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What Does It Mean That God Is Good?

If God is good purely by definition… then what does “good” even mean?

The other day, JT Eberhard posted a piece to his blog, What a Savior Looks Like, arguing that the Jesus character in the New Testament myth isn’t really much of a savior. It’s kind of a brilliant piece (although my idea of a savior isn’t Keanu Reeves kicking ass in slo-mo), with an idea that had honestly never occurred to me. He points out… oh, I’m just going to quote him:

If we rebelled against god (that guy wanted to keep us from having knowledge and he murdered whole civilizations, so if he exists I damn sure hope we rebelled!), what would our savior look like?

Imagine a city in which there lives a man of incomparable wealth and influence who kicked his children out of the house and into the street for wanting to go to college. Not only that, but he’s pretty much running around and killing everybody who isn’t obeying him. Sometimes he tortures them. It would be totally understandable for even his children to rebel, for clearly he is a crime lord. But one day a savior rides into the city and…

A) …engages the crime lord in battle, ultimately destroying him and giving the people of the city their lives back.

B) …joins forces with the crime lord and helps the crime lord enforce the “obey or be tortured” edict.

One of those sounds like a savior, the other sounds like the mafia demanding protection money. “Sure, I’ll keep my family from trashing your business if you just pay your 10% each month for the service and do everything we tell ya.” Are these ruffians also saviors?

(snip)

A savior sides with the rebels against the oppressor. Jesus isn’t a savior, he’s an accomplice.

“Jesus isn’t a savior, he’s an accomplice.” Damn, can that boy write. I’m just sayin’, is all.

And he got a comment from Davis S., saying (emphasis mine):

I guess it depends on what perspective you’re evaluating the morality of it all from. This is a pretty good post from a humanist perspective, but from the Christian theological perspective, whatever God does is the very definition of good. It’s not necessarily good from our perspective, but it’s at least internally consistent.

And the top of my head just about came off.

Whatever God does is the very definition of good. Really. Do you seriously want to stick with that position?

Because this sort of thinking renders the entire concept of good and evil meaningless. It says that if God does something, it’s good by definition. Killing your own child; slaughtering people (including children) by the thousands; torturing people to death (famine, drought, tsunami, pediatric cancer, etc.) — all of it is good, by definition, simply because it’s God doing it. Even if it’s something that would be monstrously, irredeemably evil if a person did it.

Therefore, what “good” and “evil” mean for God are entirely disconnected from what “good” and “evil” mean for people. The concepts literally bear no relation to one another.

Which, if you believe that human goodness emanates from God, is entirely incoherent.

And I, for one, do not want the concepts of “good” and “evil” to be meaningless and incoherent. I want them to bloody well make sense and mean something.

As for, “It’s not necessarily good from our perspective, but it’s at least internally consistent”: Really? I mean… really? What kind of twisted ethical system puts “good” next to “internally consistent,” and decides that “internally consistent” is more important?

Christianity. Twisting human ethics into unrecognizability since 33 A.D.

*****

UPDATE: A comment on Facebook by Avi Blackmore summed it up perfectly: “It’s basically a massive appeal to authority as an end-run around taking moral responsibility.” FTW!

Comments

  1. says

    It’s NOT internally consistent. To take the most trivially obvious example God orders his followers to kill numerous times, despite the standing order against killing (which does not even contain a weasel clause like ”unless I order it personally”).

  2. says

    Aside from putting “internally consistent” above “good,” it’s a very generous definition of “internally consistent” to begin with. God basically just does whatever He wants, and we mere mortals are supposed to bow down and grovel no matter how destructive and sadistic it is. I’d be more sympathetic to the “internal consistency” defense if God had a discernible moral code, but since it’s ultimately a case of “God does whatever He wants,” it’s not really a moral code we should emulate.

  3. AnneS says

    If the argument was just ‘you should do what God wants because otherwise he’ll smite you’ that would be internally consistent. (It is, in fact, what many ancient religions seem to teach – the Greeks and Romans, for example, didn’t seem to think of their gods as nice people.)

    It’s not an argument I’d agree with, but bowing and scraping to someone who can doom you with a thought at least makes sense. It’s when people try to argue that God does all this out of love and goodness that my brain can’t take it any more. If he loved us, he’d stop beating us up!

  4. Scott says

    Look up William Lane Craigs’ feeling about god’s commandment to kill the Canaanites. Oh, hell with it, here’s a quote, taken from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767 :

    [T]he problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

    On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.

    God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.

    Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.

    You know those nutballs you occasionally see in the news who have killed people because they supposedly heard the voice of “god” tell them to go on a murdering spree? Well, it wasn’t a “murdering” spree at all, just a “killing” spree, and it wasn’t immoral, because “god” commanded it! Whatever god says, goes–it’s “moral” by definition. And no one can deny that these people have truly heard god, because–well you just can’t do that, can you? That’s what I’m constantly hearing; we have to take religionists’ word for it.

  5. Benjamin says

    This is one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma). Basically, if whatever God commands or does is good by definition, then it’s not so much that the standard is internally inconstant, but that it’s arbitrary and subject to change at a whim. Today, it’s abhorrent to murder, rape, and steal. But God could change all of that tomorrow, if he wanted to.

    The other horn of the dilemma is that, if what God commands or does is good because God recognizes the standard of goodness, then there’s no a priori reason why people can’t just do the same damned thing, and God becomes irrelevant in any moral argument.

  6. Tom says

    Googling “how is god in old testament reconciled with god in new testament” shows just how weird the contortions go. My favorite is the #2 listing:

    http://www.biblecodeintro.com/intro41a.html

    The last sentence pretty much says it all.

    “But is not the definition of love that the lover should do something he would prefer not to do for the sake of the one that he loves?”

    Basically, I didn’t want to beat you, I don’t like beating you, but your actions made me sad/mad and I had to!

  7. says

    I was at a talk JT gave and some how during the Q&A mass killing in the bible came up and JT asked a girl if it was moral and she started down the well god did it road and he said so wait, slaughtering a bunch of people is moral? and she said no and he said so god can be immoral? and then she was just stumped. It was rather entertaining from my perspective and hopefully it made her think a little bit.

    Also, the picture on his blog that you are calling Keanu Reeves is actually Christian Bale in Equilibrium. If you haven’t seen it, its about a world where people aren’t allowed to feel anything because its been determined that feelings cause conflict. It’s a pretty enjoyable flick you should check it out :)

  8. idonotknow says

    “Whatever God does is the very definition of good. Really. Do you seriously want to stick with that position?”

    I think a lot of the religiously inclined actually do. This is essentially the basis of the banal, or depending on context despicable, platitudes of “god works in mysterious ways” or “it’s all part of god’s plan” or “it’s god’s will” or similar. These all basically say that since god allowed it, then it must actually be good regardless of what it is. This ultimately ties back the idea that everything god does is good by definition and since god allowed (or depending on your branch of goditude, actively decided to cause) something harmful/unjust/horrendous it isn’t really a bad thing, us puny mortals just don’t have the correct perspective.

  9. says

    Actually, BT Murtaugh, if I may nitpick, the Thou Shalt Not Kill commandment is better translated from the Hebrew as Thou Shalt Not Murder. Since murder implies wrongful killing, if we accept that whatever god does is good, then killings that god does or orders aren’t murder. It doesn’t solve the original problem that Greta is pointing out, of course, but your example isn’t necessarily a good counterexample to internal consistency.

  10. blainedelancey says

    @victoria #8
    There’s also a clip from one of the Matrix films at the bottom of JT’s post.

  11. says

    Okay, it is a bad example, but Yahweh does change his mind several times, which isn’t consistent:

    Genesis 6:6-7; 6 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved [a]in His heart. 7 The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the [a]sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

    Exodus 32:14; 14 So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

    1 Samuel 15:35; 35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

    2 Samuel 24:16;  6 When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough! Now relax your hand!” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

  12. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    All the standard explanations of god are incoherent in this way. Theology is the effort to explain the invisible in terms that are incomprehensible and incommensurable. Christian apologetics is a cat chasing its own tail until it’s exhausted, then hiding under the couch and scratching at you when you try to coax it out.

  13. Laurence says

    This is why most serious philosophers don’t think Divine Command Theory is a good position to hold.

  14. says

    @Chana

    But if we accept this translation, the commandment becomes “Thou shalt not wrongfully kill”. Isn’t that a bit redundant? I mean, if it’s wrongful, doesn’t it follow naturally that you shouldn’t do it? So why bother with the commandment?

    It ends up being just “don’t do the things you shouldn’t do”. It doesn’t even specify which things those are, so it’s kinda useless, no?

    It’s similar to the meaninglessness of the statement “God is good”. Basically, the whole thing relies of an equivocation fallacy; hoping that people don’t notice that you’re using two different definitions of the same word:

    Good(1): Decent, moral or kind
    Good(2): Whatever God is, does or decrees

    Just because god is good(2), it doesn’t follow that god is good(1). Doing this turns language into gibberish. “God is good” doesn’t mean anything. You might as well say that anything god does is ice cream. The two statements have the same content: none.

  15. says

    I just got into a huge fight about this with my sister. She kind of accidentally implied that people who don’t believe in the bible are bad. Causing me to have the hugest shit fit ever, and call my mom, thinking I had been exiled forever.
    What I learned from this is that my mom is the fucking coolest person ever, and also she can read minds so I guess I don’t ever have to actually come out as an atheist XD

  16. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    According to the propaganda the Abrahamist god is a narcissistic, sadistic bully with the emotional maturity of a spoiled six year old. He kills people just because he can. “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not piss Me off or else I go into smiting mode.”

  17. RhubarbTheBear says

    I doubt that Christianity as we know it was even around in 33 A.D. to do any ethics-twisting. My two cents. :)

  18. Shawn Smith says

    Getting back to the “Thou shalt not murder,” I have read, and I have no reason to doubt, that the original Hebrew had no punctuation. So when the KJV was produced, the authors just decided to put periods after the kill and steal prohibitions. Commas, however work so much better, since it continues the wordiness of the other commandments, and allows killing of and stealing from any out-group to continue without having to worry about getting on Yah-yah’s bad side. And, as George Carlin noted many years ago, thou shalt not kill/murder is negotiable. It’s NEGOTIABLE.

  19. says

    the Thou Shalt Not Kill commandment is better translated from the Hebrew as Thou Shalt Not Murder.

    If God hadn’t gotten so bent out of shape over the Tower of Babel, we wouldn’t need translations.

  20. dust says

    LykeX says:

    “God is good” doesn’t mean anything. You might as well say that anything god does is ice cream.

    Oh man, not ice cream! :(

  21. isilzhaveni says

    @7, Tom:

    “But is not the definition of love that the lover should do something he would prefer not to do for the sake of the one that he loves?”

    That reminds me, I need to tell my husband that I saved 1/2 of the chocolate cake for him!

  22. Nigel says

    In the old testament, God time and time again gave people a chance to repent from choosing to live for themselves instead of live for the one who not only continually delivered them out of certain death, torture, slavery ect., and then punished them. If I had a son and he continually disobeyed me, punishment would be more than appropriate. I wouldn’t say “well since you are messing up your life and the lives of those around you with your actions, I’m just going to say everything is hunky dory, lets go get ice cream.”

  23. Marie the Bookwyrm says

    “In the old testament God was forced into playing a role that he would have preferred not to play,”

    The above is from the link provided by Tom @7. God…was forced.
    Oh, yeah, I believe that. *rolls eyes*

  24. James C. says

    @Nigel

    Your analogy is that we are moral children compared to God, that God is good beyond our comprehension. Unfortunately, that is exactly the thing we dispute here, that it is even meaningful to call God good.

    Oh, and punishment is only appropriate to a child when it is discipline. Punishment that is not discipline is pointless at best and usually sadistic. Getting killed is not discipline…

  25. says

    I can’t get enough of Gretas cantankerous attitude towards the religious community. Them loony toonies have been running the gamut of the human mind since we began to think. And I’m done with it. Reading Greta is like a breath of fresh air.

    This article puts the whole religious morality claim into perspective. How can you put a label of kind and compassionate in the same line as genocide and infanticide. And Jesus’s hell is no pillar of justice. In fact it’s quite repugnant. J.T. is absolutely correct in saying Jesus is an accomplice to the star of this very odd story.

  26. Rebecca H says

    In the debates in which I have engaged with Evangelical Christians (don’t ask!) I have been informed that regardless of my actions, my ethical decisions cannot be good, because they are not based on biblical values and the word of Jesus Christ. In fact, no matter how positive the effects of my actions, choosing those actions based on their consequences for others and for myself (rather than on the scriptures) will inevitably lead to “anarchy and hedonism.” I remember this when I am scrubbing the toilet or working an 11 hour day at the middle school.

    “Ah,” I think, “my life of anarchy and hedonism!”

  27. says

    “God is good” can be thought of more as a mantra.

    It’s like when you are a child and you say “I love my mummy”, you don’t expect to not like something your mother does. “Mummy is good to me”.

    What you have done here is take a bundle of cables all knotted up and rearranged them. But they were good as they were (according to the church).

  28. Jen says

    Hi, just to add to what Benjamin said above — yeah, the idea that anything God does is by definition good is one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma. With the other horn, the issue is not just that if God commands things because they are good, God becomes irrelevant to morality. It’s also that if God does not define what is good and bad he would not be really omnipotent. Like us, he could do bad things or do good things but he couldn’t do ANY action AND choose whether that action is good. So if God is completely omnipotent, then he has to have control over what is good or bad. And if God is the ultimate arbiter over what is good or bad then, as Greta just said, the concept of good and bad is empty. So either God is not omnipotent, or the existence of an omnipotent god makes morality meaningless. Or, obviously, there isn’t a God.

    The Euthyphro dilemma was first presented to me as a sort of clever philosophical trick question — intellectually interesting to play with but not really a serious consideration. But to me it’s a major reason why I’m not religious, for the reasons Greta just said. It brings out something fundamentally incoherent in the notion of there being a good, omnipotent God.

  29. says

    What a perfect example of New Atheist cluelessness and narcissism. Write a blogpost about your epiphany: Hey everyone, I have deduced by pure thought that Christianity has a ‘problem of evil’! Ha ha! I bet them yokels, what with their three rows of buckteeth, never have, nay never *could* recognize that they faced such a dilemma! Immoral dumbasses!

    Chorus: Ooh, so clever–ooh, Joshua killed so many *ites–ooh when I confront Christians with this their jaws drop and they run away stumped–it’s great sport!

  30. Steve Jeffers says

    OK … after people started accusing atheists of not knowing theology, I spent two years reading books of ancient and modern theology, talking to theologians, engaging with them on boards like Prosblogion.

    Here’s my conclusion: it’s Pullman’s ‘howling void’. You need to get half an inch below the surface before there’s nothing, nothing at all.

    EXCEPT, here’s the thing: if you take God’s existence as axiomatic, ie: God exists, then every single theological position can make perfect sense. IF God (as defined by theologians as ‘the perfect being’) exists, THEN, yes whatever he does is good and not evil. It becomes a question of explaining how. With the twist that we can’t ever know, so it’s all basically guesswork, but framed as a logic puzzle.

    And there is a massive body of work on this, dating back thousands of years. Theologians will look at Greta’s post and roll their eyes, because this is very well-trodden ground.

    Being well-trodden, of course, doesn’t mean that they’ve come up with any answer worth a damn. They’ll say ‘oh, how naive and ill-educated to think you’re the first person to ask this question’ and think that’s a substitute for having an answer. The one theologians have after thousands of years? The same one you’ll get to in about two minutes: if God exists, and he’s perfectly good, has perfect knowledge and perfect capability, but he allows/enacts things that look bad to us … it has to be because he’s seeing stuff we don’t. He’s playing the long game, taking into account things we can’t. It *is* the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t look like it.

    Which makes sense for another two minutes, until you think about why God would give us free will but not the same perfect knowledge … and so on.

    On Prosblogion, by the way, I came up with this:

    1. It’s given that saving innocent babies from harm is good.
    2. God is omnipotent and omniscient.
    3. A good God would save babies (derived from 1 and 2)
    4. Let there be two identical worlds, A and B, with dangerous lakes that babies are prone to fall into and drown.
    5. In world A, a device no more sophisticated than a smoke alarm is installed by the lake that automatically detects and fishes out babies before they drown.
    6. In world B, there is no such device.

    And then asked whether more babies would drown in world A or world B.

    It’s pretty easy to work this through, but just to spell it out: if more babies are saved in A, the device is necessarily more good than God.

    They tended to attack (1), taking the line that the babies that die might be Hitler babies and the device is saving Hitler, whereas by letting them drown, God was doing humanity a service.

    There are a number of very, very obvious answers to this. ‘Well, he didn’t do so well at taking out *actual* Hitler, did he?’ being one.

    But you see? You’re playing *their* game, using their rules. Suddenly, instead of demonstrating how God can’t have the properties they say … you’re double-guessing God. And that’s the terrain of theology. That’s what they are trained to play, and they know all the moves.

    By then, you’re down the rabbit hole.

    Here’s how you fix this: right at the start of the discussion, just play the Dawkins Gambit: ‘that’s a very interesting being you’re talking about. Let’s discuss the details after you present some evidence it exists’. They can’t. And this is why they dislike the ‘New Atheists’ so much. Nietzsche and Shaw and so on would argue with them left, right and center on *their* terms. They were atheist theologians. And theologians loved that, and miss it, and tell us we’re ill-educated for daring to not think theologically.

  31. katie says

    We get a lot of people handing out Christian pamphlets on streetcorners in my town. My new tactic when I’m asked if I believe in god is to reply “if he’s as described in the Bible, then I consider it my moral duty to oppose him”.

    The looks I get are hilarious.

  32. Steve Jeffers says

    “Chorus: Ooh, so clever–ooh, Joshua killed so many *ites–ooh when I confront Christians with this their jaws drop and they run away stumped–it’s great sport!”

    Well, there you go, told you so.

    OK, Heddle, I’ll play.

    So, before we start, let’s get our terms straight: what do you think the sixth commandment says? Because different Christian traditions translate it differently. Are we forbidden to kill or forbidden to murder? Because those are two very different things.

  33. says

    A definition of “God” roughly matching usage in philosophy would be – following Swinburne, but with less conditions imposed – “an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings”; let’s call that “omnimax”.

    Under that definition – or relevantly similar ones -, nothing that God does can possibly be immoral, by definition.

    However, that does not entail that nothing that the biblical god (i.e., the entity described in the Bible as the creator) does is immoral.

    Now, Christians usually claim that the biblical god is in fact God.

    If that claim is accepted, then it does follow that everything the biblical god does is (at least) not immoral.

    But then, there is no good reason to accept such a claim – on the contrary, there are pretty good reasons to deny that.

    So, as long as one keeps in mind the conceptual difference between “God” and “the biblical god” (i.e., between the concepts of “omnimax being” and “the entity described in the Bible as the creator”), it should become apparent that the reply that God’s actions are good by definition is not an adequate response to ethical challenges to Christianity based on the actions of the biblical god (as described in the story).

    The claim that it depends on what perspective you’re evaluating the morality of it all from is not an adequate response, either.

    Obviously, if you base your moral assessment of the actions of the biblical god on Christian theology, you’re going to reach a different conclusion from the conclusion you’d reach if you base your moral assessment from the basis of, say, some type of humanist ethical theory.

    But that’s irrelevant to the question of who’s right – Christianity entails moral realism, so you can safely assume realism when arguing against Christianity.

    Furthermore, one need not assume any particular ethical theory in order to make moral assessments: on the contrary, ethical theories are tested against our intuitive moral assessments – to see whether they’re correct.

    In light of that, the Christian reply in question appears clearly inadequate; as usual, it tries to escape the ethical case against Christianity by denying that there is anything that the Christian need to respond to, when in reality the challenge is right on target.

    To make the matter more clear in case it’s not, let me present one example:

    If someone claims that religion X is true, and religion X claims that God tortures everyone else for eternity just for fun, we can conclude that religion X in question is untrue just because an entity who behaves in such a manner would not be God.
    Similarly, then, one can make a case against Christianity based on the actions of the biblical god, as described in the Bible.
    Of course, he does not torture everyone for eternity for fun – that would make the case too easy – but the point is that we can make the assessment and discuss the case, and it’s unreasonable to try to avoid the challenge by raising objections like the one raised in the case under consideration.

  34. M'thew says

    Imagine a city in which there lives a man of incomparable wealth and influence who kicked his children out of the house and into the street for wanting to go to college. Not only that, but he’s pretty much running around and killing everybody who isn’t obeying him. Sometimes he tortures them.

    Sums up my view on christianity quite nicely: a family with a deeply conservative and very frustrated, thoroughly disfunctional father, who terrorises the rest of the family into obedience.

    The bible: spreading trauma and psychosis since time immemorial.

  35. says

    I totally appreciate the openness and freedom in this conversation.

    For the record, I don’t think anyone who reads it is going to be convinced if they are not like-minded.

    So I am not too sure of the point….

  36. says

    @droomin

    I’d say it’s extremely unlikely that a Christian would be persuaded.

    But showing the flaws in their argumentation might still be useful.

    Perhaps, some readers who aren’t Christians could use the counterarguments in other conversations as well, and eventually, they might be able to persuade people who are on the fence.

    Similarly, and in addition to showing errors in replies by Christians, making a moral case against Christianity might be useful not so much as a means of persuading Christians, but as a means of convincing fencesitters.

    Granted, that’s not likely to happen often, but it might happen sometimes.

  37. sqlrob says

    @heddle:

    Not quite. You’re right that none of this is new. But there’s STILL no freaking acceptable answer after thousands of years. Theology is nothing more than hot air.

    Hell, the dilemma came centuries before Christianity, and they still couldn’t come up with a decent religion.

  38. says

    sqlrob,

    Not quite. You’re right that none of this is new. But there’s STILL no freaking acceptable answer after thousands of years.

    Oh I see. That makes sense. So I can make a laudable post:

    Guess what!!! This is sooo cool and insightful!!! (I’m just too clever by half!) I believe that all non-trivial zeros of the Riemann Zeta function have real part 1/2..

    To which if someone says: Duh, that’s the Riemann Hypothesis!

    An appropriate reply, modeled on your response, is: Well yeah, but youse guys haven’t solved it for, like, hundreds of years! Dummies!!

  39. says

    sqlrob

    You’re saying the son of god wasn’t smart enough to solve it?

    Yes that is an indisputable perfect new-atheist-quality parsing of what I wrote. I am sooooo busted.

  40. julian says

    Yes that is an indisputable perfect new-atheist-quality parsing of what I wrote. I am sooooo busted.

    Jeer all you like.

    It won’t change that despite every religion on the planet claiming some form of direct connection to ‘God’ and the ‘perfect’ (and claims to offer irrefutable proof for their theology) none have been able to resolve even the basics.

    And it won’t change that many of the most trivial issues with theology are hushed up in ministries and that followers are largely ignorant of. This is despite the fact that many of their ministers are informed about such things when they begin studying their sacred texts.

    But of course, the great sin o the nu atheist isn’t being wrong for doubting religion and being suspicious of religious institutions. It’s having the audacity to be upfront about it and distributing amongst we plebs all the arguments against Faith.

  41. Steve Jeffers says

    “An appropriate reply, modeled on your response, is: Well yeah, but youse guys haven’t solved it for, like, hundreds of years! Dummies!!”

    No, of course it isn’t. In your analogy, God isn’t the Riemann hypothesis, he’s *mathematics*.

    So it’s like someone going up to a mathematician and saying ‘well, that’s very clever, but can you prove that there are such things as numbers?’.

  42. Steve Jeffers says

    “But of course, the great sin o the nu atheist isn’t being wrong for doubting religion and being suspicious of religious institutions. It’s having the audacity to be upfront about it and distributing amongst we plebs all the arguments against Faith.”

    Indeed. I know someone who studied at a seminary, and half what he learned was ‘here’s a list of awkward questions, here’s what we change the subject to if they come up’.

    As Angra says, it’s impossible to disprove the existence of ‘gods’ as a class of being. It’s impossible to disprove the ‘omni’ god, for all the dreary, fruitless ‘we’re living in his Matrix’ reasons.

    But it’s very easy to pop the bubble of specific god claims. And the Christians overplay their God’s hand so comprehensively that it’s not exactly difficult to demonstrate that if their God exists, he’s basically Superhitler.

  43. Randomfactor says

    “In the old testament God was forced into playing a role that he would have preferred not to play,”

    I believe that was once summed up:

    ‘The Almighty,’ he explained, ‘finds it necessary to do things in His official and public capacity which in His private and personal capacity He deplores. (Robert Heinlein)

  44. Steve Jeffers says

    “making a moral case against Christianity”

    I don’t think that’s particularly useful.

    I mean, yes, it’s not exactly difficult to find examples in Christianity of behavior that’s utterly abhorrent, the complete opposite of good. My favorite is Aquinas saying that the saved in Heaven are given a window to Hell so that they can take pleasure in the suffering of the damned. That’s your actual, accepted, Catholic theology. That is what the current Vatican teaches their God is like. They worship Ming the Merciless. And that sadism runs through the religion.

    But actual, everyday humans don’t think like that. And that’s the best line of attack. We can work out this stuff by ourselves, and we can come up with better, more pertinent, answers than Moses did.

    Either God is capricious, or he serves a greater good. We can cut out the middleman and serve that greater good. Atheists had worked that out before the first sunstroked local chancer dreamt up Yahweh, let alone before Mary got away with her ‘Hail Mary pass’ excuse to her senile fiance.

  45. says

    @heddle

    Do you have anything to add to the discussion other than “shut up, that’s why“?

    Tell you what, we’ll stop pointing out the flaws of theism when you guys stop yapping about your faith. When you stop making the same, age-old, repeatedly refuted arguments, we’ll stop pointing out the flaws of them.

    If there weren’t any christians claiming that god is good, we wouldn’t point out that the statement makes no sense. But there is, so we do. Suck it up.

  46. Steve Jeffers says

    “If there weren’t any christians claiming that god is good, we wouldn’t point out that the statement makes no sense.”

    One of the things I discovered during my adventures in the land of theology is that there were whole acres of questions that I deeply, profoundly find it impossible to give a fuck about:

    ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’

    There’s a glib, obvious answer that I’ll let you reach. See, you got there. And then … anything after that is just wibbling on.

    The thing that baffles me, though, is why anyone thinks ‘my God did it’ even approaches an answer. Particularly when speculating about God’s motives is seen as naive anthropomorphism.

    With theology, the question I have is ‘why is there nothing where there should something?’. Why is an entire academic discipline dedicated to explaining exactly how they can’t answer any questions you might want to ask of it?

  47. unbound says

    Reminds me of the “rebuttal” to one of the xtian nonsense stories about the professor with no brain. Link is here – http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/brain.htm

    The “rebuttal” portion is about 2/3 of the way down and basically starts with “The professor, amused at the student’s antics,”. In that “rebuttal” includes a discussion about god doing good without a definition that is meaningful to humans.

  48. says

    This isn’t even how definitions work. If “X is good” means “X doesn’t cause unnecessary harm to others”, then God can only be good if he also possesses the quality “doesn’t cause unnecessary harm to others”. It’s as dumb as pointing to a cat and saying it is a zebra by definition.

    If God doesn’t have this quality and if God is good by definition, that means God doesn’t exist.

  49. says

    LykeX,

    Tell you what, we’ll stop pointing out the flaws of theism when you guys stop yapping about your faith.

    Oh please point out all the flaws you like. (When will you start?) That’s not the issue. This post didn’t read: “those stupid Christians still have not solved the problem of evil!” I would have had no comment in that case. Instead, this post attempted to send a message that it was expressing an original thought–an original criticism–an insight. That’s a joke.

  50. Gregory says

    It means that the faithful are an abused spouse: God hits and yells and flies into blind rages because He really, really loves you. He is perfect in every way, and if you were better, tried harder to please Him and offered more in the way of submission, He wouldn’t get so angry all the time.

  51. Steve Jeffers says

    “Instead, this post attempted to send a message that it was expressing an original thought–an original criticism–an insight.”

    So, given that your lot have got an almost a 2012 year headstart on Greta for the answer … what’s the answer?

  52. stonyground says

    I think that it is significant that the very first thing that this god got pissed off about was people trying to aquire knowledge. Not only is this a natural human trait and if the idiot god didn’t want us to have it then why did he make us that way, but it is also one of our most admirable traits. History’s brightest and best humans, the ones who made the world a better place for those who lived after them, were not people who preferred to wallow in ignorance. God is therefore not only commanding his children not to be humans, not to be who they actually are, but also commanding them to be worse humans than they could, and should be. You would be justified in asking ‘what the hell is his problem?’. The answer is that unbelief is his Achilles Heel, he may be all knowing and all powerful but his problem lies in the fact that he is nothing but a meme. He only exists in the minds of those who believe in him. The more knowledge that humans aquire, the less credible his existence becomes, he is facing becoming a legend, like Zeus. That is the reason that he hates unbelievers so much, the more of them that there are, the more he faces oblivion.

    One more thing, believers who think that God is good, read the effing Bible, all of it, that will cure you of that particular delusion.

  53. says

    Steve Jeffers,

    So, given that your lot have got an almost a 2012 year headstart on Greta for the answer … what’s the answer?

    There is no answer. Did you not read my comment? If the writer was merely mocking us for having no answer that would be understandable. What is silly, however, is to write as if the lack of a theodicy is a revelation.

  54. Steve Jeffers says

    There’s a simple answer, you just don’t like it.

    Greta might not have considered this question until recently, but she’s already got to exactly the same place Christian theologians are after two millennia, and where the Greek philosophers had got to at least five hundred years before that.

    There’s only one possible answer and it’s ‘the claim that God’s actions, by definition, are good is false, because … ‘

    There are four possible ways to finish that sentence.

    1. there is no God.
    2. there is no good.
    3. ‘good’ is something that exists independently of God, in which case we can opt to act for ‘good’, rather than ‘God’.
    4. God is not good in a way we can possibly understand.

    All four are explicitly ruled out by Christianity.

    And that’s it. That’s the answer: we might not know what the answer is, we can say for certain that it’s not Christianity.

    Can we rule out all gods? No. We can rule out your God, though, quickly and easily.

  55. says

    @heddle

    Given the large and convoluted subject of theology, it’s unlikely that every single one of us is familiar with every argument, problem or question. It’s this funny thing about thinking for yourself; you sometimes come up with stuff that other people have already thought earlier.

    I don’t think Greta really thinks that she’s invented a brand new critique here. Rather, she came across this recently, it sparked a thought and she decided to share it here on her blog.
    It’s the kind of thing you do with blogs, really.

    But, OK, you think she should have more explicitly stated that her post was founded on older ideas. That’s certainly an opinion.

    Anything else, or can we get back on subject?

  56. Greta Christina says

    heddle, will you please tell me where in this post I said, or even implied, that this was an original idea?

    It’s not. I know it’s not. It’s one that lots of people have thought of before me. But it still, apparently, needs to be re-stated — because people still make the argument that it’s refuting.

    Now. If you have anything substantial to say regarding the actual content of the argument, by all means, please say it. If your only point is, “But this wasn’t an original idea!” — yes. Agreed. Thank you for sharing.

  57. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    heddle #42

    Guess what!!! This is sooo cool and insightful!!! (I’m just too clever by half!) I believe that all non-trivial zeros of the Riemann Zeta function have real part 1/2..

    To which if someone says: Duh, that’s the Riemann Hypothesis!

    An appropriate reply, modeled on your response, is: Well yeah, but youse guys haven’t solved it for, like, hundreds of years! Dummies!!

    Is this some o’ that there sophistimacated theologie that us atheists is iggerant about? Or is heddle just admitting he doesn’t have a reasonable response to the question “is God good?” and somehow this lack is our fault?

  58. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    heddle has in the past freely admitted that, as he is a Calvinist, the god he worships is a vile monster who murdered and ordered the murder of untold thousands of innocents, and will continue to do so – at least if they’re people he hasn’t waved his magic wand over to turn them into his BFFs.

    But because heddle has had magic pixie dust sprinkled on him and joined his monster god’s gaggle of grovelling lickspittles, he need not fear divine wrath and can pleasure himself envisioning exactly how his repulsive master will torture the unfaithful for eternity.

    This should tell you a few things about heddle’s a) mental state and b) character.

  59. DSimon says

    @heddle

    Your Riemann Hypothesis example isn’t quite congruent. Lots of people have worked at it over the years, but no proof of it (or its contradiction) has emerged, because there isn’t enough information.

    The Problem of Evil has just the opposite issue; there is too much information. The PoE describes how some religious beliefs contradict others, implying that at least one of those beliefs is actually incorrect.

    Professing ignorance of the actual truth-value of the Riemann Hypothesis is a much more reasonable position than professing belief in contradictory hypotheses.

  60. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    You mean, there’s no need to descend to heddle’s level. Because frankly, rejoicing in the delusion that one is among the chosen of dog and that everybody else is going to be toast – that’s impolite and really rather vile. Wowbagger is mincing no words, but that’s not “descending” – you can’t even begin to compare hir “level of discourse” with the truly base mentality that heddle is apparently proud to own.

  61. says

    DSimon,

    No that is ass backwards. We don’t say there is “not enough information” to solve the Riemann Hypothesis. Its solution has simply eluded the best mathematical minds. What more information do you suppose mathematicians are waiting for? They are mathematicians, not physicists waiting for the data from an LHC experiment to be analyzed.

    As for the problem of evil–you are also 100% wrong. The problem is indeed a lack of information. The bible is utterly silent on the question of evil’s origin. It appears, in situ, in Genesis 3 with no explanation of its origin. That is precisely why (I believe) there never will be a theological explanation. There are no data. You missed the boat.

    Wowbagger,

    How are things over at the pinnacle of rationalism and freethought, and the bane of group-think, Pharyngula?Is Dawkins still in trouble for using man and female in the same sentence? This level of deep thinking–well only the regulars at Pharyngula are up to the task. Maybe they could tackle the Riemann Hypothesis–but only after they solve weightier questions, like whether bunnies are sometimes just bunnies?

  62. says

    The bible is utterly silent on the question of evil’s origin

    So, you don’t think that god is really the creator, then? Or maybe it’s just that he’s not omnipotent or not omniscient. Because, if he’s all three, then he is the origin of evil. Period.

    If he created the world, was powerful enough to do it in the way he wanted and was aware of all the possible consequences of his actions, then how could there possibly be anything in the world that wasn’t his responsibility?
    If you freely choose a course of action, which you know will result in X, then you are responsible for X.

    And since it’s been brought up; are you a calvinist? Just to get the record straight.

  63. says

    @Steve Jeffers


    I don’t think that’s particularly useful.

    Why not?


    My favorite is Aquinas saying that the saved in Heaven are given a window to Hell so that they can take pleasure in the suffering of the damned. That’s your actual, accepted, Catholic theology. That is what the current Vatican teaches their God is like.

    That does not seem to be the case.

    Maybe some theologians thought so, and I guess some still might, but that’s not what the Vatican teaches.

    On the contrary, they’ve been trying to downplay Hell for a while, or rather trying to have their cake and eat it too: Hell is still terrible suffering, but is not a place but a state of being (whatever that is), and also is allegedly chosen by the damned.

    Of course, the view that Hell is chosen by the damned is easily shown to be untenable, but the point is that


    But actual, everyday humans don’t think like that. And that’s the best line of attack. We can work out this stuff by ourselves, and we can come up with better, more pertinent, answers than Moses did.

    Yes, but I’m not sure why that would exclude a moral case against Christianity.


    Either God is capricious, or he serves a greater good. We can cut out the middleman and serve that greater good.

    Your strategy isn’t entirely clear to me, but I get the impression that you’re trying some kind of Euthyphro dilemma.
    If that’s the case, a similar strategy might be used against some metaethical arguments for the existence of God – not of the biblical god -, but it does not seem to be useful as an argument against Christianity.

    Also, the specific dilemma you posit does not seem to work.

    An entity might not be capricious, and yet there is no “greater” good; for instance, if the entity is God – as I defined it -, he’s morally perfect, and so no one is greater.

    It’s true that one could still cut the middle man in the sense that plausibly one could do good regardless of whether God exist.

    But as I mentioned, that does not work against Christianity, or against theism: the theist can still claim that God exists, and the Christian still claim that the biblical god is God, and the dilemma has no effect against such claims.

    1. there is no God.
    2. there is no good.
    3. ‘good’ is something that exists independently of God, in which case we can opt to act for ‘good’, rather than ‘God’.
    4. God is not good in a way we can possibly understand.
    All four are explicitly ruled out by Christianity.

    Point 3. is unclear, but in any case, if God exists – as I defined it – he’s morally perfect; you can opt to do what’s good, but you cannot go against God’s will if you do so.

    And that’s not incompatible with Christianity’s claims.

    On the other hand, a moral case showing that the biblical god is not morally good – or just not morally perfect – is right on target.

  64. says

    LykeX,

    You would have a point if evil was outside of God’s control. It isn’t. Satan had to ask permission to torture Job or sift Peter like wheat. Christianity does not teach dualism–it does not proclaim, as commonly believed, a cosmic battle between good and evil. That would be the mother of all asymmetric warfares, since the overwhelming force of the universe is good, with just a wee bit of localized evil.

    So you the germ of a good point. But you should really drop the “Oh so then [some absurd conclusion]” approach. That’s not working.

    And yes, I’m a Calvinist.

  65. says

    I wasn’t saying that christianity was dualistic. I was pointing out that dualism would be one way for god to get off the hook for evil, piling it unto some separate, evil deity.
    It was also meant to point out that since christianity isn’t dualistic in this fashion, that option is not available.

    The other options were if god did not have the power to create a world without evil or if he was simply to stupid to know how to do it right. Obviously, none of these square with traditional christian doctrines.

    You would have a point if evil was outside of God’s control. It isn’t

    So you agree that god is responsible for the existence of evil?

  66. Jurjen S. says

    Pursuant to LykeX’s question, heddle, do you believe yourself to be one of the Elect? Because that would be rather a major departure from the doctrine of predestination. I may be an atheist, but I grew up in the Netherlands where, as the joke goes, even the Catholics are Calvinists, and you can’t understand 16th-18th Dutch history with knowing something about Calvinist doctrine, and I know that you don’t get to know whether or not you’re one of the Elect.

    I have only ever encountered one person who claimed you could, and that was a guy on the Internet Infidels forum who went by the handle of CurtX, IIRC.

  67. DSimon says

    What more information do you suppose mathematicians are waiting for?

    A proof, or disproof. Though “waiting” isn’t quite the right verb; maybe “searching”.

    As for the problem of evil–you are also 100% wrong. The problem is indeed a lack of information. The bible is utterly silent on the question of evil’s origin.

    To reiterate the problem, the contradiction arises from the set of these assertions.

    1. God is omnipotent
    2. God is good and thus prefers good states of affairs over bad ones
    3. Great needless suffering is not good
    4. The world has much great needless suffering

    So it wouldn’t even matter if there were an explanation of evil’s origin; you can only resolve a contradiction by removing one or more of the contradicting assertions, not by adding new ones.

  68. says

    Jurjen S,

    Your comment makes no sense. You ask:

    1) Do you believe you are of the elect

    and follow with

    2) You don’t get to know that you are one of the elect.

    Those are completely different. You are correct that you don’t know, but that has no bearing on whether you believe. I believe God exists but I don’t know God exists. Likewise I can believe (for whatever reason) I am of the elect without knowing it. And if you think that is contra-Calvinism, then you don’t know jack about Calvinism, and I don’t care if you were born in Calvin’s Geneva. “Assurance of Salvation” (aka “Eternal Security”) as it is called, is a long-held Reformed doctrine–so much so that the Catholic Church, in its response to the Reformation, at the Council of Trent, placed its anathema on anyone who proclaimed it.

  69. says

    DSimon,

    Your, um, proof is a variant on the God can’t be omnipotent and omnibenevolent conundrum. But it is no puzzle. It is quite correct–god cannot be both. To do so would in fact violate the law of noncontradiction–to which it appears even God is subject to. The answer is obvious: God is not omnibenevolent. So he is not all about what is good for all mankind. He sends people to hell–the ultimate act of non-beneovlence.

  70. DSimon says

    Your, um, proof is a variant on the God can’t be omnipotent and omnibenevolent conundrum.

    Your, um, citation there is correct.

    Why did you feel it was necessary to point this out? Hasn’t that conundrum (and the closely related “What does ‘good’ even mean if it includes sending people to Hell?” conundrum) been the subject of this whole thread?

    God is not omnibenevolent. So he is not all about what is good for all mankind. He sends people to hell–the ultimate act of non-beneovlence.

    Fair enough, that does resolve the contradiction.

    Though, it implies that such a God would be straight-up vicious and cruel. Would there be any reason to venerate and worship such a deity other than fear for one’s own safety?

  71. says

    Theologians have been banging their heads against the problem of Needless Suffering vs. Omnipotent Nice Guy for literally millennia without making a dent in the problem, but the only reason it’s gone on that long is because theism is The Black Knight to atheism’s Arthur:

    http://youtu.be/zKhEw7nD9C4

    We’ve finally reached the “We’ll call it a draw!” stage (aka “teach the controversy”) but the fight has long been over as far as reasoned argument goes. All that remains is to walk past, being sure not to let religion in biting range of our kneecaps.

  72. DSimon says

    @heddle

    To elaborate a little further: Please keep in mind that we’re not just atheistic towards your religion. The OP’s argument is addressed towards believers in an omnimax God, which includes a majority of Christians most of us interact with. You’ll notice that many of the comments directed at you here assumed you had a similar belief; you can save everybody a fair amount of effort next time by stating upfront that you don’t think God is good.

  73. says

    DSimon says

    you can save everybody a fair amount of effort next time by stating upfront that you don’t think God is good.

    Why would I say that? I think God is good. But he is not omnibenevolent. He will, as it is said, have mercy upon whom he will have mercy.

  74. DSimon says

    I think God is good. But he is not omnibenevolent. He will, as it is said, have mercy upon whom he will have mercy.

    And now we’re getting interesting again. Would you call a parent who takes proper care of some of their children, but permanently locks the others in a basement and feeds them only moldy bread, “good”?

  75. says

    DSimon,

    Would you call a parent who takes proper care of some of their children, but permanently locks the others in a basement and feeds them only moldy bread, “good”?

    No. And I can play “human analogy: FAIL” too. Would you call a judge who releases all the guilty, “good?”

  76. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    I don’t think there’s any reason to descend to that level of discourse.

    Why not? When you’re dealing with a sociopath, it’s useful information to know that you’re dealing with a sociopath, so you can adjust your expectations accordingly.

  77. DSimon says

    No[, I would not call a parent who abuses some of their children good].

    So you’re holding your God to much less stringent moral standards than humans, even though he is incapable of error, and even though the punishment he deals out is much more terrible than even in my example?

    And I can play “human analogy: FAIL” too. Would you call a judge who releases all the guilty, “good?”

    I’m not sure why you feel it’s necessary to bring up this comparison between human judges and your God (if that is indeed what you’re doing), since only a sentence ago you already excused God from moral culpability for much worse.

    But regardless, this is why I specifically was talking about needless suffering before. The suffering on Earth inflicted by natural disasters and genetic disease and so on is completely arbitrary in who it affects and how much pain is inflicted. This is not analogous to what a good criminal justice system does: punish only people who have actually committed crimes, and only in proportion to how bad the crime was.

    As for Hell, it’s at least a predictable punishment for a crime like the law. However, eternal torment is so out of proportion to any conceivable crime (let alone the “crime” of refusing to worship a dictator) that it makes even the most corrupt courts and brutal prisons look benign by comparison, and that’s saying something.

  78. DSimon says

    Why not? When you’re dealing with a sociopath, it’s useful information to know that you’re dealing with a sociopath, so you can adjust your expectations accordingly.

    I’m just trying to stay within the bounds of the comment policy ’round these parts. We owe at least that to Greta for letting us use this space.

    And anyways, it’s not like we have to be handing out bouquets of daffodils or anything. But I do like it better when things stay cool and civil; trolling and counter-trolling can be fun for a little while, but IME it soon just sucks the life out of a forum completely, leaving it a dessicated shambling husk.

  79. sunnydale75 says

    > He kills people just because he can. “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not piss Me off or else I go into smiting mode.” <

    -I'm still trying to comprehend God being all good, yet quick with the genocide and "ethnic cleansing". And some people have no problem with that…brrr.

    Tony

  80. Steve Jeffers says

    “I don’t think that’s particularly useful.
    “Why not?’”

    I think if you want to persuade *Christians* they can live a moral life without their god, you don’t start by saying what they believe is nutty. I think the tactic of getting them to understand that their morality doesn’t actually come from the Bible is better.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think their beliefs are nutty. It’s strategy, not philosophy that I’m discussing.

    “That does not seem to be the case. Maybe some theologians thought so, and I guess some still might, but that’s not what the Vatican teaches.”

    They teach other stuff from that section and treat Aquinas as an authority. No, they don’t draw attention to that bit (although many evangelical churches do). It’s part of the mix, and definitely part of the theology of Hell (which, of course, has always troubled theologians).

    “Yes, but I’m not sure why that would exclude a moral case against Christianity.”

    It doesn’t exclude, but if we want to persuade someone, saying ‘I’m a stranger, your tribe sucks’ isn’t the way.

    “An entity might not be capricious, and yet there is no “greater” good; for instance, if the entity is God – as I defined it -, he’s morally perfect, and so no one is greater.”

    What is God measuring himself against, though? How does he make these moral choices? If it’s ‘instinct’ – well, that’s the definition of capricious. If it’s ‘nature’, that’s not a moral choice any more than a smoke alarm is making a moral choice to alert people to fires. If it’s that God has an elaborate code he follows … well, you don’t need the God.

    “On the other hand, a moral case showing that the biblical god is not morally good – or just not morally perfect – is right on target.”

    Yes, but how do you decouple ‘God is a morally perfect being’ from the actions in the Bible? If, definitionally, you accept he’s morally perfect, and the Bible as an account of his actions, then you have to accept that all the genocide and misogyny are moral perfection.

    I think there’s a very simple way round this. Yes, we can group the words ‘morally perfect being’. But there’s no reason to imagine such a thing (or things – why need there only be one?) exists. Personally, I don’t believe it could exist any more than a single being could be ‘the most beautiful female’ for every other being. So, until we have evidence for one, there’s not much point trying to identify it with any other being.

  81. sunnydale75 says

    Angra @39

    -Personally, I haven’t believed in God for over a decade, nor anything supernatural in almost the same time, but I didn’t know quite how to express my thoughts and form the coherent arguments needed to present my beliefs. Having stumbled-purely by accident-onto Greta’s blog (followed very quickly after by many others in the online Atheist community), I’ve found someone with similar views but more experience elaborating on them. Greta has a way of laying out information in a way my mother would be proud of. As a child, my mother used to ask me to summarize a story I had read…as if I were speaking to a Martian. Her {my mother’s} basic idea of not taking for granted more than the most basic knowledge possessed by your audience is exactly why I think Greta is a great blogger.
    I find coming here aids in sharpening my views, as well as having the tremendous benefit of knowing there are others like me (coming out of the closet the first time was so much fun, I just had to go and do it again…).

    Tony

  82. sunnydale75 says

    Heddle:
    > The bible is utterly silent on the question of evil’s origin. <

    ISAIAH 45:7-

    'I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.'

    You don't get much more clear cut than that. god created evil.

    Tony (plus there's the whole notion that god know everything and is all powerful, so knowing that evil would exist, humans would sin, natural suffering would exist, etc…he STILL created everything. in Christian myth, god is responsible for every single thing throughout all time since he created everything with the knowledge of exactly how things would occur)

  83. Steve Jeffers says

    “God can’t be omnipotent and omnibenevolent conundrum. But it is no puzzle. It is quite correct–god cannot be both. To do so would in fact violate the law of noncontradiction”

    What do you mean by ‘can’t’ here? We can all agree that no such being exists in our universe, but are you saying that no such being can exist?

  84. says

    I think God is good. But he is not omnibenevolent. He will, as it is said, have mercy upon whom he will have mercy.

    Out of curiosity, what would it take for someone not to be good? Would he have to be mean to absolutely everyone? I mean, a mob boss who has people beaten and killed regularly, but is kind and loving to his family, would he be good?

    If ordering genocide and torture is consistent with being good, exactly what would it take to be evil?

  85. Ariel says

    A comment addressed to DSimon and heddle.

    Heddle, you introduced Riemann Hypothesis in order to argue (that’s at least how I understood it) that in general the reaction “yes, after all these years we still don’t have an answer” is sometimes acceptable and we just have to live with that. Then DSimon wrote:

    Your Riemann Hypothesis example isn’t quite congruent. Lots of people have worked at it over the years, but no proof of it (or its contradiction) has emerged, because there isn’t enough information.
    The Problem of Evil has just the opposite issue; there is too much information. The PoE describes how some religious beliefs contradict others, implying that at least one of those beliefs is actually incorrect.

    Then we have (DSimon again, see #74) the following list:

    1. God is omnipotent
    2. God is good and thus prefers good states of affairs over bad ones
    3. Great needless suffering is not good
    4. The world has much great needless suffering

    DSimon, did you intend to present here a contradictory list of religious beliefs, in order to justify your earlier remark? Was that your purpose? If so, you will have a problem with (4) – why do you think it’s a religious belief? From my discussions with the believers I have an impression that they would say rather “The world has much great suffering” and they would omit the “needless” part, adding only that the meaning of this suffering eludes us. In effect (4) is just your opinion (mine too, by the way), but not a religious belief, and you failed to produce a contradiction from religious beliefs as assumptions.

    It is perhaps at this point where heddle could try to use his Riemann Hypothesis analogy. He could say: ‘up to now, all our attempts to “explain away” the suffering (to show that it is not “needless”) failed. But does it give us a good reason to accept (4)? Well, all our attempts to prove Riemann Hypothesis failed too. Does it give us a good reason to accept its negation?’

    As I see it, the main concern is with (4), and it is an evidential, not a logical issue.

  86. says

    Your objection to #4 is fair, seeing as I’ve heard this argument from theists before, but it has always failed to convince. After all, it rests on the claim that an omnipotent being is less powerful than a normal human. You and I can reduce suffering, but god cannot? That claim is so counter-intuitive, I think it’s fair to say that the burden of proof rests with the theists on that.

    I think an argument could be made that if god is omnipotent, then ANY suffering is needless. I can imagine a better world than this. Any being worthy of the title of god should be able to do so as well. Given that he’s omnipotent, he should be able to make that imagining real.

    Meaning we’re right back to the original dilemma; is it that he can’t, won’t or simply that he doesn’t exist?

  87. says

    LykeX

    You and I can reduce suffering, but god cannot?

    But most theists not named Rabbi Kushner do not claim that god cannot reduce suffering. In would be an insane position for a Christian, given that in the bible god clearly causes a great deal of direct suffering. Even in the case of secondary causes (natural disasters) the position would be that at the very least god, in his sovereign control of the universe, could intervene to prevent the disaster. The answer is clear–crystal clear–that god is not in the business of minimizing the suffering of all human beings–not even–or rather especially not believers, to whom his promise is not an absence of temporal suffering but an expectation of it.

    You are simply arguing a strawman–a very common one. You are demanding that god act to minimize human suffering–but that is your god–not the god of any of the three great monotheistic religions or their holy books.

    There is no dilemma: He can but he won’t be obliged to meet your requirements for a god.

    If your definition of good is an obligation to eliminate suffering then of course the Christian god is not good in your view. It goes without saying.

  88. DSimon says

    If your definition of good is an obligation to eliminate suffering then of course the Christian god is not good in your view. It goes without saying.

    @heddle:

    It’s your definition of good that we’re confused by. How can that category exclude a human who creates wanton suffering but include a deity who does the same?

  89. says

    You are simply arguing a strawman

    No, I was arguing with Ariel. Ariel was making a point about whether the suffering we see could really be said to be needless. My post was directed at that point, not at you.

    However, there is my post at #91. That was meant for you. Given these statements of yours:

    If your definition of good is an obligation to eliminate suffering then of course the Christian god is not good in your view

    and

    I think God is good

    What exactly is your definition of good? And given that it clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with what is commonly understood by that word, why not use another term?

    I mean, can you really blame people for misunderstanding you when your position apparently is “when I say good, I really mean a sick, sadistic bastard”?

    It’s not my fault that you picked a word that means the exact opposite of what you tried to say.

  90. DSimon says

    If so, you will have a problem with (4) – why do you think it’s a religious belief?

    @Ariel, LykeX hit it pretty much on the head: for an omnipotent deity, there would be no such thing as necessary suffering, unless the suffering were (a) the goal, or (b) a necessary consequence of something else the deity is set on doing, i.e. allowing humans free will. That second thing is why I’ve been focusing on natural disasters and diseases rather than things humans do to each other, like war.

    Though, any halfway-competent deity would just make humans bullet-proof, neatly solving that issue. But that’s getting more complicated than necessary, so I haven’t made it part of my direct responses to heddle.

  91. anne mariehovgaard says

    To someone who does not believe in gods, the idea that this sadistic, sociopathic, emotionally unstable imaginary being is good seems absurd. But it is perfectly obvious where it comes from: it is really all about “God the Father”. Abused children often defend their parents, insisting that the abuse was their fault. Since young children are so helpless and dependent on their parents, convincing themselves that “Daddy is good and loves me” even if daddy beats them for no discernible reason, rapes them and only feeds them when he feels like it, will probably increase their chances of survival. If an omnipotent being that is likely to get involved in our lives in any way exists, you had better hope he is good – no matter what the actual evidence suggests. Since religious people tend to take its existence for granted, it’s no wonder they’ve spent millennia trying to convince each other that God is good. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

  92. Ariel says

    LykeX #93

    You and I can reduce suffering, but god cannot?

    Of course this line of thought would require that it’s at least possible that God has already done (or will do) everything that is required. I understand that your further comment are intended to rule out such a possibility.

    I think an argument could be made that if god is omnipotent, then ANY suffering is needless.

    I would be interested in seeing such an argument worked out in detail.

    I can imagine a better world than this. Any being worthy of the title of god should be able to do so as well.

    I’m not sure about the force of individual examples here. For one thing, there is always the worry about our limitations (how good are we at predicting the consequences of living in our favorite imaginary world?) For the second, as far as I can remember, there are some theological constructions of the following sort: the world must be cruel, because otherwise there would be no real moral merit for us (assumption: the world with real moral merit is better than the one without it); but the choice of the level of cruelty is arbitrary to a large degree. And the point is that possible worlds (classified with respect to the level of cruelty) form an ordering without the least element: there is no smallest admissible level of cruelty (a level guaranteeing that the world is still a moral task for its dwellers). So it’s like: God chooses a world, but there is no such thing as the best possible world. The choice of the world from an admissible spectrum is in this respect arbitrary. No wonder then that you can imagine something better. But it’s not an objection any more. On this view, God’s situation is like having a task “choose a real number as small as you can”.

    (I don’t remember the source of this idea and I’m too lazy to look for it now. Perhaps it was van Inwagen? I’m not sure. I’m not very keen on defending it either. Just curious about your thoughts.)

  93. says

    I can see where you’re going and it makes a certain sense, but still.. a few objections:

    the world must be cruel, because otherwise there would be no real moral merit for us

    This assumes, essentially, that there are some things that god can’t change; laws of nature that are beyond even god, such as suffering being a prerequisite for morality.

    Also, it introduces a problem: You’re saying that god produces suffering, so that we will attain moral merit by attempting to reduce it. Doesn’t that seem a bit circular and pointless?

    Besides, it’s not like this line of reasoning would work with anything else. E.g. If there were never any fires, the would be no need for a fire department. Fire departments are good, right? So, setting fires must be good, because it encourages fire departments.

    Finally, we can apply the “heaven” argument here:
    Are the people in heaven moral? If not, morality clearly is not that important to god. If yes, next question.

    Is there suffering in heaven? Yes means it’s not really heaven and no means that it’s possible for morality to exist without suffering.

  94. Scott says

    Someone posing as “heddle” seems to have alluded to a post I made where I quote William Lane Craig. This person could not be bothered elucidating the problems found, nor even understanding my point.

    My point was not that “god killed *ites” but that some Christians think such actions are justifiable because “god” did it. They consider anything god does as definitionally good. So… What does “good” mean, in human terms, if you have that attitude? And if you believe this nonsense, how can you condemn any person who commits (what normal people consider) atrocities, if they claim “god” commanded them to? You cannot condemn it, because (1) You can’t refute that god talked to these people (the whole “invisible friend/mystery/in-my-heart/faith thing theists love so much when it suits them); and (2) If god commanded it, then it’s “good” by definition, so it actually wasn’t an “atrocity” (except, of course, to normal people).

    These are all rhetorical questions, because I know it’s easier to get angry at normal people, go off on a rant, then hide in the corner and talk to your invisible buddy. That is actually a common response when your ridiculous beliefs are challenged by horrible things like “thought”, “reason”, and “sanity”.

  95. Steve Jeffers says

    “After all, it rests on the claim that an omnipotent being is less powerful than a normal human.”

    There are a whole bunch of things God would not be able to do that we can, if God was real. Change his mind, scratch his bum, be pleasantly surprised.

    If a being *always* makes the *perfect* decision, every time, then it wouldn’t have any freedom of movement at all, it would be constrained into doing the perfect thing.

    The Christian God is the ultimate overplayed hand by theologians. Their urge to play ‘my dad’s bigger than your dad’ to the ultimate possible level, the one where no bigger dad can be conceived (a) makes their Dad utterly logically impossible (their God never loses a game but is also the most gracious loser) (b) leads me to suspect that all theologians have very, very, very small penises.

  96. Steve Jeffers says

    “Though, any halfway-competent deity would just make humans bullet-proof, neatly solving that issue.’

    No, he’d make them omniscient. As it is, the stories expect us to believe that God gave us infinite freedom of will, but tried to suppress knowledge. A bit like giving us the freedom to vote, but asking us to infer what day the election is, where the polling booth is and who the candidates might be.

    God wants us to make *uniformed* choices. I infer from this that God’s an idiot.

  97. Steve Jeffers says

    “And if you believe this nonsense, how can you condemn any person who commits (what normal people consider) atrocities, if they claim “god” commanded them to?”

    I think ‘what would a perfect moral being do in these circumstances?’ can be a useful question. The WWJD? people aren’t actually asking what an illiterate Judean peasant who wandered around breaking some social taboos would actually do, they’re appealing to their own better natures.

    And I guess ‘what would I do if I knew everything and could do anything?’ is a useful question sometimes. Kind of. A bit like going ‘if money was no object’.

    I think that’s what most Christians think. ‘If I was in a good mood, being generous and doing the right, healthy thing, what would I do?’.

    And, again, having a book that lays down some worked examples of moral dilemmas using memorable images and phrases? Makes sense.

    It’s when you go Amish that it becomes insane. It’s when you decide that moral wisdom peaked in 33AD and we need not go past that point. Or that the characters in your little stories are historical figures and their figures of speech are scientific statements.

    If it makes it easier, perhaps we should make an offer to the theists: we call all agree that there’s not one thing Jesus did that Superman couldn’t do better, that What Would Superman Do? is a great question to ask, so dump the God bullshit, ask that instead and we can all get along.

  98. says

    Scott,

    Someone posing as “heddle” seems to have alluded to a post I made where I quote William Lane Craig. This person could not be bothered elucidating the problems found, nor even understanding my point.

    It must be someone posing, since I have no idea who you are and certainly never alluded to any post you made.

    And if you believe this nonsense, how can you condemn any person who commits (what normal people consider) atrocities, if they claim “god” commanded them to? You cannot condemn it, because (1) You can’t refute that god talked to these people (the whole “invisible friend/mystery/in-my-heart/faith thing theists love so much when it suits them); and (2) If god commanded it, then it’s “good” by definition, so it actually wasn’t an “atrocity” (except, of course, to normal people).

    Where is that written in stone? I would absolutely condemn any person who committed any atrocity by claiming they were commanded by god. It must be nice to make a simple-minded strawman and demand that I shoehorn myself into the 1-dimensional caricature you have constructed.

  99. says

    LykeX,

    So, you condemn Moses?

    Yes. Your logic is bullet proof. Since I would condemn someone today who told me to take him at his word that he killed because of hearing the voice of god, that necessarily means that I would condemn Moses (or Joshua). Because the difference–one is telling me about hearing god while the other has the conversation recorded in my holy book is, obviously, inconsequential to me. (*)

    If your question is slightly more sophisticated (I have my doubts) and is something along the lines of: “Had you been a contemporary of Joshua and had seen nothing miraculous to give you reason to believe his claim of being commanded by god would you have condemned him for committing genocide?” Then the answer is: yes I would have, in the strongest possible terms.

    ———-
    (*) Not only that, there is every theological reason to discount anyone, in the New Testament era, who claims to have received instruction from god to kill. I would give you the theology, but I know what your response would be, namely: No your theology must be what we say it is, and we say it still allows for the eventuality of god commanding genocide again, and you must adopt it because it is inconvenient for us not to be able to saddle you with that horrific possibility.

  100. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    “Good” as it applies to the deity of your choice, vs “good” as it applies to any other entity; “words mean what I choose them to mean, neither more nor less” – it’s like listening to Humpty Dumpty. Any chance of a coherent definition of “good” as it applies to your-flavour-of-deity, to sentient non-deities or to both?

  101. says

    I’m terribly sorry that I can’t read your mind and tell exactly what you mean. I’m unfortunately reduced to simply reading your words and attempting to understand your intent from that.
    I realize that this has been a consistent problem throughout this thread. My apologies.

    Because the difference–one is telling me about hearing god while the other has the conversation recorded in my holy book is, obviously, inconsequential to me

    Maybe that’s the fundamental difference between us, because it is indeed inconsequential to me. A claim is a claim, whether made in person or through text. Of course, if you saw things that way, it’s unlikely that you’d be a christian.

    Now, if I understand you correctly, god once commanded genocide (and it was “good”) and now, god is so unlikely that to issue such a command that anyone making that claim can be automatically dismissed. Is that correct?

    Btw, that’s a question, so if I’m wrong, please don’t accuse me of straw-manning you. It’s getting a bit tiring, really.

  102. says

    LykeX,

    Maybe that’s the fundamental difference between us, because it is indeed inconsequential to me. A claim is a claim, whether made in person or through text. Of course, if you saw things that way, it’s unlikely that you’d be a christian.

    Exactly. If you don’t believe in god and that the bible is his word, then of course you would place no more credibility in the claim that Joshua (if he existed) heard the voice of god than some drug-addled schizophrenic. I understand completely.

    Now, if I understand you correctly, god once commanded genocide (and it was “good”) and now, god is so unlikely that to issue such a command that anyone making that claim can be automatically dismissed. Is that correct?

    Yes, although how it is “good” I couldn’t say. It was certainly not good for the *ites, although I guess it was good for the Jews. Any explanation of how it was good, and I have heard many, is unsatisfying. So is any explanation of how many things are good–such as losing a child to some horrific disease. However, I take god at his word:

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28)

    even though I do not see the good in many things. I believe (why is a whole different question) that, indeed, for a subset of all people (as the verse states) everything is ultimately for good.

  103. julian says

    Yes, although how it is “good” I couldn’t say.

    But you do ultimately agree that it is good.

    However, I take god at his word:

    Don’t you mean Paul?

    I believe (why is a whole different question) that, indeed, for a subset of all people (as the verse states) everything is ultimately for good.

    God’s chosen, I presume? Fuck everyone else.

  104. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    heddle, what does “good” mean? Does it mean something different when applied to your deity and when applied to people, and if so then why use the same word?

  105. Ariel says

    LykeX #100 …

    This assumes, essentially, that there are some things that god can’t change; laws of nature that are beyond even god, such as suffering being a prerequisite for morality.

    Yes, I guess there are some assumptions of this sort; I’m not sure however how far they should go. Laws of logic probably. With laws of nature I would be more cautious. What I had in mind were rather principles like “if you do something good when ready to face dire consequences, then you are more praiseworthy than a person who has a free ride with his good deed”. Is it a law of nature? Not in my physics manual.

    You’re saying that god produces suffering, so that we will attain moral merit by attempting to reduce it. Doesn’t that seem a bit circular and pointless?

    Not in general, unless you want to say that hurdle races are circular and pointless

    If there were never any fires, the would be no need for a fire department. Fire departments are good, right? So, setting fires must be good, because it encourages fire departments.

    A nice objection and I don’t have any knock down rejoinder. Perhaps a reply could consist in indicating that all the necessary preconditions for practicing morality are already here, built into the world created by God, and enhancing them beyond this level, especially by uninformed humans, is counterproductive (brings more harm than good)? That would mean that we have already enough opportunities for moral achievements, and the rule “the more opportunities, the better” is not valid in general. (Yes, I’m aware that such an answer is in fact quite weak and provokes only more questions.)

    Are the people in heaven moral? If not, morality clearly is not that important to god. If yes, next question.

    Hell if I know anything about heaven :-) But ok, let me try. The people in heaven already reached the desired level of morality in their mortal life and it is not important for them to have moral challenges any more. They are mature, they passed the test and no more exams for them are needed. Morality belongs to the means, saints are the final product!
    (I guess that in effect there is no need for me to answer your second question. And that ends the funny part about heaven.)

    …and all of you

    Ok, let me end with something more serious. Although I’m not a believer, I do not treat discussions of this sort as mere intellectual games. It seems to me that they touch something vital for many of us on both sides of the barricade; and that’s why they are so engaging. There are general questions important to many of us, questions like: how to live in a world full of horrors? Is it possible to rationalize these horrors, to absorb them into our worldview in such a way as to find some consolation, as to make our own small life less painful? And is there a different answer to these questions than “don’t think too much, take a pill, don’t feel too much”? Both the secular and the religious side of the debate try to produce some answers. As for me, I would like to have one that doesn’t suck. Even a religious one would do for a start.

  106. says

    @Steve Jeffers


    I think if you want to persuade *Christians* they can live a moral life without their god, you don’t start by saying what they believe is nutty. I think the tactic of getting them to understand that their morality doesn’t actually come from the Bible is better.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think their beliefs are nutty. It’s strategy, not philosophy that I’m discussing.

    As I mentioned, my primary intent with an argument like that would not be to persuade Christians.

    Rather, the main intent would be to persuade fencesitters – at least, to reduce the chance that they’ll become Christians in the future -, and to give arguments to other non-theists, to use in other debates – so, that they would also persuade fencesitters, and/or give arguments to others, etc.

    As for Christians, it might work if they’re already having doubts about their religion, but as I mentioned, I’m not focused on that; actually, trying to persuade committed Christians is not a task I would normally attempt.

    In my experience, they’re well beyond my capability for persuasion. Maybe someone else can do that, but I can’t – except, perhaps, in some extraordinary case, in which I might have reasons to suspect I have a shot. But it’s not happened yet, and I have no good reason to believe it ever will.

    They teach other stuff from that section and treat Aquinas as an authority. No, they don’t draw attention to that bit (although many evangelical churches do). It’s part of the mix, and definitely part of the theology of Hell (which, of course, has always troubled theologians).

    It’s not part of the official doctrine on Hell.

    Aquinas is considered usually a good guidance in many doctrinal matters, but not always – he has no infallibility.


    It doesn’t exclude, but if we want to persuade someone, saying ‘I’m a stranger, your tribe sucks’ isn’t the way.

    Right; I wouldn’t even try to persuade a Christian, unless perhaps they’re already doubting, and there are other reasons to believe I have a shot.

    In that very particular case, I wouldn’t say “your tribe sucks”, but rather something like “there are aspects of Christianity you may not be aware of; if you did, I think you’d agree that the biblical god is not morally good. So, how about taking a look?”


    What is God measuring himself against, though? How does he make these moral choices? If it’s ‘instinct’ – well, that’s the definition of capricious. If it’s ‘nature’, that’s not a moral choice any more than a smoke alarm is making a moral choice to alert people to fires. If it’s that God has an elaborate code he follows … well, you don’t need the God.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “measuring himself against”, but God would always do what’s right, on that account.

    Of course, someone else could do what’s right even if God does not exist, but that does not entail that God does not exist.

    In other words, your point may work against some metaethical arguments for the existence of God – though not against all of them -, but it does not work as an argument against the existence of God.


    Yes, but how do you decouple ‘God is a morally perfect being’ from the actions in the Bible?

    By decoupling “God” from “biblical god”, as I mentioned above.

    In fact, that’s precisely the point I’ve been trying to make and this discussion, and the one sufficient reason why Christian objections like the one under discussion (see my first post for more details) do not work.

    As I (shameless self-promotion alert :D) posted in my blog:

    3) By “the biblical god” I mean the entity described in the Bible, and who is claimed to be the creator.
    There are of course different versions of the Bible: Not only are there different translations, but also different beliefs about which books are inspired.
    As I mentioned before, I will try to make the case as broad as a can, in order to encompass different versions.
    4) By “God” I mean an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings.
    Christians usually claim that the biblical god is God, and also usually just say “God” – they never say “biblical god”, as far as I know.
    However, when considering objections, and for the sake of clarity, I will usually use the expression “biblical god” to make clear what the objection actually consists in, even if Christians would say “God”, rather than “the biblical god”.


    If, definitionally, you accept he’s morally perfect, and the Bible as an account of his actions, then you have to accept that all the genocide and misogyny are moral perfection.

    I only accept that God is morally perfect by definition, and the Bible is an account of the biblical god’s actions.
    I do not accept that the biblical god is God, by definition or otherwise.
    In fact, I argue that he is not (whether either entity exists is an entirely different matter, of course; I maintain that neither of them does, but that’s not what a moral argument can show).

  107. says

    @Steve Jeffers


    As Angra says, it’s impossible to disprove the existence of ‘gods’ as a class of being. It’s impossible to disprove the ‘omni’ god, for all the dreary, fruitless ‘we’re living in his Matrix’ reasons.

    Actually, I’m not saying that – I’m not sure what you mean by “gods” here.

    It’s possible to show, beyond any reasonable doubt, that, say, a defendant was guilty of a crime. And it’s possible to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that World War Two happened.

    Yes, someone might posit a being that is sufficiently powerful to make all those things look like that, but that does not seem to preclude showing things to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.

    If by “disprove” you mean something beyond showing that he does not exist, beyond a reasonable doubt, I don’t see why not. If your standard would also require dispelling unreasonable doubts, I agree it’s not doable.

  108. DSimon says

    Both the secular and the religious side of the debate try to produce some answers. As for me, I would like to have one that doesn’t suck. Even a religious one would do for a start.

    Do you have a qualification for an answer not sucking other than it being true?

  109. A. Noyd says

    heddle (#107)

    If your question is slightly more sophisticated (I have my doubts) and is something along the lines of: “Had you been a contemporary of Joshua and had seen nothing miraculous to give you reason to believe his claim of being commanded by god would you have condemned him for committing genocide?” Then the answer is: yes I would have, in the strongest possible terms.

    Ah, yes, it’s much more sophistimicated to say you’ve got Joshua’s back because, like, evidence matters. Bahahaha.

  110. Ariel says

    DSimon #117

    Do you have a qualification for an answer not sucking other than it being true?

    In fact it is even debatable to what extent “being true” applies. Ok, an explanation.

    You can view the discussions about theodicy in two basic ways. One of them emphasizes the opposition “believers-non believers”. Then you try to use an argument from evil to disprove religion, the believers are trying to find holes in your reasoning, that sort of stuff. Pretty familiar.

    But there is also another way, which involves a recognition that the debate concerns a problem (or a group of problems) which both sides have in common. Then the headline is “screw the opposition, let’s get to the essentials!” And this means treating questions like “How could a good God create the world so full of horrors” as questions concerning primarily the world and your place in it, not God. In other words, the question becomes: “Is the world, so full of horrors as it is, still more valuable than the empty world? Are the horrors the price worth paying, in view of the fact that some values wouldn’t (or perhaps even couldn’t) be realized without such a cost?” Of course such a formulation is pretty general, but observe that we ask similar questions also on an individual level. How can (or how should) I live with the consciousness that sentient beings are being trodden into the mud (by God, by nature, by whatever) on an everyday basis? How can (or how should) I live with my child suffering and dying? How can I live with this-and-this while finding the life still worth living?

    From this point of view, you can look at religious or secular versions of “theodicy”. You can see that in many cases secular and religious arguments are really intertranslatable or at least pretty independent on the “religious/non religious opposition”. Or you can look at religious attempts in theodicy thinking “Hey, so you try to work with a handicap, let’s see how you manage to do it; if you succeed – great news, maybe I will find there also something for me!” In effect you don’t emphasize the opposition, the stress is on common ground. And that’s my perspective; that’s what interests me in such discussions.

    Now to your question (sorry for a long introduction, but I didn’t know how to explain my position without this). Is “the answer which is not sucking” the same as “true answer”? This is complicated. In the perspective sketched here, both secular and religious “theodicy” is about values. The key questions are of the form “is it worth it?” or “how can this-and-this be worth it?”. Do such questions admit answers which are true or false? Or in general, are value judgments true or false? Complicated; and that explains the first sentence in my comment. Apart from it, I would also say that a given answer “sucks” from my own, private point of view if it doesn’t contribute in any way to solving my own emotional issues connected with theodicy-like questions – it doesn’t make the acceptance emotionally easier in any way. (For this reason answers like “look, that’s the way evolution works” land in my own, private garbage bin.) In effect, truth is important, but it’s not the only factor which is at work. And I think this goes for religious and non-religious “theodicy” alike.

  111. sailor1031 says

    “…the Jesus character in the New Testament myth isn’t really much of a savior…”

    Small point (to me but maybe not to xtians), the “Jesus” character never claimed to be a saviour. Nor did he ever claim to be the “son of doG”. That story was made up “tractum ex ano” by Saul of Tarsus, sometime after he got struck by lightning and fell off his horse onto his head. The “Jesus” character, named Yeshue bar Yussef, thought he was the OT biblical figure known as “the son of man” a mortal who was to rule the Earth for doG after the apocalypse was all over and the millenium was underway.

    BTW nobody who buys either pile of horse cookies ever seems to address what happens after the millenium which, if on schedule, would have ended around 1030CE +/- a few years. Anybody know?

  112. julisn says

    @Sailor1031

    Actually, I think you have it mixed up. Jesus did (although this is inferred mostly) think he was the son of God (which to the Jews of his day just meant he was favored by God. Just like Jerusalem was the son of God and King David had been the son of God.) and would rule over man after God did away with the evil age. Each of his 12 Apostles would rule over a different Jewish tribe with him at the head.

    The Son of Man was someone else entirely who would come down to pass judgement on everyone (past generations would be resurrected) and divide the people between the saved and the damned.

    The literally son of God thing probably came about from the converted pagans who had a different understanding of what it meant to be the son of a god.

    Anybody know?

    Just got done reading Jesus, Interrupted and in it Bart Ehrman suggests that’s how we ended up with the divide between Earth and Heaven. Jesus’ kingdom got to be reinterpreted as referring to a place other than Earth.

  113. Steve says

    Nigel, I hope no one is ever unfortunate to be born your kid. You would be a terrible father, just like your god. Christians are so typical. They say the Bible is absolute, and the moment you point out one of its (over 300) contradictions, they start negotiating with their evil sadistic s*** of a god. God is not good, by definition, because he breaks his own laws. Ice cream, anyone?

  114. says

    Greta,
    As an individual who has done my utmost as a human to observe as many facets of human ideology in a (borderline futile) attempt to form my own genuine CURRENT credo for my thoughts and conduct, I genuinely thank you for being so concise in your beliefs, and more importantly being concise about what emotions fuel those beliefs (watched the anger speech). With that said, I believe in a Universal Force that may be titled as God, Goddess, or Mom or Dad, or Bob, depending on the day. It is my own definition that is endlessly changing and , admittedly at times, not entirely informed. Nevertheless, I honor my own evolution in a faith that only I can determine, the same as you honor your understandable frustration in humanity’s projection of a very humanized version of what they think created us. IF YOU STILL HAPPEN TO BE READING, I have faith that as a human race, our evolution is entirely appropriate in every form it has ever taken, this includes every wrong-doing that has ever occured. I can only take responsibility for myself, and I honor my now realized ignorances as my greatest tools in growth. Could it not be true that there is worth in allowing humantiy the privelege of the process of developing their beliefs? I’m not sure if I have this one figured out fully, since many have suffered at the hands of a salvaged relic of a godhead. But I honor your exploration of how you’d like to relieve a suffering, and ask you to consider that, in all things being impermanent, we’re already WHOLE.
    Your human companion,
    Maria

  115. DSimon says

    Could it not be true that there is worth in allowing humantiy the privelege of the process of developing their beliefs?

    @maria therese: Please understand that we are atheists just as much towards your type of spirituality as we are towards more classical varieties of religion. And for the same reason: all the claims made are either impossible to verify or else just demonstrably false.

    I am happy to work with you on shared goals like reducing the amount of suffering in the world, and I expect that most other atheists here are as well. But that doesn’t mean your spiritual beliefs should get a free pass from criticism and disagreement, as you seem to be implying with statements like the one I quoted above.

    Also: What is up with this meme where “atheists presenting their views” = “atheists taking away others’ ability to believe what they want”? Do we seriously have that good a reputation as persuasive arguers?

  116. says

    @Maria

    I’m going to try to be polite, here, but it’s difficult. This kind of vacuous, new-age drivel is something that really sets me off. At least the fundamentalists clearly say what they mean (most of the time). When they tell me I’m going to hell, it’s plain speaking, if nothing else.

    After reading your post, I’m not really any closer to understanding your position or, indeed, what the post was actually about. So, allow me to cut through the crap:

    I believe in a Universal Force…

    What does this mean and why do you believe it?

    I have faith that as a human race, our evolution is entirely appropriate in every form it has ever taken, this includes every wrong-doing that has ever occured.

    What does that mean? “Appropriate” in what way?

    Could it not be true that there is worth in allowing humantiy the privelege of the process of developing their beliefs?

    That depends, do you think this implies that we shouldn’t correct people when they’re wrong or that we shouldn’t speak up if we disagree?

    I’m not sure if I have this one figured out fully, since many have suffered at the hands of a salvaged relic of a godhead

    But I thought suffering was “appropriate”. Why are you now phrasing it as a negative?

    …and ask you to consider that, in all things being impermanent, we’re already WHOLE.

    If we’re already WHOLE, what did you hope to achieve by writing the post?

    Pardon me if this seems a bit combative. I don’t mean to be rude, but I have serious trouble making any sense of your writing. Take it as an opportunity to clarify your thoughts.

  117. Francis says

    @heddle:

    No. And I can play “human analogy: FAIL” too. Would you call a judge who releases all the guilty, “good?”

    It depends on the circumstance. If the judge had only one penalty available – the death sentence, and all the guilty were guilty of was graffiti then yes. I assuredly would call the Judge who fought the cruel and unjust law that all graffiti artists were punishable by death as good a judge as there could be with such evil law. If the judge were a judge in Nazi Germany and people were being tried for being Jews, gay, or Communists and the sentence was one to the death camps of Auschwitz, Belsen, Dachau, et al then I’d say the judge who released all the guilty was as good a judge as there could be in such a system.

    Now if we give God the option of purgatory rather than hell then the result changes. But with choices of only heaven or hell, hell is far more disproportionate than either the above examples. The judge is caught; there is no objectively good answer only a least bad one. But the person who wrote the law is an evil scumbag.

  118. Anri says

    heddle, I wanted to clear something up about what you believe, if we could.

    You believe that god is omnipotent, yes?
    But not omnibenelovent, yes?
    Since, presumably, an omnipotent being could be omnibenelovent, (because to state otherwise would be placing something beyond the power of an omnipotent being), god chooses to be less benelovent than he could be, am I correct?

    Please note I’m not asking for motives or justification, just if what I’ve stated is your view of god or not.
    And if not, where am I getting it wrong?

  119. says

    If I can hazard a guess, I would expect heddle to say something along these lines:

    God does indeed choose not to follow our view of what it means to be omnibenevolent, but that’s only because our perspective is so limited. Given out limitations, we shouldn’t expect god to chose to follow our definition of omnibenevolent.

    Alternatively, there’s a variant that goes:

    God is not omnibenevolent and has no obligation to be so. Yes, he has chosen not to be omnibenevolent, but he’s god, so he gets to do that. If he has chosen to be that way, then that way must be right.

    I’d be curious to see how close I got.

  120. Anri says

    Well, either of those are possible answers, LykeX, but both seem problematic to me.

    In the first case, if we can’t be certain what benevolence means with regards to god, it seems there’s no reason to presume he’s benevolent at all. To put it another way, if there’s no way to tell god being cruel apart from god being kind, there’s no reason to assume he’s doing one or the other, or that he prefers one to the other.

    In the second case, god certainly has no obligation to be benevolent – unless he wishes to be loved and worshiped beyond all earthly things as the embodiment of perfect kindness. If we simply presume god is a cosmic bully, perfectly willing to recieve adulation based on fear, I’m not certain how a moral case can be made for worshiping such a thug.

    My guess is that heddle will allow that god is not omnibenevolent, has no obligation to be so, and that worshiping him is not to any real extent a concious choice on the part of the worshipper. I imagine he will say that some are – completely undeservedly and essentially randomly – granted grace and are thus garaunteed heaven, while others are not and thus are doomed to hell. I might have misunderstood him, but that’s what I recall of his worldview.

  121. says

    I’ll freely admit that I don’t find either of those answers particularly satisfying myself. I proposed them based on what heddle has said previously and what I’ve heard from christians in general.

    I completely agree with your critique and I’d be interested in hearing what answer heddle would give.

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