Apr 18 2012

Making good men evil

There’s an interesting thread happening in the comments for my post about God as an abusive husband. One commenter raised a few eyebrows by using strong rhetoric regarding William Lane Craig and his own prospective future vis à vis torment, and others reacted. It was a bit strong for my tastes as well, but I’m listening, and here’s a point I think is worth discussing.

Craig is not Evil-with-a-capital-E Evil, just evil-with-a-lowercase-e evil. I believe he can still be redeemed, but he’s so stuck in his epistemological and prideful rut that only experiencing something that will completely shatter him will knock him out of it.

Even John Loftus, a former pupil of his and kind of a scary guy himself, thinks the man is basically good. I would agree, in the sense that he probably isn’t a primary sociopath and would probably make most of the same moral choices the elusive “normal/control human” would (and for the same irreligious reasons).

However, this is a man who wields considerable “soft power” and whose writings are perpetuating a civilization-corroding, corrupt religion and culture. And say what you will, but there is nothing as evil-minded as thinking that any sentient being deserves infinite punishment for finite crimes.

This last statement is bang on the money. Infinite punishment is pointless punishment. How can there be any point to it if it never ends? The agony can only be an end in itself—you won’t be a better person when it’s over because it’s never over. It’s simply evil for the sake of evil.

What terrible power religion has, that it makes a basically good person like Craig try to justify something that is purely evil for evil’s sake! What could be more corrupt and corrupting than religion? It deafens the ears so that they cannot listen to reason; it blinds the eyes so that they cannot see the malignancy; it hardens the heart so that pity and compassion cannot move it. What more reason do we need to reject and expose it?

Can there be a good religion? Theoretically, perhaps, if you could base a religion on reality. The problem is that all the really popular religions are based on rejecting real-world truth (such as can be explored and verified by science) in favor of “truths” that spring from the feelings, superstitions, and imaginations of men. Or in short, on lies.

This is what makes religions evil. They’re founded on denials of the real world, forcing believers to inevitably self-destruct, mentally if not outright physically.


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  1. 1

    And I’ll agree with that assessment. I’m no fan of Craig’s. I know it’s possible to be deluded, to genuinely believe you believe even when you don’t really. I know because I was that way myself. Too many things Craig says, the way he says them, remind me so much of myself at the time. (Although, granted, I operated at a much lower level.) I’m convinced his ideas are ultimately destructive. They should be resisted. But I begin to worry when the rhetoric reaches a certain temperature. It’s the kind of thing that inflames flash mobs, where the aggregate of disaffection can explode into acts no individual within the group thought conscionable. And then, once the deed is committed, each must backfill and justify it, just so he can live with himself. Following from that can be an escalation in both the rhetoric and the atrocities it inspires.

    Of course, I’m not accusing anyone here of trying to foment atrocities. But such things start with demonizing the other guy. I don’t see that as the best way to make a better world. The change won’t come by revolution, but be evolution–slowly, over a long time. William Lane Craig and his ilk won’t be around forever. Barring some kind of world-wide and more or less permanent reversal that sends people scurrying en masse back into the comforting arms of conservatism, traditionalism, and superstition, men like Craig will come to be seen more more as white elephants, curios to adorn the shelves of history and museums, not as any real force in society. I’d like to live to see the day, but, at 56 now, that’s not going to happen.

    I’m impatient. It’s tempting to try to speed up the process by blowing the lid off the thing. I just don’t think that will work. Having believed myself at one time, I know belief isn’t dislodged that way. You can’t force anybody to believe or disbelieve. If anything, our fusillades tend to make their walls stronger. But over time the water of the obvious will seep beneath and undermine their foundations. It’s been doing that now for centuries. Cracks are appearing in those walls; they’re starting to crumble. So I suggest we silence the guns and pump in more water!

  2. 2

    In my opinion Craig is far from evil. Misguided? Yes, Truly believes what he says? Probably, exploiting very popular ideology for the sake of an extremely comfy lifestyle? Absolutely!

    I believe Craig is no different than any other sweaty loudmouthed,
    televangelist on TV. He is a snake oil salesman, and you would be hard pressed to find one of those who is going to say “you know what? Everything I’ve been selling(telling) you is complete and utter BS, so you can stop giving me your money now.”

    Something about the subject of hell occurred to me as well. I’m sure this is not a new idea, but as far as burning in eternal torment goes, if hell actually existed and some one were to go there, wouldn’t they eventually adjust and adapt to their environment?

    Given that the human mind and body has remarkable ways of adjusting to and dealing with our surroundings, and given that we can’t die.
    Wouldn’t our bodies just adjust to the temperature? The idea of burning eternally would eventually become common place and our minds would become soo bored from lack of new stimuli that it would create an alternate reality for us just to combat the sheer boredom.
    Hell would seem more like a mental facility whose purpose is to contain rather than heal.

    Oh well, like I said, maybe not a new idea for anyone else but it got me thinking for a moment.

  3. 3
    Tony Hoffman

    “…but he’s so stuck in his epistemological and prideful rut that only experiencing something that will completely shatter him will knock him out of it.”

    I think this is more of a reflection of being human than a product of religion. But I find this kind of willful delusion, the inability or unwillingness to undergo the discomfort of evaluating one’s premises in light of new evidence, as our greatest living threat of organized violence. People who can insulate themselves from reality and logic and evidence in an ad hoc blanket of rationalizations are capable of perpetuating some harm and, more ominously, far larger harm when they cordon themselves off in groups of like-minded people.

    I was kicked off this sanctimonious and hypocritical Christian site years ago (thinkingcristian.net), but I browse there occasionally and found this recent discussion (and its subsequent post) to be a classic example of the kind of behavior I fear from people who appear so Craig-like in their inability to face the discomfort of reconsidering their premises. Most gallingly the coterie of Christians there psychologically project their own irrationality onto their interlocutors, and then reassure each other that their methods are sound and their thinking is not pathological. I fear these people on a jury, or in any position where they can use their numbers to reassure one another that their thinking is sound.

    If you go here (http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2012/04/christianity-knowledge-and-empiricism/#comments) you’ll see someone named “Fleegman” patiently pointing out the faults and flaws in the arguments and thinking, but because Fleegman is outnumbered the Christians there are able to reassure themselves that it is Fleegman is deluded. It is both simultaneously entertaining and horrifying reading, and it unfolds still as I write this.

    I should add that although I find the regular commenters there (and the host) loathsome, I do not think that religion alone has caused their pathology. I think any group could reach this level of irrationality and ugliness, given the ability to isolate themselves and reassure one another.

  4. 4

    Infinite punishment is pointless punishment. How can there be any point to it if it never ends?

    The point is, as Voltaire’s Martin put it, “pour encourager les autres”.

    1. 4.1

      That might be valid if it weren’t for the fact that people are supposed get judged to go to Heaven or Hell at the same time, after the world ends. Unless it’s to encourage the people who made it to Heaven not to slip up.

    2. 4.2

      … or if hell were displayed on the evening news. But it’s not and neither is heaven. And there are no consistent descriptions of hell. Or heaven. How is a prospective sinner supposed to make an informed decision?

      Actually the point raised is something I had not previously considered.

  5. 5

    I believe Craig is no different than any other sweaty loudmouthed, televangelist on TV

    While that’s short of intentional murder, I find it evil enough for my tastes.

  6. 6
    Tom Gilson

    Tony Hoffman, you are welcome to share your opinions at the Thinking Christian blog: http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2012/04/irrational-pathology/

  7. 7

    One question that I love to ask believers is this: “Can you sin in heaven?”

    It opens up a whole world of discussion either way they answer, about God’s role in free will, whether sin deserves punishment, and why sin exists in the first place — best of all, it’s an angle that isn’t covered in the standard apologetics paint-by-numbers kit

  8. 8
    B. Andrew

    I don’t know the Deacon’s backstory, but I wonder if he is borrowing the form of this from the Bible:

    “It deafens the ears so that they cannot listen to reason; it blinds the eyes so that they cannot see the malignancy; it hardens the heart so that pity and compassion cannot move it.”

    While I too have at play within my thoughts that men shouldn’t be labeled as evil only there actions, I wonder if a more correct response isn’t to evaluate a man’s nature – whether he is evil or good – by the content of his thoughts. Or at least, by the ideas he speaks and writes about. What would he/you do if he/you could get away with it?

    While I don’t know WLC’s ideas well enough to speak directly to his case, we can see the consequence of Christians who given the power do legislate their anti-homosexual stances, for example. This results in cases from the seriousness of Uganda to the less serious stripping of school counseling resources in a Minneapolis suburb leading to a string of gay teenage suicides.

    Ideas have consequence, often far beyond the harms of the hypothetical homicidal sociopath – men we are comfortable labeling as evil. I don’t think that ideas, even very evil ones, rise to criminal, meaning restraint should be used; but I also don’t think we should recoil from labeling something, even ideas and their authors and supporters, evil. Even where there is no legal, criminal consequence; it is appropriate to extract a high cost in terms of reputation in the public square.

    (In anticipation of the standard thinking Christian response, I accept neither that you have a justification for objective morality nor without God that objective morality is impossible. Thus your apologetic ‘how can I label something evil’ has no sting and I dismiss it as a non-starter)

  9. 9
    Tony Hoffman

    B. Andrew, I agree entirely, and I think that the correct response is ridicule. I greatly fear (as I think we all should) arbitrary and especially organized violence, and I won’t tolerate language that demeans another person’s humanity or isolates them from the protections of a society. But that does not mean treating another person’s viewpoint with a faux dignity that it does not deserve, especially when that viewpoint is one that attempts to subjugate, demean, and intimidate.

    Funny, I see that Tom Gilson says above that I am welcome to share my opinions. I find this ironic, because he once told me that I was not welcome to share my opinions there, and that I was henceforth banned from commenting. This, of course, is what those like Tom Gilson would prefer, above all — not open discussion, which exposes their blatant hypocrisy, irrationality, and sanctimoniousness, but the appearance of open discussion. Tom says he wants open discussion, but he banned me, and he banned many, many others non-theist critics, while tolerating far worse behavior from his boosters. There’s a word for those who say one thing, and do another. I forget the term…

    Tom, if you’re listening, and I’m sure you are, you should show how wrong I am about you and expose yourself to the kind of open debate and criticism and discussion engendered here, rather than try to confine your “arguments” to the controlled environment of your blog. (If you’re afraid of how you would be treated here, I think that says more about what you know about manipulating how you conduct yourself in your own, controlled environment than it does for what I’ve witnessed here.) If you are so confident in the title of your blog, and the correctness of your cause, I invite you to defend them here (with Deacon Duncan’s permission, of course). I would love to see you try out Craig’s supposed solution for the Euthyphro Dilemma, or defend the historicity of the Resurrection, in an open forum where ideas are truly exposed to the kind of criticism that makes them alive and exciting.

    I do not, by the way, recommend that anyone comment on Gilson’s blog; for years now it has been an interesting place, for the simple reason that intelligent and interesting non-theists like Fleegman inadvertently visited, shone bright in their writing and criticism, and were either inevitably banned or so disgusted by the partisan administration that they swore off any further participation. But, to give him some credit, Tom has been able to attract some great critics, and even though Gilson often ends up banning them their series of reactions to what qualifies there as intellectual discussion are often hilarious. I will probably continue to check in there for years, only because it seems like there is an unending supply of bright, funny, and sincere non-theists who find new ways to expose how a small, closed group can cling to any bad idea so long as they all reassure one another it’s somehow true.

  10. 10
    B. Andrew

    Hey Tony, I’m about to give advice, I sometimes need to hear too. Take a deep breath and let it go man.

    You can see my own run-in with Tom under his posts about the resurrection in the last few weeks. We didn’t ‘talk’ long. It could have been fun and interesting, if he had wanted to have a real discussion. It’s clear he doesn’t.

    There’s an old saying: when your ‘enemy’ does something stupid, don’t stop him. Tom and other apologists are standing in the public square announcing to any who will hear, things like:

    - without God, a workable, good morality is impossible.

    - that God brought Jesus back to life is more historically certain than that Julius Cesar even existed.

    - that God had a really good reason for ordering racial annihilation.

    - that science wouldn’t be possible without God.

    - that there are NO discrepancies in the Bible.

    - that the Bible only appears to be pro-slavery and anti-woman.

    - and many others.

    Why stand in their way?

    Apologists sense the shift of momentum away from their position and are desperate to figure out how to reverse it. It’s too recent to figure out how sustained this trend will be. And it’s clear, Christianity in America continues to lose positions of influence from which it might affect culture. It seems likely that the post-Christian position is already certain to win; the Christians just don’t know it yet. Jesus is about to go the way of Zeus.

    It’s unfortunate, but probably true, that more are pushed out of or leave the church over cognitive dissonance than are wooed by the vastly more interesting, more truthful ideas of secularism and science. We, non-believer, have work on this front to do. We need to learn how to assist those on the margins of Christianity into our camp rather than elephant hunting the too certain, serious Christian apologist.

    While we’ll need to continue to respond with vigor in guarding our moral positions; our discussion can and should be less ‘enemy’ focused. We’ve fought the battles of ‘David’; it’s time to start drawing up the secular temples of ‘Solomon’.

  11. 11
    Tony Hoffman

    B, Andrew, I agree again. I think maybe I just grew so irritated reading the last comment thread with Fleegman again that I had to vent somewhere. My apologies to all.

    Truly, though, I would love it if Tom would visit here, and read what Duncan and others have to say about some of his pet arguments. I think that would be good, clean fun.

  12. 12
    Tom Gilson

    No, thank you, Tony.

    You know that I did not ban you from my blog because of your disagreeing with my position. You know that disagreements are most welcome there. Fleegman is not complaining about how he’s being treated. (There’s some discussion going on there about snarkiness, but it’s going both ways, and there have been some nicely human apologies in both directions.)

    When you were disinvited from my blog, the reason was, and I quote,

    “Many readers here already know that I am willing to tolerate supported opposition, and I do not insist on winning. I have been demonstrating that for almost five years. What I have warned you about is not your disagreements, which are always welcome, but your participating in a manner that does not demonstrate good faith: taking me out of context, falsely making it look like I have misrepresented you (as I demonstrated in my previous comment), your acknowledged snideness, charging me with errors I never made, and failing to acknowledge admissions of agreement or of errors made.”

    Taken together, that amounted to a repeated pattern of violation of my discussion policy. I do not apologize for having that policy, and I do not apologize for including this in it, which is what you repeatedly violated:

    “There have been a few persistently unproductive discussions on this blog. I may decide to close off comments by one or more persons on those threads, just on the basis of their being unproductive. This applies also to ‘discussions’ in which a commenter’s transparent purpose is just to stand and shoot at other people’s opinions, rather than to engage in productive dialogue.”


    Your “acknowledged snideness,” by the way, was (a) acknowledged by you and (b) more than the usual snarky banter. Anyway, I just threw that in along with the rest of the list; it had little to do with your being banned.

    See http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/10/concluding-unscientific-postscript/#comment-17171, http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/10/evidences-for-the-empty-tomb/#comment-16505, http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/10/evidences-for-the-empty-tomb/#comment-16533, and http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/10/evidences-for-the-empty-tomb/#comment-16533

    Now here again you are distorting the facts of how I run my blog. Here’s what happens when one person in a discussion continually distorts the other person’s position: the discussion goes nowhere. It’s a continual effort to keep untwisting the distortions. It’s a constant stream of saying again what one has already said, in order to straighten out misrepresentations of what one has said. I’m not interested in wasting my time with you doing that now, any more than I was then. It’s just not worth the wasted effort.

    I’m also not terribly interested in repairing here to have coffee together, as it were, with someone who has described me with the terms

    If someone here seriously wants to engage in debate together, then take a good look at http://www.discussiongrounds.org and see if you’d like to do it under the ground rules there. I do not decline debate, I do not run from debate; I welcome it, in fact. There is a difference between genuinely debating and wasting one’s time.

    Oh, and by the way: in spite of all the above, my offer for you to come back and make your case on my blog was not “ironic,” it was genuine. You’ve made a complaint here about how I behave there. Go ahead and make your complaint there. The door is open.

    That’s all I’ll have to say here. Thank you, Deacon Duncan, for the opportunity to say it.

  13. 13
    Tom Gilson

    Actually I do have one more thing to say. Fleegman just said this in his latest comment on my blog:

    It’s been an education, though, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

    All the best,



  14. 14
    B. Andrew

    I have to laugh at Tom’s invitation to discussiongrounds as some sort of neutral place. Tom is a co-founder of that site and that site hosted exactly one introduction to a debate before grinding to a halt over Tom’s objection to the other participant’s description of the nature of the Christian’s experience. Seems Tom only wants to debate where it’s his ball-his rules.

    As to Tom’s insistence that he is open to debate on Thinking Christian, I found the opposite. I submitted my own list of why I doubt the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. To this list, Tom’s response consisted of he didn’t understand the question, already answered by apologists, I’m just quoting other doubters, and how dare I question the makeup of a group experts who believe in the historicity of the resurrection. (Tom and I agreed to part ways before a second round of discussion occurred)

    You can read the topic, a minimal facts argument for the resurrection, and my comments here: http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2012/04/ten-turning-points-considering-the-evidences-for-jesus-resurrection/#comments

    (the denial in discussion point 101 is fascinating)

    1. 14.1
      Tony Hoffman

      Yeah, B. Andrew, I have sometimes thought it would be worth it to post a single repository of the valid debunking arguments against Tom’s standard set — the ones he arbitrarily declares as irrelevant or beneath consideration (and that result in his banning commenters who raise them) but that also, oddly, debunk his arguments (what are the odss!?). I would accompany this with an exposition of how, in the past, Tom and his small group react to these arguments, and the tactics they use against those who voice them. I find the behavior both entertaining and sometimes chilling, and I think placing it out in the open in an easy and accessible manner would possibly be beneficial for folks down the road.

      The only thing stopping me (besides laziness) has been that I thought that going through the effort might somehow dignify otherwise silly arguments. But the fact that he’s still out there, churning the same stories and behaving the same way, makes me wonder if something like a debunking site for his particular brand of apologetics (derivative of Craig and Habermas, among others) thinking might be a good idea.

      I’d be curious about your thoughts on that. Like I said earlier, I only peruse the site every now and then (and I didn’t notice or see your prior postings there), but I’ve truly enjoyed the writing of folks like yourself there in the past — something about coming across that stream of “WTF?” arguments just brings out some genuinely funny and great writing. At this point, there have to have been enough of us graduates of the “League of the Damned” from that site that we might even be able to elicit some other contributors (just a matter of tracking them down).

      PS. My apologies, once again to DD, and for my diverting this discussion slightly. I think this topic is at least tangentially related to the post, but there’s no doubt I’m being impolite at best here.

    2. 14.2

      As to Tom’s insistence that he is open to debate on Thinking Christian, I found the opposite. I submitted my own list of why I doubt the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. To this list, Tom’s response consisted of he didn’t understand the question, already answered by apologists, I’m just quoting other doubters, and how dare I question the makeup of a group experts who believe in the historicity of the resurrection.

      An entirely disingenuous assessment, to say the least. If that really is all you gleaned from your discussion with Tom (which I have read), then it is clear you either weren’t paying attention or are not interested in what he has to say. And based on other statements of yours here, it would seem to be the latter. If you are neither going to take your opponent seriously nor bother practising trivial self-moderation in favour of excusing yourself altogether (regarding your debate exit), how exactly are you being open to debate?

      At any rate, it is clear you and Tony have your minds made up and, barring either an ability or will to debate on Tom’s website in a civil, constructive manner, are content to spew gossip and vitriol about it from the comforts of a like-minded community. Consider how this comes across, and why many other non-theists don’t seem to be having any problem on the website or with Tom…

      1. B. Andrew

        Jenkins, your response is heavy on rhetoric and assertion. For the most part, I’ll leave it to readers to determine which of us is right.

        I think it’s excellent that some non-believers find interesting discussion at Tom’s blog and I commend Tom for his mastery of the apolegetics’ playbook. Still, Tom wants to claim his is a THINKING Christianity and, given this, others are entitled to assess and publish whether Tom’s blog is in fact THINKING Christianity. Whether they are welcome at his blog or not.

      2. Tony Hoffman

        Jenkins: “At any rate, it is clear you and Tony have your minds made up and, barring either an ability or will to debate on Tom’s website in a civil, constructive manner, are content to spew gossip and vitriol about it from the comforts of a like-minded community.”

        This is ironic. Tom invoked his “policy” to make it clear that B. Andrew was not welcome to freely voice his criticism there, and he invoked it to literally ban me. (I invite you to read any of the exchanges Tom linked to, and demonstrate to me how it is that my comments were either uncivil or unconstructive to a degree unlike that normally voiced by Tom and a host of other Christian commenters there.)

        One is free to manage one’s website as he sees see fit. But if one makes claims to pursuing the truth about reality, and then regularly uses methods that restrict the testing of one’s arguments and evidence, then one cannot expect to be free of having others point out the contradiction. You appear to be reprimanding us for a) acceding to Tom’s prior wishes (do not bring our criticism to his site any longer), and then you ask us to correct this by b) bringing our criticism back to his site. It is bad enough that he has placed himself in this paradoxical position, and it is even worse that he has placed you in the position of trying to defend it.

        You do deserve credit for at least coming here and opening yourself up to reply where a full range of criticism is not restricted, so I give you full points for that. I hope that you will continue to challenge your arguments and assumptions by visiting places like this, and that you will not find treatment of your arguments to be so impertinent that you do not adequately consider them.


  15. 15
    B. Andrew

    Thanks for the kind words Tony.

    No I don’t think it’s worth the effort to put together a counter site to the apologetics of one individual (and his fellowing). Those responses are already out there and Google is a great way to find them. Any doubting high school or college aged doubting Christian can already find a wealth of answers. You are of course welcome to do so, if it amuses you and rises to the enjoyment of a hobby.

  16. 16

    B. Andrew,

    Seems Tom only wants to debate where it’s his ball-his rules.

    I don’t see this as being a problem. It’s a point of negotiation that you can either accept or reject. After all, you want to debate according to your rules, on a site of your choosing.

    1. 16.1
      B. Andrew


      My willingness to debate where I don’t control the rules and I don’t choose the site is already demonstrated by my posts on Thinking Christian and other Christian apologetic websites.

      Tom does get to negotiate who, where, and how he debates. However, when one claims, “I do not decline debate, I do not run from debate; I welcome it, in fact.”, I am able to point out Tom’s performance does not meet his rhetoric.

      Frankly, I’m over Tom and Thinking Christian. If this is thoughtful Christianity, the Church does have a lot to worry about.

      B. Andrew

      (Short of an outright character attach, I won’t be responding on Thinking Christian here any further. I have already strayed from the posted topic and thank the Deacon for his patience)

      (by the way Deacon, found very interesting the post about the pilot swerving to avoid Venus)

  17. 17
    Tony Hoffman

    SteveK, there is a vast difference between inviting someone to participate in discussion on a site where NONE of the commenters can restrict participation and insisting on only having discussion on a site where one of the commenters can control who can participate (and arbitrarily enforce policies, I might add.) The fact that you and Tom would consider them equally divergent from a center reveals a strange mindset.

    If, as the OP says, “What could be more corrupt and corrupting than religion? It deafens the ears so that they cannot listen to reason; it blinds the eyes so that they cannot see the malignancy; it hardens the heart so that pity and compassion cannot move it. What more reason do we need to reject and expose it?” then Tom’s offer to test himself in a format he alone controls hardly seems like a sincere offer.

    If I were religious I would, of course, find the quoted sentences above insulting. But if I were striving to be rational first (as apologists claim they are), then I could not ignore the possibility that the above could be true with regards to me. I am certain, for instance, that I am not as good or kind or fair as I imagine myself to be, not because I observe myself behaving in ways that are reproachful (my own self-analysis gives me flying colors, every time!), but because I observe the disparity in others behavior and their own assessment, and I realize that I am not immune to that which affects us all.

    My point has not been to have any further discussion with the likes of Tom Gilson, or anyone who would portray themselves as unbiased but not take steps to test their biases. My point has been to point out a fresh example that affirms what the OP here suggested, and hope (and I know this is foolishly optimistic) that it might contribute to gaining a greater understanding of how our beliefs can cloud our perceptions and thinking.

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