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Posted by on Dec 29, 2013 in Atheism, Featured, Philosophy of Religion, Skepticism | 216 comments

“Why I am an atheist” – Guest Post by The Thinker

The Thinker has guested here in the past and has been a frequent visitor to these commenting shores. Check his “Why I am an atheist” post out which comprehensively sets out his reasons for adopting his worldview. Excellent stuff, as ever, from him. Please check out his great blog (Atheism and the City), which I often do (if I could sort out a proper blog roll on this website, he would be on it, but I am struggling). My post in this (so far) short series can be found here.

I’ve been feeling a bit compelled recently to write about why exactly it is that I’m an atheist and what reasons I have for being one. While I feel that this post was long overdue, an adequate justification for my atheism has been the product of a learning curve several years in the making. I know many others have written posts explaining why they aren’t a Christian or why they aren’t a Mormon, or a Muslim, etc., but technically I can’t write a post like that because I was never myself a member of any religion. What I can do, is justify why I’m an atheist and why I think the naturalistic worldview best describes reality, and so here I want to put into a single post the main reasons why I personally am an atheist, and why I think you should be one too if you aren’t already. I apologize for the length.


Atheism is Not an Emotional Position

Many theists like to portray atheism as purely an emotional position. They like to try and make it appear as if it’s all just the result of emotional trauma like the tragic death of a loved one, or having been abused in a religious environment that leads one to reject god, rather than evidence and logical arguments. Their goal of course is to make atheism look like it isn’t a logical position, but is instead rooted in an unjustified emotional reaction to life’s difficulties. For me at least, nothing can be further from the truth. I could never live with a worldview that wasn’t consistent with evidence. While there are indeed some people who’ve come to atheism due to traumatic life experiences, there are certainly good logical as well as evidential reasons for one to reject the existence of any kind of god and the veridicality of any one religion.

I personally think that all atheists who self identify as “free thinkers” and “skeptics” are in a way obligated to actively seek out good reasons as to why exactly it is that they are atheists. There are good and bad reasons to hold any position, whether or not those positions are correct. If atheists are to maintain the air of intellectual superiority against the rather feeble-mindedness of most theists who believe primarily due to cultural inculcation, faith, or ignorance, then it is the atheist’s duty to justify their worldview for good intellectual reasons. This task is made immeasurably easier today due to the internet. For example, when I became “serious” about my atheism 4 or 5 years ago, I became obsessed with the arguments for and against god and I spent hours almost every day looking into them online. The over abundance of information online meant that there was never a shortage of reasons to evaluate all the opposing viewpoints.

So for me, my atheism has always been a logical and evidential position. I never had any traumatic experiences in my life that affected my worldview and I was never abused emotionally or physically in any environment, let alone a religious one. So in contrast to what many theists like to portray, atheism is not merely a reaction to abuse or trauma. That is an angle theists are trying to push to discredit atheism as an intellectual position. So with that said, let me now dive into the reasons why I’m an atheist and why I think atheism is much more tenable and much better supported than theism overall.

There Are Good Reasons to Think Atheism is True

In a nutshell, I’m an atheist because I think the world more beautifully conforms to the naturalistic worldview, and the arguments for theism all fail due to them being either being logically incoherent with one another, based on theistic presuppositions, or they contain premises that aren’t demonstrably true or are flat out false. Let’s compare what we know about the natural world and then use that to determine whether it makes better sense under atheism or theism.

1. The Traditional Omni-God is Incompatible With Evolution

The haphazard cruelty of evolution makes it impossible to accept the belief in a traditional omni-god who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. I’ve even formulated this into an argument. When you look at he full picture of evolution and you consider the 3.5 billion years during which this unfolding drama played out, when there were millions and millions of species that evolved only to be snuffed out and pushed into evolutionary dead ends, and during which time there was at least 5 mass extinctions in which some 70-95 percent of all the living species on earth at that time went extinct, I’m being asked by theists to believe that this was all part of a divine creator’s plan who was sitting back and taking pleasure in watching millions of species (whose evolution he allegedly guided) get wiped out one after the other, and then starting all over again, and then wiped them out again and repeated this process over and over, until finally getting around to evolving human beings – which I’m told was the whole purpose of this cruel and clumsy process.

Am I to believe for example, that the meteor that ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago that allowed mammals to evolve to be the dominant species was all part of god’s ingenious plan that he hatched even before creating the earth? Am I also to believe that god did something like this at least 4 other times, each time with a different planetary-wide cataclysm that resulted in millions of species suffering and dying? And am I to believe that an all-knowing and all-loving deity also made it so that as this evolutionary process played out, consciousness would arise so that these miserable animals would become aware of their pain and suffering that god was causing? Just think about our hominid ancestors, who for about 6 million years consciously suffered and died from diseases, floods, droughts, famines, predators, and themselves, for absolutely no logically necessary reason before human beings even evolved. You would predict such a grim scenario under naturalism, but you certainly wouldn’t under the “all-loving” watchful eye of a theistic god. This is perhaps one reason why so many theists today still reject evolution.

So we’ve got a problem here: An all-loving deity is logically incompatible with gratuitous conscious suffering. Given our evolutionary past and the suffering it required, god would have to be either incompetent, indifferent or intentionally cruel. Grant a creator and you must grant that. There’s no logical way out of it. So honestly ask yourself, given the haphazard cruelty of our evolutionary past, what worldview does it make better sense under, theism or naturalism? The answer is obvious. It’s naturalism. Thus, the traditional omni-god fails. And as per the logic of the ontological argument, the omni-god must be compatible with every possible world. If a world existed that is not compatible with such a being, that being cannot exist. That world is our world. So here the evidence clearly favors naturalism over theism by a long shot.

2. Religious Belief is a Product of the Brain

Many theists still wonder where their sense of “God” comes from. Why do almost all humans have a capacity to sense the awe and wonder commonly attributed to the divine? Evidence suggests that this is a neural-chemical process of the brain that has evolutionary underpinnings. Evolution has embedded the predilection to notice patterns and to invoke agents when there aren’t any, in a phenomena known aspatternicity and agenticity, respectively. Our hominid ancestors lived in a world of danger, and they weren’t yet the top of the food chain. If a noise was heard in the grass it was better to assume it might be a dangerous predator than just the wind. If they were wrong, they made a false positive, that is they incorrectly thought something was there that actually wasn’t, and no harm was done. If, however, they assumed it was just the wind and it turned out it was a predator, they made a false negative, that is they incorrectly assumed there wasn’t something there when there was, and they likely lost their life as a result of it. So evolution has made it so that false positives are much better to have than false negatives. We experience this all the time. When we’re walking down a dark, menacing looking street at night and we hear a noise, we tend to assume it’s someone or something that might harm us – because we’ll be more prepared and more likely to survive if we do. And nature gives us clear evidence that this is true. Just look at the behavior of animals who are at the bottom or middle of the food chain – they live in constant fear and paranoia and jump at the slightest noise or movement because of the evolutionary benefits of false positives.

What does all this mean? It means that seeing patterns and agents that aren’t there is hardwired into our brains by evolution, and this forms the basis for why we tend to attribute random, natural events as being the product of intentional agents. This manifests itself into the belief in spirits, demons, angels, ghosts and gods. “The problem we face is that superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old,” writes skeptic Michael Shermer in The Believing Brain, “whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old.”[1] In addition, the neural-chemical transmitter dopamine may be one of the most important chemical elements of belief. It has often been called the “reward” drug because neurons release it when a received reward is determined to have been more than expected, and this reinforces the organism to repeat the behavior that lead to the firing of the neurons that produced the dopamine release.[2] This is why religious belief is ultimately emotional, not logical. Religions create rituals often in social contexts that are designed to bring about feel-good sensations which result from the release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine. This causes people to want to do that same behavior again and again. Just think of all the monks who are all trying to reach “nirvana” by repeating the same meditative ritual over and over again, or think of the way many theists will sometimes cry out emotionally as they all ritualistically pray and chant in unison. These experiences are incredibly powerful on an emotional level and this feel-good response is what often draws people into religions and cults and into perceiving what they’d often attribute to as being the “divine” or some “higher power,” when really it’s all in their brain. And the fact that this happens ubiquitously in various different religious as well as in secular contexts further demonstrates that it is the product of neural-chemical processes in the brain.

The theist might simply want to brush off these findings or say that god used evolution to put a sort of sensus divinitatis into human beings, but then we’re back to the problem I mentioned above concerning the cruelty that evolution requires and its incompatibility with an all-loving, morally perfect deity. If god wanted to put a sense of the divine into us, he could have simply just put it into us using his supernatural power. There’s no logically necessary reason why god would’ve had to use one of the most violent means available like evolution. So as it turns out, under naturalism, we not only have an explanation why people tend to believe and sense the presence of things that aren’t there, we would actually expect it.

3. There is No Evidence for Free Will

First and foremost in many world religions (though not every version) is the idea that humans have libertarian free will. We are free, moral agents, it is believed, who make decisions uncorrupted by external determinants and we can be held accountable by god for those decisions. What is the evidence that theists provide that we have free will? It’s common sense! That’s often how it goes, although they will sometimes couple this notion with arguments that the mind must be separate from the body. I too once thought free will was paramount; we all basically do. It just seems so properly basic. But physics and neuroscience say otherwise. Neuroscientists using fMRI scans have repeatedly shown that our brains “decide” for us up to seven seconds before we become consciously aware of our decisions.[3] It appears then, that free will is really just an illusion and our conscious perception of having free will seems to actually be the moment we become aware of what our physical brains have already decided.

Of course it is true that not all theists believe we have libertarian free will, but the ones who do usually throw up a purely philosophical argument against determinism whereby they claim it’s incompatible with the libertarian free will their theistic worldview requires. Yes it is incompatible, but so is evolution with young earth creationism, but that doesn’t refute evolution. The only hope for the one who wishes to retain the notion of free will is in quantum indeterminacy. Many of the interpretations of quantum mechanics like the Copenhagen Interpretation, declare quantum events to be random and non- deterministic. However, others like the Many-worlds view are deterministic. No one knows for sure which interpretation is correct, but if quantum events are random and probabilistic, then what we call our “free will” is really just the result of a random quantum process that is probabilistically determined by the laws of quantum mechanics, and hardly anyone would call that free. As physicist Sean Carroll wrote on the subject, ”The fact that quantum mechanics introduces a stochastic component into physical predictions doesn’t open the door for true libertarian free will.”[4]

So let’s now see if we can determine what worldview these findings make better sense under. If dualism were correct, our immaterial minds/souls would be consciously aware of our decisions before our physical brains registered them because dualists hold to the notion that the soul uses the physical brain to accomplish its will. Under naturalism, we’d expect our physical brains to indicate what our decisions will be before we are consciously aware of them, just as the data shows. So as far as what worldview better corresponds with the data from neuroscience on consciousness and decision making, it’s clearly naturalism.

Summary

I could go on and list several other arguments such as the problem with the soularguments from scale, the problem of evil, etc. but I want to be brief. Atheists are always asked, “What would convince you that god exists?” I can think of a few very easy ways I would be convinced that god existed that didn’t even involve direct proof. If, for example, all of the scientific evidence pointed to an earth and universe that was less than 10,000 years old and there was no evidence for evolution, or, if all the scientific evidence pointed to a relatively small, geocentric-model of the universe with earth at the center and all the planets and stars revolving around it, then I would say that there would certainly have to be a god. In other words, god could have easily made a universe where atheism wouldn’t even be able to get off the ground, or would quickly fall apart if it did. God could have created the world according to the account in Genesis, but he didn’t. Instead, I’m being asked to believe that god purposely made the world appear exactly as it would if it were natural and he didn’t exist.

I find this too hard to believe.

Given the evidence we have in support of naturalism over theism, I am left with only two plausible options: either atheism is true, or deism is true. A deistic god would generally be immune to most of the criticisms I have against a theistic god, but a deistic god could simply be an impersonal, immaterial force that generates universes. In a sense, we don’t have any evidence of a deistic god so I’m inclined to believe no such being exists. A deist would probably say the universe itself is the evidence, but it is not at all certain that our universe needs a cause, let alone a supernatural one. (See my thoughts on deism here.) So I am very confident given the evidence we have that no theistic god exists.

There Are Good Reasons to Think Theism is False

All of the arguments for god ultimately fail in various different ways, and every religion ever created bares the unmistakable scars of having been man-made. The best “evidence” theists have traditionally had that god exists has been human ignorance. God is the ultimate placeholder of an explanation so long as something is unknown or mysteriously eludes us. One can always say, “God did it!” and make the ultimate cop out. The god of the gaps has been losing ground with each and every inch of human scientific and intellectual progress. Although, having mostly given up now trying to refute biological evolution, theists feel a lot safer using god to explain why there is something rather than nothing. Many scientists and philosophers, both atheists and theists, think science will never be able to answer this question, and so many theists think god will maintain a comfortable explanatory position in this ultimate of unknowns. Let me explain why I feel there are good reasons to think theism is false.

1. God is Not a Fully Coherent Concept

“God” never seemed like a coherent concept to me. Even when I was 6 years old it sounded like nonsense. The idea of a “necessary” being who knows everything and can do everything logically possible, yet is timeless and has free will sounded impossible. A being who is infinitely good and loving, yet designed a world with a hell for you to go to just in case you didn’t take that leap of faith to believe in him sounded infinitely evil. A god who also conveniently doesn’t give you proof that he exists and purposely made the world exactly as it would look if naturalism were true sounded deceptive. What a character! Some god concepts however are more loving than others, but given the problems with evolution that I mentioned above, a truly loving god is even less compatible with our world. An evil god would actually be better suited, but then you’d have to explain the problem of good.

How does a timeless god who knows everything freely chose to create our world and not some other world? God can’t make decisions, because if he did that would require time, and he can’t be indecisive because that would falsify his omniscience. So god must have the eternal desire and knowledge to create our world, say World X, and not some other world, say World Y, – meaning there was never a time god wanted to create World Y instead of World X; he always wanted to create World X. How then is the creation of World X freely decided by god if the creation of world Y or the forbearance to create any world never existed? And how does god create time, if prior to time existing literally nothing can happen?

William Lane Craig in a recent debate with Lawrence Krauss gives us an answer. “I would say that God exists timelessly with the intention that a physical world exist. And then there’s an exercise of this causal power, um, that brings the universe into existence.”[5] But Craig’s answer misses something very important. God cannot merely exist with the intention to create a physical world, he has to exist with the intention to create our physical world because any deliberation to create World X over World Y or vice versa would require time and indecision, which god cannot have prior to creating the universe. Craig goes on to say, “But we shouldn’t think of God as existing, twiddling his thumbs, from eternity and then ‘deciding’ to make a universe.” But if that’s true, if god’s decision to make a universe always existed, then how did he decide to “exercise his causal power”? To create something requires at least two decisions. First is the decision on what to create, and second is the decision to act that brings about the creation. I can intend to write a book and never get around to it out of laziness unless I decide to act and exercise my causal power. If having the intention to create World X (our world) existing eternally absolves god from having to make the first decision (even though it opens up additional problems), then the second necessary decision to act on it still requires time and would logically require an antecedent state of indecision. But if however, you argue that god’s decision to act was also preordained and existed eternally, as it must have in order to avoid problems with god’s timelessness and omniscience, then god has no free will and our universe was determined since it would have been impossible that it didn’t exist. These are some of the things that convince me that “god” is not a fully coherent concept.

2. The Arguments for God Fail

My atheism largely comes from working backwards – essentially, looking at the universe we live in, finding it incompatible with a theistic god, and then concluding that theism is false. That’s generally what most atheists do. Theists on the other hand, often start at the beginning and say god is needed to get a universe first, and then once they’ve concluded that a god exists, they try and find ways to fit that god into our picture of the universe. It is there that I think they fail the worst, but this still leaves us with the origin of the universe itself. How did it get here, if not for a god to make it? We naturally think, especially in Western philosophy, that things must be made. If you want a cup of coffee, you’ve got to make one; if you want a car, you got to make one; if you want a computer, you’ve got to make one. Things don’t just appear ready made for you out of thin air. Therefore, it seems to most people that the universe too would have to be made just like the coffee, the car and the computer are. This is what intuition tells us. But intuition fails us over and over again when dealing with how we explain the world. There is no known natural process that generates cups of coffee, cars or computers (although the laws of physics say such a random configuration of matter into them is technically possible, but extremely unlikely). There are however, known natural processes that can result in universes, stars, planets, life, and different species of life being “created” without any need to invoke the supernatural. Although the science is not set on the origin of the universe and the origin of life, there are no shortage of natural explanations given recent discoveries.

But the theists says, “That’s nice, but how does the atheist explain nature itself? Nature cannot cause itself to exist.” Presumably this is because nature would have to exist before it exists in order to create itself. But, if causes must necessarily precede their effects, as this objection holds to, then god cannot have created time, because in order to cause time to exist, time would have to exist before time began to exist. It’s the same paradox. So how can it be resolved? We don’t know if the origin of our universe is the absolute origin of time. In fact, if our universe belongs to a much greater multiverse, it probably isn’t. The problems with causality and the notion of time beginning have lead me to believe that it is likely the case that the origin of time did not have a cause. The origin of time is simply like the end point on a number line when it hits the number “0″. This means we must understand the nature of time. Special relativity strongly indicates that time is a fourth dimension like space and that we live in a 4D Minkowski spacetime block universe. There have been many philosophers and theologians (as well as scientists) who disagree with this interpretation, but the vast majority of physicists agree with the 4D model. Recently, new experimental evidence suggests that the universe is indeed static and that time “emerges” from quantum entanglement.[6] This could be the first verifiable evidence that the B-theory of time, for which we get the 4D block universe, is the correct interpretation of Special Relativity.

The block universe comes from the relativity of simultaneity and length contraction described within Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Some say this is only due to our inability to measure “absolute time” due to limitations on our instruments but there are several paradoxes that cannot be resolved in Special Relativity without appealing to an actual relativity of simultaneity, such as the ladder paradox and its many variations. In all, the evidence comes down much stronger in the case for a 4D block universe as opposed to Newtonian time that many A-theorists hold to. If so, that means the block universe simply has an end in which time appears to “begin” but really is just a low point in entropy as described by the second law of thermodynamics. The mere existence of such paradoxes, and of relativity itself is not, to me, what you would expect to find in a theistic universe. The Newtonian notions of absolute space and absolute time would be expected if theism were true, not a universe where space and time are relative. The Kalam Cosmological Argument relies entirely on 4D spacetime being false and so it must presuppose the A-theory of time to be true. This is one of the main reasons why it fails: it is intuitively based on a notion of time that science has ruled to be false.

Furthermore, the first premise of the KCA, that everything that begins to exist requires a cause, actually negates free will. If my actions and intentions are require causes, then they’re causally determined. To say that my soul causes them only pushes the cause back one step. What caused the soul to cause my thoughts? You’d get a regress of causes going back at least to the big bang, which is essentially what determinism gives you. So either the KCA is false, or there is no free will. It’s a dichotomy for the theist. The only hope left for the theist is to posit the Cosmological Argument from Contingency, which says the universe is contingent and therefore requires an explanation, and that that explanation is god. This argument presupposes the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which cannot be justified without assuming it first. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking as many questions as we can, but I am prepared to accept that the eternal block universe we live in may be a brute fact. I would add to this that overall, given the evidence we have, the naturalistic hypothesis offers greater explanatory power than the theistic hypothesis, and so I would argue that brute facts of existence over the sufficient reasons required by theism is better justified. The theist after all cannot logically prove that there aren’t any brute facts, and an eternal, static, block universe is about what we’d expect a brute fact of existence to look like.

The Fine-Tuning Argument I don’t think gets off the ground because of the incompatibility of an omni-god with the unnecessary conscious suffering of evolution. It also makes it appear as if god himself must conform to the laws of physics and can only create a life-bearing universe just one way. If god can do anything, he should be able to create such a  universe an infinite number of ways, and even create ones that contained life but weren’t fine tuned for it. Our universe is most likely part of an unbelievably vast multiverse, which most likely explains why the physical constants are said to be “fine tuned” the way they are. Even so, we have no idea what ranges they can take and presume their values can be infinite. I contend we have enough evidence from within the universe from the evidence I mentioned above that rules out any fine tuner, and I can confidently say that it is we who are fine tuned for the universe, not the other way around. Although I think it’s probably the best arguments for god, the Fine-Tuning Argument gets it ass-backwards, as always, and since any such creator to our universe would have to be either incompetent, indifferent or cruel, it seems implausible to me how such a being would be capable of such exquisite fine tuning in the first place.

The Moral Argument is just another failed attempt to make god into a required being. How can we have objective morality, it is asked, if there is no god? Thus it is argued that if god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist, but they do, so god exists. Enter the Euthyphro Dilemma: Is something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it’s good? The first part makes morality arbitrary, and the latter makes god irrelevant to what’s good. The standard response is that god is the good – god is the ontological foundation of goodness because he is intrinsically loving, compassionate and fair, etc. But then we can ask, is god good because he has these properties or are these properties good because god has them? In order to avoid compromising god’s sovereignty and admitting that these properties are good independently of god, the theist who wants to hold to the moral argument must say that these traits are good because god has them. But how is love, compassion, fairness or any other positive attribute good only because god has them? They would be good irrespective of god’s existence, as would be evident by their effects. The theist would bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that they wouldn’t be good without god, which I haven’t yet seen anyone successfully achieve. Thus I say objective moral values exist independently of god. Duties on the other hand are more tricky. I simply don’t believe in objective duties in the sense that they’re issued from some kind of cosmic police officer. Duties arise primarily from social obligations, or obligations to principle. Under secular ethical systems, we need to appeal to reason to understand our obligations to one another, not commandments. Besides, the other major hurdle that divine command theory suffers from is the epistemic problem. That is, even if people believe in god, no one is going to fully agree on what god or what version of god is the correct one, or what commands are authentic and how to properly interpret them. You’re going to be faced ultimately with moral relativism in practice, as is evident from the wide range of beliefs and practices of all religions. Thus the moral argument fails in theory and in practice.

The last major argument for god is the Ontological Argument. There are too many version of it to mention, but they all involve either claiming that if a maximally great being is possible, then it therefore must exist, or if a maximally great being is conceivable, it would be better for it to exist than not exist, and so it therefore exists. The OA fails for a number of reasons. First, given the logic backing up the OA, if god is by definition the greatest conceivable being, then I can easily conceive of a being greater than Yahweh, or Allah, or any other conceived deity, and so therefore none of these gods can exist. The OA therefore actually disproves the god of Abraham. Secondly, it presumes an objective standard by which maximal greatness can be determined and god can be measured up against, and therefore it undermined the moral argument. Thus the ontological and the moral arguments are actually incompatible with each other. And finally, I would add by saying that an omni-god is not logically compatible with the actual world, as I’ve argued above, and since a maximally great being must be compatible with every possible world, if it isn’t compatible with one world it cannot exist.

I don’t have the space here to critique all of the most prominent arguments for god, but I address most of them here, including the Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, Craig’s argument thatmath proves god’s existencepresuppositionalism and many others.

The bottom line with popular evidentialist arguments for god is this: The Kalam Cosmological Argument undermines the Moral Argument by undermining free will; the Ontological Argument undermines the Moral Argument by assuming that there’s an objective standard of maximal greatness that exists independently of god, and the Moral Argument undermines the Ontological Argument by making it circular, in that god would turn out to be the standard by which god is being determined by. Hooray for apologetics!!

3. All Religions Appear Man-made

There isn’t one single religion that has ever impressed me with a belief system and sacred text that resembled anything even remotely divinely inspired. They all appear to be the man-made products of the people living in their times. Religious texts are all internally inconsistent, they all fail to be corroborated by history and archaeology, and they all contain the flawed cosmology and superstition endemic of their day. The Bible isn’t even consistent on why suffering exists, it’s also extremely vague on the details of heaven and it contains several books in the New Testament that aren’t even considered authentic (e.g. 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, etc.). Before I did research into the authenticity of the Bible, I thought most of its stories were at least historical to some extent. To my surprise, they weren’t. Most of the Old Testament stories are entirely mythical and are backed up by no evidence at all, and what evidence we do have concerning the history of the Ancient Near East, falsifies the narrative.[7] The New Testament wasn’t written by any eyewitnesses who could have known Jesus and bears numerous signs of interpolation, alteration, geographic errors, parallels with Near Eastern mythology, and appears to be in the genre of historical fiction. The Qur’an is filled with numerous contradictions and is inconsistent not only with science but with itself. And since it claims to be the literal word of god and not just inspired by god, it therefore must be false.

Every attempt to try to twist the wording on certain verses to make it seem as if they contain scientific knowledge unknown at the time all fail. All so-called holy books contain obvious scientific inaccuracies that are often conveniently demoted to mere allegory or parable once their falsehood becomes apparent. If there was indeed an all-knowing creator who revealed himself, why would he do it in such a way that contained all the ignorance extant of that time? Why not include a few detailed verses about something like evolution, DNA or germs which no one knew about at that time? The excuses I’ve heard for this vary and are all laughable. Some theists say for example, that god wouldn’t to give us too much evidence, because then we couldn’t reject him. What?!? So god purposely makes his revelations ridiculous and unbelievable to test our faith? This is one of the stupidest excuses I’ve ever heard. It’s just an apologetic attempt to make the religion unfalsifiable by arguing that the less evidence we have and the less plausible it sounds, the more it’s got to be true. It’s not worth any intelligent person’s consideration.

Other religions like Hinduism, Mormonism and Scientology are self-evidently false to anyone with a decent education in science, philosophy and history. Buddhism and many other Eastern religions are less like religions and more like philosophies with a religious aspect, without a deity. Still, some versions of Buddhism for example contain absurd metaphysics like reincarnation that are obviously false. There are hundreds if not thousands of other world religions that share the same self-evident falsehood that Hinduism and Mormonism contains and many of them serve more as a cultural glue that bonds members of an ethnicity together, but nonetheless, all contain false beliefs left over from our superstitious nature. The only plausible worldview that contains a god to me is deism, but with deism you have a god without religion and so deism is not religious.


In Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I didn’t intend for this post to be so long. I think this post might serve best as a link I can give theists to when they ask me why I’m an atheist and I’m too lazy to write a response. I cannot go into all the reasons why I am an atheist here, but this covers most of the important ones. Christopher Hitchens said that atheism is the only position that doesn’t give him cognitive dissonance. I agree. I could never be a theist, even if I created my own religion that was ‘fine tuned’ to my liking. No theistic position allows me such pleasure. So in conclusion I want to reiterate that my atheism is concluded entirely on the evidence, which is without a doubt more compatible with naturalism over theism. I enjoy debating with theists. I enjoy taking on the most serious challenges to atheism that exist and I relish in the opportunity to refute those challenges. So far I have not come across many that aren’t made with the noticeable presupposition hidden within them that god already exists. In a sense, the theist believes in god based on a dopamine high that they get when they perform a ritual or hear an emotional religious story, and then they go out looking for ways to justify the existence of this god and their religion using unjustified leaps of logic and faith. The evidence clearly shows this to be true and thus it clearly shows theism to be false and that belief in god is a product of our minds.

References:

1. Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011) p. 63.

2. Ibid, p. 118

3. Tracking the Unconscious Generation of Free Decisions Using UItra-High Field fMRI

Bode S, He AH, Soon CS, Trampel R, Turner R, et al. (2011) Tracking the Unconscious Generation of Free Decisions Using UItra-High Field fMRI. PLoS ONE 6(6):e21612. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021612

4. Sean Carroll, “Free Will Is as Real as Baseball” Scientific AmericanLink: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/07/13/free-will-is-as-real-as-baseball/#.UpQbhcQ3vh4

5. Debate, “Life, the Universe and Nothing: Why is there something rather than nothing?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V82uGzgoajI

  • Daydreamer1

    Hi Thinker,
    I’ll read more of your comment later. Thanks for writing it and it is, as ever, a great read.

    Regarding your section on evolution. I can’t get passed the realisation that this is the trick being played and that it is only hidden in plain sight because, like a good magic trick, you need a little knowledge before it jumps out like a sore thumb.

    A physicist explains to a person the physics of a ball rolling down a slope. The slope is perfectly smooth and at a perfect 45 degree angle. He explains how the equations work and how they predict that the ball will take 3.2 seconds and follow this exact path.

    He then rolls the ball. It does not deviate even slightly from the mathematical solution – the same solution that contains no expression for any external involvement, resting only on numerical constants.

    The person then says they are a theist and that even though there was no deviation and the explanation needs only a few numbers and relationships it is proof of external intervention by an agent – it is proof of God.

    The engine behind evolution is random mutation… Well, yes, it’s a hugely important part, but there are many engines – many things that a God would need to control. I think theists like to imagine that God can just put the mutations in place and biologists won’t spot it because God can put them there so they look random, or just put the right ones in the right place at the right time. But there is so much more to evolution than that, so much more than biology even. Evolution happens in a context and a God would have to control that context too. What is it? The environment, or in this case Earth history.

    Because of the special relationship between creationism and biology in the argument over evolution the modern reader can easily miss that evolution is just as important a subject in geology. Geologists don’t need to worry about precise genetics, it is enough to know that the mechanism is there and working. Geology is a subject with a rich amount of detail regarding the relationship between the Earth and life, we need it to piece together the rock history. Because the rock history has much data we can look at the relationship between environment and evolution, and we can ask whether it looks like there has been intervention.

    This is the point where theists, when looking at a ball rolling down a slope where nothing unaccountable by the laws of nature happens jump up and down and declare that God did it.

    Where is the evidence of any God doing anything in Earth history to make this particular chain of events occur? There is none. It all looks natural. So what does that mean for theists definition of nature? Well, it looks to me that they are saying that the definition of natural is ‘God did it’. No wonder it is so hard to argue naturalism.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      DD

      I am halfway through Coyne’s superb Why Evolution is True. It’s great. But the section which is so powerful is the one on biogeography, which is the point you are getting at. It is not so much evidence from the organisms themselves, but from geography, be it distribution of organisms, or evidence of tectonic plate movements (Gondwana etc) and how that interplays with adaption and distribution.

      I will do a post on this soon.

      Any thoughts on a geology post?

      • Honest_John_Law

        Jonathan, have you had the chance to read ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies’ by Jared Diamond? If not, you might find it most interesting. Diamond has served as a professor of geography and physiology.

    • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

      If god is sovereign over all things, then he must be responsible for all natural, geological and mutational occurrences. Since climate and geography played a pivotal role that lead to our evolution, god must have been responsible for it, including the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs, and the shifting of the continents.

      There’s a simple argument that can be made for this:

      (1) God (an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent being) exists.
      (2) Natural evil exists.
      (3) God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
      (4) Natural disasters, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

      I don’t think a theist can say that “things just happen” as if god had nothing to do with the billions of years of evolution. The only excuse would be to say the devil causes natural disasters and evil, but its those very things that lead to our evolution, and the theist would then be saying that the devil guided our evolution and that our evolution wouldn’t have happened if the devil didn’t interfere! I don’t think any theist wants to take that position. So they are left with a god who designed a haphazard and cruel process, filled with at least millions of of years of conscious suffering to evolve human beings, who god could have just created instantly given his omnipotence.

      • labreuer

        Can God share his sovereignty with other beings, such that they can bear blame for bad things?

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          Why would we want to blame someone other than god for the bad things? Is the goal here to abdicate god of natural evil?

          • labreuer

            We would want a consistent way to assign blame, just like we want to do in our earthly justice systems. I see much of the Problem of Evil as divine buck-passing, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden.

            Either God is to blame for everything, or he isn’t to blame for some things. You can’t have both, and there are problems with the former.

            I have suspicions that ‘natural evil’ is merely an admission that we don’t know what caused the evil. Throw in CFW, and we can ask why we should blame people for things since they’re just very complicated ‘natural’.

            This whole situation is very muddled by CFW in my opinion. It breaks down barriers between words and concepts that I think are distinct.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            God is to blame for everything. That’s if he exists of course. I think there’s many problems with the latter option in your dichotomy. I’m not trying to have it both ways. I clearly argued that if god exists, he is responsible for all the natural evil that exists. There is no logical way out of it.

          • labreuer

            Why must natural evil be caused by God and not by other agents with the ability to be culpable? Phrased differently, how do we know that there is any such thing as ‘natural evil’?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            As mentioned before, if the classical version of God is accepted, then he is ultimately and fully responsible.

            That’s the problem with foreknowledge and knowing all counterfactuals before actualising a chosen world. Of course, there is so much wrong with the whole notion of deciding what world to create in an atemporal existence. The whole idea of God non-temporally causing a change in a state of affairs is utterly incoherent.

            God doesn’t work right from the offset.

          • labreuer

            Which classical version? I’m not sure there’s just one. And even if there is one and even if now we know it is incoherent, why is that a problem? I have no stake in the classical folks having figured everything out. I subscribe to the model-as-approximation approach: we can approach the truth, but not arrive at it.

            To be specific, we could talk about what is knowable; omniscience need only cover what is knowable, not what is unknowable. One way to get at omniscience in the Bible and what it means is to talk about what it has to mean in order for various promises etc. to make sense. That is, look at how the Bible is supposed to inform actions, and then look at what knowledge God must have in order for the Bible to be trustworthy in said informing. Saying “God knows everything” is an approximation, since ‘everything’ is a concept which is honed as we learn more and more. Have you ever wondered why Jesus called the Golden Rule a new commandment in Jn 13:34-35? Because he redefined ‘love’.

            I’ve done the above analysis a bit, and currently I believe that there is no single ‘best’ path for the future to take; part of that future is defined by the first-cause actions of agents other than God. This doesn’t mean God has allowed every logical possible state of affairs to be possible in our universe; indeed, for the Bible to have meaning, it has to say that certain logically possible states of affairs will never obtain—or at least say that the probabilities have some structure other than an uninformative prior.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            The general or classical notion of god is that of the being who possesses at least three omni-properties: all-knowing, all-capable, and all-loving, I argued in this post that such a being is logically impossible. However, theists are free to modify their notion of god however they want, and many of them have.

            Traditionally, being all-knowing meant god knows everything that is logically possible, and that almost always includes the future. To say that god doesn’t know the future would imply that god didn’t know that when he created the universe, that 14 billion years later humans would evolve – in that they might have or might not have. This makes the universe look like a science experiment for god, and one that he might have had to try several times before getting right. This portrays god as a fumbling buffoon, and certainly nothing close to a maximally great being. And if a theist concedes that then they have to concede the ontological argument. As I argued in this post, if you grant a creator, that creator must either be incompetent, indifferent or cruel. There’s no logical way out of it.

          • labreuer

            Before talking about what omniscience, omnipotence, or moral perfection are like, let’s just talk about how to define ‘love’. From the OT:

            You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:18)

            “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

            Is that the Golden Rule? If so, whence the ‘new’:?

            A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)

            The secret is that ‘love’ has been redefined. It very likely does not have ‘finite definition’. Consider what happens if I do away with your idea of ‘love’:

                 X others as you X yourself.

            What if I put in ‘hate’ instead of ‘love’ for X? Many people do hate themselves, and hating others maintains the symmetry aspect of the Golden Rule. Or I can take the selfish kind of love which C.S. Lewis sketches in Till We Have Faces.

            With the above as a background, how ought I understand omniscience? Suppose the ancients had an idea of it we now know to be problematic. Does that mean they were wrong and there is no such concept? Not necessarily. Instead, we can look at what conclusions were drawn from the divine attributes, and ask whether the same conclusions can be drawn from modified ones which aren’t problematic. I believe that this can be done—or more accurately, I’ve seen enough of this done that I believe the rest of the job is doable.

            I have observed better and worse forms of love, and I can see that the Golden Rule gets ever-better as one’s idea of ‘love’ improves. Furthermore, the symmetry imposed by the GR leads to better forms of love. I think the same can happen with our ideas of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. Furthermore, struggling with those concepts has beneficial consequences, as I argue in How can we mere mortals state what God SHOULD do?

            This makes the universe look like a science experiment for god, and one that he might have had to try several times before getting right. This portrays god as a fumbling buffoon, and certainly nothing close to a maximally great being.

            God could easily create a universe which had the potential to manifest in a plethora of ways, but not any way. He could ensure that any of the potential ways could be judged ‘good’. I see nothing remotely problematic with this formulation and it avoids all your criticism. I see no reason to suppose there is exactly one “best of all possible worlds”. Indeed, I see no way there can be, if God has granted the same determining (first-cause) power to created beings as he has (except his is infinite and ours is finite).

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Lev 19 doesn’t even define love, it just states what you should do with it. And since it is commanded, that ruins the whole purpose of love anyway. Love cannot be commanded, it must come natural. No one can command me to love you, I can only pretend to do so if I cannot bring myself to do so naturally.

            With the above as a background, how ought I understand omniscience?

            You can start by stop being vague and offer some definitions/attributes. It seems to me that you want to try to avoid many of the consequences of my post by being as vague as you can possibly be. It makes me think you’re trying to hide something.

            Suppose the ancients had an idea of it we now know to be problematic.

            Since the ancients were the ones god allegedly revealed himself to, if they got it wrong, that goes to further demonstrate that there was no god that revealed itself to anyone in ancient times.

            Instead, we can look at what conclusions were drawn from the divine attributes, and ask whether the same conclusions can be drawn from modified ones which aren’t problematic.

            I did just that. But can you offer modified divine attributes that aren’t problematic, that don’t beg a lot of questions and that aren’t vague?

            Furthermore, the symmetry imposed by the GR leads to better forms of love.

            The GR is, although I think a fine example of moral wisdom, still problematic and always will be.

            God could easily create a universe which had the potential to manifest in a plethora of ways, but not any way. He could ensure that any of the potential ways could be judged ‘good’.

            We can entertain many different scenarios an omni-god might have taken to create humans, some better, some worse. What we have is the actual world we can assess, and the way the actual world unfolded doesn’t make god look like anything judged ‘good.’

            I see nothing remotely problematic with this formulation and it avoids all your criticism.

            I don’t see how it avoids any of my criticisms. You need to flesh out a logical argument support your position and try not making it vague.

            I see no reason to suppose there is exactly one “best of all possible worlds”. Indeed, I see no way there can be, if God has granted the same determining (first-cause) power to created beings as he has (except his is infinite and ours is finite).

            I attempted to address this issue a few weeks back here: http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/11/could-god-create-best-of-all-possible.html

            I think it is logically possible to create the best of all possible worlds.

          • labreuer

            Lev 19 doesn’t even define love, it just states what you should do with it. And since it is commanded, that ruins the whole purpose of love anyway. Love cannot be commanded, it must come natural. No one can command me to love you, I can only pretend to do so if I cannot bring myself to do so naturally.

            Lev 19 actually does sketch out bits of what love includes. But yes, I think God was also working with a preexisting idea of what ‘love’ meant. That shouldn’t be a problem; people learn incrementally, from concepts they already know. I don’t think perfect love can be stated with a finite number of words; it can only be approached.

            Instead of getting into whether love can be commanded (briefly, I think the argument can be made on grounds of symmetry: if you want to be treated in a given way, treat others similarly or even better), my point is that the conception of love that Moses-era Israelites had was worse than the conception of love that Jesus’ disciples had. There was progress. We should expect the same of terms like ‘omnipotence’ and ‘omniscience’.

            You can start by stop being vague and offer some definitions/attributes.

            This is like asking me to give a complete definition of ‘love’. I can’t do it. I don’t think it’s possible. I could define omniscience as “knowing everything which is knowable”, but that just pushes the onus onto the word ‘knowable’. I could also look for all the statements in the Bible which appear to depend on God’s omniscience/omnipotence/moral perfection, and then ask how those terms would have to be defined in order for said statements to make sense. It’d be a constraint-fitting process, and it is how I understand the Bible.

            Let’s examine the “multiple possible futures” thing. God created humans in his (their) image, which I think means that humans have first-cause ability, just like God. This means that reality is co-determined by God and by humans. This means that God only partially determines reality. This means that he leaves open some subset of the possible worlds, from which human first-cause actions pick. God would obviously restrict the subset such that for any combination of human (or moral agent) first-cause actions, the resultant reality is acceptable. This still means God would have to know much less than classical versions of ‘omniscience’. Prophecies add a few more restrictions, given that it’s a bit lame if God just makes them come true by fiat, like an alien with sufficiently advanced technology taking advantage of prophecies and artificially making them come true.

            Now let’s take omnipotence. I take that to mean that God can bring about any state of affairs that is logically possible. Not all Christians have done this; some believe he could make a rock that he couldn’t lift, and then lift it. God’s moral perfection would restrict which states of affairs he would actually bring about. Some believe that there is one ‘best’ state of affairs, such that God would be forced to choose that. I don’t think this is the case, as I described above.

            Moral perfection might be the trickiest of all attributes. It depends on quite a few different things which God might value, things people tend to forget when talking about the problem of evil. An example would be the ability we humans seem to have of rationally understanding the world. Screw with that too much and intelligence might never develop. Magick intelligence into existence and that intelligence cannot understand how it came into existence. This topic is so complicated that I’ll ask you to make a separate comment if you want to dig into it.

            It makes me think you’re trying to hide something.

            Discussions like this never go well if you choose to think things like that.

            Since the ancients were the ones god allegedly revealed himself to, if they got it wrong, that goes to further demonstrate that there was no god that revealed itself to anyone in ancient times.

            This seems based on the assumption that communication is perfect. But how would an infinite being communicate an infinite concept (e.g. ‘love’) to finite beings? The only way I can think of is through successive approximation. Indeed, humans seem to derive the most satisfaction from successive approximation. It’s almost as if we were designed to “thrive on the derivative”. We start getting bored when progress peters out. The same-old, same-old provides diminishing returns, unless we continually diminish our expectations.

            Perhaps you think God should have created beings which can only ever ‘snap’ from one perfect state to another. (Or God could create beings which never change, but that has difficulties.) Perhaps a state is only perfect for a limited amount of time; then we merely say that people are forced to ‘snap’ to a more perfect state after some maximum time period. Does this at all match your thoughts? I’m doing major guesswork, here. I’m trying to ground your claim in some solid premises, instead of it being… vague. :-p

            The GR is, although I think a fine example of moral wisdom, still problematic and always will be.

            Please elaborate.

            We can entertain many different scenarios an omni-god might have taken to create humans, some better, some worse. What we have is the actual world we can assess, and the way the actual world unfolded doesn’t make god look like anything judged ‘good.’

            Before the birth of modern science, replace ‘good’ with ‘rational’.

            I think it is logically possible to create the best of all possible worlds.

            There are problems with thinking that God could ‘simulate’ worlds with beings which can do first-cause actions, and then reifiy or actualize one where all happened to make the right choices. For, what makes the simulation less real than the reification? I find that such discussions end up denying that anyone but God does first-cause actions.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            people learn incrementally, from concepts they already know.

            Would you agree with me that the biblical god is a moral compromiser who deliberately issues sub-optimal moral values in the OT?

            I think the argument can be made on grounds of symmetry: if you want to be treated in a given way, treat others similarly or even better)

            That’s not love, that’s mutual respect. There’s a difference.

            my point is that the conception of love that Moses-era Israelites had was worse than the conception of love that Jesus’ disciples had.

            That sounds like you’d agree with me that Yahweh is a moral compromiser.

            This is like asking me to give a complete definition of ‘love’. I can’t do it. I don’t think it’s possible.

            Maybe you can list what god is not capable of doing. Here’s a start: True or False? An all-loving deity is logically incompatible with gratuitous conscious suffering.

            I could define omniscience as “knowing everything which is knowable”

            Does that include divine foreknowledge?

            This means that reality is co-determined by God and by humans. This means that God only partially determines reality.

            Given divine foreknowledge, god knew exactly what free creatures would have done given every possible world. So therefore, he could have chosen particular worlds to materialize based on how much moral evil/suffering each would entail. Never mind how illogical it is to make decisions with omniscience and without time.

            This still means God would have to know much less than classical versions of ‘omniscience’.

            What are god’s hard limitations when it comes to his foreknowledge? What prevents or hinders it? Is god like weather.com whereby he can only know what will happen 7-10 days in the future and then his knowledge and predictions break down? Please explain.

            Now let’s take omnipotence.

            I have two questions about god’s omnipotence:

            1. How does a timeless god, who knows everything which is knowable, somehow ‘freely’ chose to create our world and not some other world?

            2. And how does god create time, if prior to time existing literally nothing can happen?

            Moral perfection might be the trickiest of all attributes….An example would be the ability we humans seem to have of rationally understanding the world. Screw with that too much and intelligence might never develop. Magick intelligence into existence and that intelligence cannot understand how it came into existence.

            We survived for 250,000 years not knowing about our evolutionary past. And clearly up until Darwin discovered evolution, humanity was already progressing towards a more advanced technologically civilized world. So I’m just not buying the absurd idea that we need to know about our evolution to be intelligent. I don’t see the logical connection to anything whatsoever. We would simply just think god created us as-is through a miraculous act as most Christians today already believe.

            But how would an infinite being communicate an infinite concept (e.g. ‘love’) to finite beings? The only way I can think of is through successive approximation.

            If in heaven we will finally be able to receive god’s ‘infinite’ love, why couldn’t that have taken place here on earth? I don’t see how love is infinite either. Can you logically explain how infinite love is different from finite love and why love must literally be infinite? And isn’t successive approximation tantamount to a moral compromise that I mentioned earlier?

            Please elaborate.

            Take the GR literally and you’ll easily see the problems with it.

            Before the birth of modern science, replace ‘good’ with ‘rational’.

            They both work actually just fine.

            We start getting bored when progress peters out. The same-old, same-old provides diminishing returns, unless we continually diminish our expectations.

            Just imagine how boring the infinitude of existence of heaven must be like.

            For, what makes the simulation less real than the reification?

            Couldn’t god have at least made all non-believers philosophical zombies to be annihilated upon death? Or wouldn’t a truly loving god want to choose a world with less suffering than one with more, especially since he also created the concept of hell to make sure that suffering for some would last an eternity?

          • labreuer

            Would you agree with me that the biblical god is a moral compromiser who deliberately issues sub-optimal moral values in the OT?

            I would contest your idea of what constitutes ‘optimal’.

            That’s not love, that’s mutual respect. There’s a difference.

            I desire to be loved.

            Maybe you can list what god is not capable of doing. Here’s a start: True or False? An all-loving deity is logically incompatible with gratuitous conscious suffering.

            True. And I would question what you call ‘gratuitous’.

            Does that include divine foreknowledge?

            I don’t know what can and cannot be foreknown. In all likelihood, it’s much more likely that there are probabilities, and certain configurations that reality is guaranteed to ‘pass through’.

            I also interpret some of the foreknowledge discussion in the Bible as an attempt to reassure people that God was not surprised by contemporary events, nor was he unprepared for them. That seems to be the real purpose behind positing foreknowledge. I’ve presented a way to think about things which achieves ‘not surprised’ and ‘not unprepared’, without meticulous foreknowledge of what exactly would happen. One merely needs foreknowledge of what is possible, and restricting what is possible to what is [ultimately] good.

            Given divine foreknowledge, god knew exactly what free creatures would have done given every possible world. So therefore, he could have chosen particular worlds to materialize based on how much moral evil/suffering each would entail.

            Creating a world based on what free choices would be made is indistinguishable from creating a world with the choices being predetermined. This makes me question whether those choices were actually ‘free’. For, what makes them ‘free’, in my mind, is that God didn’t get to choose them. And yet, you’re having God explicitly choose them! You can’t just slap the label ‘free’ on something; it has to mean something.

            What are god’s hard limitations when it comes to his foreknowledge? What prevents or hinders it?

            The hard limitations would be provided by God allowing other beings to be first causes of things. He could allow anywhere from none of that to virtually all of that (he would still have to initially create).

            1. How does a timeless god, who knows everything which is knowable, somehow ‘freely’ chose to create our world and not some other world?

            2. And how does god create time, if prior to time existing literally nothing can happen?

            1. I imagine it’s somewhat similar to us imagining various different courses of action we could take, what the results would be, how others’ choices might change the results, and then picking one. Some people try and keep others’ choices from affecting the result, while others are happy to integrate others’ choices as the future unfolds.

            2. Events can be logically dependent without time. More than that, I’m not sure how to answer. I generally just assume it’s possible somehow, just like I assume plenty of other black boxes work.

            So I’m just not buying the absurd idea that we need to know about our evolution to be intelligent.

            Ok, suppose that intelligent beings were just magicked onto the scene. Can they create other intelligent beings? How? By somehow just wishing them into existence, without knowing how that intelligence works? We understand more about intelligence because of our knowledge of evolution. Are you ok sacrificing that knowledge? I claim it would make us… less intelligent. I probably erred in saying that “intelligence might never develop”, for we can always posit last-Thursdayism or something.

            If in heaven we will finally be able to receive god’s ‘infinite’ love, why couldn’t that have taken place here on earth? I don’t see how love is infinite either. Can you logically explain how infinite love is different from finite love and why love must literally be infinite? And isn’t successive approximation tantamount to a moral compromise that I mentioned earlier?

            Part of what characterizes those who end up in heaven is their memories. Do you want to posit that those memories be false? That seems somehow bad. The Bible says all sorts of things about all things coming to light—the truth finally being made known—in the end. You’re possibly advocating kind of the opposite. There would be falsehoods that we’d never know as falsehoods. Or we’d find that it’s ok to believe false things. That seems… weird.

            As to how to define love with a finite number of words, I’d merely suggest trying it. Don’t merely punt to a different word in your definition. I was careful to note that I was punting, for example, when I said that “omniscience := knowing all that is knowable” punts to ‘knowable’.

            I don’t think successive approximation is “tantamount to a moral compromise”. Actions can be correct when based on sufficiently good approximations. Consider how F = ma is a wonderful approximation for many situations. And it isn’t necessarily bad to find out that it doesn’t work in some areas: scientists love to discover new things. The process of successive approximation is only really bad when there is too much suffering—when people get ‘stuck’ on one approximation well past where it was sufficient.

            Take the GR literally and you’ll easily see the problems with it.

            If I define ‘love’ as “promote a future for the person that he/she will self-evaluate to be ‘better’ in that future”, I’m not sure I see the problems with it. If I add in some “make the person self-evaluate as feeling ‘loved’ in a nontrivial way”, I still don’t see problems. There are most definitely problems when one removes ‘self-evaluate’, but I myself don’t like it when others decide what I should experience as ‘loving’. If I pretend that other people are like me when I love them, I am doing something that I don’t like when others, who are different from me, do to me. So I’m not “easily see[ing] the problems”, except in a degenerate form of the GR which application of the GR can solve.

            Just imagine how boring the infinitude of existence of heaven must be like.

            Not if there is an infinite amount of reality to explore. Who says science will ever end? Who says that learning how to love others better will ever end? The Bible says precious little about heaven.

            Couldn’t god have at least made all non-believers philosophical zombies to be annihilated upon death? Or wouldn’t a truly loving god want to choose a world with less suffering than one with more, especially since he also created the concept of hell to make sure that suffering for some would last an eternity?

            If you want to pursue p-zombies, let’s do that over there. If you want to talk about ‘less suffering’, let’s cut to the chase and ask how much less: do you really mean zero suffering? And I’m not so certain about hell lasting for an eternity, or at least that the total amount of suffering is infinite (there do exist infinite, convergent series). Suppose that God forever tries to convince you to go to heaven, shaving bits off of what makes you ‘you’ every time you refuse, hoping that at some point the resultant ‘you’ will accede? There are all sorts of possibilities. It’s silly to insist that it must look like X, find a problem with X, and then dismiss the idea on that basis.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I would contest your idea of what constitutes ‘optimal’.

            Usually when theists make the moral argument they say god is morally perfect so his commandments are morally perfect as well. Are you saying that every commandment god has given us was morally perfect and could not be improved upon in any way? Not by man or machine? Or do you think god deliberately gave moral commands that were not perfect knowing perfectly well they would lead to suffering like slavery, killing homosexuals and so forth?

            I desire to be loved.

            Great, just don’t command to be loved. Therein lies the difference.

            True. And I would question what you call ‘gratuitous’.

            Gratuitous is defined as “uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted.” Saying that millions of years of haphazard evolution was justified because now we’ve got a great story to enjoy is like saying the 60 million people that were slaughtered in WW2 was all worth it because now we get to enjoy all these amazing movies and documentaries about it.

            One merely needs foreknowledge of what is possible, and restricting what is possible to what is [ultimately] good.

            Your whole paragraph was vague. You want it both ways; you want to have your cake and eat it too. Does divine foreknowledge include ALL future events, even the ones made by “free” creatures? And if not, why?

            Creating a world based on what free choices would be made is indistinguishable from creating a world with the choices being predetermined.

            Therein lies part of the problem. Interestingly, it is usually atheists who claim that divine foreknowledge prevents free will. Given Christianity, there is a possible world in which everyone individually would go to hell give the right set of circumstances beyond our control. So if god materializes the world he knows we will end up in hell in, then it is perfectly reasonable to ask if we had any choice in this matter. But this adds to the atheist’s arsenal, not the Christians. Unless, I suppose, you’re a Calvinist.

            You can’t just slap the label ‘free’ on something; it has to mean something.

            I agree. But the greater challenge to you is to reconcile the above notion with free will and divine foreknowledge and god’s alleged moral perfection and omnibenevolence.

            The hard limitations would be provided by God allowing other beings to be first causes of things.

            But god would have designed the environmental and genetic predispositions too that these so-called “first cause” agents have. Anyone can go to hell, given the right scenario.

            1. I imagine it’s somewhat similar to us imagining various different courses of action we could take, what the results would be, how others’ choices might change the results, and then picking one. Some people try and keep others’ choices from affecting the result, while others are happy to integrate others’ choices as the future unfolds.

            But we are finite beings, who are temporal and who are indecisive. That’s why you can say “it’s somewhat similar to us imagining various different courses of action we could take.” Your whole explanation presupposes that god is temporal and indecisive. Do you then concede that the omni-god is logically impossible?

            2. Events can be logically dependent without time. More than that, I’m not sure how to answer. I generally just assume it’s possible somehow, just like I assume plenty of other black boxes work.

            It’s a really tough question. I applaud you for trying. But I think you’ve failed. In math for example, there are logical axioms that do not depend of time but they are not events. Here we’re talking about the creation of time, which would obviously involve time. To say god exists logically prior to time turns him into an abstract object like a number, but includes that god can do things, unlike numbers, which requires time. Plus if you concede god’s omni-properties you concede the ontological argument, and so you cannot argue god as a necessary being.

            Ok, suppose that intelligent beings were just magicked onto the scene. Can they create other intelligent beings? How? By somehow just wishing them into existence, without knowing how that intelligence works?

            No. It doesn’t logically conclude that if humans were *poofed* into existence using magic that we wouldn’t be able to intelligently design machines. The proof of that is that the industrial revolution started decades before Darwin’s theory was known by anybody. So this explanation is dead on arrival.

            I claim it would make us… less intelligent.

            I was just debating a Christian who said evolution has never aided our knowledge of anything and that it’s a worthless “theory.” So now I’m hearing from another Christian that we absolutely need it to learn more. Again, talk about being all over the map! You’re right at least in that knowing of evolution helps us, but that’s because it’s the truth. If evolution weren’t true, it wouldn’t help us. So your argument is circular: evolution is needed for us to become more intelligent through our knowledge of evolution. Totally circular. If evolution never occurred, we wouldn’t need knowledge of it and we could still design machines. It’s only because it is a fact of nature that it helps us. Please try to think your logic over more closely.

            Part of what characterizes those who end up in heaven is their memories. Do you want to posit that those memories be false?

            Then how can one enjoy heaven if they will remember the horrors they and others have endured for eternity and with the knowledge that billions of people will be suffering in hell?

            As to how to define love with a finite number of words,

            I don’t think love is infinite so I don’t have to.

            I don’t think successive approximation is “tantamount to a moral compromise”. Actions can be correct when based on sufficiently good approximations. Consider how F = ma is a wonderful approximation for many situations. And it isn’t necessarily badto find out that it doesn’t work in some areas:

            More failed logic. F=MA was an approximation because we are finite beings with limited knowledge. We would never deliberately teach students the wrong formula as being right IF we knew the right formula. That’s called lying. When it comes to moral values it’s a whole other ball game. That god deliberately gave us morals that “work in some areas” is tantamount to evil when considering people were tortured and killed over his “successive approximations.”

            If I define ‘love’ as “promote a future for the person that he/she will self-evaluate to be ‘better’ in that future”, I’m not sure I see the problems with it.

            So you fully support things like gay marriage?

            Not if there is an infinite amount of reality to explore. Who says science will ever end? Who says that learning how to love others better will ever end? The Bible says precious little about heaven.

            Wouldn’t exploring itself become boring, after say a trillion years? And your answer presupposes that actual infinities can exist.

            If you want to pursue p-zombies, let’s do that over there. If you want to talk about ‘less suffering’, let’s cut to the chase and ask how much less: do you really mean zero suffering?

            i’d prefer to do that over here on my post where you read and then criticize my argument that a best of all worlds is logically possible; http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/11/could-god-create-best-of-all-possible.html

          • labreuer

            Usually when theists make the moral argument they say god is morally perfect so his commandments are morally perfect as well.

            I don’t think morally perfect commandments can be encoded in a finite number of words. This is why the ‘letter of the law’ can only ever sketch out the ‘spirit of the law’. That’s a pretty central message to the Bible IMHO. It’s often stated as works vs. faith, but what do those two terms mean? What we do is obviously important; Jesus says “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” But it can’t just be appearances, it has to be deep-down. Good works must arise from the core of our being, from that heart of flesh Ezekiel talks about. But it’s more than that: being finite beings, we have to continually grow our idea of what reality is like and how to act. One option to is to blunder around reality with no guidance. Another is to be constantly listening for God’s guidance. That ‘constant listening’ is faith. A heart of flesh can listen and continually grow. A heart of stone is static and dead.

            Or do you think god deliberately gave moral commands that were not perfect knowing perfectly well they would lead to suffering like slavery, killing homosexuals and so forth?

            I reject the premise that without the moral commands God gave, there would have been less total suffering. Now, this isn’t quite right, given Rom 7:13. But it’s possible to settle into a way of life that is at a local optimum, such that deviating from it in any direction will increase suffering, even if the ultimate destination is less suffering.

            Great, just don’t command to be loved. Therein lies the difference.

            What’s the difference between a ‘request’ and a ‘command’, if neither is compelled? You seem stuck on the word ‘command’ for some reason. You’re missing the if; see Mt 16:24, for example. Or look at how God pleads with Israel in Ezek 18. God is clearly giving people the choice to obey his commands or not. The fact that there are consequences to disobeying is kind of like saying there are consequences to disobeying the command to not put your hand in the bucket of acid.

            Your whole paragraph was vague. You want it both ways; you want to have your cake and eat it too. Does divine foreknowledge include ALL future events, even the ones made by “free” creatures? And if not, why?

            I don’t have a precise definition of divine foreknowledge; I was quite clear on this. I have explained that to the extent that foreknowledge is needed for the Bible to make sense, there exists a kind which does not fall prey to the criticisms of omniscience of which I am aware.

            In my opinion, divine foreknowledge does not include knowing what free choices will be made. It includes knowledge of all possible combinations of the free choices which are allowed. That’d be like designing a tall fence and allowing your kids to go anywhere the fence allows. You don’t know exactly what path they’ll take, but you know it’ll be alright.

            Therein lies part of the problem.

            Unless you say that God doesn’t know what choices free beings will make, but can restrict them appropriately. Viz, he could restrict them such that no gratuitous evils are allowed to exist. This is actually one of the differences between a world with an omni-god and one without an omni-god. It is made messy by my belief that we humans are part of the system to ensure that an evil is not gratuitous.

            But god would have designed the environmental and genetic predispositions too that these so-called “first cause” agents have.

            Predispositions don’t guarantee certain actions. We can fight our genes; Dawkins and Pinker advocating doing exactly that.

            Anyone can go to hell, given the right scenario.

            This is not clear. What about those religious folks who insist on believing despite any and all evidence? What would make those folks go to hell?

            Your whole explanation presupposes that god is temporal and indecisive.

            No, it doesn’t. It is an attempt to maintain some connection between how we know things are done, and how God would do things. Sever that connection and you have an omni-wand, which lets you say God could do anything and have no responsibility for explaining how he might do that ‘anything’.

            To say god exists logically prior to time turns him into an abstract object like a number

            Here, you’ve exposed what you think is ‘real’ and what you think is not. I do not accept your ontology.

            The proof of that is that the industrial revolution started decades before Darwin’s theory was known by anybody.

            I don’t understand what you mean by this. The industrial revolution never created anything remotely as complex as a single cell, not to mention organisms and ecosystems. Some of the time, when NASA wants to create a better antenna on one of its spacecraft, it uses an evolutionary algorithm. At some point, we might find evolutionary algorithms absolutely critical for designing systems more complex than some finite amount of complexity. There is evidence of this in systems science; I can quote a bit from the book Systemantics if you’d like.

            I was just debating a Christian who said evolution has never aided our knowledge of anything and that it’s a worthless “theory.” So now I’m hearing from another Christian that we absolutely need it to learn more. Again, talk about being all over the map!

            Who cares? I initially decided not to post the following paragraph, but given that you keep complaining about this ‘all over the map’ business:

            I could whine that atheists are all over the map, too. It would, I think, be as fruitless as your whining, unless you found it cathartic. We both know that people often reason from what they want to some philosophy or theology to support it. The fact that you’re voicing surprise here—or anything other than run of the mill ordinary—seems somehow wrong.

            It’s almost as if you’re complaining that Christians are too complex for your stereotype of them. I’m going to choose to think better of you, but say that you’re getting close to being well-modeled by that description.

            If evolution weren’t true, it wouldn’t help us.

            False. Evolution is a way to search a solution space. It would be useful to know about even if organisms hadn’t evolved. It is a mathematical property of reality that many systems come in discretized components that can be mixed and matched to perform various functions, and there is a kind of ‘continuity’ in this mixing and matching. Phrased differently, evolution is a way to intelligently guess.

            Then how can one enjoy heaven if they will remember the horrors they and others have endured for eternity and with the knowledge that billions of people will be suffering in hell?

            This is a question that has vexed Christians for a long time. The answer seems to require an evil God or libertarian free will, incoherent though it may seem. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is instructive. Note how the rich man treated Lazarus as a sub-human slave both while on earth and while in hell. He never learned how that is a dick way to treat people. Some people, sadly, seem to always choose the bad way of treating people, despite any and all evidence that is presented to them. Some will complain that God could have made that person differently—denying LFW—I do not. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer than this. I don’t think about this question often; it doesn’t particularly seem to bear on day to day life very much.

            I don’t think love is infinite so I don’t have to.

            I would imagine that more and more complex beings would have more and more complex ways to love. I see no upper bound to this. I think humans can become more and more complex beings, if they properly support each other in this process.

            More failed logic.

            It is fascinating how you have an apparent need to demean me. (relevant xkcd) You have an apparent need to blame the problems in the conversation 100% on me. You might think about this tendency of yours. It’s often claimed to be a religious tendency. Instead of supposing that maybe you haven’t understood me correctly, you immediately jump to the conclusion that I’m the one who is wrong. It’s a fundamentalist mindset.

            F=MA was an approximation because we are finite beings with limited knowledge. We would never deliberately teach students the wrong formula as being right IF we knew the right formula.

            You seem to think there is a ‘right formula’, one that can be completely described to a finite being in a finite amount of time. I do not. I think that ever-better approximations are all that we finite beings will ever have.

            When it comes to moral values it’s a whole other ball game.

            I completely disagree. I think there is both scientific research as well as moral research. People are only capable of so much moral improvement at a time. You seem to think otherwise, and I don’t know why.

            So you fully support things like gay marriage?

            I don’t know. I think written law ought to be pretty conservative, allowing for the possibility of a lot of self-harm, with the benefit of discovering new ways to thrive. Maybe the Bible really was criticizing very certain kinds of homosexuality, or homosexuality in a time where STDs were a huge problem, or homosexuality in a time when having as many babies as possible was critical for a nation’s survival. I don’t know. I have plenty to work toward that I don’t expend much energy on gay marriage. I’ll let others do that and I won’t oppose them.

            Wouldn’t exploring itself become boring, after say a trillion years? And your answer presupposes that actual infinities can exist.

            I’m not so sure it would become boring. Yes my model does presuppose that things can be infinitely complex, but if it is indistinguishable from other models, then you don’t have much of a basis to criticize it. What’s the difference between “the universe is infinitely complex” and “the universe is finitely complex, but we’ll never get close to that level of understanding”? The only difference, at this point in time, is purely metaphysical.

            i’d prefer to do that over here on my post where you read and then criticize my argument that a best of all worlds is logically possible

            I sufficiently dislike the WordPress comment system that I think I’m going to decline commenting on your blog. You’ll notice that Disqus lets you respond directly to any post, and makes it easy to see which post is being responded to. When I get embroiled in huge discussions like we’re having now, I very much like having that feature. Sorry. :-(

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Another is to be constantly listening for God’s guidance.

            And in doing so man created thousands of religions and over 40 thousand Christian denominations. Clearly not the best method.

            But it’s possible to settle into a way of life that is at a local optimum, such that deviating from it in any direction will increase suffering, even if the ultimate destination is less suffering.

            Do you really think that god’s morality in the bible is better than any moral value or theory that man can come up with?

            In my opinion, divine foreknowledge does not include knowing what free choices will be made.

            What prevents god from knowing this? I mean the universe is quantum mechanical and QM is deterministic. Even software programs can predict our actions by data mining our behavior patterns. I doubt god, who knows everything true about the universe down to every quark, should have difficulty know our future behaviors and choices.

            It is made messy by my belief that we humansare part of the system to ensure that an evil is not gratuitous.

            So millions of years of suffering was all made worth it because of humans?

            Predispositions don’t guarantee certain actions. We can fight our genes; Dawkins and Pinker advocating doing exactly that.

            What free choices does a severely mentally handicapped person have who is incapable of making moral decisions have? How does that fit into your theodicy?

            This is not clear. What about those religious folks who insist on believing despite any and all evidence? What would make those folks go to hell?

            Easy. Imagine they were born into a non-Christian faith and they hold to that faith on faith despite any evidence to the contrary, like presuppositionalists do.

            No, it doesn’t. It is an attempt to maintain some connection between how we know things are done, and how God would do things. Sever that connection and you have an omni-wand, which lets you say God could do anything and have no responsibility for explaining how he might do that ‘anything’.

            That’s what makes it illogical. And yes you do presuppose a temporal and indecisive god. How does god “pick” a world if he is timeless and omniscient?

            Here, you’ve exposed what you think is ‘real’ and what you think is not. I do not accept your ontology.

            So what’s your ontology? Are you a platonist?

            he industrial revolution never created anything remotely as complex as a single cell, not to mention organisms and ecosystems.

            That’s irrelevant and as never my intention. We were building machines before evolution was known about. To say millions of years of conscious suffering was all so that we could have evolved antennae and similar technology makes your theodicy preposterous. Listen to yourself. Is this what you have to believe to resolve this issue?

            It’s almost as if you’re complaining that Christians are too complex for your stereotype of them.

            I just find it interesting that the same religion can have views in it that are polar opposites that the other deems so significant that they think the other christian’s view might falsify the religion itself.

            It would be useful to know about even if organisms hadn’t evolved.

            Possibly. I don’t see that justifying millions of years of conscious suffering though. I’m sure all those beings who suffered and died
            would be jumping with joy to know how much their misery is helping us create better antennas.

            I don’t think about this question often; it doesn’t particularly seem to bear on day to day life very much.

            Well I do. I’m a thinker. Your failure to answer this, and the failures of every other theist to give a plausible explanation lead me to think heaven is not practical.

            It is fascinating how you have an apparent need to demean me.

            Sorry. Sometimes I just need to cut to the chase.

            People are only capable of so much moral improvement at a time. You seem to think otherwise, and I don’t know why.

            So the Israelites were unable to know a few basic common humane values, like slavery and killing homosexuals was wrong? I’m sorry, but compare that with my explanation that the bible is man made and contains the ignorance of the time it was written in and honestly tell me that your explanation is more plausible, given what we know know in terms of ethics and science.

          • labreuer

            And in doing so man created thousands of religions and over 40 thousand Christian denominations. Clearly not the best method.

            Honestly, until you demonstrate your ‘better method’ by acting in the world, I’m gonna remain skeptical. I’ve just run into way too many people who thought they could do it a better way until they tried. And that’s the point, right? To have the best method for improving things. That’s what really matters. That’s the true test. Anyone can complain about how things are. Many fewer can do something positive about it.

            Do you really think that god’s morality in the bible is better than any moral value or theory that man can come up with?

            To be logically consistent, I only need to hold that it was the optimal way to pull a specific nation forward along the moral scale, at a specific time, in a specific place, with specific socioeconomical conditions, with a specific moral aptitude. You seem to think that OT law needs to be valid forever; I do not.

            What prevents god from knowing this?

            I’m one of those who believes that God is beholden to the rules of logic and associated abstract things. Or he is those things, if you want to get weird. Jesus being the Logos is a bit weird. The world being created through him seems somewhat similar to the world being created through a set of laws.

            Anyhow, I think that it makes sense for God to be able to create beings able to be first-causes, such that he doesn’t determine what they choose. That makes sense to me. Something which seems to necessarily go along for the ride is that he can’t control what they choose, in any way, shape or form, no matter what verbal artifice you try to raise that obscures God de facto determining their actions.

            I suppose you can pick between omnipotence and omniscience, on this one. Although I still buy my previous argument on the matter—that you need to take the limit of all attributes at once, instead of one-by-one. So maybe it’s just a law of logic that “prevents god from knowing this”.

            So millions of years of suffering was all made worth it because of humans?

            I would not be nearly so arrogant to say that we are the only beneficiaries, and maybe human civilization will last in some form for quadrillions of years, making a few billion seem like a drop in a bucket. Who knows. I don’t need to know this with anything approaching [virtual] certainty for me to act and believe as I do.

            What free choices does a severely mentally handicapped person have who is incapable of making moral decisions have?

            Such a person probably goes to heaven. I don’t know, though. How is my opinion on this supposed to affect how I think/act? You have so many questions, and yet it’s not clear that they’re really targeted toward better thinking and acting in the world. At least some of them seem to be the “find the flaw in the other person’s system” game. I know that game very well; I went to an elite university with lots of nerds who played it all of the time. It can be fun, but it often doesn’t go anywhere.

            Easy. Imagine they were born into a non-Christian faith and they hold to that faith on faith despite any evidence to the contrary, like presuppositionalists do.

            So if you are wrong, you get the consequences of being wrong. What’s your point? Are you saying that God demands that we follow him irrationally?

            That’s what makes it illogical.

            Ok, you’re back to trying to sum up the positive terms of the alternating harmonic series, then summing up the negative terms, and then trying to add the two infinities. If you want to say that if this cannot be done, the series converges, you go for it.

            How does god “pick” a world if he is timeless and omniscient?

            I don’t know. You certainly seem to think he can.

            So what’s your ontology? Are you a platonist?

            No; I think matter and energy are to meaning and value what letters are to words and stories. It’s the higher order structures which can be constructed which really matter. Precisely how they are constructed is interesting on one level, and not at another. What really matters is the interaction of rational, free beings. Said differently, precisely which programming language is used is very much unimportant if you’re just doing an algorithmic analysis.

            We are not ‘just’ particles and fields; particles and fields are ‘just’ the way we’re represented/constructed.

            That’s irrelevant and as never my intention. We were building machines before evolution was known about. To say millions of years of conscious suffering was all so that we could have evolved antennae and similar technology makes your theodicy preposterous. Listen to yourself. Is this what you have to believe to resolve this issue?

            You act as if I didn’t believe this—if I didn’t come to some belief in this area—that my faith would utterly crumble. Maybe if you were to try and empathize with me, to put yourself in my shoes, your faith would crumble. But this is just a failure to empathize. I can play with ideas like this without becoming ultra-emotionally/spiritually-invested in them.

            But I’m going to agree with you in this way: if humanity were to nuke itself into oblivion along with the rest of the planet, I think it all would be a gratuitous evil. If there is no future, no way to redeem the evil of the past, the evil is truly gratuitous.

            Possibly. I don’t see that justifying millions of years of conscious suffering though. I’m sure all those beings who suffered and died would be jumping with joy to know how much their misery is helping us create better antennas.

            Are you listening to yourself? It’s like creating better antennae is the be-all and end-all of human-utilized evolution instead of merely the beginning. Good grief!

            Your failure to answer this, and the failures of every other theist to give a plausible explanation lead me to think heaven is not practical.

            Except that aren’t we trying to make reality a bit more like heaven—whatever it’s like—every day? Sure, we don’t have a fucking clue what it’ll really be like, except for ‘better’ and ‘not hurt so much’. But does that matter? Are you really going to dismiss that we’re heading toward something, because that something cannot be described well? I suppose that you can be a nominalist in this way, but it seems frivolous to insist that people think like this. Problems happen when people think they’ve arrived at the destination, when people say they’ve reached Final Knowledge. Not when they have a good sense of what’s ‘better’ and what’s ‘worse’.

            So the Israelites were unable to know a few basic common humane values, like slavery and killing homosexuals was wrong?

            History shows that people were perfectly happy to tolerate slavery for generations, so…

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Honestly, until you demonstrate your ‘better method’ by acting in the world, I’m gonna remain skeptical.

            Easy. Critical thinking using reason and evidence, science and logic all while being mindful of our confirmation biases and tendencies to see agency and patterns that aren’t there. Apply your skepticism to your own faith.

            You seem to think that OT law needs to be valid forever; I do not.

            I understand the Christian view it was temporary. But it could have been better. The Babylonians had a more humane code. God is a moral compromiser it seems you agree.

            I think that it makes sense for God to be able to create beings able to be first-causes, such that he doesn’t determine what they choose. That makes sense to me.

            God could still know their decisions without having determined them.

            So maybe it’s just a law of logic that “prevents god from knowing this”.

            So you’re telling me I can use this as a knock-down argument against any other theist who makes the claim that god knows what we will do? Is the logic that tight?

            I would not be nearly so arrogant to say that we are the only beneficiaries, and maybe human civilization will last in some form for quadrillions of years, making a few billion seem like a drop in a bucket. Who knows.

            Christianity is so arrogant as to say that we, humans, are the only beneficiaries. Nowhere in tradition Christianity does it say otherwise. So your claim can be made against your own faith, which for some reason you seem adamant at defending. I’m just taking what Christianity says and running with it. Don’t call me arrogant for doing so. And no, we cannot continue on for quadrillions of years in this form, evolution won’t allow it.

            Such a person probably goes to heaven. I don’t know, though.

            So then, the easiest way into heaven is to be born retarded. It’s a get out of hell free card. I ask questions because you’re vague. Sorry if I need more info.

            So if you are wrong, you get the consequences of being wrong. What’s your point? Are you saying that God demands that we follow him irrationally?

            Some Christians do believe we ought to follow god despite the evidence to the contrary. My point was I gave you a valid example of “religious folks who insist on believing despite any and all evidence”. How did I fail at answering your question?

            If you want to say that if this cannot be done, the series converges, you go for it.

            Sorry, but I dont care enough to make sense of this.

            I don’t know. You certainly seem to think he can.

            No, I argue he can’t. That why I argued “God is Not a Fully Coherent Concept”. Please read my post again.

            If there is no future, no way to redeem the evil of the past, the evil is truly gratuitous.

            My argument is that nothing in the future can justify that natural evil of the past since there was no logically necessary reason for it to occur in the first place.

            Are you listening to yourself? It’s like creating better antennae is the be-all and end-all of human-utilized evolution instead of merely the beginning.

            Again, my argument is that nothing in the future can justify that natural evil of the past since there was no logically necessary reason for it to occur in the first place.

            History shows that people were perfectly happy to tolerate slavery for generations, so…

            Because they are finite beings that bare the stamp of their lowly origin. God doesn’t.

          • LukeBreuer

            Easy. Critical thinking using reason and evidence, science and logic all while being mindful of our confirmation biases and tendencies to see agency and patterns that aren’t there. Apply your skepticism to your own faith.

            I have.

            The Babylonians had a more humane code.

            Hammurabi’s code required fugitive slaves to be returned to their masters. Torah prohibits this. But lest we get mired in lots and lots of details, would you describe what evidence you have gathered, which you summed up with ‘more humane’?

            God is a moral compromiser it seems you agree.

            If you think there is a difference between “moral compromiser” and “gave morality which would be maximally effective”, then I disagree. If you merely mean “didn’t communicate perfection”, then I agree, for reasons I’ve already stated.

            God could still know their decisions without having determined them.

            For reasons I have stated, I completely disagree. Either the being has already been created and has made the decisions which God didn’t determine, or the being has not been created, and has not yet made any decisions. I reject the idea of an in-between being, which has made decisions but is not yet ‘real’.

            So you’re telling me I can use this as a knock-down argument against any other theist who makes the claim that god knows what we will do? Is the logic that tight?

            I think it’s a choice between first-cause freedom and foreknowledge; I don’t think you can have both. I don’t think you can have God imagining a given being’s first-cause, free choices without those choices being real. If you’re choosing which beings to reify based on what choices they’ll make, you’re not reifying first-cause, free beings.

            Which you choose is up to you, so I don’t think this is “a knock-down argument”. That you use such a phrase is… interesting.

            Christianity is so arrogant as to say that we, humans, are the only beneficiaries. Nowhere in tradition Christianity does it say otherwise.

            Is this the “will there be puppies in heaven?” question? How do you define ‘beneficiary’? Maybe I’m weird in thinking that Jesus’ sayings apply to all rational, sentient, sapient beings, and that these beings are to take care of the rest of creation, as Adam and Eve were commanded to do. You know that whole “tending the garden” thing?

            And no, we cannot continue on for quadrillions of years in this form, evolution won’t allow it.

            Hence why I said “last in some form“. Should I say “left a living descendant” instead?

            Some Christians do believe we ought to follow god despite the evidence to the contrary. My point was I gave you a valid example of “religious folks who insist on believing despite any and all evidence”. How did I fail at answering your question?

            This started off with you saying “Anyone can go to hell, given the right scenario.” You hardly demonstrated that. Are you aware of middle knowledge, and its problems?

            Furthermore, why does it matter what “Some Christians” believe? What most atheists believe is irrelevant; I’m talking you you, an atheist with specific beliefs.

            Sorry, but I dont care enough to make sense of this.

            Too bad; convergent and divergent series is fun stuff.

            Again, my argument is that nothing in the future can justify that natural evil of the past since there was no logically necessary reason for it to occur in the first place.

            “Because I cannot think of a logically necessary reason, there must not be one.” I disagree. And I don’t have to become a skeptical theist in order to do so.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Because:

            (1) God (an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent being) exists.
            (2) Natural evil exists.
            (3) God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
            (4) Natural disasters, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

            Natural evil is simply just suffering that exists and that is inflicted by anything other than humans. Where exactly do you think this argument goes wrong?

          • labreuer

            Who says (2) is true? Why ought I conclude (2) instead of not-(2)? You’re assuming that there exist no moral agents other than humans and God, who influence reality.

            You could play the burden-of-proof card, in which case I would respond that I need there to be a solution for there to be this thing called ‘moral order’ or ‘moral lawfulness’, and I believe that sometimes belief must precede the evidence. I think this very mechanism of preceding belief was required for modern science to take off, except they had to tentatively believe that the physical world was ‘lawful’ or ‘ordered’.

            A complicating piece of my belief is that I’m not sure there is a limit on the time that injustice can occur before it is dealt with somehow. For example, oppressed peoples tend to rebel or otherwise fight back after some time period—often a time period exceeding a single generation. It’s almost as if a potential energy builds up the longer they are oppressed, getting released at some point. But who is to say that societies cannot structure themselves so that said potential energy cannot be pent up to higher and higher levels? This introduces a probabilistic or statistical element to any “moral order”, but there’s no problem with that; physical reality has this characteristic as well. Quantum fluctuations are a fun place to look: the balance or equilibrium can be disturbed, but only for a time.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Who says (2) is true? Why ought I conclude (2) instead of not-(2)? You’re assuming that there exist no moral agents other than humans and God, who influence reality.

            Which moral agents could be responsible for earthquakes, infectious diseases, tsunamis etc.?

            I think this very mechanism of preceding belief was required for modern science to take off, except they had to tentatively believe that the physical world was ‘lawful’ or ‘ordered’.

            Believing in patterns / laws / order preceded science (even under the most broad possible definition of “science”) by a very long time – it is as old as humanity is, or rather older even then than humanity, because our brains are naturally wired to try to find patterns everywhere, even where there are none to be found. “Science”, in a modern sense, was not based on trying to find laws / pattern, we already did that anyway, what made science possible was the discovery of methods to distinguish meaningful patterns from apophenia.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            As Michael Shermer writes, “The problem we face is that superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old, whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old.”

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Happy New Year mate!

          • Andy_Schueler

            Happy new year to you as well!

          • labreuer

            Nice to see you again. :-) FYI, your last big comment was somehow moderated, so that I couldn’t respond to it (Disqus gave me an error).

            Which moral agents could be responsible for earthquakes, infectious diseases, tsunamis etc.?

            To the extent that the naturalistic (by which I mean natural law-abiding) evolution of intelligence did not require these things to happen as they did, I’m positing a dark matter analog.

            Believing in patterns / laws / order preceded science (even under the most broad possible definition of “science”) by a very long time

            Perhaps, but how do we deal with the gods and Fates being (a) fickle; and (b) in control of how much of reality works? What is being done is belief in lawfulness to an extent, with the rest being unpredictable. It is my understanding that many philosophical systems posit rationality up to a point, with the ‘overflow’—the things which cannot be explained by a given system—being relegated to irrationality. Gödel proved that this had to happen, to the extent that a given system says it explains all of reality, for realities with certain basic characteristics.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Nice to see you again. :-)

            Same here ;-).

            FYI, your last big comment was somehow moderated, so that I couldn’t respond to it (Disqus gave me an error).

            Yup, the comment also didn´t show up in my DISQUS dashboard (it does now though, so the issue – whatever it was (too long for Disqus? :-D ) – might have been fixed)

            To the extent that the naturalistic (by which I mean natural law-abiding) evolution of intelligence did not require these things to happen as they did, I’m positing a dark matter analog.

            Erm.. can you rephrase that somehow? I cannot parse this :-D

            It is my understanding that many philosophical systems posit rationality up to a point, with the ‘overflow’—the things which cannot be explained by a given system—being relegated to irrationality.

            I don´t see how the truth (or falsehood) of such a claim could be known a priori.

            Gödel proved that this had to happen, to the extent that a given system says it explains all of reality, for realities with certain basic characteristics.

            Gödel didn´t even try to show that for the real world, but rather for formal systems. Some analog of the incompleteness theorems might apply in the sciences, but this would look very different from Gödel´s incompleteness theorems for formal systems.
            I think that the Münchhausen trilemma demonstrates something very similar for science as the second incompleteness theorem demonstrates for formal systems (in the sense that a final proof of the completeness of a given body of scientific knowledge is impossible, in principle). And an analog to the first incompleteness theorem might be the hypothetical existence of spacetimes that are causally disconnected from ours (if they exist, or used to exist, then there would be true claims about these spacetimes – but we could never demonstrate the truth of those claims).

          • labreuer

            Erm.. can you rephrase that somehow?

            Dark matter is posited in order to make a model complete. Without dark matter, there are inexplicable discrepancies. Natural evils are likewise inexplicable discrepancies. Some will say, “Whoops, your model must be irreparably false!” Some do that with dark matter (e.g. MoND), but many are happy to continue working with GR as-is by positing dark matter. I choose to do the same with there being a moral order to the universe, despite apparent violations.

            I don´t see how the truth (or falsehood) of such a claim could be known a priori.

            I’m not sure I’ve understood what you’re saying, but I’m gonna give it a shot. :-p There seem to be two general categories of philosophical system:

                 (I) rationalistic, valuing consistency over correspondence with reality
                 (II) empiricist, valuing correspondence with reality over consistency

            What do such systems do when they are shown to be inconsistent or don’t match with observed reality? One option is to say that they’re wrong and in need of improvement. Another is that they’re the best we’ll ever have, and that reality is just as described. It is this latter case which I describe as “a hat of irrationality”.

            Gödel didn´t even try to show that for the real world, but rather for formal systems.

            To say that reality is rational is to say that it is describable by a formal system.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Dark matter is posited in order to make a model complete. Without dark matter, there are inexplicable discrepancies. Natural evils are likewise inexplicable discrepancies.

            That is not a fair comparison though, Physicists have earned the right of making up dark matter in an ad hoc fashion because the standard models have been spectacularly successful. And not only that, it is expected that they will sooner or later either demonstrate the existence of dark matter or abandon the concept (and face the consequences).

            If your God theory would be similarly successful, it would be fine to make up ad hoc hypotheses to explain phenomena that are currently inexplicable – but that´s not what is going on. Furthermore, natural evils only become inexplicable by proposing the existence of a benevolent and immensely powerful personal God in the first place! They make perfect sense without a God.

            What do such systems do when they are shown to be inconsistent or don’t match with observed reality? One option is to say that they’re wrong and in need of improvement. Another is that they’re the best we’ll ever have, and that reality is just as described. It is this latter case which I describe as “a hat of irrationality”.

            I can´t connect this to reality – when has such a debate ever occured in practice?

            To say that reality is rational is to say that it is describable by a formal system.

            So what? That doesn´t make the incompleteness theorems relevant for science (scientific practice is not affected in any way by the impossibility of a sufficiently powerful formal system to prove its self-consistency, and neither is it affected by the existence on true, but unprovable, claims within this formal system).

          • labreuer

            If your God theory would be similarly successful, it would be fine to make up ad hoc hypotheses to explain phenomena that are currently inexplicable – but that´s not what is going on. Furthermore, natural evils only become inexplicable by proposing the existence of a benevolent and immensely powerful personal God in the first place! They make perfect sense without a God.

            I strongly disagree; the alternative to positing benevolent design you are presenting is to say that there exists no order—it’s just random. But that’s not an explanation, it’s a lack of an explanation. It says that there really is no true distinction between good and evil, no true demarcation. Things just are as they are. At best, the majority prefer Y over Z at time T.

            Positing benevolent design says that there is more order to reality. It explains more. That being said, I completely assent to your objection that physicists have “earned the right” to a much greater extent than theologians have. I admit to having a weaker basis, but I think I have a basis. I have seen how evil can be powerfully turned to good, and I believe that more and more of that can be discovered, such that it eats away at the objections of e.g. gratuitous evil. Just like science chips away at god-of-the-gaps, I think moral research can chip away at the evidential problem of evil.

            I can´t connect this to reality – when has such a debate ever occured in practice?

            Meaning is an illusion. Absurdism. Appeals to mental illness in school shootings. People appeal to irrationality as an ‘explanation’ quite a lot. “I don’t know why, so there is no why.”

            So what? That doesn´t make the incompleteness theorems relevant for science

            Pick one (have I missed any?):

                 (1) there are true statements which can never be proved
                 (2) the formal system which describes reality is remarkably basic
                 (3) reality is infinite in definition
                 (4) reality is not rational
                 (5) human rationality is somehow limited

            The technical version of (3) is that the axioms for the formal system of reality are not recursively enumerable. A consequence of (3) is that kind of an infinite progress answer to the Münchhausen trilemma: the sign of truth is that a thing can be built upon. The instant that one hits a dead-end, one has to backtrack until one can build to a higher level.

            Many people seem to prefer (1) or (4), after some amount of lawfulness/order. This is the “hat of irrationality”. Some people want to say that they understand everything which can be understood (minus some janitorial work), so (3) is anathema. Religious folks sometimes say (5), but I think the whole imago dei thing prevents Christians from going there. I’ve never seen anyone try to argue (2).

            Science as a whole seems predicated on (3), even though many scientists seem to believe not-(3). I have the sense that CFW is opposed to (3), as it attempts to make a final, permanent statement that will always be true, no matter how much humanity further learns about reality.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I strongly disagree; the alternative to positing benevolent design you are presenting is to say that there exists no order—it’s just random. But that’s not an explanation, it’s a lack of an explanation.

            I wouldn´t say that an earthquake, a tsunami or infectious agent are entirely due to randomness – they are natural phenomena, the result of natural laws. In the absence of a benevolent being that is powerful enough to influence these laws (or suspend or even create them), it is 100% expected that the phenomena caused by these laws will sometimes be harmful, deadly even, and sometimes be good for us – they are not evil, but rather entirely indifferent. How does this not make perfect sense?

            It says that there really is no true distinction between good and evil, no true demarcation. Things just are as they are. At best, the majority prefer Y over Z at time T.

            Now you are no longer talking about natural phenomena like earthquakes, but rather about human actions – completely different ballpark.

            Positing benevolent design says that there is more order to reality. It explainsmore.

            What I see so far is, that something that makes perfect sense without benevolent design, now requires an ad hoc moral equivalent to dark matter (i.e. a loss of explanatory power (a rather significant one I would say)). That would be fine if it would be offset by an equal or greater gain in explanatory power somewhere else – so be specific, what can you explain by positing this that you couldn´t explain without it?

            I have seen how evil can be powerfully turned to good, and I believe that more and more of that can be discovered, such that it eats away at the objections of e.g. gratuitous evil.

            For all gratuitous evil, like infectious diseases, you can always argue that we grow by overcoming the challenges they pose to us – that however doesn´t answer why a powerful deity would not have just created us with the knowledge that we gained by learning to overcome these challenged the hard way, so the evil in fact still remains gratuitous.

            Just like science chips away at god-of-the-gaps, I think moral research can chip away at the evidential problem of evil.

            Consider a little girl, lets call her Miriam, who lived in 1st century Palestine and who, like countless people who lived with her, before her and after her, died miserably of tuberculosis. That seems to be a case of gratuitous suffering to me, and, unless moral research somehow shows that a little girl dying miserably is actually a good thing – I fail to see how it could possibly show that this suffering was not, in fact gratuitous.

            Appeals to mental illness in school shootings. People appeal to irrationality as an ‘explanation’ quite a lot. “I don’t know why, so there is no why.”

            Erm, seriously – read the journal of Eric Harris and tell me that he was not mentally ill… Also, what does this have to do with “I don´t know why, so there is no why” – mental illnesses demonstrably exist (they are admittedly extremely hard to diagnose posthumously) and they are a “why”.

            Pick one (have I missed any?):

            (1) there are true statements which can never be proved
            (2) the formal system which describes reality is remarkably basic
            (3) reality is infinite in definition
            (4) reality is not rational

            (5) human rationality is somehow limited

            You are all over the place – you cannot just mix statements about formal systems with statements about the real world as if there were no difference between them. Again, the lack of a proof of self-sufficiency for any formal system is completely irrelevant for science, and unprovable sentences within a formal system would only be relevant for science if we actually depended on that particular sentence being true (and in that case, we could simply slightly change the axioms of the formal system we use to make this sentence provable – no one forces us to use just one set of axioms in math (and we in fact don´t…)).

            Science as a whole seems predicated on (3),

            I don´t see how it has any relevance for science whatsoever.

          • labreuer

            I wouldn´t say that an earthquake, a tsunami or infectious agent are entirely due to randomness – they are natural phenomena, the result of natural laws.

            How does this help? For all we know, the initial conditions of the universe and the laws were randomly chosen.

            they are not evil, but rather entirely indifferent. How does this not make perfect sense?

            This doesn’t explain; it says there is nothing to explain. I’m saying more of a pattern could exist than you admit, and that one who says there is no such pattern is less likely to find it than one who thinks one might exist.

            Now you are no longer talking about natural phenomena like earthquakes, but rather about human actions – completely different ballpark.

            Calling something a ‘natural evil’ is just a way to blame God. Otherwise what does ‘evil’ mean, except for “I don’t like it”?

            so be specific, what can you explain by positing this that you couldn´t explain without it?

            It says that what is truly evil (defining ‘evil’ such that evolution would necessarily be evil gets… interesting) is moral evil, due to the moral failings of moral agents. It is useful for humans to consider how they could have acted differently to avoid an evil that happened, for them to consider how they could act differently to avoid potential evils that didn’t happen, and for them to take responsibility, instead of punting to randomness.

            It says that ignorance is much less of an excuse than many would like. This whole issue is tricky of course, because the sins of the fathers impact the children, grandchildren, etc. Sometimes we must repent not only of our own sins, but the sins of our society and of our ancestors, like Nehemiah did. The goal of assigning responsibility here is not for blaming, but for pursuing a better future.

            Unfortunately, I think I’m still being a bit vague. I’m headed in the direction of “everything happens for a reason”, where the reason is ultimately to push us toward an increase in moral and scientific knowledge. We’ve been given a dangerous world to establish dominion over, and refusal to do said establishing has consequences. I think part of God’s answer to Job was: “Do more moral and scientific research to answer the questions you’re asking!”

            For all gratuitous evil, like infectious diseases, you can always argue that we grow by overcoming the challenges they pose to us – that however doesn´t answer why a powerful deity would not have just created us with the knowledge that we gained by learning to overcome these challenged the hard way, so the evil in fact still remains gratuitous.

            The biblical answer is that God attempted to communicate the requisite knowledge to us—and continues said attempts—but many choose not to hear, or not to act on said hearing. Eve and Adam and Cain gave God the middle finger, and we do the same to this day. Personally, I’ve had vague inclinations of badness that I could have thought more about and averted, but didn’t. Other times I investigated such inclinations and was able to avert evil. Humans are capable of quite a lot, especially when they help each other become ever-more capable.

            Consider a little girl, lets call her Miriam, who lived in 1st century Palestine and who, like countless people who lived with her, before her and after her, died miserably of tuberculosis. That seems to be a case of gratuitous suffering to me, and, unless moral research somehow shows that a little girl dying miserably is actually a good thing – I fail to see how it could possibly show that this suffering was not, in fact gratuitous.

            Consider how much science could have been done by people pursuing knowledge instead of power and land. The Romans were really big on consumption—being all about themselves and their power and status. What if they had turned all those resources toward understanding the world better? And so forth.

            Erm, seriously – read the journal of Eric Harris and tell me that he was not mentally ill… Also, what does this have to do with “I don´t know why, so there is no why” – mental illnesses demonstrably exist (they are admittedly extremely hard to diagnose posthumously) and they are a “why”.

            I have no doubt that there exists mental illness; I should have been more precise: people like to punt virtually all of the cause into mental illness. It makes them feel better, because it means they played no part in ‘encouraging’ said crime, nor did they fail to ‘discourage’ said crime, except for the vague “we need more laws and psychologists and psychiatrists”, which is easy to not feel too bad about.

            You are all over the place – you cannot just mix statements about formal systems with statements about the real world as if there were no difference between them.

            If we believe that reality is describable by some formal system—even though we don’t know it—then I most definitely can do said mixing.

            Again, the lack of a proof of self-sufficiency for any formal system is completely irrelevant for science

            Correct, as long as the scientist does not say that science is the only way of knowing things. Mostly, it’s not scientists who make such claims, it’s atheists and skeptics who like arguing on the internet and in books. I forget if you have. :-p

            unprovable sentences within a formal system would only be relevant for science if we actually depended on that particular sentence being true

            Most CFWers seem to “actually depend” on LFW being a good approximation. And yet, it’s not clear that they consistently apply this approximation to all areas of life. It seems to me that it might be tempting to approximate myself as having LFW, but others as having CFW. This could easily breed double standards.

            The point of my (1-5) was to talk about the boundary between what we know and what we don’t know. Different people have vastly different attitudes toward the unknown. Some, in my opinion, are overly confident in what the unknown ‘looks like’. Others like to say that we should make no tentative assumptions about what the unknown looks like. The idea of using LFW as an approximation for CFW very much falls along this boundary.

            I don´t see how it has any relevance for science whatsoever.

            The belief that more and more of reality can be explained—ad infinitum—is equivalent to saying that we can forever come up with a bigger axiomatic system which leads to our observations being provable theorems.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            “How does this help? For all we know, the initial conditions of the universe and the laws were randomly chosen.”

            But they are not caused by the people or animals who die in them…

          • labreuer

            Yep. So we can either say that they were random—definitively—or we could leave open the option for there being further order. If I posit other moral agents, plus some misidentifying of evil, I can construct a moral system that replaces randomness and chaos. Whether or not it ends up standing is another question, but if I must justify my ‘dark matter’ on its own, I’m screwed, and so is e.g. quark theory. There is such a thing as coherentism.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Sorry, but that is just word salad.

          • labreuer

            Then you would be one of the people who stunted the rise of modern science. I think there is more order to reality than you do, even though there are gaps in my explanation, gaps which do not bear the burden of proof. You say “randomness” where I say “possible order I am willing to expend time and energy to explore”.

          • Andy_Schueler

            1. There are not gaps in your explanation – you have no explanation.
            2. Randomness has nothing to do with it whatsoever. I´ll happily grant you all the order that you want, it changes nothing whatsoever.
            We understand the order behind tuberculosis better than people ten years ago, and they understood it better then people twenty years ago, and so on and so forth. At no point in this process of gradually better understanding tuberculosis was there a moment where the suffering caused by tuberculosis seemed even one iota less gratuitous.

          • labreuer

            1. Then I shall refrain from further discussing it with you until I have something which you will call an ‘explanation’.
            2. Because God could never have told Adam and Eve what set of natural ingredients to cook together to cure tuberculosis? Or are you saying that even the smallest pain—like a stubbed toe—is necessarily a gratuitous evil? If the latter, let’s stop talking about tuberculosis.

          • Andy_Schueler

            2. Because God could never have told Adam and Eve what set of natural ingredients to cook together to cure tuberculosis? Or are you saying that even the smallest pain—like a stubbed toe—is necessarily a gratuitous evil? If the latter, let’s stop talking about tuberculosis.

            You are being extremely unreasonable right now.

          • labreuer

            Wait, I completely don’t understand how you can say that. Are you saying it is unreasonable to suppose that God (a) can and (b) would e.g. warn Cain to contain his anger? Or are you objecting to a different part of my argument?

          • Andy_Schueler

            I didn´t even realize that you made an argument. How is any of that even remotely relevant to the comment you replied to?

          • labreuer

            I believe that God wants us to continually understand reality better and better. There are two general ways to do that:

                 (a) for us to be curious and explore
                 (b) for us to experience pain we want to stop and avoid

            I think (a) is preferable, but (b) doesn’t seem onerous if it’s merely stubbed toes. And for some reason, people seem to veer away from (a) quite often. I don’t know why, but I accept it as a fact of reality. The extent to which we don’t respond to (b), I think the pains get worse. They get worse until we acknowledge they are undesirable and worth fighting, regardless of the cost of said fighting.

            Tuberculosis is an example of (b). I’m not even sure it would be evil if we were to talk about the very initial stages of it, where it was hardly painful. Would it appear to be a mild irritant, at which point we’d have the option to ask God about it, learn some new things, and cure it? Would this be so bad?

            There is a bit of a problem with this scenario, and that is pain tolerance. If someone has never experienced something worse than scraping of the knee, does that seem like an outrageous pain that should never be experienced by anyone, ever? I’m not sure, so I’ll ignore that issue for the time being.

            Your argument seems to be that the mere existence of tuberculosis is an evil. Is that true? If so, you seem committed to the claim that (b) is never, ever allowable. If we refuse to be curious, either God should recreate us as being more curios, or God should just let us be bored. He should never try and push us forward, toward more understanding of reality, with pain.

            Another option for your argument is that even if, starting with Adam and Eve, tuberculosis were always cured the moment there was any discomfort, it would still be gratuitous. Is this the case? If so, we’ve segued into the argument that the history prior to Adam and Eve is gratuitously evil. I can think of two responses. One is that it is the result of moral evils that we don’t know about. This would mean that we could have evolved without it. Another would be that there was no way to get intelligence to evolve without tuberculosis, or something like it. If that is the case, the statement that “tuberculosis is a gratuitous evil” would logically imply that “creating intelligent live through evolution is a gratuitous evil”. I’d be a bit suspect of that last claim. Perhaps evolution can occur with arbitrarily little suffering.

          • Andy_Schueler

            All that´s worth saying about this issue has been said, all you do now is obfuscate – whether intentionally or not, that´s all you do here.

          • labreuer

            I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to tease out presuppositions that I think you and others hold, presuppositions which you and others seem unwilling to state up-front. Perhaps we should try switching to formal argumentation, with premises, corollaries, conclusions, etc., with agreed-upon definitions of terms?

            When you say,

            We understand the order behind tuberculosis better than people ten years ago, and they understood it better then people twenty years ago, and so on and so forth. At no point in this process of gradually better understanding tuberculosis was there a moment where the suffering caused by tuberculosis seemed even one iota less gratuitous.

            , there is a lot packed into that, at least potentially. Instead of writing long comments like the above, I can be shorter if you would prefer. Here:

            Your argument seems to be that the mere existence of tuberculosis is an evil. Is that true?

            While it’ll be slower, I am willing to discuss this way.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Your argument seems to be that the mere existence of tuberculosis is an evil. Is that true?

            No, as I already explained, I don´t think it is an “evil” at all, it only turns into an “evil” by postulating a designer behind the existence of tuberculosis.

          • labreuer

            We’ve tread this ground before. You say that you’re only working off of my presuppositions (for I’m the one claiming an omni-god created our world), while I think that you’re adding your own presuppositions, even if they’re only ‘live’ while talking to me. So I’ll try a different tactic. Remember when Neo and Trinity stock up on guns in the Matrix? Here’s a refresher. The way I see it, I’m saying “guns, lots of guns”, and you’re the one who decided which ones to present, what the gun racks would look like, etc. And then you criticize the gun rack, saying that it’s possible for a gun to slip off, un-safe itself, and start firing. And I say: “I never said that the guns were loaded—you’re bringing that presupposition to the table.” And then you say: “What? You’re the one telling me to think of lots of guns!”

            This very pattern shows up in Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity, where he presents his Free Will Defense. He sets up the logical problem of evil the best he can, and shows that nobody has actually provided a logical argument! There’s a missing premise which many just generally assumed was there, but was never formally there. Plantinga could have stopped there, but he went further and found a possible premise which makes it very much not a logical contradiction. I claim something similar is happening: the contradictions or problems you’re providing come from:

                 (a) premises you’re inserting which I don’t hold
                 (b) premises you likely hold but are ignoring

            Comments like the above are an attempt to tease out both (a) and (b). If you have a better way to do so, I’m all ears. With certain people, I’m able to take the argument a few steps past what I know my interlocutor would argue, as a “what if” that helps the discussion move more quickly. But I don’t have to do this if it’s not working right now.

            it only turns into an “evil” by postulating a designer behind the existence of tuberculosis.

            Ok, given an omni-god, is the mere existence of tuberculosis a gratuitous evil? If ‘yes’, then is the mere existence of stubbed toes a gratuitous evil?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Ok, given an omni-god, is the mere existence of tuberculosis a gratuitous evil? If ‘yes’, then is the mere existence of stubbed toes a gratuitous evil?

            Quite frankly:
            a) those are not smart questions, to put it at its mildest. Offensive even, you might as well ask “do you think that putting jews in gas chambers is bad? If yes, do you think that farting while standing in front of the wailing wall is bad as well?”
            b) those questions do not naturally follow from what I said – I don´t see any purpose behind them except for setting up a strawman and / or obfuscation (if you disagree,explain why you think that those questions are relevant and not completely trivial)

          • labreuer

            a) those are not smart questions, to put it at its mildest. Offensive even, you might as well ask “do you think that putting jews in gas chambers is bad? If yes, do you think that farting while standing in front of the wailing wall is bad as well?”
            b) those questions do not naturally follow from what I said – I don´t see any purpose behind them except for setting up a strawman and / or obfuscation (if you disagree,explain why you think that those questions are relevant and not completely trivial)

            I’ve largely given up on other people ever caring about whether they are offending me—because any attempt to get them to backfires—and then I apply symmetry: if they don’t need to care about offending me, I need not expend any energy for the opposite. Especially given that I would have to learn how to not be offensive, and if others aren’t going to give me an example of it to build on, I don’t really feel like re-deriving from scratch something that people could help me with. Being merely told ‘no’—or close to it—is a poor way to learn. So there. :-|

            a-b) There is a difference between saying something is ‘bad’, and saying that there is no way that something could ever fit inside a world created by an omni-god. I repeatedly ask atheists and skeptics whether or not they would assent to:

                 (1) An omni-god would never allow one being to force another being to suffer.

            As far as I can recall, only one person ever assented to this. That conversation petered out quickly, because the kind of world that person could build seemed to allow approximately no interesting interactions between moral agents. And yet, if you reject (1), then there are cases in which one moral agent can force another to suffer. If this is the case, then I ask what the line of demarcation is between the situations which are ok, and the situations that are never ok—the ones an omni-god would never bring about. This is why I asked my question(s).

            A modified version of (1) is this:

                 (2) An omni-god would not create a dangerous world.

            Tuberculosis can only exist in dangerous worlds, because it can kill. A (2)-type world would be one that contains stubbed toes, but not tuberculosis. This is why I asked about stubbed toes. Now, let’s continue. I hold to:

                 (3) An omni-god would value rational understanding.

            There are many ways to go about this. Suppose that inbuilt human curiosity gets us some of the way. Great. But what if, for some reason, that curiosity can sometimes fail. What could God do to re-spark it? Well, he could make life moderately uncomfortable. This wouldn’t violate (2). It could get arbitrarily close. But what if that doesn’t work? An option is to say that God could just create a world that doesn’t have said failure mode, but I’m a bit skeptical that such would be a logically consistent world.

            I’ll stop here. Can you see the pattern, the form, and/or the purpose to my line of discussion?

          • Andy_Schueler

            (1) An omni-god would never allow one being to force another being to suffer.

            Not interested in talking about that, I picked natural disasters and infectious diseases for a reason.

            (3) An omni-god would value rational understanding.
            There are many ways to go about this. Suppose that inbuilt human curiosity gets us some of the way. Great. But what if, for some reason, that curiosity can sometimes fail. What could God do to re-spark it? Well, he could make life moderately uncomfortable.

            1. This is self-refuting. You are talking about a God who is benevolent and powerful (you even use the OMNI label…) – but the caveat you describe only makes sense for a creator God whose powers are extremely limited.
            2. I am not talking about “moderate discomfort”.
            3. Even for a “god” with severely limited powers, this still doesn´t make sense. We are talking about gratuitous suffering – pointing out that there might also be suffering that is not actually gratuitous (because people can learn something from it for example) doesn´t help you one bit, I´ll happily grant you that point and it changes nothing.

          • labreuer

            Not interested in talking about that, I picked natural disasters and infectious diseases for a reason.

            Yep, and I’m not convinced that both of the following are true:

                 (i) these events were not caused by a moral agent
                 (ii) these events could not have been averted by a moral agent

            Now, most of my confidence on this issue is not drawn from our evolutionary past, but in seeing how pain and suffering can be increasingly redeemed, with the end result being better than had the bad thing never happened. I’ve seen enough of this happen, and in an increasingly intense way as I’ve gone through more life, to argue via induction.

            I recall coming across an idea a while ago, that the Garden of Eden was a paradise, outside of which was a screwed-up world that God intended Adam and Eve to fix. The Bible leaves the issue wide-open, so we’ll never know for sure. I recently tried to find this idea again and couldn’t. That being said, the idea that there are moral agents other than humans who screwed things up is not an idea which originated from me.

            1. This is self-refuting. You are talking about a God who is benevolent and powerful (you even use the OMNI label…) – but the caveat you describe only makes sense for a creator God whose powers are extremely limited.
            2. I am not talking about “moderate discomfort”.
            3. Even for a “god” with severely limited powers, this still doesn´t make sense. We are talking about gratuitous suffering – pointing out that there might also be suffering that is not actually gratuitous (because people can learn something from it for example) doesn´t help you one bit, I´ll happily grant you that point and it changes nothing.

            1. Think about designing a virtual world. Every time you want it to have some characteristic, you limit what it can look like. Insist on enough characteristics, and you are greatly limited in what you can do. Your limitations come exclusively from your own desires. Positing omniscience doesn’t really help, for there would still be worlds you cannot bring into existence because they conflict with a characteristic you preferred. I think God is in a similar situation.

            2. What is the difference between ‘moderate discomfort’, which you may think is ok, and gratuitous evil, which you think is not ok? One way to give me an idea of this would be to answer the question: what pain and suffering would have to be removed from the world, and what pain and suffering could stay?

            3. This may shock you, but I don’t have a good concept of what makes suffering ‘gratuitous’. Let’s take this random definition:

            evil that God could have prevented without missing out on some greater good or taking on some greater evil

            How do we know that something is gratuitous? If you think this opens me to skeptical theism, I explained why I don’t. It seems to me that the very identifying of an evil with being ‘gratuitous’ means that we will take it more seriously and try harder to not make it happen again. And it seems that this precise reaction will suck the ‘gratuitous’ out of the evil, for a great good would come from that evil, which wasn’t arising otherwise. Indeed, I believe that Romans 7 talks about an important, related concept:

            Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

            We are sometimes really bad at acknowledge that a bad thing is bad. We’re really good at denial. We’re really good at not listening. So sometimes the only option left to God is to amplify the pain and suffering level until we finally snap to reality and admit that what is sin really is sin. This amplification could easily push things into the ‘gratuitous’ domain, except it wouldn’t be gratuitous IMO.

            So, can you point me to any example of gratuitous evil which cannot be learned from? It seems to me that the instant you can point it out and characterize it, it can be learned from. And the more egregious it is, the stronger our learning reaction ought to be.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Yep, and I’m not convinced that both of the following are true:

            (i) these events were not caused by a moral agent
            (ii) these events could not have been averted by a moral agent

            Now, most of my confidence on this issue is not drawn from our evolutionary past, but in seeing how pain and suffering can be increasingly redeemed, with the end result being better than had the bad thing never happened. I’ve seenenough of this happen, and in an increasingly intense way as I’ve gone through more life, to argue via induction.

            I recall coming across an idea a while ago, that the Garden of Eden was a paradise, outside of which was a screwed-up world that God intended Adam and Eve to fix. The Bible leaves the issue wide-open, so we’ll never know for sure. I recently tried to find this idea again and couldn’t. That being said, the idea that there are moral agents other than humans who screwed things up is not an idea which originated from me.

            You are talking about an OMNI deity…

            1. Think about designing a virtual world. Every time you want it to have some characteristic, you limit what it can look like. Insist on enough characteristics, and you are greatly limited in what you can do. Your limitations come exclusively from your own desires. Positing omniscience doesn’t really help, for there would still be worlds you cannot bring into existence because they conflict with a characteristic you preferred. I think God is in a similar situation.

            2. What is the difference between ‘moderate discomfort’, which you may think is ok, and gratuitous evil, which you think is not ok? One way to give me an idea of this would be to answer the question: what pain and suffering would have to be removed from the world, and what pain and suffering could stay?

            3. This may shock you, but I don’t have a good concept of what makes suffering ‘gratuitous’. Let’s take this random definition:

            evil that God could have prevented without missing out on some greater good or taking on some greater evil

            How do we know that something is gratuitous? If you think this opens me to skeptical theism, I explained why I don’t. It seems to me that the very identifying of an evil with being ‘gratuitous’ means that we will take it more seriously and try harder to not make it happen again. And it seems that this precise reaction will suck the ‘gratuitous’ out of the evil, for a great good would come from that evil, which wasn’t arising otherwise. Indeed, I believe that Romans 7 talks about an important, related concept:

            Lets stay in the tuberculosis example. For the overwhelming number of victims that died miserably from this disease, we don´t even know their names, we can only guess how many of them existed by doing paleobiological research. Their suffering accomplished nothing – it didn´t motivate us to help others, it COULD NOT have motivated anyone to help others (because the vast majority died long before we were even remotely able to grasp what a “pathogen” is and how one might be able to fight it). This is “gratuitotus”, on EVERY level – suffering that didn´t help anyone, not even slightly.
            And not even the victims that we ARE aware of, that DID motivate us to understand disease and help others, suffered for a good reason – because an OMNI god could have just created us with all the lessons that we learned the hard way.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Great point. Yet as soon as we posit fawns dying in forest fires, lab suggests that they might not have existed. Like th3e sound of a falling tree if no one hears it!

          • labreuer

            You are talking about an OMNI deity…

            Yes, and an omni-deity still has the restrictions of logic. That’s why I gave the #1 later on in my post. Surely you know how many people have contradictory desires? I think those contradictory desires make us think that the world God could create would look ‘better’ than it actually would.

            Lets stay in the tuberculosis example. For the overwhelming number of victims that died miserably from this disease, we don´t even know their names, we can only guess how many of them existed by doing paleobiological research. Their suffering accomplished nothing – it didn´t motivate us to help others, it COULD NOT have motivated anyone to help others (because the vast majority died long before we were even remotely able to grasp what a “pathogen” is and how one might be able to fight it). This is “gratuitotus”, on EVERY level – suffering that didn´t help anyone, not even slightly.

            So this is just the evolutionary argument: “nature red in tooth and claw”. Even if starting with Adam and Eve (or their humanoid-group) God had told them how to cure every ailment, there would still be the ancestor organisms throughout time. Here, I would ask:

                 (1) How ‘nice’ could the process of evolution have been?

            If we think there was a way to avoid any and all gratuitous evil, I’d suggest that other moral agents screwed up the process, like the Shadows did in Babylon 5. If we think that there was no way to avoid any and all gratuitous evil in an evolution process, then the argument has to be that it is worse to have an evolutionary history, than to have the necessary evil. So, where do you stand on this?

            Again, note that I’m largely just guessing on this issue; I’ve seen enough instances of redemption that I have faith that there are answers to questions like these. The fact that I don’t have good ones (and I admit that) doesn’t mean I’m just going to throw away my ideas; neither do evolutionists throw away their theory when real holes are poked into it, because it works too well to be discarded.

          • Andy_Schueler

            (1) How ‘nice’ could the process of evolution have been?

            Seriously – OMNI-God + evolution doesn´t work. Incompetent-lets-try-out-some-shit-God + evolution does work however.

          • labreuer

            Are you supposing that God would just magick into our brains the knowledge of biology that we only have due to understanding evolution? And would we be able to understand how he did said magicking? Or would it forever be an enigma?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Are you supposing that God would just magick into our brains the knowledge of biology that we only have due to understanding evolution?[1] And would we be able to understand how he did said magicking?[2] Or would it forever be an enigma?[3]

            1. Evolution is only ever required in the first place if God is either incompetent, or doesn´t give a shit, or doesn´t exist.
            2. The only reason why you ask this question in the first place is, that even you, a theist, doesn´t seem to believe in a God that communicates with us.
            3. see 2.

          • labreuer

            You may have convinced me that the only solution, to keep an omni-god, would be to say that all natural evil is actually moral evil. And yet I cannot predict anything, just like—at least when I was a creationist—pretty much nothing can be predicted from the claim that abiogenesis happened.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Yup, I have honestly no idea how Evolution could be reconciled with the OMNI concept of a God…
            On the one hand, evolution would solve many aspects of the problem of evil, because a lot of suffering ceases to be gratuitous but instead serves a purpose (and that is what many proponents of theistic evolution do argue), but there is a HUGE elephant in the room of explaining why an OMNI God would ever even think about using evolution the first place.
            A good analogy here is human designers using methods inspired by evolution, we use it to optimize things, we optimize enzymes with artificial evolution for example or we use genetic algorithms to search for good (good, not optimal) solutions to combinatorial problems and so on and so forth. For all the cases where we use methods inspired by evolution, we are dealing with problems that have optimal solutions which are in principle knowable and finite – the only reason why we use evolutionary methods is that we lack the computing power or memory or another ressource which prevents us from calculating what the optimal solution is. An omniscient and omnipotent deity MUST know the optimal solutions to these problems and be able to instantiate them, for “designers” that have to rely on evolution because they don´t know the optimal solutions or are unable to instantiate them – there is no reason whatsoever to refer to them as “Gods”, they would be indistinguishable from very powerful aliens (one might still call those “Gods” if one so chooses, but there is nothing OMNIscient and OMNIpotent about them…).

          • labreuer

            Yup, I have honestly no idea how Evolution could be reconciled with the OMNI concept of a God…

            While I see strong reasons to agree with this, evolution is such a part of not only the change of organisms, but the change of ideas and societies. I don’t like Richard Dawkins much because he seems to disdain any thought-system not his own, but I very much respect him for coining the term ‘meme’. Physical evolution provides such a powerful way to think of the process of evolution that there seems incredible value in it. Does the value transcend the cost? That is an important question.

            An alternative, as The Thinker has mentioned, is for God to magick into our brains the requisite knowledge of evolution. Perhaps it could be a “what-if” scenario, a comprehensive model of how humans could have evolved, vs. being specially created. However, when merely stated as such, an element of artificiality is introduced. I can’t escape the idea that a world built on suck magic would be critically ‘less’ than our world. I find such worlds hard to imagine. I wonder if any novels have been written about worlds free from gratuitous suffering; I find novels a good way to sketch out possible worlds in compelling ways.

            but there is a HUGE elephant in the room of explaining why an OMNI God would ever even think about using evolution the first place.

            It would be a naturalistic law-like way for an omni-god to create, as well as a law-like way for rational beings to understand how they came to be. There is something beautiful about cause and effect which happen according to laws, instead of the alternative, which seemingly must be ‘arbitrarily’. But is evolution the only law-like way? I don’t know.

            Consider digitally simulating beings so that no ‘real’ suffering happens. Is this even possible? We can certainly simulate beings with sufficiently simple neurological systems that the concept of ‘pain’, or at least ‘suffering’, doesn’t exist. But is this sufficient for working toward the kinds of beings which have more complex neurological systems? Does it matter that pain/suffering is represented via digital computation instead of organic computation?

            This whole matter gets awfully messy when I try to reify it in my imagination. It’s precisely the difference between someone who imagines how a piece of software could work, and trying to actually make that piece of software. Often there are logical inconsistencies, or gaps in explanation which make the imagined end impossible. This whole omni-wand business can get really frustrating, because it just serves to end conversations, instead of help us learn new things.

            An omniscient and omnipotent deity MUST know the optimal solutions to these problems and be able to instantiate them

            Is there always an ‘optimal solution’? It seems to me that a significant portion of human happiness and joy comes from exploring new things and becoming more than one was before. It’s as if we’re forever journeying toward perfection, with perfection itself being an unreachable goal.

            A difficulty with the above is: where does heaven fit in? Some thing it is at the end, but that means perfection has to be reachable. The other alternative is that it happens somewhere along the way, but then why couldn’t God just create beings at that ‘somewhere’? I only have pieces of an a possible answer to these questions.

          • labreuer

            While I’m not convinced that all forms of evolution have to be terrible, you’ve largely convinced me: the evils of the evolution that happened cannot be called ‘natural’.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            You accept evolution (at least I think you do) and yet you invoke Adam and Eve, whose existence is not compatible with evolution. So which is it? You seriously need to stop being vague and lay your cards out on the table.

          • labreuer

            Adam and Eve couldn’t symbolize the first organisms able to reason and act morally?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Symbolize? As in they’re just a metaphor and weren’t ontological?

            Evolution btw happens gradually, there never was a “first” organism able to reason and act morally whose parents couldn’t.

          • labreuer

            Whether they actually existed is a non-issue to me. I believe that God is constantly trying to communicate to us, and that we often give him the middle finger and refuse to tentatively believe the communicated content, and act on it in trust.

            It doesn’t really matter if there was no “first” organism; God’s influence can be made as subtle and gradual as evolution is. It’s merely helpful to speak in concrete, approximate terms, instead of always being utterly precise.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I believe that God is constantly trying to communicate to us,

            LOL. Then why doesn’t god simply just reveal himself to us or reveal his message to us and make it absolutely crystal clear and personalized so that each person on earth will understand it?

            It’s merely helpful to speak in concrete, approximate terms, instead of always being utterly precise.

            This is precisely the problem with you Christians. You’re vague and you all twist your religion into however you want it to look so that “Christianity” looks like a hodge-podge ad-hoc religion created on the fly. Are you telling me that god is deliberately ambiguous? And then you complain that we “give him the middle finger”. Can you be any more illogical?

          • labreuer

            LOL. Then why doesn’t god simply just reveal himself to us or reveal his message to us and make it absolutely crystal clear and personalized so that each person on earth will understand it?

            Because we aren’t deterministic computers, such that God merely needs to feed us the right program. Words aren’t magic, immediately creating in the other person exactly the concept you wanted to. People sometimes hold onto falsehoods so strongly that only enough pain and suffering will disabuse them of these falsehoods.

            A shorter Christian answer is that will plays a role in what we believe, not just intellect. I guarantee that you’ve come across this phenomenon countless times in life.

            This is precisely the problem with you Christians. You’re vague and you all twist your religion into however you want it to look so that “Christianity” looks like a hodge-podge ad-hoc religion created on the fly. Are you telling me that god is deliberately ambiguous? And then you complain that we “give him the middle finger”. Can you be any more illogical?

            I’m saying that in order to teach general relativity to a person, you teach them simpler, ‘wrong’ concepts first. Except to call F = ma ‘wrong’ when it is indistinguishable from general relativity—when gravity and speed are sufficiently low—is an odd way to use the word ‘wrong’.

            Have you ever considered that if the Israelites were told “No slaves!”, they would have blatantly ignored the commandment, and done worse things than if they had regulations for slavery? They weren’t even very good at obeying those regulations!

            Far from being illogical, I think you’re trying to oversimplify the issue. You appear to believe that there is such a thing as perfect communication, that using the right magical words will get people to do and believe precisely as you want to. I, on the other hand, buy into stuff like Unknowable and Incommunicable.

            Your world is a smaller one than mine. Places where I claim there is order, you’d say there is pure randomness. Places where I claim there is an act of the will, you’d say there is raw irrationality. You’re saying there is less to know about reality than I. Therefore, your model of reality will be simpler and you’ll complain that when I try and say it’s bigger than you think, that I have evil intent. Well, if my intent is evil or at least if I’m insane, then why talk to me? If I’ve got you wrong, my apologies. I just sense quite a bit of… negativity coming from you.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Because we aren’t deterministic computers, such that God merely needs to feed us the right program. Words aren’t magic, immediately creating in the other person exactly the concept you wanted to. People sometimes hold onto falsehoods so strongly that only enough pain and suffering will disabuse them of these falsehoods.

            God doesn’t need words. He could telepathically import the correct knowledge into out minds instantly so that every human could have a simultaneous epiphany of god’s true will. I mean if we can learn that in heaven supposedly, then we can learn that on earth.

            And also, pain and suffering turn many people away from god, not towards him. And to say that god uses pain and suffering to make us love him is like saying I need to beat my wife in order to get her to love me more. That’s Christianity for you. I think it is thoroughly masochistic.

            I’m saying that in order to teach general relativity to a person, you teach them simpler, ‘wrong’ concepts first.

            But we’re talking about morality, morality that deliberately increased human suffering. Are you telling me the Jews couldn’t handle the commandment ‘no slaves’ but they could handle stoning to death homosexuals, witches, adulterers, and people who worshiped other gods as well as circumcision and absurd dietary prohibitions? Is that really logical, or just an excuse to brush off god’s barbaric commands? Who cares if they broke it, it would still have been god’s will which I’m told is perfect, yet is also intentionally degraded. Technically though, god never says ‘no slaves’ in any book of the bible, old or new.

            Your world is a smaller one than mine. Places where I claim there is order, you’d say there is pure randomness. Places where I claim there is an act of the will, you’d say there is raw irrationality. You’re saying there is less to know about reality than I.

            I’m trying to understand your POV but you’ve consistently been vague and evading. Usually it is the theist whose world is smaller because they believe magic is real and has explanatory power. Evolution is far more complex than magic creation. So no, my world is very complex, more complex than most theistic interpretations of the world.

            I’m only being negative because I almost get this sense that you’re joking around and not being serious. Either that or you don’t realize the illogic backing up most of your points.

          • labreuer

            I would apologize for the excessive length of this post, but it is an attempt to be more concrete and less vague. When I’m still struggling with issues and trying to understand them, I tend to be more verbose. If it’s too verbose for you, I’ll find others to talk to.

            God doesn’t need words. He could telepathically import the correct knowledge into out minds instantly so that every human could have a simultaneous epiphany of god’s true will. I mean if we can learn that in heaven supposedly, then we can learn that on earth.

            Substitute ‘communication’ for ‘words’ in my statement. There is still an exchange of information. I claim that the only way your version makes sense is if ‘telepathically import’ is turned into ‘mind control’. Belief is not only intellectual in my opinion, it also is dependent on what you desire. God merely communicating to us won’t necessarily change what we desire. Indeed, if God completely controls what we desire, we are not free.

            And also, pain and suffering turn many people away from god, not towards him. And to say that god uses pain and suffering to make us love him is like saying I need to beat my wife in order to get her to love me more. That’s Christianity for you. I think it is thoroughly masochistic.

            The beating your wife analogy is a bad one. A better one is that you value your wife’s dignity enough to let her be who she is, even if it causes one or both of you pain. You appear to want there to be no pain. You appear to want there to be no choices that any being can ever make that would have bad consequences. Is this true?

            But we’re talking about morality, morality that deliberately increased human suffering.

            I’m not convinced that the net effect was an increase in human suffering. Promiscuity, adultery, and witches have adverse effects; for you to say they are less adverse than the death sentence (taking into account the socioeconomic conditions, plus moral aptitude of the time) is a value judgment that I think I disagree with. For example, there is something incredibly powerful to being married to a woman who has committed to unconditionally love me, whom I have committed to unconditionally love. A break in that trust would harm me incredibly. I’d prefer to lose limbs than have that trust be broken. Perhaps you’ve never experienced something like this. If so, you’d probably never choose to lose limbs over loosing it.

            If worshiping a god means becoming like that god, then worshiping a terrible god is a terrible thing. And even without that, worshiping a god who demands children be routinely burned alive as sacrifices is a terrible thing. It is a common atheist mistake to think that worshiping one god is just like worshiping the next.

            There has been much discussion of the purpose of dietary commands. The one I find most compelling is that diets were restricted such that the wealthier Israelites could not eat exotic foods which the poorer Israelites could not afford, at least safely (see: the importance of eating shrimp before it goes bad).

            To try to head this off at the pass, I doubt I will be able to answer every objection you have of the Bible. I’ve played whack-a-mole before and it got real boring, real fast. What I can say is that I understand enough to find the Bible extremely compelling. There are plenty of difficulties; sometimes I learn new things when digging into them. The most interesting stuff is when I can bring the Bible to bear on real-life experience, not e.g. whether God approved of Japheth’s sacrifice of his daughter.

            You can yell that there are not enough transitional fossils or that I don’t have a theory of abiogenesis until you’re blue in the face; I’ll say that what I’ve found so far is compelling enough for me to keep searching for a while longer.

            Technically though, god never says ‘no slaves’ in any book of the bible, old or new.

            Define ‘slavery’, such that it includes e.g. wage slavery. My claim is that there is no good enough definition of ‘slavery’, such that a commandment against it would cover all such situations. Humans can game any fixed system of rules, such that there are haves and have-nots. The heart issue to be dealt with is (a) how we derive personal value; (b) how we are to treat others. The servant heart which Jesus displayed is utterly antithetical to enslaving other beings. Have you read Mt 20:20-28?

            I’m trying to understand your POV but you’ve consistently been vague and evading.

            My apologies; I do the best I can, and the more concrete you are in your criticisms (e.g. “Here is an example that I could consider not-vague and not-evading.”), the more I can improve. The set of topics we’re discussing is very complex and very interconnected. Many, many presuppositions are at play. Many of them are utterly hidden unless you know to look for them.

            A concrete example of a hidden presuppositions is: how do we value things? Pain and suffering are an option: things are valuable to the extent that they help us avoid pain and suffering. Now, I consider that a kind of degenerate way of valuing things. There are also different levels of joy and happiness. Those things should be valued as well. But can our way of valuing things—of assigning meaning and importance—survive the removal of pain and suffering? Maybe there is a way that we have yet to learn, but if I look at the most advanced societies on the earth, I don’t really see that way.

            Maybe I’m overthinking this or wrongly thinking about this, but imagine a world where you could only make life better for people, but not worse. Wouldn’t I actually be making life worse for a person if I do something nice for everyone but that person? Wouldn’t the only fair world be one where everyone has pretty much the same things? Maybe I get crayons and you get watercolors because of our preferences, but there’s a sense in which there needs to be intense equality, lest a person suffer due to having less than the next person.

            First, I find such an everyone-has-equally society to be hard to imagine. Second, it seems to destroy personal relationships. If I do something nice to someone, either I do that nice thing to everyone, or at least everyone has something nice happen to them so nobody is left out. And suddenly the nice thing is less meaningful because the vast majority of the time, the action wasn’t meant for you, explicitly. I dunno, I have trouble envisioning such a world, where suffering and pain are impossible. It seems ‘flat’. It seems artificial. It seems there would be less understanding of why people make the decisions they do.

            Maybe my above attempt to ‘concretize’ a world in which there is no pain and suffering is silly, but it’s the only way I know of not being vague, and checking to see whether you’re actually describing something that even makes sense.

            Consider the number of people who see how the world is run, and think, “I can do better.” How many of them actually do better? I don’t think very many do. In my experience as a software and hardware engineer, I know many people think they can make something better, but actually cannot because they are thinking fuzzily, instead of trying to construct something realistic.

            I’m only being negative because I almost get this sense that you’re joking around and not being serious. Either that or you don’t realize the illogic backing up most of your points.

            If you think I would expend this much effort just to joke around, that’s just… interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s illogic backing up some of my points; one of the reasons I comment on blogs (I used to post a lot in forums too) is for this illogic to be pointed out. And I end up pointing out illogic in others’ points of view as well. Sometimes this is fun and I hope the end result is worth it, but much of the work is downright tedious.

            If I’m still too vague for you, decide whether or not you want to work with it. Complaining and bitching and moaning and attributing evil (yes, evil) motives to me will just make the whole process worse for everyone. I do the best I can, but I can’t magically improve. If I’m not good enough for you, then let me know and we can stop wasting each other’s time.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I claim that the only way your version makes sense is if ‘telepathically import’ is turned into ‘mind control’.

            How do you logically justify that? Simply knowing the truth will not control people’s minds. Plenty of us still deny the truth even when the facts are sitting right before our eyes. You’re saying that it’s best for us all to be confused over god’s will so that we will inevitably continue fighting over it as if this somehow has a silver lining better than god importing his will over to us perfectly.

            Indeed, if God completely controls what we desire, we are not free.

            Then who or what controls our genetics and brain physiology that has a huge impact on out desires?

            The beating your wife analogy is a bad one. A better one is that you value your wife’s dignity enough to let her be who she is, even if it causes one or both of you pain. You appear to want there to be no pain. You appear to want there to be no choices that any being can ever make that would have bad consequences. Is this true?

            It’s a great one that is analogous of god’s sadomasochistic relation with his subjects. Thing is, who causes the pain? Who designed the world with pain in it? Is it SELO? No. God causes the pain, I already logically demonstrated that. If you disagree, prove it.

            You appear to want there to be more pain so long that it brings people to god. That’s exactly what my analogy demonstrates.

            Promiscuity, adultery, and witches have adverse effects; for you to say they are less adverse than the death sentence (taking into account the socioeconomic conditions, plus moral aptitude of the time) is a value judgment that I think I disagree with.

            So we should follow the same exact Mosaic laws of his day? And what verifiable power do witches have? I’d like to know, because we might still need to be killing them today.

            If worshiping a god means becoming like that god, then worshiping a terrible god is a terrible thing. And even without that, worshiping a god who demands children be routinely burned alive as sacrifices is a terrible thing. It is a common atheist mistake to think that worshiping one god is just like worshiping the next.

            What if that other god is nicer, kinder and more gentle? And by the way, Yahweh asks for human sacrifices in the OT (Exodus 22), then changes his mind to animal sacrifices. So YOUR god is that terrible thing.

            There has been much discussion of the purpose of dietary commands.

            Why not apply them to all peoples if god is so concerned with human well-being?

            What I can say is that I understand enough to find the Bible extremely compelling.

            Perhaps you need to write a “Why I’m a Christian” post and justify your reasons for believing in the bible.

            Extremely compelling is not a term I associate in any way with the bible. Extremely implausible is more like it.

            My claim is that there is no good enough definition of ‘slavery’, such that a commandment against it would cover all such situations…..The heart issue to be dealt with is (a) how we derive personal value; (b) how we are to treat others. The servant heart which Jesus displayed is utterly antithetical to enslaving other beings. Have you readMt 20:20-28?

            God could have clearly said many times, “It is immoral to own any human being as property against their will for whatever reason and it is wrong to force them into labor with no pay and mistreat in any way or their children or family. Committing human slavery is worse than breaking any law in the Sabbath.” In Yahweh’s genius laws he literally compares slaves to their master’s money. So Yahweh at least has a monetary value of human life.

            Wouldn’t the only fair world be one where everyone has pretty much the same things?

            Then in heaven everyone must be equal like in some communist utopia. Pretty “hard to imagine.”

            one of the reasons I comment on blogs (I used to post a lot in forums too) is for this illogic to be pointed out. And I end up pointing out illogic in others’ points of view as well.

            Well i hope I’ve challenged you. But you seem to willing to let faith carry you at the end of the day, so I’m not placing any bets. I’ve broken down why your explanations are not plausible or logical and I’m waiting for a really good response.

          • labreuer

            How do you logically justify that? Simply knowing the truth will not control people’s minds. Plenty of us still deny the truth even when the facts are sitting right before our eyes. You’re saying that it’s best for us all to be confused over god’s will so that we will inevitably continue fighting over it as if this somehow has a silver lining better than god importing his will over to us perfectly.

            Actually, I think that there is an inescapable experiential aspect to knowledge. It’s like the difference between reading a textbook only, and also doing the problems. It’s the difference between book knowledge and practical, feet-on-the-ground knowledge. What is communicated from one being to another is always book knowledge.

            There’s something even more profound: to a vast extent, we seem to interpret reality based on our previous experiences, as if they are the alphabet with which we must spell any word we wish to use. You might say that formal, mathematical systems are somehow an exception to this. I might agree, but they’re also finite or ‘clean’ in the way that reality is not.

            Maybe this isn’t at all common in religion, but I often use experiences to better understand the Bible. It’s as if it is ‘merely’ a grid through which I see reality, a grid which brings some things into focus and [temporarily] obscures other things. (Our senses are always filtering out the vast majority of inputs, so this is really nothing new. Indeed, part of intelligence seems to be knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore, at a given level of understanding.) I’ll give you an example. James 1:2-4 talks about taking a certain attitude with regard to trials and tribulations. At the end of a long walk, my wife and I realized that we go about preparing ourselves to have this attitude in vastly different ways. That’s really important if we want to effectively encourage each other. The passage doesn’t contain this lesson, but it helped us focus enough so that this lesson could be found. That in and of itself is important. I always thank people who help me think of cool ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of myself, no matter what they did.

            To conclude, I don’t think it’s possible to merely theoretically understand God’s will. One has to be part of it to understand it more than “peace on earth and goodwill toward men”. Kind of like how if you really want to understand general relativity, you’ve gotta solve some problems in it. There’s no other way [that I know of].

            Then who or what controls our genetics and brain physiology that has a huge impact on out desires?

            You are ignoring my use of ‘completely’. Yes these things you mention predispose us in all sorts of ways. But they do not completely control us. Not in my view. There is something more, something which is truly ‘me’. Even Andy agrees with this. :-)

            God causes the pain, I already logically demonstrated that. If you disagree, prove it.

            God created a world where pain was plan B, put moral agents in it, offered them the option of plan A (curiosity and listening to him when there was danger of pain), but gave them the freedom to choose plan B. You can complain that plan B should never have been an option, which I take to mean that the cost of pain is too high to be exposed to that part of reality. You would therefore want beings who cannot understand all of reality. And mere book knowledge doesn’t suffice, as I argue above.

            You appear to want there to be more pain so long that it brings people to god.

            Do you want pain that cannot bring moral agents to God? That seems like the very essence of ‘gratuitous evil’. Pain that could never possibly serve a good purpose. But perhaps you weren’t even thinking of that option.

            So we should follow the same exact Mosaic laws of his day?

            No. Did you not see my “(taking into account the socioeconomic conditions, plus moral aptitude of the time)”?

            And what verifiable power do witches have? I’d like to know, because we might still need to be killing them today.

            I think there exists a spiritual world, even though the most direct experience I seem to have of it is through an atheist scientist. Search for “restaurant” in this comment. I think, like this realm, both good and bad things can be done with it. Now, being able to command spirits in the name of Jesus completely obsoletes the need to kill witches. I suppose you could call this ‘convenient’, but there is quite the pacifist streak in the NT in general, so…

            What if that other god is nicer, kinder and more gentle?

            Show me one. Show me one whose commands were tenable and if they had been followed, we would have reached a better way of living faster than we have. Some commands are harsh because the alternative is something which is even worse. This is a common plot device in fiction.

            What if that other god is nicer, kinder and more gentle? And by the way, Yahweh asks for human sacrifices in the OT (Exodus 22), then changes his mind to animal sacrifices. So YOUR god is that terrible thing.

            Sigh. If you’re not going to do even the most rudimentary research before presenting some problem in the Bible, I reserve the right to not respond. I invoke that right here. I really don’t want to play the whack-a-mole game with you. It’s boring, for it has virtually no bearing on knowledge which is useful in day-to-day living, nor in considering excellent possible futures and how to work toward them.

            Why not apply them to all peoples if god is so concerned with human well-being?

            God’s plan was for the world to see the excellence of Israel’s obedience to God, and flock to it and learn from it. That didn’t happen because the Israelites failed to be very obedient at all. There is a world of discussion to be had about this ‘failed plan’; please respond to this paragraph with a separate comment if you want to dig into it.

            Perhaps you need to write a “Why I’m a Christian” post and justify your reasons for believing in the bible.

            Not yet. One reason I don’t do much evangelizing is that I don’t think I have a good enough answer. Too much of it relies on hope, without enough solid, communicable evidence to do believable induction. I was perhaps part of one of my friends becoming a Christian; he saw me go well above and beyond the call of duty in helping him thrive at his job, as well as how I refused to derive value from how awesome I was (hah), but instead chose to bless others with the talents I had been given.

            The world without Christianity is very dark. Maybe it is all there is, but the reward in finding something better is extremely high. I deem it worth it. You may not. I don’t think I can come close to convincing you otherwise, at least not yet.

            Extremely compelling is not a term I associate in any way with the bible. Extremely implausible is more like it.

            You have demonstrated a consistent ability to see the worst in it. This, I think, will do a lot to help you see said implausibility. When scientists try to detect order in apparent randomness, they don’t focus on everything that would ‘prove’ the randomness, they strain their eyes to see something that makes sense, and then try to expand the lawfulness outward.

            God could have clearly said many times, “It is immoral to own any human being as property against their will for whatever reason and it is wrong to force them into labor with no pay and mistreat in any way or their children or family. Committing human slavery is worse than breaking any law in the Sabbath.”

            I can see that you strongly believe this would have created a better world. Given that the Israelites couldn’t even obey the slavery regulations as-is, I think your model of human nature contains a lot of error.

            In Yahweh’s genius laws he literally compares slaves to their master’s money. So Yahweh at least has a monetary value of human life.

            Slaves could also own property. It’s almost as if the master has pre-paid for ε-6 years of labor. Given that famines were routine, it makes sense for people to eat more the more they work. Temporary slavery, or perhaps more accurately indentured servitude, seemed to be a last-ditch effort to help people out. It meant that they had to submit to someone else’s way of doing things. Maybe they had bad luck in their own farming, but maybe they were being irresponsible. How to deal with this in a subsistence-based economy? Indentured servitude might have been the best way. Remember that slaves could run away, and fugitive slaves were not to be returned. Now, runaway indentured servants were less likely to convince the next person to take them on as an indentured servant, but it’s almost as if this ‘slavery’ thing was a way to help desperate people…

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I don’t think it’s possible to merely theoretically understand God’s will.

            So you’re a skeptical theist? If we can’t know god’s will you’ve given up your right to tell me god’s will and that goes for all people who claim to know god’s will. That’s pretty much what I want to happen.

            But they do not completely control us. Not in my view. There is something more, something which is truly ‘me’.

            Can you give me the temporal order of occurrences when a person makes a decision starting from the first event to the last in your view?

            God created a world where pain was plan B, put moral agents in it, offered them the option of plan A (curiosity and listening to him when there was danger of pain), but gave them the freedom to choose plan B.

            Your entire explanation presupposes biblical literalism which you apparently reject. I told you to please be mindful of your logic and I get a wopping self-contradiction from you. How am I supposed to take you seriously now? Please stick to one story and try not making yourself look like a typical theist who’s all over the map.

            Do you want pain that cannot bring moral agents to God? That seems like the very essence of ‘gratuitous evil’. Pain that could never possibly serve a good purpose. But perhaps you weren’t even thinking of that option.

            If god exists why any pain at all? You’re Adam and Eve fantasy is not something anyone takes seriously as an explanation, even many Christians. Show me evidence that “moral agents in it, offered them the option of plan A”.

            No. Did you not see my “(taking into account the socioeconomic conditions, plus moral aptitude of the time)”?

            I did. But Mosaic law could have been better, and by that I mean more humane and in accordance with scientific facts (like that germs cause diseases, not witches). Even the code of Hammurabi in many areas was better.

            I think there exists a spiritual world, even though the most direct experience I seem to have of it is through an atheist scientist. Search for “restaurant” in this comment.

            Coincidence is not evidence of the supernatural, it’s evidence of our tendency for agenticity and patternicity which makes religious thinking all being part of the brain, as I wrote in this post.

            Show me one. Show me one whose commands were tenable and if they had been followed, we would have reached a better way of living faster than we have. Some commands are harsh because the alternative is something which is even worse. This is a common plot device in fiction.

            The Zoroastrian god Mazda.

            BTW Yahweh’s rules didn’t get us here. Humanistic morality did. You try living according to the bible’s rules literally for 1 year and then write me a letter from prison telling me if you think the bible does a better job than humanistic values based on liberalism and reason.

            Sigh. If you’re not going to do even the most rudimentary research before presenting some problem in the Bible, I reserve the right to not respond. I invoke that right here. I really don’t want to play the whack-a-mole game with you. It’s boring, for it has virtually no bearing on knowledge which is useful in day-to-day living, nor in considering excellent possible futures and how to work toward them.

            I have done research. If you think I’m wrong, then prove it. Otherwise my point stands.

            God’s plan was for the world to see the excellence of Israel’s obedience to God, and flock to it and learn from it.

            Like their obedience to kill people for the most stupid reasons because “God said so”? I reserve the right to accuse you of naivety in failing to see how absurd your position is given the details of the text you support.

            Too much of it relies on hope, without enough solid, communicable evidence to do believable induction.

            Like I said, at the end of the day faith will carry you home.

            The world without Christianity is very dark.

            The secular world is actually benefiting from a world w/o Christianity.

            You have demonstrated a consistent ability to see the worst in it. This, I think, will do a lot to help you see said implausibility.

            Because you pretend like it’s not there out of convenience. It’s like a date rapist wanting to focus on the lovely dinner he enjoyed with his date before he raped her.

            I can see that you strongly believe this would have created a better world. Given that the Israelites couldn’t even obey the slavery regulations as-is, I think your model of human nature contains a lot of error.

            Maybe they would have tried and failed, but we don’t legalize Murder because some people will fail to observe that law.

            Slaves could also own property. It’s almost as if the master has pre-paid for ε-6 years of labor.

            Non-Israelite slaves could be kept for life and treated harshly (Lev 25:44-46), “indentured servitude” if you want to call it that was only for Israelite slaves, but even then, if a male slave married, he had to serve his master for life to stay with his wife and kids. What compassion from Yahweh. And the code of Hammurabi it was 3 years. So much for Yahweh’s compassion.

          • labreuer

            So you’re a skeptical theist? If we can’t know god’s will you’ve given up your right to tell me god’s will and that goes for all people who claim to know god’s will. That’s pretty much what I want to happen.

            No, I’m not a skeptical theist. Are you a skeptical scientist because some things have yet to be explained by science? Of course not! I have a model of God’s will, which I expect to continually refine as I go through life. Any Christian who says “we can’t know God’s will” is in denial of Eph 5:15-17, among a plethora of other passages. The entire Bible is about wanting what God wants, according to the rules (built into the design of reality) such that you can actually get those things. The NT is a criticism of the idea that following some finite law will get us those things. No, reality is more complex than that.

            Can you give me the temporal order of occurrences when a person makes a decision starting from the first event to the last in your view?

            No. Can you explain retrocausality, in your view? Just like I can drive a car without knowing how it works down to the last detail, I can act as if this works without knowing how. I hope to learn more about it as time goes on.

            Your entire explanation presupposes biblical literalism which you apparently reject.

            How does my explanation presuppose biblical literalism? Quotes, please. I think whenever I say “Adam and Eve” you think I must mean a literal two beings made out of clay, when I mean no such thing. I suspect you are doing this in other places, as well. But anyhow, please provide several quotations. Maybe you’re right. Or maybe you’re systematically misunderstanding me, and doing your usual thing of attributing the fault to me. Sigh.

            If god exists why any pain at all?

            Because ‘wrong’ is a possible choice and we need an indicator that gets more and more poignant the more we ignore wrongness. You want there to be another way; I want you to sketch out a realistic-sounding world with such another way.

            Show me evidence that “moral agents in it, offered them the option of plan A”.

            The Bible is all I have and it’s not enough for you. So you may consider me having no answer to this request.

            But Mosaic law could have been better, and by that I mean more humane and in accordance with scientific facts (like that germs cause diseases, not witches). Even the code of Hammurabi in many areas was better.

            Maybe you’re right. I’ve skimmed the CoH and I didn’t come to the “many areas was better” conclusion. There might have been a few things which seemed better; I don’t recall. I do recall Deut 23:15 prohibiting returning of fugitive slaves and the CoH requiring it. The trick is, proving your point is a bit difficult. It’s a difficult counterfactual to establish. Can you provide any evidence of it? For example, have we ever brought knowledge of modern hygiene to a secluded hunter-gatherer society, with them benefiting significantly from knowing it? Was South America or India vastly improved by such knowledge (if it were provided; I’m guessing)?

            Coincidence is not evidence of the supernatural, it’s evidence of our tendency for agenticity and patternicity which makes religious thinking all being part of the brain, as I wrote in this post.

            My scientist friend has evidence which surpasses the ‘coincidence’ label by happening with many true positives, few false positives, and few negatives. He still says that his intuition is merely ‘mysterious’, refusing to say much of anything about the mechanism. Nevertheless, he trusts it enough to predicate actions on it. He has saved lives with his intuition. I’ve seen it happen in real-time. The burden of proof has been provided on this issue, in my opinion.

            The Zoroastrian god Mazda.

            From Wikipedia:

            In Zoroastrianism, good transpires for those who do righteous deeds. Those who do evil have themselves to blame for their ruin.

            The book of Job (not to mention the Bible) utterly destroys this idea. It is a terrible idea. For, we are well aware that the evil actions of some people can make the lives of others terrible. To believe this is false is to believe that the people who are in truth scapegoats, actually deserve the bad consequences they evince. There is some correlation between good behavior and good results, but it is not complete; things often get quite muddled. I also see problems here:

            In this schema of asha versus druj, mortal beings (both humans and animals) play a critical role, for they too are created. Here, in their lives, they are active participants in the conflict, and it is their duty to defend order, which would decay without counteraction.

            The idea that evil decays into chaos is extremely suspect. It’s possible for society to be extremely stable, and yet extremely terrible. Merely defending some extant social order can be the same as defending terrible evil. Especially if the society can be jiggered such that the vast amount of the bad consequences fall on a few people. For, those people deserved their fate, you see.

            I do see the bits about hell being reformative; I don’t think the Bible requires that it isn’t, although the Bible definitely holds out the possibility that not all moral agents will chose to be reformed. If you’d like to do a more intense comparison between Zoroastrianism and Christianity, let’s do it. But I’d like you to do some of the work.

            BTW Yahweh’s rules didn’t get us here. Humanistic morality did. You try living according to the bible’s rules literally for 1 year and then write me a letter from prison telling me if you think the bible does a better job than humanistic values based on liberalism and reason.

            The OT commandments would be terrible for a socioeconomic situation like ours. You say “I did.” to “Did you not see my ‘(taking into account the socioeconomic conditions, plus moral aptitude of the time)’?”, and yet you make it seem like you didn’t. The NT builds on and, in certain ways, modifies OT law. There is a ‘moral trajectory’, not moral stasis. Jesus says that the Sabbath was created for man, not vice versa.

            Have you seen what happens when democracy is imposed on a country which isn’t ready for it?

            I have done research.

            Show it, then.

            Like their obedience to kill people for the most stupid reasons because “God said so”? I reserve the right to accuse you of naivety in failing to see how absurd your position is given the details of the text you support.

            Have at it. You seem to think that if I don’t have an explanation for every single one of your objections, I ought to drop my belief. That is insane. You seem unable to see the good bits of the Bible, and consider that maybe you’re seeing the other bits incorrectly. Well, that attitude will send you certain places. I’m not sure if you’ll ultimately like those places—preferring to see the bad over seeing the good.

            The secular world is actually benefiting from a world w/o Christianity.

            Some of it is, for now. Something which I will increasingly watch for is people who have said how God should have done things, people who are in power to try and shape reality. I’ll watch to see whether it turns out as they predicted. For, maybe you’re right. Maybe the world will be better if and when Christianity is expunged. I’m not nearly as convinced by the evidence-so-far as you are. So you continue trying to build a world without Yahweh and Jesus, and I’ll continue trying to build a world with them. We can compare what we’ve done from time to time.

            Because you pretend like it’s not there out of convenience.

            Huh? You mean religious laws which help maintain the current power structure?

            Maybe they would have tried and failed, but we don’t legalize Murder because some people will fail to observe that law.

            I suppose I’m more of a pragmatist. If I like law A better, but more pain and suffering would happen than temporary law B, I’ll impose law B until I can impose law A and have it result in less pain and suffering. You are apparently an idealist, regardless of the interim cost or ability to make the jump from here to the ideal, with no intermediate, imperfect steps.

            Non-Israelite slaves could be kept for life and treated harshly

            And yet slaves could escape and not worry about being forced to return. You consistently ignore that. Why?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Are you a skeptical scientist because some things have yet to be explained by science?

            i’m a bit skeptical about everything.

            The NT is a criticism of the idea that following some finite law will get us those things. No, reality is more complex than that.

            Yeah. The New Testament should be summarized as “when god realized how stupid and inane his rules were and needed an upgrade.”

            No.

            So you don’t even have a theory?

            I think whenever I say “Adam and Eve” you think I must mean a literal two beings made out of clay, when I mean no such thing. I suspect you are doing this in other places, as well.

            I deal with literalists from time to time so please if you invoke biblical mythology please include some fine print that you don’t mean it literally.

            Because ‘wrong’ is a possible choice and we need an indicator that gets more and more poignant the more we ignore wrongness.

            Explain to me how human choices lead to the suffering in the evolutionary process.

            You want there to be another way; I want you to sketch out a realistic-sounding world with such another way.

            http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/11/could-god-create-best-of-all-possible.html

            The Bible is all I have and it’s not enough for you. So you may consider me having no answer to this request.

            But you don’t even take the bible literally in those parts that try and justify why we live in a “fallen” world. So you’ve instead made up your own story, which to me might as well be as mythical as the A & E fairlytale.

            I do recall Deut 23:15 prohibiting returning of fugitive slaves and the CoH requiring it. The trick is, proving your point is a bit difficult. It’s a difficult counterfactual to establish. Can you provide any evidence of it?

            Look up rule 117 on the code here: http://eawc.evansville.edu/anthology/hammurabi.htm

            117. If any one fail to meet a claim for debt, and sell himself, his wife, his son, and daughter for money or give them away to forced labor: they shall work for three years in the house of the man who bought them, or the proprietor, and in the fourth year they shall be set free.

            There’s your evidence.

            have we ever brought knowledge of modern hygiene to a secluded hunter-gatherer society, with them benefiting significantly from knowing it?

            Yeah, We’ve reduced millions of deaths by teaching people in third world countries to clean themselves properly. Jesus even tells the Jews that no harm can come of not cleaning one’s hands. Boy was he wrong on that.

            I’ve seen it happen in real-time. The burden of proof has been provided on this issue, in my opinion.

            All I have is your friend’s “evidence” which is all anecdotal and falls perfectly within expected chance occurarnces of events.

            If you’d like to do a more intense comparison between Zoroastrianism and Christianity, let’s do it. But I’d like you to do some of the work.

            The simple Zoro phrase, “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” in my opinion is simple and better than anything in the OT or NT. Especially since Jesus reiterates the command to stone to death one’s cantankerous kids.

            The NT builds on and, in certain ways, modifies OT law. There is a ‘moral trajectory’, not moral stasis.

            This is exactly what we’d expect finite humans beings who learn over time to come up with, is it not? No theistic baggage needed.

            Show it, then.

            Read Thom Stark’s excellent critique of a Christian’s attempt to justify the OT’s barbaric laws.

            Is God A Moral Compromiser?

            ou seem unable to see the good bits of the Bible, and consider that maybe you’re seeing the other bits incorrectly.

            I acknowledge that every religion has good and bad. But the bad cancels out the possibility any of them were divinely inspired.

            So you continue trying to build a world without Yahweh and Jesus, and I’ll continue trying to build a world with them.

            A world without them that is replaced by science, reason, and humanist values is way better. Yes. That’s why god is dying.

            I suppose I’m more of a pragmatist. If I like law A better, but more pain and suffering would happen than temporary law B, I’ll impose law B until I can impose law A and have it result in less pain and suffering.

            So prohibiting slavery, and commanding the killing of witches, homosexuals, idol worshipers, and people who violate the neurotic Sabbath laws will lead to more pain and suffering than not doing so? That would have to be true in order for your example to make sense.

            And yet slaves could escape and not worry about being forced to return. You consistently ignore that. Why?

            Oh wow. Yeah that makes god so humane, it really does. Now I see how loving he is. He says slavery is life long, unless you manage to escape! I could never have done it any better.

            That’s like saying I can beat my slave all I want, but if I knock out his tooth or gouge his eye, then he can go free, and this proves how “humane” god is.

            And are you sure this law is not for foreign slaves who’ve escaped to Israel and not slaves escaping from Israelites?

          • LukeBreuer

            So you don’t even have a theory?

            Not that I wish to present to you.

            Explain to me how human choices lead to the suffering in the evolutionary process.

            Oh good grief, multiple times I’ve said that humans aren’t the only moral agents, multiple times you’ve said you assent to that, and now you’re back to humans being the only moral agents. I give up on this tangent; you win by your insistence to not remember things I’ve tried to be very clear about.

            http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/11/could-god-create-best-of-all-possible.html

            I don’t see that as ‘realistic’. Have you ever read a novel that presented a fake-seeming reality that just doesn’t make sense or is somehow not compelling? Well, your blog post is like that. It just isn’t convincing. Sorry.

            But you don’t even take the bible literally in those parts that try and justify why we live in a “fallen” world. So you’ve instead made up your own story, which to me might as well be as mythical as the A & E fairlytale.

            I’m attempting to find a moral pattern to the universe, yes. You’re welcome to be a non-cognitivist and let might make right, modulo some attempt to persuade or coerce other people. I’m going to stick with moral realism for now. I’m going to believe there is order instead of just pure irrationality.

            There’s your evidence.

            Alright, it’s all on that single commandment. You don’t care that the Hammurabi’s Code disallows slaves from running away? I find that curious.

            Jesus even tells the Jews that no harm can come of not cleaning one’s hands.

            If this is how you interpret all of the Bible, I can see why it seems so terrible. Context is a bitch, I suppose.

            The simple Zoro phrase, “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” in my opinion is simple and better than anything in the OT or NT.

            And you accuse me of vagueness. Jesus sure nailed it with the plank & speck.

            Read Thom Stark’s excellent critique of a Christian’s attempt to justify the OT’s barbaric laws.

            Is God A Moral Compromiser?

            Yep, and a quick search turned up Richard Hess’s Response to Thom Stark. Are we going to do a battle of the scholars on this topic? I suppose I’m up for it. Who knows, you might end up being right.

            But the bad cancels out the possibility any of them were divinely inspired.

            Ahh, because an omni-deity would never let there be problems like you describe in a holy book? It seems you’ve been infected with the idea that holy books must be inerrant, or have no divine touch whatsoever. That is a false dichotomy. We see through a glass dimly. We see all realities through a glass dimly.

            So prohibiting slavery, and commanding the killing of witches, homosexuals, idol worshipers, and people who violate the neurotic Sabbath laws will lead to more pain and suffering than not doing so? That would have to be true in order for your example to make sense.

            Once we get a simulation of human history running, we can test these counterfactuals you are so sure about.

            That’s like saying I can beat my slave all I want, but if I knock out his tooth or gouge his eye, then he can go free, and this proves how “humane” god is.

            Sigh. There you are, seeing the worst you can. You might like this comment I made to Andy earlier today. Freemen got corporal punishment, too.

            And are you sure this law is not for foreign slaves who’ve escaped to Israel and not slaves escaping from Israelites?

            Reading the context is not that hard. But why are you even asking this question? Apparently it doesn’t matter to you which way it is.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            How about Thom Stark’s response to Richard Hess:

            http://religionatthemargins.com/2011/06/copan-and-company-part-4/

          • LukeBreuer

            I’m not sure I want take all the time and effort to dig into this stuff (I read Copan’s book by the way, and found it distinctly dissatisfying), unless I can get some sort of promise that the work will go somewhere interesting. We’re talking tens if not hundreds of hours of effort to really dive into this stuff, purchase/borrow books, etc. I don’t want to be the only one doing the work.

            Before doing that research, let’s remember that the Israelites thought it was ok to sacrifice their children by burning them alive, at at least one point. There is a famous criticism in Jeremiah 19:5, which even questions what the Bible might mean by calling God ‘all-knowing’:

            and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind

            So, was everything that God “did not command or decree” expunged from Torah? I’m not even sure inerrantists must say ‘yes’ to this. There are a few premises which require a ‘yes’:

                 (1) Communication from God never contains error.
                 (2) Mankind can hear God perfectly.
                 (3) An imperfect canon would be worse than a perfect one.

            There are probably others, as well. I ‘happen’ to believe that none of these premises are true, for I believe that the true description of reality and morality is infinite, in the sense that no finite computer program could perfectly generate either. If this is true, there is no such thing as perfect communication from an infinite being (God) to a finite being (humans), if the ultimate content is infinite (about God or reality or morality). There is only “good enough for some purpose”. This is precisely how scientific research is evaluated: is it good enough for the purpose of discovering new things and/or better modeling existing things. We know that ‘wrong’ things can lead to ‘less wrong’ things. I believe this process will go on forever, and that such increase in knowledge is the best way to obtain those squirts.

            The Israelites clearly thought that it was acceptable to sacrifice their children to Yahweh and other gods; Jeremiah makes that clear. But did this ‘acceptablness’ make it into Torah? Was Torah completely unmixed with evil? I don’t think so. I reject (3), on the basis that ‘perfection’ cannot be defined with a finite number of words. One of the best critiques of Torah law, in my opinion, is the obvious disparity between how men and women were valued. Women were property. But nonetheless, I recall that the laws for how to treat women in Torah were not as bad as what the Israelites were used to. So I think it is reasonable to assume that Torah law turned up the heat on the frog, but didn’t drop the frog into boiling water.

            So I ask: what if Torah contains laws demanding child sacrifice? What would that mean?

            I don’t know the answer to my question. Peter Enns, in his books and blog, has given me reason to seriously doubt the thesis that the Bible must be perfect or purely human. What, precisely, would make it more than just purely human? One answer is to ask what the purpose of the Bible appears to be. In my view, it is to challenge human beings to create an ideal society, according to a definition of ‘ideal’ which I have not encountered in any utopia description I know of. It is both a manual for how to create heaven on earth, and an attempt to help us understand what God is like, through the ‘dirtiness’ of humanity.

            Now, we can still ask how much bad stuff Torah has in it. Too much, and it’s utterly useless in any heaven-making program. But how much is too much? I love pointing to Hubble’s original data, because he was able to correctly discern a pattern in very noisy data. One option is to wave one’s omni-wand, declare that an omni-god would do things differently, and thus conclude that no omni-god exists. This approach just doesn’t lead anywhere. I think mine does, I can explain it, and I’m going to pursue it until it seems to lead to a dead end or it produces evidence I can point to.

            If you want to say that my inability to explain two verses in the Bible means the whole thing should be regarded as 100% human-made, I’m going to reject the premises of that argument, as-stated. Given the fuzziness of communication, that maybe a fundamental property of the universe, contrary to all the omni-wands flicking about, insisting to the contrary. I prefer to try and argue from what we have observed, to how an omni-deity might operate. Let observed reality constrain one’s model, instead of developing a model from whole cloth that seems entirely divorced from reality.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Oh good grief, multiple times I’ve said that humans aren’t the only moral agents,

            Then explain how any agents lead to this. Offer a theory. Anything. But you don’t want to.

            Well, your blog post is like that. It just isn’t convincing. Sorry.

            Why not? It is logically impossible.

            You’re welcome to be a non-cognitivist and let might make right, modulo some attempt to persuade or coerce other people. I’m going to stick with moral realism for now.

            You’re a theist who subscribes to moral realism? I thought you’d be a divine command theorist as most theists are? I don’t know where you get the idea that I’m not a moral realist. Read my section critiquing the moral argument.

            If this is how you interpret all of the Bible, I can see why it seems so terrible. Context is a bitch, I suppose.

            There is no context in which Jesus can be absolved of the fatal error he taught. I know the context. He still could’ve mentioned that washing hands is good for other reasons. This is further evidence he was just a man,

            And you accuse me of vagueness. Jesus sure nailed it with the plank & speck.

            Not sure what this means.

            And you accuse me of vagueness. Jesus sure nailed it with the plank & speck.

            Link was dead. I’ve read Copan’s own response to some of Stark’s criticism, and Copan really has a hard time defending his views on slavery. I think Stark’s critique wins the majority of criticisms.

            We see through a glass dimly. We see all realities through a glass dimly.

            So we should expect that a divine creator would intentionally put bad logic and lies into his most important message he has for humanity, and the message he will judge us on for eternity? How then can I tell it apart from something entirely man-made?

            Once we get a simulation of human history running, we can test these counterfactuals you are so sure about.

            Yeah, and we’re doing just fine. Read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Violence is on the decline. If you’d rather live in the middle ages I pity you. But hey, that’s your choice.

            There you are, seeing the worst you can. You might like this comment I made to Andy earlier today. Freemen got corporal punishment, too.

            Extending the beating to free men makes the whole moral system worse, not better. See how religion has corrupted your moral thinking?

            Reading the context is not that hard.

            I’m just asking the question. That’s all. Excuse me.

          • LukeBreuer

            Then explain how any agents lead to this. Offer a theory. Anything. But you don’t want to.

            I don’t have much of anything to offer than what I already have. You seem to want me to have a comprehensive explanation and if I do not, I must discard my way of thinking about things. This is precisely what creationists do when they say that evolutionists must disbelieve in evolution because they don’t have a complete theory of abiogenesis. It’s a stupid way to treat systems of thought.

            Why not? It is logically impossible.

            I think you meant ‘logically possible’? In any event, I suggest you try and tell a convincing story of how your world came to be and how beings within it interact with each other. Make it sound real. You know how some novels just don’t seem realistic, while others do, right? We humans have a sense for nonsense stories vs. realistic stories. It’s terribly hard to imagine worlds with beings in them through propositions. Indeed, many people throughout time have thought that they just need some finite morality and the world created from it would be perfect forever, and then when they try and impose this morality against that world, the real world dashes it to pieces.

            You’re a theist who subscribes to moral realism? I thought you’d be a divine command theorist as most theists are?

            I think God created a world where morality is naturalistically discoverable, just like how physics works is naturalistically discoverable. So I think morality is encoded into how reality works. That doesn’t mean God didn’t create it—he created reality. But I don’t think it’s merely that God said something is right/wrong that it is right/wrong; I think God is describing properties of the reality he created when he says these things. Hence, I don’t find the Euthyphro dilemma to be a dilemma.

            I don’t know where you get the idea that I’m not a moral realist. Read my section critiquing the moral argument.

            It was a guess that turned out to be wrong. Most atheists I run into do seem to be non-cognitivists. I will say that your sentence “Thus I say objective moral values exist independently of god.” seems a bit divorced from everything else you say in that paragraph. Why do you believe in moral realism?

            There is no context in which Jesus can be absolved of the fatal error he taught. I know the context. He still could’ve mentioned that washing hands is good for other reasons. This is further evidence he was just a man,

            Andy and I have discussed this hand-washing business extensively, using the term ‘hygiene 101′. The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether this would have diluted his main message, which was almost entirely about the mental domain, and especially about desires and value. Consider BF Skinner, who believed that human beings had no substantial ‘inner life’ (Noam Chomsky’s The Case Against B.F. Skinner elucidates). Jesus’ message was utterly and completely antithetical to B.F. Skinner’s thesis. Jesus said that if you get the inner life correct, the outer behavior will also be correct. BF Skinner said that if you apply the right forces in society, the outer behavior will be correct. Do you see the fundamental difference, here?

            Once again I point to Mt 20:20-28. Jesus argues that ‘lording it over’ other people is bad. BF Skinner thought the masses had to be lorded over, just like Dostoyevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor (25m Youtube version). People are weak and must be coerced into doing the right thing by their betters. How on earth do you convince someone that ‘lording it over’ is bad? You aren’t going to do it by telling people hygiene 101, how to get better crop yields, etc. Those things just don’t lead to being less shitty to your fellow man, in my opinion. Or rather, maybe they let you be a little less shitty, but they don’t strike down the idea that some human beings are more worthy, more valuable, than others. And the instant you think it’s ok to ‘lord it over’ people, you accept that you are more worthy than they.

            Therefore, I’m increasingly unconvinced that Jesus focusing on hand washing would have been as beneficial as being all about the mental/spiritual realm, the realm of meaning, the one that most matters to people ultimately.

            Link was dead. I’ve read Copan’s own response to some of Stark’s criticism, and Copan really has a hard time defending his views on slavery. I think Stark’s critique wins the majority of criticisms.

            The link works now, but see this comment of mine, as well as Jonathan’s, to which it is a reply.

            So we should expect that a divine creator would intentionally put bad logic and lies into his most important message he has for humanity, and the message he will judge us on for eternity? How then can I tell it apart from something entirely man-made?

            Intentionally? No, except that God ‘intentionally’ constructed a reality where truth and falsehood aren’t automatically discerned correctly by minds. You worry about the “judge us on for an eternity”, but what if that judgment merely means that the standards you applied to others are consistently applied to you? Rom 2:12-16 hints at this, as well as other passages. Or consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man clearly believed that other people existed to serve him both while on earth and while in Hades. I’m of C.S. Lewis’ opinion, that the rich man has ‘locked the gates from the inside’ by holding to this idea of how reality should work. And thus, he creates his hell.

            There is a fascinating verse which contains: “sin is lawlessness”. This almost defines ‘sin’ not as breaking God’s law, but breaking any law which is ostensibly designed for fairness. The way a society makes its laws better and better is to apply them utterly consistently, and then modify them as that consistent application is discovered to have problems. But if the law is inconsistently applied, especially so that the wealthy can avoid abiding by it, legal progress is stunted and you end up with a terrible society.

            Imagine that the afterlife is you getting treated precisely as you treated others. If you were an idiot on earth and forgot that much of your good position in life had nothing to do with you, and judged other people as if they all had as nice an upbringing as you, what would such an afterlife be like? Hellish, it seems to me. Now, I personally believe you’ll have the option to realize what kind of hell you were creating on earth, but you’ll also have the option to not realize it.

            Now, I’m not sure I have a good answer to your last question. I could say “whatever draws you toward God”, but you’d be right to ask what that would be, and what it even means to “draw closer to God”. And yet, if God is the personification of perfection, then better understanding how reality works and how to treat other rational beings excellently is surely part of understanding what God is like. Here my explanation stalls, because I cannot well-describe what a personal relationship with God is like. I don’t feel like I have much of a personal relationship (there are a few bits and pieces), but I’m a little messed up in the emotional domain. The best I can probably say is that one of the best feelings in life seems to be “being on the same team” with another mind, overcoming obstacles and accomplishing worthwhile things. Hopefully I can do that with God, somehow. And with other minds.

            Yeah, and we’re doing just fine. Read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Violence is on the decline. If you’d rather live in the middle ages I pity you. But hey, that’s your choice.

            I’m aware of Pinker’s fractal reduction in violence model. But I also know that America seems quite stalled in the moral domain, and I don’t think gay rights or abortion has much to do with it. Who cares if things get better, if they ultimately stall and if multiple classes get reconstructed, with the barriers between them ever-growing? To be specific, the disparity in education one can get depending on one’s birth seems to be increasing. This sets the tone for the rest of one’s life.

            We could also note that the Roman Catholic Church civilized some of the rampaging ‘barbarians’; once converted to Christianity, their level of violence greatly decreased. At least, this is according to Bertrand Russel’s A History of Western Philosophy; I am told his history is suspect, but not how suspect.

            Extending the beating to free men makes the whole moral system worse, not better. See how religion has corrupted your moral thinking?

            If you think a subsistence-based economy can get by without corporal punishment of any kind, I’m fascinated to see why you think this. With famines being a fact of life, prisons would be out of the question. And so how do people get punished? Maybe you will find a solution; I haven’t, though I haven’t done a whole lot of thinking about such a situation, since we no longer live in a subsistence-based economy.

            It strikes me that if you were asked to make the prediction that the psychologist and psychiatrist students were asked to do in the Milgram experiment, you’d get it wrong just like they did. I suspect that you have a rosy picture of human nature, or at least a weird model which mis-attributes fault such that it poorly explains the evils of history. My attempt to understand some of the horrible things in the Bible leads me to expect results like those of the Milgram experiment, The Third Wave, and the Stanford prison experiment.

            I would be interested to know what you make of Ralph Wood’s Solzhenitsyn as Latter-Day Prophet: A Review Essay for the Christian Century (pdf), which ends:

            As a latter-day prophet, Solzhenitsyn writes for us whose fate is to live in the totalitarian epoch. Literarily, it has the power of high satirical art. Spiritually, it calls us both to humility and hope. The falsehood to be repented and repudiated is that evil can he destroyed by political domination and control. The hope to he seized and nurtured is that, while evil cannot be totally expelled from the world, each man can struggle with it in himself:

            It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an unuprooted small corner of evil. (615)

            I’m just asking the question. That’s all. Excuse me.

            You’re expecting me to do a lot more work than you appear to be doing. That gets tiring. I’ve participated in so many discussions with people who post like you do—who expect me to do virtually all of the work—and I get much less out of them, than discussions with people who do more of the work. Since I have limited time, I choose to spend it on the latter group of people more than the former. Can you blame me for this?

          • Andy_Schueler

            If you think a subsistence-based economy can get by without corporal punishment of any kind, I’m fascinated to see why you think this.

            :-D.
            And this started with someone pointing out scripture that allows slave owners to beat their slaves, scripture that doesn´t say ANYTHING WHATSOEVER about said beatings being a “punishment” for any wrongdoings, but rather EXPLICITLY says that a slave owner has the right to do that because the slave is HIS PROPERTY.
            And you successfully managed to completely change the subject to “what, so you think punishing people for wrongdoings is categorically wrong?? How could a society work without that??”. That has literally nothing whatsoever to do with the original scripture in question.
            If I say “I should have the right to kidnap young girls”, and you reply “are you insane? that is morally wrong!”, and then I reply “what are you talking about? So you think that we should never take anyone´s freedom away? You think we should just close all prisons??” – it would be exactly the same reasoning that you apply here.
            Again, I don´t think you are being deliberately deceptive, but this is extremely deceptive. And very worrisome. You say you want to help people and that you believe the Bible can help you with that – which sounds like using the Bible as a means for the end of helping people. But I have honestly no idea how you can come up with stuff like this if your actual intention (whether you realize that or not) is not using people as a means for the end of presenting the Bible in the best possible light,
            You earlier asked if I think you are misguided, and for this particular point here, the answer is “most emphatically yes” – you let your emotional attachment to the Bible cloud your judgment.

          • LukeBreuer

            And this started with someone pointing out scripture that allows slave owners to beat their slaves, scripture that doesn´t say ANYTHING WHATSOEVER about said beatings being a “punishment” for any wrongdoings, but rather EXPLICITLY says that a slave owner has the right to do that because the slave is HIS PROPERTY.

            I think it was fair for me to suspect that corporal punishment itself was being questioned. Many people would object to merely that.

            Now, what does “because the slave is HIS PROPERTY” actually mean? You seem to have decided what it means; have you done an iota of research? You’ve already stated that you think ANE slavery is just like New World slavery, on an evidence base you have not described. So you’re bringing all sorts of conceptions into play that just don’t fit. One is that “because the slave is HIS PROPERTY” (or “his money“) means one gets to do anything one wants. After all, you can do whatever the hell you want with your property. This idea is despite the fact that:

                 (a) killing your slave ‘quickly’ resulted in vengeance

                 (b) knocking out a tooth or destroying an eye necessitated freeing your slave

            So we can ask: how well does the following premise hold up?

                 (1) You can do whatever you want with your property.

            Hmmm, not so well! We already have two restrictions on this; do they generalize? Do they actually indicate that the slave is still a person? You seem pretty certain that they don’t. How does this stand up to additional textual scrutiny? Let’s look at this chunk of text:

            “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God. As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

            “If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 25:39-55)

            This text simply does not support (1). So you’re left with something else you’ve said:

                 (2) Ex 21:20-21 means what I said; the Bible is simply contradictory.

            It’s hard for me to argue against this! If you get to decide what the Bible means by reading two verses and telling me that no other verses can be used to help understand what it might mean, I’m kinda screwed. Except perhaps for the fact that if you did that to almost any book in existence, you’d find the same contradictory nature.

            The best criticism I can think of would be to show that text like the above Leviticus bit postdates the Deuteronomy bit, to show that Israel’s idea of slavery improved over time. But would that really help your case? It would be evidence of them improving their moral attitudes, something that I claim God is trying to do even today. For I believe that there is no ‘perfect’ moral attitude; I think we’ll ever be improving our morality with no end in sight—unless we hit a shitty period where some human beings are permanently considered to be more valuable than other human beings. I could see that happening.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I think it was fair for me to suspect that corporal punishment itself was being questioned. Many people would object to merely that.

            “Punishment” wasn´t even the issue – you sidetracked the discussion to punishment.

            Now, what does “because the slave is HIS PROPERTY” actually mean? You seem to have decided what it means; have you done an iota of research? You’ve already stated that you think ANE slavery is just like New World slavery, on an evidence base you have not described. So you’re bringing all sorts of conceptions into play that just don’t fit. One is that “because the slave is HIS PROPERTY” (or “his money”) means one gets to do anything one wants. After all, you can do whatever the hell you want with your property. This idea isdespite the fact that:

            (a) killing your slave ‘quickly’ resulted in vengeance
            (b) destroying a tooth/eyenecessitated freeing your slave

            So we can ask: how well does the following premise hold up?

            (1) You can do whatever you want with your property.

            Hmmm, not so well!

            Assume that you would say “new world slavery was bad because it deprived people of their freedom and slave owners could even beat them and mistreat them in other ways” and I reply “Ah, your assumption seems to be that new world slave owner could do whatever they want to their slaves, but actually murdering slaves was illegal in most new world states and ten of them even outlawed “cruel treatment” of slaves” – you would probably immediatly realize that I am strawmanning your position.
            Yet you don´t seem to realize that you are strawmanning my position here… You really should consider your biases. Biases per se are nothing wrong, we all have them, but you seem to be unable to discuss this particular issue without sidetracking and strawmanning.

            You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

            Exactly like new world slavery… Slavery is not bad per se, you just cannot enslave your fellow white people

          • LukeBreuer

            “Punishment” wasn´t even the issue – you sidetracked the discussion to punishment.

            Oh, but it was being assumed by you (and IIRC The Thinker) that the verse was at least broader than punishment. That the master would be just in beatings even if they weren’t ‘appropriate’ punishment due to wrongdoing.

            Assume that you would say “new world slavery was bad because it deprived people of their freedom and slave owners could even beat them and mistreat them in other ways” and I reply “Ah, your assumption seems to be that new world slave owner could do whatever they want to their slaves, but actually murdering slaves was illegal in most new world states and ten of them even outlawed “cruel treatment” of slaves” – you would probably immediatly realize that I am strawmanning your position.

            Is the objection here any kind of slavery whatsoever, even an ‘indentured servitude’ ε-6 year term? You’ve made it clear that the mere existence of corporal punishment is not a sufficient objection. So I’m left a little unclear on what your objection is. As best as I can understand, it is that there are not enough protections on the slaveholder to prevent him from unjustly beating his slaves. Is that the objection? If so, I don’t understand why you’re ignoring Lev 25:39-55.

            You think I’m strawmanning your position, but I actually don’t fully understand your position! Hopefully the above will help. It still seems like you’re interpreting a single passage as darkly as you can, refusing to consider that this isn’t always a valid way to read a text.

            To try and understand the ‘strawmanning’ accusation a bit more, was my pointing out Lev 25:39-55 in my previous comment an instance of it? It included, among other things, the possibility of slaves owning property (“Or if he grows rich he many redeem himself.”). This, to my knowledge, was completely unknown in the New World. Slaves in the New World did not own property. But perhaps you see this as irrelevant? In which case, I don’t understand your line of demarcation between what would be irrelevant (straw-manning) and what would be relevant. My only guess of what would be relevant is a prohibition on slaves; is this correct?

            Exactly like new world slavery… Slavery is not bad per se, you just cannot enslave your fellow white people

            Ok, I suppose one could read this incredibly uncharitably, and say that racism in slavery treatment was acceptable. And yet, other forms of racism were outlawed:

            “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. (Deut 24:17-18)

            The same impartiality goes for hired workers:

            “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin. (Deut 24:14-15)

            So to suppose that it’s ok to be racist toward non-Hebrew slaves in any way other than length of enslavement (and it’s not clear that said enslavement has to be permanent if the slaves don’t want it) is very iffy business, unless you can find passages I haven’t. You might also note Deut 15:12-18, which have even Hebrew slaves sometimes wanting to stay slaves forever.

            P.S. Fun fact: Hebrew slaves cost 1/2 what a hired worker cost.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Oh, but it was being assumed by you (and IIRC The Thinker) that the verse was at least broader than punishment. That the master would be just in beatings even if they weren’t ‘appropriate’ punishment due to wrongdoing.

            Punishment is a complete non-issue in this context, the verse neither says, nor implies, that the slave-owner is responsible for carrying out the punishment for whatever offenses / crimes the slave might have committed. It says that as long as the slave doesn´t die from the beatings after a few days, the owner is not to be punished for beating his slave because the slave is his property.

            Is the objection here any kind of slavery whatsoever, even an ‘indentured servitude’ ε-6 year term? You’ve made it clear that the mere existence of corporal punishment is not a sufficient objection.

            Making it about indentured servitude is yet another attempt at sidetracking and the existence of corporal punishiment is not an objection at all – it could not be less relevant, it is just as relevant as the existence of prison terms for convicted criminals is relevant for whether kidnapping should be allowed or not (i.e. not relevant at all).

            As best as I can understand, it is that there are not enough protections on the slaveholder to prevent him from unjustly beating his slaves.

            There are no protections whatsoever for that. That a slave owner is not allowed to beat his slaves so severely that they die immediatly is exactly the same “protection” that slaves in the new world had – virtually all slave codes did not allow “willful killing” of slaves (and most classified that as murder).

            To try and understand the ‘strawmanning’ accusation a bit more, was my pointing out Lev 25:39-55 in my previous comment an instance of it? It included, among other things, the possibility of slaves owning property (“Or if he grows rich he many redeem himself.”)

            That applied to hebrews, not to foreign slaves:
            “47 “‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your FELLOW ISRAELITES become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.”

            Slaves in the New World did not own property. But perhaps you see this as irrelevant?

            Yes, because it´s not talking about SLAVES becoming rich, it talks about foreigners aquiring hebrew bondservants and those bondservants aquiring wealth – hebrews were not held as property, all the text does is explain the double standard for hebrews (which could sell themselves to become bondservants but they could never be held as property – not by fellow hebrews and not by foreigners).

            Ok, I suppose one could read this incredibly uncharitably, and say that racism in slavery treatment was acceptable. And yet, other forms of racism were outlawed:

            I could defend the new world slave codes with the exact same reasoning. A german businessman travelling to the new world to do business had the same legal protection as a citizen in the new world had – does that make slavery in the new world any better? Is that even relevant in any way?

          • LukeBreuer

            Punishment is a complete non-issue in this context, the verse neither says, nor implies, that the slave-owner is responsible for carrying out the punishment for whatever offenses / crimes the slave might have committed. It says that as long as the slave doesn´t die from the beatings after a few days, the owner is not to be punished for beating his slave because the slave is his property.

            Then this seems to be your final position. Because Ex 20:20-21 does not explicitly say that a slaveholder must be just in dealing with his slaves, it means that there are no restrictions whatsoever, beyond:

                 (a) slave doesn’t die in one or two days
                 (b) slave’s tooth doesn’t get knocked out
                 (c) slave’s eye doesn’t yet destroyed

            You refuse to acknowledge that just dealing of one human being with another in Israel was not a ‘spirit of the law’ which was meant to color all of Torah. This, despite verses such as:

            You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. (Deut 16:19)

            Your entire case rests upon “because the slave is his property”. You read that as if one can do whatever one wants with his property. It couldn’t possibly be that the slaveowner bought the slave to do work, and that the slave failing to properly do work is a violating of the contract. The meaning of “because the slave is his property” is completely determined by one Andy_Schueler.

            That a slave owner is not allowed to beat his slaves so severely that they die immediatly is exactly the same “protection” that slaves in the new world had – virtually all slave codes did not allow “willful killing” of slaves (and most classified that as murder).

            I’m not aware of a single American slavery code which meted out death to the slaveholder for murdering his slaves. If this is true, your “exactly the same” isn’t the same, for the threat of death is surely a greater deterrent than some lesser punishment. Furthermore, this life-for-life scheme explicitly placed the life of a slave on equal footing with the life of the slaveholder—something that was explicitly denied in the Colonies.

            That applied to hebrews, not to foreign slaves

            Yes, which is why I cited additional verses that talked about “the sojourner”.

            I could defend the new world slave codes with the exact same reasoning. A german businessman travelling to the new world to do business had the same legal protection as a citizen in the new world had – does that make slavery in the new world any better? Is that even relevant in any way?

            Anything which improves the life of a slave is better than not having that thing. Hopefully things keep getting added so that slowly, the distinction between slave and freeman is extinguished. Faster is clearly better.

            Key to the discussion here is not whether the OT slave codes were good, but whether they were better/worse/the same as their immediate contemporaries. This is because I don’t think giving perfect laws to imperfect people is a great way to get them to obey them. Drop a frog in boiling water and he’ll jump out.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Then this seems to be your final position. Because Ex 20:20-21 does not explicitly say that a slaveholder must bejust in dealing with his slaves, it means that there are no restrictions whatsoever, beyond:

            (a) slave doesn’t die in one or two days
            (b) slave’s tooth doesn’t get knocked out
            (c) slave’s eye doesn’t yet destroyed

            You refuse to acknowledge that just dealing of one human being with another in Israel was not a ‘spirit of the law’

            So your final position is, that since the new world slave codes do not explicitly say that a slave owner had to be just in beating his slaves, there were no restrictions whatsoever beyond not willfully killing their slaves and extreme cruelty (in the states were this was outlawed) and you refuse to acknowledge that just dealing of one human with another was the “spirit of the law” for the american republic.

            Your entire case rests upon “because the slave is his property”. You read that as if one can do whatever one wants with his property. It couldn’t possibly be that the slaveowner bought the slave to do work, and that the slave failing to properly do work is a violating of the contract.

            Sure, and if one of those damn n***ers in the new world didn´t do the work he was bought for, his owner was of course justified in punishing his slave for violating the contract.

            I’m not aware of a single American slavery code which meted out death to the slaveholder for murdering his slaves.

            From wiki:

            “Southern slave codes did make willful killing of a slave illegal in most cases. For example, in 1791 the North Carolinalegislature made the willful killing of a slave murder, unless done in resisting or under moderate correction.[6]”
            - North Carolina did have the death penalty for murder in 1791.

            Yes, which is why I cited additional verses that talked about “the sojourner”.

            And how exactly is that of any relevance for bought slaves?

            Anything which improves the life of a slave is better than not having that thing.

            The next time you talk to a black person about slavery, tell him / her that.

          • LukeBreuer

            So your final position is, that since the new world slave codes do not explicitly say that a slave owner had to be just in beating his slaves, there were no restrictions whatsoever beyond not willfully killing their slaves and extreme cruelty (in the states were this was outlawed) and you refuse to acknowledge that just dealing of one human with another was the “spirit of the law” for the american republic.

            No, I don’t make this claim about New World slave codes. I am expressing ignorance of any New World slave code whereby if a slaveholder murders his slave, he gets executed himself. Therefore, the OT regulations of slavery saw slaves as having higher dignity than any New World slave code I know of.

            From wiki:

            “Southern slave codes did make willful killing of a slave illegal in most cases. For example, in 1791 the North Carolina legislature made the willful killing of a slave murder, unless done in resisting or under moderate correction.[6]”

            - North Carolina did have the death penalty for murder in 1791.

            Ahh, so this is slightly better than what I knew about. It still doesn’t seem as stringent as the OT, given that “resisting or under moderate correction” would excuse quite a lot. I would be interested to know about how many executions of whites occurred under this law. I suspect not very many.

            And how exactly is that of any relevance for bought slaves?

            It was evidence of the OT’s stance on racism, which is what would allow one to be more awful to non-Hebrews than Hebrews. I thought I made this clear?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Now that I think about it, the comparison to the young american republic re the “spirit of the law” is actually very illuminating. If the “spirit of the law” is what is written in the american constitution and the bill of rights, then the “spirit of the law” actually does imply that slavery is wrong – already before the 13th amendment made it explicit.
            That doesn´t change anything whatsoever about the horrors of the new world slave codes though. And what you are doing here is exactly as if someone would try to sidetrack a discussion about the horrors of new world slavery by repeatedly pointing to the good stuff about the young american republic – as if that should affect a moral judgment about the american slave codes in any way. The only reason to do that would be a commitment to present the USA in the best possible light at any cost, even if that means that the suffering of slaves has to be trivialized.

          • LukeBreuer

            Have you read the Cornerstone Speech? Slaves were largely seen as sub-human. So much for imago dei.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Most of the Nazis did believe in imago dei and it is a central tenet of the Nazi Rassenlehre.

          • LukeBreuer

            Did they believe that the Jews did not descend from Adam and Eve? That’d be a little hilarious, given that Genesis is their book.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            So you’re telling me Jesus died for a symbol that never existed? Is that your kind of Christianity?

          • labreuer

            No, his death was part of the fixing of the vast amount of evil both you and I see in the world. We are the rest of that fixing (Col 1:24). Adam and Eve merely symbolize the repeated human decision to trust himself/herself over God. It is these repeated decisions which I believe bring evil into the world. I don’t think their consequences can be magicked away; this would demean the suffering.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            You make no logical sense. Humans brought evil into the world? How is that so? Please define evil for me and make a logical argument for how humans brought it into this world.

          • labreuer

            Whether or not humans brought evil into the world is irrelevant. Humans have the choice to help eliminate evil from the world. Or they can ignore it as long as their [small] sphere of existence is pretty enough. Or they can protest that fighting it is too costly. There is no end to the excuses people come up with to not pay the price to fight evil.

            I would define ‘evil’ as “forcing another being to sacrifice, through action or inaction”. The definition of ‘good’ is like it: “blessing another being”. Maybe you’ll help me find better definitions; these haven’t been particularly tested in discussions like this.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Whether or not humans brought evil into the world is irrelevant.

            It is if I am to understand your point of view properly.

            Humans have the choice to help eliminate evil from the world.

            Sounds very Jehovah’s Witness-y to me. Given your definition of evil it makes little sense.

            I would define ‘evil’ as “forcing another being to sacrifice, through action or inaction”.

            God commands us to sacrifice, so according to your definition, god is evil.

            A much better definition of evil will be the one I use, and that is lacking empathy or compassion. Every evil situation you can think of will fall under that definition.

          • labreuer

            It is if I am to understand your point of view properly.

            Please explain. All I [think I] need is for evil to come from moral agents.

            Sounds very Jehovah’s Witness-y to me. Given your definition of evil it makes little sense.

            How does it make ‘little sense’? Do I need to flesh it out? Do I need to explain why forcing others to sacrifice is evil? I thought it’d be self-evident…

            God commands us to sacrifice, so according to your definition, god is evil.

            God gives us hypothetical imperatives, not categorical ones. We can chose to disregard his commands. You, I believe, would have a world where we are not able to disregard his commands.

            A much better definition of evil will be the one I use, and that is lacking empathy or compassion. Every evil situation you can think of will fall under that definition.

            I have been shown so little empathy or compassion in life that your definition would be nigh meaningless to me. Any definition founded merely on emotion is weak IMO.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Please explain. All I [think I] need is for evil to come from moral agents.

            You need a detailed theodicy. There are two general kinds of evils. Natural and moral. You are attempting to address moral evil to the problem of natural evil. Categorical mistake.

            God gives us hypothetical imperatives, not categorical ones. We can chose to disregard his commands. You, I believe, would have a world where we are not able to disregard his commands.

            So god’s commands are not absolute categorical imperatives? So they really were “The 10 Suggestions

            I have been shown so little empathy or compassion in life that your definition would be nigh meaningless to me. Any definition founded merely on emotion is weak IMO.

            Ha! And yours is better?: “forcing another being to sacrifice, through action or inaction” Your definition would fit into my definition but it is too specific. What if I just stabbed you for no reason? I didn’t make you sacrifice anything, so according to you it isn’t evil.

            And I challenge you, name for me an evil action that does not fall under my definition.

          • labreuer

            You need a detailed theodicy.

            And you need a detailed theory of abiogenesis.

            So god’s commands are not absolute categorical imperatives? So they really were “The 10 Suggestions

            Actually, they’re called the Decalogue, which means “Ten Words”.

            Ha! And yours is better?: “forcing another being to sacrifice, through action or inaction” Your definition would fit into my definition but it is too specific. What if I just stabbed you for no reason? I didn’t make you sacrifice anything, so according to you it isn’t evil.

            How does your stabbing me not force me to sacrifice my non-stabbed existence for a period of time? If my friend were to jump in front of the knife and absorb the wound for me, he would be sacrificing for me. That’s the way the word is used. My friend’s action would be “a heroic sacrifice”.

            And I challenge you, name for me an evil action that does not fall under my definition.

            It is extremely difficult to empathize with people very different from you. I get that empathy and compassion can result in pretending you’re in someone else’s shoes and experiencing their life, but people just aren’t capable of doing this past a certain amount. I can understand that buying clothes manufactured in a warehouse in Bangladesh which might collapse is probabilistically forcing others to suffer, without having any emotional involvement. BTW, your empathy/compassion thing is essentially the Golden Rule, which together with “love God”, summarized the entire law according to Jesus.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            You need a detailed theodicy.

            And you need a detailed theory of abiogenesis.

            Ooh, that’s at least two fallacies without even thinking about it…

          • labreuer

            You’ll have to explain a bit more than saying “there is something wrong here somewhere, have fun finding it!” That is, if you want this to go anywhere than to be a snipe. :-p

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            tu quoque fallacy
            red herring fallacy

          • labreuer

            I don’t see how these apply. The idea that someone’s theory has holes doesn’t immediately lead to the conclusion that the theory ought to be discarded—contra Popper. I was relying on the premise that criticizing evolution on the basis that no detailed abiogenesis exists is invalid criticism. If the theory/hypothesis/whatever shows signs of life, why discard it? Yes, maybe it’ll hit an impenetrable barrier at some point, but why stop before that? To satisfy someone’s metaphysical needs? I think not!

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            And you need a detailed theory of abiogenesis.

            Isn’t “God did it” your preferred explanation? You at least need to explain my arguments in a theodicy. If you give up trying you will not be able to compare yourself with scientists looking for the origin of life.

            Actually, they’re called the Decalogue, which means “Ten Words”.

            Still doesn’t address the issue.

            How does your stabbing me not force me to sacrifice my non-stabbed existence for a period of time? If my friend were to jump in front of the knife and absorb the wound for me, he would be sacrificing for me. That’s the way the word is used. My friend’s action would be “a heroic sacrifice”.

            sac·ri·fice: an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.

            Me stabbing you does not force YOU to sacrifice anything.

            I get that empathy and compassion can result in pretending you’re in someone else’s shoes and experiencing their life, but people just aren’t capable of doing this past a certain amount.

            Let their be no arbitrary limits to our compassion. Maybe YOU aren’t but others are.

            I can understand that buying clothes manufactured in a warehouse in Bangladesh which might collapse is probabilistically forcing others to suffer, without having any emotional involvement.

            That IS lacking empathy or compassion.

            BTW, your empathy/compassion thing is essentially the Golden Rule, which together with “love God”, summarized the entire law according to Jesus.

            Don’t forget about slavery and killing disobedient children.

          • labreuer

            Isn’t “God did it” your preferred explanation? You at least need to explain my arguments in a theodicy. If you give up trying you will not be able to compare yourself with scientists looking for the origin of life.

            Who said I have given up trying? I just don’t have a complete theodicy.

            Still doesn’t address the issue.

            I don’t understand ‘the issue’. How do you define ‘commandment’? “If you don’t do X, Y will happen.”? If so, F = ma is a commandment. That’s a bit weird. If you want to shift to the moral realm, all oughts depend on an “I want/value X”. You ought not shoot yourself in the head only if your intent is something other than suicide.

            sac·ri·fice: an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.

            Me stabbing you does not force YOU to sacrifice anything.

            Given that your example was stabbing me with a knife and forcing me to shed blood, it’s a little odd that you have such a problem with the word ‘sacrifice’. I suppose that the following verses—at least the first one?

            I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)

            Does the term ‘living sacrifice’ mean nothing to you? Can you really not stretch the term a bit past what you found in a dictionary? If you still resist using that term, then I’ll coin a new one, one that doesn’t e.g. require the recipient to be a divine being. One that allows for e.g. opportunity costs to be considered ‘sacrifices’.

            Let their be no arbitrary limits to our compassion. Maybe YOU aren’t but others are.

            I just don’t see this working in real life. I guess you do.

            That IS lacking empathy or compassion.

            I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like to be someone when I don’t. I’ve actually been hurt a lot in life by people being arrogant assholes and thinking that they know what it’s like to be me. “Oh, he must be just like me.” False.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            How do you define ‘commandment’?

            God said it, you do it, that settles it.

            Does the term ‘living sacrifice’ mean nothing to you?

            Of we can use sacrifice to mean giving up anything to anything. But if you must sacrifice to god or go to hell, then god is evil. You didn’t address that. You just tried to say god’s commandments are more like suggestions. Are they commands to sacrifice one’s own will, or not?

            I just don’t see this working in real life. I guess you do.

            Jesus had limitations on his compassion?

            I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like to be someone when I don’t. I’ve actually been hurt a lot in life by people being arrogant assholes and thinking that they know what it’s like to be me. “Oh, he must be just like me.” False.

            So we should all be selfish bastards who only think about ourselves then, huh?

          • labreuer

            God said it, you do it, that settles it.

            Well, I guess you and I see commandments differently. David was allowed to eat the showbread even though it was ‘technically’ against God’s commands. Can you explain why, in a way consistent with the way you’re interpreting the Bible? See the Hermeneutics.SE question as a starting point.

            Of we can use sacrifice to mean giving up anything to anything.

            Do you really think in this fundamentalist, binary way, all of the time? “Either sacrifice must mean precisely what the dictionary says, or it could mean anything whatsoever.”

            But if you must sacrifice to god or go to hell, then god is evil.

            I believe God constructed reality such that the only way to repair damage done by sin is sacrifice. If you screwed up something of value, the only way to fix it is by giving up something of value. It’s almost like a law of conservation: the results of sin (evil) cannot be imagined away ‘for free’. Things have value. That value comes in opportunity cost. (I think that ultimately covers all sacrifice, but I could be wrong.)

            So if you fuck something up, are you going to sacrifice to fix it, or are you going to leave that to other people? If the latter, why exactly ought you be admitted into heaven?

            You just tried to say god’s commandments are more like suggestions.

            Who says everyone wants to go to heaven? The desire to be happy forever doesn’t get to magically coexist with the idea that it’s ok to use other people as a means to an end. If someone would prefer the idea over being happy forever, then that person doesn’t want heaven, not truly. Not a logically consistent version of it. God lets us choose which is stronger: our idea of how reality should work, or how a heaven-like world does work.

            Jesus had limitations on his compassion?

            Last time I checked, Jesus is God and I am not.

            So we should all be selfish bastards who only think about ourselves then, huh?

            We should admit our limitations and work accordingly.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            This is the key:

            “Unfortunately, I think I’m still being a bit vague. I’m headed in the direction of “everything happens for a reason”, where the reason is ultimately to push us toward an increase in moral and scientific knowledge.”

            So are you saying that God could not achieve this without such suffering? That suffering is necessary for such knowledge? On what basis do you do this? Special pleading? After all, God is infinite in his power, no?

          • labreuer

            I do not believe that God can, or at least would, violate the laws of logic. Furthermore, I think God values things like us rationally understanding things. Add in enough of these things, and I think God is vastly restricted in how he could bring a universe into existence. Surely you value being able to rationally understand things? For what would you be willing to sacrifice that ability?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Unfortunately, I think I’m still being a bit vague.

            Yup, I asked for something that you can explain – but there doesn´t seem to be anything that you can explain on top of what someone who doesn´t believe in your God could explain as well. So you only lose explanatory power because something that wasn´t mysterious before (natural disasters, infectious diseases etc.pp.) now is completely mysterious and requires the moral equivalent of dark matter.

            The biblical answer is that God attempted to communicate the requisite knowledge to us

            If I would travel back in time to 1st century palestine, I could easily save millions (probably billions even) of lives by merely explaining hygiene 101 to people. Either I (and pretty much everyone else who had the benefit of receiving a modern education) am better at communication than your God, or your God did NOT try to communicate anything, not even the absolute basics, to prevent gratuitous suffering caused by infectious diseases, or your God doesn´t exist at all.

            Consider how much science could have been done by people pursuing knowledge instead of power and land. The Romans were really big onconsumption—being all about themselves and their power and status. What if they had turned all those resources toward understanding the world better? And so forth.

            Irrelevant. Even if every single human that ever lived would have been a moral paragon equipped with a genius intellect and spending every single second of their lives on nothing but improving the wellbeing of his / her fellow humans – countless people would still have suffered gratuitously from causes like infectious diseases. We would have began to solve these problems sooner than we actually started solving them, but that amounts to a quantitative difference compared to the status quo, not a qualitative one – gratuitous suffering would still be every bit as real as it is now, there just would be less of it.

            If we believe that reality is describable by some formal system—even though we don’t know it—then I most definitely can do said mixing.

            You inevitably will commit category mistakes if you do that, and you already did.

            Correct, as long as the scientist does not say that science is the only way of knowing things. Mostly, it’s not scientists who make such claims, it’s atheists and skeptics who like arguing on the internet and in books. I forget if you have. :-p

            Lets define “science” defined in the broadest possible way – “reasoned logic based on physical evidence”. What other way of discovering knowledge about the natural world is there except for science?

            Most CFWers seem to “actually depend” on LFW being a good approximation.

            1. “Good approximation” for what?

            2. Why would anyone logically depend on the truth of a sentence that logically cannot be true because it is self-refuting?

            3. What does this have to do with the part you replied to?

            The belief that more and more of reality can be explained—ad infinitum—is equivalent to saying that we can forever come up with a bigger axiomatic system which leads to our observations being provable theorems.

            Now you are again mixing up math and science… And how is the “ad infinitum” part here required for science in any case?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            “I asked for something that you can explain – but there doesn´t seem to be anything that you can explain on top of what someone who doesn´t believe in your God could explain as well. So you only loose explanatory power because something that wasn´t mysterious before (natural disasters, infectious diseases etc.pp.) now is completely mysterious and requires the moral equivalent of dark matter.”

            Really strong point.

          • labreuer

            Yup, I asked for something that you can explain – but there doesn´t seem to be anything that you can explain on top of what someone who doesn´t believe in your God could explain as well.

            Then we’ll have to suspend this and any dependent tangents until I can provide what you want. I choose to extend tentative belief in this area, for reasons I have stated elsewhere.

            So you only lose explanatory power because something that wasn´t mysterious before (natural disasters, infectious diseases etc.pp.) now is completely mysterious and requires the moral equivalent of dark matter.

            I still reject this claim. Randomness is not an explanation. It says that there is nothing further to understand! I prefer the promise of something to understand, than the seemingly arrogant claim that all that can be understood is understood. One can lead to increased knowledge; the other cannot. I don’t have a problem with there being mysterious things out there. :-p The religious fundamentalist attitude, of needing everything to be explained and be black-and-white, is merely a personality type, not a quirk of religion. I’m not of that personality type. I know reality is deeply mysterious, and I know of some ways to explore that mystery.

            If I would travel back in time to 1st century palestine, I could easily save millions (probably billions even) of lives by merely explaining hygiene 101 to people.

            Have you ever heard of the Prime Directive? You’re welcome to contest its being realistic, but there is a strong argument to be made that one cannot arbitrarily increase the rate of progress of a society. As a way to explore what you think you could “easily do”, I suggest looking at what people thought they could “easily do” in extremely poor countries, and whether they could. It’s way too easy to wave an omni-wand and end a discussion in a very dissatisfactorily, knowledge-stunting way. I’ll bet that if making the world a better place were really that easy, it would happen more often.

            Irrelevant.

            Here’s where you ignore God communicating to Adam and Eve and Cain, warning them to not do certain things. I’ll bet he told them to do other things. Or would you still say that even this would merely make there be less ‘gratuitous suffering’? If so, then your example of explaining hygiene 101 is a red herring, because if Jesus had done that, you would have another objection to make.

            Are you really objecting to evolution as a way of creating life? Would an omni-god not use evolution?

            You inevitably will commit category mistakes if you do that, and you already did.

            I’m sorry, but I don’t see where I have.

            Lets define “science” defined in the broadest possible way – “reasoned logic based on physical evidence”. What other way of discovering knowledge about the natural world is there except for science?

            Listening to God and using propositional content from him as aids in exploring reality. In a sense there is no problem with this, given that hypothesis formation is still pretty much a black box. This might damage the idea of always starting from physical evidence, but that’s not required for science. If I can start from a wacky idea that seems entirely not based on evidence, and come up with a faster transistor, nobody would reject it on the principle that I didn’t figure it out “the right way”.

            1. “Good approximation” for what?
            2. Why would anyone logically depend on the truth of a sentence that logically cannot be true because it is self-refuting?
            3. What does this have to do with the part you replied to?

            1. Good approximation for living.
            2. I’m trying to understand why.
            3. CFWers like The Thinker think it is ok to predicate their actions on a falsehood, which seems to match up with “if we actually depended on that particular sentence being true“, noting that ‘true’ can be replaced with ‘a sufficiently good approximation’.

            Now you are again mixing up math and science… And how is the “ad infinitum” part here required for science in any case?

            It’s not so much required as operationally done. This goes back to our conversation of whether reality is infinitely complex in description or just so complex that we’ll never figure it out. If there is no measurable difference between the two ways of thinking, then on what basis can you call one better than the other? I know of know such basis which holds water.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            lab,
            It would be really good, then, if you could give us a concise as possible syllogism for your defence or theodicy for natural evil. We could then work through it and have some clarity. Could you do that?

          • labreuer

            Either what we’re calling ‘evil’ was required for things that we sufficiently value (an example is the ability to rationally understand how we came to be, well enough that we can create other intelligent, sapient life), or it was not required, and is the result of evil moral choices of moral agents.

            The former questions whether the ‘evil’ label should be used (we do have choice in this), and the second, with perhaps some additional premises, says that if we see something as gratuitous, we will either seek to stop it, or admit that we are evil beings ourselves. Indeed, perhaps we were evil in letting that gratuitous event happen. But not necessarily; perhaps earlier moral agents were at fault. That being said, an omni-god would allow moral agents to fix [moral] damage that was caused, meaning that we still have responsibility to act morally.

            In a sense, I am very much guilty of reasoning from conclusions to premises, although I reject the idea that this is always a crime. I think we humans are responsible for things that the problem of evil would shove off onto God—divine buck-passing. I think a lot of terrible things are scapegoated onto either God or randomness. This abdicates human responsibility. It says we couldn’t have known better, or the price was too high.

            I’m not like Descartes, who tried to reason from cogito ergo sum, onward. Indeed, even that statement isn’t knowable; the “I” is encoded in the conjugation of cogiter. What is actually knowable is “thoughts exist”. And so, sometimes we have to reason from conclusions to premises. Sometimes we see things (conclusions) that we try to construct (with axioms and logic), and sometimes we go the other way.

            I’m not sure I can be… more formal than the above, at least not without more back-and-forth. Can you give me a definition of ‘gratuitous evil’? The only one I can think of is “evil which leads to nothing as good or better than how bad the evil was”, and yet we will act more strongly to prevent an evil, the more we think it is terrible. It’s almost as if the evil provokes a response to prevent its future occurrence. Then the only gratuitous evil is the one we can’t talk about, for if we could, we could react accordingly, making it no longer gratuitous.

            While I think it is possible to avoid the evil in the first place (by trusting God), obviously that doesn’t always happen. Do I need to defend why God would ever let the failure mode to happen—the (b) of this comment?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I think if you formalise your argument, it would save an awful lot of time and reading for us. Also, you will end up refining it against criticisms. I think this would be a really useful exercise since we struggle often to really clearly understand what your position is.

          • labreuer

            Before I do that, would you be willing to point to a real-life example of gratuitous evil? I don’t want one that is posited, like that fawn who died in the forest and nobody will ever know about it. Who knows if such a fawn has ever existed.

            I also wonder whether your objection that compensation is not justification will come into play; have you set that up as its own argument somewhere?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            But as soon as we claim a bit of unknown suffering, you claim it ontologically didn’t exist. So all of the animals, antelopes ripped to shreds alive, dying in Africa which we don’t see didn’t happen? And all the ones we do know about are for our use? Is this not consequentialist ethics? Means to an end?
            So when we look at evolution and suppose billions of organisms dying; when we see volcanoes erupting in the past and guess at the numbers dying, those whom were unknown simply didn’t exist?
            So when we know that most foetuses and fertilised eggs or blastocysts are spontaneously aborted naturally such that God alone could stop them, you suppose that these do not actually happen.
            When a tree falls in the forest where no one can hear it, it makes no sound….
            It’s terribly ad hoc and unevidenced, requiring the invention of explanatory entities.
            Was it Bill Nye in that creationist video that intimated that theists invent such needlessly complex scenarios, ad hoc on ad hoc….?
            If THAT is what you think, then THAT is what you need to set out!

          • labreuer

            I’m inclined to say that much of what you’re describing as natural evil must be moral evil, or there is no omni-god. You and Andy have largely convinced me.

            I’m still convinced, though, that the gratuitous-ness of evil can be expunged by sufficiently changing our actions. It’s as if calling something ‘gratuitous’ is a way of saying that there is a debt which must be paid. Abel’s blood crying out from the ground. Christianity says that there exists this thing called ‘redemption’. It costs a lot—maybe even your life, and definitely your pride—but it’s worth it. That, ultimately, I see as the solution to the problem of evil. There is something glorious to redemption, and it actually manages to somehow erase the terribleness of evil—at least some evils, in my experience.

            I get that what I’ve raised sounds “terribly ad hoc and unevidenced”. And yet, the world you’d have me accept instead is darker, with less hope. I can’t say Christianity gives me comfort. I’m not paid by the church for anything. Discussions like these are sometimes tedious, although also sometimes fun. It’s more like Christianity is the only thing I can see which is worth fighting for. My personal happiness isn’t worth it. Wealth isn’t worth it. A world which includes everyone who doesn’t think it’s ok to force others to sacrifice is. A world in which people aren’t valued based on how they compare to others. A world where meaning is an edifice that is built upon forever, despite false starts and errors. A world where Jesus is deemed worthy as a king. I’m not sure I expect to benefit much from it, but it still seems worth fighting for.

          • labreuer

            I’m not sure I have a theodicy. What I have is an analogy:

                 gratuitous evil : theism :: macroevolution : theory of evolution

            I used to be a creationist, and I poked all sorts of holes in the theory of evolution. Some of them were legitimate holes—how X happened was unknown at the time. There will likely always be an X. But enough of the theory of evolution worked for people to not let the holes force them to discard the theory. Indeed, they had faith that those holes would be filled in. Some have been.

            Gratuitous evil seems to be an attempt to poke similar holes in theism. “If theism cannot explain this gratuitous evil, right now, it must clearly be false.” You know what? I freely admit that I don’t have an explanation for every evil out there. But I’ve seen a way for enough evil to be redeemed—by evils done to me and evils done to others—that I believe that there is order/lawfulness to good vs. evil which can be exploited to increase the good and decrease the evil.

            There is a danger of gratuitous evil being used as an excuse to not do what I call ‘moral research’. After all, if there is enough randomness and chaos, why try? Or at least, why try past some maximum level of discomfort?

            There is also a danger of gratuitous evil being made a big problem in discussions like this, but not big enough of a problem to actually do what is required to make it less likely. It’s as if the connection between how bad we think something is and how much we’re willing to sacrifice to make that thing less likely to happen has been severed.

            The above two dangers allow one to temporarily admit the existence of true evil (vs. things I merely don’t like), and yet cede all responsibility for mitigating said evil. CFW seems to even reinforce this abdicating of moral responsibility.

            I choose to be the evolutionist who doesn’t yet have an explanation for abiogenesis, but believes that there is one. Maybe you say that I don’t have the justification of such a marvelous working theory as evolution; I’m not sure I would disagree. But I know that if I am to discover further and further moral order/lawfulness, I must first believe it is there to be discovered. Belief must precede the evidence, unless I merely want to be a spectator. I need to be able to work with noisy data, just like Hubble worked with noisy data.

            One problem with my discussion of the problem of evil is that it doesn’t have much to say to e.g. parents who have lost their children. I have experienced a decent amount of pain and suffering, but people have generally not cared. This makes it hard for me to even know what it means to care for others. It makes me words often come off as cold. Alas, I’m not sure what I am called to do, given this insufficiency. The best ways I’ve heard of dealing with loss is to make something good out of it, like creating a scholarship named after a son who was lost. Let evil spur the creation of good. Ideally evil wouldn’t be required for said spurring, but it often seems to be.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Thanks for that.

            So I guess that means we are back to skeptical theism.

            Which essentially equates for you having enough OTHER evidence to cover the gaps. AS with evolution, there is so much evidence that when there is an odd X, we are justified in believing x can be explained in light of evolution.

            So what is the other evidence you believe backs up your theism that is can cover the theodical gaps?

          • labreuer

            No, we’re manifestly not at skeptical theism (I commented on this). Does an evolutionist have to be skeptical about abiogenesis?

            My evidence isn’t of stuff in the past, it’s of stuff in my experience and the experiences of my friends. If I were to read the biographies of Christians (on my to-do list), I’d probably find evidence there, too. Redemption is possible. It’s like doing a bit of science, figuring out that maybe reality is rational and can be increasingly well-understood, and then trying to further understand it. The fact that the weather still seems pretty random is irrelevant.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            But you are appealing to not knowing/can’t know the mind of god and reasons for at least some of the evil, but that there are reasons.

            What is it about Christianity which makes your personal experiences and those of your friends more believable than rival religions?

            You don’t have experiences in a vacuum. In other words, no one has visions of religious figures with whom they are not acquainted. In other words, it is very convenient that people’s experiences fall within their own religious context. This should raise doubt.

            So there must be some reasons, some grounding to your belief which is based in the historical claims of Christianity.

          • labreuer

            But you are appealing to not knowing/can’t know the mind of god and reasons for at least some of the evil, but that there are reasons.

            Not [currently] knowing != can’t know. The difference between the two is vast beyond all measure.

            What is it about Christianity which makes your personal experiences and those of your friends more believable than rival religions?

            I see problems in what I know of Buddhism, [bits of] Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism which I see solved in Christianity. I obviously don’t know all religions; I do the best with what I know and seek more knowledge in conversations like this.

            My understanding of Buddhism is that suffering has no purpose, and must therefore be denied existence by removing desire which leads to suffering. Christianity says suffering can be used to purchase well-being and that the benefit is worth the cost.

            My understanding of Islam is that there is an impenetrable wall between people and Allah, such that all they can do is obey him but never really know why. Jesus, or Immanuel is “God with us”. The Israelites wanted Yahweh at a distance in Deut 5, but Yahweh wanted a more intimate relationship all along. Allah doesn’t seem to want this closeness.

            My understanding of Hinduism is probably the worst, especially given that of all religions, there is no one ‘Hinduism’. The distinction between evil and good seems a bit muddled, and reincarnation and Karma seems to negate the concept of grace. Either you get what you deserve or you don’t, and if you don’t, then how does Karma work?

            Judaism focuses on a finite law with no more revelation from God. It constructs a fixed world, one in which appearances and law-abiding are more important than wanting excellent things and becoming ever more competent at obtaining them. Yahweh is far-off.

            My understanding of all four is regrettably weak. I look forward to finding friends of each who can help me come to much better conceptions. And perhaps Christianity won’t look better after that. Right now, it does.

            You don’t have experiences in a vacuum. In other words, no one has visions of religious figures with whom they are not acquainted. In other words, it is very convenient that people’s experiences fall within their own religious context. This should raise doubt.

            In Mt 25, Jesus tells some people they were ministering to him when they didn’t know it. This indicates to me that one doesn’t need to use the right name to believe in Jesus. One doesn’t need to know the English word ‘mercy’ to treat others with mercy. Different languages aren’t so different that many powerful concepts can be discussed in all of them. So this variability that you see isn’t a problem to me—it’s very likely a strength.

            So there must be some reasons, some grounding to your belief which is based in the historical claims of Christianity.

            I used to think this too. But I ask myself: would people necessarily change if they personally witnessed Jesus’ resurrection? Is the Bible full of crap when it has some doubting at his ascension? I don’t think so. A true accounting of events is not enough; there must be application of knowledge gained which can be deemed to be ‘good’. History is either a curiosity, or it can be applied to make life better.

            All I can really say is that the resurrection of Christ and miracles he and his disciples did makes sense. I don’t know how to get any of them to happen today even though I think they could. But I know the important thing is not doing cool tricks, but truly blessing the lives of other people. Maybe God will accelerate that process through miracles if I do my part.

          • labreuer

            If I would travel back in time to 1st century palestine, I could easily save millions (probably billions even) of lives by merely explaining hygiene 101 to people.

            I was thinking some more about this, and wondered: we have the technology to generate enough food to feed the entire world; why aren’t we doing that? And if it’s not that easy, why would teaching hygiene 101 be so easy? It strikes me that it would not; how many people would even believe you?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Re feeding the entire world, yes, we could do that, to paraphrase Jean Ziegler – “every child that starves to death is being murdered”. For the reasons why we let that happen I can also recommend Ziegler´s books.
            Re hygiene 101 – that is a very different issue.
            First, this knowledge historically did save more lives and did prevent more human suffering than any other knowledge we ever obtained (including agricultural knowledge).
            Second, the distribution of ressources is a zero-sum game, people can (and some unfortunately do) actually profit from speculating on food prices (for example) and cause unimaginable suffering by doing that. For hygiene it´s different:
            - no one can profit from keeping this knowledge away from someone else,
            - it´s not a zero-sum game, sharing knowledge is not like sharing ressources.
            - sharing this knowledge is a rational choice even if you don´t give a shit about the wellbeing of your fellow humans. Even if all that you care about is what others can do for you, they can do more for you when they are alive and healthy (not to mention that they cannot infect you when they are healthy…. Everyone profits from this).

            It strikes me that it would not; how many people would even believe you?

            It is hard to imagine for us just how frequent death from infectious diseases was back in those days. That parents lose at least half of their children, not to war, but to disease – was completely normal. When disease is so widespread, it becomes trivially easy to prove that hygiene actually works.

          • LukeBreuer

            Re hygiene 101 – that is a very different issue.

            First, this knowledge historically did save more lives and did prevent more human suffering than any other knowledge we ever obtained (including agricultural knowledge).

            Do you have sources for the tremendous impact you’re claiming? I’m just curious; I haven’t heard it say that hygiene 101 had this much of an impact.

            sharing this knowledge is a rational choice even if you don´t give a shit about the wellbeing of your fellow humans.

            If this is true, then I would expect that we would have tried extra-hard to spread knowledge of hygiene, even to remote tribes. Has this been done? That would be a way to explore the idea that Jesus could have done this in the first century.

            There is an issue you are ignoring, or denying in all this. That is: life is more about physical well-being, but also mental well-being. I am told that Prometheus Bound, written by 415 BC, was a radical departure from the cultural norms about use of power. Aeschylus takes the radical step of questioning whether Zeus has used his power properly in chaining up Prometheus forever. According to my friend (whom I generally trust; he’s getting his PhD in philosophy and knows quite a lot about ancient Greece), the idea at the time was that power exists to be used pretty much however the person in power wants to use it.

            In contrast to this, Jesus says that power is to be used to serve other people. It isn’t to be hoarded like treasure, but to be spread broadly like seed. We see this dichotomy everywhere today. I might have been part of bringing a friend to faith after arguing that instead of accruing lots of software knowledge so that he could make $500,000/yr, it is better to try and bless the lives of more people.

            If it really would have been that easy to spread hygiene 101 information in the first century AD, it does present a problem. But such spread of knowledge wouldn’t necessarily prevent any of the power disparities that result in haves and have-nots. I’m reminded of dystopias like Blade Runner or Elysium. Who cares if they have good hygiene?

            And so, even if it were easy to spread hygiene 101 information, I’m not sure it would have been ultimately the best way to go. It is especially interesting to reject Jesus as good on the basis that he did not do this. Doing this sets up a way of evaluating what’s important in reality that just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Let’s suppose serfs lived longer under their fief lords; would this make a system better than fiefdoms more, less, or equally as likely to evolve?

            Taking this further, what if no physical need were lacking for any human being, and yet there was great power disparity. Would people have a basis for complaining that would be powerful enough to change the social order? I’m not so sure. Maybe great power disparities is just How Things Work. Why complain, if you the little guy have every physical need met? Maybe all the people who have ‘mental needs’ greater than what is supplied get declared mentally ill.

            I’m actually quite serious in this line of discussion; I think there is powerful ‘meaning’ to be obtained in human life by being able to have your own creativity make the world a better place. But this means having power to change it for the better. Not everyone wants that. Many people want to keep it pretty much as it is. This means actively preventing the vast majority of people from screwing with things. So, let’s give them food, clothing, medicine, housing, and entertainment to keep them occupied. Maybe let them shop for meaningless things as well.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Do you have sources for the tremendous impact you’re claiming? I’m just curious; I haven’t heard it say that hygiene 101 had this much of an impact.

            I remember reading a study that tried to compare the impacts of improvements in hygiene, sanitation and medicine on child mortality rates and life expectance but I can´t find it right now, I´ll keep looking.

            If this is true, then I would expect that we would have tried extra-hard to spread knowledge of hygiene, even to remote tribes.

            If they are remote, then they can´t infect you. In that case, the only rational reason (assuming that you don´t give a fuck about the wellbeing of your fellow humans) would be that people can do more for you when they are healthy (one of the first things that General von Steuben (the prussian dude who whipped the american revolutionary army into shape) did, was to improve hygiene and sanitation in military camps – they wanted the soldiers to die in battle, not from preventable diseases).

            If it really would have been that easy to spread hygiene 101 information in the first century AD, it does present a problem. But such spread of knowledge wouldn’t necessarily prevent any of the power disparities that result in haves and have-nots. I’m reminded of dystopias like Blade Runner or Elysium. Who cares if they have good hygiene?

            Erm… by the exact same reasoning, I could torture you to death and “justify” it with “his life was not absolutely and completely perfect in every way, so who cares if I torture him to death?!”

          • LukeBreuer

            I remember reading a study that tried to compare the impacts of improvements in hygiene, sanitation and medicine on child mortality rates and life expectance but I can´t find it right now, I´ll keep looking.

            I would appreciate it. I hear a lot of arguments of “well Jesus could have done this and it would be better than what he did do” that are kind of just thrown out there, without any ‘feasibility testing’. It gets onerous and tedious, because it’s like the other person isn’t really trying to contribute much to the conversation, but is just trying to poke holes. Your hygiene 101 example is one of the most plausible instances of this I’ve seen, so I’d like to learn more.

            If they are remote, then they can´t infect you.

            True, but is the point selfish (to keep from being infected) or to maximize the expected well-being of humans, over some long time period? What you seem to be claiming is that:

                 (1) Jesus teaching hygiene 101 would have helped humanity more than preaching the gospel.

            or at least:

                 (2) Jesus teaching hygiene 101 in addition to the gospel would have helped humanity more.

            This is an interesting proposition. Now, one must be careful to not go too far:

                 (3) Jesus solving all of the world’s problems would have helped humanity more.

            At least to me, (3) sounds ridiculous. It’s essentially “I don’t want to do the work, God please do it for me.” Or at least, “I don’t want to have responsibility that, if I don’t fulfill it, other people will get hurt and/or die prematurely.”

            I’m not sure what to think of all this. I’m wary of treating symptoms instead of the root problem, and I think the root problem is deeply embedded in the human heart and human culture. In my view, the root problem is a bad way of valuing things, such that I don’t try as hard as I could to make the lives of other people better. Teaching hygiene 101 wouldn’t help this in the slightest. I could even see a perverted situation where teaching hygiene 101 masks this problem; it’s easier to point out physical suffering than mental suffering. It is easy to deny mental suffering as ‘real’, or at least vastly downplay it.

            In a way I can see what I’m writing as sounding extremely cold. But in another, I can see societies which deny people what I see as the most meaningful aspect of living—to play a creative role in making the world a better place—while providing them all the other things. It’d be an easy way to create a largely static world and deny that there are ‘real’ things to complain about.

            Erm… by the exact same reasoning, I could torture you to death and “justify” it with “his life was not absolutely and completely perfect in every way, so who cares if I torture him to death?!”

            I don’t understand how this uses the same reasoning. Perhaps what I’ve written above will help you explain better.

          • Andy_Schueler

            At least to me, (3) sounds ridiculous. It’s essentially “I don’t want to do the work, God please do it for me.” Or at least, “I don’t want to have responsibility that, if I don’t fulfill it, other people will get hurt and/or die prematurely.”

            You say “I don´t want to do the work” – hygiene is one of those issues however where we COULD NOT have done the work until we finally figured it out the hard way. Religion never seems to be ahead of its time, all religions are either based on knowledge that was either a) readily available to people living at the time it emerged or b) is unfalsifiable. Plenty of this knowledge however could have helped us immensely (it doesn´t have to be hygiene, there would be plenty of other stuff), but if there is a God, it provided nothing whatsoever in this respect.

            I’m not sure what to think of all this. I’m wary of treating symptoms instead of the root problem, and I think the root problem is deeply embedded in the human heart and human culture.

            But we are not talking about this kind of suffering, we are talking about gratuitous suffering – suffering that is caused by us living in a world that is full of stuff that can hurt and kill us, suffering that we can only ease by understanding the things that hurt and kill us and try to avoid or fight them.

            Teaching hygiene 101 wouldn’t help this in the slightest.

            Yes, because you are talking about a completely different issue.

          • LukeBreuer

            Religion never seems to be ahead of its time, all religions are either based on knowledge that was either a) readily available to people living at the time it emerged or b) is unfalsifiable.

            Your ‘a)’ intrigues me. I’ve done some reading e.g. comparing Torah to the Code of Hammurabi, but nothing super-comprehensive. For example, is the following unique to Torah?

            “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him. (Deut 23:15-16)

            Some scholars indicate that no similar law is known, but I’ve learned enough to be skeptical of that claim. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 certainly pretends that the above passage doesn’t exist. But it’s hard to show that no other culture ever held something like the above.

            Your ‘a)’ also begs the question of how revolutionary something has to be, for it to constitute evidence that some non-human being was giving advice. There’s something much easier about communicating scientific truths: one doesn’t have to change one’s will or desires in order to accept it. On the other hand, try convincing certain people that no human being is intrinsically more valuable than another. I’ll bet many who disbelieve that take their disbelief to the grave. Moral progress seems incredibly slow to me. And therefore, smaller increments are not as easily ‘naturalistic’ as smaller increments in science. At least, that’s how I think about it these days.

            But we are not talking about this kind of suffering, we are talking about gratuitous suffering – suffering that is caused by us living in a world that is full of stuff that can hurt and kill us, suffering that we can only ease by understanding the things that hurt and kill us and try to avoid or fight them.

            [...]

            Yes, because you are talking about a completely different issue.

            My claim is that knowledge of hygiene 101 will not necessarily lead to treating other human beings as equals, while treating other human beings as equals will necessarily lead to hygiene 101. In my mind, scientific progress seems much more guaranteed than moral progress. Maybe this is just the time we live in; perhaps moral progress needed to hit a certain point before scientific progress could really take off.

            An idea I’ve played with is that God might have created the world such that scientific progress has a plateau for any given moral system. This gets back to an idea I discussed earlier, where pain and suffering are the plan B to the plan A of human curiosity leading us forward in both the moral and scientific domains. I guess this seems dark, but I’ve run across so many people who just don’t give a fuck if others are suffering, as long as they are doing alright themselves. I guess one could complain that “God wouldn’t make the world that way”, but this just seems like a cop-out, a reason not to try as hard as one otherwise might.

          • Andy_Schueler

            “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him. (Deut 23:15-16)

            Either that is one of those laws that applied to hebrews and hebrews only (in which case it would just be standard racism – treat people in your ingroup better than people in your outgroup), or this very explicitly contradicts:

            ” However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. ”

            Leviticus 25:44-46

            Your ‘a)’ also begs the question of how revolutionary something has to be, for it to constitute evidence that some non-human being was giving advice.

            MLK and Ghandi had some pretty revolutionary thoughts about privilege, oppression, social dynamics (and possibilities to change those) – those thoughts didn´t emerge in a vacuum though, both of them were very curious and educated and also had plenty of first-hand experience. And all human knowledge is like that, we figure out things that are demonstrably true based on experience and prior knowledge. This is only necessary though if revelation is not a possible. If there would be a source that is ahaed of us and could reveal knowledge to us, nothing requires that we could trace these thoughts back to particular earlier thoughts and experiences. Neither religion, nor anything else, ever offered something like that however.

            My claim is that knowledge of hygiene 101 will not necessarily lead to treating other human beings as equals

            Erm… yes, and the germ theory of disease doesn´t explain thermodynamics and general relativity doesn´t help you become a better Poker player.

          • LukeBreuer

            Either that is one of those laws that applied to hebrews and hebrews only (in which case it would just be standard racism – treat people in your ingroup better than people in your outgroup), or this very explicitly contradicts:

            There’s a third option: indentured servitude/slavery might have seemed like a good permanent solution, to having to provide for oneself. The Hebrews were prohibited from that option; they must make the attempt to live on their own after their ε-6 year term is up. This lets anyone run away, even someone who has been declared permanent property. I know this is a radical transformation of what slavery ‘seems like’ in the OT, but we all know that it is shockingly and saddeningly easy to make something good out to be something terrible.

            MLK

            MLK’s use of prophecy in the Bible ought not be downplayed. :-|

            Erm… yes, and the germ theory of disease doesn´t explain thermodynamics and general relativity doesn´t help you become a better Poker player.

            Consider this hypothetical: Jesus teaches both hygiene 101 and that you ought to love your neighbor as yourself. The first is easy compared to the next. Who is to say people wouldn’t just accept the first and forget the second? I mean, Jesus would be awesome for him making life better! Yeah he said some hard stuff, but whatever, he’s awesome for the hygiene 101!

            I have no idea if the above is realistic. But I think you’re glossing over the hardness of moral progress. Jesus very explicitly tackled that hard problem. This is really beyond debate as far as I’m aware. Again, Mt 20:20-28. I wonder if even that is revolutionary. Glory is obtained through self-sacrifice for others’ well-being.

          • Andy_Schueler

            There’s a third option: indentured servitude/slavery might have seemed like a good permanent solution, to having to provide for oneself.

            Sure, I mean, legally being the property of someone else who can legally beat you to the brink of death sounds awesome. Those poor hebrew slave owners who were “prohibited” from being forced into that “option”. I´m sure the main thing that motivated the KKK was actually envy, they had to provide for themselves after all.

            This lets anyone run away, even someone who has been declared permanent property.

            The ability of the Bible to say something and then say the exact opposite of this never ceases to amaze.

            MLK’s use of prophecy in the Bible ought not be downplayed

            I didn´t downplay it, I didn´t even mention it. In a time where everyone is a Christian, it doesn´t exactly surprise that both the best and the worst examples of humankind like to refer to the Bible.

            Consider this hypothetical: Jesus teaches both hygiene 101 and that you ought to love your neighbor as yourself. The first is easy compared to the next. Who is to say people wouldn’t just accept the first and forget the second?

            In that case, you should select one and only ONE thing to teach your children, if you teach them more than one, they will obviously forget all except for the easiest.
            Seriously?

            But I think you’re glossing over the hardness of moral progress.

            Sure, that´s hard – we are alone after all and have no one to help us.

            I wonder if even that is revolutionary.

            Christianity was revolutionary, and now it´s conservative. That is progress.

          • LukeBreuer

            Sure, I mean, legally being the property of someone else who can legally beat you to the brink of death sounds awesome.

            You are referencing this:

            “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money. (Ex 21:20-21)

            However, in addition to ignoring Deut 23:15-16, you are ignoring things like this:

            “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth. (Ex 21:26-27)

            Furthermore, Ex 21:20-21 is suspiciously similar to the rules for free men:

            “When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed. (Ex 21:18-19)

            Corporal punishment is also applicable to freemen:

            “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight. (Deut 25:1-3)

            Your case just isn’t nearly as sound as you make it out to be. You’re taking a verse here and there, ignoring the others, and making it out to sound as terrible as possible. It is terrible to treat a human being this way; why is it acceptable to do it to a text?

            The ability of the Bible to say something and then say the exact opposite of this never ceases to amaze.

            Perhaps your insistence to interpret it a certain why is what has actually created the appearance of contradiction. Not always—I don’t think it’s entirely free from contradiction because I believe that the Bible is just as messy and dirty as Jesus was when he took on human flesh—but often.

            Christianity was revolutionary, and now it´s conservative. That is progress.

            This happens all the time and not just with religion. Have you ever read Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? I’m told that the Qu’ran’s treatment of women was revolutionary for the time and is backward now, and that this is the basis of some quiet attempts to reform how women are treated in Islam. Westerners tend not to give a shit because they think religion is necessarily terrible.

          • Andy_Schueler

            However, in addition to ignoring Deut 23:15-16

            I don´t ignore it, you are pretending that if one horrible bible verse completely contradicts a less horrible one, then we can just ignore the contradiction and let the less horrible one override the more horrible one.

            Corporal punishment is also applicable to freemen

            Slaves could be legally beaten to the brink of death if their owner simply feels like it. Free men could be beaten as part of a punishment after being convicted of a crime.

            It is very telling that you would go that far to try to whitewash the Bible – I don´t think you are being deliberately dishonest, but if you honestly don´t realize how deceptive it is to equivocate between those two kinds of beatings, then you cannot think clearly about this issue.

            Your case just isn’t nearly as sound as you make it out to be. You’re taking a verse here and there, ignoring the others

            No, that is actually what you are doing.

            Perhaps your insistence to interpret it a certain why is what has actually created the appearance of contradiction.

            Perhaps your insistence of ignoring everything horrible in the Bible, as long as there is a tangentially related verse that is less horrible, blinds you to the obvious contradiction.

            This happens all the time and not just with religion.

            That is because there is nothing special about religion, it is a set of human ideas based on whatever the people that invented the religion knew about the world, and nothing more.

            I’m told that the Qu’ran’s treatment of women was revolutionary for the time and is backward now, and that this is the basis of some quiet attempts to reform how women are treated in Islam. Westerners tend not to give a shit because they think religion is necessarily terrible.

            It´s not black and white, islam was revolutionary for its time and for a while, the status of women in islamic countries was better than anywhere else in the world (just like the islamic world used to be the scientifically most advanced region for a few centuries), that doesn´t change the fact that it is worse than useless today.

          • LukeBreuer

            I don´t ignore it, you are pretending that if one horrible bible verse completely contradicts a less horrible one, then we can just ignore the contradiction and let the less horrible one override the more horrible one.

            Actually no, I think we can assume that the original readers (hearers) of the Bible verse placed it in context with the other law they knew, instead of picking out one tidbit and ignoring the rest. A friend of mine played a little game with me:

            “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Ex 20:4)

            This, he said, means “you shall never make a computer graphics image of a fish”. Of course he was joking, but he was trying to interpret Bible verses in complete isolation from each other, to show how some people think. Others have much more of a systematizing ability, making disparate parts of a thing making sense with each other. If you do that, you can pick out verses like:

            “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

            Ahhh, remember that YOU were slaves, and don’t be dicks to others in the ways that the Egyptians were dicks to you. Now, the text does have slaves having fewer rights than others, but it’s nothing like the New World slavery that many use as a reference. Whether you are doing so is unclear to me.

            That is because there is nothing special about religion, it is a set of human ideas based on whatever the people that invented the religion knew about the world, and nothing more.

            Perhaps, but even to this day I find plenty of people who do not understand that ‘letter of the law’ ≠ ‘spirit of the law’. They think that all you need to do is have enough rules, and people will do the right thing. Many think that all we need are better laws. This isn’t a slam-dunk case for Christianity, but there’s enough stuff like this in there that I can keep finding more good stuff. You’re welcome to claim that people 2500 years ago could have come up with all of it; I’m not sure I can refute such a claim. How would I?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Actually no, I think we can assume that the original readers (hearers) of the Bible verse placed it in context with the other law they knew, instead of picking out one tidbit and ignoring the rest.

            Well first of all, Christians and Jews today pick and choose all the time, so why should it have been any different for an earlier audience?

            Second, for contradictory commandments, there obviously cannot be one “correct” interpretation – and, unsurprisingly, the reconciliation that Jews opted for is one where Deut 23:15-16 only applies to slaves that fled into israelite territory from the outside, a quote from wikipedia:
            “Although a literal reading would indicate that this applies to slaves of all nationalities and locations, the Mishnah construes it to have the much narrower application to just those slaves who flee from outside Israelite territory into it.”

            This, he said, means “you shall never make a computer graphics image of a fish”. Of course he was joking, but he was trying to interpret Bible verses in complete isolation from each other, to show how some people think. Others have much more of a systematizing ability, making disparate parts of a thing making sense with each other. If you do that, you can pick out verses like:

            “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

            Ahhh, remember that YOU were slaves, and don’t be dicks to others in the ways that the Egyptians were dicks to you. Now, the text does have slaves having fewer rights than others, but it’s nothing like the New World slavery that many use as a reference.

            What you are doing is not “systematizing”, you pick the verses you like and dismiss those you don´t like. And that´s what makes the Bible so useless, it´s only not completely horrible when you know what to ignore – but if you know that, you don´t need the Bible in the first place because your moral compass already is much more advanced than the Bible is.
            Also, when you say that biblical slavery was “nothing like New World slavery”, you are simply wrong – it is actually almost identical to New World slavery.

            Perhaps, but even to this day I find plenty of people who do not understand that ‘letter of the law’ ≠ ‘spirit of the law’. They think that all you need to do is have enough rules, and people will do the right thing. Many think that all we need are better laws. This isn’t a slam-dunk case for Christianity, but there’s enough stuff like this in there that I can keep finding more good stuff. You’re welcome to claim that people 2500 years ago could have come up with all of it; I’m not sure I can refute such a claim. How would I?

            1. The problem is not only that plenty of good stuff is missing, the problem is further that there is plenty of bad stuff being included.
            2. My claim could easily be refuted by one single piece of information being included in any religious document for which there is good evidence that humans living at the time should not have had access to this information without revelation.
            3. There is nothing that requires that a God would reveal himself in a way where all you have is an ancient document or a set of ancient documents if there indeed is a God – this is only absolutely required if religion is indeed merely made up by humans for humans. As a parent, you have to make a choice at which point you let your children “stand on their own legs” – when you trust them enough to make their own choices at the risk of them making some bad choices. Both extremes would be bad – you would be a horrible father if you give your six year old son absolute freedom to do whatever he likes, but you would also be a poor father if you don´t let your seventeen year old son make any choiced for himself. What God did (assuming that he exists and the Bible is his revelation) is the equivalent of spending a few afternoons with your son, telling him some stuff (some of which being good, some of which being bad) and then never talking to him again. This seems to be ridiculous if there actually is a God, but it could not be any other way if there is no God.

          • LukeBreuer

            Well first of all, Christians and Jews today pick and choose all the time, so why should it have been any different for an earlier audience?

            It won’t be different. People have been hypocritical and inconsistent through the ages. That doesn’t make it right. It does, however, require discerning people to be able to differentiate the good and the bad. Otherwise, people must be spoon-fed 100% truth. That is a terrible position to be in for more than early, early childhood. And yet you want the Bible to be 100% truth. Or if not that, at least ε more truth.

            Second, for contradictory commandments, there obviously cannot be one “correct” interpretation – and, unsurprisingly, the reconciliation that Jews opted for is one where Deut 23:15-16 only applies to slaves that fled into israelite territory from the outside, a quote from wikipedia:

            “Although a literal reading would indicate that this applies to slaves of all nationalities and locations, the Mishnah construes it to have the much narrower application to just those slaves who flee from outside Israelite territory into it.”

            There are better and worse interpretations all over the place, in the Bible and the world today. People are always making more and less charitable interpretations; sometimes to benefit themselves, sometimes to benefit others. Why should the interpretation in the Mishnah (from 536 BC – 70 AD) be a surprise? Clearly this was to the benefit of the wealthy. The OT prophets routinely criticize the Israelites for holding to [some of] the letter of the law and not the spirit. Take a read of Isaiah 58.

            What you are doing is not “systematizing”, you pick the verses you like and dismiss those you don´t like.

            You are automatically assuming that slaveholders would unjustly beat their slaves. That’s an assumption. I showed that there was law-based corporal punishment, but you assume that as soon as no judicial system is mentioned in the text, that means “beat them whenever you want, virtually as much as you want”. I showed you that the Israelites were supposed to remember how they were treated in Egypt—as slaves—and use that knowledge in how they treated others. And you just blew this off, entirely. Because it must be contradictory to your interpretation, which must be the correct one.

            The problem with any system of ‘letter of the law’ is that humans can and will game it. There’s no such thing as a perfect set of laws. None. Never will be. Anyone who thinks this is deluded. What matters is the heart, the deepest desires. No law can conquer them. You can kinda-sorta reign them in, for short periods of time. But they’ll always eventually come out, no matter what laws you put in place. The human heart is ultimately more powerful than any law.

            Also, when you say that biblical slavery was “nothing like New World slavery”, you are simply wrong – it is actually almost identical to New World slavery.

            This is simply false. Take a look at this page if you really want to dig into the issue. But just for kicks, note that the American slaveholders knew a lot of their fresh-from-Africa slaves were kidnapped. Apply Ex 21:16.

            2. My claim could easily be refuted by one single piece of information being included in any religious document for which there is good evidence that humans living at the time should not have had access to this information without revelation.

            Unless this ‘single piece of information’ logically entailed anything else in the Bible, what would you actually be convinced of? Nothing of interest.

            What God did (assuming that he exists and the Bible is his revelation) is the equivalent of spending a few afternoons with your son, telling him some stuff (some of which being good, some of which being bad) and then never talking to him again.

            The “never talking to him again” is known as the Not in Heaven doctrine, something which Paul strenuously rejects in Romans 9:30-10:13. If God is not in any sort of active communication with people today, I think I’d agree with a lot of your critique.

            You teach your kids to not touch a hot stove and to look out for cars before they cross a street – yet no God ever told us anything about germs and the importance of clean water (for example). I would be a bad father when I don´t teach my kids that stuff, why does God get a free pass on that?

            Where does the things God would have had to teach, before you’d be happy, end? Suppose that the Bible contained enough info about clean water and germ theory. Surely you would object to something else. And then something else after that. Where does it stop? What would be ‘enough’?

          • Andy_Schueler

            People are always making more and less charitable interpretations; sometimes to benefit themselves, sometimes to benefit others. Why should the interpretation in the Mishnah (from 536 BC – 70 AD) be a surprise? Clearly this was to the benefit of the wealthy. The OT prophets routinely criticize the Israelites for holding to [some of] the letter of the law and not the spirit.

            1. It seems to be a much more systematizing interpretation than yours, your interpretation simply picks one part and completely ignores another. This one accounts for both.

            2. The distinction between “spirit and letter of the law” is irrelevant when both spirit and letter are shit.

            You are automatically assuming that slaveholders would unjustly beat their slaves.

            Some obviously would, and the Bible legitimates that.

            I showed that there was law-based corporal punishment, but you assume that as soon as no judicial system is mentioned in the text, that means “beat them whenever you want, virtually as much as you want”.

            What you cited re law-based corporal punishment could not be less relevant. The regulations re beating slaves explicitly say that a slave-owner can do that because the slaves are his property.

            I showed you that the Israelites were supposed to remember how they were treated in Egypt—as slaves—and use that knowledge in how they treated others. And you just blew this off, entirely. Because it must be contradictory to your interpretation, which must be the correct one.

            No. I´m the one who points out that there cannot be correct interpretations for contradictory rules. You can either resolve these contradictions by making stuff up (what the Jews apparently did) or by picking and choosing (what you do) or you can simply ignore the rules completely because they are shit (what I do).

            The problem with any system of ‘letter of the law’ is that humans can and will game it.

            That doesn´t make shitty laws any less shitty.

            This is simply false. Take a look at this page if you really want to dig into the issue. But just for kicks, note that the American slaveholders knew a lot of their fresh-from-Africa slaves were kidnapped. Apply Ex 21:16.

            Yawn, this is the standard slavery excuses that apologists come up with every single time. The prohibitions against kidnapping didn´t apply here because there are very explicit regulations about spoils of war and slave markets – kidnapping is not ok, enslaving war survivors and buying slaves at slave markets however absolutely is ok – and that was the modus operandi of new world slave owners as well. Most of the slaves were bought in african slave markets – which is biblically perfectly fine unless “nations around you” doesn´t count if there is an ocean in between.

            The “never talking to him again” is known as the Not in Heaven doctrine, something which Paul strenuously rejects in Romans 9:30-10:13. If God is not in any sort of active communication with people today, I think I’d agree with a lot of your critique.

            Oh so God is still communicating to people? Cool, so to whom is he talking right now, I´d really like to listen to the conversation.

            Where does the things God would have had to teach, before you’d be happy, end? Suppose that the Bible contained enough info about clean water and germ theory. Surely you would object to something else. And then something else after that. Where does it stop? What would be ‘enough’?

            There obviously is no objective demarcation line, just like there is no objective line to draw at which point you grant your own kids more independence. That is irrelevant however because we are talking about the extreme case of a father who spends a few afternoon with his kids and never talks to them again afterwards.

          • LukeBreuer

            It looks like we’ve hit roadblocks on pretty much everything here. I will respond to this:

            Oh so God is still communicating to people? Cool, so to whom is he talking right now, I´d really like to listen to the conversation.

            There’s not really anything in my own life that I would construe as God communicating to me. I still think I have too many ‘basics’ to understand for now. Consider all the bits and pieces of wisdom that have been occasionally discovered but mostly lost. For God to reveal anything ‘new’ to me, it would actually have to be new. And yet we humans are absolutely terrible at passing on wisdom as it is.

            You could say that my faith is in God someday talking to me, if I make it far enough toward instituting a heaven on earth based on equal power distributed to all people, at least to the extent that they can responsibly exercise it. The goal will be even power distribution though, contra pretty much any political system in existence. The idea would be that every person is encouraged to contribute his/her own uniqueness toward the ever-widening of people’s idea of what reality is like. Forever “piercing the philosophical dome”, as it were. I have tiny bits of evidence that people trying to create a world like this get… ‘intuitive help’ which aids their missions more than one would… ‘rationally expect’. And honestly, who cares if that’s God communicating or something else? The goal is a non-terrible state for every single human being. More than that, the goal is for minds to forever grow, not merely being sated by droll materialism or vicarious living through the heroes of the age (now: professional sports).

            I suppose I cherry-pick the Bible, kind of like scientists cherry-pick reality, understanding what they can here and there, and ultimately trying to connect the various islands of understanding. What I hope is that I exclude less and less of the Bible from my systematic understanding as time goes forward. Hopefully I can understand how more and more bits fit in, and see how they help build the world I describe above.

            I welcome you to compete with me in the above. You have your mum and whatever else you do to come up with an idea of what humans are like, what they are capable of, how to deal with the darkness that is in all of us, etc. Maybe we could help each other. Maybe you’ll think I just think too wrongly to make any sort of progress. Let’s see where we go. Let’s see which of us is more able to discover further and further lawfulness in nature and how minds work and interact with each other. Let’s see if it’s all “just particles & fields”, and if that ‘just’ means anything other than particles & fields being the particular language or construct used for containing minds and providing for a way for them to interact.

          • LukeBreuer

            Have you read The Brothers Karamazov, or at least read about The Grand Inquisitor, or seen it (1975 film adaptation)? That seen was recommended to me by a friend and I just got around to reading about it and watching said clip. It’s quite relevant to this conversation.

            Dostoyevsky has the Grand Inquisitor saying that Jesus was wrong in rejecting each of the three temptations. Better to turn stones into bread for people, to be shown to be clearly God to them, and to rule over them and thus ensure they are all obedient and thus be saved.

            The Grand Inquisitor says that too few humans are able to bear the burden of freedom that Jesus placed on them. Instead, humans want to be led, to be governed, to be fed, to be taken care of. And so a small number of people, who are able to govern, ought to ‘take care’ of the rest of humanity. Only by giving their freedom to the Church would men be truly free.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I defined natural evil as “suffering that exists and that is inflicted by anything other than humans.” Do you not agree with this general definition, and if so why?

            I of course consider the possibility of other factors. The only candidates I can think of who could cause such natural evils are demons. Yes, there is a huge burden of proof on you to make a plausible case that demons or evil spirits cause natural evil – one that no data has ever corroborated. But even if I take this idea and milk it, it’s conclusions do not favor this assumption of an explanation of natural evil. That is because it is the very process of natural evil – of disease, mutation, natural disaster and so forth – that lead to our very evolution. If they didn’t occur or exist, humans never would have evolved. So if god created a “perfect” universe in which none of these things would have ever occurred, then that would be a universe in which no humans would have arose. But if you believe that demons came in and tinkered with god’s perfect plan, and this meddling somehow resulted in human evolution, then you’d have to conclude that demons created human beings and not god – something I have never heard a theist entertain. So I don’t see how logically, you can entertain the notion that natural evil was created by nefarious agents and had nothing to do with god. It would mean that god’s plan didn’t include humans.

          • labreuer

            I defined natural evil as “suffering that exists and that is inflicted by anything other than humans.” Do you not agree with this general definition, and if so why?

            Why must God and humans be the only moral agents? Before I continue, I want to separate between:

                 (1) what is required for evolution of intelligence
                 (2) what is extraneous for the above

            To the extent that you claim (1) contains evil, I’d like you to explain how you would see intelligence arising without evil. Would this method allow the resulting intelligences to understand how they arose more and more intricately, or would there be an impenetrable gap, a la god-of-the-gaps?

            I don’t think we know what falls into (2). How ‘peaceful’ could the process of evolution be? I’m reminded of the Vorlon and Shadow philosophies in Babylon 5: evolution vs. guided development (or natural selection vs. artificial selection). We could see Yahweh’s command to Adam and Eve to eat of any tree but one as guidance, as well as God’s caution to Cain. But this is guidance which can be rejected by… dun dun dun… free choice. :-p

            So if god created a “perfect” universe in which none of these things would have ever occurred, then that would be a universe in which no humans would have arose.

            This appears to be an initial answer to my question above. It is an interesting answer. Do you realize that one corollary is that we never ever ought try and simulate intelligent life, on pain of revisiting the evils of evolution on the lifeforms we spawn? I think you’ll run into problems if you try and say that simulated pain and suffering aren’t ‘real’. What you seem to be saying is that the creation of intelligent life wasn’t worth it. Instead of trying to guess some more, I ask you to elaborate a bit.

            But if you believe that demons came in and tinkered with god’s perfect plan, and this meddling somehow resulted in human evolution, then you’d have to conclude that demons created human beings and not god – something I have never heard a theist entertain.

            Have you ever read the first chapter in The Silmarillion? It has a good god creating a world, where an evil god tries to screw with things. The good god takes the disharmonies and reshapes them back to good. Tolkien writes a much more beautiful description than my summary.

            The concept of “the best of all possible worlds” is relevant here. Is there exactly one best world? I’m not convinced. I think some worlds are better than others, but there might not be a total order. One thing I do believe is that evil creates the solution to it. It’s as if evil actions create potential energy which, when finally unleashed, is able to turn the evil to good, and more good than the evil was evil.

            So I don’t see how logically, you can entertain the notion that natural evil was created by nefarious agents and had nothing to do with god. It would mean that god’s plan didn’t include humans.

            I would wager that God’s plan includes more than just humans.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Why must God and humans be the only moral agents?

            I never said they were.

            To the extent that you claim (1) contains evil, I’d like you to explain how you would see intelligence arising without evil.

            Pretty easy. Given a god hypothesis, god could have simply just created human beings in their current form with out the logically unnecessary billions of years of death and suffering required by evolution.

            How ‘peaceful’ could the process of evolution be?

            Evolution as we know it requires death and suffering. The whole point is that an omnipotent god is not constrained by laws of physics, or evolution. God need not have conjured up the evolutionary process and designed such haphazard cruelty. I made that clear in my post.

            Do you realize that one corollary is that we neverever ought try and simulate intelligent life, on pain of revisiting the evils of evolution on the lifeforms we spawn? I think you’ll run into problems if you try and say that simulated pain and suffering aren’t ‘real’. What you seem to be saying is that the creation of intelligent life wasn’t worth it. Instead of trying to guess some more, I ask you to elaborate a bit.

            One huge problem with your analogy is that we’re not gods. We are incompetent, indifferent and cruel – at least sometimes. You’re analogy would seem to reduce god into having these properties by comparing him to us, which was my whole point.

            The concept of “the best of all possible worlds” is relevant here. Is there exactly one best world? I’m not convinced.

            I sent you a link in the other discussion. I’ll leave it to you to see if it makes sense. If there could always be a better world, then couldn’t there always be a better god? Doesn’t that mean there can never be a particular god because there can always be one that’s better?

          • labreuer

            Pretty easy. Given a god hypothesis, god could have simply just created human beings in their current form with out the logically unnecessary billions of years of death and suffering required by evolution.

            I think there is value in humans understanding how they were created, such that they can go on to create other sentient, sapient life. Your version of ‘better’ precludes that possibility, it seems.

            The whole point is that an omnipotent god is not constrained by laws of physics, or evolution.

            Do you think an omnipotent God can (and would ever) violate the laws of logic as we know them? If so, then we’ll have reached an impasse.

            One huge problem with your analogy is that we’re not gods.

            I think we could become ever-more like gods.

            You’re analogy would seem to reduce god into having these properties by comparing him to us, which was my whole point.

            I don’t see how my analogy does this; please elaborate. My guess is that you’re implicitly assuming that only God does first-cause actions, as I mentioned in a comment I just posted.

            If there could always be a better world, then couldn’t there always be a better god?

            This precludes the possibility of us being part of bringing about said ‘better world’. There is a continual buck-passing to God going on, where we blame him for our failings. In my view. :-)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I think there is value in humans understanding how they were created, such that they can go on to create other sentient, sapient life. Your version of ‘better’ precludes that possibility, it seems.

            So god used a multi-million year process that required conscious suffering for no logically necessary reason all so that we’d have a great story to teach kids in science class? (Which by the way many Christians still deny today) Seriously? That’s a laughable attempt to justify god’s cruelty. For one thing most people worldwide don’t accept it and most people throughout human history had no ability to even know about it.

            Do you think an omnipotent God can (and would ever) violate the laws of logic as we know them? If so, then we’ll have reached an impasse.

            This makes no logical sense given what I’ve written. It’s like you’re trying to be vague on purpose.

            I think we could become ever-more like gods.

            But you are still admitting god is either totally incompetent, totally indifferent, or totally cruel.

            I don’t see how my analogy does this; please elaborate. My guess is that you’re implicitly assuming that only God does first-cause actions, as I mentioned in a comment I just posted.

            You compared us simulating life with god creating life, as if our mistakes that we would make would also be made by god too. That admits or at least implies that you think of god as a being prone to incompetence and mistakes as humans are.

            This precludes the possibility of us being part of bringing about said ‘better world’. There is a continual buck-passing to God going on, where we blame him for our failings. In my view. :-)

            Why would the creation of humans who are genetically determined to be psychopathic and evil make existence better? Sorry, but you’re making less and less sense the longer this goes on.

          • labreuer

            So god used a multi-million year process that required conscious suffering for no logically necessary reason all so that we’d have a great story to teach kids in science class? (Which by the way many Christians still deny today) Seriously? That’s a laughable attempt to justify god’s cruelty. For one thing most people worldwide don’t accept it and most people throughout human history had no ability to even know about it.

            I don’t think all of the suffering is required, because I think moral choices of evil over good have added ‘moral noise’ to the system. This seems like a fascinating role reversal, with your playing the role of creationist and me playing the role of evolutionist, with you pointing to holes and gaps in my thinking that you think completely obliterate it, leaving design randomness as the only explanation. My response will be similar to the evolutionists who responded to me when I was a creationist: come up with a better theory explanation and I will accept it. But if the only alternative is design a non-explanation, I’m going to continue trying my explanation, even if it has all sorts of gaps and holes.

            This makes no logical sense given what I’ve written.

            It’s a very basic question. Surely you’ve heard of “Can God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it?” Whether or not you think God would violate the laws of logic as we know them has implications for how this discussion would go.

            But you are still admitting god is either totally incompetent, totally indifferent, or totally cruel.

            False; I think he values things you don’t admit are valuable (such as the ability to rationally understand reality and how we got here), or at least aren’t including in your thinking. You are oversimplifying in order to obtain the point that you want to maintain: God would have done it differently. I’m challenging you to find a valid ‘differently’, and so far you haven’t been able to. I constantly challenge atheists and skeptics to provide said ‘differently’, and I constantly find holes in said explanations. They always create a world that everyone ends up evaluating as ‘worse’—or they cease the conversation.

            You compared us simulating life with god creating life, as if our mistakes that we would make would also be made by god too. That admits or at least implies that you think of god as a being prone to incompetence and mistakes as humans are.

            I would ask you to be a bit more careful of what you infer. Thinking of God turning a knob on a simulator until he gets a set of beings which can all go to heaven is a useful thought experiment. I didn’t mean to imply what you think. And I don’t see how I necessarily implied something I didn’t mean to imply.

            Why would the creation of humans who are genetically determined to be psychopathic and evil make existence better? Sorry, but you’re making less and less sense the longer this goes on.

            I question the claim that they were genetically determined to be bad. I am likely genetically predisposed to be bad at socializing, but I was able to overcome said disposition with the help of others, and I think the end result is better. I’m able to question aspects of social organization that others just take for granted, at such a deep level that they cannot criticize them. A world in which nobody ever questions such things is, in my opinion, a worse world than one in which some people are predisposed to question and poke and prod them. Life can suck for such people if everyone else thinks that things are as they should be—I’ve experienced plenty of that—but this is a failure of society, not of the people who are born differently.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            don’t think all of the suffering is required, because I think moral choices of evil over good have added ‘moral noise’ to the system.

            Is this your angle? Are you trying to say that human moral choices are responsible for the millions of years of unnecessary suffering that existed before we even evolved? It makes no logical sense, again.

            come up with a better theory explanation and I will accept it.

            Better theory for what, evolution or suffering?

            Surely you’ve heard of “Can God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it?” Whether or not you think God would violate the laws of logic as we know them has implications for how this discussion would go.

            Of course I have. At no point in this post or in this discussion have I ever appealed to the notion that god can do the logically impossible. I’ve granted all along that he cannot.

            I think he values things you don’t admit are valuable (such as the ability to rationally understand reality and how we got here), or at least aren’t including in your thinking.

            Why is evolution needed for us to rationally understand reality and how we got here? Make a logical connection and show me how under creationism (the young earth kind) that would not be possible.

            I’m challenging you to find a valid ‘differently’, and so far you haven’t been able to.

            Simple. Young earth creationism. I offered two possibilities in my post how god could have done it differently, you must not have read it in full.

            They always create a world that everyone ends up evaluating as ‘worse’—or they cease the conversation.

            Believe me, I take this shit seriously. So far the only holes I have seen are in your explanations. They’re vague and all over the map. You’ve essentially invented your own personalized version of Christianity to deal with atheism.

            And I don’t see how I necessarily implied something I didn’t mean to imply.

            It happens. Just try not being so vague.

            I question the claim that they were genetically determined to be bad.

            Psychopathy is a physiological condition in which part of the brain used in empathizing is under developed. No one can possibly choose this, even under LFW.

            A world in which nobody ever questions such things is, in my opinion, a worse world than one in which some people are predisposed to question and poke and prod them.

            Then heaven is gonna suck since there is no free will there to question or challenge the way things will be set up.

          • labreuer

            Is this your angle? Are you trying to say that human moral choices are responsible for the millions of years of unnecessary suffering that existed before we even evolved? It makes no logical sense, again.

            labreuer: “Why must God and humans be the only moral agents?”
            The Thinker: “I never said they were.”
            labreuer: “I think moral choices of evil over good have added ‘moral noise’ to the system.”
            The Thinker: “Are you trying to say that human moral choices are responsible for…”

            You may have not said that God and humans are the only moral agents, but you’re arguing as if they are. I’m saying that they might not be, and right now, it seems like there need to be other moral agents for my ‘explanation’ (I don’t want to dignify it with the word ‘hypothesis’ right now) to make sense. You’re welcome to say that my ‘dark matter’ equivalent is unwarranted; in that case, I’ll try and remember as much as I can in our conversation, work on the idea, and continue the topic if and when I have something more ‘solid’.

            Better theory for what, evolution or suffering?

            For suffering, for the apparent abundance of what we inescapably want to call ‘evil’, in our world. An ‘evil’ which seems to transcend mere dislike, but reaches a moral volume.

            At no point in this post or in this discussion have I ever appealed to the notion that god can do the logically impossible.

            Ok. Please understand that I’ve had similar conversations many times before, and I therefore will often reply based on ‘the probabilities’. I saw that you were possibly headed toward arguments which suppose that God can violate the laws of logic. So please don’t take offense that I thought you might, even when you never intended to?

            Why is evolution needed for us to rationally understand reality and how we got here? Make a logical connection and show me how under creationism (the young earth kind) that would not be possible.

            Creationism posits that there are gaps which are not explainable or understandable other than the non-explanation of ‘God did it’. It’s god-of-the-gaps. Not all explanations actually explain. “Because reality is fundamentally random with some laws thrown in” is not an explanation, it’s a claim that there is no further explanation. “Because God specially created it” is also a claim that there is no further explanation. It’s a claim that thought can be made reality instantaneously, with no process. God had the thought of humans, decided that thought should become reality, and POOF, it was. We humans clearly do not create that way. This means that if creationism is true, either (i) we can do this similar thought → reality thing, or (ii) how God made intelligent, sapient, in-the-image-of-himself life will forever be a mystery.

            I’m not saying it’s impossible to have a reality where thoughts can be made into things with no intermediate stages. I’m questioning whether that would be a better reality than our own. We like understanding how things come to be. We get joy from it. We love understanding things better and better. You’re eliminating some of the sources of joy, because they can sometimes be sources of pain by morally evil choices. At least, you seem to be saying that it would be better for there to be a reality where we POOF from one perfect state to the next, with no possibility of erring, of even temporarily getting ourselves into a state that is painful. There should be bumpers in the bowling alley so that there are no gutter balls. Maybe every ball should automatically be a strike.

            There is a pattern in how these conversations go. Someone points to a state of affairs in reality they think is bad, and say, “God could have done it a better way!” I challenge the other person to think of a concrete ‘better way’, and/or try to come up with one myself. Then I ask: what is lost in this ‘better way’? Without fail (so far), I find something pretty big that is lost. My interlocutor has to admit that the loss is worth it, or find a different way. So far, nobody I’ve run into has been able to construct a compelling world that is really and truly better than this one. Mostly what they do is pretend that everything can be the same except for removing some element. Things don’t work that way, unless you want a logically inconsistent reality.

            Believe me, I take this shit seriously. So far the only holes I have seen are in your explanations. They’re vague and all over the map. You’ve essentially invented your own personalized version of Christianity to deal with atheism.

            Heh, people generally find me unique, but I’m not convinced I have a whole lot in the way of new ideas. See, for example, the great chain of being.

            As to the accusation of vagueness, it might be true. But I have a different one of my interlocutors: oversimplification which leads to logical inconsistency. Or inconsistent definitions of terms, which I can often only tease out in conversations that most people don’t have the patience for (some do, thankfully).

            It is frequent that I run into people who say, “I could have done it better than God!” And yet, I wonder why these people believe this, unless they’re fantastically adept at doing things well in this here reality. I’m not sure I’ve ever found this, making me suspect that they want to live in a fantasy land where they’re awesome at things, but a fantasy land that is logically impossible or terrible in some other way. We all want to be noble and powerful, able to do awesomely good things in reality. Many of us don’t want to pay the price required to do so.

            Note that fundamentalism (and I don’t just mean religious) is not necessarily a good alternative to vagueness. It’s really a balancing act; each has its uses. Being fundamentalist is excellent when you want to prove things. Being vague is good when we don’t know enough to be more concrete. Many people don’t want to admit that reality is as mysterious as it is. They want to think that they know more than they do.

            I took a real analysis course at university in which we proved calculus from the ground up. It was insanely rigorous and most students hated it, but I learned to deeply appreciate the rigor. Using that, plus the rigor one gets from learning to troubleshoot software, embedded hardware, and mechanical things, I can point out all sorts of hidden assumptions that people make in their conversations. What you call ‘vagueness’ is sometimes an attempt to not make those hidden assumptions. The result is that one cannot confidently state very much. A lot of people don’t like this, even if it’s all one can justifiably do.

            Psychopathy is a physiological condition in which part of the brain used in empathizing is under developed. No one can possibly choose this, even under LFW.

            I didn’t say I chose to be bad at socializing; I just was. And good things came out of it. Similarly, I think good things can come out of psychopathy. And you know what? I believe we could help psychopaths develop their emotions better and better, just like people helped me socialize since I couldn’t manage it intuitively. I’ve seen some pretty awesome things, like autistic kids opening up in ways generally deemed to be impossible. There is something powerful in the claim, “With God all things are possible.” We humans are really sucky at declaring things impossible. What we really say is that things are too hard and we shouldn’t have to work so hard.

            Then heaven is gonna suck since there is no free will there to question or challenge the way things will be set up.

            Alternatively, after a certain amount of expressing of one’s moral free will, one can get set on a trajectory to qualify as a permanent resident of a utopia.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            You may have not said that God and humans are the only moral agents, but you’re arguing as if they are.

            Not at all. I’m just trying to figure out where you stand on this issue because you’re purposely vague.

            For suffering, for the apparent abundance of what we inescapably want to call ‘evil’, in our world. An ‘evil’ which seems to transcend mere dislike, but reaches a moral volume.

            OK. How about this. Can you please explain suffering in your worldview for me and try not to be vague about it?

            I saw that you were possibly headed toward arguments which suppose that God can violate the laws of logic.

            I’m arguing that the traditional notion of god is logically impossible, so I certainly do not think god can do the logically impossible, he is logically impossible.

            This means that if creationism is true, either (i) we can do this similar thought → reality thing, or (ii) how God made intelligent, sapient, in-the-image-of-himself life willforever be a mystery.

            Talk about Christians being all over the map. First they deny evolution for over a hundred years and claim that it’s incompatible with Christianity. Now some, like you, are trying to say that god would have wanted to use evolution? Is that the angle you’re trying to push? I just need this to be crystal clear.

            We love understanding things better and better.

            Maybe you don’t understand me, or maybe you don’t want to. I’m saying that if we grant an omni-god for sake of argument, a morally perfect deity is not compatible with gratuitous suffering. You’re trying to tell me that god made all that suffering happen, (and the trial and error nature of creation that appears to have no purpose) so that “We [can] like understanding how things come to be.” Is this going to be your justification of the millions of years of death and suffering required for us to evolve under evolution? Especially when you consider that most humans died never hearing of evolution, how can you possibly justify the suffering of evolution with our knowledge of it, as if I’m suppose to jump with joy that a “loving” creator choose to create me by making millions of species suffer and die for no necessary reason? Seriously? How is a morally perfect god logically compatible with this?

            I challenge the other person to think of a concrete ‘better way’, and/or try to come up with one myself. Then I ask: what is lost in this ‘better way’?

            Suppose I’m god and you need money. I can *poof* that money into existence using my power, or I can create a bank, fill it with bank tellers and security guards, then brutally murder them and take money from the bank vault and then give that money to you. Now, if I’m god and can do anything, and I’m omnibenevolent and morally perfect, why would I choose the latter option, given it’s unnecessary violence, suffering and death, when I can easily and without any effort, simply just *poof* the money into existence?

            But I have a different one of my interlocutors: oversimplification which leads to logical inconsistency.

            Have I not tried to be specific in my use of terms and logically consistent? I’d like you to point out and quote any logical inconsistencies on this whole thread and my post or any times you think I was intentionally vague or overly simple.

            It is frequent that I run into people who say, “I could have done it better than God!” And yet, I wonder why these people believe this, unless they’re fantastically adept at doing things well in this here reality. I’m not sure I’ve ever found this, making me suspect that they want to live in a fantasy land where they’re awesome at things, but a fantasy land that is logically impossible or terrible in some other way. We all want to be noble and powerful, able to do awesomely good things in reality. Many of us don’t want to pay the price required to do so.

            Being that you’ve invented your own customized Christianity and reject the biblical narrative (at least some of it) then your criticism of me is actually better applied to you. You apparently think Christianity as-is is not good enough, and so you’ve made it better. That lies at the heart of every denomination.

            Being vague is good when we don’t know enough to be more concrete.

            It can also be used as a way to avoid undesirable outcomes of one’s beliefs. At least offer me some possibilities.

            What you call ‘vagueness’ is sometimes an attempt to not make those hidden assumptions.

            You can still be specific, and define your terms and acknowledge any presuppositions you are making.

            I think good things can come out of psychopathy.

            Yeah, like world war 2 and the holocaust. Look at how many awesome documentaries and movies were made about it that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy if WW2 never happened.

            There is something powerful in the claim, “With God all things are possible.”

            The claim is just a bunch of words, no better than, “There is no god but allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.” I agree with the first 4 words.

            Alternatively, after a certain amount of expressing of one’s moral free will, one can get set on a trajectory to qualify as a permanent resident of a utopia.

            And you honestly think that you will be content existing consciously, day in, day out, literally for eternity?

          • labreuer

            Not at all. I’m just trying to figure out where you stand on this issue because you’re purposely vague.

            You know, I’m starting to think some of this alleged ‘vagueness’ is due to your laziness. I was careful to note a progression of comments which showed that you ignored or forgot something I said. I wonder if part of my apparent vagueness is that I intend my posts to connect to each other and you want to read each one afresh?

            The thing that’s really annoying is that you appear to be blaming everything on me. That’s tedious and usually wrong. It doesn’t help move the discussion forward; instead, it gets muddled in metadiscussion, like I just got caught up doing. So I stop.

            Can you please explain suffering in your worldview for me and try not to be vague about it?

            How about you give me some sort of template or example to go off of by answering the question yourself? I’m repeatedly failing to be not-vague and I’m tired of trying to guess how to be not-vague. Some guidance would be helpful.

            I’m arguing that the traditional notion of god is logically impossible, so I certainly do not think god can do the logically impossible, he is logically impossible.

            Then I’m tempted to abandon this tangent. We can certainly think of moderately good, moderately wise, moderately powerful humans. Why I can’t take the limit of these things as the intensity of each attribute goes to infinity, and reach a logically coherent being, is beyond me. Perhaps it is because we try to take the limit of each attribute individually, instead of considering what happens when we increase all the attributes a bit, do it again, and again, on to infinity? It’d be like trying to first sum the positive terms of the alternating harmonic series, then the negative terms, and then adding up the two infinities at the end, instead of only summing finitely many positive terms before adding some negative terms. The sum does converge to a [finite] number if you compute it correctly. But if you don’t sum it correctly, you can’t find the limit and you might throw up your hands and declare that there is no limit. How’s this for a concrete, non-vague argument?

            Now some, like you, are trying to say that god would have wanted to use evolution? Is that the angle you’re trying to push? I just need this to be crystal clear.

            I think a creation process which we can intricately understand is better than one that is just a black box. Whether God had to use evolution or had other options is something I don’t know. Maybe Lucifer screwed things up; I have no idea. The thing I like about evolution is that we can digitally evolve things and thus be gods ourselves. The serpent told Adam and Eve that they’d become like God; I think the promise of ever-more-sophisticated digital simulations gives truth to the serpent’s words. Because a programmer could always roll back a digital simulation, he/she would be omnipotent and omniscient from the point of view of the created beings.

            Andy, you, and Jonathan have largely convinced me that surely there is a better way than evolution. That leaves no omni-god, or moral agents screwed things up and “nature red in tooth and claw” was the result. Given that I have other reasons to like the omni-god hypothesis, I’ll (a) admit that evolution is a problem; (b) not let evolution be a defeater to my faith.

            Now, if I’m god and can do anything, and I’m omnibenevolent and morally perfect, why would I choose the latter option, given it’s unnecessary violence, suffering and death, when I can easily and without any effort, simply just *poof* the money into existence?

            Rejecting your false dichotomy, I think there may be benefits to creating things lawfully (in a rationally understandable way) instead of magically. Some on this page think that the only lawful way to do so is through gratuitous evil; I’m undecided.

            What I really oppose is the idea that any and all poofed-into-reality worlds are reasonable. Last-Thursdayism is logically possible, but it also deludes us. Inserting a false history into someone’s brain seems like an evil thing to do. So I’m skeptical of raw use of the omni-wand to prove any argument possible and therefore an omni-god impossible.

            Have I not tried to be specific in my use of terms and logically consistent? I’d like you to point out and quote any logical inconsistencies on this whole thread and my post or any times you think I was intentionally vague or overly simple.

            “God could have done it a better way”, without actually doing the work to try and build a realistic-sounding world (compare realistic fantasy novels to just plain ridiculous ones) is a cop-out in discussions like these. You get in danger of logical inconsistency if e.g. your argument results in God placing fake memories in our brains to get us to do the right thing. Whether or not you end up doing this, I don’t know. The text you quoted was a general observation I’ve made in discussions like these; I don’t recall you doing a lot of it in particular.

            Being that you’ve invented your own customized Christianity and reject the biblical narrative (at least some of it) then your criticism of me is actually better applied to you. You apparently think Christianity as-is is not good enough, and so you’ve made it better. That lies at the heart of every denomination.

            Augustine said to be careful of stupidly interpreting scripture, so I don’t think I’m nearly as radical as you claim. In terms of me making Christianity better, I think that’s kind of the idea: that every Christian improves on what has been done before. The whole “understanding God better” thing is one that will continue ad infinitum. The Bible is a wonderful foundation, but it was never meant to be a font of all knowledge. Silly Protestants did that, but largely as a reaction to a power-hungry Catholic church. I don’t see myself as having any special ability; we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I tend to be more of a systematizing person, that’s all.

            Yeah, like world war 2 and the holocaust. Look at how many awesome documentaries and movies were made about it that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy if WW2 never happened.

            Have you ever seen the people who idolized progress and how humanity was getting ever-better, right before WWI? Yeah, those people were in lala land, and their inability to understand humans properly was probably part of the reason WWI and WWII happened.

            And you honestly think that you will be content existing consciously, day in, day out, literally for eternity?

            I think God has created a reality with an infinite number of exciting twists and turns, such that life will never get boring. Feel free to try and disprove me. :-p

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I was careful to note a progression of comments which showed that you ignored or forgot something I said.

            Where are they? Highlight or link them to me on here.

            The thing that’s really annoying is that you appear to be blaming everything on me. That’s tedious and usually wrong.

            I’ve tried to be as clear as possible in dealing with you, but you haven’t. However it seems that your answer to the acknowledged problem of evolution is that you think “a creation process which we can intricately understand is better than one that is just a black box.” I am finding it very hard to justify millions of years of suffering with that excuse. If any human did the same thing would we think highly of them, or less highly?

            How’s this for a concrete, non-vague argument?

            What I’d really prefer you do is to take my arguments head on and directly and as clearly as possible show me where you think they’re wrong.

            Whether God had to use evolution or had other options is something I don’t know. Maybe Lucifer screwed things up; I have no idea.

            I already ruled that out as a plausible option. Since this messy process of evolution lead to our evolution, then to say “Lucifer screwed things up” is to say Lucifer is responsible for our evolution, and we owe it to him for our existence. That’s the logical implication of that position.

            The thing I like about evolution is that we can digitally evolve things and thus be gods ourselves.

            Our technology doesn’t evolve like organism do. They are designed from scratch, assembled whole, and then redesigned from the bottom up. And we had the modern industrial revolution BEFORE we discovered evolution, so your position makes no sense.

            The serpent told Adam and Eve that they’d become like God; I think the promise of ever-more-sophisticated digital simulations gives truth to the serpent’s words.

            Adam and Eve were symbolic; they never existed and there never was a talking snake. To accept that means you fall on the ignorant end of Christianity.

            Given that I have other reasons to like the omni-god hypothesis, I’ll (a) admit that evolution is a problem; (b) not let evolution be a defeater to my faith.

            What are they? I think the arguments I’ve made in this post are a clear defeater to the omni-god hypothesis. Seems like faith will carry you at the end of the day.

            Rejecting your false dichotomy, I think there may be benefits to creating things lawfully (in a rationally understandable way) instead of magically.

            First of all, I never presented or intended for this to be a dichotomy. I grant there are other options. For you to be right, you’d have to take the position that god must have used evolution, and didn’t merely do it “just because” because then it would be gratuitous, and you admitted god is not compatible with gratuitous suffering. I want to hear your best logical argument why god must have used evolution and couldn’t have done it any other way.

            “God could have done it a better way”, without actually doing the work to try and build a realistic-sounding world (compare realistic fantasy novels to just plain ridiculous ones) is a cop-out in discussions like these.

            I linked you to my blog in which I explain a possible world god could have created that involved no suffering at all. As far as I know you’ve made no attempt to tell me how it is logically possible.

            Here it is again:http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/11/could-god-create-best-of-all-possible.html

            In terms of me making Christianity better, I think that’s kind of the idea: that every Christian improves on what has been done before. The whole “understanding God better” thing is one that will continue ad infinitum.

            So Christianity isn’t the best religion because it’s always a work in progress, huh?

            Could it also be true that the reason Christianity is improved is because it’s a man made religion, and hence people must improve it just like any technology over time?

            Yeah, those people were in lala land, and their inability to understand humans properly was probably part of the reason WWI and WWII happened.

            So that’s really why WW2 happened. Damn, it all makes sense now.

            I think God has created a reality with an infinite number of exciting twists and turns, such that life will never get boring. Feel free to try and disprove me. :-p

            Human nature disproves you.

          • labreuer

            Where are they? Highlight or link them to me on here.

            My previous comment:

            labreuer: “Why must God and humans be the only moral agents?”
            The Thinker: “I never said they were.”
            labreuer: “I think moral choices of evil over good have added ‘moral noise’ to the system.”
            The Thinker: “Are you trying to say that human moral choices are responsible for…”

            I’ve tried to be as clear as possible in dealing with you, but you haven’t.

            See, there’s the blaming. You, The Thinker, have done the best you can be expected to do, and therefore have no culpability. I, labreuer, am being despicably lazy or worse, and bear all the culpability. If you can’t see how wrong this is, you must view reality in a very different way than I do. You must… sin less than other people, from your point of view. When other people fuck up, it’s their fault and the only responsibility you can possibly bear is to point out the fuck ups. This is perhaps a bit harsh, but you remind me of:

            “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Mt 23:2-4)

            I am finding it very hard to justify millions of years of suffering with that excuse.

            I have no explanation good enough for you. You can choose to be like the creationist who says that the evolutionist must abandon the theory of evolution because he/she cannot explain some gap in evolution or worse, abiogenesis. I’ll give you the evolutionist’s response: give me a better explanation, not merely one that posits that there is no explanation. ‘Randomness’ is not a better explanation. It is not an explanation. It is the claim that there is no explanation

            What I’d really prefer you do is to take my arguments head on and directly and as clearly as possible show me where you think they’re wrong.

            If you can’t understand the difference between:

            1. lim (knowledge) as (quantity → ∞) + lim (power) as (quantity → ∞) + lim (goodness) as (quantity → ∞)

            and

            2. lim (knowledge + power + goodness) as (quantity → ∞)

            then I think we’ll have to abandon this tangent, because I don’t know how else to argue it. What I suspect is that efforts to compute { lim (knowledge) as (quantity → ∞) } fail. This should be intuitively obvious, since we can think of someone moderately knowledgeable, moderately powerful, and moderately good, and then keep thinking of people who are just a bit better in all these attributes. Where, on the path → ∞, does the incoherence arise? If you cannot find it in this manner, I suspect that the incoherence you’ve found is a chimera, like the infinities in quantum field theory which can actually be ‘fixed’ through the process of renormalization.

            I already ruled that out as a plausible option. Since this messy process of evolution lead to our evolution, then to say “Lucifer screwed things up” is to say Lucifer is responsible for our evolution, and we owe it to him for our existence. That’s the logical implication of that position.

            That’s not quite correct: Lucifer would have played a part in our existence. There is nothing theologically problematic; the evil Egyptians and the evil people in the Promised Land played a part of Israel’s existence. God repeatedly used evil people to purge the Israelites of those who refused to stop doing evil. The entire book of Habakkuk is God explaining how he does this; the prophet Habakkuk is appalled that God would use evil this way.

            I suggest reading the first chapter of The Silmarillion. It talks about a good god using the machinations of an evil lower god for ultimate good.

            Our technology doesn’t evolve like organism do. They are designed from scratch, assembled whole, and then redesigned from the bottom up. And we had the modern industrial revolution BEFORE we discovered evolution, so your position makes no sense.

            The fact that there existed people before the end result was realized is also a theological reality. Hebrews 11 is the “heroes of the faith” chapter in the Bible; it concludes with:

            And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Heb 11:39-40)

            Indeed, part of the Christian life is doing the right thing even though you don’t always know how it fits in the bigger scheme of things. Hebrews 11 praises people who listened to and obeyed God, even though they couldn’t always understand why he was commanding them thusly. Lest we forget, they usually (perhaps always?) did see some good results of their obedience-by-faith; Abraham certainly was blessed after he left the comfort of his homeland, Ur.

            I believe it is glorious to play a part in the process, even if I don’t get to fully appreciate the result. Although, the whole heaven thing seems to indicate that I will, just not in my life-on-earth. The Bible probably goes as far as to say that Christians should willingly take on gratuitous evils, absorbing it themselves so others don’t have to.

            Adam and Eve were symbolic; they never existed and there never was a talking snake. To accept that means you fall on the ignorant end of Christianity.

            Your fundamentalism is showing.

            What are they?

            I have seen enough evil be redeemed that I expect to find more and more ways it can be done, with no perceptible limit. No point past which evil is just gratuitous. Kind of like how scientists keep believing that more science can always be done.

            For you to be right, you’d have to take the position that god must have used evolution

            No, I don’t. Just like I don’t hold that Adam and Eve must have sinned. I think there were many ways for things to go, and that God created moral agents who get to be part of deciding how things will go.

            Could it also be true that the reason Christianity is improved is because it’s a man made religion, and hence people must improve it just like any technology over time?

            That is another model, yes. Which has more predictive and explanatory power is up for debate.

            So that’s really why WW2 happened. Damn, it all makes sense now.

            C’mon, you just conveniently omitted my explicit “part of the reason”.

            Human nature disproves you.

            Please be… less vague. :-p

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            See, there’s the blaming. You, The Thinker, have done the best you can be expected to do, and therefore have no culpability.

            You never offered an explanation of these moral choices, and you’ve been holding to the absurd Adam & Even scenario this whole time. what do you expect me to write?

            I have no explanation good enough for you.

            Fair enough. If that is so we do not need to milk this any further, You essentially say you don’t know. Fine. All I ask is that you think about this seriously and consider the possibility that my argument is correct in light of my logical defense of it.

            Where, on the path → ∞, does the incoherence arise? If you cannot find it in this manner, I suspect that the incoherence you’ve found is a chimera, like the infinities in quantum field theory which can actually be ‘fixed’ through the process of renormalization.

            How exactly does any of this resolve the problem of god’s perfection with gratuitous suffering? God is said to be qualitatively infinite, that means infinitely good. You seem to be conceding that no, he’s just a little good, but he’s sometimes not so good. Is that the choice you to have to make to resolve this problem?

            Lucifer would have played a part in our existence. There is nothing theologically problematic;

            I don’t think you understand the nature of this issue. We’re talking about natural evil, not moral evil. A multi-billion year process of evolution that lead to our existence, allegedly guided and designed by god, required natural evil. Now throw Lucifer in the mix. What does he do to fuck the whole thing up? Tell me. Evolution is fundamentally based on death. Tell me how you think it would have been perfect if Lucifer minded his own business and how humans could have evolved without millions of years of suffering and death. This ought to be good.

            The fact that there existed people before the end result was realized is also a theological reality.

            Your explanation and bible verse is about as relevant to this discussion as the bible verse in this video: http://bit.ly/1aBWUFa

            Indeed, part of the Christian life is doing the right thing even though you don’t always know how it fits in the bigger scheme of things.

            That excuse can also be used by anyone in any religion or cult.

            Your fundamentalism is showing.

            And this is coming from a guy using A & E to justify suffering. Wow.

            I have seen enough evil be redeemed that I expect to find more and more ways it can be done, with no perceptible limit.

            Really? Tell me, can I verify it?

            No, I don’t. Just like I don’t hold that Adam and Eve must have sinned. I think there were many ways for things to go, and that God created moral agents who get to be part of deciding how things will go.

            So please explain how moral agents lead to our world of suffering. When did this happen, where did it happen, who was involved and what evidence do you have that it happened?

            Please be… less vague. :-p

            We tend to get bored with things rather easily. Everything new is a novelty. Is god’s job in heaven going to be keeping his creatures from getting bored as his full time job?

          • labreuer

            what do you expect me to write?

            Something which advances the conversation more efficiently. And perhaps something that doesn’t have you coming off as much superior to me. That always grates.

            All I ask is that you think about this seriously and consider the possibility that my argument is correct in light of my logical defense of it.

            I’ve thought about much of what we discuss a lot. I had something close to a crisis of my faith over stuff like the Canaanite genocide. Your argument, though, is essentially that there is no explanation. “That’s just what humans do.” is often a non-explanation. You’re accusing me of looking for patterns where there are none. I’m going to continue to seek to understand things better. If some particular tangent seems ‘dead’, and especially if it doesn’t seem to connect directly to the actions I take from day to day, nor how I think of possible excellent futures and how to bring them about, I’ll just let it lie until someone comes along and wants to talk about it.

            If you want to show how my actions are badly predicated on falsehoods, feel free to. I think that in general, you’ll have a hard time doing so, and thus we’re left trying to identify concepts that are inconsistent, how the evidence supports various models, etc.

            How exactly does any of this resolve the problem of god’s perfection with gratuitous suffering?

            You said “I’m arguing that the traditional notion of god is logically impossible”. Please don’t change the goalposts. When you say ‘logically impossible’, that means we don’t need to look at evidence. At least, when you tell most people that “the concept of an omni-god is incoherent”, that means that one reaches contradictions when one tries to combine omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

            We’re talking about natural evil, not moral evil.

            We’ve been over this. I have conceded that either (a) we have misidentified moral evil as natural evil, or (b) the evidential problem of evil obtains. Furthermore, I have conceded that either (i) there is a non-gratuitous-evil version of evolution, (ii) a moral agent forced evolution to be the tool of creation, or (iii) the evolutionary problem of evil obtains.

            Are you saying that any death, whatsoever, is also a gratuitous evil? I’ve not heard that argument before.

            Your explanation and bible verse is about as relevant to this discussion as the bible verse in this video

            Then we can consider this tangent finished.

            That excuse can also be used by anyone in any religion or cult.

            True. Sharp knives can cause damage.

            And this is coming from a guy using A & E to justify suffering. Wow.

            I see you are a fan of tu quoque.

            Really? Tell me, can I verify it?

            I’m not inclined to try, unless you give me reason to believe you would find anything believable, probably via giving some believable hypothetical scenarios that would convince you.

            So please explain how moral agents lead to our world of suffering. When did this happen, where did it happen, who was involved and what evidence do you have that it happened?

            I can only point to moral agents, now, some of whom choose good over evil and some of whom choose evil over good. And then I extrapolate to the past.

            We tend to get bored with things rather easily. Everything new is a novelty. Is god’s job in heaven going to be keeping his creatures from getting bored as his full time job?

            Ummmm… he’s already done that in his six days of work; he’s now chillaxing. :-p

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Something which advances the conversation more efficiently.

            I think we’ve gotten to the bottom of this. You can’t fully explain the problems with Christian theism and so you’ve decided to let faith carry you through it somehow. That’s pretty much where we’re at.

            Your argument, though, is essentially that there is no explanation. “That’s just what humans do.” is often a non-explanation.

            I barely even mentioned the problem of moral evil during this discussion. Yet that’s mainly what you’re focusing on. I have an explanation. We are Darwinian primates, so of course we’re going to resort to our animalistic nature from time to time and do evil. It’s you who has to fall back on Adam and Eve and other silly myths to try to explain this all away. It is thus you who lacks a coherent explanation given the data.

            If you want to read some great posts I wrote criticizing the Canaanite conquest please read this:

            Yes Dr. Craig, You’re Still An Apologist For Genocide

            and here:

            The Slaughter Of The Canaanites According To William Lane Craig

            If you want to show how my actions are badly predicated on falsehoods, feel free to.

            I can only judge your choice of logic since I don’t know you personally. But I can say it is built upon a lot of fuzzy faith-based concepts and is sometimes logically incoherent.

            Please don’t change the goalposts. When you say ‘logically impossible’, that means we don’t need to look at evidence. At least, when you tell most people that “the concept of an omni-god is incoherent”, that means that one reaches contradictions when one tries to combine omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

            Who the hell is changing the goal posts? I demonstrate in this post how an omni-god is not possible two different ways. 1. using pure logic, and the other 2. using evidence. No moving goal posts.

            Are you saying that any death, whatsoever, is also a gratuitous evil? I’ve not heard that argument before.

            In order for pain, suffering and death not to be gratuitous, it would have to be for a logically necessary reason, not “just because”. That’s what we mean by gratuitous.

            I see you are a fan of tu quoque.

            I’m not judging your present inconsistencies using your past inconsistencies. They’re all inconsistent.

            I can only point to moral agents, now, some of whom choose good over evil and some of whom choose evil over good. And then I extrapolate to the past.

            So contemporary evil is applies retroactively into the past? Is that it?

            Ummmm… he’s already done that in his six days of work; he’s now chillaxing. :-p

            Yup six day creationism, perfectly compatible with science. I’m done with you. I thought you showed promise, now you’re just sad.

          • LukeBreuer

            I think we’ve gotten to the bottom of this. You can’t fully explain the problems with Christian theism and so you’ve decided to let faith carry you through it somehow. That’s pretty much where we’re at.

            Find me anyone who has a 100% consistent, 100% complete system of thought. :-p

            I barely even mentioned the problem of moral evil during this discussion. Yet that’s mainly what you’re focusing on.

            This is because I have admitted that I see no way for natural evil to not be gratuitous. And so perhaps we are misidentifying moral evil for natural evil. I’m repeating myself here and I don’t know why I’m having to.

            I have an explanation. We are Darwinian primates, so of course we’re going to resort to our animalistic nature from time to time and do evil.

            Does this predict any phenomenon of human behavior which hasn’t already been observed? Does it give us the ability to better structure society so more people thrive and fewer suffer, than we did without that knowledge? I’m seriously curious; I’m well aware that little evopsych is actually science, but perhaps it will become so, at some point.

            Who the hell is changing the goal posts? I demonstrate in this post how an omni-god is not possible two different ways. 1. using pure logic, and the other 2. using evidence. No moving goal posts.

            Then I shall restate (I was thinking more about your comments than your blog post): you refuse to engage in my very mathematical analysis of your #1. The least vague thing I have ever stated, you refuse to discuss. Fascinating, given all your complaints about vagueness.

            So contemporary evil is applies retroactively into the past? Is that it?

            What?

            Yup six day creationism, perfectly compatible with science. I’m done with you. I thought you showed promise, now you’re just sad.

            Yep, fundamentalist detected. (Inability to sense a joke detected.)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Find me anyone who has a 100% consistent, 100% complete system of thought. :-p

            It certainly isn’t the god you worship.

            And so perhaps we are misidentifying moral evil for natural evil. I’m repeating myself here and I don’t know why I’m having to.

            We are? YOU are! I’m still waiting for your theory on how any moral agents lead to natural evil. I expect your explanation why it isn’t gratuitous.

            Does this predict any phenomenon of human behavior which hasn’t already been observed?

            Some human behavior is Darwinian, some is cultural. Evolution doesn’t give us all the answers, nor should you expect it to. Nonetheless there is no religious explanation that comes even close the evolutionary explanation in power and evidence.

            The least vague thing I have ever stated, you refuse to discuss.

            I don’t remember hearing a good response for this. Care to make it clear and direct? As far as I know, your answer is “I don’t know/I can’t explain it”.

            Yep, fundamentalist detected. (Inability to sense a joke detected.)

            Given your tendency to contradict yourself and be vague, it fit in with all your other inconsistencies.

          • LukeBreuer

            It certainly isn’t the god you worship.

            Oh, I know that my current model of Yahweh and Jesus and the Holy Spirit is either inconsistent or incomplete; Gödel tells me that much, if I don’t want to trust the bits in the Bible that say that God is unfathomable and yet wants to be increasingly fathomed.

            I’m still waiting for your theory on how any moral agents lead to natural evil.

            Here’s a hypothetical for you to shoot down. God says, “I want to create life this way”, but lets Satan fuck things up and try to obtain his own goal. Beings arise, some of whom follow Satan’s model of thinking you’re more valuable than other people, some of whom follow God’s model of thinking that everyone is of equal and infinite value. Somehow, the knowledge and results gained through this, possibly plus the value of morally free-willed agents, is worth it.

            That’s the best answer I can currently give. Gratuitous evil is made not-gratuitous by what we do with it, whether we choose to learn from it or whine about it or ignore it. Maybe we’ll be able to go back in time (see retrocausality), maybe we’ll be able to ultimately perfectly reconstruct the past of the earth by using non-sentient portions of the universe for computation. Who knows. What I find of most interest is what actions and thoughts my explanation dictates I engage in, in the here-and-now. Evil is to be fought and redeemed if possible in this lifetime. Self-sacrifice is an important part of this; if some refuse to fix the suffering and pain they incurred, then others, who did not incur the damage, must take some of it upon themselves in order to remove it from reality. Christians are called to do this, to follow the example of Christ.

            Nonetheless there is no religious explanation that comes even close the evolutionary explanation in power and evidence.

            I just asked you what your explanation predicts over and above what was known before Darwin was born. Want to try again and tell me a prediction, not simply a ‘just-so story’? How have we learned to be less of a dick to one another, due to the theory of evolution?

            An answer I might give to the above is the genetic predisposition to obesity. And yet, common sense says that different people struggle with different things. To need the genetic+behavioral evidence that some people find it harder to stay fit than others is, in my mind, ludicrous. Every wise person knows that some people are better at some things, others, at other things. To think that doing X should be equally easy for all people is extreme ignorance if not malevolence.

            I don’t remember hearing a good response for this. Care to make it clear and direct? As far as I know, your answer is “I don’t know/I can’t explain it”.

            Seriously? Go back to this comment:

            If you can’t understand the difference between:

            1. lim (knowledge) as (quantity → ∞) + lim (power) as (quantity → ∞) + lim (goodness) as (quantity → ∞)

            and

            2. lim (knowledge + power + goodness) as (quantity → ∞)

            then I think we’ll have to abandon this tangent, because I don’t know how else to argue it. What I suspect is that efforts to compute { lim (knowledge) as (quantity → ∞) } fail. This should be intuitively obvious, since we can think of someone moderately knowledgeable, moderately powerful, and moderately good, and then keep thinking of people who are just a bit better in all these attributes. Where, on the path → ∞, does the incoherence arise? If you cannot find it in this manner, I suspect that the incoherence you’ve found is a chimera, like the infinities in quantum field theory which can actually be ‘fixed’ through the process of renormalization.

            Look, what does “infinitely powerful” mean? The only valid way to construct infinites that I know of is with limits. You talk about someone who is more and more and more and more powerful. I asked you to find the point at which someone who is more and more and more (powerful + knowledgeable + good) becomes incoherent; you were unable to do so. I tried to explain this with the alternating harmonic series, but you did not wish to expend the effort to understand the math, and therefore have even a chance at understanding the analogy. That’s fine, but if you’re not willing to expend the effort to try to understand, stop claiming that I’m not providing “a good response”.

            Given your tendency to contradict yourself and be vague, it fit in with all your other inconsistencies.

            Would you rather we stop talking? I mean, surely if I’m so full of contradiction and inconsistency, you couldn’t possibly learn anything from me? I certainly learn nothing from you when you make vague accusations without backing them up—or you back them up, I challenge the example you cite, and then you let the tangent die. I’m starting to lose confidence that our discussion is going to add much to either of our knowledge of anything. I’m certainly not participating in the discussion with you because I enjoy it—you’ve done a fantastic job of ensuring that I don’t enjoy it, seemingly in order to make yourself feel better and more valuable than I.

          • labreuer

            I linked you to my blog in which I explain a possible world god could have created that involved no suffering at all. As far as I know you’ve made no attempt to tell me how it is logically possible.

            I actually did make an attempt:

            There are problems with thinking that God could ‘simulate’ worlds with beings which can do first-cause actions, and then reifiy or actualize one where all happened to make the right choices. For, what makes the simulation less real than the reification? I find that such discussions end up denying that anyone but God does first-cause actions.

            You responded:

            Couldn’t god have at least made all non-believers philosophical zombies to be annihilated upon death? Or wouldn’t a truly loving god want to choose a world with less suffering than one with more, especially since he also created the concept of hell to make sure that suffering for some would last an eternity?

            I responded, then you asked me to comment on your blog.

            I suspect a logical contradiction, whereby you want God to be able to simultaneously create beings whose choices he does not fully determine, and yet only create the beings who make a subset of the possible choices. You want to have him some how foresee-but-not-determine actions, and yet you say “Interestingly, it is usually atheists who claim that divine foreknowledge prevents free will.” So, how can God pick just the free beings who never choose—free from God’s influence—certain actions? I don’t see any way he can!

            Perhaps hidden in your blog post is the idea of Molinism, that God can know which stimuli to present to beings such that they always make the right choices. But how is this different from explicitly controlling said beings, such that they are not free? Only under CFW is this remotely possible (and I’m not even convinced it is possible there, given my discussion with Andy), and I disavow CFW.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            and then reifiy or actualize one where all happened to make the right choices.

            In my example, plenty of people already do make the wrong choices and god is aware of that, he just never materializes that world out of compassion. You have to deny divine foreknowledge to be correct.

            I suspect a logical contradiction, whereby you want God to be able to simultaneously create beings whose choices he does not fully determine, and yet only create the beings who make a subset of the possible choices. You want to have him some how foresee-but-not-determine actions, and yet you say “Interestingly, it is usually atheists who claim that divine foreknowledge prevents free will.” So, how can God pick just the free beings who never choose—free from God’s influence—certain actions? I don’t see any way he can!

            I personally do not think Divine foreknowledge alone prevents free will. And you’re wrong, in my example god does not actually create “beings whose choices he does not fully determine”, he already knows what they would do if he created them, so he doesn’t need to create them. Hence no logical contradiction. God can easily pick the free beings given a world with LFW that god knows every detail of before he even creates. That’s the world you believe in.

          • labreuer

            You have to deny divine foreknowledge to be correct.

            I’m pretty sure I’ve denied the kind of divine foreknowledge that you need for your argument to obtain?

            he already knows what they would do if he created them, so he doesn’t need to create them.

            This doesn’t make sense. How does God determine which world to create, such that he only picks the one with no sinners? It’s like there’s an infinite multiverse, and all the universes are somehow ‘fake’, then God picks the one that has no sinners (or all of the ones), and calls it ‘real’, and then it becomes real. And yet, this makes no sense to me; what’s the difference between ‘fake’ and ‘real’, other than the words? Now replace ‘fake’ with ‘imagined by God’.

            To try it another way, posit that God has a number of ‘knobs’ he can turn, which are the things that generate a universe. There’s a big red button that says ‘CREATE!’, and a ‘preview’ screen. God turns the knobs until just the right universe—the one without sinners—appears on the screen, and then punches the button. Voila! The problem here is that God picked the universe by setting the values of one or more variables. And yet, for the same set of variables, one could get a universe where no being sin, or some sin, or all sin (for the last, see ‘transworld depravity’). So the only means God has to pick a universe doesn’t determine what those free, moral beings do. And yet you say that he can pick the universe based on what the free, moral beings would do. That doesn’t make sense to me.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I’m pretty sure I’ve denied the kind of divine foreknowledge that you need for your argument to obtain?

            So you hold to the idea that it is logically impossible for god to know what we’re going to do?

            How does God determine which world to create, such that he only picks the one with no sinners?

            I explain all of that in the post I linked you to. It’s pretty easy to understand.

            So the onlymeans God has to pick a universe doesn’t determine what those free, moral beings do. And yet you say that he can pick the universe based on what the free, moral beings would do. That doesn’t make sense to me.

            In my link I never said god has to pick the universe where no one sins, please read it again. I do think however, that given divine foreknowledge and the fact that he must know everything, he must know of every possible outcome of every possible universe. So he therefore could just pick the one where no one sins. But in my post I argue god doesn’t have to actualize any world. Why would he? He already knows what’s going to happen.

          • LukeBreuer

            So you hold to the idea that it is logically impossible for god to know what we’re going to do?

            Correct. That, or there’s no such thing as first-cause free beings. Pick one.

            I explain all of that in the post I linked you to. It’s pretty easy to understand.

            I’m not buying it and I explained why. Perhaps we are at an impasse.

            But in my post I argue god doesn’t have to actualize any world. Why would he? He already knows what’s going to happen.

            That’s a good question and I don’t have a good answer. Do you wish you were never created? I sometimes do. Alas, there are things to be done to make other people’s lives better.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Correct. That, or there’s no such thing as first-cause free beings. Pick one.

            That must include all beings. So then how did god know how evolution would develop and what path it would take if he can’t know the future actions of any beings?

            I’m not buying it and I explained why.

            You don’t like it, but you haven’t explained in detail why.

            That’s a good question and I don’t have a good answer. Do you wish you were never created? I sometimes do. Alas, there are things to be done to make other people’s lives better.

            To prevent other people from suffering, whether gratuitous or not, I definitely would give up my life. I see that as doing some good to other people’s lives. And I certainly wouldn’t wish Christianity to be true, if it being true would mean billions would suffer in hell. I would gladly give up heaven to prevent their suffering.

          • LukeBreuer

            So then how did god know how evolution would develop and what path it would take if he can’t know the future actions of any beings?

            I don’t think he knew what specific path would be taken until the first-cause actions/choices were made. That doesn’t mean God didn’t know all possible paths which could be taken, verifying that any of them could be ultimately judged as ‘good’. After all, he designed the universe so certain things would be possible and other things not possible.

            You don’t like it, but you haven’t explained in detail why.

            When I try, you don’t like it. There appears to be a limit to which we can successfully communicate, given the maximum effort you and I are each willing to contribute. It seems to me that I’m trying more than you. Perhaps it seems opposite to you. Oh well.

            To prevent other people from suffering, whether gratuitous or not, I definitely would give up my life.

            How do you know whether this is true or false? Many people tell themselves stories of what they would do, stories which end up not being true. After all, telling ourselves noble stories about ourselves makes us feel better.

            And I certainly wouldn’t wish Christianity to be true, if it being true would mean billions would suffer in hell. I would gladly give up heaven to prevent their suffering.

            I recently described how I view hell to you in a different comment, so we can continue this discussion there, if you wish.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I don’t think he knew what specific path would be taken until the first-cause actions/choices were made. That doesn’t mean God didn’t know all possible paths which could be taken, verifying that any of them could be ultimately judged as ‘good’.

            Ludicrous. If god knew every path then that means animals do not have first cause action, since according to you, if they did, god would not be able to predict their future choice and thus would not be able to predict their evolution. But according to you he did, so they must have not had anything like free will. So then, when did free will arise? Did neanderthals have it? What about homo erectus? Did a single person one day just get born with free will? And since suffering existed way before human evolution, how did a free choice affect the evolutionary process? You’ve offered no realistic account of how this is even possible and logically coherent.

          • LukeBreuer

            If god knew every path then that means animals do not have first cause action, since according to you, if they did, god would not be able to predict their future choice and thus would not be able to predict their evolution. But according to you he did, so they must have not had anything like free will.

            Who says God knew specifically which path evolution would take? I see no reason to posit this. What did I say, from which you inferred that I have?

            So then, when did free will arise?

            I don’t know when moral free will arose. In our justice systems, we ascribe varying amounts of culpability to people depending on how much choice they had in the matter. I see no reason to doubt that beings with just a tiny bit of free will could arise and have a tiny bit of moral responsibility. The world is very mysterious and I have no need to come up with little just-so stories to explain it all so I can feel that I really understand How Things Work. I’m not like that. I’ll let there be mystery. You don’t seem to want to do that.

            And since suffering existed way before human evolution, how did a free choice affect the evolutionary process?

            You’re speaking as if human life is the first sentient, sapient life to arise in the universe. I do not subscribe to that, and neither have many others throughout history.

            You’ve offered no realistic account of how this is even possible and logically coherent.

            You are correct. This is similar to my criticism that you didn’t offer a realistic account for how God could have created a better world. Although, there is a bit of asymmetry: I agree that my account isn’t realistic (I’m happy for there to be mystery), while you think your account is just fine.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Who says God knew specifically which path evolution would take?

            If god didn’t know then you cannot say he created a universe with the intention humans would arise. It seems you’re taking the position that humans just so happened to have evolved and god had nothing to do with it.

            I see no reason to doubt that beings with just a tiny bit of free will could arise and have a tiny bit of moral responsibility. The world is very mysterious and I have no need to come up with little just-so stories to explain it all so I can feel that I really understand How Things Work. I’m not like that. I’ll let there be mystery. You don’t seem to want to do that.

            Then it is perfectly reasonable for a person to take the position that your religious beliefs are nonsense and obviously the product of your imagination, right?

            You’re speaking as if human life is the first sentient, sapient life to arise in the universe.

            Not at all. I’m the one saying sentient beings existed and suffered long before humans evolved.

            This is similar to my criticism that you didn’t offer a realistic account for how God could have created a better world. Although, there is a bit of asymmetry: I agree that my account isn’t realistic (I’m happy for there to be mystery), while you think your account is just fine.

            Except I offered you an explanation and you have not refuted that it is logically possible, you just said you didn’t like it. Well ok, don’t like it. But until you tell me why in detail it doesn’t work, then you’ve just offered an opinion.

          • LukeBreuer

            I think I’m going to call it quits on my current comment-threads with you; I am clearly not providing the level of detail that you require, and it seems like we’re both just getting continually frustrated. I do thank you for making me think about things more clearly than before. At some point, I want to blog about my ideas on the matter, at which point I’ll have more concrete ideas of my own, as well as more concrete critiques of common arguments I encounter, such as “God could have done it better”, or “Why didn’t God just create the Heaven-state without the Hell-state?”

            One thing I will point out is that I appreciate the tension between:

                 (a) God clearly acted in history.
                 (b) God’s actions seem to small as to be nonexistent.

            The shift from creationism to evolution is a paradigmatic example of moving from (a) → (b). This dichotomy is fascinating, for it shows up in purely Christian domains as well. How much of that was me doing things, and how much of it was Jesus within me? Or it could show up just between two humans: how much of the decision was one person’s, and how much the other’s? Perhaps what interests me most is how God can choose things without overriding our free will. That is, how can God guide history, without being a god of compulsion, like many of the various gods in the various religions? Does not-compelling requiring something closer to (b) than (a)?

            Another difficulty with (a) is that it easily devolves into god-of-the-gaps. I subscribe to Kenny Pearce’s Leibniz’ theistic case against Humean miracles and especially “The argument from divine rationality” (also see his paper A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles). I believe (i) God is rational and (ii) God’s rationality is increasingly understandable by those created in his image. This means that I believe all instances of (a) will eventually turn into instances of (b), along the lines of “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Leibniz argues that creation of the universe and the Incarnation might be forever comprehensible only to infinite minds, which makes them rational but not ever fully understandable to finite minds like ours. That doesn’t mean we can’t increasingly understand them though; I happen to believe that science will continue forever, and suspect that how the universe came to be may well end up being turtles all the way down. :-)

            I really do try to understand and respect and learn to generate the arguments of people like you. It seems like you don’t really believe that right now, and that lack of belief is probably part of why there seems to be so much friction between us. Maybe once I’ve written up enough of my ideas in concrete terms, you’ll be more comfortable discussing with me and it will go more smoothly. For now, thanks for the engagement.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I look forward to interesting dialogues with you in the future. Continue to examine these thought-provoking issues with veracity and with honesty and try your best to reconcile them with your existing beliefs and be open to change!

  • labreuer

    There is a potential problem here, for I think you’ve set up the false dichotomy:

         (1) either god-of-the-gaps obtains,
         (2) or naturalism obtains and there are no God-actions

    This bears striking similarities to the free will discussion:

         LFW ↔ god-of-the-gaps
         CFW ↔ naturalism

    Under CFW, ‘intelligence’ is merely something like when reality can draw pictures of itself. Under LFW or at least something not-CFW, ‘intelligence’ can result from SELO: spontaneous eruption of local order. That is, ‘order’ which isn’t a result of deterministic evolution of matter from time t1 to time t2, and is statistically unlikely to arise randomly.

    I’m not sure whether SELO fits under (1) or (2). The reason is that there is something ‘bad’ about not knowing why. Contra those who have espoused god-of-the-gaps throughout time, I think a world where anything cannot be ultimately understood (as t → ∞) is less good than a world which is ultimately fully understandable by us. What would this look like? I think it’d look like an alternation between “it seems random” to “I can explain that” and back again. It’s almost like the truth is somewhere in the middle, between LFW and CFW, between god-of-the-gaps and naturalism.

    • Andy_Schueler

      Under LFW or at least something not-CFW, ‘intelligence’ can result from SELO: spontaneous eruption of local order. That is, ‘order’ which isn’t a result of deterministic evolution of matter from time t1 to time t2, and is statistically unlikely to arise randomly.

      I don´t see how this SELO thingy has any connection to free will, assuming that there is “spontaneous eruption of local order”, how does that make a genuinely free choice – voluntary control over something that by definition cannot be voluntarily controlled – possible?
      Also, why would “something not-CFW” even be required for this SELO thingy to exist? I don´t see any connection there.

      • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

        It’s like spontaneous human combustion.

      • labreuer

        There is a sense in which LFW seems entirely compelling and worth believing (see The Thinker’s comment), despite its apparent logical impossibility. But what precisely would be valuable about LFW? Roger Olson addresses this in his CT article The Bonds of Freedom. We would value the potential for getting closer to God/becoming more like God. It’s not the mere exercise of free will that is important, it is the possibility it could go somewhere excellent.

        Reduced to secular terms, you could think of this as forever expanding our ideas of what reality is like and how to treat others excellently. But this is precisely SELO. The more we can understand reality and morality, the more order we bring into existence. Or at least, this is how I understand SELO. One could always say that said understanding was inevitable due to the initial conditions of the universe and the physical laws of the universe. Both models explain, but they very likely differ in how well one can compute with them, what they predict, which can be extended more easily, etc.

        I’m not attempting to explain how one can have voluntary control over choices. What I know is that people can use things even when they don’t understand how they work. And I know that we can reduce external coercions so that a person’s decision is made more… locally. Maybe it’s like isolating qubits from noise so that they don’t decohere.

        What we’re really talking about here, as far as I can tell, is what ought we do with the aspects of reality which we have not yet understood to be law-like? Do we declare that our system of thought is complete by putting a “hat of irrationality” on top, as I explained earlier? Or do we always suspect that what looks random or predictable has order to it, order which can be chipped away at and gradually understood?

        I’m much more interested in what I’ve called ‘moral research’ and ‘scientific research’, than the specifics of free will. What I find extraordinarily ironic is the extremely strong insistence that there is complete lawfulness to how people make choices, and complete lack of lawfulness or order in morality and meaning. The juxtaposition is striking. Is it ironic that I believe that this lawfulness is discovered by free choices, choices between what is more correct and what is less correct?

        • Andy_Schueler

          We would value the potential for getting closer to God/becoming more like God. It’s not the mere exercise of free will that is important, it is the possibility it could go somewhere excellent.

          That doesn´t require LFW though – change, for better or for worse (however you define “better” or “worse”) doesn´t require libertarianism.

          Reduced to secular terms, you could think of this as forever expanding our ideas of what reality is like and how to treat others excellently. But this is precisely SELO. The more we can understand reality and morality, the more order we bring into existence. Or at least, this is how I understand SELO.

          That would be a somewhat idiosyncratic notion of “order”, but ok – I still don´t see the connection to libertarianism though.

          Do we declare that our system of thought is complete by putting a “hat of irrationality” on top, as I explained earlier? Or do we always suspect that what looks random or predictable has order to it, order which can be chipped away at and gradually understood?

          To me, that question is somehow moot – curiosity is part of human nature so I´m quite certain that we will sooner or later always try to understand what is currently inexplicable.

          What I find extraordinarily ironic is the extremely strong insistence that there is complete lawfulness to how people make choices, and complete lack of lawfulness or order in morality and meaning.

          I haven´t read the post you linked to yet, but if it implies that there is no order to morality and meaning, then I would most certainly disagree – for morality and meaning to lack order completely would also require human nature to lack order completely (in the sense that knowledge about the nature of any given person tells you nothing whatsoever about another person – and that seems to be demonstrably false).

          • labreuer

            That doesn´t require LFW though – change, for better or for worse (however you define “better” or “worse”) doesn´t require libertarianism.

            Correct. There are multiple models which predict the phenomena being described. This is why I said:

            One could always say that said understanding was inevitable due to the initial conditions of the universe and the physical laws of the universe. Both models explain, but they very likely differ in how well one can compute with them, what they predict, which can be extended more easily, etc.

            That would be a somewhat idiosyncratic notion of “order”, but ok – I still don´t see the connection to libertarianism though.

            Its more of a not-compatibilism than yes-libertarianism.

            To me, that question is somehow moot – curiosity is part of human nature so I´m quite certain that we will sooner or later always try to understand what is currently inexplicable.

            Believing that progress is inevitable seems very dicey to me. It’s been on my list to read about people who believed that progress was inevitable. The Biblical notion would be that progress is an option, but not one which has to be chosen. It might not be.

            if it implies that there is no order to morality and meaning, then I would most certainly disagree

            While it implies that, I voiced a similar objection on Daniel Miessler’s blog. I think you and I would differ on how much order there is. You, I think, would say it is bounded (that it has a hat of irrationality); I would not.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Its more of a not-compatibilism than yes-libertarianism.

            Why not-compatibilism?

            Believing that progress is inevitable seems very dicey to me. It’s been on my list to read about people who believed that progress was inevitable. The Biblical notion would be that progress is an option, but not one whichhas to be chosen. It might not be.

            I didn´t say, or imply, that progress is inevitable, I said that if faced with the two options you posed, humans will sooner or later always opt for the latter – that´s what they always ended up doing and unless we find an effective way of suppressing human curiosity, that´s what they always will end up doing.

            I think you and I would differ on how muchorder there is. You, I think, would say it is bounded (that it has a hat of irrationality); I would not.

            I´m not sure I understand what that means. What exactly would it mean to say that “order is bounded” (or not)?

          • labreuer

            Why not-compatibilism?

            Belief in CFW seems to have bad consequences. The Thinker and many others seem to agree: they assert CFW, and then say that they act as if LFW were true. Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker say that we should rebel against our genes, for example. (Richard Dawkins says that in Selfish Gene; I’ve heard that Pinker said something similar.) I find this fascinating, and a kind of evidence that there is something wrong with CFW.

            I also have this visceral sense, or intuition, that CFW is a just-so story. Intelligence requires lawfulness, and CFWers seem to seize on this and say that intelligence is only lawfulness.

            Some people have a tendency to say that reality is ‘just X’. Reductionists are famed for saying everything is just physics. The function of ‘just X’ seems to be to claim intellectual understanding of reality, to relegate the unknown to some small, soon-to-be-conquered tidbit. To illustrate, see Wired’s A neuroscientist’s radical theory of how networks become conscious and Christoph Koch saying things like “The electric charge of an electron doesn’t arise out of more elemental properties. It simply has a charge”. Who says? Feynman was much more intelligent: he said that the interference which arises from the two-slit experiment doesn’t have a deeper known explanation, and that one can do a lot with not having a deeper explanation.

            It turns out that X can be a lot more complicated that we thought, or just plain wrong. I can’t escape the sense that CFW falls into this category. Thinking about free will as compatibilistic seems so problematic that people who understand it willingly act in denial of it. And so I search for something not-compatibilism, as well as seek to continue to tease out practical outworkings of believing in compatibilism.

            I didn´t say, or imply, that progress is inevitable, I said that if faced with the two options you posed, humans will sooner or later always opt for the latter – that´s what they always ended up doing and unless we find an effective way of suppressing human curiosity, that´s what they always will end up doing.

            Ehhh, there’s a difference between persistent curiosity, and the desire to impose one’s own system of thought onto reality and allow for some limited curiosity. People’s tendency to be curious must be balanced with their tendency to want order and stability. Curiosity is often a threat to stability and order.

            I´m not sure I understand what that means. What exactly would it mean to say that “order is bounded” (or not)?

            Science is predicated upon the idea that there is always more order, more lawfulness to be discovered. Daniel Miessler thinks that there is little to no order in the meaning/value realm. The important thing is he doesn’t think there is ever-more order to discover in the meaning/value realm. In short, he beliefs that scientific research can proceed unbounded, whereas (roughly) moral research is bounded. Past a certain point, morality/value/meaning is just random/chaotic/unordered.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Belief in CFW seems to have bad consequences. The Thinker and many others seem to agree: they assert CFW, and then say that they act as if LFW were true.

            I am absolutely convinced that my eyes have a blind spot, I still act as if they wouldn´t have a blind spot – because I can´t command my brain to stop fooling me by guessing which optical stimulus most likely would be received by this blind spot if it would not in fact be blind, I cannot rid myself of the illusion, no matter how hard I try.

            It´s not different with libertarianism, I know that I cannot freely choose between alternatives, but I still act as if I could – I cannot rid myself of the illusion of having freely chosen something anymore than I could rid myself of the illusion of seeing something where my eyes cannot possibly see anything.

            Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker say that we should rebel against our genes, for example. (Richard Dawkins says that in Selfish Gene; I’ve heard that Pinker said something similar.) I find this fascinating, and a kind of evidence that there is something wrong with CFW.

            Why?

            I also have this visceral sense, or intuition, that CFW is a just-so story. Intelligence requires lawfulness, and CFWers seem to seize on this and say that intelligence is only lawfulness.

            I happily grant you that there is “non-lawfulness” (in fact I believe that myself), that doesn´t change anything whatsoever about libertarianism though.

            And so I search for something not-compatibilism, as well as seek to continue to tease out practical outworkings of believing in compatibilism.

            I doubt that there is a lot to find, I´m not sure that I would qualify as a compatibilist, I am absolutely certain that libertarian free will cannot possibly exist though – this realization had exactly zero consequences for my everyday life though.

          • labreuer

            I am absolutely convinced that my eyes have a blind spot, I still act as if they wouldn´t have a blind spot – because I can´t command my brain to stop fooling me by guessing which optical stimulus most likely would be received by this blind spot if it would not in fact be blind, I cannot rid myself of the illusion, no matter how hard I try.

            Take a look at Improving neural networks by preventing co-adaptation of feature detectors and Regularization of Neural Networks using DropConnect: they motivate the fascinating possibility that the human eye’s blind spot is important for not overfitting our visual field.

            In terms of how my behavior ought to change given this blind spot, I’m not sure. Eye movements seem large enough to generally make it irrelevant, although I do recall a nutty TV episode (not Fringe, but something like it) where a person with ‘special’ abilities was able to take advantage of the blind spot for camouflage, but who knows if that is at all realistic. I know Feynman would put people’s moving mouths in his blind spots at faculty meetings for his amusement.

            One way I think of blind spots is that we’re always filling in gaps, and we must be ever-vigilant that we might get it wrong. But how else would I need to be aware that I have blind spots? I’m not sure I get the fullness of your example. I don’t see how it translates into belief in or rejection of libertarianism.

            Why?

            It symbolizes that Dawkins and Pinker are knowingly trying to reject causal factors as fully determining their actions and thoughts.

            I doubt that there is a lot to find, I´m not sure that I would qualify as a compatibilist, I am absolutely certain that libertarian free will cannot possibly exist though – this realization had exactly zero consequences for my everyday life though.

            Yep, and I’m deeply skeptical of metaphysical claims which cannot be somehow tested in reality. Funny that I’m the one saying that. :-p

          • Andy_Schueler

            I’m not sure I get the fullness of your example. I don’t see how it translates into belief in or rejection of libertarianism.

            It was a response to this: “Belief in CFW seems to have bad consequences. The Thinker and many others seem to agree: they assert CFW, and then say that they act as if LFW were true.” – we don´t act as if libertarianism were true because we think it is true, or because we think that its falsehood would have negative consequences, we do it because we can´t act any other way. Just like the awareness of the blind spots in my eyes doesn´t enable me to stop my brain from guessing what´s in these blind spots, I cannot stop feeling that I have made a free choice when I did something.

            It symbolizes that Dawkins and Pinker are knowingly trying to reject causal factors as fully determining their actions and thoughts.

            In the case of the Dawkins quote you provided, its not about “rejecting” but rather about overcoming – we do try to overcome our genes all the time, most of us are genetically predisposed to gain a lot of fat if we eat too much, that was very beneficial for our ancestors, but is one of the most dramatic health issues for us today and we try to “fight our genes”. It´s not different in the moral realm, xenophobia for example has genetic components – and this is another case where we try to “fight our genes”.

            Yep, and I’m deeply skeptical of metaphysical claims which cannot be somehow tested in reality.

            You can rephrase that to “I am deeply skeptical of metaphysics” ;-)

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Spot on, Andy. The idea of in group out group psychology which means we are all intuitively racist, or any not-us-ist, means that we rationally have to overcome genetic predispositions.

            We intuitively believe in free will but rationally know it is not tenable.

            But ought questions are different to is questions. Understanding humans mechanistically and causally comes first. What we do with it comes next.

            It seems that lab is constantly concerned with the second question, which is fine. but is this a way of evading the first question, and the ramifications this has for a judgemental and personal god?

          • labreuer

            It seems that lab is constantly concerned with the second question, which is fine.

            I’m deeply suspicious that consistent belief in CFW will bleed into the second question via how people think and treat other people. One of the best ways to avoid testing an idea is to only act on it some of the time. If half of the time you believe it is true and half of the time you believe it is false, how do you evaluate the results to see whether it is true or false? It’s not always possible.

            You seem to have a lot of confidence in the rational argument that CFW must be true. I have enough skepticism of formal systems which people claim match reality perfectly, to be skeptical of that argument. I’m deeply committed to the truth-claim that in the long term, thought- and action-belief in more true claims yields better results than thought- and action-beliefs in less true claims. Allowances must be made for approximations that save computing power, but the key is that these allowances are made when the approximations are sufficiently good.

            but is this a way of evading the first question, and the ramifications this has for a judgemental and personal god?

            It’s interesting that you use the term ‘judgmental’, instead of ‘just’, or ‘just and merciful’. Justice without mercy is terrible, but mercy without justice is equally terrible. If someone commits a grave evil, you want to ensure that it will be sufficiently less likely that he/she does the same again. This can happen through mercy and repentance, if the change of heart is sufficiently demonstrated. Should one meet resistance to change though, what alternative is there other than restricting the person’s possible actions so he/she is unable to do the same thing again?

            I’m not sure how these ramifications are avoidable, given that we humans must establish systems of justice and mercy. Are you whipping out the omni-wand, saying that God could have created a better reality? Even this isn’t a slam-dunk argument, given Must God Create the Best? Indeed, I think we humans will be judged, to the extent that we say there is a better reality, and then fail to [competently] try and bring it into existence. There seems to be value to having moral agents experience the process of being part of making things better. (I suppose this gets into soul-making theodicy?)

          • labreuer

            we don´t act as if libertarianism were true because we think it is true, or because we think that its falsehood would have negative consequences, we do it because we can´t act any other way. Just like the awareness of the blind spots in my eyes doesn´t enable me to stop my brain from guessing what´s in these blind spots, I cannot stop feeling that I have made a free choice when I did something.

            I’m just not convinced the italicized bit is true. Or more precisely: I think one can increasingly act as if CFW were true, and it seems to me this would alter how one acts and thinks in perceptible ways. The person who holds that beliefs in falsehoods lead bad places and believes CFW is true ought to attempt to believe more and more in CFW, and less and less in LFW. Who cares whether the belief can be held 100% of the time?

            The blind spot analogy still isn’t working for me; I’ve presented you scientific evidence that your brain attempting to fill in the blind spots is possibly helpful to prevent your brain from over-fitting your visual field. Were you to somehow train your brain to not fill in the blind spot, your perception of your visual field might well be worse. And thus, I think your analogy just completely breaks down.

            P.S. Wikipedia’s test of the blind spot is really neat.

            In the case of the Dawkins quote you provided, its not about “rejecting” but rather about overcoming

            I’m not sure my point changes with this modification. I’m pretty sure Dawkins doesn’t want to have his actions be completely controlled by outside influences, nor internal ones. The message behind it seems like a not-wanting-to-believe CFW. Maybe I’ve just totally misinterpreted what he said?

            You can rephrase that to “I am deeply skeptical of metaphysics” ;-)

            Some metaphysical beliefs do impact other beliefs, in chains that lead to observable, thinkable, and actionable reality. Not all beliefs can be directly tested; belief in quarks certainly can’t be directly tested. It’s when metaphysical beliefs seem to completely detach from any such chain that they seem to become meaningless.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Or more precisely: I think one can increasingly act as if CFW were true, and it seems to me this would alter how one acts and thinks in perceptible ways.

            Why?

            The person who holds that beliefs in falsehoods lead bad places and believes CFW is true ought to attempt to believe more and more in CFW, and less and less in LFW. Who cares whether the belief can be held 100% of the time?

            1. Beliefs are not a choice in any case.

            2. I am as certain as I can possibly be certain that libertarianism cannot possibly be real, just like I am as certain as I can possibly be that my eyes have blind spots. Seeing something where my eyes are blind, and where I know that they are blind, doesn´t mean that “I don´t hold the belief that my eyes have blind spots 100% of the time” – it just means that my perception doesn´t match reality, my brain is creating an illusion.

            The blind spot analogy still isn’t working for me; I’ve presented you scientific evidence that your brain attempting to fill in the blind spots is possibly helpful to prevent your brain from over-fitting your visual field. Were you to somehow train your brain to not fill in the blind spot, your perception of your visual field might well be worse. And thus, I think your analogy just completely breaks down.

            The over-fitting stuff is completely and utterly irrelevant to the analogy. What the analogy is about, is that you are BLIND, literally and completely BLIND, wrt these blind spots. Whether their existence is somehow overall beneficial for your eyesight or not doesn´t change anything about that – for these particular spots, you are BLIND, but your brain will never stop trying to keep the illusion alive that you can actually see something in these spots, by trying to guess the most likely stimuli that would correspond to these blind spots. And being aware of the existence of these blindspots changes NOTHING, your brain will keep on trying to create the illusion of sight where you are completely and absolutely BLIND.

            The message behind it seems like a not-wanting-to-believe CFW. Maybe I’ve just totally misinterpreted what he said?

            Yup.

            Some metaphysical beliefs do impact other beliefs, in chains that lead to observable, thinkable, and actionable reality. Not all beliefs can be directlytested; belief in quarks certainly can’t be directly tested. It’s when metaphysical beliefs seem to completely detach from any such chain that they seem to become meaningless.

            I´m not aware of any metaphysical claim that is not meaingless under that definition.

          • labreuer

            Why?

            Because if CFW is a metaphysical belief which cannot impact one’s thoughts/actions, I think it is meaningless. Surprisingly, I’m headed a bit in the direction of Logical Positivism.

            1. Beliefs are not a choice in any case.
            2. I am as certain as I can possibly be certain that libertarianism cannot possibly be real, just like I am as certain as I can possibly be that my eyes have blind spots. Seeing something where my eyes are blind, and where I know that they are blind, doesn´t mean that “I don´t hold the belief that my eyes have blind spots 100% of the time” – it just means that my perception doesn´t match reality, my brain is creating an illusion.

            1. Not all beliefs are choices at all times, but I think there are times where they are. Or, since you don’t like calling all instrospectively-known reasons for action ‘beliefs’, you can use a different term for “the complete set of reasons for taking some action”.
            2. As far as I can understand, we are in the pursuit of countering any and all such illusions. Consider confirmation bias: it happens, but we can counter it. I’m interested in how CFWers try and counter their tendency to act as if LFW were true. Surely they do this, because surely they want to predicate their actions on what is true as much as possible.

            I don’t see how being aware of blind spots in general perception is important. I can always try to be aware of it, by holding my eyes very steady and doing a few other things. But when I ignore them, I can be conscious that they may well increase my visual acuity, because we know that overfitting can be avoided by strategic blacking-out of training data. Surely you don’t mean to say that acting as if LFW were true can make my choices better than acting as if CFW were true?

            your brain will never stop trying to keep the illusion alive that you can actually see something in these spots

            I’m actually not certain that there is no way to get your brain to stop doing so. And then, I would ask: would the resultant way of perceiving your visual field be better? I think the answer would be a resounding NO.

            Yup.

            Interesting. The next question would be: does my misinterpretation better predict future observations than the supposed correct interpretation? I’ll have to keep this test in mind.

            I´m not aware of any metaphysical claim that is not meaingless under that definition.

            Metaphysical beliefs certainly seem to control what people think is possible. People are generally bad at [accurately] observing things they believe to be impossible, and generally don’t try to achieve things they think is impossible. So I think causal links can be established between metaphysical beliefs and action/thought.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I don’t see how being aware of blind spots in general perception is important. I can always try to be aware of it, by holding my eyes very steady and doing a few other things. But when I ignore them, I can be conscious that they may well increase my visual acuity, because we know that overfitting can be avoided by strategic blacking-out of training data. Surely you don’t mean to say that acting as if LFW were true can make my choices better than acting as if CFW were true?

            You are completely misunderstanding my point, but I honestly don´t have the foggiest clue how to make it any clearer and it seems to be almost trivially easy to understand to me. So, I guess we have to terminate this strain of the discussion.

            Metaphysical beliefs certainly seem to control what people think is possible. People are generally bad at [accurately] observing things they believe to be impossible, and generally don’t try to achieve things they think is impossible. So I think causal links can be established between metaphysical beliefs and action/thought.

            You think you can is not enough, show it.

          • labreuer

            You are completely misunderstanding my point, but I honestly don´t have the foggiest clue how to make it any clearer and it seems to be almost trivially easy to understand to me. So, I guess we have to terminate this strain of the discussion.

            Let me try again. You’re arguing that trying to act according to the truth—that we have CFW—would be like acting as if we have blind spots. And you’re saying we cannot act as if we have blind spots. You’re saying that acting as if we have blind spots would be for there to be a black circle in our visual field when we have only one eye open. That would be ‘more true’. And clearly, that seems worse for vision. So it seems better that I act according to a lie. This is in direct contrast to the following general principle:

                 (1) long-term, acting according to truth is better than acting according to falsehood

            After all, atheist and skeptics often tell me I should believe what is true and act according to it, despite how uncomfortable it might be. If people say it’s ok to believe one way and act another, I’m just going to reject that, on the basis that this isn’t really possible. The reality you explore is the reality defined by your action-beliefs, not your claimed-thought-beliefs. I don’t think the mind can be sliced up in the way that is claimed. Or, to the extent that it is, one gets The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. One loses the ability to understand one’s actions, for one’s action-beliefs don’t match one’s thought-beliefs.

            So, is (1) actually false in certain circumstances? Which ones? For I am told that acting as if Christianity is true is bad, and that badness is often predicated upon (1).

            But I still have issues with saying that seeing a black circle in my visual field would be a more accurate perception of reality. My brain necessarily sees an approximation of reality. This is inescapable. I don’t see things as they really are. So the measure really ought to be: is the representation my brain makes more accurate by my brain not trying to fill in those black circles, or by it filling in those black circles? I’ve provided evidence that one gets more accuracy by the constant attempt to fill in those black circles, coupled with those black circles moving around, so that my brain can check to see if I filled them in correctly.

            So your whole analogy seems predicated upon an awfully weird concept of ‘accuracy’. It doesn’t seem to translate at all to acting as if LFW were true. I’m just not seeing it. I hold to (1), and I see how not usually being cognizant of my blind spots is consistent with (1). I don’t see how acting as if LFW were true is consistent with (1).

            You think you can is not enough, show it.

            Show me someone with no metaphysical beliefs whatsoever, who can understand reality. Certainly this should be possible, if there is no causal connection.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Let me try again. You’re arguing that trying to act according to the truth—that we have CFW

            Let me stop you right there – I´m not suggesting that and I am actually pretty certain that many CFW proponents would most certainly not call my position CFW.

            would be like acting as if we have blind spots.

            If by that you mean “we cannot stop the illusion of seeing stuff where we are blind”, then yes.

            And you’re saying we cannot act as if we have blind spots. You’re saying that acting as if we have blind spots would be for there to be a black circle in our visual field when we have only one eye open. That would be ‘more true’. And clearly, that seemsworse for vision.


            Nothing of this is of even the slightest relevance for my analogy, but again – I have no idea how to make it any clearer. Sorry.

          • labreuer

            Let me stop you right there – I´m not suggesting that and I am actually pretty certain that many CFW proponents would most certainly not call my position CFW.

            My apologies; I do recall saying you don’t identify your position as CFW. Remind me again how it differs from CFW, or if that doesn’t make sense, what your position is again?

            Nothing of this is of even the slightest relevance for my analogy, but again – I have no idea how to make it any clearer. Sorry.

            Perhaps you could find a different analogy? I take the purpose of our visual system to do the best job it can to form a mental construction of the physical world. I believe our blind spots aid this. I believe we aren’t concerned with how said mental construction is done except when there are better ways to do it, or when we just want to understand it. If we didn’t have blind spots, manually creating them could improve our vision. But I wouldn’t call this “accepting a lie” or “acting according to a lie”.

            I would like to know your thoughts on (1). Is it ever better, long-term, to act according to a falsehood? By ‘falsehood’, I don’t mean acting as if F = ma is true when it is indistinguishable from general relativity, down to the noise floor.

          • Andy_Schueler

            My apologies; I do recall saying you don’t identify your position as CFW. Remind me again how it differs from CFW, or if that doesn’t make sense, what your position is again?

            Afaict, compatibilists say that determinism and free will are logically compatible, and I don´t necesserily disagree with that (although I think that this has little to do with what most people intuitively would understand under “free will”) – but I´m not a determinist so that is kind of irrelevant for me.

            I take the purpose of our visual system to do the best job it can to form a mental construction of the physical world. I believe our blind spots aid this. I believe we aren’t concerned with howsaid mental construction is done except when there are better ways to do it, or when we just want to understand it. If we didn’t have blind spots, manually creating them could improve our vision. But I wouldn’t call this “accepting a lie” or “acting according to a lie”.

            What the job of our visual system is, is completely and utterly irrelevant for my analogy. Whether this job is aided or impaired by blind spots, is also completely and utterly irrelevant for my example. The ONLY thing that matters is, that no matter whether you are aware of these blind spots or not, or whether you believe that they exist or not, your visual perception will be COMPLETELY unaffected by that, the illusion will not go away in ANY CASE. And for Pete´s sake, don´t start about “maybe we could learn to see blackness in these blind spots…” – I don´t care, its completely irrelevant, if someone manages to do that, then all that means is that I have chosen a poor example and have to look for a different one, but discussing the mere possibility of it is a colossal waste of time (just assume that it is not possible for the sake of the argument) and has literally nothing whatsoever to do with what I originally tried to communicate with this example.

          • labreuer

            I´m not a determinist

            Are you not a determinist due to quantum + thermal noise, or something else? If just the noise, I don’t see why it cannot be represented as a ‘tape’ that gets played as time rolls forward. That ‘tape’ is just as determined as the initial conditions of the universe and the particular laws/constants of the universe.

            And for Pete´s sake, don´t start about “maybe we could learn to see blackness in these blind spots…” – I don´t care, its completely irrelevant, if someone manages to do that, then all that means is that I have chosen a poor example and have to look for a different one

            The thing that really piques my interest in the blind spot example is whether or not the following is true:

                 (1) long-term, acting according to truth is better than acting according to falsehood

            Again and again and again, I am told by atheists and skeptics that (1) is true. On this basis, believing in religion is believed by them to be bad. It may bring temporary comfort, but if I care more about more deeply understanding reality, I ought to shed my religious belief. Are they wrong?

            Perhaps I have hijacked this tangent toward talking about (1)? I would think that (1) is pretty central to your belief system, but perhaps it is not? I thought you were arguing that acting according to an illusion was acceptable. The only way I can see this as ‘acceptable’ is if that illusion is a sufficiently good approximation (SFA). I have argued that how our brain deals with blind spots is an SFA. And yet, I’m just not sure that LFW is an SFA.

            My intuition is that acting according to LFW would produce significantly different results than acting according to CFW. When I try to see parallel ‘significantly different results’ when comparing the blindspot-illusion to being hypothetically aware of it, I see (ha ha ha) none. I don’t see how the analogy can be sound if there aren’t parallel ‘significantly different results’.

            You seem to be arguing:

                 (2) we cannot help but act as if we believed certain illusions

            I’m just not convinced. I’m not convinced that we can better and better and better counter the adverse affects of any illusions we currently believe in. For, certainly there are adverse affects? If not, then we would have to modify (1). If so that’s fine, but I want to know exactly when (1) is false. For I have run across many, many atheists and skeptics who are certain that (1) implies one ought not hold religious belief (unless one really wants short-term comfort that badly).

          • Andy_Schueler

            Are you not a determinist due to quantum + thermal noise, or something else? If just the noise, I don’t see why it cannot be represented as a ‘tape’ that gets played as time rolls forward. That ‘tape’ is just as determined as the initial conditions of the universe and the particular laws/constants of the universe.

            That sounds like “so you say that this tape isn´t determined, but if I say that it is determined althout it isn´t, then it would be determined”…

            The thing that really piques my interest in the blind spot example is whether or not the following is true:

            (1) long-term, acting according to truth is better than acting according to falsehood

            Again and again and again, I am told by atheists and skeptics that (1) is true. On this basis, believing in religion is believed by them to be bad. It may bringtemporary comfort, but if I care more about more deeply understanding reality, I ought to shed my religious belief. Are they wrong?

            Perhaps I have hijacked this tangent toward talking about (1)? I would think that (1) is pretty central to your belief system, but perhaps it is not? I thought you were arguing that acting according to an illusion was acceptable. The only way I can see this as ‘acceptable’ is if that illusion is a sufficiently good approximation (SFA). I have argued that how our brain deals with blind spots is an SFA. And yet, I’m just not sure that LFW is an SFA.

            My intuition is that acting according to LFW would produce significantly different results than acting according to CFW. When I try to see parallel ‘significantly different results’ when comparing the blindspot-illusion to being hypothetically aware of it, I see (ha ha ha) none. I don’t see how the analogy can be sound if there aren’t parallel ‘significantly different results’.

            You seem to be arguing:

            (2) we cannot help but act as if we believed certain illusions

            No, no, no, no, no, NO. That´s not what I “seem to be arguing”, I already explicitly said that this is NOT what I am arguing.

            I’m just not convinced. I’m not convinced that we can better and better and better counter the adverse affects of any illusions we currently believe in.

            Argh, you couldn´t resist eh?

          • labreuer

            That sounds like “so you say that this tape isn´t determined, but if I say that it is determined althout it isn´t, then it would be determined”…

            What makes quantum + thermal noise any different than the best scientific guess that the universe appearing is merely a quantum fluctuation which didn’t immediately self-annihilate? I just don’t see how when the noise was produced really matters. It’s as if you don’t want to call it ‘determined’, but that the difference makes no difference in anything but the refusal to use a given word. It doesn’t mean you are any more able to make choices. It doesn’t help explain why you are unable to predict the future any better than you are—you could have the same inability even if there were no quantum + thermal noise. And so I see a distinction without a difference.

            No, no, no, no, no, NO. That´s not what I “seem to be arguing”, I already explicitly said that this is NOT what I am arguing.

            You realize that, not having access to your brain, all I can do is make models that generate the sentences you utter, as I interpret them, right? This comment launched this tangent:

            we don´t act as if libertarianism were true because we think it is true, or because we think that its falsehood would have negative consequences, we do it because we can´t act any other way. Just like the awareness of the blind spots in my eyes doesn´t enable me to stop my brain from guessing what´s in these blind spots, I cannot stop feeling that I have made a free choice when I did something.

            I see problems with the italicized part, because, for example:

                 (a) I can ignore factors which provoked criminal behavior, or
                 (b) I can take into account said factors

            True or false: If I were to act as if LFW were true, I would do (a).
            True or false: If I were to act is if CFW were true, I would do (b).

            Here, I seem to have identified a scenario where I actually can act one way or another, as if LFW were true or as if CFW were true. This seems in direct contradiction to “we can’t act any other way“. There is, however, wiggle room: perhaps I can increasingly act as if CFW were true—by revamping a justice system, for example—but some part of me will still act as if LFW were true. But this turns the whole discussion into one of degree, not of absolutes. Your blind spot analogy allows for no discussion of degree, only of black and white.

            One of Jonathan’s huge points, across blog posts, is that knowledge of CFW will change how we act. But this seems to be a different ‘change’ from your “we can’t act any other way“. I cannot distinguish between the two. I don’t know what you mean by “we can’t act any other way“. I see different ways of acting—an (a) and a (b), for example.

            Argh, you couldn´t resist eh?

            I’m willing to invoke your ire to try to better understand what you’re saying, yes. :-p But if you’d like to assume motives of mine which don’t match up with what I self evaluate… do so on pain of being hypocritical. :-p

          • Andy_Schueler

            What makes quantum + thermal noise any different than the best scientific guess that the universe appearing is merely a quantum fluctuation which didn’t immediately self-annihilate? I just don’t see how when the noise was produced really matters. It’s as if you don’t want to call it ‘determined’, but that the difference makes no difference in anything but the refusal to use a given word. It doesn’t mean you are any more able to make choices. It doesn’t help explain why you are unable to predict the future any better than you are—you could have the same inability even if there were no quantum + thermal noise. And so I see a distinction without a difference.

            Wrt free will, it´s a rather important difference, because determinism destroys not only the “free” part in “free will”, but the “will” part as well. But if you like to call something non-deterministic “deterministic” because it is not non-deterministic in the way you´d like it to be (whatever that may be), be my guest – I don´t care.

            I see problems with the italicized part, because, for example:

            (a) I can ignore factors which provoked criminal behavior, or
            (b) I can take into account said factors

            True or false: If I were to act as if LFW were true, I would do (a).
            True or false: If I were to act is if CFW were true, I would do (b).

            Here, I seem to have identified a scenario where I actually can act one way or another, as if LFW were true or as if CFW were true. This seems in direct contradiction to “we can’t act any other way”.

            I really think we should terminate this strain of the discussion – it leads nowhere, you don´t understand my position and I don´t understand why you don´t understand it.

          • labreuer

            Wrt free will, it´s a rather important difference, because determinism destroys not only the “free” part in “free will”, but the “will” part as well. But if you like to call something non-deterministic “deterministic” because it is not non-deterministic in the way you´d like it to be (whatever that may be), be my guest – I don´t care.

            How does determinism destroy the “will” part? What’s the difference between ancient starlight that will hit the earth tomorrow, and quantum + thermal noise that will only ‘arrive’ tomorrow?

            Have you seen Jonathan’s [syndication of] Time, Free Will and the Block Universe? That guy thought that even if everything were already determined, one could still have CFW. While I don’t agree with the CFW conclusion, I think I tend to think about time more like he does, and less like you do. Perhaps that’s why we aren’t seeing eye to eye on this issue.

            I really think we should terminate this strain of the discussion – it leads nowhere, you don´t understand my position and I don´t understand why you don´t understand it.

            Oh well; maybe someone else will come along and help us understand each other. I’ve been that middle person before!

          • Andy_Schueler

            How does determinism destroy the “will” part?

            A “will” is something individual, and, under determinism, there is no individual choice to be made – every decision is determined by the state at t=0. Speaking of a “will” no longer makes sense IMO (unless you redefine “will” first). If determinism is false however, an individual “will”, in the classical sense of the word “will”, can exist – it might not be “free” (again, in the classical sense of the word “free”), but it is a will. This difference is relevant for me, but if it is irrelevant for you (in other words, if it seems to be just semantics for you), then just refer to it as “no free will whatsoever” or something along that line – discussions about semantics rarely lead anywhere.

          • labreuer

            I don’t see this as a discussion of semantics; for some reason you think that if all we had was a noise event 14 billion years ago, we’d have no ‘will’, but since we have noise events every ‘tick’, we do have ‘will’. This, despite that we never cause noise events; they merely happen to us. I’m curious why the difference of time matters. It seems crucial to your idea of what constitutes ‘will’.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Îf determinism is true, then I don´t need to know anything about you in order to know everything there is to know about what you will ever do. If determinism is false, then I absolutely do have to know you in order to make an educated guess about what you most likely will do. Only the latter can be referred to as a “will”.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Ah, but Andy, by knowing HIM and understanding internal reasoning why he does something, you would implicitly accept determinism – the very thing you are denying!
            Dang that incoherent free will…. ;)

          • labreuer

            I’m randomly curious: does retrocausality mess with the apparent logical incoherence of LFW? I have seen your block universe post. There’s an asymmetry with how we view the past and how we view the future, which could be fixed with time travel. Retrocausality seems like a large enough crack to admit enough time travel to… mess with things. :-)

          • labreuer

            It sounds like somehow, some of the quantum + thermal noise is me and secretly me, in the sense that you can’t access it unless I let you. This is remarkably similar to my SELO, at least in my mind. :-p

          • Andy_Schueler

            It sounds like somehow, some of the quantum + thermal noise is me and secretly me, in the sense that you can’t access it unless I let you

            That is not what I meant. I meant it in the sense that this noise, if it is objectively real, constantly creates alternatives. The set of alternatives might be limited + I had no say in selecting which alternatives exist + I cannot choose the “will” that ultimately selects one of those alternatives – but there still is a “will” that selects something. IMO, that is all there is required for a “will” to exist, it has to be something individual (something for which it makes sense to speak about “me”, “mine” etc.) and something that selects from objectively existing alternatives. I wouldn´t call such a will “free”, but I certainly would call it a “will”.
            For determinism however, there is nothing to select and nothing “individual” to isolate from everything that exists – all there is to know is already contained in the state at t=0, I wouldn´t have to know anything beyond that to know EVERYTHING about you and there are not even any alternatives among which “you” could choose.

          • labreuer

            I meant it in the sense that this noise, if it is objectively real, constantly creates alternatives.

            I don’t see how noise creates alternatives that photons yet to hit the earth do not. Now, you mentioned above the hypothetical scenario where you know about all those photons, plus all the molecules in my body, as well as everything else. Then you’d be able to turn a crank and see what choices I’d make. But I’m not sure I find this hypothetical compelling. It’s not clear said knowledge could ever be obtained.

            These ‘alternatives’ also seem somehow illusory. I can’t quite make them meaningful.

            but there still is a “will” that selects something.

            I can’t escape the idea that a computer program also selects something, and does it no differently than a “will” would. You’re saying that a program only has a “will” if one of the inputs is an entropy source; this seems weird. You might not be wrong—there does exist probabilistic computing which requires high-quality entropy sources for their results to be provably statistically optimum. There might even be something about intelligence and sapience which requires high quality entropy.

            it has to be something individual (something for which it makes sense to speak about “me”, “mine” etc.)

            This sounds almost precisely like my SELO. This makes me want to get around to reading Thomas Breuer’s The Impossibility of Accurate State Self-Measurements. I’ve been long-intrigued by the quantum measurement problem, and how it’s impossible to observe things without changing them.

            Now, we can talk about a computer making programmed decisions. This means there can be local computation. But you seem to be adding something on top of that for something to constitute a will. The idea of something that is secret goes interesting places. Alasdair MacIntyre talked about it being important in After Virtue, and there’s also Revelation 2:17, which has “a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Do you have additional thoughts on this… ‘secret’?

          • Andy_Schueler

            I don’t see how noise creates alternatives that photons yet to hit the earth do not.

            The alternatives I am talking about are decisions you make, and what would be most relevant for that is the thermal + quantum noise in your brain. If this noise exists, then you could in principle act differently, if it doesn´t exist, then you could not even in principle have acted differently. And for the latter case, an individual “will” has no meaning IMO. For the former case however, you have actually the last call as to which decision will be made – you didn´t have a say in selecting the alternatives that will be available and you couldn´t have freely chosen to be a different person with a different will, but that doesn´t change that it is you who has the final call in selecting an alternative.

            Now, you mentioned above the hypothetical scenario where you know about all those photons, plus all the molecules in my body, as well as everything else. Then you’d be able to turn a crank and see what choices I’d make. But I’m not sure I find this hypothetical compelling. It’s not clear said knowledge could ever be obtained.

            You could make a very strong case that this knowledge could never be obtained (because even if you could compute with every single quantum particle that exists in the observable universe – it would still not be enough, you couldn´t even predict the very next moment (what would happen one planck time unit in the future), because you would need to store as much information as there are quantum particles in the universe + some overhead to actual calculate something based on this information)
            That is not relevant however, the principle matters.

            These ‘alternatives’ also seem somehow illusory. I can’t quite make them meaningful.

            If determinism is false, then there is nothing illusory about these alternatives – they would objectively exist. For the choices you make, you could in principle have acted differently. And which choice you make depends on you, not on the status of the universe at t=0.

            I can’t escape the idea that a computer program also selects something, and does it no differently than a “will” would. You’re saying that a program only has a “will” if one of the inputs is an entropy source; this seems weird. You might not be wrong—there does exist probabilistic computing which requires high-quality entropy sources for their results to be provably statistically optimum. There might even be something about intelligence and sapience which requires high quality entropy.

            If you had a sentient machine, then everything I said re determinism would of course apply to it as well.

            Now, we can talk about a computer making programmed decisions. This means there can be local computation. But you seem to be adding something on top of that for something to constitute a will.

            Nope. I don´t see how a sentient machine would be any different re “will”.

          • labreuer

            If this noise exists, then you could in principle act differently, if it doesn´t exist, then you could not even in principle have acted differently.

            I can’t put my finger on it, but the idea that the noise could have been different just doesn’t seem to do anything for me. After all, the idea of free will and morality also includes the idea that I “could have acted differently”, and yet I value that version.

            If determinism is false, then there is nothing illusory about these alternatives – they would objectively exist. For the choices you make, you could in principle have acted differently. And which choice you make depends on you, not on the status of the universe at t=0.

            1. Whether or not the change has to be made in noise at the beginning of the universe or now seems irrelevant.
            2. The need for there to be something that is identifiably me seems very relevant.

            (At this point I think I’m just re-stating my position; it seems we’re a bit stuck, here.)

            If you had a sentient machine, then everything I said re determinism would of course apply to it as well.

            I could still ‘punish’ the sentient for bad things it does and ‘reward’ it for good things it does. It might be more efficient to change the stimuli I give it, but society does plenty of punishing of people who only bear some culpability. :-( Anyhow, to the extent that the sentient machine’s internal state is not entirely designed by me, I can apply selection pressures on it. That is, after all, what non-internal rewards and punishments are. :-)

            I’m still fascinated that I was associating a free-willed being with the choices it makes, even if they seem like they’re just random events. We do share some kind of accord, it seems—there is some similarity in what we’re saying, even if we use different words.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I can’t put my finger on it, but the idea that the noise could have been different just doesn’t seem to do anything for me. After all, the idea of free will and morality also includes the idea that I “could have acted differently”, and yet I value that version.

            That´s cool. You don´t have to like it, I have no preference for it either, it just happens to be what I find most plausible given what I know.

            1. Whether or not the change has to be made in noise at the beginning of the universe or now seems irrelevant.

            Again, that´s cool. I find the difference of whether there is or isn´t an individual component to the decisions we make relevant. It doesń´t have to be relevant for you.

            2. The need for there to be something that is identifiably me seems very relevant.

            I can´t parse this in a way that doesn´t contradict the sentence you wrote immediatly before this one.

            I could still ‘punish’ the sentient for bad things it does and ‘reward’ it for good things it does.

            And that is where the difference between determinism and not-determinism becomes very relevant, at least philosophically. Because if you could have acted differently, and what you ended up doing depended on your will (assuming of course that you acted without coercion), then it is absolutely meaningful to hold you accountable for what you did, or did not, do. If you could not have acted any different, then individual accountability cannot be justified – because there was no individual component to what you did.

          • labreuer

            I can´t parse this in a way that doesn´t contradict the sentence you wrote immediatly before this one.

            Perhaps it is because one has to be able to extract order for quantum + thermal noise to mean anything. Hence my SELO.

            Because if you could have acted differently, and what you ended up doing depended on your will (assuming of course that you acted without coercion), then it is absolutely meaningful to hold you accountable for what you did, or did not, do.

            I’m not sure this works, though. Why ought I not hold someone responsible for not properly planning for the various different possible contingencies—the various different ways the noise could have gone? If the reason I ought not is because they have limited computational power, that is true regardless of whether there exists localized-in-time noise.

            If you could not have acted any different, then individual accountability cannot be justified – because there was no individual component to what you did.

            I’m not sure this is even true. If punishing the individual gets the behavior change I want, why is it wrong? Are you arguing from symmetry or something? I’m serious; I’m learning more and more about meta-ethics, but I’m still very much beginning.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Perhaps it is because one has to be able to extract order for quantum + thermal noise to mean anything.

            That “order” would be your will, the noise creates alternatives from which your will selects in a non-arbitrary way (else we would act very erratically).

            I’m not sure this works, though. Why ought I not hold someone responsible for not properly planning for the various different possible contingencies—the various different ways the noise could have gone? If the reason I ought not is because they have limited computational power, that is true regardless of whether there exists localized-in-time noise.

            We hold people accountable for the choices they make, the only difference the noise makes is that it actually creates the possibility of choices – under determinism, there is no choice to be made.

            I’m not sure this is even true. If punishing the individual gets the behavior change I want, why is it wrong?

            I wasn´t talking about right or wrong, I was talking about a justification for holding people accountable for their choices. Under determinism, there is none. It´s purely philosophical though, there are no pragmatic consequences – we would hold people accountable either way because that´s how our societies work, it is purely about the philosophical underpinnings of what we do, determinist philosophers always struggled with the concept of individual accountability because this concept cannot be justified if determinism is true (if you couldn´t have acted any different, it cannot possibly be fair / justified to hold you accountable for what you did, you had no choice – it could still be pragmatically meaningful to do so (both as a deterrent and to change the behaviour of the offender).

    • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

      CFW could also work under deism, which of course would not be naturalism.

      • labreuer

        Is there any observable difference between naturalism and deism?

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          Not really.

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