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Nov 05 2013

Episode 121: Divine Deception with guest Erik Wielenberg

Philosopher Erik Wielenberg joins us on the show to discuss his upcoming paper on Skeptical Theism and Divine Deception. The evidential argument from evil concludes that the existence of God is unlikely given the many cases of gratuitous suffering we witness in nature. Some theists have responded that we cannot grasp the mind of God and have no reason to assume these instances of suffering may not work out to some greater good. Wielenberg argues that this skepticism, if adopted, would undermine many other theistic claims to knowledge. At the heart of his argument is the idea of divine deception. The scriptures record numerous instances of God deceiving humans to achieve some greater moral end. But if God can lie to his children in this way, what reason do we have to suppose any doctrine based on divine testimony reliably speaks the truth?

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20 comments

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  1. 1
    Tessa

    Hi guys,

    I have a question about the whole gratuitous evil line of reasoning.

    I assume that there are Christians who identify as skeptical theists. So is this an argument that Christians actually make? If so, how do they reconcile this with the concept that eating the fruit in Eden gave people the knowledge of good and evil? Is that not the entire point of the Bible?

    Can anyone shed light on this one?

  2. 2
    BradC

    Here is my obligatory weekly message: PLEASE FIX YOUR iTunes FEED!

    (Detail: When subscribed, all podcast dates show as Dec 31, 2000, and new episodes are not downloaded automatically. Dates do show correctly on the search screen, so new episodes must be downloaded manually. This first became a problem when the standalone Apple podcast app was released with iOS6 in Sept 2012. Thanks!)

    And now to this episode, I really enjoyed this interview! Do you have any links to Erik’s writing on this subject, or are they all forthcoming?

    To respond to Tessa’s question, yes, the basic ideas behind skeptical theism are definitely used by Christians, usually in a much more casual way, even by those not aware of the formal apologetic argument. You might hear this as something like: “Well, I don’t know why God would allow that (bad thing), but He must have had a reason, and we’ll find out the answer when we get to heaven.” That’s a hard thing to respond to, except with something along the line of “sorry, I’m not satisfied with that.”

    Not sure that this answers your question about the fruit, but the explanation I remember from when I was a Christian is that the result of the sin of eating the fruit wasn’t an intellectual understanding of good and evil, but really some sort of active participation in the evil, a loss of the ideal innocence or something. Not sure this stands up to scrutiny, though.

  3. 3
    MichaelF

    Agreed. How many more listeners would you have if your iTunes feed worked?

    Numbers dropped way off since 2012? This is why. Your meta data is broken.

    I love your podcasts but have to come here to see what’s new. Others are not so committed.

    Bonus would be a working icon for the podcast but I don’t want to ask too much.

  4. 4
    mabell

    Great interview guys!

    You really have to wonder about the story of Abraham and Isaac from Isaac’s point of view. Here he is getting led up the mountain to his slaughter and neither God nor his father feel any obligation to clue him in. Any deception here?

  5. 5
    Reasonable Doubts

    Brad & Michael, do you two have any suggestions as to how we might remedy this problem? I’m told we have tried a number of things but with no success – it has become a very frustrating issue.

  6. 6
    Tessa

    “I remember from when I was a Christian is that the result of the sin of eating the fruit wasn’t an intellectual understanding of good and evil, but really some sort of active participation in the evil, a loss of the ideal innocence or something. Not sure this stands up to scrutiny, though.”

    Thanks BradC!
    I wonder if the knowledge of good and evil would then be similar the good ol’ Biblical euphemism she has “known a man”?

  7. 7
    BradC

    Oops, my other comment has too many links, and is in moderation. The short version is: there are some “feed validator” tools out there that you can plug the your feed URL into, and it will tell you if there are errors in the feed. Just search for “feed validator”.

    It’s possible, even if the feed hasn’t changed, that the iOS6 Podcast app is more sensitive to some of those errors than the prior-generation app.

    If this problem still occurs after those are fixed, then you’ll probably have to find more knowledgeable help than I :)

    Tessa: Not sure if there is any relation in the Hebrew, but that’s definitely the idea that I was taught in the church :)

  8. 8
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    @mabell #4:

    You really have to wonder about the story of Abraham and Isaac from Isaac’s point of view. Here he is getting led up the mountain to his slaughter and neither God nor his father feel any obligation to clue him in. Any deception here?

    When Isaac asked about the sacrifice during the long walk to that mountain, Abe lied and told him there’d be a lamb.

    Yahweh was dickishly misleading in commanding Abraham go make the sacrifice, implying his son’s death. The NT’s Hebrews 11 asserts Abraham must’ve expected Yahweh to raise Isaac from the dead afterward. (There were geneologies and nation-building promises to keep. Nevermind the child abuse.)

    From Isaac’s perspective, his dad just snaps and tries to kill him, only to be interrupted at the last second.
    The book glosses over the longer walk back.
     
    Comic: The Brick Testament – God Demands Child Sacrifice

  9. 9
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    List: Skeptic’s Annotated Bible – Does God Lie?

  10. 10
    Xavier Zhulle

    Proverbs 12:22 – Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord…

    2 Chronicles 18:21 – And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the LORD said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so.

    Reading from scripture, it seems that god allows evil/agents of evil to reside in heaven/his presence, remebering that Lucifer was not cast out from heaven for being evil but for being proud.

    1 Samuel 16:23 – And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul…

    Can we deduce from this that God tolerated evil angels in heaven so as long as they are loyal to him?

  11. 11
    Jonathan MS Pearce

    As ever, great stuff.

    I am really beginning to see the usefulness of baiting theists to rely on skeptical theism, and then trapping them with divine deception. Some might say it is ironically the ultimate… divine deception?

  12. 12
    weatherwax

    #4 “You really have to wonder about the story of Abraham and Isaac from Isaac’s point of view. Here he is getting led up the mountain to his slaughter and neither God nor his father feel any obligation to clue him in. Any deception here?”

    One of the theories I’ve heard from Dr Robert Price is that this story was developed to convince the Hebrews that they shouldn’t sacrifice their first born sons. There is some evidence that early on they did.

  13. 13
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    @weatherwax #12:

    One of the theories I’ve heard from Dr Robert Price is that this story was developed to convince the Hebrews that they shouldn’t sacrifice their first born sons.

    You’d think that’d be a simple enough message to convey without making Yahweh look evil…
     
     

    Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness.-Ezekiel 20:10

    I said to their children in the wilderness, “Do not follow the statutes of your parents or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols.
    I am the LORD your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws…”-Ezekiel 20:18-19

    “But the children rebelled against me: They did not follow my decrees, they were not careful to keep my laws, of which I said, “The person who obeys them will live by them,” and they desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness…”-Ezekiel 20:21

    So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live;
    I defiled them through their gifts–the sacrifice of every firstborn–that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.’-Ezekiel 20:25-26

  14. 14
    weatherwax

    #13: “You’d think that’d be a simple enough message to convey without making Yahweh look evil…”

    It’s evil to us now, but wouldn’t necessarily be seen as evil to the people practicing it.

  15. 15
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    @weatherwax #14:

    It’s evil to us now, but wouldn’t necessarily be seen as evil to the people practicing it.

    By evil, I wasn’t referring to child sacrifice. I was referring to the Yahweh character saying this.

    “I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live… that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.”

    Even with commentaries spinning that ‘gave’ as if it said “chose to withold corrective intervention, when their practices were polluted by nearby religions”, Yahweh is described as taking credit for the ‘horror’.

  16. 16
    Kurt Helf

    Excellent ep., guys, thanks. Definitely bears re-listening like the Free Willy series.

  17. 17
    Rich P

    I love this episode so much I just finished my third listen, and I wonder if there was enough not included in the podcast for another episode or portion of an episode. I would love to read Dr. Wielenberg’s paper referenced in the episode…I tried some of the links on his webpage http://dpuadweb.depauw.edu/ewielenberg_web/publications.htm but couldn’t find it…any chance of posting a link?

  18. 18
    FactoidJunkie

    Terrific episode. I will definitely check out Dr. Wielenberg’s work.

    The greatest lie is not that the devil doesn’t exist but that God NECESSARILY

  19. 19
    FactoidJunkie

    Sorry about previous post. to finish the thought:

    that God NECESSARILY does.

    The analogy of parents to children breaks down far too easily. At this juncture in history, does anyone believe we are unprepared for the truth concerning God’s existence, intentions, or promises? And that is predicated on the extreme unlikeness of a creator god existing.

    Prima facie – any god who could create this universe has no need to lie.

  20. 20
    TiredofInsanity

    Great Episode. I have tried to locate the Pauline verse about spirits of deception and also the Origen verse about god deceiving us because we require the Discipline of Children. I cannot locate either even with the last one quoted in the podcast. That is the nature of translations but I’m hoping you can provide citations for both of these. I would like to use them in debate but I will not unless I can reference where the quote comes from more precisely.

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