo’s position is not Hume’s. Don’t take back your disagreement with me now. (There are places where that may be true, BTW, but not in Philo’s discussion of the problem of evil.) It is not just the SEP that suggests this reading is false, but also Blackburn. You are pretending to expertise that you don’t have about what Hume says or how “complex” the text is (that dull, simple atheists like me won’t get) where actual experts disagree with you.

                Don’t retreat and say “I just said it was complicated.” If so, you agree with my reading and should’ve said so instead of coyly suggesting that I was wrong about Hume. Why was it relevant for you to try to say I was reading Hume too simply?

                ” disagree that Hume, or Philo (and Philo is clearly Hume), has argued or concluded that we have “no reason to infer the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God.” This is pretty clearly not the point of the Dialogues. The point of the Dialogues, if it is along these lines, is that we cannot “infer the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God” from natural facts alone.”

                Are you kidding with this pedantic nonsense. Do you think Hume would say that we can come up with a reason to believe in the existence of God that isn’t “inferred” from “natural facts alone?” What you are calling the point and what I am calling the point are so identical that it is clear that you are just trying to be pedantic and “right.” Sad.

                You needn’t accept everything Hume says to accept the arguments I cited and put in bold. Just this:

                “Clearly, then, the task required of orthodox theism cannot be to establish merely the possibility that the existence of evil is consistent with God’s existence, it is to explain how we can infer God’s infinite power and goodness on the basis of our experience of finite phenomena that presents us with a mixture of good and evil in this world. It is this task, Philo maintains, that Cleanthes (and Patrick and Chris) has failed to perform.

                The subtlety of Hume’s argument is now clear. There is no need for the sceptic (like Shazbot) to launch a strong argument that aims to prove that God cannot exist on the basis of the real existence of evil in this world. All that the sceptic needs to do is to show that the theist is unable to prove or establish God’s attributes of infinite power and goodness given the evidence of creation as we observe it. What the theist must do, in order to meet this challenge, is to show that all the evil that exists in this world (i.e., every last degree and measure of it) is necessary and unavoidable. It is clear that the theist is in no position to support this claim.”

                That is all.

                I am seriously pissed. Maybe it’s me but I feel condescended to and kind of gross that I replied with condescension, but I didn’t start it.

                I’ll leave it to readers to judge and bow out.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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                It is to explain how we can infer God’s infinite power and goodness on the basis of our experience of finite phenomena that presents us with a mixture of good and evil in this world.

                Wait, I have to defend the theist position now?

                Have I mentioned that I don’t find Aquinas compelling?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick
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                Anti-anti-theism.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                Dude, I was being condescending. I can’t say I have much respect for someone who tells me to read something, and then is unable to demonstrate a knowledge of the text they’ve just told me to read (to the point that their entire description of the text is copied from an SEP article). So yeah, I was being condescending.

                First, I haven’t argued against the problem of evil. I’ve said that it’s can be a valid argument. I think there is a counter, which argues that it is not valid, because it doesn’t have a proper understanding of omniscience in the premise about God being omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent, but we’re obviously not talking about that here.

                My point about not calling natural evils “evil” is that I don’t think they are evil because I don’t believe in God. “Evil” implies intention or design to me, and I don’t believe that nature has either. So I don’t label them evil. If you want to throw Hume’s remarks about sentiments and naturalness to me, that’s fine. I’d just say that those “sentiments,” in this case, are a result of our tendency to anthropomorphize nature. I find that it confuses more than it elucidates. And like I said, I don’t think it’s possible for things to be different than they are, even if you can, without any reflection (because you’re simply counterfactually mutating the stuff you don’t like, and not examining the causal system that produces them), conceive of a world without earthquakes, so even on a standard contemporary understanding of ethics, it makes little sense to call natural events evil (and if we’re talking about some non-ethical, non-moral conception of evil, well then excuse me while I yawn).

                As for the Dialogues, I don’t recall backtracking on anything. Cleanthes is a defender of natural religion, which is the design argument that you get in many of the major philosophers and scientists of the time. It says, in essence, that the world is intelligible to us, therefore it must have been produced by an intelligent being, intelligent in a way analogous to us, but infinitely more so. Cleanthes, representing the dominant strain of Christian design arguments, wants to get not only the intelligent creator, which Philo stipulates that the design suggests a designer, and never really argues against that. For example, he says to Cleanthes,

                That the works of Nature bear a great analogy to the productions of art, is evident; and according to all the rules of good reasoning, we ought to infer, if we argue at all concerning them, that their causes have a proportional analogy. But as there are also considerable differences, we have reason to suppose a proportional difference in the causes; and in particular, ought to attribute a much higher degree of power and energy to the supreme cause, than any we have ever observed in mankind. Here then the existence of a DEITY is plainly ascertained by reason: and if we make it a question, whether, on account of these analogies, we can properly call him a mind or intelligence, notwithstanding the vast difference which may reasonably be supposed between him and human minds; what is this but a mere verbal controversy?

                And then, on atheists,

                Having obtained this concession, I push him still further in his retreat, and I ask him if it be not probably that the principle which first aranged and still maintains order in this universe bears not also some remote inconceivable analogy to the other operations of nature and, among the rest, to the economy of human mind and though. However, reluctant, he must give his assent.

                What he does argue from several angles, however, that we can’t know the nature of the designer from the design, and therefore we can’t get religion from the design. For example, in the passage I’ve referenced a couple times here about infant and retiree deities, Philo says,

                In a word, Cleanthes, a man who follows your hypothesis is able perhaps to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: but beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance; and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis.

                And later, more relevant to your discussion of evil,

                What! no method of fixing a just foundation for religion, unless we allow the happiness of human life, and maintain a continued existence even in this world, with all our present pains, infirmities, vexations, and follies, to be eligible and desirable! But this is contrary to every one’s feeling and experience: It is contrary to an authority so established as nothing can subvert. No decisive proofs can ever be produced against this authority; nor is it possible for you to compute, estimate, and compare, all the pains and all the pleasures in the lives of all men and of all animals: And thus, by your resting the whole system of religion on a point, which, from its very nature, must for ever be uncertain, you tacitly confess, that that system is equally uncertain.

                But allowing you what never will be believed, at least what you never possibly can prove, that animal, or at least human happiness, in this life, exceeds its misery, you have yet done nothing: For this is not, by any means, what we expect from infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness. Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the Deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are not applicable to them; a topic which I have all along insisted on, but which you have, from the beginning, rejected with scorn and indignation.

                So, once again, the text is clear: (1) Philo (Hume) is only arguing against the design argument (Demea presents Clarke’s a priori argument, but it is Cleanthes, not Philo, who rejects them, arguing that the only valid way to argue for religion is from experience of the order of the world), (2) Philo isn’t arguing that the design inference isn’t valid, only that the design inference doesn’t get us anything but an obscure and confused notion of the designer, (3) This isn’t to reject the possibility of an infinitely benevolent God, only to suggest that if such a God is, the way to him from the nature of the world (a world of suffering) is to mysterious for our human minds.

                Now, when I say it’s complex and deeply embedded in historical context, I don’t mean this part. This part is readily apparent to anyone who reads the text seriously, which you clearly have not done. What I mean is that many of the arguments that get bandied about are arguments that were floating in the intellectual air at the time, and much of what Philo says is built on what Hume says about things like analogy, and the issues were very serious issues at the time, but which we don’t think so much about today (e.g., the intelligibility of the universe was a very real problem, and one that had to be addressed, as Philo admits — here I should note his analogy to mathematics, as a possible alternative to the design inference, but this is not the thrust of his argument, and I suspect you’re not even familiar with what I’m talking about at this point anyway, so whatever).

                Now, let me close by saying that I do not mean to present myself as an expert on Hume or this particular text. When it comes to early modern philosophy, I am a dilettante, or worse. Much of my view on this text in particular has been informed by talking to people who are experts, but this makes me at best, expert adjacent. I have, at least, read it and read more than an SEP about it. I expect the same of people who tell me to read it as if it were some authoritative text that I have to yield to in my thinking. And if they make it clear that they haven’t done the same? Yeah, I’ll probably be condescending.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Do you think we don’t know that the world would be better off if there were fewer (or even no) child molesters?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Well, let’s treat the child molester question as the same sort of question as the tsunami question. What would have to be different in the world for there to be fewer child molesters? Would those differences result in other differences? If so, what would they be, and would they necessarily be “better?”

                That is, let’s say that child molesting is an unfortunate consequence of a combination of biological and cultural evolution. What has to change in order to make that different? Presumably something in either our biological or our cultural evolution, or in both, right? What would have to change? And what would be the consequences of such change over and above reducing the number of child molesters, or perhaps even eliminating them entirely?

                And are these changes both logically and physically possible? You can imagine them, but that’s not enough to make a moral claim.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Given that God is omnipotent, and supposedly the creator of the laws of physics, he is only constrained (at most) by the logically possible.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Yeah. That’s sorta the essential point that’s being repeatedly skipped over.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I’m pretty sure that it would be trivial to invent a world where all of the occupants were blissfully happy all the time. Stick a needle in their arms and put them on a continuous morphine drip into insensibility.

                If absence of pain or suffering is the greatest good, it’s kind of hard to justify otherwise.

                And yet we would (I hope) not consider this a potential solution for evil, would we?

                If we wouldn’t consider it, why would we expect God to do so? Hell, this predates monotheism: was Odysseus wrong to leave the land of the lotus eaters?

                Essentially this line of thought boils down to, “There can’t be a God, because God would be omnibenevolent and omnipotent and omniscient, and I’m none of those things and *I* can do a better job than God of running this joint!” Hell, I’m not even sure I do a good job of running my own life, why would I assume I can run the Universe? That’s just me, there at the end.

                This presupposes that our finite little minds are even capable of understanding what it means to run the joint.

                Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not. But we have literally no grounds whatsoever to state definitively that they are or aren’t. There’s no frame of reference to stand on to answer the question.

                So it’s not that the question is being skipped over, it’s that it’s not particularly more enlightening than where we were before.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                Patrick, exaclty. Or +1.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Still, pretending for a moment that we believe in God and free will, where does God draw the line in limiting our capacity for evil and still allow free will? It seems we’ll have to draw an arbitrary line, and that once that line is drawn, we’ll still whine that petty evil exists. Or we eliminate our capacity for evil altogether, in which case, our “free will” amounts to choosing which New Order song to listen to today. I suspect that most people who believe as we’re pretending to would find this dissatisfying.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                Chris,

                where does God draw the line in limiting our capacity for evil and still allow free will?

                But you’ve conceded (I think anyway) that the argument from evil isn’t about harms perpetrated by humans. I still think there’s a confusion about what the argument from evil is intended to justify. One thing it isn’t used to justify is atheism full stop. What it does show is that an omni-everything god is inconsistent with the world we live in. Patrick – and you as well, I think (I’m too lazy to re-read the thread) – have argued something about the (moral) optimality of natural laws (or something like that). But conceding that much – that God is limited to adhering to natural laws – entails the same conclusion as the argument from evil.

                Really, I don’t understand why you guys are beating up on Shaz about this. The scope of the argument from evil is really limited. Accepting it doesn’t entail atheism or agnosticism or anything. It only commits a person to rejecting the tradition Judeo-Christian conception of God. And both you and Patrick seem to reject that conception.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                We’re not really disagreeing with him about the problem of evil. Or at least, I’m not. I disagreed with him about just about everything else he’s said in this thread, though. For example, this whole little subthread about moral evil, which is his doing, not mine.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                So it’s not that the question is being skipped over, it’s that it’s not particularly more enlightening than where we were before.

                There are a few types of modalities that often get confused. One is confusing metaphysical possibility with epistemic possibility. A good way to highlight the problem is with a mathematical example. Suppose that some famous theorem T hasn’t been proven yet. T might be true, or it might not be. But (to krib from Kripke here) the sense of possibility being invoked isn’t metaphysical. A (mathematical) theorem, if true, is necessarily true. And if false, necessarily false. So the sense in which we say it’s possibly true is merely a reflection of our own current ignorance, so the “possibility” invoked is purely epistemic.

                Your comment, so far as I understand it, is epistemic in nature. Our limited minds may – or may not! – ever be capable of understanding the properties or essence of the being who runs the joint. If that’s right, then they’re limited right now in determining the properties of who runs the joint. We can’t understand them! If that’s the case, then the type of possibility you’re talking about is purely epistemic, since it’s the case that either there is a guy who runs the joint (necessarily), or there isn’t (necessarily), and we just don’t know! The answer might turn out either way!

                The answer might turn out either way, but the fact of the matter is already settled, yes? So we rely on the best evidence available to us to determine how we answer the question “does god exist?” One type of argument against one type of conception of God is the argument from evil. Any non-essential bad thing that happens in this world, if there are any, would constitute a refutation of a particular conception of the guy who runs the joint. Personally, I think identifying those types of bad things are easy. Too easy to even merit much attention (but that’s just me). So observable, empirical evidence answers at least one question regarding the properties of the guy who runs the joint.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Chris, I don’t want to get to deep into the role of Shaz’s Advocate here, but it seems obvious to me that he mentioned child molesters because a) child molesters are evil, and b) presumably God could have constructed a universe in which human beings don’t have any desire to molest children. But He didn’t. And saying that natural laws and free will account for the desire to molest children and that God can’t interfere with makes exactly the point Shaz is trying to make.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Still: a theorem in math may be true, or it may not be true, but there’s actually other possibilities: it may be indeterminate by our axioms. It may literally require a new system of math in order to be expressible. And it may not even be constructable at all with finite axioms.

                Hume was too early for this; most major work in metamathematics is post his time.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                OK Patrick, you can have that. But I think you’re missing my point. AS WE SPEAK, there either is a God, or there isn’t. That’s a fact of the matter. The rest is a jumbled confusion of metaphysics and epistemology and concept analysis and what not. And I think there’s a lot of confusion going on here.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Still, somewhere else in this thread, Shaz and I had basically this same discussion, except about rape (I think). I asked him then where we draw the cutoff. Obviously, a world without child molesters, or even with fewer child molesters, is, ceteris paribus, objectively better than a world with child molesters. But the same is true of a world without murder (we’ll limit ourselves to moral evil here), without rape, without theft, without physical violence of any sort, without fraud, without cheating, without harmful lies (maybe all lies? though I did see that Ricky Gervais movie), and so on, down to the smallest evil or potential evil. Now, imagining we remove each of these evils one at a time, without changing any non-evil and not potentially evil behavior, via divine will, when we finally get to the world with no moral evil, are we left with anything resembling free will?

                It has, with notably few exceptions, always been the case that Christians have explained the existence of moral evil through free will. Free will is one of the fundamental tenets of their faith. To them, the world would not be objectively better without it.

                So, if we’re addressing Christians at least, we can either argue: (1) the world would have been objectively better without free will, (2) it’s possible to have free will without the possibility of evil, or (3) the world is objectively better with free will, even though that entails the existence of moral evil, essentially agreeing with them and turning our focus to natural evil, which (if our knowledge is sufficiently coextensive with gods to draw such conclusions) is evil because there is a will that both caused and could have prevented them.

                I don’t think Shaz has really addressed any of that. If he has, rather than merely repeating, perhaps with another evil as an example, that the world would be better if there weren’t any of a particular evil, I’d be happy to be directed to that comment.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Stillwater, on what basis do you claim that “the tradition[-al] Judeo-Christian conception of God” is contradicted by this proof. What I mean is, what is your basis for claiming that what is being disproved is in fact traditional in any significant way? In my view, the central and definitive Judeo-Christian conception of God has never presumed a mode of existence and notional action of God that is in any significant way affected by this Sunday School question. The depiction of “what or how God would be” seems to conform to a vulgar and pagan concept of deity explicitly rejected in the Gospels, as at the very center of the Christ story, and dealt with in other ways in Judaic conceptions.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                CK, I’m willing to scrap the terminology of calling it “the Judeo Christian” conception of God. That part doesn’t really matter. Instead, just roll with the definition: a being which is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, eternal, self-causing, etc etc. The argument from evil presents a challenge to the possibility of such a being existing.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Chris
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                says:

                But I think you’re missing my point. AS WE SPEAK, there either is a God, or there isn’t. That’s a fact of the matter.

                Well, for some definition of God and existence, yes.

                The sort of point I’m making is that if there is or there is not a God, trying to derive the truth God’s existence from human understanding will be very unlikely to yield a definitive answer (and by “very unlikely” I mean “zero likelihood”) in a formal sense.

                Because we can’t encapsulate things we can’t understand. And by any real working copy of “God” we’ve checked out of the repository in order to examine (after the Greeks, anyway), our inability to understand God is one of the central characteristics of God.

                There are lots of ways that you can investigate problems. Hey, you have an empirical problem, bust out science, bitches! But, uh, science is sort of predicated on the idea that the Universe works by laws, and those laws are not subject to manipulation, they’re immutable. God, by any real definition, gets to break the rules. That makes God unobservable by empiricism. Science no good.

                That doesn’t mean that the question “Does God Exist” has no answer. It means that the answer isn’t achievable using the tools of science.

                Similarly, pure logic don’t work either, because you have problems with completeness. This drove Cantor crazy and put him in an asylum, because Cantor probably figured out that he couldn’t figure it out but figuring it out was presupposed to be possible. Poor guy.

                The problem of evil is like a theorem. Given that we understand omnipotence, and given that we understand omniscience, and given that we understand “evil”, then God can’t exist.

                To the extent that you follow along with Hume’s assumptions, you’re going to buy the proof. The problem is, we have no particular grounds to presuppose that these assumptions are true.

                The deist will reject some or all of the assumptions. The atheist may (or may not, you can be an atheist without buying into the problem of evil) accept some or all of the assumptions.

                But they’re still assumptions. Indeed, each one of those terms has defied a few thousand years of clear exposition by numerous people (many of them far, far smarter than I). It’s hugely unclear to me that I understand my ass from a hole in the ground, metaphysically speaking. It’s hugely unclear to me that Hume, or Aquinas, or any of the rest of the did either.

                That doesn’t mean that Shaz is wrong. It just means that like most anti-theism or pro-deist arguments, it relies upon a set of axioms that I don’t accept as the only possible set of axioms. I don’t even know if they’re even improbable axioms.

                If I die and go up and there’s an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being am I going to ask what the solution is to the problem of evil? You betcha your bananas I am. If I get up there and there’s nobody around, am I going to be surprised? Probably not… but then, the deist probably won’t be either, at least for long. Because if there’s an afterlife it’s significantly different from this existence.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                To the extent that you follow along with Hume’s assumptions, you’re going to buy the proof. The problem is, we have no particular grounds to presuppose that these assumptions are true.

                Well, we have no grounds to presuppose any assumptions are true. Thank God Hume argued for his views!

                I hear ya. I don’t agree, but I hear ya.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Btw, this

                The deist will reject some or all of the assumptions. The atheist may (or may not, you can be an atheist without buying into the problem of evil) accept some or all of the assumptions.

                is (I think, anyway) part of the confusion being expressed in this thread. The above comment was in reference to the argument from evil. But the argument from evil isn’t an atheist argument. It’s an argument against a particular conception of God, one which the atheist will reject, but which a theist might also reject.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Chris
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                says:

                That’s a fair point.

                Well, the deist is going to reject at least of the assumptions Hume works with no matter what their deity, I’d guess.

                But yeah, you can go away from omnipotence or omniscience and get away from the question altogether rather quickly.

                But then you have to ask yourself are you doing it because it’s actually true, or are you doing it to avoid the question altogether?

                (generic “you” there)Report

              • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Ha. Can you imagine, a what if — G-d really likes art drawn by pedophiles?Report

              • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                I believe the inability to seriously contemplate genocide is present in a surprisingly large amount of people.

                Obviously not the folks in charge of a certain first world nation…
                but still!Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I’m not sure the problem of evil can be defeated. Or solved. Or adequately explained.Report

  14. Avatar Shazbot5
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    says:

    “we do not know what we’re talking about when we talk about God.”

    If that is true, all talk about God is completely meaningless. It is as meaningless as a community of people blind since birth trying to talk about the experience of seeing blue.

    You can’t know about snarks or things that are wavedish. Is the following sentence meaningful or mere word salad:

    “Snarks are wavedish.”Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot5
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      says:

      It seems to me that if we want to get rid of terms that have no extension, simply because they have no extension, disregarding intension entirely, we’re going to be in a bit of conceptual trouble. This, I take it, is what you are doing when you suggest that God is meaningless.

      If we’re going to get rid of any terms of which we have no direct sensory experience, as you seem to be doing with your blind community, then we’re going to be in even more trouble. That is, if you think that the term “blue” would be meaningless to your community of blind people if a scientist came to them and, after explaining the visual spectrum to them, and how it relates to the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, and then told them that “blue” corresponded to a range of wavelengths of something like 450-490 nm, then all sorts of things are going to be meaningless that you probably don’t want to be meaningless. And I’m pretty sure you don’t want to argue that indirect experience is sufficient, so that while the blind community can’t experience the visual spectrum, they can experience other forms of electromagnetic radiation directly, such as the heat of the sun or the results of using a microwave oven, which therefore makes the concept of electromagnetic radiation meaningful to them, which in turn allows the term “blue” to be meaningful once its physical properties are explained to them. If you do want to argue that indirect experience is sufficient, then aside from having a very strange epistemology and philosophy of language (one which I’d be interested to hear you defend), you’ve also opened the door to giving meaning to the term “God” via indirect experience as well.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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        says:

        It is interesting to think about what our idea of God is if we can’t have direct or indirect experience of him.

        But I agree that we could form an idea of a God we can’t see with our eyes or ears or indirectly.

        But the sentence that I cited states that we can’t know anything about God, through our senses (directly or indirectly) or a priori.

        Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose I tell you that in this box is a “Blizz-Blazz”. I then tell you that you cannot know anything about a Blizz-Blazz. It cannot be seen or heard with the senses or otherwise. It cannot be known about by inference through it’s effects, i.e. indirectlt through observation. And it cannot be known about a priori, through the use of pure reason. Can you conceive of a “Blizz-Blazz?”

        What are you conceiving of when you try to conceive of something that you can’t know anything about a priori or a posteriori.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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          says:

          Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose I tell you that in this box is a “Blizz-Blazz”. I then tell you that you cannot know anything about a Blizz-Blazz. It cannot be seen or heard with the senses or otherwise. It cannot be known about by inference through it’s effects, i.e. indirectlt through observation. And it cannot be known about a priori, through the use of pure reason. Can you conceive of a “Blizz-Blazz?”

          No, I could not then conceive of a “Blizz-Blazz,” because you have set up a situation in which conceiving a “Blizz-Blazz,” beyond the fairly unproductive fact that “Blizz-Blazz” is in your box, is impossible. However, I’m pretty sure any theist will tell you that God and your Blizz-Blazz are in no way analogous. There are several ways in which theists believe they can experience God, including via inference from God’s effects (everything), as well as through direct experience (non-sharable, but then neither is my experience of “blue,” so apparently you’re willing to accept 1st person experience as meaning-giving), and perhaps most importantly in many religions, through divinely inspired scripture. Now, they may argue (as Kyle has done, and as many Christian, Buddhist, and other theists have done) that the conception of God we get from these things is necessarily inaccurate, because we have to interpret these experiences through the limited abilities of our finite minds, while God is not so limited, but this is something different from saying that our concept of God is meaningless in the same way that your “Blizz-Blazz” are meaningless, because it is still based in experience, direct and indirect. And really, this is how we know a lot of things (perhaps most things that we know): incompletely, metaphorically or analogously (the former being a special case of the latter), mostly indirectly (e.g., through the books we read or the people we talk to), and so on. So the “Blizz-Blazz” analogy fails, and again, unless your conception of meaning is strictly bound to direct experience and complete knowledge, a conception of meaning that is so limited as to be useless, then you haven’t given me any reason to think that “God” is meaningless.

          Hell, I’m an atheist and I think “God” is a meaningful term. I can use it in propositions that have truth values (e.g., “God is not human” is true by definition, while I can’t determine the truth value of “Blizz-Blazz are not human,” because I have no knowledge of “blizz-blazz” whatsoever), I can make valid inferences from it, and I am not completely confused when someone uses the word in communication with me. If it is possible to meet these three criteria and still be meaningless, then I haven’t the slightest idea how something might be meaningful.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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            says:

            “’m pretty sure any theist will tell you that God and your Blizz-Blazz are in no way analogous. ”

            I stopped reading there because I see that we agree.

            Yes, theists do think we can conceive of God and there are things we can know about God.

            Kyle says we cannot know about God, at all in the sentence that I cited, explicitly, which is where I pointed out that this implies he has no concept of God, or no more than he has a concept of “Blizz-Blazz.”

            Perhaps this means Kyle isn’t a theist at all, or he is an extremely nonstandard theist, or his statement needs to be revised and parsed.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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              says:

              Shazbot, when Kyle referenced the apophatic tradition in Christian theology, he was referencing a tradition that also includes several statements about the nature of God. For example, it is within that tradition that we get the theory of divine simplicity, the theory of God’s noncontingency and perfection, and so on. Even within the tradition in which Kyle has placed himself, God is a meaningful concept, even if his specific nature is of necessity a mystery. So I believe you’re misinterpreting Kyle if you think it implies that to him god is like your Blizz-Blazz. I

              What’s more, while Thomist theology has been pretty dominant in Catholicism, it appears to be significantly less so in Protestant theology (where you’re more likely to find design arguments than ontological or cosmological ones, the first tending to make more claims about the nature of God than the latter two), and it’s not the only tradition even within Catholic theology. I mentioned in my comment to Kyle that I find Duns Scotus’ version of God much more compelling as a theological concept, because I find his argument more compelling, which is not to say that I accept it. Scotus’ theology is a positive theology in which the nature of God is the same as that of ordinary beings, only more so (the concept of the univocity of being). Is this still a meaningless concept of God?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I was addressing what he actually said, not everything that others in his tradition have said.

                And I am aware of the works of Pablo Neruda, Lisa.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                I’m pretty sure that since he said the tradition, he meant to include at least some of what they’ve said, instead of having to lay out his entire theology. I doubt it’s that impoverished.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
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                says:

                The apophatic tradition is pretty messed up, IMO.

                But I can’t argue with a whole tradition.

                The claim that Kyle made that I cited cannot be true if we have a concept of God.

                Actually, Kyle says that we do know that “omniscient” does not describe God or pick out one of his properties, so we know the claim “is not omniscient” does apply to him. So we do know somethings about God, even according to him.

                If we truly knew nothing of God, my Blizz-Blazz analogy would hold.

                So God is a non-omniscient, presumably not-benevolent being. So is Apollo and Santa too. What is the difference between the concepts signified by “God” and “Apollo” and “Santa.”Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Yeah, I honestly don’t know what you’re getting at, at this point. You’re not arguing against Kyle’s God, you’re not arguing against the God of anyone I know, and you’re not arguing against my God, since I’m an atheist. So I’ll let someone who’s God you are arguing against come to his/her/its defense.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                I am arguing that Kyle’s claim is false.

                A general problem with the theology that you are referring to is that it is not clear what concept of God you have if you can only say negative thing of Him.Report

              • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                I said that the “omni” words are not really descriptions of God, but metaphors we used to understand God. Put another way, the terms are not literal descriptions, but analogical ones. Whatever you say of God you have to unsay (and vice versa) because, conceivably, there’s an infinite distance between God and the finite words we use to make sense of God. On the other hand, theists tend to believe that God has spoken (revelation), which, if nothing else, gives us a starting vocabulary. Back to the other side: this vocabulary is comprised of metaphors, not literal descriptions.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                “Whatever you say of God you have to unsay (and vice versa) because, conceivably, there’s an infinite distance between God and the finite words we use to make sense of God.”

                Word salad.Report

              • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Try diagramming the sentence. 😉Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Nothing true can be said of your position. Only metaphors.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I reminded again that we need to have a beer.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                I never say no to an opportunity to have beer.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot5
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      says:

      The flip side to not being able to really being able to speak of God is the possibility that God has spoken in such a way that we can understand, in a way that corresponds to God in some sense even though we cannot say how.

      I would not, by the way, say God talk is meaningless. Or fruitless. Or even false.Report

  15. Avatar kenB
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    says:

    all talk about God is completely meaningless

    What do you mean by “meaningless”? I suspect you’re confusing meaning with reference.

    It is as meaningless as a community of people blind since birth trying to talk about the experience of seeing blue.

    I think it would be more like such a community trying to talk about that thing that makes them feel warm when they walk outside during the day.Report

  16. Avatar CK MacLeod
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    says:

    Response to Shazbot https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2013/05/sunday-morning-atheism/#comment-548424

    Is that a reason for X to think it is moral for me to murder 10 children by burning them alive? Can’t have good without bad. So, the bad is good.

    No, it is not a reason for a particular X to think it is “moral” for you to murder 10 children by burning them alive. To speak to the requirement for the good and the bad as an erasure of those concepts is irrational. That two concepts are in opposition does not make them equivalent, nor does it require us to treat them equivalently. In mathematics, taken as “absolute values,” they become equivalent, but morality is not a question asked on the level of the absolute. In human life we experience and acknowledge many gradations, ambiguities, and mixtures of morality, all eclipsed by the extreme or the absolute. The question of the Absolute Itself would be on the level of the absolute by definition, however. The moral implications of the concept of the absolute is a separate question.

    To put the question of the good and the bad more precisely: We can’t have the possibility of the good without the possibility of the bad. We do not need to do the bad or bring the bad about to know that it is bad or would be bad. We do not need to presume that all bad things are equally bad or all bad in the same way. We can consider murdering 1 child to be unforgivably bad, yet still acknowledge that murdering 10 children would be even worse, or that murdering an additional child after having finished murdering 10 children would still be worse. Nor does the existence of both good and bad preclude seeking one over the other, either as individuals or as a society.

    The question, however, was not about morality, or not yet about morality, but about the existence of both evils or some evils as an indictment of the deity conceived, in my view absurdly, as like an individual human being yet somehow also the creator of, or creative principle in relation to, all things.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to CK MacLeod
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      says:

      We can’t have the possibility of the good without the possibility of the bad

      So a world without evil could not, by definition, be a good world, or a world with any good in it. And yet the things we now call good would still exist, they would just no longer be good, they would just be. That is, if I understand you right (and if I do, please don’t mistake understanding for anything like agreement). But presumably those things we now call good, and desire, would be as desirable if they were no longest good. Or not? It makes one wonder whether a world without good would be desirable, whether we should prefer a world without good to a world with good.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        says:

        This certainly sound right when it comes to wants (as opposed to needs); the stuff we want is desirable; once we get it and grow used to it, it often grows to be not so desirable, so we develop desires for other stuff.

        Sounds like the marketing psychology of fashion, cell phones, and other consumer goods to me.

        /please forgive my irreverence, Mr. Aitch, but I could not resist a bit of levity.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic
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          says:

          No, there’s a actually much to what you say. We would value the good differently if there was no bad, but would it actually cease to be good?Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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            says:

            You might enjoy reading The Practice Effect by David Brin. I suspect it’s his best work; perhaps a piece of genius fiction, (but I say this without having reread it in at least a decade, so qualified). In essence, things that don’t get used get old and shabby, so passed on to the poor, who use them, and they become better and better, and so desired by the wealthy, and then the wealthier, and finally the wealthiest, who don’t use them. . .Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        A world without evil in this sense is an inconceivable and non-existent world or a non-world, Mr H. (Or as a different Mr. H would put it, it would be a world that didn’t world.)

        So there is no reason to “presum[e] those things we now call good, and desire, would be as desirable if they were no longe[r] good.” To call something desirable is on this level to call it good, and to invoke the bad. Again, strictly on this general conceptual level (setting aside the manifold complexities and complications of real life full of things that mix different types of desirability, risk, etc.), to “desire” means to acknowledge the “evil” of distance between self and the desired. So there is no “desire” and no “desirability” in a world without “evils.” If this isn’t by now obvious, I believe it will become so for you on any even minimally concrete investigation of a particular “desirable thing” without reference to a good/better vs bad/worse. Try to think of a “thing” that you call good that does not answer a potential or actual lack or danger or evil.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to CK MacLeod
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          says:

          To call something desirable is on this level to call it good, and to invoke the bad

          Yeah, I think I now get the linguistic/philosophical theory you’re operating from. I’ll just say that I don’t think much of it.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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            I suspect you think quite a lot of it, despite what you say. I suspect you’ll find something like it in the definitions of terms sections in the basic works of, for example, economics from whose late descendants I believe you regularly work.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        says:

        Or another way of saying the same thing is that the world without good and bad would be a world without us or the principle of subjectivity: It would be “mere being” – mere materiality unknown to itself, indistinguishable from nothing because never distinguished. (Have we discussed this before?)Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to CK MacLeod
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          says:

          No, nor shall we now.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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          says:

          Treating any lack as evil is a pretty expansive concept of evil. It seems to suggest that any desire is a desire for good, and any desired thing ultimately a possible good.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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            says:

            We’re not discussing “evil” as referring to something other than “bad.” At this level – construction of possible universes – the distinction doesn’t come into play. Yes, it’s an expansive concept: It’s meant to categorize a fundamental aspect of lived existence. so what else could it be? So, of course “any desired thing” is a perceived “possible good,” not necessarily ultimately, but inherently.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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              says:

              Eh, I thought we were discussing something other than “bad.” It’s bad for me at the moment that I really want some Bluebell mocha almond fudge, but it’s a seasonal flavor so I can’t get it until next January (or is it December?). I don’t, however, have much use, at a theoretical or practical level, for a concept of evil that says that this lack of mocha almond fudge in May is an inherently evil thing.

              Nor do I have much use for a definition of evil that says that, when someone desires to kill me, their desired end state (my death at their hands) is inherently (if not ultimately) good. It seems to me, in fact, that the lack they’re experiencing at my being alive is a pretty good thing.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I’m finding it hard to believe, Chris, that you can’t accept just as a matter of definition that, if someone desires anyone’s death, it means that someone perceives that death to be good or possibly good for them, and that an element of “good” would in that sense be inherent in the proposition that the desire might exist for someone.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                CK, as a matter of definition, it seems pretty obvious that a person who wants to kill me sees my death at their hands as a good thing. As a matter of definition, as well, that desire seems evil. Already, your fundamental analysis has led us into a contradiction. Are we going to come out of it with a synthesis? I’m interested to see what that looks like, and if it is any more elucidating than what, so far, looks like a fairly unenlightening conflation of an axis of good and bad, which always require the question “for whom?”, with an axis of good and evil, which, at least in some cases doesn’t require that question (because the answer should be, “for all of us”).Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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                says:

                The return, Chris, to simplisms of good and bad was necessitated by the question of possible universes and the two approaches to the question of a quadruple-omni deity that, it was claimed, 1) must not be quadruple-omni due to the existence of evil or too much evil, and 2) whatever mode of existence attributed to It, would not be deserving of worship for the same reasons.

                The contradictions or admixtures of multiple goods and bads or types of good and bad, including the possible differences between bad and evil arise later or a lower level of abstraction/higher level of complexity. It is interesting to me that in our modern American English vocabulary we seem to have lost an ability to speak of a type of good opposed to the type of bad we call evil. In keeping with my general theme, the belief in evil suggests residual religious belief: You cannot have an evil distinct from the merely bad without, as you begin to note, a doctrine of the universal and innate, a moral law that would count, as you put it, “for all of us.” We may differ on this definition, but I hope you will suspend our disagreements about the implications of such a proposed categorical difference for the moment. It seems to me that at the foundations of the modern and the death of the old metaphysics, the elision of bad and evil is advanced in several ways. For Hume an “evil” is simply an injury, a negative or injurious or unpleasant “impression” productive of an “idea,” since for Hume all ideas are originally impressions. For the economic philosophers, “good” increasingly is the name for the satisfaction of a want. By the time of the utilitarians, and the famous motto “greatest good for the greatest many,” any sense of a sacralized “good” has been lost. A believing Christian of the Middle Ages would, I think, consider it a blasphemy to call the “greatest good” some notion of the satisfaction of material needs. The greatest good would have been God or for a person to love God according to the Biblical rule with “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” while the greatest good and in some sense the only true good for people – there wouldn’t yet have been “society” – might have been salvation.

                So I don’t know if you can have an evil different from bad without an implicit belief in the holy – the good for all of us: which implies all of us recognize it or not, and decisively different from the satisfaction of the needs of the body or, in the religious language, this world. One theory of the evil different from the bad or even of the very bad is that it is an evil whose triumph excludes or supplants the greatest good or the holy, the transcendent good. From this point of view, the modern deprecation of evil would itself be evil, since it turns or aims to turn the individual into an uncreated creature, soul-less body of material wants, incapable of true sacrifice or correlation with the eternal.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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                To me, evil has two components: intention (which doesn’t necessarily mean intention to commit evil acts) and (potential) universalizability; anything that is lacking in one of those two things is merely bad, even if it is really, really fishin’ bad. That is, evil is not a degree of badness, but a particular species of badness that doesn’t admit the question “for whom?”, but requires the question “by whom?”

                I do not, of course, think universalizability requires a divine or even transcendental source; my will (free or not) or yours will do just fine.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to CK MacLeod
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      says:

      Do you know Dennett’s concept of a “deepity”

      “Deepity is a term employed by Daniel Dennett in his 2009 speech to the American Atheists Institution conference, coined by the teenage daughter of one of his friends. The term refers to a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another. Generally, a deepity has (at least) two meanings; one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be “earth-shattering” if true.
      The example Dennett uses to illustrate a deepity is the phrase “love is just a word”. On one level the statement is perfectly true (i.e., ‘love’ is a four letter word) but the deeper meaning of the phrase is false; love is many things – a feeling, an emotion, a condition and not simply a word.”

      http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deepity

      The claim “Without evil, there is no good” is a deepity.

      On it’s face, superficially, the claim is true. There can’t be an up without a down. There can’t be an upside of the schwarz without a downside. But the claim is supposed to have a deeper meaning that shows that evil acts (like letting the holocaust happen, or setting nature up to kill people with the plague or ALS) are actually not evil. But it doesn’t have that deeper meaning.

      I know I’m being a jerk, but I humbly ask you to really think about whether you engage in deepities regularly.

      Here’s an analogy: “Without poverty, there is no such thing as wealthiness.” Okay, that is true, superficially. But it doesn’t mean a king who keeps most of his subjects in poverty has a defense of his actions by saying “If I got rid of the poverty, there would be no wealthy people.” Sure, some degree of difference in rich and poor might be necessary, but that doesn’t justify a great degree of difference between rich and poor.

      So too with God and evil.Report