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Apr 09 2013

Argumentum ad Batman

I experienced a brief moment of doubt about my atheism this morning as I was browsing the webcomics. Thanks, Zach Weinersmith!*

argumentumadbatman

I’ve seen this argument before — there are theodicies that claim that evil allows for “adversarial growth”, that the human moral senses are exercised and sharpened by confrontation with evil. But I don’t know…throwing in Batman made it strangely persuasive.

Fortunately, I clicked on the red button at SMBC and was immediately whipsawed back into line.


*By the way, I got to meet Zach this past weekend. He gave a provocative and interesting and intelligent talk — maybe more skeptic/atheist groups ought to consider branching out and inviting him and other people outside the sphere of the usual movement atheists to their meetings.

45 comments

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  1. 1
    Zeppelin

    Wait, surely if there was no evil we wouldn’t need a moral sense, since there wouldn’t be any evil to distinguish from good. The only reason we need to “sharpen our moral senses” is because evil exists in the first place.

    Ya, clearly another winner from the department of Sophisticated Theology there XD

  2. 2
    Julien Rousseau

    the human moral senses are exercised and sharpened by confrontation with evil

    An all powerful god could have created us with a pre-exercised/pre-sharpened moral sense.

    And whatever “but” a believer wants to say that would be the advantage of not having it premade, an all powerful god could have pre-baked that too.

  3. 3
    chigau (違う)

    SMBC is one of the first things I check every morning.
    :)

  4. 4
    Draken

    I thought a moment you meant this.

  5. 5
    grumpyoldfart

    …there are theodicies that claim that evil allows for “adversarial growth”, that the human moral senses are exercised and sharpened by confrontation with evil.

    But what if there is currently not enough evil to produce the necessary amount of moral growth? Should I commit an evil act right now, just in case?

  6. 6
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    That argument could legit make me rethink my lack of faith… in Batman.

    :D

  7. 7
    glodson

    But what if there is currently not enough evil to produce the necessary amount of moral growth? Should I commit an evil act right now, just in case?

    Yes. Fortunately, just thinking of a person with lust in your heart is enough to be evil, as per white Jesus. So just think of stupid sexy Flanders. We should all think of stupid sexy Flanders so that there will be enough evil so we will all be good thanks to god. Stupid sexy Flanders is for the children.

  8. 8
    pinkboi

    Christianity would make more sense if God wasn’t all-powerful. Like, he needed our help and praise to defeat evil. It would still be crazy and wrong but at least a hair less incoherent.

  9. 9
    glodson

    Like, he needed our help and praise to defeat evil.

    That is why Okami Amaterasu kicks ass, and why the Christian god makes a much less sympathetic and heroic character.

  10. 10
    cicely

    He should totally be invited to speak at Skepticon!
    -

  11. 11
    w00dview

    Draken @ 4:

    That argument was brilliant! That is how religious figures should be debated, with the seriousness they deserve. Now can Samson take on the Hulk?

  12. 12
    Draken

    @11: if Samson can muster the patience to calm down the Hulk until he changes into David Banner, sure.

  13. 13
    PZ Myers

    Samson would have to one-shot Banner, because at the first bump from that ass’s jawbone, he’d hulk out. And Hulk beats Samson any day.

  14. 14
    richardelguru

    Isn’t it a bit daft to have confrontations between made-up characters like Batman and the likes of god who is obviously totally unlike ….. Um … Oh … … nevermind.

  15. 15
    busterggi

    So if a fictional Batman exists then a fictional god exists?

    I’ll buy that.

  16. 16
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Of course, then there’s this….

    *sigh*

  17. 17
    Rich Woods

    @Julien Rousseau #2:

    An all powerful god could have created us with a pre-exercised/pre-sharpened moral sense.

    An all-powerful god could have created us last Thursday.

  18. 18
    Pteryxx

    Azkyroth @16: check the red-button on that one. ;>

  19. 19
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    ..the what?

  20. 20
    Pteryxx

    Azkyroth: on SMBC’s there’s a red button beneath the main comic, which when moused-over, gives an epilogue-bonus-panel. Kinda like xkcd’s famous mouseover text.

  21. 21
    Pteryxx

    *SMBCs, comics, plural. darnit.

  22. 22
    scottruplin

    And Captain America still beats him! But it’s a close fight….

  23. 23
    Azuma Hazuki

    Stephen Law had a brilliant piece skewering theodicies called The God of Eth. It’s an argument for a kind of anti-theodicy, in which a philosopher of the fictional world Eth argues that there is a God and it’s maximally evil, using the exact same “evidence” that most theologians use to try and bolster the case for a good God but in reverse.

    The darkly hilarious thing is, it works. It works better than arguing for a good God. By a very large margin actually. If the users of these arguments had the brains their God supposedly gave a tree stump, that should make them widdle themselves.

    Theodicies are mildly blasphemous, because they implicitly limit their God. Somehow, the being which already created a place where free will exists and no one wants to sin (Heaven) apparently couldn’t do it again. And even then, Lucifer still rebelled (if you don’t know that that passage refers to Nebuchadnezzar I mean…). So what does Yahweh go and do? Make a worse world!

    I really think we take Yahweh more seriously than believers do.

  24. 24
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Wait – WHOM does Captain America beat?

    BTW: We know a lot about who would beat whom between marvel & DC b/c Byrne & Claremont imported a whole rack of DC heroes into X-Men via the Shi’ar Guardians. The X-Men don’t come off great in the exchange, but Binary ends up rockin’ it, as does Rachel Summers, against the Guardians later.

  25. 25
    Francisco Bacopa

    Everyone should keep in mind that if God exists, then according to the Bible, humans have effective means of fighting him. God banished Adam and Eve from the garden and put a guard at the Tree of Life because humans who had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge who also ate from the Tree of Life would soon be able to challenge god. Thus we were exiled and made to suffer.

    God perceived that humans, despite being deprived the gift of the Fruit of Life, were still able to threaten him by building the Tower of Babel. I presume it was some kind of high tech siege tower or perhaps a long range spacecraft, maybe it could reach Kolob. In any case, we humans were on the way to kicking God’s ass, so he smote us with confused languages and we descended into barbarism for a period.

    I don’t believe any of this. Just pointing out that one could be a Biblical literalist and an anti-theist. The Bible gives hope that a war against God is winnable.

  26. 26
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re Julian @2:

    An all powerful god could have created us with a pre-exercised/pre-sharpened moral sense.

    But if so, then what’s the point of ‘free will’? Free will is simply the means to test us, for us to demonstrate that we will choose ‘good’ over ‘evil’. Gawd only created us to test us. Like professors [*ahem*, *cough*] who only teach so as to test his students. PZed just feels challenged by Prof. Gawd, that’s why he hates Him so [*cough*, *cough*].

  27. 27
    chigau (違う)

    Francisco Bacopa
    Have you read these?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_Dark_Materials

  28. 28
    Stacy

    maybe more skeptic/atheist groups ought to consider branching out and inviting him and other people outside the sphere of the usual movement atheists to their meetings

    YES. One of the many, many things that excites me about Women in Secularism 2 is, that Katha Pollitt will be speaking.

    Moar thinking outside the box, speakers-wise, pleasethx.

  29. 29
    busterggi

    Francisco Bacopa – to paraphrase old movies, “Thanos anyone?”

  30. 30
    michaelbusch

    I do not like this argument, but mostly because I have trouble seeing Batman/Bruce Wayne as a heroic figure. His idea of combating crime is to go around all by himself beating people up and destroying property with very expensive toys. If he invested half that money in urban renewal projects, he’d prevent way more crime.

  31. 31
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    Can somebody explain to me the appeal of Batman? Leaving aside the inherent ridiculousness of the character, the “coolness” of Batman is basically the same as the “coolness” of Axe Cop, which is written by a 5-year-old. (And, actually, Dr. McNinja kind of suffers from the same problem.) I can’t remember a time in my life when I would have thought of the characters as anything but kind of stupid.

  32. 32
    Marcus Good

    Batman has *killed* a god before; Darkseid, the seeker of the *Anti-Life Equation*. I would think using Batman to justify religion would end up using Batman to deconstruct religion.

  33. 33
    Marcus Good

    Comics nerd hat on:

    ” If he invested half that money in urban renewal projects, he’d prevent way more crime.” – Bruce Wayne does a lot of that anyway, Bats is pretty aware of the complexities at work.

  34. 34
    vaiyt

    The Vicar @31: Welcome to superheroes. Being power fantasies about doing cool stuff is what they do best.

  35. 35
    DLC

    yeah, stories where all we did was follow Bruce Wayne around while he stocked food pantries, build free clinics and opened housing for the poor would be boring. 140 panels or so worth of handshaking and crying mothers. Hey, then Jesus could come back and make Bruce Wayne a Saint. Then Saint Bruce could go up to heaven and totally Kick Yaweh’s Ass! ‘Cause Bruce Wayne has one hell of an Iron Chariot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tumbler_in_Toronto.JPG

  36. 36
    John Morales

    busterggi:

    So if a fictional Batman exists then a fictional god exists?

    The response by the goddist in the comic is a non sequitur to the original question.

    If you consider the expression [(¬evil → ¬Batman) ∧ evil] you will note it’s possible for evil to be true and Batman to be false; or more colloquially, that evil is given as true but the retort refers to the implication of its falsity rather than to its truth.

    So, as to your own (jocular?) question, you may care to consider the expression [(¬evil → ¬Batman) ∧ Batman].

    (The answer is ‘no’)

  37. 37
    michaelbusch

    @Marcus Good:

    Depends on the writer. But even then, it doesn’t work. One Batman is not as useful in stopping crime-in-progress as an extra few dozen police, and those extra police would be a lot less expensive. This is the biggest gripe I have with superhero stories: if I take more than five minutes to think about the economics and the plot, the whole structure almost always comes tumbling down – http://wp.me/p2HJn9-3s

  38. 38
    barbyau

    The argument of “adversarial growth” is completely ridiculous. Surely if we assert that God does indeed have the power to not create evil, he has the power to create a human that doesn’t REQUIRE evil.

    The point still remains that being all powerful means that these are all deliberate decisions by this “loving” God. They can contort logic and language all they want to try to act as though the existence of evil/suffering AND an all powerful and loving God are not contradictory. But it doesn’t change the fact that they are ultimately claiming that God deliberately created us lacking and in need of evil and suffering BY CHOICE. Because he loves us.

    Their belief system is a grotesque version of Stockholm Syndrome.

  39. 39
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    @vaiyt, #34:

    That’s all? Even when I was a 5-year-old, I wasn’t impressed by this stuff.

    Well, thanks for at least reminding my why I don’t read superhero comics.

  40. 40
    John Morales

    [OT]

    michaelbusch:

    But even then, it doesn’t work. One Batman is not as useful in stopping crime-in-progress as an extra few dozen police, and those extra police would be a lot less expensive. This is the biggest gripe I have with superhero stories: if I take more than five minutes to think about the economics and the plot, the whole structure almost always comes tumbling down

    What a ridiculous position.

    (The economics and the plot are based in the fictional world where superheroes (and supervillains) exist, not in the real world)

  41. 41
    michaelbusch

    @John:

    But even in the fictional world, the economics and plots aren’t consistent. e.g. as explained at the link: in the Avengers movie, SHIELD is trying to use the tesseract device to get clean power (and make weapons). But the tesseract device is dangerous and one-of-a-kind. In the same world, Tony Stark has arc reactors which produce lots of clean power (and make weapons). So why aren’t they using the arc reactors for that and not the tesseract? There goes the plot of the movie. And there also goes the economics, because an economy based on the cheap clean power that the arc reactor provides would be nothing like reality _or_ like what we see in the show (Tony Stark would be _even more_ wealthy).

    I like the ideas of a lot of superhero characters and stories. However, what would follow from those premises is very rarely worked out consistently (but that’s what Clement’s Game is for).

  42. 42
    Ivan

    Holy shit, I’ve been reading SMBC for a year and never noticed this button! Now I have to re-read it… was it Zach’s cunning plan?

  43. 43
    sqlrob

    Of course if batman exists, god exists.

    /me puts on sunglasses

    He’s the goddamn batman.

  44. 44
    blf

    One Batman is not as useful in stopping crime-in-progress as an extra few dozen police, and those extra police would be a lot less expensive.

    With more police, the donut and coffee consumption would go up.

    Also, such funkies trend to attract the really nasty villains and then get killed. Think “Red Shirts” in Star Trek or the town watchmen / palace guards in most fantasy…

  45. 45
    barp

    Don’t fall for PZ’s seemingly innocuous suggestion of inviting Zach to more conferences. This is clearly another thinly veiled attempt by PZ to corrupt the entire movement, this time though Zach causing rampant spread of salacious posturing.

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