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May 11 2011

“Let me know if there are flaws in my reasoning”: From the Mailbag

“Functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years.”

Letter 2 I get a fair amount of mail from religious believers, wanting to debate with me about things I’ve written. Back in the days when I didn’t have ten hours worth of work for every hour of spare time I had, I used to engage with these people in private email. I sometimes miss being able to do that. But I simply don’t have time anymore. And in any case, it seems like a waste of time. Why waste my efforts on just one person, when I could be sharing them with thousands? And why waste the eloquence and intellectual powers of my regular readers and commenters? (Which are, quite frequently, prodigious. I love having an army of bulldogs who can make my arguments for me, and often make better ones than I would have, at the times when I just don’t have the time and energy to get into the fray myself.)

So from now on, when I get these emails, I’ve decided to start throwing them to the wolves opening them up to vigorous public debate. I now ask my querants if it’s okay to publish their letters on my blog, and debate them publicly instead of privately. If they say yes, it’s game on. (Names will only ever be published with permission of the authors.)

Our first contestant is Aaron deOliveira, responding to my April 27 piece on AlterNet, One More Reason Religion Is So Messed Up: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide. Here is his letter, published in its entirety, with no edits, and no illustrations until my reply.

*

sorry it’s taken me this long to say anything about your post. i’ve been a lurker on your blog for a little while. the post gave me a lot to reflect on before i felt i had a suitable answer to your post. also, i’m emailing you rather than posting in the comments because the conversation there has already snaked in several directions.

i myself am LDS. i particularly enjoy talking with atheists and reading their blogs. on the whole, atheists ask very profound questions. i think it’s because they are able to be 100% critical and skeptical of religious actions whether by god or man.

so back to your post. first, lets call a stone a stone. what the Israelites did to the various people’s of Canaan was genocide. it’s functionally no different than the genocides that happened in Sudan, Bosnia/Croatia, etc. one group of people finds a reason to exterminate another group of people. anyone that argues that it was something else is being disingenuous.

so this leads us to the morality of the action. i picture god as a gardener and this earth as a garden. all the peoples of the earth are plants in this garden. by comparison, in the gardens that we till here on earth, the gardener exercises judgement over life and death frequently. he decides which plants to prune, which weeds to pull, which bugs to attracted for pollination and which to kill as pests. the garden is just as valuable to the weed’s continued existence as the flowers and the aphid is just as hungry as the bee. so why does the gardener get to decide what lives and what dies in his garden? shouldn’t he preserve all life unmolested in his garden?

the morality of the gardeners actions are usually judged by measuring against his purpose. the gardeners purpose is to raise up the best plants he can. so he naturally removes things detrimental to their development. because the gardener has designated this particular plot of land as a garden, when he exercises authority over the life and death of what is there, his actions are seen as moral because they fulfill his purpose.

if the gardener were to exercise the same authority over life and death in the wild, his actions would no longer be seen as moral. if he went into the wilderness and killed trees or destroyed animals because they didn’t please him, most people would censure the gardener for his actions even though they are functionally the same as what he does in his garden.

so coming full circle with my god as a gardener analogy. there are times where god as the creator and owner of both the earth and its inhabitants (ie. the garden) exercises authority over the life and death of those that dwell there. god’s purpose of making every inhabitant, both the committer of the genocide and the and the victim of it, into their best selves is fulfilled the same way as the gardener in the analogy.

leaving the analogy, i want to touch on something that you probably don’t accept, but is necessary in discussing god and man’s actions as they pertain to life and death. we are eternal beings. we existed before we came to this earth. we will exist long after we pass through death. functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years. life on earth is just one part of the entire spectrum of our existence.

another quick analogy to explain how god killing someone or directing that someone be killed isn’t immoral. picture every person passing through life as being on a highway. when god exercises his authority and pulls someone over, ie killing them, he does not prevent them from their destination. because of the resurrection, every person will live again and have full exercise of their life and all of its potentials. it is a generally acknowledged maxim that ‘life isn’t fair’. and yet, although it is intrinsically unfair, people don’t impute evil to life not being fair which gives rise to another maxim, ‘you play the hand your dealt’. so from these maxims we see that the length of each life and the manner in which it ends is not intrinsically immoral. because god provided the resurrection, all men, women and children will see the full potential of their lives, just in different orders. some die young and in the resurrection will live out their days. some die old and in the resurrection will receive renewed bodies to continue to become their best selves.

so does my ‘god as a gardener’ analogy hold water? let me know if there are flaws in my reasoning.

great blog.

regards,

Aaron deOliveira

*

Okay. I don’t really have time and energy to take this apart line by line. But I can get the ball rolling.

Yes, Aaron, I think there are flaws in your reasoning.

Dandelions First, and maybe most importantly: Are you really arguing that human life has no more value than plant life? That killing an infant, or wiping out an entire race, has no more moral impact than pulling a weed?

Gardener 2: Do you think that God the gardener is all-powerful? If so, why did he create weeds in the first place? Why did he create people in such a way that, in order to reach their “potential,” many of them had to suffer terribly and/or die prematurely, either by natural causes or at the hands of their fellow human beings? (Which leads back to #1: Are you really arguing that human life has no more value than plant life?)

Ear 3: If we hear voices in our heads telling us to kill people, how are we to know whether they come from God, and are therefore okay — or whether they came from from hatred/ fear/ selfishness/ desire for conquest/ psychosis, and therefore ought to be resisted? How are we to know that the Israelites really were listening to God, and therefore the command to commit genocide against the Canaanites was okay… but that Osama Bin Laden was not listening to God, and therefore the command to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center was grotesquely evil?

Evidence 4: You are absolutely correct: I don’t accept the premise that life is eternal. Why do you think that premise is correct? You are coming to a moral conclusion based on this premise — namely, that mortal human life is pretty much irrelevant, and that what happens to us in the afterlife is all that really matters. If your premise is mistaken, then your conclusion is questionable at best, profoundly disturbing and morally grotesque at worst. Given that, I assume you want to be very certain indeed that your premise is correct. Do you have any good evidence to suggest that it is? Or do you simply feel it in your heart? And if the latter, again I ask: How do you know that the feelings in your heart are correct, but the feelings in the hearts of people with radically different religious beliefs from yours are mistaken? I can tell you why I don’t believe in God or an afterlife, and can even tell you what evidence would persuade me that I was mistaken. Can you do the same?

God-works-in-mysterious-ways Summary: You are basically making the “mysterious ways” argument. God has a plan, and it’s not up to us to judge his plan. You say that “his [God's] actions are seen as moral because they fulfill his purpose”… while completely punting the question of whether his purpose is moral. It’s a terrible argument for many reasons. When used as a response to truth claims and the lack of good evidence for them, it’s an evasion of the question, pure and simple. When used as a response to questions of morality, it is negating the entire concept of “good” and “evil.” (Your argument that “his [God's] actions are seen as moral because they fulfill his purpose” is a tautology: God’s actions are moral because they fulfill God’s purpose, and God’s purpose must, by definition, be moral, because he’s God.) As I said in the piece we’re discussing: If you say that what “good” means for God is totally different from what “good” means for people — if you say that murdering infants and systematically eradicating entire races is evil for people but good for God — then you’re pretty much saying that what it means for God to be “good,” and what it means for us to be “good,” are such radically different concepts that the one has virtually nothing to do with the other. You have rendered the entire concept of “good and evil” meaningless. And I, for one, don’t want the entire concept of good and evil to be rendered meaningless.

But if you’re going to make the “mysterious ways” argument, then at least I hope you’re consistent. I hope that you never, ever, ever try to claim that anything at all happened in life because God willed it. I hope you never claim that good things happened because God made them happen. You don’t get to have it both ways: you don’t get to sometimes say that you clearly see God’s plan in your life and the lives of others, and at other times say that God moves in mysterious ways that elude us puny mortals, and we’re not competent to judge him or even understand him.

And if you are being consistent, and see God as entirely mysterious and incomprehensible, with both practical plans and moral guidelines that mean nothing to us… then what meaning does he have in your life? Are you motivated to obey him purely from fear of punishment and desire for reward? Do you see him as an unpredictable abusive parent, who hits or hugs for no reason you can discern, and whose patterns of behavior you’re desperately trying to understand so you can avoid the worst of it?

Is that really how you want to live?

So that’s my quick- and- dirty response. Readers, what have I missed here? Aaron, what do you think? Everybody, please remember the ground rules: Stay civil. Critique ideas as harshly as you like, but don’t engage in personal insults. And please don’t critique grammar, spelling, tone patrolling, or other irrelevancies: please stay focused on content. Go for it!

104 comments

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  1. 1
    Azkyroth

    “Functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years.”

    That’s literally true if the function in question doesn’t have a “t” term (or derivatives thereof) in it.
    And otherwise, it’s an overtly stupid perspective to take…on, anything, really.

  2. 2
    Azkyroth

    Note: self: read rest of post before replying even when math jokes leap to mind. >.>

  3. 3
    davidly

    It seems to me that the problem with the logic, as it were, begins precisely with the assignment of personality to nature.
    This makes for great myth. It creates interesting metaphor. But when we take myths and metaphor – which are intended to be instructive – and infer literal meaning from them, the instruction becomes a command devoid of reason.
    To take a religious example: The Ten Commandments could be seen as instructions to ponder, warnings to consider carefully. Interpreting them as the Law of God instead of facts of life turns them into a cult of control which operates at its convenience, and at the behest of whoever happens to be in control.
    If God were a personality, then it wouldn’t need anyone to speak for it. Since so many are speaking for it, then it is just as evil as those who act on the speech.

  4. 4
    Deen

    I just like to add that I don’t understand that with quotes like this, it’s the atheists who get accused of a nihilistic world view:

    functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years.

  5. 5
    rainy

    I think the argument falls apart right at the beginning with the assumptions made. With your analogy you put us on the same level as plants and weeds. Plants (Israelites) being beautiful things worthy of gods love and weeds (Canaanites) being horrible pests that need to be destroyed. In other words, in order for gods actions to be justified you have to make the Canaanites something sub-human. This is exactly what is done in most genocides. The people that commit these atrocities don’t see the people they are killing as humans, they see them as pests that need to be destroyed. We are all human. In my opinion all humans have equal rights to exist. No human is better than another.
    You also argue that God is not subject to the same morals as we are. Why wouldn’t he be? He supposedly invented morality and thought is was a good thing. Why not practice what you preach? If he doesn’t even follow his own rules, how can he expect others to? Especially a flawed race like the humans. We expect our earthly leaders to obey the laws of the country we live in. If they don’t it means we live in an oppressive system. Something I think we all agree is repulsive.

  6. 6
    Daniel Schealler

    @Greta
    Geez Greta.
    If you’re going to cry havoc and unleash the dogs of reason in order to take a break yourself, then you could at the very least have left a little bit of meat on the bones for the rest of us.
    All that’s left is marrow.
    Marrow!
    Ah well. Beggars can’t be choosers.
    Woof-woof, salivate, bark, etc.

  7. 7
    Daniel Schealler

    @Aaron
    Rather than just echo Greta’s points, I’d like to investigate just one passage a little bit more deeply.

    so this leads us to the morality of the action. i picture god as a gardener and this earth as a garden. all the peoples of the earth are plants in this garden. by comparison, in the gardens that we till here on earth, the gardener exercises judgement over life and death frequently. he decides which plants to prune, which weeds to pull, which bugs to attracted for pollination and which to kill as pests. the garden is just as valuable to the weed’s continued existence as the flowers and the aphid is just as hungry as the bee. so why does the gardener get to decide what lives and what dies in his garden? shouldn’t he preserve all life unmolested in his garden?

    There is a deep problem with this metap
    “”"”"”rftg3…,,,ll;4444
    Sorry. My cat just took over the keyboard and I couldn’t bring myself to delete her contribution.
    Anyway.
    There is a deep problem with this metaphor.
    We need to find a link that joins ‘human as gardener of vegetables’ with ‘God as gardener of humans’.
    That link must take the form of a premise such that, if we were to accept it to be true, it would apply equally well to each half of the equation and justify both in the same way.
    I’ve gone over your passage several times – and can only find one concept that fits the bill.
    A) ‘Higher’ beings may indiscriminately kill or nurture ‘lower’ beings at a whim, to achieve their stated goals – dismissing whatever goals or views that the ‘lower’ beings may hold regarding themselves as inferior and therefore negligible.
    Again – I’m trying to be fare. But A) is the only possible link I can see that can join the two concepts of ‘human as gardener of plants’ and ‘God as gardener of humans’ in a meaningful way that would support the rest of your argument – if, of course, we granted it to be true.
    Which is a problem for your argument.
    Because I think this implied, unstated premise is false.
    I disagree with A very strongly, and Greta has asked us to be civil. So note that I’m criticizing this idea, not yourself.
    I’m also going to take a deep breath and count to ten before I get to the next bit. I want to be very careful so I don’t overstate this.

    Right.
    Statement A) is the most abjectly evil failure of moral reasoning ever imagined, and may actually have flowed directly from the pen of the devil himself.
    Of course, like all good little atheist boys and girls I don’t think the devil actually exists – but you get my drift.
    The reason I think this is an abject failure of moral reasoning is because it is more concerned with the rights of the aggressor than it is with the rights of the victims.
    Which is entirely ass-about-face. The victims’ rights must be considered first.
    In the case of a human gardener tending a garden of vegetables – vegetables aren’t sentient beings. They don’t have the capacity for suffering, love, friends, family, culture, civilization… They grow, they reproduce, they die. Sometimes we eat them – but it is of no concern to the vegetables.
    We can ask “what is it like to be a bat” but we cannot ask “what is it like to be a carrot”. There is nothing it is like to be a carrot.
    It is for similar reason that we don’t consider ourselves to have moral obligations regarding rocks.
    In short – vegetables, all on their own, cannot be considered to hold any rights. What would they do with them? Exercise freedom of speech to protest the introduction of a local salad bar?
    Humans, however, are not so limited.
    The worth of human beings lies in all of these things and more; our capacity to suffer, to experience joy, to experience. To have friends and family and loves and lovers and culture and cuisine and literature and art and trade.
    Now – that ‘greater’ beings than us may exist out there somewhere in the cosmos?
    Well… First of all, I dispute the notion as I don’t think a hierarchy can reasonably apply in this kind of situation as the assignment of value in this manner is inherently subjective.
    But putting that aside, let’s just grant it as true for the purpose of this argument.
    Let’s say that, out there in the cosmos, these ‘greater’ beings (aliens, Gods, technological hyper-intelligent computer-analogues, whatever) than us can be said to exist.
    I propose that the only morally consistent outlook would be that, in their dealings with us, they should appropriately be held to the exact same moral standards as we are when we deal with one another.
    Because our worth as human beings is not reduced just because something bigger and better than us comes along and wants to play with us like rag dolls.
    The moral rights of an entity do not change just because the actor imposing upon that entity changes.
    The reverse is true. The moral rights of an entity are consistent regardless of the actor. Otherwise, they’re not really moral rights and it all just boils down to force majeure (thank you Mr T. H. White).
    It should also be pointed out that the whole ‘the greater beings have carte blanche power over lesser beings’ is an idea that sits at the heart of the greatest abuses of privilege in our history – every form of racism, sexism, class-ism, all the greatest abuses of the under-privileged by the privileged, has always rested upon the notion that ‘we’ are greater beings than ‘them’, so ‘we’ can do to them as we please.
    I don’t want to go into details of the above because I’m borderline Godwinning you here, and I don’t want to inadvertently play that card.
    However, it’s still worth noting on grounds of explaining exactly how wrong A) is.
    Now – I refer to A) as an unstated premise because you didn’t say it explicitly. So yes – I know you didn’t say it explicitly. I am acknowledging the fact that you didn’t say it explicitly. That’s why I’m calling it an implied unstated premise. By the way – if any interested reader has gotten this far into my comment and has chosen to leave a reply, please include the word zebra-fish at the end of your comment to prove that you actually got here.
    In fact – given that I’ve stated A) as baldly as I have, I have no doubt in my mind that you would disagree with it every bit as strongly as I do.
    The problem is that, to my fairest and most open-minded reading, I can’t make your metaphor of God-as-gardener work without the implied assumption of A).
    And given that I think that A) is a wrong… No, I’ll go one better.
    And given that I think that A) is a false moral premise, that undoes the metaphor that acts as the foundation of your entire argument.
    Which then makes your entire argument crumble right at the gates.
    To sum up:
    If God really did exist, and he really did act towards humans the same way that humans act towards vegetables?
    That isn’t a morally justified outlook for God to take towards humanity.
    To the contrary. It would make God an evil entity according to any reasonable code of ethics.
    And we can’t be having that now, can we?
    ————-
    As a side issue, this is one of the things about allegedly-moderate religious/spiritual rhetoric that annoys the crap out of me. So much of it is delivered in euphemisms that don’t even come close to directly saying what they mean.
    But when you tease out the meaning behind the euphemism and put it in clear and precise language, the person who stated it oh-so-confidently only a moment ago recoils and calls it a straw-man.
    To which I reply: Fine. State it yourself clearly and precisely in another form of your own choosing… Only to be met with another, different euphemism.
    Rinse, lather, cry, weep, rage, beg, plead, walk away, repeat.
    ————-
    I’ve been very strong here, and I’ve put up a bit of a wall of text: Sorry if this provokes a TL;DR response.
    But either way – I very much await your response. I hope to hear from you Aaron.
    Any other interested reader would also be welcome to respond.

  8. 8
    Jenny Wren

    Maybe Aaron should locate his Shift key before he engages in philosophical debate. You gotta walk before you can run.

  9. 9
    Jenny Wren

    Ah, I didn’t read the debate rules.

  10. 10
    Benjamin

    I agree with you completely, Daniel. Often times I’ve been engaged in conversation with people online, and when I respond with a paraphrase of what I understand them to mean, they criticize me for attacking a strawman, as opposed to what they actually “mean.”
    The only way Aaron’s “god as gardener” analogy works, as you said, is if there is a premise that so-called higher beings can do what they like with lesser beings without a moral element entering the picture. A premise I deny vigorously.
    Zebra fish.

  11. 11
    EuripiDesDemDose

    To: zebra-fish (aka Daniel Schealler)
    Well put.
    It is astonishing how religionists think they are constructing solid arguments to support their acceptance of a god and its actions when they are only concocting “just so” stories that fill their own cognitive spandrels with emotionally satisfying but intellectually indefensible notions.

  12. 12
    Rick

    Zebra Fish.
    Regarding the “God as Gardner” metaphor, with Daniel’s help, I now see Aaron’s vision of God as very similar to the vision of the “machines” in the Matrix movies. With very few exceptions, I think we’d all agree that anything harvesting humans, choosing who gets to live or die, is evil. Therefore Aaron has made an excellent case that God is evil.
    But let me help you out, Aaron, and change your metaphor to one that would be more challenging for many of us. Rather than God as gardener, what about God as livestock farmer? We (as a society) regularly raise animals with brains and nervous systems, that feel pain (and probably much more) for the sole purpose of killing them and consuming their flesh. We can do this because of our superiority over them, and we feel no moral qualms about it. (OK, most of us don’t. Vegetarians most certainly take issue with it, for arguably good reasons). So, you could make the argument that God is like a pig farmer, and people are like pigs. God chooses which one goes to the great slaughterhouse in the sky.
    But I’m afraid I’ve set you up. For if pigs were capable of forming this level of thought, they would definitely regard humans as evil. And from their perspective I would agree (while munching some nice crispy bacon). So if we’re evil in pig’s eyes for killing them as WE choose, why isn’t God evil for killing us as He chooses?

  13. 13
    fester60613

    The gardener analogy is deeply flawed… and built on a false assumption.
    Most religions assert that God created Man and that there is a fundamental relationship between them. What sort of relationship and what the rules are has not been established with clarity by anyone.
    A gardener has not *created* the plants s/he tends: there is no creator / being relationship between a gardener and plants.
    Further, plants do not possess “eternal souls” as humans are purported to do.
    If we posit – as do many religions – that God is a moral being and that God therefore has some sort of moral responsibility toward his created beings, the analogy cannot hold because the gardener has no moral obligation to his non-created plants, nor does the gardener have moral purpose for the existence of the plants.
    Fail.

  14. 14
    DMS

    I remember being suspicious of the “mysterious ways” argument as far back as my childhood being instructed in catechism classes. Even back then when my child’s mind didn’t really comprehend the dismissive non-conclusion that it was, I still couldn’t help but notice how perfectly interchangeable “mysterious” was with “bad”. The only time the term “mysterious ways” popped up was to explain how something horrible could have happened.
    Of course, I grew up and realized that saying that God has mysterious ways says nothing. It does not speak of intentions or offer anything meaningful in the way of knowledge; like a more cosmic-scale version of “because I said so”, and is just as unfulfilling and unenlightening.
    Humans are very lucky in that we have reached a point of consciousness where we can parse out the beauties and joys of life because, otherwise, life on the whole is staggeringly cruel at every level. Whether it’s cancer or paper cuts, droughts or hurricanes, flesh-eating viruses or the eat-or-be-eaten way in which nature unfolds, life is harsh and destructive upon itself from the microbial level, right up to the guy that packs a rental van full of fertilizer and parks it in a building full of people and preps it for a fireworks display.
    And I have people telling me that there’s a higher authority that knows better than I could of what’s right and wrong – what’s good and evil – because this authority actually created these concepts. This same authority happened to create life as we know it in all of its horrific and brutish glory by the way – but this authority isn’t evil… because He says so, and He decides what is evil and what is not.
    Logical fallacies aside, this dogma insists that my limited mind couldn’t grasp the concept of a perfect system full of pain and suffering and heartache even though that’s exactly what we’ve supposedly got. My mind is filled with such imperfect notions like “the ends can’t justify the means”. It’s blasphemous for me to consider the methods employed when measuring the outcomes achieved. Even if we reached the end and decided that things ultimately worked out smashingly, we would be wrong to consider the gazillions of atrocities, both major and minor, upon which it was all built when deciding its perfection.
    Is it silly of me to think that a being that is both perfect and benevolent should be able to create a system that is perfect and benevolent? After all, I suppose it’s possible as long as that same being also decides what “perfect” and “benevolent” mean.

  15. 15
    kevin

    So this person’s argument is that god uses evolution manually as a tool to make the human species better? That’s just plain damned weird. Especially given that the ones killed are often beautiful flowers and the weeds never go away…..

  16. 16
    Nobby

    @Daniel
    Phwoo, man. That was some crazy Zebra fish. I kinda want to respond, but I’m not sure there’s much left to be said. Greta hit most of the points, and your take down above was great.
    I will say this, though. Greta spoke to it, but the concept that life is eternal as an axiom? That’s just really, really confusing.
    Like Daniel’s point, you didn’t come right out and say it, but that’s essentially what you mean. Actually, even less so, it’s posited not just as an axiom but just incontrovertible. “We are eternal” is just kind of tossed out there. What gives you the authority to say that? I can understand if you were to say “lets take this concept and run with it”, though you’d still run into the problem of your conclusions having no basis. But at least you’d be agreeing that one can disagree with you meaningfully.
    I guess my problem is this: it is a breech of good faith in debating to posit arguments like this. It’s like I walked into a bar and said “So, some of you may disagree, but people who drink are all idiots”. Not only is it just directly counter to the stated ideals of the one you’re debating with, but it gives no option for debate. It’s not “I think x” or even “i feel x”, it’s just “X is, take it or leave it”. And, I gotta say, I’m going to have to leave it.

  17. 17
    Eric Cake

    Thanks alot, Now I’m gonna have Zebra fish stuck in my head all day (i hope its not a sales pitch, but it would be pretty ingenious). Another problem with the analogy of the gardener is that a gardener doesn’t plant the weeds in his garden to be plucked. They wouldn’t throw out weed seeds to be grown in with there plants. An all knowing god would be doing just that. Planting weeds for the sole purpose to pull them out later. Now you can say the ‘Weeds’ have free will to be flowers or vegtables but thats just not so under an all knowing god. He who knows the past present and future.

  18. 18
    Anthroslug

    As the basic logical arguments have been made already, I would like to suggest a way to re-frame the “mysterious ways” argument.
    As has been noted, claiming that a god or gods “work in mysterious ways” is essentially just stating that they themselves and their motives are so far beyond our comprehension that we can not understand them – whether because they are simply so far above our level that they are to us as a human is to plants (in Aaron’s example) or because they see the vastness of the universe in a way that we can not and therefore have a different perspective in which our pain and suffering is either necessary or insignificant.
    This has long been a position in theology in attempting to explain away the Problem of Evil. But if one thinks about it for a minute, it is well and truly horrifying, it fills the trope of High-Octane Nightmare Fuel. This point has not been lost on horror writers. Just as a theologian will make a “mysterious ways” argument to try to absolve their deity of guilt, authors from H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King have used the same concept to create a sense of truly cosmic terror. The notion that there are beings capable of wiping out huge chunks, if not all of, humanity, and who are so far beyond our comprehension that their motives and actions are mysterious to us is not a comforting thought if truly followed through to its logical conclusion. If their motives and perspective are so alien to us that we can not comprehend them, then we have no reason to think of them as loving any more than as moral. It doesn’t mean that we live in the protection of a loving being, but that we live with a sword of Damocles constant hovering by a horse’s hair above us. We never know if the beings above us will bring us fortune, terror, or simply leave us alone.
    People can only cling to the notion of a loving deity and one that works mysteriously by compartamentalizing the two ideas and never really being consistent in their thoughts.

  19. 19
    XtinaS

    My first thought on reading this was to note that some humans garden to grow food.  So therefore, God the gardener…

  20. 20
    Snoof

    When you hear hooffin-beats, think horse-fish, not zebra-fish.

    My first thought on reading this was to note that some humans garden to grow food. So therefore, God the gardener…

    Yeah, I have similar problems with the “God as shepherd” metaphor. I mean, sheep get _shorn_. And has nobody heard of mutton?

  21. 21
    Cortex

    @Aaron,
    First, I thank you for presenting your ideas in a respectful and honest manner.
    My problem is not with the garden analogy itself, as analogies can never match perfectly with the situation being discussed. My problem is that I think you take the wrong perspective. If went over to the God suburbs and asked other Gods about God’s garden, they probably would not have a moral problem with his little garden. But why should we accept the moral views of the residents of God Park as our own? If we are harmed by God’s plan, or disagree with his goals for the garden, why would it be wrong to oppose it?
    I can see one explanation being that He owns the garden, but the concept of ownership would only have meaning among other gods, not among the actual objects that are owned. Ex: My neighbor has an obligation not to steal my dog, but my dog hasn’t stolen from me if he runs away.
    So, while other Gods would be obligated to acknowledge a God’s ownership and authority over the garden, the plants of the garden are able to oppose that authority by whatever agency available to them, without being immoral.
    In the case of God committing genocide against populations of people, other Gods may view this with general indifference, encouragement, or even opposition, but that does not and should not have any moral relevance to what our judgments and our reactions are.

  22. 22
    miller

    If looking at it with respect to God’s purposes leads to justification of genocide, this does not suggest to me that genocide is acceptable. Rather, it suggests to me that God’s purposes are unacceptable.
    I also missed the part where Aaron explained the mechanism by which genocide makes us into our best selves.

  23. 23
    John the Drunkard

    So much to answer… So much already answered by Greta Christina!
    How is god’s ‘gardening’ in Canaan, via the swords of the Israelites, different from Hitler’s ‘gardening’ the population of Germany and Eastern Europe (remember that Hitler declared that his policies were ‘god’s work’) or Stalin’s ‘gardening’ of the Ukraine, or Pol Pot’s ‘gardening’ of Cambodia?
    Come to think of it, Brigham Young did some–rather more discreet–’gardening’ in Utah; not only green-lighting Mountain Meadows, but sending his Danite hit-men to harvest the goods of wealthy travellers unlucky enought to draw his attention.
    Almost every line includes assumptions worthy of as much reply as the gardening image:
    ‘we existed before we came to this earth. we will exist long after we pass through death’
    This particular notion is one of the more heretical notions that LDS includes, it is part of the logic that suggest polygamous breeding of enormous patriarchal families so that Dad can be promoted to godship of his own planet. How many defenders of this notion can be found in any legitimate Abrahamic religion?

  24. 24
    Rick

    @Aaron:
    “there are times where god as the creator and owner of both the earth and its inhabitants (ie. the garden) exercises authority over the life and death of those that dwell there. ”
    How do we differentiate “god exercising authority” from a psycho with a gun and voices in his head?
    “god’s purpose of making every inhabitant, both the committer of the genocide and the and the victim of it, into their best selves is fulfilled the same way as the gardener in the analogy.”
    So if god commands a day-care employee to kill all the babies in their charge, the day-care worker is “fulfilled” into their best self? Really? God couldn’t do better?
    “we are eternal beings.”
    Please clarify “eternal” and “beings”. Also, how do you know this?
    “we existed before we came to this earth.”
    How do you know this? If you have no memory from before you were born and could not learn or act on anything that happened in the “before” what difference does it make?
    “we will exist long after we pass through death.”
    How do you know this?
    Please notice that my previous questions used the word “know” not “believe”. You make these statements with factual certainty much like “the sun will rise tomorrow”. But I suspect you don’t really have a body of evidence to make these factual claims or predictions.
    “functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years.”
    I’ll absolutely disagree with you here. The length of your life has an enormous _functional_ difference on those around you and on your own experience of it.
    “life on earth is just one part of the entire spectrum of our existence.” Again, how do you know this? So far, life on earth is the only part of our existence we all share and can reliably make predictions about, and have consistent experiences in. The other parts of your spectrum are, at best conjecture.

  25. 25
    Sigmaleph

    Most of the major points have already been dealt with (like a zebra stomping on fish), so I’d just like to elaborate on a minor one.
    God’s actions, in the gardener analogy, you say to be moral because they further his purpose. And yet, if my purpose was the extinction of human life, that would not make it a good thing (from the perspective of the rest of humankind) for me to unleash nuclear war. The general point being, a purpose has to be in alignment with good, for actions fulfilling that purpose to also be good.
    In your analogy, God’s idea of good is the perfect garden. And yet the human idea of good says that genocide is bad. From which follows God-good is not the same thing as human-good. Greta implies that this would make the concept of good and evil meaningless, though I would not say so. I would say, though, that when humans speak of “good”, we mean human-good. If God-good is different, then God is not good (which, being humans, we use to mean human-good).
    God’s goal of having a perfect garden is at odds with our goal of not killing. Even when we can admit that killing is sometimes justified (to prevent greater loss of life, for example), God evidently does not share those standards. He commands his plants to slaughter the weeds, rather than removing them himself in the manner less harmful (or not planting them in the first place, which is another objection that has already been raised). Which is to say, outside the analogy, that God orders genocide rather than letting the Canaanites die of painless natural death, or create them in such a way that they are not opposite his purpose, or any other better way of dealing with it, which should be limitless to an omnipotent being.
    So I say again. God fulfils his own purposes, which are not those of humankind. There are weeds in the garden of God, which to him is evil, and he removes them without care for them, which to us is evil. So God-good is not human-good, which in humanspeak is equivalent to saying that God is evil.

  26. 26
    Kagehi

    This reminds me of something I just read from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). In one of his stories he has a few friends in a medieval village, run across an angel (as a joke he makes him a second cousin to Satan, but one that hasn’t fallen). To not know good and evil, and thus to be sinless, this angel proves completely arbitrary in its actions. It doesn’t, for example, improve the lot of the village, give them knowledge, show them right and wrong (which it lacks comprehension of itself), it simply changes a few circumstances. Because he likes the small group of friends, he is willing to have an old lady die as a witch, rather than starve the rest of her life, to arrange another old man to go insane, so he would be happy, after putting him through hell over money that just happened to “drop from the sky” into his lap, and the accusations of an astrologer that it was stolen. At the last minute, he saves the family that got the money, yet intentionally drives the man mad, lest he spend the rest of his life unhappy.
    As the main character puts it, the angel seems incapable of coming up with any solution that, while its net result is some improvement in either current, or some distant future, lives, is caused by injury or death to someone to gain it. In one case a delay of a few minutes results in two children dying, why? Because they where better off both dying early, rather than the one living, and the other catching a disease that would leave them in pain and suffering for years, as a direct consequence of that boys rescue of the other child from drowning. But, you are left asking, “Then why not have him show up a hair early, so that the one child was never in danger, and the other would never catch the disease?”
    There was little morality involved in the matter, and it was all from the human “pet” that begged for the betterment of those around him. In the end, the angel goes off to do other things, and leaves the poor fool, who spent so much time worrying about others, and trying to make their lot better, with the statement that he is nothing but a passing dream, a fancy, a random thought in the mind of something bigger. As evidence, how could he be otherwise, in a world where angels acted like gardeners, but only knew how to pull weeds (to use the above emails concept), and god, the one in charge of it all, often seemed to prefer the unjust and evil, placing them in better positions, power, and well being, over those that where simply trying to survive the mess they got born into? The only answer, according to this sinless cousin of Satan was – you are of no more real importance to us than an ant is to the average human, but since I sort of like you, I will weed the garden a bit more here. Once the plant (the villager the angel took and interest in) was at its own death, there was no more interest in it either.

  27. 27
    hf

    Also, the following premise seems like a flat self-contradiction:
    functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years.
    Then why does your God care one way or the other?
    Clearly you assume that killing people does affect something he cares about, namely making people “their best selves”. Yet apparently you want to say that living longer (or at all, in the case of slaughtered children) would have had no good effect for the victims of genocide. At best you deny them human agency. You’d have to say that a super-intelligence, who bears a suspicious resemblance to a propagandist for a small tribe of humans, knew that if these other people lived and loved and tried to improve themselves in the usual human ways, none of that would have really improved a single one of them. Otherwise the quote above seems like a flat lie, or at least tells us that genocide brought no ‘real’ benefit either.

  28. 28
    hf

    We can certainly imagine an intelligence that prunes the garden of humanity because it only cares about maximizing some feature of reality (traditionally the number of paperclips in existence). But when we look around for evidence of a deity we don’t see any maximization. You’d have to assert that the gardener (if intelligent enough to matter) seeks to maximize slood, something we don’t even notice when we look for evidence. And yet you also want to say that slood has more effect on our best selves (from a human-compatible perspective, not just in the tautological moral ranking that a slood-maximizer would give it) than any feature of life we recognize and care about. Why should I believe this? Why do you believe it?

  29. 29
    schnauzermom

    A mishmash of thoughts generated by the woo-filled message you received:
    This whole schtick about god having this unfathomable plan and we are the game pieces being moved around to suit it makes me think of that immortal line from Blazing Saddles: Mongo only pawn in game of life.
    I guess there is no such thing as free will. Now, I have heard many good arguments to the effect that free will is really illusory because we function as products of our genes, evolution, our nurturing, and the chemical processes in our brains. But the religious free-will thing is a little different, and I don’t see how you can have it both ways. Either we are pre-determined in our life arc because of the god plan thing, or we are free agents and make our own decisions. And if the former is true, how can we ultimately be held accountable on some future day of cosmic reckoning if we are merely performing our parts as scripted by the judge?
    I went to catholic school for 12 looong years. One of their favorite non-explanations for things they just couldn’t explain was “It’s a matter of faith.” In other words, you just have to believe it no matter how batshit it sounds, because we say so. Which is just another take on the “mysterious ways” bs. If you have half a brain, this leaves you a tad intellectually unsatisfied, to say the least. Of course, their comeback for that is that we shouldn’t let our intellect get in the way of our faith. How convenient. It’s true because we say so. And why do we say so? Because it’s true. And it’s true because we say so. Can’t these people EVER recognize a circular argument when they see one?
    Finally….
    Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?
    - Epicurus
    But what if your god is the source of the evil? That by example and supposed instruction, your god tells you that human life is expendable, that life on the planet can be pretty much snuffed out in a fit of pique? (The biblical flood story, for example.) That ultimately your god doesn’t give a shit about your suffering or your life, except maybe for some ugly ego-satisfaction or to prove some twisted point(Abraham and Isaac child-sacrifice story, the story of Job)?
    I guess even Epicurus didn’t want to go there.

  30. 30
    Hambydammit

    It’s a swarm of fucking zebra-fish… which might be the first time that’s ever been a good thing…
    I will admit that I skipped to the end because the original zebra-fish took up all my mental resources, and I couldn’t stuff one more bit of data into my brain without risking the loss of my reply…
    BUT…
    Any moral framework which has any meaning to humans must begin at the opposite of “Might=Right.” It is not what the powerless do that makes them moral or immoral. It is what the powerful do.
    Let me say that one more time in bolder type:
    It is not what the powerless do that makes them moral or immoral. It is what the powerful do.
    The powerless are — by definition — incapable of acting morally or immorally. They act as they must.
    Those with the power to act are the ones with a moral obligation to those who cannot. For fairness to be achieved — and isn’t the god of the bible all about justice and righteousness, and isn’t that a euphemism for fairness?…
    Sorry… this has me worked up, and my sentence structure has broken completely…
    If this is about fairness, then the ONLY agent bound by an obligation to act morally instead of immorally is the one who has the choice in the first place.
    That is the one who has power. Not the powerless one.
    We can extend this to humans, of course. In most human interactions, each participant has some kind of power, and they exercise it as best they can. So we are moral agents towards one another. But in the hypothetical Gardener/Plants metaphor, we have no ability to act morally with regard to god because we could cause him no harm if we wanted to. He is beyond our reach, and there is nothing we could do that he couldn’t anticipate, prevent, or otherwise alter to satiate his whim.
    One who can do no harm cannot act immorally. And that’s about it.

  31. 31
    jim

    Wow. I read some clear, understandable, and intelligent posts on this subject. I’ll add my two cents and I hope it makes sense.
    I agree god as a gardener analogy is not very convincing. Granted, I come into this discussion with preconceived ideas of what god and religion are; they are definitely much different than Aaron’s.
    I’m too assume the gardener owns the land or has been requested to tend to this land.As a person who dislikes weeds, I can not go into my neighbors’ yards and do my bidding on their property w/o their permission. (I hate yard work anyway!)
    As a human, I have no right to exterminate the life of another because I feel like it is my best interest. I do not own that person nor can I claim responsibility for his life. I may want to wee him but my limited ability to reason tells me not to.
    Another god analogy that bothers me is god is our father. As a Dad myself, I check on my kids, see if they need help, cook for them, make them laugh, and try to help them realize that life is to be enjoyed. Has anybody seen god lately? Does he come and say, “Hey, children, can I get you anything? How’s the water shortage going? Need some more potable water? Let me give you some.” If god cared about his children, he would try to ease their suffering.

  32. 32
    Iwanttobeagaydad.wordpress.com

    Every time I garden now, I’ll pretend that I’m God killing innocent people. Die weeds! (Does RoundUp use count as genocide?)

  33. 33
    Ted

    So according to his logic. Anyone that “god takes away” is a weed? how does “the gardener” decide what is a weed and what is a flower? Is h trying to say that people that don’t believe in the way he does are all weeds? just vermin to be eradicated? That sounds alot like eugenics to me.

  34. 34
    Frank J. Ranelli, Independent scholar of religious studies

    While Greta does an estimable job (and many others), as always, of vivisecting the more specious claims and faulty analogies proffered within the missive from this quotidian believer—and thus exposing them bare of any truth or rational sense; but, rather than argue with the theist on shaky theological grounds, why not simply demonstrate where the fault line begins: The entire argument is an a priori ontological mistake of tautology. In other words, rightly distilling it down to one long, dreary, feeble, unsubstantiated ‘appeal to authority’—yes, naturally, the interlocutor’s authority, in this case, the ancient, fictional Hebrew storm god of the bible, as the immutable source for all morality and truth. When you analytically break down every one of the empty arguments for god’s existence proffered by this religionist, you uncover massive epistemic errors, a myriad—too many to count or catalog—of logical fallacies, and a ceaseless, hackneyed refrain of the ‘god of the gaps’ claim. Essentially, it is a series of glib, hollow, quasi-philosophical arguments to “prove” an a priori argument is “proof” itself of a god. In essence, pure woo, as the supposition presupposed the conclusion. Simply stated, a theist must first provide evidence of a god, before we can enter a discourse of disputation about the nature or actions of an alleged god. The burden of proof is not on the atheist to disprove the non-existent; it is on the theist to prove the extraordinary or the impossible is somehow possible. The physicist Victor Stenger perhaps encapsulates it best, “I show how naturalism, the view that everything is matter and nothing more, is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe from the most distant galaxies to the inner workings of the brain that result in the phenomenon of mind. Nowhere is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand the world.”

  35. 35
    Daniel Schealler

    @Frank J. Ranelli

    fictional Hebrew storm god of the bible…

    I’m unfamiliar with identifying YHWH as a storm god – I wouldn’t mind reading up on that.
    Could I get a reference for that?
    To be clear: This isn’t the ‘ask for a reference to challenge to your credibility’ thing.
    This is the ‘ask for a reference because I’m curious and want to read about it’ thing.

  36. 36
    Flewellyn

    Others have already made short work of this argument, Greta and Daniel foremost among them. In particular, I appreciate the notion that “the superior do as they see fit with the inferior” does, in fact, underlie a great deal of apologetics. And rather chillingly, at that; if you posed the notion to most religious believers that “the superior do as they see fit with the inferior”, they would object strenuously and call that an immoral argument. And it is!
    Yet somehow, they don’t see it as immoral to argue that this should hold true for God. Well, because God is good, of course, and thus whatever God does is good. Which leads us right into Greta’s point about how this makes “Godly good” and “human good” so disjoint that they may as well be different concepts altogether, and/or makes the notion of good and evil meaningless.
    And Daniel is also right that this sounds very, very racist. He was perhaps overly generous to our correspondent in stating that this was merely an unstated implication, not in fact a professed view. Remember, our correspondent Aaron identified as LDS, and the Mormons have long believed that non-white people are darker colored because of the sins of their ancestors, and that non-whites who repent will turn white; look up the phrase “white and delightsome” for some fun reading on that subject.
    The whole argument is enough to scare the stripes off a zebra-fish.

  37. 37
    Gabrielle Guichard

    “we are eternal beings”: that’s big news. I learnt that only god was eternal, without beginning or end. At the best, his creatures may be immortal.

  38. 38
    Ash Bowie

    A “gardener” might pull “weeds”, but that is not what the Bible tells us what happened. Rather, God had the, uh, carrots rise up and slaughter the weeds rather than do it himself (i.e. killing them on the spot or just making them disappear, which an omnipotent god should be able to do). So, even if we accept the idea that a god exists and that it wanted the Canaanites to be run through with swords, the gardener analogy still fails.
    A more accurate analogy is a kid with ant farms. This kid breeds one ant colony, but then he breeds another with stronger ants that are more to his liking. He becomes displeased with the first colony and sics the second one on it because he wants to get rid of them and he likes their farm better and wants it for the favored colony. YHVH’s actions are like this little kid’s, not like an all-wise, all-benevolent creator of all things.

  39. 39
    Celestine

    OK, this has pretty much been hashed out, but I wanted to add a bit, anyway.
    You talk about eternal life as if having such would compensate for being violently slaughtered and/or watching your loved ones and babies be run through and “dashed upon the rocks.”
    But do you really believe that this eternal spiritual existence (which, you no doubt have guessed, I do not believe in) compensates for the physical and emotional pain we endure through our corporeal lives? What would be the purpose of such pain? Will you one day reach heaven and ask god what it was all about and he’ll laugh and say, “I was just messin’ with you! Here, you can live forever in peace now.”
    I recently watched a really good talk by Sam Harris on morality. He points out, quite rightly, that when we talk about consequences of our actions, we too often leave out certain types of consequences. Yet, studies show that killing people has detrimental effects on the mental and emotional health of the perpetrators. So, by ordering people to slaughter another group of people, god is not only eradicating an entire society (down to the livestock in some cases), he is also responsible for the suffering of “his children” whom he ordered to commit senseless violence.
    Overall, I just can’t think of any way to defend god in this situation.

  40. 40
    Tom Holle

    It seems to me that if there is no god, then there can be no analogy.

  41. 41
    Dean Buchanan

    I am really glad that I am not god. I kill plants even when I want them to live. They turn black then white then black then white (and etc.) and drown in the water where they then live. They swim around and look like some sort of hoofed, herding, mammal.

  42. 42
    WScott

    @ Aaron: OK, first off: props for acknowledging that genocide is genocide, rather than trying to weasel around the definition. So you get points for honesty there.
    That said, I’m afraid your argument does make perfect logical sense… IF you accept the premise that life in this world – everything the human race individually and collectively does, has done, or might ever do – is fundamentally meaningless. I find that notion, frankly, horrific. Even if you believe there is a possibility that there might be a life beyond this one, the idea that an all-knowing, all-powerful god would create this entire reality solely for the purpose of making a majority of “weeds” suffer so that a minority of “flowers” can make it to the next life is appalling on every level. Especially since the all-knowing-all-powerful part renders the whole exercise meaningless at best, unforgivably cruel at worst.
    (For me personally, realizing that this deeply nihilistic world view is the only logical outcome of Christian philosophy was the single greatest step on my road to atheism. YMMV, of course.)
    Lastly, as others have pointed out, it also means your religion has absolutely nothing to say about what us puny humans should or should not do in this world. As YouTuber Theoretical Bullshit said in closing his Treatise on Morality: “If your moral philosophy is completely divorced from real-world issues of happiness and suffering, if morality for you has nothing to do with the pursuit of maximizing well being, if it truly has no stake whatsoever in actualizing an ideal circumstance in this life or the next…then what fucking good is it?”

  43. 43
    Lynn Wilhelm

    Greta, Daniel et al. did a fabulous job saying so much more than I was going to say.
    I did just run into the human-life-is-like-a-garden-and-the- weeds-need-to-be-removed argument in response to my FB post about how I couldn’t celebrate bin Laden’s death (relieved, but no joy). Commenter said that OBL was a weed that needed to be removed. I’m a landscape designer and he thought the analogy would ring home with me. It didn’t.

  44. 44
    Lynn Wilhelm

    Oh, and forgot all about zebra fish. Love the little buggers.

  45. 45
    Aaron deOliveira

    I’m very much looking forward to posting my reply. Lots of great questions. Lots of long answers. I ran out of time tonight. I’ll hopefully have a reply to everyone collectively done tomorrow. I’m about 1/3 of the way done as of this stopping point.
    this is such a great community for thought and discussion. can’t wait to finish and add my two cents.

  46. 46
    Kagehi

    Not exactly on topic, but it does run into one of the arguments made by some of the sorts of people that defend this kind of nonsense. So.. Earth orbits not *quite* circular. 91.4 million miles, at closest, 94.5 million, at farthest. If you assume the *minimum* amount of the world for life, either the poles, if too close, or the equator, if far away, you can figure an “allowable” range of 50F degrees for “getting too cold”, and about the same for too hot. Now, the difference between being 91.4mil and 94.5mil away is about one degree? So, the “habitable zone would be 3.1 million miles * 50F, or 155 million miles that the earth could move in, and still allow “some” life. If you figured for 5F being, “close enough to what we are used to that most of it is still usable”, its still 15.5 million miles.
    This is apparently the universe that is, “so fine tuned that a few miles difference would burn us to a crisp, or freeze us to death.” Must be some of those Biblical “god” miles, sort of like Biblical “god” years. lol
    And, this is just pulling numbers out of my backside. No idea what a climate model would say, it might be only 100 million miles, or 400 million, for all I know, and it would change depending on planet size (bigger, with thicker atmosphere would allow a larger range, I think). But, its *definitely* bigger than 3.1 million miles.
    But, in any case, logic is never these people’s strong suite. They can’t even manage theology well, never mind anything else they try to interpret through theology.

  47. 47
    Deen

    After re-reading the original letter and reading through the comments (zebra-fish), I’m going to have to disagree with Greta: Aaron isn’t making a “Mysterious Ways” argument, he’s simply making a “Might makes right” argument.
    Although I suppose the mystery comes in when you try to square “Might makes right” with “God is good”, “Morality comes from God” and “Christian morality is the best”.

  48. 48
    graeme

    Underlying this is an argument I have heard from various theists which is that “because god created us, he can do what he likes with us”. Usually, the analogy the theist gives is with a painter who can destroy her work because she created it. The obvious response is that the painting isn’t sentient so that isn’t a good analogy.
    But what about other creators of sentient beings? Can parents do what they like with their children because they created them? The theist will usually say no because god was the ultimate creator of all sentient beings. But then, is there any other creator of sentient beings to whom the principle that they can do what they like with their creations applies? Answer: (usually) no.
    Therefore, the theist has made a principle that only applies to one being, and if a principle only applies to one being then it is no longer a principle. It is an excuse. They may as well have said that god can do what he likes with us because he is god and he can do what he likes.
    It is amazing how many times theists will come up with some principle that only applies to god, which, therefore, means that it is not a principle.

  49. 49
    Jack

    False analogy.
    Next question!

  50. 50
    Gayle Jordan

    Aaron -
    Good on you for reading Greta’s blog and thinking about it.
    Just a quick thought: What would an unjust and immoral and malevolent God look like?

  51. 51
    WScott

    @ Gayle: …and how would we know the difference?

  52. 52
    Rick

    @Greta: Please do elevate Aaron’s response to a new post…

  53. 53
    Ysabet

    Aaron,
    A thought on god as gardner. We are not comparing the great work of man with vegetation. Therefore the termination of life in infancy is not the same as a life lived in fullness. This is flawed. If we’re going with this metaphor (and personally, having watched a number of children die over the years, both personally and professionally, this was hard for me to detach from) you need to switch it up.
    The concept of god and mankind is that mankind was put on this world (and I’m not espousing my beliefs, but my understanding of christian beliefs) to express and work through a greater system of god’s plan. So a life terminated early does not have the same impact as a life lived fully. That life terminated early will then continue on to its next level, while those left behind must process through what has happened to them and use the trial of tragedy to come closer to understanding that god’s ways are ineffable. Through the suffering of loss the survivors grow closer to god, if their faith allows them to follow that path.
    The gardener metaphor has always seemed trite to me. It leaves out too much of the concept of the whole conciousness, greater construct, and the transcendence requirement of the belief structure. If god is a gardner and humanity is a crop then there is no point in belief or behavior, mores or values espoused by leaders of religion.
    Thoughts?

  54. 54
    Hambydammit

    Aaron, in case you miss the incredibly succinct and eloquent point made by Gayle, let me elaborate.
    Gayle is showing you with a simple question that your definition of god’s morality reduces to an absurdity. If you were to try to describe a “bad god,” you’d run into a paradox: Either describe him as bad in human moral terms, or arbitrarily pick something from outside of human moral terms.
    If you choose the first, you are admitting that we can judge god’s morality as good or bad. And by that standard, he is evil.
    If you choose the second, you are admitting that we humans have no way to judge whether god’s morality is good or bad.
    The second option is far worse than the first for your position. If we cannot judge god’s morality, then the only piece of evidence we have that he’s actually good is his word.
    And let’s think about that carefully: What justification do you have for taking god at his word when there is no way for you to verify his claims? What if he IS an evil god, and is telling you he is good because it amuses him to coerce you into living an unnatural and unfulfilling life? What if he is capricious and will send all the LDS to hell precisely for the sin of taking him at his word with no evidence??
    The possibilities are endless. So as you can see, the proof that we cannot reliably judge god’s morality is proven by the thought experiment of trying to design an evil god.

  55. 55
    John the Drunkard

    Too many comments to achieve any pithy, concise refutation.
    BUT:
    Sure, Jehova was mad at the Israelites for disobeying his command to kill ALL (including the domestic animals) when the war-party spared a few cattle for later sacrifice. Still, the biblical ‘fact’ is that Canaan was not completely conquered.
    Read ‘Judges’ and ‘Chronicles’ for the continuing conflict between the Hebrews and their unexterminataed neighbours. And even Jericho, supposedly falled and laid waste forever. The town is still there, still occupied, never abandoned (so far as archeology can discover) from its founding to today.
    Accepting god’s right to command genocide is not only morally corrupt, it can only be justified by…you guessed it: cherry-picking the bible to ignore the fact that no succesfull genocide occured.

  56. 56
    Greta Christina

    it can only be justified by…you guessed it: cherry-picking the bible to ignore the fact that no succesfull genocide occured.

    Not to mention cherry-picking history and archeology to ignore the fact that the ENTIRE FREAKING STORY is bullpucky.

  57. 57
    Kevin Zimmerman

    I was in Sunday school recently, and the teacher justified Elijah’s murder of 420 priests of Baal because of their wickedness. Craig’s thinking is entirely common among theists.

  58. 58
    Aaron deOliveira

    I tried posting my response here. It’s long and full of links. Greta let me know that Typepad doesn’t like posts with a lot of links. I published it as a Google Doc. Please read it here: http://bit.ly/m3aHV1
    thank you.

  59. 59
    sally

    greta, any chance you can re-post aaron’s response here? i can’t get into google docs.
    thanks

  60. 60
    Aaron deOliveira

    i’ve posted it to scribd as well.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/55372828/GlennasMailbagPart1

  61. 61
    Aaron deOliveira

    here’s a bit.ly link to scribd.
    http://scr.bi/kjK8B2
    the other link didn’t fit the screen for some reason.

  62. 62
    sally

    too many bible quotes!

  63. 63
    Aaron deOliveira

    “too many bible quotes”
    isn’t that like saying you’ve quoted too much from the math textbook when explaining an equation?
    the scriptures are one of the sources i pulled from, and yes i pulled from them heavily because they speak directly to the points that i was making.
    i wasn’t going for “a primer to the scriptures”. rather i was laying out specific answers to specific questions. just as greta excellently referenced her previous writing so as not to have to rewrite her entire case again, i too have referenced sources i feel appropriate to outline and examine the subjects being discussed.

  64. 64
    Aaron deOliveira

    sorry if i sounded rude there. i was re-reading my comment and felt i came across a little stronger than necessary. i apologize for the rude overtones.

  65. 65
    Ash Bowie

    Aaron, I have to admit, your essay was difficult to read. You made multiple assertions without a shred of evidence to support them (and no, quotes do not constitute evidence). The entire piece was a rambling collection of unverifiable subjective experiences and vague claims (that, by the way, had nothing to do with your original letter or the comments that pointed out the errors in your logic). For example, “As we tune our consciouses to God it is like orienting a compass to the magnetic north pole”…this, like many other phrases, doesn’t actually mean anything. I started to point this out phrase by phrase but realized my comment would be far too long.
    I would challenge you to answer your own questions with real answers rather than with quotes. For example, you ask “Another fair question that is raised is even if God talks to you how do you know it’s God telling you what to do and not some other source (ie. something nefarious or even you just imagining it).” This is a good question, but the quote you offered didn’t actually answer it…it was just question begging. So, let me give you a scenario. Take two people, Bob and Ginger. They both believe that God talks to them: they sense subtle impressions and have intense feelings of sacredness and rightness. Moreover, they are told very similar things: e.g. they are loved, that they should do good in the world, and that a beautiful fate awaits them. They both live happy and fulfilling lives. Let’s assume that one is genuinely hearing a god and the other is hearing impressions created solely in the mind. How does one go about telling the difference?
    Of course, if you think about it for a while, you will realize that you can’t answer the question. There is no way to determine if one is hallucinating or not, no matter how real it feels (unless one gets otherwise unknowable answers about the future, but there is no evidence this has ever happened). However, we can extrapolate a general answer based on outcomes. To paint with a broad brush, thousands of years of “learning” about God produced next to nothing in terms of understanding the natural world. A couple hundred of years of learning about the world without worrying about God (i.e. science) has resulted in an explosion of both understanding about nature and technological innovation. This puts the lie to your claim that faith in God will accelerate scientific inquiry, when the past shows us that the exact opposite is true. When religious faith comes into the picture, we get garbage like Intelligent Design and the Creation Museum.
    But setting that aside, have you changed your position on the morality of God ordering genocide?

  66. 66
    Ash Bowie

    “too many bible quotes”…isn’t that like saying you’ve quoted too much from the math textbook when explaining an equation?
    No it isn’t. Quoting from a book does not constitute an answer unless the question is “what does the book say?” If you want a book to provide evidence for an external claim, first you have to establish the validity and reliability of the book, and that certainly has not been done in the Bible’s case. On the other hand, mathematics is a highly robust discipline that can be verified independently of any book that describes it. The two scenarios could not be more different.

  67. 67
    Aaron deOliveira

    i agree what i wrote was somewhat rambling both because of time constraints and because several other questions were raised that i tried to address.
    because there were questions about the existence of god, evidence for god’s existence, how do you know, etc. these are all very broad subjects and rather than write endlessly on each one, i attempted to point to answers to these questions as quickly as i could.
    i must disagree with you that “to train your conscious” is a concept without meaning. we have several mundane ways that we train our conscious. anger management comes to mind. we work at channeling our mind in a specific direction to achieve a specific outcome. in this example anger management teaches one how to channel their mind & feelings such that when things occur that stir up anger, we do not act in the way we did previous to the practice of anger management.
    another way that we train our mind (and i’m using mind as a collorary for conscious here since i feel that the conscious is a sub-set of the mind) of yoga and meditation. reflection on the self in this manner leads to discoveries that are as true as what we get out of a beaker.
    i can agree that God cannot be distilled in a beaker simply because a beaker is not the correct to to distill him with. I gave an example of quantum mechanics. they exist and affect our world, yet they are unobservable directly without direct investment in the tools necessary to discern them.
    i think it is a false premise to compare thousands of years of religion to hundreds of years of technology. i say this because if we graph technological advancement from the beginning of recorded history to 3000 BC to the present, about 5000 years or so, it is only in last 200-300 years that the graph takes a hockey stick curve of rapid discovery not just in one field, but in all fields.
    religion has an explanation for that. the summary is, God in preparation for the 2nd coming of his Son sent light and knowledge into the world so that all can be prepared for the end when the 2nd coming arrives.
    let’s look at at were seeing with technology from a non-religious viewpoint. one of my favorite Star Trek Deep Space 9 episodes was the one where every slot machine in Quark’s casino hits double jackpots simultaneously. having this occur made it quite obvious to the characters that something external to themselves was happening.
    I see what is happening with technology in the last 200-300 years with its hockey stick curve growth to be evidence of the same. it’s not just certain fields of technology that are exploding at this time. it’s every field. what is happening now isn’t like the bronze age or the bessemer process where a singular advancement had a sweeping impact. technology & science in every field are all discovering at the same rapid rate.
    to say that “rising tides float all ships” does not adequately describe what is happening with technology in the last 200-300 years.
    if we say that scientists today are the product of incremental advancements across human history the curve of technological advancement should be more constant. year upon year there should be improvements with sweeping discoveries along the way. instead we see 4,700 years of one kind of growth and 300 years of the rapid growth we are now experiencing.
    even the rennisance in all of its majesty does not represent a growth curve like the one we are on now.
    So i put it to you. What explanation does science give for it’s hockey stick growth curve over the last 200-300 years if the religious explanation i gave at the beginning of this comment in invalid?
    i am working on the specific answer to the genocide question. i agree that i have not yet answered that question. i hope to have my answer up this weekend.

  68. 68
    NEP

    Aaron, I have to agree with Ash. It’s not at all clear what points you were attempting to make in your response. I was struck by how little argumentation or evidence you provided; the reader is repeatedly bombarded with lengthy scriptural quotations which serve only to restate, rather than substantiate, each successive assertion made. Frequently, you identified possible challenges to theses assertions, only to address them with further question-begging before moving on to another unrelated subject.
    With regards to the “too many bible quotes!” comment, it’s valid. There was too much quotation in your response – from the bible or otherwise – and not enough argumentation. This is to say nothing of your original email, however, and I look forward to further thoughts from you on that subject.

  69. 69
    Aaron deOliveira

    does the bible prove god or does god prove the bible. i consider this a logical fallacy.
    saying that god doesn’t exist so the bible can’t be divine and saying that the bible can’t prove that god exists creates the problem that drives the Abbot & Costello routine “Who’s on First”.
    The problem is one of substitution. One asks a question. The next man treats the sentence as though it were a statement. Which in turn spawns another question.
    The 2 statments above turn on each other because there is a 3rd statement that is not accepted. Living what the bible teaches will give proof within your own life. the same way many studies are conducted. take a premise. god exists and tells me to do x. if i do x i should see result y. most people refuse to perform the experiment adequately because they challenge the premise that god exists.
    so what we’re left with is god’s existence cannot be used as proof that the scripture is divine and scripture cannot be used to show that god exists. they do not challenge the statement x -> y.
    i keep going back to the quantum mechanics example. if you say a quarks or leptons or any other quantum particle exists you acknowledge the following:
    *that there are particles in our universe that operate distinctly differently than any particles in our observable world.
    *that these particles directly impact both the organization (how it’s built), composition (what it’s built of), and behavior of everything in the observable world.
    *that the only way to observe these particles and their behaviors is to use specialized tools in exactly the way they are designed.
    i use these three statements as my ‘non-religious’ proof of where god exists.
    i use man’s eventual dominance of the universe as evidence that a god-like being can exist.
    i use the fact that man is a subset of the universe and that it is arbitrary to argue that a subset of the universe man can become godlike at one point in space-time but not at all points in space-time.
    , acts far differently than the observable world and co

  70. 70
    Aaron deOliveira

    i wanted to expand slightly on what i mean by “where god exists”. the normal statement is that “god is in heaven”. yet, heaven is not a place identifiable in our observable world. since it is not a place identifiable in our observable world, we could say “heaven (and therefore god) do not exist”.
    what i am showing with quantum mechanics is that worlds outside our directly observable newtonian world exist and directly affect everything in our observable world. i am not saying that heaven is quantum mechanics. i am saying if there is such a thing as quantum mechanics there can be such a thing as heaven.
    so heaven can be a place that acts differently that our observable world (ie. eternal life, etc.), is not directly observable (without specialized tools) and directly impacts our observable world.
    heaven has the same properties that quantum mechanics does.

  71. 71
    NEP

    @Aaron: “So i put it to you. What explanation does science give for it’s hockey stick growth curve over the last 200-300 years if the religious explanation i gave at the beginning of this comment in invalid?”
    Again, there are unsupported assertions here. One is that we actually have been seeing exponential growth in all fields. Another is that we wouldn’t expect to see exponential growth in any or all fields. Finally, you provide no reason that exponential growth in a few fields wouldn’t be translated into a similar degree of progress in a wider range of disciplines.

  72. 72
    hf

    What explanation does science give for it’s hockey stick growth curve over the last 200-300 years if the religious explanation i gave at the beginning of this comment in invalid?
    Rather obviously, Newton published his version of the scientific method around 300 years ago. Since this method allows us to find the truth with a fair bit of reliability, we started discovering more about the world we live in. And this allowed us to ask better questions about the world so as to discover even more.
    Since you like quantum mechanics, I’ll give an example of an appeal to Newton’s method (in modern form): an actual argument for belief in unobservable entities. Try to spot the difference between this and your own argument. If you read to the end and you still haven’t spotted it, try reading Newton’s rules again.

  73. 73
    Aaron deOliveira

    i did support it with assertions.
    exponential growth in all fields can be verified in two ways. do a search online for any random scientific field you can think of. you will find evidence of more and more advancement in each field that you try.
    you can also test the assertion that there is rapid advancement in all fields by asking yourself the following questions. what was the state of scientific field x 500 years ago? what was the state of field x 1000 years ago? by comparing today, 500 years ago and 1000 years ago in any field you will see that the pace of advancements today is radically faster.
    am i seriously having to prove that the pace of technological advancement is significantly in the past 300 years than in any of the 4700 years previously? that can’t just be a given.
    i did give examples. if this was just advancement in a few fields affecting all other fields we would have something like the bronze age or the industrial revolution that was born of the bessemer process or the revolution that was born of gutenberg’s press things would increase incrementally as they did in the 3 previous ages i just cited. today technology/science,etc. is exploding at an unprecendented rate.
    from 3000 BC to around 1500-1600 AD life for mankind was pretty much the same. agrarian, high mortality rate, etc. if this condition persisted for 4700 years and is now radically different now, what is the cause? i have proposed one. i have backed up my assertions with evidence.
    what answer do you have for the hockey curve on the graph of human technological progress over the last 5000 years?

  74. 74
    Aaron deOliveira

    Here are the points i was making with my 6 page initial response:
    I.God exists
    A. Man and God are equivalent. They are the same thing. Because man exists God exists the same way a caterpillar and a butterfly are the same creature.
    1. the steady march of technology on a long enough timeline will make man god-like
    2. man is a subset of all the things in the universe.
    3. if man can be god-like at one point in space-time he can be god-like at all points in space time.
    4. there is an equal expanse of infinity behind man in the past as there is ahead of man in the future, therefore god can exist before man as he is in the present on Earth.
    a. God exists right now.
    II.Religion and science are the same thing just as electricity and magnetism are the same thing.
    1. science teaches us about ourselves
    2. religion teaches us about ourselves
    3. truth is self evident no matter which discipline it is discovered, lived or propagated.
    4. science stated purpose is to discover the truth of all things.
    5. religions stated purpose is to know the truth of all things.
    6. truth is equivalent to itself. Therefore the search for truth in either discipline will yield the same result.
    III.Because God is an advanced form of man. Man should listen to what God has to say.
    A. we have all the same characteristics as God.
    B. God is more advanced than we are
    C. God’s purpose is to give us a way to become like him.
    D. By acting on what God tells us we become better versions of ourselves and better able to enjoy life whether or not our purpose is to become like God.
    IV.We can know and verify God
    A. God communicates directly to our minds and hearts.
    1.This is because in the solitary part of our mind is the only place where we cannot truly be deceived.
    1.We cannot deceive ourselves. We cannot hide from ourselves. Despite what we may do to ignore it, we are still aware of every truth about ourselves.
    2.Our eyes, ears, etc. can deceive us.
    3.Within ourselves is the only true constant in our world.
    4.God entering this space demonstrates his existence because it can only be either us or God there.
    a. no other person, thing, force, etc. can enter into that part of us.
    B. Knowing God comes through the scientific process.
    1.There is an experiment to perform to know God.
    a. it has a theory to test
    b. it has documented results that can be independently verified by each person trying it.
    c. it has stringent requirements.
    No experiment can be successfully replicated unless the same conditions are met each time.
    d. We do similar experiments in our lives on a regular basis.
    1.This proves the validity of the experimental process proposed.

  75. 75
    Aaron deOliveira

    Since you like quantum mechanics, I’ll give an example of an appeal to Newton’s method (in modern form): an actual argument for belief in unobservable entities. Try to spot the difference between this and your own argument. If you read to the end and you still haven’t spotted it, try reading Newton’s rules again.
    I’m not making an appeal to newton. i’m simply calling our observable world a netownian world because that’s the way it’s usually described in textbooks. i could just as easily called it “the world we live in”.
    my point was that there is an earth (n) and a quantum world (n+1) there is a place for another world called heaven (n+2) that has similar properties to what we observe in quantum mechanics.

  76. 76
    hf

    Stop. Read what I actually linked before posting again. I’m appealing to a method, not Newton the man.

  77. 77
    Aaron deOliveira

    What explanation does science give for it’s hockey stick growth curve over the last 200-300 years if the religious explanation i gave at the beginning of this comment in invalid?
    Rather obviously, Newton published his version of the scientific method around 300 years ago. Since this method allows us to find the truth with a fair bit of reliability, we started discovering more about the world we live in. And this allowed us to ask better questions about the world so as to discover even more.
    So the cause of our rapid rate of scientific discovery in the last 300 years is —- better questions?
    Were there no inquisitive minds 1000 years ago or 2000 years ago. Were they not likewise searching?
    And what they were limited by was “[a lack of] better questions”?

  78. 78
    Aaron deOliveira

    i’ve gotta go to a meeting. i’ll reply more tonight.
    i should have the specifics of Israel/Canaan/Genocide/Morality up sometime this weekend.

  79. 79
    hf

    Limited by lack of the method you seem driven to ignore.

  80. 80
    NEP

    @Aaron: “Living what the bible teaches will give proof within your own life. the same way many studies are conducted. take a premise. god exists and tells me to do x. if i do x i should see result y. most people refuse to perform the experiment adequately because they challenge the premise that god exists.”With all respect, this is extremely flawed logic.First off, it’s a question-begging fallacy. You’re presenting the conclusion of your argument – god exists – as one of the premises (assertions). You say ‘take a premise. god exists…’ – but this requires the person with whom you’re arguing to concede the very point being argued!Secondly, you would also need to prove the following conditional statement:If god exists, X, and only X, always causes Y.And it’s contrapositive:If god does not exist, nothing causes Y.Otherwise, it would be impossible to prove that Y didn’t occur simply as a result of X, regardless of divine providence.It’s not that people refuse to test such a hypothesis – multiple studies have been performed on the power of prayer, for example – but it is difficult to pin down the exact conditional I outlined above. For example, if some X fails to result in Y, theists insist that ‘god is mysterious’ or that atheists have ‘hardened their hearts’ or ‘god will not be tested’ or some other example of goalpost-moving – rather than just conceding that god doesn’t exist. Theists never provide a Y that would consistently result from X if god existed.As such, it would be a waste of my time to live my life according to scripture with the intent of establishing their divine origin. Even if following the tenets of the bible proved beneficial, this would in no way prove that they come from god.***Also, you didn’t really answer my previous challenges about the advancement of technology. Namely, that we actually have been seeing consistent and unequivocal exponential growth in all fields. Granted, both our level of technology and scientific knowledge are greater than they were thousands of years ago, but this doesn’t necessarily imply that there has been a non-linear growth in these areas. Further, you declined to demonstrate that if we are seeing exponential growth in all fields that this would be unexpected.Each new technological advancement and scientific discovery, every addition to the sum of our amassed knowledge, makes possible yet more and ever greater advancements and discoveries. The economic prosperity and societal stability of modern nations – built upon previous advances in science, technology, and political philosophy – allow greater resources to be diverted into making further progress. Improved communication allows ideas to be shared so that more people can work on them; better education ensures that the greatest minds are exercised to their maximum potential. Computers, which are themselves growing exponentially in power (as demonstrated by Moore’s Law), allow hitherto unrealizable advances in science and mathematics. Which are leveraged into further progress on all fronts. It seems to me, then, that a linear growth in technology and science would be far more surprising than and exponential one.

  81. 81
    Rick

    If I may paraphrase, (and be more gender neutral) humans will evolve into gods, therefore we already have, therefore the god we perceive now is really just more advanced humans. Is that correct?
    This is a lot like something Michael Shermer has postulated (http://www.templeton.org/belief/essays/shermer.pdf) “What would we call an intelligent being capable of engineering a universe, stars, planets, and life? If we knew the underlying science and technology used to do the engineering, we would call it Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence; if we did not know the underlying science and technology, we would call it God.”
    So, you’ve defined God as NOT supernatural, therefore not outside the bounds of our moral analysis. Back to the original point of this whole thread: if god commands genocide/infanticide/murder/evil, is god evil?
    So, you’ve said, essentially that god is us, therefore not supernatural, therefore should be bound by our morals, and yet still commands us to do evil, then god is evil.

  82. 82
    hf

    A good point, Rick, but even if he spoke of a supernatural deity — in fact, even if he tried to identify his god with the Platonic Form of Good to get around these problems — it could still sound like Azathoth from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Words like “supernatural” and “Form” just don’t have a clear enough meaning to change the argument.

  83. 83
    CBC

    The sentiment that “brown people deserve to die, God says so” seems to be the undercurrent here. Not surprising, given LDS doctrine, but I thought it bore pointing out. Also, Ted, YES thank you for pointing out the eugenics implications.
    Carry on with the logical evisceration!

  84. 84
    Ash Bowie

    i attempted to point to answers to these questions as quickly as i could.
    But you didn’t answer any questions, you merely made more assertions and offered question-begging quotes.
    i must disagree with you that “to train your conscious” is a concept without meaning.
    My point is that your essay was filled with fuzzy assertions that have no logical meaning. You mention anger management as a metaphor…that can be described as a set of cognitive (e.g. counting) and behavioral (e.g. deep breathing) techniques used to regulate emotions. Can you offer a similar explanation for what you meant by tuning one’s consciousness to God?
    i can agree that God cannot be distilled in a beaker simply because a beaker is not the correct to to distill him with.
    Well, I didn’t make any claims about distilling God in a beaker. I asked if there was a way to determine the difference between a person sensing the genuine communication of a god and one who merely believes it. Since there is no material evidence for the existence of God, I suppose you must rely on subjective experience. So, by what method do you determine that your experiences are valid reflections of reality and not merely cognitive illusions?
    i think it is a false premise to compare thousands of years of religion to hundreds of years of technology.
    Well, that’s a convenient argument, but a specious one. It’s perfectly valid to say “when we look at the output of reliable knowledge regarding the nature of reality and resultant technologies as produced by religious and scientific inquiries, only the latter has produced a signifiant model that is testable, falsifiable, and coherent.” You are free to dispute the assertion, but you have no grounds to reject the comparison, if you agree that religion makes claims about the nature of reality (as you seem to do).
    So i put it to you. What explanation does science give for it’s hockey stick growth curve over the last 200-300 years if the religious explanation i gave at the beginning of this comment in invalid?
    The curve of scientific knowledge started spiking towards the end of the Renaissance era because that was when thinkers like Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton were solidifying the scientific method. As it continued to be adopted and refined, along with related inventions of ever-more precise tools of examination, the amount of output exploded.

  85. 85
    Harry Varty

    Apologies for diverting the thread but there is no evidence that the Israelites committed genocide against the Canaanites. This story was made up for political reasons.

  86. 86
    Sigmaleph

    You keep using that quantum mechanics analogy. It’s even more flawed than the gardener one.
    Quantum mechanics is physics. It provides us with a mathematical description of the fundamental levels of reality. Heaven is a vague verbal description of a hypothetical place for which all evidence is a book. There is no Schrödinger equation of heaven. There is no way to derive the (to use your phrase) Newtonian universe we appear to see from what we know of heaven. We can’t create a model of heaven and use it to predict what will happen when we look at the most basic aspects of reality.
    In fact, you can’t use heaven to predict anything here. It’s not a hypothesis about the world-we-experience. Not even a fundamentally flawed hypothesis like God, even in principle heaven doesn’t try to tell us what we will experience while alive. The only testable prediction of heaven is to die and see what happens. That’s the only area where it even claims to be able to explain anything.
    Quantum mechanics is not some hidden universe somewhere else, which gives you permission to postulate other hidden worlds. QM is a mathematical model of reality with strict testable predictions. We know it to be true because the experiments have been run and the results reported.
    If you want to compare heaven to QM, then give us the heaven equations so we can test them and see what they predict. If you can’t and choose to continue using the analogy, then you’re intellectually dishonest.

  87. 87
    Meghan

    @ Aaron
    I’ve been following this debate with great interest. I read your 6 page response. I understand that you don’t use capitalization grammar, but could you please be more concise? Your outline you posted here made it easier to understand. If you have a long response just write the outline and put your evidence under each header, no need for scripture quotes, analogies, etc.
    In order to “prove” your argument, you have to provide outside sources and evidence for your claims and religion. The Bible is not a valid source. I cannot speak for everyone here, but I don’t consider it an adequate source document. You may hold it to be a sacred and divine source for your religion and faith, but not everyone does.
    As far as the advance of science in the past 200-300 years, there are many real-world factors that acted to advance human technology and culture. People finally had enough (food, resources, and lack of disease) to allow further specialization of labor to include scientific and philosophical inquiry.
    This next bit is rude, but I feel must be asked. What is your knowledge base? Do you have a firm understanding of secular world history, biology (especially genetics and evolution), chemistry, and physics (with your mentioning of quantum mechanics). I don’t care if you have (or don’t have) a university education in these subjects, nor am I suggesting that in order to present an argument that one must be highly educated.
    @ other Atheists
    Can somebody help me understand the Man=God in the future, and therefore God exists now argument? I’m used to the AKAG Xian God being presented.
    To me it seems that if everyone is God already, then there is no supernatural, and therefore the original God=gardener argument falls apart. Is it now a self-tended garden? If God=man, then who is tending to the “world garden”?

  88. 88
    hf

    @Meghan: that part of Mormon theology seems fairly straightforward (unless they’ve hidden the silliest part from me somehow). God likes us. He regards us as his children. Therefore, he wants us to ultimately gain powers like his. Individual humans can grow up into Gods after death. As usual, the more biblical and patriarchal aspects of the doctrine seem like the silliest. (From what the Internet has told me, not only do we have to obey God and accept his supposed slaughter of other children, but among ourselves we also need to get our names on the LDS roster and form LDS-approved marriages to get into the good heaven.)

  89. 89
    hf

    Quantum mechanics is not some hidden universe somewhere else,
    It does involve entities like that, according to my second link. But the argument there seems rather different from Aaron’s. One of them starts from reductionism.
    I feel a little guilty that I told Aaron about decoherence. But I console myself with the knowledge that nobody will be able to tell, if he doesn’t improve his arguments.

  90. 90
    Aaron DeOliveira

    Here’s my synopsis of how God was moral in what he did with Israel & Canaan
    http://bit.ly/jMfwSI
    I used a flash program called BubbleUs to create a flow chart.

  91. 91
    Aaron DeOliveira

    more replys after dinner

  92. 92
    Ash Bowie

    Arron, this chart does nothing to explain why you think God was just in the myth of the Canaanite Genocide. Absolutely nothing in the mess of links comes close to addressing any of the points that have been made.
    It seems clear that you have no idea what a logical argument consists of. Here is a brief and friendly introduction to the topic: http://bit.ly/k5T8xU Look it over and practice it…you’ll be amazed at how improved your reception will be if you use basic logic in your arguments.

  93. 93
    Benjamin

    Yeah, I tried to understand what was going on in that chart. But apparently it was beyond me, because I saw nothing but a mess of unsupported allegations and statements connected by non sequiters.
    I also want to take issue with your statement “Death is a reorganization of the elements man is composed of.” While this is a true statement, for you to offer it up as an excuse for murder, let alone genocide, carries with it the unfortunate implication that it is not an immoral act for any human to murder another.
    Again, this is an unstated implication, but it doesn’t stress your logic that, “It was OK for god to command the extermination of the Caananites because their base matter was just reincorporated into the universe and their souls were resurrected/sent along to their final destination.”
    If participating in or ordering murder is acceptable for god given that statement, I don’t see how murder is then impermissible for you or me.

  94. 94
    Aaron deOliveira

    @Ash
    how is a flow chart not logical?
    i marked things clearly. my premises are in red. the supporting statements are in the remaining colors.
    the really, really short version.
    death is a door not a grave. when you die you do not perish (proofs on flow chart). god brings all back to life to the full enjoyment of their potential. because he does this there is no net loss. on flow chart there are net positives.

  95. 95
    Aaron deOliveira

    @Meghan
    What is your knowledge base?
    Happy to tell you. After highschool, I served as a missionary, then as a soldier, then puttered around with my own business ventures.
    i’ve never attended a 4 year college. however, i read voraciously on every subject imaginable.
    guess that makes me mostly self educated.
    as far as physics, i remember watching a “how to shut christians up video”. it made the point that there’s some christian arguement about the 2nd law of thermodynamics. they “shut up” part was to ask them what the other laws of thermodynamics were. :)

  96. 96
    Aaron deOliveira

    @Benjamin
    i think we’re communicating, but i think we’re stuck on “what is life”. i see life as an infinite line with each point on the line as valuable as the next.
    i’m inferring (and tell me if i’m wrong) that our lives from 0-100 years is of extra importance to you.
    when death is not a be all end all, it does change things in this life a bit. for example. if there is a certainty of life after this one, it is no longer necessary to have the ledger entirely answered here. as i understand things, god does not ‘settle accounts’ through each phase of existence. the reason he doesn’t do this is that the purpose of his being involved in our existence is to help us become like him. that will not be achieved in this life, nor immideatly in the next. it is a long process.
    i realize that this is largely the same reasoning that assassins use. kill now, get virgins later.
    i see the difference with god in that when he kills, he is able to restore. when we kill, we are not.
    i also see that religion is a very dangerous concept if life is only 0-100 with nothing before or after that.
    if that’s all there is, god is a terrible monster like voldemort, but worse.
    if you are a thinking man and embrace religion, it must be embraced with the sure knowledge that there is more than 0-100. otherwise, religion makes you a terrible monster.

  97. 97
    Aaron deOliveira

    i’m headed back into the work week. i won’t have the time or energy to be as responsive.
    feel free to email me at [email protected]
    i’ve really appreciated everyone’s feedback. especially, ash & hf. i have a lot to think about.
    and thank you greta for the forum.
    i’m sure i’ll comment on something again in the future. :)
    best regards, all.

  98. 98
    Ash Bowie

    how is a flow chart not logical?
    Simply speaking, logic is a construction of premises, inferences, and conclusions designed to test the validity of an argument. Even an excellent flow chart is not a logical argument in itself, and your flow chart is too chaotic to make any sense of it at all.
    “i marked things clearly.”
    But the connections between ideas are not clear.
    “my premises are in red. the supporting statements are in the remaining colors.”
    That is not how a logical argument goes. It just isn’t.
    “death is a door not a grave. when you die you do not perish (proofs on flow chart). god brings all back to life to the full enjoyment of their potential. because he does this there is no net loss. on flow chart there are net positives.”
    These are merely unsupported assertions. Before you can get to this point, you first have to show at the very least: (a) that a god exists, (b) that that god is the god of the Bible, and (c) that personality survives after physical death. Until you can do that, your proposition is specious.
    It is very important for you to learn about logical fallacies as well. Here is an excellent summary of common ones: http://bit.ly/10ZZME

  99. 99
    Deen

    @Aaron deOliveira:

    i’m inferring (and tell me if i’m wrong) that our lives from 0-100 years is of extra importance to you.

    Since this life is all we can be sure of, and is generally dear to us, yes, I’d say it deserves extra importance.

    if there is a certainty of life after this one, it is no longer necessary to have the ledger entirely answered here.

    But you don’t have that certainty. Quoting the Bible won’t help – if it were a lie, it would still claim to be God’s word. Appealing to personal feelings won’t help either – people from conflicting religions get those feelings too, so they clearly aren’t reliable.
    If science has shown one thing to be true, it is how easy it is to fool oneself.

    i see the difference with god in that when he kills, he is able to restore. when we kill, we are not.

    But in this story, God didn’t do the killing, the Israelites did. Besides, doesn’t God also restore those who are killed by humans? If you truly believe this, then why would it be wrong to kill some, but not others?
    Something else to think about: if God can kill you, without you freely choosing to “step through the door”, didn’t God just trample all over your free will?

    if you are a thinking man and embrace religion, it must be embraced with the sure knowledge that there is more than 0-100. otherwise, religion makes you a terrible monster.

    But if, as I argued, no mortal can get this level of certainty, this basically means that no thinking man should embrace religion.

  100. 100
    rainy

    I get the impression that all the arguments from the commenter’s are falling on deaf ears. I think both sides fail to agree on the basic assumptions made about god, humans and the universe. It starts with the god exists assumption. Aaron, you clearly believe this, but you fail to acknowledge other people don’t. Your whole argument starts with the assumption god exists, and with this try to justify your arguments. Also the role humans play in the universe is subject to disagreement. You believe we are ascending to a god like status. Why that is you fail to adequately explain. You just make an assumption that because we are advancing in science and technology we are becoming gods. I see this a lot in your reasoning. You state a simple fact, but from that jump to an entirely unjustified conclusion. For example you argument about the hockeystick curve in our scientific advancement over the last 300 years. This is a fact, but you conclude from that that god caused it. You provide no further evidence for this claim. The hockeystick curve is supposed to be enough. This is jumping to a very premature conclusion. There are very rational reasons for the sudden jump in the advancement of science as seen above. But you fail to think like that. It’s sounds to me like you are a firm believer in god and see his hand in everything, thus blinding yourself from other more rational explanations of what you are seeing. I hope this post doesn’t offend you, I am aware the tone is a bit harsh. It is in no way my intention to offend, but I found myself getting rather frustrated with your responses to the questions posed and arguments made against you. I hope you will educate yourself a bit more in the scientific method and logical ways of reasoning. I believe that you will see the errors in your reasoning then.

  101. 101
    graeme

    Aaron,
    Your responses are just a mess of unsubstantiated assertions followed by non-sequiturs, which you claim are logical arguments because you have labelled some of them premises and others conclusions. Such fuzzy thinking seems to be all to common in theists (at least when it comes to their own religion).
    I seriously suggest you sign up for a course in logic or critical thinking.

  102. 102
    Meghan

    I agree with rainy.
    Aaron, Everytime I read your responses I was frustrated that you did not address som of the more fundamental issues that have been raised. I would suggest that you learn more about the principles of logic, creating sound arguments, and exploring non-Biblical sources of information.
    Meghan

  103. 103
    llewelly

    Aaron deOliveira:

    another quick analogy to explain how god killing someone or directing that someone be killed isn’t immoral. picture every person passing through life as being on a highway. when god exercises his authority and pulls someone over, ie killing them, he does not prevent them from their destination. because of the resurrection, every person will live again and have full exercise of their life and all of its potentials.

    By this logic, no murder is immoral, as any potential not reached in this life will be reached after the resurrection. Nor is any other activity immoral, as the potential to be redeemed after the resurrection remains.
    Likewise, by this logic, the work of Mormon missionaries here on earth is meaningless. After all, there will be infinitely more time in the afterlife in which to convert people. Nor is there any importance in all the effort many Mormons go to take part in endowment ceremonies; there is endless time in the afterlife during which to take part in such ceremonies.
    No religious effort put forth here in this life can have meaning in the face of a future life in which “every person will live again and have full exercise of their life and all of its potentials”. In order for said religious effort to have meaning, there must be some potential which cannot be reached without active use of time available in this life. But as soon as a religion preaches that there is potential which cannot be reached without active use of this life, said religion must accept termination of this life does harm to the murdered individuals, and thus God’s murders are at least as immoral as any other murder. (In fact, they are more immoral; God has available to Him an infinite array of other choices which are not available to ordinary humans.)
    But reality is different. There is no evidence for the resurrection, and plenty of evidence against it. There is no evidence for any afterlife, and plenty of evidence against an afterlife.
    There is no reason to believe a dead person is merely “pulled over”, or that they have any further opportunity to reach their potential in some afterlife.
    Seen in this light, the belief in an afterlife is shown to be an enabler and an excuser of immorality; by imagining an infinitely greater afterlife, it degrades all activity in this life into meaninglessness.

  104. 104
    Manyworldsmanyminds.wordpress.com

    (sorry I am so late to this game) Looking through the comments I didn’t see this considered:
    Gardens: Most gardens need constant attention, constant supplementing and maintenance to keep them “pretty” (as defined by the gardeners and gawkers). They need LOADS of sh-t dumped on them at least once, often twice a year to make up for the lack of microorganisms that would exist in a more bio-diverse environment. And they need regular pruning and trimming and shaping to “keep them under control”. Nor does one person’s idea of the ideal garden match another’s–even the same gardener may, on a whim, up and decide to try out say peonies instead of roses one year.
    I would ask Aaron, do you really wish to use an analogy that shows the poor gardening skills and fickle nature of your chosen deity? As Greta noted: if you wish to use the “mysterious ways”, you can’t have it both ways. You have to say it’s all god (nothing happens in your favor, and nothing is against you, nothing is good and nothing is evil, which basically makes the presence of the Gardener superfluous, because if dandelions take over and choke off the forget-me-nots, then it must have been meant to happen, just as much as the dead spot where the earth was turned over too much and nothing got a chance to root).
    A last note, the more a garden is maintained, the more it NEEDS to be maintained, directly! the less bio-diverse the landscape, less healthy the supporting ground and the roots structure of most of the plants.
    Sorry, but God should go back to making clay figurines and leave the gardening to a professional.

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