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Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 in Agnosticism, Atheism, Deconversion, Featured | 127 comments

Real Deconversion Story #7 – Phil Stilwell

Here is another account in my series of real-life deconversion stories. They are often painful, psychological affairs, as you can see from the various accounts. Phil Stilwell, someone whom I came across on facebook (The Unbelievable page). It is a few years old now, but well worth the read. Happy reading. The previous accounts can be found here:

#1 – Lorna

#2 – John

#3 – Bryant Cody

#4 – Mike D.

#5 – Counter Apologist

#6 – Brian (A Pasta Sea)

I have recently been asked by several individuals to detail the reasons behind my deconversion from Christianity to my current position of agnosticism. As a preface to this, I’d like to state my general disposition towards Christianity.

I spent over 25 years as a Christian, and for most of those years I was quite happy. I forged many significant relationships, and learned much while within a Christian community. I do not feel, as do some non-believers who have never been on the inside, that Christians are, as a whole, evil people intent on forcing their agenda on others. I do, however, believe that most Christians are uninterested in an honest inquiry into what is true due to vested interests of various emotions. I will detail these emotions later.

First, I must comment on what I feel is the greatest overlooked truth when considering knowledge and belief; human minds are not well-equipped to assess what is true. This is in stark contrast to the tacit Christian notion that all truths that matter are immediately accessible to nearly every human without much cognitive effort. Let me elaborate.

Religious sects all around the world subscribe to a set of beliefs that set them apart from other sects. They then claim that these “truths” within their faith are either accessible through common sense, common rationality, or divine revelation. This forces them to conclude that persons in all other sects are self-delusional, and rebelling against the truth that is apparent either through reason or divine revelation. It is assumed that these persons feel some sort of guilt stemming from their rebellion or rejection of truth.

However, this assumption is testable. If Christians were to befriend Muslims, they would discover that this is not true. The Muslims do not possess this sense of guilt, and instead possess the same deep confidence in the tenets of their faith as do Christians. Persons who have spent time among persons of another faith normally do not find people who are evil, bitter and guilty, but rather persons who possess a faith that constructs a society of familial and social warmth without the guilt stemming from rejecting the “true” god.

So there exists this game played among religious sects in which they refuse to examine the minds of others, and instead assume that they know better. They assume this because their respective religious texts have told them it is true. This is just one of many assumptions that I’ll discuss later that religionists accept on blind faith.

When someone discovers that this assumption of guilt and general malevolence in others is false, there is only one other conclusion; the human capacity to assess what is true and false is dysfunctional and deficient. The human mind has no natural ability to correctly assess truths that extend very far outside our local daily lives. What is intuitive does not well-correlate with what is true.

This can be very easily seen in the way humans assess risks. We fear flying, but have no problem with a cholesterol-laden diet that is far more likely to kill. We have to ponder carefully even the simplest of syllogisms, and are often still in error.

However, most religions, including Christianity affirm the notion that we are fully capable of assessing intuitively, or with souls that directly interface with some spiritual realm, which god if any is real without considerable training in critical thinking. This is simply not true. Our own ability is essentially identical to the ability of persons belonging to sects that we claim are clearly wrong. There is no evil rebellion against the truth of god, only a lamentable cognitive inadequacy of humans.

To claim otherwise as a mature adult who should have by now identified this inherent flaw in faith-based assertions is to reveal one’s own xenophobic inexperience and arrogance. This arrogance is a hallmark of extant religions. Human cognition is inherently weak. This notion is not very palatable to many since it implies that truth is best assessed by those who have been trained in reasoning. Nonetheless, it is demonstrably true.

Because successful religions must appeal to the masses, these religions all possess scriptures that invert this notion. The wise become foolish, and the foolish wise. This is one of the most powerful lies of religion; you can intuit truth. This unduly credits human cognition with enormous power. Human cognition is never questioned when assessing truth.

Coupled with this is an over-reliance on the emotion of confidence. We “feel” that something is true, and therefore it is true. The hidden assumption here is that this sense of confidence is god-given. God gives us this confidence to bear witness that we are sons of god. Once again, many Christians arrogantly assume that this same emotion of confidence cannot exist in the hearts of Muslims, and that they are knowingly in rebellion to the truth. After all, that’s what the bible tells us, does it not?

This now brings us to faith. Faith is not a virtue. The concept of faith as something noble is incoherent. Christians decry the faith of Muslims, but praise their own. However, the emotions are identical. Much like the concept of intercessory prayer, the concept of faith is defined differently even by persons within the same congregation and morphs evasively whenever it is questioned.

I’ve even corresponded with a quite notable apologist on the definition of faith never to receive a clear answer. Yet, it is positioned as the cornerstone of many religions. When asking 50 Christians “where does evidence end, and faith begin?” there will be 50 answers. So also with their interpretations of Hebrews 11:1. It is a stop-gap that allows the “faithful” to smugly fall back on when the evidence for their faith thins under scrutiny.

Faith has no virtue. Holding a belief in Santa as a little child is cute as best, and becomes pitiful if held past adolescence. Yet, such faith is encouraged in respect to the local god. And children with their under-developed rationality end up accepting the god of their parents with nearly no exceptions. If there were a god giving special revelation to the “foolish”, this would not be true. A number of children in Saudi Arabia would reject the god of their parents to accept the “true” god of Christianity on account of special revelation. This does not happen.

So I’ve discussed the fragility of human cognition, and the myth of the virtue of faith. There remains one more important question. Why do so many people believe in a personal god?

Nearly all religions posit a “god-size” hole of the psyche that only their respective god can fill. However, a careful examination of this hole reveals it to be merely a natural human disposition to have certain emotions that scream for attention and resolution. I’ll try to address the most important.

An aversion to not knowing.
We have an intense drive to explain our world. This emotional intensity causes many to assume that there are answers and that they deserve access to those answers. These conclusions do not follow. Simply having the ability to ask a question does not in any way require that there is an answer and that you have the ability to discover and comprehend the answer. However, religionists assume that they must have access to any question that appears meaningful to them. This does not follow. It may be that we may never have answers to questions that disturb us. This is anathema to many religionists.

Need for significance.
We are all born with the need for significance. This is, however, an emotion, and it does not follow that personal significance exists simply because we feel it must. Successful religions offer significance by typically positioning the believer in a privileged relationship with a god. This emotion, however, does not in anyway validate the existence of a god that bestows significance. The truth may be that we have no significance. We must start our inquiry into truth without the assumption of an objective personal significance. As an added note, this sense of a grand cosmological significance is exhibited as arrogance equally among faiths. If you suppose you are in constant communion with god, it is not at all difficult to become condescending to infidels whom you know must be in rebellion against god.

Need for justice.
We emotionally react to what we perceive as inequalities and injustices in the world around us. This makes the notion of a vengeful god very attractive to us. We do not want to live in an unjust world, and are often willing to accept the notion of god simply to mitigate this emotion. But the emotion lends no weight to the truth of such a god’s existence and of justice. Emotion contributes nothing to a rational and objective approach to these questions. It may well be that there exists no justice. It would be intellectually dishonest to start with an assumption that there is.

Need for affection.
Though this emotional need can often be met though social relations, the concept of an unconditional love from an omnipotent god carries enough emotional clout to cause many humans to accept the gods of various faiths without sufficient evidence. There is also the attractive notion of a divine love that transcends all human type of love. This adds to the emotional drive to affirm the existence of a god without sufficient evidence. This emotion adds nothing to the argument for god. There is no reason why the yearning for a god’s love makes that god real.

Need for identity.
A religious community can provide a powerful sense of identity that is reason enough for some to accept the notion of a god. It is unbearable to many to legitimately doubt the existence of their particular god since severing ties with the community of believers would be too alienating. Though this type of isolation is undesirable, it does not legitimate blind faith in the god of that community.

Guilt.
Humans have a well-developed sense of guilt. This emotion has been co-opted by many religions to correspond to their particular mores. Islamic women feel guilty when they have no head covering in public. Some Christians feel guilty drinking wine. Guilt has no single standard to which it corresponds. There is no evidence that the notion of “sin” is any thing more than a fabrication employed by religionists to control behavior. Their scriptures are full of proclamations of commandments that must be followed as well as verses designed to make the rule-breaker feel exceedingly sinful. “Sin” is then declared to be worthy of damnation, all without evidence. But evidence is not needed if the psychological weight of one’s emotions, co-opted by religion, makes the rejection of that religion unbearable.

These are some of the major emotions that all successful religions co-opt to their advantage. The average human assumes that the emotion has a real correlate; guilt means you are guilty, a yearning for justice means there is justice, and so on. Emotions in no way demonstrate the existence of their correlates.

So we can see that there is first an enormous deficiency in human cognition coupled with a propensity to rely on emotions to construct our belief system. This is demonstrated by the ubiquity in religious belief around the world and the diversity of belief. I hope I have also established that faith holds no intrinsic virtue.

Now let me move on to the issue of dogmatism. Consider the proper way for a person to choose a presidential candidate. Voting along party lines is not considered to be very intelligent, and claiming faith in the party would rightfully make you the object of scorn. A proper evaluation involves exploring all the sources you have to your disposal to assess the knowledge, experience, convictions, competency and character of each candidate. The accumulation of this information is linear; it generally accumulates in a steady manner until you reach a point where you are able to make a decision. It should make sense then that the degree of certainty should also be linear. Instead of suddenly stating that one candidate is wonderful while the other is evil, one should be making statements such as “based on the evidence so far, X appears 20% more competent than Y. But few of us seldom do this due to our propensity for dogmatism. While facilitating action, this dogmatism is a detriment when attempting to find objective truth. The polar ends of the god question are over-weighted with atheists and theists in my opinion. I am an agnostic. While I can state that there is a very low probability of a personal god for reasons I’ll discuss later, I am less certain when considering an Einsteinian god. And I do not feel compelled to choose a side without sufficient evidence. However, this probabilistic attitude towards questions is not natural to me. It had to be learned. I started out quite dogmatic as some of you may recall.

Christianity encourages dogmatism. Certainty is a goal in most religions. This distorts ones epistemology into polarized categories of true and false while disregarding the accumulative nature of evidence. If one begins with the notion that certainty is a goal, then holding insufficient evidence for a long time as might be expected with complex questions is emotionally uncomfortable. Religionists too easily default to dogmatism citing “faith” as something that legitimately picks up the slack. Faith does not legitimize a defaulting to an emotional certainty.

I hope I have adequately described our inherent weaknesses in cognition, emotions and dogmatism. Perhaps I can now continue with some of the reasons why I dismiss the notion of a personal god.

First, much of the ontology of Christianity is dependent on the Bible. The veracity of the Bible must be established before notions such as Heaven, Hell and sin can even be submitted for evaluation. Do not quote the Bible to “prove” to me the existence of these entities. I reject the Bible as “god’s word” for several reasons. As I list these reasons, Christians will contend that I am taking things out of context, yet I have spent years begging to see some objective, consistent and reliable standard of hermeneutics being practiced among Christians. None has emerged. This is the beauty of the “scriptures” of all successful religions; they are all ambiguous enough to provide deniabilty when backed into a exegetical corner. This lack of unity in exegesis I’ll introduce later as a failure of the Holy Spirit.

1) Moral ambiguity. 
Polygamy, incest, rape and slavery are just a few of the practices condoned or encouraged in the Bible. Extravagant and elaborate apologetic arguments are employed, and usually track back to the incoherent notion that “God’s ways are not our ways”.

2) Philosophical dilemma
Persons who have not heard of Jesus are, nonetheless, eternally condemned for what the Bible claims is a clear manifestation of his eternal power and godhead in nature. In addition, a finite number of sins committed by a soul who had no choice but to be born sinful are given infinite punishment.

3) Internal textual discrepancies
While a bit over-ambitious, the sitehttp://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ is a good source. I was so intent on finding truth in the “word of god” when I was younger that I learned Greek and read the Greek NT through eleven times. I will not spend time on the alleged discrepancies here.

4) False claims of fulfilled prophecy
Having read Josh McDowell extensively when I was young, I was dismayed to realize his misuse of probability theory, and the selection bias endemic to apologists in general. There have been so many historical events that an omniscient and omnipotent god could have unequivocally and clearly stated in scripture rather than playing silly games with vague terms.

5) Canonization and textual criticism
Unlike I was led to believe when I was young, there was not the unanimity often claimed when it came to the canonization of the Bible, nor is there the consistency claimed across manuscripts from which the Bible was compiled.

6) Dependence on prior mythology
Several mythical religious characters preceding Jesus closely parallel the Gospels account of Jesus to a suspicious degree. (The under-substantiated Zeitgeist movie is not a valid source in my opinion.) Seehttp://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa5.htm

7) Disagreement with and hindrance to science
I’ve written a paper on this you can find athttp://d2or.com/~ps/methodologicalnaturalism.pdf.

8) Falsehoods about a “godless” life
When I was in Christianity, I was told that those without Christ were hedonistic perverted beasts that walk after their own lusts. Imagine my surprise when I discovered atheists who were happily married, involved in charity organizations, and giving back to society to a degree not common to Christians. I was told that, should I ever leave Christianity, I would be unhappy, and have no purpose. I remember during my first year in the philosophy program at the University of Kansas, I asked a guest speaker why so many philosophers committed suicide. I got blank stares and felt embarrassed after getting to know the happy philosophers in my department. And many of them went out of their way to assist students financially, emotionally and academically, all without the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

9) Unfulfilled promises

- Intercessory prayer
There are several verses that promise something about prayer, but when asked for what can be expected of god, Christians redefine answered prayer into the entire set of possible outcomes. Christians have no criteria to distinguish what event is answered prayer and what is merely natural cause and effect. God does not heal amputees, and there exists statistical evidence to dispute the notion that intercessory prayer is effectual. See also the following promises concerning prayer.
Matthew 17:20 & 21:21; Mark 11:24; John 14:12-14; James 5:15-16

- Miracles
Though there were many miracle that god gave to demonstrate his might 2 to 3 thousand years ago, the closer alleged miracles come to scientific scrutiny, the fewer miracles there are. Why this inverse relationship?

- Unity of the spirit
There exist no more unity among Christian churches than among secular organizations.

- The Holy Spirit and truth
Christians exhibit actually less valid logic in their arguments, exhibit no more world knowledge than non-believers, and radically disagree on what many of them consider critical doctrines.

- Power over sin
This is a bit personal. I struggled many years with sexual impulses, and spent hours on my knees begging for god to give me victory. In spite of my sincerity and submission to god that many would vouch for, I repeatedly failed to gain control. It was not until I left Christianity that I finally overcame this. The problem was that I was depending entirely on god and the Bible, and did not spend time assessing who I was sexually. My Christian upbringing supplied the overwhelming sense of guilt that often results in sexual deviation by those immersed in religion. I have since come to a satisfying sense of my sexual self, and have very healthy relationships now in stark contrast to those in my Christian past.
To extend this notion, it is informative to examine rates of incarceration and divorce among Christian nations such as America and non-Christian nations such as Japan or Sweden. The statistics you’ll find on the Web.
Other indicators of the power of god over sins of the flesh might include rates of obesity among Christians as opposed to non-Christians. Based on my observations, there is no power of god at work in this respect, but a statistical study is needed to confirm this.

Let me address one further pertinent issue. Cognitive scientists have been recently more focused on this phenomenon we call religious experience in which an inexplicable sense of well-being and euphoria, often translated into “the joy of the lord”, bears witness with the individual that they are indeed experiencing the presence of god. These scientists have produced identical feelings by stimulating various parts of the brain in the lab. Before we can properly assess god, we need to assess our ability to objectively assess! If we have a predisposition to believe, we must invest time and focus on setting aside our subjective emotions, and develop an objectivity that includes essential skills such as logic and critical thinking. This is not innate. There are no shortcuts such as a plug-and-play “faith”.

Let me conclude by restating my current disposition towards religion and the possibility of a god.
I’m a bit annoyed at the Christianity that exudes arrogance and condescension. A subset of Christians glory in their blind faith and pompous proclamations of their monopoly on truth. I have no problem assuming an equal arrogance in stating how wrong they are.

However, most Christians are no different than I was. I still believe they are in error, but many of them are good benevolent people. As someone who espouses the beauty of an altruistic lifestyle, I admire them. While the kindness of some Christians is based on less-than-noble incentives such as god’s anger or god’s approval, some Christians seem to really enjoy helping others as I do. However, I would be happier if they found the satisfaction and intellectual integrity that exists in a “godless” life that is based on reality.

I’m still open-minded, so if any of you have arguments for god you think I’ve overlooked, please state them. And I hope you have read my arguments with equal open-mindedness.



Update on August 25, 2009: The following is an extract from an email exchange I had with a relative about my emotional disposition during the 3+ years I was leaving Christianity. It takes a stronger tone.

Yes, sadly, I believed the verses such as “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This is the reason I floundered so long, certain that there must be some truth to the bible’s promise of power over “sin”. Once I left the myth of christianity and learned that I was not prone to “sin”, I stopped “sinning”.

The bible has some nice promises, but they’re impotent.

You suggested that some of the more theological/philosophical issues I’ve introduced were post-deconversion. Perhaps some of you think I deconverted overnight. Not the case. It took me 3 years during which time I was going around to pastors of various denominations around [city] hoping to find coherent responses to my questions. I was quite disappointed. But it was not the fault of the pastors. The bible has no coherent answer for its absurdities.

During these 3 years I was also on my knees begging any god that did exist to reveal himself to me. There was no response. I was really hoping for something, partly out of fear of the possibility of hell perhaps, plus because of all the vested interest I had in Christianity. Jehovah was the “god of my fathers” as [another christian] states. Jehovah unfortunately just happens to be a fairy tale of enormous proportions.

I guess it was my 2nd year at [university] that my eyes began to really open to who I was. A big step was understanding the frailty of my human brain and its propensity to delusion. Another step was to acknowledge that I was completely unskilled in honest argumentation. Christians are led to believe that truth comes rather intuitively to those who rely on the Lord. Sorry. In most cases of reasoning by christians, logic is employed within a small box surrounded by outrageous assumptions.

And these were but just a couple steps in my understanding of self and reality that began to snowball into an immensely joyous process where pieces of knowledge more and more rapidly snapped into place as I began to relinquished all the false christian assumptions I had held.

Is life perfect now? No. Am I happy now? You have no idea! But my euphoria may be largely a function of my personality. But it sure beats the state of guilt I was in all the while I was begging Jesus for deliverance.

I have no guilt. I am not a sinner, and neither are any of you. We all have the capacity to live altruistic lives without the need for god or morality. I think that, after the fear of hell, it is the fear of the loss of god and morality that entraps the most people within christianity.

So I’m not running around filling up my godless life with sin. There are so many interesting and amazing things to do and learn in a godless life, that debauchery is rather unappealing.

I imagine the godless you see around you are a bad advertisement for disbelief. I would suggest most of them still believe in god, and are only “sinning” in line with their concept of their “sinful” selves. Being bad is not the default state of humans. It is being generally altruistic. My godless friends in Tokyo, who don’t subscribe to the notion of a sin nature, go way out of their way to help the homeless here and to offer help of all sorts without expectation of recompense. This is not a christian behavior. It is a human behavior.

So yeah, I have no qualms about showing my anger and disdain for christianity. It is based on lies that only prevent my friends and family from living lives with a satisfaction that cannot be perceived within the small world of the Jesus and Jehovah myth. Is it a sin to honestly consider whether Jesus and Jehovah might be a product of a mind frailer and more gullible than you want to admit? If so, I hope desperately that you fall into this sin, with the hope that Jesus, Jehovah as well as sin all go the way of Santa.

But to those of you who are still committed to propagating such lies that I am so glad to have escaped, I offer the deepest disdain. Your ignorance of the joys you’re preventing and the sorrow you’re causing is no excuse.

 

  • LukeBreuer

    most Christians people are uninterested in an honest inquiry into what is true due to vested interests of various emotions.

    I fixed that for you so that it doesn’t over-specify. :-p Sadly, most people think that an unexamined life is worth living.

    This is in stark contrast to the tacit Christian notion that all truths that matter are immediately accessible to nearly every human without much cognitive effort.

    I’m curious about how you got this idea, especially given passages such as Hebrews 5:11-6:3, not to mention the doctrine of total depravity.

    This forces them to conclude that persons in all other sects religions are self-delusional, and rebelling against the truth that is apparent either through reason or divine revelation science.

    Just showing the pattern. :-)

    They assume this because their respective religious texts have told them it is true.

    Some of us try and figure out how their religious texts tell them to act, then act that way, then observe the results. Call it… ‘moral experiential knowledge’. Thinking that you understand a text without living it is dangerous, to say the least. Kind of like with any propositions: if you haven’t tested them on the anvil of reality, you don’t know whether they’re knowledge.

    However, most religions, including Christianity affirm the notion that we are fully capable of assessing intuitively, or with souls that directly interface with some spiritual realm, which god if any is real without considerable training in critical thinking.

    I’m going to stop pulling bits out here and just say that I’m glad you left the Christianity that you left. It seemed powerless and trite and intellectually vapid. I’ve walked some of the path you’ve described, and came not to atheism, but an intellectually responsible Christianity that isn’t so afraid and dogmatic. Now, some who like to comment here will probably debate my ‘intellectually responsible’ label, but I’ve been told by multiple atheist friends that I’m one of the few Christians they can have interesting conversations with about Christianity. I do the best I can, given the paucity of good examples. :-|

    • Seth R. Massine

      Luke, I have a question for you. What kind of Christian are you? I.E, what aspects of the doctrine do you adhere to? I gather from reading many of your comments that you are not a literalist, nor a creationist. Do you, then, believe that God “used” evolution to craft all life, including us? And if so, at what point did He decide to imbue us with ever-lasting souls? Please do not take my inquiry the wrong way. I have zero animosity towards you. In fact, you are a breath of fresh air for me :) Most Christians I know…well, you can easily finish that sentence. I guess in a nutshell, I am wondering A: What general concept of God you believe in (personal, Ein sof-esque, some Christian derivative of Deism, etc), and B: Do you believe in eternal damnation of the soul? Thanks for your time, and again, you are refreshing to say the least, hence my curiosity.

      • LukeBreuer

        Thanks for the compliment. :-) I’m fortunate enough to have had a fantastic intellectual upbringing and a fantastic education, which makes it much easier to think about these things than most people on the planet. Combine that with thousands if not tens of thousands of hours spent discussing and debating online, and it does get one somewhere! I’m going to write a more open and rambly response than usual; I can condense it if you’d like. N.B. I haven’t thought through the soul stuff all that much. A good deal comes from how I think I would design the afterlife, given inviolable libertarian free will.

        I don’t know whether God used evolution alone, or whether it was in ‘concert’ with other [libertarian] free-willed agents. Have you read the first chapter of The Silmarillion? It contains a really cool section that takes “in concert” literally, with respect to the creation of a world where one of the agents involved in creating it has his own ideas of how things ought to be. There are reasons to believe that it wasn’t just an omni-god alone: a huge one is that it just seems that there was a less violent way to do things. Now I can’t really predict anything from this position, but given how much humans are allowed to screw things up now, I see no problem extrapolating backwards to other moral entities.

        With respect to souls, I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re not the only ones with them. There’s really far-out science that says we might be able to reconstruct the past with arbitrary precision, if all evolution of quantum state is unitary—that is to say, if no information is ever lost. The TV seriesCaprica played with the idea of reconstructing a person from all the data (e.g. social networks) about that person. This all gets really weird when one tries to talk about whether a person in Star Trek who uses a transporter is the same on both sides, and even about one’s consciousness before and after sleep. But let’s play with the idea that at some point we can ‘resurrect’ any person. Whom do we resurrect?

        One could say that belief or lack of belief in a soul will change one’s actions in real life. I suspect this is true. However there are positive and negative manifestations of such belief. One could say it is better not to play with sharp knives, but I disagree. One might say that we only ought believe in things based on sufficient evidence, but then you have stuff like Meaning is an Illusion (Absurdism), which says we have to mentally assent to something being false, while acting as if it is true. I find this quite distasteful—more than e.g. positing libertarian free will without knowing how the ‘libertarian’ bit works.

        I believe in a personal God, who is best exemplified by Jesus, whom I see as God becoming “incarnate”—both matter and spirit—dying, and resurrected three days later. This means that I think reality has ‘personality’ or ‘mind’ as a fundamental phenomenon (see panpsychism for similar ideas), and therefore people are not ‘just’ particles and fields. Matter and energy are like the letters of an alphabet: inanimate in and of themselves, but the vessels for meaning and value. Imagine saying that letters are more real than words, and words more real than stories. The word used here should be ‘fundamental’ and not ‘real’.

        Eternal damnation of the soul is a tricky one. If my above pseudoscientific explanation of the soul is worth exploring, and if something like panpsychism is accurate, then minds aren’t destroyed, only combined or separated. But the more you separate a mind into pieces, the less each piece can think and experience. Let’s say a mind is evil as-is: if allowed to exert more than the smallest influence on other minds, it would ultimately enslave them. It seems that the last resort is to start ‘shaving off’ bits of that mind, to hopefully remove the terribleness. But this isn’t guaranteed to work, which means that maybe the fragmentation of it continues ad infinitum. There is a sort of saving grace: I think that the smaller a mind (formerly part of a larger mind), the less it experiences suffering. And so, it is possible for there to be eternal suffering, but of ever decreasing amounts, such that the total amount of suffering is finite. Mathematically, the infinite sum 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + … = 1. It seems like this sort of scheme would be ‘just’. It holds out maximum hope that some fragment of a bad mind will be good, and that this fragment can be redeemed.

        This discussion of the soul that you got me doing reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce where he describes hell/purgatory as a reality where everyone is constantly moving away from everyone else. I’ll have to insert my own ideas because I forget the specifics he gave, but this “moving away” is the result of various people wanting irreconcilable things, and thus creating worlds which nobody else can share. On earth, people are forced to live with others; in hell, one just becomes increasingly separated from everyone else. The relationships between people fragment. This makes sense to me, because my forcing you to live in a world I design, which benefits me more than you, is evil. Forcing people to live within the world they created, to teach them what they were really doing to other people/minds, sounds reasonable—it is the final attempt to convince someone that something is wrong.

        We know that people’s minds themselves can be fragmented. What used to be called “multiple personality disorder” is but the most radical form. Jung was pretty big on this, and from what I’ve read, he had sufficient evidence to support something along the lines of a fragmented mind.

        Finally, there is a tension between unity and diversity, including when one talks about minds. Forcing sameness or uniformity is generally bad (IMO), but radical diversity is too, because it prevents minds from even interacting. Is there a happy medium? I think so. I think this happy medium is used by a radically different way of looking at power, transitioning from power to control people and get them to live in your world, to power to enhance people, making their world and your world bigger and consonant, so that neither person is taking advantage of the other. Jesus set the standard when he said “I have not come to be served, but to serve.” I think reality is structured to prefer this use of power, but only over the long term. Plenty try to build up and localize power in the short term, repeating the error of Babel and reaping the consequence.

        The evidence Jesus says that ought to convince people that (a) Jn 13:34-35 they’re his disciples and (b) Jn 17:20-24 he was sent from God is the kind of love that is described in Mt 5:43-48, which Jesus trained his disciples in while he was on earth. Unity of minds without uniformity of minds is terribly, terribly hard. People love to create their world in their own image, and fear the lack of control that comes from having to trust others. And yet, any world that gives into these preferences is a smaller one, one that squashes some of the members of that world. There are many, many ways to enslave a population so that there are nobles and commoners/serfs/slaves.

        • Seth R. Massine

          Interesting, thank you for illuminating me. Most Christians that I know (and I, myself, for the 12 years I was one) have a much bleaker, more black and white go of reality. Pleasing to see that there are at least a few of you who think, accept science, and do not blindly follow simply for the sake of following. I have had many encounters with individuals of all faiths, every single one imaginable, who claim utter certainty on so many topics it makes one’s head spin; such confidence is a tad conceited IMO, especially when you closely examine the intricacies of the universe in which we live (I.E, considerations regarding our ever-changing knowledge of the very structure of space itself).
          Thank you for answering my question, and have a good one :)

          • LukeBreuer

            Something I’ve discovered is that this need for certainty has nothing to do with theistic belief or lack thereof. Consider all the scientists who say that reality is “just X”. How do they know that? The correct thing, based on history, is to say that reality is likely even more fantastically complex and neat than I thought last year, last decade, and last century. But instead, some scientists keep wanting to tell themselves and other people that they’re on the verge of really Figuring It Out, after which all the rest of science will be just details—janitorial work, if you will.

          • Seth R. Massine

            I would agree with you on the scientists seeking certainty (phew) bit, but disagree on your assertion that the need for certainty has nothing to do with theistic beliefs, at least as far as my own belief system was concerned. I had a great need for certainty; some confirmation that God was it, all that we know came from him, etc. I cannot personally speak for other believers in God (theistic, deistic, etc), but that was certainly my own view.

          • LukeBreuer

            My inclination is to say that God is as real to us as we want him to be, kind of like unobtrusive friends who become more real to us the more we share in their interests. They don’t insist that we spend time with them or that we like what they like, but they’re around should we decide to pay them some non-faked attention.

            The above, however, is terribly colored by who we think God is. This also shouldn’t be surprising: if you think a friend of yours has some terrible personality traits, you’ll probably treat him/her accordingly, and very likely restrict the possible kind of relationship you could have.

            To the extent that another person with different values than you, you might not even be able to have a sensible conversation. I’m certainly well-acquainted with the phenomenon of ‘talking past each other’ in discussions and debates. There is an objection that God would never talk past us, but the Bible, with people who “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not understand”, says that we can have such a skewed vision of reality that we would sufficiently twist and warp anything he has to say to us. One can argue that “an omni-deity would never create beings like that”, which is kind of a conversation-ender. Huh, that’s actually a case-in-point: if one insists that reality is or would be like such and such a way, one is in danger of seeing and not perceiving.

            My argument is not yet complete, because some people do not have the resources to understand God anywhere close to what the best perception of him currently is. I recall reading about a North Korean who escaped a concentration camp telling how he had betrayed both parents for minor infractions, to their deaths, because that was how the world was. He didn’t know what ‘love’ was. And thus, he couldn’t perceive God as e.g. I perceive him to be. And I don’t claim I’m anywhere close to perceiving him correctly; I think this will be a continual endeavor, as Jn 17:3 indicates.

            In my view, at least part of getting to know God better is to understand (a) his habits and (b) his desires. His habits are the laws of nature; he desires the thriving of all human beings. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jn 13:34-35 and 17:20-23 say that unity of believers is the non-believer’s evidence for the validity of belief. I think God is most clearly seen by a group of people pursuing a common purpose, where each member feels like his own ‘uniqueness’ is needed by the rest of the group, and new members are welcome to come in and expand the ‘world’ of the entire group. Many seem to see Yahweh as a central, commanding authority, kind of like a tyrannical king. I see him as someone who prefers emergent systems, who wants power to be spread evenly among people instead of concentrated in one or a few.

            To end my rambling, I think friendship is strongest and most real when it gets stronger. In science and engineering, there is an exhilaration to discovering something new or making something new. But there’s something I see as even more exhilarating: understanding new and better ways of treating fellow human beings. How do I give my fellow human being power to express his/her uniqueness—his or her talents—in the world, such that it becomes a bigger and more fantastic place? This is a huge part of what I think God wants. From time to time, I get the… sensation that I’m really working with God—a la 1 Cor 3:9.

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

            Lab, thanks for the kind words about the blog!

            I do still think that the main weakness in your arguments are:

            1) God’s foreknowledge, or more precisely, lack of knowledge of all counterfactuals of freely willed agents.
            2) how an agent can be a prime mover. In other words, your entire account of free will!
            3) how to explain evil, most particularly natural evil. You seem to be somewhat of a consequentialist!

          • LukeBreuer

            There aren’t very many places on the internet where people will attack your arguments rigorously, while largely staying away from attacking your person. You seem to have created one such environment; this is laudatory! :-)

            1. I still don’t see why this lack of knowledge of first-cause actions is an issue. Are there any promises in the Bible which it threatens? It seems that the only thing it threatens is certain ideas of omniscience!

            2. I get that I don’t have an explanation here, but if I don’t have free will on account of logical incoherence, neither does God and the whole discussion utterly changes in character. What does it look like to talk about a Yahweh-like god who has no free will? I am also suspicious of those who say you have to act as if you had free will, while mentally asserting that you don’t. I’m really not a big fan of such though-action mismatches.

            3. I still don’t see why my not having a good explanation for natural evil is any different from the evolutionist not being able to provide the creationist with a solid theory of abiogenesis.

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

            1. I still don’t see why this lack of knowledge of first-cause actions is an issue. Are there any promises in the Bible which it threatens? It seems that the only thing it threatens is certain ideas of omniscience!

            I think it dmamages conceptions of great-making properties. I can conceive of a greater god. Can’t remember what your view on the ontological argument are. The idea, though, is that God doesn’t seem so great when he can’t know such things. Moreover, if you can’t know early decisions, say, 20,000 years ago, how the hell can you know what is going to happen after decisions based on others based on others based on others…. based on those? In pother words, you simply would have no idea about long term futures of the world.

            Which means that you would be creating a world about which you had very little outcome knowledge, or none, even.

            2. I get that I don’t have an explanation here, but if I don’t have free will on account of logical incoherence, neither does God and the whole discussion utterly changes in character. What does it look like to talk about a Yahweh-like god who has no free will? I am also suspicious of those who say you have to act as if you had free will, while mentally asserting that you don’t. I’m really not a big fan of such though-action mismatches.

            Without free will, or even a plausible account of it, then the Bible and judgemental God makes no sense. I think the concept (LFW) is utterly untenable.

            3. I still don’t see why my not having a good explanation for natural evil is any different from the evolutionist not being able to provide the creationist with a solid theory of abiogenesis.

            I have lots of problems with this. I think it really adds to the evidential problem of evil power. If I cannot find the milk in my fridge anywhere, and one claims it is there, and perhaps some visual vortex or something is confusing my sight, this does not qualify as strong enough persausiveness for me. But the correct conclusion is that, if I can find no really good reason as to it being there, that it probably isn’t there. Yes, I don’t know for sure, but I am justified in claiming it probably is not there.

            God is allowing all of this suffering for what must be a purpose, but without telling me this purpose, he shows himself to be morally abhorrent. I wouldn’t punish my boys in the worst ways possible (say, with terminal painful cancer or rape) and then not tell them why I am doing it, perhaps allowing them to claim to each other that daddy must be testing them, or inventing / guessing some other theodicy.

            This idea of God the father, and his paternal aspects, is abhorrent to me. What God does, allows, and fails to communicate is nothing short of the worst parenting available to human conception.

            Of course, it makes perfect sense if he doesn’t exist.

          • LukeBreuer

            1. A god who cannot replicate himself—create finite mini-mes—seems to be a weaker god than one who can. In terms “would have no idea about long term futures of the world”, that isn’t necessarily true. God is free to abridge first-cause powers whenever he wants, to ensure whatever futures he wants. Such abridging is not without cost, of course. At least, I don’t believe even a god can get logically contradictory things.

            2. If God does not have LFW, then why talk about the problem of evil? God had no choice, right? It had to turn out this way, because that is what the more primordial gods of law & chance ‘decided’. If you’re going to deny people LFW on logical grounds, surely we ought to deny deities LFW on the same grounds?

            I still object, by the way, to the idea that we must act according to falsehoods. It is not at all clear that this is better than believing that actions can be brought inline with truth, even if that truth is transcendental.

            3. I’m more inclined to call people ‘morally abhorrent’, and claim that until we improve morally, we are simply unable to understand more than the basics in terms of ‘Why evil?’ Surely if there is scientific aptitude, there is also moral aptitude? If one is terrible at science, there will be much one doesn’t understand, and it is tempting to say that what isn’t understood cannot be understood. Why shouldn’t we suppose that the same goes in the moral realm?

            Consider this: for you to do what you would call a ‘morally good act’ is probably pretty darn easy, compared to a poor bloke on the street who has had a rough life, no education to speak of, and has been repeated downtrodden. The ‘willpower’, if I may use that term, required of you would be much less, because of your starting point. Are you trying ‘hard enough’ such that if everyone in the world would try that hard given their initial conditions, the world would become a better place? If you can’t give a very confident ‘yes’ to that, I’d question your moral uprightness. I question my own routinely on this very basis. I have been given much. Am I using it well?

            My challenge here, as elsewhere, is to vigorously engage in moral research. If one doesn’t believe there is moral structure or moral lawfulness, one probably won’t have enough faith to engage in time-consuming, energy-consuming, life-draining research. I doubt many scientists have made fantastic discoveries without believing that there was something definite to discover. If there is a moral structure, perhaps delving into its depths will provide answers on questions about good vs. evil. At least that makes sense to me.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Upon giving your reply a second glance (something I concede I am not privy to, generally) I realized that you perhaps meant that, when discussing a search for certainty, theistic or other views are of little consequence; human nature is what drives us for such a thing as “certainty”. If I am correct, apologies abound as gleeful fawns in the spring.

          • LukeBreuer

            Heh, that is the most colorful apology I have ever received! I may sort of half-merit it. Perhaps this will clear things up:

                 (1) some people have an inherent need for certainty
                 (2) some religious attitudes reinforce that need
                 (3) some scientific attitudes reinforce that need

            One of the memes in discussions between theists and non-theists is to what extent religious belief can bear responsibility. I generally hold that it bears some responsibility. We must also recognize that some people will use whatever ideology is at hand, twisting it to support their viewpoints. Unfortunately, this means disentangling the various causes is tricky. But life is tricky.

            One danger of the standard evidentialist’s line—to act based on ‘the probabilities’—is making too much of those probabilities. If 80% of a given religion’s adherents fall under (2), what does that mean? It certainly doesn’t mean that you know that the other 20% do. And we can make all sorts of negative comments about 80% of the population. Are such comments useful? I rarely find them to be.

          • Seth R. Massine

            One difficulty I had as a believer was attempting to attach human traits, such as “desire”, and “jealousy” to God. For the universe as we see and currently understand it to have been conjured by a being that has such petty emotions as jealousy seems, I freely admit, absurd. That this same God can have a personal relationship with a “highly” evolved ape; one who’s nature is often violent and selfish to the core, seems equally absurd to me. My main issue here is that we seem to have a God that is, essentially (especially in the OT), a high-powered, supernatural version of your standard human being (I.E: controlling, jealous, angry, filled with desires -including a strong desire to be loved and worshiped by his creations-, etc). For there to be a grand architect, I would say, the cosmic-builder would be, perhaps, a tad less emotionally unstable and juvenile. Also, there’s the whole issue of Hell. I liken it to a loving mother. Would she allow her children, whom she would do anything for, and whom she loves beyond anything in the world, to suffer an eternity of separation from her (and who knows what else, I suppose that depends upon your own views of Hell), simply because one of the children in question disobeyed her? If we can construct an argument such as this for a human mother, who I would clearly state would act in the opposite manner of the one I laid out (forgiving her child, perhaps being a tad more understanding), then why couldn’t we apply the same reasoning to God, the supposed embodiment of love and understanding? I realize, by the way, how incoherent and unrelated this rant may seem….apologies

          • LukeBreuer

            One difficulty I had as a believer was attempting to attach human traits, such as “desire”, and “jealousy” to God.

            There is a way I find to help out tremendously. For people who are ‘about’ something more than themselves, the best way to hurt them is to hurt what they value. To hurt their creations. I don’t see it as all ‘weird’ for God to want good things for his creations, and to be jealous for their devotion to truth, justice, etc.

            That this same God can have a personal relationship with a “highly” evolved ape; one who’s nature is often violent and selfish to the core, seems equally absurd to me.

            If you have been made painfully aware of your own failings, this absurdity gets sanded down. I’ve had my face smooshed into my weaknesses enough such that I no longer see myself as ‘above’ a cannibal in any way. Yep, I was born in a better society. I cannot know if I would have made better choices than he, had I been given the initial conditions that he was. With this ‘leveling out’, it seems less absurd that God would be able to reach out to us. The idea that God couldn’t want to seems tantamount to saying that befriending a homeless person would be ‘below’ me. God is better than that; he is above that pettiness.

            Remember that God in the OT is portrayed as people understood him. I think that God, in respecting people’s free will, is happy to try and tug them forward morally and scientifically, but tugging is different from forcing. The idea that God would order genocide seems pretty ugly. The idea that God would establish explicit borders might be an improvement over those who would expand without limit. Passages like Isaiah 58 are simply glorious, even today. Here’s an excerpt:

            “Is not this the fast that I choose:
                to loose the bonds of wickedness,
                to undo the straps of the yoke,
            to let the oppressed go free,
                and to break every yoke?
            Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
                and bring the homeless poor into your house;
            when you see the naked, to cover him,
                and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
            Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
                and your healing shall spring up speedily;
            your righteousness shall go before you;
                the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
            Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
                you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
            If you take away the yoke from your midst,
                the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
            if you pour yourself out for the hungry
                and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
            then shall your light rise in the darkness
                and your gloom be as the noonday.
            (Is 58:6-10)

            a high-powered, supernatural version of your standard human being (I.E: controlling
            [...]
            Also, there’s the whole issue of Hell. I liken it to a loving mother. Would she allow her children, whom she would do anything for, and whom she loves beyond anything in the world, to suffer an eternity of separation from her (and who knows what else, I suppose that depends upon your own views of Hell), simply because one of the children in question disobeyed her?

            Wait a second, does God get to be controlling, or not? If not, and if there is libertarian free will, then how can God ensure that free-will agents will ultimately choose him over themselves? Where you use ‘disobey’, I use “see the things in Isaiah 58 as rules for weaklings who don’t have the courage to seize what they want”.

          • Seth R. Massine

            The free will argument, for me, doesn’t hold water very long. Because ultimately, God knows what will happen to each and every one of us (I thought the bible made that clear, as did his omni-God nature), so it follows that whatever choices we make (good or bad) will be, to a degree, known by Him. Thus, God would be aware of who goes to Hell to rot for eternity, and who does not, no? So for me, it is rather like (to use the mother analogy again) a careful mother, grasping the hand of her child, strolling by a fairly busy intersection. Now, if free will was the most important issue, she would not have a desire to control the child at all, under any conditions. So why “control” him/her by holding his/her hand to begin with? Just allow the little fellow to roam free. The problem is, this mother would be aware that, granted that freedom, there is a very, very high chance that the kid would stray right out in front of traffic, and die. So I suppose that, in summary, I would “choose” the controlling mother anyday, over the one who apparently valued my ‘freedom’ over my well-being.

          • LukeBreuer

            God knows what will happen to each and every one of us (I thought the bible made that clear, as did his omni-God nature), so it follows that whatever choices we make (good or bad) will be, to a degree, known by Him.

            Actually, I don’t think God knows precisely what choices we will make, because I believe we are first-cause, moral agents, just like God. I think this is part of what “created in the image of God” means. Now, this doesn’t mean that God cannot choose to abridge this free will whenever he wants, or construct the universe such that only paths he finds acceptable can never be realized. But I don’t think he determines what choices we make, and I don’t think it’s logically sensible to say that he could pick which first-cause agents to create based on what choices they would make.

            I think one can make perfect sense of what the Bible says, in the above light. God can still ensure that certain properties of reality obtain. God can be in complete control, while simultaneously letting agents first-cause things into existence. I don’t see anything at biblical odds with this. Now, perhaps I’m doing a bit of interpretive stretching here, in this way: it seems better for OT folks to think God was in complete, meticulous control of every bit of matter, than to think that various capricious gods were in control. If it’s only options A or B, I think option A is better. It is a better approximation of reality. One of the hugely important things I think the OT was meant to teach is that there exists moral cause & effect.

            So I suppose that, in summary, I would “choose” the controlling mother anyday, over the one who apparently valued my ‘freedom’ over my well-being.

            How about a mother who would give sufficient warning, a la the warning given to Adam and Eve about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or the warning given to Cain about controlling his anger lest it control him? If you don’t consider these warnings ‘sufficient’, then you seem to insist on permanent babysitting. I don’t think the implications of that are particularly good. I’m not sure you can get heroic acts without the danger of heinous acts. So this “controlling mother” world seems like a muted world. One with agents who are not created in the image of God.

          • Seth R. Massine

            So, wait…God doesn’t know everything we will do? How is he all-knowing then? I mean, if He can’t even tell what a bunch of humans will do at any given time, doesn’t that undermine his status a tad? Also, as for the “sufficient warning” bit, Gods warning clealrly didn’t amount to much (the world as it presently is), and could He not have given a slightly better one than “Don’t eat that damn fruit”? How about painting for Adam and Eve a vivid picture of things to come, were they to imbibe? Vague warnings are kinda….yeah. It would be (yes, I’m about to beat this horse) like the mother saying “hey, kiddo. Don’t run around TOO much”, as opposed to “Son, if you wander too far, and into the road, here is what will happen –insert graphic images here, however scarring they may be–”. I mean, if God wanted to warn his ‘free-willed images’, couldn’t he have done a better job than “Just….don’t, okay?”

          • LukeBreuer

            So, wait…God doesn’t know everything we will do? How is he all-knowing then?

            Easily: ‘all-knowing’ means “knowing everything which can be known”. By definition, a first-cause agent’s first-cause actions cannot be known before they are made. Now, you can simply assert that only god has first-cause power, or that even he doesn’t have it. I find that positing either of these lessens our explanatory power and lessens the possibilities for better futures.

            Also, as for the “sufficient warning” bit, Gods warning clealrly didn’t amount to much (the world as it presently is), and could He not have given a slightly better one than “Don’t eat that damn fruit”?

            Who is to say that something more would have worked better? Be careful to not view humans as programmable machines, which, if given just the right input, will do whatever you want them to do. This is a fundamental violation of dignity, and an implicit denial that humans are first-cause agents. It also seems to be a bad way to model human beings. It’s very much in-line with BF Skinner’s work, which I see as largely discredited.

            I have long wondered about why it seems so hard to pass wisdom from one generation to the next. Have you heard it said that each stock market crash seems to happen about the time that the last folks who were around for the previous crash are retiring? For some reason, we seem really bad at passing hard-earned wisdom on to the next generation, downright terrible at getting it to go for two generations, etc. I call it the “wisdom propagation problem”.

            I’m in my late twenties, so I don’t have very much experience attempting to give advice to other people. What I’ve found is that after a certain point, the other person is often just going to do what he/she is going to do. Sometimes there exist no magic words to get him/her to ‘see the light’, as it were. And so, I am skeptical that something short of putting a leash on Adam & Eve would have worked. Even then, the issue was one of whether they trust God’s wisdom; a leash wouldn’t have ensured they would. Only removing their free will would.

            It might be important to note that I adopt an Irenaen view of the Fall and not an Augustinian view; I suggest reading Does Evolution Cancel Out the Fall of Adam? Depends on Whose Adam You Have in Mind, including John Schneider’s paper, The Fall of ‘Augustinian Adam’: Original Fragility and Supralapsarian Purpose. I don’t see Adam & Eve’s choice to eat the fruit as the cause of all the terribleness we have today; I think it is humans’ repeated choice to spurn wisdom that is the cause. Adam & Eve are just a paradigmatic example. We don’t want to listen. We want to do our own thing, based on our own judgment. This world is what results when human autonomy is idolized.

          • Seth R. Massine

            This is my point, though. How can God be maximally good if he allows suffering to prevail? I don’t think brushing it all under the freedom rug is a cogent solution. The fact is that evil and suffering exist, God could do something about it, and He doesn’t. You could say that he expects us to do our part, but how can we do “our part” when facing a global catastrophe of the magnitude that wiped out the dinosaurs (granted we were not around then, but that is beside the point), or more recent ones such as the last ice age that nearly wiped our species out completely? Tsunamis, as a more recent example. You would probably say that we now have the technology to predict them, and it would be on us for not acting. How would it be on us, when God could have prevented it to begin with? I fail to see how free will solves this, especially when you consider the number of other natural disasters that have occurred well before we were capable of predicting them…how, then, would “free choice” apply and solve the problem? It ultimately comes down to God in these cases, IMO. And if He is truly all-powerful and all-knowing, then why such a passive stance when nature rears it’s ugly head? Also, with regard to your point on ‘repeated bad choices’, the same as I said earlier about sufficient warning could apply. Moreover, why is it that bad choices even exist? Don’t tell me to act as a contrasting agent, either, because that doesn’t quite work. In my mind, God could have allowed a massive range of possibilities, precluding the worst ones altogether. Then these “free agents” you speak of would not have been capable of bringing about such immense suffering and pain.

          • LukeBreuer

            This is my point, though. How can God me maximally good if he allows suffering to prevail?

            My best answer is that I know how to make some of that suffering serve a greater purpose, and as I learn more and more, I find ways for more of that suffering to serve a greater purpose. I use induction to conclude that possibly, all suffering can be used to serve a greater purpose. There is a challenge in such induction: I have the choice to decrease or increase the time lag between onset of suffering and achievement of greater purpose.

            The fact is that evil and suffering exist, God could do something about it, and He doesn’t.

            One of the lessons of the OT is that God waits an awful long time to address evil and suffering. He gives people many chances before acting in miraculous ways. You can always argue that he should wait less time. You can always argue that he should intervene at a lower threshold. I’m not entirely unsympathetic with such a desire. That being said, I also know that many people are very happy to let terrible suffering go on, as long as it doesn’t adversely impact them too much. Who is really the evil one, here? Blaming God seems dangerously close to an excuse. “It shouldn’t cost as much as it does to fight evil, so I’m going to blame you for evil continuing to exist, God!”

            I fail to see how free will solves this, especially when you consider the number of other natural disasters that have occurred well before we were capable of predicting them…how, then, would “free choice” apply and solve the problem?

            I cannot give compelling answers the further back one goes. It doesn’t particularly bother me though, just like the evolutionist doesn’t worry that he/she doesn’t yet have a solid, compelling theory of abiogenesis. The explanation I have now is enough to go on. Furthermore, I believe that there is possibly more [moral] order and lawfulness to be discovered, which means I will be more open to evidence indicating said lawfulness. The person who believes that it’s just all randomness won’t be looking for patterns—not as hard.

            Moreover, why is it that bad choices even exist?

            I fully believe God could have created a universe where there were no bad choices. I just think it would be a smaller world than ours. We wouldn’t be able to know as much as we can. Philosophers sometimes wonder whether there are truths that we won’t ever be able to know. If we existed in a world with no bad choices, I think the answer would be “yes”. I think that is a less glorious world. You might say that it is better to live in a smaller world—one where less of reality can be known by us—than to live in a world with so much pain and suffering. I’m not sure I have a response to that.

            The above probably isn’t a very good answer, but what’s the alternative? Say that “God would have done it differently, ergo God does not exist?” One can always say that. I think a better route is to accept the rules of reality as they are, and then do our best to create a better reality within those rules. One of the glories of Christianity is the claim that the rules are different than what we might think. There is a most excellent rule set based on unconditional love, voluntary self-sacrifice, and using one’s power to enhance others instead of control others. The cost is high, but the benefits, in my opinion, greatly outweigh the cost. In some sense, the cost is what gives value. This is still pretty mysterious to me.

          • Seth R. Massine

            I appreciate your honesty, really I do. Picking your brain has been fun, I must say. Wish we could go out for coffee and discuss things more in detail.

            I think the answers that you provided to me our just fine. You aren’t making arrogant presuppositions, claiming absolute certainty, or avoiding anything I’ve asked you…which is waaay more than any other persons of faith have ever given me.

          • LukeBreuer

            It takes a lot to open oneself to the issues being discussed, here. The amount of verbal abuse I’ve gotten at the hands of people with whom I’ve discussed this stuff is pretty astronomical. Many just won’t or perhaps even can’t deal with that kind of attack, and thus retreat, often to certainty. My upbringing has given me an odd combination of thick skin, and determination that figuring out the truth is more important than temporarily feeling good about myself.

            Remember that the alternative to believing in a moral order and the consequences of that—such as any sin being redeemable and perhaps even sowing the seeds for its redemption—is to claim that there is no order. This is tantamount to folks in ages past saying that reality cannot be understood beyond some basic level. That thinking kept the birth of modern science at bay for quite a while. I almost see it as more worth believing that there is a moral order that I can somehow amplify, than using some excuse that lets me not do what is required to make the world a better place. If there is no moral order, then ‘the probabilities’ seem to dictate that it’ll just be a Nietzschean power play. That power play may wear beautiful disguises, but I was cursed with enough intelligence to pierce them.

          • Seth R. Massine

            I imagine some people have called you a “dumb fucking Christian”, or some other variant. Am I correct? It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent people, when faced with a person who’s views do not meet eye to eye with theirs, will resort to that pitiable, inane shit. You needn’t worry about getting that sort of response from me, I think you’re pretty damn cool

          • LukeBreuer

            Eh, that’s banal. It gets much worse when I’m accused of intellectual dishonesty, not listening to the other person (but rarely with examples that would help me how he/she does not feel listened to), being a hypocrite, etc. I have a history of not using the same… protocol as others, to indicate respect, disbelief, etc. People are very quick to assume that perception = reality. What is perhaps the most tedious, though, is when the other person assumes/concludes that when there is trouble in the debate (typically miscommunication), 100% of the fault lies with me. If my goal is to come to increased understanding of things, all this is a wonderful way to torpedo that effort.

            Talking to you, as you probably know, definitely hasn’t had a hint of the above. Jonathan’s blog here is actually remarkably civil compared to most other places on the internet. I used to comment on John Loftus’ blog (Debunking Christianity), but he banned me, allegedly for being the unreasonable one in discussions there. At least Jonathan is much different, as well as the people he attracts to comment. :-)

          • Seth R. Massine

            Indeed. There is hardly one iota of disdain here, or rudeness. I think it’s important to be civil when discussing just about anything, especially when doing so with a person who you do not agree with fully.

          • LukeBreuer

            Sometimes it’s hard. And sometimes, someone’s system of thought gets challenged—people often don’t like that. Few people like thinking that perhaps they’ve been hurting other people with how they’ve been thinking and acting. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some just don’t know how to discuss things civilly. I consider it part of my duty to absorb a lot of the negativity and try to not to re-radiate it, except in the occasional strategic way to let people know what they’re doing.

            The thing I find most ironic is when self-described skeptics devolve into emotional manipulation. It’s just utterly antithetical to their proclaimed system of thought. I don’t expect people to be 100% consistent, but this difference is kind of extraordinary. Once in a while I try to show people like this what it is they’re doing, but it’s really tricky to do that in a way that doesn’t backfire.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Regardless of world view and belief, and the notion that we are purely rational at our core, I find that people are chiefly motivated by their desires, emotions, and other sub-rational drives. It is, so to speak, “unnatural” (and I use that term ever so loosely) for we as a species to adopt a vulcan-esque “pure logic” approach to life and it’s many trials. Take the two of us, for example. Even if we attempt to rationalize that we are having this discussion purely for intellectual reasons, most of the motivating factors underlying our back and forth are emotionally rooted. Seeking “truth” (or catharsis, whatever you wish to call it) is inexorably linked to a desire for some kind of fulfillment. Actually, you can quite easily rationalize that virtually all human pursuits are inherently vain in nature. One great example: I had a friend, some time back, who became addicted to meth. Over-use of this substance literally taxes the hypothalamus so much that individuals in question can no longer find happiness or reward in nearly all endeavors. She became so volatile, eventually, that nothing could make her happy except meth. Over time, she showed zero interest in most goals that she had since childhood; soon losing all desire to intellectually engage anyone (and she was one of the greatest debaters I ever knew). So, when you examine things in this light, we are ultimately seeking happiness. Be it through the bottle, or through debate. I would, of course, prefer the latter, as it doesn’t destroy millions of brain cells and rape one’s liver.

          • LukeBreuer

            Regardless of world view and belief, and the notion that we are purely rational at our core, I find that people are chiefly motivated by their desires, emotions, and other sub-rational drives.

            Of course. Wise people have known this for a long time. “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.” The difference between ‘letter of the law’ and ‘spirit of the law’ is that the former can be adhered to with many different desires, with the latter requires certain desires. The Bible has an extremely rich treatment of letter vs. spirit, all over the place. What you want, most fundamentally, ultimately ‘leaks out’ into your words and actions. It is the most fundamental thing about you.

            So, when you examine things in this light, we are ultimately seeking happiness.

            I like to describe our brain’s reward/anti-reward center as measuring the derivative of the enjoyability of our experiences. I got the hint from addiction and how ever-higher amounts of stimulation are required to get the same effect. If this ideas is correct (yay calculus!), then either there’s a way to have things get ever-better, or we’re screwed into accepting some kind of cyclic system. I believe that the ever-better scenario is possible, but that it requires the right morality—the true morality. Or at least, moral research in that direction.

            The Christian believes that happiness is a good thing, but that there are many false—unsustainable—ways of obtaining it. So happiness can actually be an indicator of moral truth—albeit a very noisy one. I trust pain and suffering more, myself; people tend to be less deluded about it—except via denying that the pain/suffering of people not in their ‘group’ matters [much].

          • Seth R. Massine

            And which ways would you, as a Christian, deem “unsustainable”? In my experience as an Atheist, I have found many outlets through which to glean happiness, all of which lasting and true. In fact, as a former Christian (I was one for about 13 years), I can speak from a unique position in that I have a “happiness contrast”; comparing the way my faith made me feel, and how long it resonated with me, to what I currently have. And I must say, what I have now certainly doesn’t seem like a “false”, impermanent happiness.

          • LukeBreuer

            First, let’s get something clear. If you could fit in, in the best kind of utopia (I claim: where you bless others instead of trying to exert control over them), then I think I will see you in heaven. :-) Following Jesus doesn’t have to be done explicitly; I’m pretty sure he’ll judge by heart-attitude, not by expressed doctrine. If you truly are trying to make the world a better place—by the objective standard of ‘better’ and not just according to a standard you concocted to make yourself feel better—then I think you have a place in heaven. That’s really the only thing that makes sense; Yahweh isn’t a god of mere verbal assent. Isaiah 58, among other passages, makes that pretty freaking clear IMO.

            Unsustainable happiness is happiness which depends on others getting less—deserving less—than you. It can be intentful or intent-free. It can be as simple as not caring enough such that your part of the world does well while other parts are allowed to get worse—or even get better, but always at a lower rate than yours, as if yours ‘deserves’ more. Ultimately, unsustainable happiness is predicated upon you being a more valuable human being than others, and by this I mean that a completely objective observer would judge based on your thoughts and actions, whether you are better modeled as thinking your life is of equal, or unequal value.

            It’s hard to say a lot more with complete generality, and I need to go to bed now. :-)

          • Seth R. Massine

            Well, I am flattered by your apparent view of me :) Perhaps we should give all this a rest, anyway. My fingers are tired. Unless you wish to address any other points I made, of course. Farewell, good night

          • Seth R. Massine

            I.E, a whole swath of potential outcomes, none of which culminating in the present world we must “improve” as soldiers of Christ.

          • LukeBreuer

            That was a little short for me to comprehend it. I believe that we are blessed or cursed—depending on your opinion—with the inescapable ability to be part of creating what exists. The result is the synthesis of many first-cause agents, with God being a very important one, but not the only one.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Yes, apologies for my brevity there. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what I was getting at :-p

          • Seth R. Massine

            And, also, I never once said that I would prefer total control. I said, of the two examples I provided, that would be my choice. So, left with the third (some warning), I addressed it so never mind….oops

          • Seth R. Massine

            I mean, I could totally get behind the whole ‘sufficient warning’ deal, if, as stated prior to this, God gave more in-depth, lucid warnings. That, at least in the case of Eden, could have prevented Hell, Aids, suffering of all stripes, natural disasters, disease, cancer, etc. Kinda seems like a waste of divine effort to even construct the garden to begin with. I would have at least put a short youtube video by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, titled “Yep, THIS is what happens.” I think then that Adam and Eve could have still remained totally free agents, perhaps choosing to, I don’t know, not wreck everything?

          • LukeBreuer

            I mean, I could totally get behind the whole ‘sufficient warning’ deal, if, as stated prior to this, God gave more in-depth, lucid warnings.

            You are presuming that all people need are better warnings. I am simply not convinced this is so. I talk about this more in my recent comment.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Hardly an assumption in the original context, which was The Fall. Pretty sure that a good, in-depth warning could have averted one of the greatest disasters of all (assuming you accept it). Unless you are privy to the thought that, given ample warning, Adam and Eve would have willingly allowed such horrors, were they made aware of them in great detail. I never said that ‘better warnings’ apply to the full range of ‘choices’. Merely that, in certain situations, they could be quite beneficial.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Like, I don’t know “Hey, guys. Don’t eat that fruit. Here are about 1000 reasons why.”

          • LukeBreuer

            All I can say is that the premises which undergird your argument here don’t seem uniformly true of all humans. Sometimes people accept my advice when I think I have well-supported it. Other times, they reject it, and some of those times, see exactly the bad consequences I predicted. People are not computers, who will always do the right thing given the right input. Often times, they just won’t believe you.

          • Seth R. Massine

            True, people are dynamic. But we are our brains (my Grandmother died a few years back from aggressive dementia, and I can personally attest to this fact; all that she was dwindled before me, came crashing down upon those around her. She was, in her final stages, like a child. Her former child-self, actually). And I wouldn’t give us THAT much credit, honestly…mess with the brain (even in small ways), and you mess with the personality, behavior, mood, etc. So while I would not necessarily label us “meat computers”, I would also not go so far as to say that we are completely unpredictable ‘magic beings’: we are animals, in virtually every regard (behavior, physiology, etc), albeit very intelligent and remarkably aware ones. Hell, much of our “unique” behavior has now been extensively documented in many other non-human animals. Corvid cognition has, in particular, shown this. But I’m ranting, and quickly derailing myself from any meaningful discussion. Oops.

          • LukeBreuer

            So while I would not necessarily label us “meat computers”, I would also not go so far as to say that we are completely unpredictable ‘magic beings’: we are animals, in virtually every regard (behavior, physiology, etc), albeit very intelligent and remarkably aware ones.

            Heh, ‘meat computers’. I like it. I’m not sure I disagree what you say; there is a lot that is predictable about human behavior. Manipulators, like con men, can get remarkably far with their knowledge of people. But we also seem to have this endless ability to make things better, if we try hard enough, intelligently enough, and wisely enough. If we’re willing to pay the costs, to take our medicine. We can become better. But will we choose to? The thing that seems to make the difference is that we do have that choice. At least, the Christian claims he/she has the choice to fight evil.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Ah, now things get interesting. So what would you, personally, define as “evil”? Furthermore, in what ways do you believe, as a Christian, that you can readily combat it?

          • LukeBreuer

            I’ve come up with a rather new [at least to me] way to demarcate between good and evil. First, let me posit that minds (something like sentient, sapient agents) always want to be growing. There are two fundamental ways to do this:

                 (E) expanding control over other minds
                 (G) enhancing other minds

            The first is evil because it inevitably tramples on other minds; the second is good, although it requires taking risks. I used to say that evil is “forcing others to sacrifice against their will”, with the caveat that forcing those who have transgressed it to be rehabilitated/imprisoned/face some sort of consequence is ok. The Christian is called to sacrifice for others, but it is a voluntary sacrifice. I think I might like the new definition better.

            Ultimately, (E) is slavery. A subset of people have more freedom than the rest. (G) means living a life of servitude toward other people. Jesus says “I did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” The Christian is called to voluntarily follow his example. Now, if everyone were to, no lives would have to be given and you’d have insta-utopia. As it is, some take more out of the world than they give; the Christian is called to bear some of this ‘cost’, despite its patent unfairness. I don’t think it’s fair to ask non-Christians to bear that cost.

            (G) is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, that all the nations would be blessed through his descendants. You might even say that Abraham’s genetic descendants (vs. Paul’s “sons in faith”) acted as the whipping boys or scapegoats throughout the ages, taking their sins upon themselves. It is unfair because the Jews did nothing to merit this treatment, but the fact that evil was concentrated on them helped us see it as evil instead of handwaving it away as we are so prone to do. The Christian is also called to be a sort of lightning rod for evil, absorbing the ill effects so those who don’t know Jesus experience less of them and can see an alternative way of life.

            If you’ve read or heard about BF Skinner’s Walden Two, you might be able see the (E) in it, with the pretext of (G). Skinner has what is in my mind, a perverted idea that ‘the masses’ need management and coddling while the ‘elite’ get to be the real humans, making decisions and shaping reality. His attitude is all over the place if you know where to look.

          • Seth R. Massine

            I would disagree with the assertion that non-Christians should not be asked to bear the ‘cost’ you mention. In my mind, at the very root of this is morality. Now, I personally do not think that we as a species require a divine guide-line regarding that, and that only Christianity can give that to us. Seems a tad unfair, assuming that you actually believe that (and if I misunderstood you, my apologies). Actually, recent research has shown that infants have a fairly dynamic moral compass, not much different than our own ‘mature’ variant. I believe that, as a highly social species, theory of mind, and some general kind of morality, were both eventualities. How could we survive and function as a coherent social unit (for millions of years) without that? Also, inquiries into non-human animal behavior have shown much morality at work, particularly in social organism (African elephants, most members of the family corvidae, chimps, bottle-nosed dolphins, etc). Morality seems, to me, to naturally occur, and usually in highly social organisms– which is most certainly not a coincidence (I.E, bettering the likelihood of survival).

          • LukeBreuer

            I would disagree with the assertion that non-Christians should not be asked to bear the ‘cost’ you mention.

            I just don’t feel justified in asking someone to embark upon a life that has the danger of involving more pain than joy, unless they have something like the Christian’s assurances. I have no problem with people embarking thusly, but I don’t feel justified in making the request. Does this make sense? I presume that the Christian is trying to want what Jesus wants, while I just don’t have any guarantees on what the non-Christian is shooting for.

            Actually, recent research has shown that infants have a fairly dynamic moral compass, not much different than our own ‘mature’ variant.

            The NYTimes’ The Moral Life of Babies was especially neat. :-)

            Morality seems, to me, to naturally occur

            Ahh, but the naturally occurring kind allowed the Rwandan Genocide to happen, despite the plethora of information we had. It’s not that people are generally terrible people, it’s just that they don’t generally have enough intention to take care of the people outside their little group. This is all that’s really required for absolutely terrible things to be allowed to happen. ‘Just’ some lack of intention. Ignorance is often allowed to be an excuse. :-(

          • Seth R. Massine

            Yes indeed, ignorance has been a massive impediment to us as a species. You seem to establish a difference between natural morality, and some as-yet undefined variant. Please elaborate? Insofar as I can tell, morality is rooted in the brain…kinda seems natural to me lol (wow, I just ‘lol’d’ on a blog that doesn’t start with Jersey Shore).

          • LukeBreuer

            Christian morality says that I am to be a servant to others, enhancing their lives. Much of natural morality says that other people exist to service my whims. Now, there is of course a spectrum. But ultimately, I think you’re closer to one or the other, and moving toward one or the other. I think the difference between the two is ultimately monumental.

            Natural morality allows some level of altruism, but those genes still need to be propagated. Christian morality values memes over genes. Abraham’s children are those who share his trust in and obedience to God, not those who share his blood.

          • Seth R. Massine

            As for your last remark regarding the apparent lack of involvement in outside groups, I fail to see how some (still undefined) ‘unnatural’ morality would champion an effort to risk so many of a local groups numbers in order to protect another; in actuality I believe that the natural variety (the only kind that logic permits), is quite flexible and dynamic. I mean, think about it. Someone that you don’t know is getting the shit beaten out of them. Do you stop and think “what would God want me to do here….”, or do you naturally (as many would, Christian or not) jump in and take a gamble in order to save the victim?

          • LukeBreuer

            Someone that you don’t know is getting the shit beaten out of them. Do you stop and think “what would God want me to do here….”, or do you naturally (as many would, Christian or not) jump in and take a gamble in order to save the victim?

            Easy examples are boring. Let’s consider a harder one: the person in your small freshman undergraduate class who is socially awkward and a bit academically behind, who asks lots of tedious questions in class. That kind of person tends to get mocked, and mocked mercilessly. I’ve seen it. Do you stand up against said mockery and risk there now being two people who get mocked? Or let’s go to the max and talk about those in the Rwandan Genocide who were given the choice of being killed, or joining in the raping and killing of fellow Rwandans. Which choice do you make there?

            I won’t disagree that ‘natural’ morality is “quite flexible and dynamic”. But what does that mean? People are still extraordinarily reticent to sacrifice in order to fight evil. See, for example, Appeasement. It is easy to stand in the way of evil when it doesn’t cost very much. And in your “getting the shit beaten out of them” example, it’s easy to fight very explicit evil. What about more subtle forms?

            What I really want to get at here is the difference between moral efforts which are enough to continue to make the world truly a better place (and not e.g. 1000% better for some people and 10% better for others), and moral efforts which ‘look’ good, but aren’t, in the end, enough. There is a cost to fighting evil, and many are not willing to pay it, not when the cost gets too high.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Ack…the first bit of what I said seems, upon close examination, kinda incoherent. I suppose what I meant was that, even under Christian moral principles, I fail to see (and history is replete with examples of this), how a group governed not by natural morality but by the God-endorsed ™ variant would have acted any differently in the same circumstances. Also, wouldn’t it make more sense if God wired morality into us (a schism of the natural kind I mention), instead of waiting millions of years to compile it into a book that has been interpreted literally hundreds (if not thousands) of different ways? Okay, I’m done. Passing out now

          • LukeBreuer

            I fail to see (and history is replete with examples of this), how a group governed not by natural morality but by the God-endorsed ™ variant would have acted any differently in the same circumstances.

            I recall reading of an instance in Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church, where a Christian czar had the option of either fighting to maintain power and cause great bloodshed, or give himself up for execution and avoid said bloodshed. He chose the latter in order to save lives. He chose self-sacrifice, up to and including death. This is the Christian ideal: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

            Also, wouldn’t it make more sense if God wired morality into us (a schism of the natural kind I mention), instead of waiting millions of years to compile it into a book that has been interpreted literally hundreds (if not thousands) of different ways?

            Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:22-32 basically say that God is going to hard-wire his morality into us. However, he did seem to choose the “millions of years” approach. Why? I don’t have a very good answer. What I do have confidence in is that we have been given enough information to make the choice of whether to pay the price to bring about a more excellent world, or choose comfort and safety and control instead. Maybe, after making the hard choice enough times, I’ll better understand the ‘Why?’ which you are asking. After all, moral research should result in moral knowledge, right? If ‘moral knowledge’ exists, of course.

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

            Psalm 139:1-6

            To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me

            1 Chronicles 28:9

            “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.

            Romans 8:29

            For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

            etc http://www.openbible.info/topics/omniscience

          • Seth R. Massine

            Kinda shreds the notion that we are “first cause” agents, largely unpredictable.

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

            You can make god whatever you want it to be, to fit whatever conceptions marry with your philosophy. The tough part is trying to marry all of that up with a holy book. It”s kinda constraining.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Isn’t it, though? I was a Christian for nearly 13 years, and a recurring trend I quickly noticed was the staggering variety of views that Christians could hold to, even within particular denominations. Take a holy book of that size, and it’s open season for interpretations; as malleable as clay.

          • LukeBreuer

            Largely? BTW, I’m on vacation; I’ll get to your comments on Tuesday or Wednesday. :-)

          • Seth R. Massine

            Yes, largely unpredictable as stipulated by any form of free will. This is, of course, not entirely the case in reality. We already discussed human predictability many comments back. In any case, Luke, I remember being very much like you. That is (and correct me if I’m wrong), believing that my insight into Christianity and the bible was “enlightened”, and that literalists had it all wrong. The fact is, people see the bible (and any other holy book) in literally hundreds of different ways. Hell, maybe even thousands. You may, for example, not believe that genesis is a literal account of the creation of the heavens and earth, or maybe you do. You may believe that the passages that John listed above do not conflict with God giving human beings total free will (and, in fact, ‘determining’ our lives in many ways), whilst many other Christians, intelligent or otherwise, would flatly disagree. Ultimately, if the bible were the word of God and supreme authority on moral matters, one would think that God could have been maybe a bit more clear with it. Cuz as it stands, we have hundreds upon hundreds of different “views”, and saying “Oh, you can’t blame God” is kinda a cop-out. It is, after all, His word, His wisdom and knowledge, His moral guidelines, etc. Maybe a foot note or two woulda been a smidgen more helpful than leaving it all up to clearly flawed human interpretation. You don’t need to address my other comments, I’d rather this wasn’t convoluted :) You can just tackle this one, when you have the time.

          • LukeBreuer

            Yes, largely unpredictable as stipulated by any form of free will.

            I’m not sure I understand this ‘largely unpredictable’. Consider my state before and after I took seven years of piano lessons. Was I more unpredictable before I trained, or after? If you aren’t careful, then training in various skills constitutes evidence that people don’t have free will, and this is a very odd result. I should think that one of the things that makes humans unique is their ability to become highly skilled. And yet, if any organism has free will, wouldn’t it be humans?

            That is (and correct me if I’m wrong), believing that my insight into Christianity and the bible was “enlightened”, and that literalists had it all wrong.

            I’m not sure I would say “had it all wrong”. Literalists did an excellent job at maintaining the belief that God is real and can actually intervene in day-to-day life; Christian liberals often did away with the latter and chipped away at the former. Literalists often took the text more seriously, as if it has more content which one can extract and apply to life; the common liberal approach of metaphorizing seems to also make things fuzzy, and thus mean less.

            If you observe humanity for any period of time, you’ll find that it’s very difficult for people to take balanced perspectives. Much of the time, you’ll see one group take an idea to an extreme in one way, and the other group take an idea to an extreme in another way. I think that literalists and liberals have done exactly that. There is a reason that historically, the ‘virtuous person’ has been a balance person.

            Ultimately, if the bible were the word of God and supreme authority on moral matters, one would think that God could have been maybe a bit more clear with it.

            Why would one think this? What would cause that thought to form in one’s head? I have found that what people want greatly impacts how they interpret reality. Philosophically, the will impacts one’s epistemology. William James makes this point in his 1907 Pragmatism. Whether one was a rationalist or empiricist, he says, depended on one’s temperament.

            To the extent that two interpretations don’t cause discernible differences in actions, why would it be important for God to clarify which one is true? Perhaps neither is! Is the need for further exploration necessarily a bad thing which God ought to have protected us from? I see no reason for this!

            Perhaps you’re referencing differences in interpretations which do cause different actions. But if so, let’s look at some examples.

            Maybe a foot note or two woulda been a smidgen more helpful than leaving it all up to clearly flawed human interpretation

            What would such a “foot note or two” look like? Do you really think that e.g. Isaiah 58 leaves it all “up to [a] clearly flawed human interpretation”?

            (also, tossing the free will ball at this doesn’t work; people, in most cases, don’t “choose” to glean any given thing from what they read or want to believe, that process is mostly a subconscious one)

            Key word: ‘mostly’. Free will only ever needs to be able to supply a sufficiently large ‘∆v’ to someone’s trajectory in life; it doesn’t need to be arbitrarily large. You can change a satellite’s orbit with a long, sustained, small ∆v.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Isaiah 58? Yes, good example. The theologian friend of mine had a very wacky view on that one; I would say almost alien. As for God’s clarity in the bible, I maintain my position. We would not have hundreds of denominations were He a tad more clear on many things. I would think that such an omni-being would have wanted clarity beyond the shadow of a doubt, something lucid and apparent to all. The fact that there is so very much room for interpretation (and not just in the bible, the koran is another fine example) alludes to human conception. God’s OT demand for foreskins and “justice” for not worshiping Him is eerily reminiscent of a few human kings through history I can think of….

          • LukeBreuer

            I would think that such an omni-being would have wanted clarity beyond the shadow of a doubt, something lucid and apparent to all.

            Why? Please unpack this.

          • Seth R. Massine

            With pleasure. God is all-knowing, omni-present, all-loving, etc. Leaving the vagueness of many passages in the bible up to human interpretation has allowed many bad things. The crusades, as an example. Taking a literal interpretation of many passages in the Torah, it is hard to NOT see how people could glean certain things (I.E: slaughter all who do not abide in Me, gay people are an abomination who should be slain, etc). When I say clarity, I mean it in the simplest sense possible: plain to see, not open for misinterpretations; laid out in a manner that could not be used for evil. Let’s face it, this has happened. A lot. With many religions besides Christianity. Have I….cleared this up?

          • LukeBreuer

            The crusades, as an example. Taking a literal interpretation of many passages in the Torah, it is hard to NOT see how people could glean certain things (I.E: slaughter all who do not abide in Me, gay people are an abomination who should be slain, etc).

            Please explain how “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is not contradictory with what you’ve said, above. As far as I can tell, the Crusades were only possible via a basic rejection of Jesus as God. And let’s look at this “slaughter all who do not abide in Me”. Numbers 34 sets very explicit boundaries to Israel’s conquering, and yet the Roman Catholic Church did not heed them. This, in and of itself, should show that they really weren’t actually trying to obey Torah, but were merely using it selectively to support what they wanted to do.

            Take a look at this snippet of Pope Urban II’s speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095:

            All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins.

            Please show me where in the Bible this is said. I doubt you can, because I’m quite confident it’s not there. Pope Urban II used the Bible to proof text his way to a point; he wanted X, saw how to use the contemporary religion/philosophy to support X, and acted accordingly.

            When I say clarity, I mean it in the simplest sense possible: plain to see, not open for misinterpretations; laid out in a manner that could not be used for evil.

            Is what you’re asking even possible? I can’t conceive of something that “could not be used for evil”; what is logically unable to be used this way?

          • Seth R. Massine

            That’s my point….interpretation. They viewed the passages in such a light that allowed such a horror to occur. You seem to be dancing around this….my whole point has been God’s clarity. You just said yourself that they viewed a passage in a certain way (flawed, human interpretation at work; lubed up by the ambiguity of many biblical passages). As for your last remark, the Holy Book should be exempt from such a use, hell, the universe should be one without evil. And really, what you said about Numbers….God’s guidelines were very clear: If you do not believe in Him, death. If you’re gay, death. How is that not clear, luke?

          • LukeBreuer

            I don’t think it is possible to construct something which is not open to deliberate twisting. “Hmmm, this says to love your neighbor as yourself. Well, if I were an evil heathen, I’d want my neighbor to kill me!” Can you construct something that (i) actually says something; (ii) cannot be misinterpreted badly?

          • Seth R. Massine

            A better question: can God construct something that is not open for interpretation? I would think so…especially when millions of lives would be potentially on the line.

          • LukeBreuer

            Computers cannot misinterpret the code and input they’re given. Perhaps God should have made us as computers? That’s honestly the only way I can think of to do what you are wanting. And I see us as much more valuable than deterministic computers.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Let me guess: “Why should it be without evil?” Because evil, in particular suffering (I have seen a lot of that), are at odds with love and compassion. I see no logical way around that.

          • LukeBreuer

            I, too, have seen and personally experienced lots of suffering, including at the hands of my peers. What I know is that some suffering can be redeemed, such that something tremendous comes out of it. I have personally experienced this, both in myself and in others. In a sense, the evil + redemption might be more glorious than no evil whatsoever. Reality seems to be such that failure teaches more than success. So, if we were to go without any evil whatsoever, it seems we might not understand reality as well. Perhaps you think that is preferable, and insist God does not exist (or is not ‘good’) on that basis. I see this as a pretty iffy proposition to stand on.

            Introduction of a morally perfect, omnipotent, omniscient deity definitely heightens the problem of evil. Indeed, the problem of evil doesn’t even exist without such a deity; it reduces to “things I don’t like about reality”. But with this heightened complaint comes a profound response: redemption through self-sacrifice. Jesus led the way and told us to follow. I believe the solution to the problem of evil is our moral actions. To the extent that our moral actions are insufficiently strong to fully combat evil, I believe that the error lies in our reticence to self-sacrifice, our failure to value things properly. I refuse to simply pass the buck to God, then not do my part, and throw up my hands, saying “Not my fault!”

          • Seth R. Massine

            Evil as a lesson plan….not tenable, IMO. Recently, in my home town, a little girl was burned to death in a car crash. She suffered with 4th degree burns for 3 days, finally dying just a week ago. What can we learn from this?

          • LukeBreuer

            We need to be smarter about preventing this sort of thing from happening in the future. Whatever we’ve done is not enough. And yet we keep needing more evils to teach us the same lesson. We saw the Holocaust as evil, and yet we refused to intervene in the Rwandan Genocide, even though we had plenty of information. I can only conclude that enough people don’t think the evil is so bad that we ought to pay the requisite cost to prevent it.

            The above transforms it from “the problem of evil” → “the problem of human insensitivity to evil”. And you know what? I think people are fully culpable for this insensitivity. First degree burns in car crashes should have provided enough information; there is no reason fourth degree burns were required. And I’m sure there are ways to use simulations to avoid even first degree burns.

          • Seth R. Massine

            You’re giving God an excuse. He could have prevented her agony, but didn’t. You can’t just absolve God when you clearly allege him as the author of all that is. My head hurts lol

          • LukeBreuer

            If God creates beings which can be first causes, then he manifestly is not “the author of all that is”. And it makes perfect sense to have either God and some of his created beings having first-cause power, or neither having first-cause power.

            I agree that God could prevent agony. But you’d think that people would see agony, consider it ‘bad’, and then do what is necessary to stop it, instead of abdicating responsibility and saying that God should have prevented it.

            Where I’m giving God an excuse, you’re giving humans an excuse. And when God disappears, humans still get the excuse, but it cannot be seen as clearly. It is merely explained with “sorry, accidents happen”. No. We have the ability to prevent accidents. It often takes self-sacrifice. It’s hard. But we have the choice. We often don’t make the correct choice. Suffering results. Will we see that suffering and act accordingly? Or will we say that we couldn’t have known better, won’t be able to know better in the future and blame either the god of moral perfection or the god of chaos?

            You’re right that buck-passing is going on.

          • Seth R. Massine

            The “accident” in question was not human-caused. She was sitting in the car, minding her own business. It was a windy day, and a large branch from an oak tree directly above her fell down, smashed into the engine (at the same time pinning here down), which triggered an explosion in the fuel pump, promptly engulfing her in flame. Did humans make the tree, or create the wind? I think not. So in this regard, it was NOT a human accident. So freak was the incident that people in my town still discuss it. This is but one of countless examples of a natural occurrence causing suffering; one that we could not possibly foresee. So what I said still goes. Imagine God looking down upon this horror, men surely not to blame, and watching her scream and struggle as flame devours her flesh. That is love, huh? And what has that, or any other such incident, to do with free will? This is the point I was attempting to convey in my last response. Giving humans an excuse? Hardly.

          • LukeBreuer

            So what I said still goes. Imagine God looking down upon this horror, men surely not to blame, and watching her scream and struggle as flame devours her flesh. That is love, huh? And what has that, or any other such incident, to do with free will? This is the point I was attempting to convey in my last response. Giving humans an excuse? Hardly.

            You know, at first I empathize with this position. But then I read about the US Government having information about a “final solution” being implemented in Rwanda, provided by a defector high in the Rwandan government, with the only cost being 5000 UN Peacekeepers to prevent a large portion of the 500,000–1,000,000 deaths from happening, and I think: we seem to need extraordinarily high ‘moral signals’ in order to respond accordingly. We need to see really, really, really heinous evil to actually choose to self-sacrifice. And I think to myself, “This discussion of natural evil is a diversion away from what we have plenty of information about.”

            I want to see what happens if we continue to make moral progress by doing moral research. What if—what if—we can, in the process, learn how to avoid deaths due to so-called ‘natural evil’? What if we can start beating nature by foreseeing ways in which people could die by accident, and preemptively avoid those accidental conditions? Then perhaps the true state of affairs is that God gave us smart enough brains to avoid natural evils, if only we’d use them to help others instead of ensuring our own lives are nice and comfortable.

          • Seth R. Massine

            I just wish I had Iron Man’s suit. That and a blunt. Well, maybe not a blunt :p I always wanted to be a protector of innocents when I was a child. How cool would it be to fly over a city, spot trouble, then jump into action? Sorry, had to derail the seriousness of the conversation for a bit.

          • LukeBreuer

            The superhero approach is tempting, but it’s tempting for the fact that many people seem sufficiently content to let evil happen around them, for intervening themselves would cost too much. The idea of superheroes seems to be the assertion that the general guy (or gal) just doesn’t have it in him to fight evil. I reject this premise, wholeheartedly. I think it dehumanizes people and sets up a nobles vs. commoner dynamic (or you may think of it as intelligenstia vs. working person).

          • Seth R. Massine

            I disagree, flatly as a damn piece of paper (?). The idea behind superheroes is that we ALL have within us the capacity to sacrifice and put ourselves before others. Superheroes are meant to show us that, powers or not, human beings are capable of great acts that can benefit all of mankind. What is “noble” about a man who dresses like a bat and beats criminals to a pulp with his bear hands? “super” or not, they embody sacrifice and kindness, and are meant as a moral demonstration. Not as you say, commoner vs. noble; dehumanizing us by way of their ‘superior’ abilities. We all love the idea of a hero, too. It’s a sexy, appealing notion. So in other words, Luke, you are wroooooooong…….

          • LukeBreuer

            Why is it “a sexy, appealing notion”? Sure, I’ve dreamed of being a superhero. It’d be great with the ladies (although I’m married now). But there’s a problem: the superhero is ‘fighting crime’ in an intense way, while the common person is… doing what, exactly? I’d get it if everyone were doing their best to fight evil and some just had flashier jobs than others—that’s life—but it just seems to turn out that lots of people let evil fester until it got so bad that a superhero was needed. And yet, all the wrongness in belief that let the evil fester doesn’t get eliminated when the superhero swoops in and saves the day. And so the world is set up to need that superhero on a routine basis, to prevent the common person from doing his/her job in sufficiently fighting evil.

          • Seth R. Massine

            And it’s sexy just because it is, dammit!

          • LukeBreuer

            I’m torn between going rationalist on you and saying that emotions are useless in seeking the truth, and something about lust being one of the seven deadly sins.

          • Seth R. Massine

            What the fuck….my other comment didn’t show up. Hmm. I said that super heroes (and trust me, I’ve read my share of comics) aren’t meant to be the only ones acting against evil. In truth they are (that is, depending on what comics you read) meant to inspire us TO act, not to take all the initiative themselves. Luke, you need to read more comics in order to forward a valid argument here. You’ve deeply wounded me! :p

          • LukeBreuer

            Sometimes Disqus eats comments. :-(

            I suppose I’m a bit jaded. There’s also a lot of low-level evil out there that I’m not sure would ever make it on a superhero’s radar. I dunno, it just makes me think that superheroes are attacking symptoms, not problems. There’s a lot that contributes to big evil acts. A lot of society has to cooperate in one way or another. I just don’t see superheroes as covering enough of the bases. If we only think of the problems they point out as problems, we miss a lot.

          • Seth R. Massine

            I’m jaded as well. I entertain boyhood fantasies a bit too much, honestly. In reality I’m glad that such figures as superheroes don’t exist, and I have two main reasons for this: firstly, if a powerful figure such as superman did exist, one has to question motive. Let’s say they have a bad day, and a ‘normal’ human happens to get in their way. Clean up on aisle 3. Secondly, such an individual would surely gain a host of powerful enemies, and said enemies would go to great lengths to ameliorate the problem, potentially using innocents as leverage. When I was a bit younger I made the mistake of imbibing a mind altering substance right after watching a superhero flick (can’t remember which one); the nightmarish visions that ensued thereafter still haunt me. I recall being tortured by the green goblin (from spiderman) for about 2 hours. Fun stuff…

          • Seth R. Massine

            (you’ve just been Seth-slapped, Super Hero style)

          • LukeBreuer

            My thick skull grants me immunity.

          • Seth R. Massine

            So, perhaps calling it a “car crash” was not apt. (however the local paper referred to it as one, oddly enough)

          • LukeBreuer

            Ps 139:1-6 is not problematic; a person’s character is a major part of what he/she will say at a given moment. 1 Chr 28:9 just says God knows what’s going on at all times, kind of like the ultimate Big Brother. Rom 8:29 is hotly debated by Arminians and Calvinists; the Arminian says that the church catholic was predestined to exist and be God’s coworkers in making things happen.

            It’s easy to read the verses listed and linked to from a perspective of God knowing all of the future, but it you try viewing them as God not knowing the first-cause actions [I claim] people take, I think they still make sense. If God needs to slightly abridge first-cause free will to make something happen, I’m sure there are moral ways to do so. On the other hand, doing too much of it might decrease the total amount of goodness in the world.

          • Seth R. Massine

            As I said in my comment above, it’s all your own personal view. I knew a theologian many years back who believed that Psalm 139:1-6 was a fine example of God having predetermined our lives, and this guy went to a seminary for 3 years. Person to person, any given verse can mean about 10 different things. You seem to have a lot of confidence that your view is the right one… (also, I find it pertinent to point out that the verse in question mentions more than just what we will say)

          • LukeBreuer

            If I knew of a better view, wouldn’t I hold it? Also, there is a world of difference between ‘the right one’ and ‘the best one I’ve found so far’.

            As to the many interpretations, that shouldn’t be surprising: metaphysics seem very loosely connected with actions and thoughts predicated upon them. I say “very loosely connected” because vastly different metaphysics seem to ostensibly get you to the same place. I suspect that there are differences, but they seem hard to tease out. Until we understand more of these differences, there will be many different metaphysics. I don’t see why this should be a problem, except for some preference that reality be easier for us to understand than it is. Only under certain normative paradigms is there even danger of having multiple metaphysics. I’m aware of religions through the ages being dogmatic, but the New Atheists are doing a pretty good job about insisting on certain ways of thinking above others, without supporting evidence.

          • Seth R. Massine

            It’s funny, because I’ve never really looked into the “New Atheist” movement all that much. I see where you’re coming from, and indeed held to much to the same view years back. Without sounding too creepy, you remind me of myself (and I only say this due to similarities in thought process, not as a means of insult I assure you)…albeit with a different biblical name ;) On another note, though, I’ve been meaning to ask you: of the fields you’ve studied, what branch of science tickles your fancy the most? I don’t mean to shift gears, but seldom can I ask a Christian this question without hearing a predictable retort, so finding a much more open minded one such as you simply begs the question.

          • LukeBreuer

            Without sounding too creepy, you remind me of myself

            This isn’t at all creepy. Indeed, I think it would be fascinating for you to tell me if and how I differ from your former self. If you need me to respond to more of your comments first, that’s fine with me. :-) Finding people very similar to oneself is often fascinating because the remaining differences can be quite informative.

            of the fields you’ve studied, what branch of science tickles your fancy the most?

            I’m not sure I have a single answer to this; I’m very much a generalist with a systematizing tendency. I like building and understanding systems; I empathize with Feynman when he said, “What I cannot create, I cannot understand.” Originally I was interested in nanotechnology, but I’ve since been drawn to trying to increase the rate at which humans can learn information. I know bits and pieces about tons of science. I’m actually more of an engineer than a scientist, but that’s largely because with learning rates as they are today, you have to be 100% scientist to push the boundaries.

            If I were forced to choose, I’d probably pick quantum mechanics, for the reason that it is largely math in need of some sort of analogical way of thinking about it. In contrast to other areas of science, it is often claimed that the most basic aspect to it is the math. And yet, to me this seems like something which thwarts future progress. I have a hunch that we need some analogy for which the current math is a good approximation, but where the analogy hints at future formulations which would advance the state of the art and even unify QM with GR.

            How about you? And what’s the “predictable retort”?

          • Seth R. Massine

            I could write a novella about the differences between my former self and present, so I will save that for a later time when I’m up to it. My favorite branches of science are Biology and Astronomy. In particular, Evo-devo (for biology) and star formation for astronomy. And the predictable retort I mentioned (this applying to most Christians I have ever known) is “nothing”. In other words, science is evil. :p This applies only to one’s that I’ve personally known, however.

          • LukeBreuer

            I could write a novella about the differences between my former self and present, so I will save that for a later time when I’m up to it.

            While that would also be interesting, I was thinking more of the difference between your former self, and my current self as you see me.

            And the predictable retort I mentioned (this applying to most Christians I have ever known) is “nothing”. In other words, science is evil. :p

            It is unfortunate that these are the kinds of Christians you’ve known. I know many who love science, some who do science for their job, including my wife. Consider though, the Christians who think that the philosophies which often attach themselves to science like barnacles to a ship, actually flow logically from science. If you had a choice between rejecting science & Social Darwinism or accepting both, which would you do?

            Many outspoken atheist-scientists go well beyond the evidence in what they say. For example, many claim that pure randomness is all that is needed for life to arise as it is. This is not a statement supported by the evidence! Current models don’t need any order past a certain amount, but the amount of order keeps going up as models are refined and new ones are proposed. The cell is shown to be ever-more complex. Who is to say that there is such a thing as pure randomness in the end? Maybe there is order underlying order underlying more order. The label ‘randomness’ is an expression of ignorance, not knowledge!

            And so, I have some sympathy for those who react adversely to what they think is science.

          • Seth R. Massine

            The differences between us, I see. I can think of 2 major one’s: you believe (contrary to a lot of evidence from the brain; as I mentioned before, my grandmother had dementia. Hard to believe that she was a “first-cause” agent in any way) that human beings possess free will (what kind, by the way? LFW? CFW?), and are the only animals on the planet who do. At what point in our evolution did God decide to flip the THAT switch? I mean, really: our history on this planet, even as modern homo sapiens, is vast. When did God look down and say “Okay. Time to have a little fun”? Second, the way in which you view the bible. Take Noahs flood. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you don’t believe that actually happened (please tell me that’s the case)? If that is indeed your view, what does the story mean? Why is it that it’s painted as historical fact, and accepted by so many as just that? Besides those two primary differences, there are more. But the two listed are the only one’s I believe are pertinent.

          • LukeBreuer

            I meant between your former (Christian) self and my current self. But I’ll still respond to what you’ve written.

            (contrary to a lot of evidence from the brain; as I mentioned before, my grandmother had dementia. Hard to believe that she was a “first-cause” agent in any way) that human beings possess free will (what kind, by the way? LFW? CFW?)

            There’s nothing that says our ability to be first causes can be diminished in various ways. Indeed, we can diminish each other’s ability to be first causes; just look at societies where the masses are expected to be replaceable cogs in industry and not much else.

            I think something not-CFW is true, whether it is LFW or something ‘nearby’ LFW. I am distinctly opposed to the idea that we must act as if LFW were true, even though it is not. I reject this way of constructing reality. In his debate with John Loftus, Randal Rauser describes people making philosophical mansions and then living in a shack next to them, for the mansion is inhabitable. I find that to be the case with those who hold to CFW or raw, incompatibilist determinism.

            At what point in our evolution did God decide to flip the THAT switch?

            I don’t know. Perhaps it’s not so much a switch as an inherent ability that can be amplified or attenuated. Maybe there is a way to teach apes to do calculus and become first-class inhabitants in our worlds, instead of being experimented upon and stuck behind cages.

            Take Noahs flood. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you don’t believe that actually happened (please tell me that’s the case)? If that is indeed your view, what does the story mean? Why is it that it’s painted as historical fact, and accepted by so many as just that?

            We know that local floods occurred in the region; this seems the most likely origin behind Noah’s Flood. If you want to understand why it was written, I would compare it to alternative, contemporary accounts. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, has the gods destroying the world because humans were being ‘too noisy’. Compared to this, I think realizing that a lot of evil was going on was an improvement. Epic had a moral ‘structure’ to reality whereby arbitrary deities would smite humans for arbitrary crimes; Genesis has a God punishing true evil. One of these promotes ‘moral research’; the other does not.

            It might help to understand that I see all theology as attempts to successively approximate God, better and better. At any given time, we can only envision concepts slightly different from the ones we currently hold. That just seems to be how thought works. I think God works within that paradigm, instead of magicking concepts into our brains.

          • Seth R. Massine

            So…in a nutshell, you think that God created the simplest forms of life, then let them have a go at killing, competing, and being crushed by natural forces for millions of years, then (once we had developed cognitively to ‘modern’ homo sapiens) decided to inject a soul, free will, etc? Why would He not simply create us as we are; as the literalist view of the bible stipulates? All that suffering and death, for so many millions of years. For what, exactly? You seem to be as uncertain as you accuse Atheists of being.

          • LukeBreuer

            No, I didn’t say or mean to imply that. Please go back to this comment.

          • Seth R. Massine

            I have already read that, are you insinuating I’m forgetful or something? If you’re going to marry millions of years of death with an all loving, omni-God, you need a tighter argument. What you have is conjecture, which is ultimately all that Atheists have with abiogenesis. I don’t see how evolution and the God you believe in can get along at all.

          • LukeBreuer

            There is a difference between ‘insinuating’ that you’re forgetful, and implicitly noting that we’ve talked a lot at each other, and therefore you may not remember every single thing I’ve said to you. One implies bad motive, while the other admits imperfect memory! :-)

            I fully admit that what I have is ‘conjecture’. I merely reject the claim that because all I have is conjecture in this one area, I should just give it all up and become an atheist. I do not find that to be a sound argument. Indeed, I know there will always be things I do not understand, even if what they are changes as I learn more and more. I don’t need to say “it’s all just X”, as if that means I actually understand what reality is, instead of merely have a current approximation that serves me well, an approximation that might look like alchemy to someone five hundred years in the future.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Pardon my tone in the last response; having a terrible week. You should be aware that most Atheists I know (and I know a lot of them) did not arrive at that conclusion because of uncertainty regarding the nature of God. It (that is, becoming an Atheist) is a multi-faceted process that encompasses many schools of thought. I suppose what I was getting at in my last comment (was it my last? Jesus I’m experiencing a mental-,melt) was that you can’t accuse Atheists of a fault for being uncertain about such things as the origin of life, when even you are uncertain about that and many other things. We don’t have a supernatural first cause, so? Science has taken us to the moon, probed our genome, and even revealed the process by which we were formed. I’m sticking to it for those, and many other reasons.

          • LukeBreuer

            you can’t accuse Atheists of a fault for being uncertain about such things as the origin of life, when even you are uncertain about that and many other things.

            That was my very point. :-)

                 (1) You cannot explain the evils of evolution,
                 (2) therefore you ought to abandon Christianity.

            is just as invalid as:

                 (3) You cannot explain abiogenesis,
                 (4) therefore you ought to abandon evolution.

          • Seth R. Massine

            One of these is a scientific theory, supported by droves of evidence. The other is a religious position. You’re equating the two? How, exactly? On the one had, we have nature (observable, testable, explainable), on the other we have God. I mean, c’mon Luke. You have to see the difference here. Perhaps we should have abandoned countless other scientific inquiries, simply because the picture was not yet complete?

          • LukeBreuer

            I claim to have seen instances of evil being redeemed. That is, I have seen the bad consequences of evil be turned into good consequences, as if the evil caused damage that, in the process of being fixed, generated knowledge that is valuable. Not to mention that successfully redeeming evil is a glorious feeling. So, I think I do have something ‘real’ to go on, something I believe I can do more of, and therefore a reason to think that explaining natural evil is not an insurmountable challenge. I just think we need to do a lot more moral research before we can possibly get there.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Dude (mind if I call you that?), I have a major headache so I’m gonna retire for now. I respect your opinions on everything we’ve discussed, and also respect you. We may disagree, but I’ve greatly enjoyed the discussions :) I’m gonna head out. You should think of something else we can discuss, pick any topic, and we can have a go at it. Take it easy :)

          • LukeBreuer

            Dude is fine. :-) Nothing particularly comes to mind for discussion, but I see that you comment elsewhere on the blog, so I’m sure something will come up! I’m sorry about the headache. :-(

          • Seth R. Massine

            No worries, my cranium is fortunately no longer in such disrepair. Yes, we will certainly meet somewhere else on another thread :)

          • Seth R. Massine

            A literal view of the creation actually makes more sense than trying to have your scientific cake and eat it, too.

          • Seth R. Massine

            As an aside, I had one more question for you: one regarding evolution. For you, what would the function of such a drawn-out, death and suffering-ridden process be if the ultimate goal was a creation deemed “good” by God? I must admit that the only way I was able to maintain my brand of faith was rejecting evolution. It just seemed, through my Christian eyes, to be a rather cruel and unrealistic means of bringing about life as we know it. That is, or rather was, just my view. I never bothered to really examine it much, I concede, so pleadse share your personal views on the matter

          • LukeBreuer

            This is why I suggested reading the first chapter of The Silmarillion. I am currently convinced that there were free-willed agents screwing with God’s bringing about of life on earth. It’s almost as there is a competition between cooperation that can create new life and better life, and competition where the fittest survive. I believe both methods can bring about new and glorious things, and I believe there is a constant battle between them. One is satanic, the other is Godly. One uses power to dominate, while the other uses power to bless and enhance others.

            There is a sense in which Christians try and distinguish good and evil by attributing good things to God and evil things to Satan. I know this can seem arbitrary, and irritates many skeptics. It has terrible results when evil is projected onto other people (see the pogroms of Jews throughout the ages), instead of admitting that the evil is inside each and every one of us. You might like 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)

            It seems somehow too easy to look at the history of evolution, attribute it all to God, and therefore claim that he either does not exist, or is not good. There are countless propositions one can invent that conclude in “God doesn’t exist”. I rarely find one that is truly compelling. Most seem to be an excuse to demolish an objective demarcation between good and evil. And this seems ultimately to be for one of two reasons:

                 (A) it hurts less if it’s randomness and not evil
                 (B) doing it is easier if it’s not truly evil

            Maybe this is a false dichotomy, but I’ve yet to find a compelling (C). In my mind, the ultimate question is whether each of us will pay the requisite price to fight evil and truly make the world a little less terrible. This ‘requisite price’ must take into account:

                 (i) he who has been given much must do more
                 (ii) the damage done by many will have to be offset by others

            Many are convinced that if they give their 10% to charity/church, that this is enough. That it ought to be enough. And if it isn’t, they go into denial or say that God should have made the world such that it would be enough. Surely fighting evil ought not cost as much as it does! Surely it shouldn’t be so… uncomfortable! One way of alleviating guilt is to deny that there is an objective demarcation between good and evil. And yet, once you experience evil of sufficiently terrible magnitude, it is pretty easy to understand that there does exist such an objective demarcation, even if it’s hard to describe. (I’d say research is required—moral research.)

          • Seth R. Massine

            Truly, you are a unique one (and I mean that in a good way, mind you). I would gather that you’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about this, which is impressive. A cut above the usual Christians I have encountered, as far as rationalizing a view of life. I’m only 26, but still. I’ve known a lot of Christians in my tenure. Good show, I say…good show indeed.

          • LukeBreuer

            Heh, I’ve been told this by a few others. Have you ever seen Hubble’s original data? If so, I’d suggest looking at it, and considering whether you would have drawn a straight line with y-intercept of 0. His data were very noisy, and the line he draw had a slope almost 10x too high. And yet, he was able to see the critical pattern—the expansion of the universe. I see the Bible the same way. There is a tremendous amount of noise, and if one chooses to focus on it, it’s not too hard to refuse to believe that a pattern exists in that noise. But what if you look for a pattern within the noise?

            Science is, of course, the endeavor to find pattern within noise. I am tempted to doubt that ‘noise’ is anything other than “phenomena we don’t understand yet”. That being said, a great deal can be done by picking out certain phenomena and trying to squash all the others so that a pattern can be found. I think the same can be done with the Bible. It requires seeing it in the best light possible. I suppose this is a kind of cherry-picking, but the goal is to cherry-pick less and less as one understands more and more. Hopefully, the ultimate endpoint is where nothing is cherry-picked and everything is understood in a compelling way. Kind of like the hopes of scientists.

            One strategy I use is to ask how I would have designed things, with the critical restriction that I’m not allowed to avoid truths that I’ve observed, like the hardness of passing wisdom from one generation to the next. When I do this, I’m actually able to match it with the Bible surprisingly well. There is a… continuity to the texts if one interprets them in certain ways. And yet, this continuity does not require one to interpret everything in a really fuzzy way. The text still says concrete, often-applicable things.

            I’m not particularly chagrined when others refuse to acknowledge my methodology as legitimate. Many are much too dogmatic that their particular metaphysics or epistemologies are elevated to Truth, despite the fact that they cannot produce the requisite evidence to establish objective ‘betterness’. Kuhn, in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, gives strong reasons to believe that this is simply what people are statistically like. I believe that if I continue my path, I’ll ultimately be able to figure out keys for making passages like Mt 5:43-48 come to life. That will be good, solid evidence. That would be a better world.

          • Seth R. Massine

            Would it surprise you (pardon how glaringly off topic this ‘reply’ is) to learn that I have never attended college? On some blogs, people seem to assume that I must be a college student to even take part in discussions on blogs such as this. Why I felt the urge to reveal this to you is beyond me…maybe the spirits I have consumed stemmed the revelation.

            Now, I must ask you a very direct question that I have asked you before, but this time I would like a short, concise answer if possible): do you believe in Hell (eternal damnation of the soul)? If so, could you justify a very good, loving person being condemned to it for all eternity, whilst an individual like Ted Bundy, who was ‘saved’ moments before his execution, would thrive in paradise forever? That is, I would imagine, a troubling notion. It certainly was for me, when I was a man of faith

          • LukeBreuer

            I didn’t graduate from college. :-p I just love thinking about this stuff and talking about it with others, especially others who are able to point out flaws or make my world bigger by proposing ideas I never would have considered by myself. Do enough of that, and you’re bound to learn a few things!

            do you believe in Hell (eternal damnation of the soul)?

            I’ll refer you back to what I originally said:

            Eternal damnation of the soul is a tricky one. If my above pseudoscientific explanation of the soul is worth exploring, and if something like panpsychism is accurate, then minds aren’t destroyed, only combined or separated. But the more you separate a mind into pieces, the less each piece can think and experience. Let’s say a mind is evil as-is: if allowed to exert more than the smallest influence on other minds, it would ultimately enslave them. It seems that the last resort is to start ‘shaving off’ bits of that mind, to hopefully remove the terribleness. But this isn’t guaranteed to work, which means that maybe the fragmentation of it continues ad infinitum. There is a sort of saving grace: I think that the smaller a mind (formerly part of a larger mind), the less it experiences suffering. And so, it is possible for there to be eternal suffering, but of ever decreasing amounts, such that the total amount of suffering is finite. Mathematically, the infinite sum 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + … = 1. It seems like this sort of scheme would be ‘just’. It holds out maximum hope that some fragment of a bad mind will be good, and that this fragment can be redeemed.

            This is my best guess at how one would maximize the possibility at redeeming at least part of a person who was originally dead-set against God.

            If so, could you justify a very good, loving person being condemned to it for all eternity, whilst an individual like Ted Bundy, who was ‘saved’ moments before his execution, would thrive in paradise forever? That is, I would imagine, a troubling notion. It certainly was for me, when I was a man of faith

            I hold to the position that “believe in Jesus” = “increasingly want what he wants”. As I rambled about in my original comment, I think God ultimately wants a kind of ‘utopia’ of minds which seek not to dominate one another, but enhance and bless one another. So if the person you describe—”a very good, loving person”—truly is on a trajectory to “increasingly want what Jesus wants”, I believe that person will go to heaven. This being said, C.S. Lewis describes people who are ostensibly ‘good’ and ‘loving’ in The Great Divorce, when they’re really just selfish. His Till We Have Faces is a wonderful illustration of someone who thought she was selflessly loving, when in fact she was selfishly loving. So we have to be careful to objectively understand what kind of world a person would create, instead of how he/she seems.

          • Seth R. Massine

            You seem to be quite the C.S Lewis fan. Did you ever read the Space Trilogy? I was home schooled, and that series was one of my assignments. Actually, your views on Hell are very much in line with my mom, she would probably hit it off with you.

          • LukeBreuer

            I actually just read his space triology a year or two ago. Pretty interesting stuff, if not a bit weird. The bit about a philologist being the hero was unique as far as I know. That being said, I think words are the most powerful… ‘thing’ in reality.

            Perhaps the thing I like most about C.S. Lewis is his lack of certainty-speak. He likes exploring possibilities, even ones that might seem a bit heretical, like The Great Divorce. There are a lot of what I might call “Christian behaviors” which can be motivated by current orthodoxy, but which could also be motivated by slightly to distinctly different interpretations. Often it is thought that moving an iota away from Orthodoxy will allow all sorts of evils, but this is simply not true. That being said, it is easy to come up with interpretations which are false to human nature as it truly is. It’s a bit of a tightrope, with many people quick to mock or worse whenever one starts to lose one’s balance. And so many choose not to walk it. :-(

          • Seth R. Massine

            You know, I just realized that I haven’t read a fiction book in many years now. Largely been immersing myself in physics, evolutionary biology, etc. Yes, many theists I have known are/have been far too strict. They think that distancing yourself from established “rules” and the like will condemn your soul for eternity….one such man, who’s name I shall not drop, told me (back when I was of the flock) that, since I wan not baptized, I would most likely not go to heaven. I cried for a bit…

          • LukeBreuer

            Hmmm, I was just thinking about replacing “go to heaven” with “be allowed in the utopia that I would create”. There’s a great quote related to this in Systemantics:

            All around us we see a world of paradox: deep, ironic, and intractable. A world in which the hungry nations export food; the richest nations slip into demoralizing economic recessions; the strongest nations go to war against the smallest and weakest and are unable to win; a world in which revolutions against tyrannical systems themselves become tyrannies. In human affairs, celebrities receive still more publicity because they are “well known”; men rise to high positions because of their knowledge of affairs only to find themselves cut off from the sources of their knowledge; scientists opposed to the use of scientific knowledge in warfare find themselves advising the government on how to win wars by using scientific knowledge . . . the list is endless. Ours is a world of paradox.

            Why is this? How does it come about that things turn out so differently from what common sense would expect?

            The religious person may blame it on Original Sin. The historian may cite the force of trends such as population growth and industrialization. The Sociologist offers reasons rooted in the peculiarities of human associations. Reformers blame everything on “the system” and propose new systems that would-they assert-guarantee a brave new world of Justice, peace, and abundance. Everyone, it seems, has his own idea of what the problem is and how it can be corrected. But all agree on one point-that their own System would work very well if only it were universally adopted.

            The point of view espoused in this essay is more radical and at the same time more pessimistic. Stated as succinctly as possible: the fundamental problem does not lie in any particular System but rather in Systems As Such (Das System an und fuer shich). (1)

            Last week my pastor gave a sermon on “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Something that is almost never taught is precisely what ‘deny yourself’ means. One of the best definitions I know is a denial of the bolded section, above. Denial that you know perfectly—or so close that the difference is irrelevant—How Things Should Be. Relinquishing control.

            Note that some sort of system is still required for members of a society to successfully interact with each other. People have to want to not take advantage of each other, and act successfully on that desire. But often we insist on much too much detail in precisely how this is to be done. Kind of like how atheists insist that their metaphysics must be adopted by all in order for Progress to happen. :-)

          • Seth R. Massine

            Now now, not all of us Atheists ascribe to that…

          • LukeBreuer

            Oh, sure. But if you don’t subscribe to something there, you end up relinquishing control to those who do have “their own System”. Surely you’ve heard of the saying “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”?

          • Seth R. Massine

            All that I do, I do for my family (wait, that’s breaking bad). I suppose that I am in the camp (very lonely here) that stipulates uncertainty as a positive thing. In many ways, I would say I’m more akin to an Agnostic than Atheist, but for reasons I would rather not get into, I jumped onto the Atheist bandwagon (for better or worse).

          • LukeBreuer

            Uncertainty is being increasingly valued; see these three examples. I would say that having proper confidence in what you believe is of the utmost importance.

            The world seems to be inherently ‘fuzzy’, with quantum indeterminacy being a great symbol of this fuzziness. Whether or not that’s where the lawfulness of nature ends and pure randomness begins is very much up for debate, contra those scientists who are sure they’ve discovered all the lawfulness there is to discover. There are certain mathematical properties of reality (e.g. the central limit theorem) which allow us to successively approximate reality by characterizing some amount of it with a model, and then declaring the rest to be ‘noise’. This works. This ‘fuzziness’ of reality may actually be crucial to our being able to increasingly rationally understand it.

            The Kalman filter is a great example of properly understanding the fuzziness of your inputs to come up with an optimal estimate of your true state. One use of it is to combine various sensor inputs to come up with an optimal ‘state’, such as position and attitude in 3-space. This ‘optimal’ depends on precisely understanding the signal vs. noise aspect of your inputs and outputs. Understanding your uncertainty is key!

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

            Hopefully, by the end of this year, I will have my ‘zombie’ book finished. Lot’s of philosophy and philosophy of religion in it.

            http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/02/09/my-zombie-book-prologue/

          • Seth R. Massine

            Sounds like a good read to me :)

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

            “Most seem to be an excuse to demolish an objective demarcation between good and evil. And this seems ultimately to be for one of two reasons:”

            lab, it always strikes me that many of your arguments are arguments from wishful thinking. I hardly think evolution and all the disciplines which verify it and depend on it were developed with these sorts of ideas in mind. You appear to be looking at the consequences and backwards rationalising.

          • LukeBreuer

            I hardly think evolution and all the disciplines which verify it and depend on it were developed with these sorts of ideas in mind.

            I don’t see how I implied this? There is a world of difference between:

                 (a) the science of evolution
                 (b) philosophy done based on (a)

            Many have mistakenly thought that (a) ⇒ (b), and that has caused no end of grief, with creation-evolution, social darwinism, eugenics, etc.